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

 

 

 

 

 

Choices, Living in the Moment, Mindfulness, spirit

Just Stand There

cristina-gottardi-tunnel

At this point, I check the news only three times a day. The rationing is keeping me steady. When this all started a few weeks ago, broadcasts from the various corners of the world helped me make decisions. I pulled my son out of school a day before the county caught up. The conversation with his dad about the decision was tough — I had to make the case for why our boy’s academic well-being was less critical than flattening the curve. This meant providing evidence from the Italian news, from scientists who were begging for distancing in the absence of any kind of coordinated response from our leadership.

Like so many people, I read and read and read. Tracked curves from around the world, learned why South Korea looks so different from Iran. Then not 24 hours after I made the call, our school board followed suit. That early vigilance validated, I continued to gulp down news from every source I could find.

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Letting Go, Purpose, spirit

You Carry Your Best Song

trail-cliff

“You’re doing your best,” they say. You nod, you shrug. Okay, sure.

Inside, you sneer.

“Your best” belongs to brighter days. Not so far off, those days, but somehow also remote. Like they belong to someone else.

Best You learned things. Made decisions snap-snap. Took on the project. Invited people into your home. Best You learned a new language, the names of trees, how to roll sushi, and the most exhilarating route through Manhattan by bike.

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Brain, Choices, Determination, spirit

Power Failure

bangkit-prayogi-cave

We saw everyone around us smiling and repeating “I’m fine! I’m fine!” and we found ourselves unable to join them in all the pretending. We had to tell the truth, which was: “Actually, I’m not fine.”

Glennon Doyle

It pulls in all the bad stuff: guilt, despair, shame, anger, disappointment, confusion, worry, exhaustion, and pain of all varieties. The ShopVac of Suffering. It sucks into its belly the cobwebs from the corners and the black mold from the basement and the decades-old crud buried deep in the carpet.

Engine growling, it whips this mix into misery soup.

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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.

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activism, prayer, spirit

The First Principle of All Existence is Utter Dependence

Santiago Mauro Mora

The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters. From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return. It is our duty to foster the kind of environment that we want to take in, and therefore become.

– Galen Guengerich, “The Heart of Our Faith”

May gratitude carry us over the rocky places. May we remember to say thanks for the smallest gestures. For the simplest nourishment. For the hand. The comfort. The roof. The healthy parts.

Thanks to the fighters. The ones who take on the dangerous work. Who excavate the hidden graves. Conduct research on hunger, violence, trauma. Share their findings, speak the names, guide our practices. The eco-warriors. The anarchists. The witnesses holding vigil at the pipeline, at the refugee camp, at the courthouse. The cash bail activists, the public defenders, the protestors, the disruptors.

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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.

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Adventure, Art, Music, Relationships, spirit

Bowlful of Cajun

NOLA Tuba

The food in New Orleans, they say, is reason enough to go. Try telling a person you’re heading that way. “Oh my God, Cajun cooking.” They’ll put their hands to their face. They’ll touch their belly. You’ll hear a little moan.

Nine states in eleven days, and somehow we managed to have the worst food of our trip in New Orleans.

Not just mediocre bad. Not Applebee’s bad or hotel happy hour bad. But epically, comically, stupendously bad.

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Art, Learning, Letting Go, prayer, spirit

Say What?

Alice Donovan Rouse - Reykjavík, Iceland

 

I believe in living a poetic life, an art full life. Everything we do from the way we raise our children to the way we welcome our friends is part of a large canvas we are creating.
– Maya Angelou
In college, I filled a general ed requirement with intro 3-D design. As a lifelong lover of poetry and dance, I had appreciated visual art only from a distance. I was itching to get in closer. This queer, feminist, antiracist, tree-hugging campus agitator had Things to Say, and my art was going to say them.

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