Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My body has resorted to odd ways to try to get me to wake up and not miss this time of solitude.  Last week, on a morning when my alarm was accidentally not set, I actually heard an alarm in my head.  And it kept going off.  Over and over.  I finally realized that there was no real alarm but that my brain had created a short little song to wake me up.  How sweet.

This morning I had purposely set my alarm a little later because this is my exercise "off" morning.  At around 5:00, when my alarm is normally going off, I was having this dream that we were in Indonesia for a reality show.  We were not going to be in the reality show--I have no idea why we were there.  The six people actually participating in the show were all coming to Indonesia because the country had some tie to their past.  They were American, and were, in fact, gray and overweight and 60-ish.  The women participating had tightly permed hair.  The men were bald.  I happened to know, from watching the previews for the show, that two of these people would die, presumably of natural causes, and one would be murdered, presumably by another reality show contestant.  How I had managed to watch the previews of a show that I was actually living out in my dream is just one of those things you can know in a dream that you can't know in real life.  We made it to our destination, and while Amélie and Jack were settling themselves into their room I heard Amélie cry out with a horrific, blood-chilling scream.  I rushed to her room, but frankly I wasn't too worried, because I figured this was the part where someone must have gotten murdered, and I guessed that the body had been stuffed in her closet.  Alas, this was not the case.  Another little girl was hiding behind the clothes in her closet, and all Amélie could see was that her clothes were moving but could not see why.  I reassured her.  But that scream, though..........
That woke me up.  My heart was beating fast.  My legs were twitching.  My palms were sweaty.  I cursed my creative internal alarm clock and willed myself back to sleep, but it was too late.  I did, however, stubbornly lie there in bed until the phone alarm went off at 5:30.

This is the closest picture I could find that was like the raft in my dream, only there were no bikes on the raft (and the occupants in my dream were not quite this fit, either). 

Anyway, I tell you that dream because I thought it was funny, but also because I feel like my soul is going to creative lengths to get me out of bed to spend time in solitude.  I have had enough days with solitude and a smattering of days without to note a significant difference in how I feel when I have time alone and when I do not.  When I do not have time alone I am cranky, disorganized, and absolutely exhausted.  My day has no rhythm.  My body feels like my bones have been weighted with lead.  Despair seeps into the leaky places in my soul.  Solitude, I think, is necessary for my survival.    It is my soul's food, its drink. 

Tomorrow morning my alarm will be set once again to 5:00, so hopefully I won't find myself at 4:50 on a raft with reality show participants, because really...that was just kind of weird. 

Friday, August 24, 2012


It's August 24th, and I feel like my month of solitude is ending too soon.  I had this romantic idea, I suppose, of wandering quietly through the lovely labyrinth of solitude.  I created a fantasy of solitude that was ethereal and elegant.  I think that in my silly little head I was wearing a 19th century gown and going on a little walk through the trees to sit on a patch of grass and read poetry or gaze meaningfully into a reflective pond at my feet. 

Reality is a bit more jarring and much less romantic.

It is 6:10 in the morning as I sit here at my dining room table.  I am gulping my coffee out of a brown mug.  My hair is a mess.  I am wearing an old pink t-shirt and Nike running shorts from high school.  I pretend I am alone, but my little white dog is sitting at my feet whining, with a shameful cone around her head and a leg both broken and sporting a gaping, raw wound.  There is no patch of grass upon which to sit, no poetry book beside me, no reflective pond at my feet, and certainly no lovely gown.  I am alone, yes, but I feel ugly and bleary-eyed-tired and slightly disillusioned. 

Yet, I soldier on through my shattered fantasy castle-in-the-sky.  I have managed to squeeze in solitude most days, but I have had to settle with the idea that I can sequester myself away just thirty minutes in the morning before everyone wakes up.  I long for the whole hour, but that would mean a either giving up exercise or a 4:45 alarm, and I am not sure that even solitude is worth that early of a morning.  The thirty minutes that I settle my soul into, while not perfect, is healing.

I feel like I am finally coming to a place in my life where I am allowing myself to nurture myself for myself as I am, not as I think I should be.  This month I read the books Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place  in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh.  I resonated with these books in a very deep and stirring way.  I worried that reading these books would pigeonhole me with a label--introvert--and then the weight that the word carries.  Instead, I feel like a little bird who has been set free to be myself.  I love people--I do.  While sometimes I fling out an extroverted persona that exhausts me, I do love the intimacy that is woven in the threads of connecting and listening and sharing.  However, I cannot connect and listen and share unless I have recharged alone.  It doesn't really make sense to me.  Many times it is incredibly frustrating to me.  But that's who I am.  Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that I carve that time to myself.  Alone.  And I struggle against it.  I fight it.  I actually find that I thrust myself, on crazy purpose, into situations that tap out every ounce of energy.  But I have been doing this less, lately, and so the seamstress of my soul has had a little more time to perch on her stool and sew me up a bit.  I find myself more present, less impatient, calmer.  I note and enjoy the world around me while I walk Jack to school.  I hold Amélie's hand and walk slower, without purpose, while the two of us walk back home.  I bury my nose into Jack's sweet head and just breathe when he sleepily curves himself into my lap.  I taste the coffee I am sipping.  I hear the baby cardinals chirping outside of Jack's window.  I soak in the pink-stained morning sky and smell the faint promise of rain. 

The truth is--I'm a mess.  But I am trying to create around me and within me and through me a beautiful mess, and I can only do that if I sit before the easel of my soul, dip my brush into the soft colors of solitude, and paint. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

This week, in which Jack starts kindergarten, Amélie starts 4th grade, and my coffee consumption increases by astronomical proportions.

My Jack Jack started kindergarten.

He's such a big boy.

My Amélie Grace started 4th grade. 

They are growing up so fast....

As I wrote on my Facebook page, "Somehow my heart managed both to shatter in itty bitty pieces of sadness and to burst with love and pride."
I am back to waking up at 5:00 (or, more honestly, hitting snooze until 5:15). 

I workout.
Make coffee.

Say the morning’s liturgy.
Drink coffee.

Spend some time alone journaling or reading or blogging or just sitting on my front porch (drinking coffee) and watching and listening to the world wake up. 
Wake children up.

Get ready for school.
Walk to school.

Walk home.
Start school with Amélie. 

Continue coffee comsumption.
Try to fit in as many subjects as possible while Jack is in kindergarten. 

This year, by the way, Amélie and I are studying
Poetry (This week’s poem was Emily Dickinson’s “She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms”)
Grammar (using Michael Clay Thompson’s curriculum)
Shakespeare (in a week or two we will start reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Science (Astronomy)
Math (Life of Fred)
Nature Study
World History (Medieval)
American History (Civil War)
Picture Study (Medieval and Civil War art)
Music Study (Medieval sacred and folk music, Civil War songs)

Did I miss something?  We don’t do all of these subjects every day, but still…
My voice gets tired.
My spirit lags.
My brain aches.

I am spent. 
More coffee consumption.

I am exhausted.
More coffee consumption.

I feel like I could sleep for weeks.

More coffee consumption.

I will get used to this new schedule.  I always end up learning how to cope.  But until then, if you need me, you will probably find me sitting on my porch with sleepy eyes, most likely with a book of medieval British history in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

thoughts on a solitude that perhaps isn't truly solitude

I don't know if you have noticed this or not, but I have not really chronicled here about my experience the past ten days with solitude.  I have shared words from others, and I have scribbled words to myself in my journal, but when I perch myself before my computer to tap out my thoughts, nothing comes to fill the terrifying white space space before me. 

I sit here on my porch on this cool morning with a blanket tucked up under me and a cup of coffee in an earthy green mug beside me and a little white dog perched on my lap.

And I fear that I have nothing to say to you.

My fear partly stems from squirming in the uncomfortable space of belief that I am doing this solitude thing all wrong.

You might reassure me that as long as I am spending time alone, I can't be doing it wrong.

But I am not so sure.

I have spent my moments in solitude, yes, but I am never really alone.  This early morning, for example, there is a tug within me to shut my laptop, lean against the back of the couch on my enclosed porch, wrap my chilly fingers around my warm mug of coffee, and watch the world wake up.  I could do this.  Matt is gone to work.  It is 6:30 in the morning and my two children are still asleep.  The crickets are chirping their early morning song.  The trees are waking up against the backdrop of a sleepy, watery blue morning sky.  No one needs me right now to pour a cup of ice water or kiss a bonked head or soothe an injured heart.  I could stop clicking keys, snap my laptop shut.  And just be.

Yet I resist. 

I have been resisting.

Instead of just being, in my moments of solitude I have filled the space with words.  They are good words.  I have lingered over beautiful sentences, puzzled over confusing thoughts, and penciled in my own meandering ruminations.  I literally have seven pounds of alphabetically-listed words sitting right beside me, just in case I don't know what a word means or my own words don't capture my thoughts just right. 

Technically, I am spending those hours in solitude.  But is it really solitude? 

If I sneak down to the basement with a spoon and fill my stomach with the strawberry ice cream in our deep freeze, does that mean I am not eating just because I am consuming it alone?
Likewise, if I spend my hour of alone-time in the morning hungrily filling the empty space inside of me with words, am I truly in a space of solitude just because I am ingesting those words alone? 

I don't know.
I feel the call to sit and simply be.
I answer that call by opening a book and shaking out its words into that terrifying, empty space. 
It doesn't feel quite right.

I have 25 minutes left of solitude this morning.
Perhaps I will be courageous enough to close the lid of my laptop, pour myself another cup of coffee, and just be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Words Lifted from Terry Tempest Williams' _When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice_

Yet again, I am writing a post with words that are not my own.  I promise that my blog has not become a blog of quotes rather than my own thoughts.  However, some words just must be remembered, and as the Thomas Merton words and, today, the words from Terry Tempest Williams are from library books (i.e., I can't write in them), they must be recorded.  Today's quotes from Terry Tempest Williams are lifted from her book When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.  I am fairly certain that I am going to have to buy this lyrical and haunting book for myself.  I have been adding to this post for a few days, never quite knowing if I will post them for others to read or keep these words to myself.  This morning, though, as I finished the book with tears dripping onto the pages of this book that is not even my own, I realized I had to share them.  You can decide whether or not to read them.  Honestly, I would encourage you not to read these words lifted out of context here on my blog, but to read them nestled inside the poetry of the book itself.  But if you want a taste of the beauty of her words, here are some to enjoy:

Actually, I lied.  First, here are some words from Tillie Olsen that she quotes:  :)

"Literary history and the present are dark with silences . . . I have had special need to learn all I could of this over the years, myself so nearly remaining mute and having to let writing die over and over again in me.  These are not natural silences--what Keats called agonie ennuyeuse (the tedious agony)--that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, in the natural cycle of creation.  The silences I speak of here are unnatural: the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot" (18).

And now the words of Williams:

"When silence is a choice, it is an unnerving presence.  When silence is imposed, it is censorship" (25). 

"Beauty and bravery meet--within the chambers of a quivering heart" (37).

"I fear silence because it leads me to myself, a self I may not wish to confront.  It asks that I listen.  And in listening, I am taken to an unknown place.  Silence leaves me alone in a place of feeling.  It is not necessarily a place of comfort" (57). 

"Silence introduced in a society that worships noise is like the moon exposing the night.  Behind darkness is our fear.  Within silence our voice dwells.  What is required from both is that we be still.  We focus.  We listen.  We see and we hear.  The unexpected emerges" (58).

"Finding one's voice is a process of finding one's passion" (80).

"Perfection is a flaw disguised as control" (89).

Discussing her powerful reaction after seeing L'Origine du monde by Gustave Courbet at the Musée d'Orsay:
"We come into the world through women, a woman who is spent, broken open, in awe.  No wonder women have been feared and worshipped ever since man first saw the crowning of a human head here, legs spread, a brushstroke of light.
"We are Fire.  We are Water.  We are Earth.  We are Air.
"We are all things elemental" (91).

"When we don't listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls.  And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don't, others will abandon us.  We've been raised to question what we know, to discount and discredit the authority of our gut.
"I want to know why.  I regret whenever I abandon myself.  But harboring regrets is making love to the past, and there is no movement here.  It's not the lips of a prince that will save us, but our own lips speaking. 
"I am breaking beyond my own conditioning, breaking set with what was breaking me" (114-15). 

"The courage to continue before the face of despair is the recognition that in those eyes of darkness we find our own night vision" (119).

"We borrow.  We steal.  We purchase what we need and buy what we don't.  We acquire things, people, places, all in the process of losing ourselves.  Busyness if the religion of distraction.  I cannot talk to you, because I have too much to do.
"I cannot do what I want, because I am doing what I must.  Must I forever walk away from what is real and true and hard" (154-55)?

"'How is your shadow--your honorable shadow?' This was a customary greeting between friends in Japan, a recognition that what we reject is as important as what we embrace.
I walk with my shadow behind me, sometimes ahead, and often to the side.  It is my capricious companion: visible, then hidden, amorphous.  A shadow is never created in darkness.  It is born of light.  We can be blind to it and blinded by it.  Our shadow asks us to look at what we don't want to see.  If we refuse to face our shadow, it will project itself on someone else so we have no choice but to engage" (174). 

"I am a woman wedded to words.  Words cast a shadow.  Without a shadow there is no depth.  Without a shadow there is no substance.  If we have no shadow, it means we are invisible.
"As long as I have a shadow, I am alive" (189). 

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in.  I want to survive my life without becoming numb.  I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars" (204).

"Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy.  The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated" (205).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Morning Thoughts from Thomas Merton

I started to write these quotes in my journal but it was taking too long, so I decided to copy them here.  I copied them really more for me, since I am guessing not too many people want to read a string of quotes.  However, if you are into string-of-quote reading, these are some beautiful and moving quotes to read. 

From Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

The desert is the home of despair.  And despair, now, is everywhere.  Let us not think that our interior solitude consists in the acceptance of defeat. We cannot escape anything by consenting tacitly to be defeated.  Despair is an abyss without bottom.  Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented. 
This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent.  To trample it down under hope in the Cross.  To wage war against despair unceasingly.  That war is our wilderness.  If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side.  If we cannot face it, we will never find Him (8).

It would be absurd to suppose that because emotion sometimes interferes with reason, that it therefore has no place in the spiritual life.  Christianity is not stoicism.  The Cross does not sanctify us by destroying human feeling.  Detachment is not insensibility.  Too many ascetics fail to become great saints precisely because their rules and ascetic practices have merely deadened their humanity instead of setting it free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace (12).

Living is not thinking.  Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new.  Thus life is always new (17). 

Without courage we can never attain true simplicity.  Cowardice keeps us "double-minded"--hesitating between the world and God.  In this hesitation, there is not true faith--faith remains an opinion.  We are never certain, because we never quite give into the authority of an invisible God.  This hesitation is the death of hope.  We never let go of those visible supports which, we well know, must one day surely fail us.  And this hesitation  makes true prayer impossible--it never quite dares to ask for anything, or if it asks, it is so uncertain of being heard that in the very act of asking, it surreptitiously seeks by human prudence to construct a make-shift answer (cf James 1:5-8).
What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer (24)? 

There is no neutrality between gratitude and ingratitude.  Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.  Those who do not love, hate.  In the spiritual life there is no such thing as an indifference to love or hate.  That is why tepidity (which seems to be indifferent) is so detestable.  It is hate disguised as love (32).

Gratitude [...] is more than a mental exercise, more than  formula of words.  We cannot be satisfied to make a mental note of things which God has done for us and then perfunctorily thank Him for favors received.
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us--and He has given us everything.  Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God.  For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience.  And that is what makes all the difference (33).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thoughts on a month of seeking solitude (upon which I lose any extroverted reader I might have had)

It's Day 1.  It's early morning.  I am sitting out on my side porch.  I hear the cicadas humming and some poor bird that sounds like a dying squeaky toy.  Unfortunately, when I look outside I see my side garden, which is producing lovely tomatoes but nothing else, and because we have abandoned taking care of everything but the tomatoes, it is looking quite sad and overgrown and rather shameful.  I am sipping coffee, of course.  My poor Leia with her broken leg is lying beside me, her hopes dashed because yet another morning went by when she did not get to go chase her frisbee.  I have done the morning office.  I have written in my journal.  And here I am.

Now what?  How do I use this precious time?  Last night I had sushi with my dear friend Kelly, and she asked me what I was going to be doing this month.  I had no idea.  I mean, I had a sketchy idea in my head, but not a very good one.  I thought I would figure it out this morning.  Unfortunately, I had much of the night to think about it, because I didn't sleep very well (thanks to an unsettling letter from our Amish friends yesterday--sometimes the cultural and spiritual divide is so deep between us I worry that it is a chasm into which our relationship might fatally fall).  I have also already spent 30 minutes this morning journaling my hopes for this month. 

First, the logistics.  I am committing to an hour of solitude a day.  This means getting up earlier than usual, and once school starts, this means getting up at a godforsaken time that should leave me utterly despairing and ready for bed by 7:00 a.m.  We will see.  I know I could spend my time in the evenings, and once school starts I may do that--or I may divide my time up with 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.  We'll see.  I just love morning, once I get past the whole getting out of bed part. 

This morning I asked myself what I was supposed to do for this solitude experiment, and the answer came back to me: "whatever you want."  Well, that's a lovely thought, isn't it???  I do think I need to impose the restriction that my hour of solitude cannot involve technology, unless I am writing a blog post.  This will require utmost resistance to temptation, as "writing a blog post" does not involve checking Facebook or the JoCo library page to see if a book has come in or that article I clicked from PBS this morning about iDisorders (I did actually just re-check that article to see if it was written idisorders or iDisorders, but I didn't actually read the article, so I don't think that counts as cheating).  Never fear, I am sure that cheating will be involved at some point. 

So, what to do?  Here is my list so far.  I fear that it is a treacherously boring list.  To some, this list might be included in a blog post entitled, "How I Spell Torture," but for me...this is bliss.  (Really, though, I hesitate to share this list.  Perhaps you will truly realize what you have always suspected, that I am created from cells that are exceptionally dull, insipid, and uninteresting.)  Anyway, here it is.  Judge away:
  • Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I think I will include this time.  I did this morning.  It doesn't take very long, but I don't want to become resentful.
  • Journaling
  • Writing blog entries
  • Reading (both books on solitude AND books for pleasure.  Someone please remind me of this one.  I NEED to allow myself time to read for pleasure, for the beautiful ache of a lovely sentence).
  • Walking (this would have to be in the evenings or on a weekend, and not for exercise)
  • Visiting a coffee shop (again, an evening or weekend thing)
  • Visiting a museum (again, an evening or weekend thing)
Am I missing something else?  Obviously I am not adept in the pursuit of solitude, which is silly since I seem to have such a primal need to breathe it, drink it, and taste it.

Since I am just coming off of my month of praying the offices, I feel like I need to put something spiritual on my list like "pray" or "read the Bible."  Quite frankly, however, that is not how I want to spend my hour of solitude.  The last thing I need to do is make this hour duty-oriented.  That would evaporate any joy or healing right out of it. 

I do have a booklist for the month, of course.  Here's to hoping I make time to read all of these (plus something truly delicious and lovely in the not-reading-for-education department). 
  • Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton
  • The Power of Solitude: Discovering Your True Self in a World of Nonsense and Noise by Annemarie S Kidder
  • The Call of Solitude: Alonetime in a World of Attachment by Ester Schater Buchholz
  • Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
I think another idea would be to pursue mini solitude breaks during the day.  However, my children have a radar for such things.  They intuitively know when I take a load of dirty clothes down to the basement or shut myself in on the other side of the bathroom door or sneak up to the attic to put away laundry.  It's uncanny, really.  However, if I seek those tiny moments to myself, maybe I can create the space for them. 

So...I raise my coffee cup to you this morning and say, "Here's to solitude."  Happy August.