Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ready steady

            Writing my first novel took six years.  The second was done in two; the third, nine months.  There's an outline for a new book sitting in my desk drawer, but it's a dangling carrot, the reward for finishing my memoir.
            You see, writing non-fiction isn't really my bag.
            I spent nearly a year combing through journals and scrapbooks, taking notes and  choosing what to leave in, what to set aside for later consideration.  After an initial mashing together of all the scraps of my history, I decided to change gears and redirect the memoir into something more unified and less chaotic.  Heaven for my inner Virgo, hell for my muse.     
            Working my way through chapter one last month was painstaking.  Every day I'd sit in front of the blank computer screen and wonder, "Does this matter?  Why am I bothering?  Why can't I go back to writing fiction where I can make it up as I go along?"  And then a memory would peek through the shadows of my judgments and I'd write it down as if it were a story I was telling a close friend.  In first person, present tense, I wrote as a four year old and then a seven year old, a ten year old, a thirteen year old.  With each story, a reflection spontaneously came afterward, a place of weaving in the experience, the lesson, the encounter and allowing it to find its place in my life as it is today. 
            And then I stopped. 
            It wasn't writer's block per se, just a cloudy place of not knowing how to continue.  I was born into the "lie and deny" generation reflected in Mad Men and came of age in the "puke and spew" culture `a la Jerry Springer.  I find both of these to be incredibly manipulative. The first buries shame, guilt or unsavory secrets often to the detriment of subsequent generations. The second reflects the willingness to reveal anything to feed the need for attention and exploit the aforementioned skeletons for public consumption. 
            I struggled with how to tell my truth with clarity and yet not allow the pages to literarily bleed with too much information. 
            From this place of murky miasma, Open Road was born.  Two weeks ago, it hit the ground running with lots of encouragement from friends and readers everywhere.  I learned how to focus and write from a place of clear integrity.  The time and space between each entry motivates me to write the memoir with both honesty and restraint.  In all of the blogs you've read so far, the skeleton of the story is there (not hidden in the proverbial closet) and some of the window dressing as well.  Still, there are elements I've kept to myself.  The deeply personal and private details will remain just that.  It's a fascinating place from which to write...this balancing act between what's true and what's discrete. 
            I thank you all for enjoying and commenting on this platform from which I'm jumping into the waters of the unknown, into the mystery that this memoir is unwinding.  I'm ready to immerse myself once again and through writing Open Road, steady enough to enjoy the unfolding. 


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Watch your language

           I was getting a big, fat head over the number of hits Open Road has had in just one week -- over 900!  That is until I clicked on a couple of the traffic sources.  To my horror, I discovered more than one third of them were pornography sites that swoop down on new blogs and ramp up the number of hits for each post, even though there is not an actual person on the other side of cyberspace. 
            I've been using a computer for two decades, but am not as "tech savvy" as I will be once I've figured out the ins and outs of blogging.  I recently spoke with the twenty-something sons of a friend of mine and we were chatting about the differences in our generations.  "My generation wants to touch the tangible earth," I said.  "Yours wants to touch the virtual world."  While I do use email, shop online and have a Facebook account, I don't text or tweet and I have no clue about how to use Excel, although Power Point looks intriguing.
            This week, all things technical have me reflecting on some of the vernacular I've learned thus far.  I've "ripped" MP3 downloads to my computer, then "burned" them onto a CD.  I've overheard people asking how much "RAM" their computer has and how many "bytes" their documents contain.  On Facebook, you can "poke" someone or "hit" a website. 
            Rip.  Burn.  Ram.  Byte.  Poke.  Hit.  Do these words sound aggressive to you, too?   
            The word with the most powerfully healing properties is "peace," with "love" and "joy" rounding out the top three.  The word that hurts the most?  I wasn't surprised to learn it is "shame."  In Masaru Emoto's book Messages from Water, the vibrational power of words and conscious intention is illustrated.  Although critics have argued that his work is pseudoscience, I've directly experienced a modified version of one of his experiments.  When I was a pre-primary teacher at a local Montessori school, I taught a series of lessons on creating peace in our classroom.  I showed the students pictures of water crystals from Emoto's book and asked them which ones they liked best.  "Love plus gratitude" was a class favorite. 
            We then filled two Mason jars with water and sealed them.  One was left in the writing center where the children were encouraged to write positive words and phrases on pieces of paper and tape them to the jar.  It was amazing to watch three, four and five-year olds write "I love you," "You are nice" and best of all, "I am your friend" on strips of green and pink construction paper.  Instead of writing negative words and attaching them to the other jar, I simply placed it in the corner and instructed the children to ignore it. 
            At the end of two weeks, I asked, "What do you notice about the water in both of the jars?  Are they same or are they different?"
            The kids noticed the water in the jar with the positive words was clear and the water in the other was slightly cloudy.  When I lifted the lids, we passed the jars around and I asked them to smell the water.  Some noticed the cloudy water had a slight odor as it had become stagnant.  I tasted small samples from both jars and the one covered with kindness was indeed more fresh. 
            "Can you pretend that these jars of water are children?" I asked them.  "Which one would you rather be?"
            Naturally, they all wanted to be the one that was showered with love. 
            Then I asked, "If the jar that was ignored was a person, how do you think it would feel?"
            One child raised her hand, "I would feel bad 'cause it would be like no one wants me."
            I smiled.  "Everyone wants to be seen and wanted, don't they?"

            Our bodies are mostly water.  If a full moon can affect ocean tides that are nearly 300,000 miles away, how can it not pull on our energy as well?  The same is true for sound vibration.  We become what we say and what we hear.  Words and phrases repeated over and over again become our inner language, and in turn, our outer reality.
              Consider the environments in which you live and work.  Are they noisy or peaceful?  Over-stimulating or balanced?  What words, phrases or statements do you say or hear repeatedly?  When I teach workshops to teenagers, one of the first things I do is place a glass of water near a sound system speaker.  I then play different types of music and fluctuate the volume level, all the while encouraging the students to notice if and how the water changes.  When I play loud, bass-driven music at the highest level, it's interesting to watch their faces.  I love a good dance party now and again, but am acutely aware of how excess amounts of loud music make me feel jittery and exhausted.
              I have the same experience with language.  We all can relate to being with people whose words and caustic delivery make us feel uncomfortable.  Conversely, we know the delight in the laughter of children, the sound of our name being said by a loved one, the beauty of an exquisite piece of music.  So as I go about my day, I strive to be consciously aware of how I use my words.  They can hurt or they can heal.  They can be used in judgement or to convey compassion.
             Open Road has been a hit with many of my friends who ask, "When will you write another one?"  If it's all the same to you, the next time you go to the webpage, I'll consider it a nudge.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hit the dirt

            I prefer a barefoot life.  As a child, running around without shoes was one of my favorite pastimes.   There's even video of me playing in the backyard with our new puppy on an unusually warm Christmas day.  Cinder frolics around the trees and slumbering garden beds while I happily skip behind him, barefoot and laughing.  In fact, during the twenty-two years I've tended the gardens that surround my own home, it's only been in the past five that I consistently wear shoes (albeit flip-flops) when weeding, watering and pruning. 
            While in the last few months of teaching first grade, one of my curious students asked, "Miss Ingersoll, what are you going to do now?"
            I smiled, "Anything that doesn't require me to wear shoes."
            True to my word, I've created a life in which I'm gloriously barefoot nearly all of the time.  Teaching yoga and writing both require me to be grounded, and for that, I'd prefer no barriers between the earth and my feet.

            In the spring, I'm gloriously busy working in other people's gardens as well.  This past weekend, I spread nearly forty bags of mulch and spruced up a couple of clients' flower beds.  The labor was incredibly demanding, but as I kept going, my body found its rhythm and I was able to not only complete the work, but come home and wash the car, do several loads of laundry and take care of some seedlings of my own.
            Indelibly, touching the earth is my favorite elixir of life.  My hands love to sift through soil, pulling weeds and planting seeds.   Gardening is like painting, with the soil as the stabilizing canvas.  It gives support and nourishment, not only to the flowers, herbs and vegetables, but also to the inner work that I always seem to experience in the spring.  I'm like a bear in the winter, hibernating, percolating and finally awakening as the sun rises higher each day and my creative juices start flowing.
            This time of year usually finds me knee deep in writing a new manuscript.  Last year, I was working on a novel.  This year, a memoir.  It's a sluggish process for me to get started on any book.  Like a steam engine leaving the station, I'm slow going for a few months, and then, unexpectedly, my pace quickens, I hit my stride and by the time my birthday rolls around in September, a stack of paper several inches high sits on my desk, ready for an initial edit. 

            In the aftermath of the car accident I wrote about in the blog, "Humble me," I needed some alternative therapy to treat the mild PTSD I'd been experiencing while driving.  Fortunately I was able to book appointments with my friend, Diane, who is an exceptional acupuncturist and MD.  Among other modalities, she practices five element acupuncture and was stymied about which one was my dominant.
            "It's either fire or wood," she said.  "Time will tell."
            Wood dominant people are often buoyed by springtime.  We are able to bend and be flexible, work around obstacles in order to continue growing and are tenacious in our quest for rebirth.  Perhaps that is why I find myself stewing all winter, longing to find the motivation to write; and then when warmer weather arrives, I'm like a sprout that pops its head above the soil and reaches for the light.  Then, my fire dominance, which is influenced in the summertime, expands the wood and gives it purpose.  I continue seeking warmth, harmony, blooming energy and completion.
            Writing is a solitary act; it requires me to shut out the world and enter into a space of reflection where I can allow words to flow through me.   One week ago, I was sitting here editing the first chapter of my memoir when an intuition seeped through the story, "You need to write another blog."  I didn't question it, I simply went online and created Open Road.  Inevitably, the past week has been filled with a rush of inspiration. Notepads are scattered all over the house in case I get an idea for a blog, a line for the manuscript, a word or phrase I'd like to explore.  My desk is an organized mess of ideas and I'm in heaven.  I imagine this must be how a chef feels when they open their cupboards or refrigerator and find them stocked to the gills with fresh ingredients.
            I'm really cooking now.
           And yet, everything requires balance.   I usually begin my day out in the garden watering the beds and checking on the new arrivals that were planted over the weekend.  Then I can come inside, put my bare feet on the floor and write for a few hours.  Phone calls to my friends usually follow as I reach out to connect with others.  Yoga classes fill up my afternoons and evenings and I often spend time with my little friend, Harshil, and his family.  I truly live a well-grounded and fruitful life.

            At the end of yoga classes, I often remind my students that the practice of relaxation has a cumulative effect.  Every time we allow our bodies to consciously let go, they magically recall every other experience of peace, meditation and connection with our true selves.  I have a similar experience when my hands touch the earth.  Forty-six years of playing in the dirt expand each moment and allow me to look more deeply at the beauty I am co-creating.
            The other day I was carefully planting Morning Glory seeds in a cottage garden when I had a spontaneous, visceral memory of being on the farm at Esalen, my bare hands gently planting fennel seedlings while the salty sea air brushed my skin.  On that day, it was unusually warm in Big Sur, so I took off my shoes and let my toes sink into the earth more deeply.  By the time the crew and I were finished, the silty soil covered me from head to toe and I was exhausted, yet blissfully calm.  
             Ken, my dear friend and co-worker, had only recently uncovered a huge rock that lay buried in the heart of the farm.  Like me, he was delirious to spend time in the dirt to discover a wonder hidden deep beneath its surface.   He called the rock his "Big Happy" and I understand exactly what he meant.  It's such a natural, yet vital part of life.  To touch the earth.  To become grounded.  To find joy in walking barefoot through a garden.
              To find, deep within myself, that which makes me truly happy.


With Ken on the farm at Esalen
Ken discovering his "Big Happy"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Good mourning

            When my friend, Brandi, got married a few years ago, I made a personalized pair of Christmas stockings for her and her new husband.  This past December she told me that she and Rob were expecting.
            "Will you make a stocking for my baby, too?" Brandi asked.
            "Of course!" I beamed.  "It'll be my baby gift for you both."
            I've been busy cross-stitching the cuff for little Holden's surprise, and last night, when weaving in his name, a familiar wave of grief fluttered through me.  It's always a bittersweet thing to knit toys and make stockings for my friend's children.  I'm so happy for their anticipation, the joy that comes when waiting for a new arrival.  And yet, when I look around my home, while peaceful and charming, it's silent for there are no children of my own.
            When I volunteered at Hospice of Northwest Ohio, I learned that for most people, the initial mourning period after a death is thirteen months.  It takes a full calendar year of experiencing landmark dates and the change of seasons without a loved one to begin finding a "new normal."  Life may not get easier, but living without their presence becomes more familiar.  And yet, how long is the mourning period for something deeply wanted that will never come to pass?  Is thirteen months long enough to grieve the loss of a lifetime of hopes and wishes? 

            Twenty years ago, buoyed by the faith that a family of my own was imminent, I cross-stitched a sampler for a future baby.  Little teddy bears joyfully announced "I love you more than all the leaves in autumn...sand on a beach...stars in the sky."  When it was completed, I carefully stitched "Mom, 1993" in the space where crafters usually put their initials.  Then I washed it, rolled it up carefully and stored it with the baby clothes and dolls from my childhood.  It was a silent sentry, an unseen beacon that I hoped would attract what I most desired. 
            Six years later I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition that allowed me to re-evaluate my life and the choices I'd made thus far.  After consulting with a doctor about my options, I walked through her waiting room filled with women in various stages of pregnancy or with newborns cradled in their arms.  A tsunami of anguish tore through me as I sat in my car and sobbed.  I was still alone.  No husband.  No children and with cells that would soon become cancer growing in my uterus. 
            Changes were in order.
            I had surgery and was eventually declared healthy.  I quit teaching in order to create a new life that would allow me the time and space to have a family.  Every now and again, I would unroll the cross-stitch sampler and wonder, "How much longer?" Five years passed, then five more.  In that time, I knit a layette set and painted a small bedroom bright yellow with stars on the ceiling.  I even bought a toy chest, filling it with trinkets I'd collected, all in the hopes of manifesting a family of my own. 
            It never happened.
            In 2007, as I prepared to move to California, I packed up my house and put everything in storage.  While sifting through the would-be baby's room, I decided to finally let go of the dream of having children.  With a lot of tears and sorrow, I gave away or sold nearly every item.  Gone were the Lincoln Logs, the stacks of chunky books, the bibs, hats and mittens, the rocking chair and the toy box.  I was moving on to another incarnation of "Katie."  I may not have my own children, but I was going to work in the garden at Esalen and be a mother to thousands as I nurtured the seedlings in the greenhouse.  It wasn't the same, but, along with living on the edge in Big Sur, it seemed to be enough.
            Nearly a year later, I moved back to Toledo, as my encounter with Esalen left me exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I've experienced dozens of metaphoric miscarriages, and through each one, the sorrow of being childless lines up first so it can be acknowledged again and again.  Leaving California stirred up memories of every loss, every dream dashed, every moment I've been left alone with empty hands.
            And yet, my empty hands were open and ready to be filled with something brand new.  It's taken years to whittle down the grief, but what was once so overwhelming, has softened into something more familiar, a "new normal."  My empty house is now filled with yoga students; my empty hours filled with teaching and writing and gardening.  My empty days are now spent with friends and their children.  My empty heart is filled to overflowing with the knowledge that I am loved by so many. 

            The cross-stitch sampler still remains in my keepsake box and I may one day pass it on to someone else's child.   But until then, it remains a touchstone for the mourning I still sometimes feel, the flicker of sadness that I ignite and transform into a deeper awareness of all the ways I can share my nurturing energy with the world.  I've learned the extraordinary difference between wanting to have a child and wanting to be a mother.  So while I will never give birth to a baby of my own, I can be a mother to anyone or anything.  
              What a beautiful blessing.



Thursday, May 16, 2013

Getting better all the time

            My friend, Lisa, says I'm the only person she knows who has so much abundance literally show up on my doorstep.  I have a private yoga studio upstairs and also teach knitting classes on Wednesday nights, so I am blessed with a plethora of amazing people who cross my threshold every week.  Still, abundance has many faces, some of which can only be recognized by the soul.
            I'm in the process of writing a memoir and it's been a difficult journey to piece together the fragments of my life, to see the silver lining in the painful challenges, the difficult decisions I've made in the past twenty-five years.  This morning I was writing a note to my aunt to thank her for supporting me through the very difficult reality of not having any children of my own. 
            I wrote, "I've been researching for the second chapter in my memoir and had blissfully forgotten the hell I went through for so long...I was too busy getting my own life would have been terrible for any child I was trying to raise. I can see grace in every step now, which is why I started writing 'Open Road.' In every challenge, there's an opening to something new."
            Moments later I decided to check the mail as it had been arriving earlier than usual.  As I stepped out the door, there was the mail carrier putting envelopes into the box.  I smiled, "Oh, good timing!"
            He smiled back at me and something in his eyes stirred a memory.  "Were you a student at Greenwood Elementary?"
            He nodded. 
            "I think I was your first grade teacher," I replied.  "I'm Katie Ingersoll...what's your name?"
            "Antonio*," he smiled.  "But I think you were my sixth grade teacher."
            "Oh, yes!" I beamed.  "I remember you."
            "I have a kid at Whitmer High School now," he said proudly. 
            "Wow...time flies, doesn't it?" I nodded.  "I'm so glad to have seen you today."
            "Me, too," he grinned, walking toward my neighbor's home.
            Heading back to my office, I thought about the year I spent teaching sixth grade with a group of children who were unparalleled in their misbehavior.  Except for Antonio and a few others, the students repeatedly sassed and insulted me.  I was only twenty-three and endured nine long months trying teach in a hostile environment that eventually had me vomiting blood and taking anti-anxiety medication so I could sleep at night.  I was never so grateful for summer vacation and begged my principal to place me in another position for the following school year.
            "All I have is a first grade opening," he replied.
            I didn't hesitate for one moment.  "I'll take it."
            Thus began a nine year celebration of working with younger children who delighted in coming to school each day.  I was honored to have taught with two of the best educators in the business who set the bar high and welcomed me onto their team with open arms.  Twenty-five years later, Yvonne, Sandy and I are still like family and I stay in touch with dozens of my former first graders, many of whom are studying to be teachers.
            If it had not been for that very challenging year teaching sixth grade, I don't imagine I would have been so adamant about changing grade levels.  And through my experience with hundreds of six and seven-year-olds, I was blessed to be able to tap into my childlike nature while sharing my love of learning with more receptive and engaging children.  Even though I left the classroom in 1999, I still love practicing yoga with kids of all ages, for they continue to be my favorite teachers.  Within the space created by not having a child of my own, I can experience the joy in touching the lives of many.
            I'm so thankful to have seen Antonio again after two and half decades.  Now I can think back to that very tumultuous year and remember the kids who made it worth while, who unknowingly opened a door to something better.  And it did get better. 
            Through all my choices and life's never-ending surprises, I keep getting better all the time.      

*His name has been changed.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Welcome to Open Road...enjoy the journey!

            My friends say that if they spend enough time with me, a "Katie Story" will eventually occur.   A magical synchronicity, a person or a necessary lesson will enter my life that allows me to see the bigger picture, the higher meaning of what may seem mundane to some.  I believe that unseen mysterious forces are continually conspiring in our favor; that our lives can become more consciously lived through the awareness of each encounter, each conversation, each person who crosses our path and allows us to see through the kaleidoscope of life with a twist of perspective.  

            I've created Open Road as a place where I can share these magical moments and encourage you to embrace them as they happen in your own life.  Like the flowers that open in the springtime, magic is always there whether we acknowledge it or not, blooming and providing beauty amongst the challenges of living.  Through the difficulties and delights, a thread of grace is consistently being woven into each of us.   It's a freedom to recognize this as it comes, for it allows me to travel on, unencumbered by the fear of what I don't know, what I can't see.  As one of my yoga students often reminds me, "More will be revealed." 

            I look forward to the journey, and hope you do, too!