What’SUP

I got a stand up paddle board (SUP) for my birthday, fulfilling maybe the last real dream I have had for my life, besides the obvious- never having to worry about money ever again.  Wanting to travel the world.  Or finding a cure for cancer.  I opened my gifts later in the day on my birthday, after we had already been to the beach.  I couldn’t wait to get back there and play with my new toy!  The day after, I waited all day to take my board out.  My family had birthday fatigue from the day before and they had to resume their normal activities for a while. (We go big for birthdays and it can be wonderfully exhausting for all involved.)  For my husband, he needed garage time- straightening and porch screen replacing and weed eradicating.  For my kids, midnight basketball in the daytime, with music played LOUDLY.  It’s OK.  I had a stellar day before, filled with all of my favorite things.  I was patient in waiting them out.

We drove over (drover should be a word) the last bridge to the beach.  There are four between our house and the ocean.  I could see the wind on the water, but I wouldn’t let anything but calm waters register.  Nope.  Not windy.  Not choppy.  Not current-y.

Lumbering over the dunes and down to the water’s edge, the wind grabbed the front of my board and tried to whip me around.  Sometimes I let it, doing a funny pirouette dance down to our spot on the sand.  Step step pause step step step pivot pause step step step.

After making peace with the wind, my next thought was, “Why are all these other people here?  Oh brother.  I’ve been waiting  ALL DAY to do this and now I’m so conspicuous with this big old board and now I HAVE to do it. And it is SO WINDY.”

Teeny tiny little humans on surfboards no bigger than cafeteria trays.  They mock me, goad me into the water.  Ohh how I WISH  I had learned to surf when I was their size!  Now I have the equivalent of an elderly person’s walker in my huge board and paddle.  They would be so encumbered, but it gives me a freedom on the water I have never been able to enjoy- until today.

Clumsily manage board leash hat paddle in the breakers.  Heave myself onto my belly on the board and start paddling for my life.  I don’t feel as if I’m getting anywhere.  Wave after wave comes.  I ride over them with ease, surprisingly, but when will they stop coming?  They will stop coming when I am strong enough to paddle past them.  All of them.

Slide up onto my knees, find my balance just for the moment and start paddling again, this time with the actual paddle, not just my arms.  Paddling and forward motion helps keep your balance more than any weight-shifting, feet sliding back-bending contortions ever will.

The going is strong and good, but I am still on my knees.  These people on shore didn’t come all this way to watch me play it safe.  (I know no one’s really paying attention to me, but it gives me the kick in the pants I need to make my next move.)

Finally see a break in the relentless marching waves and pop up to standing.  It’s not even a decision I make.  Just one word in my head- GO.  Then, paddle paddle paddle till my heart slows down and I remember to take a breath.

All of the power and energy of every molecule of water and every organism in the ocean rises up to meet my board and show me who is in charge.  Who is in charge?  The one who ordered the tides calls the shots.

Calm down enough to see that I have matched my efforts with the wind and the water to carry me… nowhere, actually.  I am running in place.  But I ride on top of the entire ocean.  This is somewhere that only a lucky, brave few get to navigate.  I’m not a surfer, but I am gratefully in their territory.  It is thrilling and dangerous.  I can only focus on the few yards of water ahead of me as I paddle left, switch hands, paddle right.

The board shudders from bow to stern, tip to tail with the power of the universe.  And I am riding above it.  I am riding two inches above it, but connected to it and in awe of it and a little afraid of it.  But I am here.

Mentally locating myself back on the thinnest edge of  blue on planet earth, my board is even with the end of the pier.  I am not going beyond that arbitrary boundary that I tell myself is where the sharks are lurking.  As if I’m just inside a net separating me from the terrifying creatures of the deep.  Each whipped-up peak looks like a fin.  There is no net.

If I look down to notice how cute my toes look on my board, I start to wobble.  If I think about sharks, I rock side to side.  If I stop paddling and just try to balance, my legs start to shake.  Such is life.  I have to look up, look forward, look around me, and MOVE to feel stable.

Turning the board around- heading toward sunset.  The blue and white of the western sky making room for a little yellow.  Now a little peach.  Some pink.  A flash of violet in the periphery that disappears if I look directly at it.

Feeling the swell at the back of the board, rolling under my feet and eventually ahead of me and away to break on the sand.  Some little grommet snatched that wave up.  I was just proud that I didn’t do the SUP two-step off the back and land with a splash into the water.

As I reach shore, a congratulations from a fellow surfer.  “You almost had it.  Just a few more strokes and you would have caught it.”

Me, nervously laughing, “Oh, I’m not trying to surf out here.  I’m just trying to stay upright…

But…

If I did want to surf one in, how do I keep myself from running off the back of the board when the wave lifts it?”

“You just go with it.”

A few more words between us, technicalities about balance and forward and backward and foot position and then he says it again, “Just go with it.”

I have always loved the line in the Mumford and Sons’ song, Hopeless Wanderer- “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.”  I have spent years putting those words into practice.  It’s easy on a warm summer evening at sunset on the beach.  Now it’s time to learn to love the seas I’m over.

And just go with it.

Proclamation 07.10.16

My name is Liesl.
I make stuff up.
I write it down but not usually.
Usually the tape plays
and plays
and plays
but only for me.
How many stories poems screenplays
and IMPORTANT POLITICAL OBSERVATIONS
have gone undocumented
in fear of too big feelings
and tears
in front of strangers?
My name is Liesl
and I make stuff up
and now I write it down.
I always write it down.

Purple Reign

So Prince has died.

I heard it on the radio in my car last Thursday, several hours after the news had broken.  The DJ announced it so casually.  (What?!  I couldn’t have heard that right.  Did he say PRINCE?)  And then he- OOF… launched right into “When Doves Cry” without even letting me take a breath to absorb the news.  I think I scared my daughter when I burst out and yelled at the cars ahead of me to GO, ALREADY!

I needed to get home.  Quickly.

Not being far from home, we pulled into the garage and I turned the car off.  Quickly turned the key again so we could listen to the song play out.  A combination of rock guitar and pure, sweet, melodic poetry.  A song that I never really “got,” but never really needed to in order to enjoy its groundbreaking sound.

When Michael Jackson died, and Whitney Houston, and so many other iconic artists, I felt almost a sense of relief for them.  Their suffering, their torment, was over.  They were free now.  Robin Williams.  Philip Seymour Hoffman.  River Phoenix.  David Bowie.  How many artists have we lost in my lifetime?  Too many to count.

But Prince.  PRINCE.  He was still making music.  Playing concerts.  It feels like his life was cut short.  Please, please, please, let it really have been the flu.  I can’t bear the thought of another death- accidental or intentional- from drugs or a desperate act to ease his suffering.

He died alone in his elevator.  Too sad.  Too sad.

It was 1983 when the song “1999” was first on the radio.  I was ten.  Without paying too close attention to the lyrics, I imagined what it really would be like on the last night of 1999.  I imagined myself as a 26-year-old.  I would probably be married, have two kids already.  I would be too OLD to party.  Funny to think of that now.

“If you didn’t come to party/ Don’t bother knocking on my door”

On Friday, December 31, 1999, my husband and I (no kids yet) reunited with a large group of friends from college in Richmond, Virginia.  We laughed hysterically at dinner, celebrated one couple’s engagement, then party-hopped across the city as we reveled in our relative young-adult freedom.  We were grown up and responsible, but we could still PARTY.

“So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999”

Around 11pm I said, “WAIT.  We have to play ‘1999,’ y’all.  It’s 1999.  And we’re partying.”  As I imagined similar scenarios playing out across every time zone.  Prince’s reach was massive.  So we’re searching this random house in which we’ve ended up.  Looking in their CD towers for the album.  The song.  Starting to get frantic when we couldn’t find it.  And finally, another guest at the party says he has it on a tape in his car.  On TAPE, of all things!

And we played it and it felt like the night- and the next century, even- was saved.  Anointed.  Blessed by Prince.  He knew it was going to be a great party.  He knew.  The year 1999, which seemed impossibly far away to a 10-year-old kid, is now 17 YEARS in the PAST.

So many other songs of his had an impact on my life.  If I searched my brain, I could probably come up with a specific, happy memory to go along with each one.  They were the soundtrack to my childhood.  And into adulthood too.  “Kiss.”  If it played at your wedding, I embarrassed myself on the dance floor.  Hell, if the DJ played it, it’s probably because I requested it.  At your wedding.  Yep, I was that guest.  But it was “Kiss!”

“But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last”

On Thursday, the day we heard, we were all in shock.  The Purple One can’t be gone.  We never saw him in concert.  Oh, no.

On Friday, sadness set in.

I was on a long road trip with my son.  It was the eve of his fourteenth birthday.  We came across a station on satellite radio that had miraculously, graciously, turned itself into a Prince tribute station.  And more than just playing his music (which, believe me, I needed to hear desperately), the DJ took hundreds of calls from people sharing their stories about Prince’s music, their memories, their connection to or friendship with him.

Listening to them made me feel like my immense grief over a person I had never met was not out of proportion.  Their stories ranged from the deeply personal connections to Prince the man to one caller’s simple request- that they air the song that played in the background when he lost his virginity.  Prince provided the soundtrack to our reckless, intense, fearless youth, and now it’s over.

“They say two-thousand zero zero/ Party’s over/ Oops, out of time”

I was too young to understand what “I Would Die 4 U” meant at the time of its release.  However, the intensity of feeling in his music and lyrics still came through for me at a young age.   The beauty of Prince’s music was that it stuck around long enough for you to get the message.  I have two children now.  And I know.

I was eleven when the movie Purple Rain came out in theaters.  I was too young to go see it.  I still have never seen it.  But the music inspired by the movie, or vice versa, is a part of my heart.  Someday soon I will watch it and be inspired all over again by the man.  The music.  The poetry.  The artistry.  The gentle soul who left us far too early.

“I don’t wanna die, I’d rather dance my life away”

The party of Prince’s life is now over, but the music and the memories he left us with will last.

Thank you, Prince, from the bottom of my broken heart.

And during that road trip on Friday?  It rained.  Out of big, purple clouds in front of a glorious setting sun.  Of course it did.

 

Movement and Sound

Movement and sound have returned to the garden.  The birds and the wind were the only color and variation in the previous winter’s days.  The silence was calming, and it gave us rest from our outdoor pursuits.  But we knew it wouldn’t last.  It couldn’t last.  Now as the wind blows, it carries petals and seeds and fluff to highlight its direction and flow.  The maple seeds helicopter down to the ground.  When they get picked up by a puff of wind, it’s hard not to believe that they aren’t an actual flying creature.  The new leaves on the trees flop and flap and flutter.

Above the lawn, baby dragonflies try out their new wings for sport.  Clouds of gnats maintain their overall appearance of one mass, but they are hundreds of insects bumping into each other and flying on their own.

The baby birds at the feeder furiously flap their wings as they wait to be fed small bits of seed.  If they could talk, you would hear, “Mommy.  Mommy.  Mommy.  Mommy.”

The squirrels chase each other up and down tree trunks, their claws scraping away little flecks of bark.

The anoles on the porch railing wait patiently for a wayward fly to stray close enough…

In the evening, I can hear the first few cicadas sending out their alarming call.  The tree frogs in the pond will join in soon.

Butterflies and moths and wasps and bees.

It is electrifying to see all of the activity again after so many months of solitude in the garden.  And it is tempting to want to match the frenetic pace of nature coming back to life again.  But these birds and bees and bugs and trees may only have one or two seasons in which to grow, build nests, have young, set seeds, carry out their small ecological function, and then die.

You have lived through many, many seasons, and with luck and grace you have many more ahead of you.

Take your time.

Take your time.

Word of the Day: Eclosion

This morning I saw a butterfly fly across the lawn, double back on itself, and fly back to the edge of my garden.  It landed on a patch of sunny ground… and sat.  Just sat there for the longest time.  As I watched it, I recalled what I remembered about butterflies hatching from their chrysalises, and then I even did a little research to make sure I had my facts straight.

Most species of caterpillars spend one to two weeks in their chrysalises, becoming an entirely new being.  If you spend any time pondering this fact, it is hard to see it as anything short of a miracle.  This is a powerful allegory for us humans.  We are capable of transformation.  But what happens immediately after that transformation is what got my attention this morning.  The butterfly cannot fly at the time of its eclosion, or emergence from its chrysalis.  Its wings are damp.  They are soft.  They are folded against its body.  The butterfly must first rest after the hard work of hatching.  Then it hangs from its chrysalis to pump the fluid into its wings that will inflate them and give them the structure and stability for flight.  The butterfly needs sunlight for its wings to harden and dry.  This preparation for flight can take up to several hours.  Imagine the vulnerability of this fragile insect during this time.  Easily picked off by prey.  Not ready to defend itself the only way it can- by aerial escape.

Every morning I wake up with a version of this thought in my head: “Crap. I need to crawl out of this bed and wake up and face the day and there is so much to do and I am already behind.”  I know.  I need to work on that.  But today I am going to be gentle with myself.  I just emerged from a long sleep that has rested my body, restored my mind.  I love the cocoon of my bed.  The warmth, the security, the comfort.  I don’t ever want to get out of bed.  Ever.  But the tiny transformation has already occurred, and now it is time to emerge.

I stretch my limbs, pump myself full of coffee, turn my face to the sun to feel its warmth.  Now it’s time to fly.

Beach Ready

Now that Easter is over, the commercials are telling us it’s time to get “beach ready.”  Then they want to sell us their gym membership/ laser hair removal/ body sculpting crap.  Want to know how I get beach ready?  The day after eating my fill of Cadbury Creme Eggs, I grab a couple of skirted bathing suits on the fly at Costco.  In an assortment of sizes.  Come home and try them on in the “comfort” of my own home.  Which means I can heave and squeeze and cajole my thighs into these bathing costumes in peace.  With the door locked.  Find the suit that covers the most/ pinches the least.  Return the rest.

That was surprisingly simple, and I’m out about 50 bucks and a small sprinkling of sweat.  C’mon, summer!  I’m ready.

Snowy Egret Landing

The most graceful flight

doesn’t come from

a furious flapping of wings

legs kicking

neck outstretched

eyes bugged out to the unknowable future.

Instead

it is better to ride the

currents of air

and trust

that no matter where you land

on the edge of the pond

that is where you were meant to land.

And if by chance you crash into the water

you have legs

and you can stand up

and walk straight out.

 

Cabin in the Woods (Part III)

I am spending the last few hours in my Cabin in the Woods.  If you want to read my original post, click here.  For Part II, click here.  I am trying to cram in the best work I can until it is time to enter the real world again.  I worked really hard to get here, and I worked so hard to stay here without feeling g-u-i-l-t-y, so I am going to max out every last minute.

Five days in a Cabin in the Woods.  It was so appealing.  And I looked forward to it so much.  And when I got there, it was heaven.  And hell.  Choosing to spend quality time with oneself means that there is no one else to blame when things go wrong.  Or feelings go south.  Or there are crumbs on the table.  You know, the big and little things of everyday life.  But the work was good.  Oh so good.  And cathartic.  Even though I never left my house, I feel like I had a vacation.  A vacation from responsibility.  Errands.  Distractions.  Have-to’s and don’t-want-to’s and even want-to-but-can’ts.  A vacation from everything but thought and ideas and creating and showers.  I took a big vacation from showers.  I don’t even apologize.

Five days in my Cabin in the Woods.  Because there was no real cabin, and I was not properly sequestered, I had to sometimes open the cabin door.  But I only opened it and stepped out into the world for a few, very good reasons.  Several times something came knocking on the door.  I was able to answer the door quickly and efficiently to get back to the work I set out to accomplish.  I fell down the rabbit hole of arts and crafts a little bit too much, but it was real arts and crafts.  With markers, paper, scissors, glitter, glue, sequins, yarn, and magazines- not the mindless pinning of projects on Pinterest that I will never ever ever make.  Ever.  I forgive myself.  It is Valentine’s Day on Sunday after all.

I mostly kept the cabin door shut and locked.  Kept the outside world of cooking, cleaning, errands, phone calls, and the internet at bay.  I was tempted to crack it.  Just a little.  To search for the answer to a question I had.  To reach out to a person in need.  To be with my children more.  I allowed myself to let those things go.  To allow other people to step in where I couldn’t be.  To ask for help.  But I hope that the benefits of this week will bring greater rewards to everyone in my circle than the things I missed.  Because I knew it was temporary, I could allow myself the pleasure of saying no to every non-essential demand on my time.  My energy.  My head space.

One knock came on my cabin door that I knew not to open.  I have opened that door far too many times.  I knew not to open it.  I knew.  But I forgot.  Because I am human and I forgot and also because I always hope that what is behind that door is going to be different.  But I opened it and the bitter cold wind that hit me knocked me down.  Knocked me down hard.  But then I knew what I had to do to get back up.  And I am up.  Up and walking again.  Towards warmth.  Comfort.  Peace.  Quiet.  Connectedness.  Forgiveness.  Empathy.

I am walking out of my cabin with a little better clarity on my life’s purpose and what matters to me and how I can serve others.  I am a few paces ahead on the path with my writing.  And I have a clear picture of where I am headed.  I am walking away from this week with the keys in my hand to return to the cabin whenever I like.  For a minute, an hour, or for a whole day .  I welcome myself home- the place I most love to be.  Even more than the journey away.

 

Winter Walks

Winter walks ever so slowly across the calendar.  Dragging each day out to an eternity.  Even though the days are short and dark, they still  seem to last forever.  I wonder how I will ever make it through these cold and dismal days.  Summer seems like it will never come again.  So to face my fears, I suit up and I step outside.

My weather-proof gear makes a scratchy sound as I walk, the edges of my coat collar scraping at my neck.  It is uncomfortable.  But I am warm.  I have finally learned how to keep myself warm in winter.  It has taken me 42 years.   Warmth is cozy socks and furry boots and knitted hats and wide headbands that cover my ears.  Gloves and coats and long wool sweathers.  Leggings under everything.  Hot tea.  The warm sun on my face, while indoors or out, cheers me in a way not much else can.  Snuggling with my dog in front of the fire.  Snuggling with my family in front of a movie.

I used to waste the entire season of autumn dreading the upcoming winter.  Wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth at the cruelty of the cold.  Like winter was out to get me.  Like it was personal.  Now I can see it for what it is.  It is necessarily hard- the clothes, the gear, the cold, the torment.  So that we will be grateful for spring when she arrives like a long-awaited party.  So that we will be thankful for summer- a day at the beach that never has to end.  And then we will even welcome fall- a time to look back on the spectacular year we have had with gratitude and wonder and awe.  To begin yet another winter.

Lest we not forget, the other three seasons have their challenges too.  I held spring up on a pedestal for so long, until I began suffering from pollen allergies.  And now I have to arm myself with pills and potions and tissues to ward off the poisonous air.  Summer has its share of mosquitoes, bee stings, stubbed toes, and sunscreen-in-the-eye moments as well.  Fall brings the greatest threat of hurricanes in my sphere.  Tornadoes too.  The woods can feel very snakey in fall.  There is a bit of torment in every season.  But a great deal of joy as well, if we can focus on it and not allow our daydreams of different weather to cloud our vision.

In winter, things become clear.  On my walks in winter, I can see deeper into the woods.  The brush has fully died back.  With the leaves completely fallen off the trees, my view extends further than my narrow path.  The silhouette of a tree against a brilliant blue sky is striking.  I can see its true form.  I can see the nest of a bird tucked into a crook where branch meets trunk.  The air has no bugs flying around or pollen swirling about in great yellow clouds.  The air smells clean, like fresh ice.

The garden is laid bare.  Now you can see the structure of things.  Fix what’s broken, move things around, train the roses to grow in a new direction.  Planting trees in winter gives great satisfaction.  They provide the biggest payoff to a gardener with their low level of care, their multi-season beauty, and the fact that they probably will outlive you.  Once you plant a tree, you need not touch that particular spot of earth again.  You can feel finished in a way that gardens rarely allow.

On my winter walks, I see hawks take advantage of the blue sky.  Turtles venture out onto pond banks on sunny days.  The snakes wouldn’t dare come out of hibernation.  So you don’t either.  You relish the rest that the season affords.  But you are comforted by the thought that by putting one foot in front of the other, you can make it out.

I live in the south, where the seasons fall over each others’ laps like drunk girls at a party.  Spring comes in early, demanding our attention.  Summer has been known to outstay her welcome.  Fall is one week at Thanksgiving.  We rake leaves at Christmas.  So winter is a few short weeks in January and February.  I shouldn’t complain.  By March 1st, winter is mostly over.  The loud and obnoxious spring starts making herself known and you have to begin winding yourself up again to meet the demands of children and lawns and gardens.  Of all growing things.  Including and especially yourself.

You realize you only have three weeks left of winter and you get a little melancholy.  Hoping it will last just a little longer for you to rest some more.  Breathe some more.  Read more books and take more naps and drink more tea before you have to put on your fancy party dress and prepare for the dance.