You Can Always Come for the Cookies / Videos from a Poetry Reading

On Saturday, November 9 at Tamarindo’s one and only bookstore, I held a small launch party for and reading of my new poetry collection, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON. I think I had realistic expectations regarding how much of a crowd a poetry book about death might draw, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up. Thirty is the number I heard: old friends, new friends, strangers, other widows.  I sold all the books I have.

I made a lot of cookies and bought some wine for the occasion. Even if you don’t love poetry (not the biggest draw in a surf town), you can always come for the cookies. I’m good with that.

A dear friend of mine videoed my presentation in short segments, which, today I am sharing with you. Following, is the introduction to CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON, and each of the 5 poems in English.

A neighbor who is also a poet made this comment to me after reading CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON:

“You say it’s a book about death, but it isn’t. It’s a book about life. You use shades of black to show us all the other colors.”

 

INTRO 1: HOW THE BOOK CAME TO BE, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE IN TWO LANGUAGES

INTRO 2:  WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK?

POEM 1 OF 5: A poem that paints a picture of “before” and ends with a warning

POEM 2 OF 5: About discovering sickness

POEM 3 OF 5: A poem about death and the first (of an infinate number) moment of silence

POEM 4 OF 5: On what you must do after you’ve done everything

POEM 5 OF 5: Later, contemplating ashes, the ocean, the idea of going home

Namaste

CERTAIN AS AFTERNOONCERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

A Heart the Size of Your Fist

Excerpt from Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

I knew that letters were going to come but wasn’t prepared for what happened when I found one lying in my campus mail box. I flashed hot, then cold, then nauseous, and I had to go somewhere to read it—somewhere that is not home. No one must look at me.

Across campus on the other side of the railroad tracks that run behind the theatre, there is a tree I sometimes climbed. It’s a scruffy old pine with branches that are naked near the trunk—a hiding place I discovered last spring before I met Tom, when the guy I’d been in love with all year started going out with somebody who wasn’t me.

I rode my bike to my tree with the letter in my pocket and climbed up to the seat where I mourned that other heartbreak.

Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t cry.

I didn’t want to go home with red eyes and snot on my shirt.

Don’t cry.

The problem wasn’t my housemates. It was Tom I was hiding from. Obviously, at our house you could cry if you wanted and you didn’t owe anybody an explanation. But Tom would expect one. One I didn’t have. When he said he loved me, I said it back. And I meant it. I did.

 

I didn’t cry.

I read the letter, and read the letter, and read the letter. I held it to my face. I pressed it to my arms, to my cheek, to my heart. All I could do was think about breathing. All he asked was for me to come back, but I couldn’t move from that tree.

 

Can you love two people? If you love two people, is one fake and one real? Which one? Or are they both lies?

Can you fracture into a thousand pieces on the inside, and outside no one will know? Can you die and still appear alive? Can you live without understanding anything?

What is happening to me? Why can I not let go? Why does it matter more than air? How will I live my life?

Can you ever be alright again, ever, after you are absolutely broken? How can so much pain fit into a heart the size of your fist?

 

It was like the day in Los Rios that I reached from the shower for my towel and was stung on my pinky finger by the scorpion hiding there. I stared in dumb disbelief at my hand, as a blinding pain surged through my tiny finger and exploded into the entire room. It charged the air around my body like electric and shook the walls of concrete. All the while, my smallest finger looked exactly the same.

Un Corazón del Tamaño del Puño

Extraco de Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie
Workplay Publishing, 2018
pp. 174-175

 

Yo sabía que las cartas iban a llegar, pero no estaba preparada para lo que sucedió cuando encontré la primera en mi buzón en el campus universitario. Sentí calor, luego frío, luego náuseas, y tenía que ir a algún lugar para leerla, algún lugar que no fuera mi casa. Nadie debía mirarme.

Al otro lado de la universidad, al otro lado de las vías del ferrocarril que corren detrás del teatro, hay un árbol que yo a veces subía. Es un pino viejo desaliñado con ramas desnudas cerca del tronco, un escondite que descubrí la primavera pasada antes de conocer a Tom, cuando el muchacho del que yo estaba enamoradísima comenzó a salir con alguien que no era yo.

Me fui en la bicicleta hasta aquel árbol con la carta en el bolsillo, y subí al asiento donde lloré esa otra angustia.

No llorar, me dije. Pase lo que pase, no llorar.

Yo no quería ir a casa con los ojos rojos y mocos en la camisa.

No llorar.

El problema no eran mis compañeras de casa. Me estaba escondiendo de mi novio Tom. Obviamente en la casa donde vivía con las chicas, podrías llorar si querías sin deberle una explicación a nadie. Pero Tom me pediría una explicación. Uno que no tenía. Cuando Tom me decía que me amaba, se lo decía también yo. Y lo decía en serio. Era la verdad.

 

No lloré.

Leí la carta, y leí la carta, y leí la carta. Me la apreté a la cara. La presioné contra mis brazos, contra mi mejilla, contra mi corazón. Lo único que yo podía hacer era concentrarme en respirar. Lo único que pidió él que me había escrito la carta era de volver, pero no podía moverme del árbol.

 

¿Puedes amar a dos personas? Si amas a dos personas, ¿uno es falso y el otro es verdadero? ¿Cuál es cuál? ¿O son ambas mentiras?

¿Puedes fracturarte en mil pedazos por dentro sin que nadie lo nota por fuera? ¿Puedes morir y seguir vivo? ¿Puedes vivir sin entender nada?

¿Qué me está pasando? ¿Por qué no puedo dejarlo ir? ¿Por qué importa más que el aire? ¿Cómo viviré mi vida?

¿Es posible volver estar entero después de que estés completamente roto? ¿Cómo puede caber tanto dolor dentro de un corazón del tamaño del puño?

 

Era como el día en Los Ríos cuando, después de bañarme, tomé mi toalla y  un escorpión allí escondido me picó en el dedo meñique. Me quedé estupefacta mirando la mano, mientras un dolor cegador surgió a través de mi dedo meñique y explotó en toda la habitación. El dolor era tan grande que cargó el aire alrededor de mi cuerpo con electricidad y sacudió las paredes de concreto. Pero todo el tiempo, mi dedo meñique se veía exactamente igual.

 

My Spiderweb

I went to Italy for the month of September. If you are my friend or follower on social media, you already know this. You saw how much fun I had.

It was not exactly a vacation, and if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that I have never once referred to it as that. It was a trip, an odyssey, a pilgrimage, a journey—but not a vacation by any means. It included virtually no rest, and lots of hard emotional work stirred in with all the fun.

Why a month in Italy? Well there’s the level of reply which is, “Why not?!” Italy is awesome and September is a great month to be somewhere besides Tamarindo. So there’s that. But you know me—this was so much more.

I wanted to go to Italy to see Pio’s family—his children and the new grandson I hadn’t met, his brothers and their wives, the nieces and nephews… Escorting someone you love out of this life is an intensely bonding experience and we all did it together only two years ago. I wanted to go see them again. I wanted to demonstrate that I am the family member you won’t lose unless you want to. I wanted to introduce myself as ME, here because I choose to be, not because of who’s wife I am. I wanted to retrace the steps to the hospital, the grocery store, the markets, the landmarks I loved…everything. Why? Because. It didn’t make me sad, especially. It made me happy. I am the girl who owns my stories. All of them.

When Pio was sick, he promised me that when he got better, he would take me to Rome. I said that would be great, but I knew it was never going to happen. So I went to Rome myself. When I say I went to Rome myself, understand that the the only time I was actually by myself in Rome was on the train! I had friends waiting for me at the train station, friends taking me to their houses to eat and sleep, friends taking me to dinner, taking me around the city, taking me to the beach… Five days was not nearly enough.

After the Rome excursion, I brought my sunburnt self back to Milan for a few days, then went to the east end of the country, to Gorizia near the border of Slovenia. I toured breathtaking mountains on the back of a motorcycle, ate like a queen, and went to Venice for a day. Then back to Milan. The last excursion took me to the west side of Italy, to Sanremo to visit Pio’s daughter. She’s almost 21 now. Pio and I visited her there in 2015, so it was a somewhat familiar place. In Sanremo I rented my own apartment, so I was able to eat a fraction of what I was eating as a guest in the homes of friends/family, wander around the city on my own while Kiara was at work, and go to bed early.

I have a feeling that Kiara, young and spontaneous, voiced the thoughts of—um, maybe everyone?–as she hugged me, bursting out with, “Why did you come to Italy?!”

Indeed. Why?

I told her what I told you in the beginning of this post. But that’s not the whole story, either. Part of the answer is, “I don’t know.” But it was a very important trip. I needed to go to close a circle. I needed to hand-deliver my new book, Certain as Afternoon, to certain people. Would I really buy a plane ticket to Europe and take a month of no pay just to do that?

Yup.

Because I have this theory that not everything has to make sense. Making sense is over-rated. I have this theory that we don’t know everything–that sometime things that seem important for no apparent reason really ARE important. I have this theory that our 5 senses do not actually provide us with information on 100% of what is going on around us. They provide us with what we need not to get run over by buses in the street, but that’s about it. I think there are things that are true and we are unable to perceive them, mostly, because of senses we don’t have. Like a deaf person who can’t hear the music but feels the vibration of it and can dance to it anyway. Sometimes I dance to music I don’t actually hear. But the rhythm is right.

And so I went to Italy, during the month that, 2 years ago, Pio was sick and dying. I took the same metros, walked past the hospital, had a sandwich at the bar by the hospital. Walked in the parks. The Duomo. The Castello. Ate gelato. Took a copy of my book to the office of The Merciful Doctor and left it there for him. And I traveled around and saw new places and met new people and had excellent adventures.

I am a spider working on my web, making a place to live out of the silk in my belly. Going back and forth, up and down, connecting things to each other. Guided by instinct, not ideas. Fixing the parts that are torn. Just you wait and see: it will be beautiful.

Maybe I had to go so that I could come back. Re-enter. Begin again. I don’t know. I don’t hear the music, but I feel the vibrations. And I feel like a million bucks.

The Beginning

 

The Chaos Theory

Between

Trying to find words, I can get lost between languages, between worlds, between lives. There are too many words for somethings and not enough for others.

There are colors. There is the press and the temperature of all types of air. There are the sounds of clouds approaching. There are the shapes of leaves and the shadows they make. All of that adds up to a lot more than nothing.

 

Love

I could write about love, but you wouldn’t understand. I don’t mean you wouldn’t understand love, I would mean you wouldn’t understand me. You would think I’m in love and you would get lost wondering about the details. Whatever. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something else, entirely. Something like sunlight. Green things make sugar out of it, and they live.

 

Things You Don’t Know

What do you call the time between the moment a thing becomes true and the moment you realize it’s true? When the thing is already true, but you do not know it, and you go on acting and living as if it weren’t? It can be moments, or it can be years. Then when you come to know/understand the thing, you experience it as new even though it has already been there beside you in silence.

Irony: we can see the smallest ant walking across the table, the smallest leaf falling in complete silence, but we cannot perceive the enormity of love or death approaching until it takes us by surprise. It’s like a storm—a hurricane—forming and closing in, but we cannot see it. It comes closer and closer, changing everything in its path, and we have no idea until the rain begins to fall. No radar. No visible clouds. We may feel the change in air pressure and wonder what is going on, if it is our imagination.

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

 

Before

Sometimes I think about the day before. Or the hour. Or the minute. Before anything. Anything important–whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. The point is, do you remember the day before? When everything was about to be different and you didn’t know? You were so innocent. The day before you got the job offer. The day before you got the diagnosis. The day before you took the pregnancy test. The day before the accident. The day before you won the prize. The hour before you met her/him. The minute before you got the phone call. The second before it happened. It was the end of something and the beginning of something else and you did not know.

I think about this. Is this the last minute of something? It could be. This one right now. The point isn’t whether I will like things more or less after whatever is coming. The point is, is this the last taste of this flavor?  It could be.  Always, at any given moment.

 

The Cherry Orchard

Anton Checkov captured it in The Cherry Orchard. Not in words, of course–theatre can do that. Do you know the play? The sound of the string breaking that comes in Act 2 while all the characters sit in a silence that makes audiences squirm?  That’s what it is. It’s the sound of nothing ever being the same afterward. A melancholy sound from somewhere far off. A breaking sound.

God, I love Checkhov.

They all sit thoughtfully. It is quiet. Only the mumbling of FIERS is heard. Suddenly a distant sound is heard as if from the sky, the sound of a breaking string, which dies away sadly.

That’s it.

Something happens in the distance.  The time it takes for the sound to travel through air divides the thing that has happened from the moment they know it is true.

 

The Butterfly Effect

Everything is connected.

I just finished reading The Ice Queen, a novel that references the chaos theory, the butterfly effect. A thespian like me cringes at a thing called “the chaos theory,” so scientific-sounding, and unaccessible. But it’s at the interface between science and poetry. Things affect other things. Yes. The butterfly that flaps her wings far away perhaps moves the final milliliter of air that causes the first water droplet to form that becomes the hurricane that destroys the coast. Exactly. Things that are true and we never know. Small things that rule the world. Things that are caused by other things that are caused by butterflies.

 

The Gesture That Saves My Life

Perhaps when you lift your hand to wave at me, a hurricane begins.  Perhaps it will be the gesture that saves my life. You won’t know. Neither will I.

Talking About Silence

It’s ironic, I know–talking about silence. You destroy it the minute you begin. The only thing you can do is describe the negative space around it. Lo spazio vuoto. Everything you don’t say is the thing you mean.

It takes practice. Silence, I mean.

Silence isn’t something most people love, crave, or become terribly crabby without. Enter: me.

You know the story: silence came to me by accident. I didn’t want it. For 14 years, the tv was on, then suddenly it wasn’t. The ticking clocks were deafening, at first. That’s a lot of punctuation. Are they comas, the ticks, or periods? Maybe they are question marks.

It grows on you.

Sometimes, if you dive down deep enough under water that your belly touches the sand, you can hear whales. Really. Who knew? It’s all this silence and then when you’re down far enough to have to pop your ears, there it is: the language with no words.

I love music. I love lights and noise and having 2 or 12 people over for dinner. I love talking and laughing and telling stories. I love saying the funny thing you didn’t expect. I love telling you a story you can barely believe. Silence waits outside the screen for everyone to go home. It waits with the cats who don’t like a lot of commotion either, and slides back in with them during the night.

You can cultivate silence like a plant. Like a garden. You can plant it and reforest the devastation. You can water it in the evening and check each morning to see if it has new leaves. You can wait for its flowers. You can sit in its shade and watch the butterflies. You can find so much richness in its presence that the pain of it thickens into love. Believe me.

Sometimes I am the one who talks too much, who shouldn’t have started in on that story in the first place. Or who throws out a comment that seems like it’s going to be clever until it hits the air. But not always.

Sometimes I am the one who can’t think of one thing to say. I believe in comfortable silence. We don’t have to talk all the time any more than we have to eat all the time. Why? Can we ever just leave our mouths at rest the way we prop up our feet? I think so. Sometimes there is nothing in me that wants out. Everything is ok where it is. Or I am waiting to know what I mean before I start talking.

Surfing is silent. It can be, anyway. That’s the way I like it. I’m not a chatty surfer. If you can get 4 sentences out of me before I paddle away, you should feel special. It’s easier to pay attention when you’re not using your mouth. That’s about a lot more than surfing.

It’s like your soul condenses in silence. It becomes thicker and contains more of the essential ingredient–the thing it is. More of a bisque and less of a broth.

Turn off the noise and listen to the wind. Or the clock. Or the birds. Don’t speak. Nothing going in. Nothing going out. Stasis.

“What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your full love.” Thank you, Rilke. Silence become anything but boring.

A Little Heavier

I try to pay attention. I really do. That might be hard to imagine–I know I often talk too much, send too many messages, post too many pictures. I know this about me. I am constantly having to to forgive myself and try again in the morning. But inside all of it, I am trying to pay attention. To listen. To discover the messages.

They’re easy to hear at yoga glass where I’m expecting them–the whole practice is dedicated to paying attention. But I never heard anyone say anything like what the instructor came out with last week. It caught me so off guard I almost burst into tears. Not that it’s anything to cry about, but, you know. Strong emotions have that effect on me.

A resting pose. A twist, maybe? I forget. And the instructor says: “See if you can be a little heavier. Let the earth hold you.”

Seriously.
See if you can be a little heavier.
I mean, who says things like that?
Who does that?

Be heavier. Let the earth hold you.
Damn.

Aren’t we always trying to be lighter? Women, especially, I think, in regards to our bodies–but that’s not the point. In our bodies, in our spirits, in our hearts. We’re always–I’m always–trying to let go, to float, to be less extra and more essential…trying to give the earth as little as possible to hold up. Trying not to be too much. Too heavy, too loud, too bright, too much information, too many glasses of wine, overly honest, too explicit, overwhelming.

And there she goes, and right there on the yoga mat permission is granted to be everything. All of it. Be as much as you are. Be as much as I am. To let the earth hold me up because of course it will. There’s no way I am too big or too much or too heavy for the entire planet. Even I know that.

What is it about the mandate to be a little heavier and let the earth hold it all that makes my eyes prick? Even now. Is it because I am terrified of being too much? Of knocking the whole blue and green ball right out of orbit?

Kind of. I mean, yes.

I don’t know how not to try to be less. I envy svelte people with their shit together who speak in critical sentences and never snort when they laugh, fall of their bikes, post stupid things on social media or tell stories that are too long and end up lost in translation. It must be nice. The day I try to be a little heavier and let the earth hold me, Mother Earth is going to have her work cut out for her. Expect atmospheric disturbances.

What’s the lesson? About being what you are just for a minute? Stopping for a second to take stock of your own baggage before going about the business of trying to let it go, to set it down? Maybe. Because letting go of things is good. Things that don’t serve you. Things you don’t need. I guess I just never knew, until I was lying there on the yoga mat practically crying about it, that you also have to quit trying to peel your fingers off of things that belong to you once in a while. Just for a few minutes, while you breathe. And be everything you are. Have everything you have. And just trust the planet to keep it’s rhythm with all of it. Every last pound, story, poem, wish, tear, stupid thing you said/did that you shouldn’t have.

Oh yeah and keep it together while you’re at it because you’re in public and whereas the instructor just gave you permission to let the earth hold you, it’s not a good place to actually come unglued.

Maybe it’s like breathing in and out, the trying to be lighter/trying to be heavier? You can’t exhale forever. Sometimes you have to pull into you things that you need. It’s very scary. Trying to be less feels safer than trying to be more. Or is it just more familiar?

Anyway. I’m trying to pay attention. I heard the message. It’s about self-love and about trusting the universe to keep me in its grasp.  It’s permission not to be a butterfly all the time.  It’s permission to sometimes be a stone.

How to Be Okay When You’re Not

I thought you might like a suggestion about how to be okay when you’re not. Because it happens to all of us and it’s good to have a plan.

This is mine:

I go to the beach.  Of course.  Because I can.  But you don’t need a beach to do this.  I sit in the sand and curl up into a little ball, like a seated fetal position. That’s the position I take when I’m really bad. When I’m kind of okay, I might sit cross legged. If I’m good, just feel like I need a huddle with all of my selves, I might sort of lie back on my elbows. It doesn’t matter.

I reach my finger out and trace a circle around me–all the way around–in the sand. It could be a big circle or a little circle—it doesn’t matter. The less okay I am, the smaller I make the circle, like a tighter hug.

I don’t know where I got this from, but it’s been with me for a long time, and I am pretty sure I didn’t make it up. If I did, it’s one of those things that can’t I be the first one to have invented.

This is how to be okay whether or not you are.

The important thing is to close the circle. You may not believe this until you try it, but you can feel the circle close. Something happens. I swear. No, I am not insane. Try it. If you can’t get to the beach, sit on your living room floor and draw an invisible circle. Sit in the driveway and draw a circle with chalk. You’ll see what I mean.

I tell myself that everything that is me is inside the circle. Definitions are important when you’re not okay. Basic definitions. Inside the circle: Diana. Outside the circle: not-Diana. Having something you can be completely sure of is a fabulous place to start when you’re not really okay. And it rocks when you are.

I tell myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. There is enough air. The sand is holding me up. Nothing hurts. My heart is beating just the way it’s supposed to. My lungs are doing a great job of breathing. Everything essential is just fine. I tell myself everything I absolutely need is inside the circle with me. Intestines, for example.

And everything/everybody that is not-me must stay out while the circle is closed. When I’m especially not-okay, I write things in the sand outside the circle. The first letters of names, usually. People, living or not, who, no matter how much I love them, are not me. Only I am allowed inside the circle. I have to be in here alone to be okay, and you have to stay out. Sometimes I review a list of things and people who are not me, mentally telling them they have to stay out right now, setting them on the other side of the line.

It becomes easier and easier to breathe.

I explain to myself that inside the circle, everything is alright. Nothing is missing. Here are my two hands, each with 10 fingers. I have plenty of teeth and enough hair. My legs take me everywhere I need to go. If I am hungry, it is by choice.  Outside the circle, everything can be as wrong as it is, but inside the circle, everything is accounted for, working, in place. It is the only spot in the universe where everything is alright.

I just sit there. Sometimes I close my eyes. Sometimes, if I’m not having a good day, I might cry a little. I don’t usually, but it’s not impossible. So if you walk by on the beach and happen to see me, don’t worry. It’s just salt water. And don’t talk to me. I can’t talk when I’m in the circle. I mean, I don’t want to. That’s not generally a problem either because I think there’s something about the circle that makes you invisible to most people. I’m not kidding. You’ll see what I mean when you try it.

Then when I feel a little better–or the tide is coming in, or my back starts to hurt, or the mosquitoes are biting me, or I can tell I’ve had enough sun, or I’m thinking about how my cats are hungry—I reach out with my hands and open the circle. I make a door in it.

And the rest of the world comes rushing in. But it’s alright. Because on some very basic level, I have remembered that I am still here and there are at least some ways in which I am okay. And that, as I said, is a fabulous place to start.

Try it. It works.

The Importance of Being Everything

A friend looked at me with either disbelief or sudden comprehension (they are hard to distinguish) and said to me, “You are everything!” I laughed because that’s silly. The list of things I’m not is much longer than the list of things I am. But I have been thinking, on this 2-week trip out of the Costa Rican jungle into the Mennonite Meccas of the USA, about all the things I am–and it’s a lot of things. Diverse things. Often opposites.

I’ve been thinking about Living Theatre—how Life is theatre and Theatre is life. All the world is, in fact, a stage. And I Iove that. I was a college theatre major many lives ago, and although by all appearances I walked away from it, do not be fooled: I never walk away from anything. I love being a shape shifter, being a little bit of everything. A statement like that make me seem insincere if you don’t take the time to hear what I mean. So, listen.

You can be a lot of things without being insincere. I am never insincere. All of the personas, all of the characters, are real. I just perhaps enjoy this more than most—am able to delight in the scene/language/wardrobe/script(language) changes that drive most people crazy and make them feel that if they cannot always be one person, they are therefore incorrect. Why? Who says? Why be one thing when you can be all the things?

I know. You’re normal and I’m, um, a little strange. It drives you crazy when your life tries to require you be somebody you’re not. I know. Me? I don’t resist it. I take it as a challenge. A new role to play. New lines to learn. A new costume. And I am curious. I want to know everything. From the inside out. If you learn the language, believe your lines as you deliver them, wear the costume convincingly, you will be amazed how people let you in. I have learned this.

In my daily life at the beach in Tamarindo, I feel ageless—neither young nor old nor in need of setting myself at a particular place on the spectrum: undefined. I slip between 3 languages on a normal day which is like having 3 passports to 3 planets. Which one is my home? All of them. Or none? I couldn’t choose. I cruise around on a bicycle in cut-off jean shorts and flipflops (if I can remember them) with a notebook, a baseball cap and sometimes a raincoat in my backpack because you never know. I don’t even think about it until I shape-shift into the farm girl from Manheim, Pennsylvania and then I realize that the things I have in common with other women my age in this place are…well, there are some. Most of them involve reminiscing. Or baking. But what’s not to love about that?

The other night in my journal, I made a list of the things I am. You should try this. It’s an awesome exercise in self-awareness. And then you get to practice being all the things to the absolute best of your ability. Don’t try to shorten the list. Add to it. Deepen. Here’s a truth worth pondering: Acting is acting; lying is lying, but acting is not lying. If you don’t know what I mean, don’t worry. Keep living. You’ll figure it out.

Why anyone else would want to read this amount of my navel-gazing introspection I swear I do not know. But, you’re welcome. You can always shut me up by clicking on the little X in the corner.

This is my List of Things I Am:

the daughter
the grandmother
the step-mother
the good wife
the widow
the American ex-pat
la casi Tica
la quasi Italiana
the nurse (never by profession, but…)
the Pennsylvania Mennonite
the farm girl
the surfer
a single woman
the prodigal child
the cloistered nun
the writer
the student
the teacher
the one who is listening
the maker of maps
the clairvoyant
the wanderer
the stubborn one
the timid one
the guardian
the phoenix

Every day I get up and be some of the things—which ever ones are required of me. These personas are all the more clear when I travel to other parts/places of my life like I am doing right now. I am a human onion. Who, honestly, is not?

The lines blur between Life and Theatre. They melt into the one thing of being absolutely sincere in the moment where you are, and not shying away from any moments because you don’t know your lines or you don’t have a perfect costume. The more things you are, the more diverse moments of sincerity you may participate in.

This is what I’m talking to myself about today on the last day of my trip as a snowstorm approaches.

The Devil, A Hermit, and a Guy Hanging Upside Down

What do you say when your friend offers you a Tarot card reading to start the new year? Um, you say, “Yes.” You get on your bike and ride over to her house and willingly accept a vodka soda first because you don’t know what’s coming. If you grow up Mennonite like some of us (ha ha) you know nothing about Tarot cards except that they are definitely Satanic. I giggle as I write this because the idea of the devil residing in a deck of cards is, well, funny. Right? If only it were that easy. Sigh. Anyway.

I expected the reading to be interesting, but I have to say it was FAR MORE interesting than I imagined.  I’m open to input from all sources, so why not a deck of cards to suggest ways in which I might think outside of my box?

We shuffled up the cards, and I pulled 3. These were intended to represent the Past, the Present and the Future. And my friend said you’re supposed to pose a question. I don’t really have any specific questions in my life right now, just vague ones like, “Which end is up?” and “Am I doing this right?” But you apparently aren’t allowed to be vague, you have to be specific—so I made something up about focusing my energy. Which is still vague. And I feel the cards I drew held a mirror up to me in a way that is IMMENSELY COMFORTING.

Funny. I wouldn’t have said I went there looking for comfort, per say. That’s not generally the way I roll. But I rode home later practically crying with relief. Here’s what I drew:

THE PAST

I flipped over the first card that represents the past and there was the fucking Devil. Sorry about the f word.

I gasped. I mean, the last thing you want to do on your very first Tarot reading as a recovering Mennonite is come face to face with the Devil. It scared the crap out of me. And then I almost burst into tears of joy because HE IS IN THE PAST. You and me, you Beast From Hell, are done with each other. Bye.

The more you know of my story, the more levels of meaning the Devil in the Past will have for you. And, no, I don’t believe I have dealt with the literal Devil in the past. I mean that I have been through many difficult scenarios, most of them in one way or another chosen by me. And of course Cancer is an obvious devil who has very recently caused the complete destruction of the life I had. So yes, a diabolical amount of pain and difficulty are DEFINITELY in the past for me. And what a relief to have this comforting pat on the back from a stupid deck of cards saying, “That’s all done, honey. It’s all over. It isn’t now and it isn’t later. It’s done.”

THE PRESENT

This one was so obvious it made me laugh. I flipped over the middle card and found The Hermit. Ha ha. There’s not even much to say about that. And the Tarot deck only has one devil and he’s in the past so what the heck? Everything else is cream, baby. That’s an amusingly accurate picture of what followed The Devil. A whole year that I spent being a hermit.

I am trying to move out of the hermit mode little by little and I think I’m doing a good job. The Hermit card is said to represent a period of withdraw and reflection, which I think all of you have witnessed me doing.  Right again.

So now I’ve got one card left and it’s the one I’m nervous about. Only mildly nervous because the Devil is in the Past, but being as the Hermit in the Present is SO ACCURATE, I can’t help but be worried about what the Future card is going to be. Because if it’s as right-on as the Past and the Present, then…well, that’s a little scary.  What if I don’t like it?

I flipped it over.

THE FUTURE

Staring back at me was The Hanged Man. I was stunned, confused and dismayed–in that order. The picture on the card and the name of it don’t really match. The name on the card sounds like a death sentence, but the guy on the card isn’t dead. He isn’t even hanging by his neck. He’s hanging by his foot with a very peaceful Mona Lisa type of look on his face. He doesn’t actually appear to be in any type of distress at all. In fact, the more I stared at him, the more it seemed like he was hanging upside down because he wanted to. Just chilling in an upside-down tree pose. And he has a halo on his head.

I stopped being upset and became fascinated. I spent most of my childhood hanging upside down from a broomstick trapeze that my dad finally made for me in in a tree in the front yard after I inflicted on him unbearable amounts of pestering. When I outgrew that, I spent an inexplicable amount of time doing handstands against the kitchen door—just chilling upside down. My parents were perplexed. My sisters were annoyed. I just liked it. I’ve always liked upside down.  No idea why.

So what does The Hanged Man mean? My friend and I had to look him up because he’s a little obscure.  We found this description:

In this card, it depicts a man who is suspended upside-down, and he is hanging by his foot from the living world tree. This tree is rooted deep down in the underworld, and it is known to support the heavens. It is believed that the hanging man is actually positioned there by his own free will. We believe this because of the serene expression which is on his face. His right foot is bound to the branches, but his left foot remains perfectly free. His wearing of red pants are a representation of the physical body and human’s passion, while the blue that he wears in his shirt are representative of calm emotions, a color combination that is commonly seen in saints. His intellect is symbolized by the yellow color of his shoes, hair and halo.

Which, supposedly, means:

The hanged man understands that his position is a sacrifice that he needed to make in order to progress forward – whether as repentance for past wrongdoings, or a calculated step backward to recalculate his path onward. This time he spends here will not be wasted, he does this as part of his progression forward. His upside down state can also symbolize the feeling of those that walk a spiritual path, for they see the world differently.

This is a card which is mainly designated towards waiting and suspension. This suggests that this might be the thing that you need to do in order to achieve success or to wait for the proper opportunity. Keep in mind that taking action is not always the best solution and in certain cases refraining from doing so might bring you just as much, if not more benefits.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS TO ME

I told you it was interesting.

What I got from all of it is pretty much a huge pat on the back from the Universe, and a, “Don’t you worry your little head about it.”

The dark days are in the Past.
The Present is quiet.
I’m not supposed to know, now, what’s going to happen later and there is nothing I need to do to bring it about.  So I should just hang upside down and chill.  Be where I am.

I love it. I can do that. I would have been ok with a bright, joyful and glorious future instead of hanging upside down by the foot, but hey. I can hang. Whatever is coming will eventually get here. And if this is what’s coming, it’s good enough for me.  As long as the Devil is in the Past, I can hang right here for the next 50 years or until enlightenment arrives or until somebody cuts me down.  Whichever comes first.

 

Not to Hide

Silence

This is the end of a year of silence. I didn’t set out to experience a year of silence, but I also promised not to require anything of myself other than keeping my job and feeding the cats. A year of of much silence is what came to me. It was necessary and beautiful in a fearsome way.

Walking out of it, I feel nothing like the person who walked into it. I’m not sure how that happened, but it’s true.

 

2017

In 2017, I lost everything. Not “lost” like I don’t know where I put it–“lost” as in my whole life lifted off the planet like water vapor and disappeared into the sky. You know that story already. Until the beginning of June 2017, I had one life. It vanished and was replaced, first by another completely different life in a country with a language I barely spoke, and then replaced again. Replaced the second time by a life back in my familiar country but in a strange house with a reconfigured job, and a new silence.

So. Very. Much. Silence.

I learned to inhabit it.

 

2018

2018 has been a quiet year. Very quiet. Everything happened. Nothing happened. I don’t really know. If I try to make a cohesive, sensible tale out of all of it, my head begins to split down the middle, so I stop. It’s alright. I just tell you true stories as they come to me–maybe someday one of us will be able to make sense out of it all. Or at least some of it.

I have literally written volumes. Notebook after notebook, obsessively as if my life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Some of it is good, some of it isn’t–it doesn’t matter. I have to do it to keep from going mad. There is so much noise in my head and so much silence all around. Sometimes I start to cry and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I feel unnervingly happy. There’s just so much. So much everything. So much that is so important and so impossible. It’s a very big wind and I attempt to simply stand still in it. To take all of it and not fall.

And yes there is a book coming. Poems for the brave-hearted. It’s called “Certain as Afternoon.” Because everything that will happen is.

 

Fear

I’m not afraid.
I don’t feel weak, either.
I feel inexplicably strong.
Like one of those giant cenizaros that hum with bees when they bloom.
Like that.
A blooming kind of “strong.”

I literally do not know what I want.
Maybe I am afraid to want anything for fear of losing it.
That would be a reasonable fear for me to have, all things considered.
But I just said I wasn’t afraid, so what is this confession?
Not afraid, perhaps, of anything that can come from the outside.
But raw as as a fresh wound on the inside.
Yes.
That.
I’m more afraid of me than I am of you.

 

Resolutions

I don’t do New Years resolutions any more. When I used to do them, I always resolved the same things: to write more, to eat less, to be kinder. I don’t have any other ideas. But if I wrote any more than I do right now, I’d have to quit my job. If I ate any less, I would blow away in the wind. If I was any kinder, I seriously hope someone would tie me to a tree and go get help.

But maybe I do have a resolution for 2019. I resolve not to hide. Why do I feel like bursting into tears when I write that? Because hiding is safe and I am good at it?

Well I won’t do it.

I’m not broken anymore. Not most days, anyway. But I’m not sure I’m the same species of creature that I used to be. Something in me feels like it has the coiled strength of a waiting tiger–motionless and not at all delicate. And I’m pretty sure I have butterfly wings, playful, bright, and fragile. I don’t know what you call a thing like that. I don’t know how you be a thing like that. What does it eat? Where does it sleep?  Will people be afraid of it?

 

Water

It’s like surfing. Everything is. Life is. Every day you paddle out into it, whatever it is. Some days you wait and wait for absolutely nothing. Some days you get cold and you want to go home. Some days the sets are so big and so terrible all you can do is paddle straight at them with all your might and pray to God that the hit, when it comes, won’t be as bad as it looks. Some days you ditch the board and dive for the bottom. And some days everything is right, including you, and it all comes together so perfectly you can’t decide if you more want to laugh or cry. I like those days. I have some like that. I have all the kinds. You don’t get to pick.

You pick whether or not to get in the water.

I’m in.

Intermittent Fasting: Burn the Broken Chairs

So, let’s talk about something practical for a change, a useful experience I can perhaps offer the world that is neither sad nor entirely nebulous. I’m going to tell you about my 3 months of experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.

What it is

Intermittent Fasting, if you don’t already know, is including a “fast” within each day. You can do this every day, or on certain days—there’s not a wrong way to do it. Your fast starts when you finish eating in the evening and continues until you break the fast. Obviously. You can fast for as long as you want, but people working within this model often aim for a 16 – 20 hour fast.

This means that if I finish eating/drinking at 9 pm and I am aiming for a 20 hour fast, the next time I eat food will be at 5 PM the next day. Another name for this is the 20/4—20 hours of fasting with a 4 hour eating window.


What I was always told

I was always told what you were always told:
You have to eat 3 square meals a day in order to be healthy.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you don’t eat enough, you will feel weak and be improperly nourished.
You have to eat an amazing number of portions of certain types of food, or else.
If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will think it’s starving and you will get fat. (?? Thus, all the fat starving people??)
It’s ideal to eat 5 small meals per day.

Etc etc etc

 

What I am discovering

All of that appears to be incorrect, or at best, incomplete. I’ve been doing more 20-hour fast days than not since the end of August, and I am not: starving, fat, too skinny, weak, dizzy, ill. I can surf, ride my bike, run, do yoga and even though several colds have gone around the office lately, I haven’t gotten any of them. I got an infection in my foot from a thorn I stepped on and it went away without me having to take antibiotics. Doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

What made me try this

Two things happened simultaneously that made me so curious I couldn’t resist trying something that I was sure I would hate:

1. Riding along in the car with a friend of mine, discussing longevity in Blue Zones vs all-the-people-getting-cancer-nowadays, I watched him have a complete Eureka moment when I explained that in Guanacaste, the dry season ended in an epoch of virtual famine back when people lived off of the land, not the tourists. Could times of fasting/famine may be one of the Blue Zone common denominators? I saw how much this discovery illuminated him, and I understood that it’s worth paying attention to.

2. Listening to a pod cast this friend send to me later in the day, I heard an analogy that made all the sense in the world about how it is that fasting can be good for you—what your body does when it is hungry that can save your life. Let me paraphrase:

The body is like a wood-burning ship or train crossing the ocean or desert. The food you eat, obviously, is the fuel. So what happens when, in the middle of the ocean, the captain realizes that there is never going to be enough wood to make it to the port? He sends the crew through the ship, room by room, to check the furniture and haul out everything that is obsolete, wobbly, or broken. And they throw it all into the fire. Burn the broken chairs. That is the phrase that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Burn the broken chairs. The extra fat cells, the unhealthy cells that can get out of hand and form tumors, tissue that is damage by too much sun or too much wine or too much whatever. Burn the broken chairs. God knows the closets are full of them. Stuff we save up in our bodies and our hearts because we don’t want to throw it overboard. Burn the broken chairs. When we get to the port, we can build new ones out of solid materials that will hold us up but not create clutter.

This is a link to the podcast.  There’s a lot of discussion in it of other, um, unconventional health measures people take, but don’t let that scare you.  No, I haven’t tried all of them!

I had to try it. I had to know. I’d spent 47 years believing that I could not live without breakfast, lunch and dinner, and actually experiencing very real symptoms of hypoglycemia if I didn’t eat “on time.” So? How in the world could this possibly work for me?

I do not know. But it does. I am not weak, dizzy, grumpy, miserable, or any of the other things you would think I would be. I am also not losing weight. This is ok with me because right now I do not need to lose weight–although many people who want to lose weight are able to do it this way. I kind of feel like a rock star.

 

How it feels to fast

You wonder, am I not starving hungry all day? I’ll be honest. I’ve been starving hungry since the day I was born. I love food. But I am not more starving hungry now than I ever was before. It depends more on how much I ate the day before than on anything else.  If I don’t eat enough food during my 4 hours of “feeding,” I can be pretty miserable by about 10 AM. I get terribly hungry, then I get distracted and forget about it. Exercise helps. Endorphins wipe out everything else. I’m the hungriest between about 2-3 PM, for some reason. When 5 o’clock finally rolls around and it’s time for me to eat something, I couldn’t care less if I have something to immediately start stuffing in my mouth, or not. It’s amazing.

And this fasting, as I mentioned in a previous post, has also (I believe) affected my heart/spirit. I absolutely believe that this has helped me burn the broken chairs in my heart. How, I don’t know. But if fasting has been a spiritual discipline for thousands of years, there must be a reason. I have not tasked myself with being the one to define it, but I will tell you that I do experience it. If you have shit to get rid of in your body or in your heart/soul/spirit—stop eating and let the employees haul out everything that doesn’t serve you well. Burn the broken chairs.

When I am very very hungry and I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore, I tell myself it’s alright to be hungry. It’s alright to feel that way. And I love proving to myself over and over that I can do hard things. Hell, this is nothing.

I feel like I “burn cleaner.” And I don’t even know exactly what I mean by this. If you do intermittent fasting, I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about, though. I feel more….sharp. More like I am made up only of essential elements. I mean my body and my mind. Because who are we kidding—we are all only One Thing. I’m done with those bogus separations. I’ve never been able to separate myself into compartments and I’m not interested in starting now.

 

Practically

Practically speaking, this is a difficult way to live. There are all kinds of occasions where you kind of can’t get out of fast-breaking social occasions. So, ok. I go out to breakfast and don’t fast that day. I go out to lunch and don’t fast that day either. It’s alright. There’s always tomorrow. You don’t accumulate a boat full of broken chairs in one day, anyway.

For how long am I planning to do this? I don’t know. Until further notice? Until I change my mind? For how long are you planning to eat the way you eat? Until I decide I have a better idea, I guess. For now, I like it. My body/spirit feels strong and uncomplicated. I also have zero problems with acid reflux, which I suffered from for 12 years. So, there’s that to consider. I am completely off the meds I thought I couldn’t live without.  As Pio would say: Fa’ti delle domande.

 

My takeaway

Let go of everything you thing you know; it’s all somebody’s best guess.  Let go of it all. Truth will arrive on its own to fill up the empty space.

Burn the broken chairs.