Category: My favorite posts

This little light of mine

This little light of mine

Dear flashing LED light-up bumpy ring,

I’m so sorry. I know it is no excuse, but I’d like to give you a bit of background to explain. Spur of the moment, and uncharacteristically, I decided we should go see the lights at the National Zoo on Tuesday night. Something fun, festive, and free to do as a family. I didn’t remember Memorial Bridge was down to one lane. I didn’t reckon properly on the rush-hour traffic. So we showed up to the zoo after 6:00 pm, with two hungry kids, two hungry parents, not quite enough gloves. 

We walked up the pathway – as members of the zoo we were eligible for free parking, a pass for 10 free rides, and a special gift, while quantities lasted. I had already decided that we would not need the free gift, whatever it might be. We approached the member station. The first thing my girl child did was to complement the zoo lady on her brightly flashing bumpy ring. “I love your ring,” she said. The zoo lady did not seem moved in one way or another, I don’t remember her responding at all. But she did reach over to get our free gift, a zoo tote bag containing our 10-ride pass and four individually wrapped bumpy rings. You were one of them. I told the zoo lady, as rehearsed, no thanks, no free gift needed. “You sure?” she asked, gesturing to the bag’s bottom where I saw the rings, so small, and remembered the girl child’s words, and thought, hey, relax, a couple of little rings will be fun. I took out one for each child. I pressed the buttons to start the batteries and we were off into the light-filled night, fingers blinking in delight.

As the children walked down the path, playing with their rings, I looked at the lights. “Oh, look, icicles,” I said. It was cold. “Oh, look, a seal riding a bicycle, a wolf wearing sunglasses, a polar bear eating a sandwich.” They turned the rings on. They turned the rings off. They turned the rings on. They…. 

And then, little ring, your time was done. Your battery either destroyed or some malfunction. Your seven-to-eight minute life span of functionality over forever. And the boy child was inconsolable. 

“Look – it’s a penguin wearing suspenders and jumping through a hoop of fire!” The ring was broken! 

“Look, glittery sparkles lighting the night” It’s not fair, that boy has a necklace of lights, I wanted the necklace of lights instead, like he has. 

“Smell the funnel cakes, listen to the choir singing” Tears, snot, refusal to walk, sister pretending she will give brother a turn with her ring and then not doing so, second ring confiscated and put into pocket to not cause conflict, tears, snot, cold, requisite family photo.

Waiting in line to spin too quickly in the cold night air next to the girl child, I overheard another boy whose ring had broken. He too was full of sorrow at his lost joy. 

Small squishy green ring of silicone, today I performed an autopsy. Your tiny light source made from rare earth materials, your petite battery to power the tiny light source, your bumpy green shell made from silicone, otherwise known as hydrocarbon-transformed quartz. 

I think about the giant sculptures we saw at the zoo last year. Huge, larger than life, made from garbage that had been removed from coasts of oceans around the world. It was an amazing exhibit, shared with us so we could think about the things we are putting into the sea, that don’t disappear. And here, at Christmas, that same zoo is putting little packs of sea trash into a bag so that kids can have a worse time not paying attention to the experience but, instead, focusing on a new “thing” that they were not in any way expecting to get when they came to the zoo. It would have been cool to walk around and see all of those lights. But you, little ring, became the focus, a source of friction and discontent. And now, you are a piece of garbage, which you were always destined to become. 

Rings like you do give people, many people, great joy — sometimes for several times longer than seven minutes. A brief google search demonstrates the service to humanity that a ring such as yourself, a noble use of Earth’s rare earth materials, can provide:

Michelle says: Adds a lot of fun to any party. We will be using them for a night time beach party this summer. 

Deb, who gave your brethren only three stars, writes: Bought these for a rehearsal dinner. I lit them up ahead of time so they’d look good on display and draw attention. By the time of the event, several rings only had 1 or 2 LEDs flashing. I was disappointed that they didn’t last longer. Would have been good to know life expectancy ahead of time. They were very popular though and people loved seeing the ones that worked and picking one to take home.

From Piggy689: This is really cool it lights up and is really squishy

Will also provided some helpful perspective: These were so fun and really quite bright. For the price they were really great. We’ve used our set on 3 separate occasions and all but one ring has worked each time. The on-off button works pretty well and I love that it is squishy.

Squishy one, you won’t biodegrade. So I can either throw you into the trash or add your light and battery to my growing bag of electronic-related waste to take to the special dump for that kind of thing. Maybe you can be recycled into something that will provide a more lasting light. That is my hope for you. Just imagine, maybe you could be part of a spotlight lighting a little girl for her first violin concert. Or a light at a hospital, where a new mother is having a life-saving surgery, or a studio light where someone is painting a vision of a world where everyone has enough to eat.

I learned my lesson little ring. I promise to find a way to recycle your components because it wasn’t your fault you were made this way. There are bigger plans for your future. I loved those trash sculptures, but I don’t want to see you end up there.

Thank you. Thank you for teaching me an important lesson. I’ve learned it before, but maybe it will stick this time. Focus on the experience. Introducing an object, a new thing, into the equation almost never adds. Almost always subtracts. The kids remember the rings, the tears, not the lights.

So here is to lasting light.

With love and respectfully,

Jennifer

This piece is part of The Stuffed Project: One woman’s quest to reimagine our relationship to the material world (working title). You can learn more about The Stuffed Project or subscribe to get updates in your inbox.

the end

I feel like I’m letting you down. Like you’ve read this far, waiting to see how it turns out, what words of wisdom, big statements about LIFE, I might be able to elucidate in exchange for the time you’ve invested. But I have been thinking and writing and writing and thinking and talking and reading and re-reading and wanting to make proclamations and they are just not there.

Something has changed. It feels like a good change. But I can’t exactly tell you what it is. As far as I can make out, there isn’t a replicable secret formula. And anyway, if you took the same path as me, or changed the same things as I did, it wouldn’t turn out the same way for you. Even if I did the exact same things over again, but started today, it would turn out differently. That’s the magic and mystery of being alive I guess.

I’m drinking coffee again. For breakfast and again at noon. Four ounces of coffee, with about an ounce of heavy cream and three ounces of foamed milk. I whisper, wickedly and with longing, to the coffee grinder each night before bed See you in the morning my friend. I look forward to noon when the volume of coffee decreases and the volume of cream makes the difference to fill the cup. For the past few weeks coffee has been the majority of my breakfast. Then I’ll have the second cup at noon. Then I will grab a snack-sized bag of Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (sea salt) and eat them in the car on my way to pick up the kids at 2:30 or so. The bag is always empty too soon and then I am hungry and grumpy when the kids get in the car, exhausted from a day at camp and grumpy about their own things. We muddle through the afternoon. If Dave is in town we eat something healthy for dinner. If he is not we have fried chicken or pizza or some combination of wheat and dairy, heavy on the dairy. As I write this I am eating a pack of Lance Toast Chee Sandwich Crackers (peanut butter flavor).

I have not meditated since May 15. I specifically remember thinking about meditating, probably on May 16, and deciding that I did not have a lot of available time and that I wanted to get some writing done so I chose to write instead of meditate and here it is two months later.

I have been on my computer after 9 pm almost every night this week, almost every night since I lost my 50,000 words. Usually until about 11 pm, then I sleep (not especially deeply) and then I wake up, tired, my skin a bit less dewy than usual, maybe a random break-out on my neck or some extra lines particularly around my top lip that I think are due to dehydration more than anything else.

I have not danced (except for drunkenly once at 4 am to four songs, including Toto’s “Africa” twice, during my 20-year college reunion), I have not attended an exercise class, I have not spent ten minutes playing an instrument, I have not taken my supplements, I have not eaten any cultured food, I have not been out of bed by 6:30 once. I have been working in my garden at least, to water the grass since we have had no rain for three weeks, so there’s that.

And I played the iPad game last week. Only very briefly. I also ate about half a bag of cheese curls past 7 pm.

Jenny Goodguts went on sabbatical and – poof! – everything she taught me seems to have disappeared.

This is not a momentary blip as I mourn my lost words. The change started before then. Here’s what happened: the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Adventures with Jenny Goodguts blog was fast approaching and I was writing a post to celebrate the year, to reflect, as I am wont to do.

I sat down one morning to finish the one-year piece — it was nearly done but something didn’t feel quite right. I opened a new, blank document and this swarm of words that had been bumping around in my brain for a few weeks flowed, erupted, out onto the page. I looked at what I had written, about my time in India, in Africa, my struggle to live life in America after that, and saw that I had written something true: My words, the ones I keep to myself, the ones I don’t share at the block party or the playground, the things I really feel.

I felt like laugh-crying, and then I started thinking about the Greek story of Echo, who could only repeat the words of others (more on that to come), and I was nervous to share, as always, but I did share, as I do frequently, but not always, and I felt… I felt powerful. I felt that I had said something that was important for me and that I had said it in a way that was authentic, that got at the heart of something that hadn’t been clear in my own mind, hadn’t been acknowledged, until I read my own words.

I still wanted to do the anniversary piece, mostly to say thanks to my readers, because I don’t think I would have grown in the same way without your encouragement. But, as I was writing what was meant to be a thank-you letter, I realized that Jenny Goodguts needed to go. It wasn’t really a planned thing. It sort of wrote itself.

After writing those two pieces, I knew something had changed for me. I felt I had come to a new jumping-off place. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was that I was jumping, but I felt energized, strong, focused, ready (mostly, or significantly more than I had felt before — who ever really feels ready?).

And then I lost my words. Fifty thousand words of my 80,000-word novel – poof! I have consulted with former and current CIA and NSA staffers and unfortunately there is nothing more to be done.

While waiting to see if the novel was recoverable, I decided to more seriously consider compiling my past four years of blogging into a book, adding a few bits that were not published on the blog for one reason or another. I’ve re-read all of my written thoughts from the day I wrote about my pants before deciding to start the Jenaissance blog in November 2014, to when I left my job and stumbled through building a life structure as someone whose structure had been defined by externals for almost forty years and suddenly is not. Reviewing and remembering has been a frequently enjoyable and seriously sobering journey. Oh, there I am confused about life again. And there I am making another checklist! Oh, look, there I am promising to deliver something else that I never finished. And of course now there is the novel, the one project I felt I was undertaking with a reasonable amount of focus and discipline, and two-thirds is now bytes in the wind.

This walk down memory lane, in combination with recent adjustments to my daily habits, has led to some further introspection about sending Jenny away. What could I have been thinking?

Early on in the life of the Jenaissance blog I wrote down a quote from Walden: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I think when I started to blog I thought: My song, still undetermined in nature, is unsung because I’ve been doing something wrong. There are examples, success stories, there are tricks and tips and systems and habits and routines and practices and, if I can figure out the right combination, if I can identify my own little light, work out the most unique, the very specialist contribution I can make – the gift to the world that only I can give – if I can hold myself accountable and keep my eyes on the prize, I will not go to the grave with the song still inside me.

If I can learn to meditate, eat only foods plucked directly from the bosom of the green earth, if I learn patience, develop a healthy daily routine, if I get enough sleep, if people like me, if I have a healthy local network of friends, if I am a supportive wife, if my children play well with others, if I don’t offend anyone but am still honest, if I curate all of my possessions so that each item I encounter fills me with a gratitude and joy in being alive, if I seek out a supportive network of peers who uplift me daily, if I can identify a stepwise path from point a to point z, where each step is individually fulfilling and, taken together, they lead me to my life’s opus, a perfect match of my skills and passion, I will have earned the privilege of not going to the grave with the song still inside me.

So I set out to build my extraordinary life. I read books and blogs, I thought about mentors, I evaluated relationships, I analyzed myself, I cleared clutter, I bought magnets.

But of course life is not a road trip where you have a clear and correct map to your chosen destination, hand-select appropriate fellow travelers, purchase the perfect gear, exactly what you need and nothing else.

It’s a random tour bus, rammed full of people, that you are dropped into in the dead of night, heading somewhere but a lot of the signs are written in a language that you can’t understand. You hope there’s a benevolent driver, or at least a thoughtful algorithm — rather than a madman behind the wheel. Everyone has different interpretations of what is happening and what should be done. Some people are dropped in the bus with a bulging wallet, and some people are dropped in the bus addicted to crack. You don’t get to choose which you’ll be. You were assigned a seat next to someone, you didn’t choose that either but you’re stuck together, though later, you do get to change seats and pick a new partner. But you don’t know what’s coming next and you’ve never sat beside them during a hailstorm, so you just pray you made a reasonable choice. On sunny days, when you can open the windows, the breeze feels great. On rainy days the toilet reeks and you wish you were sitting closer to the front. You aren’t all heading to the same place and you don’t all see things the same way. But there’s just one bus.

You are unique. But your uniqueness isn’t something inside you that is precious and hidden. Your uniqueness is how you treat others on the bus, and whether you share the song or keep it to yourself.

I have been hung up in wondering for a lifetime now, what is “my” song? How can I sing it? But there is no “my” song. I don’t have a song without the rest of the world. The song is being part of the world-song, seeing the world, the imperfect, beautiful world and sharing what you can do, what is possible for you – today – not in your mind’s eye when you finally have the skills or the network or the whatever. You see the world that is, know you are part of the flow of life, of life and a world that is not in your control, you look for where you can shine a light, today, and you shine it. As brightly as you can.

You can’t sing the song by humming silently in your own head day after day. Making sure you have mastered every note combination so that, no matter what happens, you’ll be ready. You can’t wait until you are so well prepared that there’s guaranteed success. A guarantee that you won’t feel embarrassed. A guarantee that you won’t feel scared. The tour bus doesn’t offer guarantees. Not for anyone. And it is never predictable. No matter how thick the walls of your bubble, you’re on the bus with everyone else and it can bump over a pothole at any point. No checklist, no routine can prevent that.

You don’t need to change your life, fix your life, evaluate your life in order to sing the song. You don’t need a perfect set of habits or a bulletproof routine. I love my checklists, and I’m sure when it feels like life allows it, I will get back to many of my habits. But I’ve been writing for nine hours each day for two weeks straight on coffee and potato chips. I don’t have to wait until everything feels right, and ready, and safe.

What I have to do is to acknowledge the uncertainty, the fear (I don’t know where this bus is going) — to feel the love — and then to sing. Out loud.

To close your eyes, to feel your heart beating, to breathe in and to sing — out loud — and listen to hear the world sing back.

Eating and other problems

When I was 22, I lived for a short time with a family of four above a butcher shop in the middle of Delhi. I remember that you couldn’t see the stars there, the sky was too thick with exhaust. Just after arriving on the plane, and before meeting this family, I had used a pair of scissors in a hostel bathroom to cut off all of my hair. Most people shave their head with an electric razor, giving it a somewhat even appearance, assuming one has a somewhat evenly shaped head. But I didn’t have access to such a device. I had, the month before, cut my hair boy-short, but now it needed to come off, all off, urgently I guess.

I wonder what that family thought about an American girl with the privilege of traveling across the world who had apparently had her hair forcibly removed, gashes of scalp showing here and there. They certainly were not particularly warm towards me.

The butcher shops in Delhi did not have a refrigerated meat counter with carefully arranged steaks and chops, pink, just-ground chuck, little packets of breasts and wings wrapped tightly in plastic. They had animal carcasses, skinned and hanging from hooks, in the air, bloody, right there in the street as you walked by. No window, separating meat from passer-by. I remember the overly rich smell, and the strong scent of iron. I remember the flies. I would walk past the shops on my way to hail a rickshaw to take me to class where a holy man dressed in all orange taught me that every grain of rice is sacred. That he is always careful never to step on an ant. This was not a hallucination. Though, all these years later, it seems like it could be.

In my class, we visited a village. I use the word village so that you will understand it was an organization of people in a centralized place. The children had those puffy bellies that you used to see on commercials asking you for just the price of a cup of coffee a day. I remember someone pulled down a child’s lower eyelid so we could see evidence of some parasite or disease, like the kid was a mannequin. These people had been living somewhere else but that place had been flooded to make a hydropower dam to generate electricity, so they had been sent here instead but apparently here was worse than there. That was the story anyway. I didn’t ask if they would have had parasites and swollen bellies had they stayed where they were. I just took away the intended lesson: The path of progress is deadly and its victims are innocent babes. Or maybe: hydropower electricity is used by bad guys to make money and here we see the victims of their greed.

A few years later, I went to Africa for the first time. My assignment was to coordinate a group of scientists to survey a few of the remaining forest patches left in the southeastern corner of Guinea, a tiny country on the coast of West Africa. A mining company was very interested in the iron ore found in the Simandou range of mountains and we were to document any particularly interesting or important ecological information to make sure they didn’t do too much damage, kill chimps or wipe out the whole population of a group of toads that live nowhere else on earth.

Driving across Guinea for two days—there had been a recent coup in the Ivory Coast so we could not approach from that direction as intended—there didn’t seem to be very much ‘pristine’ nature left. We arrived at the Pic de Fon, the peak of the mountain we were to survey, in the dark, in the rain, in four Guinean 4x4s laden with our equipment and we tried to drive up steep mining tracks, red with iron dust. That same iron I had smelled in Delhi, veins of it running thick and deep under my feet.

That was my first month in a tent in West Africa. I held an olive sunbird in my hand, hiked 17 kilometers to see chimpanzee nests and find evidence (some cracked nuts) of their feeding. I learned how to look for tree frogs and shrews, I pet bats, looked for pygmy hippos, unwittingly stepped in piles of driver ants, bathed in a river, woke up each morning to birdsong, fell asleep each night to frogsong and sometimes to the sound of rain on a tent.

Today, a mother of two, I live in a suburb outside of Washington, DC, pretty close to the Pentagon. My street is full of lawyers, Hill-workers, secret service agents, and folks who are in/closely related to the US military. And us, some tree-hugging hippies with a dirty compost pile in the front yard. People are nice enough to us though I’m never sure what they really think about my random vegetable garden in the one sunny-enough spot right next to the street, my let-it-live approach to clover and dandelions.

Tuesday morning is trash day in my neighborhood. Everyone has one large bin for trash and one large bin for recycling. I drive down the street in the morning before the trucks arrive to cart it all “away” and it seems that every trash can at every house is overflowing. This is one street. I don’t dare do the math.

I came back from India with a lot of information. A lot of pictures in my head and a lot of words, explanations. I knew that families were being displaced, towns being flooded, I knew that children were filtering green-revolution chemicals out of their drinking water using their t-shirts, I knew that invisible gases were changing the climate, I knew that Coca-Cola was everywhere.

To provide one example of the messages I internalized via my global education, let’s consider food: To make the food, you start with some cleared land (so first you have deforestation or maybe just land degradation). This land is intensely irrigated (taking water from someone) and heavily fertilized (contributing to climate change and requiring mining for petrochemicals). Next the requisite herbicides/insecticides are applied (poisoning the water supply, killing pollinators, decreasing biodiversity). In the case of plants (or animal feed), multinational corporations sell seeds that can only be grown with patented chemicals to a poor farmer who has no choice but to buy the seeds and chemicals, his family gets poisoned by the chemicals and still has to borrow money the next year to buy more seeds and chemicals (incidentally, if you meet this farmer he is a very nice guy and his kids have beautiful hearts that burst right out through their eyes, they just have to drink chemical backwash is all). Once he sells his meager crop for nothing to a crop distributor, they store it (invisible gases into the air, refrigerant chemicals, pesticides killing more pollinators and infusing food supply), package it (solid waste) and ship it (more invisible gases into the air). It then goes to trucks or trains (more invisible gases), gets sent to a factory to be turned into something (water pollution, invisible gases) that no longer looks like a plant or animal (poor health outcomes, obesity), packaged further (plastics, solid waste), shipped again to a store (more gases, asphalt damage, car accidents), stored there (energy from cooling, energy from lighting, energy from people driving to store, deforestation for making bags, energy for shopkeepers to drive to store, petrochemicals for cashier’s lipstick), some proportion of that goes straight to landfill because of sell-by dates (methane, waste of life energy) and some goes to someone’s house to be refused by her five-year-old because he had cupcakes six times at school that week (future me editorializing).

I think the lesson was supposed to be that I needed to plant an apple tree and barter with my neighbor who had chickens.

Coming back from this experience, this “education,” my most immediate problem was what to eat. With every bite, I was hurting something. Every spoonful a ladle of misery. Animals were suffering in appalling conditions, people were losing homes, the shroud around the planet was thickening, the rivers were silting, the fish were growing extra eyeballs. All because I wanted some breakfast.

I just wanted some breakfast.

I remember a trip with my mom and my younger sister. We were taking her to summer camp. I think she needed some batteries so we stopped at a Walmart on the way. I remember studying the carts there. I had been taught that Walmart was destroying the earth, killing communities. But in the store I saw people with lives and wishes, just people, buying the things they felt they needed. And I looked in the carts. Diet Coke by the cartload. In my memory, the bulk of what was in those carts was soft drinks. I walked back to the car, stony faced, silent. Crying turned laughing turned sobbing—I could not reconcile what I had seen, what I had felt—over there— with what I was seeing and feeling now.

I imagined an international tribunal, some kind of court of inalienable human rights, weighing the right of a child to not grow up in a dried out riverbed filled with literal trash versus my right to have six diet Cokes a day. I know it is a totally ridiculous thought experiment. Candy apples to rotten, worm-infested oranges shipped from Mars. Not real. But these were the kinds of calculations my mind was making. Every day. About every thing.

And then I went to Africa where I met a mountain covered with tree frogs and sunbirds. Again, I returned home to the land of warm showers and dishwashers and cheese anytime you want it. Water from a tap. A land where my car, my pots, the train, my office, my spoon were made from iron cut out of mountains just like the one I loved.

When I see a Halloween-themed tablecloth, I feel sadness. I feel that something sacred has been rended from deep in the earth and transformed into a macabre festival of disconnected, unintended, destruction. You’re just trying to make something nice and festive, I understand.

If a lion does not eat, he will die. If a lion does eat, something else will die. To remain alive, you have to fill your body with energy from the sun, and you can’t photosynthesize. You have to protect yourself from the elements, and you can only grow so much hair in so many places. And you have to be able to breathe.

I don’t know if I can ever make peace with that Halloween tablecloth. I live here—but I don’t exactly know how to be alive here. I feel so many feelings, a lot of guilt, a lot of anger, a lot of fear. And when I watch the news, or read emails from well-meaning organizations, or look in my mailbox, I find plenty of information, words, images to feed all of these feelings.

I had to leave home to be shown the damage that my life was causing to other lives. To take on the burden of knowing. The internet was brand new, my camera had film, you couldn’t make a video with your phone (plus your phone was attached to the wall of your house in America). But my children, my little ones, five and seven, have not had to leave home to learn these lessons. These lessons are around them every day. In books they read, at school, from my lips. My seven-year-old, who had a lesson in climate change at school last month, asked me why people are hurting the earth, why people do bad things to damage, to injure, Mother Nature.

It is important to have information. It is important to understand unintended consequences and how things are connected. But, at 22, I did not make this world. For 20 years, instead of singing a lovesong to my home, instead of embracing, and celebrating, and shining a light on beauty and connection, I have fretted about tablecloths. I have seen life as damage.

There are problems to solve, shifts to be made. But I know this from experience—you don’t teach a child by calling her bad. You teach a child by wrapping her in your arms. You tell her that people love the Earth and people work hard to take care of it. That people are a force for good. That her life is not a burden, but a gift. That there are things we have not understood but that we are learning all the time, and once we learn then we can figure out how to take better care of our home and of each other.

You hold her close, you feel her warmth, her questioning, her aliveness, her care. You close your eyes. You hope, you pray, that what you are telling her is the truth.

When Bono saved Easter

When Bono saved Easter

I’m cold. Our house is under-insulated and old and it gets damp and I’m frugal/conscious of invisible gases in the sky. I sit with my hoodie hood up or a winter hat on and April starts on Sunday. I look out the window and the world is brown. There are a few blossoms hanging around but with the grey sky, the bare trees, and the mud, the blossoms look like lipstick on a corpse.

A devoted reader who, for the sake of anonymity, I will hereafter refer to as “Granny Goodguts” remarked that it has been a while since my last post. That my readers, given the arrival of spring (somehow this was especially relevant), might appreciate some further thoughts. Granny Goodguts suggested the topic of rebirth: An Easter reflection.

Usually (you may be shocked to learn), I quickly dash off whatever I’m thinking about and publish the post before I lose my nerve. But this request, this assignment, has required a bit more thought, more emotional labor. I have a lot of words, but no clear way to arrange them in my mind. I have cultural norms and childhood teachings all jumbled together and I guess I haven’t been able to hear, or to listen, clearly.

Enter Bono.

After some pondering, and writing words that sounded ok in combination but that didn’t sit right in my guts, my epiphany came only moments after the children requested music during our morning commute. My phone randomly selected U2’s California, Ghostbusters (I ain’t afraid of no ghosts), Second Hand News, King of Pain, Endless Love, and Renegades on the way to school and back. Waiting at the exceptionally long red light, Maggie requested that no one sing so she could listen.

So there we were sitting quietly at the exceptionally long red light and Bono sang:

At the dawn you thought would never come
But it did
Like it always does
Whoa-o-o-o-o
All I know
And all I need to know
Is there is no, yeah there is no end to love

That was the moment when it all felt clear to me. I knew what I would come home and write. I might have even gotten a little bit teary, or even just a bit out of my body, unreal for a moment.

But to explain all that, I have to go back, way back, to January 1, 2018.

***

I am awake, eyes closed in a California king-size bed with one of those super comfortable memory foam mattresses at my friends’ house. I can hear my children running up and down stairs, playing ninja or something else that is satisfyingly gender-inspecific. My husband is up and probably about to enjoy his first cup of coffee in the New Year. We have stayed up late eating fondue with our friends, an annual tradition. We have had more wine than I am used to (these days). We have watched our yearly fill of Ylvis and searched for something else on YouTube that would make us laugh as much but come up empty-handed again and still Ylvis has made nothing new.

I lie in the bed. I hear the sounds. The heater has been on all night so the room is overwarm and the air is dry. I stretch and feel the coolness of the sheets. I wonder if I will have a headache later. I am definitely thirsty. I consider that maybe this is not the best way to begin, this slight dullness, the heaviness from overindulging in bread and cheese, maybe it is not auspicious. But my optimism, or maybe just a survival instinct, kicks in and 2018 again feels precious, like a crisp, empty notebook in September. I think to myself: In 2018, I am kind to others and to myself. In 2018 I tell the truth, or rather, I don’t tell untruths. In 2018, so far, I am patient, I don’t shout or scowl to get my way. I don’t say things I don’t mean. I keep my commitments.

If I’m being honest, that is more of an idealized script. That is what I might think if I hadn’t over-cheesed and drunk wine without counting the number of glasses. What I actually think is more like: It’s a new year and so far you haven’t made any mistakes. You haven’t lost your temper. You haven’t been unsupportive or said anything rude. You haven’t said things you don’t mean. And so far you haven’t gone a single day without washing your face (or insert habit that I’ve struggled with for previous 40 years and still haven’t managed to instill). Then I think something along the lines of: Let’s just try to keep this streak for as long as we can. And I go on to have a few really good days. This little talk I give myself works, if only for a short while.

When asked about rebirth, this scene was what first came to mind. New beginnings. Starting fresh. A second (or fortieth) chance.

January’s possibility infuses me with a pleasant energy, like a small cup of good coffee without sugar, a healthy buzz. I can grow. I can choose. I can set some intentions and make plans. I love to get out empty sheets of paper and write down some things to accomplish (in 2018 I will finish drafting a novel), some practices to make habitual (in 2018 I will meditate 5 days each week), some themes for the year (in 2018 I will “ship my art” or “live like a pro”). I have a whole year ahead of me. A whole unknown year to be lived, a blank notebook to be filled with bold strokes and delight.

February is a bit more ho-hum. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. But the hopefulness, the momentum of January remain. Eleven more months to make this a great year.

Then March hits. Still cold. Someone is probably sick. The end of the school year looms. It is time to plan for summer. Summer? How could it already be time to plan for summer? Once summer comes the year is half gone. How could the year already be half gone? I’m still not living like a pro. I’ve missed a lot of days of meditation. The novel? It’s going to take a bit longer than expected. Probably not THIS year anyway.

Now we get back to where we started. It is the end of March. My hoodie hood covers my ears but my feet and hands are still cold. I have made my plans. I have worked and I have tried. This year will come to an end, like all of the years before, and some things will change and some things won’t change and I might never write that novel.

I look out the window at the grey sludge. Life is hard. Bad things happen. Scary, sad things. What can I do? I don’t feel like I can work any harder. I don’t think I can change any faster. I want to do my best but I’m tired. I want the world to be different, kinder, safer. And I’m still cold, my shins, inside my bones (maybe if you could finally stick to that exercise goal, warm you from the inside out i gently chide myself…)

***

The easter parade begins, very subdued. Tiny snowdrops are first to emerge from drifts of collected leaf debris, little white faces peeking over the decay of last summer’s growth. Then the crocuses, purple, gold, white. Thin green spikes barely supporting a few slovenly arranged petals that last only days. The trees are bare, their branches like arthritic hands reaching for the light. The daffodils open, cheerful yellow in the midst of the still, brown deserts. Weeping willow, apple blossoms, cherry blossoms emerge, and those dark red blooms, unexpected, appear on the maples. Then one day you walk outside and it isn’t dead, cold winter anymore. The birds are the first to tell you, but you can also feel it in the wind, a damp coolness that whispers to your skin. Your body, which you had been sheltering from the cold for five long months, feels something different. A yearning to stay out, to be gently caressed by this misty breeze for a few minutes more.

There may be nothing (excepting my children, my spouse, my parents, my siblings, my good friends, chocolate souffle, tree frogs, my piano, and my magenta sweatshirt) that I love in this world more than perennials. They are like magic. The ground is flat dirt. Cold. Hard. And underneath there is this surprise waiting. There is no hint except sometimes some dried old stubs left from last year. I start watching at the beginning of March. My eyes hungry, methodically scanning for even one small green tip. And one day, something is there. A tiny green shoot. A small red bump. A hint of life. And as it slowly emerges, day by day, I worry that it will get too cold again and it will die, but it doesn’t. It is prepared for the cold. It has a little jacket or it waits just long enough, till just the right moment on just the right day. And it turns into a whole plant. Maybe a coneflower, maybe a black-eyed susan, maybe a poppy (I always hope its a poppy), or milkweed or sneezeweed or salvia or foxgloves or bee balm. The point is, they are all there, waiting under the flat, brown mud. All that cold winter they were under there and one day you look and you see them popping up that first tiny shoot, that first small green leaf pushing through the remnants of last year.

That tiny shoot of green, that hopeful sprout — It’s the same plant. It isn’t a new plant. It isn’t re-born, it was alive — living — all the time. Sometimes it was drinking water, sometimes it was drenched in sun, sometimes it was sweetly singing to the honeybees and the butterflies, sometimes it was blown by a harsh wind, sometimes a kid picked all of its flowers or stepped on it, sometimes it was spreading roots under ground, sometimes it was protecting itself under a blanket of mud. And here it is, the same plant, in a new season.

***

We humans, mortals, we plan, we work, we strive. We tell ourselves that we are not enough – that we need to be reborn, start again. We hack ourselves to be more productive, more intentional, more beautiful, more (fill in the blank).

Night comes. Darkness. We can’t see clearly. Not because we didn’t work hard enough, not because we are flawed.

Because the sun has moved.

And we can’t bring it back.

Easter is named for Ēostre or Ostara, a Germanic goddess of dawn, the dawn which arrives at the end of each night. Always. No matter how poorly you slept, if you stayed awake all night, crazed, disconnected thoughts holding you hostage, forbidding rest and peace, eventually, the color of the sky will start to shift. The sun returns bringing light, warmth, life.

The concept of a new year, a new you, a do over is so seductive. I can be better. I can do better. I need to be different from yesterday’s me. But what we need, what I need, is not rebirth, but endurance. Acceptance. Faith. Humility.

Faith that even when I can’t see it, life is welling up underground, fed by what it was before, fed by all the life that was before, the leaves of last year, the same water that has trickled through every pore of this earth for billions of years.

Acceptance of what has been. Of what is. That the power to bring back the sun is not mine. Nor is the responsibility.

And Love.

My second moment of insight during this morning’s commute came towards the end of Endless Love (ironic?) when Lionel and Diana are keying up for the power punch and he sings (and I with him, while simultaneously wondering what it is that makes this particular part of the song so irresistible, so potent):

CAUSE NO (no) ONE CAN DENY
THIS LOVE I HAVE INSIDE
I’LL GIVE IT ALL TO YOU
MY LOVE (my love, my love) MY ENDLESS LOVE

Acceptance, surrender, not being able to bring back the sun on command. These are difficult things. So what do we do? We know the dawn will come, we know life is beautiful. We know we are a part of the whole. But there’s still the waiting, the uncertainty, the dark, the cold. We have to do something, we can’t just sit there and wait for the world to sort out all of the problems on its own, humming fancy mantras. Jesus taught two basic rules for living: Love God. Love your neighbor. Not wipe your own slate clean. Not secure for yourself a fancy reward at the end. Not check all the boxes or make your-self into something you think others will admire.

All i know and all i need to know is there is no, yeah there is no end to love.

Maybe the power to endure comes from the endlessness of love.

And maybe that Endless Love is found in connection. Merging with another. Recognizing one’s relationship to the whole. Not smoldering, not wanting, but a bond strong enough to enable releasing, giving away.

We are alive and we are reaching for light, just like everything else that lives, and the path is not clear. The cells in me right now, made of sun, water, and stardust, different to the cells from last year but part of the same organization, would like to write a novel. Want to practice patience. Feel good when I meditate. So that is how I will organize my time in this season. Not because what I am needs to change. But because when the dawn came today, I woke up, alive, myself.

My dear Granny Goodguts, you have asked me about rebirth. Your question raises so many others and, even with Bono’s assistance, I still can’t quite work it all out. But to honor the importance of your question and in summary:

Spring, Ēostre, Easter, Ostara reminds me that the dawn always comes no matter how long and dark the night. That I don’t bring the dawn of my own accord, through my hard work. Instead, I acknowledge the night, I surrender to what is, I accept what has been. I share my light with others when I can, I appreciate the light that others shine for me. I wait. And when the dawn, Ēostre, comes I see the signs of life that were there underground all the time. I don’t need to start from scratch. I don’t need an empty notebook. I’m not an empty notebook. I’m an annotated, dog-eared notebook, loved, one tiny, rich volume in an unfathomable library.

How to find your life purpose

My kids are back to school. Both of them there for seven hours each day. Four-year-old Sam, who weighs so very much when hanging off my neck as if I were a tree, wearing his too-big backpack, his little legs moving quickly to keep up with his big sis, to grow up and learn the ways of the world.

For the first time in over six years, I have a day at home, alone, with no sounds but some cicadas, a few unidentified birds, my A/C (it just cut on), the helicopters flying towards the Pentagon, a neighbor’s yard service, and the sound of acorns falling from the massive oak trees overhead, plummeting to the ground. They want to be the massive oaks of one hundred years from now, but most of them will be raked up, an inconvenience for the manicured lawns and yards, sent away with the leaves to be made into mulch for tidy gardens in the spring. Sitting outside (for my 10 minutes of sunshine a day), I hope none of them hit me square on the head. I try to remember physics: I know the mass of an acorn is small, and force = mass x velocity? I’m not sure that’s right. But they have that sharp little point at the end. I consider getting a hat or helmet. I decide to risk it.

Elsewhere, the world is on fire. The world is under water. But here it is blue-skied and mild. Elsewhere people with very slightly different DNA to mine, DNA that dictates that their skin has slightly more melanin, people whose ancestors primarily lived in South America, Africa, Asia, human beings whose kids have also just started school, they struggle with different fears, and then again probably a lot of the same fears, as me.

I am lost. I don’t know what to do with myself. I have financial obligations, and once the obligations are met, I have a wish list. The uncomfortable sofa. I feel guilty wanting a comfortable sofa. I think about the people with the different DNA, mothers and fathers with different circumstances. I think about the families I lived with in India who have no sofa.

But I had friends to my house yesterday and didn’t ask them to sit on the sofa. They weren’t my best friends, who know to get a pillow to prop you up and then it is okay. So we sat at the table and had a nice time. If I earned a bunch of money, I could have a different sofa, maybe I would ask more people over. Maybe I would feel different.

I used to travel to places like Rio, and Kyoto, and Poznan (no offense Poland, but that was not as exciting as some of the other trips). I got to sit in meetings in beautiful places all over the world with people who eventually became my friends because I didn’t spend time with any other people at times when I had energy (and I still love many of them, don’t get me wrong). Back then, people asked me what I did and I told them “I’m important” (paraphrase). “This company and this title validates that I’m something.”

Someone assigned me something to do. I did it. Then they said my name during a meeting with more people and mentioned that I was very useful. I blushed. That moment was over and I remembered the hundreds of hours of my life I had traded for it. Sometimes it felt worth it. Usually it felt a little bit less worth it than I thought it would.

Once I sat across a table from Harrison Ford and explained to him what my team was hoping to accomplish to save the world. He nodded. Once I drank tea with the Queen of Bhutan. We took a photo together. Once I sat with a group of older men in a West African village and explained why a group of people (mostly other older men, with very slightly different DNA from the villagers) were going to look at insects and birds in their forest. They nodded. But one of them said “This is why we should send our daughters to school.” That moment felt worth it. Another time, I cried in a hotel because I was scared to sleep in a tent in the middle of Africa for a month. My friends were comfortable on mattresses on another continent, they were not listening to convoys of Liberian militants drive by them as they slept.

And here I am now. No fancy job. No fancy title. No paycheck. Two kids whose little legs will get longer and longer until they are long enough to carry them to Africa, or Poland. I will be here to help those legs get longer and stronger and to hopefully point them in a good direction. But they will have less and less need for me.

So what will fill these long days? I think my sister thinks I should get another job. I think that because when I was telling her that I wanted to clear yet more of the clutter out of my house she said something like “Maybe it isn’t the clutter that is bothering you. Maybe it is that you need to get out of your house and maybe get another job” (paraphrase). I think what her loving, beautiful heart was saying was that she thinks I need something to do. Some structured something that I apply my mind towards.

So, I decided to start selling cosmetics and skin care. The clear solution to this dilemma.

I have to back up here, to when I was about four years old. Or maybe five. You start kindergarten. Someone tells you where to sit and what the rules are. And when you sit where they told you, and you demonstrate that you are willing and excited to follow the rules, they give you a certificate. I know this because I have at least 300 such certificates in my basement at this very moment. Little photocopied slips of paper—and when you do something they want you to do, they take out one of these little slips and put a star on it and your heart soars just a tiny bit and you take it home and your mom puts it in a box and saves it for you until you are 40.

I was very good at collecting certificates. My “personality type” (according to a test I took over the weekend at the recommendation of the beauty products company that I represent) is to be a “Helper.” When I carefully read the report about my type it explains that as a Type 2 (Helper) I believe that “I must be helpful and caring to survive.” Not, I enjoy being helpful, I feel value when I am helpful. To survive.

I’m pretty sure that selling cosmetics is not my purpose. There are some clear benefits to doing this at this point in time, and perhaps I will explain it in the future and perhaps I will just know that I have my reasons and be okay with that.

That said, I know there is other work for me to do. Work that I want to do. But I just can’t quite figure out exactly what it is. So at night, after a day of selling cosmetics, after feeding the kids and washing the dishes, I spend my screen-free time soul searching.

To more precisely locate and connect with my “soul,” I am reading a book called The Firestarter Sessions and it is about 20 different “sessions” where you think about your strengths, interests, allies (I can’t give you the full list, I’m still on the first session).

To be honest, I’m a bit stuck on session 1. There is a list of questions to think about and answer and I don’t know the answers.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

What I mostly remember is listening to the radio, to Casey Kasem’s top 40, to making up stories when no one was around, to dancing with my mom to Diana Ross and the Supremes, to watching rain fall off the roof with my brother and watching the pine bark floating, to making mud pies (more specifically, they were beignets), to my giant-sized map of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. I remember liking to play dress up, but that may not be as separate from the world’s influence on me as all the others.

I’m not sure how those memories point me in a direction.

What activities cause you to feel useful, vital, better than before?

I’m a Helper, so I can’t really focus on useful. It makes me feel useful to clean the toilet or to do whatever somebody asks me to do. I don’t think that’s what we’re looking for.

So vital.

Singing.

Making a bouquet of flowers.

Dancing.

Reading? 

Organizing stuff?

I love to organize stuff. But that might just be self preservation in this overstuffed world.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I know that there are dishes when I wake up and more dishes when I go to sleep (duh, if you leave dishes when you go to sleep, they are going to be there when you wake up. That’s a lesson we all learned in Frog and Toad). I know there is dust on most everything and I haven’t changed the sheets in too long. I know there are dirty rivers and plastic in the ocean. I know there is a scourge of dehumanization in the ether and it needs fixing. I know the atmosphere cannot manage all of this extra heat energy in a way that is acceptable for human life. 

I like to sing. My body feels good when I am making music. When I am moving.

I have financial obligations. And I would love a new sofa. 

My kids just started school. I am selling cosmetics.

And I don’t know who I am apart from all of the certificates. 

I like frogs. The tiny little tree frogs.

Now I’m going to go pick up my children and hug them as tight as they will let me. Except that they will probably be annoying the whole way home so maybe I’ll just threaten to send them to their rooms.

I can hear the cicadas. The wind is blowing. I’m alive. I’m confused. I’m okay.