Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Garden envy

Garden envy
Originally published on June 22, 2014

Years ago my friend, Deb, gave me a plaque that read, "Bloom where you're planted."  Back then it was hard to know whether I was planted here in Toledo or deeply rooted in the desire to escape my hometown as soon as humanly possible.  I had just quit teaching.  Had high hopes that my novels would publish.  That I'd find the man of my dreams, get married, and have a baby or two.
I had no idea that my life wouldn't unfold like the colorful exhibitions at our local botanical gardens -- open to the public and on display.  And I wasn't fully prepared for the silent, cyclical experiences I needed to experience as a single woman.  But through it all, year by year, season after season, I've tended the flower and herb beds in my own yard.  Save for the year I spent in Big Sur working in the gardens at Esalen Institute, I've spent countless springtimes watching the daffodils and crocuses unfurl.  Seemingly endless summers weeding and pruning and transplanting.  Often too-short autumns gathering the harvest and saving the seeds. 
At first, I had no idea what I was doing.  Yes, I knew how to plant annuals.  How to weed a vegetable bed and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I could cut the grass and clean the gutters.  But didn't know squat about creating a year 'round garden where flowers are blooming in three out of four seasons.  Where there's color and texture and variety that suits the soil and the sun allotment.  I didn't know how to prune shrubs, so they often toppled under the weight of too many blossoms, too much greenery.  But in doing...in trying and experimenting and failing and succeeding...I learned.
Now people often come over for a visit in the summer and compliment me on my gardening skills.  I smile and thank them.  When they suggest that I'm a master gardener, I shake my head.  "I'm good at what I know...and what I know I learned by trial and error."
For at first, my gardens were simple and ornamental.  The same annuals year after year.  The same color and placement.  The same predictable life cycle.  But when I threw a wrench into my own carefully laid (and also predictable) plans for what I wanted out of life, my gardens soon reflected the changes.  No longer satisfied with rigid rows and static shades of pink and green, I shook things up, planting wild grasses, unusual wildflowers, and a host of perennials that surprised me with their vivid variety.  
One year, my neighbor came out and found me elbows deep in fresh compost that filled a rock garden.
"What's going in there?" Kate asked.
I squinted up at her.  "I have no idea," I replied, holding up a can of wildflower seeds.  "I thought this might be fun to try."
Kate smiled.  "What do you think it'll look like?"
I shrugged, "Ida know...I chose it because it'll probably be some outrageous mystery s$%t."
We had a good laugh over that and a few weeks later were amazed at what popped up in the garden...countless varieties of flowers that could have come directly from a Dr. Seuss book. 
When relaying that story to a friend whose garden I tend, Tony smiled, "You can plant some of that mystery s$%t in my yard any time."
Ah...such a wonderful thing...having friends who love to embrace the extremes of the unknown.  Or at least support me in the process.

Yesterday I spent nearly the entire summer solstice working in my yard.  Painting door frames. Weeding.  Pruning.  Cutting the grass.  Making a stone wall for my fairy garden.  I spent most of day in silence, save for listening to the birds twittering in the trees, my neighbor's five-year-old son laughing to beat the band while he played in his backyard.  It's like a meditation really -- to spend time in my gardens and watch them grow.  To pay attention to that which needs a little support -- and to simply enjoy that which knows how to grow and bloom in its own time.
I was saddened to have to cut back some shrubs due to the severe winter we had that damaged some boxwood, euonymus, and my dwarf azaleas.  Still, as I clipped and surveyed and clipped some more, taking many of them down to the studs, I knew they would regenerate in time.  That they simply needed me to remove the deadwood and underbrush so they could get some fresh air and sunshine.  The blooming will have to wait until next season, but I'm in no rush.  For I, too, know what it means to take myself down to the knees so that a healthier state of being can emerge.  I understand and have experienced the time it takes for new life to take root and eventually rise up from the ashes of seeming destruction.

This summer I'll be spending time promoting my books.  Outlining a new novel.  Editing a book of blogs that will be available sometime in July.  And through it all, gardening will be -- like it always has been -- my anchor and respite.
For you see, I'm finding it's the behind-the-scenes work that suits me best.  I like the process of weeding out unnecessary words.  Pruning out sections that slow down the story.  Nurturing a character's voice to speak more clearly in my imagination.   Then I can let the stories and blogs stand for themselves, blooming where they're planted and scattering seeds of inspiration wherever they may land. 
I envy my gardens -- the way the flowers seem to open up effortlessly.  The way Mother Nature provides endless opportunities for them to continue their life cycle.  The ease with which they embody birth and then seeming death and then rebirth once again.  They don't have to make any noise at all to make themselves seen; I doubt that the flowers are invested in blooming so that others can notice them.  They can't help but be what they are...a beauty to behold.  
And yet, when I walk through my yard at twilight, noticing new growth, plucking a stray weed away from a blooming lavender plant, I can't help but imagine every living thing in my yard is aware of my presence.  They perk up a little more when I water them and give my attention to their beauty.  Each flower intrinsically knows its purpose and part of that is to provide anyone who sees them with a sense of wonder and peace.

There's an enchanting line from the Talmud that reads, "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'"  I imagine that whenever I'm in my own garden, whether it be my inner or outer one, an angel is whispering the very same thing.  
No matter where I'm planted, I can always hear the gentle message, "Grow, Kate...grow...grow."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

One breath at a time

Over the weekend I was invited to a tea party in celebration of the royal wedding.  My friend is an avid anglophile and graciously served tea, cake, and scrumptious biscuits to a gathering of friends who arrived dressed in lovely spring wear (along with some pretty fabulous fascinators).  It was a delight to see a mutual friend of ours who had taken wonderful care of me when I was admitted to the ICU last September.  Ashley brought her baby and it was a joy to hold sweet Piper, remembering how Ashley had been eight months pregnant last fall. 
More than seven months have passed since the six precarious days I spent in the hospital, not knowing what the future would bring.  It’s been a slow road to recovery and every time I think I’m fully healed, something blocks my path and makes me take a few steps backward to regain my footing.   Sure, I’ve learned to approach life one day at a time, but often that's not enough.  Sometimes I take it one hour…or one minute…or even one breath at at time.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the first forty-eight hours in the ICU.  I’d just had emergency surgery and the doctors weren’t sure I would survive, as sepsis had taken hold and my blood pressure plummeted.  IV antibiotics weren’t enough, so a central line was put in and my body was overloaded with fluids to keep me alive.  But my lungs were too wet and I quickly developed pneumonia.  I could hardly move, hardly keep my eyes open.  And now, I could hardly breathe.
On the second day, I asked Ashley and the other nurses if they could close the curtains and leave the room for a while.  Cognizant enough to be aware of the grim reality of what was happening, I wanted to be alone.  Slowly turning on my right side, I gingerly propped my head on a pillow and closed my eyes so I could tune in to my breathing pattern which was shallow and uneven.  Miraculously, I was able to silently talk myself through a relaxation exercise, just as I have with my yoga students for almost twenty years.  That still, small voice which has been with me since I learned to meditate in my late twenties calmly gave me the presence of mind to be with whatever was happening.
When I started to panic because it felt like I was going to suffocate, the voice said, Don’t breathe into your lungs, breathe into your heart.  Imagine there’s an opening in your chest and breathe into that space.  Again and again and again, I consciously stayed in the moment.  For nearly an hour I willed myself to breathe.  Willed myself to live. 
One breath at a time.

More than a decade ago I finally figured out that the most precious thing I have is time.  I can lose money and gain it back.  I can lose friendships, yet rediscover them in due course.  But I can never go back in time and relive any moment of my past, not even the most enchanting ones.  How I choose to invest my personal energy is now in the forefront of my awareness.  What I choose to do.  Where I choose to go.  With whom and how I spend my days.  What I choose to think and believe and reveal. 
I’ve chosen to pivot more than once since January, moving away from working on a new novel while actively seeking employment.  But things in the outer world haven’t turned out the way I thought I wanted and I've returned to the enduring truth that there is nothing in this life I’d rather do with my professional time than spend long, quiet hours alone in my writing space.  Still, I have fiscal responsibilites and a new life to create and all of that takes financial stability.
Last night I paid my bills and found that I needed to draw once again from my savings account, something I’ve found a necessity for the past several months.  Thank God I saved for a rainy day as it’s been a steady drizzle since the new year.  When I went to bed, I was ready to give into fear of not having enough of anything.  But then I reminded myself that I’ve been in this situation before and life always has a way of opening doors when I need them the most.  I told myself to relax, to trust, to take things one day at a time.
This morning I had a ball teaching a yoga class at Wiley Homes, then came home to find two writing assignments from a local magazine waiting in my inbox.  I applied for freelance work with a company in England, then queried a couple more literary agents.  It’s a been a fruitful, focused day and I’m intending that the seeds I plant today will someday soon grow into a harvest beyond what I can imagine.  
In the meantime I’ll practice living one yoga class, one conversation, one blog, one chapter, one opportunity…one breath at a time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Be kind

I got my first pair of glasses when I was nine years old.  At the time, I’d started an early puberty and was one of the first girls in my fourth grade class to wear a bra, which was a constant source of embarrassment as several boys in my class mercilessly teased me or ran their fingers down my spine as they walked by my desk.  Mockery was nothing new at our school and there were plenty of other kids who endured name-calling and bullying.  Now in addition to being teased about my height or for having budding breasts, I was called “Katie Four-Eyes” and a host of other insults that only elementary kids can invent.  Getting ready for school in the morning was often an exercise in finding the right clothes to hide my body.  But I couldn’t hide my glasses, so I tried to make myself look as small as possible to avoid being singled out.
One sunny afternoon I waited outside Glendale-Feilbach school, leaning against the brick wall.  For some reason my mother was picking up my sisters and me so we didn’t have to ride the bus.  A few other kids milled around and a couple of teachers stood by, keeping an eye on all of us.   The principal, Mrs. DeProspero, walked by and smiled at me.  Then she very gently cradled my face in her hands and said, “Katie Ingersoll, you look so pretty in those new glasses.”
I beamed, not knowing what to say beyond a quiet, “Thank you.”
As she walked away, her thoughtful words washed away ever insult I’d endured.  From then on, when someone teased me about wearing glasses, I was able to effortlessly brush it off, knowing that if a wise and wonderful adult thought I looked nice, it didn’t matter if some kid thought otherwise.  To this day, I’ve never forgotten her kindness. 
I’ve stayed in touch with many of my former first graders and they will often reminisce about something I said or did in the classroom when they were very young.  Most of the time I have no recollection of the kind words I shared or a gentle admonition that redirected their behavior and encouraged them to make better choices.  But they remember, and that’s what’s important.

Our words have weight and consequences.  They can either harm or heal and there’s not often an in-between.  The other day I was reading a meditation to my yoga students from a wonderful book by Judith Lasater, A Year of Living Your Yoga:  Daily Practices to Shape Your Life.   She writes:  Nothing can be true if it is also harmful.  Remember today that your words leave a residue.  Choose them carefully so you can speak the truth with sweetness.
Steve, my significant other, will remind himself to “pull a Thumper”, in that if he can’t say something nice, he shouldn’t say anything at all.  That’s an adage my mother used to say whenever I was being mean to my older sister.  When we were young, Cynthia knew exactly how to push my buttons and the only way I knew to defend myself was to yell hurtful things back at her.  We got into an ugly pattern of insults that spilled over when we were in high school, and I can recall a couple of times when she said something that humiliated me in front of my friends.  After that, in private I verbally thrashed her, but in public I kept my mouth shut.  When we became adults the criticism was more passive-aggressive until I finally chose to stop the cycle. 

As a writer, it’s often difficult to express the full range of what I’m feeling, particularly with non-fiction.  It’s a fine line to walk, this place of being both honest and discrete, and it’s not my business to hammer home a belief that might be in conflict with someone else’s.  As Judith Lasater also suggests, Ask yourself, Can I honor my beliefs and yet understand they are not a true reflection of reality?  Whatever I might believe about another person or their circumstances, everyone is fighting a battle I know nothing about.
In every moment I can choose kindness toward another or myself, yet the challenge is to discern how to manifest it.  Sometimes it’s by being honest, other times by not saying everything I’m thinking.  Sometimes it’s by dropping my judgmental attitude, other times through using good judgment.  Even though it’s often the most difficult thing to do, kindness opens the door to healing, if not for the other person, than for ourselves.
I’ve recently recognized ways in which I can still be passive-aggressive, not just with words, but with my behavior.  Today I found myself niggled by an opportunity to make a point by not doing something for another person.  No one saw me in the moment, but my omission would eventually be discovered as a silent screw you.  In a split second I made a different choice and did it anyway.  It may be interpreted as a favor, but in truth, I did it for myself to practice rising above meanness and acting with integrity instead.  
I’m not pleased with the fact that I can still be petty, but I’m also not happy that I chose thoughtfulness instead.  It’s not a matter of pride, it’s a matter of principle.  A while ago I made the decision to align my actions with grace, peace, and truth.  I don’t always do it well, but lately it’s gotten a lot easier.  Maybe it’s because I’ve healed pieces of myself that have been broken since I was little.  Or maybe it’s because I’m in a relationship that challenges me to become a better person.  Probably it’s because I’ve finally learned how to see the world as it is, not as I would like it to be.  Now I choose kindness because I finally understand what Warsan Shire meant when he wrote these incredible words…

Later that night I held an atlas in my lap,
Ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered,
“Where does it hurt?”
It answered, “Everywhere…everywhere…everywhere.”


Monday, April 9, 2018


As winter slowly warms into spring, I've spent my evenings watching the first two seasons of thirtysomething and thought about this blog that I wrote back in 2013.  In the five years since, I've met my own version of Michael Steadman and am not surprised that Steve also has elements of Elliot, Gary, and even Miles Drentell.  Go figure.  It gives new meaning to the cliché “Be careful what you wish for.”  What a miracle that I met Steve while minding my own business, writing a novel in my home office.  He walked by the open window on a sunny day two years ago...and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thirtysomething recently turned thirty and I’m heartened to realize that some of the best television writing can stand the test of time.  Now that I’m fiftysomething, I can look back and be infinitely thankful that I have, too.  To everyone who looked forward to spending Tuesday nights with Hope, Michael, Elliot, Nancy, Melissa, Ellyn, and Gary...this one's for you.

Originally published on May 24, 2013

When I was twentysomething, I taped nearly every episode of thirtysomething.  When I was thirtysomething, I watched them over and over again.  Now that I'm fortysomething, thirtysomething has taken on new meaning in ways that it couldn't have twentysomething years ago.
Following me so far?
Debuting during my last year of college, thirtysomething was an articulate template of how I wanted to live as an adult.  I would be some version of "Hope," and hopefully a "Michael" would magically make his way into my life, perhaps as a blind date on New Year's Eve.   But as Michael eventually revealed, "I keep forgetting that college and reality are not compatible." 
Even though I've had a few slightly neurotic men in my life (both with and without suspenders), how could I have known then that twenty-five years later, I would experience a single life like Michael's cousin, Melissa, leaving behind the illusions of the past?
It's great fun to look back at the clothing and hair styles of the late 80's and early 90's.  To watch characters use pay phones and typewriters.  To be the proverbial fly on the wall as they make their way through the circumstances and responsibilities that come with being, as they say, "a grown up".  I watch the show most often during times of transition and when I'm feeling lonely for real conversation, longing to connect with people like me.  Hope and Michael, Gary and Melissa, Nancy and Elliot and Ellyn keep me company and fill that void when my own friends are preoccupied with their husbands and children, their own busy lives.
I still laugh when watching Michael's nightmare of being visited by very human versions of his inner fear, dread, and anxiety.  I feel sentimental when the soundtrack plays a song from the seventies and still cry when watching the episode "Second Look."  Now I see their stories through different eyes, ones that have lived through my own thirties and have come to find I really resonate much more with Melissa's personality than Hope's.
Last Thanksgiving I was spending time with friends.  We were having a typical thirtysomething moment, sitting around the dining room table talking about life and relationships.  One of the twentysomething men asked me why I'd never been married. 
I shrugged, "Haven't found the right guy yet...and the men I meet don't typically want a woman my age." 
He frowned.  "What's that mean?"
"If you were to look at me on paper, it's not what most guys would consider desirable."
"Try me," he smiled.
"Okay, here you go...," I deadpanned.  "I'm forty-six years old, single, never-been-married, no kids, live alone with my cats, and love to read.  Oh yeah, and I knit."  I shot him a sly smile.
"Yeah, on paper you don't look too good," he had to admit, albeit through laughter.  "But that's not all of who you are....there's a lot that can't be seen on paper."
As a writer, don't I know it.

Independent and artistic photographer Melissa Steadman endured a thirtysomething single life full of bad dates, wobbly relationships, and people constantly asking her, "Where's your other earring?"  Richard Kramer wrote many of the episodes that feature this incredibly dynamic and unpredictable woman trying to find her way alone in a sea of married couples.  He's said that of all the characters, Melissa is his favorite because she's the only one who's really free. 
She's the maverick who lives by her own rules.
I spend a lot of time alone writing in my home office, away from opportunities to meet and mingle.  But at fortysomething, I prefer it that way.  Perhaps I always have.  In my twenties and thirties when I did venture out, blind dates were a nightmare or I chose the wrong men who treated me badly.  By the time I turned forty, the idea of dating was so tainted, I decided to simply stop.       
I struggled mightily for a long time to make peace with my inner damsel who wanted to be rescued by her "Michael in Shining Suspenders."  I've been infatuated with many versions of him and there was in fact, one New Year's Eve spent with a man whose behavior shattered my heart and blew all of my Pollyanna illusions out of the water. 
Thank God.
Once I got it through my head that there other choices, I had an incredible dream that allowed me to re-frame the past and move forward.  I was standing in a turret built in my front yard.  The sun was bright.  Birds chirped in the treetops.  Not a cloud in the cornflower blue sky.  As I looked out of the arched window, I saw men of all ages, shapes, and sizes walk past the tower, oblivious to my existence. 
Hey!” I called down to them.  “Hey, don’t you see me up here?  Are none of you going to save me?”
Not one of them paid any attention.  It was as if I was invisible. 
After watching a dozen or more pass by, I leaned out of the window and realized the tower was only five feet off of the ground.  I quickly made up my mind to save myself.  No one would do for me that which I most needed to do for myself.  And so, I leapt from the window, landed on the grass and quickly got to my feet.

There's an superbly written line in "Gentlemen's Agreement" in which one of the women says, "Sometimes when you're troubled and hurt, you pour yourself into things that can't hurt back."  I can certainly relate.  Flowers and yarn and cats and books can't hurt me.  Still, I keep the door open just in case the right man for me is ready to enter my life.  Until then, I'm content to live alone and trust that more will be revealed in time. 
One of my ears is pierced twice, and whenever someone asks me where my other earring is, I think of Melissa Steadman and smile, knowing her eclectic life is a much better fit for this fortysomething gal.

The cast of thirtysomething ... thirty years later.

Friday, February 16, 2018

An introduction to The Lace Makers

While The Lace Makers is a work of fiction, I spent the better part of a year researching the real lives of Civil War era slaves and Holocaust victims.  It was a harrowing and life-changing experience, just as writing this novel has been.  There are countless names and faces I've encountered who have given me the determination to finish a book that revealed itself over time and in a manner unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Along the way, I discovered the work of a heroic photographer, Mendel Grossman, who risked his life to take pictures of the Lodz ghetto in 1940.  Eventually he was sent to a prison camp and later died during a forced march, days before the Germans surrendered. 
He still had his camera with him.
Grossman's images are haunting.  One in particular sat on my desk as I wrote The Lace Makers.  The photograph shows a brother sharing food with his little sister...such a simple, yet incredibly profound image.  I imagine that neither of the children survived the purging of the Lodz ghetto, so in many ways, I wrote this novel for them and for all of the children who did not survive slavery or the Holocaust. 

They have no living legacy, but the stories that remain help keep their memories alive in our hearts.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mirror, Mirror -- The Very Best of Open Road

In the late eighties and early nineties, I avidly watched thirtysomething and was continually inspired by the poignant quality of the writing.  Richard Kramer, one of my favorite screenwriters, acknowledged the creators in his book These Things Happen, saying in part that Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz encouraged him to write with the intimacy of writing a letter to a small circle of friends to whom he would never have to explain himself.  It’s hard to believe that half a decade has gone by since I wrote my first blog for Open Road, yet in the process of sharing quiet, personal moments from my own life, I found that it has been like composing letters to a dear friend. 
Many of you have written over the years to say that an essay touched your life or allowed you to look at an issue from a different point of view.  The phrase that echoed the most is I needed to read this blog today…it’s very timely for what I’m going through.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve called the blog Open Road, for it invites all of you to bring yourselves to the story, no matter where you might be.  The path is always open to follow, be it the one I offer or the one upon which you’re already traveling. 

In the past five years I’ve created written snapshots of moments in time to which we can all relate.  From enduring a harsh Midwestern winter or welcoming the beauty of springtime, from experiencing quiet miracles to wondering what the future might bring, I’ve found that I’m in very good company…and more often than not, I’ve also discovered our individual journeys intersect at the perfect moment.

You can find the KINDLE and paperback versions on Amazon.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thank U, Alanis

It’s been an uncommonly cold start to the New Year, so this month, instead of hiking at Wildwood Park, I’m hitting the gym for my daily dose of cardio.  While it’s not been too crowded with folks dedicated to their new year’s resolutions, there have been moments when I’ve had to crank up my MP3 player to drown out the chatter of fellow fitness aficionados.  Every so often I change the dozens of songs I’ve uploaded, but more often than not, keep at least a few tunes by Alanis Morrisette in the playlist.  This year her complete works are at the ready whenever I need an escape from winter, from worrying about the future, from wondering how I’m going to figure it all out. 
Having loosely followed Alanis’ career since Jagged Little Pill was released in 1995, I started earnestly listening to her lyrics in 2008 after moving back to Toledo, bitter and still a bit bruised from a short-lived adventure in Big Sur.  I distinctly remember driving up Kenwood Boulevard on a sunny Saturday afternoon with Narcissus blaring through the speakers at top volume and me singing the lyrics at the top of my lungs.  Every single word clearly described a “me-show man” with whom I had briefly been involved and who made part of my life in California a living hell.  It wasn’t my first experience with a narcissist and it wouldn’t be the last, but every time I met another self-centered boy, somehow Alanis’ ode to egotistical men everywhere was playing in the background. 
For the past ten years, I’ve collected every album she’s released, every song recorded for a film.  It’s not completely Ironic that I’ve taken solo road trips with various versions of myself along for the ride.  In fact, a lot of clarity surfaces when I hit the road and let Alanis’ music wash over me.  I’ve sifted through the pain of depression hoping That I Would Be Good, dealt with my tendency to create damsel/rescuer fantasies in confronting my Precious Illusions, and seriously contemplated the 21 Things I wanted in a lover years before he arrived at my doorstep.  (By the way, Steve has 19 of them, so I figure I did have a choice in the matter.) 
For years I’ve felt that Alanis has written the soundtrack of my life and imagine many of you feel the same way.  In crafting relatable songs that cut deeply, Alanis touches a primordial place in those of us who readily recognize ourselves in her lyrics.  There have been many Particular Times when I’ve wanted to vanish from pain, yet tried to work through difficult relationships, when I’ve fallen Head Over Feet for the wrong person, when I’ve carried a Torch way too long.  Lately, I’ve found myself letting go of the people who were Uninvited, who drove me a little bit Crazy, who had washed their Hands Clean of me long ago.  Through it all, I’ve discovered that in the end, All I Really Want is some patience, which is one of the reasons I’m still here.

Since my return from Big Sur, I think of my life as B.C. (before California) and A.C. (after California).  Before I moved west, a lot of my time was spent doing intense self-discovery.  Since I returned, my life has been about intimately discovering others as well as continuing on my own personal journey.  Personal relationships take the Front Row and my perspective has broadened in concentric circles that widen as the years go by.   Now I’m focused on creating Win and Win, on allowing myself to find contentment with being Incomplete, and allowing myself to receive Empathy not as a pity, but as a gift of healing.  I’ve let my significant other see Everything, let him show me how to Receive, and know that even our challenges teach us that The Only Way Out is Through
The past couple of years have been truly difficult, but in the face of death, illness, anger, and destruction, I’ve also discovered grace, peace, and truth.  While I’ve not always done it well, I’ve been trying to see the world as it is, to see people as they are…and love them still.  The other day while I was stretching after a workout, I listened to a song from the film “Dogma”.  Tears filled my eyes as I listened to Alanis sing about embodying unconditional love in the face of our often-broken humanity.  Perhaps more than any other song Alanis has written, Still reflects an awareness I’m only beginning to truly acknowledge, a path I’m only beginning to walk, even if I don't have it all figured out just yet.
Alanis...Thank U for seeing me.
I feel so less lonely. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Burn the ships

There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.
C. S. Lewis

It’s the last day of 2017 and I couldn’t be more thankful to say goodbye to a year that has revealed both the best of times and the very worst.  Still, even the most difficult challenges I’ve endured this year have allowed me to change and grow in ways I probably wouldn’t have if the past twelve months had brought only the status quo.  Even so, as 2018 dawns tomorrow, I’m affirming that what lies ahead will be infinitely better than anything I leave behind.
For Christmas I compiled a book of photographs for Steve.  In classic Virgo style, every time we took a trip or celebrated an event, I sat down at the computer, opened Shutterfly, and uploaded a ton of pictures.  It wasn’t all smooth sailing between us, for there were several times throughout 2017 when I was tempted to delete the book out of anger or frustration.  Thankfully, I never did.  During those incredibly painful times, I didn’t know how we would ever work through them, but I had faith that if our relationship was meant to be, we would find a way out of the darkness and into something brighter. 
Thankfully, we always did.
On Christmas Eve Steve and I had plans to visit the Sharmas, but an unexpected snowstorm blew through Toledo right before sunset, so we spent a cozy evening at home, sitting by the tree, sipping coffee, and playing Christmas Trivial Pursuit.  One of the topics was “Songs and Carols” and when it was my turn to ask Steve a question, I smiled, “Oh!  You’ll know this one for sure.” 
A few days previous we had been tooling around town with the radio on and I’ll Be Home for Christmas was playing.  “That was my dad’s favorite song,” Steve told me.
So on Christmas Eve, I read from the card:  “What 1943 Bing Crosby song had soldiers longing for home?”
Steve’s eyes filled with tears.
“You don’t have to say it out loud."
Steve swiped at his cheeks.  “I don’t know why I’m such a crybaby.”
“You love your dad,” I said.  “And you miss him.”

My own father died in May of this year and during the holiday season I found myself driving through Toledo Memorial, looking for his headstone.  When I found it in a quiet place near the mausoleum, it was hard to know what to feel.  At the time of his death, Dad and I hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in nearly nine years.  My mother asked that I not sit with the family during the funeral, so Steve and I didn’t attend the burial.  Now there I was, seven months later, gazing at his grave, thinking about all the things I had learned from him, all the things I needed to unlearn.
By example, Dad taught me to be responsible with money.  He modeled an amazing work ethic and dedication to doing a job well.  He loved music and movies and my mother.  Perhaps because of my father my checkbook is balanced, I have a little money in my savings account, and I always strive to do my very best when teaching a yoga class or writing an essay or novel.  But as the new year dawns, I find myself yearning for something else…something more.
As I drove away from the cemetery, something my father used to say rang in my head:  Keep your options open.  I’m not sure when he initially said it, but I think it may have been when I was interviewing for my first teaching position.  Keep your options open, Kate, he told me.  A better offer may come along.
At the time, I wanted to escape Toledo, so I ignored my father’s advice and took the first job I was offered and taught fourth grade in Troy, Ohio.  Dejected and bored with small town life, I moved back to my hometown nine months later, then taught for ten more years, all the while pining for a series of men who wouldn’t commit to me.  Since I quit teaching in 1999, I’ve spent the next eighteen years teaching yoga classes in a host of venues…all of which have ended due to low enrollment, lack of funds, or a consolidation of extra-curricular classes.  In 2011, I signed a contract with a literary agent who spent six months unsuccessfully pitching my work, then seemingly lost interest in trying to find a publishing house for my novels.  She’s since left the business and is now selling real estate. 
In truth, the only common denominator in all of these unfulfilled endeavors is me. 
At the time, none of them worked out as I thought they should have and I wondered why I kept falling into situations in which no one would really make a commitment.  Now I realize that my subconscious wanted to keep my options open, to keep a back door available for something better that might eventually come along.  All along it was me who couldn’t fully commit, so I attracted people and situations that reflected my inability to totally give of myself, for there was always a part I unintentionally withheld because I was afraid to fail.
Until now.
I don’t blame my father, for in the past, perhaps keeping my options open or partially investing myself kept me safe from falling into circumstances that would have been harmful.  But this year I’ve learned that to try and fall short is not a bad thing.  To try and fall short again does not mean I won’t ever find success…whatever that means.  I simply need to remember that failure is not an option, because even in the midst of trial and error, I’m still learning something new. 
Tonight there’s no turning back the clock, so it’s best to burn the ships that got me where I am today in order to finally relinquish the past and fully commit to a new life.  It may not be easy.  Things may not go as planned.  The outcome may be different than I imagine it.  In the end, it doesn't matter, for letting go of what has been is always the best first step forward into what will be.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The greatest gift

Last Friday Steve and I sat in an exam room, waiting for the surgeon who had operated on me in the fall.  A few weeks ago, I went through a battery of tests and an ultrasound to make sure all of the kidney stone fragments had been removed and was looking forward to getting a clean bill of health.
The doctor walked into the office with a grim look on his face.  “The ultrasound found a seven millimeter stone in your left kidney,” he said.  “I don’t know how we missed it, but medicine isn’t a perfect science.  We’d like to schedule you for surgery the day after Christmas unless you want to wait until after the new year.”
I couldn’t look at Steve because I knew I’d burst into tears.  “Let’s do it as soon as possible,” I replied.  “I’m on a break from teaching during the holidays, so it makes sense.” 
“Okay…we’d like to have you go to x-ray before you leave to get a clearer picture of the stone,” the doctor added.  “And you’ll need to go on a low calcium-oxalate diet.”
I nodded, having restricted my eating habits since I came home from the hospital.  It was bad enough to realize that the seemingly healthy vegan diet I had been on for four years was loaded with high-oxalate foods and was probably the reason I had stones in the first place.  Now I realized that no matter how I ate, I was probably doomed to deal with the issue for the rest of my life.
Steve walked me down to x-ray and we were soon on our way home where I was weepy for most of the afternoon.  I told Steve, “I don’t want another surgery, but I don’t have cancer and this isn’t fatal.  But I’m feeling so much better and don’t have any symptoms…so how could I have another stone?  It’s just frustrating.”
“I know, honey,” he said softly.  “But I know for a fact that you’re going to be just fine.  And you’ll get to learn once more that I’ll always be there for you.”
“I’d like to learn it another way,” I cried.
On Monday, the doctor’s office called.  “Kate, can you come in for another x-ray today?” his secretary asked.  “We couldn’t find the stone on the one you had last week and we’d like to get the results before your pre-op appointment tomorrow.”
My heart lightened.  “Sure…I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Cautiously optimistic about the outcome, I called Steve and told him the good news.  “I’ll keep you posted,” I said, smiling.  “I can’t believe it.”
That night we talked about what the results might bring.  “I think they’re going to call me in the morning and say, ‘Merry Christmas…no stone.’”
“Well, no matter what happens, we’ll deal with it together,” Steve said. 
Sure enough, the next morning the doctor called me himself with the good news.  What was thought to be a stone on the ultrasound was simply a shadow left over from the surgery in October.  “You’re good to go until your follow up appointment in July,” he said happily.  “Until then, drink a ton of lemon water and watch your diet, but don’t go too crazy.”
I’ve not been his patient for very long, but he knows I do my best to always follow the rules, dietary and otherwise. 
Still, this year I've learned that some rules are meant to be broken.

Since last January I haven’t done much time writing, for I’ve been spending most of 2017 building a relationship with my significant other.  I broke a few of my own rules in getting involved with him, but looking back on it now, I’m glad I did.  Some people say the honeymoon period can last up to two and a half years, but because Steve and I were friends before we got together, and because we promised to always be honest – even when it’s uncomfortable -- we moved through the elation stage in two and half months. 
For me, the wheels started to wobble in February and finally fell off in August when I walked away to get some clarity.  A couple of weeks later, Steve and I reconciled, then a couple of weeks after that, I ended up in the hospital with sepsis and pneumonia.  During a long recuperation since late September, I’ve taken the time to reevaluate what I want in a relationship and what I need for myself.  It’s been the most complicated, rewarding experience of my life to merge it with another person who is wholly unlike me in fundamental ways, yet nearly identical where it means the most.  Steve and I eat differently, speak differently, interact with the world differently.  But our spiritual beliefs are in harmony with each other, even though don’t manifest them in the same way.
Nearly a decade ago I reconciled with the fact that since we all get wounded in relationships, we need to heal in relationships…but not necessarily with the people who did the initial maiming.  That’s a great hypothesis…in theory.  In practice it has been incredibly difficult to be met with painful pieces from my past mirrored to me by someone I love.  Yet, Steve’s wholly unlike anyone I’ve ever known, for he's consistently determined to change his life for the better...and I’m not talking about the surface stuff either.  It’s a lot easier to change the way we dress than change the way we speak.  It’s easier to lose physical weight than lose the emotional weight we often drag around our entire lives.  
Shortly after my second surgery, Steve and I got into it.  Afterward, he went back to his place and I went to the gym.  In the evening Steve came over to sincerely apologize and tell me how he worked through it for himself.   But I interrupted and angrily lit into him, going on a tirade about all of the issues from our past that we’d already worked through.
For an hour.
The next day it was my turn to apologize, for I’d come to understand my reasons for ranting and promised I’d try to never do it again.
“I’m sure in the future I’ll do something to piss you off,” Steve smiled.
“And I’ll try to keep it about that and nothing else,” I laughed. 
Since then, our relationship has deepened into something neither of us can quite define, for there aren’t really words that accurately explain the love, respect, and dedication we feel for each other.  We take the time to talk, to listen, to help each other when we can, and to be supportive when we can’t.  A year ago I would never have guessed that we’d have to go through so much or that we would have grown together in the ways that we have.  Yet being with Steve has taught me the value in standing up for myself, the gift of perseverance, and the blessing of knowing I’ll spend the rest of my life being cherished by someone who sees everything about me…and loves me anyway.
During the holidays, we often hear that the best presents aren’t found beneath the Christmas tree.  At first I thought that maybe Steve is mine…or that I am his.  But truly, it's the indescribable, ever-expanding love between us that is our constant star, our humble birth, and the greatest gift I’ve ever known.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


On a Thursday night at the end of August, my yoga students and I were having a discussion about aging.  As most of the ladies are in my generation or a bit older, we’ve been noticing subtle and not-so-subtle changes in our bodies over the past decade.  Still, in looking back over my life, I’ve realized that despite the lines on my face and the fact that I can’t always remember trivial information, this has been the best decade so far. 
As class ended, I thought for a moment about my imminent birthday.  “I feel pretty lucky,” I commented.  “Not everyone gets to be fifty-one.” As soon as the words escaped my lips, another thought popped into my head:  Yeah, and you might not either.  Not sure exactly where that came from, I quickly brushed it off as just a non-consequential thought. 
But twenty-four hours later, I went septic in the emergency room. 
Twenty-four hours after that, even though they were doing everything they could, my doctors weren’t sure I would survive.
Of course, after a long stay in the hospital, I came home with the promise that I would soon make a full recovery.  It’s been pretty slow going, but after a second surgery in October and a lot of time to rest, I’m finally feeling more normal…at least what a new normal is like these days. 

In the week after my hospital stay, I could barely go up and down the stairs.  Washing dishes wore me out.  Changing the sheets took all the energy I had.  But I didn’t really care.  All I wanted to do was sleep or spend a few hours binge-watching reruns of Friends on Netflix.  Not wanting to add to my post-hospital melancholy, I chose to stay away from shows themed with espionage, drama, and heavy emotions.  Instead, I deliberately decided to spend a considerable amount of time with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe, knowing a light comedy was exactly what I needed.  For much of the month of October, spending time with Friends allowed me to forget the long, often tedious road of recovery.
Every single day, I chuckled at Chander’s wry wit, playfully rolled my eyes when Phoebe or Joey said something particularly absurd, and laughed out loud whenever Ross found himself in a sticky situation.  (Remember his “paste pants”?)  Still, my favorite episode by far is “The One With the Cop” in which Ross, Rachel, and Chandler valiantly try to move an oversized couch up several flights of stairs. 
Every step of the way, Ross gives very specific (and annoying) instructions, shouting numerous times, “PI-VOT!  PI-VOT!  PI-VOT!!!”
Infuriated, Chandler finally shouts, “Shut up!  Shut up!  SHUT UP!!!!”
I’ve watched that short scene more than a few times while writing this blog and it never gets old.  I even found the outtakes on YouTube and laughed even harder.  

It’s not that I haven’t come a long way in the past couple of months.  Still, I don’t feel the same…and not only about my physical health.  In spending endless hours alone in silence while I rested on the couch, I did a lot of  soul searching about here I’ve been.  Where I am in the present.  Where I want to be in the future.  I used to think that by now I would have a lead on a salaried job, or at least part-time work that could supplement my income.  But lately I’m often up in the wee hours of the morning, as my days and nights are inverted and I'm not sleeping well.  While a part of me would like to line up an interview and start working outside of my home, a larger part is incredibly thankful to have a flexible schedule so I can get some much-needed rest.
In climbing my way up the winding staircase of healing, I’ve often had to stop and wait for pain to cease.  Wait to have a stent removed.  Wait for test results to arrive.  I’ve had to pivot my plans in order to accommodate my energy level, which frustrates me to no end, for I’m usually highly productive this time of year.  Sure, I still get things done, but my priorities have changed, particularly where my health is concerned.  I’m not hauling an over-sized couch up the stairs, but I have been hauling a lot of false perceptions about success, abundance, and productivity.  
So, as autumn slowly turns to winter, I’m choosing to slow down and appreciate even the simplest of blessings…a soothing afternoon nap, a mug of something warm and wonderful, a quiet evening spent with good friends.  After all, now more than ever, I know how blessed I am to enjoy this contented, peaceful life.

You can watch Ross, Rachel, and Chandler do their best to
PIVOT here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n67RYI_0sc0