The Thing about Change

There are many things to be said about change. It can be terrifying at the onset, if you let it. It can also be a glorious relief and rebirth, if you let it. It can be a journey of both as you let yourself ride in and out of it until you find balance.

Nature shows us that change is beautiful and graceful. The seasons change. The moon changes. The tides change. Babies grow and change. Day changes into night… so the thing about change can also be to remember that it is always with us – whether it be brewing inside us or swirling in the air around us. We have survived it a thousand times over with each new sunrise.

I write about change today because I am on the onset of change. Change of career, change of lifestyle, change of location, and change of mindset. I am feeling part terrified and part glorious. Terrified of the unknown outcome, and glorious at the adventure of it all.

And, I guess that’s the other thing about change – it keeps you feeling alive. It heightens your senses and emotions in order to go forth on your adventure. It makes you grateful for what you’ve had before and what you will receive and learn because of it.

I guess the goal is to take a tip from nature and go into a change as gracefully as you can, enjoy the feeling of being alive and know that out of change comes growth and beauty.

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The “Keep with Me” Pile

I was helping a very dear friend of mine move yesterday. Moving is an arduous and overwhelming task – countless hours of boxing things up: things with memories attached. Memories that sometimes make you think carefully, “Do I need to carry this with me or is it time to leave this memory behind?”

And, so when handling the items you have pondered over and sorted into the “keep with me” pile – packing is essential. Yesterday, I found myself amidst the china, glassware and such. A system was needed for these fragile pieces. This was mine:

 Tear off square of bubble wrap. Lay item in center. Roll. Tape. Repeat with tissue paper. Place gently in box. When box is full label with “Fragile – Handle with Care”…. and cross your fingers you used enough bubble wrap.

But it got me thinking, how do you box up a friendship for a move? So, I find myself going through the same process. A good friendship is most certainly something you need keep with you. Again, packing becomes essential. So, I wonder if I tear off a square of bubble wrap and place all the love, the smiles, the laughs and the piece of my heart that grew a little stronger because of my friend right in the center… And, if I roll them carefully around each other and pad them furiously with tissue paper… And, for this one special box, if I add a layer of adoration right on top, and a few packages of airtight good wishes along the sides, and oops, some tears too then I know these memories will be kept safe. I also know that I don’t have to write, “Handle with Care” because a good friend does so automatically. And this good friend has done so naturally.

As I tape up this fragile box and get ready to send it off, I also don’t need to cross my fingers. I know it will get there safely because a good friendship is like a perfect package and this is one that will forever stay in the “keep with me” pile.

The Time to Play

In this busy world, we often struggle to find the time to play (as kids and adults).  But, playing is important and “playing” with writing is very important.  How else can you find your voice, your style, your genre?  I started this very blog page in order to play with my writing once again.

This year, a trusted and dear friend of mine set out to study what happens when you give writers time to play, to discover outside of the writing curriculum.  We carved a “Greenbelt” (as Ralph Fletcher calls it), a sacred, safe space for our writers to make their own choices and discover their own voices.

Perhaps, I should call it a “Mindful Greenbelt” because we asked them only one thing – to be mindful, to open their senses to the world around them and to be open to world inside themselves (their own experiences and creativity).

Here, in this Greenbelt space of 20-30 minutes one day a week, our writers played.  They played by observing acorns, rocks,  shells, artcards, the pictures of a book, and the way music made them feel.  They sketched and wrote.  They crossed out and revised.  They made deliberate choices of what they wanted to do with their writing.

In our last couple of sessions, we asked our writers to reflect on this time with us.  Some overarching themes were discovered: calmness, creativity, choice, and joy.  One student said,”I feel calm when I am writing in my notebook.  I get to imagine a beautiful wonderland and it gives my brain energy….it’s a time where you can write anything like how your day is going or how you feel right now.” Another writer noted, “I feel free to write anything I want and I love writing but don’t always get to write what I want.”

So, in this busy world find the time to play and discover.  As one of our students said, “Let your imagination go wild, let your curiosity free, its all that matters.”

The Storyteller

My grandmother recently turned 96. She is not a writer, but she has always been a storyteller. The stories have come in different varieties over the years. When I was younger, they were mostly about her childhood. Like the story that explained why she hates blueberries. “Every Saturday, my mother sent Aunt Jenny and I up into the mountains to pick huckleberries. We filled up baskets and baskets and then it was huckleberry bread, huckleberry pie, and huckleberry jam…. I can’t bear to look at huckleberries….” Or the famed story of the peaches – “You know during the depression peaches were rationed, so my father put them in tight jars and stacked them high in the cupboard. Then, this one summer, it was so hot. So hot, the peach jars exploded one by one. Peaches were everywhere.”

After my grandfather passed away, her stories centered on him. She’d tell some tall tales squinting her eyes and pointing her finger at me talking about how brilliant and ambitious he was. “ He wanted to be a doctor, but at that time college was expensive and his family didn’t have the money, so he had to find another way to make a living.” “I remember the first time your grandfather told me about the Merritt Parkway. We were living in Pennsylvania and he had traveled north to find work. ‘It was so beautiful’ he said, ‘ rows of trees and opportunity.’” And later on after his business took off – “In those days, no one went to Cuba, you just couldn’t go, but they invited us. The convention for our business was going to be held there…..” “When we were visiting your aunt in Singapore, we were so close to China. I had never been to China, so we took the train to the border and I crossed it. Now, I can say I have been to China (with a sly smile)..” “He always liked dessert, I had to go to the store daily to pick up chocolate – chocolate cake, chocolate moose, Hershey chocolate bars – I can’t stand to look at chocolate.” These stories would never fail to end with the ambiguous line that seemed to have a million secret stories pent up behind it, although all that was spoken was “He was a bad bad man, but I loved him.”

I listen to her now, at her wise old age. She recounts these same stories with the same squinted glare and pointed finger. I still have questions about stories left unfinished or those that were too vague for my liking. But, there are some stories she is slowly forgetting and I know at 96 she is feeling frustrated for this. I think she wonders, as I do, who will she be if she is not the storyteller. I wonder how hard that must be to lose that bit of yourself, as you grow old. I hope that I too can remember my stories if I am lucky to be that old and wise.  I hope that I  have a past worth relaying with such vibrance and joy because living is everything,  both good and the bad.  And, storytelling is what inspires those around you to live.

 

The souls in your soles

When I got home tonight I kicked off my shoes, carried them into my closet and tossed them amongst my collection of footwear.

I tend to think of my life in chunks; of years; of stages of different roads traveled. When I looked at my shoe collection on this particular night, I saw remnants of my life jostled together.

I noticed the trendy black flats from Bloomingdales that I had treated myself to after my first pay check from the law firm in New York City. How many times had they taken me from my apartment at 55th and Broadway to my office at 5th Ave and 54th?  These shoes strolled with curiosity, wonder and excitement. But the luster faded, and the black Pradas seemed vapid. I wondered was it time to trade them in for thicker soles/souls?

And, how funny, that on the shelf below I saw, a longer row of flips flops and slip on sneakers – the years back home again.   The woman in these shoes needed more comfort.   As if the owner was searching for a new address on a dimly lit path. Although, this road led to an important lesson– life is not about the high fashion patterns of your soles but the high intellect of your soul. These walks were spent thinking of the value of character, the depth of knowledge and how to impart that on others? I think I will always be shopping in search of the right fit for this particular marathon.

There are shoes piled high that have traveled to the far reaches of continents. The woman in those shoes was, and still is, searching for culture and identity, value and wisdom. I should put these shoes in boxes to preserve the value of their dust laden in their laces.

There are shoes passed on from my sister. These are always worn in with love and practicality and lessons that one can only learn from traveling in your wiser, older sister’s shoes.

There are shoes bought for fun. Heals too high that leave your bruised with calluses as if to say, “this isn’t for the long run.”

Finally, way back in the corner, there are some shoes left barely worn. But, I can’t bring myself to give them away because “who knows, one day I might travel down that road again?”

And so I wonder what shoes will be added? What value or lesson will they bring? What shelf I can place them on? What the road will lead to next? Hopefully I have equipped myself with the right soles and that the roads I traveled up to that point will have made me a better soul. Luckily, I am left with a map, the years ahead and a closet with some extra space.

The tiniest moment

I have been encouraging my writers to create their own small moment stories. “Slow down, take it little step by little step.” For the past few mornings I have been ransacking my classroom library looking to find those mentor texts that show the perfect combination of ingredients – a splash of dialogue here, a spoonful of action there, a pinch of feeling on this page. “Show -don’t tell. What did you see? Hear? Smell?” You know the speech, right? Then, there has been that challenge – “Find the tiniest moment you can think of and make it big with details.”

So, I chose to encourage myself today to find the tiniest moment:

I don’t have enough fingers to hang bags off this morning, I think to myself as I lift my school bag, (which warrants an entire arm), then my handbag (which needs the support of my pointer and middle finger), next my lunch bag, and finally a few other miscellaneous bags that need to find their way into my car. My fingers are already sore by the time I make it to the top of the stairs. I shift all baggage left in order to see my way down the steps. With each side step, the pendulum of bags sways, jiggles and knocks each other this way and that. This dance makes the descent slow and calculated. I feel the hint of sweat tickling my brow, but realize I have no free fingers to wipe it with. Oh, the irony! Then, I am there. I have successfully made it through the kitchen and down the stairs. I stand triumphant and radiant (although somewhat stiff in the upper extremities) at the threshold of the front door. My keys? Where are my keys? I think frantically. “In my handbag. Damn!” I groan. “Why does this door have to lock from the inside?” I stamp my foot. That motion makes my keys jingle faintly, as if mocking me, from my purse. As I lean over to try and juggle the bags, I loose balance and one by one, they roll off my stiff fingers and onto the floor. Defeated? Too overzealous from the start? Two trips next time? I shake my head, “Nah, bigger bag, more shoulder next time.” I pick up the bags and trudge to the car.

Repetition is everything…

Seven years ago, I started doing Bikram yoga.  It sounded absolutely horrendous – high temperatures, challenging poses, bright lights, and a lot of sweat.  I detest high temperatures and I loathe sweating. But, at that time in my life while in the midst of a messy divorce, I needed a personal goal. Being a yogi, I decided this intense sweat chamber seemed like a perfect feat to conquer.  Or, at least begin to start to try to conquer.

If you are not familiar with Bikram yoga, it is a class of the same 27 poses, done twice.  Every class follows the same predictable pattern and repetition is everything.  Each pose is taught with specific instructions for how to align your arms, legs, hips, etc. and this same repertoire happens every …single…class.

This repetition helped me learn.  For my first few years, there were poses I hated, cursing their very existence and dropping into my own savasana at the mere hint of their place in class.  After hearing the instructions to these poses class after class, I decided to try a few.  In 5 years, I was attempting all 27 poses.  Repetition is everything.  Repetition built my confidence. In “Standing Head to Knee”, I simply lifted and held one knee at a 45 degree angle twice a week for 5 years.  Now,  I can kick that same foot out to form an almost straight line.  It hurts and it makes me sweatier, but I do it with pride. I give myself 3 more years of repeating this move twice a week before it is an “absolute straight line” as the teachers say.  Repetition is everything.

So at this point, if I do the Math – seven years – twice a week (give or take) – then, that must mean I have repeated each pose roughly 600 times.  Repetition is everything. After all those poses in all those classes, I can feel it, hear it, breathe it deep down inside.  It’s like its stamped onto my soul.

I thought of this in class on Saturday. ” I’ve done this pose about 600 times and I’m still not all the way there yet.” Life is about the journey, right?  600 times in and each class I rally to give it my best try.  I think it’s been a good journey.

I got to thinking more about this repetition thing and how important it can be in all sorts of journeys in life.

Now, what can this mean for my writing?

On Being “a Writer”

My grandmother was a writer.  Every Tuesday, she went down to the Baldwin Center (the local senior center) and took a writing class.  Every summer, this class published a literary magazine called The Caboodle.  One summer, when I was eight or ten years old, she urged me to submit a poem. It was accepted.  Alas, I was a writer, too!

And that was that.  I was a writer.  Words came quickly and easily to me.  I could concoct a five paragraph essay in a fashion to captivate any audience.  I wrote deep-down-from-your-soul poems.  As a teenager, it was my outlet.  All those downtrodden feelings, hormonal/identity crisis moments could be splattered on a page and masked up nicely in a metaphor or projected onto some other character with a different name.  I was a writer, I could do that.

And then, just like that, I wasn’t a writer.  I took a course in college, Literary Essay Writing 101, or something to that effect.  The professor didn’t like my style.  She marked up my work with a lot of red.  All that red made me feel blue on writing.  So I stopped.

Recently, a dear friend and coworker encouraged me to take this Slice of Life challenge.  “So, I can write about anything?” I asked.  “Absolutely anything!!!” she said.  This afternoon, I set up my blog page.  And then I did about 15 other things.  The thought of writing haunts me now.  The words don’t come as quickly and easily anymore.  Ironically, I started reading  joy write  by Ralph Fletcher as one of the “15 other things” I was doing instead of writing.  I gave an “A-men” when I read the line – “Many people find writing painful.  They agonize over phrases, sentences, and structure.”  When I try to write, I often think “I don’t have anything important to say..”

But, here I am.  I am making a commitment to write again.  I believe deep down I am still “a writer”.  Perhaps a thousand other layers of life got in the way.  Thanks for the nudge, Dawn. Baby steps.