April 16, 2010

you have stayed too long


You have stayed too long in the realm of silence, old stories locked away in a box and new ones locked in your head, your heart, your whole body. You have stayed too long and the new stories cease to pile up & gather dust—they cease breathing.

"You have stayed too long," she warned me, the sun behind her illuminating her golden hair and blinding me as I sought to read her expression. It was time to go, time to leave, but I had become comfortable there in the silence, savoring the safety. 

The journey begins with a new blank book and a pen. Each word is a step forward in a new direction, a pilgrimage to the center of my own soul, a journey I wasn't prepared to make alone. Each word a stepping stone, a glimmering path through an unknown and terrifying land but leading to that magical realm—like Oz—like Paradise—like all the magical realms the heroes of the great stories have sought to enter.

"You have stayed too long" and she handed me the book and the pen and I had no other choice but to take them and begin the journey.

November 26, 2009

thanks giving


I woke up this morning to an ethereal fog outside enveloping the trees and drifting just above the earth. It's a quiet gloom that makes me miss the desert sun. It has been nearly four months since we moved to the northern California coast. Life here has been busy and quiet, filled with laundry and ocean sunsets and wood smoke and wild turkeys on the meadows every morning. I am thankful for many things, though I don't express my gratitude to others or to the universe often enough. I will do so here. I give thanks for:

...my parents who have supported and encouraged me, even when my choices haven't always made sense to them.

...my mother's courage and strength in her struggle to conquer the symptoms of Lyme disease.

...my father's, grandfather's, father-in-law's, and friends' financial help when we needed it.

...my sister, who understands me better than anybody and knows how to listen.

...my friends who I don't see as often as I'd like, but whose energy remains a steady presence in my life.

...my husband, who gives me so much so selflessly and is the best partner in ways I'm still discovering.

...my sister-in-law, who treated us to a perfect mini-vacation down the road and whose spirit I got to really see for the first time.

...the universe, for providing us with this fabulous opportunity to live and work in northern California, and for always taking care of our needs.

...two wonderful years of living in Luna Rica, one of the most amazing homes I've ever seen. May the right people find and appreciate that space as we were lucky enough to do.

...the healing ocean that's just across the highway from us.

...mushrooms, flowers, deer, stars, and all the beauty that surrounds our humble home.

...Clara, who makes this place sparkle.

...sunshine after the fog.

...Thanksgiving dinner tonight with Adriana & Kevin & Nela.

...pennies everywhere.

June 3, 2009

new directions


It's funny how when you wish for something and the opportunity presents itself for that wish to be realized, suddenly the possibility is terrifying. I have been wanting change, hoping for it, imagining ways to make it happen. But the idea of change has always been something that would happen later, somewhere down the road. Not now.

The possibility of living in a new town, doing something completely new, starting all over from scratch exhilarates me and scares the bejeebers out of me at the same time. There are so many what ifs running through my head. What if we can't sell our house? What if the weather is terrible? What if we can't make enough money? What if it's too rural and lonely?

On the other hand are visions of living in a small northern California town in a cottage by the sea with an ocean view and a woodstove for heat, living simply, eating locally-grown organic veggies, being 2-4 hours away from some of my dearest friends, and having more time to write and play and explore. My pulse quickens just thinking about it.

I have learned all too well that a dream realized never quite turns out the way I hoped. There are all sorts of unforeseen consequences (positive and negative) that come bundled along with the package. You realize that everything has a price and you make the best of it. And then you wish a little more carefully next time and keep your fingers crossed.

So there is a possibility of a new direction. I approach it with trepidation and anticipation. Deep down, I know change is good. It's time. The what ifs I imagine are never the ones I really had to worry about anyway. It has been quite awhile since I faced a crossroads. And there is a certain dread I feel in having to choose; one choice precludes the possibility of the other. Each choice leads down an entirely new path that will change how my life unfolds. I think of The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

May 28, 2009

for evelyn...


Buddha Healed Me

Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me...

~ copied from an art piece by an unknown artist
found at Herland Book Café in Santa Cruz, CA
January 1998 ~

May 26, 2009

reunion


I remember these family gatherings with the Harders, Eitzens, and Roes, with me and Evelyn and cousins Chris and Carl the newest green sprouts on the family tree. We were the ones scrounging in Aunt Ruth's TV room closet, seeking the Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs to spill on the floor and assemble tottering creations. We were the ones chasing each other screaming around the yard. Now our generation has grown into parents; our parents and aunts and uncles have become the grandparents and great aunts & uncles. Most of my grandparents' generation have passed on, back to the mysterious source of creation.

Grandpa Harder reigns as the last living member of his generation in our family. We celebrated his 92nd birthday this Memorial Day weekend, as well as a reunion with a long-lost family member, my father's son, Heinz. Much of the focus was on Heinz and his lovely wife and three beautiful daughters, a branch of the tree that had been a severed limb until this weekend. My grandfather, patient as ever, sat amidst the hullaballoo without complaint. I quietly observed him thinking, Someday, I will be sitting in his place, seeing through his eyes. I may be the last of my generation, sitting with a great grandniece on my knee for the family photo, my body tired and marked by years of living, my mind packed with memories of other times.

I wondered if he felt lonely, surrounded by generations he could not relate to anymore. What was it was like for him as a kid, sitting for a family photo in the 1920s, being the youngest of the bunch? Now he is the only one in our family who remembers a time before computers and space shuttles and instant gratification. He has lived through enormous changes. And now in his 93rd year, he meets a grandson and great granddaughters he hadn't known existed.

Evelyn and I both felt an easy connection with our brother. He is authentic and funny, open-minded and gentle, and has an integrity of spirit that I think all three of us share. I only regret that we hadn't found each other sooner. I wonder what it would have been like to have a big brother when I was growing up. I wonder how our dad might have been different if he had had his son in his life?

Perhaps this is the way it was meant to happen. I am just so thankful that it finally has.

[More reunion pictures here.]

May 17, 2009

owl medicine

I was walking back to the house from the storage shed when something caught my eye in a patch of prickly pear cactus. I saw a small block of wood wedged beneath (which isn't so unusual, given that Michael often cuts lumber and wood scraps linger in the landscape where he has cut them.) I noticed something else, though. There seemed to be something attached to it: a piece of metal.


I carefully twisted my body and snaked my arm between the prickly pear paddles to get to it. I pulled it out and shook off some of the dirt. I almost couldn't believe what I saw. It was an owl.
I ran to the house to get Michael.

"You are not going to believe what I just found!" I held up the owl.
"Where did you find that?" he asked, his eyes widening.

I showed him. In all the times he has worked outside just beside that spot, he had never seen it. It was right beside our driveway. We have lived in this house for nearly two years.

When I first met Michael, he had just finished building a magical little casita which he called the Turtle House. Every unit in the little community we lived in had a totem animal that the resident chose for the space. When I moved into the Turtle House (which I called Casa de la Tortuga), there were turtle totems everywhere. Ceramic turtles. Metal turtles. Stone turtles. A turtle tile mosaic in the floor. My friends and family started giving me turtles while I lived there. The casita had a turtle quality to it. It was cave-like and introspective. Safe and solitary. I felt like I had receded into my own shell, which at the time I desperately needed. It was healing for me.

Nine months later, I was ready to move on. Another unit had opened up, one facing north and filled with light. I christened it the Butterfly House (Casa de la Mariposa). Here was a space that swirled with the energy of transformation and rebirth. Again, it was exactly what I needed. I filled the space with butterflies made of glass and paper and wood.

Michael's homesite in Cascabel was dubbed the Raven House (Casa del Cuervo) in honor of the majestic black-feathered visitors who frequently graced the hilltop when he was working or eating dinner there.

When we moved into this home, we weren't sure what animal totem belonged to this place, if there even was one. Soon we heard the mystical call of an owl late at night and saw his giant form perched atop the saguaro outside our bedroom window. On another evening, we had three or four owls perched on nearby saguaros and one of our chimneys. One night Michael woke me to see an owl sitting on the patio wall, not 10 feet from where we slept, staring into our bedroom. There was no doubt what animal totem belonged here.

We had already been drawn to owl figures. My sister found a small ceramic owl, I found a green stained glass owl, and Michael found a painted stone owl all in the same thrift store. Before we even bought our house, I had fallen in love with an abstract owl sculpture that was for sale at our favorite antique store but was too expensive at $475. When the price dropped significantly and my dad sent me some money for Christmas, we bought it.

Lately, we've been experiencing some anxiety about our financial situation. Michael lost most of the money he invested in real estate when the housing market crashed. We've both been feeling eager to make some changes in our lives: new scenery, new work, new adventures. Then yesterday, I found an owl that had been here all along.

Of course I had to research owl's symbolism. Owl is wisdom and a keeper of spirits. Owl reveals what is hidden and can see what others cannot. Owl is magic.

Once again, a simple discovery leads to a flash of revelation. God—or the universe or whatever you choose to call that which is greater than these mere bodies we inhabit—is present and lighting the way along the path we have chosen to follow.

May 10, 2009

querida mami


I remember the smell of you and falling asleep in your arms, the vibration of your voice in your chest lulling me to sleep. It was the warmest, safest feeling in the world. When I lived far away from you (whether in New York, Italy, or China) you would send me letters that smelled of your favorite perfume. That scent would nearly always bring me to tears and fill me with an indescribable homesickness.

You have always been a fun person to be with. I have many great memories of us getting into trouble together. There was that that time we ventured down a steep embankment to swim in a lake and had to be rescued by Papi when we realized that the slope was too slippery with loose shale and stones to climb up again. He had to toss us a rope and pull us up. And there was that time we hiked the finca in Colombia, only to be chased down the hill by that raging bull. Or the time we went for a little stroll in the snowy mountains of New Mexico and almost couldn't get back to the car because the trail was icy and we had to climb uphill. You have always inspired me to take risks in my life, to "follow my bliss," and to be brave. It's because of your encouragement that I was able to go to Italy for a year when I was 15, to join the Peace Corps at 25, and to travel solo in foreign countries.

I inherited your curiosity, love of nature, and an eagerness to explore this world and its mysteries. We have enjoyed many adventures hiking and camping and taking long walks together, admiring the birds or the sunset or the way the light hit the leaves on a certain tree.

You taught me to love the outdoors and the beauty and serenity I always find there. You taught me about God and spirit and surrendering myself to something greater than myself. Sometimes I wonder if I am alive (despite some of the dangerous risks I have taken) only because your fervent prayers have kept me out of harm's way.

You have a hard time with the whole aging thing. I know I can't fully understand it until I'm there myself. But I want you to know that you truly are beautiful. And wise. And brave. You really have made a difference in the life of each person who has been fortunate enough to know you. I love you so much. Thank you for being my mom.

love,
Monica (your baby monkey)

May 6, 2009

unstuck that rut



A few months ago I cracked open a fortune cookie after lunch and found this fortune inside. I had been feeling stifled for far too long by the inertia of my own life. I missed my friends, missed writing, missed adventure, missed feeling alive. I was so utterly bored and frustrated with the daily grind. And then I got this fortune.

Um...hello? Universe? Is that you? Giving me a little nudge towards the light? Yes, I believe so.

I so often forget that I am the biggest barrier to my own happiness. And what is the answer in times of stuckness? Movement. Just doing something, no matter how simple or small. Taking a step in a new direction. Waking up a little earlier. Going for a walk outdoors. Turning off the computer. Picking up the pen. Putting down the fork. Playing some music. Dancing in the living room. Helping someone out. Listening. Creating a list of dreams. Drawing a picture. Saying thank you. Taking the long way home.

I had been stuck for a long time. Then I got sick three times in four months and decided, Enough! It's time to break out of that corner, unstuck that rut!

So I started eating better and taking more walks in the evening with my husband. I started writing three pages in my journal in the morning, despite the resistance. I started photographing flowers, shadows, colors, and faces.

I stopped some things, too. I took a leave of absence from my bellydance troupe because I was feeling more drained than inspired. I stopped eating dairy. (No more cheese or half & half in my morning coffee!) And I stopped berating myself for not being as self-disciplined as I would like.

Each day, I'm feeling a little more alive and a little less stuck. If I get stuck again (which I inevitably will) I just need to remind myself to unstuck that rut.