2015 Journal

February into March

While so much of the rest of the country has been being battered by blizzarding snow, gale force winds and below freezing temperatures, Ojai – with days of temperatures in the high seventies and low eighties – has moved exuberantly into spring.

The season’s first daffodil unfurled in my garden; acacia longiflora trees along the eastern edge of the meadow are covered in bright yellow blooms. Rose bushes, pruned to nubbins little more than a month ago, are leafing lavishly with new branches sprouting daily – all as if in a speeded up time lapsed film. Purple and white gremlin-faced pansies that I plant at pruning time (for color in the pots of the so-recently crew-cut rose bushes) are cheering this rebirth. Reviving after the frosts of several mid-twenty degree nights in early January, purple petunias cascade over the edges of their pot. Magenta verbena, having survived those frosty nights, flourishes nearby. In all the pots I’d pruned severely (just a few weeks ago) to remove the sad, frost-fried remnants of last year’s lushness – gaillardia, fuchsia, spearmint, rudebeckia, geranium, dahlia, milkweed and lisanthus – new leaves are emerging daily.  

My enormous old jade plant, devastated as usual by the frosts, has all sorts of baby leaves already showing on its so-recently stripped branches. The garden is a miracle of death and rebirth every year at this time. Everything that gets fried by frosts or severely pruned back by me returns heartier than ever. This month, I’ve had my amazing woman gardener come by to prune all the new and old fruit trees in my mini-orchard. Many of the new trees suffered in the frosts and I lost a whole crop of baby Meyer lemons. Still, there’s promise of the same sort of resurrection in the orchard: I see new leaves and leaf buds peeking out on the branches of every tree and flowers appearing on my blueberry bushes

Four kinds of kale, collard greens, red and green mustards, bok choi, arugula, two kinds of lettuce, two kind of oregano and a pot of peppermint continued producing through the freezing temperatures, providing me with an uninterrupted supply of fresh greens for salads and steaming.

Around town (as in my mini-orchard) stone fruit trees are beginning to flower in white and various shades of pink, carpets of wild yellow oxalis are everywhere while occasional stands of orange birds-of-paradise bloom and all the open fields are awash in wild yellow mustard. After some soaking (though not drought-ending) rains this past month, the foothills (and my meadow) are sporting great swaths of velvety-looking green as the wild grasses spring up like crazy. Driving to Santa Barbara over the back, mountain road this week, there were myriad lush stands of bright yellow coreopsis and wild mustard, patches of purple wild horseradish, pale blue ceanothus bushes everywhere and occasional glimpses of golden yellow tree tobacco, purple lupine and even some orange poppies.

There’s been an owl around most nights lately, not a great horned nor a screech by the sound of it. I’ve not a clue what specie it might be though it has a lovely soft call. The crickets have been gone from the meadow for the winter (such as it’s been) though lately there are a couple of frogs nightly gribbeting somewhere close by – I think, perhaps, in my neighbor’s fountain – and, occasionally, the local clan of coyotes sets to night-time yipping across nearby orchards. A new (or perhaps returning) mockingbird has taken up residence, delighting me daily with its exuberant and hilarious repertoire. Though their population and variety has diminished in these fall and winter months, numberless hummingbirds have wintered-over, surviving the freezes and keeping me busily (though not as frequently) refilling the nine feeders hanging over my patio.  Dove, sparrow, house finch, cunning blue jays, acrobatic squirrels and an occasional titmouse regularly and noisily hang out around my seed feeders. Red-tail hawks are cavorting overhead with contingents of nattering crows frequently taunting them. It’s a beautiful, sweet time of year here in my corner of paradise.

For months (since late September when last I wrote here) I haven’t – other than for the words of my Solstice/New Year’s card and letter (that came in early December) – had much of anything to say. I’ve needed to continue in the resting, drifting, not-reflecting mode that’s what this past year has been about for me. Now, it seems that I’m emerging into a spring/new season in my own life, wanting to chronicle the extraordinary-feeling shift that’s happening in me.

Looking back from where I find my self today, it seems that the shifting began during my annual mid-to-late November birthday retreat (a 10 to 12 day time I always do right here in my cottage and garden). While, for the most part, I enter these days without plan or agenda, opening to whatever the Grandmothers/Spirit may bring into the space, a small few rituals/ceremonies have long been a significant part of these retreats. This year, none of those had any juice for me. Although it felt quite odd that this was so, there was nothing for it but to shrug and let it all go. Repeating what once had meaning – but would, at this point, have felt like form without substance – was definitely not an option.

During the first few retreat days, I was visited by a nudgy little voice that, though not at all mean, seemed a distant relation to my old, now-defanged inner critic. This gentle, soft-spoken nudge kept suggesting that I “might well be doing a disservice to my book and the thread [I] carry in the tapestry-of-life” by not being out there doing readings and interviews and talks. Each time she repeated the message, I told her that, while what she was suggesting might be so, I had no interest in going/being out there in the world in any of those ways. Nor, I’d add, was I even into engaging in on-line dialog or commentary on/at the Compassionate Ink Facebook page, Google+ circle or twitter address. At this point, I kept telling her, any of those enterprises were less attractive to me than the prospect of having a root canal without anesthesia. I repeatedly reminded her that, by writing and publishing the book, I had completed my assignment from the Grandmothers; that the Grandmothers could be trusted to get the book or its/my message out to wherever it was meant to go without me doing anything that felt wrong for me to do.

We went round and round several times. I kept reminding the nudge that for me to do things based on marketing “shoulds” rather than on what felt right for me would be a violation of the very message I live and share by living.  Even so, given her persistence, I occasionally (though only fleetingly) did wonder whether she had a point after all, sigh.

The tiresome, recycling conversation finally ended the day when, while doing my morning Reiki, yet another inner voice entered the conversation. (At moments like this, I’m reminded of Anne Lamott’s hilarious comment: “sometimes sitting alone in my living room, I could be arrested for unlawful assembly.”) This new voice, speaking both to me and the nudge, asked us to think about how many of my friends, acquaintances, family members, health care practitioners and clients have been affected by my incidental sharing about my life/choices over the years. She suggested we reflect on how many of these people have talked to us (and probably their friends, family, etc.) about the permission they took from – and the changes they’ve made in their lives as a result of – hearing my stories. And, she suggested, we might also consider how many folks in each of these people’s lives had likely, in turn, been affected by the stories each of them shared about what permissions they’d given themselves and what similar life changes/choices they’d made. This, the newest voice told us, is how our thread is getting woven into the tapestry-of-life: just by us being who and as we are in our everyday life and living that out-loud. The nudge and I both got it. She quieted down.

In the days ahead, I moved into and through a melancholy nostalgia for the times of being passionately caught up in the process of putting the books (and back some years ago, the website) together. Part of me was missing and pining for the intensity of those seasons of my unfolding. Then, some other part would gently remind me of the costs of such intensity, how exhausting that would feel to me now in this time of needing to be slowed way down and adrift.

The next oddness was around the gift I usually receive from the Grandmothers either before or during my birthday retreat. Heading into the quiet time, I’d gathered a supply of card stock, postage stamps, envelopes, return address labels and labels from my updated mailing list of friends, family, clients and former clients with whom I still have contact. All this in anticipation of what had been, for many years, an annual birthday gift from the Grandmothers of words and an image for a Solstice/New Year’s card. For the first time in 30 years, nothing came during these 12 days. Though surprised and a little disappointed at first, I realized that this lapse was another part of the letting-go-of-what-used-to-be-so process in which I was immersed. Everything I’d gathered would be there for some other year, if and when the elements of a new card might come again.

For more years than I can remember, during the time between my mid-November time-out and my mid-February tax appointment, I’d exuberantly and single-mindedly be swept into a cycle of concentrated year end/year beginning rituals, cleansing and clearing my physical space. Shredding old tax files to make room for this year’s materials, gathering those records, crunching the numbers and compiling them for my tax preparer, redoing desk drawers and receipt files to make space for what will need to be stored through the coming year and setting up folders for this year’s clients’ notes – these were tasks compelling enough to still get my attention.

For the rest of it – winter pruning the garden, wiping the leaves on 18 houseplants, vacuuming 21 hanging fiber masks, laundering 8 loads of slipcovers and sleeping bags, going through every cupboard, drawer, shelf, closet and storage bin in the cottage and the shed to winnow, pitch, recycle and empty space for newness to come in – there was absolutely no juice/energy. Though all of it has for many years been an exhilarating process, this year it all looked like drudgery, too much of what would feel like work. Reading in the hammock or my nap bed was much more appealing so, that’s what I did.

I’d always felt an urgency to get through all of these doings by mid-February so that, after my tax appointment, I would finally be ready to “begin the new year.” I’d wake each morning on a roll, revved to get on with the next task on the agenda. To the current me, all of this looked exhausting and unimportant, nothing I wanted to sign on for – no matter that it had been a long standing and (before now) much treasured tradition.

 My attitude toward all of it: a combination of three elements: the first two came up for me in their original Yiddish but here I translate. First: “if I don’t get there today, maybe I’ll get there tomorrow” and second, “there’s nothing to be late for anyway” and then the final piece, “who gives a f_ _k!”  My sense: I could take all year to go through my stuff or not even do any of it unless I’d have the inclination.

It’s so odd and so surprising to be in this new place. I’ve felt liberated – even though I hadn’t ever felt constrained by the way things had been for me in past years. I’m feeling expansive, released – as though unfurling wings I hadn’t known were bound. It’s all been a wonder to me.

Letting go of the agenda, drifting along timelessly with reading and meandering through the days, I did sometimes feel drawn to do a bit of something. So, in the last month or so the garden did get pruned, the plants did get wiped, the laundries did get done and the masks did get vacuumed. But, each project got addressed only when I felt organically moved to it. My pace was slow and lackadaisical. Each doing wove in and out of the reading/lounging that was my baseline.

Lately, when opening or going to them, I certainly do note how much my shed, drawers, closet and cupboards could use my old winnowing/making space attention. Strangely, though, I feel no pressure or urge, as yet, to attend to any of it. Being me in this new season feels extraordinary. I trust that I’ll be drawn, at some points, to doing bits and pieces of winnowing/re-organizing. What’s clear is that, until such energy moves me, I won’t be doing any of the old routines.

It’s been intriguing to watch my shifting away from habits and rituals that used to be an important part of my life and of who I was to my self. I feel no sense of loss, no nostalgia, only delicious freedom, delightful expansiveness and curiosity about where this may be leading me.

There’s a quote from Tuli Kupferberg that comes to mind: “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” And another whose authorship and exact wording I can’t remember, so am paraphrasing: “One must be willing to let go of who one has been to make room for who one is becoming.” (This might be my own version of Joseph Campbell’s  “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”).

I love when people I run into ask me what I’ve been “up to these days.” My usual answer has always been: “As little as possible!”  And, at this moment, that “little” feels even littler.