Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

The Gardener and the Witch

The gardener grew, as gardeners do, in fertile soil
A farm surrounded by forest, by brambles and meadows and streams
Where property lines are drawn with moss-covered stones.

The witch was cast, as witches are, in earth’s palm
Wild imagination, story-fed, danced from season to season
Befriending maple and toad, cat and fern, lake and muck, stars and stones.

The gardener transplanted, to stretch out his roots a little
Swapping forest for cornfield, trading stone walls for brick paths
Drinking in friendship like sunlight and music like rain.

The witch was drawn by oaks and elms and sycamores
Into flight, and landed where her bare feet delighted in bricks wise and worn
Drinking in friendship like sunlight and music like rain.

The gardener soon saw how well her branches and his intertwined
The witch could feel that their stories together would weave
So he planted love in the ground where they stood and she sealed it with a spell.

Thirteen years later, the gardener is still sowing and nurturing and harvesting
And the witch is beside him, guiding and shaping and protecting
Their home: an orchard of magic and hope, light and love.

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13 to 31

Swap the digits and behold
How child turns to mother
How fragile becomes bold

Maternal cocoon lost, greatly mourned
Daughter once shattered
Now re-formed.

Wisdom longed for
Loving arms craved
Sheltering comfort destroyed

All now spring up
From within and around
A renewable source: heart, re-joyed.

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This Solstice brought to you by the letter B, the letter C, and the number 4

It’s been awhile since I wrote regularly. Things have been shifting in ways that are difficult to put into words, and lately I’m finding myself fueled by more active ways of feeding my soul: doing “my thing,” of course, first and foremost, but also music-making, reading out loud with Thor (lately, he’s been reading Debora Geary to me while I frantically try to finish a knitting project in time for Christmas), and lots of yoga.

Tonight seems right to get caught up a little, to honor the passing season and in particular the turning point that Solstice seems to be for me this year. As I mentally flip back the calendar pages, I am amused to discover a few common threads, which I shall share with you, Sesame Street style.

***This update on Platypup and Owlet brought to you by the letter B.***

B is for Beds. Specifically, bunkbeds (double points!) lovingly handcrafted by Thor over the past several months. Platypup has always slept in our bed. Naps were more variable but nighttime was always in with us. This was intentional; looking back on the various sleeping arrangements we tried with Owlet, being in bed with us was by far the best in terms of minimizing sleep interruptions as well as easiest on the heart. All kid-parent combos are different; this is what worked for ours.

Owlet had been at least beginning the night in her own room starting at about 20mo, but over the summer my old strategy of having Platypup lying on my belly while we put Owlet to sleep in her twin bed (both kids nursing) and then transferring him to our bed stopped being feasible due to Platypup becoming one hefty sack of flour. Thor had been helping when he wasn’t working, but in the summers he works almost every night. Solo parenting bedtime was a lot more manageable when I began putting both kids to sleep in our bed every night, especially knowing the bunkbeds were in the works and they weren’t going to be there indefinitely.

But now the bunkbeds are complete! And gorgeous. And effective… Sometimes they ask to sleep in our bed instead, but only once have we actually begun the night there since they were completed (Thor was working overnight in the city and I thought it would be cozy. And warmer! I was right). They come in with us sometimes if they wake in the night and other times both are there till morning. The first few nights Thor and I were both stunned by dreaming returning full-force, and I was irritated but entertained to discover I lost the ability to roll over in my sleep at some point in the past five years, resulting in some pretty sore arm joints most mornings.

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B is for Breastfeeding. Drumroll please… Owlet self-weaned! Once summer ended and Thor stopped working every night, I oh so delicately, serenely — nay, angelically — suggested he might want to take every possible bedtime for the foreseeable future. Side effect: no more routine bedtime milk. It faded out really quickly. First both were still nursing the nights Nils had to work, then just Platypup since I told Owlet she had to choose between nursing and having me reading to her (hard to hold a book with two latched on) and she often chose to read, and then both just sort of forgot about it as Daddy’s dairy-free routine became the norm. (Woooooo!) Platypup still nurses some mornings, but if I’m not up for it I can distract him by mentioning breakfast.

B is for Books. Owlet has been reading to herself since a little before she turned four (I know, freakishly early, and not our doing — she just really got into it), but now she is totally speedy and while she still prefers to be read to, she also can be found increasingly often tucked cozily into some nook or other with blanket and book. Also on the subject of books, due to the aforementioned bunkbeds and lack of bedtime breastfeeding, I do a lot more reading at night, and Owlet is totally into chapter books. We’ve been indulging in some of my very favorites, like Pippi Longstocking and Ramona, and I can’t wait to pull out my boxes of childhood books from the garage and share them all with her. Platypup usually falls asleep right away, but sometimes he writhes around getting his blankets settled first. I’m not sure how much of the story he is following as he drifts off, but I can tell he’s listening.

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B is for Boisterousness. Holy hell! Two kids are crazy pants. It doesn’t matter whether they are having fun or terrorizing one another, there is a lot of energy rampaging through our house all the frikkin time. Owlet was on the quiet side, especially before Platypup was born, so this snowballing explosion of insanity was rather overwhelming at first. Still is, some days, though we are getting our sea legs somewhat.

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B is for Bunnies. We moved them inside for the rainy season and it is perfect timing; the kids are old enough to really pet them (and in Owlet’s case, to hold them carefully) and help make sure they don’t chew on any stray books or pajamas that may be lost under the couch. So they are getting out of the cage a lot more than the last time they lived indoors with us.

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***This update on me-beyond-parenting brought to you by the letter C.***

C is for Change. There’s been a lot of new stuff going on around here. All of the above speaks to change, of course. And I’ve written some about my own changes, especially in finding a spiritual practice that suits me so entirely. (I’m out of the broom closet now — proudly wiccan. Still atheist, although a friend of a friend mentioned animism recently which also fits.) Thor and I have been changing, too, in really important good ways that are occasionally terribly uncomfortable and ultimately make us stronger. There is a whole ton of open, honest, willingly vulnerable conversation flowing between us and I would take this beautiful ever-evolving partnership we have now over who we were a year ago or two or five or twelve without hesitation, every time.

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C is for Courage and Conviction. If you’ve known me awhile, you may laugh; I’ve not generally lacked for either. But I’m mastering a whole new level here, mostly due to an increasing trust in my own intuition. This includes getting around to saying things when things need to be said without stressing over them for long and knowing from deep within my core whether a particular action should be taken or not.

C is for Creativity. Not just of the artsy kind, either. Yes, I’ve been songwriting and knitting and inventing my own branch of witchcraft (tee hee) but I’m also learning to cast a wider net when the usual options are failing. No solution is too outlandish to at least consider for a moment, and the impact on my daily interactions with kids, Thor, students, and friends has been substantial. I’m more fluid and at least a teensie tiny bit less stubborn.

C is for Connection. It is getting easier to deepen relationships with those around me as well as reach out to far-flung family and friends. I’ve struggled and mostly failed in the past to keep up with my siblings, college friends, and extended family, only partially consoled by our ability to snap back together like pop beads whenever we visit one another. I’m far from perfect, but I’m doing a lot better, and my college best friend and I actually have an established day and time to chat, which is no small feat for two employed people with small children, and are talking at least a few times a month. I cannot tell you how good that feels.

C is for Centered. I am not immune to the ups and downs of daily life. I still yell at my kids. I still screw up, all over the place some days. I don’t have any illusions of being mistaken for His Holiness the Dalai Lama anytime ever. But. But I come back to center so easily these days. Right now I’m working on and getting better at letting difficult emotions run through me for a solid, unsteady moment and then depart, leaving me able to catch my balance and move on in a way that feels even more healthy than all the flax and burdock root in the world (though both of the above are pretty super).

And the number 4? Well, I have a family of four, am one of four siblings, routinely gather in a group of four close friends, have a four year old (who not infrequently acts like a fourteen year old), and really ought to yell “fore!” just as a matter of course on my funky winding path through this life.

Oh, and of course it’s still 2014 for another week and a half. Happy Solstice, everyone! May this darkest night bring you peace and healing and big piles of warm things like cats and blankets.

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When You’re Smiling

I was a serious child and a shy one, prone to gazing mutely at enthusiastic adults with solemn, enormous eyes if I wasn’t in the mood for interaction.

My grandmother Millie was the opposite: vivacious as all get out, gutsy of voice and broad of smile.

“When you’re smiling,” she’d sing in her smoky alto, shimmying up a storm, “when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you…”

I don’t know how any person survives losing first a spouse, then a daughter within a handful of years, but she did so in a way that embraced both life and grief wholeheartedly.

Her religion is not mine, but there was common ground where it mattered: in services on the beach at sunrise, in sitting quietly with the memory of loved ones at sunset, in music of all sorts.

She lived to be 94 years old. Ninety-four and a half, actually. Can you fathom it? That’s exactly three times as old as I am, almost to the day. She lived to see all of her grandchildren reach adulthood, to meet her great-granddaughter. And in the most graceful of all possible exits, her curtain call was just enough to give fair warning. Then, this past Thursday, December 11th, 2014, she drifted off to sleep one final time.

I showed Owlet and Platypup photos and told all the stories I could think of. Platypup thought the one where Millie is holding infant me was of “Gama Jack” (Grandma Jackie) at first.

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When I went out to honor her memory last night, I felt my lineage flare up within me more strongly than ever before. I felt how she had made my mom, my wonderful gem of a mother, and, in making her, had made me. Surrounded by the objects of my choosing — the first and last photos of she and I together, my mother’s ashes, a lilac-scented candle because lilacs always remind me of my mom, a sprig of fresh rosemary, a blue jay feather from Thor’s mother, three treasured stones (mugglestone, rose quartz, and blue lace agate), mom’s candle snuffer, and a scattering of lavender — I sent my love and said goodbye.

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Harnessing Inertia

Life decisions are often made in the shadow of an 8am class. We all have wide-ranging interests, but not all of them are compelling enough to lure our eighteen-year-old selves out of bed. By process of elimination, the college classes we are willing to wake up for become the path we pursue.

But those almost-majors, the ones who didn’t make the 8am cut, they still trail along in our wake, ghost-careers that either haunt us or enrich our quirky selves, depending on whether our chosen vocation is currently going well.

I’m a serious physics nerd. The test of my love came in the form of early morning Calculus freshman year; I’d received college credit for AP Calculus, so this class was only required if I wanted to be a physics major. I decided against it by the end of the first week. I like math a lot… but not in the morning. When it came to Counterpoint at a similarly incomprehensibly early hour the following year, however, I magically managed to propel myself out of bed and over to the music building, often in pajamas and occasionally without breakfast, but nonetheless present and enthusiastically engaged. Music major, chosen.

I may have become a musician rather than a physicist (and don’t regret it), but my affection for the subject remains, and I find it frequently moonlights in the realm of analogy.

My latest one has to do with inertia and momentum.

Some folks roll into change with grace and even appear to relish the opportunity. Others resist novelty with every fiber of their being. Some are happy habit formers and others can’t seem to follow a consistent pattern for the life of them.

I’ve concluded this must be because we all have different mass.

We commonly think of inertia only in terms of resistance to motion. But the scientific definition speaks of resistance to changes in motion: essentially, the more massive the object in question, the more it wants to continue whatever it is currently doing, be that sitting still or rocketing along at high speeds.

It is a curious thing, and not one I’d considered until recently, but for those of us who take longer to get off our asses and do something, once we finally do we are kind of unstoppable, are we not? Whereas those of us who can more easily flit between activities, we may transition with envious spontaneity, but sustaining effort can be more of a challenge.

If you, like me, harbor a joy for physics or analogy or both, try assessing your momentum and that of those around you. Not empirically better or worse, just different. It may take more force to get a massive stone rolling, but it also takes a whole lot to stop it. It may be easy to derail a pebble, but it takes a tiny amount of energy to get it going again. We all have different challenges, but they are matched by our strengths, if we can only see them in the right light.

If you struggle to start anything new, see what it does to remind yourself how well you retain habits after the initial formation period. For you, it takes a lot of strength at the beginning, but then you are something of a cannonball.

If you find it tough to keep your nose to the grindstone, try to notice how quickly you reignite after each stumble, leaping up dancer-like to begin anew.

And what if you’re in the middle and therefore seem to sway from one camp to the other, like me?

Well, as you may know, friction also plays a card in this game. So sometimes I’m moonwalking across kitchen linoleum and sometimes I’m swamp-tromping with the bullfrogs, knee-deep in muck. Different day, different texture. If you are at one extreme or the other, the texture changes aren’t going to affect your basic strategy too much, but if you’re in the middle, you may need to periodically assess which way you’re leaning.

This analogy works well for me because it ushers blame, shame, and denial politely but firmly out of the equation and unearths plain truth, which is so much easier to grapple with.

So what if I’m as massive as an iceburg? It might help to fuel up as best I can as early in the day as possible and then expend my effort toward launching into action, knowing that I’m likely to sustain whatever pace I set.

Or let’s say I have a student who eagerly tackles even the most devilishly challenging of new pieces but needs a lot of help staying focused for polishing. Ok. I’ve got a pebble here. I need to work with that. Addressing them as a boulder is never going to get us anywhere.

If I am to grow in any positive way I need to come to terms with who I am and who I’d like to become, and then stockpile tools that take my own unique set of strengths and challenges into account. Same goes for my approach to my kids and students. Inertia can be my undoing or my key to success — my perspective makes the difference.

Because objects in motion tend to stay in motion…

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…and objects at rest, well, you know.

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Feelings (nothing more than…)

Is it possible to be steadier and more volatile at the same time?

Apparently, yes.

I’ve been hitting vivid highs and lows on a regular basis lately, often within a single week. My heart is hanging out there, flapping in the breeze, and that means…

Feelings.

(Cue earworm.)

And yet, I am stable. I am centered as my life careens along exploring uncharted territory. My moods dance across the floor tile pages of my calendar and I willingly embrace them, but as seamlessly as we waltz, I know I am leading, not they. In fact, the frequency with which they flicker is driving home the point I have known intellectually for a long while but am only beginning to use as a cornerstone for my day-to-day operating system: I am not my emotions.

I am not my emotions. And really entering into the truth of that statement somehow makes it easier to experience them fully, to revel in the incredible roller-coaster pull of them, knowing that centripetal force is my utterly dependable friend, keeping me tethered no matter how tempestuously I whirl around. Knowing that in a few minutes the ride will lurch to a stop, the clattering will cease, my vision will sharpen, and I will toddle off on trembling knees to wait in line at the next big adventure.

Vulnerable and precarious and stable. Catching my breath and then diving right back in.

That’s my new normal.

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Embracing the Salmon Leap

It is always hard to lose a student. And it happens to even the best, most highly regarded educators. When you teach a musical instrument, sometimes people quit, for all kinds of reasons that may or may not have the slightest sliver of a reason you could have influenced.

And yet every time it hits me like a breakup. My pulse races and I feel weak and trembly and attacked and unappreciated and pretty much like a complete failure.

I used to fight that feeling. Used to get angry, and defensive, and eventually go do something not so much soothing as mind-numbing, like watch tv and eat too much. But it would pursue me, sometimes for weeks, once or twice for months, until I finally acknowledged the wound that had been dealt me.

And then, a la Rumi, light would enter.

There was always at least a small nugget of uncomfortable truth I was avoiding. Facing the pain is only difficult to begin. Once I have turned toward it, I pass through like a juvenile salmon leaping blindly over the dam.

And I emerge a better teacher. Every time. Even when the student has loved me and I them and they are leaving for reasons like moving out of state (or, hell, even when I have left them by moving across the country and they in fact stuck with me right up until my departure date). There is always something I could have done differently.

I don’t fight the feeling anymore. I let it roll through me and within a few days (sometimes even a matter of minutes) light is already shining through the wound and I am off and running, evolving as a teacher once again.

Occasionally this even happens in time to keep the student. But even when they still go, the parting is always graceful, not just on the outside, sealed with plaster of professional decorum, but on the inside too.

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Ahoy, Mateys!

Yaaaarrr! Listen smartly, me bilge rats an’ wenches
And I’ll spin ye a yaaaarn of the finest shipmate you e’er did see.

My best matey be strong but ne’er tough.
She be waaaarm but ne’er gooey.
Wise but ne’er conceited.
She be fallible but ne’er wrong.
Bloody perfect but ne’er flawless.
And she’s sure as a ship’s rudder fer steerin’ a poor soul
With ‘er ‘eart as wide as the sea beyond maps
An’ naught but the stars to guide’r.

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This is a screenshot of an awesome iPod app Thor found me earlier this summer called “Starlight.” You want it. Trust me.

(If you are a tad confused, it may have escaped your attention that it is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Lucky for you, it’s still early in the day, so get out there and swagger with the best of them.

NaBloPoMo wanted to hear about my best friend today. If pirate talk confuses you *cough-cough*land-lubber*cough-cough* and you’d like to read something more normal about Rapunzel, allow me to redirect you to her birthday post.)

Progress Report: B+ in NaBloPoMo

Obviously I approach NaBloPoMo much the way I approached homework in high school… With my focus on the material but not so much on the deadline.

Time to get caught up on the questions I’ve skipped along the way!

Tell us the methods you use to get through a disappointment.

When I am shaken by any level of disappointment, anger, frustration, sadness, uneasiness, or grief, I try and remember to tune into my basic needs first, to eat soothing, nourishing food, drink plenty of water and tea, take a shower or bath, exercise, meditate, and get some sleep.

Obviously I do not do all of the above before allowing the stressor to so much as cross my mind! But I attempt to deal with any pressing bodily concerns first and maybe delve into a soul-warming activity of some kind (music, writing, fun with family/friends, etc). Once I am buoyed by meeting my own needs, I am better equipped to grapple with whatever has thrown me off course.

Maybe it turns out just taking care of myself is enough. Or perhaps I need to work through an aspect of it in a practical, problem-solving capacity. But most of the time, if a negative emotion is clinging to me, what I need is to find a way to slough it off, which can hopefully be done by remaining conscious of my thoughts on the subject throughout the day and by forming an intent around it during my nightly circle.

Have you ever been scared to let go of your grief?

Of course. For most of the grieving process, the grief itself feels like the sole remaining connection to whatever has been lost, making moving forward a dauntingly lonesome prospect.

Letting go begins when other, more sustainable connections to the object of loss have been made, ideally both privately and publicly. Once that which has been grieved for is rewoven into a new position in daily life, it is possible to gradually release the grief.

Do you believe that time heals all wounds?

Healing occurs over time, but time alone cannot complete the job. Our participation is essential. It is our resistance or willingness to grieve that determines the amount of scarring left behind when time has done the best it can.

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Puddles

Kübler-Ross had a good concept. Seriously. But our culture has taken it and run so far past its expiration date.

The problem is partially linguistic; “stage” implies order and direction.

But as we’ve discussed already, grief is messy.

It also tends to avoid conforming to things like neat boxes and really predictability in general.

Instead if “stages,” I propose calling the items on Kübler-Ross’s laundry list “puddles people often blunder through while trying to find the exit from the courtyard of grief.”

Just as grief does not proceed in an orderly fashion from denial to anger and all the way to acceptance (where it, what, vanishes?), one person does not process all grief in the same way. I know I don’t. I may have tendencies, but the depth and muddiness of the puddle depend on what I am grieving and where I am in my own journey at that point in time.

So which puddle is most difficult?

When I lost my mom, it was fear, which oddly is not on the list. Probably someone will tell me fear is actually included in another puddle (and go ahead, of course), but as a child sailing along, learning the ropes and rudder, to suddenly lose the mast is a first and foremost a frightening thing.

Second hardest was probably depression, a despair that randomly shifted between foreground and background and colored most of my adolescence, even as I went through all of the usual teenage drama of school and dating and friendship and figuring out who I was and where I belonged.

When my friends lost their son, it was anger. Outrage. How dare a quirk of genetics rob them of his light, replacing decades with months in one fell swoop.

Denial is rarely a problem for me. I face facts pretty swiftly, not always with grace, sometimes with gritted teeth or deep resignation, but I face them.

And one side benefit to being an atheist?

I am rather immune to the stage of bargaining.

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There’s a drought on and puddles are hard to come by. Fortunately our cats have not been successfully trained to stay off of the kitchen table.

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