Worth it

I made $318 on my garage sale on Saturday. All of it will go straight into my daughter’s savings account. Was it worth it?

I spent the better part of a week sorting out stuff, cleaning, hauling and pricing it. Was it worth it?

I spent $11 on a city license and $25 on a classified ad. Was it worth it?

I spent 30 minutes scraping petrified Elmo stickers off a hand-me-down Barbie SUV so I could sell it for $2. Was it worth it?

I spent 7 hours in 90 degree heat peddling piles of junk off the pavement. Was it worth it?

Of course it wasn’t worth it.

Is this man worth $252 million? Maybe today you think so.

Is this man even worth $400,000 a year? Hmmpf.

For that matter, is this woman really worth $260 million, no matter how much worthwhile work you might think she does?

Of course they aren’t worth it. Because nothing is worth it. Because worth doesn’t really exist. It’s just a figment. A fickle, fleeting, baseless phantasm of (usually) self-serving judgment. It’s an imaginary yardstick to measure the imaginary value of the imaginary differences between us. It’s one more way in which we separate ourselves, by a value judgment, from life as it is, from what we are.

Because there are no coincidences, today there was an article in the paper about a whole valley of impoverished millionaires, not one of them able to be satisfied, all of them blaming external circumstances for their relentless anxiety about not being worth enough. I’m afraid they’ll never find enough worth. They’ll never acquire satisfaction. It can’t be got.

That’s why all this talk about the worth of this versus that, child versus childless, working versus staying at home, work-life balance, the Mommy Wars (yeah, sure) and all the attitudes and platitudes about the various ways we live just wears me out. It’s simply another unwelcome invitation to kink up our wrinkles and knit up our britches, and that, dear readers, isn’t wor

Life in 10


My husband and daughter just left to spend a long weekend with my in-laws in the Midwest. Presiding over the morning hustle, prodding the motion along, I saw how clearly we are balanced on the brink, how surely life teeters up and then totters, ahem, in the other direction.

1. Did you choose your outfit?
2. Did you pack your suitcase?
3. Did you get dressed all by yourself?
4. Did you brush your teeth?
5. Did you make your bed, feed your pets, and wheel your own luggage to the car?
6. Did you remember to check in online?
7. Did you pay your last two driving tickets?
8. Did you get your new bifocals?
9. Did you pack your cholesterol pills?
10. After losing track, leaving late, doubling back, jumping the line and racing to the gate, did you get there on time?*

Of the three members in our little tribe, one is certainly on the ascent.

* Technically yes, but I don’t want to know the details.

Empty chair

Here’s a little charmer for you. This chair is up for grabs at my Saturday garage sale. My dad made it for Georgia when she was who knows how tiny. Dad is gone now. Georgia is no longer what you’d call tiny.

This is the kind of thing that many people carry along much farther than my towrope goes. And I know why. Just looking at it catches my breath. So much sentiment. In truth, far more sentiment than you can use. Dad was the kind of fellow who liked to tinker with the idea of family. He carved and tinkered and sanded and polished with the idea of us all, at his workbench 1,000 miles away, and then the two times a year he caught sight of us, he scowled over a crossword in his lounger until we went away again. I don’t fault him. I know too well the feeling.

So the chair came by parcel post, with an urgent letter before and an impatient phone call after, long before Georgia was old enough to sit in it. Oh later, I’m sure, she sat in it for a bit, but never for as long as we all held onto the idea of her sitting, the sweet, imagined picture of her sitting in a chair handmade by her grandpa. Her dolls have been sitting in it since.

This morning I picked it up and put it in the garage and snapped this picture on the way. I remembered a story about another empty chair.

When I was 16 I asked for a chair for my birthday. A little white rattan chair. Thirty-five years later I wonder just what kind of teenage girl I was, asking for a chair on my 16th birthday? (Oh yes, I was me. Of course I was looking for a place to sit.)

In my cramped family and my crowded house, I asked for my own place to perch, and I got it. That chair then followed me into dorm rooms and apartments, into my first marriage and its three successively larger houses where no one ever occupied it anymore. When all the reasons to keep that life going got up and left, I emptied the big house on Avalon Drive. I had a big garage sale and put the little chair out front. That day, a man paid me in crumpled bills, then hoisted the chair over his shoulder, and rode off with it on a bicycle! I watched it go, certain that by that evening, someone would be sitting in the little chair once more. I felt good, the best I’d felt in a very long time.

Like all ritual, all ceremony, the weeks you prepare for a garage sale deliver the real goods. When you open the closet doors, dive into the jumbled drawers, and stare down the gritty shelves; when you see the dust that you live with, it reminds you that all is dust.

Soon, some little one will sit in this chair. My heart brims with the good of it.

Work food


With endless respect for those who must truly work for food, these are the words that came to me over the last week as I was away at a meditation retreat. Will work for food.

I think this is the kind of work that we most yearn for: the work that gratifies in the most immediate and essential way. The vital work of life, deep beneath and beyond the piffling stuff of livelihood.

That is the kind of work we do on a cushion, sitting for eight hours a day, at dawn and on through the dark, sitting in our sweat and tears, past boredom and pain, through fatigue and frustration, long past quitting time until time itself quits. We sit and sit and sit and grind away at the rock wall in our head and when a bell rings we eat. We work and we eat. The work is never easy. The food is never better. When the night falls, the day is so completely done. Not one hunger remains.

And although we call this a retreat, it is not the retreat we would choose if we could, once again, vacate our lives for a fleeting pass at pleasure. It is a real job, and like every real job I’ve got, it is damn difficult.

But the one here at home is the most difficult of all. Taking all that hard-won ease off the cushion and back into the cluttered kitchen. Past the laundry hampers. Down the list on the refrigerator. Perhaps that is why, after a half-day at home, my daughter tugged at me and said, “Mommy, it seems like you left all your happiness at the Zen Center.”

Honk. Honk.

Mommy’s home, this time Mommy’s really home, where she works for food. And the food here is what she loves most of all, Georgia, because it is love. Pinky promise.

And pass the pudding to Barbara Karkabi at the Houston Chronicle, who filed this profile while I was off in the trenches. You can see she got the “juggling” part right.

Whole

The sound you hear for the next nine days is the sound of my silence.

Take very good care of yourselves.

With love I leave you,
Maezen

Photo courtesy of the Great Plumbing Excavation of Summer 2007.

Carry a tune

I sang my songs again and again until a long time later I realized I had forgotten the words. By then, she began singing.

– Momma Zen, Chapter 6 “Sing Song”

Please vote for your favorite name for the new girl band fronted by you know who.



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.

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