Every little thing

Originally the fifth bedroom in this townhome served as a small nursery off of the master bedroom, but somewhere further along in history it was turned into a walk-in closet. Luckily, before moving in, I donated over half of my wardrobe. Instead of filling the room with more clothes and shoes, I’ve decided to store my yoga things and my zafu on my side of the closet, and bring them out here instead of in the living room as I would have done in our last home. Living with intention has started in earnest with a larger space with less objects occupying it. There is room to rest your eyes, there is room to sit on the floor and think of nothing for a while.

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For a long time I wrote with the hopes that every syllable might bring about a creative epiphany, or at the very least, something that could be extracted and published. This is what writers are taught that matters most. If your heart has been broken, or if you meet someone caustic or eccentric, they can be fuel for that blue fire of creation and output.

I’m ready to just sit. I have other outlets to put my writing skills to good use that fulfills me. This is a relaxation space. I hope the only thing that comes out of it is me, more aware, more mindful, more compassionate.

We don’t have a dishwasher in this place, and what’s resulted has been a lesson in mindfulness for all of us. Xander helps more with the dishes; before he would load his own but now he helps us wash, dry, and put away. Sometimes we have a line of the three of us, one washing, one drying, one putting away. Even when I’m doing dishes by myself it’s been a calming experience. The soap smells nice, the water is warm, the porcelain plates are smooth and cool to the touch. They are here. So am I. That is enough.

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The quote on the chalkboard is of course Bob Marley’s. We sing “Three Little Birds” every  night with Xander before he falls asleep. I hope he never grows out of this, as he grew out of clutching his little “stones” each night. For a few years he held a piece of smooth rose quartz in one hand, and another piece of jade or fluorite in the other. Before the “stones” he used to have George the monkey with him. There were actually two identical Georges. One was the main one and the other the backup, in case George #1 was lost. George #2 was called “Georgie” and he used to fuss if we tried to give him Georgie instead of George. he said he knew the difference, and he couldn’t sleep without the real George. Just a year or so ago he admitted that he himself couldn’t tell the difference between the two monkeys, he just liked having us search for the other one. The art of the bedtime stall is one of that kid’s best tricks.

Recently, I saw a news story about a man who spends his life making elaborate cairns in the Smoky Mountains. He balances huge river rocks to impossible heights and arrangements, finding balance in the space between rock, earth, air, and his hands. On Saturday I attempted a few myself, and although they’re small and a little silly, I felt a smoothing in my chest. It’s good to know that there are little things that add up to big things, and things that will stay little.

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Actual Size

Well, I did let a month pass before writing here, but I have a rock-solid excuse: we moved, and I’ve been scurrying around setting everything to rights. Admittedly the last time we moved the computer was warm to the touch practically because I wrote about the whole progress, with big color photographs. Since I’ve started university my efforts are concentrated in that direction, so this space has suffered from neglect. 

Another thing that’s kept me busy has been a fluctuating tide of anxiety. Some days it’s barely there, trapped like a bat in my ribcage, and other days it’s full tide, washing away most of my good thoughts, changing my personality into something dark and jittery. I’ve written about my anxiety in more lyrical and beautiful ways than this before, preferring to cloak it in characters, or prose, or hide it behind haiku. It felt better to turn worry into art. I used to think that was productive. By beating around the bush I was creating something new and beautiful out of something old and raw and terrifying. It was a cop out. By not staring the demon right in the face I continued to feed him. By addressing him by name without throwing flowers at his feet I can make him smaller. Remember that Buffy when Gachnar the fear demon overtook the frat house on Halloween ended up being such a tiny, tiny little demon that the Scooby Gang could was able to taunt it and squash it? I need to start seeing my fears and anxieties as small and squashable in the universe. I need to see them as as insignificant as Gachnar.

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What has helped me squash the fear demon? Walks, a bit less coffee, listening to music, traveling to places that make me calm, spending simple, honest time with my family. This new house is calm. It’s house number is a six in feng shui numerology, which means that it has no negative influences that need to be offset. The only negative influence so far, has been me and my monkey-mind. My worries generally revolve around money, the fear that we’ll run out, that we’ll be poor again, that I’ll have to leave school. These are not completely irrational fears, but the way that my mind spins them out of control is anything but rational. 

I’m trying to focus on the bright spots instead of the dark. Here are some of the bright spots from this past week. 

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Xander’s “house” at his new school chose this quote from Wilma Rudolph to be their house quote, and also chose Wilma Rudolph to be the person that embodies their house theme, which is perseverance: 

“I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble is too difficult to overcome.” 

Xander made the “E” in “Trouble.” 

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A sunny moment in our new living room. 

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Xander hiking yesterday evening along the water that feeds the historic Mingus Mill on the North Carolina side of the Smoky Mountains. We are so lucky to live here, and our new town is so much closer to spots like this. 

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An overlook somewhere between North Carolina and Tennessee. This land of Blue Smoke is our home. 

~~~

Tell me, what quiets your anxiety? 

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I’m worried about the future again, which you told me is where the root of anxiety lives. I’d rather live in a tree instead of a few paces ahead. Buddha had his Bodhi, I have my broadleaf evergreens. Magnolias are older than bees, which tells me that they can save us all if the bees die and all that are left are hard-shelled wasps and beetles. Before the bees manifested, it was the beetles who made the magnolias bloom, but I don’t know if they smelled as cloyingly sweet or were so paper-white.

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Mark Catesby – Magnolia, 1731

I’m sorry that I only come here when I’m worried, or after I’ve made a mistake. Most of my mistakes are internal, never voiced, never acted upon, only memorized and repeated. The need to be happy, to be still, to be settled…this is what presses on my chest. There are dozens of birds outside our window, small and brown, carrying off materials to make nests. The robins left but the finches are here. Their nests are less conspicuous, small, unobtrusive. Hundreds of eggs, blue and white, crunch underfoot. I’m writing to make myself feel better now, giving over to images that are comforting and calming. A walk across campus, heavy with humidity and magnolia, the very heat and smell that we lacked when we were north. Back then my bodhi was a birch, millions of them, actually. Their uniformity and chalky white bark was like a hum, a mantra, a lullaby. Here the trees are as different as my emotions and decisions. It’s complicated enough here, in this temperate rain forest, to stay forever. But don’t think I won’t run to the tundra again, if it asks me. Under this canopy of magnolias, dogwood, willow, and tulip poplar is where I hide. But I don’t think I can hide forever.