Coming Out of the desert

“As a young child, I would lie in bed at night and listen. I was sure that I heard the sound of the whole world groaning. No one else seemed to hear it and after a while I stopped listening. Now I know that the sound I heard was real – and if I become deaf to it I will also miss the great joyful song of praise that all of Creation is singing to its Creator.”

Rabbi Shefa Gold

I remember the first time I saw that last stretch of US Highway 84 before reaching the gates of Ghost Ranch. I had driven my college boyfriend’s 4-door Ford Escape all the way from Alabama to the ranch in New Mexico where he and I were supposed to spend the summer working and choosing the next step in our lives, where I would later find out that he had planned to propose to me, probably at the end of a hike to one of the gorgeous vistas that O’Keefe had painted during the 50 plus years she lived at the ranch.

He could not drive with me because of a last-minute opportunity that he could not pass up. I would go ahead of him, two weeks before his arrival. It just made sense, except for one problem. I had no idea how to drive a stick.

My mother graciously volunteered to drive hundreds of miles West with me and then fly back from Albuquerque so that she could teach me how to drive a standard along the way. Two days into the trip, she was entering an on-ramp, grinding the gears and jerking the car as if we were on a ride at the carnival, and it dawned on me that perhaps she was not the expert she claimed to be. I calmly looked over and asked her, “Mom, do you actually know how to drive a stick shift?”

“No,” she replied
“No?”
“No,” she said again.
“You’re telling me that you don’t know how to drive this car? This one, the one we’re taking across the entire fucking United States?”
“Not exactly,” she looks at me flippantly.
“Not exactly? MOM! You couldn’t have told me that three state lines ago?”

She pulls over onto the shoulder, manages to get the car into neutral, and jerks the emergency break into place, and then looks over at me with her famous incredulous look.

“Ashley, how hard can it be?”
“Uh, well, seeing as how we’re stuck here on the side of the highway—”
“Ashley, stop being so damn dramatic. We are not stuck on the side of the highway. Now, get over here in the driver’s seat.”
“Absolutely not, I’m calling Ry—”
“No,” she interrupts me, “You are not calling someone to save us. You are going to get behind this wheel, and you are going to push in the clutch, and then you’re going to release it and slowly give it some gas, and then shift the gears until you are able to set the cruise control on 65, all the way into Texas.”

I heard what she was saying, but from a young age, I had learned to deflect my ability to listen, even to myself, onto my humor.

I nodded into a large grin, and asked, “Do we have to go through Texas?”

To be continued…

 

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Be My Oyster

 ‘The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress,’ said a character in an Arthur Miller play. He was referring to the idea that if you’re obsessed with sex and romance, your level of worldly accomplishment may be rather low. It jibes with what a friend in my youth told me when he noticed how much of my energy was engaged in pursuing desirable females: ‘They don’t build statues in parks for guys who chase women.’ I realize you may not be wildly receptive to ruminating on these matters during the Valentine season, Sagittarius. However, the omens suggest I advise you to do just that. It’s a good time to fine-tune the balance between your life-long career goals and your quest for love.

Rob Brezny

Ashley’s breath condensed like a cloud of cigarette smoke as she let out a short, audible laugh. She had thought of nothing but her lifelong career goals and how they knocked her quest for love off the track. Lately, her life had begun to feel like a go-kart out of control. She folded the newspaper and pulled out her bus pass.

Next week, the President of the company will fly in from the West coast and ask everyone in the office, “Where do you see yourself in a year?” Ashley had no idea where she saw herself, now, or in a year.

At the grocery store, she stands at the meat cooler and stares at the local beef until her eyes have the same computer-screen glaze she gets by 3pm every day at work. She picks up the leanest cut and wonders if her contribution to the world will have something to do with the entertainment consumer’s choice awards.

“Watson, right?” the cashier asks.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“How have you been?”
“Oh, you know,” Ashley catches a rolling avocado, “the same.”
“I haven’t seen you in a while, and your hair is so long!”
“Yeah, I just got it cut in fact.”
“Where?”
“Well, um, just a trim around the edges.”
“No, I mean, what salon did you go to?”
“Oh,” Ashely smiles at herself, “right, um, here,”

Ashley pulls out a card while breathlessly throwing in a small bag of dried figs she bought for a recipe she saw that morning in a magazine at the gym.

“Ask for Crystal”
“Oh, thanks,” the cashier looks at the business card, “Have a great night!”
“Yeah, you too,” Ashley says as she shrugs her now heavy bag onto her back.

When she left work, she packed her work computer but quickly placed it back on her desk. Looking over at bewildered co-workers, she said, “I don’t know who I’m kidding. I’m not working tonight.”

Post pianist

Poet Elizabeth Alexander says that in order to create a novel, a writer needs a lot of uninterrupted time alone. Poems, on the other hand, can be snared in the midst of the jumbled rhythms of everyday chaos — between hurried appointments or while riding the subway or at the kitchen table waiting for the coffee to brew. Alexander says that inspiration can sprout like grass poking up out of the sidewalk cracks. Whether or not you’re a writer, Sagittarius, I see your coming weeks as being more akin to snagging poems than cooking up a novel.

–Robert Brezny

The snow is falling falling falling. Dark flesh sky. Streetlight seconds. Rhythm of frozen. I melt the chaos of the ordinary. I struggle to find any truth in your lies.

I ride the bus to work. I wait for the coffee to brew. I find inspiration in the sidewalk along the Winooski River. Did not think I could love that way again.

I saw her on my way to work. Canal St. introduction. My heart shall bleed right again. I turn to say, “I feel as if I should know your name.” She smiled. Agreed.

Song for J–

I am tired of hiding,
behind these doors
that I did not close.

I noticed, yes,
that you cut that last string—no longer
a kindred spirit.

I’m not the woman
you imagined.

Not the woman
worth leaving for.

If you come back only
to leave again, please
remove all the pieces.

So that I can love
like a fool again, or
fall for the impossible.

I’m not the woman
you wanted.

Not the woman
worth fighting for.

Loving you was
always past tense—
I’m telling you now

You’ll never know dear…

Welcome to slavery

Only when we can know and experience the journey from slavery to redemption each day can we truly taste freedom and enjoy the milk and honey that is our inheritance.

Rabbi Shefa Gold

Melanie Watson Photography

Welcome mat

Last week I emailed Rabbi Jan to ask for some spiritual guidance. I told her that I had this inexplicable feeling that there was something “wrong” with me, though I knew it wasn’t true. “I just feel so sad,” I wrote, later adding, “I feel lost.”

Not surprisingly, she sent her deepest and most sincere unconditional love, and then she asked, “oh, and did you notice that we have entered the book of Exodus? welcome, slavery and being oppressed, and on our way to Sinai! hineni! i am here! says Moses…as are we all..”

I hadn’t noticed, but as soon as I read her response, it all made sense. How could I have forgotten all the times in the past year when I couldn’t explain sudden, oppressive feelings of grief and loss? Or those dreams that coincided with that week’s Parsha, before I even knew what that meant, or that the Torah was read in portions?

When I met with Jan for the first time, I sipped my double Americano and unabashedly told her, “I know this might sound crazy, but I had this dream about Joseph and his technicolor coat a few months ago. I hadn’t thought of that story in years, and when I emailed one of my Jewish friends about it, she immediately responded with a link to a site discussing that week’s Torah portion. And it was the same story…”

There were other dreams, other parallels, that I could not explain. My heart and brain were finally speaking the same language, so it would seem.

About four months after our first coffee together, Rabbi Jan and I had a phone meeting to make up for the one we had scheduled at her office. It was late July, and I felt depressed. It hit me without warning. I could not explain it, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

I didn’t begin the conversation by telling her that I felt as if I were mourning but could not understand why. We began talking about Yom Kippur and the other major Jewish holidays, and then she asked if I knew that Tish’a Be’Av began at sundown that day. “No,” I said, “what is Tish’a B’Av? I don’t think I’ve made it that far in the Strassfeld book.”

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which coincidentally have occurred on the ninth of Av.

Judaism 101

Again, as soon as she began describing the destruction of the temple, everything fell into place.

It had been raining on and off that day. I was standing in the backyard—which has become my labyrinth—and when she finished telling me about the 24-hour fast, I looked down and noticed that I was soaked, and kneeling in the mud, where I had apparently been since the beginning of the story.

I stood up as we got off the phone and looked down at the two distinct impressions of my kneecaps in front of the shed door. They looked like a sunken welcome mat in front of my temple, as if they had always been there, reassuring me, “Welcome, my dear, you are home now”

…that cry only happens when self-awareness is achieved and the spirit is set free to be heard, remembered, seen, and known. The spiritual challenge of Shemot is to cultivate the awareness of our own enslavement.

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

Follow the Bouncing ball

A few weeks ago, I found a lump in my right breast. I didn’t tell anyone. I knew the stats: Nine times out of ten, it’s nothing. It was. I found it during one of those inexplicable moments. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I immediately began a self breast exam, as if some larger hand were guiding me. As if my body knew something wasn’t right.

I went to work the next day and tried to maintain a “business as usual” composure, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t focus or get a single word onto the page. I stared at the same Word document for hours. Every time I went to the bathroom, I’d check to see if it was still there. Maybe I was mistaken, or maybe it was just my imagination. But it was still there, like a BB stuck to my ribcage. I walked to the bus station. On my way, unzipped my down jacket, placed my hand underneath my scarf, one more time. Still there.

I listened to Springsteen’s Greatest on the way home–lyrics I had never fully listened to– stepped off the bus, watched the headlights in both directions, “Secret Garden” playing its part in the soundtrack of my life. Dark house. I checked again. Still there. I didn’t call anyone that night. Didn’t answer the phone. It was the only time, since finally—and fully—coming out, that I put a lock and key on my mouth.

That night, the house was a different kind of empty. It echoed. It was drafty, colder. I walked through every room, opened every closet, every cupboard, cabinet, drawer, and crawlspace. And I let go of the words. All the words I thought were right. I listened for a different kind of silence.

hammer & a vice

“You can never know where another person’s heart is,” she says, shifting to the other side of her chair.
“I know,” I say, pushing down the knot in my throat.
“But she knows where your heart is,” she pauses and we make eye contact, “she knows.”
I look up at the clock and take my cue, “Yeah, I know.”
“What you are doing takes real courage, because when you’re in it,” she leans in, “you’re in it.”
I nod, not knowing what else to say.
“And it sucks! Believe me, I’ve been there. You feel awful, and pathetic, and like you just want to die, and the worst part about heartache is this false notion engrained into our culture that somehow the person who’s hurting, the one whose heart’s broken, is somehow the loser, that somehow the other person won. But it’s not about winning or losing.”

I look up from traversing the patterns in her oriental rug and open my mouth to speak, but I don’t say a word.

We spent the first half hour of the appointment talking about my job, mostly because I wanted to avoid this subject. I assumed most people in my life were sick of hearing about it, but suddenly I remembered that it was her job to listen.

“Not many people get the chance to experience loving someone so completely, and if they aren’t able to hear you talk about your pain, it’s only because they are scared of their own vulnerabilities.”

She pauses and waits for my response.

Everyone gets it wrong.

Tags

Most of lead far more meaningful lives than we know. Often finding  meaning is not about doing things differently; it is about seeing familiar things in new ways…But perhaps it is only by those who speak the language of meaning, who have remembered how to see with the heart, that life is ever deeply known or served.

—Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

Dear S—

I just went to the bathroom at work to cry. I don’t understand it this time, I suppose. Why it has to be this way, so cold, so stark. Distance makes the heart grow hard…

The things she said to me the last time we spoke still haunt me. I’ve had dreams about her almost nightly in the last few weeks. I’m not sure why this is so much harder this time. Part of it is that work is burning me out some—I put in almost 90 hours of work last month, and that’s just writing the content; I haven’t even added in the other work yet, and I worked on both holidays. I swear I feel like I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. But I keep pushing through as if I’m invincible.

I thought work would at least take my mind off of her, but something about this entire situation continues to loom over me, leaving me with this uneasy feeling I cannot quite describe. Now it’s even distracting me from any real focus on my workload. I can’t believe it happened again, and I let it. Regardless, I can’t take much more of this.

This morning I got up at 5am to finish some work blog posts. I heated up my coffee from yesterday, fed the cat, flipped on the gas logs (vented through a chimney that I am now terrified will catch fire any minute) and fired up the computer. After days of taking work home with me, I really wanted to do some “real” writing. That is, writing for myself. Now I’ve lost confidence in everything I wanted to say. Or, maybe I’m scared of being too self-congratulatory, or writing some cloying post that my readers will gush over in the same manner. You’re right. That style of blog writing annoys me to no end, so I’m not sure why I’m so afraid of duplicating it.

Part of the reason, perhaps, is that all day I write about furnaces and sewer lines, and now chimneys. Between writing lines like, “Routine maintenance and annual inspections for your furnace are an important part of extending the life of your entire heating system, as well as preventing major repairs and lowering heating bills,” I don’t have much energy left to think about how I can best articulate myself outside of work. At least sharing links of absurd youtube videos with my co-workers over Skype throughout the day deflects some of the stress.

Btw, the furnace hyperlink above—that page is all me, along with the heat pumps page, and some of the other heating pages. If you compare it with the “Thermostat” page, which was written by one of the freelancers, you’ll see, yet again, why they hired me. “If you are having a new air conditioning system installed in your home, it will definitely include some type of thermostat.”

Really?

Okay, I should get back to work now. I needed a short break, but I’ve got an enormous amount of content to write for a deadline that I have to meet by the end of the day tomorrow. I’m not sure how I’m going to get it done.

I’ll be home usual time. Talk to you later.

I hope you are well and having a happy 2012!! (chuckle)

—A

Tov l’hodot l’Adonai, ul’zameir l’shimcha elyon. L’hagid baboker chasdecha, ve-emunat’cha baleilot.

[12:09:14 PM] BS: I used to think the idea of cutting someone out of my life completely was unheard of, but in the past few years I’ve kind of changed my thinking on that.  sometimes relationships can just be toxic

[12:09:49 PM] ashley watson: true, but something about this situation feels different, you know? i just had to go to the bathroom and cry..I also have really bad cramps today so that’s part of it, but I have been feeling incredibly sad about ____ lately for some reason.

[12:11:42 PM] ashley watson: i feel awful today, but i’ve got a lot of shit do get done by the end of the day tomorrow.

[12:12:48 PM] ashley watson: I feel like I’ve been staring at the same page for the last hour

[12:22:14 PM] BS: aw, man…  i’m sorry you’re having such a rough day

[12:23:18 PM] ashley watson: well at least I can laugh about chimney fires

[12:23:59 PM] ashley watson: “Chimneys really decorate the roofline of a home… and they’re maintenance–free, besides. Right?

WRONG!”

[12:24:30 PM] BS: haha

[12:24:43 PM] BS: sometimes I worry the internet is making everyone dumber

[12:24:53 PM] BS: and by sometimes I mean just about every day

[12:25:07 PM] ashley watson: yeah, I agree

[12:26:48 PM] BS: didn’t mean to suggest it was good that she used you and now won’t talk to you… more that maybe it’s good for you not to talk to her, regardless of what she’s doing

[12:27:45 PM] ashley watson: i know, but i miss her terribly…i don’t know why it’s so much more painful this time, and it feels like it’s getting worse instead of better.

[12:30:15 PM] BS: mourning is a bitch like that 😦

[12:30:50 PM] ashley watson: sure is…man, i’m having a hard time concentrating today; sorry if i’m distracting you too

[12:30:58 PM] ashley watson: (wasntme)

[12:31:25 PM] BS: it’s cool.  sorry if I’m distracting you too

[12:32:02 PM] ashley watson: no; I’d find other things to distract myself with

[12:32:44 PM] ashley watson: like posting lines such as this one from the CSIA site: As the saying goes, “hot air rises”, and so does the warm air in your home.

[12:33:29 PM] BS: haha “the saying”

[12:33:37 PM] ashley watson: right?

[12:33:42 PM] BS: aka the laws of thermodynamics

[12:33:47 PM] ashley watson: lol

[12:34:17 PM] ashley watson: You know that old adage about gravity, it keeps you on the ground.

[12:37:54 PM] BS: oh yeah, kind of like that old cliche… you can’t survive without water

[12:38:29 PM] ashley watson: lol

[12:40:44 PM] ashley watson: “Since the dawn of time, humans have gathered around the open fire for a sense of safety and community…” jesus, who writes this stuff?

[12:41:19 PM] ashley watson: i think maybe i’m just extra cranky today…

[12:42:55 PM] BS: you know that old math equation…

cramps + monday + workload – cigarettes =  (angry)

[12:44:09 PM] ashley watson: precisely

[12:44:36 PM] ashley watson: add in a little heartache, and you’ve got yourself a safety hazard!

[1:02:37 PM] ashley watson: isn’t #10 sort of a cop out? http://www.csia.org/HomeownerResources/ChimneySafetyInfo/100ReasonsYourFireplaceDoesntWork/tabid/152/Default.aspx

[1:02:56 PM] ashley watson: is cop out one word? i’ve never thought about it before now

[1:03:55 PM] BS: copout or cop-out, says the interwebs

[1:04:26 PM] ashley watson: interesting

[1:04:39 PM] BS: and yeah, total copout

[2:21:15 PM] ashley watson: “Fire is one of nature’s primal forces and it has always held a special place in the lives of humankind. In fact, we’ve relied on fire for so many things that it has become ingrained into our culture and lifestyle. Throughout history, fire has been crucial to human existence. Primitive people relied on fire to cook…” you get the point.

but yeah, copout is now my word of choice when talking about shitty internet content and all matters of the heart…

There’s really nothing like the experience of praying with a room full of people who I know and love (and who know and love me)…

Velveteen Rabbi

JW—

…and then I got home to find the following email about the next chanting group.

JD
I think I found her name. Is it Jenna?

Ashley Watson
to JD
No, it’s one ‘n’…Jena. Don’t worry, everyone gets it wrong.

after all, what else could I say?

—A

What would Rabbi Google say?

As we stand before God, we are challenged to reclaim all the shards of self that have been broken off in trauma, all the lost pieces of self that we project on the “other,” all the parts of self that lie hidden behind walls of shame or pride. As we stand up in our integrity, the blessings of covenantal love begin to shine through our lives.

Rabbi Shefa Gold

The First Covenant: Noah’s crosscut saw

Dear A—

It’s never easy admitting that you haven’t gotten over someone, especially when that person hasn’t treated you with the love and kindness that you deserve. I have to say that I’m proud of you for not giving in to anger, when I know that everyone around you is telling you to shake your fists in the air and curse her. Doesn’t it feel better to forgive? Empathy may be the best tool God equipped us with (sorry for the HVAC reference-couldn’t help it). I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for you to do this, again, after so many times of going through the same thing, over and over, when all along you trusted the process, and her, and yourself in the middle of it all.

Do you remember the time we were driving in that snowstorm, and the car started sliding, and I started to panic? I will never forget how you gently put your hand on my arm and said, “Just stay calm. I’ve got this.” And you did. I would have killed us for sure, but you knew exactly what to do. You didn’t panic or slam on the breaks or any of those things people are told not to do in that situation but inevitably end up doing. 

I guess that’s the advice I have for you now. Just stay calm. You’ve got this.

I love you, and I know you may not want to hear this, but…all suffering does come with a prize in the end. You will be that much more strong and wise for this. I know, it’s a hackneyed bit of advice, yet you and I both know it’s true. Maybe if you just think about yourself in five years—LOL!

Congratulations on the job, btw! That’s great that you like the work and your co-workers. It’s hard to find a job where all the elements come together, and even though I’m a little jealous, I am glad that your co-workers have a good sense of humor like you. You deserve it!

Call me anytime. I’m always here.

XO
—JW
ps, that’s a cool pic of your grandfather’s saw…wasn’t his name Noah? ha ha Noah’s ark, saw, get it? Okay, you’ve always been the funnier one. So good to catch up!!

We are given this sacred time of renewal each week so that we might rest and enjoy the fruits of Creation…On Shabbat we are led to the place where covenantal love may be consummated.

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Second Covenant: A Silver-Plated Menorah And A Skype conversation about Mercury and God

[4:40:22 PM] BS: W___ just sent me this:

[12/20/11 4:34:19 PM] WH: What happens when Mercury retrogrades? You miss appointments, your computer equipment crashes, checks get lost, you find the car you just purchased during Mercury retrograde is a lemon. (Or, you hate your haircut, the lamp you bought shorts out, your sister hates her birthday gift.) There will be countless delays, cancellations and postponements–but know these will benefit you in the long run. Don’t fight them, although your frustration level and feeling of restlessness will be hard to cope with at times.

[12/20/11 4:34:22 PM] WH: This retrograde will last until December 13th or 14th (in some places), and the shadow period until January 1st, 2012. T

[12/20/11 4:34:46 PM] WH: I usually don’t buy into all that crap, but…given the last few weeks. I don’t know

[4:41:16 PM] ashley watson: lol..so true!

[4:56:46 PM] BS: did you make it to the end of the album?  that last song, One Sunday Morning gets me every time

[4:57:22 PM] ashley watson: I am not sure, but I’ll listen to it now.

[4:58:21 PM] BS: see that you do

[5:02:41 PM] ashley watson: nice!

[5:09:14 PM] ashley watson: It’s one of those albums I think I could listen to over and over without getting sick of it. Like Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” which I think I’ve played over a hundred times and still enjoy it as if it were listening to it for the first time.

[5:09:40 PM] BS: yes!

[5:09:48 PM] BS: oh man, what a great album

[5:09:56 PM] ashley watson: one of the best ever

[5:10:03 PM] BS: yeah pretty much

[5:10:58 PM] ashley watson: (y)

[5:12:22 PM] BS: why is this a thing… ?

[5:12:25 PM] BS: (skype)

[5:12:48 PM] BS: yep. this is skype.

[5:13:48 PM] ashley watson: right?

[5:14:04 PM] BS: (^)

[5:14:07 PM] ashley watson: (^) this was the closest thing

[5:14:12 PM] ashley watson: whaaa?

[5:14:13 PM] BS: hahaha

[5:14:25 PM] BS: nice

[5:14:48 PM] ashley watson: I was going to say that (^) is the closest thing I could find to a menorah because it’s time to go light Chanukah candles

[5:15:45 PM] ashley watson: another fun fact: I’m converting to Judaism. now i just need to consult Rabbi Google to find the correct blessing to say when lighting the candles

[5:15:49 PM] BS: Happy Chanukah

[5:16:02 PM] BS: lol

[5:16:12 PM] ashley watson: is it your birthday, or were you just mesmorized by the animated candles on the cake?

[5:17:04 PM] BS: mesmorized by the randomness of some of the skype emoticons

[5:17:20 PM] ashley watson: ah, so strange that we sent it at the same time

[5:17:25 PM] BS: agreed

[5:17:30 PM] ashley watson: must be mercury in retroograde!

[5:17:44 PM] BS: are you really converting to Judaism?

[5:18:21 PM] ashley watson: yep. I first met with a Rabbi last March

[5:18:30 PM] ashley watson: I know your next question…

[5:18:51 PM] BS: what’s that?

[5:18:53 PM] ashley watson: if you’re Jewish, it’s “Why in the hell would you do that?”

[5:18:58 PM] ashley watson: but if not,

[5:19:12 PM] ashley watson: then a simple, “why, if you don’t mind me asking?”

[5:19:28 PM] BS: split the difference

[5:19:35 PM] ashley watson: I get one or the other all the time, but I don’t mind answering

[5:19:35 PM] BS: I’m half jewish

[5:19:51 PM] ashley watson: half, as in you aren’t a practicing Jew, or one of your parents is Jewish?

[5:20:07 PM] BS: well, technically half jewish, but a practicing WhoKnows

[5:20:29 PM] ashley watson: I find that Judaism is like alcoholism, it tends to skip a generation (chuckle)

[5:21:28 PM] ashley watson: meaning, children of Orthodox or practicing Jews tend to say, “Meh,” to the whole thing, and children of non-practicing jews tend to take it up with fervor

[5:21:41 PM] BS: wow, is there really a skype icon for ‘pleased with yourself?’

[5:21:48 PM] ashley watson: is that what it means?

[5:22:07 PM] BS: oh Giggle, I see

[5:22:09 PM] BS: religion is such a strange thing.

[5:46:26 PM] ashley watson: yeah, I’ll have to tell you my story one day,

[5:47:30 PM] BS: I’d love to hear it

[5:47:44 PM] BS: stories are the best

[5:47:48 PM] BS: ok, I’m heading home

[5:48:06 PM] BS: enough of this sitting in front of a computer in the office.  I have other computers in other places to sit in front of

[5:48:14 PM] ashley watson: lol

[5:48:22 PM] BS: peace

The challenge that God gives us is to choose Life and Blessing, to turn away from Death (the force of destruction) and Curse (the negativity that limits us). Yet what sounds so very simple becomes so very confusing in the moment-to-moment choices that we face. The Mind becomes an expert in rationalizing whatever choice might bolster the ego’s ambitions or defenses. What looks like a blessing in one moment may turn out to be a curse in the next. What seems like a choice for Life entangles us in the forces of Death. The simple challenge of “choosing Life” becomes infinitely more subtle.

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

the third covenant: an evangelical quarterback, a Half-Jewish/halfback’s daughter, & one of the most important games of their lives

FADE IN:

INT. A MODEST LIVING ROOM IN VERMONT

We hear ASHLEY’S voice over the background music before the shot fades in, but we see her typing two or three lines into the monologue.

ASHLEY (V.O.)

I’ve been thinking lately that if I were to ever write a memoir, I’d call it “How Football Saved My Life.” I know—trite, stupid, severely misguided, but somehow, it soothes me to think that—

She pauses to smile and look outside. We see slow motion snow falling in time with the music. She starts to type again.

ASHLEY (V.O.)

—that, I don’t know, my father could be included in my story, even though all my life he tried to release himself from everything that defined him, even the story of his own life. But Goddamn, did he love football!

CUT TO:

INT. SAME LIVING ROOM 24 HOURS BEFORE

Ashley is pacing around the room; she’s clearly been crying. We hear the echo of her MOTHER’s voice on the other end.

MOTHER (V.O.)

Ashley, don’t you remember the time you wrecked the car, and your daddy was there to take care of it? He may not have been there other times, but he was always there when you needed him.

ASHLEY
(trying not to cry)

Yes.

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS SCENE

Ashley turns from the window back to the computer screen, which is glowing like a fire and lighting up her face. She is typing again.

ASHLEY (V.O.)

Today I learned that, quote—The halfback position is one of the more glamorous positions on the field, and is commonly viewed as a requirement for a team’s success—I also learned about refrigerator door gaskets, chimney caps and screens, and heat pump compressors. This week I fixed my sump pump, replaced the kitchen sink spray nozzle, and learned why the ampersand receives better search engine results than “and.”

& I learned that forgiveness isn’t so much about turning cheeks, but turning the ego into the winning play.

& knowing, you’ve got this.

Worthy of my chickens

Prelude:

I cannot seem to fully get warm today. Neither by the fireplace, nor the drafty back door. It is cold inside these bones and mind. I am not sure how to insulate that part of me that was left to the elements before it had a chance to warm its toes by the furnace vent. This draft must run its course…

Returning to the shed:

A few months ago, my friend Steve called to tell me that he liked a poem I had posted on my blog, called “The Shed.” I cannot remember exactly what he liked about it, except that he thought it was an eloquent metaphor, and that he wanted to use it in his writing workshop through an organization that helps people with disabilities.

When I was asked to write something about this poem and my process as a writer, I was honored and excited about the opportunity to reflect on what it means for me to be an artist, and what being a writer means in our culture. For years, I have tried to deny the fact that I am a writer, even tried to redefine myself as something else—a teacher, or a life partner. I stopped writing altogether for about three years.

After I started writing again, I told a co-worker that I was working on a screenplay about a struggling writer who had given up on her work as a novelist. She stopped me, and said, “Well, I don’t really think there is such a thing as a writer.” She emphasized that last word by holding up imaginary quotation marks with her fingers. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I couldn’t disagree more.

It is true that most writers cannot make a living from writing, but it’s mostly because we are not valued for our work. Some of us are even told that while it may be “romantic to be a starving artist,” at some point we have to suck it up and get a real job. No such thing as a writer, society tells us. No such thing as potential, in other words.

Part of what inspired “The Shed” was this same struggle with work–that thing we do for money–coupled with constantly wrestling with that looming existential question: What is my purpose in life? I was really asking, “Am I worthy enough?” When I wrote the poem, I was at a breaking point with relationships, finances, work, all of it, and finally, one day, I was so frustrated that I stepped out into the backyard to scream as loud as I could.

But I stopped short at the shed, and stared at it for what seemed like an hour. I thought about how my life had changed dramatically over the course of a year, how all those future plans I had when I bought a home with someone are now part of the past. Suddenly, I began to let it all go, and then I heard some inner voice speak those opening lines: “The first time we met/I did not see broken boards…”

True, it is a poem about potential, but as the days grow shorter and colder, I read “The Shed” as a poem about discovering new potential beneath the broken boards and chipped paint of some other shed in a place far away from Burlington, Vermont. It has become a poem about discovering the potential for new relationships, mending old ones, and letting go of ones that no longer support me as a writer and artist. And it will always be about what the reader discovers in each line, each simile, and what potential lies just inside their own sheds.

Cutting room floor:

No matter who said it first, “kill your darlings” is perhaps one of the most useful and pithy expressions that writers can use as an editing tool. Of course, I never follow that advice when I write, since my actions and words seem to be locked in a never ending dual. However, it has lately become less of a metaphor for my writing, and more of a literal interpretation of how I choose to love people. “Release your darlings” would be a more fitting phrase in this sense, but the motive behind the action is the same. Let love go.

Part of this is cutting out memories and replacing them with new ones. This is not easy to do by any means. In fact, I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night in the true spirit of erasing the memory of someone. It’s been years since I’d seen this movie, and there were many scenes and lines that are of particular significance to me now, but these four lines stuck with me all day:

“This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.”
“I know.”
“What do we do?”
“Enjoy it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I’m having a hard time releasing my darlings because I didn’t get a chance to enjoy them before they were gone. There’s never an alarm or two-minute warning for the end of a relationship. That, truthfully, only happens in the movies. But then, there’s not a buzzer for the answer to all of our questions either. We either live them, or we don’t live at all.

Worthiness:

One of my favorite shorts from the book I’m reading by Rachel Remen is called “Counting Your Chickens,” in which she describes taking care of her elderly and sick mother before she passed away. One evening her mother closed her eyes for a long time, and when she finally opened them, Remen asked her what she was thinking about. Her mother responded with, “Why, I was counting my chickens.”

She had literally been calculating how many chickens she’d eaten in her lifetime, and thinking that this was a great deal of chickens to sustain one human life, she had begun to wonder if she was worthy of the sacrifice. Finally, after realizing that she had never intentionally harmed anyone, though she recognized disappointing and hurting others, she smiled and said, “I believe I have been worthy of my chickens, Rachel.”

One Sunday Morning:

Tonight, I am warming my toes by the fire and eating chicken for one. There are no warning signs hanging on the walls surrounding me: BEWARE! YOUR POTENTIAL EXPIRES SOON! I don’t want to wake up one Sunday morning to find it gone or lying next to someone who tells me how to live instead of loving me the way I want to be loved. So I continue to eat alone and pray that my chances to meet “my person” have been sacrificed for my full potential.

I continue to believe that I am worthy of my chickens.

Bleeding the lines

Christmas day:

I woke up this morning in a farmhouse in upstate New York, rising from disturbing dreams and a much needed and long winter’s nap. I am sitting in a garage turned studio with my back to a wood stove and facing the lake I used to live by forty miles south of here. There’s a Christmas tree in the next room, and across from the kitchen, sitting on an antique shoeshine stand, the travel-sized menorah I brought from home so that I could light candles at dusk each evening during my stay.

My hosts have been kind enough to not only oblige my new tradition, but also embrace it each time I close my eyes and sing the blessing before kindling the lights that have kept me going throughout one of the most challenging weeks of my life. Although I love my new job, it is a lot of work, much of which I’ve been taking home with me, even over the weekends and, now, on holidays. At the same time, I appreciate having something to throw myself into, headlong and completely, so that I can focus on anything other than the existential questions that would take my mind and heart hostage if I let them.

Recently, I’ve been writing about home plumbing systems, educating myself about boilers and water heaters, as I learn how to better prioritize my work to meet various deadlines. What I’ve ultimately learned is that the safe operation for much of the equipment I write about is similar to maintaining my humanity, and to some extent, my humility. Just as sediment buildup causes corrosion, clogged drains and valves, and decreased efficiency in a water heater, so does the sediment of loss affect the human heart and brain. I am not as efficient if I don’t occasionally bleed the lines and drain all that has settled at the bottom of my soul, weighing down my capacity to love unconditionally.

I know that I am sluggish and unfocused, unless I flush out the sediment through writing here, where I’ve learned to practice patience, more or less. It has not been easy searching for a gentle landing place for acceptance, for letting go, for closing my eyes and seeing something other than a lonely body of water glowing in the final minutes of the day. So I continue to write my way out of a heaviness I can no longer carry like the disease I harbored for so many years, as I blamed it all on external factors and stayed under the covers of a life of quiet desperation.

It has been two years since I first began “living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life.” It’s been a process of trial and error, deep sadness, surprise, natural highs, and everything I’ve never experienced. I have loved and lost; listened to others tell their stories of love and loss; listened to myself as I stumble around in the dark to become more of who I am; and I’m all the wiser for it.

The process of growing in wisdom, of becoming more transparent to the soul is going on within us and all around us. This is usually not a graceful or a deliberate process. We stumble forward, often in the dark, using everything to become more of who we are. It is an effort worthy of our patience, our support, our compassion, and our attention. –Rachel Naomi Remen

A few weeks ago, I picked up Rachel Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, after putting it down several months before when I was having a hard time focusing on anything but my own story. Like most things I abandon and return to when the time is right, it’s helping me break a self-imposed silence that I no longer need.

All day, I’ve been trying to get some work done. I finally had to admit that the sediment of this feeling I cannot name has clogged all my lines when I got online to write about commercial booster pump repair and saw that one of my co-workers was online. I had just discovered a bon iver song that I’d never heard, so like any other work day, I decided to distract myself from the task at hand by connecting with a kindred spirit over the Internet and sharing music with him. It makes little sense, this life I now lead, but it is what it is.

Over the course of a month of “chatting” from across the room, Ben and I have discovered that we have a lot in common, including but not limited to: a penchant for film, an adoration for the Arcade Fire and Wilco, a slight crush on cloves, that we are both half-Jewish (in our own way), and that we both use the word “complicated” to best describe our most recent relationships.

One day last week, I worked from home because of a sore throat and a deadline that I wouldn’t meet if I had to ride the hour it takes on the bus to get to and from work. At the end of the day, I was toast. I sent Ben a message to check in before signing off; this led to an hour-long conversation and a slow conversion from recognizing patterns to just giving in, and talking to another human being. I finally understood what it meant to “unlock the misery” of the stories behind who we are, and learned to recognize the power of becoming who we’ll be.

Before we signed off that day, Ben aksed, “are you really converting to Judaism?” Several lines later, I told him that I’d have to tell him my story one day.

“I’d love to hear it…stories are the best.”
“Indeed they are.”

Learning to shave

Twenty-four hours ago I was shifting gears in a borrowed car on snow-covered dirt roads, passing rural Vermont farmhouses and stone walls—the kind that Robert Frost wrote about. Carefully watching for deer, I turned up bon iver’s holocene, and mentally left the party where I had gone upstairs to lie down for a few minutes, and almost an hour later, rose from my nap and realized I had missed much of the action, that I had slipped away into the same loneliness I had traveled miles and miles that afternoon to escape.

In the past, I would cringe whenever I heard someone use the phrase, “I had a long talk with myself.” Last night, during the long drive home, I had a long talk with myself.

I turned left onto Interstate 89, and headed north, leaving behind all pretenses or judgments. I sped across the White River, where I had made the same trip from Ithaca to Plainfield in grad school, where I recently attended a conference, and my own graduate adviser of two semesters didn’t even remember my name. Last night, I felt less invisible and more accepting of what someone would later call, “releasing the need to fill a void with a relationship.”

“When we can finally love that person, and still be okay knowing that the person will also die one day,” she said, “that’s when a relationship is no longer a projection, or a way for some of us to avoid facing our demons.”

Last night I faced the reality that some day I will die. That even if I have someone who will fall asleep on a farmhouse couch with me, or touch my knee with a subtle gesture as we talk to the couple from two towns over, I will still die alone. Nothing is more solitary than one’s own mortality, despite the fact that it’s the one thing we all have in common.

When I arrived earlier in the day, the sun had not begun to set, so I took a walk with a young couple and the father of a son who recently got engaged to be married. The family dogs led the way to a cemetery at the top of a hill.

“This is where I go to remind myself of my mortality, lest I forget it,” the father said to us.

The couple looked toward the western sky and down at the gravestones. I looked up at him, his profile honoring a genuine smile, and I thought of my father—whose ashes cover a similarly rural ground thousands of miles south of the cemetery where I now stood shivering in the waning light of an ordinary December afternoon.

I was not sorry that my father had died, or that I would die one day, or even that I might tread through this world without someone by my side. I faced death like a bride. I faced the void of someone to love unconditionally like a prophet.

Like following the religion I have purposefully chosen, and that has chosen me in many ways, I faced myself in the rear view window, and headed home, alone, watching the road ahead.

Halfway to Burlington, I told myself, finally, that this could be it. What if there were nothing more than shifting gears in an ex-lover’s, and now ex-friend’s car on a rural road in Vermont? What if there’s no one out there for me? What if it’s just some story we make up to soothe ourselves and avoid facing ourselves in the mirror? Or what if I’ve just missed my opportunity, or what if I haven’t? What if it’s right now? What if this is my moment, and this, my story?

Or, that short of putting too much emphasis on Karma or submitting to past behaviors, what if, perhaps, for whatever reason, I’m just not meant to be with my person, or people? What if all I have is right now, the experience of punching the keys that make these letters, and words, and sentences, and that my path is the one right under my fingers, feet and tires, and not the incredible distance that lies before me?

The very obstacles that arise to block my way home serve to show me the face of my own enslavement. Looking into that face I will know where my work lies. The face of resistance always wears a mask. It masquerades as the truth. My work is in unmasking resistance and freeing myself from its compelling power so that as I stand at the crossroads of this moment, I can choose my path in conscious, loving clarity.

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

Perhaps my work is not to unmask the obstacles keeping me from my truth, but rather, accepting the obstacles as the truth. To keep asking the question, even as I’m answering it for myself.

Last night, I could see for miles and miles, and miles.