Thursday, January 20, 2011

How About Now?

First, I have to say, I'M ON AN AIRPLANE... AND I'M ON THE INTERNET!

Perhaps I'm late ushering in the inter-web on the plane thing, but if you're willing to pay $12.95, and you happen to be stuck on a plane for 5 hours and 50 minutes with NO INFLIGHT MOVIES.... (I keep looking at the cabin ceiling, wondering when our complimentary in-flight tellies are going to miraculously lower down and I can finally watch Emma Stone's Easy A...) you'll pay the thirteen dollars. I mean, isn't our sanity worth at least that?

But now I'm eyeing my quickly depleting computer battery like it's the last Snickers in the bottom of the halloween bag. Three hours and fifteen minutes to go before landing. Battery survival? 45 minutes.

Anyhow, I wanted to write today, to remind myself as much as anyone else who may read this, about something important: "How about now?"

I'll explain. Because "How about now" has been on my mind a good deal over the past two months that I've been touring to talk about Faery Tale. And it's really helped me to maintain both a sense of peace of mind and of presence in an invaluable way.

I happen to have a fabulous therapist. Er, friend. Er, life coach. I really don't know what exactly to call him. But actually, I call him Shaman Jon, because that's his name. Shaman Jon is a very wise, loving, kind, expansive, and highly evolved spiritual fellow who often says things to me that have a way of sinking in and changing the way I think, feel, or behave in beautifully positive ways. We were talking about nervousness, anxiety, and displeasure -- you know the general sort of malaise that seeks us all out when we're least expecting it, and suddenly, pounces and before you know it, it's sunk its terrible claws into you and you're dragging your feet around the house all slumped over, thinking, "I am just filled to brimming with terrible malaise!!" Or some such thing. Well, Shaman Jon shared with me the secret of "How about now?"

He asked me to imagine that everything I had -- I mean, everything -- every material possession, every person I loved, even the roof over my head -- was taken away. I know! It's actually a really horrible, emotional and unpleasant thought. But I went there. I went to a place where I had somehow lost everything that once held meaning to me. I stood, in my imagination, on the beach. Imagined that even the tent I'd been sleeping in now was gone. I looked up at the sky, thankful, at least, for sunshine in this imaginary moment of mine. And then I allowed it to begin to rain.

It was just me, and the cold, miserable, pelting rain.
And the ocean.
So vast, so eternal. And then he asked me to consider. "How about now?"
In other words, will life go on? Am I okay? Am I still able to find a way to be okay, if everything external, even the people I love, have disappeared, and all I have is myself? I sat with that. Because this isn't about disregarding the people or things that you love, really. It's about being able to be okay, no matter what life brings you, with just you. Your own body, your own thoughts, your own ability to perceive the world, and the gift of your life, in a grateful and meaningful way.

Yes, I thought. I am okay. "How about now" has become a way to check in for me, when the trivial things in life begin to grate, when I find I'm getting annoyed or moody or feeling disconnected or stingy or any of those things that we don't like to admit we feel sometimes.
When the woman sitting behind you in the plane who keeps inadvertently kicking your seat. A lot. The man at the grocery store who just really feels the need to talk for a very long time about the weather, and the football game last night, and where the cashier's nephew goes to high school, and you have T-minus 20 seconds before company arrives at your house or you're going to be late for a meeting or your bladder is going to burst. These examples may or may not be taken from my own life.

So maybe I'm on  a plane and I'm STARVING because all I've had to eat for dinner was a granola bar and a handful of trail mix, and I'm dehydrated and I left my water bottle on the connecting flight, the person behind me is kicking my seat, my neck hurts, this flight is the interminable flight from hell, I could practically be in London by the time we land, and I miss my husband and my house and my friends and my freakishly small black cat, and I've been home for only 2 weeks and now I'm back on the road again...  and... "How about now?" Am I okay?

And I take score of the moment: I'm sitting aboard a plane to Seattle, where I will be able to be with my sister for her 33rd birthday. I'm a writer with a story that people have been moved by -- and what joy that I get to travel across the country to stand in Barnes & Noble tomorrow and talk about my journey.

Suddenly, "How about now" feels more okay. And my capacity to breathe and be myself and be a better human is, for the time being restored.

So there it is. My $13.00 gift to myself, and to you.

"How about now?"

I hope you'll have as many, if not more, blessings to count as 2011 shines on.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Rose Petal Tea

When I was in Italy four years ago, I bought rose petal tea.

I was there visiting an author I worked with who lived in Umbria, and she and her husband took me to a tiny village in up in the hills. The name of the place escapes me, consequences of a whirlwind tour with every day something magical, and probably too, the fact that she and I had both just lost our fathers. So thankful to be guided, I wandered Italy, trailing behind my hosts, my head titled up at the late winter sunshine, every pore in me desperate to receive: the breeze ruffling through the hilltowns, the rich, silty taste of a morning espresso, the undulating sounds of voices murmuring in Italian and the way it echoed from the ancient cobblestone streets.

The town that was home to the most enchanting tea shop I've ever seen was the site of an ancient Roman bath. It lay there still, the waters dark and peaceful in February, and I was still trying to comprehend the fact that there had been people bathing in its waters for thousands of years when it was time once more to wander, and we crossed the threshold of a gift shop, walking down a few old stairs.

Inside there was a woman with short graying hair who watched us keenly. The shop was filled with incense, bubble bath, beautifully crafted Italian pottery, tea cups, and old wooden barrels filled with various teas. I lifted the lid of one and my nostrils were met with the most delicate fragrance. The loose black tea was laden with deep pink dried rose petals, and their scent was soft, sweet, enchanting. The contrast of black tea and deep pink petals was one of the most beautiful things, oddly, that I'd ever seen. And I believed that if I drank that tea, some of that beauty would continue to live inside me. Some delicate attribute of those petals that sprang from the sun, grew up from the deep ground, clipped at their glory to be tied in bunches and dried for our selfish (but in my case at least, appreciative) consumption, could possibly take root in me, and I could grow, too.  The bottom line was, buying that tea was no longer an option, it was a carnal desire.

Back home in the Upper West side, I brewed my first cup on a sunday morning when I was feeling so homesick for places that made me want to believe things, when Monday was looming, sickening and large, when my tiny studio apartment felt too utterly quiet, when I felt too entirely alone. I remember I curled my feet underneath me and settled back into the depth of my windowsill that looked out over Broadway and 69th street. I closed my eyes and inhaled, experiencing the scent and the warmth meeting my nose and mouth at the same time, and when I sipped it, I found peace with my internal world. After that, I knew the incredible power of my secret stash of tea, its single-minded ability to bring me back to a place that I lost and tried to recover on a daily basis: myself. So I doled it out carefully, like the precious commodity that it was -- sharing it with a friend who was heartsick, a neighbor in need of wonder, and finally, a man I never believed I would meet, with dark eyes and a disarming dimple in his left cheek -- a man who I married three years later.

But this morning, the tea is simply for me, as she was always intended to be.

I found her sitting still in the old blue tin on my kitchen counter, immortal like the faeries. It's a somewhat common belief that black tea can only remain "good" for two - three years, and yet this tea and I, we are going on four, and my tin is still three quarters full and smelling as transformative as it did that February afternoon beside the crumbling wall of an ancient roman pool.