Tag Archives: walking

Following

10 Oct

On Sunday morning, September 11, 2016, I piloted myself to Yoga Goodness studio for practice with Cyndi Lee. As former owner of Om Yoga in New York City and a respected yoga teacher, Cyndi is kind and wise.  I hadn’t remembered that it was the 911 anniversary, but when the studio was unusually packed, the connection was suddenly made. That day joins us all in so many ways and memories from that time are difficult for everyone. Human empathy is called upon deeply in having lived it and care is needed in the recalling of it.

As we sat together for the beginning of class, Cyndi spoke of her memories, the fire, smoke. . . the ash.  Her studio was balanced on the border between a war zone and normal life. Rising from her voice were the faces of friends lost and a whole community devastated.  She paused to breathe more than once. “The next day we wondered whether to have practice, “ she said haltingly, “the air was so bad but people wanted to come, to bring everything to the mat. And so we did.”

A deep peace came in our moving together after an opening chorus of “om’s”, even in our sighs of effort and laughter at falling out of pose. But at the end, when Cyndi brought us back to our breath she said something that will stay with me forever. It’s when the puzzle pieces started to make sense.

Life passes quickly. Each moment fading to the next.

Take heed.

Opportunity arises and is quickly lost.

Don’t squander your life.

At that moment, one principle became quite evident. I had to stop pretending that “doing it all alone” was just fine. I had to stop lying to myself and to everybody else. While growing into my truest self, finding joy in life, and learning to manage daily the acceptance of “what is”, I could no longer deny my inner voice telling me a core truth:

I need an intimate loving connection. I’m as ready as I will ever be.

I want to find my person.

It somehow feels shameful, though. To look at all the “living out loud” I’ve done, all of the ways in which I have grown in the last six years and then, surrender to a desire , a small seed in the pocket that’s really rested there since the beginning. Its one I have denied, one I have bargained with, one that I have dissociated from, but nonetheless has remained. Life is most worth it with a significant person to share the journey.

Home is shared.

Home is the nest.

And nests generally are not filled with just one being.

Beloveds take many forms but connection on the soul level is required. I have become so sick of social media platitudes and memes…Love yourself and that’s all you need. Beloveds should be icing on the cake, complementary to one’s life. . . a condiment. Some might allow it’s perfectly okay to think of icing that way, but I’m here to tell you…..that’s absolute bullshit. Cake is better with icing, otherwise they would have never invented it.

I became expert at blaming myself for not being okay with what I thought was aloneness (something very different from isolation), and projecting the false self of “single independent woman – – super traveler” which comes with a T-shirt that says. “I don’t need you, just sayin’ (except to admire how fantastic my carefree life is on social media).” Right. That certainly brought me connection. Once, a date told me that he never would have thought I’d ever been married. “You just seem so carefree and wild”. i.e. open to a non-committal hook up.

Sigh, next.

I’d isolate myself, just to prove a point and white knuckle it all the way through, creating my own cloak of invisibility which dared anyone to see me in spite of it. That’s really smart, Ms. Self-Sabotage.

However, I do think it taught me discernment. Boundaries are in place with every relationship in my life. Compassion balances with self-respect. The beauty of solitude is that it’s so very healing. I do enjoy it now in a way I never could before facing it years ago. Some of my most joyous moments are sitting with journal and coffee or cheese and wine all alone at a beautiful restaurant or shop, sinking and sorting my own emotions. Real self and core gifts, given to me by the Universe were rediscovered in solitude. The writer, the artist, the dancer, the wise woman . . .if I had never learned to be my own best company, I would have missed the opportunity to discover and grow my strengths in order to give to others.

But constant solitude is not the answer. Contemplative living is for renunciates, for holy people who choose to live outside the world in Spirit. And as much as I am an extremely spiritual woman, I am not cut out to be a nun. Jesus for a boyfriend?…that’s just not going to work for me. It took me a long while to understand the two states of being though. Even though I don’t like it, single is okay. Alone is okay. But isolation is never okay, and that has caused this wound of loneliness. Isolation isn’t natural nor normal. And as an only child and grandchild without children, it took me years to figure out that its alright for me to want, to need people in my physical daily life. Not online. Not texting me or emailing me on my phone. In my physical tactile very real and messy life. I need eyes and hands and lips and arms and laughs and tears. I need trips to the grocery store. Someone else to drive. Neighborhood walks with the dog. Dinner at the table, not popcorn in bed after yoga with a movie on.

And there is that word “need”. . .the stumbling block to everything. Struggling with an urge to justify basic human needs is the hallmark of a giver. Having needs feels weak and wrong. I have to ask myself, out loud sometimes, “What do you need right now, honey?” And if it’s in my power and for the greatest good, like any solid parent, I try to deliver. There have been many times I’ve had to deny a need because in the long run, the price was more than what was in the box. In the early days, because I had been walking through a desert of disconnection for so long, the water offered me at the beginning was drunk in desperation. It’s poison ate away and hardened my heart, discouraging me to the point that I gave up the idea that finding the type of connection right for my soul was not only possible, but completely within my deserving. My inability to feel this fall wasn’t a scar. It was poisonous ice that too much pain and not enough faith does to a higher than average level emotional intelligence.

When Cyndi’s words resonated with my entire being, I understood something profound. I’d been following signs all along. The last five years were filled with magic because I LISTENED to what the Universe was telling me. I was in flow because I followed signs. I let go. Where they were taking me, I remained open to. And they never sent me the wrong way. It became clear to me then, that I needed to follow signs to find this connection, this person…whoever. That perhaps all this was preparation for that journey. And I had to get busy because the only signs I had were a directive from my yoga teacher, a film that started my journey: The Wizard of Oz, and a book suggestion from a dear friend back in 2012: Paul Coelho’s, The Alchemist.

So I am thinking of ending this road, perhaps start another.

I am not walking for one any longer.

I am walking with myself toward someone.

I stopped believing in my alone verdict when I saw the WalMart pillow. It made me realize that I had to soften my heart and start getting real. So its been months that I have read, and listened, wandered and wondered and collected parts of the puzzle. Today, though I had a message. Begin. That’s all I know. Begin. Because telling yourself that a journey like this is crazy and no one will believe you isn’t helping. Neither is eating popcorn in bed every night and seeing yourself as a spinster school marm in the bargain bin.  As a matter of fact, they tell me the more beautiful the story, the more darkness wishes to cover it.

So I thought, “Screw it. Get real. Tell it as you go and fuck that memoir somehow ‘requires emotional distance’. I’ve had enough emotional distance to last me a lifetime.”

I haven’t had any inner guidance on what to do with this blog, but weekly writing has been flowing to my colleagues. Message From Fred has taken off in a way that has replaced this message in a bottle. Right now, it serves two purposes:One,  I write weekly and its in an effort to serve others. Two, it keeps me tight in on my sweet spot. The spot that says, “Yes, you are right where you need to be”. It makes me a little nervous to say that this part of the story is over, for all stories are tied together in the course of a life. The frame of this puzzle was made here and whether or not anyone has had any lasting benefit from this body of work except for me doesn’t much matter. Its intention was to share my story. I ended up writing my way out of the greatest loss of my life. Now, it’s time to wrap it in a winding cloth and not let it define me.

The story of finding my person might be just as compelling, maybe. It might be the greatest love letter I ever write.

Right action, let go of outcome.

We’ll see.

What it Is

6 Jul
BW mock up of mixed media collage, Unamed. 24x18 June 2016.

BW mock up of mixed media collage, Unamed. 24×18 June 2016.

 

It’s been four years that I’ve been writing about this journey toward Self and most definitely this spring has been a spiral of endings and discoveries, wonder and disappointment. For months it’s been obvious, I’m in transition but to what I’ve no idea.

Should I sell the house my former husband and I bought and restored together?
Should I change jobs, change careers, change towns?

The only constant has been my mother, my dog, and a few close friends who are honestly in much different places than I. Almost everyone from my post divorce journey has moved on into their silver linings. I’m wondering if mine is here and perhaps I’m just not seeing it.

Last week, my role model Liz Gilbert announced her separation from the man she fell in love with at the end of her famed memoir, Eat. Pray. Love. I found out on Facebook, just exiting yoga class. And to be truthful, after reading her post and Jack Gilbert’s poem, I sat in the car and sobbed for an hour. All melodrama aside, it felt like someone had told me that the scientific community had just discovered that God doesn’t exist…they’d found it on some new MRI or something. It’s all in our heads and explained by chemicals, this idea of infinite unconditional love made human. There is no over the rainbow. Dorothy Gale didn’t go anywhere….she just had a bump on the head. We aren’t crossing over to anywhere.

It was Liz’s memoir and journey, the way she found her most authentic self and happiness, both inner and outer that told me I too could heal after the person I loved most on the planet disappeared. In December 2012, I put myself on an island and what I found at my lowest point was the inner voice, Beloved. The writer in me still lived and she has fueled every creative outlet which has unfurled in my life since. Writing, Art, Dance, Mindfulness.

But what I’ve learned is that the journey is not linear. That to eat, to pray, to love is nothing more than the cycle of living we should be practicing daily in moving forward. Ever present, ever mindful in the moment, but savoring each bit of air granted to us while we live from our most authentic selves.

For all the loneliness this way of life has been, it’s gift is a reminder that family and community is the core of being…not romance. Chatting with the 30 year old daughter of a fellow colleague today about the end of her most recent relationship, I told her, “If my two cents is worth one penny, you should focus on being with your girlfriends right now. Making lasting female friendships is what will sustain you throughout your life. If I had done that in my thirties rather than focus entirely on my romantic relationship, I wouldn’t be trying to find a community now.”

This isn’t to say that romantic love isn’t a worthy desire. After all, “the world must be peopled”. I believe this type of connection is a need. And one’s needs should be taken reverently and honored. To be intimate and physically touched, to be fully human and vulnerable with a beloved other is necessary. Walking without this is like being in the desert, trying desperately not to feel parched, or worse let it show. I often want to scold my friends who take their significant others for granted as if two arms and a warm soul are always available….they aren’t. Finding home is a lifelong journey, but it’s compass steers us toward connections to love and love comes from companions.

I’ve learned so much in four years. Much more than most of my young adulthood.

I’ve learned social and virtual media can rescue a person as much as isolate her. Silver hands never assuage for long.
I’ve learned that to really live can mean a simple icy lavender towel on the forehead during savasana just as much as feasting at 4 Leoni in Florence, a beautiful Italian waiter serving up Chianti and daring glances.

And I’ve learned that one never stops learning. Each day we eat, we pray, we love…we find ourselves in this recursive cycle of savoring what is and banishing the demons that whisper…this is ALL there is. Because lately, I’ve been feeling something missing, an absence of an innocence and playfulness at my core. For the first time in my life, I struggle with feeling way too grown up, feeling pushed to accept the existential realities in a long journey seemingly with no end but exit. It’s as if the expansiveness of my imagination has been emptied of intuitive air. I can’t seem to feel or believe that which I cannot see and this both saddens and scares the shit out of me. For childlike hope has always made me… well…Me.

If I lose something so essentially me, what have I discovered that now wants to squat in its place?

Ask any of my students and they will tell you of the faerie woman and her magical dog, of feathers and wands, tales of travel and synchronicity. They don’t see budding cynicism, self judgement, and loss of confidence taking root. They don’t see deep self doubt. What was all of this for? Have I really walked all this way only to find that I’m exactly where I started, just better able to sit with, dare I say it? The possibility that I might die before I fall in love again.

So this week, by accident, I find myself at a friend’s place in Charlottesville while she vacations. I’m alone, relatively, as per usual and trying to decide what to let go of and what to cling to. In yoga class this morning and in outdoor practice at the IX Art Park last night, glimpses of who I used to be flooded my mind, the best of what I was before my husband and I parted. And let me pause here to change the story of his leaving, because I have learned that I too was walking away many months before he made real the gulf that already existed between us. I see now clearly how I was beginning to grow, to want more out of life than taking care of him and everyone else too, everyone but me. But I refuse to believe that nothing lasts, that we move in and out of love with many others until our last song. The eight years tops theory of partnership, I don’t WANT to believe in. People do die together, eating, praying, loving, …….living in the myriad ways people in committed connection do. Giving goes both ways. It isn’t a one way street.

There’s no judgement on my part for those who grow in and out of long term commitment numerous times. Their worlds are created from the outside in, each new union an entirely new world made from the shift of gravity which brings a new celestial body nearer in orbit. Unknowingly, I have lived through that. But like gravity, I believe in something else that crosses time. Something else that is quantifiable yet not yet proven. I cling to it. Call me naive…but don’t we all believe in that? Furthermore, shouldn’t we?

So is there yet enough magic in me to recreate my world inside out…over and over…each moment, each day, each year?

And while one day I may find a beloved once again, right now I sit with what is.

Each day I sit,

to eat,
to pray,
to love those dear to me.
To cherish my mother and my dog, my friends both near and far.
To try not to focus on their eventual passing or the path my life has taken. But to look forward from a place of hope. It’s hard. It’s created in each breath.

This week, I’m on the mat every morning, swimming in the afternoon, eating out, having my skin and hair pampered, sleeping in the softest bed on the planet. I have three days left here in this nest. And I’m listening for the whispers of what used to be in me.

The priestess, the faerie, the lover.
The poet, the painter, the dancer.

Gravity is peeling back this skin to allow emerging new again..as before. But did I fly too close? Am I watching my faith fall into the sea, a tangle of wax and feather flotsam.

I’ve no idea.

It is what it is…or is it?

El Camino Real

21 Oct

?????????????

Have you ever been walking,

walking

so dry

in a desert of self-devotion,

wandering

in the hot morning,

under a sun

which lies like a searing ochre blanket,

a low sky of loneliness,

and wondered

how it rose to glare upon

your burnt parched heart,

still a purple veined heaving

beneath a tight

veneer of crust and air dried scar?

Have you ever sat

in a sunny spring café

watching,

watching the slow dancing love of youth

at a corner table

covered in white cloth and wine

wondering,

wondering how you slowly became

the widow of Desire,

bereaved of your limbs and legs

and the thrust of belly to bones

with an aching emptiness

between your thighs

like an open grave

awaiting the last pulsing gasp

of Passion?

Have you ever watched the door

of your beloved’s eye

close

behind a wooden stare,

locking the soul out of a space

into which you once reclined

like a sleeping child,

arms askance,

leg lifted to one side,

a little lovely dreaming Krishna

among stars of unconsciousness?

Or have you always found

a hungry smile,

a beautiful lip,

a curving side

to taste,

as if a tree from

the garden called Love

was ever dripping

outside your door,

twig-full of tender

wet globes

bruise ready under

thin skin,

their trembling sweetness

seconds from bursting

in an endless cycle

of ripening to

pluck,

devour,

belch,

begin again?

The wise ones say

one cannot know how sweet water can be

unless he has tasted the sand

of absence,

walked in dry drifts

through the desert of his longing

until his cracked mouth

has found her face

full of smiling tears,

ready to offer

the first sips

of Paradise.

Pilgrim,

carino mio,

the heavy cup

of my heart holds life

you have not earned

the tongue

to taste,

or the mouth,

to drink.

This blessed hell,

a camino real

you have not

yet the feet

to trod.

What Cannot End

5 Mar

Love is patient and kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. . .

— I Corinthians 4 -8

Nearly every weekend I go and allow. In learning to look for small things, the gift of a story comes to me. In return, I get an experience, an adventure.

Sometimes, small moments converge into a message, a lesson like a perfect tiny shell in plain view upon the sand as the moments on Ocracoke.

But this story isn’t just about a cafe au lait,
or a restaurant,
or a walk and a drive,
or a film.

It is about Love.

And how we may look into its face and know ourselves.

My never ending quest to find a café au lait as good as Ryan’s leads me to the Lamplighter Roasting Co., a small cafe tucked into a Carytown neighborhood in Richmond. This tiny place, reminds me of the boats on Silver Lake, flags flying from the mast on the roof. A heavy woody caramel smoke smell of ground espresso hits me like a door upon walking in and I order my usual…a red eye cafe au lait. The barista’s call rings out a few minutes later and I look down to see a perfectly formed heart in the froth of my coffee.

Sweetness in the Froth

Mornings on the road
spent  in burlap and sips of bitter black,
coffee air and steamer squeals,
poster windowed cafes,
I scribble notes in the spaces between the sips
from a paper cup.
I pause on a perfect heart.
Crowding in from the night into a worn book,
thoughts accumulate like stacked napkins

Post coffee, I walk to Selba, a lovely restaurant on Cary Street for brunch. The room opens into partitioned spaces of sleek modern blended into Edwardian conservatory, like a deck on a great ship liner. Soon, I am wonderfully tended by David, one of the bar men. He brings me a fresh hot plate of Crab Benedict, the sea scent of it drifting upward as I gaze down upon tiny micro greens adorning the tops of perfectly poached eggs, their leaflets bowed out in little green hearts.
20130224_104108

Perched atop my bar stool

like a spring jay among bare dogwood budded branches,

the piano player’s hands puts keys to motion

‘Sunday morning rain is falling. . .’

and I lay hand to lined paper, thoughts

on tiny heart sprouted eggs rich and hot…

I pause,

tilt my hand before

winging concrete streets,

past bright crayon colored doors. . .

A few more hours spent in Carytown yields doughnuts and cupcakes, and thoughts of those with whom to share them. Walking. I’m always walking; it strikes me that I have become the journey.

After an hour or two of shop wandering, the part I dislike the most arrives, the drive home. I’ll be back inside the concrete walls, locked doors and bells of my normal world of school and home, familiar all too soon. Leaving Richmond, I drive a different way, through Byrd Park toward a single bridge. Over the water and then down the street, winding to the left I see it, a sign in front of Westover Baptist.

Love Endures All

A third heart proclaims…love
bears, believes, hopes and endures all.
I stop the car . . .take the picture
like the random dreamsicle sunrise while
driving to school.
When I pause to see
the exact moment of dawn,
a small line moving me through the day
in quiet philosophy.

Bright sunshine made the air more crisp, more clear this Sunday on the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I click along the brick and stone courtyard toward the Paramount Theater, the last sweet dregs of a velvety headed cafe con leche in a paper cup. And even though the air bites my cheeks and fingertips, I throw my heart to the sun and let my hair blow into tangles in the playful wind. Black letters on the marquee read…The Princess Bride. Inside, at the Paramount, I move along the plush carpet, past gold gilt walls, among the couples and small children giggling, holding hands festooned in wool mittens and clutching popcorn buckets. Seated in velvet, the crystal and gold chandeliers dim, brushing light from the walls like the closing of a child’s eyelashes.

Twu Wuv

For the thousandth time,
familiar lines piece together
the worn scraps of love in my crazy quilted heart.
‘I will always come for you.
This is true love…do you think this happens everyday?”
My eyes dwell on

their nodding heads in the sunset,
a perfect heart.

“As you wish…”
the grandfather’s eyes squeeze my throat.
This story is about a gift,
about felt kindness,
about what is mirrored in the heart.

You cannot lock in the heart.
It will grow like the dawn until
it no longer fits
inside your chest…
and then you must walk inside it,
an arc rung around the sun
reflecting life inside out
outside in.

In me see you
…beloved…

Love
that cannot
end.

Chicken Fried and Unsanctified

1 Feb

Sunday morning in Roanoke, I ventured downtown in search of a coffee shop. We have Starbucks in Lynchburg, but I somehow feel it doesn’t qualify. Not that I dislike my local Starbucks. I visit it daily. Coffee is sacred to me. I’m a night person who has risen pre-dawn against her will for the last quarter century, ten months out of the year. They know me well.

Venti Bold

Monday through Wednesday, red eye

For the rest of the blurred week, black eye.

At my mom’s house its raspberry decaf? Right.

Sigh.

That morning was also about trying to find a little peacefulness once again. My mom cannot connect with me without verbal communication. It’s impossible for her to just be in the same room with me in silence. It drives me insane. I can’t think. And as a non morning person for ALL of my life, I wonder what kind of “eye” four shots of espresso to a cup is.

So, I trekked down to Mill Mountain Coffee as early as I could manage. Once again, I couldn’t find a “Ryan cafe au lait”. He is the king of the baristas and no one can touch him. If I want a proper cafe au lait, I’ll have to drive nine hours to Ocraocoke to get it. Believe me, I’ve contemplated the drive.

Ending up at Mill Mountain with high expectations was a mistake; the morning went south from there. While I am able to excuse the poor cafe au lait making, I really can’t tolerate abrasively loud screeching laughter among late teen-aged baristas. It was early,on a Sunday, and they were waaaaay too happy and loud. She had one of those laughs that just crawls down into a person’s ear like those creatures from the Wrath of Khan, the ones that drove the crew of the Enterprise into automatonic murderous rages. I stayed for an hour and then I just couldn’t take it any longer. I even threw away the poor excuse for a red eye cafe au lait without finishing it. Mistake one. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, in the grand scheme of things.

So I searched for a new coffee place and drove around downtown Roanoke for literally 45 minutes. Nothing. Not any sort of a comfortable spot with wifi and a decent cuppa joe. On the fly then, I decided to just go eat breakfast. I had seen Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles the night before with my mom and had attempted to look up the brunch menu on the Internet. When I found an empty page, that should have been my first clue to turn back…but I didn’t.

Sigh.

What occurred at Thelma’s has to be the most hilariously pathetic excuse for a brunch I have ever encountered. I almost don’t want to write about it, but because I care about my possible readership’s palates, pocketbooks, and their health I will venture on into the abyss that is Thelma’s.

Let me preface this soapbox review by saying I know that what modern Americans regularly ingest as “food” is in direct opposition to my definition of edible substance. But I grew up with a granny that could cook and I know what home style food is. Freshly made southern home cooking and that is definitely NOT what Thelma’s serves.

I entered the bar area and ordered “the largest coffee you can muster”. I’m sorry.When a customer says that to you, you find the largest cup the kitchen has even if it’s a bowl. He brings me a diner mug, ignoring the twice as large Irish glass coffee mug hanging behind him and nothing else. I had asked for cream and artificial sweetener. He plunks down two plastic cuplets of creamer and a sugar shaker.

Okay… Strike one.

I ask him for a menu. This brilliant lad responds with, “You wanna eat here?” Even though he probably questioned whether I truly wanted to eat at the bar, I should have taken him seriously.

“Um…yeah”, I say. “That’s why I’m here at a bar at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.”

So I gaze at the menu and everything includes waffles on the side. I just want waffles, maybe with some eggs but just waffles. What kind of a restaurant that has waffles in the name does not serve waffles unless it’s a side? They serve pancakes solo. Why not (eureka moment) waffles?

I had to order the country ham platter with waffle on the side. Apples, not hash browns came next and no toast nor a biscuit, just a waffle.

He says, “No substitutions …I’ll have to charge you extra for the waffle.”

“Okay”, I say. I start a slow boil as I think, just bring me a damn waffle.

After three cups of watery coffee, for which I had to ask for cream three times, I finally get a platter.

Eggs, check.

Why is there a biscuit? strike two.

Why are there hash browns instead of apples? ball one.

And what the heck is this, I think in horror as I spy something that looks like onion rings.

“Excuse me”, I ask. “What is this?”

“That’s ham”, he says like I’m an idiot. “That’s good ham.”

“What? “I say incredulously, “It’s breaded. Why is my country ham … breaded?”

From the look of irritation on his face, I could tell that my question was a completely foreign concept to his mind. Why wouldn’t country ham be chicken fried? Jeez, lady aren’t you from the south? That’s what his look said to me as he turned around and walked away.

Strike Three. I’m outta here.

I began to laugh because I wanted to cry. I have spent my entire life in Virginia. I know cuisine better than 95 % of most Americans and I can cook it as well and you are trying to tell me that Smithfield country ham is meant to be chicken fried like a Walmart tater?

Riiiiiiighhht…Okay mon garçon.

I sent the hash browns back for the apples I ordered.

“Here”, he says. “Just keep them; it was the kitchen’s mistake.”

“No, you don’t understand”, I say. “I’m not going to eat them. I didn’t order them so that means I don’t want to eat them.”

He glares at me. “Eh, suit yourself”, he says.

I left the pre-frozen Pillsbury/ Sam’s Club biscuit on my plate, too. The eggs were real, I think, and the waffle I did eat with the margarine on top. It was the same kind of waffle you’d make yourself at the Hampton Inn when the continental breakfast is included with the 60 dollar a night room. But then, I tried the chicken fried ham… shudder. I’ll not regale you with details.

I paid eleven dollars for a meal I didn’t eat and then asked to use the restroom. All that coffee. Another nightmare awaited me because someone had become sick the night before and it had not been dealt with. The other stall had no locking mechanism; it swung open freely. As I exited with full bladder, I greeted the girl coming in behind me.

“Good luck.”

The only thing that could save the day was walking, a lot of it. And trying not to lose my cool that I had spent money in a place that wasn’t worthy to call itself anything beyond a glorified Waffle House, which shockingly serves waffles as a main course. I mean, Cracker Barrel even does that though crackers aren’t on the menu. But, I walked downtown Roanoke and took plenty of pictures, and went into the newly renovated market building. Next time I will go to Firefly Fare. Locally sourced, freshly made, hot and real, it was where I ought to have gone all along.

So you may say, Well, home cooking is like that Cyndi. What did you expect?

I’ll tell you what I expected. I expected something like my granny’s gently fried country ham with red eye gravy nestled beside two scrambled eggs cooked in the same pan as the ham. Then, a Belgian waffle (made with egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry and folded into the batter) lightly laced with syrup and cinnamon. It doesn’t have to be real maple but the kind that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient. I even may have expected an angel biscuit like Granny’s with damson or cherry preserves, that little bit of summer in a jar. Alongside it should be a coffee; even the kind Granny used a percolator to make would have done fine. Strong, clear and brisk with cream. That is what I expected. And although the morning did not give me the gift of a great coffee and stunning brunch, it did give me a memory of my granny’s hands, her blue rose apron, her warm kitchen and comforting table, and a memory of what home cooking ought to be. Maybe next time, I’ll just go to Granny’s and make her coffee and breakfast instead.

Inside the Light

13 Jan

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For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.  ― E.E. Cummings

On my walking tour of Carytown yesterday, Maureen took us by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. As I rounded the corner into the sculpture garden, brilliant cardinal red glass spires, giant slashes against the grey stone building, shot their color upward from the spiky green grass lagoon in front of the museum cafe. It was as if all the color in the landscape had leaked whatever tiny bit of red it might own into those long bloody cat tails piercing the courtyard air. So, this is Chihuly, I thought. Yes, now I remember the glass sculpture of his at the MFA in Boston, that enormous lime green glass tree that literally took my breath away. At that moment I knew I needed to come back today to see the exhibit, even if there was a fee to view.

How can I describe stepping into a darkened cave only to be instantly dazzled by an oceanic outer space world of twisted, ribbed, iridized and marbled glass? Colors so candy-like in their richness, pigments so piercingly pure that the wild assortment of them resembles a pile of enormous penny sweets. The first display, two boats, one filled with various sizes of miniature glass globe planets brought to mind a metaphor: the universe as a ship carrying multiple worlds, souls upon souls, all unique yet common in their fragility. The second ship sprouted tentacles and hotly colored sinuous arms in a wild array of movement. Both skiffs set afloat on a great dark sea of the universe, an outer space garden joined in light and motion against the soft black of emptiness.

I felt swimmy……the light of the Persian ceiling rested on my shoulders like a soft mantle as I walked under  clouds of seaweed and twisted creatures in a surreal invertebrate universe. Amorphous hollow half globes glowed palely in the adjacent room, their sides undulating in opalescent white like moonlit cacti in a winter desert. Following the landscape into the next room, coral bowls radiant with interior color, seemed to almost breathe as their edges spread against the black air. That glowing, captured within the glass itself, gave the inanimate very real energy and life.

Entering the main hall, the union of turquoise, bronze, gold, black, white, amber, and lime green iridescent hushed the room in tranquility. In an oxygen aquarium, I circled the centerpiece like a koi in a pond, hovering here or there to catch a glimpse of shadow within the sparkles of light.

As I sat on a bench to the side, a subtle bittersweet thoughtfulness fell over me. I began to think about a conversation that I had held with a friend of mine the night before. We had been talking about travel experiences, those that had really transformed us. He told me about having had the opportunity to go to the Amazon rain forest to film indigenous tribes there and the amazing lessons their stories, culture, and the landscape had shown him. But there was a moment where he paused and I could see something that seemed hard to express appear in his memory. He said,

How do you still own a moment when the person you shared it with goes away? How can I hold on to an experience, so amazing and yet, not feel the pain of losing the person who shared it with me?

This splendor of glass and light brings to my mind an understanding from his question. Beauty and fragility are sometimes one in the same. The purest moments are sometimes those which can be broken most easily and so we should take care to protect them. I often think perhaps  we should just remember the moment only, forgetting the before and the after. For only in the moment is the purest truth and nothing can change its capture. Like these bent and twisted, but unique fragile sculptures, the moment of beauty and truth is caught when the heat begins to subside. It hardens around the moment of passion that made it, almost stopping it in time like a beloved memory. None of the beauty is lost inside of it. It’s only the reflection against the past, against the future, which can evoke the pain of loss. In a way, maybe we should learn to be inside the light of memory, love it, and then leave the joy of it there to go back to rather than trying to drag it with us to pale against the present.

For when we drag out the joy, we lessen its brilliance. We spiderweb crack the moment by making it larger than it was and eventually what we’ve accidentally made in passion and inspiration, like hot blown glass, we destroy instead of keeping as a beautiful manifestation of the light of life. I often feel so sad about the way we handle each other’s fragile hearts. Over time, with repeated cracking and careless handling, placing it upon a shelf seems the only way to keep it whole. But my granny used to think that you should use your best glassware and china, because it showed people you loved them everyday, not just on special occasions. And if something broke well, you remembered the use that broke it and that might make you feel better. And of course in the memory, it’s there unbroken …forever.

In Prospect of a Tiny Treat

12 Jan

I’m just going to put it on out there. I’m in love with Carytown, that amazing stretch of quirk in Richmond that extends for blocks to the west of city central. I love its jumbled blend of bistro, bookstore, coffee shop, thrift store, restaurant, theater, bicycle shop, tattoo studio, lingerie store, perfumerie, diner. Each little façade is unique and reflective of its wares.  It reminds me of the time before malls, the few slight memories I have of when shopping was accomplished from store to store connected by sidewalk in fresh air, sans piped in music and sunglass kiosks. Here in Lynchburg, well, take a look at Wyndhurst. Sigh. Can you say shiny package of factory façade cookie cutter boxes? Carytown’s colors and smells take me back to NYC, only in miniature. For someone who isn’t quite ready for a solo exploration of CITY, it’s the perfect size. Relatively easy navigation, public parking, and incredible variety make it a perfect spot for experiencing all sorts of items, cuisine, and interesting people.

This afternoon, I took a walking tour with Maureen Egan of Real Richmond Food Tours, two and a half hours of exploration into some of the variety of food on the palette of the Carytown scene.  We visited several bistros, bakeries, a butcher, and then traipsed over to the VMFA sculpture garden, accidentally running into the director of the VMFA, Alex Nyerges. Even in his jogging clothes, he stopped to chat with our small group and welcome us to Richmond, inviting us to visit the VMFA. That is a mark of a dedicated community servant, at least in my book.

All the places to which Maureen introduced us were unique and interesting, but Dixie Donuts and Carytown Cupcakes caught my heart right away. Specialty shops that play grownup with childhood comfort food are the epitome of creativity to me. Something simple and well loved is transformed into something amazingly unique and most times incredibly delicious. I remember as a child loving certain foods, and taking great pleasure in them, dishes my granny made that still mean “home” to me like angel biscuits, baked macaroni and cheese, jets (peanut butter balls coated in chocolate), and iced boiled custard. As adults, sometimes we barely remember how to relish food like children, unless we are fortunate enough to have them in our lives to re-teach us the abandon that comes with enjoying simple food.

Dixie Donuts is a 50’s retro gourmet bakery featuring some of the most unusual donuts I’ve ever seen. Maureen told us the owners took their concept from Federal Donuts in Philadelphia. They plan to stretch the menu out to Korean Chicken and frites, but honestly, after I saw the sheer variety they offer, I was impressed with just the single focus.  Upon entering we met the manager, Carol, resembling a vintage 50’s model in her kerchief and carmine lipstick.  The décor is right out of an old diner in theme with jadeite on the coffee counter and Atomic wallpaper. The donuts are baked fresh daily and aside from the regular vanilla chocolate iced, double chocolate iced, and sprinkle variety they feature donuts like: French Toast,  Butterscotch, Dulche de Leche, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Oreo, Aztec (chocolate chipotle cinnamon with candied pepitas), Maple Coffee, Samosa, and The Virginian (sweet potato with praline pecans). There was even a “Chihuly” in honor of the Chihuly art exhibit at the VMFA covered in glassy candy bits. I chose a Rockin Moroccan, a chocolate spice donut dusted with cinnamon powdered sugar, pistachio, and a yogurt raisin plopped into its dimpled center.  Peppery spice in the chocolate balanced its richness, but the donut itself was light, slightly crispy on the exterior and not terribly sweet the way most donuts and other bakery treats are in our sugar saturated culture.

Similarly, our visit to Carytown Cupcakes reflected the same philosophy of bake fresh daily and keep it simple, but creative. Those who know me can attest to my obsession with cupcakes. The three edible substances I will not live without are coffee (daily), wine (in moderation), and a cupcake (whenever “treat” is needed). Carytown Cupcakes is in a word adorable. . .it’s total pink Victorian valentine meets Barbie Dream house in its décor. The cupcakery’s expansive display case draws the eye to dozens of little rows of perfectly iced treasures, but the large plate glass window in the back allows patrons to actually watch the baking. Our group was invited toward the long counter to sample as many bites of the daily offerings as we desired. This is where the creativity takes off.

Remember those birthday party cupcakes we all had as kids? The blue iced, box flavored muffins we all thought were outrageously good? Carytown Cupcakes come in flavors I had never even contemplated: chocolate with salted caramel icing, s’mores, red velvet, raspberry lemon custard, Nutella, cranberry pistachio, snicker doodle, hummingbird with cream cheese icing, tiramisu, toffee chocolate, as well as the more simplistic devil’s food with vanilla buttercream. Some were topped with nuts, m&m’s, and even gummi worms. But the true stars were the apple filled, decorated to look like an apple top with yellow or red sprinkles and then the gluten free and vegan varieties which I had never experienced before.

The star of my show? Vegan Lavender Vanilla.  From the moment I put that bite in my mouth I was in complete curious rapture. The lavender is subtle, but enough to waft up into the nose when it’s eaten, like my great Aunt Gladys’ rum cake did when I was a child. The blend of scent and flavor is so different, so unexpected that it actually made me exclaim out loud, (eyes roll back in head, turn to the lady next to me) “Oh….my…god….you have GOT to try this.” And then I promptly took two more samples to study the flavor. Too much lavender and it would be like eating soap, not enough and it’s a slightly lavender colored vanilla cupcake. Upon first bite the lavender fresh edge goes right up the inside of the nose, from the throat up, and then the vanilla edge with a slight herbal touch on the tongue follows. The cake sweetness is buttery, not sugary and so it reminds me a tiny bit of a grainy Portuguese sweet bread in flavor, moist cornbread in texture. The icing isn’t overwhelming at all, that’s the real sweet hit. The balance is beautiful. And the sprig of fresh lavender on top, a nice visual touch. The cupcake clerk chatted with me a bit about it and she let me know they make a whole herbal line of cupcakes, some with lemon verbena, some with orange and rose water. I told her, “You should create a Turkish Delight.” Wouldn’t we Narnians love that?

Having these small treats brought to mind the way in which a tiny fancy sweet can brighten a dull day. Food culture seems to have forgotten that sometimes a little bit goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be enormous and gooey, like some of the desserts I see carried out in virtual troughs at chain restaurants. Sheer overload takes away the specialness of it. It’s a treat. That word means special, occasional, momentary joyfulness. That’s something I am learning a lot about these days, to enjoy the sweet spots of joy and to remember them in the dips and pauses. It must seem silly to contemplate a cupcake, but kids do it. Watch children that aren’t fed sweets as a regular rule. That perfect little stack of cake and fluffy sweet top will yield three to five minutes of sensory elation. It’s the joy of living in their faces. Next time I have a cupcake or a donut, I’ll be more mindful of that. Shouldn’t we all?

A Pilgrimage

23 Dec

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“If we walk far enough,” says Dorothy, “we shall sometime come to someplace” –Wizard of Oz

After a morning conversation with Mom about Granny’s flagging memory, this awful feeling has to change. Why is this huge and exciting place disturbing the small peace I had gained in Ocracoke?

Brunch was in order and after fussing about which to choose, I walked down the block to Birch and Barley. Marching in with a sunny smile at 10:45, I asked to eat at the bar. They acquiesced, but told me, “We don’t open until 11. You’ll need to wait outside.” In the cold? Seriously? Uh….no. Turning up 14th street, I took a left on the next block and found a small restaurant called Logan’s Tavern. The moment I walked in I knew, this is it. I feel happy.

The energy there was amazing, and the staff wonderful. I popped up to the bar and ordered a coffee and noticed the small sign which told me most everything on the menu comes from from local sources. Then, I spied a collection of gargoyles on the top of the bar. Yep, I’m in the right place. The bartender was so nice and the atmosphere simply sunny. It’s a place I could sit in for hours and not tire. Mornings ought to be comfortable in the sun, like a cat on the windowsill in winter sunshine. The hostess was quite friendly and she chatted with me while the day was just beginning. They all milled about mixing their tasks with friendship in great balance. The connections between them showed; that’s bound to spill over into service, I think. They chatted with me enough to make me feel welcome, but not too much to disturb my writing. I like a place like that. They all become part of my story. My french toast was so amazing I forgot to take a picture of it, but it was sprinkled with pecans and came with a massive load of eggs and a sweet peppery side of bacon. I had ordered only one egg, but I think it was almost four. I couldn’t eat it all, but it was altogether perfect.

After that tremendous breakfast, I walked all the way to the National Mall and then, around the tidal basin. It’s funny. I’ve lived here all my life and never really seen the monuments. So with camera and contemplation, I walked, and walked, and walked some more. This part of my journey has been like a pilgrimage, walking and letting go. Trying to be in the moment. Snapping picture upon picture, I continued. I tried to see each one as if for the first time on some grand European tour.

Each phrase gave me a reflection as if I actually was on pilgrimage.

Out of a Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope

Darkness cannot drive out Darkness, only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out Hate, only Love can do that

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

With every stride, through every winding way, I was moved around inside my own thoughts, and it brought to mind a poem I teach, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. I thought back to the gravestones I have come to love on Ocracoke and this idea of why we raise them in memory of someone, to honor their part in the human story.

Yet e’en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

We all want to be remembered, to make our mark upon humanity in some small way. It seems at times the only way to immortality is through memory.

I ended up by the Smithsonian Castle at the end of this long walk, and I found a seed there that I need to water and grow. I’d never been into Smithsonian Castle before and through a fascinating exhibit on the civil war in Washington DC, I found a most interesting and handsome fellow: Robert Kennicott, a naturalist for the Smithsonian who died at 31. Something about his photo really captured my attention. I want to know more about him, his work, and the Megatherium Club, the group of men who lived in the Smithsonian Castle during four years of the Civil War.

This is someone hardly anyone has written about and he’s a mysterious fellow to be sure, and dashingly handsome, at least to me. As I took a cafe’ au lait and cake break at the castle, I began to allow my curiosity to fill me. My last stop of the day was the Natural History Museum, for one of the only books written about Kennicott was supposed to be sold there. I met a lovely gentleman who told me the book was sold out, but that I’d really need to go to the Chicago Institute of Science. That is where his papers are and more. Guess where I’ll be going in 2013?

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Not in Kansas

22 Dec

What is the sea without the sand

What is the sky without blue

What is the song without the words

What is the world without you.   — Clothilde Arias

Today, I toured the Museum of American History, mainly to see one thing: Dorothy’s shoes. And as I rounded the corner and saw them, I became overwhelmed with the enormity this journey. I’m just at the beginning.

Dear Universe, how can I ever walk this road?

I knelt beside those shoes and it took all the strength in my body not to sob. There they were. The shoes from the most hopeful journey I know, a metaphor for my entire walk from last year to now. It felt as if I was kneeling at a shrine and presenting my pain and grief in front of some sort of relic, a holy object that might somehow erase this grief over a life that has bloomed into a flower I never desired to grow. Behind them, was Kermit the frog, and from the minute his eyes met mine, words from childhood appeared.

Its not easy being green, to spend each day the color of the leaves.

The sadness was overwhelming. I actually had to go to the bathroom and get myself together so as not to make a total mess of myself in public. This went beyond being touched by something; this is a wound that’s leaking an absolute mess.

And I think I know why. Here, I feel so isolated and that is most ironic. In Ocracoke, I felt alone at first, but then comforted and connected. Literally, there was no one around, but I felt safe. Hurt, but safe. Here, there are people everywhere, a million things to do, to taste, to see, to photograph, to experience and all I want is my cottage on Fig Tree Lane and Zillie’s in the afternoon, the ease of a small world. I want to go home. Totally disconnected, I feel completely lonely in the midst of the million or so souls walking these streets. This morning, I saw a man crouch down and hug, cuddle, and then kiss his dog’s head on the street corner and it sent me into a stream of tears. Everything here is fabulous, exciting, beautiful, enticing, and all I want is Clarence, my cottage, and talks with Annie.

I may have left too soon. I may not ever be the same. I have to muster the energy to go to Sax Club tonight. I’ve already paid for it. If I just let go, it will be okay. The night will be a good experience and I’ll be glad I went. That new confident snazzy Cyndi? She left before Ocracoke and never came back. Someone else is here now and although she needs to be freed as well, I don’t like her much. People can sense her depression like a wiff of sour milk.

 

I went to the Willard today and passed up an experience. Tea at the Willard is booked for months, but they had a small spot for me. I should have stayed despite the $42 dollar fee. It’s a once in a lifetime chance, but I couldn’t enjoy it or give it the focus it needed. I wasn’t happy enough. Mom should be here with me. Today, she made jam with Granny and that’s where I should have been, but I just can’t. I can’t be in that world of pretending everything is alright.

It’s not alright.

I went round the corner  and had cafe au lait and tart at Cafe du Parc, where I’d rather go to dinner tonight instead of Sax. If there was a way out of it, I’d cancel the reservation and go back with friends sometime. I thought I could do this alone. It’s actually the main bucket list event of the weekend. I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try.

What comes will come.

The Way Home

19 Dec

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This morning, my last morning here, the sun was shining through the windows and Clarence was snuggled into my side. I reflected on my discussion with Kenny last night. From my time here, not only have I come to understand my own story more but I have really come to love and be interested in hearing other people’s stories, their experiences in living. Coming to know others through connecting just as Mr. Rogers did, has me more a listener than a lecturer. I have wanted to relinquish leader role for a long while. Its time for someone else to direct. But I suppose I’ve always loved stories; after all that’s the primary addiction of a writer and lover of words. The way in which I have experienced connection this week through my own story and the story of others is somehow different though, more real, more intimate, more important than fiction. I’d like to be a collector of memories. Memories teach me.

On my way to the coffee shop, I stopped by M’Lady, the great live oak on Howard, to say goodbye. As I touched her side I wondered for probably the hundreth time, how many people has she seen and heard? How many stories of this place does she know? How many hellos and goodbyes?

So, I sit now in the coffee shop for the last time. Ryan isn’t working this morning, so I only have a red eye.  I’ll miss his country music jams and I don’t really know if I’ll ever be able to find a cafe au lait like his, but I am going to try. Last night I went to Zillie’s for the last time, too. That’s a place I need to love in small doses. I’d end up frequenting daily for the company and I’d never want it to grow old, besides I need to really start watching my wallet. I’m still trying to process all that I have come to know this week, with more experience to come in D.C. this weekend.

This time away has given me so much. I can’t really explain but I am different now, as if my eyes have been opened and cannot be shut. And for gifts, one needs a tremendous amount of thankfulness. It will be hard to leave today, to leave home. That’s what it feels like I am doing. Staying at my little cottage was almost like staying in the little house on Church Street again. Waking up this morning felt like it used to way back then; its smallness comforts me and sitting at the kitchen table writing is like being in Granny’s kitchen on Vermont Ave. Marcus told me that he grew up in that house with his “Granny Ma”, when I told him where I was staying. “Aw, that’s Granny Ma Thomas’ house. I grew up on that porch.” So it doesn’t surprise me that I feel so comforted there. After these days, it truly feels like “my home”.

Yesterday, I took my last really long walk around the island and wandered in the community graveyard. I had never been there before to visit these “younger” folk. I stood in the center for a moment, amid the cedars, oak, and moss in the drizzle and listened to the rain and quiet and as I turned, a message on the back of one of the gravestones brought me to tears:

Sometime when the rain keeps falling
And the road is mighty rough
And you just can’t help a thinking
That this life is mighty tough
Just you smile and keep a looking
And what I’m telling you is true
Somewhere peeping through the rain clouds
There’s a little patch of blue
Sure you’ve had a heap of trouble
And I’ve had some trouble too
But we’ll find if we keep smiling
That little patch of blue
–Mrs. F.D. Hendricks

Even in death, these simple folk teach me because they help me to live. Later as I walked more, I actually got lost. It was so funny. I was lost on an island that one can walk from side to side in a matter of minutes, but winding way lead to way and then I didn’t know where I was. When I finally emerged, I was near Eduardo’s Taco Stand and after having met Eduardo at Zillie’s Sunday night and hearing his story, I knew getting lost happened for a reason. I needed to go have lunch there.  Eduardo was a cook at a local place for many years, but he had a dream: to own his own Mexican restaurant here on the island. And so, he bought a food truck and created one. He made me his specialties because I just told him to pick for me. Those were the best tacos I have ever had, and even more special because they were made with care for me by a new friend whose story I now carry. And in the sharing whatever I thought I lost, I found a little of again.

Connection is the gift of the Universe. Principle Two.

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