One mother


The aptly named Maya, from her fresh perspective in Buenos Aires, has posted this interview, reminding me once again that this is one beautiful world.

I’ll keep trying to see it this way.

Deadhead

We’ve lived in this house for 10 years this month. Ten years: it’s time to either torch it or have a garage sale. And so I am on a tear. I am tearing through the closets and drawers, under beds, behind shelves and beneath the tidy veneer of a life seemingly well-scrubbed. Scouring through the books and nooks, the outgrown everything, the forgotten extras, the dusty yesterdays, the once-cherished sentiments, but mainly, the toys toys toys toys toys.

Nothing quite like this time of year for feeling the full-on urge to purge. It always comes this time of year for me. Does it for you?

One week from now I leave home for a full seven days’ retreat at my temple, the culmination of our summer practice period. That kind of time away might seem radical, but it is so terribly, urgently, critical to our home that mommy go away at least a few times a year and, as they say, “de-clutter.” I find it curious that the term is suddenly all the rage. De-clutter is so, well, antiseptic when what you really mean is “decapitate.”

Recently I recovered the notepad I kept with me last summer before I left for retreat, and I read the words that fled from my head back then:

I found myself in the flower beds again this morning. From my office window, from the computer chair where in more ways than one I watch my life flicker past, it came to me yesterday: I must deadhead the dianthus before I go to retreat. Suddenly I’m struck by the perfect dharma words in the garden, where the dianthus wilt, their blooms withered into straw, waiting to be deadheaded. Deadhead: to cut the faded bloom from the stem so it will flower again. It’s always time to deadhead.

Off with it!

Who’s counting

Miles flown: 4,400
Set of car keys lost: 1
Admission to two Disney theme parks: $390
Thunderstorms sending us running into gift shops: 8
Profit margin on a $24 Disney t-shirt: $23.92
Investment in Florida tollroads: $18.50
Credit cards lost: 1
Cell phones broken: 1
Credit cards found: 1
Cell phones replaced: 1
Conch fritters consumed: 32
Mysterious cases of skin rash, eye infection, diarrhea and bug bites: 5
Airfare increase to shorten vacation by one day: $300
Return flight delay and rerouting through Denver: 3.5 hours
Only difference between us and the other LA family coming home yesterday: $32.5 million over five years, for starters
Newfound appreciation for emptying 3 suitcases,
sorting 1 ft. stack of mail, doing 6 loads of laundry, scooping 3 pounds of dog poop, vacuuming 2 bags of dog hair, cleaning 2 fish tanks, returning 3 library books and buying $162.78 of groceries, all in one day: Priceless

Close, but

No cigar.

The rocket launch was postponed even before we landed, postponed again, then scrubbed altogether within 24 hours of our arrival. There are no guarantees in this business, the saying was too-easily said, over and over, escalating the injury as we shuffled about in the suffocating heat, the unstinting sun, the sweltering steam of an angry thunderburst that soaked through our clothes and drenched the flimsy shreds of our status as VIPs at a nonevent.

This was no place we’d ever choose to end up, my husband and I agreed, as we drove back and forth over endless, featureless highways across a low landscape, past screaming pink bodacious surf shops and greasy diners plating heaping helpings of fried unimaginables.

And then I found my way over the waters and off the main strip. I nosed down a quiet road to a country church on a Sunday morn and found the marvel that is my lineage. I found a group of strangers who keep alive – in the cool stillness of a near-empty room – the simple truth that was my teacher’s. I see the stray exotic bloom that is the fruit of his life; the harvest of his days. I feel faith renewed and upheld, the faith that is so rarely seen and only subtly discerned. I gave a talk about detaching from outcome. As if I could.

Then today came, easy and slow. This isn’t quite the place I thought. It’s a place of gentle swells and rippling breeze. Where the land sinks, the sky falls, the fronds sway and the manatees loll. This is the peace that is found anywhere when you finally go on vacation, when you leave the confines of mind behind. This is the calm that prevails, my friends, when you are lucky enough to have no ignition.

Shoot the moon


Tomorrow we leave on a family vacation. Georgia and I fly to meet my husband at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It will be momentous for several reasons. One, we will all be together. Two, we will (fingers crossed) watch the fruit of my husband’s labor launch into unknown worlds. And three, afterwards we will do what all national heroes do.

Amid all this, the good Zen folks in Cocoa, Florida have invited me to come over on Sunday morning and talk.

And because of all that, it seems a good time to speak a word about a topic that for me is downright unspeakable. Since some people think I have something to say about “Zen parenting” (not that I do) they naturally want to press me for some advice on “Zen marriage.”

Gag.

I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know about marriage. I can’t tell you anything you don’t know about relationship. Except perhaps this: true relationship is not based on desire or feeling, not on dreams or goals, but on proximity. And it seems few marriages have very much of that these days. No one is in the same place at the same time.

Discovering unknown worlds requires my husband to travel about 50 percent of the time. Since I’m exaggerating, I shouldn’t be so stingy. Make that 60 percent. To me, it seems that everything happens during that margin: things break, babies fall, fevers rise, tires blow out, bronchitis thickens into world-class pneumonia, a little girl grows up. The known world keeps going. Sometimes, my husband comes home to a resentment so chilling, so deep, that it takes days for me to see clearly. Not that we have days.

He is not a religious sort, not a spiritual kind, but rather sentimental and secretly superstitious. No matter what hour of night he lands at LAX, no matter how staggering his exhaustion through multiple time zones, he always stops on the way home at a funky landmark called Randy’s Donuts near the airport and buys two: a frosted, sprinkled kind for Georgia and a plain cake one for me. Mind you, this is usually about 10 or 11 at night that he does this, after 8 or 12 hours of travel. Gone 7 days and he takes the time to stop for a stupid donut? This is me, stiff and brittle, screeching silently into my pillow as he tiptoes into the darkened house.

For all the lessons my daughter gives me in open-heartedness, in acceptance, my husband gives me more.

And so, tomorrow, all his outer searching and all of my inner searching comes together in the most ordinary way. Orlando. And on this eve, I realize that perhaps he is a hero after all. Not for managing forays to faraway planets and stars, but for managing to return, again and again, to an even more foreign and hostile place. For coming home, over and over, to a new and dangerous world – our house – with nothing more than a donut.

Which, in the end, I always eat.

Mummy may I?


Yes, you may.

One hand clapping


Wendy, meet Shawn. Shawn, meet Wendy. Everyone else, meet yourselves.

In the inexplicable synchronicity that governs all cheerios on this road, two of my main mommas have elected to post interviews of me today. This perfectly curious incident comes just when I need it most: when I lose sight of the only thing that matters. The bottom line. The end-all. The whole of it. We’re all one and the same.

Oh I know we’re different. Wendy is an artist and mother of Satch, the heart snatcher. Shawn is a writer and wrangler of the uber twins, Jadyn and Liana. But read their blogs–read anyone’s– and see that we have the same desires, the same dilemmas, the same questions, the same aspirations, the same fears, the same tears. We have the same chaotic days, the same tortured nights, the same achy breaky heart, and the same boundless mind that contains every little thing.

Today, of all days, let them prove to you that we have one life. I’m going to keep telling you that, even though it is pert near impossible to believe. It doesn’t matter if you believe it. One click and you’ll see for yourself.

In deep gassho.

Yummy scrummy


Enough about me. I’m going to write about somebody else writing about me.

About a month ago I happened upon this essay by Dan Barden entitled “No More Aching to be an Artist” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers magazine. I’m not qualified for either of those job descriptions so I’d never read the magazine before, but I found it on the rack at Borders. I flipped through the first pages until I found . . . ME. This guy, a real writer, a real writing teacher, wrote about ME.

Well, enough about him.

All ye who twizzle yourselves between parenting and some “other” creative endeavor, read Dan’s story as a treat. And know that sometime, without the slightest wish or warning, out of the wild blue goodness, somebody can come forward and hand you a yummy scrummy.

Leaking away


The sound you hear is the sound of my level head drip, drip, dripping away. It has puddled in a spreading pool on the patio. It is seeping up from underneath the parquet floor. It has muddled into the unmistakable morass of a household catastrophe. It shouts SLAB LEAK.

Two little words, and with it, walls crumble.

For those of you with the incredible good fortune to have a life other than mine, this means that when the house was built, they put galvanized steel plumbing pipes into the concrete foundation. A good recipe for ruining my day sixty years later.

I am staring into the undernethers of a total household re-plumbing job, and I am doing it alone.

It started months ago as an inch-wide water stain in the corner of the dining room. No big deal. I moved the furniture to cover it up. No big deal. Then it spread into a creeping shape the size of Afghanistan. No big deal. Then it started to seep out from the foundation and lounge all day and night in a wet spot on the patio. No big deal. Then the plumber came and told me to sell my firstborn. No big deal. Then he said it would take five days to fix and wouldn’t include repairing the gashes in the walls or bathroom tile. No big deal. Then I remembered relatives are coming to visit next week.

No big deal, my husband says. It can wait. He says this from a secured, undisclosed, undisturbed location out of town. The relatives coming are his.

The sound you hear is the sound of my dying hope of rescue, my fleeting wish for a different ending, my sweet dream of salvation, leaking away. I’m calling the plumber and getting started today.

Enough already


My life is one continuous mistake – Dogen Zenji

This is a picture of the season’s first water lily from my backyard pond. It seems ubiquitous, doesn’t it? A pond and a water lily? You never see one without the other. In truth, a water lily blooms only in the full sun of summer. Specifically, it only blooms under the shadowless midday, high-heat summer sun. That means it blooms for way less than half a day during way less than half a year. Its bloom is so rare, as a matter of fact, that I had to hold up this post until I could actually get a photograph of any one of our two dozen water lilies in bloom.

Now, would you call that bloom rate a success or a failure as far as flowers go? Would you call it a mistake? A half-measure? A near-miss? A critical success but a marketing failure?

If it were anything other than a water lily, say if it was your life’s work, or your life, you probably would judge it. I know I would, and I do. By output, uptake, download, click through, sales rate, tally mark; by any weight or number, my life is one continuous mistake. This is the burden I bear as I write this; this is the atlas unshrugged.

My life is one continuous.

Several weeks ago I started this blog, just as several years ago I started to write. I started both of these things as I know all writers do: for themselves, or more precisely, for itself. We, most of us writers, write for its own sake. We write because we must, because it is what we do. The words come from someplace else. We are merely the conveyers. We don’t quite manufacture, but rather more accurately, supply our product, like the ice cream man, or the Tupperware lady. The ideas, the inventories, build up, and then we take them to the streets and sound a tinkling tune; we put on a little word party and invite readers into our own home. Of course, there are hardly any ice cream men or Tupperware ladies left anymore. More failing propositions.

I started writing this for myself, and now I am chased once more by the numbers. I look around and see other writers, other bloggers, more skilled, I daresay even expert at the tags and the rankings, the rings and the pings, the views, the ticket-taking, and the turnstile. And then I catch myself. This post is my way of catching myself from falling that way again. Falling into my judging, measuring and weighing mind, my discursive, ego-screaming mind where nothing ever blooms enough.

My life is one.

Look at the water lily!

Hand wash cold

I recently ordered a set of samue. Samue is a style of street clothing for Zen monks. This tiny piece of printed rice paper came tucked into the garment. I have no idea what it says, and for that very reason, I find it quite charming.

I imagine it could be laundry instructions. Maybe it says “Inspected by No. 12.”

It reminds me that, with only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.

Sit down


You might have to sit down for this. I’m going to take up the question I’m asked most.

How do I teach my child to meditate?

You might have to sit down because of the question I’m asked least.

How do I meditate?

Everywhere I look I see people – well-meaning, helpful, good-hearted people – trying to get kids to be still, be quiet, slow down and pay attention. What a noble and mostly, lost cause. Still, it’s got to be worth the effort, particularly in light of how far we’ve let things get out of hand. Another day of TV, another night of TV, another video game, another trip to the electronics superstore, another this, another that. Our kids are disordered, addicted, adrift. We turn our backs for what seems like a minute and a whole generation is lost.

So I have to wonder. When people ask how to teach their children to meditate, are they really asking, “How do I get my child to stop bothering me?” If so, then it’s easy. We already know how to do it, and we do it far too much already.

If the question really is, “How do I teach my child to meditate?” then the answer is easier still.

Sit down for this. Just sit down.

What’s not there


Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there – Miles Davis

Today is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 74.

Yesterday I was sorting stacks of Georgia’s drawings and cards from the very beginning, settling on a new round of keepers, and I found some letters Mom sent in her last year.

We received Karen’s letter today, so I thought I would send a quick reply.

She was a letter writer, a dutiful letter writer. She did this with the diligence of stenography, the now archaic art, which was one of her perfected disciplines. She documented things unarguably well.

Dad and I went out and ate Mexican food on Wednesday night.

Sometimes my sisters and I giggled about the chronography of her letters: the litany of meals and miles, temperatures and rainfalls.

On Thursday, the 11th, I have another chemotherapy. I can expect aftereffects.

She did not adorn; she did not dwell. She did not linger over the things that can never be expressed.

I include some pictures.

They were snapshots of the baby shower her friends had hosted after Georgia’s birth, a treat to sweeten her numbered days.

They aren’t very clear. I thought I would include them so you can share the experience with me.

Oh how I do. How I still do!

She remains my first and last teacher. Everything she never said grows clearer all the time.

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