I haven’t done this letter thing before, but this year is special and even though this is coming late in the month, it is a true assessment of some of my lessons and learning of 2016. I do this for myself and with the hope that my learning will be of benefit to others.
At the beginning of the year, I resolved to not resist gravity so much. Therefore this past year, I sat. I sat in parks, particularly Kenwood park. I sat in my bedroom. I sat in the sun porch. I started using timers and a cushion. I set aside a blanket. Sometimes I lay on my back, but mostly I stacked my spine perpendicular to the earth.
At some point this year I had a dream that a bear came right up and pressed herself against me while I stood frozen. I could feel the warm fur of her chest and belly. Her hot breath fanned my face as her saliva and sharp teeth smeared my cheek. She and I breathed together, fast and panicked. This image haunted me again and again. I learned to stay with the fear and even enter into it. It becomes fragile when you do that and dissipates as if it were made out of light and smoke. I declare 2016 the year of the mama bear.
One thing I let go of in 2016 was my cleaning gig at Corepower Yoga. Yoga there had been both my moving meditation practice and physical exercise, for over 10 years. When I gave it up, I broke a major pattern of dependence. This was both hard and easy. The metaphor that appeared for how this felt was an image of myself in mountain arrived where I reached into my own heart and pulled out a glass jar full of garden snakes. It dropped and shattered at my feet. The snakes lost no time. They slithered right back inside through the soles of my feet. As I write they still travel upward.
I am so happy to have visited the Obama White House this year. I am proud of his integrity and his commitment and that of his wife, the first lady. She is my mama contemporary. She has a loving husband and two beautiful children. She has been a model of learning and growing and toughness and beauty for me and our whole country. So grateful.
Also the Smithsonian. It is a precious American resource. Go there and see the portrait gallery, see the Constitution and all it stands for. See all the glory and all the tragic mistakes. And marvel that we are still standing, that we have resources and infrastructure and a people who are alive and kicking. We are a young country and we have done much good in the world, AND we have decimated cultures and enslaved nations, we need to hold it all in our hearts and honor every single back that this nation was built on. There is no resting now. We have work to do. And the truth is we can never rest. We make the path together and it is already beautiful. I love you people, you are doing good work, keep doing it.
Sometime this spring I realized my own misogyny. I keep telling people that my dislike of Hillary Clinton stemmed from the 80s when she got her first makeover. Probably that makeover came with the same vitriol that has infused our cultural consciousness forever. I am so grateful that I have woken up and have let go of those old, ugly ideas. I understand this angry and repetitive criticism of her as a continuation of the status quo, the real change we seek lies beneath all our resistance to personal responsibility. The time is ripe. Do your personal work. That is seriously the best way you can help the world.
On May 31st, ironically the 3rd year anniversary of the purchase of the big house to the day, Josh and I announced to our housemates, whom are also my beloved family, that we wanted to end our living arrangement as it stood. We felt that as a group were unable to find a middle ground especially around making decisions and to remain in this situation longer than necessary would further damage our relationship. We gave a year’s notice with the idea that it would take that long to follow through with the process if we decided to sell the house. We were very open to how this transfer of ownership might play out, whether one of us bought or we sold outright, and our agreed-upon process allowed three months for the parties to deliberate. This meeting was very painful for me. I believe it was also painful for the others. Letting go of the house and my vision of what I had hoped it would be hurt a lot. But letting go of it has come with a lot of freedom. It does not mean I am any less attached to my family, what it does mean is that I have broke free of some of the patterns that I had long participated in.
I went through MBSR training in the spring with Josh and some of my dearest friends. If anyone out there wants to reduce stress in their life, this program is prescribed by doctors for that purpose and has been proven to provide relief from stress and stress related health issues. I recommend it if you are suffering in any way. It was the beginning of my daily meditation practice which has become the bedrock of my sanity. It’s simple but not easy.
I believe it was the MBSR experience that gave me the courage to make some changes to my writing summer camp and begin participating in Appetite for Change’s events. Appetite for Change is a food activism community on the Northside. This has been perfect timing for me because I sure am hungry for some cross-cultural intermingling. Getting to know the women and the youth there has fed my soul. My goal was to find something sustainable to do and keep doing it. This is easy. More coming on this soon.
I still teach yoga at Linden Hills park. I love my teaching practice there. The group of ladies that regularly come put up with my mishegas, and actually seem to like it. I also really love my practice at Olympic Hills Golf Club. The whole deal. Waking up before dawn, driving down 169, the people in the busy work out room, my yoga class and the regulars. It is a wonderful place full of good people. I have also gotten to know Eden Prairie better. So beautiful.
Josh’s sister Anna and Noah and five of the six niece and nephews visited this summer from Israel. It was a total whirlwind. Involving lots of communing with each other, various water craft, mushroom hunting, Pitch Perfect, dipping in the big lake, rock climbing, bikes, ice cream, pizza, praying and a little bit of shopping. And lucky for me they left Mori behind when they went home which has lead to a fall of discussing teaching tactics, quoting Fat Amy, homemade Pizza, Ottolenghi, veggies, lots and lots of rice bowls. So good.
Josh and I went on a canoe trip on our own. This was transformational. I reconnected to some essential part of myself. I have spent so many years as a homemaker and I am fiercely proud of my childrens’ spiritual health and wellness. Much of that was up to them and their choices. But their ability to do that is directly connected to my efforts. And it is not over yet. But I have a whole body of personal work that remains unfinished and undervalued by me. It will take much more effort to keep speaking for the undervalued in my heart and out in the world. But it must be done. On this trip I discovered energy beneath the surface. It will be fearsome to unleash. No time but the present. More on this later.
Right around this time we negotiated the terms of our house arrangement. I should say Josh and Bill (as I call my stepfather, Will) did. “The parents” (we are a blended family and as sisters with two different dads, that is how we refer to our common unit) will buy us out and remain in the house with Jonathan and Rachel.
I feel so lucky to have been able to spend this time with my mom and Bill as they settled back into life in Minnesota. I have learned much about myself and my dynamics within my family system. I closer to them as I ever have. Not only that, this living situation has unexpectedly brought me closer to Josh’s mom and my dad and sisters who live in Washington state. I love the house and what I have learned through the house, about the history of our city, about the true, backbreaking labor that made my city, my family, and this whole nation the way it is. I have written much about this. I hope to pull it into something someone else can read someday.
We had Thanksgiving in Lanesboro, Minnesota, right next to the Root River Trail with a whole mess of people who were there at its inception. Because of their foresight and effort, there is an economy growing in that region of Minnesota. I got to witness a part of the outstate that is flourishing right now. It was very welcome to experience such a success story in the aftermath of an election that was claiming otherwise. It was energizing to hear the stories of how the trail came together, how new ways of doing things emerged from this work of conservation, and to connect everybody again. This work is ongoing. It is a fallacy to believe that we will ever be done. We need energy and each other to keep protecting the vulnerable out there and keep creating a life worth living for all living things. (More on this.)
Somewhere in here the election happened. Although it rocked my world, I feel like my reaction began much earlier in the year. I had been certain that the women would rise against him, and yet, the fact that our president was a viable option to many people indicated to me that I needed to step up my game. Hoping and believing this is true for many privileged white people like me. I don't believe protest is sustainable, but demonstration through constant grass roots action within and between communities is. We have got to make this our pleasure. I declare this will become our joy.
Shortly before Christmas we signed over the house, giving up any rights we have to it. This is bittersweet. We have a house and neighborhood we are looking forward to returning to. We expect that it will feel real easy. But there are many things I will miss here. I will miss the noises of kids running upstairs, mewing of Hattie, Otto’s sing-song, the crash bang of wild play, lots and lots of creaking. I will miss the slam of the front door as someone arrives home. And as I am writing this, I realize I already miss the way the furnace starts up like the great engine on a ship, vibrating the whole house as if we were about to embark (we fixed a broken pump this fall, apparently the culprit, sometimes broken things are what you miss the most). But most of all I will miss the music my step-father plays at the piano and guitar. The smells of his cooking. The brightness of the kitchen. My expectation is I will regularly return and partake of these things. Pizza night.
My year ended with a trip out to my sister Becka’s new(ish) house. I celebrated all of our regular things with her family, my two kids and the parents. It was lovely. But Rachel and Jonathan’s family couldn’t make it. Neither could Josh. They were missed. Sometimes Becka refers to the parents and the two of us as the original four. We were that a very long time ago, and lived that way for many years longer than I have lived in this house. We are different now. But also the same. I love the parents more than ever. And both my sisters too. (All four of them, I will include my stepsisters in Washington.I am rich in sisters.)
I declare that 2017 will be the ACTUAL year of the woman, and I want to thank all my sisters for the work that they do. I extend that sisterhood to my Chavurah sisters. My Peacock sisters. My Gals-Who-Read sisters. My Family Camp sisters. My old neighborhood sisters. My new neighborhood sisters. My Austin sisters. Crisis Nursery sisters. Th-th sisters. Rapid Writing sisters. Grad School sisters. My sisters across town on the Northside. My sisters in hijabs. My latina sisters. My transgender sisters. My sisters of the past. My sisters of the future. My sister self.
May your 2017 be full of forgiveness, of yourself and others, love, and more freedom than ever before.