Art, Coffee, a Robe, and maybe even World Peace


IMG_3127Sometimes, it really is the little things. I woke up early, an hour before I “needed” to be awake. I lingered in bed and read a few pages of the novel I fell asleep to. I listened for the early chirp of sparrows and pigeons and robins. Then I pulled myself out of bed and slipped into a beautiful peacock kimono robe that I bought a year ago. I savored its soft satin feel and breathed in the peace of the moment.

I tiptoed into the kitchen, even though I was alone and live alone, to honor the quiet of the morning. I took the moka pot from the stove and filled it with water and fine espresso ground coffee. I turned the backburner to medium high and let the coffee pot sizzle and hiss. I walked back into the bedroom and made the bed, fluffing the pillows. I looked up at the beautiful piece of art hanging on the wall, that I had only received in the mail a few days before, and smiled.

IMG_3124I took out my phone and took a picture of the wonderful art and posted it on fb and ig. Yes, call me obnoxious, but I have a friendship with the artist and I never thought I would be able to have beautiful, original art on my walls.

I stretched and read a few more pages of the book and then heard the rumble of the espresso pot. I swooped into the kitchen and poured a cupful of steaming, dark coffee. Immediately, I put the fresh grounds into the earthenware bowl holding a small cactus on the counter behind the sink, and refilled the pot with more water and coffee for a second cup. For just a moment, I marveled at the beauty of my well-used coffee pot. The shiny little Italian pot is my favorite way to make coffee and I love its shape and the burned coffee patina on the steel.

It’s a quiet Friday morning. I have one day of work before a long weekend and then a transition to my summer work. I was brimming with inspiration, but sometimes writing has to be well-timed, like plucking the steaming coffee pot off the stovetop before it goes from percolating to burning. I realized then, that the moment was a perfect homage to beauty, inspiration, and pleasure in the little things, which can lead to large things.

I turned on the laptop and instead of scooting into my desk, I sat cross-legged on my bed, my back leaning against the foot rail, laptop nesting against the turquoise sky blue of my peacock robe, so that I could be in full view of the art on the wall.

I sipped coffee and wondered how to pay tribute to a simple morning taking pleasure in the beauty and functionality of everyday, and yet extraordinary, things.

Considering the state of the world and current news, I might sound like a dilatant or even a more modest and modern version of the oft-told, yet highly inaccurate story of “Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette.

In honor of my friend’s art and her abundant creativity, I decided to let it fly and I am writing this. The acquisition of the beautiful robe, astounding art, and the mighty moka pot are small choices. They are me celebrating an adult life, and finally coming into my own. It’s not so much about buying “stuff” as it is about freedom and, yes, gratitude. For years, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy, that I couldn’t do something, that something beautiful was out of reach, that I didn’t deserve it. I am so grateful that I have come out of that phase, which was really most of my life.

It’s taken years, and perhaps reaching a certain age, and a lot of inner-self work to finally silence those stories I told myself. I have also silenced (at least to myself) the voices of well-intentioned friends and loved ones, who, either directly or indirectly, seemed to reiterate those stories. How many people do you know who will eat a piece of dessert and then express dismay and guilt that they “shouldn’t have!”? They probably didn’t enjoy the pie going down and then it sits in their stomachs like dead weight.

Mostly, it seems that we, or many of us, are fighting battles within ourselves. I understand those battles like fighting addiction, keeping a romantic partnership alive, and making sure kids are cared for and clothed. Those are worthwhile battles. What about our own internal battles, like finding peace and joy and caring for others? There are battles in this world to fight for:  justice, equality, access to good education, safety, environmental preservation, pick your issue. Those are the battles worth suiting up for, but maybe they don’t have to be battles.

What if, all of a sudden, we didn’t have to fight? What if we didn’t have to fight ourselves, each other, our families, our friends? What if the little and big choices could be beautiful and peaceful?

I am not equating buying a coffee pot with being the Pope. I do not think that buying a piece of art that I love from a friend I admire makes me a humanitarian. I do think, though, that saying yes to ourselves in small ways leads to bigger and braver lives.

What if the small and mundane choices, like my peacock robe, could be small ways of saying yes? Buy the damn robe, it’s beautiful and functional, plus, it’s good to have a robe in case someone comes knocking at 7 a.m.! You want a funky espresso pot? Get it and enjoy the small pleasures of a new (now seven years old) way to make and enjoy the morning ritual of coffee! Is that piece of art you have been admiring for sale? Does the artist have prints, or a payment plan, if it is more than you can chew financially? Support a living artist and maybe develop a friendship with a creative person who will inspire you in your own work!

You are worthy. You are important. You are one-of-a-kind. We need you to take down your armor with yourself and find love. We need you to find peace with yourself. The stories you tell yourself will stick around. Make them good ones. Your peace and love will inspire others, even if it’s silent and subtle.

There is freedom and grace in little moments. World peace may not depend on your peacock robe, but your inner peace that tells you that you are worthy may be the first step. If you are brave enough to speak up for yourself, to yourself, imagine what else you can do!

 

 

Rebirth


 

 

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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
Spring is the obvious time to celebrate rebirth. After the “barren” winter, we take notice of the fecundity of spring. It’s feral and wild. Animals are mating. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. People have spring fever.

Spring is all about our deliverance to life, to a new start. The astronomical calendar begins with the start of spring. We plant seeds in our gardens. Our religious and spiritual holidays like Easter and Passover celebrate new beginnings.

Last Friday, I had a type of spiritual renewal. An epiphany. A discovery. It shook me to the core. I used to be very suspicious of people when they would talk about these moments, these discoveries. Then I realized that these moments are so much more than a moment. It’s a little bit like studying history. In elementary school, when we learned about historical events, we memorized important dates. Folks familiar with U.S. history might recognize the timeline points of 1492, 1776, 1865. However, if you look more closely, those discernible events and moments were buried in thousands of other moments and events that preceded them. Just like those history lessons, in a personal spiritual journey, an epiphany on one day is really a culmination of many other revelations.

It felt like all of a sudden my resistance, only recently identified, to everything just floated away. My epiphany felt a bit like a rebirth. All of a sudden, everything felt different, and yet everything felt the same. It was as if a 2,000-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had a similar moment of epiphany last November, and then a smaller, but no less substantial epiphany a couple of days ago.

The celebration was in the discovery, but even more so in the awareness. I felt grateful to be aware of the awakening (using that word feels a little worrisome, but I cannot find another) and to embrace the little and tiny moments that resulted. Life feels easier in so many obvious and tangible ways, yet it’s all still mysterious. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I do not have problems. I’m still figuring out things financially. I’m still figuring out my relationship with myself. I’m still learning to love someone else. I’m still needing to find peace, moment to moment.

The moment of clarity is like cleaning a window. All of a sudden the light shines through so much brighter than before. I take a breath and a step. I’m grateful for the growth.

I love to compost and the parallels astound me. I throw old scraps into the bin. Something that was rotten becomes food and sustenance and then new growth can begin. The growth is small at the beginning, but miraculous. It feels new, but all of a sudden we can’t remember what it was like before that. It is a constant cycle and there is no ending.

Do you remember the first time you could read a sentence? Do you recall the moment you could ride a two-wheeled bicycle? Have you seen a baby’s delight in walking her first few steps? There is delight in the new and then it becomes routine, a foundation for the rest.

We learn, we stumble. We fall, we recover. We have moments of darkness, and then moments of epiphany. We share, we gather. We grow, we find new.

I pray for grace, for peace, for empathy, for honesty. I give thanks for spiritual growth and the path. I ask for friendship and help. I give friendship and help.

We find the seeds. We plant and honor. We nurture ourselves, our families, our friends, others. We hold hands and we find strength. We drop hands and find stability.

Spring is upon us. We begin again.

 

 

Masks

This time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade?


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

Near Halloween, we put on costumes and masks and disguises. However, this time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade? When was the last time you masked your feelings? When did you last put layers and layers (and I don’t mean turtlenecks and sweaters) between you and the world?

Tomorrow, I will put on a pink wig and a headband as part of an easy costume for a Halloween-themed event at work. However, that will hardly be the first or last time that I have put on a costume to hide myself. I have written a lot recently about my state of grief over the loss of my dad, who passed away more than six months ago. I am certainly not the first to lose someone I love. In this time, though, what was most surprising about the rush of grief was the emerging blankets of feelings and pent up emotions. His death brought to the forefront things that I have been squashing under years of dishonesty with myself, or what I had been hiding. The grief, combined with some internal work that I have focused on for the last couple of years, stripped me of my thin skins of disguise. All of a sudden everything bubbled right up to the surface. Now, instead of pushing them down into my hidden core, I identify them, feel them, and let them go. It can be draining and exhausting and freeing, all at once. All the times that I covered things up in white lies to myself are now points of brutal honesty in my inner dialogue. All of a sudden, I have no need for the costumes, the makeup, or the drama. It is a bit life-altering. It is a time of awakening.

It does not mean that I am done with the masks, completely. However, now I can see through my own armor, and often I can see what people are trying to hide for themselves. I am stripping away and coming clean. Sometimes, though, without my disguise, I feel naked and alone and vulnerable. Right now, probably because of this inner work, I am trying to find a balance between working through these veils of disingenuity and opening myself up to others. It helps that I have only lived in Albuquerque a year, and I am still making friends, so I can spend time alone and not feel like I am hiding. I have recently reconnected with a good friend and spending time with this person is tricky, because it’s hard to hide myself from someone who seems to know me better than I know myself. I come home from a visit tired, yet exhilarated. I want to share everything, and yet I know we still need boundaries. I still have a lot of work to do.

I turn to a journal. I whisper prayer. I fold inward and think of how to use this new honesty, this new cleanliness. I find new ways to be. I look for healing. I let go of things from the past. Instead, I focus on right now. I seek sunlight. I dance to the moon as it turns new. I find myself shedding the need to apologize. I write words. I find meaning at every turn. I realize that all we have is each other. I struggle to find love for myself, even as I peel away the dislike. I try to be there for others. I apologize and forgive for the past, but now I move on. I run slowly into freedom. I take off the costumes and shake off the lies, and leave them behind, much as a tarantula leaves behind its molt as it crawls into the new and fragile.

Home Body


At the end of a long day at work, all I could think about was home. The 12-minute drive was just long enough to turn the craving into a yearning. I grabbed my bag and keys, practically sprinting to my second floor apartment, with a half-turn to beep my car doors to lock. I smiled up at my red chile ristra to the left of the front door, struggled with the sticky lock, and kicked off my black ballet flats in the entry way. There was just a hint of fall chill in the air as I quickly shut the door and changed into comfy homey attire of a t-shirt and leggings. Each step through my four rooms gave me pleasure and comfort. I was home.

What is it that makes a place home? How does it go from four walls or four rooms to the sturdy and lovely four letters of home? I have lived in many places as an adult, and in several houses in childhood, and almost every one became home.

In my New Mexico childhood, I loved the green and white house we lived in for a few years with its fortress of trees, a white picket fence, several outbuildings, and wild onions in the side yard. In high school, my mom, younger sister, and I settled into a small three bedroom with a large front porch that became my touchstone in my teen years and during college vacations. We barbecued in the backyard while our dog ran laps, barking at birds and the neighbors, and we held my high school graduation party there. While those houses no longer belong to my family, I still cherish the memories and milestones from those places.

From the age of 18 and onward, I discovered that I could make a home pretty easily. Just about every place I have lived in, I have loved, each for different reasons. College, with life far away from my family for the first time, felt particularly poignant in my efforts to make a home. In the hallway of the second floor of my dorm in my first year of college, I built community and great friendship with many of the women who lived there, some of whom are still among my closest friends across the miles. In the dorm room of my sophomore year, my dear friend Lisa and I hung our laundry from the picture rail near the ceiling and stayed up late into the night sharing stories and secrets while drinking hot tea, or on the weekends when we were feeling clandestine we sipped Kahlua with milk. I moved to a house just at the edge of campus, for part of my junior year, that had a wood-burning stove, both for cooking and heating. To get through the cold Wisconsin winter, I chopped wood in the backyard and savored the smell of wood smoke in all of my clothes. In my last year of college, I moved off campus, and lived in a huge apartment with beautiful wood floors and a hall long enough to rival a bowling alley. It was cheap and quiet and I still remember giggling maniacally while I chased my roommate Susanna down the hall, as we enjoyed the delayed childhood delight of sliding on the floors in our wool socks.

I moved to Albuquerque right after college, and stayed for just a couple of months in a rent-by-the-night-or-week-or-month small studio apartment, spending my first night unpacking and relishing my first place on my own without a roommate. Quickly thereafter, I lived in the Twin Cities for several years, treasuring an apartment for its underground parking space and another for the time that I got to spend and share with two good college friends, Cathy and Myla. We struggled through first jobs and sharing chores and finding our way in the unruly times of our early twenties. In Saint Paul, I fell in love with John who lived two floors above me in a small 11-unit apartment building. We got to know each other while doing laundry and checking our mail, slowly developing into a courtship of shared dinners and beers on the back stoop. He bought a place and we moved into his adorable grey and blue house, my first foray into domestic living with someone I had loved and dated. We stayed together in that house for more than two years, transitioning from a romantic couple to roommates, still delighting in each other’s company. We played bluegrass loudly on his stereo and made pesto and he showed me the joys of grilling in subzero weather and grinding one’s own coffee beans before breakfast. I think of that home fondly and of the kind and goofy and generous man who cried when we said goodbye, as I drove the U-Haul from his driveway to Colorado and new adventures.

In Colorado, after a long and mostly solo time, I lived for several years with my younger sister when she moved back to the United States after a sojourn in Germany. We shared an apartment out of convenience and thrift, as rents went up just as the economy tanked. We possessed the easy comfort and familiarity of sisters, sharing movie nights and long talks, but struggled at times with the frustration of sharing close quarters. When my sister made the plunge from renter to owner, I moved into her spacious two-bedroom condo and found solace in a big room and huge walk-in closet. While she established her home, I made a space for writing and dreaming, knowing that I would be moving on soon. I moved out a year ago, and I love getting her texts as she buys furniture, paints, and makes home improvements.

I moved to Albuquerque just about a year ago and into this apartment 10 months ago, after staying in a couple of temporary places. I look around, hearing the hum of my laptop and the hiss of the tea kettle in the background. I stretch and yawn. I just renewed the lease, and look forward to at least 14 more months in this spot. I know, though, that home is as much a place you love, as it is the setting for your life. Memories, momentos, mornings. They all dwell here. I take a sip of tea. Home, indeed.

 

A quote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams–this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness–and maddest of all:  to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”–Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from Don Quixote

A Week


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It was the first week in August. It was a big week. It was my first week back to work after taking the summer off. It was full and fun and exciting and stressful and disappointing and wonderful. It was a week.

A promotion
Over the summer, I applied for a new position and was excited to get the job, a promotion. I still work with the same environmental education program, but now I have a raise and am in charge of the program. The best part, though, is that I get to do as much teaching as before, which is my favorite part of the job. The first week back wasn’t without its bumps. I had to fill out paperwork, as is to be expected, but there was a delay, so my first day back was Tuesday, instead of Monday. I got an extra day of summer break, and a little time to take care of last minute errands. I got to reconnect with co-workers and volunteers and started to get to know a new staffer. It’s a new school year and it feels full of promise, like a bundle of new unsharpened pencils.

A lot of fur love
At the end of July, I started a two-month house-sitting stint. It includes two dogs, which is my real reason for saying yes. I love dogs and want a dog, but a small apartment and a full calendar (full-time work and a return to full-time evening classes) don’t quite welcome a furry-four-legged friend. Now, I visit two sweet dogs a couple of times a day for feeding, playing, and loving. Sometimes I spend the night, but also have the flexibility to go back and forth and stay in my own place. This week, a dear friend also asked me to dog-sit for his two fur balls for an evening. I spent the night at the friend’s empty house, and stayed with these old dogs, and it was like a good visit with familiar friends. Getting to visit with four dogs in two separate houses was fun and frenzied and my clothes show the remnants of all the fur love. Completely worth it, dogs stepping on me, rubbing against my leg, and sitting right next to me. Sweet, unadulterated, unapologetic in their affection, the dogs were the perfect accompaniment to the week.

A publication
At the beginning of the summer, I wrote a personal essay. I submitted it to an online magazine and quickly received a rejection e-mail from the editor, saying it wasn’t right without a rewrite. I decided to save it and use it for something else. A couple of days later, I received an e-mail from another editor who was looking for new writers for a website revamp. I sent them the same piece, and a month later they told me they wanted to publish it. This week it appeared. I shared it with a few friends and relished seeing my byline, even if the topic was a bit painful. If you care to read it, follow this link. It was interesting to read the essay and to see how things have changed, even within a couple of months. I write, hoping to connect with others, but sometimes I connect with myself all over again.

A messy mistake
Relationships with people ebb and flow. Some relationships stay close, some people fade away. I have been overly attached to one friend, and perhaps, as a result there have been some stumbling blocks. In the last week or two, it seemed we had made some progress, after an incident in May. We communicated fairly frequently over the last week, and it felt much like old times, funny and friendly. Then Thursday, well, I made a messy mistake, completely accidental. Remorseful and embarrassed, I piled on the apologies. Our friendship feels as though it is on fragile ground again. Two other friends, with whom I shared the embarrassing incident, advised me to remember the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have taken a few deep breaths and said the wise words to myself. I will see what happens after the stumble and hope that things are okay with the friend. No matter what, though, I am learning the lessons of intention and apology. Yet again, I am learning the peace that comes through the Serenity Prayer. I am also learning to find the beauty in the mess and the power that comes in forgiving myself. I also realized that the two friends I turned to in the aftermath were very new to me. That I felt comfortable to share and that they provided wisdom, comfort, and space for me to be raw was a welcome discovery and another reason for gratitude.

A need for speed
I signed up for a speed dating event for Thursday night. I have been interested in trying this for a few years, but never committed to going. There happens to be regularly scheduled speed dating outings in Albuquerque. I signed up with one of my new friends and we met early. Originally, our plan was to be early to get comfortable and to get ready for speed dating. Instead, I cried in the parking lot, relaying my messy mistake story while she provided tissues and a friendly ear. We ran back to her car, while I got myself together (it was too late and too hot to try makeup) and I consoled myself with the fact that at least I wasn’t wearing the crying raccoon eyes from mascara tears. Then we entered the restaurant, our new friendship cemented into something more.

We each grabbed a glass of sangria filled with enough strawberries for a fruit salad and waited to enter the banquet room reserved for speed dating. Eight tables were set with cheesy valentines and LED votive candles and we each wore a nametag with our first name and a number. There were eight men and eight women and the event felt like a cross between a very organized happy hour and mini job interviews.

At the end of the night, my new loyal friend and I then peeled out of the parking lot in her car, searching for dinner and time to decompress and debrief. We tucked into a booth and ate cheesy garlic bread while we compared notes and waited for our dinner. We both thought it was a good way to meet people, especially if you don’t do it all the time. It felt like a safe and time efficient way to meet potential dates. After years of using online dating sites, and mostly enjoying the process, I am excited to try a different mode.

A spin
I joined a gym a few months ago, and already it’s my favorite gym ever. There is a good mix of ages and abilities, always with a happy roar of weights clanking, music coming from the exercise classrooms, and enough people to feel busy, but not crowded. I use the pool and some of the weights to supplement my outside runs, but have been wanting to take a spin class. As with anything new to me, I always feel a bit of hesitation and intimidation. Luckily, on the first Friday morning of each month, they offer a beginning class. I made plans to attend and got to the gym in just enough time to sign in and feel the pull of the spandex of my cycling shorts. The class had about 20 people and the instructor led us through the basics on how to adjust the bikes for our height and comfort and how to add the clips or pedal cages. Once we were mounted, with bright yellow towels on our spin bikes, he led us through an abbreviated spin workout, explaining numbers of effort, heart rate, and the gears on the gym bikes. A runner and biker in his 50s, he had a calm and cheerful demeanor while pushing us through the burn of our first spin. I loved what he said at the end. “Go to a few different spin classes in the next couple of weeks. Check out different instructors and different styles. You will love it or you will hate it, but you will be glad that you tried it.”

The weekend
After working half a Saturday for a meeting, I plugged into my weekend of downtime. I met a friend for coffee. I took a nap with furry dogs snoring nearby. I made a simple dinner of fish and pasta and sat on the patio and drank a glass of wine. I watched some volleyball and swimming of the Olympics, celebrating that my two-month house-sitting gig comes with a TV that gets reception and all the channels, while my TV at home only works with a DVD player plugged into it. On Sunday, I went for a run and a swim, did some housekeeping chores, and caught up with a college friend on the phone.

It was a week. While time may be a human construct, we can feel it. A week is seven days. It is a clear grid on my dry erase board hung in the hall. It is the song of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It was full. It was eventful. It was ordinary. It was just part of the life I am living, the good, the bad, and all that in between. It was about friendships, fur, and new experiences. It was the beginning of a new work year. It was a week.

 

 

Make


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Photo by Kary Schumpert

(This essay is partly inspired by the July issue of Tribeza Magazine and the theme and emphasis on Makers, and Kristin Armstrong’s column “Our Unique Common Denominator” which is included in this same issue.)

Make. One of the lovely things about being human is our ability to make things. We make tools, love, and messes. It’s our creativity and desire to change and learn and build and dream that makes up our very essence.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes a life. We all live and breathe and eat and sleep, but what is it that we make? What do we create for others? What do we create for ourselves? What choices do we make that leave us breathless in anticipation? What actions do we take that leave us sleepless in remorse? What are the moments that slip through our fingers? What parts of our lives feel just right? What is it that we make that we don’t even realize?

We make moments.

We make decisions.

We make love.

We make mistakes.

We make conversation.

We make memories.

We make messes.

We make appointments.

We make a home.

We make friends.

We make family.

What is it that you make? How do we make it together? In a world that is increasingly reliant on technology, sometimes the line of making something is blurred. We often think that to make something requires tools and talents. I argue that we can all make something, and even do it well, if we just give ourselves the chance.

Making something, even a small, but beautiful life, only requires that you show up, ask, and be brave enough to make mistakes. To live fully means you are fully making your life. You are making the best of your talents and timing. You are supporting your loved ones and asking for that support. You are loving and showing your love. You are trying and failing beautifully. You are the baby making first steps. You are the octogenarian making your millionth joke. You are laughing and crying. You are in the moment. You are falling and flying. You are staring down the moment. You are trying new things. You are comfortable and loving a supportive environment. You are scared and excited. You are holding on and letting go.

What are the things you love to do? What are the things you would like to try? Who could you like to call and talk to for a few minutes or a few hours? What risk would you like to take? Who would you tell that you love them? What new recipe would you like to make? What craft would you like to try? What would you like to build? Who would you like to visit? Who has a career you would like to learn more about? What could you make right now that does not require any new equipment or money spent? What picture have you been meaning to take with the phone that you never put down? What trail or road have you not taken? What do you have that you can share?

If you feel at a loss, make a list. Begin. You are doing great! Clasp your hands. Take heart. Speak up. Show up. Make mistakes. Love. Make your life.