then and now

One year ago, I woke up eager to get out of the house after being snowed in for a week. Being “snowed in” in the DC metro area means something different than it does in farther northern reaches. Whereas in Maine, the snow falls and the plows steadily carve a reliable passage for cars and pedestrians so that people can quickly return to business as usual, here a few inches of snow can paralyze the region for days. The 36 inches of snow we received in one fell swoopy storm shut down roads, schools, work, the metro system, and the federal government. 

But on January 28, 2016, I was breaking out of confinement for a few hours. I tightened the sling that held my healing (and aching) shoulder and draped a jacket around me, excited for, of all things, physical therapy.

I didn’t return home for five days. 

The slip on the ice (frozen melted snow) that led to a shattered ankle, surgery, and three months in a wheelchair left a mark, but one that fades a little each day. I’m still not perfect, but I can tell when rain is imminent. I probably won’t wear heels again. I don’t know if I could flee from an attacker, but in a hurry the other day I tried jogging down the walkway to the car and that didn’t really work so well. The one-legged balance poses in yoga that I used to love now challenge my balance and strength to the core. Some days I forget the break happened; others, the pressure from my blankets and comforter alone are enough to make my ankle throb. 

But I grew closer to even my dearest friends. I got to spend three weeks living with my sister, the longest time we’d spent together since her childhood. I’ve shed all scraps of modesty. (I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.) I’ve learned to accept help and even ask for it. And finally, I’m writing again. 

But the next snow storm – and the one after that and the one after that? I’m staying inside until every snowbank melts. 

When the time comes, send books and wine. 

Marching forward

I woke up this morning to an achy body and bursting heart. Both sensations kept me weepy all day.

When the boys and I left home Saturday morning to meet up with the families who comprise our proverbial village, I had no idea what to expect aside from sore feet and complaints of hunger. In fact, I had a little talk with the boys before we even left home.

“Listen, today isn’t going to be easy. There might be a lot of people. We won’t be able to quickly leave if you’re tired or hungry. So just remember that fighting for what you believe in isn’t always comfortable and it isn’t always fun.”

I didn’t “make” my kids join the Women’s March on Washington. I’d decided to walk when I first saw the announcement, but initially figured I’d leave the kids home, fearful of subjecting them to acts of violence. But both expressed concern for this new Administration and a desire to take a stand, so we outfitted up, pockets full of snacks, and joined the throes.

“I wish I’d made a sign,” my younger son said immediately upon getting off the metro and seeing the sea of posterboard. He got something better; a marcher handed him a Ziploc bag containing a pink hat knit by a woman in Kansas unable to come for the march. (He didn’t take it off until bedtime.)

We walked. We chanted. We shared stories with the people we encountered. We smushed in close and spent the entire march keeping track of the kids in our village. We were 14 adults and 11 kids, though it certainly felt like those numbers were flipped, head on a pivot constantly counting and recounting. We didn’t make it to the rally (or anywhere near the Jumbotrons), wedged as we were on the Mall-side of the Native American Museum, just a few blocks from the action. So many people were packed into this usually wide open space that we never made it to the actual march route; instead our part of the crowd carved a wide and densely populated path to merge in with the rest of the marchers on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I’ve been to a few Inaugurations, Wembley Park for a legendary concert, the Esplanade in Boston for 4th of July festivities, and I’ve never experienced such a friendly, supportive and polite crowd. There was little pushing. Lots of information comparing/sharing. A warm camaraderie underpinned the grit, determination and passion evident on faces and signs. When in midafternoon we peeled off to head back to the metro, I was surprised to turn back and see the sea of pink overtaking the city; I wasn’t surprised this morning to read zero arrests were made in connection with the event.

We got home exhaused but exhilirated. Hungry, but ready for more. “We marched for a good cause,” noted my older kid. “Defending the rights of you and my friends is totally worth it.”

The hard work starts now. The new administration already scurbbed the words climate change from the White House website, like deleting those two words will make the crisis disappear. The new press secretary lied in his first press conference, which didn’t involve the press at all but served as a venue for him to scold the media for reporting the numbers from the day before. (Why is this White House so focused on size?) And the president made a jab at marchers before appearing to have his Twitter handle taken over by a more moderated set of thumbs.

This is our new normal; it’s anything but normal and it’s not okay. What I learned and felt yesterday is that I am not alone. For the last two months, I felt helpless; now I’m unstoppable.

hello, 2017

Two days ago, I stood waist-deep in the Hawaiian surf and braced against the push-pull of the ocean. I dug my toes in the sand and tightened through the core as stronger swells moved by and through me; I relaxed slightly when I detected the undertow had let up. Yet I remained vigilant against the natural force more powerful than me; 2016’s many surprises trained me well.

I contemplated my goals for the new year. Some I could count. Lose weight. Write more. Double the yoga hours I teach. Go on x number of dates. Save money. Volunteer. But many I couldn’t. Put the phone down. Listen better. Be more patient, thoughtful, present. Experiment. I grew agitated with this exercise. Should I set 17 goals? Or one for each month of the year? One quantifiable and one unquantifiable a quarter? A combination of work, family, creativity, travel?

A new swell of bigger waves moved in and I tried something. I didn’t grip so hard. Sure, the tide pulled me a little this way and pushed a little that way. That is life. I don’t want to constantly brace for the next big one. And I don’t want to make a super specific list of goals. Instead I’m recommitting to living an authentic life. When I focus on manifesting what makes me happy and healthy, I naturally achieve the named and unnamed goals embedded in body, mind and spirit.

If I can do that I will truly experience a happy new year.

reflections on a year

The sidewalk screams happy birthday with a thin but potentially dangerous layer of black ice. I get it, 2016; you have a sadistic sense of humor.

One year ago, I had more than a few lessons to learn in my journey toward enlightenment, and ice played the part of catalyst. I had to experience trauma so I could let in the light. Elective surgery, emergency surgery, three months in a wheelchair, a year of physical therapy, financial stress, and an ulcer. But in the midst of the dark, I grew closer to my sister, deepened bonds with my “sister friends,” started writing a third novel, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post, found my center, and in ten days, I’ll be sunning on a beach in Hawaii.

The greatest lessons: I can’t do everything alone, it’s okay to show vulnerability, and people want to help. This morning’s ice was a nice reminder. Slick sidewalks and roads stretched between me and the yoga class I had to teach. Two blocks away, I burst into tears and froze in place but Nancy hugged me until my breath calmed and led the way, baby step by baby step.

Ice aside, I can’t say I woke up feeling different. I still greeted the morning from the fog of a crazy dream. (Jojo from the Bachelorette was president-elect, except she looked like Anna Kendrick, and I was contemplating making a play for the chief of staff job, sacrificing my flexibility with the kids for a position in the White House because my country needed me.) The ice will melt, my relationships will continue to grow, the wine will taste delicious. And I will shine the light within me.

Namaste.

NaNoWriMo: when failure is success

A few years ago, my writer friend, I’ll call her Pav, asked if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. I grew up in the 70s, so I thought she was saying Na-Nu Na-Nu, and if you have to look that up, you’re too young to read my blog.

NaNoWriMo —short for National Novel Writing Month— always falls in November. Because absolutely nothing big happens in November, us creative types have gobs of extra time to commit to the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. (For those who don’t speak word count, that’s about 200 pages of a book.) The “rules”state that a writer starts with a fresh page and a great idea and lets the goal spur along the creative process, with the comfort of knowing lots of other neurotic writers are struggling right along with you.

In late summer, I started work on a new novel. Then my efforts stalled, not for lack of a storyline, but because I wasn’t dedicating time to write. I decided I needed NaNoWriMo to return my focus to the work and develop the habit of scheduling writing time into my day. (Also to fire up my competitive spirit even though I broke the start with a blank page rule.)

I set a daily goal of 1700 words, but in the first week, tried to outdo that pace to account for visitors at Thanksgiving and other distractions. I ended up with two zero-word days (Thursday after the election and Monday before Thanksgiving). I had one 3062-word day, which was exhausting (especially since I also baked two pies the same day). In the end, on my last day, I wrote 3,058 words, ending the challenge 362 words short of the goal.

At first I was disappointed. I failed. (You can imagine the hysterics. “I’m never going to be a published author.”) But I took a step back and viewed my accomplishment from a different angle. I started off NaNoWriMo with a hodgepodge of words and scenes with the ultimate goal of ending the challenge with the first draft of a novel. I achieved that goal. Now I get to cut. And edit. And pare down the times I added a bunch of “that” phrases to boost my word count. Kidding on the last point. Sort of.

Hey, we are motivated by what we are motivated by, and word count goals work for me. The days I found hard to make my 1700, I cut huge passages or left placeholders because the scene hadn’t come to me. I had the ending written when I started this process, but my story went in a different direction. Now I need to fix it.

The challenge over, I feel a little rutterless today, but my novel deserves a night away from me. Goal number one for tomorrow: begin to rewrite the end.

 

With gratitude

 

This year more than any other continually challenged me to remember all that I have. On this day of giving thanks, I share the following entries from my mental gratitude journal.

Friends who feel like family. Near and far, I love you.

Everyone who helped (whether I asked for it or not) get me through two bad and unlucky injuries; three months in a wheelchair would have been horribly lonely not to mention on the edge of impossible without you.

Friends and family who encourage my writing, get my jokes, and listen patiently when I say,“last night, I had this dream..”

Hugs from my boys, growing into curious, caring, open-minded young men who still like to spend time together —and often with me too. (Though the younger one is pushing it with his insistence that the world looked like a black and white film way back when I was born.)

The honor of witnessing the union of Rachel and Sandra and seeing the looks on their kids faces as the deal was sealed.

My Latvian grandparents —dead more than 20 years— who rejected fascism and escaped tyranny en route to gaining passage to this great nation. (I’ve been wearing my grandmother’s ring as a reminder.)

Shelter. Creativity. Resources. Health insurance. Good skin. Wine. Fall foliage. Books. Yoga. Cats.

And while I’m at it, freedom of the press. Freedom of speech. Freedom to make my own health decision. The right to vote. A passport that can get me nearly everywhere.

The list goes on, but my pie needs to come out of the oven.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Goodbye, Facebook

I first signed up for Facebook in 2008 shortly after returning home from my 20-year high school reunion. At the time, I was emotionally transitioning out of my job in the U.S. Senate. Facebook represented a fun and easy way to remain in touch both with old friends from high school I didn’t call or email regularly and colleagues whose daily presence I wanted to keep in my life.

Then my family got on Facebook. After a brief period of not putting my kids’ cute faces on the internet, I embraced the convenience of posting their photos and the funny things they say so my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins can keep up with their lives. All without my having to write a single letter or schedule a time to talk on the phone.

Like most users, my roster of “friends” ebbs and flows. Occasionally, I unfriend (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, for adding this vocabulary word to the English lexicon) people who I don’t think would recognize me if we collided with hot coffee. But then I meet a new person, enjoy our brief conversation and five hours later, Facebook deems us official friends. The world feels brighter. Smaller. More accessible.

Facebook has been great for distributing my writing. (Shameless plug: you can sign up to get blog posts delivered to your inbox.) Facebook connected me to Latvian cousins living in Canada. Facebook makes it possible to ‘chat’ with friends abroad. But Facebook is no longer just a quick sharing of our current condition. I miss the days of status updates in the third person. Remember? Chelsea Henderson is listening to Hamilton. The Facebook of today is perfectly filtered and cropped photos of kids, meals, pets, projects, outfits, and sunsets. Facebook knows when we’re celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, changing jobs, drinking wine, entering or leaving relationships, having babies. Facebook is who we tell when we’re on vacation. With our humble brags, we invite a constant invasion of our privacy.

Facebook gave me a false sense of closeness while enabling me to drift farther apart from my core.

And over the last month, we’ve used the site to engage in new level of political debate, which is healthy. I don’t think it’s good to shroud yourself around only those who think exactly like you. So I sucked it up when people I don’t know wrote hate-filled comments on my public posts. (By the way, I’m what’s wrong with America.) I resisted the urge to write my own frothy responses because hate begets hate. But then news of the pervasiveness of fake news shared and re-shared on the site sent me over the edge.

I need a break.

Goodbye, Facebook. I’m taking a hiatus from now until the end of the year, at which time I will reassess. In the meantime, I vow to call friends and family more. I might write a letter. I look forward to filling up time usually sucked away by Facebook with reading, sleeping, writing, and preparing wonderful foods that I’m sorry you won’t see pictures of unless you come over to share a bite.

I look forward to this journey and encourage you: post less, connect more.