Am I the only one who has dreamed of retreating to a little cottage on the moors or deep in the woods to live Yeats’ Innisfree life where “peace comes dropping slow”? Sara Maitland did and then wrote A Book of Silence about her experiment. It’s a book that seems appropriate for me to read in a season in which there is so much noise (parties, shopping, family gatherings) and a competing siren call to contemplation. Even though I’m an introvert, I lead a noisy life. I never take a walk without the company of an audio book. When I’m home, music fills in the blank spots. When I want to write, I’m happiest in a coffee house surrounded by white noise. None of that is inherently bad, but I suspect my fantasy of escaping to an isolated cottage in Scotland (with all mod cons, of course), is telling me I need a daily dose of silence. Silence that comes from within, not necessarily imposed from without. But the moody, picturesque cottage? I wouldn’t turn it down.
Archive for ‘Enlightenment’
This time of year, I always think of Thanksgiving dinners at my grandmother’s house with the long table spread with a lace cloth and set with her best china and silver. Even though I now own her china, I’ve never achieved that level of civility in my own domestic life. In fact, I’ve spent the last decades eating many dinners at the coffee table while I read a book. According to all the experts in women’s magazines, this evidently takes years off the life expectancy of a single woman. I plead guilty to cutting similar corners in many areas of my life. Yes, I wish I didn’t want to take a short cut to the middle of a labyrinth instead of a making a slow contemplative circuit. I wish I’d been practicing inner peace all along instead of waiting to cram for it right before the exam. And I wish I could go back and have a re-do on those make-shift meals with a book in my lap or eating sardines out of a can over the sink. But those sardines! Peeling back the lid, seeing the symmetry of the way they’re packed, partaking of the bones and flesh of each little fish has its own beauty. Even when I eat them straight out of the can, I’m saying “thank you” with every bite. Thank you for the sunshine-colored olive oil they’re swimming in, thank you for their silvery shiny bodies, thank you for the taste of the “wine dark sea” or the stormy Atlantic I imagine was their home. A pause to praise regardless of the plate.
“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.” Carson McCullers
I constantly feel the urge to travel even though I find it a giant pain in the ass to plan, to pack, to enplane. But despite my reluctance and my fear of travel, I hunger for it. Today, when I was researching quotes for another project, I found this one and it was like falling in love at first sight. That feeling that someone has seen into you and and Click, you fit. Homesickness — when that happens to me it’s never for the actual home I left behind but for the one that never existed, the one that can’t be found with a GPS, the one that my soul leans toward, the one I long for wherever I am. One of my earliest memories is standing in my nightgown at the fence line of my grandparents’ farm at dusk, looking toward the line of trees in the distance and feeling sure that just beyond it was place I was meant to be. The place where I’d no longer feel like a misfit, the missing link in my DNA. As an adult, that lonely homesickness still overtakes me from time to time. And no, it’s not a hollow feeling that can be filled with Jesus, drugs, politics, career or cashmere sweaters. It’s the yearning for someplace with no name — maybe the stardust we came from or the wide open spaces between galaxies where anything is possible or just the lonely hill in the poem that inspired McCullers’ famous first novel. But we’re all homeward bound from the day we emerge from the womb, and in the meantime, this planetary home still has places to explore, to embrace, to extol in poems and love songs. Our mother, our orbit, our beautiful bed.
When I can get some perspective on my life (and how often are we really able to do that?), I realize that the thing most missing from it was a lasting relationship. The kind that you grow into and that grows to fit you but at the same time enlarges your world. Given the high divorce rate in our country, I realize that is sometimes a matter of luck, but still I have missed it. I’ve had relationships of high drama, love at first sight, heart-pounding passion, idiotic infatuation and my own sad divorce story. But it’s the domestic story I’ve lived without. The one where you have private jokes, middle of the night comfort, a shared dinner table, longevity and loyalty and dogged love. The one that persists even through the times you hate the one you love, find their habits irritating, their political beliefs ridiculous, and their taste in music barely bearable. I suppose there are many reasons I didn’t choose that or it didn’t choose me, but I’ve always felt a squirmy, unvoiced shame that somehow I’ve been inadequate, not up to the task, not meant for marriage and just plain less-than. Logically (since when is love ever logical?) I realize that many people go through life without ever experiencing this, but in down times, I’ve still felt it’s my fault and that it makes me a person of less depth or dimension. During one of those hair-shirt spells, I add to the proof that I’m lacking as a person the fact that I don’t really like volunteer work, I can’t cook, everything I plant dies and visiting hospitals puts me into a panic. That tiny plane in this photo might as well be pulling a banner through my life that reads “Nikki, You Suck!” But when I come to my senses and stop beating my own brains out, I understand that most of us go through life with a secret shame that will never be fully healed or a feeling of vulnerability in some part of their soul or just the simple realization that we rarely get everything we want. For today, I have big stacked-up thunder clouds over the harbor, a bottle of Malbec and a bowl of vegetable soup, John Travolta singing “Sandy,” an itch to try making a collage, and the finale of Orange is the New Black waiting to be watched in bed. Hi Nikki, my name is Nikki and I’d like to spend some time with you.
It’s such a cliche, but I’ve been obsessing about next week’s upcoming milestone birthday. Mulling over mortality, wondering if I have a second (make that a third) act in me, afraid to take a leap. I don’t want to fear the future or be paralyzed by my age because there are so many things I still want to do, some of which are doable and others of which seem blue sky: take an online calligraphy class, get an MFA, learn about self-publishing, learn to stop self-punishing, see more of the world, build another Tumblr site, publish a pop-up “newspaper,” learn to put on eyeliner correctly, live in a different place every year. But most of all, I’m still learning to accept happiness. I doubt that will ever get taken off my to-do list. I grew up in a “bleak house” in which the worst was always expected, the bills were juggled with tears every month, and love was served with bitters. The hounds of downheartedness were always hot on the heels of happiness, so my first instinct still is to watch my back because bad might be on the way. Sneak in that happiness when the gods are busy elsewhere. I work hard to change my hardwiring, but I’m not aways successful. That’s when I’m envious of friends who seem to have been born with the perky, optimistic gene. I don’t have it, but I take heart from the AA slogan of “Fake it till you make.” I know that when I smile (even when I don’t feel it), I can sense a little uptick in my endorphins. When I say something nice to someone (even when I don’t 100% feel it), I feel better about that person (at least for the moment). And when I say something nice to myself, I realize how often I talk smack to the mirror. I’ll never be someone born on the sunny side of the street, but I think I can become a born-again believer that joy is our birthright. Smile, Nikki, you’re on karma camera!
This morning, I went to Starbucks for my coffee and as a man held the door for me, I realized I’d left my card in the car. He insisted on buying my coffee and even upgraded the size. It was a gentle and kind way to wake up to the world. The rest of the day seemed to follow in that stranger’s footsteps. The night before, disgusted with my inertia, I’d made a list of 6 things to do that I could choose from.
-Create some Skirt! Pinterest boards
– Sketch out a design for a linoleum block
-Start my XO page for next month’s Skirt!
-Do as many planks as my arms would allow
-Make a little digital quote board for my blog
-Post something here in Fridaville
After I came home with my coffee, I did 1 and 6 with no psychic turmoil or dragging of feet! For a change, I gave myself gentle choices instead of marching orders that I would ignore and then feel guilty about later. I spent the rest of the afternoon trolling beauty on the internet: exploring music leads like John Taverner and John Coltrane; looking at breathtaking photos; reading quotes and tracking the most haunting ones to the original source material. Hunting beauty down is close to an ecstatic experience for me, and I started wondering why it’s the last thing I allow myself to do. As if it’s wasting time. As if it’s not “productive.” As if it’s not quite grownup. And that’s probably why I’m so drawn to it. It’s the closest I come to that feeling I had as a child when I immersed myself in worlds I made up, in which time had no meaning and the inner life eclipsed outside reality. So here’s a glass of cold fume blanc and a toast to Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders, “Cristo Redentor” by Donald Byrd, a cracked china plate that is the essence of wabi sabi, “Encounter” by Czeslaw Milosz, a Japanese woodblock of a street at night in the rain, the word “dusk” and the colors and sounds and smells it evokes, a journal cracked and bent and stuffed with clippings and pasted-in quotes and ticket stubs, paper-thin petals that bloom for one day only. Here’s to all the lovely fleeting things, to the furnishings of an inner landscape that is always waiting for us to visit, to days like this that we spend doing nothing at all but chasing beauty.
I’m afraid of water, can barely stay afloat and can’t bear to be in over my head. And yet, I’m in love with mermaids, surfing movies, and the big beautiful terrifying Pacific Ocean. Coming home to a four-foot mermaid in my living room is always being reminded of hidden depths. Being pulled into the ocean in Hawaii and tossed back up on shore like mere flotsam or jetsam was something I feared and craved at the same time. Does our psyche know the medicine we need even when the conscious mind rejects it? I want to be at home in the water and in the world, but I shy away from what lurks below. And yet, that is what’s always truly calling us — the things we stuff under the bed, the regions we refuse to explore, the glorious sea monsters that are not of this world. The siren song of the soul.
Yugen (u-gen), Japanese: an awareness of the world that triggers feelings too profound and mysterious for words. When that happens to me, it’s usually the result of letting the natural world in past my big giant head, which is always over-thinking, planning, posing, supposing. One of my best memories — which I have to approach sideways in order not to wear it out or lose it — is of standing in front of a huge overgrown wall of purple morning glories on a walk and suddenly having a fleeting insight into how small I was in the vastness of being. It only lasted for seconds and yet years later I remember it as being a long stop-time in which I was completely open and permeable to existence. It was mystical and completely out of character. The only times that come close are when I sometimes make eye contact with a stranger and feel overwhelmed by tenderness for their suffering, enduring, surviving, persisting humanness. When something like that makes it through my tough, 21st century hide, I kind of swoon inside like a Victorian lady. As I took this photo out the window of my third-floor office (my personal laboratory for cloud and shadow study), I was lifted out of myself for a second into a melancholy, unnameable yearning upward. Yugen.
…why I need someone to show up at my home or office and force march me to spinning class or weight lifting or just power walking. Why am I so lazy when most of the people I know are exercise junkies with zero body fat? They don’t even need to be self-disciplined because they actually love to exercise.
…why I always sit behind the person on the plane who has to have his/her seat reclined all the way into my lap for the whole flight even while eating. It gives me Row Rage to the point that I want to slam a water bottle into their head as I struggle to slither out of my seat as if I’m doing the limbo in order to get to the restroom. Or bounce my knees against the back of their seat like an unruly two year old. Or open and slam shut my lap tray until they start to bleed from their ears.
…why I still haven’t learned not to start the Monday morning commute listening to any Karen Carpenter song. By the time I get to work, I need Thorazine.
…if I would want to date myself if someone set me up on a blind date with Me? Makes you think.
…when my funny bone got osteoporosis. Realizing that I’ve laughed more in the past two weeks than I have in a long time, especially in therapy which you would think is no laughing matter.
…where I lost my favorite bracelet with Chinese characters painted on the beads. Still looking for it even though it seems hopeless. As does so much of life, but still we have to keep believing in delightful surprises.
(00ps–should have mentioned that the photo was taken at the V&A in London by my talented friend Claire Kramer MacKinnon)
Although I fell in love with this mural in Shoreditch a couple of weeks ago, I think it would be very hard to either adore or endure me right now. Ever since I got back from London with a fractured ankle, I have been a proper bitch. The cast on my leg feels like a log, and all the Velcro strips holding it together want to snarl up together in one big clump when I’m trying to put it on or remove it. Nevertheless, I decided that a cracked ankle would not keep me from the gym, so yesterday I Velcro-ed up and stumped around the workout room being mad at my trainer and everyone there who had two good feet. Then I came home, un-Velcroed, showered and re-Velcroed, and by the time I got to work I was so fucking irritated I wanted to bite someone. I mean really bite. It’s ridiculous to be this maddened by a mere cast considering the disabilities and problems experienced by so many people I know, but I suspect it illuminates why I’m not very good at relationships. I want to be adored and I’m not good at enduring the daily aggravations and compromises required of living with a guy. If the Universe meant to teach me patience and humility by cracking my ankle bone, it’s just not working. Instead, I am becoming frighteningly feral.