Third time. Charm.

IMG_2209The text came in just before noon on the last Sunday in March:

 “Dear Laura,
time for a new Laura Reeth blog post.
Love The universe.”

I read it, smiled.  Texted the friend serving as the embodiment of the universe:

Dear Universe,
I know.  I know.
Need to push through and
stop making excuses.
Thank you.

And then I put the phone down, pushed the thoughts away and moved along.  Except I did that moving pretty much standing in one place.

It’s not that I don’t want to write my stories in this place I’ve created.  I do.  But the words seem trapped behind a thick clear wall — I can see them but I can’t find the doorway to access them.  In fact after writing the first two sentences here, I got up and walked away from the computer — for three days — because it was just so hard.

Of course it’s hard.  It’s hard to come up with words, phrases, sentences that make sense.  It’s hard to put the work out there.  It’s hard to have faith that the stories will come if I show up.

But hard is not impossible.  I just keep giving into a maze mind that throws up dead ends and detours and full-stops to keep me trapped behind that wall.  Because it’s not the words that are trapped, it’s me inside that maze mind.  The words are flitting about happily in their polysyllabic universe.  Happy.  Free.  Untethered to any of my grand notions of gravitas.

I’ve friends who are fully invested in the hard part of telling their stories.  They may love the words, the flow at certain points some days.  They may detest them an hour later.  But to a person, they show up every day and make those words appear on the screen.

Since I refuse to even give the words a chance, they remain beyond the screen, detached from me.

I’ve taken a few photos since that text, shared them on occasion, hoping that showing what I see at any given time would jump start me to those levels of determination and discipline to tell what I see.  There is no magic, there are only steps.  And the first step is ignoring the voice in my head that edits — usually unkindly — as each word appears on the screen.  The sensible part of me says, stop it! Stop it now!  The maze mind just says heh, heh, heh.

I could go on and on, bore myself silly with the reasons why I don’t show up when I know full well that the showing up is a good portion of the work.  There are stories I need to tell, they are ones only I can tell and if I don’t do it, those stories leave this world with me without once being given life.

Last Sunday at the end of a quick, solo trip to the beach, I was up at 6:20 with a beautiful dawn straight in front of me.  I had some new lenses for my camera phone that MDR gave me as a Mother’s Day gift and they were burning a hole in the small case I had — I needed to get out there and see the world in a new way. But there was departure looming a couple of hours ahead of me — how could I get out there and use them and get everything done?

I thought, “you know, if I had a perfect life I’d walk every morning on the beach.”

The Maze Mind was heh, heh, heh-ing all over again.  But this time the sensible portion of my brain turned on me and said, “then get the hell out of here and walk.  You always have the time.  Now make some.”

And that was the step.  Lace up the sneakers and go — 20 minutes, 30.  Half mile, less, more.  It didn’t really matter, it was stepping out the door and going.  If I didn’t walk on the beach departure time would still come around, but I’d mourn the fact I had to leave and didn’t see the early morning beach.

So I walked.  And I thought. About this space.  About a million and one changes coming up in the next three months. About how even if I didn’t do any writing here I’d still turn 53 in two months.

What came through loud and clear was how are you going to spend those two months?

The answer, simply, was show up and tell some stories.

And so, I start.  Again.

 

 

 

 

A visual story about messengers

I find that when the universe doesn’t like my response to a message (see deer/spirit guide story) it likes to nudge me along.  So when I stalled on my promise to myself to take action and be kinder to myself, the universe sent reinforcements:

photo (52)

 

Yes, a spirit guide party, right in my very own backyard.

Message received.  Honestly, I’m afraid NOT to take some action because there could be 20 the next time I look.

Warmth

I’ve notice that my photos pretty well capture my personal gravitational pull to cooler colors, especially the blues and the greens.  While I’ve avoided grays and blacks recently, I’ve never been one to instinctively choose from the neutral/brown family of colors.

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Umbrella and blue sky, 9/13

In this wicked, relentless winter of 2014, my photos seem to be a record of a constant search for warmth.  As I’ve walked through properties with an eye to living in western PA, I’ve only taken photos of rooms that appeal the most.  Most of the photos include wood that runs the gamut from caramel to molasses in color, warming my imagination in many, many ways.

Over the past six weeks, we’ve walked through houses older than the ages of our four previous homes combined. Thus the spaces are tighter, the ceilings are lower, reflecting the goal of conserving warmth in times when the fireplace or the radiator were the only source of heat.  And as we’ve looked at homes that sheltered families for decades, our eyes, used to great rooms and fireplaces that start with the flip of the switch, can sometimes see those closer rooms as not just right.

photo (49)
Pius St fireplace, unfiltered

Finding the just-right for a couple, after years of looking for spaces that fit a growing family, is an interesting exercise in getting reacquainted.  City living?  Small town living? Condo close to work?  Longer weekday commute so we can just leave the cars parked for the weekend and walk wherever we wanted?  They are questions we’ve asked over and over for months and are still puzzling through.

The last time it was just us was 26 years ago when we purchased a rehabbed duplex in Jersey City.  It’s what we could afford and as we both worked in Newark it was an excellent reverse commute. It was a start.  But even then we were not alone, we were buying with an eye to those children we planned to have.  In the seven years we lived there, both kids came home from the hospital to the duplex, both kids learned to climb stairs on a 12 foot metal spiral staircase. Both kids had to adjust to the suburbs when we moved there in 1994. They may not remember that time in their lives as vividly as we do, but that duplex was the foundation for this family.

Those kids are grown, living in their own cities now.  And while we’ll always make space for them, the next home reflects us as a couple and what we ultimately choose will please ourselves.

It’s harder than we thought.  The fireplace above reminded me of that first home we made. MDR is thinking a little more space.  And that brought on more reacquainting questions: Would we fit in quickly in a small town that focuses on schools and children or would a city offer more variety in terms of the people we’ll meet?  Do we want to walk to a restaurant or are we willing to drive to find food we love?  It’s the little questions, personal to us that keep us on our toes.  Asking, always asking.

So we’ll keep looking and find the place that works. One with a little compromise from both sides built into the home we make next.

Pius St. fireplace, golden
Pius St. fireplace, golden

In the meantime, I took the fireplace photo, deepened the golds and browns and caramels I saw and tucked it away to remind me that first and foremost, we look for warmth.

The why of it, redux

This place has been silent for six long months.  I can see the dust in the corners and on the edges of the photos I’ve posted and left here.  The neglect was not purely intentional.  It started out, as always, with a simple “I’ll get to it later.”  But laters have a interesting, bold way of piling up until they teeter on the never, don’t they?

Excuses started piling up too — life is changing but I don’t want to discuss those changes in a public place or life is changing and I didn’t run that half-marathon and that’s a disappointment or simply, the dread, I just don’t wanna.

Really that last one wasn’t the case, I did wanna: but instead of taking the action, I spent time pushing away the need to write about my own life or loved ones’ lives and my feelings on all of it. That lead to a startled moment when I realized it wasn’t pushing away the need but instead I was boxing up that need, tamping down, using all my strength to make more room for what I was afraid to set free.  Then that space became so crowded with the unexpressed that I had to be careful not to even touch the sides of the box for fear I’d puncture it because even pin dot would allow the contents to spill out and I’d need to feel that unexpressed pain or joy or the out and out confusion.

Mainly I was scared that the unexpressed would cover my days in grays and blacks and browns.  And that as it wasn’t the way I saw my life therefore it wouldn’t be valid.

But in the tamping, in the tiptoeing, I forgot the important part of the colors in my world — you need those darker hues to shade things, give them nuance and a contrast.

Depth.

Shading meant you had to dig a little below the surface, find the dimensions and explore them in order to make sense of them.  That sometimes a haze of gray or sepia is there to help me settle into reflection so that when that haze parts I’d be ready for vivid color once again.

And how did I remember that?  These days, my go-to way to re-embrace the world around me is snapping photos.  Then taking the time to add in the color I thought they missed.  photo (46)

Part of the changes in my life has meant living in the Pittsburgh area for a good deal of January.  From what I understand, Pittsburgh deals with grey clouds on a daily basis, but the first month of 2014 brought bitter cold along with the gray.  The permafrost didn’t just pertain to the air and the roads, but a kind of inner freeze that kept me rooted in a place I didn’t know without the back up of the things I loved.

Last Wednesday, while the cold stayed put, the clouds parted and the sun shone for most of the day.  I thought, the heck with it, just take a photo of winter, stepped out of my car and shot the photo above from the parking lot of our temporary home.

Back inside, I wanted the picture to reflect how I really saw the afternoon so I played with filters to pull the blue through, upped the contrasts and increase the coolness of the blue to come up with this:

IMG_1844It made me happy to translate what I saw into a vivid photo. It reminded me that a blog is a place to examine the events in my world and present them in ways that are vivid, vibrant and above all, valid.

And so we start anew.

Road lessons

Today was to be my first long run/walk in the OBX Half Marathon training and I was geared up for 3 miles.  But for some reason, in the earliest hours of this day, I had the strong need to walk — left foot first — into a bureau and then a door jamb on the way to the bathroom.

By the time I’d consumed my third cup of coffee, I was leaning strongly toward calling it a rest day and giving my knee (right leg) and very bruised fourth toe (left foot) some time off.  On second and third thoughts I realized I needed to be outside, even for a walk around the block.  I set a 30-minute mental minimum, bid MDR and the Lovely Daughter a fond adieu and headed out.

Phone in hand, you know, in case that deer found me again.

I learn something new every single time I head out with my legs in charge and the rest of me going along for the ride.  Today’s lesson was that when I speed up my walk, I tend to lock my knees to try to go faster.  And then my knee hurts more.

Hmmm” I thought. “Let’s slow this down a little and keep the knees flexed when I put my foot on the ground.”  It felt better.  Then I thought it might serve me well to  keep the lower abs drawn in and let the movement come from my core.

It felt even better.  So I kept on.  Every time I got lost in my thoughts or became aware of how much time was passing, the knee would lock in an effort to speed up and my core would slide down.  And every time I made the adjustments back into thoughtful movement staying in the moment and putting no limit on how far I walked, I felt no pain.

And that’s kind of how this writing goes. Think too long and too hard about word counts and I lock up, the flow disappears.  But if I adjust my thinking, stay open to what comes to mind and only focus on just getting the words on the screen instead of judging each one’s merit (editing can come later, a wise writer once said) it flows.

I ended up walking over four miles, came home to stretch and use the foam roller on my legs and you know what?  The right knee feels better than it did when I started out.  And a blog post came to mind.

No deer on this outing, but I did see this distance marker which prompted this thought:

If a distance marker is blank, how far have you really gone?
If a distance marker is blank, how far have you really gone?

Today it was just far enough.

 

An addendum to the first story

My sister-in-law read the first story and sent me an email saying the image of a deer beating me about the head and neck with spindly extremities made her laugh out loud.  Which only proves the point that being eaten by a bear would bring more honor from the grieving relatives.

I politely refrained from writing in my response that she was sipping wine as she read, no wonder she laughed.

But I digress:  She also tweaked my take on the early morning driveway stand down with a doe (which sadly hasn’t had enough time to ferment into a legend about how I took on a four-point buck with my bare hands and a newspaper).  Maybe the deer was just sending me a message that I needed to take action.  Could just be that the deer was my spirit animal.

Fortunately, I’d had two glasses of wine at dinner so I was receptive to the thought.

According to my SIL’s mother, when a deer appears it is a reminder from the universe/God to be kind to yourself. ( SIL’s note to me: Yes, that means ignoring the inner voice of doubt!)  Native Americans believe deer guide you to a destination or action.

I did a little Googling of the idea and found that the Celts thought deer could cross over to the faerie realm and had magical powers.  The Greeks equated deer with Artemis.  To the Chinese the deer is a symbol of abundance.  Now I’m not sure we’ve got faeries in the woods behind the house, but I do know that a google search can take you into many, many fanciful realms.

But the idea that it wasn’t just a stare down with a displaced animal and instead was a  sign from the larger universe to move ahead and be kind to myself appealed to me on many different levels.  One site suggested adding a deer to your meditation and as you walked with it deeper into the forest you’d actually be going deeper into your soul.  I have enough trouble keeping my mind from making grocery lists when I meditate, so deer hikes will take a little time. I tucked my new knowledge away and went to bed.  Maybe I’d just keep an eye out for what happens next.

I’m back in training mode for the OBX Half Marathon in November.  This would be my third consecutive race at the beach and I’m determined to go into this one with healthy knees and a steady pace.  So I’ve gone back to 30-minute walk/runs twice a week and longer runs on the weekend.

Yesterday was a glorious morning to run — in Laura’s book.  It was cloudy and cool with no hint of sun peeking through the cloud cover.  My hands were cold!  This hasn’t happened in months and made me so, so very happy.  I tweaked my route and ran it in the opposite direction than I had two days earlier.

I usually look at the middle distance in front of me, concentrating on the leaves and twigs strewn all over the path after some recent downpours. My mind wanders, I enjoy just being outside and moving.  Then at one point I just had to look over to the right.  No particular reason, just had to look.

There was a deer, up to it’s neck in the bushes, eating leaves off a tree.  It stopped pulling at the branches and looked straight at me until I went past.

Hmmmmm.  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something — even if it’s only that I should have my camera with me at all times to document these moments.  In any case, I emailed my SIL, mainly to say she could be right.  But I would have to meditate on it a little more.

 

A start to the story

IMG_0586
Roses in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin (not eaten by deer)

I’ve been waffling about this space for months, committing a good bit of maternal fraud along the way.  I go back and forth about how I want to use this space for stories: a daily post to keep the writing habit up?  A lab for stories I want to expand?  Preachy little bits about how I do things so well (which would well and truly be an exercise in writing good fiction)?

And as I waver back and forth  between the choices, I don’t put a word on the screen.

I hang out with a lot of writers.  Writers who have found their process (finding your own process is an oft-repeated line at writer’s conferences) through their own trial and error.  Writers who have devised carrot-stick methods to create the perfect ratio of action and reward to come up with a finished product. Writers who have learned to accept that it’s ok to try something only to learn that while the overall effort might not work, there are bits that do.  Writers who don’t wait for “inspiration” but have immense faith that showing up, putting words on the screen brings the story to life.

There are living/breathing/typing examples of working writers all over the place in my life, but I’ve stubbornly decided that I’m different so I keep holding out until I hit on the type of blog posts that will make for a perfect, always cohesive whole.  Preferably without any mental sweat in the creation.

Then there’s the maternal fraud.  Lovely Daughter graduated from college in May with no real firm vision of what her next steps will be.  I do my best to encourage her to look around, to experiment,  After all, I ask, how can you know what you want to do without trying?

In other words, my pretty, smart, 22-year-old daughter, you go try new things, but in the meantime I’m going to waffle and not do anything until I figure out what’s perfect.

Yes, I recognize the sheer hypocrisy in telling anyone to try, try, try and refusing to do the same.  But that doesn’t mean action.  I’ve been edging closer to filling this space.  Shifting from thinking I want to do something here to admitting that NOT doing anything here is hurting me more than helping.  But still the cursor has blinked on and on and on without words to give the story traction.

Then this morning something clicked.

I went out the side door of the garage to get the newspapers when a flash of brown shot up the strip of lawn between our driveway and the new house next door only to stop just before the sidewalk.  The deer stood there, motionless, giving out that “if I don’t move the human won’t see me” vibe.

Since the greenway behind our house has opened for humans in motion and the building frenzy in our neighborhood has closed in the remaining empty lots, the neighborhood pack of deer seems to have been at a loss.

They still like to scare you silly at dusk or dawn, leaping through the old deer runs that now involve streets and cars and danger to anyone not paying attention.  They still like to nibble at the willows in our backyard or munch on our knockout roses which are decimated and sickly compared to the neighbors’.  (The knockout roses in my care are the only ones NC deer eat, apparently.  And somehow they’ve decided to share them with voles which are protected in this state. )

MDR and I have commented on how there are a couple of deer who’ve decided that humans are not going to hurt them.  They continue to graze along the Greenway pavement, unconcerned, unmoved by the people running or riding by them.

I recognize this deer standing by the sidewalk on this early morning.  She hasn’t moved when I’ve run by her on the greenway.  And she’s not giving up her space on this strip of lawn for the likes of me.

I approach, staring her down, sure she’s going to bolt back down to the woods when I get closer.  But she just coolly watches me as I walk by.  I get to the grass by the curb, bend down to get the paper and look casually over my right shoulder back at the deer.  She’s gone.  Normal behavior, finally.

I stand up fully and turn around and there’s the deer, standing on MY driveway between me and the door, staring me down again.  Think of a horror movie and how the scary thing gets closer with seemingly not movement.

But this is real life.

With a deer.

I consider this.  I look at this skinny deer with her spindly stick legs.  Her ears are pricked forward, eyes on me.  The only bit of her consternation shows in the small heaving of her sides.

Now, I have a friend who lives in the wilds of California’s Sierra Nevadas.  She runs into all manner of wild life in her walks – bear, coyote, pigs (or maybe I imagined that).  Since she has a healthy respect for the potential pain a run in with them would bring she does the smart thing and runs in the opposite direction.  But this deer was between me and my side door. (OK, now that I think about it, I could have gone to the front door and rung the bell, but that would have been ridiculous.)  Being hurt by a bear or coyote has a weird sort of honor about it.  Me?  I was facing a deer that could have attacked (I’ve seen the You Tube videos) with spindly legs slapping out at me.  And that would not only look silly, it would hurt.

Not to mention the potential for ticks if I tangled with a deer.  Shows me, doesn’t it?  She might not eat me to death, but she’d give me Lyme Disease and I’d have joint pain for the rest of my life.

I wasn’t going to be stared down by a deer.  I looked in her eyes and said, “I’ve got nothing for you. I’m going in now.”

And, breaking the eye contact, I walked past her as she stood there.  I didn’t look back, I walked with great dignity, heart pounding at taking on wildlife and holding my line. As I turned to go in the door, I risked a glance.  She’d lowered her head and was taking a bite of the roses.

It was an adrenaline rush for 6:50 am, I’ll give you that.  Had to tell MDR about it as soon as I got inside then shared with the Lovely Daughter when she came down for breakfast.  (When I went for my run a couple hours later, the same Lovely Daughter saw me off with a “watch out for that deer.”  I think it may stick as a family catch phrase.)

As I told that story of my morning adventure (twice) that voice in my head (the critic, the head cheerleader) said bluntly, “that deer stood for what she wanted, despite the fear.  You can’t stand for something you need to do?” And for a change I didn’t argue with the voice, I could see exactly what it meant: the deer skittered a bit, probably dithered in her head the way I do all the time then ultimately decided to not give away any more ground.

Or at least that’s how I’m going to interpret the stand down at 6:50.

Thus a story was written.  And regular posts will follow.

The why of it

I tell a lot of stories. It’s my nature to wind my way through a narrative, pausing for interruptions now and again then picking up the threads until I get to the end. Some days that end is a strong and sure stop of a paved road. Some days that end is a path that just gets smaller and smaller until it has nowhere else to go.

The stories don’t have to be for an audience; I tell myself a lot of them throughout the day. Some are true, some I wish to be true, but all of them pick up the pace of my heartbeat, bringing me fully into the time, the place, the scent of the story.

For instance, that cow in the very first post.

We were visiting my grandmother’s homeplace in Owenbeg, Sligo place last August. In the Irish, Owenbeg is An Abhainn Bheag, meaning “the little river.” My cousin Margie brought us round to the house where my grandmother grew up. My first time there, in June 1983, it was a two room cottage with a huge kitchen fireplace, in many ways, the place she left in the early 1930s.

But now it was expanded, modern, more. The laundry still went out on the line in the brilliant sunshine, but the place shone bright, new and I was certain the machine that washed those clothes on the line did it efficiently, quietly. Another cousin had inherited the homeplace from his mother, my grand aunt, but while he and his family were in residence, they weren’t home just then.

In a whirlwind of conversation, Margie Tuffy took us round the house, knocking on the available doors, showing us the place. Along the back of the house was a 10 foot high privet hedge about five feet out from the exterior wall. Margie told us that the field beyond the hedge was let to local farmers, but through the thick greenness you could hear a rustling. Not ominous, more curious in nature.

We walked to look in the kitchen window and Margie could show me how the room was the size of the room I’d been in, but no longer dark and closed in, rather light and airy. Turning around there was a large hole cut into the privet – about two feet in diameter – directly across from the window. I thought, idly, that it was to relieve the green that encompassed the view of the person doing dishes.

The rustling came again and we peered in through the hole. And the cow peered back, impassive, unimpressed by these chatty Yanks coming through and disturbing the peace, thank you very much.

And while I took a photo of the cow, what you can’t see is the bright crisp sun over our heads, the laughter in our conversation, the connection to the place my grandmother called home for just a short while in a long life.

So I’ll be looking for these stories in the holes in the privet hedge, capturing them as best I can. Spinning the tales I need to tell, finding the ends of the roads be they neat or rough or green.