“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.”–Jane Austen, Persuasion (1818)
“Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.“–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letter Four (16 July 1903), Letters to a Young Poet.
“How does a man live, after all?/Does he live a thousand days, or one only?/For a week, or for several centuries?/How long does a man spend dying?/What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?”–Pablo Neruda, “And How Long?”, Selected Poems, 1970
You sat at the bar. I was a couple of minutes late, as usual.
You looked at your phone. I opened the door. You glanced up at that moment.
It might have been my imagination, but your grey eyes lit up when you grinned.
I walked in and headed straight to you.
We hugged. The bartender smiled.
I ordered a beer.
You signaled that my drink was on your tab.
I asked about your commute. You asked me about packing.
We relaxed. It was quiet for a moment.
It was comfortable.
We caught up on the day.
We told silly jokes. We laughed.
We turned to each other.
You told me about your upcoming fishing trip.
I described my upcoming writer’s retreat.
We finished the beers.
I walked outside.
You settled the bill.
You gave me a t-shirt with the brewery logo.
I thanked you.
We held hands and stepped off the patio.
We took your car to the grocery store.
We giggled like little kids in the deli section.
We picked out dinner, a Wisconsin specialty. Brats.
We walked to the liquor store for more beer.
We drove to your house.
Your dog greeted us, all puppy enthusiasm, muscles, and expressive ears.
You built a fire in the basin of your grill in the backyard.
I teased you.
You lit the fire.
I sat back, in a blue dress, petting your sweet puppy.
We watched the sky.
The fire warmed us on a rare cool summer night.
You fashioned tree branches into grilling sticks.
We roasted brats over the fire.
We were distracted by the shooting stars of the meteor showers of August.
We ate enthusiastically and unapologetically from sticks and chuckled at our summer feast.
We gazed at the fire and found peace in the flames and sparks.
The sky turned darker and the wood burned down to embers.
The large pile of firewood shrank to twigs and scraps of bark.
We were silent. The pops and cracks from the fire punctuated the night.
The fire burned down, the night became morning, the summer diminished.
We held on for a brief moment, a few weeks.
We found summer.
You grabbed your keys, folded down your collar, and headed down the highway to work.
I put the last box in my car. I looked up at the trees.
The train screeched on the tracks around the corner.
I lingered and took a deep breath.
I opened the car door.
I slid the seat forward and my sunglasses slipped.
I straightened my blue t-shirt, the brewery logo reflected in the rearview mirror.
We were like the campfire, a brief intersection of two flickering flames.
In that moment we found healing.
We helped each other to dust off our hearts.
We helped each other get ready for the next, to prepare for real love.
Then there was goodbye.
My mind turned to my new home, the direction of my heart, a dear friend, school, writing, running, and teaching.
Your mind moved to work, your friends’ upcoming visit, making a home, fishing, and the dream of someone new.
I drove to New Mexico to begin.
I remembered what you said, “I’m glad we gave this a go.”
A summer, a fire, a go.
Follow your dreams. Live your bliss. The memes fly across Facebook feeds, the inspirational quotes get tweeted and retweeted. With all of these positive thoughts, why are we still staring at our screens?
It is fear. Of change. Of upheaval. Of not knowing. Of growth. Of disappointment. Of work.
I lived with that fear for a long time and then one day I realized I wanted things to be different. Realizing, though, and doing, are different things. There are lots of think tanks, but how many “Do Tanks” are there? We love nouns, but verbs are scary. They mean action. They mean doing. In fits and starts over the last four years, I have slowly, but surely, begun to live my dreams. In the day-to-day realm of things, my life does not look that different. Examine my heart, my mind, my soul and it is as different as night and day.
Here are things I did and do and keep doing. The process is constant, the effort continuous, the results contagious.
1. Write down what you love.
Three years ago, after an especially depressing set of news headlines, I turned off the radio, shut down the computer, and closed the newspaper. I pulled out my journal and instead of reflecting upon the bad news, I made a list. I made a list of everything I love from the small to the substantial. I kept writing and the list grew longer. Eventually my hand cramped and my writer’s bump on my left middle finger swelled. The list included quilts, thunderstorms, Mr. Rogers, Dolly Parton, and road trips. I still come back to that list to remember all the special things on bad news days or just days that I want to savor beauty and love.
If writing an exhaustive list seems intimidating, start with five things you love in that moment. Keep a journal nearby so that you can jot down those special things as you think of them.
2. Make time for creativity.
Some people paint, knit, draw, take pictures, sculpt. Some are intimidated by the process. What creative things do you like to do? What is something new you would like to try? For me, it was writing. I loved to write as a child. As an adult, I loved to read, but was too intimidated to really admit I wanted to be a writer. Finally, I realized the beauty of writing is the writing. Whether or not the results get published is an entirely different thing, but I can write. I started a blog. Eventually, I shared that blog with friends and got brave enough to submit articles for publication. I am far from making my living as a writer, but I love doing it and now I make time for it. Stringing together words is what I love. Typing sentences, finding just the right phrase, is the fun and the beauty.
Give yourself five minutes for your creative pleasure. Let the five minutes grow to a longer session. Keep practicing. What you make will not always be beautiful. Don’t worry about the results. Instead, enjoy the process, the mess, the blessedness of creativity.
3. Applaud your little steps.
Celebrations are all about marking the moments. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. We remember the grand events, but what about the moments that lead to the meaning? Celebrate knitting one row. Celebrate writing one blog post. Celebrate painting one corner of the canvas. Celebrate the day that you started doing. Celebrate that you have dreams that are becoming actions. Realize that little steps lead to marathons, paragraphs lead to books, paint droplets lead to masterpieces.
Changes do not always have to be big and sweeping. Those little things can help us lead more creative lives. Making time for the things we care about can help us become more caring people. Keeping track of the things that we love and excite us can help us to live more loving lives. Giving ourselves grace and freedom help us to live more freely and gracefully.
Life is a big and beautiful journey. Let us celebrate our part of that.
“In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to new.”–D. H. Lawrence
“I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
― Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
This summer, for me, is also transition. I am between things. I am packing, one foot still planted here in Colorado. I am moving, one foot flying towards New Mexico. I am saying goodbye, preparing for hello, and all the while my heart is open and wild and unruly.
Here in Colorado, I have had six weeks of my in-between state. I am wrapping up projects at my old job. I am writing bits and pieces, finding it difficult to focus. I am working sporadic shifts, temporarily, at a hotel, helping an overwhelmed staff. I am visiting friends and saying goodbye. Slowly and surely, I gather my belongings and put things in boxes. All the while, I do not know what to do with my searching, fast-beating heart.
In early July, I load my phone with a couple of new apps, linked to familiar dating sites. I am not new to the phenomenon of using online sites to meet people for dating purposes. This time I do it, thinking I will use the sites when I finally get settled in Albuquerque at the end of the summer. I am impatient, though, and try out a new-to-me site with its simple six pictures, short profile, and the option to “swipe” left for no or right for yes. I swipe left and right at prospective dates as if it is a game.
My phone pings with messages from the yeses that matched their own yeses to me. A few messages are exchanged and I feel exhausted. Another message catches my eye. It is different, somehow. The picture shows a man with kind eyes. I respond. We send short messages, quick questions, fast answers. We text and send funny jokes. In an hour we make plans to meet for a drink on a Wednesday. It will be the day after my birthday.
We meet. We talk about everything and nothing. He reminds me of boys I liked in high school and college. He is enthusiastic and there is no cool demeanor. We have things in common. The drink stretches out. My heart beats with the thrill of summer. In my first message to him, I tell him I am moving and am not looking to date in my final days in Colorado. During drinks, he says he understands, but he wants to date me while he can.
We see each other again. I meet his dog. There is friendship and, dare I say it? There is summer romance. It is simple and sweet and will be short. He makes guacamole and brags of his barbecuing skills. He plays bartender; he is from Wisconsin, after all. We trade Wisconsin stories. I tell about New Mexico. We both love music. We listen to records. We hold hands. We go bowling. We play with his dog.
We are efficient with our currency of limited time and fast-moving summer days. He has friends visit from out-of-town. I have a move to coordinate. We talk on the phone. We trade more text messages. I make plans to say goodbye to family and friends. We talk about camp fires and road trips. He tells me about a canoeing adventure with his sister. He plans a new home-brew batch with his roommate. I talk about star constellations and my love of teaching. He talks of settling in at his new job and loving Colorado, just six months after his move from the midwest. During the day, while he is working and I am packing boxes, we send each other suggestions for new music to listen to, funny pictures to peruse, and links to articles to read.
We are free and light. It is a summer romance, flirty and fun. We do not evaluate each other for long-term compatibility. We are not caught up in sadness or missed opportunity. I have no expectations and I set myself free. I have no attachment. I like him, but I also like the freedom of goodbye. We connect in the here and now. We are patient and kind to each other. Somehow, it is mutual. We care for each other’s hearts, for the short time that we will share them. We talk mostly of now. We do not talk much of the past. We do not make plans for the future.
Sometimes, we are destined to help nurse someone’s heart back to the living. Sometimes, we are the practice routine for a serious romance to follow. Sometimes, we are full of summer and light. Sometimes, we are the one to meet after a long one-sided crush. Sometimes, we are there to remind each other that there are many suitable people left in the world. Sometimes, we connect because we can. Sometimes, it is about who we are and who we have been and who we help each other become. Sometimes, it is about Wisconsin stories and guacamole and a dog. Sometimes, it is about music and stars and dreams. Sometimes, it is about a short friendship and a little romance. Sometimes, it is about the heart of summer.
Our senses can serve as time machines. Listening to the first notes of a favorite song can send us back to a poignant moment. Smelling certain whiffs can bring us to special places. Tasting favorite foods can transport us to home or to a sense of coming home to ourselves.
Today is a hot July day. I am packing up the kitchen and cleaning like a madwoman. At noon, I feel hunger pangs. I search in the nearly empty cupboard and I remember my craving for hummus a few days ago. Luckily, I have all the ingredients stocked, and I came across a recipe that is similar to my oft-used one, with promises for ease in making and spice in tasting. Still, I improvise.
I drain the can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer that term, but they are the same thing) and I flashback to my first year of college. I turned 18, declared myself a vegetarian, stopped shaving my legs, and enrolled in a school where the admissions advertising campaign included pictures of brightly colored canoes and artistic shots of Lake Superior. This New Mexico girl, raised in a home with a kitchen where pinto beans were a constant staple and on the grasslands where cattle raised for beef dotted the landscape, had never heard of chickpeas. I figured life as a vegetarian would be relegated to salads and vegetable side dishes. In 2015, hummus is quite popular in the US and mass-prepared versions are available in small town grocery stores, but not so in the early 90s. My first taste of hummus was on a canoe trip as part of my first-year student orientation. People smeared it on bagels and dipped their carrots sticks in it. Back on campus, in the cafeteria with a celebrated vegetarian cook, hummus had its place of honor in the well-stocked salad bar. It was kind of like Frito-Lay bean dip, but not. It was salty and contained a spicy mix of herbs. Part sandwich spread, part dip, I dug right into its creamy texture and clung to its trap on my taste buds.
In my hippified years of college, I volunteered for and shopped in the small and local natural foods co-op. I stocked chickpeas on the shelves and brought them home in wonder. People brought hummus as a snack to Friday night potlucks and I delighted in the special joys of a pita stuffed with hummus and spinach. I made batches by the tubful, but never quite seemed to replicate others’ tasty concoctions. I added lemon, but missed the subtleties of spice mixtures. I ate the college chef’s garbanzo masterpiece, dipped my fingers, carrots, and even tortilla chips. Finally, I perfected my own version.
If I had a food map of my life, hummus would mostly represent my college time. Few foods bring me back to those crazy and idealistic and optimistic years, the way that hummus does. It was cheap and easy to prepare with a spoon and a bowl. I hauled it on hikes, I made it when I was down to my last three dollars, I ate it at a party while a shaggy boy and I talked of music and poetry. I soaked a bowl of chickpeas when I had no furniture and five feet stacks of books on the floor. I mixed up a batch the night I broke up with a dear love. I mashed garbanzos in an angry furor in a spiritual breakdown.
I graduated from college, but I took the garbanzos with me. Today, I shave my legs and am just a part-time vegetarian. Now, my shopping lists include both chickpeas and pintos, canned when I am in a rush and full of impatience, and dried when I have grace and make time. Today, I rip open a sleeve of crackers, cut up chunky carrot sticks, and slice a cucumber. I take bites of the veggies and crackers dipped in my warm summer batch. I lick fingers stained with newspaper print as I sneak in a lunch while packing.
I am at once 18 on my first canoe trip, I am 25 in my apartment in Saint Paul, I am 32 hiking with a boyfriend in Colorado, I am 40 and on the cusp of new adventures. I can imagine my grey-white hair at 73 as I mix up a batch for an old college friend coming to visit and reminisce. I am ageless, I am every age. I am me. I am hungry and excited. It is hummus and I am home.