Monday, September 26, 2011

Go Where the Love Is, Not Where the Love Should Be

My son is in love with a girl a year ahead of him in school who refuses to play with him. He has lost all the color in his cheeks and does nothing but mope about the house, kicking dirt clods with his sneaker toe. All weekend long, he moaned, "Why won't Kaliya play with me?"

"Who's Kaliya?" Tom asked.

"She's a Chameleon," he sighed. (Chameleons are the four year olds. He is a Possum--a three-year-old.) "She won't play with me. She will only play with the other Chameleons."

I sighed too. There's nothing more painful than projecting onto your suffering kid your own suffering from childhood. I imagined a little blond girl, laughing and tossing her head back, giggling behind her hand with her pretty friend, looking sideways at Jay and rolling her eyes.

I spent a couple of nights at Kripalu last week. A gift certificate and the promise to take care of the kids for a couple of days while I got some R&R was my fortieth birthday present from Tom and my sister Abigail. I am forty-four. Someone kicked my ass in August and told me that I had to cash in or else. Or else what? Or else allow to fester a nasty little resentment about how poor me worked so hard while everyone else got vacations. How all my vacations are cleverly disguised as gigs. How I am so good/loyal/mentally healthy that I do not need a vacation.

Fortunately, I proved myself abundantly insane last Tuesday so that my family was glad to show me the door. I had a meltdown about the fact that so few people had come to our Broadside Bookstore reading (I think there were ten people present, including my three immediate family members, two of whom were playing boisterously in the back row), which I concluded meant that our book was terrible, I was terrible, the publishing industry was doomed, our family would go broke and my husband was secretly delighted by my complete artistic failure.

So I packed a bag, tossed my yoga mat in the car, made sincere apologies to my husband, and drove west. As soon as I got off the highway, my blood pressure went down. As soon as I drove onto the grounds of Kripalu, a former monastery-turned-guru-driven-ashram-turned-holistic-healing-center in Lenox MA, I remembered who I was. "Oh, hello," I said, "I remember you!"

I checked in, ate dinner in silence (my choice--they don't make you not talk. I just chose not to. In two full days, I didn't see a single person I knew. I can't remember the last time that's happened.) I found my little room which I was supposed to share with someone named Whitney, but Whitney never showed up.

I proceeded to do nothing. OK, that's not true at all. I made about thirteen phone calls, I posted two blogs, I wrote copiously in my journal, I went for a walk, I called my family and talked to all of them, I did two yoga classes, I browsed in the bookstore, I meditated, and I got a facial. But this, to me, is a perfect vacation. All I want is a room of my own, a lot of space and the encouragement to breathe slowly and deeply.

At the end of the visit, the program director emailed me to say that Kripalu wants to have us come as presenters, based on my failure of a book, to run a workshop on Family Music. They want to run it July 4 weekend when James Taylor is traditionally at Tanglewood. One of the ideas in the book is to find your Family Musical Canon--the music you inherited from your parents and grandparents, the music you discovered yourself, the music you and your children all love--the songs that would be the soundtrack to your family's life if it were a movie. The program director (and Katryna and I) all agreed that JT would be in our FMC. So she is going to include tickets to the James Taylor show as part of the workshop we present.

Dream. Come. True. So next time I come to Kripalu, I will be paid to unplug and unwind and eat delicious healthy food and say hello to myself again.

I am glad my writing career is not over, because I find myself on the page. Don't all writers? That's where I meet God, too. Something in the process of writing connects me to my Source in a way nothing else does. I get my answers through the very process of writing. Some people meditate to find God; some pray. Some feed the hungry. Some go to church or temple or ashram. I write and sing.

One of my teachers said to me today, "Think of the nervous system as a piece of music. We get activated (the sympathetic nervous system), and we get deactivated, or we relax (the parasympathetic nervous system). The sympathetic nervous system is like the notes in the piece. The parasympathetic is like the rests, and the spaces between the notes. You need both to have music. Imagine a piece of music that was all notes. It would just be noise."

Today I picked Jay up from school, and he grabbed my hand and dragged me to the playground. "You have to help me ask Kaliya why she won't play with me," he said, pulling my hand toward the swing set. There on the last swing was a little girl with dark brown hair, swinging quietly by herself. She looked at us with some concern.

"Dat's her," murmured Jay, turning his head into my leg.

"Hi!" I said, grinning as broadly as my cheeks would allow, trying to look simultaneously like a nice mom and her potential best girl friend. "Will you play with Jay? He wants to be your friend."

The girl stared at us and kept swinging. I picked up my son. He buried his face in my shoulder, then without moving his face reached out his left hand and waved in her general direction. I came closer to the girl.

"Hey, Kaliya,"I said. "He's a really nice boy. He just wants you to smile at him, or say hi or something. Can you do that?"

She stared at me. No acknowledgement. I pulled out my ace.

"Do you remember me? I came and sang with you last week. Remember? 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?'" I grinned hopefully, singing the words.

Nothing. I sighed and stood up with Jay still in my arms. Elle leaned in and took a turn. "I like your dress," she said and beamed.

Kaliya looked at her and kept swinging. Slowly I turned away and the three of us started back for the car. Jay started kicking his legs and crying, "Put me down! Put me down!" I did, and he ran back to Kaliya. He stood a few feet from her swinging legs and did his little windshield-wiper hand wave again. "Will you play with me?" he asked, screwing up all his courage. She neither nodded nor shook her head. She was inscrutable.

In my misery last Tuesday--the night before I vacated to Kripalu--Tom said something that really pissed me off. "If you are concerned about how this wonderful book that you and Katryna have written is going to sell, or going to be received, you are screwed. You know better, Nerissa. It's not about the money. It never has been for you. It's about the process of writing it. It already has helped people. But it's really none of your business how much it sells. When you reduce a book to saleability, it's all over."

It's not our business who likes us. It's not our business how we do in this life. It's our business who we like. When we got home, Jay was still grieving. "Why won't Kaya play with me? Why did she just swing and swing and swing?"

I crouched down and took him onto my knee and put my arms around his wiry little body. He smells like boy now. I kissed his dirty hair and breathed him in. "You know, some people are shy," I said. "For them to talk to other people, especially people they don't know very well, it's owie. It actually feels like it hurts."

"Why is Kaya so shy shy shy?"

"I don't know," I said. "But your job is just to keep being you and to keep loving her. She'll stop being shy some time."

A few minutes later, as I was making dinner, I heard him say, "Elle, let's play Kaya. You be Kaya and I be Jay and I ask you to play wif me. Kaya, will you play wif me?"

"Sure, Jay," said Elle, bending in toward him. "Hi, cute little boy. Let's make a fort."

Friday, September 16, 2011


Here is what happened in the last three weeks since we came back from vacation: Elle started kindergarten, Jay had another asthma attack and is now having to use a bunch of drugs that make us anxious (though he loves them, since he gets to watch TV when he partakes). We learned that as a result of his eye injury last June he will always have a slight dilation in his right pupil. No harm to his vision, thank God.

We survived hurricane Irene, but our beloved Keene NY lost their road, their library and many homes and natural elements. Our book came out amid much flurry and fanfare, Elle learned the bowings to Minuet 3 and "Happy Farmer," I am planning to launch our first iteration of Big Kid HooteNanny, plus two new parent guitar groups, Katryna's kids and our kids held a tag sale on our front lawn (at which I netted a grand total of $5. I would have made $15, but I spent $10 buying William's tricycle for Jay).

And finally, wonderfully, our kitchen is finished. Today Ray hung the porch lights, Bill wired the stereo speakers through the basement, and we took the tape off the sill between the dining room and the kitchen.

I cooked a huge meal for the writers for my retreat, and as I cooked, I listened to Revolver. I got stuck on the George Harrison song, "I Want to Tell You." What do you think he means by this:

But if I seem to act unkind
It's only me it's not my mind
That is confusing things.

Huh? Isn't the mind the problem? Or does he think the mind is the seat of God? I wish he were alive so I could ask him.

On Wednesday, I had yoga with my friend and teacher Sara Rose. She talked about Kali and Shri, the two Hindu goddesses who represent different inner states. Kali is fearsome, roaring, violent with blood dripping from her teeth. She is a black as night, black as the womb; she is the place we all come from. She is the power at the center of the universe, the energy of the river, fueled by the hurricane which destroyed the roads leading to our town in the Adirondacks. She is our left side, in Hindu lore. The right side is represented by Shri, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is ordered, lovely, refined; she makes order out of chaos. She is the soft light of the full moon, the one who makes us all look good.

We need both. We need that primordial energy to evolve and change, or perhaps we need to understand that life is fluid and uncertain, that there will be hurricanes and earthquakes and tornedoes (even in Western Massachusetts) and that we all need to learn how to bend with the wind, find our balance as we navigate.

I have been making a practice recently to keep track of my money better. I was one of those proud non-math kids. I wouldn't even write with a pencil because I associated math with pencils. In 4th grade when our teacher gave us our daily math handouts, I'd take a look at them, decide they were too hard, and shove them into my desk. I proceeded to space out (my greatest talent) and somehow got away with this behavior for two months. Then one day in November, Miss Burns called me back from PE and presented me with my forty days worth of math papers. "Do these by Christmas or else!" she shook them at me. I took them home, told my babysitter. She said she would help me. She took the stack and brought them back to me the next day, all filled out.

Anyway, thirty-five years later, I am trying to right this wrong by honoring the energy that is money and, well, noticing it more. Waiting before I buy more lightbulbs to see if maybe I had stashed a box of them in the top shelf of a closet, for example. Cashing checks people pay me. Buying beans instead of salmon for dinner. Not saying yes every time my child wants to go to the toy store. And most importantly, not spending more than I make and giving away what I can. When I do this--when I spend no more than what I take in, and when I do this in an engaged and conscious way, I feel so joyful. Enough is a feast, as I have heard recently, and in my experience, there is a world of difference between a feast and a binge.

They say that cleanliness is next to Godliness. There is something thrilling about a clean, new space. When I came downstairs this morning, I almost wept with joy at the fresh floors with nary a mark on them. I did some sun salutations at the new windows and then I meditated on the couch. The longer I live, the more I think that sitting still and breathing is the most efficient way I can use my time.

The first night we had dinner in the new kitchen, Elle said, "Mama, why did we need such a fancy kitchen, Mama. You're not fancy. It's not your sort."

She's right. I picked her up and held her. "You are a wise little lady," I said. "How did you know that about me?" The kitchen is so beautiful, so Shri-like, and I am so inherently messy and right-brained (I'm assuming here, for the sake of a cohesive essay, that Kali who controls the left side of the body is the right brain and Shri is the left brain, but again, those Hindis who invented these goddesses are not alive for me to consult with.) I will feel more at home when the kitchen has been dinged up. Jay did his part by spilling some bread pudding on the new floors right near the couch. It's been a long 9 months, this period of building this beautiful kitchen, and while I have enjoyed it tremendously (what's not to love about picking hardware from Anthropologie?) I am more interested in plunging into the darkness again to scoop out some mud, slather it on my work table and get dirty. Creation is filthy. But more importantly, the balance has been off. My work is to live within my means, whatever that means at any given time. As I turn my attention to that task, I feel that fulcrum balance under my two feet. I feel the give and the take and I arrive, once again, at the stillpoint.