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Category Archives: savvy and soulful

The Lion and the Angel

What does it mean to “hold space”?

In the mid-nineties, I was assigned by my department chair to teach Advanced Expository Writing, a class designated for honors students with perhaps the least alluring title of any class in the curriculum. Each semester I taught that class, I would introduce the syllabus by quoting my thesis advisor who said, “Expository Writing sounds like something you’d purchase at a drug store.” This usually elicited a chuckle from at least a few of the students and launched a discussion of just what we might be up to in the class.

To compliment their extensive writing assignments, the students considered a number of literary models. As a capstone to becoming thoughtful, analytical readers, they were assigned to focus on one of the essayists in our anthology of brilliant writers. Each student would pick a writer and an essay by that writer, assign the essay to the class, and then present information about the author to supplement class discussion about the essay.

Nearly every semester in every class, the speech-like requirements of my syllabus would send a student spiraling into my office hours, panicked. “Professor Robin,” the student, most often a young woman, would say, “I can’t get up in front of your class and talk.”

This particular semester that student was a woman I’ll call “Leona.” Leona had delicate features, a small face, and a trim figure. She wore her long hair in a tight braid down her back. I hadn’t yet seen any writing from students in the class when she arrived at my office hours, hugging her books close to her body and looking scared.

When Leona sat timidly in my conference chair, I could see that she was a non-traditional student, closer to thirty than twenty. I sensed a story; even the most traditional students tended to enroll in community college because of their stories. Leona was no exception—married young to a man from a country where women had few rights, she was in a custody fight for her daughters who, in the same vein as the movie that was popular in the early nineties, were taken from her to live with their father’s family in his homeland.

“You have a lot to write about,” it was an understatement.

Leona looked hopeful, “I really do. But … do I have to speak to the class? I really don’t think I can do that.”

“Have you chosen an author yet?”

Leona had, Nancy Mairs. I smiled in recognition. The poet turned essayist struggled from her twenties on with depression and multiple sclerosis. She was confined to a wheelchair in her thirties, but wrote intense, wry, brilliant essays. “I think that’s a good fit. You’ll like her work.”

That day I struck a bargain with Leona that she’d go ahead and do the research on Mairs, we’d meet again before her date to present, and if she was still anxious about presenting, we’d come up with a solution together.

Leona submitted tightly written essay drafts that scratched the surface of a number of difficult narratives from her life. We had our work cut out for us as I coaxed her to move into and explore the stories more fully. In the class I encouraged peer review with lots of coaching, and Leona slowly opened up to her classmates as she did to me. Her writing started to grow in expression and emotion.

It was mid-semester by the time we were getting close to her Mairs presentation. Leona walked into my office, braid swinging, a huge smile lighting up her face. “I did it.” I looked up, wondering. “I called her.”

“Called who?” Perhaps I was thinking of her daughters.

“I called Nancy Mairs. In Tucson. Last night. I can’t believe it, but I did it! She talked to me for almost an hour.”

Leona’s brave dialing translated into a new willingness to present to her classmates—she had a story to share. When Leona arrived armed with her biographical information, direct from the author herself, she wore her hair in a shining tumble to her waist, the stunning mane of confidence. She spoke effortlessly, with an air of authority, about the author, her work, and the essay she had chosen for her classmates to read. Her presentation assignment was an unqualified success.

The myriad of challenges that Advanced Expository Writing offered to Leona gave her a measure of support combined with room to grow and—in her case—the impetus to take a giant leap toward the kind of academic success she wanted. As Leona’s teacher, it was my honor to create and hold the space where she could thrive. It is a critical component of teaching, but one I wouldn’t have been able to put into words in quite this way when I was an English professor in my twenties. I’ve learned that holding space for personal growth is a large part of what I do—whether on the page or on the yoga mat. More recently, it’s a phrase I’ve come to use in other scenarios as well—I can hold space for someone afar who is grieving. I can invite a friend to stay in my house and hold space for her to rest, to heal. I can hold space for my children to grow as I witness their accomplishments and failures too. When we carve out parameters and then give each other wiggle room, isn’t it possible we nurture and encourage growth into the next, more amazing iterations of ourselves, our talents, our relationships? Holding space for one another—family member, student, friend, stranger—is the best way I know to live organically and respectfully, to ease tension and stress, to sponsor buoyancy and breadth.IMG_9398

Leona’s story has two postscripts. The first is that several years later, after she had gone on to a four-year school and completed her bachelor’s degree, Leona came to see me to tell me that she had, in fact, retrieved her daughters from their father and had them at home with her full time. When she stopped by my office, she wore her hair loose and her mane sparkled. She was happy. The second postscript came when, shortly before I moved away from New York, I attended a conference where Nancy Mairs was the keynote speaker. After her talk, I introduced myself and was then able to tell her what a difference she had made in accepting a phone call from one troubled, scared young woman. She nodded at the memory, the stage lights illuminating a shiny angelic circle in her hair.

Once every twenty years, February has no full moon. Tonight’s new moon launches the Asian year of the Earth Dog, but it has no full counterpart in the western 2018 calendar. Sometimes called a black moon, this new moon in my imagination moves us a little closer to the coming change of seasons. Keeping the faith that spring will spring, as ever, thank you for you, Rxo

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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

Zen & the Art of Litter Box Maintenance

Did you ever watch Dr. Who?

Fourteen is a fan girl. She hunches (in cringe-inducing posture) over her laptop watching episode after episode of Dr. Who. With her friends she discusses episode features and the different doctors, speculating on who might assume the role next. Recently she produced a “cosplay” outfit from her closet, prancing off to school as Rose, the Doctor’s associate. Knowing full well I am not a science fiction fan, she asks anyway, maybe hoping to uncover some affinity to my past. I can only offer that my friend in junior high was an intrepid fan of the Doctor with the scarf. “Ah, the Fourth Doctor,” she nods with absolute certainty.

As I ferry Fourteen from point A to point B, she often talks dreamily about the wonders of time travel, outer space, and swift saves for the planet. Her talk challenges the notion of staying present, something I teach as a part of yoga practice. Our breath and our bodies are in the present moment; our minds are time travelers. The mind’s abilities to race ahead—anticipating the worst or stressing about events to come—and linger behind in hurtful past happenings lead to tension and stress. On the mat we can call the mind to be present, staying with the breath and connecting through movement, relaxation and meditation with the body here and now.

But naturally it’s more complicated than that. While time may be a construct of the rational brain, life’s progressions imprint throughout the body. Our bodies carry the stories within of everything they’ve experienced and—I would suggest—anticipate changes to come. But what I want to tell Fourteen is that we do travel through time; however, it happens in one continuous narrative rather than dramatic leaps into the future and back to the past.

What, then, do time travel and yoga have to do with cleaning the litter box? How is a task so mundane but vital to life with felines in any way a practice, let alone an art?

Cats have been a part of my whole life. Our farm cats went in and out freely, and I can’t remember if we ever had a litter box inside, perhaps a little-used one in the basement. But ever since petite, longhaired Tillie adopted me in graduate school, I’ve had at least one cat and one or more litter boxes under my roof. That’s about thirty years of cleaning up litter.

The most significant break came when Seventeen was around Ten and started cleaning the cat boxes for a dime a day. Later, the cats would subscribe to Time magazine for him, a satisfactory arrangement for all. So when he left last month for college, I was dismayed to find that the task reverted to me. At first I dreaded it, the clay dust, the scooping, the carrying … if you’ve ever done it, you know. I still can’t say that I like it, but I have learned a few things.

The first is obvious: once it’s done for the day, it’s done. But less obvious is that I can tell myself, in the morning for example, that if I take five minutes to clean the litter boxes (there are two in the basement and one upstairs), then the afternoon me won’t have to anticipate the unpleasant task. The present me takes care of the future me. And, inversely, later in the day when the job is already completed, the present me thinks back fondly on the actions of the past me—and it feels like a kind of time traveling, even if it has little to do with saving the world.

Cleaning the boxes takes little more time than walking down the stairs to the basement, up two flights to the laundry room, and out to the garage. In that short time, I ponder this notion of caring for my future self. It makes putting money away for a rainy day, for example, or making a phone call right now that I’ve been dreading, a bit easier. More logical. Sweet, even. It makes me feel a little bit braver in the present moment, knowing some unpleasantness may be avoided in the future.

And then there’s this. Regular litter box maintenance is having another interesting effect. Seventeen wasn’t as habitual about the task as I am, meaning the boxes sometimes got, shall we say, over-filled. When that happened, the cats were known to “think outside the box” or at best leave the boxes messy. I determined to clean them nearly daily and in doing so, I’ve been feeling—this sounds almost ridiculous as I write these words—a bit of pride. But here’s the most remarkable part—the litter box users seem to have noticed. They aren’t throwing litter out of the box, using the sides or even the outside, or leaving their eliminations uncovered. It’s a behavior change I never could have anticipated, but one that leaves our present selves purring.

Shine on Harvest Moon! And Shine on YOU, in whatever present self you find yourself. Thanks for witnessing my journey, Rxo

In Which Seventeen Has Flown the Nest (and I remember when we used to read Winnie the Pooh together)

In Which Seventeen Has Flown the Nest (and I remember when we used to read Winnie the Pooh together)

How’s your half-empty nest?

Oh, then he’s not far away … This is the sweetness most people offer after asking about my Seventeen. And it’s true. His first-year college dorm is just sixty-three miles from my door. It is another mother who shares my hometown and whose son is at the same school who best understands: Sure, he didn’t fly far from the nest, but he’s gone. And the nest will never be the same.

The daily reminders come thick and fast. Our dishwasher doesn’t fill up as quickly, the laundry piles are smaller, and leftovers don’t disappear from the refrigerator. By contrast, my chore list has grown: it’s once again my job to shop for groceries, carry them in and put them away; mow the yard; fill up the yard-waste bin; and clean the cat litter boxes. (I’m working on striking a deal with Fourteen for this last task, the one chore that I will pay someone else to do.) Since Seventeen’s departure was followed by the beginning of Fourteen’s high school journey, we’re in that wobbly transitional time between summer’s ebb and flow and fall’s established routine.

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Fourteen on the first day of high school

I walked into Seventeen’s room the other day and was startled to see that before he left he unplugged his alarm clock. It was a thoughtful thing to do and a clear example of his attention to detail. But it struck my heart as so final. He’s made this move fully, with barely a backward glance, divesting of his childhood and heading off with only what he needs for his new life. Looking at the dark face of his alarm clock, I felt especially glad for the togetherness we had in August before he moved, not only because I felt needed and included in his process, but because making lists and preparing for this enormous change grounded me.

Change gets a bad rap. I’ve been one of those people who say I’m not good at change. But I’m amending that. I’m really good at change. External change requires action. When it’s upcoming, there are lists to be made, errands to run, letters to write. When it’s sudden, be it plot twist or emergency, I’m your go-to gal. A change in circumstances requires calculated response. I can do that.

Emotional transition, before, during and after the change has happened, is another story. I can pre-process, yes. I can muscle through the actual change (I didn’t cry once during the drop-off overnight) reasonably well. But the aftermath? I’m wandering around my big, empty-feeling house this week, and I’m struck by this. Things are so different and yet they’re not. I look for the constants. What I find is that I’m the same person even though my to-do list, our grocery needs, and my parenting time all look different. And so, I’m beginning to understand that successfully navigating change requires staying open and curious in order to adjust to both anticipated and unintentional consequences.

The best changes, both big and little, are the ones we choose with joy, anticipate with excitement, and delight in the results. Fourteen made just such a change this weekend, hennaing her blonde-brown hair to a spectacular red. Neither of us was quite prepared for the effort it would take, but it was a lively joint project for a Saturday night and she is thrilled with the stunning results.

In the grand scheme of things, changing one’s hair color isn’t generally fraught with problems or rife with unexpected ramifications. But the discrete nature of the shift lets me review what I’m learning about change. Whether elective or not, change is logically the one, true constant. I’m good at creating an action plan around change and that process keeps me grounded. I’m less adept at knowing how I’ll respond emotionally to any change until the action swirls away and I begin to consider the new normal. Recognizing that I don’t know what I don’t know and being open and curious until I do know—this strikes me as the solution to navigating the emotional piece. These are not such simple notations to add to the to-do list—stay grounded, open, and curious—but I’m beginning to think they should have a permanent place in indelible ink, right at the top.

It’s a few days after the new month launched under a new moon. Perhaps instead of a new normal, every shift brings a new beginning. Wishing you the best possible even-if-it-is-all-new fall—with love, as ever, Rxo

Sit-n-Reach

Have you always been so flexible?

In yoga practice we fold forward, standing feet together or wide in a straddle to reach toward the floor, seated to reach toward our toes, drawing legs and torso toward each other in a seated balance pose that is frequently featured as a cover photo for Yoga Journal, a smiling, nimble yoga model making a difficult pose look easy, and even rolling over onto our backs, drawing the legs over our heads toward the floor. Energetically, forward folds invite the practitioner to go within, to cool a heated body or calm a flustered mind. Not everyone is a fan.

Forward folds tax tight hamstrings and hips. For people with low back pain, a forward fold may be appealing but it could be counter-indicated before, at least, the person is fully warmed up and has done a series of back extensions. Nonetheless, forward folds are such a standard measure of “flexibility” that they are included in the twice-yearly presidential physical fitness tests run in our public schools. In conversation with people who are telling me why they think they want to practice yoga, I often hear, “I’m not flexible; I can’t even touch my toes.”

At the studio I’ll encourage a class to take the first few forward folds of a practice with knees bent to avoid over stretching the hamstrings. If we lengthen and release from the bottoms of the feet along the entire back body and all the way to the crown of the head, we move from a dedicated hamstring stretch (and potential injury) to a full body experience that recognizes the connected nature of all of our parts.

That said, touching one’s toes is both an admirable goal and a reasonable expectation to arrive with on the mat. It is not, however, so accurately a measure of flexibility as range of motion.

I have in most of my joints noteworthy range of motion. Even following childbirth, it only took a few yoga classes after Twelve was born for me to give up arm-lengthening blocks and place my hand directly on the floor in poses like Triangle and Lateral Angle. When I talk about compression—the point at which a joint can move no further because of the way it’s built—in class, I invariably hear a gasp if I use my own wrist or even ankle to demonstrate. And when the inevitable question arrives, about whether I’ve been flexible my whole life, I smile and quip that I wouldn’t be a good advertisement for yoga if I weren’t flexible.

As ever, yoga offers me the metaphors that I need. When I first started practicing regularly in 1998, I believed I was flexible. I have never not been able to touch the floor. In just a few classes I found I could fold my body in half, laying the length of my torso along my legs. I can interlace my fingers behind me and drawing my hands over my head in a standing straddle, bring my arms parallel to the ground. What I have, naturally, are joints with significant range of motion. Yoga keeps my soft tissues limber, preventing tension that can constrict a joint. But like anyone, my joints stop moving where bone finds bone, what Paul Grilley calls “compression.” Compression doesn’t hurt, when you reach that point with all tension gone. But most of us find muscular tension restricting mobility before we reach joint compression. Still, range of motion isn’t the same thing as flexibility—one is physical, the other is much more about how we adjust.

A few Thursdays ago I was driving east, early in the day. Grateful I don’t normally have to flow with the rush hour traffic downtown, I figured out where I needed to be, parked, and thought to put money in the meter even though enforcement doesn’t begin until 8. The quarter jammed. I hopped into my car and maneuvered one space over. This meter swallowed my coins but gave me the appropriate time in return. I bounded up the stairs, not really late but arriving just overneath the wire as so often happens. The appointment, passports for Twelve and Fifteen, went smoothly and we were back in the car and heading to school just a little later. I’d already called in my daughter’s late arrival, so we dropped Fifteen first. On the way from his high school to her middle school, I mused that I would take my editing (due later that afternoon) out for breakfast, and then I head to my entrepreneurial buddy’s house for the morning. Twelve said, “That sounds like a nice day,” as she collected her belongings and stepped out of the car. I watched her to the door.

On my way to breakfast I realized that I only had with me the first four pages of a twelve-page newsletter, so I switched lanes and navigated toward home. I got out a pan to make my own breakfast and checked my phone—a message from my entrepreneurial friend revealed she was ill and in bed. I finished making my plate and told my mother, “I’m going to take my breakfast back to bed.” It’s one of my favorite treats and I had a book I was almost finished reading.

A half-hour later I got up for the second time and decided that since my day had shifted, I now had time to change my bed and put my laundry away before diving into the editing. It felt good to leave my room tidier than I found it. Downstairs I filled my water bottle and spread my editing out on my desk when an email arrived from a woman with whom I’d been corresponding—could we meet at the yoga studio at 11:35? I fired back that I’d see her there and in no time at all I was back on the road. The studio meeting and a few work items attended to, I decided to go over to the coffee shop, where I greeted my friend who telecommutes and sat down to attend to the editing pressing hard against the deadline as morning had become afternoon.

It was almost time to pick up Twelve when a mother and son hailed me as I was getting into my car—did I know the way to a specific address? I started to show them on my phone and when they looked concerned, like they couldn’t possibly find it on their own, I invited them to follow me and lead them to where they were going. They honked happily as I waved, tore back to collect my daughter, and we drove home to fax in my work, start homework and dinner, and regroup for a private session and a class. I couldn’t help but think about how differently my day had gone from the way I said it was going when I dropped her off. Not bad, just different.

Indeed, every day is interesting—a blend of different types of work, parenting, and socializing. Like so many, I move from one to another, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in fits and starts, often derailed by a fire to put out or a phone call to answer. Am I flexible? Sometimes. When I can decide en route to change my plan and decide to change again in response to a request or someone in need, that feels like flexibility to me. When I cope with my car breaking or my mother’s computer having a sticky q key, that, too, feels like flexibility. When I feel overwhelmed trying to get everyone fed and my son announces that he needs to be at school early in the morning for a guest speaker, in comes the tension. When I know there’s something big that needs to be attended to, it can feel impossible, in a way that makes me feel paralyzed and powerless. My mind whirls and often creates a block against any action, like a computer screen frozen mid-sentence or a stiff, swollen joint that doesn’t move through its full design.

paschi

Hinge forward, feet flexed, extend torso along legs. Interlace or bind the fingers around the feet to close the energy circuits. Breathe.

That’s the physical; yoga definitely keeps my physical tensions at a minimum. So, yes, I don’t often get tight or sore or lose much in the way of full range of motion. On a good day, it is quite a different muscle, my brain, that yoga is tasked with keeping flexible. Some days are more successful than others.

A post catching me up to the full moon, the spring temperatures, and the greening and budding and nest building that are happening all around us. Happy spring & thank you, as ever, for being a part of my journey. Namaste & big love, Rxo

By Appointment

What are you “looking forward” to?

I love the word hiatus, not really because of what it means but because of how I learned what it means. The story recalls one of those moments when I felt my own brain expand, like sitting on the dryer at the age of four, watching the indefatigable Arlene Snyder, a Mennonite woman who did housekeeping and childcare for our family, fold sheets hot out of the dryer. “Hot,” she said to me. “H-O-T spells hot.” “Hot,” I repeated, “H-O-T spells hot.” I spent the rest of the day celebrating, “H-O-T spells hot.” I shouted it. I danced it. I napped to it. H-O-T is the first word I ever learned to spell.

I don’t remember subsequently learning to read, but when I could I devoured the TV Guide each week. As I sometimes remind the ever-astonished Twelve and Fifteen, we had no Internet, no cable, no smart phones, no Netflix, no way of recording shows even—we watched them when they came on or we missed them. Television viewing was by appointment, and in our household it was even more so because my brother and I had television viewing allotments of seven hours each per week. That meant reading the schedule for the entire week and circling the shows we wanted to watch, plus negotiating if we chose shows in the same timeslot. It wasn’t long before I started reading the features that filled the front of the glossy book, maybe six inches wide by nine inches tall, on slippery paper with a square binding. There I read about up-and-coming celebrities, new shows, television in other countries, and shows “on hiatus.”

In graduate school I would learn that our vocabulary expands via frontiers. We can grab a list of words we don’t know and force feed them into our memories, but the words we will really learn and learn to use are the words that we have several exposures to and one day realize are familiar. Then when we look them up we’ll have context for them—a landscape with features that are becoming landmarks. With context, we assimilate a word far better and more completely than if we have no associations for the word. When I studied frontier words, I remembered, oh yes, like “hiatus.”

Because I didn’t know, reading the TV Guide at a young age, what it meant for a show to be on hiatus. I probably ignored it the first few times I read it. Eventually I saw the word enough times that I took notice and thought to look it up in the dictionary. This I remember doing. And then I learned that the word meant not canceled, but not on the schedule either. A hiatus is a pause, a gap, a break or an interruption in a series or sequence. In TV land it logically comes when a network likes a show but it isn’t raising revenue. The network isn’t ready to cancel the show altogether, so it goes on hiatus until its future can be figured out.

In the days leading up to my last real post on 12.5.14, I thought about announcing that I was going to take a hiatus from Overneath It All to focus on enjoying the holidays with my family, rebuilding the studio website and posting my novel on Smashwords. At the last minute, happy with my post “The Rhythm of Life,” I thought to myself—it’s not a huge commitment and I’ve got my writing times set for this month, why let it go? I can do all of the above.

Then along came a plot twist. A huge plot twist.

The blog and the website and a lot more went on hiatus when my heart got broken. Smashed, really. Smithereens. All I wanted to do was spend each day curled up in the fetal position hiding under the covers. I haven’t been able to, of course, with holidays to observe, a family to care for, my business to tend, and the myriad of other issues of modern life that require seemingly endless attention. A couple of times I thought writing might help, and I made a few attempts at starting pieces, but nothing stuck. I find the love I have lost impossible to categorize, but it doesn’t do to categorize such things; what I know is I have dissolved in this heartbreak. At the Solstice new moon and the January full, I looked up and my commitment to post fluttered and I dropped my head again. I let go of a lot of the things that I do professionally and for myself, or really I let them be. Writing, in particular writing blog posts, was one of them.

There have been several major plot twists and a sizable speeding ticket since—none of which, to my dismay, included a rekindling of love lost. Nor have I found a magic lantern to rub, releasing a genie to make my hopes and dreams come true nor fill my bank account, a constant worry. I haven’t even been able to go one whole day without crying, often silent tears as I fall asleep, sometimes noisy ones alone in my car. But this morning when I woke up I thought, I know one thing I can do about this. All of this. I know what I teach—that I need to make and keep appointments with myself, with the world. Writing is one appointment that will make me feel better, stronger, more certain of my voice. When I write and when I put my words out there, it helps me put together what I know and lift my head up just a little bit.

What is it I’m looking forward to? My concerned friend asked me yesterday when we got together for lunch. I don’t really know yet. But I do know that I’m not going to get there if I don’t keep the appointments to do the things that nourish me—writing this blog is one of those things. A big one. And while I’m posting today in between the full moon and the new moon, I’m also declaring that I have writing appointments for next week on my calendar, that I will post again by the light of the February 3rd full moon, and that this is the end of the hiatus.

In between Christmas and New Year's, Twelve, Fifteen and I visited the city I love the best in the whole wide world. Here's my attempt at an art shot, taken near sunset at the Lincoln Memorial. Like a sunflower, I do tend to head into the light ... eventually.

In between Christmas and New Year’s, Twelve, Fifteen and I visited the city I love the best in the whole wide world. Here’s my attempt at an art shot, taken near sunset at the Lincoln Memorial. Like a sunflower, I do tend to head into the light … eventually.

A special thank you to readers Barbara P., who let me know that my experiences and my writing about them are something she looks forward to, Mya N., who said simply, “and I love reading your blog,” and Annemarie C., who has challenged me to find the humor she associates with sitting at the island in my kitchen in my written voice. Not to say that this piece has much to laugh about in it, but learning to write funny is on my frontier. Happy New Year to each and every one of you and thank you, Rxo

The Rhythm of Life

The Rhythm of Life

Why don’t your jazz band directors appear to be conducting the jazz bands?

The summer after freshman year, I shared a basement sublet with my bat-shit crazy Resident Advisor and worked three jobs to pay for spending the summer in Washington, DC. One job was driving a bus, the gig I loved all four years of college. The second was babysitting a research assistantship for a friend who was away that summer, working under a journalism ethics professor; it was a job for which I was hugely unprepared and under-qualified. The third was perhaps the most normal job I’ve ever held—I worked at Affairs of the Heart in Georgetown Park mall.valentines_symbols_hearts_set_1

If you were around in the mid-eighties, you likely encountered a heart store, a store where literally everything on the shelves was emblazoned with one or a hundred hearts. We sold heart tee shirts and heart sweatshirts and heart stickers and pencils whose ends swirled into a heart. We sold heart-shaped erasers and mugs that bore hearts and mugs in the shape of a heart. The shop wasn’t large, but it was bright and smelled all the time of chocolate chip cookies that baked next door at the cookie store. Those were new delights in the eighties too.

Although for the most part I clocked in, worked my shift, folded tee shirts, made change for tourists, clocked out and left again, three utterly memorable things happened to me in my tenure at the heart store.

  1. One Sunday, the other young woman working and I completed the entire New York Times crossword puzzle, the only time in my life I’ve ever succeeded in that particular endeavor.
  2. One afternoon when I was at work by myself, a young man from Yugoslavia named Zoran came and lingered all afternoon talking to me about America. At the end of my shift we went to the zoo together because he had not yet been and it was one of my favorite DC experiences. We would be pen pals for the next several years until his letters, written in sloping hand on thin airmail stationery, eventually stopped coming.
  3. One day my supervisor handed me a brand new stack of one-dollar bills, still banded, and invited me to crumple them up so they wouldn’t stick together. I sat on the floor behind the cash-wrap station (admittedly, we didn’t actually wrap anything, but we put things in red tissue and stuck the flaps closed with heart stickers), scrunched the bills in my fist and dropped them in the cross of my legs. Fifty brand-new dollars crumpled up make quite a pile and I moved my legs under the bills like I was covered in crisp fall leaves. When I was done playing, I straightened the bills back into a stack and handed them to my boss. She was co-owner of the shop.

These three things sprung to my mind in rapid-fire order sitting next to my mother who was at a routine cardiac appointment where it takes longer to put the electrodes on sticky pads onto her chest than it does for the EKG to record her rhythms. They were a loose association for me to the first thought I had when the nurse purred to my mother, “it takes longer to hook you up and take the electrodes back off than it does to get the reading, so much better than it used to be …” which is: Yeah, there’s nothing like the sight of your seven-day old son hooked up to a color EKG machine.

Whenever I tell the story out loud, the story of my infant wailing in nothing but a diaper, electrodes all over his body, the test taking much too long, I inevitably get glassy-eyed, because as hard as it was learning that my brand new baby had a heart issue (two, actually), there’s no way I could make this next part up. I was sitting there in that kind cardiologist’s office, watching the pulsing of my son’s heart and hearing about ASDs and PDAs and things it would take me some time to fully comprehend, and in the pocket between heartbeats I realized that right at that precise moment my father was undergoing open heart surgery 1100 miles away. To the alarm of the doctor, the nurse, and my son’s father, I burst into a torrent of tears.

Fifteen years later I sit across from my teenager, headphones in his ears, intently typing on his laptop. I think about the things that we’ve talked about in only the last twenty-four hours, the things that he has taught me and the very-nearly snarky pseudo-compliment he handed me the morning I was urging him and his sister to get moving for their last day of school before Thanksgiving Break: I complained that they only had two days that week; that I had a full week as usual. He said, before his eyes had fully blinked open, “Well, you’re already a much more fully competent human being than we are. We need more sleep.”

In the moments when he and I were putting on our shoes and coats to head out an hour later, we were speculating about theme songs for our cats and decided that they could each have a part of “The Rhythm of Life,” one theme song, three cats. Done. And just the night before it was he who explained to me why his jazz band directors, so conductor-ish when the concert bands play, don’t have as much to do when the jazz band is playing. It’s the rhythm section that keep everyone together—the bass plays at the beginning of the downbeat, the drummer plays at the end, and the wind section is supposed to play in the pocket.

A lot can happen, I think, in the pocket of a heartbeat. The heart fills with blood, the heart moves the blood on, and we thrive on its rhythm and we remember all manner of moments and we learn new things and we grow.

When you see the full moon on Saturday, I’ll be looking up at the very same moon—my absolutely favorite rock—and thinking of you, too. Rxo

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