Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Greta Garbo, Zen Master


Greta Garbo showed up as a fictional character in a book, and we got interested in her. We didn't remember seeing her movies, but we had seen that face. Of course. So we asked the kids at the local video store and they recommended Queen Christina. Wonderful film about a woman who abdicates from the throne to live an ordinary life. We have followed up with Anna Christie, better in the German than in the English, and a couple of her silent films. They say that she was so expressive that she needed fewer written words to describe her action and dialogue than any other actor.

On film she is mesmerizing and magnificent. She glows in front of the camera. When I started to read Garbo by Barry Paris, an exhaustive bio for those interested, I didn't know what to expect. In life she was kind of...dull. She seemed to lack direction, and needed people around her to decide which films she would make and how she would invest her money. In Hollywood she lived with a couple of guys, but didn't have any interest in marriage or settling into one spot. She moved around a lot. She didn't read much, and was not known to have "big thoughts". And most of all she is famous for having said about the starstruck fans chasing her "I want to be left alone."

Then why do I say she was a Zen Master? Because she did all this with an astonishing lack of ego. The makeup people made her look good for the camera, but she did not preen at herself. She seemed to have no obsession with how she looked on screen, letting costar John Gilbert always show his best side to the camera regardless of how she looked. She hated to rehearse, though she was letter perfect in memorizing dialogue. She just became the characters she played and with minimal fuss showed in her face and the lift of an eyebrow a lifetime of emotion.

And then she let it go. She had been a huge star, but never liked star trappings. She didn't like Hollywood parties where she would be on display as "Garbo". (Though she had little physical modesty and swam nude in her friends' pools.) She disliked fans coming up to her on the street for autographs, trying to get a piece of her personality for themselves. She usually said no. It's not that she was angry, it was that she just didn't care and didn't see why she should do anything that didn't interest her.

She just drifted out of film making. She lived in New York and traveled and walked a lot, and then stayed at home and watched Matlock on TV. She could have seemed depressed, but that didn't seem to be it. She was disinterested. She had few passions - not men or ideas or drugs or shopping. She was not motivated by the approval of others and did not feel the need to please them. She had many long term friendships but she was always less invested in the relationships than others were.

She was, to use a Zen word, detached. If you imagine being gifted in your youth with such talent and beauty that the world wanted access to you, how would you respond? Could you keep your ego out of it and not think how great you were based on others' opinions? Could you let fame and fortune go when you felt it was right and give up the applause? Could you look at your own beauty in the mirror and not take it personally? Garbo was able to do that.

So in the end, I'm not sure I would have been her friend, but I am moved by the way she lived her life. She did not let the world's opinion of what she ought to do keep her from following the path she felt pulled to. Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are sleepy, act when someone puts you in a movie, as the old Zen teaching goes (sort of). And when the part calls for sadness you are sad, and when it calls for joy, you radiate your light through the lens, through the projector, to whoever is watching the film. And then you let it go.

P.S. She was also the perfect height, 5'7 1/2" and was mad about lingonberries. But I don't take these coincidences personally.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The right book at the right time

"A book is like a key that fits into the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then - click - a world opens." Brad Kessler Goat Song

To say that I devoured this book is not exactly correct. I read it avidly over a period of the 22 hours since I got it from the library, with breaks for gardening and meals and sleep. And, happily, it is still available for me to read again. so I didn't consume it so much as it consumed me.

But I did devour the goat cheese from Vermont, made in the same valley and manner described in this book, that I bought at the Tomkins Square Farmer's Market in NYC in April. It wasn't until the last chapter that I realized that I had actually tasted the cheese he describes making, step by careful step. So now I have another sense memory to a book that goes up there with my all time favorites.

I have for the last few years been fascinated with sheep and goats and yarn (and knitting and weaving and dyeing). This has led to an interest in the behavior of these animals, who often act very differently but are nonetheless herd animals. Which has led to long ruminations (forgive me) on the nature of prey animals and predator animals. Herd animals gather together so that if a predator attacks, only the weakest on the edges will be picked off leaving the central core to survive. Kind of like 8th graders if I remember right.

Kessler takes my minimal knowledge and musings to an amazing level. Did you know that Swedish women used to sing to their herds in the mountains - secret songs that they would not share with men? Have you ever considered the connection between spiritual awakening and shepherding? (Moses, Muhammad, Krishna.) That shepherds and goat herds have traditionally been bards, creating poetry and songs that became the foundation of world literature?

And the writing. Oh, Brad, you can write. Each sentence is beautiful. Descriptions so natural but powerful that you are there on the mountain with the goats as the Carthusian Monastery in the next valley rings the bells for prayer.

I do not expect everyone to go pick up a copy of Goat Song just because I loved it so much. It is rare that this kind of connection between book and reader is made. I always want to love my books, to disappear into them the way I did when I was a kid, sitting on the kitchen stool over the hot air register, reading amidst the chaos of the family so intently that I often had to be called three or four times to bring me up out of my book trance.

Nowadays finding a book that does that for me is unexpected. You wander into the library and look at the books with those yellow "New" stickers and wonder what might catch your fancy. Sometimes you find a book that opens the door to your soul. And you never know when it will happen. I read Geraldine Brooks' March almost halfway through before I became entranced by it. Every time I pick up The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed I am carried away by her writing and I learn some new insight about slavery times. I am barely more than halfway through. It is too rich to eat/read in large amounts.

I don't read only literature or high quality nonfiction. Sometimes I read junk, a stupid mystery or a romance novel (always with an interesting setting or historical era) or a airport bookstore thriller. That's because if Kessler is right, sometimes I don't want to go into my soul and deliberately avoid books that might take me there. Or maybe I can't find the key that day, so compromise with passing the time.

"Reading good books ruins you for reading bad books" says Julia Ashton in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (I listened to this one as an audio book and thoroughly enjoyed it.) Sadly, this is true. I have been known to throw a book across the room in rage at the bad writing. Where are the editors? Do they just publish whatever a writer sends them? I'm working myself up here, and will now calm down.

I'm sad to finish Goat Song this morning, but surely there is another gem in the pile of books that are my planned summer reading. But it has to be the right book for the right moment. The key has to fit before I can disappear into the book. This, my friends, is my excuse for keeping too many books around. You never know when one might be just right for this moment.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

College Reunion


What we didn’t talk about at my 40th college reunion last week was the hard times we have been through. We didn’t dwell on illness, divorce, loss of loved ones, children in trouble, disappointments with our own achievements, those nights when you wake up wondering. We didn’t need to talk about that because by now we have all been through some of those difficulties, and it was understood that we were on equal footing.

We didn’t start college that way. We were all smart and knew how to work at a task, having been admitted to a competitive college. But we came from vastly different life experiences. Socially and economically we were all over the map, from on the edge economic survival in small town Ohio (me) to the wealthy New York Jewish world. From upper class Irish families to working class and brilliant. We had socially prominent classmates in both the white and black communities. Some had “ideal” families where there was plenty of love and security (emotional and financial) or so it seemed at the time. Others were not so fortunate, and the public fa├žade of “everything’s fine” covered up a boatload of suffering. We know that now, because we now know life has its unavoidable struggles. This is what Buddha meant when he said in the First Noble Truth “Life is suffering.” (But not all the time. We’ve learned that, too.)

We may have come to college with expectations of where we would fit in the world, and certainly I thought there would be “happily ever after” both with the guy I would eventually marry and with my life now that I had left Ohio. But between the years of 1966 and 1970 the world changed. And we were in the wave of that change. By now everyone is sick of the sixties generation talking about what we went through, but we aren’t sick of talking to each other about it. Here are some of the significant changes we saw during our four years of college:

• The Viet Nam War raged on, the draft took any of the guys who flunked out of or never attended college. The anti-draft movement was born, as well as the Anti-War movement.
• The time of “parietal hours” ended and we didn’t need to be back in the dorm by 11 on week nights and 1 am on weekends. We were allowed to have boys in our rooms more than 2 hours on Sunday with the door open. We didn’t have to wear skirts to dinner.
• Birth control became legal in our state for people who were not married, and we had easy access to the pill, though not through our college infirmary.
• There was access to safe but not legal abortions through a secret network of clergymen who had seen too many women die from back alley procedures.
• People began coming out as gay and lesbian, if only to a few close friends.
• The rise of Black Power, and the creation of the academic study of Afro-American Studies. (Women’s Studies came later.) We read Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver.
• The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
• The moon landing. Now we could see that the earth is one, without lines defining countries.
• The Summer of Love, Woodstock, Altamont.
• The many demonstrations against the war, in our town and Washington.
• The invasion of Cambodia and the killing of 4 students at Kent State University in 1970, weeks before our graduation. We were part of the nationwide student strike as a result.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve seen that list or something like it before. But we felt it and lived it, and the changes in the world made changes in ourselves, or vice versa. You can argue that the change was bad, that it never should have happened (some do) but we were there and the change not only happened, but it is in us. We couldn’t avoid it. We are different from those who came before us as a result.

So we gathered 40 years later to celebrate our lives up to now. My freshman year six of us were on the 5th floor (walk up!) of a dorm in what had been maid’s rooms. We had no phone service (we had to go downstairs if the phone was for us) and a bathroom with a tub, no shower. We bonded really well, and two thirds of us came to this reunion. We have had amazing lives. We have been a college professor, a corporate attorney, a forensic analyst, and a world traveler. Our experiences in life of love and loss are oddly parallel, whatever we were doing.

Women are good at that. We find our commonality and stay with it whenever possible. We know the value of the group not only as a key to survival but as a key to thriving. At the reunion, we put aside our differences (political, social class, economic, health, appearance, success) and opened our hearts. We sang together a lot, from “Imagine” to “You’ve Got a Friend” to “You’re So Vain” to “Give Peace a Chance.” We danced and passed around the Advil. At the end of it we could imagine living together in a big building, and sharing our lives from here on in. Kind of college at the end of life, where the curriculum is self designed.

In my life I am often the oldest person at a gathering, and it was great to be with so many dynamite women my own age. I love younger people, but there’s something about your own age mates. And I am used to holding back part of myself so as not to seem to be “too much.” Not with my classmates – I could let it all go and not have to make myself small to be part of the group. This group loves big! And we have realized there’s room for all of us to shine.

Did I mention that this was Smith College, all women since 1875? When I got there, I was coming out of some difficult years. Smith nurtured me (literally, when they gave me a scholarship) and gave me a place to become myself. In those turbulent years, I needed that grounding.

At the beginning of this post is a picture of Paradise Pond that I took last week.
I love this one especially because you have me, the photographer, in darkness, moving into the light where all is possible. That was my experience of college. And I am exceedingly grateful to the universe for the opportunity to share it with the amazing women I spent time with last weekend. I cannot imagine who I would be without them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On a wave of love, a Funeral and a Wedding

I feel like a cliche right now, feeling a wave of love that is so powerful I can't contain it. And the reasons are very sad and very beautiful all at once.

I spoke to a dear friend yesterday whose husband has been battling (really too small a world in his case) serious illness (3 kinds of cancer) for more than 15 years. We don't talk often enough, but I had been dreaming about her. She asked for news of my kids, which I was happy to provide. And then she confirmed my hunch, that her dear Stephen had died in August. It was a beautiful death as these things go. He had been more sick than usual for months, but rallied enough to go with the family on vacation. This time they splurged, renting a place overlooking the water. They settled in, walked on the beach, and he died peacefully in his sleep.

Even after years of illness, it is shocking. Despite my intuition that this might have happened, I am shocked, too. But this is a family so filled with love and creativity and positive energy, they had fit more into a too-short marriage and time with the children than many do in a long life. And Stephen didn't die in a hospital with tubes or unconscious for weeks or suffering as he made his exit. He died with dignity, and Love. I am filled with sorrow about his loss, but oddly also with the wave of love that people can create.

My strongest memory of Stephen is the "Stephen Our Hero" story. After attending my mother-in-law's funeral several years ago we were driving home on a Sunday when the fan belt on our car broke. We pulled off the road, into a gas station that did no repairs until Monday morning. Neither did any of the other places we called. Stranded. And then I remembered my nearby friends who I hadn't seen in way too long. Worth a try, we said, and called. Stephen dropped everything and came to our rescue, making sure we were fed, taking my spouse and kids to the train so they could get home for school and work the next day, and taking me to their home until the car could be fixed. He was so kind and sweet and talked us down from "broken fan belt panic." Our Hero! And I had a chance to catch up with the family that night, which was a great blessing.

I still have the broken fan belt, meaning to make it into a piece of art. It is dirty and (obviously) broken, but I feel Stephen's warm heart every time I look at it.

The wave of love continues, because today, March 3, 1010 gay couples who wish to get married in the District of Columbia can do so! My neighbor Andy is one of my heroes in this, since he led the legal fight to resist challenges to the law from groups largely outside DC to stop it going into effect. I am so happy about this both from a human rights perspective and from my sentimental heart, which just loves weddings.

And today I was asked by a couple who stood in line at 4:30 am to get the fifth license issued to perform their marriage. (I am an Interfaith Minister and help couples create the exact wedding they want.) I have known them for years, and know of the love and commitment they share. This just makes me so happy I am grinning from ear to ear.

Today I am riding a wave of love, with rainbows.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Chinese Acrobats

I am happy to report that the Chinese acrobats who were stuck in town due to the snowfall had the chance to perform twice in the Presbyterian Church Gym. It was cold in there and we kept our coats on. I thought to myself that this might feel like home to the acrobats, central heating of big public spaces being a western habit. Lots of young children, very little verbal communication, Chinese music that makes you amazed at the creativity of human beings. And that feels totally alien to me.

The acrobats were great, and I was reminded of a simpler time when you didn't have glitzy entertainment via the tv or internet or radio, but were entertained by what the traveling players brought to town. And some themes are universal, like one young man being forced by another to keep many, many plates spinning in the air at the same time. The Moms looked sympathetic, the kids helped out by pointing out when a plate was about to fall. "Multi-tasking" remarked one of the women in the back where I was standing. We all nodded.

I ran into friends there, and we repaired to the Middle East restaurant for lunch and conversation. I went to Now and Then and bought some knitting needles and walked home. I am going to miss being surrounded by millions of crystals. That snow was truly awesome to me, and made me feel terrific. But now it's melting and the flowers are starting to bloom, and that will be good, too.

Here's a taste of the acrobats, complete with unicycle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojoXuf7l5hM

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowed In

It has been an interesting week. We have had two snowstorms, the first one leaving 24 inches, the second about a foot of snow. When the sun shines on it, you can see tiny rainbows all around. I'm reminded of Russell Conwell's 19th century speech "Acres of Diamonds" in which he urges listeners to give up searching far and wide for wealth and success because the diamonds of opportunity are hidden right in your own back yard.

The crystal structures around me aren't very well hidden. They are mounds of snow. Mounds and mounds of white, fluffy, cold, beautiful snow. The snow muffles the sounds of the city, and since the DC Metro has been out of service for a few days that has been quiet, too. The snow makes us stop. Right where we are. There is no place else to go.

This is the lesson of many great spiritual teachers, from Zen Buddhism to Advaita Buddhism to Meister Eckhart, the Christian Mystic. Just stop what you are doing.

Being snowbound gives us that opportunity. Oddly it hasn't had that effect for me, mostly because when I retired I in some way stopped what I was doing, and have been giving myself time to stand still, as previous posts have talked about. I didn't need to stop being engaged with the world because I have been disengaging for weeks now.

For me being snowbound has been a very social time. I've talked to neighbors, had potluck dinners almost nightly, and had long phone conversations with family and friends. We have all been checking on each other, and taking the time to really talk. And cook. And hang out. This is a lot of interaction, since I am basically an introvert who gets energy from time alone. I want everybody to go back to work so I can stop being so social!

That will come soon enough, and in fact many folks are going back to work today. And I will have a chance to get lonely and crave human interaction and bother all my busy friends with phone calls and invitations. I am wondering about just this issue, because I do miss my colleagues at work. I am building new networks (mostly my retired or self-employed friends) but this is a slow process.

Today I'm going to walk a couple of blocks to the church gym and see a troupe of Chinese acrobats who were stranded in town by the storm. Some neighbors organized a couple of performances for them since they can't get to the venues they had originally planned to go to.

You just never know what is going to show up if you stop what you are doing and see what's next.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Sparkle!

When I was thinking about retiring, I was worried that my general exhaustion would make me nearly comatose without a job to go to. I got good advice from my dear friend Margaret who told me that when you make the changes your life needs, you are filled with new energy. I was skeptical, but had no evidence to the contrary. I wondered what would happen when I finally left the career I had loved for 35 years, but which had left me in a rut.

Margaret, you were right! Such interesting changes have happened. With no effort, my blood pressure is down to a very healthy range, some other annoying stress related physical symptoms have improved. This is so interesting, that stress has such an impact on us and can come for a variety of reasons. In my case, it was time to make a change and the stress of not doing so was intense. That's how I understand my need to leave my job. Yes, there were conditions in the workplace that really stressed me out, but not everyone felt it as strongly as I did. It was time for a change. And changes there have been.

I love the feeling of having the time to think and reflect, to read as long as I want to. My short term memory has improved (because of less junk cluttering up my mind's attic?) and I am really enjoying picking a variety of books to read. When I became a college professor, I imagined myself sitting in my office in a comfy chair sipping tea and reading. Occasionally a student would stop by for a discussion of some cool topic. Then I would go back to reading and sipping.

Finally I am able to do that. Heaven, pure heaven. My mind is so happy. And, oddly, I have less tolerance for empty mental noise. I have been a news and information addict since my twenties, but all of a sudden I have little tolerance for the posturing and silliness of most political conversation. The lack of truth gets to me - why spend time discussing something that is based on falsehoods, diversions, and out and out lies? So I have turned the car radio to classical WETA. I will stink at this week's "Wait, Wait, Don't tell me!"

I have been working on cleaning out the basement, ably assisted by my daughter, Anna. I do regard this as metaphorical, clearing out untended parts of my unconscious. I believe that is the theory of Feng Shue, that the condition of your surroundings mirrors (and influences) the condition of your mind. And, to my distress, one of my favorite earrings disappeared into the clean up. We went through the trash bags (using the newly uncovered latex gloves) and the boxes for charity, to no avail. I did a search of the areas I had worked in, floor, shelves, no luck. I was pretty cranky about this. Grumble, grumble. (Who said work on the unconscious is easy?)

The next morning I went back to the basement for another search, and spotted a pile of baskets I had made. Going through them I found the earring, happily nesting between layers. Happy, happy. And then I decided to commit to more sparkle. I wear silver, which gets tarnished. Why not stop and polish those favorite earrings before I put them on? Why not take the time to bring more shine and glitz to my life? It's working this week, anyway.

Here's to more sparkle!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farewell to a friend

I haven't written for a couple of weeks. I decided that part of being off a regular schedule was to really be off a regular schedule and not force myself to sit down and write when I was otherwise engaged. I have been busy, traveling to see friends, reading, cooking, cleaning out the basement. And saying goodbye to a friend.

It was in some ways an unlikely friendship, but not surprising. Randy Edwards collected the trash in the office building I moved into 18 years ago. Randy never met a stranger and loved to talk over whatever was on his mind, usually early in the morning. Through the years we shared stories about our kids, our health, our lives in general.

One thing you learned about Randy very quickly was that he had not always been the responsible father, employee, and citizen that he was today. He never told me the details but he didn't have to. It was enough that he had spent more than 20 years in a twelve step program. His youth had not been ideal, and there were many things to make amends for, but he somehow made a change. I don't think it was easy. If you ask anyone who has achieved sobriety for a long period of time, there are ups and downs and disappointments and challenges. Somehow, Randy stayed with the program.

I told Randy more than once what an inspiration he was to me. My own father, James Hurst, had died of alcoholism long before his three score years and ten. My father never met Randy, but I wish he had. He might have turned his own life around. Randy knew he had a powerful story to tell and gave back by leading twelve step meetings at homeless shelters and other places. I looked at Randy and in some way my father was redeemed, because it was possible for others.

Randy gave me hope. Washington, D.C., my home city for the last nearly 30 years, has so many people debilitated by poverty, racism, drug addiction and alcoholism. Randy did not let himself become a statistic. And in so doing he showed what is possible, and what greatness lies under the surface of the most destitute and down and out of my fellow citizens.

Randy also gave me encouragement. He was insistent upon working with his own feelings and responses to what happened to him, with the goal of serenity ever in mind. When there were hard times for me, when serenity was hard to come by, Randy just talked like he always did but helped me see the bigger picture. No preaching, no "shoulds", just a trust in the process and a trust in God. In my own moments of self pity and frustration, he helped me to see that change is possible.

When my department had a farewell party for me in December, Randy came, all dressed up and having fun. In retrospect, it was wonderful to get to say goodbye to him. We talked about how we would miss our conversations and our shared spiritual search. Maybe the party was really for him! He died a month later of a heart attaqck at aged 55.

At the Celebration of his life yesterday, I was in awe of how many friends he had at his workplace and in his community. I finally met the family I had heard so much about. I heard the Pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship, Ronald W. Miles, talk about how any obstacle can be overcome through faith if your goal is something more eternal than the immediate rewards of the material world. This amazing community is in the heart of one of America's worst ghettos, yet hope prevails. This was the community that Randy was a part of.

Randy Edwards did not die a wealthy man in terms of material possessions, though he did pay his bills and own a home and a car, all of which are true achievements considering where he started. But he lived every day challenging himself to be his best self, to live with serenity even when his first response might be anger or frustration.

Randy, you are a friend who will be missed, but who will always be an inspiration to me. And many, many others.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mending

Cold outside, beautiful light streaming in the windows onto my bead table/sewing table. It's a lovely old thing with a wooden top and cast iron legs. It used to be a two person desk in a schoolroom. It has old carved and written words on it, and glue I've spilled on it, and my grandmother's pincushion, and a complicated mess of beads and potential projects and needles for almost any kind of beading or sewing project you can think of. Yesterday I sat down in this lovely spot to work on some mending.

Mending is very satisfying work for me. You take something that is basically good that needs some small (or large) repair and make it usable again. Yesterday I worked on my daughter's jeans (third time for this - I am now to the point of patching patches, but they are still going strong), a pocket area rip in my husband's suit pants, the hem on a bathmat I can't bear to part with, some socks with cats on them, some reusable grocery bags that just had little rips that I didn't want to see get bigger, and my old brown backpack that I bought in 1979 when I gave up my car and decided to carry everything myself.

The backpack used to have a label that said "Dolt" on it, which I thought was funny. Nice archaic word that as a teacher I thought I should endeavor to transcend, as in "I may be a dolt but I work hard to overcome it." With the hidden message, "and you can, too." And we are all dolts at some things. The backpack became the picnic basket, toy holder and diaper bag when the kids were young. It went on many adventures. And now, with its newly repaired seam and some trimming where the fiber was unraveling inside the bag, it is ready for more. Maybe a farewell visit to Tai Shan, the born in DC Zoo panda who is now 4 and who has to return to China soon.

Mending things is something I've done all my life. Now it seems either quaint (who knows how to hand sew now?) or incredibly hip (the green alternative to buying new stuff.) It can lead to a basement full of things to be repaired, but it can also reinforce the "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without" attitude, which requires a lot of "make do" to be successful.

Having had enough money to have some flexible funds for playing (buying yarn, music equipment, lunches out) I am now in the position of having to be more conservative with my spending. I don't anticipate it being difficult since I've lived on very little at various times in my life, and I'm confident that I can do it again. But being able to mend things should help the process. How wonderful to have the time to do it!

Of course, I am also mending myself. With age, you have to do more maintenance that you do when you are young. And working in a highly stressful environment, especially the last 3 1/2 years, was taking its toll. It made sense to stay working long enough to retire, but there were costs. The good news is that I am sleeping better than I have in years, and some other annoying health things are getting attention and improving.

If I apply "use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" to myself, I guess I am working on the first three objectives. I want to use up every last bit of life experience that I can. When I am worn out, I will make do (for more experience, and hopefully more learning in the process). And when the time comes, I will let go of this life and "do without". I am not going to surrender to inertia and start dying while I am still alive. But anyone who knows me can tell you that - I'm pretty engaged in whatever comes along.

Right now, I am mending.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Standing Still

It's the new year, and I woke up this morning to unexpected snow. Not much, just enough to be beautiful and slow me down. It is the time of year for New Year's resolutions, and plans for what is ahead. It is the time of year to set your intentions for the next 12 months. I am not ready to do that. I am ready to stand still and see what happens. For every other year of my life there have been classes to either teach or take, and books to read, and goals, goals, goals. I like the idea that this time it is different.

Not that I don't have ideas, I do. But the sheer immensity of it all is too much to imagine right now. And this beautiful snow has me sitting and dreaming and feeling the deep roots that grow in the dead of winter. I want to make room for that, and if I move around too much or too hastily, I will lose those roots.

I heard a story on the radio today about a man who accidentally planted red Russian kale, a lot of it, instead of the turnips he had expected. Every year he grew prize winning turnips, but now it was too late. What to do? Change the care of the plants, know that they will last in freezing weather, learn to make kale soup. I am like this farmer. I don't know what seeds I have planted and I want to see what comes up. I am curious, but patient. Right now I want the unexpected, which I can only find by standing still and noticing what comes up in the spring.

I have read that in many cultures the new year begins in the spring. I like this idea. We have three more months of dreaming. No hurry.