Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So, NaNoWriMo

I signed up a few days ago, after procrastinating for a couple of years.

What I think to be true:

~ I don't have time to write 50,000 words in November.
~ I should be using November to reconnect with out rhythm and get back into the swing of living and learning with my family.
~ I really deserve a month off.
~ I'm afraid that what I write will be crap.

What I also think to be true:

~ Regardless of whether or not I write a novel worth using as tinder, I have the opportunity to introduce discipline to my writing.
~ Participating in NaNo may help me decide what I want to do in terms of my writing.

What I know:

~ I am a writer. Not just was a writer, or wants to be a writer. I write. I have always written. I write in my head even if it doesn't end up on paper. In fact, getting my words to paper is my major hang-up. In the past I have focused on poetry and creative non-fiction, but that is mostly because of the horrible short story I wrote for my fiction class when I was 20. Which, judged by my peers, wasn't as horrible as I thought it was. It's time to move past that and see if I have a voice for fiction.

~ I always struggle to say I am a writer.

~ I have not mentioned this to anyone IRL.

~ I could lie and say that I won't be posting much on the blog, but I know it isn't true. Writing begets writing, and procrastinating results in blog posts.

Do you NaNoWriMo?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When Life Throws You Stuff . . .

Tammy over at Just Enough, and Nothing More asked yesterday, "When Life Throws You Stuff, What Do You Do?"

It's a great question, and I was tempted to answer over at her blog, only the more I thought about it the longer my answer got, so I figured I keep her comment section short and write a post here.

Life has thrown a lot at me over the past year. In the last 12 months I've had major surgery, I was diagnosed with a chronic disease (3 months after the surgery), my grandfather died, and my mom went through a long illness and died. That's just the really big stuff. Needless to say, my life today is far different than it was a year ago.

But little stuff (and medium-sized stuff) flies at me all of the time. My children have on-going special needs (and more than that, they need to be loved). I have needs. Papa has needs. My grandmother is now a widow and my father a widower. I have siblings. I have friends. Somehow it all gets managed, and we all get most of our needs met most of the time.

Still, things can come at me from out of nowhere. Things that have been stewing and brewing can come to the surface and require immediate attention. Changes have to be made, relationships shifted and pruned, tears shed. Sometimes I choose the things that come at me, purposefully.

My first reaction to stress is to get anxious and try to avoid it. Typical flight response. I hate conflict, I hate being busy, I hate making anyone upset (and I hate being upset, which is one reason I end up with so much emotional conflict). But it happens all the time, because I am human, and as a good friend put it, life is messy (well, she said MESSI, which is Multiple, Emotional, Simultaneous, Surprising, and Imperfect).

Second reaction? Control. Can I fight the situation? Can I make a schedule or plan? Can I make a list? Can I apologize and take back everything I said, even the stuff I meant?

See? Flight or fight.

What I am learning, oh so very slowly, is to flow with whatever is happening in my life. Even if it is messy, or painful, or overwhelming. When I feel like I have too much to do I need to either accept the situation and find a way to do it, or I have to figure out what I can let go. The stress does me no good. When I am in a painful situation I need to let myself feel the discomfort, and only attempt to fix the things that are mine to fix. Some things are going to be painful and I can't avoid it.

That said, when life is throwing me lots of busy stuff I do my best to find my way back to rhythm. Focusing on the big things helps me feel that some things are manageable. The days of the week pass. We sleep and wake. We eat. Laundry is done and the house tidied. Birthdays and holidays come. Breathe in, breathe out.

With keen observation I can feel the rhythm of each day, each week, each month, each year. Allowing myself to breathe into that makes it easier to plug in all of the other stuff, and to figure out what doesn't need to be there. It isn't perfect ~ sometimes I spend a lot of time pursuing something only to figure out that it doesn't fit. Sometimes things that used to fit don't fit anymore.

I like to make plans. I went to a session that Tammy offered at the CHN EXPO this year, and she mentioned making the schedule, and sticking it in your back pocket. It's there if you need it, and if you find a different way to get where you need to go that's fine too. So I still make plans, I just try not to stick dates on them (well, except for NaNoWriMo . . . wait, I never actually blogged about that) and I accept that we might end up doing something else.

Making plans is useful. I need to know what the priorities are. I also have to intimately know myself and each member of my family, and I need to know our rhythm so I can add new things where they are going to fit best. Mid-mornings I can easily carve out an hour for myself; after quiet time I know the boys need my focused attention. By the way, that is the reverse of what all of the Waldorf/Enki educators (and many other educators and so-called experts) say the day "should" go, but it is our reality.

Basketball season started tonight. Bear with me, this does have a point. My first reaction to the start of basketball season is denial and fear. I don't want it to be here. Papa is a fan, I'm not. This means that during basketball season we don't spend as much time together in the evenings as we do other times of the year. I don't expect Papa to not watch basketball. What I finally realized was that I didn't have to sit out there with him, mindlessly surfing while he watches. So I let him know that I don't want to watch, and he accepts that.

Basketball is part of the rhythm of our year. Papa doesn't watch each minute of every game, but I do have more time to myself, especially on nights when the games are more interesting (to Papa) or critical in terms of outcome. So, in the fall I write more. I read more. I take long, hot baths, bake, create, and a hundred other things that I often don't feel I have time for during other times of the year. Sometimes I sit with Papa and I knit or crochet while he watches. I just let it flow. I don't get angry and try to control the situation. I don't pout. I don't get depressed. I recognize it and move with it. Instead if denying or controlling the situation I see it as a time where Papa's needs are met (because he loves basketball) and mine are met too (because I need to spend time with myself).

I can apply this same thinking to other things that come my way. Don't fight, don't flee. Accept reality, accept the needs of other people, don't be a martyr, make it work. Rhythm and flow. When life throws me stuff I usually move into a tailspin, but eventually I right myself and find my rhythm again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Neighborhood Park

Do you have one? Oh, most of us living in urban or suburban areas have parks we can drive to, but do you have a park within walking distance? Is it a big park or a small park? A quiet park or a noisy park?

Technically, we have two parks within easy walking distance (and a few within an acceptable biking distance). Lately I have fallen in love with our closest park. Actually, the park is in little pockets here and there; the area between the library and the Lincoln Shrine, the grass alongside the outdoor amphitheater, a small corner near the old city hall, and the "big" part of the park, which has restrooms, tables, shuffleboard courts, and a lawn bowling court (yep, lawn bowling . . . and it's not our only park with a lawn bowling court, either).

Our park is a quiet park, probably because it is small and because it doesn't have playground equipment. In fact, while I loved the park before I had children, I pretty much gave up on it when my boys were younger. But now it is perfect. They can run, play tag, toss a ball, and generally goof off. We can sit on a blanket in the shade and read out loud. There are only a few squirrels, so the Girl Dog doesn't go berserk barking.

A park you can walk to is a treasure. We are there in 7 minutes. We can spend an hour at the park and it barely makes a dent in the day (except that the time spent at the park feels so wonderful that it colors the day in a happy way). We can tack a walk on before or after.

We have lots of parks, and they all have their own vibe. The oldest park in the city is big, and has a busy, multicultural feeling to it. We can play on the playground, or we can walk a hundred yards away and play in the creek bed and forget that the big plastic play structure is even there. Another park is definitely the kind of suburban park that parents of preschoolers like to hang out at. There is a park that make me a little nervous, even with the Girl Dog. And there are even more parks than that.

I am in awe of really big urban parks, but all I really need is my little neighborhood park.

Walking With Grief

Our culture has some odd phrases we use when we talk about someone who has experienced loss. We talk about getting over the loss quite often. We generally want to know if people are doing okay, and if they have moved past the grief. Grief is a mountain to climb; indeed, some people are said to have never gotten over it.

Through the past two months I have spoken repeatedly to my family about the ability we have to hold two or more thoughts and/or feelings within us at the same time. Thus it was perfectly normal to say I don't want my mother to die and I don't want my mother to suffer. We acknowledge that both of these feelings/beliefs exist within us, that they may be at odds with each other, and that in the end we may not be able to have both. That doesn't mean that wanting both is wrong.

It can be the same way with grief. I can say I am sad that my mother died and I need to get on with the rhythm of life. I can walk my path with grief as a close companion for a few miles. I think it is important to be able to say I am sad that my mother died and I am happy to be listening to my children play. It really irks me that some people equate grieving with the loss of all happiness.

Death is part of life. We all hear it, we all know it, and yet when faced with it we deny it. My mother's death was the end of her life, not the end of mine, and not the end of my father's. It is unfair to expect us to hide in our houses crying, unable and unwilling to get on with living. It is unfair to judge us when we do continue living.

Grief is personal. We all cry at different times, feel sad at different times, and we cry and feel sad for different amounts of time. Grief may pop up on the path at any time, even years from now.

As a repeat depressive, one who has had a plethora of diagnoses tossed at me, I am expected, at least by the medical community, to move into a major depressive episode. But I laugh in the face of the psychiatric community. I learned how to be my own therapist. I learned a few things that could take the place of psychiatric medications. When I feel sad, I let myself feel sad and I acknowledge that it will pass. Believing that keeps me out of the hole. The first two days after my mother's funeral I wanted to stay in bed, to not think, to not have responsibilities. I recognized that I had a choice to make: depression or life. I do not believe that life co-exists with depression; oh yes, the body still functions, but all vitality disappears. Depression is like a suicide that happens mentally instead of physically. I say this having spent several years of my life mentally dead.

So last Thursday and Friday, I acknowledged my sadness and eventually got out of bed. The grief was strong, so I didn't expect much from myself, but I did choose to cling to my vitality. I cried, a lot. Saturday and Sunday were a little better, but I knew I was on the precipice. So I told myself that Monday I would have to get back into rhythm. I took a long, hot bath that morning and I knew that I had chosen life, and I feel much better now. Grief is still my companion, but she is less obtrusive now, and she is more likely to remind me of good memories rather than pain.

Grief isn't something to get over or to move past. Grief is a part of life. We all experience it, in little ways and big ways, over and over again until it is our time to die. The lessons of grief remind us how wonderful it is to be alive now, to love now, to think now. This moment is all the sweeter knowing that it will never be repeated.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Do I Want to Do with My Life?

It's an honest, heavy, question, pressing on me far more intently than when I perused the subject last month.

My mom died on October 6th. Two months of illness, surgeries, blood transfusions, infection, ICU stays, and all that goes with it, ended on a beautiful Saturday morning, at home, in her own bed with her family gathered around her. Her breathing slowed, and then stopped. Peaceful . . . that is what everyone hopes for at the end.

I wish we could say that we did everything right while making hundreds of decisions over the past two months. What I can say is that we made the best choices we could (especially when acting as a group), and that when faced with the ultimate decision we chose to offer her dignity and the end of suffering. I hope that everyone in my family can see that what is is, and that second guessing doesn't give you more time, and that truly there was no ending but the one we got. In truth, one decision probably bought us 3.5 weeks (Was it right? I can't know, it simply is what was done), and another brought the final 48 hours.

I wasn't a perfect daughter. I am content with that. My mother and I were fundamentally different in our values and life philosophy. Still, we managed to create a bridge that we could be happy on. She could (and did) drive me crazy, and I am sure that I drove her crazy too. We weren't especially close (not as close as she wanted), nor were we best friends. I won't try to romanticize the relationship now that she has died. I was conflicted often, and in turmoil when it came to balancing her needs with my own. But she was my mother, and there is still profound grief in her death. I think that is completely human and normal. I think it's healthy to accept reality and to offer her compassion, to offer it to myself as well. We did the best we could.

Here we are 9 days later, having been through a busy week of grieving and preparing. We've chosen clothing and jewelry, ordered flowers, and held a funeral service. We've visited with friends and family, near and far. Now comes cremation (today), and a burial on Saturday. We keep saying goodbye in bits and pieces, and it's hard.

My children are more grounded in the moment, and for the most part they don't dwell on their loss. They simply must play, and ask questions, and hear stories, and sing, and squabble, and plan Halloween . . . on some level they know that their lives go on, and they seem not to be faced with any major decisions. Their lives are too new, and they do not question the path they walk.

I, on the other hand, feel the weight of my years and the importance of time. Last night I came home (the first night that was ours alone), and looking around I saw so much, and I thought of the week I'd spent and who I'd spent it with, and I heard that big question pop into my head: What Do I Want to Do with My Life? More specifically, I suppose, I am asking myself if I am doing what I want to do. Am I focused? Do I know what my priorities are? What do I want? Am I filling time just as I fill spaces?

The day of the funeral I thought to myself, I can't leave now. Can't leave my dad. Can't leave my family to flounder when the one person who kept us glued together is now gone. But don't I flounder with them? I am no savior. Thinking that I couldn't leave added to my grief, and I realized that I might be trading my happiness for some idea of loyalty that isn't required of me.

I don't have any answers right now. I know I have been on the right path (can I be on any other?) and that for now I must keep walking. The answers will come to me. The questions, they pop up everywhere.

Am I ready to completely ditch the very flexible holistic education program that's we've not really been using, and embrace fully the learning and living lifestyle which we have lived for the past year? Would I rather go in the other direction and participate in the Enki teacher training, so that I could open a small private school (no, I don't really think so)? What do I want my role to be within the Enki community? What is best for my children, and for us as a family?

In other words, do I make that final leap off the cliff, throw off the idea that any one person may be right about education, and trust myself, Papa, and the boys to take full control and responsibility for our lives?

(I write it out, and I know the answer.)

Do I really want to spend my time pursuing the hobbies that I have surrounded myself with? Knitting? Crochet? Sewing? (Which is still theoretical at this point.) Why do I read less than I want to, or spend time reading things that aren't high on my list?

Do we spend enough time together as a family? Why do I pay lip service to playing games and spending time in nature and yet fill most of our time with other things? Are the other things more important to us right now? It isn't as if we are a scattered group of four people with no connection. We are a strong family. I will spend more time observing, I will add in some of the things I want to do, and I will see how it fits.

I will be here less. Well, not necessarily writing on the blog less, but certainly participating in online forums and groups less often. I had already tapered off much of my online activity over the past year or so. It's important that the computer be a tool, and my family and community be where I focus my energies. I already knew this.

Papa and I have talked often about the impermanence of this life, and the illusion of time. We know that we must live in each moment, savor them, and make each one full of love and worthy of the time given it. That doesn't mean that we won't all cuddle up for family movie night or a ball game, or that we won't be silly, or that we abdicate from all mundane responsibilities. It only means that we bring more awareness to all of it, something we have been seeking for a long time, and something we will continue to seek.

Today I look for the small pleasure in the tasks of everyday living. I call upon my patience. I live with the knowledge that I may die tomorrow or 50 years from now, and that either way I want each day to be one that lifts me up, that nourishes me, that is in line with my values. Whatever time I have, I want to live it aware.