Confidently, I Love You.

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Love is fueled by confidence, which is a matter of belief.  Analysis, by it’s nature of breakdown, might lead one closer to the truth, or to a semblance of reality. When we love, we want it to be real, as Jane does in Austenland. But like the slippery nature of meaning through language, reality is complex. As my friend Courtney writes, by way of her father’s wisdom: “there is no reality, only perspective.”

I want to be confident that love is real and lasting, and that the perspective I have regarding love, is true.

 

That what lives in my heart is not so ephemeral and fleeting as the foam that dripped into the water from my bath pouf, in the perfect shape of a heart that disolved before my eyes.  A sign of love, but not love, just an image fading into the water.

But love is also a thing that works on me, like sandpaper on wood.  It is a knife that carves, trying to find the form within the block.

But enough of metaphor.

When it comes down to it, criticism, that knife that carves the wood, doesn’t make me feel love.  And I want to feel it so I can give it.  Criticism can give me writer’s block and lover’s block.  I guess I want praise, and that makes me needy.  I guess I want compliments, and that makes me greedy.  I want to be lifted up somehow, not shown where I fail.

But I also want the feeling of love, and the idea of love, to be real.

And not being perfect, all that praise and complimentary talk would ultimately lead me into enough self doubt as to wonder: is this real? Do I always want my relationships to be exchanges of non judgement?  Can I, as as my friend Mariela says, give what is vital to love–acceptance?   Acceptance for hard uncomfortable stones in my boots?

Can I accept that relationships involve criticism, and that I have given out loads of it over the years?  Is there a way to truth in love without critical judgement and analysis?  Do we always need the perspective of distance?  Or just some very close eye contact, and no words?

Let me be silent, and sweet, and kind. The truth is that I’m fire and ice and storm.  I’m earth, soil turning with blind worms.  I’m clouds and leaves that drop, brown and thirsty.

 

 

 

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The Personal Day

100_7450Yesterday I woke up and decided to take a personal day off.  I claimed the day as “my day” to do whatever I wanted to do, within my means.  Having spent the last two weeks preparing for big day of entertaining, I awoke to an awareness of self in the silent void that fills our home after a party.  Still full of the previous day’s cake and the warmth of old and new friendships, there was suddenly an emptiness; a pause where nothing urgent was anticipated.   It had been a busy two weeks, where simple things like cleaning the house and mowing the lawn were complicated by a sprained ankle, a massive three day sinus headache incurred at the pool, and an irritable monthly cycle.

So I wasn’t feeling physically strong.  But instead of cancelling our party plans and staying in bed with ice packs on my ankle and head and a heating pad on my middle, I worked every day with this thought:  each task is my opportunity for creativity.  Instead of rushing through decorating and seating arrangements, I savored the process.  Then, I repeatedly challenged my inner critic who told me that my work was amateur, imperfect and cheap.  I told the critic that I’m not perfect and that no one expects me to be perfect.  Perfection makes guests uncomfortable.

Real is comforting.

The party was a great success.  We were all enriched and loved and entertained.  A new life is on the way for a very loving young couple and being a part of that hopeful expectation was a privilege and a gift.

And just like it happens with visits from family who eventually leave to go back home, the space that our friends filled was once again, space.

How often have I said the words “today is mine to do as I wish?”  So rarely that I am unable to recall the last personal day.  Even my husband who works at a large company is allowed several PTO’s.  I suppose it’s a very tricky thing for me to take a day off when I live in the same place I work.  Taking time off is something that only seems to happen if I leave the house for a day or a weekend trip.  But what happened yesterday was a shift and a challenge to that perception.  There is a way to detach and reframe.  Isn’t it true that since I’ve been given a life to live, every day is my personal day?

Because it’s the only life I have to live?

Today is mine to live as I wish, as is tomorrow, and the next, and the next after that.  And if what I’m doing no longer serves my basic needs for survival or my spiritual longings, I can make changes.

This leads to the question of how much I “own” my life.  How much of each day  is mine to choose, and how much is dictated by my responsibilities? What portion of my time is spent in the service of others, and what slice is left for solitude or creativity?

Perhaps this is a first world problem.  People in slavery and bondage don’t have these choices.  Prisoners and people in debt don’t have these considerations. Parents with young children might not be thinking that this is a realistic goal.  My husband looked directly into my eyes and said “this is impossible for me.”

But is it?

I wonder.

Writing Naturally Workshops

It has come into my awareness that over-analyzing a relationship kills the love.  And since that is true for me, I also suspect that over-analyzing the craft of writing kills the stories.  I set out to begin this blog with the craft of writing as the focus, a place to share my work and discuss the back stories of my process.  I’m very curious about how writers write what they do, and what methods or ideas inspire their stories.  However, since my body of work is quite thin, I recognize that I really need to get out of my head in order to write.

And get into my senses.

And come back to life.100_3638

This is why Writing Naturally Workshops was the most beneficial experience I’ve had in manifesting my desire to write stories with clarity and feeling.  During the month of October, I joined an online workshop hosted by the beautiful writer Corinne Cunningham, who shared her wisdom and practical tools to dispel the dreaded blocks we all face.  Here is a sample of my work near the end of the course:

Day Five: Hearing
This morning, our family day. No work for Richard and no sales or orders for me. We
shower and go down to the kitchen to make bacon, eggs, toast and coffee. A plan forms: “let’s
take the kayak out on Lake Brandt!” Richard does the dishes and I gather our gear. In twenty
minutes we are gliding on a breezy fall morning, paddling against the windswept waves toward
a small island. We make up a paddling song to the tune of “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.”
Elliot and Richard try out lines to fit the tune. By the time we reach the island, all I can
hear is the sound of our voices singing together and it feels like a vacation from my childhood,
singing in the back of the car on our way up north to go camping.
“Take me out to the water, take me out to the lake! Rent me a paddle and fanny-pack,
I don’t care if I ever get back,
‘cause it’s stroke, stroke, stroke
in a sunbeam,
if we don’t swim it’s a shame!
For it’s one, two three ducks afloat
in the old, green boat!”
I smile at the memory of Elliot’s voice singing away as we float under those sunbeams.
We hear other sounds, the grumpy “CRAWK!” of a Great Blue Heron who is disrupted from his
fishing spot when we get close. Ducks in flight, beating wings. The spashing sploosh of a fish
jumping. Water smashing and exploding on the front of our craft as we break the waves.
We hear questions from Elliot (because this is a school day, after all!) Questions like, what leaf
is this tree from? And this one, and this one? The trees on the shoreline drop papery
sailors on the calm surface, spinning adrift in a floating parade.
Back at home, the silence of the empty house calls for a nap. We have a large sectional in the
living room, but my favorite place to nap is on a fifty dollar plush loveseat, broken in. At five two,
I can stretch out on it with just my feet dangling. I lay down and Richard comes over, shoving
me to the back side. Soon, he’s snoring away and I’m cramped and my feet are falling asleep
under the weight of his arms, my arms falling asleep under the weight of his legs. Funny how a head can’t sleep at the same time the limbs do.
I must have dozed off because I awoke, numb in the extremities to the sight of Elliot
perched above me on the back of the loveseat, laying like a cat on a tree branch.

****

I enjoyed the Writing Naturally workshop for many reasons.  First, it helped me to be comfortable with my impulses to write.  I am a hopeless self-editor.  For every sentence that falls out, I immediately want to scratch it away with my pencil.  As if the thoughts on the inside are not good enough for the open air.  Corinne helped me to be okay with those first impulses, and to work with the good that came through.  To learn more about Writing Naturally, and to experience Corinne’s gorgeous writing, you can visit her at http://www.corinnenoelcunningham.com/

How Deep Is This Softness

Nine years ago, I was viciously attacked by my neighbor’s dog.  Weeks before, we moved into our new “old” house, a two story colonial foursquare with a lovely green lawn.  Our dream house was a reality!  What a heady time, a glowing time of new romance full of promise and discovery!  Full of baby boy arrival euphoria!  Elliot would experience his first birthday in our new place. We were elated at these blessings.  Eager begin our second chance at life as a family on this long and winding road near a lake with hiking trails.

But this house needed work and was a hard to sell property.  It sat empty for two years before we arrived.  The dogs that lived behind and next to our yard must have thought that our new yard, although fenced, belonged to them.  Seeing someone in this space was an invasion of their territory.  Every day, indeed for the last nine years, all the dogs around us charge the fence and harass us with barking.  Especially annoying are the little yappers who are incessant with their rasping sharp tone.  On the day of my attack, my new neighbors invited me over for a visit.  As I opened the gate I was greeted by threatening barks.  As I walked past a particular dog (there were at least six) I was greeted by nine bites and the terrifying experinece of being surrounded by a barking pack of viciousness.  The owner of the dog did nothing to stop the attack.

In that moment I prepared myself for the likely outcome that all the dogs would join in and rip my flesh until there was nothing left of me but parts.

And that my neighbor would watch it all passively.

One of the most difficult spiritual challenges in my life is to love my neighbor as myself.

Years passed and my fear of dogs remained.  Even the sound of a barking dog behind a fence rattled my nerves.  I visibly winced on walks with my husband when we encountered families walking their dogs on the trails.  Often, people would allow their dogs to go unleashed in the woods, though this violated the city ordinance.  I resented people who believed they were too important, that their dogs were too important, to obey the law.

Then, something in my heart changed.  We began homeschooling our son midway through first grade.  He was very lonely and feeling cut off from his classmates and friends.  We needed just a little more life and activity in this house.  I found a dog listed by the Surry county animal rescue group.  And by the grace of God this dog was as terrified of people as I was of dogs.

We’ve enjoyed this shy, tenderhearted Border Collie mix in our lives for four years.  Ozzie is gentle, loyal, patient and full of love.  He remembers people he cares about.  After not seeing my mom for six months, he jumped with joy to be reunited with her.  Ozzie rarely jumps and especially not for people.  Maybe for toast or a banana, but never for people.

He also remembers and loves the baby boy who lives next door (on the other side of our house).  When baby Turner was a newborn riding in his mother’s baby carrier, Ozzie would reach up to sniff and make gentle contact with those perfect little toes.  He surprised the mother with his curiosity.  Without the baby, he would never approach her.

This month, Turner celebrated his first birthday and began walking.  While my son and I were in our neighbor’s yard visiting, we left Ozzie at home, who watched us from behind the fence.  As soon as Turner spotted Ozzie through the fence, he pointed in his direction and made his best effort to get the dog’s attention.  I called Ozzie over.  He came close to the fence and sat down, pushing his fur through the wire, so that Turner could pet him.  And being one, Turner put out his index finger and poked Ozzie, curious to discover how deep was this softness.  Ozzie turned his head at being poked and Turner giggled with surprise and mischief.  I demonstrated a soft pet with flat fingers, then Turner poked Ozzie again.  Ozzie did not move from his spot, but turned his head toward the baby every time he got jabbed.  Turner giggled and bounced at this new game, full of baby joy.

No doubt Ozzie enjoyed this, otherwise he would have walked away.

I wish this could have been my family’s experience with our other neighbors and their dogs.  But it was not to be.  I might not have appreciated this moment so deeply had it been different then.   Something in this shared moment between a baby and my dog restored the balance and allowed me to reclaim my old self, the one who loved dogs, the one who trusts.