Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Out with the Old, In with the New

It’s that time of year again, when the start of a new year promises to usher in a fresh start—and the chance to shed the residual, cloying Holiday bling and reconnect instead with what you really want. It’s not about what you didn’t get, it’s not about even what you really need, but more about those innermost, deepest, best-for-you wishes that belie any advertising campaign or marketing blitz, resound with a latent urgency that’s been simmering for awhile now, and call you out: just who do you want to be and how you gonna get there?

I had a lovely Christmas; surrounded by an ever-growing, extended family and blessed with a bounty of food and good cheer, I cherished having ample time to make gifts, baking, crafting, burning (ah, cds), cutting and pasting (my favorite). I got a bunch of beautiful new warm Smart Wool socks to replace the holey, droopy, puckered ones that have been clogging up my sock drawer for the last twenty five years. I had time to play with my kids. Do some genealogy research (I know, I know, but I’ve always been a geek). Take long walks in the expanding sunlight, play in the shadows, get reacquainted with the birds. And yet…

In some ways, this is more about the space we inhabit than anything else. Mental, emotional, temporal physical, metaphysical, spiritual…all together, that collective space that surrounds us and infuses our being with a sense of who we are, how we’re feeling, and where we are. Maybe it’s that distilled present moment, the afternoon light sweeping through the house, the flutter of morning doves at the feeder, the sharp inhale of snow on pines and fir trees that brings us into that place. Maybe it’s meant to be lost every now and then so it can be appreciated all the more when rediscovered. Maybe it’s always there for the taking, an irrepressible echo of spirit that summons us from our usual slumber and demands that we take notice.

Lovely Christmases aside, my space needs some work. There are changes I haven’t yet made to my quirky ensemble of ah, furniture that would, I think, make it all feel better. And as another year passes, I am reminded, again, as I was on my birthday this past October, and on most days that shimmered in possibility, beckoned the virtual completion in my mind, yet failed to follow through, that I haven’t quite cleared out enough of the old—the broken down, the busted up, the no-longer-fits or works or feels right—in order to make room for the new. My space, it seems, is a little cluttered. And I’m going to have to clean out much more than old socks to remedy the situation. Wish me luck.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hello again

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ~George Eliot

Hello again. I have missed you.

It doesn’t happen very often, but today I have a day. A day to myself, a day to do or not, a day once threatened by the usual rush ‘n go suddenly come undone to open before me like an unexpected blank canvas awaiting a creative flourish. This day, without the usual boundaries and shape, save for a few drive bys and trips to the front door--to let out the cat, the dog in, the cat in, the dog out--and the need to eat some food, drink my tea, and take my meds at noontime, seems ripe with possibility. This happens so infrequently that I could very clearly freak out, sit in stunned silence, or busy myself with stupid chores about the house, and waste it entirely. But I won’t.

Yesterday I peeked at my horoscope for today, which warned me, in the best possible way, that I might have to do nothing today, sit back and watch from the sidelines, take it all in. So I am prepared. Since there are no games to go to, I am interpreting this as: do whatever you feel like doing, sit in front of the blazing fire in the wood stove, the windows framing the water-colored outside world of fall, and take it all in: the startling quiet and mesmerizing stillness of the house, the lovely view stretched before you, opened up now to the wetlands below, where the trees, wind-swept and nearly bared of their colorful wrapping, stand as heralds amid the resounding hush of the final days of pageantry in this autumnal parade. (Decay never looked so good.)

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn. ~Elizabeth Lawrence

Plus, I can write. I can and I may. Yipee! But why the need for permission? Need to work on that.

Between starting up the homeschool year with Dominick, helping Luke transition to high school, and the seemingly endless tugs and pulls on my time (all of my creation, of course), from chairing and serving on town committees and writing class notes to running a buying club in town and a concession stand on soccer Sundays, it’s been hard to get to my writing this fall. The words, of course, come anyway, in ceaseless waves that crash into each other and stumble and roll to some deserted, neglected shore only to fizzle back, lie flat in the suds and seep back into the swirling abyss from which they came. They come to peck and poke and prod, scratch at the front door and whine about my ears, but I have not been able to let them in, nor give them full audience. They have had nowhere to go, nothing to do but recede; not to usher forth in bubbly voraciousness onto morning pages alight with the rising sun, a brain drain to reset my artist’s clock and purge the eerie synapses of my soul. Not to fly from well-caffeinated brain to keyboard to screen at the Lady Killigrew, sip green tea, soak up the watery music from the stream below and the vibe of hipster work dates, and riff on various slices of life that have caught my eye. Not to be hammered out and reworked in chains of incensed, simmering passages from the deep wells of bared consciousness in precious moments stolen in front of the desk top at home. Not to be scribbled hastily into composition notebooks on bedside table or purse or car, no. Not to be polished for the blog, a muse on the flip side, to strain outward from these inner sanctums, a more public display of my verbose affection (or is it affliction?) So sorry.

The words have built up, of course, and clogged my head, rising up and over again to be heard, only to be lost in the ensuing crash. There’s such a great energy they bring, such anticipation and excitement in the promise that they will be voiced, and then, nothing. Oh, the disappointment. I’ve been there, and wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. And yet, there it is, and at a certain point, there’s simply nothing to do but let it wash through and over you and spill onto the page. Otherwise, it makes it hard to sleep, since the words come out to play when darkness descends, and aside from hooking my brain up directly to MS word on the computer and letting it decipher just what exactly those words are saying, I haven’t figured out how to quiet them once they’ve appeared.

Life is so full, each and every day, of images and exchanges and thoughts and experiences that we take in, that if we don’t take the time to process it all into some manageable lump of consciousness and reality, we will be overwhelmed by the sheer unfiltered echo of Life. All those things we should have sifted through the sieve, sorted and tucked away suddenly rebound into our streams of awareness and we can’t quite catch a break. And of course the way we process Life is different for everyone. Some people write, others fight, some make art, others make love, some take their herbals, others meditate. The list goes on.

Lately, I have felt the clutch of fear return, and without the chance to release it onto the page, it has caroused through my consciousness, wreaking havoc, hiding out behind more dignified expressions, waiting for the ambush. Lately, I haven’t walked enough to clear my head, haven’t danced enough to shake the stresses out of heart and limb, haven’t written enough to examine and filter and sort and make sense of all those mechanisms of response and reaction and memory, haven’t let my soul sifting center take the wheel and take me for a joy ride, sing like there’s no tomorrow, silence the lurking anxiety and resound with something close to elation.

Tomorrow, I return to Mass General for my 6 month check up with Dr. Specht, my breast surgeon. I’ll have my mammo, I’ll have an exam, and I hope to reassured that everything looks fine, perfectly normal, A-okay. A week or so ago, I started focusing on this appointment, surrounded, as it has been, by a cluster of busy days that felt breathless and winded at the same time. I worried that I would not be able to spend some time with my old nemesis, look it in the eye, and cast it off, that it would stalk me, along the drive down Route 2 into Boston, in the shadows of the parking garage, and into Dr. Specht’s office. I wanted this time to be different. I wanted to feel confident, fearless, invincible. But here I am, the very day before, worried, wondering, thinking of my cousin Molly, who is just starting to go through her own cancer hell, much worse than mine ever was, and of my neighbor, who has been fighting brain cancer, and another who just succumbed to bone cancer. Sometimes, when I collect the names of those I’ve known who have done or are doing battle with cancer, and roll them about in my mind and warm them in my heart, it seems so arbitrary: who gets cancer and who stays healthy, who catches it early enough and who must cope with the ravages of a metastatic beast, who lives and who dies. There seems to be no master plan, no rhyme or reason, just a randomly picked bunch who happened to have the wrong genes at the wrong time, and as much as I hope to find reassurance in my own luck, I do not.

Instead, on this day, gifted as I’ve been with time to realize my fear, I will descend into my mantle of raging fire, and squelch the flames with the love and tenderness that encircles all of us, every day, ours for the taking, sharing, giving; with this day that feels, for now, as if it is all mine; with the comfort of a warm, quiet house that will soon fill with young voices and the busy-ness of family; with these words, liberated from an endless rinse cycle; and with this view before me—of trees draped in soft colors, a sky muted in grey, and an absolute stillness that, if it were not for the occasional orange maple leaf drifting in a singsong to the ground, I might think I was looking out on a painting. The peacefulness of the day has been pure tonic.

The surrounding calm, of course, only portends the incoming storm, due to roll in tonight. The quiet will recede into the corners, the days will fill, and Fall will eventually give way to the clutches of winter, but for now, they’ve teamed up, and Frost, now a nearly nightly visitor, has taken Fall’s handiwork to a new level, creating absolutely beautiful white ice-lined red leaves, with a delicate precision that makes me think that life is not so random after all.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~Albert Camus

A chickadee is calling to me: Come out, come out. It's time to walk.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Photolog: Boobies Take Boston!

Herewith photos from the Blue Footed Boobies 3Day Team storming Boston and vicinity! Finally! After hanging out on my iPhone for days, the photos have finally been uploaded, organized, and posted. You'll have to excuse the blurry shots; my iPhone camera does not have a flash (love it anyway), and I have a tremor in my right camera-holding hand that seemed to only get worse over the 3-Day (from lugging those lovely, poignant, heavy signs, perhaps), so when the light was waning, and my hand was shaking, there was really no hope for clarity. Apologies. Hope you enjoy anyway.

Here we are--clueless--the night before the big Walk. We stayed at the Crown Royal in Natick, a stunningly beautiful (ok, not) hotel along route 9 that offered a nice buffet dinner for all of us walkers, who had, at this point, absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Here we are back in our hotel rooms, acting a wee bit silly. Such anticipation we all felt that night! Good thing Ursula brought some wine to take the edge off...
Granny Jeanne showing off a great card made by one of her grandsons.

This fluffy lovebug Blue Footed Boobie above was our mascot, our spiritual guide, our fearless leader. We kept calling it a HE but really would have preferred if what rolled off our tongues had been SHE. I called him BLUE. He came everywhere with us, quite a good sport about it all. So very glad I did not drop him down the porta pottie.
It poured the first morning. It was beyond dismal, but we were sporting our Energizer bunny ears, our yellow rain ponchos, and had slicked our feet with un-petroleum jelly, so we were doing okay. Here we are trying to make the most of it, waiting in line to use the BK flush toilets, flashing smiles...

Finally, after soaking us, then spitting on us, the skies cleared a little, and we found some respite and comfort in a team gathering at lunch.
Our day had begun at 4 that morning. Over 12 hours later, we strolled into camp, set up our tents, and heaved big sighs of relief.Here's camp! A beautiful pink tent city, covering three artificial turf fields, with stations of all kinds stretching out over parking lot pavement and beyond. Below, Ursula catches some down time before lights out at 9.
The light at dusk and dawn that washed over camp was so pretty. Here we are below, in a pair of team shots, in the early morning hours of day two, gearing up for our longest, toughest day yet. 22 miles?! We'd done 18, 19 even, but 22? The sun warmed the dew off the tops of our tents, and we set out. Go Boobies!!

We worked the pit stops and grab 'n gos, much like you might work the Fast Pass line at Disney World, quickly learning to be efficient, grab those bananas, bags of pretzels, fill up those water bottles, use the porta potties, and stretch, always stretch, while waiting for your teammates. Of course, since we were walking through suburban and urban areas, there were plenty of opportunities for unofficial pit stops, too, and the Boobies were awfully grateful for Starbucks, Peet's, and a host of other spots that provided flush toilets and shelter from the rain the first day, and air conditioning, coffee, and the chance to recharge my iPhone on the second two.
Here's a sampling of some of the guys that came out every day--all along the route--to cheer us on. Angie asked if she could grab a photo with the guy on his bike, above, who was one of the many crew members who formed the safety patrol. He was great about it, even granting Angie her wish to sit in the front. (I don't think he minded at all sitting in the back.) The Pink Angels were also an ever-present, creative, enthusiastic bunch, er, posse, and I couldn't resist getting my picture taken with them on Saturday, as we made our way through a nice park on our way to Lexington.

Here's Blue at dinner, and snuggling in for a good night's sleep on Saturday night.
Day Three! Morning comes quickly; camp had been quiet the night before (weary campers, no doubt) but by morning, it erupted in activity and in anticipation of this final day, when we would have to take down our tents, pack up our gear, and put on our I love Boobies! team shirts.

Here's the starting gate, below, where eager walkers gathered at 6:30 to start the day. ON this final day, we were warned that if we were not out of camp by 7:45, the sag buses would take us to the lunch pit stop. I wondered how many people opted out of the first 12 or so miles. For many, it was the only option. For the Boobies, it was never an option. Lucky us.
Here's Mom, above, in her I love Boobies! tee shirt, Mardi Gras beads, and rain gear wrapped about the waist: just in case! Notice the lanyard in her left hand, route card in right that she's just about to put in the plastic case in the lanyard. The route card was our daily map, telling us how far we'd have to walk in between pit stops and grab n' gos, when the next cheering section would be coming up, and what camp schedule was like for the day: camp services, showers, dinner service, local entertainment, "Today at the 3Day Show," 3-Day Rock Star, Dance Party. The funniest thing on the back of the route card: instructions for those walkers who were Leaving Camp for the Night, with telephone numbers for local taxi services, and a pick-up location.
Walking into the city of Boston was wicked awesome! For a long while, we walked solo, at our own pace, staying focused, listening to our bodies. I was carrying the Courage banner, and kept forgetting to drink, my hands were so damn full. Blue hung up in my fanny pack most of the time, but I did take him out for some good photo-ops every now and then. By lunchtime, below, we all caught up to one another and enjoyed refueling for a bit before heading out again. Everywhere, but especially on this last lunch stop (actually, last stop period), there were some hilarious people who came to entertain us. I was impressed with and emboldened by all the good energy about. With just 3.2 miles to go, it was good to take with us some laughter in the belly.
Here, Ursula and Damon relax under a tree. Notice the red rash on Damon's legs--ouch! She was such a good girl, though, icing it at every stop. Love this t-shirt below. My sentiments exactly.
These two girls above were part of the Youth Corps, a group of kids who totally blew us away with their maturity, compassion, and all around great energy. I spoke to these two at length, and wanted to give them all big hugs, they were so endearing. Plus, I was missing my boys!

These Borat ladies from behind caught my eye (how could they not?!)...so I rushed over and asked someone to take my picture with them! Did not ask--but wanted to--what they had used to stuff sacks.

After lunch, we set off and found ourselves walking through the unexpectedly lovely neighborhoods of South Boston and Dorchester. Here I am with Blue, below, with the beach and ocean behind us. No dogs allowed, but Blue Footed Boobies? You betcha! (to steal a line from Sarah Palin)

1 mile to go before Holding (strange name for the finish! No wonder we felt a little like cattle.) I walked the final three with a great woman named Ann, a resident at Mass General in psychiatry. In the short 45 minutes or so that we talked, I felt like I had made a good friend.

Ann took this shot of me, above. Even suggested it for the cover of my book! Once we finished, we gave each other a big hug, and I turned right around to find the rest of my teammates on the route.

It felt great to cheer on the other walkers as they came closer to the finish. There was such relief on their faces, such a look of accomplishment mixed with the unmistakable strain of the 60 miles, the lack of sleep, the intensity of the experience. And then, through the steady stream of walkers, there they were! Angie, Ursula and Jeanne strolled into view and I rushed to greet them, walking with them into the stadium. I turned around again to look for my mother, and Angie came back to find me on the route, heading in the opposite direction. It wasn't too long before we saw her blue cap and big smile. So proud of her! If felt great to be able to walk the finish with her.

Good genes. Thank you, Mom.
The finish was pretty uncrowded when we went through, above, but as the afternoon progressed, it started to really fill up with people, below. You can see the medical staff in red waiting to catch weary walkers in their arms. The med tent was brimming, the docs and nurses all busy, much like at the end of the Boston Marathon, and buses were bringing into the holding all the injured walkers, some having been Red carded the day before, and others having met their ends on the third day. Below, big crowds came out to cheer on the final walker, just before the Closing Ceremonies got underway. I felt very happy to be feeling so good, and to be in the company of such strong women! Well done, Boobies!!

An amazing and decidedly grand finale to our three days of fun. Emotion was in high gear at the Closing. Here, below, are the Survivors in our pink victory shirts, with a smattering of Crew about in blue-green, and other walkers in white. Big stage. Big sound system. Big message. Big show. Brilliant. Bawl!

Below, a circle of survivors, including one man, hoisting the flag: A World Without Breast Cancer. Here-ye, here-ye. I'm all for that.