community, Fitness, Mindfulness, neighborhood, Parenting, spirit

This Bubble, Spinning and Viscous

world-edwin-hooper

Our governor gave us the stay-at-home order yesterday. With presumptive positives surpassing 1000 in the state, it’s a wise directive. That said, judging by the volume on I-66 right outside my condo, only a handful of my fellow Virginians are complying. And no, they still have not finished replacing the sound wall as they ravage the land around us for new express lanes. Which means even as spring explodes from the tulip poplar and cherry trees all around the complex, my balcony door stays sealed tight.

I am ashamed to admit that even after listening to the Governor Northam’s press briefing, I headed out. When home is the office, closing out the work day means throwing a bolt across it. At 5:00 every evening, I heed the call to flee. Yesterday, I headed to the W&OD trail and ran a hard 4-1/2 miles alongside dozens (hundreds?) of my neighbors. The sun’s glory and run’s boost notwithstanding, that was my last afternoon visit to the trail. It’s impossible for swiftly moving humans to maintain a 6-foot distance on a recreation path no wider than a train track. That sprinting cyclist breathing hard as she passes a hair’s breadth from my shoulder? How much of her exhalation is landing on me as it falls to the ground?

We’re finally seeing all the neighbors outside. Everyone. All the preschoolers on training wheels, parents jogging with tweens, old women held steady by their daughters. Everyone outside, yet everyone a possible vector. Everyone floating inside their personal outdoor 6-foot bubble.

I notice that inside my outdoor bubble, I keep my eyes down. When passing someone even at the recommended distance, my gaze shifts away. It’s as if the call to keep ourselves physically apart has translated into pulling back emotionally, relationally. Pulling back attention. Pretending we aren’t sharing a physical environment which we very much are. As if the bubble has actual material dimensions.

The effort to combat this turning away, to push against a calcifying of the walls, is momentous. The long days teleworking alone with the dog tax my spirit. On the other long days when the kiddo is here and the partner comes back early, I feel crowded and irritated and desperate for space. I want quiet so I retreat to a corner with my book. I curl up inside the bubble, then immediately grow squirrely, lonely, and end up scrolling messages for connections with friends.

None of the emotional responses make sense. Of course, the entire world is topsy-turvy, so maybe a little discombobulation is rational.

Every institution is cracking along the fracture lines that have been deepening for decades. Our national leaders are a bunch of buffoons drunk on power and hoarding wealth. Feeding our most vulnerable children requires them to be in school. Having health care requires us to have salaried jobs. Protection from a deadly virus only applies to that small percentage of the professional population whose work involves no direct contact with people. Education, income, 6-foot distancing, social connections with mental health support or recovery resources all require a home environment with privacy, high-speed internet and functional devices for everyone who needs them. Our prisons and immigrant detention centers can’t even protect their wards from sexual assault and violence, let alone from a viral infection that thrives on crowding and lack of sanitation.

So yes, it is understandable that mind is troubled. That the heart hurts. Of course I both long for and recoil from company. Of course the bubble both protects and suffocates.

And yes, it makes sense that staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises feels like an utter waste of energy.

Which is exactly why staying inside and fussing over the kid’s writing exercises is what I need to be doing.

In times of upheaval, small acts of service matter most of all.

The big world is reeling, and no one of us alone can set it right. What we can do is create a little order, healing, and spiritual nourishment in the places we touch. Even if it’s just a little pocket of goodness touching down before alighting again. Even if it’s just staying home.

I have been trying. I will keep trying.

With the thirteen-year-old, we set up a loose structure for schooling and implemented it at the end of last week. He does a little reading every day. He writes 150 words on any topic he chooses. He engages in some creative activities (so far, all have involved cooking or baking). We engage together in learning activities across subjects available through our county’s school website. We even have PE every day, which so far has involved bike rides around the neighborhood. After all this and a few chores, he can Google hangout with his girlfriend or chat with his gaming buddies on Discord.

Meanwhile, I am back to setting work goals for every day. I write them big on a piece of unlined paper and cross them off aggressively (and joyously) when each is done. When I reach the bottom, I give myself a check+. Gold stars are next.

I have also begun The Artist’s Way again after my last attempt 11 years ago. Julia Cameron’s magical re-introduction to the creative force is exactly the structure my simultaneously spinning and viscous brain needs. Her morning pages and exercises are working their way past my defenses and into my stubborn spirit. Every day, the writing comes, even though it is about nothing more than my complaints, my bad dreams, my terrors. No matter. It is writing, it scatters wildflower seeds all over the muck and stuck-ness of the deep places.

The body also requires its care. My partner has seen me doing my living room dance fitness and has decided to join in. We have gone back to the beginning, learning the basic Zumba steps and giggling breathlessly as he oils the hinges in his long-rusted hips.

Other small quarantine activities in our makeshift family: We play board games, prepare meals we’ve never had before (lentil dal, shahi chicken), make bold yet ultimately failed attempts at the pastries we’re most craving (brioche muffins, cinnamon rolls), take long walks with the dog, participate in Zoom conversations through church and with our dear ones, and read side-by-side at bedtime.

And I will keep trying.  Trying to lift my vision. To make eye contact with the other human walking a dog on the other side of the street. To hold the gaze. To breath through the porous, lumnious, transparent skin of this protective bubble, which is only a temporary creation. I will keep trying to pay attention to what’s blooming outside the sealed balcony door, to name what’s gone missing, the to grieve the losses that are coming.

I will keep trying to welcome the world as it changes. And keep trying to notice — and honor — how each of us, even at a 6-foot distance, is changing the world.


Image: Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

body, community, Fitness, gender

Boxed Out

alora-griffiths-strength

Unfolding from a plank on a mat, I see his sneakers approaching.

“Are you done with your workout?”

“I’m not sure.” I pull back into a child’s pose and then flop over.

“You look like you’re done. Did you do your weights?” A dark heart of sweat blooms across his chest.

“A few. I just don’t like it here tonight.”

He looks around. Our gym. The place we come almost every free Tuesday evening after he picks me up from the metro. “You don’t like it here?”

“Not tonight,” I say.

“Okay,” he shrugs. “We can go home anytime. Let me know when you’re ready.”

Continue reading “Boxed Out”

Art, community, Relationships, spirit, Take Action

Creative Sanctuary

Woodruff Girl Skipping Rope
Hale Woodruff (1900-1980), “Untitled (Girl Skipping Rope)” (c. 1959-60)
Photo: Joyner/Giuffrida Collection

When you open the news, do you find yourself tensing up? Or feel a pull to retreat to some warm, gentle space to catch your breath? Maybe it all would be more manageable if you could just get a hug. Or give one. Or a thousand of them.

This hunger for warmth has to be something more than a simple need for comfort. Yes, we need that too, especially when we carry real trauma. But it seems this urge to connect and catch breath has to do with knowing what’s at stake. We feel something turning. We sense what is roiling under there, the fury and sorrow and maybe even some kind of power that’s awakening under the surface. Something terrible, something very big.

Continue reading “Creative Sanctuary”

Art, community, Creativity, growth, Purpose, spirit

Let the World Spin

Farrell Eye Mural

The enemy does not live in you.

Your life is not your foe. Not your wounds or mistakes, not even the hurt you caused.

Not your temper. Not your failures. Not the paths you taken or those you’ve passed on, not your reckless love or your absent god.

The enemy does not occupy your mind. The enemy does not govern your chemical imbalance. The enemy never existed inside you. You didn’t let it infiltrate, storm the gates. You are innocent of that, if not of everything.

Continue reading “Let the World Spin”

community, Friends, Letting Go, memory, Music, Relationships

Eric Panegyric: No Outer Limits

Page Heart

In the story we tell of our family, the Fall 2019 chapter will be entitled “Haunted by Tragedy.” Three people close to us died unexpectedly in the span of four weeks. The past few months have been consumed with sorting belongings, planning memorials, and dealing with the aftermath of loss.

This weekend, we held a joyous and moving celebration for my friend Eric Dixon at one of the pubs where he played many winning games of trivia. This marks the last of the tangible tasks left to the living. The heart carries on with the intangibles. Here is what I shared at Eric’s service.


It is the music that finally does it. Sylvan Esso, “Funeral Singers.” It’s not the song’s particular connection that splits me open. It’s the fact of the music. That I can hear so much better, that I have learned to taste, appreciate and eventually love music that would have never existed for me if not for Eric. I’m guessing this is true for many of us here. How many of us can say — show of hands — that it’s because of Eric that we know King Crimson? I bet we all have lists of things we call our own now because Eric’s enthusiasm infected us. For me? It’s Galactic. Janelle Monáe. The author Katherine Dunn. The mathematician Martin Gardner… and that’s just the start of my list.

Continue reading “Eric Panegyric: No Outer Limits”

Art, community, Creativity, Poetry, spirit, Writing

Hearing Voices

[no title: p. 304] 1970 by Tom Phillips born 1937

Surely it is not art. She pulls her phone from her pocket and steps to the stage. Her first time. Tapping the screen, she balances it on the ancient music stand. Grips the mic with both hands. Through ums and mumbles, she describes a man who called it love before the girl learned the proper name for abuse.

Surely this is not poetry, nowhere close to art.

Art you know. You saw Gipsy Kings at the Barns and walked Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn. You can recite Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” by heart.

You know art.

Surely this falls short. Yet…

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Art, Change, community, Relationships, spirit

Fishing for Plenty

Before I Die 4

The line between. A light spilling through. The friend dressed in flowers gazes up at a ceiling of filigreed wood. She describes her new love of colored pencils, writing one word across a page over and on top until the word is laced into a web of color. The expression carries her to tears. She folds her sorrow into a page stitched with threads of graphite and pigment and calling.

She can hold the prayer on the tips of her fingers. A weight anchoring her to the dark place breaks free. She lifts toward light. Continue reading “Fishing for Plenty”

activism, Children, community, race, Take Action

Whose Life Matters: Privilege, Policing, and the Distribution of Trauma

cop holding baby 2

One block from home after a Black Lives Matter event, blue strobes flash in the rearview mirror. The irony does not escape me. I bend to pull my wallet from under the seat. Beyond irony, a stunning privilege. I feel around the floor. My hand closes around leather. I pry it out and set it on the passenger seat.

Continue reading “Whose Life Matters: Privilege, Policing, and the Distribution of Trauma”