Love Affairs

I have been instructed to have a love affair.

In the words of a  fabulous, passionate woman named Veronica, “I love love!”  Veronica exclaimed this at hearing the news of my engagement to my soon-to-be-husband. Her 3 year old child toppled head first into the hot tub at that very moment but that is another story. This story is about love affairs. Specifically one that I have been ordered to have.

I am, and have been, blessed with much love in my life. And not a few love affairs as well. The traditional kind with pounding heart, bated breath and tangled bodies. The kinds of love affairs that are fraught with anticipation, tension and delight, both physical and emotional. I have been sharing a love affair with my life partner of 14 years that includes all the quickened tension combined with the slow familiarity of intimacy. I have had love affairs with friends that exist solely in the heart and mind and are never made physical:  the hours on the phone with best friends when I was 12; the passionate intimacy of best friends in college where we woke to come together and share the day in all the excitement of being young and alive and exploring; current friends whom I anticipate, looking for their calls and texts, wishing for the extended hours of my youth where we could unfold our thoughts together over unrestricted time, but, alas, must parse out between the demands of home, work and children. Those friends who, maybe in a different time would be a different way, but now are held close over solid boundaries. 

I have also had love affairs with places:  in New Mexico where the breeze caressed my sun warmed body by a hot spring;  in Malaysia where the lush flowers and vines stroked the water of a deep pool; in Wyoming when I lay breathing in the songs of the glacial rivers on a full moon night . I love love! I have also had love affairs with ideas: wrapping my heart and mind in the sweet immersion that is Taoism; my bad girl love affair, fortunately brief, with revolutionary communism; taking deep within myself the Goddess and Her magic. But none of those are the kinds of love affairs that I have been instructed to have.

I have been ordered to have a love affair with my voice. My voice and I have had an awkward relationship. I have always loved to sing but in my earlier years was never deemed good enough to make the cut for various chorus’ or solos. So I internalized not being good enough and pretty much stopped trying to be a singer. I kept singing but mostly in a limited, apologetic way; holding back in larger groups, never belting it out and letting loose, never confident around “real” singers” and “real musicians.” The only place where I was comfortable singing was in women’s sacred circles. In singing songs of praise, I learned to pray, but but I didn’t consider it “real” singing. Even though I was writing songs that other people sang and even though I was the song leader of our group, it still wasn’t “real” singing. I sang to my children. I sang in the car. But mostly I yearned to sing and I would say things like “In my next life I’m going to be a musician or a singer.”

In the ongoing  relationship with my voice, I took it on some bad dates a couple of times. Once we went to a voice class that was a dismal failure. Too much, too soon. It just didn’t work. I staggered through songs not understanding why I couldn’t make the sounds I wanted and not knowing how to be a voice student. I gave that up. Some years later later we went to couples therapy and tried group singing lessons. That wasn’t bad, it definitely got us closer and we at least recognized we had a shot at a relationship. We got a little more serious when we joined the chorus at my synagogue and started really working on our issues. But we were so uptight together! Constantly critical and nit picky and cutting each other down. It took two years before I could warm up in the group without feeling like somebody was listening and was going to criticize and tell me that, really, I should just quit the chorus. Each warm up session brought anxiety and criticism, my internal voice muttering “Oh my God, what kind of sound is that, you’re not hitting the note, you’re going to miss the note!” and on and on and on. I was fortunate to find sympathetic alto sisters to sing beside who, strangely enough to me, told me they liked singing next to me! My voice and I began to get a little more comfortable. Just a little.

And then I started attending a chant practice where for 30 minutes once a week a small group gathers to sing Hebrew prayers. As the group learned to soar and experiment, so too did my voice and I. We started to trust each other and our intent, and the music and harmonies we make, and the prayers we sing . And we got a little closer, a little more confident. We took a few more risks, got a little more intimate. 

Then we got a teacher, my voice and I. The first day when I had to stand in front of her and sing I did nothing but cry. I couldn’t perform. I was paralyzed with anxiety. Now it would all be revealed that I really can’t sing, have bad pitch, can’t hit the note blah blah blah. But my teacher loved me and my voice and was gentle with us. And reassuring. But when she told me I could do it, that I have a nice voice and can find the expression of my singing voice for the sake of just singing, I didn’t believe her. And that’s when she suggested a love affair.  She told me I should get passionate with my voice, let it flow through me, let it be one with me, embrace it as a lover. Actually, that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s what love affairs are to me. Flowing, deep, passionate.

I know the noises of passion. As a midwife, I encouraged women to open their mouths and let the song of their birthing move them. The deep groans and grunts common to both birth and sex. Songs that flowed through me in embracing my lovers and birthing my babies. 

So I am working on embracing my voice in the same way. Embracing the song of my voice, the birthing of my voice. Enfolding my soul into the love that lives within me and is expressed through singing. I love love! And I am learning to love singing in a different way. I have learned that it’s OK to sound crummy when you’re warming up, but more importantly, why even bother judging crummy or not crummy? It’s just warming up for heaven’s sake! I have learned that I can begin to trust my ear, to trust my body, to trust the process. I don’t have to overanalyze every note and sound with judgement.

Just like with a lover, or in the making of a long relationship, it’s about building trust. Letting it flow. Not analyzing and judging at every moment but putting energy in it. Working at it with all my senses, with all my passion. Letting it move me and move through me. Being vulnerable to it. Being present with it. Being relaxed with it. Being sensual.

And so I take her wise advice. Hineni. Here I am, loving love, loving singing and, most importantly, loving me singing…

with gratitude to  Gayanne and the chorus of Bet Haverim…

An examined life

I went for a walk in the woods with a friend the other day and as we admired the trees, and the liverwort clinging to the rocks, we talked about living and writing. Writers often write about their adventures or interesting lives, we agreed. I have always thought I would have a more adventurous life, I said. And in fact, in the past have had an adventurous life. I traveled, I climbed a mountain or two. I was a ranger, a midwife. But now I am an in-town mom with a minivan carting my kids to and fro. I do have an interesting job that I love but it is not necessarily an adventurous life! I remember when I first had kids that I did consider it an adventure – the next big adventure and, indeed, being a parent and partner for 13 years has certainly challenged me more than scaling a 13,000 foot mountain – just differently!  But now I am in the groove (most days) and doing what thousands of moms around me are doing. We aren’t living in a cob house, or home schooling, or living off the grid in a boat. We’re just living a fairly modest Atlanta middle class life. It is a wonderful life, I grant you – rich with friends and community, music and art. My friend nodded. Maybe it’s writing the examined life, she said, rather than the lived life. Using your awareness and internal world and perceptions as fodder for the blog, rather than the adventures.

Our talk ranged as our walk did. The sun gloried overhead, a wonderful respite from the recent grey. The dog flung himself enthusiastically into the creek and lolloped about, flinging droplets from his feathery tail. The soft air coupled with winter’s bare trees filled my heart with joy. Our walk was like oxygen, my friend later wrote.

Oxygen, yes. But our conversation also paralyzed me. “The examined life.” “The examined life.” “The examined life.” The phrase ringing in my head. And all of a sudden I had nothing to say! Nothing to write! How do I be present for my own creativity and use the  daily unfolding of life as inspiration without getting caught in the solipsistic hubris of thinking that every thought that I think is interesting or important? Whew. Paralysis.

Writing is two things: it is the words themselves and it is the meaning they convey. I paint portraits in words. A form of poetry. Last night the full moon rose over the desolation, caught in the barb wire fence and tangled in the chimneys. By day the urban blight is raw, gritty. Under the rising moon at the end of a bright winter day, it is soft, beautiful, picturesque, even. Reminding me to look again, stay aware. Seek out the beauty of the everyday. Look for the meaning. Examine my surroundings, examine the landscape – both inside and out. Hineni.

1495449_10202191305495708_797206524_n 1011219_10202191306335729_193597973_n

On being left

When friends are gone, past and present…

I walked past your house today just to see if you were there, though I knew you weren’t. I am always scanning the cars for the sight of yours, looking at the faces of passers-by in case one of them is you. But they never are. You are off to a new adventure but there is a hole in my life. A fray in the fabric of my social tapestry.

I prefer to be the leaver, not the leavee. In my younger days it was always I who left – blithely tripping the light fantastic, off to new horizons, new experiences, new friends. A breezy kiss and down the road I went, rarely thinking of those I left behind.

Now I am settled, my tapestry deeply woven in the warp and weft of my community: kids’ schools, work, synagogue, the neighborhood I live. Friends on the street, friends everywhere I go. I walk the streets expecting to run into people I know. I scan faces, seeking out the familiar ones. My face ready to smile, my arms ready to embrace those with whom I travel this town.

But I don’t see your face. And I know I won’t run into you somewhere casually, the way I used to.

Some of you are gone only temporarily and will return to take your places, repairing the fray or hole in the fabric. And I will celebrate your return and it will soon be as if you never left.

Others of you are gone for longer, perhaps forever, though our interwoven realities are sometimes maintained through the threads of letters, calls, and social media.

Some of you have passed Beyond and I nurture the tenuous threads that hold your memory, re-weaving them with those with whom I shared you; our memories of you keeping your place in the tapestry bright.

And still I look for you, those who have left. Leaving me to scan the faces of the passers-by, to walk past your empty house, to look for the car that I know is yours.

But I don’t see your face.

Spirals

The wonderful thing about a circle is that there truly is no beginning and no end. The wheel of the year is a circle – an endless cycle of beginnings, endings and returnings. We mark the passage of time through our points along the wheel. Yet our experience of the wheel is not as a circle. Some think it is a straight line, others a spiral. I envision our own personal little twisting spirals spinning in space.

It is said that you can’t step into the same river twice. It may look the same, the banks may feel the same, it may be 2 minutes later, perhaps the next day or perhaps January 1 three years in a row, but it is never the same river. It is endlessly flowing, changing, twisting and spiraling as new water hurtles down from the endless source. So too for us humans. I have observed many new year’s days and there are certain recurring rituals but each one brings us a year further along in our own twisting time spiral. A familiar river stepped into again and again yet gently nuanced each time.

One of my favorite books is Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. He writes of the flow of memory and how the years run together in a blur and he reaches into his Christmases and pulls out memories. He begins, “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner […]  that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

I grew up in many houses and towns and there are very few people with whom I have traveled for a length of time and space, few people with whom I share enduring, recurring lengths of memories. My mom, fortunately, is one enduring presence and many others have spiraled in and out of my life. My children are having a different experience from me – our family has lived in the same neighborhood for the length of their respective 10 and 13 years and they both have enduring from-the-womb friendships. New Year’s Eve sees us on our block raising a glass of eggnog with these same people. The new years celebrations run into each other and we can’t remember if Devon broke three glasses when he was two or two glasses when he was three. Did Elijah fall asleep in the middle of the party twice when he was four or four times when he was two?

Memory has it’s own spiraling path, twisting and turning through the runnels of our brains and souls. We mark our returns with ritual; observing and celebrating our movement through space and time in our ever-twisting spiraling world. We who are constantly spinning seek ways to remind ourselves of our re-occurrence. Hence the ritual egg nog, the Christmas eve dinners where everyone plays their roles to a perfection even as we seek to create new patterns, new experiences. My family is creating our Judaic home life as a new foursome – inventing our shared rituals, a scant 13 years of co-creation. Christmas, however, sees us tapping into old rituals, a needed sameness rooted in enduring memories, even as those rituals and memory frustrate and bind. And yet bring familiar sweetness as well. Throughout the year we flip the calendar over into a new month, each one bringing with it expectations of familiarity, even as new experiences add layers to the  accumulation of memory. 

And the years pile up, memory built upon memory built upon experience. Thomas concludes his Christmas reveries  “I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”  The enduring repetition of sunrise and sunset, the ever-spiraling stars, the waxing and waning of the moon. The circle begins again. 

Image