Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Guilt. Who needs it?

I do, apparently, because I can't seem to let it go.

I was reminded yesterday of the last course I taught. My anxiety in full throttle, I cancelled more classes than I should have because I convinced myself that somehow I could not get through them. I would procrastinate my preparation, cobble together a lesson plan the night before, and lose myself to panic in the morning. It was a cycle I repeated week after week, until finally -- after receiving the first negative evaluations ever in eleven semesters of teaching -- I gave up. Resigned my teaching assignment for the spring. And I've felt guilty ever since.

For a while I just told myself that teaching wasn't for me. "I'm a terrible teacher" became the go-to loop running through my head. But here's what I've come to: I'm not a terrible teacher. In fact, I'm a rather good teacher, but I made poor decisions and didn't seek the right support. There's also no sugar-coating the other stuff: I failed to give those students a proper course, and as much as I want to comfort myself with the thought that they've probably forgotten all about it by now, the truth is that I don't know, and I'll never know. I have to be o.k. with the fact that I messed up. I made a mistake.

A therapist once told me to substitute the critical voice in my head with a kinder one: "What would you say to a friend who was going through your situation?" she asked. I was reminded of Geneen Roth's approach, referring to yourself as "darling" or "sweetheart." Geneen suggests that when stress drives you to that third piece of chocolate cake, simply say to yourself: "Honey, you're feeling empty, it's true. But it probably isn't hunger." Sometimes I eat that third piece of cake. But sometimes I choose to feel whatever it is that's masquerading as appetite. 

So I say to myself, "Sweetheart? Here's the thing. You taught a pretty terrible course, and you may or may not have turned those kids against reading for life. Please accept it, and please move on." But I don't accept it, and I don't move on, and it's not just that failure of a semester, either. I'm torn up with guilt over a million insignificant and yet apparently wholly crucial events. And the worst guilt of all? That my life is filled to the brim with blessings -- I have my health and my family, and it's springtime out there for goodness sake -- and yet I'm mired in the should-haves and why-didn't-Is.

Suddenly I understand what Marianne Williamson meant when she said that the fear at our very core is not that we are "inadequate  . . . [but] that we are powerful beyond measure." If I dare to shed the guilt, to accept the past and focus on this one moment now, the only moment that ever really exists, what if I find that it's not enough? That I'm still not fulfilled? Wallowing in guilt ain't a pleasure cruise, but at least it's familiar. I want to know for sure that if I break out of the old, unproductive cycles that I'll feel better, more at peace. I want guarantees.

And so I leave you with no pronouncements grasping at a moral, no assurances that I'll do better next time. I'm just going to breathe. And possibly pet a cat or two.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

fancy cuisine

I'll still be posting here, but I decided to start a second blog, an online cookbook, if you will, so I don't always have to start from scratch every evening.

cuisine de fancy

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

roots and folds

Thursdays you'll find me spending the afternoon with my grandmother, my mother's mother. We talk about her mother's mother, and I ask to hear the stories I've heard a million times. But this time I'm writing them down.

I like to hear about what Irene was like as a young woman, as I only knew her as my Babci, an eighty-something great-grandmother, who smacked her gum and cooked a mean galumpki. I like to hear, too, about Pelagia, she of the embroidered apron and yellow coverlet. And of Pelagia's husband, Roman, who sported a mustache that spanned the entire width of his face.

I like hearing stories of my grandfather, too, although those feel different. He is gone, like Pelagia and Roman and the other ancestors whose unfamiliar faces look out from yellowing photographs. But I didn't know them, and I knew him. My heart breaks when I consider that my grandmother lost the love of her life, and so the stories -- even the happy ones -- are always already tinged with sadness. But I like talking about Grampy despite the ache in my heart because I know it makes my grandmother happy.

We laugh as we remember his bone-dry wit. She tells me how, when he asked her if he could have another dance that first night they'd met, that she'd asked, "Why, are you trying to get out of it?" I tell her that I'll never forget returning home after a weekend away to find that the bottom portion of my bookcase had been transformed -- clearly by magic -- into a boudoir for my dolls. The left compartment had become a closet for their hanging clothes, hung up with tiny pink metal hangers; the right side held three wooden drawers with ample room for their bloomers and pajamas. I remember my delight, and I remember my mother telling me, "That's how you know how much he loves you."

This is my favorite photograph of my grandfather.

My grandmother kept it folded in her pocket while he was away in the Navy.

I like that those folds are a tactile reminder of how much my grandmother loved my grandfather. And I like that my descendants, a hundred years from now, will see those folds and know, if nothing else, that she kept him close to her heart.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

retracing my steps

I've just reread my last few entries here (it's been a while, hasn't it?). It is difficult to read through the pain because I experience it all over again when I see it on the page. It makes me want to give myself a hug.

I wrote in September: "I have decided that I'm going to open myself up to the universe, to God, and relinquish control over my life's path. I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. And I have decided to be okay with that."

I also didn't know what was going to come next (of course, we never do, do we?), otherwise I might have been a wee bit less willing to relinquish control. I wonder sometimes if I would have given up eating as an emotional outlet -- as way to numb those uncomfortable feelings -- if I had known what surrendering to those emotions would actually feel like. It's not a productive line of thinking, of course, but sometimes you just need a few moments of feeling sorry for yourself.


During the past year, I have lost a lot of weight. And it feels really weird. Not awesome, like I always thought it would feel. Weird. On the other hand, all of this yoga of the past few months has reawakened a love for my body that I haven't experienced since...well, since I was a child who spent the summers swimming in Long Pond, and running, barefoot and whining, across the pebbly lawn of my grandparents' lakehouse.

In December, at my first yoga class in New Bedford (and second yoga class ever), my instructor said: "In preparation for the shoulder stand, please lie back on the mat, feet flexed . . ." and then I stopped listening because I was freaking out. Big time. "I'm too heavy," I thought. "Can't do it." And so I went to the wall and tried it there, and it was very hard for me. And I thought, "I'll never be able to do it."

I guess sometimes I just stop listening to that voice because even though I knew I could never do a shoulder stand, I kept trying, kept practicing until a quite momentous day last week when I rolled back and my legs shot up and stayed. I rolled back down, sat up, and said to the cats, but mostly just to myself, "Whoa."

Here's to knowing you can't do something and doing it anyway.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


A new year. I feel different. I've been reading Eat, Pray, Love, and it occurred to me this morning that my "About Me" section is kind of funny. I'm seeking God, and beauty, and stillness, am I? As Ketut says, it's same-same. 

I've never really thought about seeking God, not earnestly. I've wanted to be that kind of person, the Liz Gilbert-type, who tirelessly searches for evidence of the divine. But I've never actively done so. I think maybe I'd like to start.

Sometimes I miss how I used to feel. Not really contented, but at least grounded in some way. With a plan. There's a comfort to be found in living life passively -- reacting, never striking out on my own initiative. But it didn't get me far, or at least, not to a very healthy place. So I've been working on the healing.

Since last week, I've been participating in a psychiatric day program, and my favorite social worker there asked, penetratingly, "How badly do you want to feel better?"

How badly do I want to feel better? In the throws of distress, the answer comes easily, desperately: SO BADLY. So very badly. But when the anxiety dissipates and the depression clears, ever so slightly? Well, not quite so badly, it seems. It's too easy to become lax in my self-care practices when the need is less urgent. 

When I wake in the morning, I am compelled to follow my self-imposed schedule: two rounds of sun salutations (only two, but lordy, it takes it out of me), balanced breathing, then meditation. Then a shower. Then breakfast. Lying there, in a warm bed, I dread all of it. And so I ask myself: how badly do I want to feel better? And I peel off the covers, and force myself to just stop thinking, and do. There is no psyching myself up for this morning of rituals. There is just doing it. 

This morning, I woke up too late (way past dawn), took my sweet time getting downstairs to where my purple yoga mat sat patiently in the corner, and probably lasted about ten minutes in seated meditation before my back hurt too much and my right foot was just a leetle too numb to bear. So I compromised and meditated lying down. 

Maybe tomorrow I'll last eleven minutes.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Feel fear, live fearlessly.

Friday, November 05, 2010

still here

I've been waiting to update for a time when I'm feeling better. I'm not feeling better, but I am feeling like writing.

This, right here, right now, is a difficult time. I've only written about tough times that have already passed. So easy to write about the past, even when it sucked: When I'm in a better place, and I can reflect and take stock with a clear head, a perspective at a distance.

So I'm going to try something new and write when I'm feeling the pain. My hands are shaking because I haven't had a lot of sleep this past week. I've also been so nauseated that I can barely eat anything at meals, which, you know, totally, totally sucks. I love food, I love eating. It's incredibly frustrating to prepare a meal and sit down, expecting to savour it, only to find that my stomach turns. I take a bite and it turns some more. A few months ago, I would eat quickly, distractedly,  trying to weigh down my own body and my anxiety. Today, I ate quickly, distractedly because I needed to get some nutrients into my system. I learned a Spanish proverb here that resonates strongly right now: "The belly rules the mind." I need to get to a place where I am eating and sleeping normally, and I know that the anguish will lessen.

Since this really rough time began last week, I've seen a Primary Care doctor, a holistic physician, and psychologist. Next week, I'm going to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist. I have a whole morning routine filled with meditation and oil massage and yoga and walks. But it is really hard to accomplish those things. Sometimes the thought of making lunch is so overwhelming that it makes me cry.

But I am learning things. There is something beautiful about this pain, something instructive. In a very bad spell this weekend, after I'd done yoga, gone for a walk, and yet couldn't still my racing, panicked thoughts, I had no choice but to sit on the couch, and let go. I sobbed. It occurred to me that I wanted to read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now. I read one sentence and looked outside at the trees. I wrenched my gaze back to the book. Again and again. It took me a half hour to read one page. The thought occurred to me that I was being given this pain to prove to myself that I could take it. That it wouldn't break me. Because I've run from fear and anger and sadness my whole life. And right now I'm feeling all of that because I couldn't feel them before. For a second, I was able to let go, to release all of my resistance to feeling the absolutely terrifying, paralyzing fear. And, suddenly, without warning, my entire body relaxed, and I felt my spirit lifted upward and outward. Warmth ricocheted through me and I sobbed hot tears of gratitude and love for the release of the pain and for the glimpse of what lay beyond it. I don't care how cheesy it sounds: it was transcendent.

When you hit a wall, you're forced to make a change. I'm exercising now not because I need to lose weight, or to make myself look better, but out of utter desperation.  I'm going to wake up tomorrow and meditate -- hard as it is -- because I know how strong I am, and I want to get better. Even at the darkest time, I can still sense a whisp of hope that this different life I'll be embarking on -- this healthier, more spiritual, connected life --  will be filled with unexpected opportunities to give of myself and -- most important to me right now -- deep, profound stillness and immeasurable joy. I know what that feels like, and, by God, I'm not giving up.