Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Heart at Sea

Years ago, I went to the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and saw a collection that had been donated to the school by an old couple who lived in a tiny house in a blue collar community. They had hundreds of great works by modern artists in their home—lining the halls of their 3-bedroom ranch. In boxes. And crates. In the basement, the attic and stuffed into the spare bedrooms. I forget how many millions this collection was worth, but after a lifetime of collecting, this old couple gave the whole thing away.

When I stepped through the entrance, "The Heart at Sea" was the first painting I saw. It was a bit abstract, modern and not my "thing" per se. But I stood in front of it for a long time and became transfixed. The black sea was a tangled mess of angry strokes, turbulent and textured, with the red dash of a heart lost in the mix.

I felt the painting viscerally.

This may well have been the first time I'd had such a reaction to a piece of art, aside from the first time I saw "Le Victoire de la Samothrace" in the Louvre. Seeing that famous sculpture in person took my breath away and I felt as though the wind swept around both me and the robes of the marble figure. I felt the the lift of the wings. Maybe that was my surprise—that rock could have so much life.

And here was a painting, abstract, modern, heavy-handed and black and it almost brought me to tears. At the time, I'd just left my husband of ten years, I was skeletal in my despair and my sense of loss. I stood there a wisp of my former self, not knowing where to go, not knowing who to turn to, completely and utterly alone for the first time in my life. And believe me, I understood that heart at sea.

I'd suffered from panic attacks for the first time since I was a teenager, when I lived with an alcoholic, fretting that she'd drink herself to death and I'd find her cold body with the break of day. Those same palpitations that felt everything like what I suspected a heart attack would feel like, snuck up on me in the night. I crouched on my living room floor at 3 a.m., unable to sleep, preoccupying my hands with cutting up words in magazines and making poetry out of them.

My heart would catch in my throat and flutter, and flutter some more, and not stop. I couldn't catch my breath, and I wondered how long it would take someone to find my body in my empty house. Everyone kept asking me my dieting secret. I'd dropped twenty pounds in two months and no one believed me when I said it was anxiety and stress.

I had a hummingbird heart and it beat a drum in my chest all day and night.

As I stared at that painting, I noticed an oddity of modernity that at first I did not like. There appeared to be a stick of wood stapled to the canvas. I found it out of place and too kitsch-y. It was painted a sloppy yellow. But as I stood and stared, lost in the rumbling sea, and the bleeding, drowning heart—my eye was drawn to that yellow beam of wood.

A beacon in a storm-tossed sea, for a storm-tossed heart.

A way home.

Last night I lay on my bed and thought of you. My heart fluttered and not in that panicky-way, but for joy. I remembered the late night heart palpitations and feeling so lost and unloved I didn't know what I would do. I remembered what it was to be a heart at sea. And for once, I didn't feel lost.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fazed by Nothing, Awed by Everything

Took this in the middle of writing this blog. MULTI-TASKING!
It's no secret that I've been seeking peace and equanimity my whole life. As a child I used to climb a tree in my yard and hug it to my little body as tightly as I could. Something about the seeming permanence of the tree, the solidity of it, the depth of its roots and the height of its branches—all made me feel safe. What was going on inside my house was definitely not safe. I imagined that the tree was my mother, holding me in the arms of its branches and I was soothed.

So it was that I was seeker from way back. When I hit college I found a deep connection to Buddhism and that helped lend me a certain sense of peace. At least I felt like I had found some answers. When the Buddha said, "Life is suffering," I said, "Hell yeah!" I feel like he got where I was coming from and knew which way to guide me. 

I've also spent a lot of time in therapy. I saw my first therapist at 14 and I've kind of been in therapy, off and on, ever since. I've learned a lot from my therapists. A lot of that has coincided with what Buddhism has taught me. I've learned to not be so attached to my ego—or at least be aware of when my ego is bumping up against itself and/or others.

A lesson I learned in my twenties and thirties was that everything wasn't about me. That blew my mind. As a child who felt abandoned by her parents, I was pretty well convinced that everything was my fault. My mom drank because I was a bad kid. My dad left us because I was a bad kid. You get the idea. Kids are all ego.

But see, you're supposed to let go of that as you get older. If you don't have anyone there to guide you to that knowledge, to support and cradle you in their arms—soothe you—well, you might get stuck there. So I had to pay for that love and knowledge. I think I bought my first therapist's Lexus.

Totally worth it, by the way.

Now that I'm in my forties, I'm continuing to seek solace and peace of mind. My husband and I have found a terrific marriage counselor who complements our work with our individual therapists. Something I've learned from her is that we're always going to annoy each other.

I know. We've paid her a lot of money to learn that.

The thing is, it's okay if we annoy each other. It's not the end of the world. I think I'm the sort of person who can panic over everything. Any disagreement or irritation can be a sign that everything is about to go to hell.

But it's not like that anymore.

Maybe it was like that when I was a little girl who had to escape to the trees. But now I'm a grown woman with a lot of resources. I don't have to be so rattled by every little thing. As I wrote yesterday, if I allow myself to worry over every little thing, I'm ruining a really great time in my life.

This morning, I heard another snippet of wisdom from a different yoga teacher.

"Fazed by nothing, awed by everything."

That's how the yogis live. And that's how the buddhas live too. It's what I've been looking for my whole life. Things are going to go wrong. People will disappoint you. Crap will break in your house. And truly terrible things will happen. But if we can maintain our own inner stability in the face of it all, we can keep our feet planted on the ground. We can trust the deep roots of our own abilities and spirit to persevere. And we can be present enough to enjoy the beautiful moments that are happening all around us, all the time.

Right now, even. In this moment here.

I want to live like that. Fazed by nothing, awed by everything. Hard times will come and go. You will survive them. You'll survive them even when you're quite convinced they'll kill you. I've been hurt so badly I thought I'd never breathe again let alone love again.

And yet here I am.

In love again. In marriage counseling. Still seeing a therapist. Taking an anti-depressant and going to yoga every damn day. Not going to temple enough. Slowly plodding through my first book. But man, I'm putting one foot in front of the other and there have been many times in my life that I honestly didn't think that could happen.

After each heartbreak, each disappointment, each total and complete decimation of the life I once had—I pick myself up and I move on. I make something new. I get stronger and I get better. And now I've got two kids and a husband who fill me with a sense of awe I never thought I'd know.

My knowledge of love has expanded. My faith in it has multiplied. I'm filling up where I once was empty.

When I ride my bike to my therapist this afternoon, I'll ride under the branches of the trees and I'll be awed by the way the September light plays on the leaves. I heard someone once describe this certain quality of light as "God Light." In Buddhism, God is everywhere and everything. I am God. You are God. The tree is God. The light that dapples its leaves is God.

Why wouldn't we be awed by everything when everything is God? Everything is holy. All of it, good, bad and indifferent. Flattened on the floor by heartbreak. Lifted up by new love. Holy. Sitting here right now, writing this blog. Holy. You there, reading it. Holy holy holy.

Now to work on that whole "Fazed by nothing" thing.

Ah well.

I'm a work in progress.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Just Because You Think That Sh*t, Doesn't Mean It's True

Oh lord, it's a yoga selfie.
Part of working from home is having more time to think. Of course that's beneficial to the creative process and allows you to get into the deeper waters of thought and inspiration. But more time to think can also be a bit of a double-edged sword for some of us.

More time to think can also mean you have more time to think crappy thoughts. More time to worry. More time to obsess. More time to doubt yourself. I'm good at all of those things, even with limited time.

I've been trying to keep myself chill by doing yoga every day and by walking and/or biking most places in town. These activities put me in a more peaceful frame of mind. But eventually I have to get back to brass tacks. And it's either working on projects for clients, working on my book, or working around the house for my family. Those are deep wells of possible anxiety.

Plus I just quit my job. My big-deal job. The job that was supposed to be the culmination of 15 years in the advertising industry working my way up slowly and steadily to my "dream job" as a social media manager at one of the major automotive manufacturers. Turns out my dream job wasn't so dreamy for me, personally. Having been in advertising agencies for so many years, it turns out that I'm more suited to working with other creatives than working in a huge corporate machine.

And that's okay.

You don't know what you like until you try it. Right?

But you could see how it might produce some anxiety-laden thoughts after quitting a big deal job to go out on your own. To be your own boss. To drum up your own business and to finish writing that damn book you've been working on for over ten years. There's a lot of pressure to make it all work.

And I don't want to let anyone down.

Most of all my husband, who's supporting me in this major life move.

I find myself spending a lot of time worrying about him and whether he's happy. I find myself worrying about my new clients and wondering whether they're happy. And now that I have more time to spend with my children, I worry more about whether they're happy too.

Sometimes more time is more time to worry. But I heard something really great in my yoga class this morning.

"Just because you think that shit, doesn't mean it's true."

Man, did that message stick. I think sometimes I worry myself into believing something is true. I imagine all sorts of things. I imagine people are disappointed in me. And then it changes the way I feel about myself. It changes the whole tenor of my day. And then it changes the way I treat others. It's like I've created this vortex of doubt and disappointment and then I've shit all over something truly beautiful.

My husband has given me a wonderful opportunity to start my own business and finish my book. Yet I could ruin that gift by worrying it away into something negative. My clients have given me a wonderful opportunity to do the work I love without all the layers of bureaucracy and second-guessing that comes with big agencies and corporations. My children have the wonderful opportunity to have more time with their mom and to have a mom that is less stressed.

I could ruin all of that with my worries. With my self-created worries. Worries that I myself turn into a reality.

Just because I think that shit, doesn't mean it's true.

I needed to hear that today. It took me back to a good place. I find myself joyful. I find myself noticing the way the light plays on the leaves on this terrific September day. The words are flowing out of my fingers. I feel such love for my husband that I want to smother him in a big hug when he gets home. And I can't wait to pick up my daughter and ride her home on the bike while we talk about her day.

These things are true.

These things are good.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Slowing Down for the Creative Brain

Writers need time to think. To ponder. To wander and saunter under the trees and through the grass. Maybe painters too. Hell maybe everybody. I know for me and my writing, if I don't have time to get to that dreamy space where you can retreat into the deep recesses of your dark and poetic mind, the writing isn't going to happen. Sure sometimes I can force it. I mean, heck, if I just force myself to start writing a blog usually something will happen. I'm not saying it will be any good, but there will be words on a page by the time I'm done.

But when I have time to walk under a cope of leaves, when I notice a squirrel skittering across a sidewalk, or I cruise on my bicycle down the street and see the same old man jogging in the same tracksuit he wore yesterday, my mind starts to loosen up a bit. I get in the space where ideas bloom. I remember I do have something to say.

It's hard to get there when you're always in a big damn hurry. I'm not saying it's impossible. Just harder. Working full time at an office, commuting back and forth, white knuckling it through traffic to pick up my kids on time from aftercare, feeding them, helping them with homework, bathing them, doing the laundry, Windexing the counters, running the errands, doing all the things all the time. So many things. So much of the time. It's just not conducive to this. 

This is sitting at a table on the sidewalk downtown. This is me leaving my house because the contractors next door were making a racket. This is me people watching. This is me noticing the breeze in that Honey Locust tree over there. And catching a snippet of conversation as two ladies walk by. This is me thinking that the sound of buses and trucks in downtown Birmingham, Michigan always reminds me of the sound of buses in downtown Gap, France. Maybe it's the idle of the diesel engine? I know it seems like a stretch but that's the way my synapses fire.

And that's the point of all of this. I needed time to allow for this electrical dance inside my brain. That's where the good stuff happens. Funny how keeping us all cooped up inside buildings all day is supposed to keep us productive, yet it prevents our brains from producing anything magical.

And isn't that what creativity is? Magic? The dark hat of my brain. The wizard's wand. Incantations. Sudden flashes of light. I think I'm gonna finish this book after all. I'd like to thank my husband for making this happen. For giving me the space and the freedom to do this thing that required time to get done.

I'm listening to the sound of coins slipping in a parking meter slot and it reminds me of the sound of pay phones. That's a connection that won't even exist any more in Millennial brains. Like the sound of horseshoes clip clopping down the street. The click of the tongue to hurry them on. The smell of leather and dung. The feel of dust from the street in your nose. I could live a thousand lifetimes just sitting here, underneath the trees. Or perhaps write those lifetimes in a book. Or two.