I Like the Idea of Poetry

I’ll be honest. I like the idea of poetry. I like to think I have the intellectual capacity to enjoy poetry. Years ago, when Kay Ryan was Poet Laureate of our country I listened to an interview with her on All Things Considered where she read some of her work. There was something about her writing – maybe the subtle humor or the economy of words. As soon as Ryan’s interview was over I ordered her book Say Uncle. And because I ordered the book online rather than driving to my local bookstore (which should have been my first choice) I never gave myself the chance to change my mind. The slim volume arrived in days as expected. I opened it once and then, for years, it sat on my shelf. A visual reminder that I like the idea of poetry. 

A few days ago I received a package in the mail from one of my best friends in high school. Back then she was the person I wanted to be. Intelligent. I mean – Merit Scholar intelligent. Funny. Funny in that subtle sort of way that sneaks up and then the next thing you know cafeteria milk is spewing from your nose. Supportive and kind. I know that memories shift and change – but all these decades later I still remember how, in high school, in her own quiet way, she made me feel that I could do anything. I didn’t believe her, of course, but it felt wonderful to have someone in my life who saw the light in me. The thing is, she didn’t know she was doing this for me. It was just who she was. Who she is. 

We lost touch in the 1980’s and 90’s but reconnected around the time that I returned from Ireland. When my sister died alone and estranged from my mother and me, it was this dear friend who opened the door to her home and helped me find Margaret’s grave. 

And so it was no surprise and it put a smile on my face when I picked up the package from my doorstep and saw it was from her. My first thought after ripping open the padded manila envelope was, ‘Geez – that’s a big book of poetry!’. But the card accompanying the gift explained that the poet was local and was one of her favorites. In the past she had sent me books by Annie Dillard and Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids – books that I loved. I knew she wouldn’t send me anything I couldn’t handle. Plus the poet had written this inside the front cover for me:

Mimm! I hope these mad moments in verse hold a song for you. Welcome home!

What was I to do? Given that I like the idea of poetry I had no option but to sit down, open the book, and read.

The book is Voodoo Libretto: New & Selected Poems by Tim Seibles, who happens to be a past Poet Laureate of Virginia.

And now, each morning when my brain is fresh (I tried the evening but by then my brain can no longer absorb nuance, cadence and beauty) I open Voodoo Libretto to a random page and read a poem. Seibles’ autobiographical writing is sexy and funny, surprising and relevant. Heartbreaking. On the printed page the words have a jazz cool visual rhythm and when I begin to read my eyes carry me and I can’t seem to stop. 

Curious? Maybe start with his Alison Wolff. And maybe, in a few weeks of mornings I’ll need to diversify a bit and open that slim little book by Kay Ryan. Or Basho if I’m in the mood for three lines of Haiku. Or Ferlinghetti.

Because I like the idea of poetry.

And I’m so happy that my high school friend, who I looked up to with awe in 1974 and still do now, knows that about me.


Love and Home

I’ve been thinking about love and what makes a home.

The moving van arrived four days after we did. Our townhome has a ground floor garage and spare room (the ‘Mimm Cave’), a first floor open plan living room and kitchen, and a second floor primary bedroom and two smaller bedrooms – an office for Ben and our ‘yoga studio’. Boxes were easy to carry to their designated room. I’d packed over one hundred and sixty and all but a few were small enough and light enough for this sixty-three year old post-menopausal woman to lift. Maneuvering the furniture, however, proved an issue for our intrepid moving team.

Navigating the tight corners and two flights of stairs was an impossible task. After some discussion, the quartet – by now soaked in sweat – drove the truck further into our short driveway and parked at an angle. Two stood on the roof of the truck, which sagged under their weight. One stood on the small deck off our kitchen and the forth ran between the back of the truck, up one flight of stairs and back down again as together they hoisted furniture over the deck’s railing. Three hours later the truck was empty and the house was full.

Four days later Ben and I, along with our brave feline companion Bruce are adjusting to our new life. And I’m left thinking about love and what makes a home.

As I write it is 7:00 AM on a cloudy Sunday in Virginia. The house is quiet. Ben is still sleeping upstairs and Bruce is enjoying breakfast. I’m sitting in my living room, which is filled with soft morning light. Everything that I can see – the chairs, the sofa, the painting on the wall, the tea chest, the brass lamp and baskets – are gifts from someone else. So even though I am alone right now I’m surrounded by the energetic imprint left behind by the friends who offered these objects to me. I can feel the joy and spirt of generosity generated by giving. 

But I’ve been given unseen things, too, which have their own sweet vibration, like the way bright fuchsia and searing red bounce against one another when they are side by side.

All these energies, from the seen and the unseen, have infused our new home with love. And for the first time in a long time, I have space in my heart to feel it. 

So thank you. I feel blessed. Not only for this love-filled home, but for you.


Do Clothes Make the Yoga Teacher?

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes. It doesn’t matter that my daily uniform rotates around a tee shirt paired with yoga pants or two identical pairs of Target jeans bought in two different sizes on sale for a tenner each – I love clothes.

Who knew I needed a pea green bomber jacket?

I love the expressive nature of clothes. How the colors you choose can reflect the mood you are in and how the way you style your clothes can shout to the world, ‘here I am!’ or whisper ‘shhh…I’m thinking’. I love how a structured shoulder can help you ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and how cutting cloth on the bias changes the drape of a dress. Clothes can indicate where you stand politically. Clothes can shine a light on your inner artist or reflect your relationship with nature. 

Thirty-five years ago I loved nothing more than to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Goodwill on El Camino Real in Mountain View scouring the racks for vintage dresses. I paired my findings with fishnet stockings, Doc Marten knock-offs and baggy houndstooth jackets with fabulous, patterned satin linings from the men’s section. I was making jewelry at the time – huge brooches made with old watch parts and those tiny spoons you find in salt cellars – and I’d have one pinned to an oversized collar or maybe use one to replace a missing button. The look had a grunge-goth vibe that I embraced. The style was trendy, of course – I mean, what self-respecting Goth didn’t have a pair of Doc Martens? – but those clothes also told a story. Anyone looking at me would know, without asking a single question, a little bit about me.

I don’t dress to impress or express these days. While the pandemic influenced an even more relaxed approach to my sartorial splendor, I’ve been rolling through life in baggy clothes and graphic tees for awhile now. The only story I’m telling through the clothes I pull on each morning is the one that says ‘I’m not worth the effort’. How sad is that?

But maybe that’s about to change.

Last week a woman who plays the role of ‘cool, older aunt’ in my life cleaned out her closet and offered the clothes she no longer wore to me. 

I took them.

These are not clothes with worn out knees or thread bare elbows. These are clothes my bank account would never allow me to purchase for myself. These are beautiful, classic, never going out-of-style clothes.

I slipped my arms through the sleeves of a well-tailored jacket and caught a glimpse of myself in my friend’s mirror. Who was that? I recognized my face, but everything else about me had changed. For one thing, I had a waist. For another, the chatter in my mind shifted from the typical self-deprecating ramblings to which I’m accustomed into something approaching pride. 

I brought the clothes home that evening and the next day purged my own closet. And the day after that? I started showing up for my Zoom meetings sitting a little bit taller and a little bit more confident.

And then I started thinking.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes.

That being said, I’m conflicted. I know clothes are nothing more than the means by which we keep our bodies – our souls’ temporary home – protected from the elements. So why should clothes matter? But if our naked bodies are a blank canvas then clothes are the paint by which we express to the world who we are and who we aspire to be.

Who will you be today?

ps…As a yoga instructor I will continue to wear baggy tee shirts and budget leggings to class. It’s my small protest against the Yoga Industrial Complex and the sexualization of a practice that means so much to me.


What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Have you ever thought about something, or maybe saw something totally outside the realm of normal and then, for whatever the reason, it’s everywhere? Sort of like when Uno won the Westminster Dog Show and then suddenly we were running into beagles around every corner. 

That happened to me three times this past week. Three times in the span of five days this question appeared: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. I first saw the question in an article I was reading online. Then I heard the same question posed to an audience during a TED talk. Finally, the question shows up in the tome my book club is reading,  David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.

It could be that I’m riding the edge of a wave and by the end of next week we won’t be able to turn around without bumping into posters, bumperstickers and tee shirts imploring us to contemplate the answer. Or maybe the universe is directing the question to me and me alone – a little bit like the freeway sign who talks to Steve Martin’s weather man in the movie L.A. Story.

Either way, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to contemplate. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?

Maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe not. Does it matter?

I’m all for living fearlessly but the suggestion that we’re holding ourselves back from full self-actualization because we’re afraid is annoying. Why? Because it feeds the idea of individuation during a time in our history when, more than anything, we need to connect. The question encourages us to be selfish during a time in our history when we should be selfless.

Yes, sometimes fear keeps us from walking a certain path but is that always bad? I’ve often thought about getting a tattoo. With a great sigh of relief I happily confess that fear has kept me from the artist’s needle. The saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is not one I choose to embrace. The intention of these ideas, on the surface, do not encourage community building. Instead, they lean us toward a narcissistic variant of introspection.


Ecopsychology – How Do We Fit in the World?

My second quarter at Sofia included a course called Ecopsychology.  I wasn’t really certain what that meant when the course began.  I’m coming to understand, however, how we’ve lost our connection to nature and through suffering that loss we’ve broken an important connection with our spirit and soul.

One of our assignments for the class was to design a small service project to take into the world.  It didn’t have to be big or flashy or showy.  Just something small to rebuild that lost connection.

I’d thought I’d share the first half of the assignment:

CIMG2464

This class, Ecopsychology, got under my skin.

I’m certain it didn’t mean to, but it did. And now I have this whole new way of looking at the world around me.

It began innocently enough. I thought our readings and assignments were simply reminding me of those things I already knew. Things like the fact that somehow we’re all connected. Not just you and me. But all living things. We rely on one another. Our relationships are complex. Sometimes they are reciprocal, sometimes symbiotic. But that’s how the world rolls. We all give a little, take a little and somehow it all balances out. Or at least it should.

I know. I’m making this sound all too simple and Neil De Grasse Tyson could explain with far more eloquence but the truth is – the point I am trying to make – is that we are all in this together. And by we I mean my best friend, my family, the plant on the top shelf of my bookcase, the tree outside my window, the blue sky above the tree, the squirrel dashing across the road (and narrowly missing the FedEx truck), the FedEx driver and Rigby. Rigby is the 9-month-old Portuguese Water Dog that I sometimes take care of. Even Rigby and his loveable puppy brain.

It’s just that the tree and the plant and the sky don’t know they’re part of this. The squirrel doesn’t know it, either. He’s too busy storing nuts for the winter. And Rigby? With his puppy brain? Clueless.

But those of us possessing what we would like to believe is higher cognitive function should know. We should know that we’re all in this together and that the ‘this’ I am writing about is in deep shit trouble.

And that’s what I mean when I say this class got under my skin’.

It reminded me of things I already know, and then it reminded me that we have a responsibility to try to do something about it (at this point, if Rigby had a better command of the English language would cock his head to one side and whine, “Really?”)

Yes, Rigby. We do. And the ‘something’ we choose to do has to be more than hugging a few trees.

 

I’ll admit it. At first my service project was going to be just big enough to meet the requirement, but small enough to not occupy too much of my time. And, no, I’m not proud but I still believed my idea – to write a blog post about water conservation – was reasonable in light of my state’s severe drought conditions.

But given that my blog’s readership can be counted on two hands and a foot the idea of posting five hundred words on how to conserve water didn’t really seem to be an effective way to connect with my role as a human caregiver to the planet. Besides, writing a blog post wasn’t the interactive experience I was beginning to crave.

I wanted a service project that would last longer than the time it takes to post a blog. What could I do?

The answer came to me in the shower. (A very short shower with a water conserving showerhead.) My project would have three components:

 

1)    A blog post about water conservation that can be read at Practically Twisted.

2)    A concerted effort to walk my talk by using grey water from showering and dish washing to flush my toilet.

3)    A second concerted effort to not just walk but to peddle my talk. By the beginning of next month I’ll be using a bicycle as my primary means of local transportation. (Truth-be-told I have an ulterior motive. Exercise! I’ve discovered there’s a direct link between the amount a person studies and an ever-widening backside. It’s time for an ass intervention!)

 

Like I said, this class got under my skin. In a very positive way. I’m already using grey water and the blog post will be up within a day or two. And I can’t wait to start riding a bike again.

This class and this project has taught me to take the time to consider my actions. I notice myself making different choices. I notice myself stepping back to breathe and to witness. And it feels good. It affirms not just my life but all life.

 


Two Friends, a Promise and Arbitrary Kindnes

I’m drawn to the odd duck. Maybe it’s because, as much as I’d like to believe the opposite is true, I am one.

My friend Forrest is a bit of an odd duck. An odd duck who squeezes as much life out of every single second of existence as he can. It’s as if he’s trying to live as many lifetimes as possible in this one go-around.

Forrest is a green contractor. And he’s just opened a new store, Inhabiture, which features home furnishings created from re-claimed materials. You can visit his website here. But that’s not why I wanted to write about him.

When he was a kid Forrest and his best friend promised to meet each week to discuss their intentions for the following seven days. How they planned to travel through the world. What they needed to see happen in order to move their lives forward. They didn’t always achieve their goals – life has a way of interrupting even the best of intentions – but they kept their promise and continued to touch base every seven days. They remained accountable to one another. And when one found success, they both celebrated. If one hit a patch of rough, they knew where to find support.

And along the way, they came up with an idea – the People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness. As the small print at the bottom of the flier says, “The People’s Revolution for Arbitrary Kindness is a rag-tag band of folks who want to do good for people in need directly, without trying to convert people to any belief. We are all volunteers and have no overhead expenses.”

For several years they’ve collected clothes and blankets, distributing them to the needy on San Francisco’s streets. This year for the first time, cash donations are being accepted and are tax-deductible. Also, for the first time, People’s Revolution are assembling toiletry kits for distribution.

If you want to donate, or would like to volunteer, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Monetary Donations: $100 can provide more than 15 people in need with a toiletry bag of essential goods. Please make checks out to Woodside/Portola Valley Rotary Foundation and mail to Ian Schmidt at Trimergence, 71 Stevenson Place, Suite 1430, San Francisco, California 94105
  2. Slightly Used Clothes and Blankets: Donations should be delivered by November 2nd to Trimergence in San Francisco or Inhabiture Home, 248 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, California
  3. Your Time: Volunteers are needed to assemble toiletry kits and to distribute clothes and kits at 10:00 AM on Saturday, November 3rd. If you’re interested in volunteering you can email Forrest at forrest@inhabiture.com.

Isn’t it amazing what two friends and a simple promise can bring to the world?