I Need A Latitude Adjustment

Alarm clocks are inhumane.  I’ve better ideas on how to be roused from dreamland, and they don’t include whirring or obnoxious bells and whistles that’re better suited to the arcade or some Monty Hall dealmaking.  Only an early morning flight to somewhere the tomatoes are luscious or the hot springs are bubbling warrants setting it.  I’ve long been perplexed why anyone would want to be jolted out of blissful slumber at all, much less for the sake of getting to a jay-oh-bee.  My body knows when it’s time to rise, even when I’ve abused it by going to bed in the starry wee hours, but I probably fell into bed with the ringing of the P*Funk All-Stars in my ears anyway.

Indeed, the body knows.  It knows when the moon’s glow is full again, when I need protein, when a 10-minute nap will revive me.  Often I can even tell time by the sun’s slant and shadow.  I guess I’m just keyed into natural cycles, and my geography: I’ve lived most of my life around the 40th parallel. But I’m wondering if this corporeal keenness is on the fritz lately.

fiddleheads It was only 6 weeks from seed to sprout – from deciding the most peaceful state in the union would harbor me for a spell to trading in my Brooklyn apartment for a four bedroom farmhouse on the midcoast – and it was there I found myself in March, unbundling from the snowiest, most glorious winter I can remember – but…something was off.  My internal guidance system’s controls were spinning and I couldn’t get my bearings.

spring lambs South Thomaston, MaineI’ve been totally kerfuffled by the Maine spring, what with global warming, the extension of Daylight Savings Time, and the fact that this was the longest transition from winter to summer ever.  At 4 weeks away from the longest day of the year, it was a balmy 48 degrees.  And today, 3 days from the solstice, I am scarf-free for the first time in 8 months.

It’s been tricky syncing up on the 44th: I cash out-of-state weather checks and they bounce.  The northeastern spring sauntered instead of sprung, and the sun rises a few degrees differently here.  Like a blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on a spring lamb, I fumbled around, grasping for signposts.

asparagus spring greenDo I pick fiddleheads, asparagus, and rhubarb or break out the sandals?  I’m used to sunny evenings happening later in the season, not in March when it’s still cold.  The cherry blossoms, forsythia and daffodils of late April are more familiar when they’re poking up through a last snow dusting and I’m not used to May nights that dip into the 30’s.  This June, I christened 2011 as the year of my Cashmere Spring.  Who knew that moving 400 miles north would result in such discombobulation?

So I pull that woolen cardigan tight and recalibrate my inner compass, scoping for environmental clues, seeking time’s relativity in the external: the groundhog who’s sniffing around the side yard, the sailors in Camden who raced to see who’d get their schooner in the harbor first, the riverside fields getting their brown winter coats burned off.

Once I equipped myself to navigate instinctually, it dawned that it’s not a monologue, it’s an intimate conversation.  That spring cleanse revealed both my body’s intelligence and its blind habits far more than what I knew existed.  I’m adjusting my interior thermostat these days, acclimating to Mother Nature’s seasonal stimuli and the ways we manipulate it to accommodate our modern busy-ness.

Now if I can only get those bustles out of my hedgerows.  (don’t be alarmed, it’s for the May Queen.)

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Another one of my change-of-season musings: Everything Is Illuminated

The Metrics Of Procrastination

oooOOH!  I get it.  To be a writer means to actually, like, you know, write.  Right?

Some friends have reached out lately making sure I’ve not been moose-trampled or otherwise met with unfortunate Down East ends.  Not to worry, I’m still breathing.  Labored, maybe, but like my chiropractor noticed when he was massaging my diaphragm last month – there’s deeper breaths to be taken, if I’d just looooosen the heck up.

So, I tried.  Formally.  The result?  Breathing exercises, my ass.  Who knew Dirgha Pranayama and Ujjayi would be so challenging?  Couldn’t I just run a 10K instead?   I’ll huff and puff my way ‘cross the finish line.  I promise.

It’s not called practice for nothing.  Yoga, writing, meditation.  Practice, practice, practice!  Argh.  Can’t it just once be about the destination?

Well, March-May was hard, seeing as my measure of springtime are those glorious, manicured days in New York City, but here its name is M-U-D, aka the longest damn ending to the snowiest winter EVER.  No sun, mostly in the forties, and relatively leafless until, pretty much, yesterday.  While the rest of the country is smouldering already, I’m still in long sleeves.  And a scarf.

I DID have a moment of spark, post-cleanse, when the muses started dancing.  It looked like this:

Bret Michaels
Look what the cat dragged in.

Yeah, kickstart my heart!

It’s not all for naught.  Many words have materialized on the pages of my memoir-in-progress and I’ve researched some communist (and capitalist) propaganda for my Soviet-era play that’s been rattling around in the pinball machine of my imagination, but clearly this blog’s been the white elephant.  (True. I’ve stubbed toes and peanut shells as evidence.)  Each passing day the ant hill morphs into sheer rockface.  Where did I leave those crampons?

Maybe someone snuck in and let the air out of my oxygen tank.

Which reminds me:
“A little bird told me that jumping is easy and the falling is fun, right up until you hit the sidewalk – shivering and stunned.” ~ Ani DiFranco

…like those little finches that fly into the floor-to-ceiling windows at my sister’s house, I’m comin’ to and shakin’ it off.

Then I was waylaid while overcome with Multi-Entrepreneurial Disorder – which, when infected, causes the patient to want to start myriad businesses and collaborative ventures – all under the delusion that she wants to actually work for a living, which I don’t.  What a rabbit hole THAT was.

So, the mania is ebbing and I got myself an $8/hr gig to see how the other 95% live. All in the name of fact-finding and experimentation.  Or… after the snow-pocalypse, then the mud-apalooza and months of solitary scribbling, I know if I don’t get out of this house and talk to other humans, live and in the flesh, I’m gonna commit harikari.

Yeah, the writer’s life. Be careful what you wish for…

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe ~ the writing’s fabulous!  Everything’s goin’ swimmingly!  I’m endlessly inspired and well-disciplined.  I’m churning out magnificent book after book and my publishers keep advancing me enough to buy that charming island with the tricked-out Cape in Penobscot Bay.  Oh, the life – just like Dr. Seuss predicted: all the places I’ll go!  As well, I just won the Booker Prize, and James Franco hired me for a consult.

Or maybe I should keep channeling my inner Bret Michaels and go find myself some groupies.  They say sex tames the….oh, never mind.

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Another inertia-trouncing approach: Acknowledging A Year Of Triumphs

The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

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With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

kale chickpea salad
I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

No Mere Spring Cleaning. It’s Exorcism.

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My arms are crossed in front of me, straitjacket-style.  I grasp the wrists of my chiropractor friend, H, as we position ourselves back-to-back, preparing for the second in a series of three adjustments.  Slowly we each lean forward, away from each other, and the clatter of wooden blocks sounds out as my vertebrae align.

“That was easy!” he says.  “You must really be ready to let go.”

You’re not kidding!  I’ve been tossing stuff out of the plane for miles – a good five years, I’d say. Someone once told me we carry our fears, symbolically, around with us, so I break out my map-reading skills and turn to the topography of my corporeal landscape.  While the runway has seen lift-off, there are still dammed up rivers, buckling frost heaves, and muscular peaks crying out to be climbed.  Taking flight requires the lightest load possible, and I’ve already let go  in substantial ways:  Goodwill, my real estate agent and the zoo that houses former boyfriends have all benefited from my housecleaning efforts.  Flying’s been a long time coming.  My whole life has been rife with falling/flying dreams and now that I’m finally airborne, cutting cords and gaining altitude, clarity emerges like a 747 coming out of the clouds.  But wouldn’t you know that the more I ditch, the more that pops up. It’s like I stashed multiple carry-ons under every single seat and now I’m on cleanup crew.  Someone please deploy the slide and toss a couple of beers my way!

https://offpeaklife.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/sleestaks.jpg?w=300This unfettering process isn’t confined to bone-cracking, closet-purging or journaling; yoga has also been integral. Pranayamic breathing  into joints and muscles bound tight like the foot of an 18th century Chinese woman highlights my avoidance tendencies and thankfully, their growing obsolescence.  Headlining as Houdini in many relationships, I mastered the art of unshackling (not in a good way) but what I fled from usually switchbacked and burrowed deep into commissural crannies, latching on like a stubborn Lyme-ridden deer tick.  In private session, I explain to my yoga instructor, Rachel, the quest to stop skipping over what I didn’t want to feel, and together we face the cave dwellers, those emotional Sleestacks hidden in my shoulders, hips, and spine.  Plank to Baby Cobra is near impossible without my shoulders wincing, so I rush the pose with no precision or grace.  Complete lack of presence.  But I know it’s possible if only I stop dodging the strain and flow through each micro moment.  It’s the anticipation of pain, more than the actual pain that freaks me out.

She guides me to hold each pose for more minutes than I think I can and breathe ever so deeply into the stretch. It’s not as hard as I imagine; time seems to slow and surprisingly, brings relief.  I exhale fully.  What I’ve stuffed into tight spaces loosens and – lo! – starts to dissipate.  Breathing room is redefined.  All this spaciousness created in pigeon, eagle, and other totemic asanas has superseded intellect and provided an escape hatch for ancient toxins.

photo manhole steam

My nemesis, anger – always a knotty one to metabolize – has been most toxic in dark and forgotten corners of my body, sabotaging with putrid, silent stealth.  Now that I’m hushing my mind, quieting my environment, and quelling stimuli,  I see the wreckage and teach my inner fires to warm more and inflame less.  Like receding winter snow, any sense of feeling wronged has nowhere left to cling and transforms the ground beneath.  Now when ire spikes, I let it sting.  Really feel the power surge, and breath.  Then I investigate and almost always when another is involved, I imagine what it must be like on the other side and compassion instantly washes over me.  It’s hard to stay angry at someone when you realize there is no ‘other.’  We’re all in this together, and besides, do any of us really know what the hell we’re doing anyway?

photo road sign squeeze meTry this:  grab a sock or a pen in your dominant hand.  Facing it down, squeeze.  Squeeze a little more.  Now squeeeeze with all your might.  And…………………drop it.

Which was easier?  The letting go, of course. Yes, I know, it’s easier to do when you’re ready, it’s the getting ready that’s difficult.  It’s taken me years.  It’s been gradual, uncomfortable, and replete with pitfalls and backsliding, but I’m traveling atmospherically these days and I hunger to go higher and faster, still.  So I’m dedicating this month to boot camp-level exorcism.  I’m calling upon all therapies – Feng Shui-ing, digestive sand-blasting, African drumming, sitting at the altar of Ganesh, marathon-training. April is spring cleaning month and I’m giving myself a psychic colonic.  Ready?  Set.  GO!

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Nester Versus Nomad. Which Are You?

Snowfall has its silent beauty, but as March days breath deeper, the first rains of spring patter and tap the poetry of awakening.  The rhythmic rattle on the cellar bulkhead hypnotized me into a sleepy haze last night, and I dreamt of eddys and gushes and gurgles and whirlpools, but when I woke this morning at my sister’s house, the romance of thaw and melt drowned like the Wicked Witch of the West.  Streams cut gorges down the driveway, carrying away gravel and gutting a narrow bend down to axle-width.  Dirt roads are gullied, riverbanks ragged and schools shuttered.  In the basement, a laundry basket and litter box bob next to flower pots, scrap lumber and that last bottle of Chardonnay we were saving.  Worst of all, the furnace, hot water heater, washer, dryer and dehumidifier are Katrina’d under more than a foot of murky water.  Lucky for us there’s cordwood and a sump pump to rent.  But wouldn’t it be nice to just call the landlord?

My real estate obsession began in the mid-nineties as I fantasized about buying, renovating, and selling houses as a means to a financial end.  I audited the New York State realtor’s class and skipped certification because I didn’t want to sell houses as a vocation, I just wanted to understand the process and the legalities.  After years of renting, I finally bought a charming 1929 Arts & Crafts Bungalow with hand-milled kitchen cabinets, (now extinct) American Chestnut trim, and gorgeous hardwood floors on a corner lot.  What a feeling to own a little piece of the world!  It was all mine.  No downstairs neighbors, no sharing the driveway, no cheap remodels.

But you know the story…

When I finally sold it, almost 10 years later, I was glad to be rid of it:  shovelling the sidewalk, replacing the roof, painting the clapboard, cleaning the attic, spackling the plaster, replacing cracked windows, mowing the lawn, spring/fall cleanup, paying for insurance, fixing the plumbing…if you’ve owned property, then you know:  all mine means ALL mine.  Picking out Bee Balm Red to paint the library is fun, cleaning up the electrician’s mess is not.

Although a happy renter now, I can still imagine doing it again…shopping at Brimfield Antiques Market for treasures, finding just the right shade of Farrow and Ball, designing the Japanese bath I’ve always wanted.  I can picture an orchard of peach, plum and crabapple trees, rows of raspberry bushes and the long table set for 12 with handmade napkins and vases of wildflowers.  I see the writers and artists retreat in the renovated barn and a couple of guest cottages down a stone pathway.  However, visualizing your dream home is like visualizing your soulmate – we don’t conjure the hiccups and crashes, just the bear-skin rug in front of a wood-burning fireplace.

So I wonder…is it worth it?

As the coda of my hibernation approaches, I think of how I want to spend my money and my time.  Spring signals a new cycle, and I contemplate the lightness of living simply versus the responsibility of stewardship and maintenance.  Both have their merits and drawbacks.

Given your druthers, which would you prefer? To be or not to be – Lord of the Manor?

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