When I stop writing for awhile I get . . . a sort of constipation of the spirit. The creative spirit to be specific. I don’t grows into I can’t. And when I finally sit down to tap a few keys, I have both too much to say and nothing at all.
And I feel rather garbled.
Forgive me. The only way to begin again is to just do it. So . . .
I have been obsessed with travel plans— leave for Italy in 11 days — and the very long list that I’ve made for myself. My pre-traveling lists, that I make for almost every trip short or long, could be judged compulsive. It has all the planning steps, packing steps and what I need to do in the house and for the summer Mindful Circle workshop before I close the door. I have my goals as to how much to do each day to arrived at the door closing with everything essential and a few good wishes done. My joy here is crossing off what I have done each day. Simple compulsive pleasure. However, a long trip makes for a long list.
But there has been no time for this kind of scribbling. When the choice is weeding and mulching or writing, the garden wins every time.
Strange thing: At cello lesson yesterday, Julia’s teacher assigned her the next piece in one of her books. “Oh, good, Ode to Joy,” Julia said. And her teacher nodded. Then she looked at Julia and asked, “how did you know it was Ode to Joy?” The piece was not named. “I played it in school.” She did play it in school more than a year ago and this version is much simpler than the one she learned for school. When her teacher pressed the point, Julia replied that it looked like Ode to Joy which would have made sense if she had been playing for a long time.
Now, Julia may have looked ahead at some point during her practicing and tried it out, but even that means that she remembered playing Ode to Joy last year. So at the very least, she remembered something from last year which is still an pretty remarkable occurrence around here. At the most, she looked at a bunch of notes and recognized a tune.
Julia is remembering more these days. Last week, before we went to Indianapolis to M.’s graduation, Julia asked about his Leukemia and the chemo. I’m sure she heard me talk about it to Cheshire and on the phone but I haven’t talked about it for a long time. More than a year. Julia remembered. Not only that, she asked about it in a way that demonstrated that she was concerned about another person.
I could send up fireworks. And if I let my mind race ahead a hundred, a thousand miles, I see this as a step towards friends. As I’ve written so many times, Julia wants friends very badly but has no idea about how to be a good friend. She doesn’t show interest in a friend’s interests, doesn’t sustain interest in some shared activity and doesn’t seem to care about anyone else. But last week she cared about M and how he felt. She has done this once or twice before but this time it was . . . I have no words. More real? More heart felt? Yes, caring! Of course, be still my rushing heart. It is one step and notable only because of how much else is missing in her ability to form a friendship. There are so many more steps, steps that most of us take for granted and have been working at since we were toddlers with little formal instruction. For Julia, each step is the result of so much intentional work. But it is still a step.
And all the planning, reading, remembering Italy. Remembering what I want to revisit and what I wanted to see 30 years ago. Planning to rent a car to drive through Tuscany. Something that David and I could not fit into our meager travel budget that long ago. Finding dinosaurs in a few places and a mask painting workshop in Venice. Practicing Italian phrases in the car and surprising myself that a few come back to me. Not that I will be able to carry on any conversation but I can order in a restaurant, find out where the train station is and ask for a room with a bath. My nostalgic mind wishes that I had as much Italian as I had when we lived there but that pragmatic mind reminds me that what I remember is not that far from what I had.
And there is an air of selfishness about my planning. When I tell friends that we are traveling soon, they ‘ooh and ah,’ admire my gumption planning to take Julia on such a long trip and a few ask ‘why Italy?’
Because I want to. Because I always, we always, intended to go back. Because I loved it then and it calls to me now. Because I want to travel. So many reasons that all boil down to pleasing myself. To being selfish.
As a kid, I was reigned in and controlled by being called selfish. Perhaps all kids are. My appetites were for myself and for what I wanted to do. Turning on a light to read by after my sister went to sleep. Wanting to watching more than my share of tv shows because what I chose was so much more important than the junky shows my brother chose. Wanting to spend hours in the library or in my room writing or much later on the phone. Ok, this is all very petty, small excesses and very, very common, but the key to getting me off that phone, closing the book and turning off the light was to remind me that I was selfish.
And I think I took the correction as a character flaw and ran with it. And even though I observed selfishness, or what was really self caring and love, in people who I aspired to emulate, I was the biggest critic of the reasons I did anything. If those reasons amounted to only pleasing myself, I felt awful, tried to change or at least hide my motivation.
And yet, that urge to please and love the self is everywhere. Why do I garden? Why meditate? Why write and why travel? Why do we have children? Yes, once they entered my life it was all about caring for them, but the impulse was not about them, it was to please some part of me.
This all seems so simple and pretty mundane now that I’ve written it out. Years of feeling just a little guilty, like I was cheating someone, like I was living a less than worthy life fall away.
After David died, I promised myself that I would never again do anything that I didn’t want to do. Well, I still clean the bathroom and make dinner every night, and I have been mighty confused and lost as I stopped doing so much of what I didn’t want to do and looked for what I wanted. Oh, Joseph Campbell and finding bliss. And chasing joy. And I’ve found it in the garden and on the cushion, and teaching workshops and daring to ask for help and space. And in Julia’s cello lessons and her Happy Potter bedroom. And buy extravagant gifts now and then. And now going back to Italy to discover some of what I never knew.
There is something deep inside that I have kept locked and mute. And that place, that thing has burst open and is seeing light for the first time in a long time. There is that dream of a year in Venice. And living in New York again. And putting that book together. And looking for what else pleases me. Looking for more bliss and chasing more joy.
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