Numbers game

I know this seems afar from my usual field of dreams, so excuse me while I soapbox.

Sometimes I can barely read the paper without paroxysms of fury. Correction: I cannot read the paper without paroxysms of fury. The lies, the sorrow, the greed, and the crimes are so startling that I tremble in outrage. How can we abide this? Answer: I know why we abide this.

There on the front page of the Business section of the Sunday New York Times was the whole of it: the good and the evil, the up and the down, the victor and the vanquished. At the top of the page is the Eggleston family of Maple Heights, Ohio, the last family standing on a block of subprime foreclosures, in a sinkhole of a real estate market, in a good town going irretrievably down the tubes. They are living the life we most fear.

Three inches below is the story of a man enriched by his acumen and aggressiveness in marketing college loans. Not financial aid, mind you, but private, non-subsidized, high-interest-rate loans that regulators have now noticed bear a remarkable resemblance to subprime mortgages and the financial ravages they invoke. This fellow now lives the life we most desire: cashed out, piloting his racing yacht off the coast of Newport, R.I. He calls his yacht Numbers. I can only imagine what a shrewdly sweet upward ride those numbers have given him.

We abide this cruel dichotomy because success is our creed; more so, our religion. Just listen to the capitalist gurus co-opt the language of the church to articulate their values and their mission. Who among us hasn’t sung the refrain?

I confess: success is my religion too. Oh how I want to succeed by every conceivable measure. Oh how I want my ship to come in. Oh how I want to ride the crest of the waves. And then I see a page like the one in Sunday’s paper, inviting me to step off to the sidelines of this deadly, ceaseless, torment. I lift my arms in grief. Oh what have we become?

I’m going to say a service for the Egglestons. I’m going for broke, and the good news is, I’m almost there.

Me TV

We all wait in vain for our 15 minutes. Wouldn’t you know I only got 5? Here’s a short video interview with me about Momma Zen. And the must-see part: it’s in my own backyard. Because what’s Labor Day without a telethon?

Not swallowing it


Backseat backtalk to the car radio:

Mom! WHY are they making a HAPPY commercial for that DISGUSTING allergy medicine??

Fan mail


Moments ago, I finished Lisa See’s astonishing Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It is a lovely work, rich with authenticity. Magic words like hers hint of the invisible realms here among us; they gather sounds from who-knows-where and convey truth never before told. These words become the songs we can’t forget, the stories we call our own.

This is the tale of two Chinese women, two laotong, or “old sames,” betrothed in friendship nearly all their lives – lives shared at a distance by the exchange of secret writing known as nu shu. Isolated, afraid, bound by status and duty, they speak to one another via the brush strokes written on a fan shuttled between their farflung homes. And in these few, rare marks, they tell each other everything.

She had not written to leave a good name for a hundred generations. She had written to tell her friends of her thoughts and emotions, and they had written her in the same way.

Reading these words earlier today I thought instantly of this. And you. And me. And the thousands and millions like us, who write because it opens the heart on a hard day, or eases the hurt on a lonely night. We write by ourselves and for ourselves, an audience of one that is by this very reading an audience of two, sharing a secret, silent song that is no different from those on the hidden and long-forgotten fans, because we are indeed the same, we are all the same, and our song is the same never-ending song.

It is for now a close cousin to my favorite book, which I wish with all my heart that you too would read.

Nearly full

Tonight I laid awake for a long time. I went into my daughter’s bedroom and watched her sleep. I saw the deep shadows and the midnight glow. She did not stir.

I went because the nights are numbered, and I do not know the count.

Dem bones

1. I never play along. I never forward chain emails. I’ll never do a meme. I don’t even know what the word means.
2. But I’d do anything for Isabel.
3. First, I’m not a victim of anything or anyone.
4. Second, I’m old enough to be your mother.
5. I might even be your mother.
6. Except that I have no other children that I know of.
7. Two years ago, I was bedside at the death of my father, who was a hard man in the sudden grip of a long-expected cancer. I felt his life recede like the tide, and my legs grew weak. He did it all beautifully, and it was his finest hour.
8. We adopted his dog Molly, who surprised us by being the best dog in the world. She made our home complete, and she never leaves my side.

Isn’t it amazing how things turn out?

Famous last

I can’t get pregnant.
I think it’s a boy.
I’ll breastfeed.
I’ll still be working.
She’s due Sept. 23.
She looks like me.
She’s a genius.
She’s an Einstein.
She’s a Mozart.
She’s sleeping through the night.
She likes it.
She’s a good eater.
It’s just the sniffles.
It’s just a tummy ache.
Fevers can’t go that high.
This won’t hurt.
She’s not afraid of the water.
She’s not afraid of the dark.
Lights out.
She likes vegetables.
She doesn’t know that word.
She doesn’t watch TV.
She didn’t hear us.
She won’t remember.
Wait until your birthday.
No means no.
I’ll never buy another goldfish.

On balance


I gave a talk last week about Work-Life Balance at a corporate retreat. Truth be told, it was my first. The audience was politely attentive. Going in, I wasn’t sure that there was much to say about the topic. Going out, I don’t feel that much different. Perhaps you can illuminate the way better than I can.

You see, our lives are never out of balance. They can’t be out of balance. Where are the mountains toppling? Where is the sun sliding out of the sky? Of course we think our lives are out of balance nearly all the time. We think that way except for the split second every other year in which we feel–ahhhh!– okay.

So this work-life imbalance that we give such credence to is nothing other than the nature of human existence. It is what the Buddha termed in his First Noble Truth as “suffering.” Life is suffering. The word he used was dukkha, or unfulfillment.

Yes, we’re unfulfilled. Can’t be otherwise as long as we operate our lives in separation, in ignorance of reality. By that I mean operating from the egocentric mind, the dualistic mind, the mind of me that repeats over and over in hysterical crescendo “You, you over there! You’re driving me crazy! My job is driving me crazy! My kids are driving me crazy! My spouse is driving me crazy! And you, yes you, dear reader out there in readerland, you’re driving me crazy! All of you are asking too much of me!”

Because so little can be honestly said about how to fix this, this little syndrome that is nothing other than the eternal human condition, I boiled it all down to three little rules. Three rules to restore the balance you think you’ve lost.

3 Rules to Life Balance

1. There is no right way to do anything, only a right now way. Wherever we are, we think of someplace else. I should be over there. No, I should be back here. Here, there, here, there. What is the right thing to do? That kind of thinking is what really makes your head spin. Stop that. Be where you are. When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home. When driving, drive; eating, eat; sleeping, sleep. Get out of your head and tell me, right now, where’s the problem?

2. You have all the time you need for what’s important to you. What is most important? Whatever is right in front of you. Why? Because that’s the only thing that exists! In truth, you already have ample time for what is important to you. It just might surprise you to see what that is. What do you keep putting in front of yourself? Food? Drink? Computer? The average adult spends 28 hours a week watching TV. The average woman spends 8 years of her life shopping. These probably aren’t things that you would consciously set as your priorities, so consciously set your real priorities. And when you do, you’ll see that Rule 3 proves itself.

3. How you do anything is how you do everything. I borrow this from writer/teacher Cheri Huber, who paraphrased my main man Dogen: “If you find one thing wearisome, you will find everything wearisome.” Pay attention, be present, cultivate focus in one facet of your life and you will enjoy it in all facets of your life. Because an attentive person is an attentive person! A happy person is a happy person! A balanced person is a balanced person!

So strap on your shoes and dance.

I can only hope that I have less to say on this topic in the future.

Think (not)

Ode to Mindfulness (not)

Oh, how mindful I am!
Let me count the ways:
I think good thoughts
I think deep thoughts
I think about making things better
I think I’m grateful
I think I’m spiritual
I think I
I . . .
I . . .
Forget.*

*It’s not what you think, it’s what you don’t think.

Words fail

I can’t imagine. I won’t wonder. I don’t have to make up a thing.

Making childhood last

Sunday was Georgia’s 8th birthday. We had a costume party, a pageant of make-believe featuring her in the dual leads as both herself, coyly turning 8, and as Lucy Pevensie, regally self-possessed as the Queen of Narnia. For weeks, Georgia was lost in lustrous imaginings of this wish come true.

She is, at this cusp, the very best of all. Still sweetly a child pretending to be everything she is and could be, yet so nearly a tween. But then, being the best of all is what I’ve always found her to be; it’s what I’ve found each year, after the anguish of anticipation, under the opaque folds of doubt and uncertainty. Every year is the best year yet.

How I wish they would last! How I wish it all wasn’t so soon to pass. How well I know better.

It’s with that yearning, that wistful backward glance, that I offer this modest summary for your consideration.

5 Ways to Make Childhood Last

1. Wake up. Let your children wake you up. Better yet, let them drag you out of bed. How much of your life – how much of their lives – do you spend in this ceaseless struggle to get more sleep? Give up already. I promise you, one day too soon the house will grow empty. Then sleep will once more evade. Seize the day! Seize the night! This divine mission to bring us into full awareness of our lives is the reason your child has come. So crack a lid and get this party started. If you could just once see the exhilarating potential they wake to every day, you’d know why children don’t want to waste a minute to slumber.

2. Break the rules. Brownies for breakfast. Painting your hair. Jumping on the beds. Staying up late and missing school. Adventure! Daring! Build your house on rules, but then have the good sense to barrel right through them from time to time. Breaking rules brings your home to life. It brings you to life!

3. Get on the floor. For one hour a day, get down on the floor and surrender to play. Not play on your terms – where you choose the game, control the action, and make corrections – play on their terms. Set a kitchen timer to keep track. Your children need one hour of undistracted attention from you each day. The trouble is, we spend 16 hours avoiding it.

4. Hold hands. Kisses grow scarce. Cuddles are outgrown. Your scrumptious love bugs will soon be parceling out the affection in piddling doses. How then to keep close? Hold hands at every chance. It’s the last, best way to stay in touch. It’s practical, it’s intimate, it’s precious, and it’s the ageless sign of peaceful coexistence. And when your child finally lets go of your fingertips, you’ll know one thing for sure. All this time you thought you were guiding them forward, they were really leading you here. To the point of letting go.

5. Say it a million times over. I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re funny. Good idea! I like it. That’s perfect. Yes! You make me smile. I missed you. Good choice! I had fun with you today. I believe you. I’m glad to see you. Let’s play. Blow me a kiss. Sit on my lap. Let me tell you a story. Once there was a little girl who turned into a queen. Happy birthday Lucy! You can be anything and anyone you wish.

How I know she’s mine

When she went away for the weekend, she left her dolls a list of things to do.

Chores 
Make beds 
Make breakfast 
Get dressed 

The future calling

I m at the airp. I don’t want 2 leave at
all and I feel sick like I am gonna barf:-&
I wish we lived here sooooooo bad
I miss u and the Molly see u soon Love Georgia

About a month ago my 7-year-old picked up my cell phone and said, “Mommy can I text you?” and I said, “Honey, you don’t know how to text.” What I should have said is “I don’t know how to text,” because I was wrong about her. What do I know? Where have I been? About a month ago she was born and how she got this far already is completely beyond accounting. I look at her now, I look at her beauty, her freshness, her supreme inalterable isness and I’m weak with it still, helpless, humbled, awed by the immensity and inexpressibility of love.

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