spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureA Volvo that looks worse than my car.
I dropped by Quality Body and Fender to look in on my little Scion IQ, which couldn’t be driven until a new bumper came from Southern California and could be painted the requisite orange and reattached. The old bumper did not just fall off. I had to try to turn left from the right lane and bump another car for it to dangle unsafely and be beyond repair.

Having done wrong by sideswiping another vehicle, I did try to do right by continuing through an intersection and stopping at the curb to locate the distraught other to whom I owed an apology and my insurance assurances. But no one was anywhere. No damaged car knocked sideways by the impact. It seemed impossible but that was it: no one, nothing.

To understand why I risked turning right from the left lane, we have to go back a couple of hours to the moment I noticed the small lit upturned bowl with the exclamation mark on the dashboard glowing its warning about tire trouble. I had seen that indicator lit many times when I lived on Gough in San Francisco and it hadn’t alarmed me like it should. So when I did pull up to an air hose in a filling station near the location of my therapy appointment in Berkeley and saw the nail in the left rear tire and gauged how flat the tire was, I knew this time I was in real trouble. Air was escaping about as fast as I could pump in 40 lbs. of new air.

That excess air was part of my plan, which did not include panicking or canceling my weekly meeting with my beloved therapist. I assured myself I could stop at multiple air hoses until I was out of quarters and still get to a Big O in Berkeley in time to repair the tire without sacrificing the hour of trauma therapy I was now in desperate need of.

However, the false confidence fueling my behavior did not serve me well. With the tire flattening even as I sat in the orange chair I favor, I fiercely defended my thought process when my therapist hazarded the opinion that I might feel better canceling our morning meeting to deal with the tire. Oh the angry reaction. “I’ve thought this through!” I snapped, defending my territory, my right to be stupid, as it turned out.

And so it was that panic to replace the once-again flattened tire had me veering recklessly from the left lane to turn right onto San Pablo in Berkeley where I expected to find the Big O tire store. By this time though I couldn’t remember its location nor mine either.

And so with a damaged front bumper and a really flat tire, I pulled an illegal U turn and stopped near a small shop that did repairs. While it didn’t stock bumpers or replace tires, Andy who worked there drove the car in, jacked it up, removed the tire, patched it, filled it with the correct amount of air as well as checked the other three tires, and refused payment for his kindness.

He told me I could make it safely now to wherever the bumper could be repaired or replaced. With that assurance, I checked on Foxie, the dog, who was crated in the back of the car and drove away in search of Automobile Row/Broadway, making many wrong turns and seeming to choose only streets with speed bumps over which I would travel very slowly.

Eventually, I arrived at the Toyota sales and service but they did not do collision repairs. I was wearing as thin as that sad left rear tire and was close to dangling as loosely as the bumper, when the manager said Quality Body and Fender representatives were on their way to deliver a repaired Subaru and they would take the car. When the man from Quality arrived, I handed him the keys and let the dealership’s shuttle driver take Foxie and me home to 100 Grand Ave.

By the time of this posting, the car has been repaired and returned. And I found a prism of wisdom through which to look at this experience in chapter five of Pema Chodron’s book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Here’s my paraphrase: Experiences have “delightful” and “difficult” parts.  Here’s Pema: “Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself.”

My last word: I had been foolish and careless, yet all around me had been kindness.

PicturePumpkin chili ala Alison
At my new space, 100 Grand Ave., a restaurant isn't one of the perks. This is good because I am under some filial pressure to take responsibility for what I eat. It helps to have a kitchen bigger and better equipped than the miniature at Hotel Lake Merritt. Having kitchen amenities didn't matter there as most residents are relieved to be off kitchen duty. Here, my kitchen is conducive to staying involved in self-care. It has a washer-dryer, microwave, stove, refrigerator, garbage disposal. Few excuses for falling down on the job.

 Moreover, being successful in the kitchen has become kind of a big deal for me, particularly as it involves delving into Thug Kitchen, a vegan cookbook, gifted to me by my first born son. I am one among many whom it is his mission to convert to a vegan diet. (Parenthetically, I take some credit for the passion this son and the younger two bring to feeding themselves and those they care about. As a parent, I proved a kitchen disappointment, setting such an egregious example that over the years all three were driven to excellence as payback.) And my oldest son was married for a time to a culinary school graduate. Clearly the skill and passion for all things kitchen rubbed off.

Fed by his love for animals, he seriously converted to vegan cooking quite a while ago. I could follow his exploits as he posted them with pictures on Facebook. Maybe he feels really comfortable in Thug Kitchen because he is profanity-compatible. And scarcely an instruction in the book, from the first page to the last, lacks a !#^%%#^ing descriptor. Even the front cover advises readers to “eat like you give a $&^%@*!”

My first foray into Thug Kitchen was page 97, Pumpkin Chili. To organize myself, I used the camera on my phone to capture the ingredients. Leaving myself lots of time and going to a Trader Joe in Berkeley less congested than the tiny jammed TJ on Lakeshore in Oakland, I could consult the picture of listed ingredients as I searched out garlic, a kind of onion but smaller that you have to mince yourself. I skipped the jalapenos as I don’t really know what they look like. I forgot the *$@$#%@#! cumin, which was a required ingredient. And because pumpkin puree is seasonal, I settled for pumpkin soup, planning to add it without additional broth or water. Once I began to make the recipe, careful not to skip a #^$%#@^-ing step, I saw I was short on chili powder and had to substitute chipotle chili. I realized this made me a total *$@#$!@$, but so be it.

To shorten a long string of expletives, I succeeded in creating a Pumpkin Chili to be proud of, and it was a cause of mutual rejoicing when I texted my vegan son with the good news. He was proud of me, texting back: “Keep up the good work, holmes, and be sure to post to Facebook.”  What the $@%!, I don’t plan to do that.

PictureFoxie rug rolls in our new small space.
Where have I been these last three months? In a muddle of moving. In early February I see I posted about going to a lecture at East Bay Meditation Center. Rereading that blog, I also see that I was not wholehearted about it. Indeed, being less than wholehearted hovered over almost everything associated with moving to a studio apartment in senior independent living. It didn’t take long to realize it was too soon to succumb to old(er) age. I was beginning to feel even more depleted than when I felt at odds with noise and grime and made the move in the first place. 

So once again I set about moving, not back to San Francisco, but a few blocks uptown. (Uptown is a term that gets a big play in Oakland.) Not knowing the East Bay at all, I only know there are a lot of Kaiser Permanentes in the vicinity and a very big Pandora building less than two blocks from here. Happily, Lake Merritt is but one city block from this location, so Foxie and I still have the option of visiting the birds.

In this new residence, a city-block sized apartment building in the neighborhood of other large building and some small and yummy eateries, anyone of any age with the proper paperwork and enough money can rent a one or two bedroom or studio apartment. This studio where Foxie and I live is on the 14th floor. It faces west and we can see the mountains of Marin and the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge, and freeway traffic. Reflected in a black building on Webster directly in view of my one big window, virtual traffic heads up Grand. At the same time I see the actual traffic driving down Grand. Of course, the streets are under construction, although the noise is less than it was when Gough Street was being torn up. Here, when the sun sets, I must close the white sliding blinds or be blinded.

Because it is March, I have been watching much madness on my TV, which seems to loom over the wee space I have cordoned off as the living room in case guests come. I think I can accommodate four guests in the space, about as many as I ever accommodated in my last small space.

As for Foxie, he likes this location very much. He can go under the bed when he fears I am leaving. He has the couch to snuggle on, the rugs to rub on and the new bathroom mat as an emergency pee place. Right now, I blog to the rhythm of the washer undoing Foxie’s most recent yellowy blot on a new blue and gray striped bathmat.

For my wee fierce one, I felt compelled to buy a muzzle just in case of leaps and snarls in crowded elevators. Although I purchased renter’s insurance, I doubt it covers neighbor’s torn pant cuffs or visits to the vet for other wee canines headed out for their morning strolls. Wearing his muzzle, Foxie experiences total humiliation. His tail droops, his ears droop, his head drops and to endure this sight, I muster up as much of my adult as I can. We must be good neighbors. We cannot lunge at others. We cannot bark whenever one of the heavy fire doors on the nearby apartments open or close. We cannot bark at children running in the halls. The folks in this building are not hard of hearing as were most of our former neighbors in Hotel Lake Merritt. Once we are friendly on the 14th floor, we can joke about Foxie’s propensity to match every sound with his own.

Here on Grand Ave. we are closer to BART than before, we have the 12 bus running in both directions, going uptown or downtown as far as the Landmark Theater on Shattuck in Berkeley. Possibly, I will even take Foxie on public transportation, but not unmuzzled. We could try taking the free shuttle from here to Jack London Square. Weekends, I drive to keep my San Francisco commitments, but on weekdays a trip to the city means BART. It runs multiple morning trains and because I have aged (even more in these last three months) someone has to let me sit. Indeed, this is the good life!

PictureFrom March Shambala Sun. Ray Fenwick. Photo A.Rittger
This week I began a four-week Wednesday night class at East Bay Meditation Center on Siddhartha Guatama’s “Four Noble Truths.” Mushim, the teacher, calls the class “The Buddha’s 4 Big Truths.” This avoids explaining why the truths are noble; in as much as the truths are actually ennobling and meant for noble people, which means all of us.

It seemed like quite a few in the class of more than 100 learners were new to the subject matter. I was not, and at first I thought this was okay. I expected to battle through my end-of-the day weariness and not to mind if the dharma talk I anticipated got dumbed down. But I was wrong. If this had been my first class on the 4 big truths, I'm sure I would have appreciated Mushim’s friendly, easy-on-the-understanding teaching more than I actually did. During this first class, I was amused sometimes; but not like the real new learners, who laughed aloud at “dukkha”: the Pali word for suffering. Without realizing it, I had overestimated my equanimity and underestimated my capacity for dukkha.

I registered for the class because I have a three-block walk to EBMC, and in the past I had liked Mushim’s dharma talks. Moreover, I love the idea of EBMC – its diversity and generosity-based pay plan that excludes no one for lack of money.

That evening, because I have been taught to look at every aspect of my life as “the Path,” I took an interest in my restlessness: the shifts, twitches and yawns. I was aware that the room was dark, and air purifiers hummed in the background. As Mushim talked, I recited silently a three-part Pali chant I had learned in another EBMC workshop in December. I noticed how as the words became foreground I could hear her and the other students at the back of my attention.  This way, being judgmental was almost impossible as I didn't have enough left-over mental activity for judgments. 

Despite my disappointment and general twitchiness, I did learn a few things. By tuning out because I thought I knew it all, I disregarded a lot I didn't know. I didn’t know Mushim had prepared a power-point presentation for this class; and Mahogany, the event manager, told her the class was too large for her to show it as everyone would have had to shift around. Surely that disappointment meant dukkha for Mushim and maybe for Mahogany too. And I learned Mushim's cat had died.

Walking home from that first class meeting, I remembered Mushim saying how the Buddha tells us to turn to our own experience. Ehipassiko which is Sanskrit and means "Come and see for yourself.So here is what I came to see for myself after that class: There is more than one thing and its opposite. So don't construct too narrow a category of what I think I need to learn. Leave room for the universe. 

PictureFoxie shares Thanksgiving photo op
Thanksgiving morning on the phone with my sister, we small talk but not for long because over the years we have learned how to love and understand each other and speak from our hearts not too many minutes into a conversation.

For neither of us would this holiday be “ideal,” in as much as Thanksgiving is traditionally a day about family. Her family is a daughter, asleep in the extra bedroom but probably with plans of her own which don't include the  free-range organic turkey my sister been roasting. Another family wants to include her daughter at dinner. My sister has been invited, but isn’t sure that’s the family Thanksgiving she wants though the house is within walking distance.

One of my sons is in the Philippines so rule out dinner with him. The oldest son has become Chef Vegan, living his holiday through photos on Facebook, so connection with him will be adding a comment under his postings of gluten-free pumpkin muffins, the third batch, baked to perfection.

The youngest son has driven his daughter to visit many cousins on her mom’s side of the family. The other grandma is with them. They are miles east of Oakland for their holidays.

So my sister and I concur that we are not going to have the day our way. But we don’t despair. We are not actually resigned to doing the best we can; we’re more upbeat than that. Not to be grateful for being alive would be a mistake; moreover, other people have offered us their company and are including us in their plans. This is generous of them. We agree on our marching orders for the day. It will come in the form of a question that’s not really a question: How Hard Is It?

My sister concludes that it isn’t that hard is to walk a few blocks, carrying her little organic turkey to be with her daughter although in the home of her former husband’s new family. It will not be exactly the day she would have planned, but really, how hard is it?

How hard will it be for me to accept the invitation of a new friend to attend a Christian Science Thanksgiving Service at her church, which is a four-block walk. It will mean a lot to her to walk there with a friend. How hard is it? And when a staff member at the Hotel Lake Merritt learns my grandson and his wife will not be joining me on Thanksgiving, she suggests I join her and two others at the table she has reserved. How hard is it to graciously accept her invitation? To meet new people? It’s not so hard. Though it’s not the day I planned, not my vision of sharing with close family, yet there will be pleasure. It doesn’t have to happen just my way. Indeed, how hard is it to say yes when good people offer to include you? Wasn’t that the basis of Thanksgiving in the first place?

PictureBracelet in the Buddha bowl /Alison
I wear a simple bracelet of 19 wooden beads strung loosely on a brown stretchy string not just because my Buddhist meditation teacher gave it to me, but because it serves as a reminder to be mindful and more.  Some people tape messages to their mirrors or post them on the fridge with a magnet so as not to forget lessons worth learning. For me this bead bracelet from my teacher is an especially apt metaphor for a lesson I need to remember.

It was a painful interaction with the teacher who gave me the bracelet that impressed on me that it really is a good idea to pause before reacting. It’s practically sacred! At one of our biweekly practice talks, my teacher mentioned wanting to talk to me about money.

When I heard that word “money,” I jumped into a story about myself that brought up feelings of shame. I hated to feel inadequate. I braced to be criticized. I wanted to grab my shoes and run away from where I sat facing her, but instead I gripped the sides of the chair and grabbed anger in self-defense. I probably tried to point out that any misunderstanding could not have been my fault. Anger armored me against the painful and familiar fear of been wronged as well as against my teacher for the pain I was feeling. Through my tears I probably said that I thought I understood our agreement. That everything between us was good.   

She watched me cry, watched me fume, and sat unmoved, her expression unchanging. In a level unemotional voice, she said she was going to ask me to put the agreed upon amount of dana in an envelope even one that I was recycling.  That’s about what she said.

I got it. Familiar painful feelings had taken me out of the room, taken me out of her presence into self-stories, old stories of unworthiness that brought up shame and suffering. For fear of being caught in a mistake, I had over-reacted. A pause would have left room for her to say what was on her mind.

When I look at the beads on the bracelet with their faint writings, I see reactions based on stories imprinted from childhood. And as with most of what sticks to us, these stories tend to be negative. As for the stretchy string between the beads, I make it represent the space and stillness between these stories – space for other people, for their opinions, needs, and responses. I make the message of the string be: Stop and Ask:  “What else is there” … to say, to do, to understand” “What else is there that wants acceptance and a response?” The flexibility of the string reminds me to hold space for possibilities and mystery, to be still and open to everything and for everyone in our shared universe.


PictureOld tree on the shore of Lake Merritt / Alison R.
With the move to Oakland from San Francisco behind me, and escrow in the throes of closing, I see how fearful I have been. Dread became a constant companion, varying from low level in the background to in my face, full blown.

Mostly, I didn’t deal with my fear as much as rely on diversions – Buddhist teacher Tara Brach would call them “false refuges.” – I juggled 20 games of Letterpress on the phone as well plowed through online New York Times crossword puzzles on my tablet. Access to streaming Netflix hooked me on the TV show “Criminal Minds” with its multiple seasons, reliable formats and lack of commercials. And I took hits of serotonin scrolling through email several times a day. And of course, walking Foxibeau around Lake Merritt diverted us both.

Yet no matter my efforts, fear flamed up in outbursts. My real estate agent with my future in his hands got a fair dose. Often I would ask him what I was going to do when escrow fell through. As my friend, he said he hated to see me so “negative.” Sure, I trusted him and yet I couldn’t or wouldn’t believe everything would go as planned. All of our paperwork took place on the computer, and I was so rattled I would settle for the first signature that suggested itself when signing Docu-sign paperwork, the long-distance method which seems to have replaced side-by-side page turning. Without a reassuring agent by my side pointing to each blank to sign or initial, for all I knew I might have been buying the unit next door to the one I thought I was selling.

Behind fear about the sale of my property in San Francisco, I hesitated to make this particular move to a senior residential hotel as it really spoke to my aging and the probability of eventual dependence. In the past I chose not to act on my wish to receive more care and kindness. I tended to scoff at aging friends who went ahead and paid to be treated with respect. Now, I have done likewise. Still fearful of having made the wrong decision, I feel gratitude for the daily acts of kindness, even though I pay to receive them. And it is lovely to live across the street from a lake encircled by what one resident called a “rosary” of tiny lights.

In truth, I chose this spot as a destination my son would happily bring my granddaughter to visit. In the month or so since my move, he has not scheduled a trip although I’m sure I tempted him with tales of the lake, the gondola rides and Fairyland. My head accepts the facts of his life, but when I see the “kids” of other residents drop by to check on their moms or dads; my heart feels sad. I expect compassion will compel me to accept both the head’s reasoning and the heart’s yearning.  

And perhaps the wisdom credited to old age will show me how to be on this side of the Bay and connect with the other side like other commuters. I am already an expert at diversions, so I can connect to music or dharma talks with headphones or read an Oakland Public Library book while bowing to the vicissitudes of public transportation, grateful for my Clipper discount and the seats reserved for the elderly and the infirm.

And though only a month or so has passed since I conveniently lived within walking distance of the opera and symphony in San Francisco, I am learning to embrace aging. I haven’t yet refused the six-block trek to and from the19th St. BART, but I don’t plan to do it more than once a day. Weekends I might drive to and from city commitments, but I will be smart about when to venture bridgeward.

My prayer is that fear will be a teacher once I step back from the brink of panic and realize I have done okay so far. Well done, I am saying to myself.

PictureFlower tears/faux_to digit
The more attached I am to my agenda, the more irritated I become when nothing and no one seems to cooperate. I tend to take each delay or disappointment personally, as if the world and its denizens conspire against me. Since moving to a retirement hotel for older adults at Lake Merritt in Oakland September 25, I have been back to the city six times in five days. Between traveling the Bay Bridge and relying on public transportation, crowded BART and Muni shove matches I have experienced what seems like a lot of anxiety and irritation. Impatience is as good a name as any for the unpleasant feeling.

Moreover, I have 7:30 breakfast every Monday in Noe Valley with a friend and moving to the East Bay hasn’t changed that pleasurable routine. And yet impatience clearly encroached this last Monday when after breakfast I would have liked her to put my welfare over her own and rather than dump me on the 49 line because it was more convenient for her, have driven me to my meeting at the church. And as much as I love this friend, I was annoyed which felt the same as  impatient. I became a small, constricted self, a wronged being who clearly didn’t matter all that much. And I didn’t like myself for being an unloving, ungenerous friend.

AND whether I’m traveling on BART or Muni or on foot, breakfasting with a friend, or meeting with the minister, I fret that my condo won’t sell fast enough at the too-high price I’m asking. I am disappointed at being this avaricious while professing aversion to economic inequality.

Yet when I sit still, recognize, acknowledge and inquire into this feeling I’m calling impatience and fear, it doesn’t boom with annoyance, it whispers, “What about my needs? Don’t they matter? Am I going to be overlooked? Am I going to get enough?  In short, how long am I going to have to scream in this crib for a diaper change? I’m seeing my impatience as one cover up for vulnerability.

I believe “What about me?” to be what humans feel, not just what I feel. One night around the dinner table at the Hotel Lake Merritt amid older adults, I mentioned impatience, and many of these new acquaintances were quick to own it as a personal bad habit. Stories went around the table about being seated in this very dining room before another group was seated, but not being served before it.

Unjustly, I think we would all call this reaction petty. I think it’s bigger than that, not worse, just bigger in as much as it constricts our focus, it narrows our attention just to the piece of the moment that has to do with personal discomfort and thus shuts out mostly everything else.

Writer, Storm Jameson puts it like this, “There is only one world, the world pressing against you at this minute.  There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable miracle. By releasing our attachment to having life a certain way, we receive the blessings of the awareness that is always and already here.”

Public transportation, bridge congestion remind me that life is the present, and the present isn’t necessarily pleasant, but it is the moment I have, the moment I chose. And lessons can be learned from everything and everyone.


PictureSheena, Elison and friends / Alison R.
I’ve had a week of thinking about intimacy. My grandson married his love in a beautiful, on-time ceremony at City Hall.  They asked me to be a witness. Nothing more. They planned it themselves, and it couldn’t have been nicer. My hope for them is that they enjoy the intimacy that loving can foster.

I had another glance at the possibilities of intimacy, if only for a moment, at the service on Sunday given by the Unitarian Universalists’ new minister. We shook hands after the service and he mentioned our week-ago conversation about Flannery O’Connor. In that personal, intimate moment, I felt seen. If he responds to everyone as though each matters, the whole will be equal to, if not greater than, its parts! The church will become vibrant with knowing and being known.

A third bout with the idea of intimacy occurred at a Zen Center dharma talk. The priest related an eighth century Koan, one of those paradoxical stories like “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” These stories, usually very old, take the mind beyond its habitual way of making meaning. In the story she shared, “Lingzhao’s Helping,” an old man, Layman Pang, loses his footing on a bridge as he and his daughter, Lingzhao, go home from selling bamboo baskets. When she looks back and sees that he has fallen, she runs to him and throws herself down next to him. He asks her what she is doing. She says she is helping. He then says it is good no one is looking.

My reaction to this koan missed the mark. I didn’t see how her behavior could be called helping. I thought she should want to get dad off the ground as quickly as possible. But this story is about becoming intimate with another’s situation before assuming the role of helper. The daughter’s behavior suggests a way to be with another person that isn’t hierarchical. At Dad’s level she sees what it is like for him. She doesn’t become “the helper” making her Dad “the victim,” shifting into an uneven relationship. She doesn’t assume she knows what to do before she sees from her father’s vantage place. But by being down with Dad, Lingzhao metaphorically becomes intimate with his situation. And when Dad says it’s good no one is looking, he isn’t expressing concern for what the neighbors might think; he is complimenting her for staying authentic and free of self-judgment, of not seeing herself from a removed point of view.

At home, after hearing the dharma talk, I read the koan as it appears in The Hidden Lamp, Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women. Zen teacher Joan Sutherland’s reflection on this koan, expanded my understanding of intimacy. Not fond of hierarchy to begin with, I loved the idea of avoiding habitual hierarchical relationships that would separate me from another. I thought of the hierarchy inherent in a new minister’s coming and hoped he would not put himself above, but in front, of the rest of us.

Most important to me was seeing the need to become intimate with the other’s situation before assuming the “role” of helper or thinking I knew better what would help. And I wondered if cultivating intimacy with my own thoughts and feelings by just being with them might work better than wanting to change them or deny them.

As for the koan, I am guessing if and when Layman Pang is ready to get up from the ground and gather the bamboo baskets that may have scattered in his fall, he will ask Lingzhao for a hand up. Until he does, they might lie side by side and giggle. As for me, my attitude toward intimacy has expanded. 

Ordinary Work


PictureConstriction at Green Gulch Farm / Jed Sullivan
I went to a writing workshop at Green Gulch Farm, a Buddhist practice center offering training in Zen meditation and what it terms “ordinary work.” It is on Shoreline Highway almost to Muir Beach. Sixteen participants hoping to “awaken and enlist the senses” chose on that overcast Saturday to do their work with Laura Deutsch whose Writing From the Senses had been recently published by Shambala Press.

For about two and a half hours of the morning I sat in the circle and suffered familiar self-aversion. I felt shut down. Dry. A fake. How can I call myself a writer? Writers have something to say. Laura tried to warm us up with prompts for seven-minute free-writes. When time was up, she tapped the singing bowl; we stopped writing and shared.

The first prompt dropped me deeper into depression: Your Sock Drawer! Believe it or not I scribbled an apology. I don’t have a sock drawer. Does everyone have a sock drawer? Is this one more failure on my part? I tell it like it is. I have no sock drawer and this reminds me of the socks I do have, where they are and what if I die and my sons have to rummage through the drawers, not necessarily looking for socks, but probably they will have to get rid of things. I did this with my sister when my mother died. But her drawers were preternaturally neat. At 96 Hannah didn’t wear socks, per se; she still had panty hose. The top drawer of my dresser with its scattering of socks and other things could be a challenge for my sons. I vow to go home from the workshop and immediately relocate a “not-sock item” I think might embarrass them if they lift a pile of black compression knee-highs and come upon it accidentally. Of course, doing a free-write, I can say exactly what that not-sock thing is and hope they will never decipher the free-write if I haven’t destroyed it by then. At the sound of the singing bowl, I don’t offer to read what I have written, mostly because I wrote in such a hurry, much of it is illegible.

  I set the lunch break as the time when I would decide whether or not to eat and run. But in the dining room, a woman I thought I recognized recognizes me as “the funny, and inspiring” (her words) facilitator of weight-watcher meetings she once attended. She was generous with her recollections of having learned from me, of admiring my “teaching.”  The warmth of her appreciation unfreezes my heart. Maybe I did have something to say and it was okay to sit among writers, not an imposter and free to appreciate this learning opportunity as if it were my “ordinary work” as well as theirs.

I tell myself to lighten up on my shortcomings. If today I am not a writer it will be because during our seven-minute free-writes, I have been scribbling with a pencil and don’t recognize many of the words on the page, most of the letters are the same height and the tees aren’t crossed. Moreover, I have come to this workshop badly organized. When I want to write on the backs of pages, I have to tear the white legal-sized sheets from the perforated top of the tablet. Often the paper rips, interrupting the top line of words. A three-hole punch would not be useful organizational tool because I have written into the margins. A number of these pages have tumbled from my lap and are scattered next to the chair in that circle of many very good and some published writers.

After lunch we circled up in groups of four to continue the workshop. By this time, I have decided that all the writers, including the teacher, are rooting for me. Even I believe in my Buddha Nature. I can and will do these free-writes…this ordinary work. When the workshop ended, I bought Laura’s book. She wrote in the flyleaf: “To Alison, Keep up your wonderful writing.”

Naturally, I questioned the “wonderful,” but keeping it up as if writing were my “ordinary work” made sense. And as for the not-just-socks drawer? I’ll do what any good mother would do.