New Year Outtakes

New Year Outtakes

Welcome Center, Tennessee

EPIPHANY

Like a dog, at my feet, beneath the table, my mind begs, shamelessly, after each & every meal, even breakfast:

“No dessert?”

After a display of disgust, I pat it on the head, and say:

“Let’s go see what we have.”

~

MID-JANUARY

To say nothing seems wrong. To say something, just to say something, seems trite.

What I felt as I drove through a snowstorm in the Blue Ridge Mountains was shock.

“Mary Oliver has died,” said the announcer on NPR, without asking if we were all sitting down.

And just like that a window shut, a door slammed, a page turned, a poem…

Her words came at a time when I was finding myself, and like she did for so many, her way of seeing lit the way, and made it softer and sweeter and whole.

~

MLK WEEKEND

“Friday is the Day of Detachment. Today we tell our children: Enjoy the journey.”

Another dreary day of winter weather, blocking my view & my mood. But after two full days of driving, I am waking up in a place I’ve never been before, to the sound of a bird I don’t know, in a stranger’s bed in Knoxville, Tennessee where my youngest and I have journeyed to celebrate the most powerful thing in the world.

Love.

~

VERMONT BOUND

The Smokies were covered today and we extended our stay to avoid the weather up ahead.

As the sun set in the west and the full moon rose in the east, we drove through the Tennessee town in which Dolly Parton was born, on this very weekend, 73 years ago.

What struck me most about this time in the “South,” almost immediately, was the pause people take, even when passing by, even when brushing shoulders with strangers, to say something kind or to smile, which we’re happy to reciprocate only we didn’t know and so we kept on going or kept it short or turned away too soon, respecting individuation & time instead of the gentility of connection. (I wonder if the North is more heavily populated by introverts.)

“Southern women are nice to your face and then talk behind your back,” our Airbnb host said.

The anomalies & attributes of another person or place are easier to see than one’s own, and so here’s what else we noticed:

Cheap gas! We filled up for $1.89 today (almost makes us want to stay and drive around some more.)

70 mph speed limit. With signs that tell you to stay in the right lane if you’re going less than 70.

BILLBOARDS. (Thank you for banning those Vermont!)

GOD: in the bathroom, on the coffee table and everywhere else along with GUNS & SEX (aka. “Adult” establishments), the bedfellows of PATRIARCHY & OPPRESSION, partnered with fireworks, bbq, knives, moonshine, distilleries & and a string of extravagant Christmas-lawn ornament light stores.

Other EXCESSES: Pedicures & sundaes–at the same time. (I was tempted.) A hunk of cornbread & 2 huge biscuits with your small order of chicken & dumplings. “You won’t starve here,” the waiter said. Price: $5.95

Loads of Arby’s & Hardy’s & Chick Fill A (as well as Waffle Houses & Krispy Kremes.)

Angular mountain ranges & ridges.

“Yes, ma’am.”

~

IN-SERVICE

Today my husband, a highschool social studies teacher, spent his half-day in-service learning how to stop the bleeding. Legs & arms mainly because apparently there’s less success with torso wounds in the classroom.

 

Chrysalides

Chrysalides

I look past the needles that line my belly, the lowest just above the rise of my pelvis, an inch deep, and further still past the needles at my ankle to the plant circling the room where the walls meet the ceiling, the same ivy-like, heart-shaped-leaf that I have in my house, a plant which was once among several left on a small round kitchen table with the words: “Free,” which despite the absence of a green thumb I brought home after a yoga class or was it a birthing class, both brand new endeavors  after leaving the mid-Atlantic for the Green Mountains in 1993 where I discovered at my first staff meeting at Deerfield Valley Elementary that everyone ate something that I’d I mistakenly pronounced as another word for soil.

A Long Slow Color is Green.

These are the words that were carved into thick medallion of wood that hung above the entrance to a place smack in the middle of Main Street, beside a classic Vermont Inn. The oddly named: Klara Simpla housed the bookstore which is what brought me inside the strange smelling shop filled with something called herbs and homeopathics and tinctures, not to mention the yoga and birthing classes (among other offerings) on the second and third floors. There were also two huge chests filled with household and clothing items that were giveaways. 25 years later, I’m still the plaid blanket that I found in that pile is a family classic when we picnic beside pond and I still wear the black, water resistant wind pants when I snow shoe.

A long slow color is green.

Those words from the wooden medallion which hung above Klara Simpla were spoken out loud to me once by the founder herself, the woman who offered her plants to women like me just beginning to find our way on the path to wholeness.

“There is so much to know. How do I begin?” I asked Faye, at the end of an interview she’d surprisingly granted me when I’d first began writing for the Cracker Barrel.

But what really brought my attention to the plant circling the ceiling in the acupuncturist’s office, beyond the fact that the old period building with its hissing radiators reminded me of my husband’s grandmother’s place in the nearby Berkshires (which is how we ended up leaving the southern New Jersey for New England), and beyond the surprise that my surname was all over the building because in addition to housing the acupuncturist’s office, it housed an organization called the Salasin Center (so named for a distant relative that I found on Facebook) was that its dead leaves were left hanging among its healthy ones, and if not a shouting sign of neglect then some kind of statement which I had plenty of time to ponder as I lay on the table week after week for an hour at a time–from sandals to long pants to scarves to wool socks and hats.

With nothing to do but remain still so that the needles in my belly (or eye socket) wouldn’t move, the story–my story–about the neglected ivy-like plant–began to shift, somewhere beneath my personal anxiety around neglect.

When the acupuncturist returned to the room to remove the needles of which there were a total of 8 on this particular visit–including one at the top of my skull, and one at each of my temples, as well as one between my toes and another placed between my bottom two ribs, I finally said aloud what I’d been thinking for so many weeks in a row (hoping to silence it in my head):

“Has anyone ever said that those–(I pointed toward a particularly long line of decaying leaves)–look like a chrysalis?” (I wish I knew then the plural.)

Surprisingly Dan said, “No,” and nothing more.

But my therapist picked up the thread, the very same week, which is something I try to avoid–more than one appointment in the same week–but which has been unavoidable during this health crisis that has so depleted me (while serving as a boot-camp for letting go.)

“This is a very inward time for you, more so than ever,” Carolyn said, as I sat across from her in a room perched above the Connecticut River in downtown Brattleboro; something I had been doing about once a month or so ever since my mother’s death, a span of time easily measured by the age of my youngest son, 18.

“It’s time to retreat, to be unseen, to rest under the covers,” she said, “To let your work deepen inside like the spinning of a cocoon.”

My mind immediately protested with all that had to be done in that particular month–December!–not to mention the day trip I’d imagined to the sea the very next day–on the occasion of my 55th birthday. (I had arrived in Vermont at 29.)

“Does this resonate for you?” Carolyn asked, seeing past the veneer of my capacity, into the grievous depletion of chi.

I nodded begrudgingly.

There was one last appointment scheduled that same day, which is something I never do, but it was the only opening my friend had to trade massage for the work I’d done on her website.

The afternoon though brightly lit, was bitter cold, and I arrived at her house chilled, and even so, I removed each and every layer, until I stood in my underwear and slid, belly up, under the single sheet on her table.

“Are you cold?” she asked, turning up the temperature on the heating pads beneath me.

Elaina dangled the pendulum over the center line of my body sensing the ongoing obstruction of the second chakra–digestion, letting go, family, finances, overextension.

“How is mothering going?” she asked, knowing that my youngest left the nest this very August, a day upon which this sweeping illness presented itself in absurdly symbolic fashion.

“There is a burden on your left shoulder,” she added. “A responsibility that you’re carrying, that is not yours, which means it’s stuck there because it has nowhere to go.”

I told her about the Ritual of Resignation that I had concocted just before Thanksgiving. My therapist had suggested the ritual as an accompaniment to the potent antibiotics to which I planned to surrender, something I hadn’t needed since I moved to Vermont and began using herbs. I filled the prescription bottle with tiny pieces of paper upon which I wrote all the ways I was ready to let go, particularly with regard to my family of origin who I’d begun to carry as a girl.

“So many of your joints are blocked,” Elaina said, as she massaged my shoulders and elbows and wrists, my hips and knees and ankles.

As I write this morning, on the day after my birthday, my hands take turns leaving the keyboard to touch my shoulder tips again and again. The skin there is so strikingly soft, like a baby’s flesh (or what I vaguely recall of a baby), the result of a salt scrub I offered my joints yesterday morning while the sun rose brightly through the trees on another bitterly cold day, on the anniversary of my birth.

So too was my time on the table with Elaina sensual, accompanied as it was by her cat, black, like my own Licorice from long ago with whom I shared a soul connection as a girl in Rockies as my mother disappeared in the bottle. Licorice would drag her paws down my face, and once when recalling this in my therapist’s chair on a guided journey forty years later, I was certain I smelled Licorice’s milky breath.

As Elaina worked on my neck, “Kiki” brushed her whiskers against my left cheek, purring in my ear, and then she pranced across my belly, tenderizing the second chakra, while on the Elaina’s small cd player, a classical version of “Danny Boy” softly played, a song which once eulogized my mother who named her only son Daniel.

After the sunny birthday morning shower with the salt scrub around each joint, my husband drove me to the sea, where I watched from the passenger’s seat, light, moving across frozen lakes and rivers and marshlands and fields, even as my head ached from yet another migraine (a fourth since Thanksgiving week; since the antibiotic?) until I arrived, at the hour of my birth, sensing into the pain of separation–skull crushed by pubic bones–at the open, endless, embrace of Return, understanding in that moment, that the title of my book would be something much larger than I had conceived, could conceive, of the story I’d been spinning several years around a tragedy.

When instead of turning south, we continued along the coastal road deeper into Maine, we passed a tiny pond beside the woods upon which a single skater glided skillfully in tighter and tighter circles.

“He must be professional hockey player,” I said to my husband.

“Such a small pond he’s on,” my husband replied.

“Such elegance,” I said.

And now I recall the moment when I’d fully surrendered to Elaina’s touch on the table, and she asked me to turn over onto my belly, layering heating pads and blankets atop my back, until I grew so hot that I imagined melting, after which she removed the layers, which had grown sticky, peeling them one by one, until I found myself unburdened and light, nascent and raw, like the first unfurling of new life.

Powder light sky

Powder light sky

Our son’s autumn week at home has come to a close, finishing with a trip south for a family wedding in Pennsylvania, completed by the necessary mecca to Wawa–just for gas; but while we’re there–How about a soft pretzel or two?

We skip the hoagies this trip, but what about Tasty Cakes–the communion of Return–the Body of my Childhood (the peanut butter chocolate ones) and of my late mother (Butterscotch Krimpets.)

We arrive home the lesser for it, even while our hearts are full, as the powdery sky above the Green Mountains speaks to the cleansing promise of winter.

Once again we say goodbye.

Summer at the shore

Summer at the shore


The days leading up to Memorial Day weekend have a certain charge in a sleepy seashore town that lends any extraneous tourists like myself irrelevant, and beside the point, and almost tiresome because at any moment, the real guests will arrive, and for now they must endure us, like we once endured the great aunts at our graduation party before heading out to join friends around a bonfire.

Conversely, copious amounts of attention are given to the outliers like myself due to the high ratio of not only management but owners ready and waiting for the great explosion of humanity and cash flow. (God, let there be sun!)

Despite the empty establishments, there is an odd urgency in the air, like animals before a storm, so overcharged are they all in expectation, an energy which they disperse on unsuspecting guests as if to demonstrate in self-congratulatory fashion how much even the highest ranking member cares about the extraneous customer:

“How is everything? Do you need anything? Are you enjoying everything?”

By the time I leave my quiet window seat, I am exhausted, and they are relieved to be free of me, free of the saccharin attention one must muster for young children while facing a deadline.

Now to the real work—the menu updates, the food orders, the outdoor chairs and tables, the screens, the fresh paint (will it dry in time!), the last minute hiring for the kitchen, the patio stones that were supposed to be in place weeks ago but now require the unlikely effort of owners and both the day and night managers as well as the new dishwasher who doesn’t speak much English, but who seems willing to please for $11 an hour. (An amount that will never cover rent, let alone groceries, or medical care.)

Overall, the staff cannot wait for summer to be underway to be free of the managers (soon to be distracted by bank deposits), while the managers can’t wait to be free of the owners (soon to be spending said bank deposits.)

While even the well seasoned servers who typically play their roles effortlessly, fumble with extra steps, bumping into each other in the empty space, while their brains reboot patterns long dormant through winter, as ancient frustrations arise without any effort at all—that old bar broom with the bent bristles, the trash can whose bags fit almost perfectly, the teacups that must be wiped before use because the owner insists on a charming display.

But in 72, 48, 24 hours… the New Year rings in… and everyone–the dishwasher, the server, the manager, the owner, the tourist–becomes a teenager again.

SUMMER.

NYC

NYC

New Yorkers are brusque, broody, as if they all have agreed that no one will be happy
And this gives a certain tilt to the island, all the while New Yorkers are oddly compliant, say about moving through a subway station, and also helpful if you ask, and often earnest.

I almost lived among them once when I was just out of college
until I learned that my friend’s apartment was on the 37th floor
and that’s too far away from the earth for me,
and so head hung low,
I returned to the shore,
and promptly had my heart skewered
which primed it for falling in love with Casey,
and losing a baby
and moving to Vermont…

But I would’ve liked to have gotten to know New Yorkers more.

Maybe someday I’ll learn to live apart from the ground.

On Returning…

On Returning…


Though our dream to move to the mountains took shape 25 years ago this spring (after we lost the baby), we continue to return to the sea at least once a year, and back in those early years, we returned every season.

And although these Green Mountains are where we belong, the return is always a homecoming, not only to the place where our love took root more than 3 decades ago, but to his people, and especially my people, because there are so many of us, and because we go back so many generations, and to the sea and the sand and the land itself.

With so many touchstones, each visit is like a putting together a thousand-piece puzzle, and over time, I’ve begun to play with it ahead of the return so that I might be more present once there, particularly as our time there continues to shrink while our family there continues to expand.

And so it is that this week brings the maddening/thrilling algebraic acrobatics of making connections and plans with 6 different siblings & their kids (some grown and on their own) and with what remains of 3 sets of parents, and also a stepgrandmother & her fiance, a great aunt & her son, dozens of cousins, aunts & uncles, a friend or two, and once in blue moon if we’re especially lucky–a beloved colleague.

Sometimes I forget an entire branch of our lives.

Sometimes I get so aborbed by balancing the equation that I miss the sweetness of the faces and the sea and the memory space of home.

Increasingly so, I take time apart from it all, simply to steep in place, alone, and instead of telling myself that I am not enough, that the time we spend is not enough, that the visit is too cumbersome, too far, too much, I let another voice in… the one that says that the Return is sacred, and as such things will fall into place (like running into a cousin’s family at the ice cream parlor, or old friends at a distant relative’s funeral), while simultaneously letting so. much. go. like we once did, 25 years ago, heartbroken, leaving the sea to make a new home of our own.