January 2005

Today while I was inside for most of the day teaching at Keene State, outside the icicles were growing. I remember years ago on a winter retreat when a student asked the question, “What does it mean to follow one’s correct situation?” The Zen Master answered, “When the temperature rises, an icicle is not afraid to melt.”

Right now after teaching all day, I’m tired. Both my brain and body are weary from being “on” in front of a live classroom audience: I’m tired of trying to make sense. Right now I want simply to surrender to gravity, letting the earth’s inescapable pull draw me down, down, downward. Sometimes life as a sentient being seems too much and I envy the existence of the dumb elements. What do the snow, ice, and icicles know? What ideas hide in their white-crystalline cells?

Icicles know nothing; they just hang tight then drip, growing downward in a season when everything else dies. Imagine the foolishness of their plans, growing downward (and longer and leaner) as they drip and die. When the temperature rises, an icicle is not afraid to melt. What notions of strength and attainment am I clinging to, stubbornly, that make my life seem more tiresome than necessary?

Several weeks ago a person came for the first time to the Zen group I lead. When I introduced myself, he explained that he’d found our group on the web and had followed the links to my blog. “I feel like I already know you,” he remarked. “In fact, it feels kind of funny, like I might know too much about you.”

The remark was, I’m sure, innocuously given: I met this person, after all, on the heels of posting a somewhat personal entry that honestly admitted the pain and loneliness I’d felt for years in my marriage. Although I felt comfortable sharing those emotions with my long-time readers–those of you I “know” either by name or anonymously who have seen the various and sundry stages of my personal life–I can imagine how uncomfortable it could be to be a newcomer at the party only to discover the hostess getting Up Close and Personal about her emotional life. If you arrived on the scene expecting casual chitchat, it might be somewhat alarming instead to encounter Emotional Nakedness. Pain is something many folks aren’t comfortable talking about–pain is something many folks aren’t comfortable admitting–so encountering a “virtual stranger” who’s willing to put her pain out there in cyberspace is probably, admittedly, quite odd.

Compared to some of the other blogs I read–compared, in fact, to much of the literature I read–I don’t consider my blog to be very “confessional.” In my mind, the focus here is always on my writing, my photos, my so-called art, whatever the heck that is: the focus isn’t me per se. Yet this newcomer’s comment reminded me of something that not just one but three friends of mine have admitted on separate occasions: they feel a bit guilty (voyeuristic, even) reading my blog even though I put this “out there” for anyone to read. “It seems unfair,” one longtime friend remarked, “to stay informed about everything in your life while I keep all my business to myself.”

This comment surprised me. I don’t feel like I’m sharing “everything in my life”; in my mind, I still maintain clear boundaries about what I’ll share and what I won’t. At the same time, though, I realize I can’t exactly articulate these boundaries because I seem to make them up as I go along: what last month I never thought I’d share turns into the blog fodder of today.

As writers, we always write about ourselves, and as a long-time journal-keeper, I’m used to there being a direct connection between my feeling heart and my writing hand. In writing classes where I read my free-writing aloud as a way of breaking ice with students, I’ve sometimes found it has the opposite effect: faced with the nonchalant candor with which I address some subjects including my own pain, some students panic, feeling their writing has to reach a similar level of emotional courage. Truth be known, we each decide as we’re writing what we feel comfortable expressing. I’ve never, for instance, written in any detailed way about sex here on my blog, I rarely write about it in my handwritten journal, and I certainly don’t write about it when I’m in a classroom with students. Although I don’t have a problem with other people blogging their sex lives if they choose, in my mind that’s something personal, so I don’t go there. It’s not that I can’t write about sex–one of the shocking realizations I had while writing my so-called novel was that I can quickly and easily crank out lurid (and entirely fictional) sex scenes. But when it comes to my own actual bedroom, the blinds are drawn, thank you.

I’ve been thinking with particular fervor about this question of what to share and what not to share now that I know with certainty that my ex-husband occasionally reads my blog. Although I don’t have a problem with Chris reading “in theory,” I have to admit I was a bit taken aback when he was the first to comment on my entry about meeting his new girlfriend. There’s nothing I’m ashamed of in that entry: you’ll notice, in fact, that I said relatively little there about Chris himself and even less about his new girlfriend. If Chris (or anyone, for that matter) came to Hoarded Ordinaries looking for the juicy, catty details of what Lorianne “really” thinks about her ex-husband’s new girlfriend, they’ll go away sorely disappointed.

Although I worried in retrospect that I came across as too pious and self-righteous in that entry–my insistance that “all is well” completely ignored the fact that I had a good long cry in the solitary privacy of my room after Chris, etc. went to the shared comfort of theirs–in the end I wouldn’t have wanted to use my blog to vent my catty first impressions, petty jealousies, etc. Yes, these feelings are there: if you’re a living, breathing human, you’re going to face an emotional rollercoaster of contradictory thoughts as you face the prospect of “my ex’s new love.” But just because a catty emotion arises doesn’t mean that’s the last word: if I judged myself on the basis of what emotions arise (especially in the aftermath of divorce), I’d have to diagnose myself as a hopeless, helpless schizophrenic, my perspective entirely scrambled and contradictory. Instead, I prefer a Buddhist perspective: thoughts and feelings arise, pass, and return without logic or predictability, but these thoughts and feelings aren’t who I am. They arise, but they too shall pass.

Part of why I’m comfortable sharing any of this rests on the fact that I don’t have to share all of it: in the end, it’s me calling the shots in terms of how much I care to disclose, and when. One benefit of meditation practice is it helps you strengthen your “looking” muscle: whereas many normal folks, I think, shy away from their own pain and vulnerability, what you “do” while you’re meditating is look at it, whatever it is, with a quiet, nonjudgmental acceptance. This pain I’m feeling: what is it? These catty feelings: what are they? This loneliness or anger or confusion or joy: what are they, and who is this “I” who thinks she can “have” much less control her emotions? At the end of the day, any pain I feel isn’t truly “mine” because that would imply there’s some unchanging, constant Self who can contain this pain. Instead, while meditating I’ve come to realize that “my pain” is simply Pain: it comes and goes, blowing in and out as it swirls and eddies at my feet. If I either cling to it or try to push it away, it will control me; if I simply let it be, it will rise and then fall away of its own accord.

In other words, there’s no need to chase snowflakes, and I really needn’t push the mountain either. If my semblance of self-disclosure here on Hoarded Ordinaries is extraordinary, it is so only because we live in a world that specializes in Denial. Got a problem? Bury it in work. Facing pain? Take a pill. Confused about your life’s direction? Have a drink. Although I’ve done my share of working, medicating, and drinking, thank you, I realize the efficacy of such approaches is temporary. At some point sooner or later, you’re going to have to look at it, whatever it is. Whatever’s wrong with your life–whatever is your life–one day you’re going to have to stare it straight in the eye: “Hello, Life, what are you?”

Meditation gives you the courage to do such looking, and so does writing. Sharing my emotional bumps and jostles with “any and everyone in cyberspace” is easy: the difficult audience is myself. I remember a remark from one of the teachers in my Zen school: “We become what we practice.” If we spend our lives hiding, ignoring, and denying our own and other’s experiences, we’ll become oblivious; if we spend our lives looking without judgment, we’ll become perceptive, wise, and compassionate. With much looking comes insight, and with much looking comes courage. Facing your emotional load–the heaps of white stuff you have to dig through to find your way–is the difficult part. After you’ve faced it, sharing seems easy. And after you’ve shared it, the load seems miraculously and unaccountably much lighter.

    And amazed “thank you” to my upstairs neighbor, who unbeknownst to me dug out my car–and shoveled our driveway–while I was writing this post. I don’t know what I did to deserve that, but it’s nice to see my car again.

Although the dog and I haven’t (yet) been outside to see how deeply our feet will sink into snow, this is the prospect that presented itself when I looked out the window this morning. Looks like I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Here is a handful of images from earlier this week, when we had a light snowfall of several inches. Tonight we’re supposed to get dumped with 10 to 20 inches of snow with high winds causing even higher drifting, so everyone is gathering their snow shovels, car scrapers, and snowshoes in preparation for digging out tomorrow. In the meantime, I have a stocked larder, stack of DVDs, and enough work to keep me busy for the duration. (Yes, Pavel, I’ll be reading Northern Forest essays through the snowstorm, which is fitting, no?)

Snow looks pretty when viewed from a warm apartment. Check back tomorrow to see how I feel after shoveling 10 to 20 inches of it.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Crowded. I’ve already posted this photo of the Pumpkin Lobotomy that happens the day before the annual Pumpkin Festival here in Keene, and what better time than in the bitter cold of January to revisit the golden days of autumn, when it was possible to stroll the streets of southern New Hampshire in long sleeves and light jackets?

    Yes, I’m back online after yesterday’s Technical Difficulties. Thanks to Gary for spending too many hours on the phone patiently walking me through potential fixes. In the end, it turned out to be a firewall issue…or maybe it was a combination of any of the 75 other tweaks and nudges we tried. Either way, I’m back online with my aging and quirky-as-hell laptop…for now. The jury’s still out on my thinks-he’s-a-desktop doggy.

Sorry, folks: no pictures today (and no post at all yesterday). My laptop is having some Issues, so I’ve been without home Internet access yesterday and today, and I’m currently using the fickle network here at school to check email, stay up-to-date with my online class, and otherwise get my “fix” of the wired world.

When I say my laptop is “having some Issues,” I’m referring to several things. Yesterday morning while I was getting ready for my first day back to teaching, I channeled the usual first-day jitters by washing dishes, straightening the assortment of clutter on the coffee table, and installing an update to Windows. My laptop is setup to get updates automatically, and I’m usually slow to install them. Yesterday, though, I was feeling Organized and On-Top-of-Things, so I started the install while I was darting about playing Suzy Homemaker…

To make a long story short, this was one time when being Organized and On-Top-of-Things was a big, big mistake. That innocuous update turned out to be the Upgrade From Hell, and now my already-aging, already-quirky-as-hell laptop simply refuses to go online. You can lead a laptop to the Internet, it seems, but you can’t make it logon.

This morning, then, I came to school to do an assortment of necessary online tasks…including getting instructions on how to fix that aging, quirky-as-hell laptop. (I won’t comment on the cruel irony that I have to go online to find out how to get my laptop online.) While I was working here at school, of course the inevitable happened: the school network went down. So right around lunch time, I was left with no Internet access and no print-outs of those laptop fix-it instructions, having left that task until the end since I’ve been having problems (yes) printing from my school desktop.

So, left with no way to do work here, I went home to walk the dog during today’s window of “warm” (i.e. mid-20s) weather. Still frustrated by my aging laptop’s quirky-as-hell behavior and the terribly inconvenient timing of the school’s network outage, I came home to face a scene that would have made anyone but a true Zen Mama strangle their antsy dog right there on the spot.

While I was gone, Reg had somehow managed to get at least his front paws and possibly more up on top of my desk, which faces a window overlooking my front porch. In a manuever that even I can barely imagine, my 40-pound dog managed to leave several pawprints on my desk, strew papers on the floor, knock over my desk calendar and other sundry items, and either kick or step on my laptop. Yep, that aging and quirky-as-hell machine had been shoved about a foot from its usual mooring, and the pieces of four keys were strewn in the four directions.

Apparently it’s deja vu all over again: although my previous de-keying wasn’t the dog’s doing, the laptop keyboard that is now missing its hyphen, equal-sign, home, and forward-slash keys is the one Chris had installed this summer to replace the “t” and “menu” keys that I’d lost in an Unfortunate Dissertation Mishap. (If you click that link, you’ll see Reg looking sweet and oh-so-innocent, long before I ever suspected he had de-keying of his own in mind.) Although my laptop isn’t ancient, it’s been exhibiting increasingly funky behavior: it’s low on disk space, has virtually no battery life, and refuses to install or properly run various programs. (For instance, it’s apparently so riddled with spyware that it refuses to run a spyware-detection program, and it gamely coughs and sputters whenever I try to upgrade its virus protection.) In a word, I think my laptop is slowly dying, and both Reg and the folks responsible for Windows Updates seem intent on driving this fact solidly home. (To them all, I say “Bad, bad boy!”)

So, after already spending too many nickels and dimes trying to keep my aging and quirky-as-hell laptop functioning, I just might have to buckle down and start shopping for a replacement: an expenditure I’ve been secretly dreading. Although I have enough savings to cover the purchase, I was hoping to milk more life out of this machine since I won’t be teaching at Keene State this summer and thus need to save up for those lean and hungry months. Because I’ve never selected, bought, and set-up a computer of any sort, I’m also a bit intimidated at the thought. Handling the technological nuts & bolts was always Chris’s responsibility, so I feel like a tender veal calf being thrown to the wolves at the mere thought of walking into a computer store. “Hello, can I help you?” “Sure, can you show me to the Ladies’ Room where I can have a teary-eyed nervous breakdown?”

Whether my laptop can recover from its current crisis, laptop-shopping is something I’ll definitely have to face eventually: it’s just a question of when. In the meantime, I’ll continue to dart back and forth between my ‘net-free laptop at home and my sporadically-connected desktop at school. Blogging might be light, and it might take a while before I respond to previous comments. In the meantime, though, I haven’t either killed the dog or flung my laptop from a high precipice…but tomorrow’s another day.

Last night I said goodbye to Zen Master Seung Sahn at his 49-day memorial ceremony at the Providence Zen Center, and I said “Hello, pleased to meet you” to my ex-husband’s new girlfriend. I hadn’t planned to face these two emotional milestones on the same night much less at the same event, but sometimes the Universe has a proclivity for odd timing.

In traditional Buddhist practice, mourning for the dead lasts for 49-days: seven cycles of seven days. On the 49th day, Buddhists hold a ceremony with chanting to send the deceased onto their new incarnation with proper pomp and circumstance. Although feelings of sadness naturally don’t end after 49 days, a survivor’s sense that they “should” be in mourning ends on the 49th day. After more than a month of grieving, one’s emotional debt to the deceased has been paid. It’s time and it’s okay for the departed soul (and one’s own life) to move on.

Although I’ve personally been doing well in the aftermath of divorce, I’ve felt a lot of grief and guilt about the pain Chris has gone through. Not only have I felt like a failure for not living up to my own ideals and commitments, I’ve felt guilty about moving on with my life. It’s felt wrong to be happy with my life as long as Chris was (I thought) sorely struggling with the split. Especially lately as I’ve settled increasingly into Joy, I’ve felt a kind of survivors’ guilt, as if I escaped a bad situation and left Chris to deal with the emotional aftermath.

Now that I know that Chris is dating again–now that I’ve met in the flesh the woman who’s brought a smile back to his face–I feel the same sort of closure that 49-day ceremonies point to. I’ve paid my emotional debts and shed enough tears: now it’s (officially) okay to move on. Although the emotional baggage of nearly 13 years of marriage doesn’t quickly disappear, I’ve already begun to move on, and I’m happy. The night before learning that Chris had a girlfriend, I’d gone to sleep with the warm thrill of gratitude in my heart: I have been fully and amply blessed with people who love me, work that brings me satisfaction, and a sense that my life is finally moving forward after years of being “stuck.” The only missing piece in that puzzle was a sense that all is well for everyone: although my life would necessarily move on even if Chris stayed in a rut, I wanted him to be happy too…or at least on the way to happiness.

He might not have settled into Joy yet, but at least he’s found Hope (and possibly Love) along with a special someone to continue the search with him. Although meeting one’s “replacement” is always awkward, I sincerely wish them well. There are enough bad ghosts in the world without us needlessly holding onto the past and its memories. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, chalk things up as “learning experiences,” and get on with getting on. Sometimes you simply have to let go.

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