Sunday, January 23, 2011

The poet and the woolf

As I sit here trying to write this week's blog, I feel the butterflies churning in my stomach and this strange tingling sensation inside my arm pits, both of which are making it difficult for me to concentrate and to physically type the words. For a long time, I have found comfort in the knowledge that the lead up to a hard day is much more difficult than the actual day itself. And so I know that these feelings are fleeting, that tomorrow when the hard day is in process, I won't experience anything like this build up.

I am reminded of the days when I use to race, the night before, feeling these same emotions, going through the thoughts of the pain that I will feel when I am pushing myself to run much faster than I would on an enjoyable run. I am not afraid of losing, or having a poor finish. It is always the pain, that feeling of being unable to catch my breath, the lungs stinging, the legs cramping, and the mind taking over the body, convincing the body to continue against what is feels is unnatural.

I felt it so important to sit down and write tonight even if the words are gibberish and do not in any way reach out to my listeners and help them understand something about themselves through my own valuations. There is something to writing in this space that makes me want to say a prayer to Virginia Woolf, to ask her to help me find that room of my own, where I can unleash that which is the essence of me in a moment when I am flittering and fluttering, swimming in the voices of projection about events that haven't happened yet. A space so very different from writing about the past, or a mythical present that I can create, free from the intense, physical attachment.

So I combed the web, looking for inspiration from Virginia (her books are packed up in boxes in the attic in our Ranelagh house). And the ones that are there are not about these moments, because the ones she wrote about this aren't the fun stuff to read, the inspiring, quick fix lyrics that for some reason or another seem to flood the internet, with the far more meaningful ones left by the wayside.

But I can see her, walking along the water's edge, that space where she chose to remain forever. And I feel comfort in the knowledge that my space has been and always will be the sky. So I have spent a good bit of time tonight, sitting outside, looking up, no moon, but I am still comforted by the dim light of the stars. 

I missed an opportunity today to bear my chest to the Pacific ocean and feel the cold air and water on my skin. And I try and imagine what it would have felt had I have made it to the beach this afternoon and had howled at the elements, unleashing that feminine side of me that needs to be free. A friend of mine created for me a picture of a wolf and I have not yet gotten that wolf tattooed on my skin, though I feel I may need that physical act in order to truly unleash the woolf spirit that is me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's about being present

A couple of nights ago, my friend shared with me her new year's resolution - to practice 'here and now' (see

And in an exercise of this, she turned off her music while walking from the bus to her office building and focused on her feet touching the ground, each step, the move of her arms, the feel of the mist on her face, the smell of the wet air, and it became so important to her, that she had done this walk so many times and never actually experienced it in the 'here and now'.

At the time of sharing this with me, I was in Mother Theresa mode, focusing on doing many, many small things towards the greater good. I could not appreciate the 'here and now', as I had a long list of small things I needed to finish in order to reach that greater good for the week.

This morning, we went for a walk in glen park canyon. Mid-January, we were in short sleeves, walking in the sun, and it was warm enough to smell the eucalyptus trees. The most amazing smell. And I felt present, oddly enough, not so much in the moment, but in the imagination of running with my music, through sunshine, through the trails, seeing the bay, and smelling the trees, complete freedom, almost abandonement. My imagination allowed me to experience the strength and awe of the beauty of the moment, even without fully experiencing it.

That is presence to me. That is what presence is to a writer - the space of imagination and memory merged into one.

It is late now, almost 11. Tonight we celebrated my husband's 40th. He was away all week and I worked very hard to make the party special without him having to see the effort that needed to go into such a special night. So many people came, traveling from around the bay. I saw his eyes tear up a couple of times and he does not express emotion, hardly ever, and so I knew that it was right, that all those small steps had amounted to something important.

He is out now, continuing the night. I stayed behind, cleaned the house, and now feel that it is important to take this time to write my blog - to capture this moment in history, even if it becomes something that I can share with him down the road, or share with Amelia over the years when we are celebrating milestones.

There were a couple of crazy moments. While making up the goodie bags for the kids, which I spent a good bit of time preparing for (I bought special gifts that represented each of the seven children and one almost-born child), I could not remember any of the children's names (except Amelia's - my daughter). And then later, when introducing one of the guests, I called her the wrong name, and I was truly embarrassed, but then realized there was something about being present and with trying to get through the week that it was that seemed to occulminate in a loss of detail. I have always been a conceptual thinker, and never get the concepts wrong, but the details, I cannot seem to hold on to them, to make them concrete, not at all in moments like these.

This week I had another deadline in work, Padhraic was away so I was on my own with Amelia, and I needed to do my best to make the birthday weekend special without him feeling the burden of the work that must go in it. I also had an important meeting, unexpected, but one that I am glad happened, but left me with those feelings of guilt again, knowing that I needed to be assertive and confront some very important issues, but feeling bad that I wasn't acting in the space of pure kindness, empathy, warmth, inspiration - the space where I seem to gain rather than lose energy.

But the night that it was, I feel was ultimately a success - Padhraic felt joy in a moment of change - this was my goal - to give him that.

I will write Julie a card to say I am sorry (for spacing out on her name). She is this amazing woman that I look up to - I would love to see myself like her in a few years time - so full of life, so present all the time, there for so many, participating in the lives of those around her. She told me that she came tonight to feel the presence of the children and the joy she knew they would be having with all the chaos of the birthday around them.

When I tucked Amelia in tonight, she sang 'Happy to you, dada, happy to you dada' up until the moment when we are always present together, when I sang us the sh'ma, which I have done almost every night since her birth.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Never lose your marbles (for suzana)

Freshmen year, UC Berkeley, I lived in a triple dorm room in Unit 3 (before the remodel). Our floor was like most floors in the building - an eclectic mix of people from all walks of life, different colours, different socio-economic backgrounds. But this weird sort of thing happened on our floor that didn't seem to happen as much in the rest of the building - we didn't just pass each other in the hall and nod politely, we became close, we made ourselves into a family.

I was the extrovert - I wanted to relate with everyone all the time. Somewhere in the middle of the hall lived Ben. He was autistic, severely, but with a serious gift, maths. I never talked to Ben about maths, as this seemed to be the only thing anyone else talked to him about. Instead, we talked about feelings, emotions, of which Ben had trouble understanding all together, and I seemed to have an overabundance of.

Ben didn't like to be touched, at all, but he agreed that it made sense for us to hug, as I hugged everyone, and he needed to be able to hug me like everyone else. The hugs started slow - we just sort of scraped knuckles behind each other's heads, with our arms out as far as possible. Over time, we got closer, and the hugs looked real, but Ben still insisted he didn't feel anything other than the physical touch.

In one of our many conversations, usually late night after I had a few beers and he was up doing everyone's maths assignments, he told me how he came up with a whole series of experiments to try and feel emotion and he was wondering if I would mind helping him understand it all. In the first experiment, he decided to roll down the concrete fire escape steps of our building to purposefully feel pain.

In feeling pain, that one feeling he could recreate, he hoped to understand more about feelings in general. And he said this hadn't worked so far, that all he felt in throwing himself down those stairs was pain - physical. So then I asked him if this frustrated him - that if he did this over and over again, with no results, did he feel frustration.

A week later, he came back to me, battered and torn, and smiled a big smile, gave me a big hug. He said yes, he had felt frustration - he understood that emotion and could now recreate it.

In another of our many conversations, Ben told me that I was standing on top of a lot of rugs and that pretty soon someone was going to start pulling them from underneath me. I remember vividly not questioning Ben about why he saw this to be true - I knew it to be true. I asked him instead whether he felt I should concentrate on trying to stand back up again on the next rug below, or if I should start investigating all the different rugs beneath me, anticipating what was coming next. He smiled - he always smiled when I made him think about possibility that wasn't related to hard-codable facts. He hadn't an answer just yet.

Awhile after this conversation, one of those rugs was pulled, the first of many over the years, and I was sad, truly sad, and when I saw Ben, he could see it all over my face. He hugged me right then, the first real hug - and it in, one of his first powerful emotions - true empathy. The next day there was a knock on my dorm room. I knew it was Ben (he looked and walked like a sumo wrestler approaching an opponent). Ben had quickly run down the hall after he knocked, such that when I opened the door, I was left with a glass chalice full of marbles and a note saying, 'Never lose your marbles'.

I have been thinking about this again, what this means in my life so many years later. Here I was at the precipice of life, that along the way, I would get rocked and shook, but as long as I stayed true to the person I was in that moment, the crazy young girl who believed she could teach Ben how to feel, I would be OK, I would survive any and all changes that were about to come my way.

The glass chalice broke in one of the many moves in my life, and I did my best to keep the marbles. When I moved to Ireland, I gave the bag of marbles to a young friend - he was 10 at the time and I wanted to pass on Ben's message to a younger generation. I did, however, keep one lucky marble. Tonight I am going to give the last marble to a friend in need.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dreaming and writing

Last night I had the reoccurring dream that so many of us have - the panicked-i-am-in-finals-but-don't-know-what-i-am-doing dream. In this most recent version, I was attending a range of classes, some science, some math, some literature, some creative writing, and I couldn't remember which classes had finals and when, and if there were papers due in various subjects, what those papers were on. It occurred to me in the dream that I wasn't even sure if I had attended any classes on the subject matter, couldn't figure out why that was, and now was trying to prepare for finals.

Any readers care to share your own versions?

The weirdest part of the dream is that I realized some way into it while still in a subconscious state that I had long ago graduated from college and had recently finished my MA. Why was I back at Berkeley doing undergraduate work? In my mind, I was trying to figure out if it was going to be OK to not count the failed exams since I already had my degree, and could use the cut-off point before I decided to take more undergraduate classes (for reasons unknown).

Since waking up and throughout the day, I have thinking about why this dream keeps reoccurring and if there are connections between the different versions. I have had this dream before, and it has been marked by major (and very much tangible) events, like finishing my dissertation, going back to work after maternity leave, moving back to California.

There are two events that could have triggered the most recent. The first is that today I started back to work after the winter break. You would think this is an obvious trigger as my career has triggered the dream before, but usually in the peak of a release or before my annual review. Just before Christmas, I reached a series of significant deadlines and the next batch aren't until February/March. There have been changes going on in terms of my role, but having the much needed winter break has helped me get my head around them in a clear, positive way, so why the panic dream?

The second event that could have triggered the dream has to do with my New Year's Resolution: I have promised myself to work hard towards the first draft of a novel idea that has been with me since Amelia was born. Could it be that my own personal writing could be triggering a sense of panic and what the heck does that mean?

I know in my heart of hearts that I want to write this novel, that the idea is starting to take shape, that I have it in me to do this. But I also know that I am pulled in lots of directions and I am nervous about how I will stay committed to something so intangible, something without pressing deadlines and consequences that could affect more than just my self-esteem.

This is the first time the dream has been about something very internal. And it has taken me by surprise - that maybe this novel, the writing of it, is pressing on me in more significant ways than I had anticipated. It isn't about projection anymore, a fantasy that I am happy to leave in some far-off, unknown time in the future, when I am not so busy with regular life. I am feeling the weight of it, to work towards this goal. I am anxious, wondering if I am prepared and/or naturally capable enough to see it through to completion, and with some measured success, i.e., something other than total failure.