Sunday, January 31, 2016

A kiss for Kashti

Last Friday I sat in my doctor's outer office waiting for my annual physical.  As I updated the information on my medical forms, couples and families filtered in and out, chittering about due dates, baby weight, and the excitement of an imminent birth.  I sat alone on the other side of the room, completely surprised to feel the sting of being childless.  It's taken a while, but I no longer lament not having babies of my own, and it's been years since a precancerous diagnosis allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and let go of the life I had planned in order to embrace the life that was waiting for me.  Those of you who know me well know I've done that more than once.
Or twice.
Or three times.
Still, while being surrounded by the energy of excited soon-to-be parents and grandparents, I thought about the weeks of packing before my move to Big Sur.  In the midst of labeling boxes and sorting stuff for Goodwill, I had come across a bin of books that had been stored since my teaching days...books I had kept in the hopes of reading them to a child of my own, my favorite being Maurice Sendak's A Kiss for Little Bear.  When I was little, I had read it over and over again, delighting in how Little Bear draws a picture for his grandmother, then sends it long distance to her house via a host of animals.  Upon receiving such a lovely gift, Grandmother sends a kiss for Little Bear which gets passed among the animals a la "the telephone game", and reaches its final destination, but not without some hilarious mix-ups.
It was back then, in an attempt to lighten the load of moving cross-country, that I finally let go of needing to have a child of my own, so I gave away nearly everything I had been saving...except a couple of hand-knitted sweater sets and a small collection of children's books that were too precious to part with, A Kiss for Little Bear being one of them.   At the time it felt like a freedom and a door opening, even though nothing in Big Sur turned out as I had anticipated.  Still, in the years since my return from California, I've been able to get on with my life in ways both meaningful and heart-opening.
So the unexpected twinge of wanting a child startled me...but this time, only for a moment.

Earlier that morning I was answering emails and received a link to YouTube from a friend who lives in India.  Kashyap and his wife, Kruti, are Satish and Danta's uncle and aunt.  There's no word for "cousin" in their culture, so Kashyap and Kruti's daughter, Kashti, is considered to be my pals' sister...and they are her brothers. 
We met on a sunny Saturday several years ago at the Sharma's where Kashti and I sat near the fireplace, playing with Legos and reading books.  Kashti soon joined my Yoga for Kids class at her Montessori school, so I was blessed to see her every week...and even on the weekends when she joined Satish, Danta, and me for a play date that was always filled with laugher.  One hot, sunny afternoon, everyone came over to my house for an ice cream party and Kashti squealed with delight when she met my kitten, Aditi (which means "Mother of the sun" in Hindi).  
We all celebrated birthdays and Easter, Christmas and Halloween, and everything in-between until it was time for her family to move back to Gujarat in June of 2014.   Since then we've stayed in touch via the Internet and snail mail, but it's not the same as holding Kashti on my lap while reading her a book or singing a song or listening to her tell me a story.  So when Kashyap sent the YouTube video of a now very-grown-up Kashti sharing a creation she had made with Legos (a little house for a black cat just like Aditi), I cried tears of joy to hear her sweet voice, for then and now, she's like a daughter to me. 

While I waited for my turn at the doctor's office, I thought of Kashti...and Satish and Danta and Neela and Amita...children who may not be mine by birth, but are in my life so I can give and receive love that knows no limits -- not even the 7,800 miles between Gujarat and Ohio.   Someday the little sweater sets I've saved will be gifted to the kids, and all of the books are still in rotation in the basket in the backseat of my car so Satish and Danta can enjoy them over and over again.  Alas...I cannot find my copy of A Kiss for Little Bear, so I must have passed it on to a child who loved it as much as I do; otherwise, I would be sending it to my little one across the ocean in India.  
So here's a kiss for Kashti who has opened my heart that much more to the realization that mothering can come in all forms...and while I may not give birth to a baby of my own, I can nurture and love all of the extraordinary children who come into my life.
What an incredible awareness.


With Kashti, June, 2014
You can view her darling video here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Run, baby, run


Last month over the holiday break, I watched a lot of movies:  two seasons of Carnivale, The Lord of the Rings, Amadeus, and an old favorite, Forrest Gump.  One of my favorite scenes in the Tom Hanks classic is when he's being chased by bullies and his friend, Jenny, yells out, "RUN, FORREST, RUN!"  When Forrest gallops off at high speed, not only do his leg braces magically fall away, but he inadvertently discovers an unknown talent that successfully guides him through high school, college, and eventually on a cross-country run that changes his life.
Every year during the annual Pumpkin Run at Greenwood Elementary where I taught first grade, I'd cheer on my kids, hollering just like Jenny: "RUN, DUSTIN, RUN!  RUN, KAITLIN, RUN!  RUN, CARLY, RUN!"  My colleagues laughed their heads off, then mimicked me as their students trotted by.  It never ceased to amaze me how those three little words could motivate even the most sluggish kids, the ones who didn't think they could muster another ounce of energy.  (And if our cheering happened to fail, I'd often jog right along with the slowest ones so we'd all cross the finish line together.)
I was an avid runner in college, easily logging in four to five miles a day.  My mother often gifted me with new shoes for my birthday and even surprised me with a stellar pair once while visiting on campus.  I have a visceral memory of calling Mom after a particularly long trek to thank her, for the cushioned insoles made me feel like I was running on air.  Still, several knee injuries over the course of a few years made me hang up my running shoes for good until 2014 when I tried galloping on the treadmill in my basement during The Winter from Hell.  That only lasted a month or so as the incessant pain returned, no matter how much yoga I practiced.
But I'm not one to give up hope.

Since early November I've been hitting the gym six to seven days a week.  I lift weights and swim and hop on the treadmill, setting the incline for a steep hike.  Day by day, week by week, I'm getting stronger.  I feel great and have more energy.  My appetite has been cut in half and I've lost a little weight, too.  While all that's well and good, I'm still focused on a loftier goal:  to get back into long distance running.  At first I wanted to train for a half-marathon, so I tried to jump off the starting block too soon in December and came home sore and sorry.  I let go of that lofty idea pretty quickly, realizing once more that I need to apply to my daily life what I've learned in my yoga practice. 
This afternoon, while teaching a Come As You Are Yoga Class, at a local University, I explained to the students, "Yoga doesn't have a goal; it has a purpose.  While the reasons you come to the mat may change from day to day, in the end, the intention is still the same:  to create positive transformation." 
So these days I'm taking baby steps toward my innate desire to run again.  Day by day, hike by hike, I've seen real progress...so much so that I told someone last week, "I'm almost ready to run.  I can feel it."
"Why not just do it now?" he asked.
"Because if I let my body decide when it's ready - and not my head - then it'll be a much smoother process," I explained.  "This time around, I want to run because I can.  Not because there's a goal involved."
I feel much the same way about writing.  There are days when I cannot drag myself into the office to do much of anything.  No matter how much I cajole, bribe, entreat, or nag myself, whenever I sit and look at the blank computer screen, all I want is a nap. 
So this afternoon, I took one...and didn't feel guilty at all.  Nor did I have to justify it by saying I've spent the better part of two years working on some very challenging manuscripts. 
My body said, stop.
So I did.
Kind of like how Forrest Gump described his cross-country run to a woman who sat next to him on the park bench:  "When I got tired, I slept.  When I got hungry, I ate.  When I had to go...you know...I went."
"So you just ran?" she asked.
"Yeah," Forrest nodded.
He didn't have a goal, but his love for running kept him moving, and in the end, it helped him put the past behind him so he could move on.  So have many of the books I've written in the past five years.  Now I can focus on who I am now...not remain hobbled to the hitching post of my past, wondering when my life is going to start.

There's a wonderful chapter in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Peace is Every Step which describes the art of washing dishes.  The idea is to do what you're doing and nothing else.  When you wash the glass, wash the glass.  When you rinse the plate, rinse the plate.  Bring mindfulness to every moment and the next moment will take care of itself.
So last Sunday I went to the gym and hopped on the treadmill.  I turned on some music, plugged in my earphones and got moving.  It was effortless, so I set the speed and incline higher.  Finding it still too easy, I cranked it up even more.  
Suddenly my body said, Run, baby, run.
So I did.
It wasn't for long, but it was a joy to feel my body take off like a shot and easily get back in the groove of something that was my first moving meditation all those years ago.   The next day, I ran longer.  The next, even longer.  Afterwards, when I ran errands, I ran errands.  When I came home and fed my pets, I fed the pets.  When I answered emails, I answered emails.
When I needed to rest, I did that, too.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring other than another opportunity to stay present and see what will happen next.

Now I no longer need to run from my past, nor do I need to sprint into the future (although I've come to find that's my newest challenge).  Slowly, steadily, time will pass and all things will change.  This year, many things in my life are still in a chrysalis, undergoing unseen and unimaginable transformation.  Like little seeds planted in fertile soil, they are putting down strong roots before sprouting above the surface to let me know they're ready to be nurtured. 
In the meantime, I'm waiting patiently for the wheel to turn, all the while listening to my heart when it says...
Run, baby, run.  Teach, baby, teach.  Write, baby, write.  
Live, baby, live.














Monday, January 18, 2016

A reluctant rock star

While taking a sociology course for my Master's Program, the professor assigned the class a lengthy inventory which would reveal four parts of our personalities so that we might learn how to better work together.  He turned to me and said, "Kate...I want you to go to the library by yourself and take at least an hour and a half to answer these questions."  He lifted a brow.  "Don't answer them the way you want people to see you.  Answer them the way you are."
Later that afternoon I holed up at Carlson Library, pencil in hand and opened up the Myers-Briggs Inventory.  The questions were difficult, often repetitive, and challenged me to answer them honestly, as my professor had insisted.  At the time I was a people-pleaser, a workaholic, and a young woman trying to find my place in the adult world.  When I read each question, I knew what the socially appropriate answer might be...but it didn't resonate with who I was at the time.
Or who I am now.
Over the years I've taken the Myers-Briggs test four more times, and each time I end up with the same result:  I'm an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), which is the rarest personality type in our world.  Making up only one percent of the population, INFJ's are the most sensitive of the sensitive.  We love helping others.  We're often overly-attuned to our inner worlds.  And yet we're in great company.  Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Goethe, Cate Blanchett, and George Harrison are included in this small percentage.  Even Jesus was said to be an INFJ. 
Still, it's often lonely in a sea of ESTJ's and ISTJ's.  But I don't mind, as I've magically found a small, but mighty circle of other INFJ's who mirror me in ways both loving and thought-provoking.  My friend, Sarah, and I are both INFJ's, but she leads with a "turbulent" aspect, meaning she's more self-conscious and sensitive to stress.  I lead with "assertiveness", which means I'm a little more even-tempered and refuse to worry too much (at least not anymore).
Must be all the yoga and meditation.

Yet, there are times when I feel as if I embody two different, yet oddly analogous people:  one who loves to be seen and appreciated for the creativity I bring into the world and simultaneously a person who wants nothing more than to shrink into myself and do my creating behind closed doors.  Having loved solitary pursuits as a child, I would purposely avoid afternoons at my friends’ houses for hours of silent reading time in my own bedroom.  Ramona Quimby and Harriet the Spy were wonderful company; I delighted in the way their authors held my imagination and created a world that seemed very real indeed. 
But from the time I was seven, I was also encouraged to perform. 
My older sister and I joined a children’s choir at our church and we sang special music at the Easter and Christmas Eve services.  Our director, Mr. Schneider, promised that if we harmonized correctly, “Stille Nacht” would make our parents cry with pure joy.  I relished the thrill of preparation, the weekly rehearsals with our eccentric leader.  Mr. Schneider mischievously told us that if we misbehaved, we would have to sit beneath his podium…a punishment far worse than it sounded, because he said that his nose perpetually dripped and anyone who caused mischief would certainly go home with their hair saturated with snot. 
Mr. Schneider taught me the excitement of anticipation, the satisfaction of “getting it right” after weeks of preparation.  I have a vivid memory of standing in front of the hushed congregation on Christmas Eve, with the lights dimmed and candles gleaming on the altar.  Knees knocking with eagerness, the children’s choir was dressed in itchy polyester robes and shiny black shoes.  Mr. Schneider beamed as we did our best.  And sure enough, we were rewarded with kisses from our mothers and cookies from the Sunday School committee. 
From then on, bitten by the musical bug, I consistently found ways to perform.  I played handbells and sang in a variety of choirs.  I sang solos in school performances and even participated in ensemble competitions, bringing home ribbons of excellence.  In college, I sang in a quartet with my sorority sisters during rush week, and in the decade that followed, eventually found my way back to a variety of church choirs and a swing gospel quartet. 
As I look back, it's curious to realize that even as an adult, I enjoyed the rehearsals much more than the performances.  I loved the camaraderie of learning a new piece of music and its painstaking journey from initial attempt to final execution.  The actual presentation often left me feeling like an organ grinder's monkey, expected to entertain the masses who always wanted more.  Finally, in my early thirties, I left public singing altogether, trading the rehearsal time for writing; exchanging the outer recital for the inner composition.

Perhaps it was in my seventh grade language class that I learned the important lesson of appreciating literature and language for more than its entertainment value.  When we read Call of the Wild, my teacher, Miss Kurtz, enthusiastically described the symbolic representation of Buck and his relationship with John Thorton.  She reminded us that we all have a call deep within that is beyond what human eyes can see, and challenged us to be brave enough to recognize and answer it. 
It was then that I began to connect with my inner world, to gently accept the part of me that needed solace and silence to support that which was churning inside my spirit.  So I bought a large, spiral notebook with a monkey on the cover, its head surrounded by a daisy chain.  I wrote in it nearly every single day:  short stories, lists of words that sounded interesting, books I wanted to read, and song lyrics.  It was in this delicate act of balancing between active performance and quiet seeking that I finally discovered a path of equilibrium and stability...at least for a little while. 
Eventually I accepted the fact that I am indeed an introvert, not shy, but someone who seeks a more quiet way of being.  One who is able to publicly share my gifts with the world, but also needs to be alone in order to renew and find my center through peaceful reflection.  It would take decades, but in time, I would find the courage to listen to and comprehend what my inner voice had been whispering since I was a young girl...and then be brave enough to share it with the world.
           
My friend, Brian, has called me a reluctant rock star, particularly where children are concerned.  He often reminds me that any skillful performer is able to channel people’s energy and send it back to them at a higher level.  For me, it has been an ongoing challenge to accept my love of performing while at the same time recognize my need to be quietly reflective.  In honoring my introverted impulse, I can begin again, refreshed and re-energized.  I am infinitely thankful to have learned how to make the transition from solitude into society and back again. 
As fate would have it, in August of 2012 I was shopping for a new writing desk, when I saw someone I knew in the distance.  Walking closer, I realized it was Miss Kurtz, now Mrs. Joyce Yarnell, and was delighted that she recognized and remembered me.  We caught up on our lives and spent some time talking about the writing process and the book my agent had been pitching to editors.  It seemed only fitting to tell Joyce that her love of words had sparked my desire to become a writer.  Enthusiastic about my memoir, she asked if she could help me edit.  Of course, I eagerly took her up on the offer.    
A few weeks before Thanksgiving we met at a local coffee shop and sat in the corner for hours, talking and editing the foreward and introduction of Open Road: a life worth waiting for.
"You've got a lot to say," Joyce smiled.
"And I'm only going to tell half of it," I replied, lifting an eyebrow.  "The rest of it will be mine...and mine alone."  (Spoken like a true INFJ.)
"Wise woman," Joyce winked.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2013, Joyce sat by my side as we edited every line, every sentence, every paragraph.  I cannot completely articulate the grace I have felt in having a mirror and a witness to this incredible process.  To have someone encourage me to continually strive for the precise word, the best phrase, the most inspirational tone.  To have the person who initially taught me the countless gifts of extraordinary language, gently encourage me as I made the slow and steady transition from novelist to writer.

Click here to take the 16 Personalities Quiz

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sweaty guy

On Friday night I was sitting between my pals, Satish and Danta, enjoying  a wonderful dinner of Indian cuisine when Danta asked, "Can you stay and watch Sweaty Guy tonight?"
We were celebrating a belated Christmas, so Danta was excited to pop The Year Without a Santa Claus into the DVD player.  When he was little, he couldn't remember the name of the show, but as the Heat Miser was a memorable character, Danta gave him a brand new nickname.  Thus, Sweaty Guy became the alternate moniker for one of our favorite holiday movies.
"Sure," I nodded.  "I can stay as long as you'd like."
Satish gave me a sly smile.  "Okay...well, only for three years."
I turned to him.  "Oh, how sweet!  Is that all?  How about five?"
"It could be for only three seconds,Satish deadpanned.
I laughed out loud, wistfully acknowledging that my sassy friend will soon be a pre-teenager. 
Later on, after the boys had opened the sweaters I had made for them (in U of M and Michigan State colors), their mother wanted to take a picture of the three of us.
Satish threw his arms around me and beamed, "Let's pretend we like each other!" 
What a joy to see both the little boy he used to be mingled with the young man he's slowly becoming.  It's the first time I've been able to watch the slow, steady progression of growth in children I cherish, and I'm often surprised by how the little changes in both of the boys only make me love them that much more.
Once Danta and Satish had donned their pajamas, they created a little nest on the floor with blankets and pillows, then invited me to join them like I did when they were little.  It's been a couple of years since we've been able to find some downtime to chill out in front of the television, so I enjoyed every single moment, knowing that the years will pass by all-too-soon and someday they'll be more interested in hanging out with their friends.
 I've been delighted to spend more time with the Sharmas this year.  Satish's soccer games are on my winter calendar and I'll be picking him up from school in a couple of weeks to celebrate his eleventh birthday.  Nine-year-old Danta and I enjoy working on puzzles and reading books and making each other laugh until we snort.  His big sister, Neela, and I are looking forward to spending some time together in early February and when the oldest, Amita, comes back from an overseas trip, I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about. 
The girls are both in high school and busy with band and lacrosse and a host of other activities, so I've spent most of my time over the years with the boys...kicking a soccer ball, teaching them how to play tennis, and shooting baskets in their backyard.  We've played countless games of chess, read dozens of books, and had sleepovers when we talked long past bedtime.  I've driven them to soccer practice and cheered them on during their matches.  As I grew up with sisters who didn't really like to get sweaty, it's been a unique pleasure to enjoy the often rough and tumble world of little boys who don't mind getting dirty.
I don't either...as long as I can clean up afterwards. 

When Danta was in kindergarten, I spent the night when his parents went out for the evening.   After a boisterous day of playing in the snow and a lively evening wrestling in the living room, the fellas were due for a quick clean-up before bedtime.  
Satish and I were sitting in the hallway playing "Hangman" outside of the bathroom while Danta took a bucket bath. ("It's an Indian thing," Satish explained.  "To save water.")  
"Hey, Katie!" Danta exclaimed.  "Come look at me!"
I stepped into the bathroom and saw that he had tightly wedged his little body into the bucket that was overflowing with soapy water.  Delighted with his antics, I giggled, “Am I going to need a shoehorn to get you out of there?”
“A what?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Satish came in to see why I was laughing.  His face turned serious.  “Danta!  You need to use that bucket properly!  We don’t have another one and if you break it, Mummy and Papa will have to go to the store and buy one!”
Pressing my lips together, I turned away to squelch my laughter.  Satish was right, of course, but it was still hilarious to see Danta in the bucket, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.  Only he would think to do something so impish.  And naturally, it’s exactly the kind of thing my inner Ramona finds hilarious. 
Later that night when it was time to go to sleep, the boys curled up with their blankets on the floor of the guest room so we could all be together.  Once the lights were turned out, Danta took a shuddering breath, asking,  “When’s Mummy coming home?”
I could instantly hear the tears in his voice, knowing bedtime would be hard for Danta.  While he was fine to play and have fun during the day without his mother, nighttime was when he most wanted her near.
Glancing at the clock radio, I said, “She should be home in about an hour or so.”
“Is that long?”
“Not really,” I told him gently.  “And I’ll be right here.”
I turned on the nightlight and the room was bathed in the soft, orange glow of a tiny plastic basketball.  When I climbed into the twin bed and got comfortable, Satish was well on his way to falling asleep, but I could hear Danta whimpering.
“Mummy,” he softly cried.  “I want Mummy.”
Leaning down to stroke the hair away from his forehead, damp with sweat, I whispered, “Do you want to come up here with me until she gets home?”
He nodded eagerly.  Leaving his blankets and stuffed animals behind, Danta climbed into the small bed and cuddled close.  “Mummy,” he cried again.   
I soothingly rubbed his head.  “I know you miss Mummy,” I whispered.  “She’ll be back soon.  And I’m right here…I’m right here.” 
We whispered about all of the fun we had that day, the snow angels he and Satish had made, the silly snowman whose eyes kept falling off, no matter how many times Danta tried to fix them.  He soon relaxed and fell asleep in my arms, but by morning, had found his way back to his parents' room while Satish and I dozed as sunlight slowly filtered into the room.  I lay there remembering the scrappy little girl I used to be who was often afraid when my mother was gone, who didn't want to be upstairs in our house alone, who was often frightened of the unfamiliar, the inexperienced.  
After all of these years, I find that Danta and I are still very much alike.  Even though we're getting better at sweating through the challenges, it's still a comfort to know that we're surrounded by people who understand us, who don't mind our quirks and silly sense of humor.  Who love us unconditionally, no matter what.
So here's to my little sweaty guy who brings so much joy to my life...and teaches me that to be childlike is a doorway to the divine.


My little sweaty guy, Danta, making snow angels in his backyard.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Splash!

I just got home from taking my little pals to school.  For over a week Satish, Danta, and I had looked forward to spending a little quality morning time together before I dropped them off on my way to run errands.  A little snow won't get me down...especially when it comes to those two fellas.  By the time I arrived at the house, their sister's school had already cancelled for the day, but the boys didn't mind that she got to sleep in while they had to get up and get dressed.  Over chocolate chip pancakes, we talked about the NFL games we had watched over the weekend and who they think might make it to the Super Bowl this year.
Danta has high hopes for the Carolina Panthers.  Satish is rooting for the Patriots.  And while I listened carefully to everything they told me about the stats for each team, I really don't understand it all.  Still, as the boys grow older (Satish will be eleven in two weeks!), it's great to be able to talk with them about sports and school and everything in-between.  As they gobbled up the last few bites, I thought about the Monday nights when they were little and I would put them to bed after reading a storybook or two.
"Satish...do you remember the time I read you Froggy Learns to Swim and I asked you what your favorite word was?"
He shook his head.
"You said it was poof as in making something disappear when you're doing a magic trick."
"That's not my favorite word now," he said, shoveling in another bite of pancake.  "It's SPLASH!"
"Hey!" I beamed.  "That's my favorite word, too!  And it has been ever since I was a kid."
Satish smiled as if that was no surprise to him at all.
"I like it because when you say it, splash sounds like what it does," I explained.
"Yeah...that's right," he nodded.  "Spl...a...sh!"
Onomatopoeia never sounded so sweet. 

Last Friday I had my very first swim lesson.  Sure I've been in and out of the water since I was a kid, hanging out at the local pool, body surfing in the ocean, or dangling my feet over a dock whenever I've been lucky enough to visit a lake.  I can backstroke and sidestroke and dive.  But I didn't know how to simultaneously freestyle and breathe...until my friend, Melissa (who's a swimmer extraordinaire) took some time to show me a few pointers.
After we had warmed up at bit, she said, "Okay...show me what you've got."
I laughed.  "I got nothin'."
"Really?"
"Yeah.  I have no clue what to do," I told her.  "We can start at the beginning...I'm a blank slate."
When she told me to keep my arms up overhead, put my face in the water, and push off from the wall to see how far I could go, I pulled on my goggles and did what she asked, making frothy waves with my feet until I ran out of breath.
"Man, you've got a strong kick!" she laughed.  "Let's see if you can relax a little more and stroke."
I picked up on that pretty easily, then moved on to learning the breathwork.  Not an easy thing, especially since I'm not quite sure where to put my head when I turn my neck (something I'm learning both inside and outside of the pool).  Melissa was patient, kind, and encouraging, so before I knew it, I was able to go back and forth a few times with moderate success.
"Keep your eyes on the bottom of the pool or on the side when you breathe," she explained.  "That will help you float a little more, so your legs don't have to do so much work."
I thought, Focus on the vertical line and horizontal line...just like I do on my yoga mat.  While it wasn't easy, freestyling felt more natural when I let my body float on the surface and my arms gently guide me forward. 
Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon practicing at the gym and even though I still don't completely understand the movement, I love the freedom of being completely surrounded by water...no splashing necessary.  Over time, I imagine my inner-mermaid will come to life, and swimming will become a moving meditation.  But until then, I'll keep reminding myself what I often say to new clients:  You've only been doing this for a few hours out of your whole life.  Be patient...don't rush...it'll come along.

Two years ago this month I self-published my memoir, then the backlog of books I've been writing since 2000.  Last spring I published The Lace Makers and while it's been well received by readers who are familiar with my work, there's been no real interest from the world at large.  When I was younger, I had hoped that one or more of my books would make a big splash in the literary community, that an agent or a publishing house would read my work and offer me the opportunity of a lifetime. 
Alas, that hasn't come to pass...yet.
Thank God.
For I've learned that while making a big splash may be a lot of fun and rock the waters for a moment, one small drop in a pond can create never-ending ripples that float on the surface and gently stir the waters beneath.  It's been a lesson of a lifetime to learn patience, to discover how to wait for circumstances to change, to accept that the process of life is often more important than the end result. 
As 2016 dawns, I've been given the rare opportunity to write a book with my friend, Tony, about his nearly four decades of experience as a Rolfer.  We started this past weekend after he told me the prognosis for his cancer treatment.  A lengthy surgery is planned that will result in a twelve-month recovery.  Hopefully by this time next year, we'll be opening up a smaller office in which he can continue to work with clients and teach classic Rolfing.  In the meantime, I'll be interviewing Tony about everything from Jujitsu principles to the experience of working with over a thousand people, watching their continual and often miraculous evolution. 
At the onset, I was incredibly intrigued.  Now that we've started, I'm humbled by the knowledge and wisdom I'll be privy to as the manuscript unfolds into something neither of us can quite explain right now.
When I asked Tony if he had any ideas about the format, he replied, "Why don't you just ask me questions, although I don't know if I'll be able to answer them.  All I can think about is the surgery."
I nodded, turning on the tape recorder.  Gently I said, "Why don't we start at the beginning.  How did you first become introduced to Rolfing?"
Tony began to speak effortlessly about grad school, his mentors, his first meeting with Ida Rolf.  His voice shifted, became more calm and clear.  I stopped taking notes and sat in silence, for I trusted that everything I needed to know would be captured on tape, and I didn't want to miss a moment of listening to Tony unfold this incredibly dynamic part of his life.
Later, when he was talking about training at the Rolf Institute, I asked, "What was it like to touch your first client and feel the work beneath your hands?"
Tony's response brought tears to my eyes, and it was then that I knew I wouldn't have to write a word of his book.  I would simply turn the transcripts into something akin to Joseph Campbell's masterpiece, A Joseph Campbell Companion:  Reflections on theArt of Living
At one point Tony was talking about how our society has atrophied into mayhem.  "The end of civilization as we know it is near," he told me. 
"Then why do you still Rolf people?" I asked, intuitively knowing what he might say.
"Because I can't change the whole world," he said.  "But I can help people change one at a time."
I smiled.  "Yes...I remember you told me years ago how you quietly, but persistently do some pretty subversive stuff in that little office of yours."
Tony laughed.
"I think I do the same thing in my yoga studio...and in my office," I said.  "One student, one blog, one book at a time."

It's not splashy, but it's honest and enduring, this life I now lead...and not at all as I had imagined it might be when I was younger.  But as Joseph Campbell wrote, We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Now I find the joy in embracing quiet moments of kindness.  The sweetness in an email that completely takes me by surprise.  The laughter of a little boy who I love as if he were my own.  An enchanted snowfall that covers my home in silent beauty.
And the grace in knowing that these quiet moments are all incomparable parts of a life worth waiting for.



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Twelfth night

As Epiphany arrives today, the holiday season officially ends with this, the twelfth night of Christmas.  Epiphany usually celebrates the commemoration of the wise men's journey to meet Jesus after his birth, but it can also be defined as a striking event or an illuminating realization.  It's only January sixth, but in less than a week, I've had a few of them already. 
On New Year's Day I was flossing and out popped a chunk of one of my molars, so I spent part of this morning in my dentist's chair receiving the prep work for my first filling.  Yes, you read that right...and Dr. Thebes was amazed as well that I made it this far with no cavities.  I'll head back in a couple of weeks when he can replace it with the real deal, but until then, I'm infinitely thankful to know that I have been...and will be in incredibly good hands.
What a way to usher out the old year and welcome the new.  And that simple fix for my chipped tooth wasn't the only thing to surprise me this week.

When Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night, he infused a love triangle, music, merriment, and of course, a few choice lines that still apply today, particularly with social media running rampant (my favorite being, Leave thy vain bibble babble!).  While there has been no love triangle in my life since 2008, there has been a wonderful infusion of music and cheerfulness this holiday season...all of which has seamlessly flowed into the new year. 
My pal, Tony, recently got me hooked on Leven Helm and John Hiatt.  I've been listening to Paul Winter, Will Ackerman, Mozart, and Bach for the better part of the winter.  While putting away the last of the holiday decorations, I tuned into James Taylor Holiday Radio on Pandora.  What a bittersweet thing to hear my favorite rendition of River by Joni Mitchell, which reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of thirtysomething.  So on Monday morning, I telephoned The Bedford Falls Company (founded by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, the creators of thirtysomething) and spoke with their representative about sending them a copy of The Lace Makers in the hopes that they might be interested in producing it as a feature film.
"We'd be happy to look at it in March," Scott replied cheerfully.  "Please send it then."
I can't wait.
But other things can.

We're still waiting for the results of Tony's lab results which will arrive tomorrow afternoon.  His surgery went well on Christmas Eve, but since the cancer has returned after treatment, he may need to look into alternative care.  When we talked last week, he filled me in on the details and I was heartened to hear that he's considering options that were out of the question a few months ago.  
Before the second diagnosis, I reminded Tony that we should finally get around to writing a book about Rolfing, a project I had suggested ten years ago as I didn't want him to retire without sharing his vast knowledge of the practice.
He shook his head.  "Nah...I'm taking it with me."
"Okay," I smiled.  "Whatever you want."
Last week it was a different story.  Tony changed his mind, so we'll begin the outline soon and will hopefully have a finished project by the end of the summer. 
"You know you're infamous as one of the best Rolfers on the planet," I told him.  "When I lived at Esalen, people from all over Europe talked about you and were totally jealous that I only live fifteen minutes from your office."
Tony shrugged.
"Seriously...you're world famous!"
He lifted a brow and shot me a sly smile.  "So's syphillis."
As you can imagine, I can't wait to start working with my incredible friend on a book that has been decades in the making.  When I went to the library and returned all of the unfinished research I had gathered for the sequel to The Lace Makers, I felt a lightness, an incredible release.  I'll get back to it in time, but it was a relief to know I'll be taking a much-needed hiatus from the Holocaust and Civil War eras to write with Tony, sharing his passion for work, his creativity, his enthusiasm for a practice that has recreated the lives of hundreds of people in our little corner of the world.
What an epiphany to realize that, through working with Mary on My Journey of Faith and Hope and with Tony in the initial stages of his labor of love,  writing for others is just as satisfying as working on a project of my own.  Maybe even more so, as I've discovered the wonderful gifts in collaboration, intimate communication, and transforming a manuscript into a finished book, then placing it into someone's hands like a newborn baby. 

Even though the official holiday season comes to a close tonight, I'll leave the candles burning in the windows until the end of February, so that the light inside of my home in the Heartland mirrors the light inside my heart.  As I light them one by one on this Twelfth Night, I'll intend that, for the next twelve months, I'll give my time, my care, and my love as a gift...as an offering to those who want and need it.  
        So when Christmastime returns once again next December, it will simply be the culmination of a celebration that has lasted all year long.






Saturday, January 2, 2016

Confessions of an outgoing introvert

As the new year dawned yesterday morning, I woke up and did what I've been doing nearly every day since Christmas Eve: exactly nothing.  It's been a wonderful week and a half of peace and quiet, save for the fireworks that woke me up at midnight on January first.  I had been out and about for the better part of New Year's Eve, so after a late dinner, I was in bed by ten-thirty.  I'm no party pooper, just enjoying the best part of wintertime -- sustained silence.
I could get used to not working.  In fact, I've absolutely surprised myself by staying out of my yoga studio and away from the computer for the better part of a week.  This time last year I had already made and wrapped presents for the 2015 holiday season, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and spent a couple dozen hours researching at the library.
But not this year...and the best part is I don't feel guilty at all for fully enjoying my "stay-cation" at home. 

As many of you know, I love, love, love to talk.  In fact, nearly every day this past week, I've had coffee dates with friends and run into folks at the gym where we chat while lifting weights or trotting on the treadmill.  Even complete strangers engage me in curiously fascinating conversations and I come home pondering a host of ideas and opportunities.  I enjoy it all.
But it wears me out.
Over coffee last week, a friend suggested a fascinating book called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.  I immediately picked up a copy and have been reading it ever since.  Thoroughly researched and articulately written, the author, Susan Cain, describes me to a "T".  So far, the quote with which I resonate the most is: It's okay to cross the street to avoid making small talk.  Yes, I'm a talker, but I cannot stand talking with someone just to hear myself speak...and vice versa. 
I suppose I've always been this way.  In first grade, I clearly remember talking to Billy Klatt when I was supposed to be finishing a writing assignment.  He was a year older than me and lived a few houses away from mine, so we knew each other better than the other kids in class.  I have no memory of what we were chatting about, but I do remember that he was as interested in talking with me as I was with him, which resulted in Mrs. Bureau assigning us a writing penalty because, even though we kept our voices down, we were supposed to be quiet. 
Even then, I preferred the intimacy of one-on-one conversations to the boisterous back-and-forth on the playground.   While the girls were jumping rope and the boys were playing tag, I sat as far away from the mayhem on a cement cinder-block, writing in a three-ring-notebook, imagining I was Harriet the Spy.  Surprisingly enough, I was joined not by the girls, but by a few quiet boys who made me laugh.  In the classroom, they were shy and didn't raise their hands at all, but with me on the playground, they talked about GI Joes and baseball and how they hoped we wouldn't have to get on the trampoline in gym class because that was the worst:  being up there by yourself while the whole class stood around watching you bounce around and try not to twist your ankle. 
I couldn't agree more.
As time went on, I became know as "Katie the Bookworm" or "Katie the Goody-Goody", which made me want to cloister even more.  Sure, I was friendly and chatty with my friends.  I raised my hand and answered questions in the classroom.  Still, any kind of group setting mortified me.  And sometimes it still does.

It's ironic that I've spent the better part of my adult life in front of a classroom.  I teach and nurture and guide my students.  I listen to their questions, then try to provide a clear answer.  I'm often called upon for advice or suggestions, which is just fine with me...except that it hasn't made me the listener I want to be because I'm always at the ready with a response. 
It's my intention that this year will manifest many things, the greatest of which will be the shedding of what my friend, Kendall, calls "the people I used to be".  In September I'll hit my Chiron return, which means that if I've learned the lessons from the past, I'll be able to move forward into that which I've been imagining for the past decade.  After all I've experienced in the past four years in particular, I'm hopeful that will be the case.  In any event, I'm working toward being a different kind of teacher, allowing the writer in me to move forward and stand side-by-side with the instructor.  For it's in these quiet moments alone in my creativity that I find the greatest solace.  Perhaps then I'll be able to let go of my tendency to have a response for everything and simply listen for the answer inherent in my students' questions.
Yes, I'm an outgoing introvert, but I'm also shifting into someone who now understands she cannot change the world, but can transform my little one day by day...quiet choice by quiet choice.