Category Archives: Magic

Turning a Blog Into a Book (and Please Help Me Find a Great Subtitle!): Everyday Magic, Day 908

Yup, this is the photo that will wrap around the book cover. Thanks to Daniel and Ken Lassman for taking it together.

My posts are fewer and further apart at the same time that I’ve been thinking about this blog more than ever. That’s because I’ve been working on Everyday Magic, the book based on this blog. As with most things, it’s more work than I imagined, but a lot more fun too.

The first phase was wandering through over 900 blog posts to figure out what top 250 or so posts should make it into the book. Given the limits of what my mind can hold, let’s just say there were charts, lists, categories, earnest struggles between ego and what makes for perhaps better reading, then most lists and charts.

From there, I moved to revision land, a place many roads and bike trails lead to, but few seem to lead back out again. Revising a piece of writing is like weeding a vegetable garden so large that by the time you get from beginning to end, there’s been a monsoon and invasion of rabbits. What you thought was there is long gone, and what you cleared is now suffocating the once towering broccoli. Commas invade or seem to run off together in a huff, and then there’s the surprise gaps between sense and nonsense. I also wanted to find a good balance of funny and tender, hot and cold (literally with so many posts on weather), grief and joy, charged news of the day and breezy observations of a sweet evening.

Once I finished with that — although finishing is always an arbitrary moment a writer lifts her hands to the sky, and says, “enough….I think” — it was proofreading time. Thanks to my friend Rosalea, I relocated the herd of commas as well as easing out excessive bouts of verbiage. Punctuation can be illusive, people, so be on the watch. It’s also amazing common to type the word “the” as “the the.”

Now the book is with my publisher, Tracy and her fine Meadowlark Press, where more proofreading is surely a thing, then design, proofs, galleys, and hopefully enough time and clear eyes on the pages to catch what needs to be caught. Eventually this fall sometime, the book moves out of my house and into a dorm room of its own, hopefully remembering to go to classes and stretch its legs into its new life.

The view from here and now

There’s also been an adventure in revisiting the stories I tell myself and obviously you, the kind and patient reader. While there have been moments when I had to hit my forehead with my palm, despairing that I’m still hung up on the same meaningless crap (will I ever completely give up of yearning to lose weight?), there’s also been ample revelations about how outrageously blessed I am to be part of my family, community, the prairies of Kansas, and at this moment, the woods of Vermont that I’m sharing at just above the top of this computer. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

P.S. I’m still searching for a subtitle for the book. If you can help me figure one out, I’ll send you a free book once it’s out. Contenders currently are the following. Please feel free to say which you like, and/or to suggest other subtitles.

  1. Everyday Magic: Fieldnotes on Ordinary and Extraordinary Curiosity, Beauty, and Surprise
  2. Everyday Magic:: Fieldnotes on Curiosity and Charm in Life’s Wild Tumble
  3. Everyday Magic: True Stories in Search of Curiosity and Wonder
  4. Everyday Magic:: Living with Beauty, Verve, and Surprise
  5. Everyday Magic:: Curiosity, Beauty, and Surprise, One Blog Post At a Time

 

The Everyday Miracle of Rainbows: Everyday Magic, Day 904

I didn’t see my first rainbow until I was 12 on the day my newborn brother died. In the middle of our house stuffed with grieving relatives, my younger brother and I quietly sipped soup at the kitchen counter early that evening until I noticed something strange and beautiful in the backyard. Within seconds, all of us were outside, amazed by a perfect arc over our house while my grandmothers, first in Yiddish, then in English, hugged us and said this was the miracle God gave us after taking our brother.

Why I didn’t see a rainbow until I was 12 was because I wasn’t looking, not having imagined rainbows were possible in real life. Growing up in Brooklyn, then central New Jersey, there were also a lot of buildings, trees, houses, and shopping malls in the way.

After I married an rainbow whisperer, able to read the sky and aim us toward wherever the most likely rainbow is, I learned that rainbows, especially in areas of the country prone to late afternoon storms, can be everyday happenings. “Not rare but precious,” Ruth Gendler wrote about beauty in her book Notes on the Need for Beauty. Nothing could be truer of rainbows in summertime Kansas, where mountains and an excess of trees don’t get in the way.

How to see a rainbow? When the sun is nearing one horizon, and dark clouds fill the other horizon, look carefully at those dark clouds directly across from the sun. Although I’ve slept through many early morning rainbows, I do catch early evening ones. When our often southwest-to-northeast storms have moved past us, and the setting sun breaks through its western clouds, poof! There’s a rainbow somewhere.

Meteorologically, we know light , reflected, refracted and dispersed through water droplets, cooks up rainbows. Looking at the meaning gets more tricky although symbolism abounds bout light piercing darkness. After the flood, the crew, animals and humans, on Noah’s arc witnessed a helluva rainbow, which we can call a symbol of hope, miracles, redemption, new beginnings, and according to the tale and film Finian’s Rainbow, our heart’s deepest dreams coming true (check out Fred Astaire and Petula Clark singing “Look to the Rainbow”). Living in Kansas, we can never escape all manner of Wizard of Oz references (step outside of the state, and someone is bound to say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”).  But of course, we also claim one of the best rainbow songs and singers of all time — “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by the ever-vibrant Judy Garland, who yearns to get the hell out of Kansas until she escapes. Then she yearns with all her being to be back under the rainbow.

Yesterday, walking into the Merc to buy a bunch of zucchini, one vibrant curve surprised me. As I stood at the entrance to the store in wonder, I pointed out the rainbow to a woman about to shop also. “Look like God has given us!” she said while starting to cry. “Yes,” I answered her. We both stared into the rainbow, taking many photos with our phones, which alerted would-be shoppers to stop and look up.

Driving home, it was rainbow slivers and half-arcs all the way until  a full rainbow, so vibrant and stunning that I couldn’t help but back myself up into the chigger-and-tick-filled tallgrass to take more photos. I remembered how the arc is just part of the full circle of a rainbow, which puts me in mind of a song Kelley Hunt and I wrote called “Miracle” with this chorus:

A round rainbow is called a glory.

What you survive in life is called a glory.

You never see the arc of it until after the storm.

To see the whole miracle, you have to hold on.

The workaday miracle is where you belong.

Last night’s rainbow, like the first rainbow I ever saw, soared over my home, reminding me again of the everyday miracles we’ve given, and also how we can never see the whole miracle until after the storm.

When Self-Care Isn’t Enough: Everyday Magic, Day 897

I used to beat myself up for bad self-care. After all, it’s the common and actually excellent wisdom of the day that most of us need to practice better and more consistent ways of taking care of our precious selves, particularly in a world lit up with hand-held and hands-on screens, bringing us new things to do 24/7. But there’s far more to what ails us than just our inability at times to eat, sleep, work, exercise, socialize, and meditate right, and sometimes the popular push for self-care, all good-intentioned, can leave those of us who have chronic issues feeling like we failed once again.

Case in point: I’m sick now, nothing very serious, and after struggling against a virus or something like it for six weeks. I had to leave a yoga class yesterday, a restorative yoga class at that, because I realized in no uncertain terms it was time to get treatment and get horizontal. Like none of us, I can’t say my life is always (or often) stress-free, I do sleep 8-9 hours each night, eat healthy and often organic food, get together for loving lunches with friends, enjoy a replenishing and humorous marriage, work in the sunshined garden regularly, entertain myself with meaningful work, do yoga and take long walks, and watch my share of stupid-funny movies. We even have a new air-purifier and ionizer in our home. I’m also working with a great integrative physician on improving my health, and at times, making strides. (Note: please, no further advice at this point.)

But there’s far more to being healthy than is in our control. There’s hereditary, environmental, karmic, and everyday tendencies and exposures beyond our control. I think of the husbands of two of my closest friends: one of them is undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for a bone marrow transplant to treat late-stage lymphona. The other just had an emergency heart aneurysm surgery to repair what would have ended his life. They’re both guys who take care of themselves and practice, in many ways, what many of us would define as good self-care. I think the Turning Point writing workshops I facilitate for people living with serious illness: altogether, participants are a delightful and vivid crew who face late-stage cancer, M.S., Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes, or other illness. One of them worked as a personal trainer for years until cancer changed her life. Another leads a model lifestyle for health and well-being, but being exposed to Agent Orange while serving as a nurse in Vietnam gave her Parkinson’s disease. Some, despite the eternal presence of M & Ms in our sessions, eat whole grains and 5-7 servings of vegetables each day. Yet here they are.

I believe so much in finding our own best self-care, and constantly dialoguing with these vibrant and aching bodies of ours to discover what, in this moment, is the best way to go forth: weed a garden or watch a movie, take a nap or whip up a giant salad, call a friend or read a novel. I’m glad that among my friends and in many of the articles I read, the term “self-care” frequently makes an appearance as we grapple with how to incorporate this more deeply into the core of our lives.

What I’m trying to release, however, is the damaging message sometimes buried in how we talk about self-care that getting sick or diagnosed with something serious indicates our lack of effort or discipline. Sure, I have lots of empirical evidence that eating too many desserts is detrimental to my health, but I’ve seen plenty of people with pristine diets go through chemotherapy or radiation because cancer showed up anyway.

It’s not just the messages we might give ourselves (Caryn to self: I’m sick again; self to Caryn: What did you do wrong now?). It’s occasionally the subtle or not-so-subtle messages we convey to each other. Yes, there are very effective supplements to bolster our immune systems, anti-inflammatory ways of eating, and exercise protocols to strengthen our muscles and our spirits, but they’re not always enough. Let alone the cliche and truth that life is a terminal illness, we each have our own Achilles heels, and mysterious lesson plans to be revealed as we live them.

So when the chips are down, the body too, there’s a whole other aspect of self-care to embrace: compassion toward ourselves, and tenderness toward this life that stops us in our tracks at moments, reminding us that while there’s a lot we can do for ourselves and others, we’re not in ultimate control.

 

“Dedications” and the Women’s March in Topeka (and Everywhere!): Everyday Magic, Day 889

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One of the men I was talking about — my husband Ken — plus Dot Nary, who gave a superb talk and her husband

Today I was given the enormous honor of speaking at the Women’s March in Topeka. I’m blown away by the speakers, all of whom opened our eyes and gave us new insights and courage. Thank you, Women’s March of Topeka organizers, and thank you to fellow speakers Elise Higgins, Fatima Mohammadi , Stephanie Mott, Dr. Glenda Overstreet Vaughn, Dr. Dot Nary , Ana Maldonado, Paulette Blanchard, Representative Barbara Ballard , Heather Ousley, Alise Martiny , Reverend Sarah C. Oglesby-Dunegan, and the spectacular emcee Dr. Beryl New.

I dedicated my reading today one of our local heroes, Dr. Josie Norris, who has helped thousands (tens of thousands perhaps) women do right by their bodies and babies by founding the Topeka Birth and Women’s Center (where our three kids were born). Here is the poem I wrote for today:

Dedications

This is for your grandmothers and mine,

one who left a Midwestern home where she was abused

to work in a Brooklyn button factory and make a new life,

the other who boarded a ship at nine years old,

not knowing from English or America,

to escape the pogroms that killed her mother.

This is for your mothers and mine, who joined with

My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power
My friend Rachel Black speaking truth to power

other suburban moms to fill buses with their children

so we could march against the Vietnam War,

and who taught me that be a woman meant to be a feminist.

This is your aunts and mine who gave up a singing career

for marriage because she had to choose, and this

is for your daughters and mine, who never had to think twice

about belting out her songs on the streets and in the clubs.

This is for your nieces and mine, who were abandoned

at railway stations in India but made it through the needle’s eye

to an adoptive family in Missouri where they found

love, education, and a future. This is for your sons and mine

who grew up washing dishes and laundry, and learning to use

their privilege to hold open the door of justice and opportunity

for those previously locked out. This is for the men we love—

your husbands, friends, allies, coworkers and nephews, and mine—

who stepped back to make room for us to step forward,

who have asked instead of answering, who are here today

in body or spirit, ready and already breaking open their hearts

alongside and because of us. This is for your sisters

of origin, of choosing, of fate and mine, all of our beloveds

who keep turning the trauma of sexual abuse,

the micro and macro violations of catcalls in the street

or silencing in the office, and the fear storms that come

from not having enough safety, food, shelter, healthcare

and access into a greater capacity to march or roll,

to speak solo and in chorus, to love who we are called to love

with our widest and deepest dedication to this life,

the generations before and ahead. This is for us:

this moment of knowing how alive we are,

and how this life is rising in us and raising us up

together from this moment on.

I also read “I Will Not Be Afraid of Women,” which you can find right here. Please also consider signing up for my blog (see link on the right) and my email list (I promise not to give the list to anyone and not to send out more than one email a month) by clicking here. You can see all the powerful speakers and musicians (yay, Skirts!) from today at this link (I’m at 1 hour, 33 minutes or so).

Winter Solstice and the Shortest Day: Everyday Magic, Day 882

Nora Jones sings on my computer, Natalie naps under a Tardis blanket on the couch, and Miyako the cat bird-watches in the windowsill. It’s mid-afternoon on the shortest day in the year, but the sun fills this room as if it’ll always be here.  A crescent of blackbirds shoots out of the far-off cedars, crisscrossing some of the other birds in flight. On the highway to the southwest, car windshields gleam to broadcast news of their adventures.

I love the winter solstice, and how it brings us into close-up witnessing of the effects of light and darkness as well as what is right now. The snow on the fields in the distance tells of weather past and to come. The pacing dog wants only the usual affection or food. The light in particular is exquisite on these annual bonsai days.

For all of us, I wish peace most of all, and all the gumption and grace to make and keep re-making that peace.  I also share this poem from my book Landed to mark the world gathering up more light.

 

Winter Solstice: 4:22 p.m.

 

The blunt air morning-stark,

a glass light that levels everything,

makes me forget my intention for this or that,

the insistent hands home to roost

even if my walk is sodden.

Trees gleam like bronze etchings

rising from the cacophony of

cell phone rings, car tires’ turnings.

The night must have its way

even against the snow geese slightly lost

until they find their rut in the wind.
The solstice is a bird with feathers so black

they mirror the buildings, then lift

to land back to this date in time as if time

never left its perch. The motion of breath,

or a wayward finger tapping on the wooden desk

aged by light. The inward turn of stillness,

a slight sway as if standing on a bus, holding

tight to the bar when the wheels mount a sharp corner

and something completely new appears.

Solstice and then the world at this point

flips over, begins arming itself

with light.

Beyond the Dark Tunnel of Mid-December: Everyday Magic, Day 881

As a kid, I dreaded the stretch between New Jersey and New York City when our family station wagon would descend into the underworld, otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel, to cross through the dark waters of the Hudson River. Since then, every mid-December, I feel like I’m transported to the way-back seats of that station wagon to watch the lights of the tunnel sweep over us at regular intervals, all the time praying we make it back to the open air and neon swirls of what’s on the other side.

Part of it has to do with the truncated length of each day, only about 9 and a half hours long near the winter Solstice, but a bigger factor is the quality of darkness. When it gets dark, it gets really dark: a black charcoal darkness that makes driving home past sunset feel like I’m back in that tunnel, especially when I’m beyond the reach of street lights, and the inky clouds wrap tight around those on earth.

This year, the nights seem longer because the son of dear friends, someone we had watched grow from boy to man, died suddenly. I look into the big blanket of gray, frigid air with sadness in my heart — for the sorrow of a beautiful man’s life cut short, and for the seasons of pain my friends and their family are inhabiting. The anniversary of another big loss approaches in a few days, and despite the warmth and lights of winter holidays, I often experience December as having a particularly hard underside.

December has a way of reminding us of what despair echoes within and around us, but it also calls us to see anew in the dark. I think of how David Abram, in his writings, teachings, and in  conversation with us, talks about “the good darkness.” In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, he writes:

The story [of the sun’s journey] follows a kind of perceptual logic very different from the abstract logic we learned at school. It attends closely to the sensuous play of the world, allowing the unfolding pattern of that display to carry us into a place of dark wonder.

In this time of more night than day, there’s exactly “the unfolding pattern” and the subsequent “dark wonder” now visible not just because of what this darkness reveals, but what it conceals, which for me encompasses a lot of bright and shiny distractions. These long nights make it easier to see in the dark, and to see how much our lives are patterned by forces and sources far more vast than our thoughts and habits of thinking.

It turns out this darkness isn’t really a tunnel, but a time to wander through the open and mysterious space on the other side of whatever we’re tunneling through in our lives. It’s also this: a call to learn more about the art and necessity of slowing down, and although I’m a slow learner, I’m looking toward how I can hang out more with what is in between cooking something hot to eat, sleeping more than usual, and right now, watching the dark cedars wave hello or goodbye against the darkening sky.

The Moon is Still the Moon: Everyday Magic, Day 878

I thought I would be crying tears of relief and joy. Instead, I sit in the dark at midnight while Ken tries to sleep, occasionally check on my remaining hopes for Hillary to win (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania), and cry tears of grief and fear in between the bouts of seemingly calm shock. I’ve asked dozens of times, “How could this have happened?” after months of carefully following data on the presidential race, the country’s changing demographics, and my own clear-as-a-ringing-bell sense that all would be well. How could they be wrong? How could I be wrong? How could America be wrong?

Tonight Ken and I gathered with friends to watch the election results over a lovely dinner. As we switched channels, watching one set of pundits and reporters or another — all trying to fill in the gaps between state results with speculation about why, what, and who — I felt like my whole digestive tract was ready to leave my body. I felt my chest tightening, and my hope and faith melting on the floor in a faraway room. Our friends, Ken and I looked at each other, all our eyes sad. It was time to remember a vast reality right outside t10986016_414719278737645_1354126213_nhe door.

So we bundled up and headed out into the dark, cold air, walking across broken and buckling sidewalks somewhat hidden by leaves, the almost-half moon over our right shoulders. We talked of course of potential horrors in between shutters of is-this-happening heartbreak. Then we went to the wishing bench.

Located in east Lawrence, the wishing bench has a sign that says, “Please make a wish. You will not be disappointed.” It’s festooned with ribbons and crocheted pieces, poems and coins, and whatever people bring and leave to it, sometimes Santa Claus, sometimes streamers or wind chimes. I have, especially with the one of the friends there with me tonight, made many wishes here, and we’ve never been disappointed.

The four of us wedged together to called out “Wisconsin! Michigan! Pennsylvania!”, pray, wish, asked America to get it together, and even sing a song usually sung for someone needing healing: “America be well/ America be well/ All manner of being is well….”

img_2744Walking back, facing the moon, all I could think beyond the spinning script of election results and associated terror, is that the moon is still the moon. The sun is still the sun. The air, first hard frost expected tonight, is still the air. The ground — the very ground where I will soon plant dozens of irises, daffodils, hyacinths, even some peonies — is still the ground.

Now in our bedroom, safe from the elements and occupied by sleeping animals of several kinds, I light a candle in a blue glass holder painted with a woman standing in tree pose, her arms and branches reaching out in the dark toward something. I read the quote on my zen calendar, this one by Zora Neal Hurston: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Our year has just turned although I can’t yet see the questions we’ll be asking or what those questions will be asking of us, breath by breath. Meanwhile, no matter the outcome, I ask the wishing bench not to disappoint, our bench here, and wherever you can sit for a moment in your life and wish with all your tenderness and fierceness, gratitude and woundedness.

May all manner of beings be well within and beyond this beautiful, divided, vibrant, broken and promised land. May we walk or roll together to do the good work ahead and grow our capacity for love. May we never feel alone under this sky where we share the same moon.