November 18th 2016

Thirty-two years ago today I got married. I was three weeks away from turning 35. My husband likes to joke that I had the date chosen when I proposed a few months earlier but that’s not quite the case. Here’s the way it played out:

We met in 1982, and I confess to having had that ‘this is the one’ feeling from the start. Old loves always keep a place in your heart—just play the song(s) you listened to when you were a teenager in love, or in your twenties and in love, and you know what I mean. But this love had something about it that spelled Let’s Stay Together.

So, a few months shy of the two-year marker in relationship I kind of suggest maybe it’s time we do something. He says, “you mean like get married?” I nod. Then I go into the bathroom and throw up. No joke. That would have been June. No hurry to set a date but I did want to get married in 1984. Do something life-affirming in a year forever marked as an ominous one. November (wedding) in New York had a nice ring to it.

A month and half ago my daughter proposeengagement-bells-fbs to her boyfriend, who puts the heartfelt and humorous touch to it all on Facebook.

Fortunately, instead of experiencing her mother’s OMG I-did-it anxiety, she gets a very special pair of shoes. He gets himself a wedding band from Tiffany. The engagement ring was a given, and I get the pleasure of delivering it when we’re all together for Thanksgiving. There’s a spirit to stones, and this one started out as a pendant my mother wore, then gave to me at a time when I was suffering. Now it gets to sparkle on my daughter’s hand in a time of joy. My mother is long gone, but I can feel her kvelling.

‘Sparkle’ is not a word that readily comes to mind these day. ‘Struggle’ would be more like it. To hear those two words juxtaposed against each other puts me in a poetic mindset.

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me . . .

Actually it’s Pema Chodron I look to but we’re talking metaphor here. And if I can’t let it be, the least I can do is be with my struggles.

I struggle with even looking at news headlines. All those polls I’ve neurotically counted on during past election cycles! How could they get it so wrong this time around? Who needs explanations in hindsight? Why bother listening to the chatter of projections re: what to expect from the new administration? It’s the wise Buddhists who remind us there is only the moment, here and now. Things change, times change, often in the most unexpected ways. So why the delusion of thinking there’s reassurance in knowing what’s ahead?

I struggle with a sense of purpose gone awry when political/global anxieties fuel personal ones. So I hole myself up in the room I call my treehouse, watching Justin Timberlake in concert. Can’t say I’m a big fan, but he makes me smile, and he is a standout from those early boy groups my daughter and her friends were enthralled with, and this wonderful big TV has me going for the sight and sound spectacle it was meant for. Can I do this for the next four years?jt-on-tv

I struggle with groundlessness When Things Fall Apart, and look to the spirit of Pema Chodron’s guiding words re: being Comfortable with Uncertainty.

I struggle with what failure means, both on the personal front and the systemic one.

My reputation for being optimistic is not serving me well, even as I’m reminded this is no time to hide my head in the sand. Poetry is apparently going viral in the wake of deep disillusionment/shock/anger. Joshua Rothman tells readers How to Restore Your Faith in Democracy. Michael Moore gives us a Morning After To-Do List, Rebecca Solnit writes about How to Survive a Disaster, the Huffington Post offers up 18 Compassionate Poems to Help you Weather Uncertain Times, and the story that grips me most?

Death Valley Is Alive

I go back to Andrienne Rich, What Is Found There: “The impulse to enter, with other humans, through language, into the order and disorder of the world, is poetic at its root as surely as it is political at its root.” adrienne-rich

When do I stop moaning and groaning? Watching Samantha Bee helps a lot. Even Bill Maher, whom I avoided in the aftermath of the election, elicits a cynical smile. Then there’s SNL rising to the occasion, Kate McKinnon at the piano with a resonant Hallelujah to remind us of all that we lost last week, and Dave Chapelle to remind us of how much we’ve missed him.

Besides, don’t I have a wedding to plan? The wedding date is yet to be set, the venue not yet finalized but my daughter thinks the first dance with her husband might be to Hallelujah. Of course, I best her.

Go for Dance Me to the End of Love.

dbld-wedding-day

wedding-dance

Bliss

The first days of September invariably have me feeling a little blue. What is in fact a gradual diminishing of summer green hits sharply with the reminder that this is what leaves do before they disappear from trees. Within weeks they’ll start dropping with a fury as the glorious riot of red/orange/yellow takes hold and with it the reminder that the gift of autumn is in fact a dying.   These are the moments in-between, always the most unsettling until I give in to them, love the day for what it is without rueful thoughts of what is no more or anticipation of what’s still to come.

Easier said than done.

Everything in its time, even if it feels as if the things we want most seem to take forever.

This summer brought a break from routine, always a good thing even if it puts me a little out of sorts.

I read, and listened to, Pema Chodron, more and more a guiding light to a way of being I long for. When she sounds the note on what she calls ‘positive groundlessness,’ I consider the possibility that that there is no ease without fully surrendering to discomfort.

I learned to ease my grip on a kickboard so that I might experience some semblance of buoyancy as my body flounders with a little more fluency in a swimming pool.

I was lifted (possibly into the stratosphere) by Bruce Springsteen when he performed for nearly four hours at the Meadowlands. Not the first time I’ve seen him, but synchronicity was in the air for one more time. My daughter would be in for a visit, my best friend/concert buddy thought we needed to see him again. In his home state, to boot. And two days before my daughter’s birthday.

Which brings me to that thing called bliss, something I imagine as only possible when the noise—inside my head and outside—frees me of all distraction. Say the word to yourself, it slips through your teeth, unlike ‘blues,’ with its stickiness. That’s not to say it’s a momentary state, gone in flash. But without being fully present to the moment, there is no bliss.

I can readily go down the list of great concert moments in my life, alternately with my daughter and my friend, but the ties that bound bruce-blissus in an outdoor concert on a beautiful summer night made this one especially joyful. And even if I can’t pinpoint the moment it hit me, that higher level of joy I think of as bliss was made manifest in the expression on Springsteen’s face, thanks to those larger-than-life monitors.

“I’m always in search of something, in search of losing myself in the music,” he says in an interview in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair. There is no one who plays to his fans, for his fans, like Bruce. Who else would sing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” with a fan, in August?

And just when he had you thinking he was done, taking on the body posture of James Brown as he staggers from the stage, cape and all (this one of course embossed with “The Boss”), he was back.

If I had trouble containing myself when he sang “Sherry Darling” early in the set, I could have died and gone to heaven when he gave “Jersey Girl” pride of place as a second encore, ending the show with fireworks. More to the point, from start to finish—including my dear, dear friend figuring out the sanest parking scenario and my daughter the designated driver getting us there and back like a pro—it was as seamless a night as possible.

I have lots of reason to feel blessed, even if true bliss still feels like something a little out of reach. Maybe it comes in degrees. Or maybe, like every other concept that evolves with time, we need to take a second look at it. The other day my daughter sent a link to an article she said I had to read immediately. I was in the car, and I had to wait, and the wait was oh-so-worth it. If the headline—I’m an Adult Woman, and I Call My Mother Three Times a Day—had me smiling, the writer got me with, “The timeless truth is that I constantly call my mom because she’s my best friend.” I don’t know if that’s such a good thing but she’s right on when she says, “Unlike friends, moms are more open to venting, bragging, and utterly boring calls, too.”

Bliss? I get echoes of it when I listen to Todd Norian during a meditation.

And I envision its cousin, buoyancy, when I practice my kicks and strokes in the swimming pool.

Then I remind myself of that feeling we all share and Albert King sings about so well.

 

Happiness is . . .

Take a minute, say the phrase, ask yourself what comes to mind.

A warm blanket? A warm puppy?

A warm gun.

That first hint of springtime green which really is gold.

A deep ruby Grenache that catches the light and warms the spirit.

A walk around the lake, alone, or through a museum, with a friend.

A very dry martini, straight up, with a twist.

A new dishwasher with a half-load cycle (let’s hear it for energy-efficiency!)

dolphins national aquariumWatching dolphins blowing bubble rings underwater in a PBS/Nova series, Inside Animal Minds.  Evolution takes on a new light when you see the real connection between socialization and survival of a species.  Communication runs deeper than thought.

Dancing with abandon.

Plunging into a book that begins with these words, “It was the happiest moment of my life,” and ends with these: “’Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.’” Between those bookend phrases are 530 pages riddled with irony, and sadness, obsessive love and the longing it gives rise to.

Is happiness contingent on love?

Try to find someone
Keep on walking strong
With your heart open wide
You’ll be satisfied . . .
  —The Subdudes

Is a simpler life really the answer?

Down in the jungle living in a tent
You don’t use money you don’t pay rent
You don’t even know the time but you don’t mind . .
             —Paul McCartney

In the spectrum of things that embody happiness, music is as close to the top of the list as it gets.  It’s a body thing, out of thought. Even sad music, for the pure pleasure of listening and every nuanced emotion it encompasses, hails with happiness.

I’m only home away from home
I’m only all there when I’m gone
I only miss you when I’m with you
I’m only happy when I’m singing a sad sad song
                   —Rhett Miller

Making playlists is an unabashed joy. There’s an art to the segue, song to song. When I’m at the gym, on the Elliptical machine, a playlist that includes Johnny Ray Allen (You’ll Be) Satisfied and Paul McCartney, Mrs. Vandebilt,  Craig Finn, Honolulu Blues and Rhett Miller, Out of Love, is very very good for the heart.  Picturing David Bowie and Mick Jagger in their classic Dancing in the Street video is good for the soul.  Not that the Laura Nyro/LaBelle cover, or the original Martha Reeves and the Vandellas doesn’t have pride of place in my ‘Dance’ playlist, along with Lady Gaga (duh) and the Scissor Sisters. And Billy Idol. I’m big on dancing with myself.

Satisfaction? I can’t say I don’t get no. Depends on the day.  One good paragraph, a line that sings, caveat (‘Kill your darlings’) aside.

A row of turtles resting on a log in the lake always stops me.

Looking up at cumulus clouds floating against a backdrop of at least five shades of blue.

The eerie trill of toads, a mating call as intoxicating as it gets.

A blue jay’s whistle.

A reflexology foot massage.

I could go on and on, and we all have lists of our own making. . . but isn’t there something a little less tangible at the heart of true happiness?  Isn’t looking from the outside/in worlds apart from going from the inside/out? Pema Chodron says we’ll never find happiness as long as we keep looking for it all the wrong places, a habit that’s hard to break.  Matthieu Ricard, who has been dubbed the happiest man on earth (a label he disclaims),  makes a distinction between things that give us pleasure and an inner sense of flourishing, fulfillment.

In the truest of all possible worlds, happiness is that thing that knows we’re part of a greater whole, interconnected. It comes from a place deep inside, where mind stops chattering, serenity takes hold, compassion is a given.  In the day-to-day world as we (mostly) live it, it’s something outside of us—riddled with longing, hope, waiting for something that might make us feel better. Today.

Tomorrow I fly to California, a long way to go for a mini-roadtrip with my daughter in her spiffy new car. It will be the first time in a few years that we’ll be spending Mother’s Day together. On the grand scale of things that make me happy, doesn’t get much better than that.

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