Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In praise of Picasso

          In the fall of 2000 I was visiting Greenwood Elementary where I had taught for ten years.  Having been blessed to work there during what my friend (and our incredible music teacher), Alice, used to call "Camelot," I went back every so often to touch base with my former colleagues and students.  I read to the first graders, spent time in the teacher's lounge catching up on all the Greenwood gossip and eventually made my way to Jeri Madsen's art room to have a nice long chat.
          It was a bittersweet time for me that autumn...having finished the first draft of Surfacing, I was creatively spent.  My yoga business was just fledgling in the nest and so I worked diligently working toward the publication of my novel.  Time after time, doors were slammed in my face, and I wasn't sure if I had it in me to write anything more.
          I wondered out loud to Jeri, "I don't know if I'm even meant to write another book.  This one took everything I had...and then some."
          "Do you want a career as a writer?"
          I nodded.  "Yes, but I don't know what to do now.  My agent is dragging her feet.  The rewrites are done, but she's doing nothing with them.  I'm beginning to wonder if this is all just a pipe dream.  That Surfacing was supposed to be for me...for my own healing process...and that's it."
          Jeri considered this for a moment.  "Well, Picasso always said that the inspiration for this next painting was in the one he just finished."
           
          The thought percolated in my imagination for more than a year.  In the meantime, I taught yoga.  Cleaned houses for grocery money.  Hauled mulch.  Painted the interior of friends' houses to make ends meet.  I lived like a pauper, albeit one who had a modest roof over her head, warm clothes in the closet, and food in my stomach.  I wasn't exactly a starving artist, but I learned to understand what Picasso meant when he said, "I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money." 
          Through living with the reality of vacancy, both in my bank account and as a writer, I learned the difference between being comfortable and being creative.  In living with a vacuum, I discovered the blessing of silence within the uncertainty.
          In the summer of 2002, I thought about the ending of my first novel and wondered what it would be like to be abandoned as a child.  I had taught many kids whose father had left them.  A couple whose mothers had disappeared even before they were out of diapers.  In doing research, I discovered that of all the abuses a child can endure, abandonment is the most damaging long-term. 
          What would that look like? I imagined.  What would it feel like?  How would a child learn to trust?  To not constantly be on the lookout for subsequent betrayal?
          And so Seven Generations was born...and after years of rewrites, years of waiting and wondering when it would be published, it's now available on Amazon.com.  As with Surfacing, this is not a novel I would write today.  It doesn't reflect my life.  It's not a fictional representation of anyone I know.  But it completes a story I had left undone.  It closes the circle of a mother-daughter relationship fraught with bitterness and regret. 
          And it provided the template for how I continue to write novels.  For in each one, there's a kernel of inspiration.  A character not fully complete.  A question left unanswered which opened the door to another story I could tell.  Another narrative to explore.  Two more novels in this series are in their final stages of editing and will be published soon.  And then I'll return to a manuscript I left in my desk drawer as a dangling carrot which had encouraged me to finish my memoir and get my novels into your hands.
          The idea for this new book was born out of the fourth one I've written, but if I look more closely, I can see that really had its conception in the first scene of SurfacingFaces of My Father will complete the series...and then, who knows what I'll write next?
          But I'm certain that, like the tiny little Morning Glories that have popped their heads above ground after a long and grueling winter, that which lies beneath my consciousness is already working its way toward the light.  Every time I sit down to write something new, I think of my dear friend, Jeri, and send her a prayer of thanksgiving.  A thought of peace...in gratitude for revealing to me words of wisdom that have touched my heart and freed my soul.




"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Pablo Picasso

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Book bingeing

          I've been bingeing on New Yorker magazine this week.  To be honest, I first check out all the cartoons, then catch the "About Town" section, and then skim the stories for something that might sound interesting.  I love it when our local library has a stack of back issues on the shelf, just waiting for someone like me to snap them up.  I grab a mug of something hot and hang out on the front porch and lose myself for a few hours.
          This spring and summer I'll be self-publishing a backlog of novels that have been hanging around my house for the better part of a decade.  It's a joy and a relief to finally know they will be out of my hands and into yours in the very near future.  You can read them one at a time or binge to your heart's content.  They segue into each other, so you don't have to wait to know what happens next with this character or that. 
          Here's a line up of what's already out there and what's coming your way soon.  No NOOK or KINDLE?  No worries.  A free app is located on each book's web page.   Please feel free to contact me if you need help with the downloading process.  I'm happy to assist you in any way I can.
          Happy book bingeing!  

BOOK ONE:  SURFACING
Now available on Amazon.com


          SURFACING is told in two parts by Allyson Schreiber.   Through flashbacks and in present time, Allyson weaves the story of her bittersweet childhood, her young adult life, and her complicated relationship with her older brother, Michael.  When he reveals that he is dying of AIDS, Allyson is forced to face their collective past with courage, determination, and an inner strength discovered through the long journey of Michael's illness and subsequent death.
          The structure of the novel reflects the struggle Allyson must endure in order to leave her old life behind.  The first section is somewhat disjointed, flashing back and forth in time, much like Allyson’s fragmented personality and life experiences.  She is challenged by many issues, all of which are reflected in her dysfunctional relationships, her workaholic nature, and non-existent personal life.  Allyson cannot be in the present moment consistently, and mentally lives either in the pain of the past or a projected Pollyanna future in order to keep herself from dealing with the chaos that swirls within and around her. 
          In part two, Allyson's old life slowly crumbles; everything she had once trusted eventually fails her.  Yet she is able to make peace with a history she cannot change in order to create a new life and a sense of self that is empowered and purposeful.  Still, she has a choice to make.  When her past comes back to haunt her, she faces a decision to either continue living in the light of what she has created or move back into the shadows. 
          SURFACING reflects one woman’s passage deep into the heart of who she is beyond the imposed identities of daughter, sister, wife, or mother.  As Allyson discovers her authentic self, the momentum of her evolution is inspirational and thought-provoking. 


BOOK TWO:  SEVEN GENERATIONS
Now available on Amazon.com 
 
          SEVEN GENERATIONS is told through the eyes of Grace Mason.  This coming-of-age story is triggered by Grace’s early childhood experience of being abandoned by her mother, Allyson, whom she assumes is dead.  Her mother returns a month later, but Grace is scarred by the experience and as she grows older, suffers with ongoing feelings of rejection in many of her relationships. 
          After a brief prologue in which Grace discovers her mother has been in a near-fatal car crash, the novel flashes back to the summer of her fourth birthday when Allyson left her.  The plot weaves its way through the birth of Grace’s sister, Brie and the subsequent accident that caused Brie to lose her hearing. Gathering momentum through Grace’s tumultuous teen-age years, SEVEN GENERATIONS reaches a mini climax during the summer before she is to leave for college.  Allyson and Grace have a heated argument after which Allyson is in the car accident, leaving her in a coma. 
          Grace struggles with her mixed emotions about leaving for college and moving on with her life once again without a mother.  While in college she falls in love with a man who helps her forget about the tragedies at home, but then finds herself having to make serious decisions that will affect the rest of her life.  When an unexpected pregnancy happens, Grace responds in a way that sets the stage for the last section of the novel in which she learns that our relationships with others are mirrors in which we see ourselves more intimately. 
          When Grace ultimately learns the truth about her mother’s past, the reasons she abandoned her, and the introspective choices that Allyson made in order to be able to return to her family, Grace begins to discover how to love and be loved imperfectly.  Spanning multi-generations, Grace's story weaves a rich tapestry of hope, love, and of family ties that can never be broken.
         

BOOK THREE:  A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH
Available on Amazon.com on June 3, 2014
 
          A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH is narrated by Annie Schreiber, a semi-functioning alcoholic and uncompromising narcissist who raised her children in the sixties and seventies with a Kool-Aid pitcher in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. Now she is dead and wandering in an afterlife that forces her to witness the choices she made which ultimately led to her only son’s brutal self-destruction.
          Through the journey of deconstructing the past in the hopes of releasing herself from the limbo of what she calls “non-existence,“ Annie witnesses events in present time which force her to relive key moments of her own history. Unable to cope with the realities of being a wife and mother, Annie begins to self destruct by embarking on a clandestine affair with her husband’s brother, who wrecks havoc in her life by tormenting her children and ultimately abusing her.  Afraid of the consequences the truth might reveal, Annie swears her children to secrecy, and they unwittingly pay a high price for her conditional love and protection. 
          A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH draws out layers of emotional conflict that eventually allow Annie to forgive not only those who have damaged her children, but also herself for abandoning them when they most needed a mother.  In the end it reflects a family whose members are evolving and growing in ways which are complicated, but hopeful.  Inspired by the work of Alan Ball, Richard Kramer, and Winnie Holzman, A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH is rich with scenes of black humor, stimulating dialogue, and the inner workings of a woman’s soul that teeters on the edge of redemption.


BOOK FOUR:  COMMON THREADS
Available on Amazon.com on July 1, 2014
 
          Jaimie Reese's life is a series of endless empty caverns.  Her father is in prison.  Her mother walked out when she was in kindergarten and now she finds herself being bounced from one Midwestern foster home to the next.  Highly intelligent, but fiercely introverted, Jaimie can never quite connect with anyone or anyplace for long which leads to cyclical, reckless behavior.
          Shortly after her eighteenth birthday, knowing she is no longer a ward of the state,  Jaimie changes her name and drives west not knowing where she will eventually land.  Carving out a new life as Brynn Williams in Portland, Oregon is difficult, and she eventually learns that traits of both her father and mother are woven deeply within her personality and the life experiences she encounters.
          Desperately wanting to cut ties with her past, Jaimie/Brynn moves to Ottawa Institute, a spiritual retreat center in coastal northern California, where she feels at home for the first time in her life.  After she establishes roots in a new relationship and a place that allows Jaimie/Brynn to finally soften her heart, a distant relative suddenly reveals herself and unearths long buried secrets about her mother. 
          COMMON THREADS unwinds the multiple strands that create a woman's life, then weaves them back together into a journey that is both extraordinary and quietly triumphant.
         

OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR
Now available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

          OPEN ROAD: A LIFE WORTH WAITING FOR chronicles my life's story from my earliest memory at age three until the present moment.  As a woman born in the mid-sixties, I was not prepared for a life as a single woman running a yoga business and trying to carve out a life as a writer. 
          Looking back over the course of my life, it seems that I was destined for journeys unseen and unknown by not only my family and community, but also completely foreign to my own reality.  Welcoming the unknown was unfamiliar to me, but a reality I would readily embrace as I entered the second half of my life.  Enter divine guidance and the gifts of grace that often accompany the road less traveled. 
          The book is told through the metaphor of creating a garden, with each step a necessary and preparatory stage for the following one.  From tilling the soil to planting, from pruning back the excess to gathering the seeds for a future harvest, the memoir gently encourages the reader to understand that this is truly a never-ending journey through which we are all evolving in our own time...and through the unique calling of our spirits.
          Each chapter in the memoir begins with a first-person, present tense retelling of a significant memory from my past.  Then I lift the lesson, the experience, the circumstance and gently weave it into ever-evolving tapestry of what my life was becoming...and what is now evident in the person I am today. 
          It is my hope that this memoir will encourage others who have had to endure and overcome obstacles, both inner and outer, on their way to transformative healing.  Through sharing my story, I wish to give others the opportunity to reflect on their own...and in turn, to share their stories as well. 





Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Losing my mind...finding my soul

"Losing my mind...finding my soul"
Originally published on April 22, 2014


I'm really struggling with writing a synopsis for SEVEN GENERATIONS this morning.  The old one I used to pitch to literary agencies feels stale and stiff.  The one I edited last week doesn't work either as it's too wordy and watery.  I can't find the right tenor, the most accurate way to describe a novel that reflects the experience of a woman who struggles with ongoing feelings of abandonment and rejection.  Who pushes through to the other side, albeit while making choices some might think are simultaneously reckless and circumspect.   
How to find the right words that describe one ordinary woman's journey into consciousness?  Ten years after writing this one, you'd think I'd have a grip on it by now.
But no.

For years my dear friend and former teaching colleague, Sandy, traveled every summer and I was fortunate enough to take care of her house and yard, which included a gorgeous circular in-ground pool.  For over a decade I spent many wonderfully warm afternoons hanging out in her backyard.  Floating in the pool.  Editing early drafts of my novels.  Wondering when my life would start moving forward.
Still for much of that time, I felt like I was losing my mind...literally.  I was in flux between teaching first grade and building a yoga business.  In the middle of ending therapy and beginning a different way of being.  To help the process along, every summer I'd schedule a series of Rolfing sessions.  During the time between putting the dates in my planner and actually getting on the table to endure the often painful work of transformation, my psyche always seemed to split wide open and out poured a host of unresolved personal issues.  Cyclic relationships ramped up their drama.  I became bored with everything I knew to be true...everything that was slowly, but surely revealing itself to be an illusion.  
One year I turned into a complete klutz and within a few weeks' time, fell down the stairs, fell out of a headstand onto a concrete floor, then fell off a ladder while cleaning the gutters.  I didn't sleep or eat well for long periods of time.  Teaching yoga was often an agony and I couldn't clearly articulate what I was enduring.  At one point out of frustration, I said to my Rolfer, "It's like my body feels as if someone rearranged all the furniture in my living room without telling me and I'm walking around in the dark in an unfamiliar space."
Tony nodded.  "That sounds about right.  When you're ready to get rolfed all your stuff comes up from the center of your spine so I can see it."
"Well, if you can see it, let's go to work," I replied.  "Turn the lights on, will you?"
With every Rolfing session, I got better.   Became more integrated.  Was able to move forward with calm assurance that the inner psychic housecleaning was worth what had been hiding beneath the layers of dust and dirt.\Every summer I returned to the Rolfing table while Sandy traveled.  Every season a horrible blessing of going through a dark tunnel, not knowing if I would make it to the other side.  But I always did.  And by the time Sandy returned, we had lots to share about our journeys-- both inner and outer.
Once, after a trip to Custar State Park, Sandy returned wearing a light blue t-shirt with the quote, "Lose your mind" on the front and "Find your soul" on the back.  I loved that shirt...coveted it really.  It represented for me the jewel in mining the dark recesses of my consciousness in order to be able to hear my soul speaking more clearly.
Sandy wore her shirt through the last years of her teaching career.    Through the first few years of retirement.  Through her plans for moving to Alberta, Canada.  Through the sifting and sorting of her own life as she prepared and packed and practiced patience while waiting for her landed immigrant status to arrive. 
As moving day approached, I was helping with the final house cleaning as new owners had just closed on their escrow.  Sandy stuffed a box into the trunk of her car, then turned to me.  "I have something for you."  And with that she came back into the house and went into her bedroom.  Moments later she returned with the "Lose your mind" t-shirt.  "I've made it to my journey now," she smiled.  "It's time you had this."
Gratefully accepting it, I wore the shirt during my own transition from Ohio to California.  I wore it as a work shirt when I hoed and weeded in the gardens at Esalen.  And when I returned, I wore it to practice yoga and when I sat in silent meditation.  Every autumn, I carefully fold the shirt and store it with my spring and summer clothes. 
Just last Sunday night, after a warm Easter evening, I went downstairs to pull it from the bin to wear as a night shirt.  For weeks, I have been feeling my inner moorings shift and the untethering of my mind.  Of course, Rolfing sessions have been scheduled for July so this is no surprise.  Still, I'm familiar with the process of losing my mind.  Now, at this point in my life, finding my soul is something more important to focus on as I once again navigate the murky waters of unseen changes.  
Sandy and I had lost touch over the winter as she's been traveling to places here, there, and everywhere and I've been writing and teaching and learning lessons of my own.  Still I felt Sandy's presence in that shirt, in the awareness of how much she's been a witness to the past twenty-six odd years.  Who has given me the space and support to continue this journey of discovery.  So I wasn't surprised at all to find a long and lovely email from her in my inbox on Monday morning.  Perhaps tangible things can more readily send a prayer of love to a friend...a thought of Thanksgiving for someone who's touched my life in ways I cannot clearly articulate.

So maybe that's why I'm having trouble writing Grace's synopsis today.  I'm not quite sure how creating her story has changed my life or allowed me to integrate more fully the healing of past hurts.  The opening of new doors of awareness.
Maybe I need to not think about it for a while...to lose my pre-conceived ideas of what it's supposed to be.  How it's supposed to sound.  What it's supposed to convey.  To let my mind relax and simply enjoy this lovely spring day.  
To trust that when I'm meant to find the words, my soul will wisely whisper them into my ear. 


         
         
         
With Sandy on a trip to Yellowstone National Park, 2010



          

Sunday, April 20, 2014

2%

          This spring I've been tutoring a bright and charming little girl (let's call her Lily) who reads with fluency, makes careful phonetic connections, and enthusiastically attempts any lesson I put before her.  She has some challenges, but week by week, month by month, Lily's making steady progress.  Yet even though she earns good grades on her report card, if my hard-working tutee doesn't pass the Ohio Achievement Test at the end of the month, Lily will have to repeat the third grade.
          As a former teacher who knows children learn in a plethora of ways, this does not sit well with me at all.  As a former student who earned honors in English and history, but couldn't break 1,000 on my SAT's (and I took them twice), it pushes on some serious bruises.  I'm no dumb box of rocks, but I sure felt like it when the results showed up in the mail.  And no matter how many A's I earned in college, it didn't take away the sting of feeling stupid because a bar graph intimated as much.
          Mandatory standardized tests were one of the reasons I left education and it's one of the biggest complaints from instructors today.  "Teaching to the test" has been the norm for over a decade and we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg of issues that will result from such a short-sighted practice.  Yes, we need ways to measure a child's progress, but we also need a wider variety of avenues that cover more than a person's ability to momentarily absorb, then almost immediately regurgitate facts on a paper/pencil test.  
          
          Still, all the "test speak" this spring had me busy this weekend. 
          One of most interesting surprises in working with Lily is that I've been revisiting my own memories of being a student.  Some of her challenges are nearly identical to what mine were, so out of curiosity, I spent the better part of last night reviewing achievement and IQ tests I had taken in school and college.  Personality tests given to me by therapists and colleagues.  I went online and found a few free tests that measure my emotional intelligence and conceptual awareness.  I even took the Myers Briggs inventory for the fifth time...and it turned out nearly identical to my first go 'round back in graduate school.
          Each test revealed that my type of intelligence, the way I see the world, the way I relate to myself and others have a common thread running through them.  Every score shows that I fall into only 2% of the population.  Words like "uncommon" and "unusual" and "different" popped up again and again. 
          I read through the interpretations, remembering the ten-year-old I used to be sitting in the Junior Great Books program bored out of my mind because I didn't want to talk about the order of events in a story we had read.  I didn't want to answer multiple choice questions on a ditto sheet.  I wanted to write my own book.  I wanted to draw a picture of an alternative ending.  I wanted to ask the other kids which character they could relate to...and why.
          But of course, I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut, and sat glumly in a circle of other kids, watching the clock and wishing I could make the hands fly faster.

          If you've read my memoir, then you know I've lived an uncommon life.  Made uncommon choices, especially for the past fifteen years.  Experienced things outside the realm of "normal" for women my age.  It goes with the program of being outside the standard median, not that I didn't try to pound my square peg into that round hole for over a decade.  Still, with every attempt to find a wormhole into becoming a wife and mother, my innate personality bled through and in the end, that's a good thing.  (Recently I took one of those silly online tests to see how many children I'm supposed to have and of course, the number turned out to be zero.)
          It's not been easy to maneuver through a culture that often values things I couldn't care less about.  That sees and experiences people in a very different light.  To be in relation with others who have told me to "take a pill" or "dumb down" or the one comment that's like nails on a chalkboard:  "Katie...lighten up."
          I often wanted to ask them all, "Is that code for 'stop telling the truth?'"
          I'm certainly not saying I'm in the top 2% of the population, nor am I asking for sympathy.  I'm simply saying that to recognize the reality of knowing from the time I was little that I was atypical from most people, and then find numerous sources to back that up has helped me to make sense out the loneliness I often felt.  But as a friend once told me, "You can't be your authentic self and expect the rest of the world to get you...or even want to."
           Yep...that sounds about right. 

          I recently went for a long bike ride and thought about what it means to live in a 2% world.  It's often silent, but I don't mind.  I know I have to sift through a lot of excess before I can discover and decipher what best resonates with me.  I thought about the things I've most wanted to create that involve other people and how they've failed time and again. 
          Same story, different faces.
          Different circumstances, same results.
          Then a revelation occurred to me -- I need to stop beating myself up for being different.  For being what people consider "a nut or a novelty."  For being something other than what's expected.  For what even I expect.  I need to let go of all the tests I struggled with and sometimes failed.  I need to soften around the edges and see that repeating blunders doesn't mean I'm stupid...it simply means I'm still trying.  
          So I may be "uncommon" or even "obscure," but I'm also tenacious and strong enough to know that despite all those tests that tell me I'm hanging out in the 2%, I'm also much more than anything that can be revealed on a pie chart.
          And so are your kids.  
          As are each and every one of you.




        


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good thing

          I know a good thing when I see it...and let me tell you, there's nothing like discovering brand new daffodils poking their heads out of what used to be the frozen tundra of my backyard.  It's a small, but significant sight this spring...especially for a gardener who's looking forward to hitting the dirt again this season.
          It's a bit on the cool side to go out and prune my holly bushes.  To rake and aerate the grass.  To even go for a bike ride.  So while I wait for the sun porch to warm up, I'm cleaning the house.  Working in the office.  And shredding a mess of paperwork that's been piling up in my basement for years. 
          Yesterday I purchased a new shredder and have been tearing through documents dating back to 2000.  It's a strange feeling to completely destroy years of paperwork that went into building my yoga business.  To render unreadable long-ago discarded drafts of my novels and sift through endless stacks of receipts for books, CD's, candles, and yoga mats that have long since been read, donated, burned up, or recycled. 
          But it's a freedom, too.

          I don't usually spring clean as I'm more of a "do it all in the fall" kind of gal.  Sure, I wash the windows.  I launder the drapes and air out the bedding, but I leave the truly heavy work for September and October when the cooler weather gives me a rush of adrenalin.
          This year's been different as the warmer weather has encouraged me to throw off everything that has been weighing me down this winter when I was trapped inside for months -- staring at the shelves of stuff I no longer want to keep.  The clothes I no longer wear.  The excess stuffed in my closets that needs to be released.  Just as I've been wearing less layers of clothing, every week I've been gleaning it all level by level.  Now I'm down to a pair of yoga pants, a tank top and cotton sweater and my office is nearly free of the fuzzy little papers and dust that have accumulated as the shredder hums along.  
          It's a little like karmic housecleaning...this letting go of all the documentation of my past successes.  My mistakes.  My false starts and high hopes.  I'm looking forward to next year when I can starting eliminating 2007 and the three years that followed which left me charred, but fertile enough to start all over again...and in more ways than one.

          This afternoon finds me discarding the discomfort of this past winter and looking forward to lazy summer days in my backyard.  Anticipating when I can wear shorts and tank-tops and flip-flops.  Longing for longer days and warmer nights so I can sleep with the windows cracked open and listen to the crickets chirping in the darkness. 
          Still, springtime has its charms and I'm thankful this year it's been slow in arriving.  I don't miss a day out in the garden, watching for signs of life.  I clear away the dried leaves and rubbish from last year and wait for new growth to appear.  The waiting and wondering can be the hardest part of gardening -- or of life, for that matter -- but in the silence of anticipation, I find myself looking forward to what might be and more fully letting go of what has been.
          Yes, I know a good thing when I see it...and even more so when I feel it deep inside my heart.          
                   


          

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Busy bee

          Yesterday I was teaching a kids' yoga class and mentioned the possibility of an overnight snowfall.
          One of the boys sighed, "I'm done!  I want to go back to Tennessee where they have bumblebees and sunshine!"
          I can certainly relate.
          In mid-April I'm usually a busy bee in my gardens, planting seeds and hoeing and preparing the soil for annuals I'll bring home in May. But not this year.  Yes, I've enjoyed bike rides to the park.  I've been able to rake out all the dried leaves and muck from the flower beds.  And I've even spent a few afternoons hanging out on the front porch swing, visiting with friends and enjoying warmer temperatures.
          But something in the back of my mind has been whispering, "Don't get too used to this.  Winter's not done yet."  And on this full moon/lunar eclipse Tuesday, I'm reminded once again the challenges and benefits of taking two steps forward and one step back.
         
          Mondays are usually late nights for me and I don't get to bed until after midnight.  Tuesday mornings are luxurious as I can sleep in and enjoy the comfort of a good book and cup of tea while slowly waking up.  I don't have to teach until this afternoon.  I could be editing a book, but I'm choosing not to...at least not yet.  I could be doing laundry or grocery shopping or a host of other things to keep me busy.
          But I'm not. 
          Instead I'm choosing to ease into the day in peace -- a reality quite unlike the life I once lived as a workaholic.  Back then my days began at 5:30 AM and didn't end until after 11:00 PM.  I taught first grade all day, ran errands in the afternoon, then volunteered here, there and everywhere from Monday through Friday nights.  Saturdays were spent taking care of the house.  Sunday were spent grading papers and preparing for the week ahead.  I ran on the hamster wheel of a life I had created and never once asked myself why I felt compelled to bleed myself dry in the process.
          It wasn't until the overwhelming stress of trying to do it all...and do it alone...created health issues I could no longer ignore.  Only then did I begin to heal the addictions to sugar, to chaos, to keeping a busy schedule, to working myself to death in order to prove to myself I was worth something.
          So I saved a little money, quit my job, and spent the better part of four months wondering, "What's next?"  I had long, empty hours to myself.  Even longer days to contemplate the consequences of my choices.  It was a necessary time to live in the space of not being busy.  Of not having a thousand and one things to do so when people asked, "How are you?" I could give them a laundry list of everything I was accomplishing.
          However, the seeds of what I would soon create were always there.  When one of my friends made the comment, "Well, if you leave teaching, you won't get your summers off anymore."
          "I won't need summers off anymore," I quickly replied.  "What I'll be doing won't totally stress me out or take up all my time so that everything I need to do for my house or myself has to be crammed into one season."
          Thankfully, as long as I've been teaching yoga and writing, I've been able to create a more balanced way of living.  Yes, I have bills to pay and responsibilities to meet.  We all do.  And there were times when I cleaned houses and cut grass and organized offices to make ends meet.  There's no shame in that.  But over time I've learned how to work smarter, not harder. 
          And I've always been met with benevolence and ever-evolving opportunities in the process.

          Our culture likes to pride itself on how much it can accomplish.  How much money it can generate.  How much "stuff" it can accumulate.  How much information it can jam into technology and then prove it to be obsolete in less than six months.  
          "Go...go...go!" seems to be the American motto and one I used to embody, body and soul.  Just last week I ran into a friend I hadn't seen since last fall and she asked how I was doing.
          "I'm keeping busy," I blurted out.  Then, quickly realizing my knee-jerk response to that question, I immediately edited myself saying, "But it's all FUN busy...I'm happy doing all the things I love to do."
          For now I choose to find the balance in healthier forms of "doing."  And I also find great pleasure in waiting, in watching, in noticing the little things I often missed when in a flurry of activity.  The songbirds in the morning.  The patterns of ivy uncurling themselves around my flowerpots.  Even the silent beauty of an early spring snowfall.  
         
          Life is too short to spend it always on the run.  For me, it's not enough to take the time to stop and smell the proverbial roses.  I need to tend them in my own garden.  For I have learned that to be busy is a choice, not an identity.  That I'm no longer a "human-doing."  I'm a human being.
          Being in my work or play with equal attention.
          Being in my garden or office or yoga studio with as much awareness as I can bring to the moment.
          Being in this space of grace, knowing that cultivating balance is just as important as cultivating my gardens.   
          So it you pass by my house this spring or summer and find I'm a busy bee in the flower beds, feel free to stop and chat a while.  Enjoy some lavender lemonade on the front porch swing.  Know that I'm delighted to be in those spaces in-between "doing" and "not doing."  
          For there, our true being comes alive.


   




Thursday, April 10, 2014

I'm not that girl

          In the early 2000's I sat in my therapist's office lamenting my single status.  Not that it was the first time.  By then I had already passed my thirtieth birthday and done a lot of work on my personal issues.  Had eagerly taken up yoga and meditation.  Quit my job as an elementary school teacher and was slowly building a small business of my own.  I had even completed the first draft of Surfacing
          I put a lot of hard work into everything I attempted.  Studied stacks of yoga and anatomy books.  Wrote for endless hours long after dark.  Hit the pavement and found a half dozen venues in which I taught over one hundred people each week. 
          But my life always seemed empty somehow. 
          "Maybe I need to put myself out there more," I sighed to Jerry.
          He shrugged.  "Well you know just by walking through my door, that eliminates about sixty percent of the male population."
          I frowned.  "What do you mean?"
          "Most of my clients are women.  Men don't really want to get into their issues," he said, lifting his brow.  "Or admit that they even have any."
          I sighed.
          "And then take into account that you're into yoga and spirituality," Jerry continued.  "That eliminates about twenty-five percent more."
          I shook my head sadly.
          "And beyond that...you're more tuned into your intuition than anyone I've ever worked with," Jerry said.  "And that makes me work harder as your therapist."
          "So?"
          "So that eliminates another ten percent."
          "Thanks for that," I replied sarcastically.  "That means I'm left with...what?  Five percent of the male population?"
          "I'd say two percent," Jerry said.  "Sorry, Katie, but it's not going to be easy to find a partner who really understands who you are and what you're about."
          "Well, it only takes one ticket to win the lottery," I asserted. 
          "Yeah, but how often does that happen?"
         
          I used to replay this discouraging conversation in my mind whenever I'd go to a wedding or celebrate a friend's new baby.  When I'd sit on my front porch and watch couples, young, old, and everywhere in-between, amble by on their evening stroll.  While working in the gardens at Esalen, thinking that I'd be more likely to find a five-percent man in California than Ohio. 
          Over time I let go of needing to be a part of a couple and focused on the best parts of being single.  I learned to let go of the idealized image I once had of marriage, even though every novel I've written involves women in a variety of relationships.  Some healthy.  Others not so much. 
          I watched ninety-five percent of my friends get married.  Watched a good chunk of those have babies, all the while chipping away at the lingering depression that had settled in the recesses of my heart.  A secret loneliness that slipped through the cracks and revealed itself in the most surprising ways:
          When I signed a contract with my literary agency, a friend had a small and truly wonderful celebration.  But at the end of the day, I came home alone.
          On the evening I uploaded my first book, I called my editor and friend, Joyce, to share the experience.  But after we hung up, the house was silent and there was no one here to witness an accomplishment that had been fifteen years in the making.
          And when I come inside after a long day in the garden, there's only me here to throw together a meal and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 
          But what a joy to realize that I no longer want a partner to complete me or to make me whole.  To fill in the blanks or carry some of my burdens.  To even cut the grass or go to the grocery store.  I can do all of that myself.
          What I want now is something very different from what I had wanted all those years ago.  It's shifted from shadow into light and while I can't quite articulate it yet, I'm beginning to recognize the space I've created for something different. 

          A few years ago, an acquaintance asked me, "Will I judge you when I read your novel?"
          "If you think I'm the character telling the story, you might," I replied.  "But that's up to you."
          I find it interesting that after having written four novels, it was a memoir that I first published.   A reflection of parts of who I am, and while I didn't tell the whole story, the essence of where I've been and how I feel are right there, front and center.  Readers may judge me.  Judge my writing style.  Judge the choices I've made.  I can't control or manipulate that.  Nor do I want to.
          I'm putting into practice what I preach to my yoga students -- letting go of the criticism I sometimes heap on myself, particularly when it comes to my choices about relationships.  About being single.  About the projections and images I used to have that have proven to provide the same disappointing experience again and again and again.
          I'm not that girl who once sat on Jerry's couch complaining about being alone.  I'm not lost or desperate anymore.  No longer toiling by the sea in Big Sur, waiting for a soulmate to reveal himself.  I'm no longer wishing and hoping and praying for something new to come along. 
          And best of all, I'm not Allyson or Grace or Annie or even Brynn, the characters who reveal their stories in my novels.  I thought I might have been, but I'm not.  A few were vehicles through stories I thought I might embody someday. 
          But not now.  Not today.

          Springtime reveals for each of us lessons of death and rebirth.  Every year I contemplate what needs clearing in my consciousness.  In my mind.  In my spirit.  Perhaps this year it's time to realize I no longer have to identify with Allyson playing on the beach with her brother at the end of Surfacing.  I'm no longer shifting back and forth between wanting one thing and living within another reality. 
          I'm not that girl, either.
          And who I'm becoming now is someone mysterious indeed. 
         


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Doppelganger

          During a visit to my maternal grandparents when I was fifteen, the doorbell rang.  Everyone else was finishing up breakfast, so Mam-maw asked if I would answer the door.  A nice old lady stood on the front porch beaming at me.
          Calling me by my mother's name, she then said, "You haven't changed a bit since the last time I saw you."
          I laughed, "I'm her daughter, Katie."
          "Oh, well you look JUST like your mother!"
          I get that a lot...at least from people who know my family.
         
          When I was little I was the spitting image of my father, but as I grew into a teenager, my face shifted and over the years, even I could recognize my mother in my expressions.  In fact, just last summer I was walking into the library and saw a person who I thought was Mom coming directly at me.
          Why isn't she wearing her glasses? I thought. 
          Then as the sliding doors opened, I realized I was seeing my reflection in the glass.  It was startling at first, but then I smiled, remembering something my Rolfer often tells me, "You can't outrun your DNA."
           So true.
           I spent over a decade in the classroom and without exception, it was always an incredible eye-opener to meet the parents of my students at Open House or during conferences.  Through listening to them, I could see where their son or daughter learned how to speak.  Through watching them move, I recognized the posture and cadence of their child's movements.  In noticing how they expressed themselves, I recognized the genesis of their child's personality.
          "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," or so the saying goes.  Through experience I quickly learned that the nuts don't either. 
          Given that we all are juggling our own personal apples and nuts, is it possible to incorporate both?  Instead of constantly keeping our issues afloat, can we take the best of who we are and make a Waldorf Salad?
           I wonder.

          Over the years I've encountered countless people who tell me I remind them of someone else.  In college more than a dozen young women said I looked like their boyfriend's ex-girlfriend.  "It wasn't me...I swear," I'd consistently reply.  
          Later on, people told me I looked like Karen Carpenter and Angie Harmon.  Most recently someone said I looked like a young Helen Reddy...and that totally took me by surprise.
          Now if someone says, "Do you know who you remind me of?"
          I nod and let them finish.
          If I've heard it once, I've heard it at least fifty times...I'm Sandra Bullock's doppelganger.  Or she's mine...however you choose to look at it.
          The first time I went to California, my seatmate on the flight eagerly told me he thought he was going to get to sit next to a celebrity.  Then when we landed in Monterey, someone stopped me in the airport near the baggage claim to see if I was a movie star.  When I finally arrived in Big Sur, a woman followed me into the bathroom to see if I was really Sandra or not.
          And although I don't see the physical resemblance (beyond our eye and hair color), it is a huge compliment to be compared to such a lovely lady.  Still, Sandra and I have some things in common.  We both snort when we laugh.  We knit.  And while my German's a bit rusty, I could get the gist of what Sandra was saying backstage at the Oscars when she won Best Actress and was addressing her mother's extended family. 
         
          It's been an interesting experience to come upon complete strangers who compare me to others.  Who instantly recognize something in me that I don't necessarily see in myself.  Still, it's not only the physical characteristics that create who I am.
          In looking back over the course of my life, I've noticed that a large percentage of my friends are Virgos.  Being one myself, I imagine I gravitate toward many of their personality traits that I embody as well.  In fact, my very first friend in first grade and I were born on the same day, at nearly the same time, at the same place.  We often joked that we must have been twins separated at birth.
          For over four decades, I've been in the good company of Virgos:  Kathy and Michelle.  Doris and Mary Pat.  Barb and Mary Ellen and Melody.  Shelly and Sally and Joyce.  Smita and Sue and Sheila.  The list is long and it's not surprising. 
          After all, my mother is a Virgo.
          And so was her mother.
          We're all spiritual doppelgangers so to speak...incarnating to learn similar lessons, but through a plethora of different experiences.  A multitude of encounters.  Countless choices.  Endless grace.

          So while I may not think I look like Sandra Bullock, I admire her ability to rise above difficult situations.  To raise a child on her own.  To continue to persevere in an industry that prizes youth and instant gratification.   
          She's one classy lady and I'm flattered to be compared to a woman who embodies qualities that I respect and value.  It's an honor to be her doppelganger...and in seeing the bigger picture, one I no longer take lightly.      

Sheila and me, two Virgo girls on their birthday in Big Sur, 2008

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Can do" spirit

          We're singing the praises of spring here in Toledo, Ohio.  Now that warmer temperatures have finally arrived, folks are out and about riding bikes, hiking at the park, and spending their free time in a host of ways that don't include shoveling, shivering, or de-icing.  Yes, forty-five degrees seems like a heat wave in my hometown, but I'll take it. 
          Although yesterday was April Fools, it seemed more like March winds were blowing.  One of my students told me this morning she was reluctant to take her little Chihuahua out for a walk for fear that she'd lift off the ground like a helium balloon.  I myself was hiking at Wildwood and was nearly toppled by the gusts that blew through the park.  By the time I met my friend for lunch, my hair was a complete mess. 
          Not that I care all that much.
          I've been growing it out for the past year or so, and it's in that in-between stage that used to have me running to my hairdresser for a quick crop.  This time around, my pal, Harshil, has suggested I let it get to my shoulders and then reevaluate how it looks.  Funny guy.  
          After my late lunch with Lisa, I had to get ready for a workshop and was debating on either washing my hair so it would look presentable to my students or making another choice.  Ultimately I decided to go the other way and, for the first time in over fifteen years, was able to put it into a French braid.  What a freedom to pull it back and teach yoga.  No longer am I constantly tucking it behind my ears after a down dog or pushing it out of my eyes every time I come out of a standing forward bend. 
          
           Oh, it's a joy to once again be able to do something new this spring.  So, I've made a list of the top ten things I can do now that winter is finally over.  Feel free to add to them in the comments section below this blog!

1.  I can finally put the shovel and rock salt in the basement.  If any more snow flies, it'll melt soon enough.

2.  I can walk outside nearly every single day.  Bonus points for when I don't need to wear gloves or handwarmers.

3.  I can actually open and clean the double-hung windows, wiping away months of grime and residue so that the sun can shine more brightly into my home. 

4.  Speaking of sunshine, the sun room is finally open for business (albeit from 3 PM onward).  Take it from my cats, it's heaven to go out there and soak in a sunbeam at the end of the day.

5.  As I walked through my gardens this morning, I could see little sprouts of green everywhere!  Daffodils and Daylilies and Tulips...oh, my! 

6.  I can sit on my front porch swing again...my favorite place to read and write and chat with friends.

7.  I can gradually put away my winter sweaters and pull out lighter clothing, focusing on pastels and cottons instead of darker shades and wool blends.

8.  I'm choosing to eat lighter and am more than excited that our local green grocer, Rhodes Garden Fresh, is open again!  They're located on Monroe Street near Douglas Road.  I'm heading over as soon as I finish this blog...I hear avocados are on sale!

9.  Even though I spent most of the winter indoors, I can appreciate the stamina I developed in living within extreme circumstances I could not change.  The experience of enduring the most difficult of winters is now becoming a fading memory, and while I'm certain I won't soon forget this season, the lessons learned can now be used in other areas of my life.

10.  Now that all of the snow piles have finally melted from my yard, I see it in a different light...as something just about to be born.  I can feel the same energy percolating inside of myself, too.  The gardens will spring to life when they're ready, and I know that my own new beginnings will as well. 

          To all Toledoans and Midwesterners everywhere...here's to a new season of change!  May yours be abundant and joyous.