Refocus

I’m afraid yesterday’s post sounded willfully ignorant, choosing not to watch the Republican National Convention because I don’t have cable TV. Obviously, I could have streamed it through NPR.

The truth is my brain needed a break. As it was, I felt bombarded by the live tweeting of the event. It seems like the GOP’s rhetoric and all the recent gun violence are spewed from the same swirling hate machine. I barely have time to process it, let alone write about it, before another incident occurs.

I felt gutted by the death of Montrell Jackson, a person of color and Baton Rouge police officer, who wrote a poignant and heartfelt Facebook post only days before he was killed. “Please don’t let hate infect your heart,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.”

I don’t know what to do with all this violence, what action to take, what words to write.

This morning on the treadmill, the TV screen was playing CNN. I assumed it would be about the Republican candidate saying something he will later deny. Instead, it was all about Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech from 2008. The Republican spokesman being interviewed said, “Melania didn’t feel she’d plagiarized Michelle Obama.” Except, of course, facts are not felt. Facts are facts. Somehow the GOP always considers the truth debatable.

What struck me about this coverage, however, wasn’t the plagiarism but the laser focus on Melania Trump. On CNN and all my social media feeds, there was almost no coverage of Donald Trump himself, the actual candidate. It seemed intentional, a ruse. He’d managed to deflect all the attention to his wife. The media loves to skewer a woman. Again, I see the swirling hate machine.

And I have to step outside of it.

I turn my attention to the small and mundane. I mulch the flower beds. I finish an essay about the garden. I take my daughter to her first swimming lesson, and later on, her first haircut. Two firsts in one day! On the way home, I stop to admire the Queen Anne’s lace that grows along the marsh.

Perhaps my posts on the everydayness of life seem like more willful ignorance. But I consider them radical acts of refocus, of turning toward the light.

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(Post 182 of 365)

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Egret


Because I didn’t finish the long post I began this morning. Because I let the summer day take me where it wished. To the water. Big waves churning and breaking. My little girl running straight in. I chased her down the sandy shore and twirled her in the air. While her dad took pictures of birds and pictures of us. Eventually we drifted up from the beach and found ourselves at dinner at my dad and stepmom’s. Swirls of conversation while she ran joyfully in the grass. I’ve kept away from the news. I’ve blanketed us in the humid air. We look up at the egret gliding toward Charles Island. The curved neck and long feet, white wings stretched soundless with intention.

(Post 171 of 365)

Mindful Driving


Cars fly down our street. 50 mph in our 25 mph zone. Everyone in a rush. We’ve talked to the neighbors about petitioning the city for speed bumps. This morning maybe it was speed, maybe distraction, maybe just not-giving-a-shit that killed the opossum, bigger than my cat, as he scurried across the road during the early morning hours, probably tired from a night of foraging for his family. I passed his newly-dead body at 7:30am on my way to the gym. He was lying in the center of the oncoming lane, poor buddy.

It’s Spring and I’m constantly seeing casualties: opossums, raccoons, squirrels, sea gulls, even a small grackle. Why don’t people hit the brakes? Swerve? Try? Of course, accidents happen. And yes, I have hit animals; I am not without fault. I was also a distracted teenager and speeding (read: bad driving is what often causes accidents). I can count at least three times this season I’ve actually seen cars accelerate toward the squirrels scurrying across their paths. I cheer for the squirrel, c’mon buddy, you’ve got this, go go! Fortunately, all those squirrels made it.

What is the disconnect between drivers and their surroundings? Distraction is a given and that rush-rush-rush, but there’s also that strange thing about being behind the wheel that separates drivers from those on foot. Some drivers operate as if they’re playing a video game, as if that little creature going about his day isn’t really real, or maybe isn’t as entitled to life. Like when someone hits a deer and the first question is, oh wow, how’s your car? The first thought isn’t about the deer that was just maimed or killed, it’s: is your car going to cosmetically be okay?

I think about those casualties in the road and the families that mourn them. I always wish I had a shovel in my car so that I could at least give them the dignity of lying dead in the grass rather than being run over again and again and again until they’re finally a stain on the pavement. On my way home from the gym, the dead opossum was still there, but not yet run over again. I had time to do something about it. So I got gloves and the garden shovel and drove back. I parked in front of the poor opossum with my hazards on, waved a few cars around me, then lifted his stiff body from the road and laid him gently on the grass. It wasn’t much; it was nothing really. But I felt a little better seeing him there on the soft grass, the spot he would’ve reached if only he’d been given the chance to take a few more steps.

(Post 128 of 365) 

Turning Down the Volume: 79/365

I read this essay yesterday that really made me think. Rachel’s beautifully crafted essays always make me think. This one felt especially timely because I’d just finished taking stock, assessing the changes and discoveries that have evolved over the course of this project so far.

My anxiety has been up and I’ve had brain-drain from too much digital consumption. I’d had a sneaking suspicion social media scrolling was at least partly to blame, but Rachel’s essay brought it into stark relief. We can’t escape the distracting noise that is technology, but is there a way to turn down the volume?

Today I conducted an experiment. I dropped off Facebook and Instagram for the entire day. Actually, I had to click on Facebook to wish a dear friend happy birthday, and just as my finger was about to hit the notifications, I shut it down. There’s no way any of it was urgent; I refused to click. Later in the day, as text messages were popping up, I read the texts and then found myself unconsciously clicking on Instagram. What is wrong with me? I deleted the app from my phone, eliminated the temptation.

Today I operated in real time. I did not feel like I was being pulled in as many directions. I was more connected to my daughter. I was less irritable. Less anxious. I stayed on task. I got a few hours of writing in. At our friend’s birthday dinner tonight, I was immersed in conversation, connected to the people around me.

I’m wondering, should I schedule my social media check-ins? There are reasons to stay engaged there; I don’t want to disappear completely. But if I don’t limit my use, the habitual scrolling takes over. Everyone does it. We drift into our phones for a moment that becomes many moments, eventually looking up, glassy-eyed, irritated to have been interrupted from the mind-numbing scroll click scroll. Should/could social media check-ins be limited to a few times a week? Has anyone tried this?

On Being Present: 53/365

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom.”

Robert Henri

After the St. Patrick’s Day parade, bagpipes and drums, fire engines and floats, swirls of conversation with old friends and neighbors, kids running in the bright Spring sunshine, we walk the half mile back to my mom and stepdad’s house, my childhood home, where twenty-two of us gather for corned beef Irish dinner. A blur of toddler cousins circle the house screaming and blaring a high-pitched toy trumpet. Someone is always pregnant; this year, my sister-in-law. The husbands gather in the backyard around the fire with beers and whiskey. My mom and Tim work in the kitchen preparing the big meal, refusing offers of help. Eventually everyone sits down together to eat, the littlest ones corralled into highchairs.

Later on, my brother and Chris and I are down on the floor collecting one million Lincoln Logs, blocks, dollhouse people, train tracks, and little farm animals. My six-year old nephew, Shane, bounds into the room and asks, “Who wants to go on a tour?” None of the tired adults are biting. Shane tries again, “Who’s coming on my tour? It’s a really good tour!” I raise my hand, “I’ll go on your tour!”

I follow Shane into the backyard. He points to the birdbath, “pool of doom!” We head further down the yard and he points to the fence, where a large hole and, above it, a weatherworn wooden mask, are obscured by the bushes. “Hole of doom! Mask of doom!” When did those get there? Next we venture under the treehouse – not too far in though, spiders! – and decide, naturally, it’s the cave of doom. I think of the sandbox that was there when I was a little girl. The rabbit hutch when I was a teenager. I notice the fence is old and leaning. When did the fence get so old? I’m instructed to jump over the hose behind the swimming pool because, of course, it’s a snake. I think about how Shane reminds me of me, of how I loved to pretend and make up stories.

When we reach my mother’s garden beds, Shane says, “This is where we can stop and take pictures and touch things. What would you like to touch?” I tell him I’m interested in those mushrooms growing on the tree stumps. At first he hesitates, then grabs the mushrooms with me. They’ve dried out and gone brittle, crumbling in our hands. We touch the soft, thick moss underneath. Then I pick up the old wasp hive that fell from the maple tree during the winter, hundreds of hexagonal cells made of wasp spit and bits of wood. The sublime geometrical artwork of a tiny insect. Somewhere between the wasp nest and jumping off the ledge with Shane, I realize how happy I am, that floating-on-air lightness that comes from being perfectly in the present. Texture and light, the many microcosms, the way everything ages, art in nature, body in midair, making up a story as we go along. This single moment in time, the only one that exists. When a six-year old invites you on an adventure, always, always say yes.

There Is Only Today: 18/365

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I realized a lot of my recent posts have been about the past.

The real-time me worries about the future, trying to problem-solve things that can’t be solved in the space of a single day.

I was impatient and frustrated this morning, mostly because I wasn’t able to write; (not writer’s block, but family block – is that a thing? It should be.)

This photo was taken today. This afternoon. I look at it and think, oh my God, I am so lucky. Get out of your head, girl. There is only today.