Monday, April 30, 2012

This Is Not My Beautiful Life

In the summer of 2001, I met the man I didn't marry. I was just barely twenty and away from home with a friend, a city girl transplanted from the arid plains of Colorado and dropped in the sweltering humidity of rural Michigan in August. It was Amish country. When we could muster the energy, between lemonades and naps in the drowsy heat, to go for the mail or shout down the road to the neighboring farm, we'd see them rolling by in their carriages—sad, scrawny broke down horses, heads hung, leather reins clutched in the hands of men wearing round black hats from another time. They never looked at us.

We'd flown in for an O-Town concert. Too old to be chasing boy bands around the country and on top of that, we'd picked the lamest one. We'd missed Backstreet and N*Sync and I suppose we wanted to catch the tail-end of a fad when we still could. We were products of our Lutheran High School, held apart from the world, told we were above it. As a result, we were a little behind on everything. We'd worn shapeless Old Navy t-shirts and clunky white shoes all through high school. We'd take pints of ice cream to the magazine aisle and sit by the racks, browsing Teen Beat and eating Cherry Garcia, spitting out the cherries. We drove by our friend's house, honking the horn. We watched American Pie and cried when it showed us that boys were everything we'd always feared they could be.

Leila's family was from this strange, forgotten part of the country, like nothing I'd ever seen. Green rolling farmland stretching for miles, creaky old farmhouses, thick, impenetrable abandoned forests.  We were staying with Leila's grandmother, Leila's cousins lived in the nearest farmhouse, about fifty yards down on the other side of the dirt road. Her grandmother had given us the attic bedroom, up a stretch of stairs so narrow and steep I never once climbed them without clutching the rails. There were cobwebs around the drain in the sink, dried little gnat bodies suspended in old dust. The pipes creaked. For the first few seconds, the water always ran brown.

 I don't remember exactly when I met him. I think really it started the night we asked him to build us a bonfire next to the trampoline. We'd spent the day floating down the lazy river in black inner tubes. We thought it was a common enough recreation, but as the stream had meandered through back yards, people watching us perplexed from their back patios, we'd wondered. In the late afternoon we arrived, wet and dripping, back at the old farm house. We'd tied bandanas in our hair. Now the picture makes me laugh. I think we look like Friends of Ellen. For the life of me, I cannot remember how we thought we looked, except cool and hard and everything we weren't. There were fireflies in the red soaking light and goosebumps on my pale skin. We asked him to build us a bonfire, and he agreed.

We stood around the fire in the starry Michigan dark. He had to rise early for work the next morning but he stayed up with us. He still lived with his parents, it wasn't uncommon in farm country. He earned money and on the weekends he helped with the farm. He told us about castrating pigs. Our city indignance baffled him. How cruel, we cried, how sad, and he looked at us in honest confusion. Farm pigs must be castrated. So it had always been. As soon as the sun went down, the humidity on our skin left us chilled and shivering. Leila and I fell asleep, damp, on the trampoline. When we woke in the misty dawn, the sun pink through all that moisture banked over the cornfields, there was a blanket over us. We snuck back down the road to Leila's grandmother's house, bleary-eyed and possibly barefoot. He was gone.

That weekend he agreed to take us out on his boat. Most of the boys I'd met until this point hadn't been nice to me. I don't know why. In high school, boys ignored me, at best.(I count myself lucky for this now but at the time, it was devastating). The college guys I'd fallen in with were partiers and treated me as a circus rarity they'd developed a strange affection for. They'd cajole me light-heartedly to drink, to smoke, to do things I swore I wouldn't do. I was still under the spell of my upbringing, still equated normal college-aged behavior with the evils of the world. I still thought I was better than some people for the things I wouldn't do.

But he was different. He was relaxed and kind. He didn't speak much, he took our teasing with a slow, warm smile. I don't remember much about that day on the lake, only that it happened, and it was good. I have a picture he took of the two of us, me and Leila. I've got one arm over the wheel and one around Leila's shoulders. In pictures with other women, I always ended up looking like their boyfriends. There are still some feminine nuances I don't understand.

On our last night there, we piled into his Jeep. I rode in the back with him. By this point we were holding each other's gazes too long and I was looking up from beneath my lashes. You know the look. Leila and I fell into the role, adopted the personas of country girls, the highlight of our week a trip down dirt roads in the back of a Jeep, a hot summer evening, the wind in our hair, into town for French fries at the Hot & Now. I remember he was wearing a black baseball cap. His skin was tanned and rough with stubble. He touched my hip as I lit from the Jeep. I kissed him on the cheek.

The trip ended, I returned home to Colorado. He and I stayed up late, holding bashful conversations over the phone. Plans were made for him to visit me. I have a mind that spins wild fantasies quickly, before I can stop them. I saw myself back in the white farm house, overlooking the green fields, the buggy air and the evenings on the gators, by the fire. I ignored the insistent doubts in my heart and imagined a life for myself that involved tractors and pig castration and Amish people.

The day he was booked to fly in to see me was September 12, 2001.

I can't remember if classes were in session that day. I think they were. I do remember that campus was far quieter than usual. I remember walking across the green to the building where many of my English classes were held, my Jansport sweaty on my back. I was on my new cell phone with him. He was sitting at the Sturgis airport, just in case flights started going out. They didn't. He went back to the airport the next day. No flights went out the 13th, either.

In the days that followed, we got to know each other better over the phone. What can I say? I was a feminist, a budding liberal, a college girl writing papers on bell hooks and Claudia Card. I was too young yet to understand my own nature: a lone-wolf who needed emotional wide open spaces, a dreamy heart and precious little pragmatism. He was a Midwestern farm boy, salt of the earth, hard-working and family-oriented, a builder of bonfires, castrator of pigs. I know clearly the moment things between us fell apart. For some reason, it was important to him that a wife would sit and watch the basketball game with him, not because she loved basketball, but because she loved him. I told him I would do no such thing, all my sensibilities piqued. We bid each other a terse goodbye. We never spoke again.

Just two or three weeks later, I would meet a boy who had a J.R.R. Tolkein tattoo and feminist leanings of his own. Who kept a picture of his three fierce-looking sisters in his wallet. Who would call our house and leave silly messages for my roommate's dog and who would, unbelievably, be attracted to my rougher edges. Just under one year later, I would marry him.

When things first ended with Leila's cousin, I was devastated. I'd never had a serious boyfriend, I thought something was terribly flawed in me and that I would never be loved. At nineteen, it seemed the world brought good things to everyone, but not to me.

What I feel now is lucky. To have come so close. To have danced with, and then escaped, a fate that wasn't mine.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Milk and Honey

Things That Are Contagious:

1) Bees

Our landlord came over the other day with some college guys to aerate the lawn and get flustered because we use our back gate as a gate (apparently the hinged, swinging gate was intended to be more of a wall). A thought occurred to me and I said "You're not going to fertilize, are you?" The bees weren't there yet, but I know now that chemicals are killing off the bees and I didn't want them on my lawn. The landlord ignored me but the college boys took pity on me, a young and attractive and buxom housewife (just go with me, here, ok? It's been a week) and said they didn't have to, no. The landlord was mad that crab grass had overrun the front yard, which honestly confused me: what the hell were we supposed to do about it? I may not know anything about lawn care. Anyway, he argued that he'd have to put chemicals on the front yard, Noah and I exchanged heated words in our kitchen, Noah went back out to firmly ask the Lord of Land not to unleash a chemical holocaust upon our lawn, and he grudgingly acquiesced.

Since I posted about the bees on Tuesday, lots of people have emailed or texted or pulled me aside to ask about the bees and almost all of them tell me that they want to keep bees, too. I think this is wonderful. I have a dream of a beehive in every backyard and honey in every home. It occurred to me that if everyone did keep bees, maybe everyone, even the Chem Green fanatics, would finally see the dangers of pesticides and herbicides (a good sign that something is bad is if it has the root word 'cide' in it) and Round Up and stand up to their Lords of Land and HOA's, and maybe the bees and the cows and goats would thrive, the flowers would grow, and we would recreate the land of milk and honey.

2) Doubt

I felt bad after I posted about my doubtful slump last week. I had put something out there that wasn't helpful to others. Later that week, Blood Sister A and I had a conversation along the same demoralized lines of that blog, and I only know that it got us nowhere. I have hopeful thoughts to write, but I'm not ready to, yet. For now, suffice it to say I have doubts about the usefulness of doubts. All they've done is knocked me into a slump, which may be part of the natural rhythms of life, but it isn't best practices to encourage these doubts, or to voice them, or maybe to even hear them. I've done a lot of work the last few years at stopping certain negative tracks that I am given to playing on repeat in my mind, and I think these doubts may need to be added to the list of things my mind say that aren't true.

 I'm sorry if my doubt caused similar doubts in you. I want to try to offer more encouragement and hope. Maybe everyone can try, and maybe, like the bees, we can support one another's work and create a new community for artists, a happy hive. One that doesn't rate our work on how much money it can earn, press it can drum up, or copies it can sell. Maybe we can create a new place that has room and love for everyone's gifts, and maybe we can forge new ground. Milk and honey for the bees and for our souls. Let's do this together. Ok?

3)Bad Moods

Noah came home from work this morning while I was getting the girls ready for school. His shift started at 3 am, he was home to make some lunch before eight in the morning. I was not my best self. If I was Oprah, Gale would be shouting that I had lost my pleasing personality (really I love this coping strategy of theirs). Noah was in a good mood, but I was stressed and useless and feeling pathetic. I don't see my husband much these days, and my moodiness lasted the entirety of his visit. The opportunity to have a moment of peace and love, of complicity between us, was lost.

I have dreamed a hopeful vision for the bees, and for the artists who really, are so much like the bees, working and working all our lives to produce scant spoons of precious golden honey, so let me dream a vision for my husband and I: we can get ourselves out of this rut, this stretched-thin place. We can have Saturday mornings together again, and picnics in the sun. I will pack blankets and chocolate cake into the trunk and when my husband leaves before dawn and returns to me, sleepy and messy-haired in the morning light, offering a simple espresso, or a fresh-mown lawn or a breakfast of cantaloupe, I will sigh content and together, we will adore.

But, I swear it guys, one day we're going to do this in Paris.

So, J'adore.

PS: Let's be facebook friends, ok? I deleted my high school principal (weird) and I want to add you. Out with the old, in with the new.

(if there's a better way to link to my facebook profile, I don't know it).

(After posting, this quote found me:

Doubt Not, Go Forward--If though doubt'st, The Beasts will tear thee piecemeal. ~ Tennyson)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bee More Cool

On Friday afternoon, I picked up this lovely package of three to four thousand Italian honey bees. They'd had a long journey, driven out from California, where a centuries old family-run farm raises bees and separates them into these packages for beekeepers. The bees are huddled around a coffee can of sugar syrup, and also around their queen, who is in her own little queen cage, hanging from the top. She can't reach the syrup, but--don't worry! The bees will feed her and keep her cool.

I was so excited to get them into their hive that I baffled the girls' teachers by pulling them out of school an hour early because "the bees are here". The girls were fascinated and not too scared. Here's Indy, spraying the bees with a mist of sugar water. It calms them down and gives them something to do. By the time I got the bees home, they were resounding a pretty loud hum. After being misted, they went quiet and busied themselves, happily cleaning the sugar syrup off one another.

And here's me, so proud of these little beauties! Beekeepers call these Italian babies (package bees are young bees) "the blondes", because they are so lovely and yellow. More on that in a minute.

I was determined to do the whole thing without a veil, because I'm hardcore (don't say 'or stupid').  So here I go, prying the sugar can out and getting ready to shake the girls into their new home.

Well. The moment I got that feed can out, there were bees everywhere, even though I'd blocked the entrance. They were buzzing quite loudly. Since I had done this before, you know, never, I wasn't sure if I was hearing industrious buzzing or "We would like to kill you now" buzzing. I like to think they just didn't know me yet. Also I want to add that it is difficult to grasp the meaning of FOUR THOUSAND bees until they are buzzing about your head and covering your back. So I went and donned my veil. Later I would realize that one bee was in my veil with me. But she didn't mind.

 Here I am shaking the bees into the hive. You just take the package and knock it once on the ground so the bees fall to the bottom. Then you turn it upside down and shake them out, Florence style (somebody stop me). They fall out like raisins. They are very docile at this point.

But alas! Before you can shake out the bees, you must remove the queen. Here she is surrounded by bees in her cage. Although my babies are Italians, the queen is a Carniolan. Carniolan bees are better suited for our climate. They cut back on brood-rearing in the early fall, so there are fewer bees that have to be fed over winter. Italian bees do better in warmer climes and raise brood late into the fall. They're not impossible to keep here, but more difficult for a novice such as myself. Unfortunately, the Carniolans lack the pretty yellow color. They are dark grayish-black. In a month or so, all my blonde beauties will die off (summer bees live about six weeks only) and and I'll have a hive of Carniolans. Like any mother, I worry that I might love my prettier babies more. (Don't tell the Carnies).

This is what a hive full of four thousand bees looks like. The ziploc in there is a syrup feeder. It's a good idea to feed new bees because they don't even have any comb drawn yet, let alone bee bread (a sort of enzyme-treated pollen) or honey.

The queen cage, with Queen Carnie. Sorry you can't see her, husband had a camera, no veil, and might have been feeling too edgy for a close-up.

The girls checking out the queen. That is sugar syrup spilled down my trousers, lest you think I wet myself in terror. One bee landed on the spot and hung out happily for awhile.

The queen's cage comes with a cork in the bottom. I popped the cork out and replaced it with a marshmallow, then hung it in the hive between two top bars. This ensures that the queen won't fly off, and makes the bees less likely to abscond, as they won't leave their queen. (Such loyalists!)

On Sunday, the second day after installing the package, I went in to remove the queen cage. I used my veil and it's a good thing, as the bees covered my arms and back and were in no hurry to leave (when I was done, I had to sit in the yard for about ten minutes, waiting for them to buzz back to the hive.) The bees had eaten the marshmallow and freed their queen. I was shocked to see they'd already begun drawing comb on three bars. Sadly, they had started attaching comb to the queen cage and I knocked a hand-sized portion of it down when I removed the cage. I felt terrible. The bees had worked so hard for that beautiful comb. Luckily Ayla was there to remind me that this was my first time, and it was ok to make mistakes. 

 Aren't they gorgeous? Yesterday afternoon I was watching the hive and noticed the bees were coming in with bright yellow and orange pollen packed in their pollen baskets, little compartments on their back legs. The pollen looks like cheery saddlebags.

I'm so proud of them. And I haven't been stung once. All beekeepers get stung eventually, but honey bees really are very gentle as long as they aren't experiencing a nectar or honey dearth.

Love from the hive,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Before We Turn To Stone

"A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time." Stephen Cope

Last week
I spent two days in the hospital with my grandmother as she was dying.

Not so much time, really, but when you are in a room with a dying person--their labored, halted breath, their far-away eyes--time passes differently.

My emotions were cycling.

From tears to happiness to one moment of red-faced, gasping laughter in the hallway of the oncology ward with my sister

tears streaming down our faces as we let out explosive, inappropriate laughter.

After the second night, I arrived home late and I was so exquisitely grateful. So grateful to fall bone-tired into my soft bed at the end of a long day, knowing I would rise from it in the morning.

So grateful that morning to step into a hot shower, for the gift of movement in my limbs, the gift of water on my skin, the feeling of my own fingers massaging bright minty body wash into my sunny, freckled arms. My strength, my egregious vitality, my freedom to do as I willed:

to walk to the window and gaze out at the lilacs

to brew a scalding coffee and sweeten it with cream

to sit on the patio, feel the sun on my face, smell the sweet and dusty florals in the air

all things the dying cannot do.

On Saturday morning I sat up in bed, not weary at the thought of a day alone with the girls but with such lightness in my chest, such apple happiness. I rose from bed smiling, the thought in my mind that I couldn't wait to walk down the hall and see them, sleepy in the sun. My beautiful, beautiful daughters.

We spent some time talking to the hospice nurses.

These women (they are almost exclusively women) who care for the dying in their final days say the most fascinating things.

One of them told us she believes a certain agreement must be made

that the spirit of the dying must soften, and open,

(this is how they bloom, the flowers)

and say yes

yes, now I will go on.

In those few days I felt softer

like fluttering petals in my beating heart

as if all my membranes had thinned and agreed to allow all the light and all the stunning beauty of this world to stream in

morning light through crimson glass

which means letting in all the love, and all the pain as well.

Sometimes I fight so terribly with my daughters.

Sometimes I get annoyed with people who believe differently than me.

Sometimes when another person is soft, I want to reach across and place my hand over their mouth

can I bear, to see this part of you

and ask them not to be so vulnerable

not to expose us both for bruising.

And I wonder if learning to love is like this:

teaching the heart to stay open to invasions and pain

asking it to say yes, again and again, to the spirits of others.

By doing this, do we finally learn

that no one can hurt us the way we feared they can?

I don't know if it's all right to say this but lately I think

that the dying of old ones is a gift.

By witnessing their journey

their agreement

to open in all the soft, fluttering places, and let go

they teach those of us who remain

that there is not one moment on this earth that isn't precious

I stirred rosemary and garlic into aromatics and I nearly wept.

Until we see the dying, can we know how to truly live?

I want to know how you learned to love.

I know it is too much to ask.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Everything Is Illuminated

Last week I went in to Bookstore to turn in an application. I went kicking and screaming, against my own will, because--spoiler alert!--I don't want to go back to work. (Work away from home, whatever, you get my drift). I happened to get the manager. I mentioned that I had worked at Other Bookstore before and we had a chat. We had common acquaintances and co-workers, all good omens and signs. He gave me a sort of impromptu interview. Hours later, I was summoned for a real interview. Everything was swimming along just swimmingly. They needed someone to shelve books--my favorite thing, no joke--during the exact hours I wanted to work. Let me say: I present well in interviews, or at least, I think I do. I've never gone to an interview and not been offered a job. At first, I didn't entirely want the job, but by the interview's end, I did. I started to want it very badly. I want Noah to not have to work weekends anymore. He often works twelve or fourteen days in a row with no day off, did you know? He's getting tired.

Then a week passed and I was not offered a job. Instead I got a postcard informing me thatunfortunately Bookstore does not have a position to meet my qualifications at this time. I would like to blame the fact that I asked for an hourly pay rate that was above minimum wage.We pay our employees seven-fifty* an hour, they informed me. If I'd had coffee in my mouth, I wouldn't have spit it at them. I'd have taken my mug, walked across the room, and poured it over their heads. Seven dollars and fifty cents an hour. I'm not in prison. I am not sixteen. Neither is anyone who works there, how the hell do they do it? Full disclosure: I told them I could not work for less than $8.50 (I shame myself. It's a low stress job, ok? I'd asked for $9.50 on my app and they'd offered me bird seed, I had to capitulate some). I like to think this is why they didn't hire me. That or they had some friend apply. I hope you enjoy your seven bucks an hour, supervisor's bestie. I am unemployed but if we meet for coffee, it'll be my treat.

This is Bookstore we're talking about, and I did describe a time when I provided excellent customer service, so that might be what did me in.

Anyway, we had, in our minds, counted tiny chickens before they were worth more per hour than a 30-year-old freelance writer with a Bachelor's Degree and a passion for the job. I was bummed, and Noah was disappointed though valiant about it, all Mr. Fitzwilliams or whatever, saying "now now" and "there there" and "hail-fellow-well-met" and all that.

But we were discussing it after dinner, putting away the dishes and drinking free company beer and wondering what we are going to do now. And I realized that I still have this stupid idea that one day everything is going to work out. I thought I had moved beyond this fantasy after my financially disastrous 20's, but no. Despite all insurmountable evidence to the contrary, some stupid bird in my heart keeps chirping that one day, it will all come together. One day good fortune will smile and everything will be illuminated and my life will shine like sunny spots and copper pennies.

And I wonder when I'm going to wise up.

I'm not speaking out of depression or bitterness here, I'm just starting to wonder when brainless optimism runs its course. The ship does not always come in. Most people work very hard all their lives and I don't know why I think so highly of myself. Why I think I'll be the one to sell the book, strike the gold, win the millions, so to speak. Why should my ship come in when so very many ships don't? I'm not talking about Bookstore job, that is not a ship, but these dreams I have of making money off my writing. Of the two of us somehow making enough money to maybe keep some chickens and travel to Europe without me having to sell my soul to an office job. There are so very many writers who don't make money, and I don't know but these days I feel silly and stupid and gauche, pressing on with these ridiculous delusions about myself, the dreams of Paris and Spain, of book deals and raises, this idea that if I keep following my dreams one day I will catch them.

Don't worry. This is just a place I land sometimes. I probably won't be here tomorrow, but here I am today.

*corrections made to reflect Bookstore's actual pay grade

Friday, April 13, 2012


For Mary Kay

Yesterday in the morning I left the house
to go be with my grandmother
as she died.

I asked how I was to do this
--watch somebody die--
and the answer was to take the tenderest care of myself
and all living things.

Why is it that every night I
resolve to love more fiercely
and every morning I awake the same stunted, failing clay?

It had rained the night before and the earth
smelled wantonly ripe and wet like
making life.
The soil spongy like a woman's fertile womb.
The earth doesn't mourn the dying in spring.
The cherry blossoms and lilacs don't apologize
for their lurid and honey-fragrant vigor.

They told me
that the only answer to death
is to become more wildly and unabashedly

**At the time of this posting my grandmother is being made comfortable, and is cared for, and has not yet finished the journey from this world to the next**

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Happened

You know my brother-in-law, Justin? His parents live on a farmish. They invited us out for Easter. Now wasn't that nice?

Indy at the start of the Easter egg hunt. A very civilized hunt. Nobody threw down or cried.

My niece Eisley holds this chicken which had a name and scared me a little.

Me and the husband all celebrating Easter before it was cool.

Ayla. Snake-charmer.

"These things can't flip over, right?" My sister says unto me before gunning it over a hill. "I don't know, Heather," I answered QUITE CALMLY. "I bet they could."

Here I'm all like, glamour pose! And my dad is all like, I'm too young to die.

Cousin (second cousin? first removed?) Moriah feeds this beast with horns which is very friendly, I am sure.

Noah and Ayla, in repast. There was also a two-year-old Noah there, which got really awkward anytime someone said "Hey, Noah, want a beer?" (Or, "Noah is embarrassingly drunk".)

Indy had the time of her life on Pepper Ann.

The responsible adults ribbed every child to go "no hands". Ayla, snake-charmer, obliges.

The city slicker in red boots accidentally double-clicked her tongue at the horse and the horse galloped. It was awesome. (Really).

By the end, Indy was in Peeps-and-pleasure induced tears. No pictures for her. "I hope Indy doesn't turn around for the picture," said my mom, trying to reverse-psych her. "Mom," I said. "You can't out-Indy Indy."
I guess this is the part where I say, Happy Easter?

I'm not really a photo-blog type person. You may have noticed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spiritual D.N.A.

Exhibit A (1)

I was baptized on All Saint's Day or Reformation Sunday (depending who you ask) as an infant, in an Episcopalian church. My parents were not regular church-goers at the time.

Reformation day celebrates the day Luther challenged the Catholic church. The origins of All Saint's Day skew more Catholic than Protestant. It celebrates those who have attained a beatific vision of heaven--which isn't, really, very Lutheran--and originally was meant to celebrate the prayerful bond between those in heaven, those in purgatory, and those on earth. Decidedly un-Lutheran.

The Episcopalian church ordains women. I happen to believe that women should be ordained. My mother, last time I checked, does not.

Exhibit B (1)

When my mother was young, her own mother dropped her off in front of a church on Sundays, offering money in her hand. My mother would wait until my grandmother drove away, then walk in her church shoes to the drug store and spend the offering money on candy or at the soda fountain.
I like this story about my mother.

Exhibit C (1)

When I was a baby, my mother was approached by Jehovah's Witnesses. She was young and, I imagine, hungry for a spiritual tradition. My father, who had been raised Lutheran, called bullshit and they began attending a Lutheran church. I'm grateful for this, as I would have made a terrible Jehovah's Witness. It is far more difficult to be a bad Lutheran; I still don't know if I've accomplished it.

My father's people were Swedish and German and Lutheran by tradition.

Exhibit D (1)

Three years after me, my infant sister would be baptized in a Lutheran church. She identifies as Lutheran to this day.

Exhibit A (2)

By the time Ayla was born, I had left the Lutheran church and was dabbling briefly in non-denominational Protestantism at a very large church. Around the time Ayla was one, I stopped going to church altogether. To this day, I very much enjoy not going to church. My free Sunday mornings still feel like a gift. Like hitching up my petticoats to wade in a cool river.

I have developed other ways of nurturing my spirituality. Ways that fit my frequency. They are gentle and grateful. They scorn guilt. They focus on love.

Exhibit B (2)

Neither of my daughters have been baptized.

This was difficult for my mother.

Exhibit C (2)

"If you think God is a boy, he's a boy," says Indy. "If you think God is a girl, he's a girl. That's it." She shrugs. What's the big deal? "I think God wears lipstick," she adds. She tells me the most fantastic things. She wants to be Catholic but "daddy never lets her". (Not true). God lives in the stars but also in the flowers. God has a face like a tree but does not have blonde hair, just the picture has blonde hair.

"I think God is a boy," says Ayla.

Her world view has always skewed patriarchal.

It is possible I've given birth to a conservative.

Exhbit D (2)

Indy seems particularly spiritually inclined. She has a lot of questions and talks about her dual-gendered version of God often.

But both girls agree that church (their grandmother takes them on occasion) is boring.

Exhibit A (3)

I spend a lot of time wondering what things are passed to us through blood. Some things are easy: from my ancestors I've inherited fair skin, small eyes, a creative drive, a dramatic flair. But what about other things? What about the way I view the world, my ease in it, in my own skin, with others? My parents raised two daughters in one spiritual tradition. One left, the other stayed. It was painful for some members of my family. I know this.

Studies on identical twins suggest that our propensity to believe in a higher power has a genetic component. So do our political leanings.

Exhibit B (3)

I didn't leave the Lutheran church because it was a bad church. I left it because it wasn't right for me. My spirit craved a different tradition. It asked to be separated from the routine, the creeds and recitations and lessons I'd learned by rote, that I practiced without meaning or celebration or any earnest yearning for the Divine.

I think these very things that left me feeling dry and alienated from my spirit are the same things that bring others comfort and peace.

I believe there are an infinite number of ways to celebrate the infinite Divine and I believe in a Divine that smiles on all of them.

So then: which was in my blood--the Lutheran, or the leaving?

I believe it's both.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April is a Douche. Who's With Me?

This morning I could find no other thought than if the snow killed the pink trees, it would break my open and tired heart.

Spring in Colorado is like loving a cruel and beautiful man. He gives you flowers and then destroys them because you loved the flowers more than you love him.

Luckily it seems the snow has passed.

I am at momology today talking about how much I hate infants.

Just kidding.

I am talking about how all of this mess is precious, not just the new baby times.

La V

(Seriously though, man. Infants.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

La Belle-y

It was during my first yoga class that my active mind slipped away and I was suddenly and wonderfully aware that there were two of me in here. I knew that I was not, in fact, my mind.

Inside this body were two unique halves. Never before had I felt them quite so intimately. One was caught up in all the trivialities of the day, worrying about how it looked and whether or not it was doing this--this class, this day, this life--correctly. The other me was the deeper one, the true spirit, blissfully unaware of it's surroundings and circumstances. It was smiling with every part.

But I've gotten ahead of myself.

The night before I'd been up late, padding around the house, when I was unexpectedly brought face-to-button with my belly. I was svelte once, in college, (put that on a t-shirt) but I haven't seen that body since I got pregnant at twenty-two. The body my husband fell in love with was pale and freckled and wore a size 8. Even then I took that body for granted, feeding it pizza and wishing it would be a 6. This body, eight years later, isn't one I choose to see often. I dress quickly. I don't even own a mirror that reflects my lower half. That night, in the bathroom, it jumped out at me like a monster from behind a corner.

I beheld my belly and told it I hated it.

The awareness of the two of me came during a particularly challenging pose. My body was quivering all over with the effort to hold itself in the form I had asked of it. My muscles were burning and my mind was self-conscious, but as I continued to hold, and to quiver, all that mind clutter slipped away and a deeper voice proclaimed clearly: I love this.

It was my spirit. That quiet, knowing part. It was, I believe, the spark where the divine rests in all of us. And that part of me was having the time of its life. Underneath all my cares is the deeper self that is gazing at this life in wondrous adoration and isn't worried at all.

We ended the class by laying on our backs in what I believe is called the Shavasana Asana, and it was then that my belly began to speak to me. Throughout class, as I had asked my body to bend and twist and withstand, my spirit had been whispering to this soft, freckled space how much it loved it.

And my body had spoken back. In warrior pose, it told me I was powerful. Doing cat-and-cow, and a particularly bendy combination of poses that requires one to both torque and expand, my body felt sensuous and strong.

Now as I lay there, I could hear that my stomach was bruised. The night before, I had looked in the mirror and hated it for not being flat and taut, for the stretch marks that will grace it like pumpkin flesh, always and forever. In my mind, I made war on my body, telling it things that were ugly and cruel.

But this body has done so much for me. This belly, that has stretched beyond its capacity, beyond endurance, to shelter the spirits and flesh of two children. This entire body, that did what I asked of it, that withstood until I shook all over, until I felt I was about to collapse from exhaustion, and then withstood some more.

I lay there in Shavasana Asana and I apologized to my belly. I told this soft part of me, this part that refuses to conform to all Western standards of beauty, that I have punished with words and loathing and Spanx--that I loved it. I was so proud of it. I thanked it for doing so much for me.

A few days later I would find myself again in front of that same mirror, in a degree of undress. This time I beheld my beautiful body, this thriving, healthy gift. I was, I realized, everything I had experienced myself as in yoga. Sun-burnt and moon-pale. Rolling and lush. Wildly curvacious and sensuous and strong.

My spirit said something like: va-va-voom.

And later, as is the way of things, my husband did too.

**Painting: La Belle Rafaela, Tamara de Lempicka. 1927.

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