Determination, Mindfulness, Music

Grows All Around

And the dirt was in the hole
And the hole was in the ground
And the green grass grows all around, all around
And the green grass grows all around.

Trouble comes around. It always does. The ol’ noggin is not a very reliable companion when the bad things kick your feet out from under you. The imagination flees. Instead of heading for the safety of open light, it usually panics and takes you further down the rabbit hole. You know the one I’m talking about. The walls crumble and you lose your grip. Nests of dark things gather at the edges. Through the tunnel, wrong voices howl.
Up and is an open field, low sun and a place on this earth where you belong exactly as you are. You have to plunge your hands in. Grab the root of something bigger than you. Climb.
This is how I feel my way back up towards that tiny circle of light. Because it is dark down there, I memorized the steps. One for each finger of each hand (or for each toe when the hands won’t still themselves) Five things by mid-day. Five more before nightfall. This mnemonic map gets me there every time, one inch at a time. It helps me seek purchase. Catch my breath. Return to the vast sanctuary of the living.

Giggle. Doesn’t matter how. Bad stand up comedy, a goofball friend, or potty humor. Force a laugh up through that body and cast the demons out.

Rest. Find it again. Work naps in. Create order in the night: no screen time before bedtime, ease down the lights, arrange a nest of pillows. No talking allowed. No thinking either. For that, move on to the next step:

Exit. Literally: Go outside. Find air, art, body. Move over the skin of the earth. Figuratively: Every time your thoughts return to Trouble, picture turning your back and walking away. Every time. Even the 472nd time in an hour. Notice that you have looped back. Smile and say goodbye again. Turn around and leave it behind.

Eyes Up. Ten degree above the horizon. Notice something, anything, up and out of yourself. Take in the streak of the light across the roofs. Learn the name of one single tree. List all the synonyms you can think of for “free” and “flight.”

Nourish. Find the luscious, immerse in the extraordinary. Treat each one of your five senses to a decadence that you rarely allow. Take a bath in water scented with tea and chocolate. Press your cheek to the flank of a horse then get up and ride. Sit near a window and eat a heap of jewels – beets and rare greens and shavings of ginger – as you track the setting sun.

Give. Find someone or something needing care. Provide it. Offer a gift. Your time, your strong back, your cookies, your hug. Your well is not empty. Fill someone else’s and you will replenish your own.

Reach. Keep on giving shape to the life you want. Name it, scratch a blueprint of it into the walls, build the scaffolding from old take-out chopsticks and unpaid bills. Work the flesh over it one patch at a time until it is whole. You have more than enough lung capacity to breathe it to life.

Assemble. Troops, allies, cheerleaders. Find your friends and loved ones. Don’t be afraid that you have been too absent to draw them back in. The ones who will help you heal will show up, and others you have not met yet will join your army.

Sweat. Don’t wait until you feel like it. Don’t give yourself one second to think. Get up and get moving. Right there on the living room floor if necessary. Move. Jump. Run. Let your endorphins do the work all the self-talk can’t.

Sing. Out loud, in the shower, on the street. Push the volume past 10. Flood your ears with music. Rumi offers this:

And if one of our instruments breaks,
it does not matter.
We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

Let it penetrate every crack in your shattered being. Let song knit you back together.

And in that dirt
There was some roots,
The prettiest little roots
That you ever did see.
Oh, the roots was in the dirt and the dirt was in the hole
and the hole was in the ground,

And the green grass grows all around, all around
And the green grass grows all around.


Here, See Louis Jordan and the Tympany 5 do a jump-blues version sometime in the 1940’s:
See Coleman Barks’ interpretation of Rumi’s poem, “Everything is Music,” here.



I allow myself ten minutes of self pity per day. It isn’t wise to take gulp it down all at once. Sipping is a better course. It whets the appetite but keeps some on reserve for when the mouth goes dry. After each taste, set it aside. Lift the eyes, take notice, breathe. Dig for a pen. Step into the music, call a friend. Give someone else a hand.

Over the course of a year or fifteen, perhaps the practice of coming up and out becomes the default. This is the hope, anyway.

So, please excuse me while I overindulge today.

Bug and I immersed ourselves in Halloween this weekend. Haunted mini golf, a raucous costume bash, and a pumpkin baking frenzy. I knew Tee would have Bug tonight as he does every Monday. Weeks ago, he asked if he could bring young Potter to my place for trick-or-treating, as my suburban neighborhood is a bit more pedestrian friendly than his town house complex. Last night when I called to confirm the plan – my Hermione costume ready, the house strung with pumpkin lights, a small mountain of candy by the door – Tee informed me he had changed his mind, “Didn’t we talk about this?” Miscommunication or oversight, not malice for certain. But still, my kid is not going to be here on Halloween.

We have had more than our fill of the holiday in each other’s company. Hell, he and I were singing karaoke and dancing until midnight on Saturday in our matched Gryffindor scarves. This is not a big deal. I even told the lawyer Halloween was not one of the holidays we needed to parse out in the Parenting Agreement, because it simply is not that important to Tee or me. Bug will be with the parent whose day falls on Halloween each year.

But, boy, did the news take a big scoop out of me. There was already a hole where my family used to be. The news is ice water on a cavity.

I do not want to go home tonight. Who can bear the chitter-chatter at the door, the pleas, the insufferable cuteness of their wings, their wigs, their gore?

This is a laughably small grievance. So many suffer much worse. The specters of lost children stab with acute, cardiac precision on the holidays. Friends I know have children across oceans, or who only come in the summers, or who are gone forever. Mine is not such a terrible fate. Bug will be with me on Wednesday, and on Thanksgiving, and again on alternating weekends into the only future I dare imagine

That still leaves tonight, and this insatiable thirst for self pity. The requisite moderately sexy Halloween outfit hangs on the back of my office door. I packed for work with a vague notion of something other than my house tonight. The streets here are lined with bars offering pub crawls and pumpkin beer to the childless and festive. Yet, I cannot work up the enthusiasm. Oblivion no longer satisfies.

I cast about for a texture for tonight’s indulgence. I open my tongue and taste the air. What is the craving? For ink? Steam? Curry? Stupid giggles with a friend? Silence? I circle back around to the same old place, the lessons not yet learned. When hurting, do something kind. Slow-dance the mind. Comfort the heart. Seek a source. Open the lips; take a long, slow sip.


What Grows Here

Gray rain falls outside the half-window. Everyone is sick here. It was silly to come to work when I have leave in the bank, but I hoard it. For my son, perhaps, or just because. I want to be stronger than need. People have made it further on less. The office doors close and lock. Green plants drink the moisture from the air and spill out over the edges of their pots, oblivious to the lengthening night, the inevitable winter.

My head spins but my chair is soft. The floor is soft. I make a pillow when I cannot stay upright and lay myself on the closest thing to earth, five stories up. It, too, is soft enough. I stay hard because of these small, inanimate kindnesses. I refuse the offer of juice. I refuse the offer of a ride home. I have made it this far, and it is afternoon, and I will work my eight hours. The students who stop take the best of me because I offer nothing less. I stay until five o’clock. The projects are complete and better than mediocre. No one has helped, and the pride in this tastes like the flat, white paint on the walls. Like the drop ceiling tiles. Like nothing at all.

The metro grinds up slowly, dragged down lower on the tracks by its swollen belly. I push my way into its choked middle, get stuck in the craw. Not a spare seat, not a square of territory. The pole is claimed and what remains is clammy from before. Not even a cool square of metal on which to rest my palm. A lanky blonde in a red trench coat faces me, my forehead inches from her lips. I pull out a book. The American within slides headlong into a torment she calls love. She is in Côte d’Azur. She speaks erratic French.

Vouloir is to want.
Attendre is to wait.
Manquer is to miss.

Everyone is talking there. Eating and kissing, sipping menthe and yellow citron pressé. A child bends to pet a white bird. The silence of compression dissolves into laughter and a mother calling, Francois, viens! I ignore the dizziness and lean an inch of my hip against the pole. No one speaks. I can smell the breath of the tall man to my left. He has had a drink today.

I do not ask for a seat. There is a bitter taste in my mouth. I am stronger than all the bacteria in this place. The pole is a petri dish. The train car is a tenement. We all share precious bits – cilia, lung, adenoid – but do not dare exchange a gaze. We copulate then flee. No one leaves a number. No one leaves a name.

Who among us is on the brink? Will I be the first to give way? What would happen if I just let go of the pole, if I just surrendered my weight to the rocking field of rain-flecked overcoats and creased brows? We are all so tired.

At the third stop, a seat appears behind me, and I stumble over feet and bags, sinking in. I have made it again, by my own volition, through turbulence to the next holding pattern. A mile walk in the evening haze awaits. I must gather strength. In Vence, the bells in the cathedral cleave the morning. Biciclettes whir along the streets, the women drink Veuve Clicquot. I glance up. Across the car, the blonde in the red coat has found a seat. She is staring right into my eyes. Hers are small and too close together. She oozes poison. I wonder at her for too long but she does not drop her glare. Where is her book? Her gadget, her paper, her daydream about the mouth of a man on her bare knees? I return to France where the American has seduced a young poet but she herself is the one who cries.

I glance again, and the blonde drips arsenic from her chin. Still, she glares at me. I fear she has knives in her sleeves. Her mouth is small and tight, a milkweed pod compressed by too much rain. It missed its chance to unfurl. Inside, everything decays.

The train wheezes to its final destination. Crackling commands sting our ears. Pings andlights command us all to our feet, force us to flee. No one is allowed to rest here. En masse, we trudge up and up, in rows and clumps, out. My head spins but my legs abide. Gravity is no match for me.

Near the exit, on mud-slick tiles, I hear her voice.

“What’s your problem?” She strides next to me. Vinegar churns through her throat and ears.

“Excuse me?”

She is taller now, the red coat slapping her shins. “Here I have an injury and need a seat, and you just take it from me.” That shriveled mouth tries to snarl, but nothing elastic is left. I wonder if she was beautiful once. She is a decade younger than me. I glance down to see a single black sock wrapped around one slender ankle. An injury? Down below the wool and satchels, stone jaws and bodies rocking, rocking, I was supposed to discern her pain?

“I had no idea. I would have been happy to give up my seat if I had known.”

She continues to limp along next to me through a stained corridor of glass, the choked animal of the interstate pulling itself inexorably forward below our feet, one jerking inch at a time. Now, the eyes do not venture towards mine. “I’ve got nothing else to say to you.”

“I’m sorry you were uncomfortable. I’m sure anyone would have been happy to get up if you had asked.”

She stares ahead. Limp, step. Limp, step. Her shoulders curl in. She is a stalk, pole beans dried to husk. “I am not speaking to you.”

“I hope you will ask next time,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”

I want to gather her in my arms and tease the stiff cord from her neck. Such things are not done. I keep my distance but also keep pace. I do not let her flee. Too soon, we are out in the reluctant light. She turns away as do I, and she lurches over concrete and up the iron-tongued stairs.

Everything that matters is left unsaid. We are in this together, but she may never know. Can she hear me still next to her? I am whispering past her shoulder. I try to alight. She slaps me away. Over the groaning distance, I speak and speak. In silence, I force her to hear.

Yes, the day is a dark and lonely thing, if you paint it so. In our anonymous intimacy are the selfish, the wounded, those who serve only their own hungers. But also, you are in the company of those who are made to give. You may not know it, but you brush up against the tender and the naked; every day, they reach to meet you.

Do not be fooled into believing you are owed this generous thing. The earth is capricious in her offerings. Care may come. It may not. You may find yourself on your knees before a cenotaph, digging for the human heart that was never there at all. But this is the chance you have to take.

Bow your head. Let the plea awaken your tongue and the soft wet call pass your lips. You have to be as tender as that damp milkweed waiting inside its bristled fist. Dare to peel open, dare to loose the embryo of your longing to the fecund, tainted air.