Partner Lesson #3: What Do the Simple Folk Do?

Okay, that title sounds BAD.

But the point is, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a little esoteric, metaphysical, intellectual and generally out there.  With attitude and swearing, but still.  Give me an idea and I can keep myself busy thinking about it for a month or so.

In the meantime, my partner goes to her garden.  She paints the windowsills.  She sits out on the back porch.

“You want to sit out here and eat?” she asks me.  “It’s really nice.”

“There’s nothing in life like a cool breeze,” she says as she gets out of the car and takes a moment to stand in the middle of our street, in the dark, with the mosquitoes and moths buzzing around the light in front of our house.  “Feel that.”  Then she tips her head back and sighs.  “I love a breeze in summer.”

She also loves a breeze in spring and fall.

I look at her.  “I know you do,” I say.  “Please get out of the street so you won’t be hit by a car.”

“No, feel that,” she says.

So I stop.  And inevitably, a breeze touches my skin, moves through my clothes, ruffles my hair.  Making me suddenly and immediately tactile, appreciating this body, this moment, this night.

“Fine, it is nice,” I say with my usual grace.  “It’s also nice over here on the sidewalk where the cars won’t kill you.”

Realistically, we live on a pretty small street, and the cars don’t pass that often.  I’m just resisting being in the moment before I let go, before I admit that I married her for just this, to remind me that the simplest things can wake you up, make you stop, take notice, say this is life.  Not only the theatre and the meditation hall, not only the stretch of the body in yoga, not only the grand vista from a mountain or on the lip of a canyon.  The passing of a breeze in Roxbury, MA, with sirens from the hospitals still audible, with the oil stain on the street, with the friendly skunk ambling, no doubt, in the alley next to our house.

Last Saturday she convinced me to come for another tour of her plot in the community garden.  I mean, I don’t even know how to respond to her enthusiasm.  It’s very cute.

“Look at the baby zucchini,” she says, practically jumping up and down.  “It just appeared yesterday!”  (The baby zucchini is one inch long.)  And here are some flowers on the eggplant and I think each flower will be an eggplant.  And the basil is ready, but I don’t know how to trim anything because I don’t know what I’m doing.”  Then she looks up at me like a three year old.

I should say that I’m offered tours of the garden a few times a week.  I helped pick the basil and lettuce; I made pesto.   I’m just in awe of how happy she gets about something that isn’t a story she’s making up in her head planning to get other people to come and watch it.

When we lived in an apartment complex she grew a green pepper plant on our balcony.  I think it produced one pepper, which we cut open and ate with great reverence.

In the Camelot song from which the title of this blog is taken, the simple folk dance a fiery dance.  In Roxbury, they grow vegetables and flowers, fix things around the house, and stand in a breeze, really noticing a tactile, physical moment in their lives.

Basically, my partner has it right.  Me, of the metaphysically-obsessed variety, may write books or blogs about being in the moment.  She actually lives there.  Constantly trying to get me to visit. Childlikeness, in the true sense of the spiritual.  Beginner’s mind.  As I make these concepts, she walks down the hallway to the kitchen to make breakfast.  I will go join her, and she will no doubt tell me to taste something, and I will try to pay attention to taste, to the feel of her arms around me as she says good-bye for the day, to the pound of her footsteps outside the window.

I will do what the truly openhearted do.  I will live the moment I’m in, following the instructions of my teacher, my partner, my irritating, lovable, garden-obsessed breeze person.

Then I’ll write another blog or two, because I am still me, and this is still fun.


Partner Lesson #2: Ebb & Flow

Even before we both got interested in Buddhism–I mean, really, really interested–my partner embodied certain qualities of zen.  I mean, she has a little belly, and she remains calm when certain unnamed people have little drama fits.

And when a certain unnamed spouse gets all frustrated and dramatic, and is like, “I’m so over this.  I’m moving back to Spain.  There must be some local festival I can go be ridiculous in and have it blamed on the fact that I’m a foreigner.  I won’t run with the bulls again, but still.”

“Ebb and flow, honey,” she says.  “It’s okay.  I know you don’t remember, but we do usually make-up after we fight.”

This is on her better days, but you get the gist.  My solutions to problems in my late teens and twenties numbered exactly one.  Move.  To another country.  As soon as possible.  I have only slightly gotten over this tendency.

My partner, obviously, believes more in waiting it out.

It’s kind of like she’s my mantra, when I can’t be it for myself.  Of course, if you want to see real panic, watch me when she has a drama fit.  OMG!  I panic just thinking about it.  I try to choke out the ebb and flow words, but mostly I’m like, “Turn off the drama and give me back my Buddha!”

My partner’s parents have been together over 40 years.  She lived in the same house from age 2-18.  She always says that she was friends with a girl in 1-5 grades, then didn’t hang out with her, then became friends again in 11th grade.  She believes in cycles, she believes that things return, she believes that if you do nothing things might just work out on their own.

I went to 4 different grade schools and my parents changed houses even more frequently.  My favorite move occurred in the 80’s, when my mother kicked my father out and eventually bought a condo.  He immediately bought a condo, too–one identical to hers and only one block away, in the same development.  He used to jog by my mother’s house in his hunting vest (no shirt, and he weighed 225) just as my little sisters were leaving the house to catch the bus.  They huddled together at one door or another, behind the wooden geese my mother liked to collect, one dark head, one blonde, waiting in their Catholic school uniforms for him to finish that particular cycle around the block so they could run out the door and miss being seen with him.

That’s the kind of cycle I relate to–avoiding the man in the orange hunting vest and grayish tie-dyed sweats (from washing unlike colors together) in his turns around the block.

Sometimes, now, after 25 years, I can guess when my partner might pull out her trump card, but she still beats me to it.  “This is one of those times, isn’t it?” I ask her.

“Ebb and flow,” she says.  “Calm down.”

“I hear Spain is nice this time of year Ms. Buddha,” I usually answer.

“Fine,” she says.  “I’ll come with you.”

I have begun to believe that you can’t avoid ebb and flow, no matter what you do.

And perhaps avoiding it isn’t quite the thing to do.  I mean, think of all the love you’d miss along the way.  Spain really can’t compete.

(But it does come close.  Temporarily.  Especially in the Spring.)

Avoidance 101

I plan to generously pass on Lessons Learned from My Partner in the next 7 blogs.  I got angry at her today, and for some reason that makes me want to remind myself of the things she has taught me in the last twenty-five years.  I’m sure I could fill many more than 7 blogs, but I’m not sure she could stand it (she’s become addicted to reading this thing!).

So.  Lesson 1:  The Healthy Uses of Avoidance as a Relationship Strategy

First, one must understand that I’ve learned most of what I know about how to behave from books.  Or, to put it bluntly, I decided at about, oh, age 6 that my parents were completely clueless (and that they thought I was an alien from outer space and had no idea what to do with me), so I looked for other resources.  I read books on how to communicate (“I” statements, be honest and direct), books on how to be assertive (“no” means “no”), books on how to deal with children, how to have better sex–I mean, I have a reading disorder.  I read unbelievably fast and remember almost everything I read.  I read a couple books a week at minimum.  I get that this makes me strange and a bit of a freak.

Anyhow, all the early reading meant that I created my own rulebook on how to behave, communicate, be assertive, etc (the sex part I extemporized on…a lot, but we won’t get into that).  And, as I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a certain penchant for drama and never doing anything halfway.  I mean, if I’m going to be direct, I’m going to be DIRECT.

I will say this–being DIRECT creates a lot of drama in your relationships.  Like, you’re getting to know someone, and you notice that she is a monologuer.  Meaning, she says, “Hi, can you talk?”  You say, “Yes.”  She then talks for 44 minutes without taking a breath.  (If you’re me, you’re holding the phone away from your ear, swearing at it, making faces at it, dancing around and generally being extremely mature.)

Now, my rulebook says to be direct, so I call this person up a couple days later (this all happened about 20 years ago) and say, “Did you know you talked for 44 minutes in our last phone call without even asking me how I was?”  And she says, “YOU WERE TIMING ME???!~!!!!!!”

This was when my partner decided to do an intervention on me.  She sat me down and said, “You need to learn that if you don’t want to be friends with someone, JUST DON’T PICK UP THE PHONE!”

I was like, “You can do that?”

My partner then tore all her hair out at once.  It grew back, though.

“YES!!!!” she said (after the hair had been cleaned up and she’d stopped swearing).

“You don’t have to tell people everything you think?”

“You’re completely hopeless,” she told me.

Later, she came back and explained that if you want to be friends with someone, but not as close as they want to be to you, you wait before calling them back.  Or you do only group outings.  There are, it turns out, about a million ways to keep people at a distance without telling them that you’re timing their phone calls.

Who knew?

Besides my partner, I mean.

And so I came to study Avoidance 101.  I thought psychological health grew out of direct communication, but it turns out that mostly drama grows out of anything the least confrontational.  AND, my partner tells me, if you tell someone what bothers you about them, that’s actually pretty intimate, so if you don’t want to be close to them, it’s better not to say it.


Of course, if you do want to be close to someone, direct communication of the skillful variety is a good idea.  My partner has to study that with me, though, because guess what?  Being direct isn’t always her strong suit.

Anyhow, here I am, making a pitch for The Healthy Uses of Avoidance.

Some of us just need things spelled out.

All the time.

And while I am a student of avoidance, I personally prefer to say what I think with no punches pulled, and to hear things that way as well.  As long as it’s gentle, kind, and basically complimentary.  Of course.

Dianna Wynne Jones, My Hero

So.  I own every book Dianna Wynne Jones has every written.  She is what J.K. Rowling should be–a fantastic writer of fantasy.  Fanciful, wildly creative, hysterically funny and super touching, filled with farmers who create human/animal hybrids, with political issues and wisdom, her books have entertained and enlightened me for 25 years.

I buy her books as soon as they’re released, in hardback, so I’ve been watching on Amazon for the next one, which just didn’t show up.  So I googled her and found out she died last March.  The thought of no more Dianna Wynne Jones books makes me incredibly sad.  No new universes, new magics, new lost and gifted children, no more unlikely relationships….she’s probably the most creative writer I’ve ever read, and reading her books consistently made me feel happy and glad to be in this world.

So.  I will miss you, Dianna Wynne Jones.

I loved Fire and Hemlock, Hexwood, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Sudden Wild Magic, Conrad’s Fate, The Pinhoe Egg, Deep Secret most, but really, anything she wrote on any day would do.

I plan to read all her books over again this year, just to celebrate her life, and the gift of her talent and imagination, which is joy, which remains as joy.

Brave–Did Pixar Get It Right?

I try to only go to bad movies on purpose.  This means I sit in front of the 27 inch computer screen, (moving my head up and down like some strange bird, trying to get my trifocals in the right place) the light glaring right in my eyes, passionately reading review after review, trying to figure out ahead of time what I’ll disagree with.  Sometimes I look at Roger Ebert’s face before he got sick and remember Gene Siskel and the banter between the two of them.  Sometimes I mourn for the feminist paper Sojourner we used to have in Boston because that paper had a killer film critic who I really liked.

By the way, I googled feminist movie reviews and the site I found was pretty cliched.  We all know about Bound and Fried Green Tomatoes and all the other lesbian and pseudo lesbian movies because THERE AREN’T THAT MANY.

Back to Pixar.  The reviewers all claim that Brave’s protagonist is a boy in a dress, that the creators at Pixar could only imagine a girl wanting to do everything a boy can do.  Ummm…isn’t that basic reality?  I mean, I get that there are femmy straight girls who liked playing with Barbie’s and still want to have power, but as a tomboy, football-playing, competitive girl, I have to say I always wanted to do everything boys got to do.  Basically, Brave’s protagonist is ME, so if feminists have a problem with this, ummmm….HELLO!

And really, the core relationship in the movie is one of a girl with her controlling mother–is there something anti-feminist about that?  Because if there is I better shred everything I’ve ever written–or just about.  Foregrounding a mother/daughter relationship is about as women-centered as it gets.

And of course, the movie is gorgeous, even if we didn’t see it in 3-d, which I mourn deeply.  And the mother/daughter focus makes the plot unexpected in some ways–it’s not a love story, and you keep waiting for the boy to show up, and he never does, which is, frankly, pretty cool.  There’s also myth, magic and all things Celtic, which, as a Celt, I really dig.

Speaking of culture, it was really a riot to be surrounded by the crinkling of plastic bags, the smell of popcorn and that slightly sweaty summer kid smell that is both sweet and a little sour, the sounds of gasps, and bursts of laughter, and whispers all around us in the dark.  Once I went to see Dream Girls on Christmas Day–it was me, my partner, our queer friends, and the African American community…a packed theatre.  I loved hearing the women calling out at the screen, the “you tell ’em, girl,” their loud applause at different emotional or comic high points and at the end.  Sometimes, you just get lucky like this.  Going to a movie becomes something more wonderful than sitting with strangers in the dark.

Jump to the end of the story:  I liked the movie Brave.  It might not be the best movie Pixar has ever made, it might rely a little too much on cliche without the sneaky adult humor, but it did make me cry, and it’s basically about girls like me, who like to ride horses and shoot arrows and beat everyone at, well, everything.  So.  Tell my story, Pixar.  I’m not a boy in a skirt, or even very butch, but I have Merida’s fierce desire for freedom, her wildness and rebellion, her longing to determine her fate.  I might wish her more idiosyncratic and complicated (like Mulan), but I’ll take strong tomboy movies over romances any day of the week.

Not feminist?  I mean, really.

The Thing About Restorative Yoga Is…

I’ve been lying around a lot.  Anyone who truly knows me will doubt this as a real fact, but it is, nevertheless, true.

I have two yoga bolsters.  I pile them on top of each other and lie on my stomach for, say, 30 minutes or so (asana: balasana).  Then I take the pile apart, prop my knees up on blocks, lean my back on the big bolster, strap my legs to keep the soles of my feet tight together (asana: supta baddha konasana).  Then I put my legs up the wall (asana: viparita karani).  Then I go to sleep like a corpse (savasana).

So, I’m lying around a lot.  But, as my title says, the thing is, being on floor level for an hour or two a day mostly makes me notice that the carpet needs to be vacuumed or that there’s dust and pollen coating what from standing look like gleaming wood floors.  I lie on my stomach, looking at the lint and threads on the carpet.  The carpet is navy, and I also see that it is kind of matted down and old, and it shows lint horribly.  I look at my pale hand, slightly curled up.  Then I look at the carpet again.  I think about vacuuming and I don’t move.  Then I marvel that I’m not moving.  I think of my German mother’s anal higiene (she vacuumed at least 3 times a day…she had 6 kids and our house looked like something out of a magazine).  I think about vacuuming again.  Then I think that it’s been my turn to vacuum for about a month, but my partner keeps doing it and I keep letting her.  Then I close my eyes and lie there some more.

These are my profound thoughts about which I do nothing while restoring myself with yoga.

Sometimes I do think about hiding more Snoopy stickers where my partner can’t see them.

And sometimes I think I may never move again and why did I ever want to be an unstoppable force, a go-getter, a shaker and a mover (all things people have called me throughout my life) in the first place.

Sometimes I think about getting up and then I don’t.

Or I get up.  And then I make homemade ice cream and eat it.  I look at the carpet and I don’t vacuum it.

I think this is ahimsa.  It could also be called extreme laziness, but I’m convinced it’s somehow spiritual.  Because I am watching the anal cleanliness thoughts come and go and not cleaning, and that’s got to be worth something.

(My partner’s like, “Yeah, it’s worth hiring a cleaning lady, oh Queen of the Universe.”)