Apropos of nothing and of everything
I wrote this down, something Alex Steed said on the You Are Good podcast, it was the episode on The Changeling, he said it and I had to go back so I could hear him say it again.
A resonant clue for me, and maybe also for you…
He asked, What is grief but a haunting?
“What is grief but a haunting?”
What a question. What a notion.
Into the cauldron it goes
Anyway, dropping that gently into the pot, let’s see what wants to be said, and work around the parts that don’t want to be said, yet, or at all.
I am haunted by many things, people, memories and experiences, and am slowly emerging from a ptsd spiral, but none of that is what I want to tell you about today.
What wants to be said?
Last week I thought I wanted to share a recipe with you here.
I could not bring myself to write about [the many unbearably painful things going on in our world, and the enormity of that pain], and so I wanted some lightness, some playfulness, some contrast.
Specifically to be in contrast to the previous week’s piece about the fear-grief-despair, how big it can feel, and how heroic and meaningful our effort is each time we breathe life into the tiny hope sparks.
Thank you, everyone, for the lovely comments on that piece, and to the two people who emailed me cute pictures of their dog, I appreciate it all so much.
The idea: let us turn towards pleasure
I had been thinking about sunflowers and how they turn themselves towards the sun (and, sometimes, in absence of sunshine, towards each other, or so I have been told), a beautiful image.
Somehow turning towards light sources felt important, like maybe the only answer in a hard moment.
And that brought me to the thought that sharing a recipe here could be an experiment and a practice, turning towards the light-hearted.
Light-hearted and pleasure-based, giving us a thing to do, when we do not know what to do.
Make something, invite a new sensation
Make something, anything.
Make something delicious, invite a moment of joy.
But things quite often do not go the way I think they might (this is a theme), and this did not happen, as you know.
(This is a theme)
You may remember or know that October involved three entire weeks of no running water in my tiny house. On a good day with Long Covid, I get an hour of energy, or even more, but a lot of days I do not.
And so each day I would coax myself to don a heavy flannel, pull on boots, walk to the hydrant by the well and back, forth and back, to fill jugs of water for all the many things a person might need water.
Aka washing hands, cleaning vegetables for salad, making food, washing dishes, washing me, cleaning up, flushing the toilet.
Many days I did not wish to, or even could not get myself out of bed, and I would yell, GET UP, TRINITY!!!!
Sometimes this does the trick. Other times I had to wait until I was out of filtered drinking water or until almost dark when it could not be postponed.
Everything works until it doesn’t
Last Wednesday, I woke up to find that my right arm did not work; it could not lift or be lifted, and I was in excruciating pain. Back, neck, right shoulder, right arm. Agony.
There was no way I would be able to lift the heavy hydrant pump to get water, and without water, I cannot stay (here, or alive).
I was invited on a voyage. By necessity, the mother of invention and the one who sends out invites for a voyage.
We respectfully request your presence, please head west until further notice.
The question: I had just spent twelve days in bed, would I even be able to set forth? Obviously, I had to.
But a friend suggested that maybe I’d been resting non-stop so that I could do what needed to be done now.
Maybe, who knows. That could be how a voyage works.
It was a helpful thought, and it got me going.
And so last Wednesday was not a writing day or a bed day or a recipe day, it was a go get help day, a voyage day.
I somehow got myself in the car and drove four hours towards the one person who always knows how to help, a chiropractor I know who is made of magic and, while not an angel, at the very least angel-adjacent.
I drove and drove, and screamed in pain through every right turn, fortunately there were not too many.
And somehow made it to a friend’s place, where I cried bringing my bag in from the car, and then surprised myself by immediately falling into a deep sleep until morning, too exhausted to care about anything.
A small explosion
Before leaving New Mexico, I stopped at a tire place and had someone check tires, because I could not use my arm, and I am 97% sure that he over-filled them.
When I left my friend’s place to head to my emergency appointment, I made it two blocks and then the front left tire burst, a small and powerful explosion.
I stood in the hot Arizona sun, thinking about how these are new tires from this summer, and about the man in small town New Mexico who filled the tires and clearly did not like me (my respirator is a barrier in situations like this), and about how I was not going to make it to my emergency appointment.
Collapse, in progress
The explosion took out more than my tire, it upended my plan, my day, and collapsed whatever remains of hope I had about things getting better.
Is this a small thing, compared to the terrors and atrocities in the world, and even compared with real life explosions I have experienced personally? Sure, but I was still thrown, and unable to think clearly.
Standing in the sun
The sun was bright and I didn’t know what to do, it would take ninety minutes for the car insurance company to send help, and I knew I couldn’t stay out that long in the heat, and I couldn’t move my arm.
This is too much, I said, because it was.
Do you remember, or do I remember, pretty sure I wrote about it here, a long time ago, with my mother in Jerusalem. My younger brother was very sick, and this bus driver made it his job to get my brother home, and my mother was absolutely convinced that the bus driver was an angel, an actual angel.
I had pulled onto a side street and was standing there, in the sun, my right shoulder burning with pain, everything was too bright and overwhelming, a confusing situation.
Not two minutes passed and a lovely man pulled over, asked if I had a spare, grabbed tools from his car, took off the smooshed exploded tire, put on the spare, gave me a glowing smile, refused to take any money, and disappeared. Angel, angel….
(Yes, I was listening to Aerosmith on the radio on the way, surely that is not surprising.)
The point and not the point
I am pretty sure this was an angel situation too. And I realize that is a very odd thing to say, especially for me to say, because I don’t think that’s a thing I believe in, but also I am saying it.
Also would not be surprised if my mom arranged the whole thing. But maybe that’s not the point, and maybe angels, conceptual, metaphorical or otherwise, are also not the point.
What surprising good fortune, what a beautiful sweet miracle, thank you.
(That is the point.)
I drove to the tire place, crying in relief and shock, and the guy there remembered me from this summer, it’s probably the cowboy hat. Or being a lanky cowboy barbie doll from New Mexico.
All credit where credit is due — to angels, and to always wearing a cowboy hat.
He only charged me $40 USD for the new tire, bless him, and as it happens, the tire place is not far from the chiropractor who can fix anything, and he had another cancellation just as I arrived. Miracles abound.
Fifteen minutes later my pain was gone and full range of motion had returned. Another miracle.
Blessings upon my wise and funny chiropractor, blessings upon the handsome man who got me back on the road, blessings upon my friend who venmo-ed me money for car trouble, blessings upon another friend who sent a giant care package of snacks to make my life easier.
And blessings upon the cowboy hat.
Anyway, all that and more is why I did not share a recipe last week or write anything at all, and also why I have not been cooking, and the whole experience was such a good reminder of all timing right timing.
It all works out. Or: What if it all works out?
Or: What if some of it works out? Miracles abound.
There are so many things on my mind
There are so many things on my mind, I’m just going to tell you what they are.
I am thinking about follow the instructions, they work, or the superpower of sticking to the protocols.
I am thinking about miracles, faith and observing.
And about time, and grief, and remembering, and trusting, and about the detours being good, actually.
About the superpower of what if nothing is wrong even when everything is going very wrong.
The beautiful thing about being wrong
I believed my entire world was falling apart and also was panicking about all the unanticipated expenses
and yet what was actually happening was something different.
There were beautiful miracles, and I was held in sanctuary.
Isn’t that something…
(The parenthetical asides)
Of course I get this concept of what if nothing is wrong is not or might not be applicable in many situations, and certainly I do not mean to apply it in the context of the terrible things going on in the world.
I just mean that I truly thought everything was going wrong last week, for me specifically, and also: I was wrong.
Which is kind of beautiful. I was wrong, and that too was a miracle.
And now it is November? It is November!
Now I am trying to get a handle on November after October broke me into little pieces.
I don’t know if it was the three weeks of no running water, the shock and horror of October 7, the dread of what we all knew would come next, or chronic illness kicking my ass so spectacularly that I spent most of the month in bed, or an unpleasant interaction with a handyman that lit up all my boundary issues at once.
October is also the anniversary of my mother’s death, and her birthday, it is the anniversary of my wedding and also of when we separated, it is the anniversary of when my kitchen caught on fire two years ago. And probably other hard things I am forgetting
All of the above, and then some.
Tenses / I am tensing
I dealt with the various tensions and struggles of October with bed rest, listening to Israeli radio, and binge-watching Justified, which is very violent, but somehow was the distraction and well of clues that I needed.
Raylan Givens, the dry cowboy marshall in Justified said, “The past is a statement, the future is a question…”
But then a favorite Israeli singer, Berry Sakharov said: “The future is chasing you, the present is the present.”
So which is it, which tense are we in?
The tension tense
The tense situation with the handyman who came to get the water back on was worse after the fact. I could feel the many memories being called up to the surface.
Can memories emerge upward and descend at the same time? The future is a question or the future is chasing you, or both, and the present is a hurtling of memories through space and time. So really, reliving the past, like it or not. In layers.
Layered ptsd from these small tense moments (tense like tension, present tense, past tense?), small moments but they are not small because they are many, and because of the reminders they carry.
Small moments that do not even make my Top 500 list when it comes to trauma but somehow managed to send me spiraling like I’m reliving the Top 10.
What do we know?
So, what do we know?
First, now is not then.
And: I am safe.
And also: yes, I feel mega fucked up, which is part of how this works.
To quote Sakharov again, in a different song: Wave upon wave comes the pain, a broken heart, a whole heart.
Which might be the ultimate depressive breakup song, but it works in this context too.
Remembering what is important, remembering is important
That’s good to remember, that I am safe.
I am safe, both because I just am, and because I am held in miracles, as this week demonstrated.
To quote another song, by Ivri Lider, because I have been listening to Israeli radio and am on a nostalgia kick: “Tell me a little about your fear, it will be so much easier if we can be afraid together…”
Yes, okay, we can do this together. It is scary, a scary time and there are many unknowns, but I trust your good heart and hope you trust mine.
Follow the instructions
Follow the protocols.
Bed. Slow figure eights on the carpet. One step and then the next step. Make chai or hot chocolate. Sit down again.
Do what works.
(These are things that work for me, yours might be different.)
Follow the instructions, they work, and if they aren’t working, invent a new protocol, maybe.
Observation is such a good work, and such a good word.
Observing like dispassionate noticing, or compassionate noticing. Paying attention. Being present, and seeing what is true right now and what else is true right now.
Observing is a way to be a little removed, but still full of love and grace.
An observatory is where you can see all the stars, let us step into the observatory.
And observing is also a verb for practice, and for ritual. Isn’t that beautiful? I think it is.
In that Halloween-adjacent episode of You Are Good that I referenced earlier, Sarah Marshall said something interesting:
“Haunting is forced remembrance.”
When we don’t remember or observe, we are asked to re-remember, maybe.
And I’d add that makes even more sense in a culture that doesn’t have enough grieving rituals.
Let them have this
I remember once, as a kid, complaining about decorations, I can’t remember exactly, but when people go overboard decorating their houses for Thanksgiving or whatever.
And my little brother, who was very wise and very small said, “Let them have this, they have so few holidays.”
It’s just true. We are limited in what we have to work with when we don’t have enough remembering times built in to the year.
This is why I love inventing holidays and feast days, for those tricky days in the calendar. The passage of time is the passage of time, but some days land harder than others. It’s good to have some sweetness waiting.
What are we remembering when we are being reminded
So I am thinking that an angel and a haunting are not so different.
That is, they exist to remind you of what was or could be.
“The future pursues us, the present is the present…”
So how do we want to be while we are remembering and healing?
Yet again the answer seems to be the same as it always is.
The same as it always is
Yet again the answer seems to be:
Be with it. Name it. Yes, this is scary, yes, this hurts, I don’t like these feelings, that’s okay.
And with that naming and observing, return to comfort, layer on comfort.
Return to ritual, return to comfort, return to pleasure.
Return to pleasure
Return to it and use it. Use pleasure.
Pleasure as the door (or a door) to presence and aliveness.
It’s an honor to play the game.
And: we can also always add some sweetness.
A clue to observe as well
Back to the show Justified, I give you this interaction:
“How long will this take?”
“Less than you fear and more than you hope”
I am taking this as a clue for all things, for coming down from my ptsd trip, for the return of the hostages, for a resolution to the horrors and cruelty of war, the suffering of civilians, the coming of miracles, the answers to questions, the resolution of whatever needs resolving.
I am observing this clue, both in the sense that I am gazing upon it, and in the sense that I am treating it like a ritual, something holy.
Less than you fear, more than you hope
I would have preferred that the plumbing fix not take three weeks to resolve, and that it had been less expensive, but also less than I fear, more than I hope.
Similarly, I would prefer that it not take a month of bed rest to recover from literally anything, but also that’s the reality I’m currently in.
Maybe it will change as I observe it.
I don’t want to talk about the ongoing horrors in Gaza and in Israel, it’s exhausting to grieve so many things at once, but I will quietly point in the direction of the latest piece by Etgar Keret called Israel in 600 words. He is voicing what is in my heart, just more succinctly and powerfully than I ever could.
And I will say that I am torn apart in grief by all of it, as so many of us are. I wish comfort and ease for everyone there, and also for our poor tender hearts.
May grace and love and sanctuary come in to interrupt this nightmare and change the future for the better of everyone involved, I don’t know how, but that is what I am praying. May this wish have all the support it needs to thrive, and then some.
I’ll be honest, it’s been a rough passage into November but that will not stop me from asking, what is November for?
In beautiful miracles, the handyman I did not enjoy interacting with (understatement) got the leak fixed, and now I have running water in my home, and more than that, I have hot water, in both kitchen and bathroom, which is a huge life upgrade.
Sadly the shower still does not work, and I am never letting any of these men back in my house again, so that is something to solve for another day.
But maybe November is for being too tough to care about that, I will focus on getting more washcloths, run luscious cowboy spa days with a bucket, something will work out, something better.
I have faith. I have faith because I have been observing the miracles, and because what else is there.
November is for…
What am I calling on? What am I calling up? What am I calling in?
Let’s start with some of these…
- Positive Anticipation
- Rituals that comfort & delight
- Cultivate the dream wishes
- Follow the instructions, they work / use the protocols
- Miracles, faith and observing (all meanings, to witness, to notice, to practice)
- Spiced hot chocolate, for example…
The more I think about my wishes, the more I think a lot of them are about being less reactive, just not assuming that anything is bad just because it looks that way.
The superpower of can I roll with it
And something about the superpower of, what is this called, like, can I roll with seemingly bad news?
For example, yes I had a plumbing nightmare and my arm stopped working and the tire exploded, but also everything was fine, I am fine, it is okay. Can I maintain hope-faith-trust-love in being okay for now?
More November wishes
God I want a haircut.
And cozy morning rituals, like an elaborate and luscious hot beverage, made in my favorite cheery pot.
Pepper on everything.
Dreaming of a cowboy bath house.
And to get more electric to the tiny house so I can heat more than one room, amen.
More energy, or more patience with myself when I am on empty, or both really.
I am still thinking about what Alex Steed said (“What is grief but a haunting?”) and about rituals for safe remembering, for softening and adding sweetness.
Observing the rituals (practice), and observing the pain (presence, compassion, bearing witness).
Witnessing is another form of observing
While I was listening to Israeli radio, they read a song dedication to the person I know who is among the hostages, his girlfriend was taken too, which I did not know. And I also knew the person giving the song dedication, because the world is small.
They talked about how he’d just celebrated his dad’s 70th birthday, there was a big outdoor party, and how happy he was. A snapshot in time: look, a happy moment.
I said to a friend that I feel so helpless, so not-of-use, like what does it mean to hear these words on the radio from so far away.
Grief becomes a wormhole in time
But she said, “Your text reads like a poem about the way that horrific acts like this can rip through time and space, connecting so many paradoxical feelings. Grief becomes a wormhole. You are bearing witness and I do believe that bearing witness matters. I believe that the world is better (even if only in the smallest way) because you were there to hear that song dedication.”
What is grief but a haunting, and what is observing if not pausing in such a way that you are the one to hear the words at the exact right moment…
The present is the present is the present, but everything is open.
I am thinking about how people make art in trying times, or find comforts in moments of hardship.
The ways we cultivate joy and small moments of pleasure and meaning.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Operation Winter Cheer and how I am searching for all pleasure sources to make it through the long cold winter alone by the forest, and I think I am going to get really into s’mores, but with homemade gluten-free gingersnaps or chai snickerdoodles, dark chocolate, vegan marshmallows…
I don’t know why I am clinging to this, but I am. Indoor s’mores is my winter obsession, I am deeply convinced that everything will be substantially better with s’mores.
And maybe it will or maybe it won’t, but it’s a beautiful wish, and a small but meaningful experiment.
Maybe it will help and maybe it won’t
If it doesn’t help, then at least we tried something.
We tried something, and we will be brave and try something else. That’s the practice, right?
Love an experiment. Love knowing there is something to try.
Knowing? Remembering. That’s the practice too, isn’t it.
If it doesn’t help, then something else will, because miracles abound, and I am here to observe them.
Miracles abound. I’m here to observe them.
Come play in the comments, I appreciate the company
You are welcome to share anything that sparked for you while reading, or anything that helped or anything on your mind.
Or anything you’d like to toss into the wishing pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship always helps.
You can wish any wishes that come to mind (come to heart?), or echo “Oh wow, what beautiful wishes!” for my wishes or anyone else’s.
I’m happy you’re here with me.
I’m making progress on bonus material about how I relate to time and map out my quarters, let me know if there anything you want to know more about specifically? Drop any questions or thoughts here…
Anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email as soon as I finish editing, I hope soon.
If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️