Sunday, June 24, 2007

Croquet with Buddhists

Who knew there were rules? Or ways of organizing the court so that we are to go through particular hoops, first, then others, then the rest? We pumped the hoops into the ground, white lost in the shadows and sun of a mid-June mid-afternoon, and each person gave, though not in so much an orderly fashion, their own rendition of how one plays this gamed called "croquet". One told all of us she was forced to learn golf in her one year of public high school (this is after she told us she'd never learned to play croquet, and I told her it was a bit like mini-golf. One told us croquet was her "one sort of happy memory from childhood". Her wife had been a bit of a rock star in croquet, back in the day (and, in fact, she did beat all of us). Another (and I) had no particular ideas about how to play it, so we set it up according to the map inside the portable package, only without measuring, and apparently made a court twice the size one usually plays. My only information on playing croquet came from watching *Heathers* about sixty gagillion times in high school. I asked them all if they have ever seen Heathers, and they all shrugged at me. One woman asked "is that a fantasy film?," then interupted herself to say it sounded like a nature special. I haven't seen Heathers in years, so I tried to remember - Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, some annoying chicks, a pre-Columbine school ruinage plot. "Winona Ryder is so *annoying*", one woman said as she went to hit her ball yet another fruitful time. One of the players continually cleaned up the "court", and most of us groaned about the task we'd set out for ourselves when we'd barely gotten through the first few hoops.

We made jokes - about kicking each other out of the court, about whether or not aspiring Bodhisattvas can be competitive (1/2 of us have taken our Bodhisattva vows), insider Buddhist jokes. It wasn't very Heathers at all. The party had started with me showing up unsteady, sad and filled with a strange grief that had strangled a chunk of my days previous to this day, and I realized upon arrival that even here, with my sangha, I felt, I often feel, what I and a couple of others later called "knee-jerk social anxiety" - it kicks in before you even can convince it you don't need it - "No - these are Buddhists - they are ok with feelings and neurosis!." We laughed and cried over this - how I could actually say to someone I like a great deal but know very little, when asked "How are You?" "Well, I'm here. Pretty shitty, though." What party allows that? What kind of re-training will it take for me to be this honest? A lot, is my guess, and I'll still be anxious the whole way.

In the end, we played half a court and bent all the rules as much as we wanted to. A bevy of Boy Scouts toting canoes past us only vaguely interrupted the game, but the strong sun of midday really is what broke us down - without the shade of June clouds, we were perilously unprepared, and we pulled up court, packing the balls and pins and mallets back into my travel croquet set. Toward the end, we groaned - "Isn't it over yet?" "You mean she *didn't* make it through?" "C'mon, you're supposed to win so we can be DONE," but we were all smiling the whole time. That's the best we can do, I suppose. Feel shitty and grin about how funny it is that we can feel that way and still show up. Laugh at how we dread games we set up ourselves - games we consciously or unconsciously decide to play, engage in, invite others to join, and then quit halfway - whether mental or croquet.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Days

Sadness, 7pm, June 17, 2007. Usually 7's are my favorite, I warm to myself, softly. And yet, it's been sneaking behind me all day, a Hallmark holiday which is product for easy mockery for those still with fathers or still hating theirs, but a weak spot, when I remember to notice it, for me.

It's been a very strange week. Last weekend, a sadness began to mull inside of me like a slowly rotting cider, the alcoholic sort, and by the time I got to Monday, my first "official day back to work" after a week or so of vacation, I ploughed right through the day, and right through any feelings I was having. The masochistic working woman, I pushed through, thinking, seeming to take my time, check in with myself, always for less than five minutes, always suspiciously with the result that I went back to working all the harder. By the time I got to Monday night I was exhausted and suspicious of myself, by the time I got to Tuesday, I was downright sad. Wednesday was the worst day in a very long time, grief seemingly randomly renewed (from working too hard? From what we may never know) and pouring out of me in what my therapist deemed "melancholia". "You're grieving," he said. Why now, I thought? Why suddenly, without warning, tagged to a Hallmark Holiday? As if he could read my mind, he said "This can and will come at any time."

When I was a kid, my fondest memories of my father were of times I spent totally alone with him. Usually this came under the guise of going out together, alone -to the movies, to a concert (Larry Penn and his "I'm a Little Cookie" about a broken cookie tasting just as good as a whole one, and Lou and Peter Berryman still make me tear up thinking of him). Specifically, the dusk on a Sunday makes me long for him, keen for him - for the sharpest memories, memories more of a feeling than the plot of any of these particular occurrences - are of going to a Sunday matinee at the old theater just down the street from our house, and wandering out into the daze of swallows winding up the dusk around us. I recall from that time a sense of wabi-sabi, a sense of sad loneliness and aching heart that I have, in some ways, only recently begun to really understand, if anyone can ever understand that kind of a feeling. The sense of impermanence, even before he was diagnosed, or had his heart attacks, or lost his toes because of diabetes, was strong and ever present. Getting out of the theater just before the sunset was a powerful experience - the next time I was to see day, as these movies usually happened during the school year and always on a Sunday - I would be waking for school. School. Hated. Horrifying. And always more time away from my father. Later, when he had had heart attacks and that impermanence became as tangible as impermanence gets, I would insist on staying home, because even though he had gone back to work, even though he'd never be home the whole day while I was at school, I somehow felt closer to him just by being there.

For many years, This American Life put a perky into Sundays that had long been lacking. At some point early-to-mid-afternoon, I would take this gem given to me by David and Kate so long ago (they are now split up, but the seed of their mutual love of David Sedaris grew fast in me once they planted it) and linger in it, and honestly it seemed the hour long program could last the whole day for me. Then, once I began meditation practice, three-hour long sits in the mornings on Sundays (Nyinthun - or "day sit") gave me a much clearer start to my week. Even if I could only make an hour, and even though it meant I couldn't sleep in, there is nothing like meditating for more than an hour, especially in the presence of others. But then Dylan works on Saturday mornings, and the rest of the week, and now I teach on Saturday mornings, and suddenly Sunday mornings are the only time we can linger together - our late nights clouded over by my teaching and "recovering from teaching", our early mornings off kilter because he is up so early and I am still so dead to the world. But I realize now I really miss those mornings, and how they had reshaped the plague of Sundays for me for a long time.

I don't recall any particular Father's Days. Nothing in mind that passed while my dad was alive, though I am sure we "observed" this day, and no particular memories - one way or another, since he has passed. And, now, I have had more Father's Days without him than with. Looking at pictures with Dylan a few weeks ago, desperate to see his - and my mother's - face, I cried the second the photo came into focus for my eyes. "He looks like a stranger to me," I wailed into Dylan's soft shoulder, and what do you say back to that? He held me, which is all one can do, when faced with impermanence - hold our own, and others' tears, gently, and stay strong in face of the truth that all of us will die and many will cry when we are gone, just as we cry for others, now.

A certain restlessness kicks in when I feel sad, and I am beginning to recognize it as a discomfort, before it's become out and out busy work rebellion. Just now, it hit me sitting at the sewing machine, in my newly reorganized office. "I need to write," I realized, quite suddenly, once I had the space to realize it. And so I have, here.

I'll go for a run before the sun sets, hoping a bit of the night's semi-relief will seep into my pores and push out sweat in the exchange that's been happening, earth to sky, skin to sweat to rain, for so many hundreds of years. Pushing along, gently, like a pencil to paper, not worrying about words or the content of my run, but conscientious, this, too, will likely work like writing often does - no big conclusions in the end, no big help for my mind, but much relief for my body and heart, just by putting time into the practice...