Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cabin fever

It’s right around zero this morning, and I am grateful for the gift of a bed of coals that lasted the night. No struggle with insufficient kindling, no running up and down the cellar stairs, just pop in a couple logs and the fire comes back to life.

Until this weekend, I had been afraid that the embers of my spirit were burning low. I had started to feel isolated, pitiful and older than my years. When you live alone, as I have for about half my adult life, every now and then you start to buy into social judgments on the single life. You keep saying, “No, really, I am happy,” but you wonder if it sounds as tinny to others as to your inner ear. Certainly, the happiest periods of my adult life have been when I was in a close relationship, married or otherwise, but then so were the unhappiest periods. It’s good to know how to be happy alone.

Right now, at the end of January 2010, I’m poised on the rim of a new life. I’m itchy to see what its shape will be, who will inhabit it, and who I will be. Looking back, it can seem easy to divide our lives into chunks that have some meaning: the years I was married, the years I lived in New York, my time (so far) in Vermont, periods that had some kind of story line that I could inhabit for years at a time. I am happy to close the book on some periods—the Chattanooga interlude, say, or the last two years.

I’m never sure if I cling too long to old story lines or launch too rashly into the new. At least I have learned to recognize the between-times. For me, health concerns are often a sign of the “betweens.” Something needs to be left behind, and I don’t seem to get the message until my body cries stop! you are living in your head again and ignoring body and spirit. My stamina needs to be rebuilt. As much of a change-lover as I fancy myself, I can be slow to discern when my personal world has changed, and I need to allow myself to be transformed along with it.

Certainly (I think), there are periods when you need to run on stored faith, to put your head down and do what you have to do. I wish I were better at recognizing when those reserves are running low. Eventually, even the message penetrates even my hard head, and I start to see where change needs to occur. I need to grow in friendship, with the ones I have and new ones. I need new charitable and volunteer ventures, not that there was anything wrong with the old ones, but I need renewal in this part of my life. I need a spiritual expression that aligns more fully with my heart’s desires. I love my new job, and I need to explore how it can contribute to a meaningful life for me and my broader community. I need to go back to the kind of daily schedule I have had in the past that honored my body in physical activity. I can see where I need change, but I am only beginning to see how it might play out.

If the initial stage of the between-times is recognizing that change needs to come, the more challenging stage is the next: making room for it to happen. I’ve been trying to keep still, to make space for whatever is to come. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas. Every year I wonder if it will still be special, and every year it comes, not just a day in the calendar, but a gift like this year’s hoar frost. This enforced peacefulness does not come naturally to me, a confessed control freak.

So here I sit, confined to my house by sub-zero weather, warmed by the gift of a fire that kept burning all the night long, nosed into action by Cassie and Stone, who desperately want to get on with the next adventure. We’re doing short runs today, building up reserves of faith and stamina for milder days to come. You can’t rush spring, but you can get ready.

Postscript. My horoscope for today, which I read after writing the above:
It's difficult for you to reconcile your current feelings with your commitments for the year ahead. There's a part of you that's ready to cash in your chips and start anew, but that's not necessarily an option. Instead, consider what you can do to revitalize your life without abruptly turning it inside out. This may be a time for bold thinking, but don't be in too much of a hurry to put your ideas into motion.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scent of a skunk

It’s been warm the last few days, warm for this time of year in Vermont, that is. Warm enough for long walks with the dogs. Warm enough that the snowpack compacts and makes for easy snowshoeing. Warm enough that our frozen landscape shifts a bit before settling in for the long haul toward spring.

Last night as I sat snoozing in my chair next to a front window, there was a huge whomp! as the roof shed its load of snow. I couldn’t see anything in the dark, but this morning, piles of snow and mangled icicles lay sprawled in new ice berms along the front and back of the house. One always hopes that these avalanches occur at times when there are no dogs or people in their paths.

Today it is warm enough to dry to dig a path through the back berm in anticipation of more snow still to come. It is warm enough to empty the in-house compost bins. And it is warm enough that someone had an encounter with a wandering skunk. Every time I go back out to chip away at the path through the ice berm, the aroma hits me in the face again. I don’t really mind. It is another sign of (false) spring. But I think my dogs will stay penned up until the enticing scent dissipates.

As much as this may feel (and smell) like spring, we must guard against false hope. After all, it is only January 17. No, this is a January thaw, a weather “singularity” that returns almost every year.

As Willem Lange would say, I gotta get back to work. After all, this balmy weather won’t last for long, and I need to be prepared for the next snowfall.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New year, new life

Long, long ago, when I was finishing college, I took a vocational aptitude test. Something in the combination of my responses led to the following result: you should be (1) a mortician, (2) a tea room hostess, or (3) a social security representative. I’m not sure what were the variables that led to these conclusions, but now I find myself working for the federal government, managing loan and grant programs. I help towns buy fire engines or fire stations, help libraries or health centers expand, and help non-profits that are in the business of helping small business help small business. I’ve been on the job for almost two months, and I love it, almost every aspect of it.

Okay, so the federal government can be bureaucratic. And working in an office with 30 other people provides more togetherness than is completely comfortable for me. But we are making a difference, and that is deeply satisfying.

It’s a new life for me, too. And I have launched into a new life with new (or recovered) habits. Bring your lunch, a healthy lunch. Take a walk at lunchtime. Keep your work hours to a prescribed forty per week. Oh, wow.

With work beaten back to a rationed number of hours, it becomes possible to think again about a real life. I can’t yet imagine how that might look. Chickens? Bees? A new renovation project? New people in my life? It is all a clean slate right now, and I am enjoying some space before anything new is written.

“Funny how those moments come, it hits you, your life has changed. Again and again, we learn the lesson, something still remains.”