gratitude-a-thon day 2085: a great read

My friend Steph and I have a small (really small–it’s just us!) book club, where we search and sample and dig for the best reads to share with one another. I am not one of those, “I bought it so I have to finish it, EVEN IF I HATE IT,” people, because Jeesh, life is way too short for that. I still remember reading As I Lay Dying in college and honestly, I did want to lay and die as I was reading it……(I am going to give it another try, since I am notoriously influenced by my mood and where I am in my little life, so maybe in college, this just wasn’t the right vibe for me and this critically acclaimed, super influential work).

Anyway, Steph told me she was reading Elizabeth Stout’s Lucy by the Sea, so immediately I downloaded a sample on my Kindle and was all in. It’s about the beginning of the pandemic from one woman’s perspective and it brought me right back to those eerie, early days when who the hell knew what was happening, except for things were changing by the moment and I ordered a bunch of toilet paper, paper towel and rice and my family made fun of me, before they used it all and began to realize that I wasn’t as overreactive as they thought.

This book is so aptly written that reading it is bringing up some of the fear and claustrophobia I felt then. Things were uncertain and odd and the news was like watching a loop of the movie Contagion. My kids were home, I was walking miles and miles a day, just to be out of the house, getting up at odd hours to get on the Amazon Prime Whole Foods delivery line. I was afraid to be with people and took enormous comfort in my online yoga class. It was bright spot of every morning that helped me to feel a little normal. I kept trying to understand what was happening, but I couldn’t. I missed my friends. I missed being able to walk down the street and not think someone I saw was a walking virus that might kill me. I forced myself to try and soothsay when it would end. I prayed for a vaccine. I worried for my kid’s and how their lives were being effected. In short, I was a hot mess of anxiety.

You wouldn’t think I’d want to revisit that in a book, but somehow or other, it’s rather comforting. I think part of it is knowing that many people’s reactions were like mine, but also that we got through the worst of it (OR ANYWAY, I FUCKING HOPE WE HAVE) and that feels like some sort of achievement. It wasn’t easy. Many people lost someone close to them (we lost my father-in-law, who’d not been well but still), and this changed the course of their lives permanently. While we were able to fend off the virus for two whole years, I did succumb in late May after a fabulous wedding in Palm Springs, which made me sicker than I’ve ever been and left me with a fatigue that has me taking Adderall which is really helping and I’ll continue taking it until this coma-like exhaustion stops.

Anyway, Elizabeth Stout. What a writer. Next up, the book I should have read first, and who Elizabeth won a Pulitzer for, Oh, William! I am notoriously grateful for good writing, that kind you can just feel. What are you reading? Always interested in the next great read. C’mon, tell me everything on your nightstand.

gratitude-a-thon day 2084: what i learned in yoga

My good friend retired from teaching yoga for 20 years and there was a fabulous goodbye lunch for her last week to celebrate. I of course was not celebrating, as I wish she was still teaching, but I get it and I support her and it’s only my selfish side that wishes she hadn’t made this decision.

I came to yoga late in life and with two herniated discs in my low back and a bit of a wonky neck, I felt tremendous luck that Roni, my teacher, was so gifted in the department of being able to teach an old dog like me some new tricks. Her mammoth skill and boundless capacity for conducting classes where every pose flowed into every other made my body feel both challenged and satisfied. Her well considered meditations were apt and well timed. The long lines of her beautiful sinewy body made every pose look like a sculpture you’d want to take in the beauty of for the better part of a day.

Here’s Roni doing a perfectly gorgeous pose

But here’s what she did that was most important of all. She always had an accommodation for whatever ailed any of us.

If someone said, “I can’t do that pose because my knee is having issues,” Roni would come up with another way to produce the pose, so the person could accomplish it without pain. I’m telling you that no matter what you said to her, she had a solution consisting of your blocks and blankets and bolsters and chairs and straps placed in a very particular way to allow you to do the undoable . I often teased her that she’d say, “Ok, put 17 blocks, 19 blankets, a wheelbarrow, 6 loaves of wheat bread, a down coat and 4 mattresses under your head and you’ll be fine as wine.” She was not quite that extreme, but Roni always had a way around a downed tree in your path. She could give you a detour for even the most extreme impediment.

Here’s a few things you could use that could help you do that undoable pose!

I loved this because there are things I can never do because of my back. But in hindsight, I see that maybe I loved this because isn’t this just like everyday living–you are always running into issues that need to be accommodated. It’s all of fucking life!

So, grateful to Roni for showing me that there’s always a way. That if one thing doesn’t work, you find another, that if there is an unstoppable force blocking you, you can find an alternative. This is as good as her aspirational poses, and her ability to create community. And while I may never quite get myself into the perfect Pungu Mayurasana, what she has taught me over the years is invaluable for my yoga practice and my life.

gratitude-a-thon day 2083: Loss, Gain

The other day when I was walking my new puppy, Daisy, we ran into a dog that looked like Riley, the 14-year-old we lost in April. To be specific, we didn’t lose him because he ran away, or we lost track of him on a walk, we lost him to old age and the big bag of ugly tricks it travels with. We lost him in our bedroom, in my arms, with some tenderloin in his mouth.

Anyway, this dog. I practically accosted its owner. Fortunately, she was very nice and understood my shock at the likeness between her dog and Riley. (AND OF COURSE, I HAD TO PULL UP A FEW PICTURES ON MY PHONE AS EVIDENCE.) As it turned out, he was from the same breeder in Minneapolis (!), which really surprised us both, because who even gets a dog in Minneapolis? And he was 10, so maybe he had the same parents as Riley had. The thing was that his eyes were exactly the same as Riley’s and well, I couldn’t hold back from crying because in that moment, as much as I love Daisy, and I am madly in love with Daisy, I just wanted Riley back.

Loss is is tough as leather. It lasts as long as Gone with the Wind and conjures up the kind of feelings that seem like they could actually kill you dead. I have lost my mom and my dad and several cousins and aunts and uncles, and Riley is on the same level as those losses in terms of the sadness factor. You might think that’s silly, or overblown, but then you probably never had a dog.

Daisy is now potty trained! I told my kids I was more proud of this than when I potty trained them, and that’s actually not an exaggeration. My kids were much harder, but Daisy seemed not to understand at all, going out for an hour or two, then coming in and doing her biz on the rugs! Then one day, after careful incentivizing and continual monitoring, it clicked and she hasn’t had even one accident in almost a month. PARADE!

She has an adorable personality, loves every person and dog she meets, is extremely affectionate and learns stuff quickly. She always has pep in her step and never met a stick she didn’t love. She is providing us all the love, antics and laughs we missed. She resembles Riley in no way, and that makes me happy, because there can never be another…..

Grateful that I had Riley. He was my very best friend. We had an unspoken understanding and a love 1,987,088 miles deep. I’ve only had Daisy since July 18, but already, I would kill for her (BUT NOT WITH A GUN, BECAUSE I DON’T BELIEVE IN THOSE). I have been very lucky in the department of dogs. And I am grateful every day for that.

You can’t go home again. It’s one of those overused cliches that’s spot on, (apologies Thomas Wolfe for saying the name of your book is a cliche–how gauche) but you wish weren’t. And while it is the sad reality, the truth is that you can visit and you can do a full-on big screen memory dump of all the places you’ve been lucky enough to call home. You can. You’re allowed. But warning: you’re going to get the feels.

Peter and I spent 30 years going to Martha’s Vineyard, from the very beginning of our relationship.We went with family. We went with friends. We rented all sorts of houses on all sorts of lanes and roads and streets, until finally we fell madly in love with the tiny town of Menemsha just before we had our kids. Our two and three-week stints were something we looked forward to in the dead cold of winter. As soon as school ended, we’d pack up and head for the magic of Martha.

We stopped our yearly ritual when the kids went to college. Too many internships and jobs and conflicting schedules. It seemed a family place, and so without our kids, we no longer boarded the ferry for destination happiness.

But we have missed it. All of us. And last week, as a surprise that was postponed due to a health issue, Peter and I headed back to Menemsha, to a B&B we’ve long loved, and stayed at on and off for three decades–The Captain Flanders House. It was comforting to see that everything in this rustic inn was pretty much the same as it ever was, including horses roaming the property, the breakfast room and its sweet flower arrangements, the idyllic views of the pond. The property is the scene of so many memories for both of us, including the site of one of the hardest times I’ve ever laughed, when a take out dessert and a clam sauce pasta dish had a roll in the hay on the way from The Feast, (now The Chilmark Tavern) to the CFH.( I’d tell you the story, but it just doesn’t translate, but take that in–HARDEST.I’VE. EVER. LAUGHED.)

When you love a location, you remember every turn in the road, the intimate details of its geography. As we drove down North Road, every overhanging tree and stone wall provided me the comfort that only an old friend can. I may not have stayed in touch, but here they were, still rock solid. Before I knew it, the fields of farmland and familiarity got me crying. I guess it was because I felt grateful that this place was part of my history, my family’s history, a little chunk of my DNA. It was something we’d experienced together, the love of this island, all those summery, barefoot, sandy feelings of freedom.

As we drove around, I was flush with images of my kids when they were in the backseat, pint sized, wedged precariously amidst blankets and grocery bags and games and suitcases, like the cutest little sardines in a can. I saw shadowy figures of them everywhere we went, Three and Six year old Jake and Ally on the rocks near The Galley, waiting for their ice cream cones (no doubt fighting with one another). The two of them on the hunt for crabs on the inlet at Menemsha Beach,sunburned and competitive. Ally crying the whole summer she was eight months old. Jake peeing off the porch when he was three. The two of their bodies morphing from babies into adults amidst the waves at Lucy Vincent. Their endless thirst for lemonade at the Flea Market, not to mention baseball cards. I can still conjure their moans of culinary delight at the Farmer’s Market when they sunk their teeth into the Cold Rolls and their later dissection of how The Egg Roll Lady made them and if we could make them and next time if we could get 20 of them instead of just 10. Mission Brass Ring at the Carousel lasted well past the age it should have. The sunsets on Menemsha Beach were legend, the way that sky would paint in red and orange and yellow and pink will always stay with me, and the memories of eating fried scallops and perfect french fries from The Bite, while the kids ran wild and played in the epic light. Rocking in the rocking chairs eating breakfast sandwiches, or pizza at The Chilmark Store, wondering what celebrity we might glimpse, tick checks before bed, dance parties, that 4rth of July parade where Ally was almost run over by a car because she was collecting candy a float threw to the kids. EILEEN’S PIES & OTHERWISE, Fireworks. Breakfast in Aquinnah, Scrabble (and fights) and laughs and outdoor showers. And at the end of the day, sleeping so peacefully, the whole world felt right in the morning.

From 0 to 18 in four seconds flat. Grateful.