Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At The End Of The Day

In the spring, 
at the end of the day, 
you should smell like dirt.  
~Margaret Atwood

Monday, May 30, 2011

Home Is A Really Good Place

We picked a sweet spot to set up camp on the old farm in Greentown. It was fine, cozy really, especially when Claire's fever spiked in the middle of the night and she began speaking in tongues and seeing things that weren't there.

Stumbling to the double-seater outhouse added to the tenting experience, while Chewy wandered off in search of the FIVE other dogs camping up there with family members. Hard to know what time that was...3 am? 4? 

Yesterday was rough. I can't recall being quite so tired. I took a sweaty nap most of the morning. Meaning I lay in the tent with my eyes closed, willing my body to rest. Occasionally the sound of Chewy barking at someone to throw the tennis ball brought me back to awareness. Finally I got up to check on my kid (excellent mothering, part one) and found her pale and green around the gills but fortunately being cared for by the twenty-seven other family members and friends (two of them nurses) who had come to camp in the fields. 

Later, I discovered her passed out in the tent. She'd gone to get her hat and was too tired to get up. She fell asleep where she landed; on the floor of the tent. (excellent mothering, part two.)

So, I never showed up here yesterday... 

We went to bed early last night...but not until Jesse got clocked in the head with a lacrosse ball. Not sure whether to laugh or cry, she did both. Someone handed her a cold beer to put on her head. She did that, then drank the beer...something she rarely does.

Claire was medicated, resting when the storm came in a fury of wind and rain. The tent flaps were open and tangled. There was some minor wrestling involving pegs and ties. A small puddle developed near our heads. I was speaking in tongues at that point. Michael pulled me close and said, no big deal. He was right.

Uncle Sam described the pond best: bracing. 

This weekend: 
Dad was there. 
my brothers and their families. 
Jesse and Elizabeth and John. 
Uncle Sam and Aunt Alden.
cousin Rebecca. 
a fever 
a lacrosse ball
the pond.

When everyone drove away this afternoon, we sat under the old pear tree. Everything was green and yellow sun and soft and still. 

I thought, now I could stay. But we came home. 

After one more plunge in the pond...

Home is a really good place. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Breaking Through Old Ground

I have this silly notion that once I have an insight, I should be done with it. That reviewing the same old themes (for years!) on walks with Neeny is a reflection of fault lines in my character. That somehow, I alone, suffer from a deep weakness of not getting it while everyone else is drifting merrily down the stream. 

Call the head examiner, please.

How many times must I go over this, Neeny?

Neeny has known and loved me for decades. Nothing I talk about is off limits. She's always willing to listen. 

Actually, she loves to listen. 

But yesterday was her birthday and there I was, offering up a dose of tightness and tears about my worth in the world and what's the point, neck and shoulders gripped in pain. My timing sucked. 

Get over yourself.

But every time I had that thought, the vise grip tightened on my shoulders, my chest hurt, and my eyes welled up. 

Here's the thing, Neeny said, nodding her head.

Thanks for noticing how you're feeling! Let's notice and celebrate that, for the moment, your neck and shoulders are really tight and well, you feel low, or part of you feels low, and...so what? And yes, we do need to keep talking about the same old things because what else are we going to talk about?

This is not a problem, she assured me.


By the end of our walk, sweaty and red-faced, my whole body felt softer and more spacious. The birthday celebration shifted into a "girl's night out" at the Sycamore Grill (with Claire as our partner in crime.)

[The cast of characters who passed by our table had me scribbling down the beginnings of a ten-minute play. Stayed tuned.]

For today, I am celebrating my not done-ness, and yours too, and all the people in my life who love me no matter how tangled up I feel. 

Until my ashes are flung into the ocean by the red, clay cliffs of Gayhead in Martha's Vineyard, I'm going to keep walking, 

noticing and celebrating

the same old things, 

breaking through old ground, 

over and over and over.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guilt Show

Driving down Main Street I noticed a banner strung above the cars. At first glance I read, 

Guilt Show Sat. 1 -5pm/ Sun. 1- 5pm

but as I got closer I could see that it was 

Quilt Show.

Funny the difference one letter makes.
Funny where the mind goes...

curiouser and curiouser.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In This Box: Part Two

In this box there is an egg. 

In the egg is a gigantic circus, with elephants, horses, people dressed up as old grandma clowns, actors, a big audience, some balloons, and a giant (deadly) human cannon.

- Michael, 5th grader

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In This Box

In this box could be a skull, fire, invisible birds, a heart, tacos, mexican jumping beans, bricks, another box, eyeballs, eggs, a dragon, money, ME!, god, a notebook, a key to another box, a kneecap, death, Jackie Chan, throwing strz, mini ninjas, cornflakes, strawberries, wood, acid, gasoline, a nuke, grass, or a burrito.

- James, 6th grader

what do you think could be in the box?

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Own Advice

Tell me, Betsy, are you always able to follow your own advice? I am envious if you do... =']

laurel asked.

Great question!! Answer: big fat no

every day I wrestle with doubt, worry, envy, confusion, fear, frustration, anger, grief, shame, loss ... 

did I mention worry?

a long looping list of tangly emotions.

I believe we teach what we most need to learn. 

I aspire to...

rope in my restlessness
practice patience
get out of my own way
unpeel my dream,step inside, and live it
trust that being is sufficient
forgive myself
forget the rules and follow my heart
open and soften
swim more rivers
let go 
practice self-care
laugh more
know that I'm enough
practice not knowing much of anything...

trust unflinching in my artist's life.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Begin Living It

Unpeel your dream 
from the center
where it lives.
step inside
and begin living it. 


Friday, May 20, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Didn't Know Anything

Memoir Notes III

Mom's in her garden in the backyard of our red brick house with black shutters and the white picket fence. The yard, an explosion of snow-white dogwoods and the lone crabapple. She's on her knees, green garden gloves on her hands, smoothing and clearing around the irises. 

Mom loved to garden. She had a very green thumb. Everything came to life under her fingertips, lush and colorful, but with a sense of order. Knees in the dirt, she'd push her face deep into the flowers, eyes closed. 

I remember the snapdragons; tiny fists of yellow and pink flowers on long green stems. I was little. Maybe four, five? 
In those days, I didn’t know about Bill, my brother. I didn’t know anything about Mom losing her son, about her other life in Canada, how she probably thought about her son every day. How Bill was living with his mean cousin, Murray. How his Dad was dead. How we were here and he was there. I didn’t know anything about my brother until I was older. Nine, ten? 
My brothers and I were always running around the yard, swinging on the swings, 45’s playing on the portable turn-table, Build Me Up Buttercup, crawling along the ground in a game of army with the Ashby and Trexler boys who lived just beyond the canopy of pink blossoms through a small opening of fence.
Every night Mom had dinner on the table for us; her one girl and three boys, and her preacher husband. I didn't know that somebody was missing. I didn't know anything about her other life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Being Is Sufficient

Today I will stop straining to know what I don't know, to see what I can't see, to understand what I don't yet understand. I will trust that being is sufficient, and let go of my need to figure things out.

-Melody Beattie

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Away From The Pack

This bird is from last summer; beach towels on the line, sunshine. The good old days when Owen was free to sleep on the back porch and watch the birds stroll by. Owen did that all the time BC.

Before Chewy, the big-eared dog. 

Anyway, today is a wet, green day. I was having tea with Neeny when the lone turkey appeared in the yard. When I ran to get my camera, the bird retreated to the tangle of green forsythia. No shot.

My turkey peeps tend to travel in a crowd, pecking their way under the pines out my writing window, meandering across the yard. However lately, I've spotted a few loners. I've been wondering what's up with this loner thing until Claire cleared it up while we were driving to her after-school track program.

"Look, there's another turkey all by itself," I said.
"Well, maybe it just needed to get away from the pack," she said," maybe it's having a spiritual breakthrough and just needed some time alone."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who You Are

Tension is who you think you should be. 
Relaxation is who you are.

- Chinese Proverb

Sunday, May 15, 2011

We Started Out Together

We started out together. 

Jesse and Claire in the lead. Michael by my side. We said from the start, run your own race, so early on, I was left in their cheetah dust, as Elizabeth likes to say.

I found myself running alongside a young girl with a pink ball cap pulled down over her eyes. She barely came up to my waist. Her Dad was in front of us, running backwards, encouraging her on. 

See the finish line, Shannon, he chanted.

Shannon said nothing, arms swinging, eyes forward.

At some point I lost them. I was running my own race, seeing my own finish line, down Main Street, past cops holding up cars and kind people on the sidewalk offering cups of water. 

Run to the next corner, I negotiated with myself.

Long before the turn-around, shirtless young men and strong, lean women, flew by, already on their way back to the stadium and the finish line.  

Run to the next light.
Run to the old J. J. Newberry's store.
Run up the hill to the school.

I ran up the small hill near the elementary school to the half-way mark, touching hands with Michael, Jesse, and Claire as they ran down the hill.

Run to the turn-around.
Run back passed J. J. Newberry's.
Run to the light.
Run to the stadium.
Run to the finish line.

I spotted Jesse's purple shirt ahead of me as I ran into the stadium. People were shouting and clapping. Loud music blaring from speakers. 

Inside me, silence; heart pumping, legs moving. 

Down the final stretch, I ran very fast. 

kick it kick it kick it kick it kick it kick it!

It felt so good to do this thing, to run like a kid

to cross the finish line, heart racing, face flushed, 


And in the crowd, my family, waiting for me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Fine Mingling

All the art of living lies in 
a fine mingling of letting go 
and holding on.

- Havelock Ellis

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our Conversation

Yesterday I went to post and couldn't.

Blogger down, the page read.


I kept clicking, no service. 

"I can't post," I said to Claire.
"Why, Mom?"
"Service is down, it won't let me on."
"That's awful," she said.
"You know, it's weird. At first I thought so too, Claire. But there's a part of me that feels relieved. I been doing this every day for over a year and..."
"No, Mom! It's not okay."

But surprisingly, it was okay. 

Blogger World was out of my control.  

But but but I've posted four hundred and thirty-six days! From campgrounds to Buddhist retreat centers! This is going to break my record!

There was nothing for me to do.

Understanding that was the relief. 

I closed my laptop and went to bed. 

Here's the thing about this place where I show up every day to write and put up my photos. 

I see you, in my mind's eye, checking in. 

Maybe you're at work, at Starbucks, or naked? 

I write to you, sometimes you write back. 

Like you complete me?

This Being Alive isn't about keeping a record alive, although I cop to clinging to it... 436 days in a row.

It was a breakthrough to let go of thinking I could control Blogger World, because believe me, I was looking for a way...

What did I learn from this technical glitch? 

It was okay.

And, I missed our conversation ~

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Band Of Fireflies

I'm still thinking about Betty and the picture of her as a young woman and how she said, "Want to see how I used to look?"

She wasn't being overly wistful about it. 
Unlike me, Wistful Winnie. 

Whenever I see a picture of myself, even from a year ago I'm startled by how I used to look, then -

what the hell happened to my neck? 

Oh vanity!

My friend Ann, a woodland sprite at fifty-two is a dancer, actor, artist, magical mother of two boys, parading as an Instructional Aide in a kindergarten class. She has a great take on the neck thing.

"What's the big deal about skin anyway?" she said one day after yoga. She took a hold of the skin on her arm and tugged.
"It's just skin," she said, "I don't get it. Who cares if it's wrinkled."

This may have come on the heels of me wistfully recalling a time in college when a woman touched my arm and said, You have the most beautiful skin. 

I, an olive-skinned, smooth-faced nineteen year old, blushed with specialness from a stranger's comment and the touch of her hand on my skin. 

oh vanity!

I remember that summer day very well. At my college tucked in the Green Mountain State, it was the fashion for me to wear overalls and nothing else. I was young skin in overalls, glorious air everywhere.

I am not my skin. 

oh vanity!

Dad says, the body is an overcoat for this life.

In response to every magazine with an air-brushed, botoxed, bikini-clad woman on the cover, I must constantly remind myself that this body is a container for light and love and life. 

It's just skin. I don't get it. 

When we die, we'll slip out of our overcoats and float gently up into the sky, a band of shimmering fireflies.

Read: Betty's Still Beautiful/ May 10, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Betty's Still Beautiful

This is Betty.

"She's gone around the track 92 times," Dad said.
"He's so nice," Betty said, leaning her head into his chest.
"Keep it coming," Dad said, laughing.

Claire and I followed her grandfather down the hall to see the drawing he'd done of a hummingbird in a recent art class. It hung, in a black frame on the wall, surrounded by other hummingbirds done by the residents of Mrs. Bush's Personal Care Home; an artist's gallery of hummingbirds.

On our stroll back, we saw Betty again.
"Come into my room for a minute, " she said, "I want to show you something."
We followed Betty into her room.
"Use your walker, Betty!" a woman said, passing by.
Betty left her walker at the door.

Betty picked up two pencil drawings of a shapely woman in a bathing suit.
"I did these when I was sixteen," she said.
"They're very good!" I said, "Claire's an artist, Betty. She'll have to bring her sketchbook next time to show you."
Claire blushed. She gets embarrassed whenever I say she's an artist.
"I like to draw, Mom." she says, "I just don't think I'm an artist yet."
"My hands shake too much now,"Betty said, laying her drawings back on the desk, "so I can't draw anymore."

Betty did not look sad. I felt a little sad.

"Here," Betty said, "This is what I used to look like."
She held up a photograph of an olive-skinned brunette, white teeth smiling at the camera.
"Stunning!" I said.
"I had so many boyfriends," she chuckled, "I finally had to kick them all to the curb. Too many."

In the car ride home, Claire and I chatted about our time.
"That Betty is really something," I said. "Gosh. She was so beautiful."
"Betty's still beautiful," Claire said.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Over The Edge

It was the algebra homework that put her over the edge...

Needless to say, I was no help at all.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

breakfast in bed 

scrambled eggs
toast with peanut butter
raisins and walnuts
dogwood blossom in jar

freshly made warm chocolate chip cookies with walnuts

claire in one of mom's old shirts  

= a very happy mom

Saturday, May 7, 2011

All At Once

all at once like a flash flood of love, grace, and need,
the Heart finds its release

- Gus Brett

Friday, May 6, 2011

Feeling Of Openness

The feeling of openness is always accompanied with a feeling of softness.  

- Chandra Alexander

Thursday, May 5, 2011

No Longer Strangers

Jeremy lives in West Philly in a house with a yard. 
He rides his bike across the city to work every day. 
He loves greens. 
His friends are farmers. 
He likes to cook vegetables, just barely. 
But I have a soft spot for Southern collard greens, way overcooked.
He wants to create beautiful things with wood.

It's a lovely thing sharing stories with strangers because, well, then they're no longer strangers...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Unfurling is easier than we make it.

Or should I say I make it.

Find the ease and joy in unfurling.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

That Laughing Thing

Dad said:

I am overwhelmed by the graciousness of life

Wow, was all I could say.

Then he started that laughing thing again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reindeer Games

Now that I'm teaching yoga at a local spa four days a week, I never know who's going to show up. Especially for the 7:15 in the morning class. The women change from week to to week; all ages, shapes, sizes...and stories.

Lisa sat down on a mat. Mary arrived with a book.
"Have you ever practiced yoga before?"
Heads shook no.
"Would you like to join us?" I asked, nodding to Mary.
"I think I'll just observe," she said, clutching her book.
"That's fine. Okay, so right now, we're simply breathing. Let's sit up, long lovely spine. No forcing, just noticing the rise and fall of the breath."

The room grew very still. I counted three breath cycles before cracking one eye to check on Mary. She was sitting on the bench, looking like someone who wants to jump in the pool, come to the party, join in the reindeer games, but wasn't sure how. 

"You could sit and breath with us." I said, "If you want."

Mary left her book on the bench and came down onto a mat. 

Now there were three of us, eyes closed, breathing.