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2018: Happy New Year

What does the New Year hold for you?

Ancient peoples tracked the sun and the moon, noted the seasons for planting and harvest, and lived their way into a construct for time that predates but informs our modern calendar. Drawing on a number of organizational creations, Julius Caesar implemented much of the calendar we still live today, including adding his own signature: the New Year would begin January first, the day two high officials began their year-long governing positions. More than a few since have attempted to change that start-date—to March to coincide with the spring or to September to coincide with the harvest. Through all the political tugging and pulling, Julius Caesar’s stamp on when we begin the New Year has prevailed. And so it is that we arrive at the end of one calendar year and launch the next.

And with that brand new calendar full of possibilities, it’s irrepressibly human to want to implement life-improving change.

During the holiday season my gift list took me to the Container Store. It’s one of the happiest shopping places I’ve been because each object makes a promise that if put to use under just the right circumstances, life will be more organized and thus infinitely better. It’s 19,000 square feet of countless mini-resolutions. I came home with, among other things, a magic silicone computer keyboard cleaner that helped me de-stick the keys on the left edge of my laptop where I had, alas, spilled coffee. To be honest, I came home with three of them—one for my immediate use and one each as stocking stuffers for Eighteen and Fifteen.

The reminder of that heart-stopping moment when I tipped the cup onto my computer (it was a lidded cup without much in it, a candy coffee I was treating myself to while writing) lingers in the dimmed segment of lighting behind my keyboard. I was swift in my response, inverting the computer and then racing for napkins to wipe away the spill. For a few days my computer smelled faintly of coffee, not an unwelcome fragrance for a writer, and the impacted keys were sticky. Today it’s an object lesson—my computer turns five this month, is long out of warranty, and makes it possible for me to connect with the world and earn a living. If something disables it, even if that something is me, I’m going to need a replacement immediately. Mental note for the accounting department: start a new computer fund.

And so it begins … it’s easy for the mental notes to turn into life-improving resolutions around money, health, friends, travel, employment, getting rid of stuff, cleaning and fixing the house, losing weight, getting fit, finding a boyfriend. Like the unbroken snow in the backyard or the shiny allure of just the right organizational box at the Container Store, the crisp clean calendar beckons. This is the year I might just get it all right.

Looking for the lessons of 2017, and there were many, I light on a few. I set out to study and learn a lot more about yoga, and I did, completing my 500-hour yoga teacher training and implementing a new kind of preparatory approach to my classes that has been well received. In the course of the hours spent reading, researching, and producing, the travel to trainings, and the workshops I attended and developed, I learned something in my own practice that I am still exploring. It’s a tiny adjustment in my hands in strength-requiring poses like plank (the top of a push-up) wherein I press into the floor using my hand-wrist joints like levers. I don’t yet know the full extent of the strength the maneuver allows me to access, but I know that it changes the experience of the pose in my entire body. It’s a tiny, valuable truth, and I look forward to discovering where it might lead.

I learned, too, that my beloved yoga practice, while it opens all sorts of possibilities for self-improvement and advancement (yoga really is, as my teacher Mona always says, an ancient self-improvement practice for body, mind and spirit), is so comfortable for me in a large part because it allows me to embrace and strengthen my strengths. I am patient; yoga makes me more so. I am flexible; yoga celebrates my range of motion. I am a teacher; I’m so grateful that people come to learn yoga with me.

In writing those practices for my classes, I stumbled into understanding, in 2017, why it’s okay that for years when I’ve started writing in a blank book, I’ve left the first few pages unsullied. I always thought it was to take the pressure off—indeed, as I’ve been cleaning my bookshelves over the past week or so, I’ve discovered a number of blank books starting with three or eight or fifteen pages covered in childish scrawl, the beginning of a novel one of my children sat down to write in a fit of creative passion and abandoned shortly thereafter. I can’t bear to throw these books away—loving the intensity of the resolution it took to start a novel. Nor do I want to use these books, even though they have pages and pages that are unmarked, leaving me uncertain as to what to do with them. So they go on the shelf for now. But in my own favorite blank books, spiral-bound so they sit flat on the desk, especially the ones I use for planning yoga practices, I find that the skipped pages at the beginning are perfect for creating a table of contents. Thus, when the books fill up, I have a way of finding the information therein. And something about leaving those early pages blank does indeed make it much easier to fill up the books—with class plans, lists, notes for my novel, and every other project-launching whim or frenzy that takes over.

I believe fervently that it’s important to set resolutions with kindness—intentions or visualizations for the new chapter seem healthier than the often critical messages of resolutions. However, I’m learning for this New Year that the impulse to make sweeping changes in our lives offers many gifts. We may or may not live our way to the intended goal, but if we stay both grounded and open to the possibilities, we will learn lessons from our inclination to leap into projects and transformations for the better that range from merely fascinating to life changing.

Today’s full super moon feels, to me, like a spot on a transitional timeline that starts with the winter solstice and skips like a stone across the water with stops at Christmas, New Year’s Day, the Chinese New Year, and Groundhog’s Day. Rather than set sights on changes that will revolutionize all of 2018, I’m focusing on this period, giving myself some interesting challenges, and staying open to the discoveries that I don’t even know are possible. Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, healthy, and revealing New Year, that you might discover your own wisdom pebbles and skip them farther over the water than you ever dreamed possible. With all my love, Namaste, Rxo

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Post Blog

How is a blog like a sonnet?

One hundred fifty-five times, as of this post, I’ve answered a line-item on my to-do list and sent my musings out into the world. If that doesn’t sound so creative, but rather more like an imperative, I might echo the wisdom of Mrs. Whatsit in A Wrinkle in Time: “[The sonnet] is a very strict form of poetry… There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter… And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet… But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

My blog isn’t a poem, but the parameters have offered me the delight and freedom to live my sonnet and write about it.

I set my own constraints—post on the full moon and the new moon. With input from my Writing Circle, I added the tagline “Living the Questions in Poses & Prose” and each post title is followed by a question. That tagline references both my all-time favorite quote, from Rilke, and what I like to believe is my very own savvy/soulful blend of living as a writer and yoga educator.

In the beginning, I heeded the cautions: Ninety-five percent of bloggers begin and give up on their blogs within three months. Most launch headlong into keeping a blog without a clear focus or an end-goal firmly in mind. I tried to address this by writing three full posts, a triumverate that would circumscribe the confines of my subject matter, before I posted one. With six weeks mapped out, I thought I would be able to write ahead. Sometimes this has been true.

We’ve all got sayings we’ve thought, or said aloud, should be on a tee shirt or a bumpersticker (or more recently a hashtag); knowing that something is a story for Overneathitall is a similar feeling. It’s been a pleasant surprise to find that more often than not, sometime after the last post and before the next is due, I have a “this could be a blog post” moment and the material begins to knit together in words, first in my mind, next on the page. Recently, with this year—when keeping on task has been complicated at best—winding to a close, I’ve been thinking about OverneathItAll.

  • I started my blog because I wanted an assignment. I’ve always produced when I’ve had a task to write set in front of me. Launching a blog meant I had an assignment to write, and that made me do it. How could I call myself a writer, I challenged myself almost seven years ago, if I wasn’t writing? So I wrote those entries and somewhere along the line published my novel and I stopped questioning whether or not I could call myself a writer. Mission accomplished.
  • I started my blog because in a teeny, tiny corner of my heart, I hoped I’d be that one-in-a-million writer discovered by an agent or a publisher trolling the Internet for undiscovered talent. That hasn’t happened … yet. Hope springs eternal, but it certainly can’t happen if my blog doesn’t exist.
  • I started my blog because I wanted to hear my voice, to let it get stronger and more certain. I wanted to navigate the distance between public and private life, making sense of things that happened in my world in a way that might resonate out in the world.

But here’s the real gift: I have kept writing my blog, even after some long unscheduled breaks, even when I haven’t always wanted to, even though I haven’t made a cent from it, been discovered, or figured out where it’s going, because the unexpected delight of keeping my blog has been connection. Among my regular readers are an editor I’ve only met once, an aunt I haven’t been fortunate enough to see since I was in college, friends who live abroad, and my own mother, who sometimes prints out these posts and sends them to people.

By standard metrics, a blog with less than 1,000 visitors per post (mine averages 48) is nowhere near a success. If you see ads here, WordPress is making that money. Many of my readers are most likely to comment in person, via email, or on Facebook, meaning my blog nets little accidental traffic. In a search for “overneath,” my wee blog shows up on page two. But none of that matters. Friends from junior high read and respond, new acquaintances learn a little something about my life and feel more comfortable sharing in return, one regular reader quotes me back to myself. Every blog post, each sometimes hard-wrought word, all 170,000-plus of them, has made a connection to someone. I can’t imagine a better outcome to living the questions here on these pages. Thank you.

One hundred forty-two years ago on December 4, Rainer Maria Rilke was born. His birthday ought to be National Live the Questions Day. The moon is a full frosty supermoon on December 3; while there’s a little mischief in play from Mercury, which dips into retrograde eight hours ahead of the moon’s apex. These alongside the raft of holidays and all of the joys and obligations that come with them make December a complicated month to live questions or find answers. Be kind to yourself and hug those who love you—thanks for being a part of my journey, RxoRilke Moon

Natural Phenomena

What is that smell?

In late July, the greater Des Moines community fell in love with a flower, a stinky flower. The unbelievable Titum arum (aka the Corpse Flower) thriving under the tender care of curatorial horticulturist Derek Carwood at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden defied expectations and settled in to bloom several years ahead of schedule. En masse people visited, people watched the live feed, people talked all over town about the advent of the bloom’s arrival.

Having watched the live feed with (now) Ninety-Three, having thought I would be out of town during the twenty-four hours or so when the plant was actually in bloom, having woken up one morning to discover that I had the time to zip downtown and see the plant for myself on the very day that it finally burst (okay, unfurled achingly slowly) into bloom, and having the opportunity to smell it for myself, I, too, fell in love. I went to see it twice.

The first visit I dropped Fifteen at Driver’s Ed and went solo. With extended hours, the Botanical Garden was open at seven that morning. By a little after eight, the parking lot was already busy. I bounced in with a crowd stopping through on their way to work, camp, and a hot summer day.

I had seen the flower that morning on the live feed and very beautiful pictures of it on Facebook trumpeting its arrival. As I followed the winding path through gorgeous banana trees and fantastic blooms, like everyone else I had eyes only for the whimsically named Carrion My Wayward Son, Carrie for short. My first glimpse, I confess, was slightly disappointing. Set down below the grade, it looked small and lost in the other foliage—hard to distinguish from the rest of the lush garden. But as the path wound around and we edged closer, I could see that the plant was indeed every bit as remarkable in person as it was on camera, made more so by the undeniable odor.

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Carrie in full & stinky bloom

The plant’s flowering structure looks nothing like the plant, a tree-like stem with small leaves at the top. When it gets ready to bloom, an enormous heavy bulb sends up what’s called the inflorescence, a stem of sorts that spouts flowers revealed for just a short time when the gorgeous outer spathe—green on the outside—finally unfurls revealing its lush purple lining. In the wild, these can be nine feet in diameter. Whatever the size, it’s a stunning and unusual sight; but what everyone was talking about was the smell: “Like raw chicken gone off,” said one lady, nailing it. “Like a mouse died,” said another. I saw children walking in, wrinkling their noses and covering them with their shirt collars before they got close enough to actually smell the thing.

It was not, however, overpowering. In my experience the Corpse Flower earns its stinky reputation, but it’s not horrid. At least under the great glass dome of the botanical center where thousands of plants filter the air, Carrie’s wasn’t a fresh smell, but it was a naturally rotten one. Carpet glue, fresh tar, and garbage trucks in the hot summer sun all smell far worse to me.

My “I saw Titum arum” sticker granted me repeat admission, so when I picked up Fifteen from her class, I asked her if she’d like to see Carrie. “Sure,” she said merrily. “Let’s go see the smelly flower.”

In August the whole nation fell in love with the solar eclipse, making elaborate plans to witness totality in a path that striped the country. Fifteen, Eighteen and I took the day, making our pilgrimage south to find ourselves in Plattsburg, MO, where the eclipse viewing party in the town’s City Park offered free parking on a wet, muddy field. We arrived in time to don our glasses and check in with the sun, watching the curved shadow block progressively more and more of the sun even as the show dipped in and out of the clouds. We ate our snacks and marveled at the size of the gathering, so many people lured out of their Monday routines to experience the lining up of our brightest star directly behind our moon. At totality, the cloud cover was significant and we weren’t treated to the corona or the diamond ring, but we experienced darkness at just past one in the afternoon, darkness that fell from west to east and light that returned along the same unreasoned path.

Witnessing the eclipse, we decided, was an intellectual exercise. We had to keep talking about how it was the sun that looked like a waning then waxing moon. But when darkness fell it was straight-up cool. Our biology knew it wasn’t normal. And we weren’t the only ones. As we navigated the winding side roads home, seeking paths at a remove from the intense traffic, we marveled at how the cows were all lying down, pointed in the direction where the sun had disappeared.

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Darkness an hour past noon.

In September a smell we did not love moved into our garage. It wasn’t Carrie, but it could have been, about as strong and about as dead smelling. At first I thought it was something in the garbage (“broccoli,” opined Fifteen), so I moved the bin outside. But the smell continued, occasionally ebbing, but getting really pronounced when the afternoon sun warmed the garage.

“I’m afraid we have something dead in here,” I said one afternoon as we arrived home and were greeting by a particularly strong waft of rot.

“Ewwww,” said Fifteen, racing inside.

Baking soda in open containers seemed to help. Cooler temps arrived and the smell abated some. Eventually, and fortunately, the smell became significantly less intense—more of an occasional waft than a full-on assault. Only lately did I find her, a small bunny that had for whatever reason crawled between a fold-up table and a stack of flooring to die. There was very little left of her, but cleaning up the remains was unpleasant work. After, I cried in the shower.

I could float some theories but the truth is, I’m not certain why bunny’s death has hit me so hard. Several days post clean-up I’m still oddly searching for what became a not unfamiliar smell in the garage when I arrive home. Bunny is gone, the eclipse is over, Carrie’s fifteen minutes have ended. And with their collective departures, the summer of 2017 is waning. As sad as Bunny’s death makes me feel, the great eclipse escape and Carrie’s bloom made me so happy. As a collection, they are reminders to me that as we walk on this earth, it is vital to be astonished.

The new moon launches at 12:29am CT 9.20.17, and with this post I’m a wee bit closer to being back on track here at overneathitall. Thanks, as ever, for being astonished along the journey with me. Namaste & big love, Rxo

2016’s Big Finish

Why do you call your son Seventeen?

When John Glenn died earlier this month I felt really sad—another light on this planet extinguished in a year that saw the departure of so many points of light: Prince, Glenn Ifill, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, David Bowe, Natalie Cole, Harper Lee, James Alan McPherson, Gary Marshall, Janet Reno, Sharon Jones. There are still more celebrities, of course, and dear ones much closer to home too.

Soft spots for celebrities are as personal as the movies that speak volumes to us or the song that goes onto a perma-this-is-my-story playlist. John Glenn’s departure was more personal to me still—he was a man I was lucky enough to meet on several occasions as my father covered his presidential campaign. Senator Glenn and his wife Annie were gracious and dazzling in person, the authentic embodiment of the way they appeared in media-ready images.

With care but no hesitation, I crafted a status update for Facebook about Senator Glenn’s death. Sharing the obituary a Facebook friend of mine had posted, I added these words: Another amazing hero departs 2016 … I like thinking of you, Senator Glenn—a man I was fortunate enough to meet during the presidential campaign—up among the stars where you belong. Orbit in Peace. A few of my friends responded to my post, adding their own kind words and memories. Our interaction there doesn’t even qualify as a footnote in Glenn’s life, but he clearly made an impact in each of ours, a part of what it can mean to be famous.

For most of us, there’s no formal notification. My father had a student, author John Yount, who quipped that he wanted to open the mail one day to find he’d received a single-line letter: Congratulations! You are now rich and famous. When I ask Google about Mr. Yount, I’m pleased to see his name and his books come right up and pleasantly surprised to note that at 81 he’s alive, presumably retired from an illustrious career as a professor at the University of New Hampshire, where we visited him when I was quite young. Did he arrive at “rich and famous?” Perhaps in certain circles, allows my mother, Ninety-Two, who remembers him. His books were well received critically and, my search reveals, he was heartily praised as an important influence by John Irving, another student of my father’s, another writer who went on to rock the literary world but I remember as underfoot in our house when I was growing up.

I don’t know if I’ve met more famous people than most—rich and famous both evaded my father, but his literary and political activities certainly brought us into contact with more than a few luminaries. It is this fact that I marvel over as I study the Senator Glenn obituaries. With a slight shock I realize that Senator Glenn died on the anniversary of another important celebrity in my life, John Lennon, shot thirty-six years ago when I was living in Tucson with my father. When I went to find him, to tell him the news, my father was visibly moved, shaking his head sadly, “What a world we live in,” he grieved. “What a world.”

Rich and famous must add layers of challenge in today’s age of over-exposure; celebrities live a hyped-up version of the navigation between private and public we each must explore. When I launched OverneathItAll in 2011, it was designed as a challenge to keep me committed to a regular writing task. With plenty of exceptions, I’ve posted somewhere around the full moon and the new moon ever since. Wanting to provide some thin shield of privacy for my family members, I named my children by their ages, just Eight and Eleven at the blog’s debut. Now Fourteen and Seventeen are living larger; with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts of their own, they’re learning to shape their own public images even as they have become characters in the online version of my life.

My blog has made me neither rich nor famous, but it has consistently connected me to a loving and lovely readership and it’s kept me living the questions through an awful lot of drama and adjustment and changes and transitions. Just when I think, as I sometimes do, that it’s time to give it up, a far-away friend writes to me about something I’ve posted or a new connection arises making me want to double-down. And, as a result of posting consistently, owning a yoga studio, publishing a novel, and perhaps most of all having an unusual name, I Google well. Because I do try to keep my posts kind and true, to be generous on Facebook, and to stay away from Internet vitriol, I been mindful but unconcerned about the wide world of the Internet.

So imagine my surprise when a recent flurry of renegotiating my financial realities hit a pothole with one company that first underwrote and then dropped (and has since reinstated, thank you kindly) a policy for me because I am an author and a blogger and I live in the “limelight.” Moonlight and sunlight, certainly. The sparkle of my children, absolutely. Limelight? That was news to me.img_7567

Wednesday, 12.21, Sunrise, 7:39am; Sunset, 4:48pm. At 4:45am (CST), the sun started its long wintery journey back to the north. The moon was silvery and full just a few days ago. With my peeps home and snuggling in for the winter holiday, some year-end business projects to attend to, and a little time off from yoga teaching, I’m going to hit the pause button here just until January. I bid you and yours a joyful holiday season and a wonderful New Year! As always, thank you for our journey together. Love, Rxo

La Bella Luna

How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?

All the time I lived on Redbird Farm, there was never any question of seeing the moon. Without lights from the city or even neighboring farms, the night skies dazzled with stars, the milky way ribboned its bright blaze among them, and the moon waxed and waned, sometimes making a snow-covered field nearly as bright as daylight. A full moon meant more restless beasts moving through the fields, a new moon meant much darker skies, and one memorable winter eclipse found my parents and me huddled together watching the mystery outside my bedroom window in the wee hours.

When the moon is full, it’s full for the entire planet—unlike the seasons, for example, that flip-flop depending on which hemisphere you’re in or the constellations that shift and change locations. So the moon I saw when I moved away from the country to cities and suburbs in the east was the same moon shining without question on my childhood home.

After four days of advanced yoga teacher training, a three and a half hour drive home, and the compression of stepping into Monday after not having a weekend to reset, I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see the supermoon. I was concerned there would be clouds spreading along the eastern horizon as it rose; I was fairly certain I would be driving west at moonrise; I was feeling jealous of the reports of its luster and beauty that people were sharing online and in person.

I was, in fact, driving west at moonrise. I had taken my second trip east in just a few days’ time to Seventeen’s college home—Monday’s trip was to deliver the altered suit we had shopped for the week before. Seventeen quite suddenly needed a new suit (his first) in the middle of the semester because he was selected to go on a school-sponsored trek to meet Warren Buffett at the end of this week. To say he’s excited is an understatement: “Everyone else is thinking about Thanksgiving,” he told me after we enjoyed afternoon tea at the local coffee shop, “all I’m thinking about is meeting Warren Buffett.” Meeting Warren Buffett is Seventeen’s super-hero-moon.

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My Super-Seventeen in his new threads. If you’d like a picture of or more information about the supermoon, visit earthsky.org.

So taking three hours at the end of a long teaching day immediately following four days of yoga immersion to deliver the required suit felt just right. I turned for home in a fiery sunset of orange and deep pink, the stubble of harvested fields stretching out, a surprising amount of green lingering along the roadside thanks to our temperate fall. The electronic road signs flashed warnings about watching for deer—it’s mating season or the rut and the deer tend to lose their heads and run in every direction. As the sky grew dim and the glare from oncoming lights made it hard to see, I thought about that and drove alert, watching. I did see some deer, but they were deep in the fields foraging for corn dropped by the harvesters.

I was all the way back in the lights of Des Moines when I saw it in my rearview mirror. The moon rose, huge and plum-colored, a giant orb. There were indeed clouds, but they were wispy and only heightened the effect. Just at the right moment my route turned south and the moon was on my left, where I could glance between it and the road, marveling. In no time it was up, the plum wash dripping off of it, replaced by a peach sheen. Ten minutes later I pulled into the high school parking lot, turned my car to face east, and watched it ascend, growing more and more luminous.

Fourteen came bouncing out of play rehearsal to the car and we admired the moon together on the drive home. It hung right over our house when we drove up the hill, but from inside it was impossible to see. Ninety-Two was looking for it. She has recently adapted to using her walker, tricked out with a wire basket and a bag, stabilizing her as she roves around the house. But to see the moon just then, she had to abandon the walker, hold on to my arm, navigate two tenuous steps into the three-season room we call the East House, and work her way cautiously across the floor. We were rewarded for our efforts by the now silvery orb that seemed to be playing among the dark, leafless tree branches. On the unheated porch we stood close-by, admiring it’s beauty.

“How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?” My mother asked me.

I think of some of the marvelous things that I’ve seen—Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the Eiffel Tower, the birth of my two babies, the Washington monuments at night, the sun setting over the Pacific, the Redwoods, kittens exploring the grass, a room full of people exploring their practice—there are so many and somehow this supermoon feels like one of them, a confirmation that the natural cycles and order of things continue in spite of a series of events and happenings that left me feeling shredded over the past two weeks (and for the record here, I am referencing not only the election, but also teaching yoga in the wake of the shooting of two police officers here in my community and several personal muddles I am trying to untangle). I don’t want to stop watching the moon, but I need to return my mother to the safety of her walker, to attend to dinner, to write a check for the monthly water bill due the next day. We reluctantly turn, thinking our moon time is over.

Overnight the supermoon and I have several more encounters—it’s shining its light into my bathroom skylight as I brush my teeth and sending light across my bed in the wee hours when Katy comes to purr and celebrate the unlikely event that we’re both awake. And then it’s still up when I take Fourteen to meet her morning bus—it’s a pale orb now, with the sunlight fast arriving in the east and the moon still big in the west. There’s a lake near my house. I drive there to take a last look. Just as I pull in, a great blue heron comes skimming over the water and lands on the shore not twenty feet away. I look at the heron looking at the moon. Together we watch three mallard ducks swim parallel to the shore, their gentle wake rippling the moon’s reflection in the water. A few fluffy clouds reflect the pink of the sunrise—these, too, are a part of the tableau the heron and I regard. The great bird bends its knees a little and lifts off, flying after the ducks. A Midwestern seagull cuts across the sky and I wonder, as I always do when I see them, if it even knows about oceans or if lakes are enough water for the bird I associate with beaches and salt.

It’s time to go home where my morning tea is waiting and I smile then. I am no longer envious of my friends who have taken and posted pictures or comments about this moon on social media. I don’t need to purchase a supermoon tee shirt or even snap a photograph, although I have tried with my inferior phone camera to capture an image. I have enjoyed an entire night of moments with the supermoon, and as these words begin lining up in my imagination, I know that I can write about what happened. For me, it is in capturing the experience in words, in telling my story, that I know I have indeed seen the moon.

Thank you for witnessing with me. As ever and always, Rxo

 

 

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