Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

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I have a love-hate relationship with social media these days. One year I gave it up for Lent, and I should have just kept driving in that direction. It’s a time sink of the worst order — a veritable black hole. Not to mention how it saps energy! (And creativity…)

That’s the bad news.

The love part of the equation is keeping in touch w/ the lives of all my friends & family who are soooo far away. My sons — on on each coast. My DIL, with my east coast son. My grandson, with them half-way across the country. My BFF, on the other coast. A dear cousin who lives in Arizona, friends from my former job whom I never see anymore, since I don’t attend work conferences. Not to mention a sister in Texas (at least she comes up regularly!), HER bff (who has become a kind of sister), and more former students, beloved colleagues, et al.

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There are also the dear friends I’ve made through FB: the aunt of a dear girlfriend. The friends of my sisters. Several folks I’ve never met who read this blog. Through FB & Twitter, I can pretend I’m visiting with them. I can see the new garden art one has put up, and even tune in to the music another just bought. I can catch a short clip of my grandson jumping down a fireman’s pole (!), as well as check in on the health of a girlfriend who’s ailing.

With Twitter, I can even find out what people I admire enormously (but will never be friends with) think about various things. I follow several writers, as well as other artists. It’s a great way to keep in touch with trending art. Or publications I like.

But lately? There have been even more downsides than usual to social media, particularly FB. Political campaigns, warring candidate groups, and general rudeness and downright hate have left me heartsore. Family who follow men with the worst of motives (as evinced from their own words), and a pervasive aura of hate that fills the political arena. Even the ‘good guys’ are being mean…There’s so very much hate. I end up sick at heart.

And then something happens. Like a dear friend asking if someone would like to visit with her; she needs to talk. And being able to message her immediately — the welcome distance of text vs the intimacy of a phone conversation. Without FB, I would never have realised she was hurting. I doubt she had the energy to email me.

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So I’m torn. I wonder what you all — readers & friends — do when it all just gets too negative? I’m a firm believer in the voice of the universe: it will talk to you, if just pay attention. So, when a friend needs me, & it comes through on social media, I’m thinking I can’t do what I had intended, and just quit. Can I? There are people I love out there.

We’re all connected. Just like with FB, or Twitter. Or Instagram, or whatever. It’s just not electronic, and it’s not always visible. The angry woman who responded today to a post I made weeks ago? She’s connected via that hot line of anger. I strengthened that thread when I wrote her back, trying to answer her arguments (& her anger) with evidence & firm attention. We’re all connected through a vast web, and FB is just the most obvious portion of it. So maybe the answer isn’t whether to disengage from FB, but how to engage w/ the entire web in a more useful manner. One that doesn’t make me feel like a burnt-out bulb. One that somehow isn’t feeding into the darkness.

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This is my mantra lately. I’m backing out of my ‘commitments’ to try to squeeze in some time just to think. The problem w/not working outside the home is that people assume you don’t work at all. They don’t see ‘everyday life’ as work. And maybe for others, it isn’t. But what I’m finding is that the way I do it? It is.

Part of it — for sure — is the whole ‘learning to be an elder’ thing. Learning what parts of what youngers ask of you is your rôle, is giving back. I have been blessed with so many generous elders & mentors, that I feel honour-bound to offer my own learning to those who feel it will help. But all of it takes time, which seems to compress — even though I’m no longer in an office.

For instance, I need order without to have order within. Which means if the house is in chaos, or even just messy, it makes me crazy. I want time for tea, and time to sit in the sun and time to remember my face, before I was born. Or so the Zen koan goes.

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It’s not easy, as there are all kinds of demands that ought to be met. Ought: that word so often fatal to the inner life. I ought to call this person, ought to email this other person, ought to do what that person would like. And there are legitimate responsibilities, as well, like… Grocery shopping. Dry-cleaning. Laundry. Not to mention the occasional ‘should’: doc appointments, vet appointments. Pick up birdseed.

I’ve been calling foul on many of these plays lately. I’ve dropped the hourglass that is the sands of later life on the floor, and left the mess for another day. In other words? I’m learning to unwind. It’s late for me — I realise — but I’m not always a quick study. As the eldest child, I grew up ‘taking care of.’ Of my younger siblings, of the pets, of my room, later of the house, of my mother when she periodically had a meltdown. Counting suitcases when we  traveled half-way around the world. Researching a car for her and then going to the dealer to bargain for it. Figuring out her finances.

And despite the title for this post, it’s not really ‘self vs others’; it just feels that way sometimes. Because each of us wants to be there for the people we love — family, friends, colleagues. The environment, the world. But without time to nurture our own fragile selves, we aren’t worth much in the way of comfort. Sure, we can run an errand. But not with true grace (well, can’t!). We can ‘show up.’ And yet…

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Showing up is hard, as well. Because who do you show up for? And here’s where I’m weighing in: show up for YOU, first. Show up for time alone, time spent feeding your inner artist. Or your inner yogi, or your inner whatever-it-is that comforts & contents you. Without a steady, balanced you, there’s no helping anyone else. A very long time ago, there was a song w/ a line I think is really all about Buddhism: if I love myself enough, loving you won’t be so rough.

Yup. That’s the truth of it all: show up for YOU. Love yourself enough to show up for all the important things. And the rest will follow. It may take some practice, but you can do this. Honest.

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It’s hard for me to convince people I’m an introvert. Most of the time (if it comes up at all), I just let them think what they will. I know how much time it takes me to recover from any ‘gig’ — whether it’s a holiday tea or a professional meeting. And if it’s staying ‘away’? Without my usual structure & rituals? It can take days. But because I genuinely enjoy people — I love their stories, their mosaic lives, even their hard times are illuminating — it’s assumed I must gain energy from them. I don’t. Being with people, even teaching (which I do adore) uses me up. I’m exhausted for ages.

Being a non-working stiff has been wonderful for me: endless ribbons of time unfurling before me, a horizon that stretches into wherever. What’s happened, in these past few years since I ‘retired’ from my FT job, is that I’ve had the time to just be. As well as take on projects I’ve always wanted to do (like writing more tanka, and sending out more work). But what seems more important is the be-ing time: time to cut out a picture from a magazine & glue it into my writer’s workbook. Time to try a new recipe, and think about how the pieces will work together ~ will the olives offset the sweetness of the tomatoes? will it balance as it melds? Time to write a dear friend about his dear friend who is almost certainly dying. Time to watch a bird on the feeder.

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These are things I did — write letters, read, write in journals, watch animals & birds, draw them — even as a child. And in some ways, I suppose that I’m revisiting that child. Not so much a return to childhood, really, as a kind of recursive process, a ‘running back,’ as the Latin root tells us. It’s a reacquaintance, and a recognition of bedrock traits, values, even influences. I have always written — even before I could write words. I’ve drawn, albeit badly (and still do!). I’ve loved animals (sleeping w/ a taxidermied squirrel!), and been house proud since my ‘house’ was the villa’s wardrobe, a bedroom sans windows.

Introverts, as the definition notes, need time. LOTS of it, really, and all alone. Or at least in quiet, w/out crazy noise, or activity. Not TV (which I don’t care for at all — it sucks me in & it’s NOISY), not the dogs barking at passersby. Just quiet time, to look a lot like a couch potato, I suspect. I can sit at the breakfast room table drinking tea or cappuccino, watching birds, for easily an hour. More, some days. I can mess w/ ‘stuff’ — organising my desk, looking up a reference, answering an email — for another couple. And all the time, something tight in me is loosened, eased. As it did when I would sneak away as a 9-year-old, crawling through the bars on the villa’s windows, and heading out the gate w/ my dog, to roam the sleepy streets of the city just the two of us. The city was quiet, and all I could hear was that: the quiet heartbeat of a drowsy city.

These days, driving in the car (especially when the weather is great & I can put the top down on my old ragtop), I can turn on one of the kajillion riffs I have on a classical piece I adore, and I’m as happy as that odd child. Not, perhaps, ecstatic (that’s reserved for seeing the grandson, or other big events!). But brimming over with quiet bliss. And I bet ever introvert out there knows exactly what I mean.

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Last night’s dinner was brought to its happy eaters by creativity. Experience, as well. And a huge helping of why not try this? And now I’m wondering why that attitude doesn’t work for me in more venues…

I had great organic chicken — bought on a spur-of-the-moment visit to the brand-new Trader Joe’s (we are officially a cool city! we have a Trader Joe’s!). And I had about a cup of mixed olives & peppadew peppers. There’s always garlic — I bought several heads last time I went grocery shopping; who can live w/out garlic??. And all kinds of herbs & spices. Plus a new package of organic tagliatelle.

There you have it. The fixings for dinner. Braise the chicken w/ a sliced onion. Add a half head of garlic, peeled. A sprinkle of smoky paprika, lots of salt & fresh-ground pepper, and toss in the mixed olives & peppadews, Let it all cook in Grandma’s cast-iron skillet until the olives are soft & caramelised, and the chicken is fork-tender.

Now for what to serve with it. Get out the pasta you have (I just happened to have GREAT organic Italian tagliatelle, bronze die-cut, which is important, folkst: stuff sticks better to the rougher surface). Cook in a ton of boiling water, w/ salt & a bay leaf added. When it’s al dente, drain it and add a heaping handful of finely grated fresh Parmesan (another thing we always have to hand). A splash of half&half, and it becomes a quick&dirty version of fettuccini alfredo. Serve the chicken braise over the noodles, and listen to the happy eaters tell you how you rock!

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So here’s what that all has to do w/beginner’s heart: WHY don’t I do that kind of happy improv in the rest of my life? Instead, I spent ONE ENTIRE HOUR yesterday obsessing over a sentence. And actually? Not even a complete sentence! A phrase! ‘Four mourners of’ vs ‘four mourners for.’ Seriously — I will go to my grave having lost an entire hour of my life futzing w/ that phrase. And why??

Because I don’t trust words? It’s not like I know less about writing thanI do about cooking, anyway. I’ve made a living writing — even teaching writing. NO ONE is going to pay me to cook for them, let me assure you. Even though I’m a great cook. As witnessed by the dinner I created from what I just happened to have around.

But my old writing mentor (I studied her work for years), M.F.K. Fisher (foodie writer extraordinaire) forecast this, saying that if you learn the basics of food — and have great basic ingredients to hand — you can always cook up something wonderful. It just takes beginning w/ the best of what you have.

My point? What if I learned to live my life more in line w/ what I have to hand — re: who I am, my innate traits & personality & assets, etc.? I didn’t try to make, oh, brisket and gnocchi for dinner. I didn’t have any brisket, and I haven’t a clue how to make gnocchi. So, why do I try to be things I’m not? Like…quieter. Less passionate (re: opinionated!). More…well, more like my mother, maybe? Who was so very good.

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I don’t want to change myself, really. I just want to do the living equivalent of trusting myself like I do when I cook — not worrying so very much about the outcome, and living up to the best of who I am. Or, what I have to hand. The emotional, intellectual, spiritual equivalent of great Italian pasta, organic chicken, market fresh garlic, cream, good olive oil… You get the idea. What if I just let go of the idea I have to be perfect — that perfect meal, carefully created & plated — and just made something interesting out of what’s to hand? What if we all just lived the best life we’re capable of, given who we are? And stopped beating ourselves up because we’re not the Dalai Lama…? How’s that for a thought on beginner’s heart?

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