Holding the Light


This dark ending of the year is full of paradox. The mind naturally summons up a highlight reel of the last 365 days, and I don’t know about you, but the angry, humiliating, sad and frustrating episodes always run on a constant loop in my head. The lovely, serene and successful moments are apparently kept prisoner in aging 2018’s memory closet, waiting for rescue and release into the light of hope and future plans. A fresh start is always appealing, but why is the human spirit so drawn back into cinematic replays of the past year’s smoking wreckage in flops and failures?

I choose a new word every year. Whether self-fulfilling prophesy or wishful thinking, the theme is usually noticeable throughout the months. 2018’s word was “magic” and I think that was pretty accurate on the whole. What came out of a garden beset with heavy clay soil, limitless weeds, ravenous insects and extreme weather conditions certainly seemed like magic. I learned that despite all obstacles, life loves to grow given any kind of encouragement.

Perhaps that same support needs to be applied to myself and other fellow humans in 2019 including the nation and the world, even if and when we don’t deserve it. Choosing to focus on the light while acknowledging the shadow is not without merit in these chaotic times. I would love to switch my brain’s channel to the happy highlights reel or at least last year’s funniest home memories. Since when does watching those bad reruns over and over until you can act them out in your sleep ever teach you anything?

So my word for 2019 is “light,” the kind you can hold. How do you hold onto light you ask? You can when you hold a purring kitten or a thriving seedling. You embrace it with your eyes on a frosty morning at the edge of a fallen leaf lying in the frozen shadows. You cradle it in the truth of words that ring true to you and light a fire within your soul. It is there when you look for it.

It is my wish that at the end of 2019, we are all seated in the deep womb of the year’s theater, sharing popcorn and watching a victorious highlight reel of shining moments in what will be seen as historically dark times by future light beings.

May the light be with you, always.

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Passing Through

A double row of hornbeams planted twenty years ago.

Here it is the end of May and I’ve barely been here. My focus is kept packed by the door and my psyche feels like it’s still moving after an interminable car ride. I stop by just long enough to check my email and pay the bills, wash a big pile of neglect that’s accumulated. There are cobwebs all over some best-laid plans left piled on last winter’s table.

My “word” for 2017 has been “awake,” and boy, have I. To the point where I rose early enough to see the dawn in all kinds of wind and weather for seven days in a row. There are no photos because I refused to carry any form of electronic distraction. Instead, I wanted to burn the sun’s first midas touch on the tips of trees into my eyeballs, let a heavy dew sink into my bones, be swallowed whole by the rising rush of bird song. How could I have missed these treasures for all those countless years spent lolling about in bed like an apathetic teenager?

Some mornings we danced intricate steps set to modern astral music inside a labyrinth’s ancient patterns. On others we were high above ancestral land and its tree-lined ribbon of river, at a circle made with stones that whispered power and prayers. And still others were spent in the gardens, tended by human hands but retouched by faery folk in those magic hours when mortal souls still wander through the grainy dreams from other worlds.

There has been art and music, poetry and dance, and some really good gin. Despite an early rise, I’ve stayed up way too late talking about crazy-beautiful ideas and inspiration, because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this precious time or interrupt the messy, foolish freedom that doesn’t fit into a shifty shared cloud calendar or antsy time-management app.

But perhaps the most precious gift I’ve been given by staying awake long enough, is to rediscover a forgotten little keepsake tin with the rusty lid I left hiding in my memory’s bank barn. Inside, once again I heard the quail’s call in tall grass, felt hard rain rumbling across a field, finally found those missing linch pins from an old Farmall tractor hitch, inhaled the sweaty scent off a low morning meadow, and watched with great joy some gritty, grinning kids stagger home covered in the satisfying filth from a mountain of freshly dumped sand.

You see, somewhere during those adult years of dysfunction, darkness and despair, I had lost my childhood’s best mementos. I’d fallen into a slumber of numbing responsibility and restriction. I could only recall the disappointments and failures harped on by my mind’s endless critiques, where the rules are always changing and your advisors never let you leave.

Nearly halfway into the year, I’m happy to report that I’ve been awake long enough to know now, that I’m finally free to go.

The Latest Word

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I could come up with a lot of excuses why I didn’t write much last year: surviving a polar vortex without power, the resulting major downsize and move, over 4000 miles of family-related travel, technology updating, complete lifestyle and dietary overhauls, not to mention my forays into choral singing, Instagram and meditative art projects. But I won’t go there. Okay, I just did, but it all added up to an open invitation, apparently, to forsake my pen, paper and laptop.

This is my fourth year of One Little Word, and I’ve learned by this time around that, like wishes, you have to be careful what word you choose. Case in point, my pick for last year sure turned out to be a doozy. And still going strong because I find the momentum unstoppable. In fact, just putting a single word down on the un-erasable paper of your psyche can have a profound impact. Saying it out loud is even better. And physically writing it out, well now, that can have the biggest punch of all.

Despite deceptively simple instructions, careful consideration must always be taken in making your choice. Forever looking for an easy way out, I’d hoped it would be a breeze to actually write my Word for 2015, because it is WRITE. But as you can see, I’ve taken half of January to get the guts to announce this here on the blog. And even longer to sit my derrière down and do the work. (Steven Pressfield is my writing guru at the moment.)

So, I’m starting the year with a fresh journal, a new blog template and much resistance. Plus knowledge that the simplest word can be the hardest.

Huh. Go figure.

And while you’re at it, go figure out what yours is. Trust me. Word.

The Year of Movement

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My garage door won’t close. When I lower it automatically, the bottom hits the concrete of our driveway raised by frost heave and sensing obstruction, heads back up. If I don’t pay attention closely enough, I might drive away with my house gaping to the world, my interior exposed for scrutiny.

Like some kind of door wrangler, I’ve become adept at hitting my opener at the precise moment to keep the door down and the seal as tight as possible. We’ve stuffed towels in gaps along the sides to prevent another polar vortex from bursting our pipes. And still, when I enter my garage, I feel a frigid breeze on the inside and realize how futile it is to deny the winds of change.

Not wanting to undo our elaborate barricades, the whole family’s been stuck for days. Our cars are imprisoned in the so-called protection of our attached garage, and it’s too dangerously cold to walk anywhere. We each have our own way of dealing with solitary confinement. I look out my dirty windows and judge what goes on outside through the customary glass and filters. Weather forecasts grow bleaker each time I obsessively check my smartphone and supposed friends on impersonal social networks thank lucky stars that their “reality” isn’t mine.

Even a large batch of silly robins who never left are stuck, hunkered down in windbreaks with their pale red breasts puffed out and deathly quiet, hoping for a whiff of spring. Their presence in January mocks my sense of timing. What am I waiting for? Vocation, health, dreams and dinner choices — all glued in frozen molasses to my fears of what might be.

Reflected in the grimy winter window, I recognize my parents’ and grandparents’ reluctance to leave their cold misery for unknown sunnier climes, and realize I am hovering perilously close to that ice age of stagnation.

So, my word for 2014 is MOVEMENT. It starts right now. First, I clean the windows. Then, I develop an exit strategy from all the mental impediments I have carefully crafted over past decades. Road map in hand (my mind doesn’t hear the voices of GPS), I can finally pull away the insulating tape and draft guards against an overactive imagination, freeing my way out to a different future with no guarantees.

And I will not look back to see if the door has reopened or the latch didn’t quite catch, revealing shameful tales of entrapment inside my old interiors. Perhaps someone else can learn from the fearful furniture and ruined reservations I’ve left behind.

A Creative Carol

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For me, true life change is always a cold dive from radical heights, never any soft slides into the lukewarm wading pool of transition. Struck over the head with absolute misery, I am forced to concede inside a prison of my own making, while angels of opportunity do their best to get my attention by waving the keys to my freedom.

What was it this time? Well, I was felled for a month by the worst illness of my life, a stunning combination of hideous head cold, a clutch of bronchitis and then the wicked flu. I never get the flu.

For weeks I wallowed on a rumpled sick bed, watching lives flash before my eyes in between horrendous bouts of coughing, fever and nose blowing. Family came and went, an entire season of holiday celebrations carried on without me, and then the world went back to work in 2013 while I still lingered on the fringes, transparent as Marley’s ghost.

During convalescence, I had plenty of time to review my sins. This kind of plague was clearly a message sent to knock some sense into me. And while 2012 would be considered a productive year, I had somehow run off course in a big way. Over the months, I took an easy path back to old roles, enjoying the quick hit of rescuer, and the heady attention of being needed.

Somehow, I always forget what this costs me.

I looked to others for fresh paths, and found only shoes that didn’t fit. I took a ride back to the past and saw the future. And I didn’t like it much.

If I’d been paying attention along the way, the spirits of tense would have shown me where my first salvation lies. It has been there all along, but I only reach for this life preserver when all other help is refused.

On my knees, with the specter of a life un-lived roughly sketched out in front of me, I’ve finally grasped that first key of opportunity. I admit to being stingy with creativity and a scrooge to my dreams. I confess to throwing myself at the status quo and camouflaging in a cloak of conformity. I let the fear of freedom win.

So, my word for 2013 is CREATE. My fevered walks with what could be have opened many doors to studio, desk, easel, lens, blank page, and the world.  And as I renew my vows to this life, I will practice it all without a mind to results, recognition or an ending.

Only the beginning.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The vortex of Bowie. Or the end of my neighbor's PVC pipe. Take your pick, I'm flexible.

One of the worst parts about getting older, I have discovered, is not the gradual deterioration of body parts, the slow numbing of libido, or the downward slide of mental calisthenics, as distressing as all of that is to be sure.

It is the fear of impermanence, instability and nasty surprises. I, who have never blinked an eye over uprooting my household or completely renovating my persona, have been caught unawares.

It has crept up on me like Geritol in the night, smelling of aspercreme and denture adhesive, muffling my adventurous mojo in flannel and lap rugs. I have become stodgy in my habits and constipated about my future.

I am stuck.

So, in the spirit of the One Little Word project seen popping up around the blogosphere, I have chosen a theme for this year. As a caveat, I am well aware that the Universe can and will give you what you ask for. That is the point, after all.

The word? You guessed it.

But the Universe can be a fickle and mischievous mistress, and she favors tricks over plans at life’s cocktail soiree. In other words, I am asking for it.

That is, however timidly, the kind of party game I want to relearn at this point in my journey (notice my reluctance to actually say the word yet?)

Since I’ve already had my emotions pulled out from under me in December, it’s not like the energies need to be put into action. My sense of control light has been blinking uncontrollably for weeks now and I can’t find the manual.

Because there is none.

I like to think I’ve just misplaced it, a mere oversight due to the ever-shrinking menopausal memory, and that I’ll find it stuffed behind the fountain of youth any day now.

However, the one thing I can control is my reception of the one little word for this year. I can either fight it with an arsenal of glam rock wrinkle reducers and Ziggy Stardust age reversals, or I can invite it in for a cup of tea. Have a chat and see which way the wind’s blowing.

Okay, you can’t blame a gal for a little heads up, now can you?

Meanwhile, I’m renovating the attitude and putting my spiritual house in order. A little preparation won’t hurt.

And, you might notice that this blog looks a little different. It’s small change, but a step toward nonetheless.