Mom Anonymous- Reflections on mid-Covid Life

I took a break from writing for a while because I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I came back to it because over the last three years, I have started writing again on a completely different platform. I realize that writing professionally, has been incredibly liberating in one sense, and lately, I’ve been feeling the need to dive into areas that are elusive. Avoidance. Yes, it is easier to write about other people and treacherously hard to self-reflect. The irony is that I was always intensely self-reflective but motherhood, menopause and environment, hijacked what once came so naturally to me.

What has emerged for me in the second year of the pandemic, is something that most people are feeling. We’ve been forced to confront either willingly or hesitantly certain truths about our respective lives. It’s hard to avoid and evade self-reflection when we are confined to our homes for long periods of time. Even for a person who was quite comfortable reveling in self-discovery, the journey during Covid became tenuous. Suddenly we were all home-schooling. We were faced with endless hours of having to entertain our children and keep them motivated. We became their friends, their playmates, their teachers, their tutors, their gatekeepers. We watched too much Netflix or Hulu, we couldn’t sleep properly, we ate too much or drank too much. There was a certain comfort in nesting together but we were also facing other dire realities. Those of seeing our loved ones get really sick. Some of us lost family members and friends and we couldn’t grieve or say goodbye.

And what about life before Covid? The struggles we were facing pre-Covid, were still prevalent. We were still in menopause or dealing with addiction. Our awkward and introverted kids were still dealing with the same issues. We now had an added layer of complexity to address while being confined to our homes. During this period, we had to force ourselves to let things go, to accept day-to-day living and embrace the present. Essentially, we were all learning how to be mindful. We had no control over a virus that ravaged the world and we had to have faith in a system that assured us it had our best interests at heart. That’s how I see 2020.

As the scales have tipped in favor of moving forward (I say forward because there is no going back) in the midst of a third wave (losing count) and somehow navigating through all the institutions we have established to define how we should and can move in the world, many things have still remained the same. How many parents out there still feel extremely isolated? How many menopausal women in the world feel like they are going crazy on a daily basis and feel utterly alone while facing this major life transition? How many of you have teenagers who feel socially ostracized because they aren’t popular or dress a certain way? How many of you crave for that proverbial village to help you through some of these ups and downs. How many of you are tired of being told to “be positive” or “look on bright side”? I’m choosing this platform to adopt some radical honesty. I’m hoping to meet some like-minded people on the way.

The Samurai

Yesterday I went to a lecture by Laurie Anderson who I have admired for many years.  She spoke at a museum in Miami to a small group of people. My husband surprised me with the tickets as he knew I was a fan. We were lucky to get tickets as the talk sold out in two days and I was secretly very touched that my husband went to great lengths to get these for me. I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never heard her talk about her life before. I know her work as an artist and a musician and I’ve always imagined her to be a radical alchemist, because of the way she mixes mediums .

Before the talk started, I felt a sense of giddy excitement and slight nervousness. A lot of thoughts were running through my mind. Will she talk about Lou or her latest movie or  her love of technology or space? It was like a first date of sorts or the feeling you get when your favorite song is about to play in the car and you know with certainty that you are going to immerse yourself in every droplet of sound.

When she walked into the room, I couldn’t help but smile. I remember her being taller and more striking on stage but as she walked into the lecture hall,  I was struck by how petite and agile she actually was. She was wearing a well tailored light gray suit and her hair was tied back in two ponytails, one on the top of her head like a top knot and the other at the bottom close to her neck. She smiled as she walked in with a noticeable sense of ease in her gray suit and I could spot her two well formed trademark dimples from across the room.

As she began talking, I instantly saw a silhouette of a samurai. A samurai, I thought. Anderson exudes an aura of great self-control, discipline and compassion. These are three of eight virtues that a Samurai possesses as described by the Bushido Code, or Way of the Warrior. She speaks with a sense of knowing that transcend the usual parameters of inhabiting a public/private space. Her references and sphere of knowledge suggest a didactic mastery and confidence that can only arise when someone has lived with experiential fervor, precision and rigor. For that brief hour, I was in the company of a warrior and a storyteller. She spoke about her childhood, her artist residency at NASA (first of its kind) and the Bardo, a Tibetan Buddhist concept of the state of one’s consciousness after death and before rebirth with the heightened awareness of an introvert and the mesmerizing cadence of an orator.

My brief essay on Anderson is about chronicling my obsession with those who are stretching the limits of creative fortitude perhaps because if only for a few minutes, I want to be in the presence of those who have figured out that real awakening comes from within and that creativity and knowledge is boundless.

Character of Time

The “primary consciousness,” the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are, relatively, so accurate and reliable (e.g., “everyone will die”) that the future assumes a high degree of reality — so high that the present loses its value.

— Alan Watts

I have always struggled with concepts of physical time that dictate and arrange our lives into segments– past, present and future. Seasons come and go and major life transitions unfold in front of our eyes every day and time is there to mark it, to hold our hands through it and to usher us into our schedules and our busyness.

I lost a cousin on Feb 15th. She was diagnosed with MS when she was in her late teens and she died at the age of 56.Since her passing, I have confronted these quotidian constructs of time in the most revelatory and befuddling ways.

Though my cousin had a very aggressive form of MS, our entire family was shocked in the most profound way when she died. It was because of her grace and because we honestly didn’t believe she would leave us so soon. Despite her illness, which ravaged her body and left her wheelchair bound, she persevered and was the strongest person I have ever known. Her will and energy for life was unparalleled and since she was mostly house-bound, she experienced life through her spirit.  It was she who was patient with us, when we were unable to accept the reality of her worsening health. She was the first to crack a joke during many of her hospitalizations for MS related complications. She never refused an invitation to a party and she came with the intent of savoring every minute of it in her wheelchair often bedazzled in beautiful Indian clothes. She was funny and sarcastic. She often put us in our place when we were obsessed with our own trivial concerns. She lived as much as anyone else did.

Here was an individual who had figured out something all of us were struggling to see. Unlike most of the mobile people in her life who were running around and caught up in their own busyness and self-importance, she mastered living in the present and acceptance. It was mindfulness, pure and simple.

Progressive MS is cruel. As time passed, there was an expectation that my cousin’s condition would worsen and she would gradually lose her motor functions. And she had hours upon hours on a daily basis to mediate on these realities as constraints but she rarely did.  She got married when she was young and had a beautiful daughter with her husband. Though she divorced her husband, she stayed in touch with him until the end. Her own daughter is now grown up, married and expecting her own child. Through it all, she lived in harmony with the reality that was inflicted on her body.  She was present.

After the funeral, I parted from other family members and returned to my own home and impending routine. But I was unable to focus. Hours would pass and I would find myself sitting and staring out the window above my desk.  During that period I resisted the practical constraints of time. I was slow. Grieving is different for everyone.

My cousin’s life and illness was measured in objective, physical time. There was a prognosis that overshadowed her life. She couldn’t ignore it and yet she strove to step outside of that. She never complained about the things she couldn’t do, instead she focused on what she could do and she thrived when she did. Time is what you make it she said, and she rejected all claims it had on her life.

As I sit here and write to you all about her, I urge you to consider how you conceive of time and the claims it has on your life. As Alan Watts so beautifully states, are you living in the present or lost in ideas that you tell yourself about the future or the past?

Letter to an Unnamed Friend

Dear Unnamed Friend,

I am writing this letter to you because I have been questioning the basis of our friendship lately. Something has changed and I am troubled by this turn. What exactly happened I can’t say but I perceive a change in your attitude towards the people in your life, which has put me on guard. I noticed that you have lost an awareness and an important sensibility that drew me to you in the first place. Is it possible for us to have diverged so much in such a short time? I am progressing on an inward journey, and you on an outward one. I am intrigued by silence and the beauty of the quiet mind and you by the obliteration of self that comes with extraversion and with relentless social pursuits. I am worried that you are losing yourself and that you hide in the noise that has populated your life.
And your child– where does he fit into this life? When you drop him off with me, to pursue your adventures, you leave him behind. Some times he is fine and plays with ease and wonder, like a child should, and in other instances, he explodes with anger and a violent streak that is becoming distressing to those around him. But you choose to look the other way. I also see a sadness in him that comes from a yearning and a desire to be the love of your life and yet you neglect to give him the discipline he so badly needs and craves.
 Is this judgement? Yes it is. And since when did judgement deserve so much condemnation. My observations are careful and informed.  They aren’t careless and without substance. I’m following the exact definition of what judgement is. So yes, I am judging you.
I implore with you to slow down and to look at the damage you are causing your child. I plead with you examine your insecurities and dig further so you don’t find yourself competing with those people who love you and couldn’t care less about one-upmanship. When I talk to you, I want you to let me speak, without bulldozing over me.
I met you at a time when I was lost and floundering. You reminded me that life can be full of verve and honesty and courage. You brought me out of my shell and showed me that I could pick up the pieces of a broken life and take the steps necessary to once again be the person that enjoyed the company of others. You brought sunshine into our lives.
I miss that person. I hope that you can stop and embrace a life-altering silence that leads to introspection. I’m happy to meet you in that space and if you are open to to joining me.
Your friend.

Infinite Jest

See, the thing is– I always find myself back in the same place, circling around the same old smiling demons, that have taunted me throughout my life. Just when I think I have buried them for good in a pile of distant rubble with the demons and skeletons of the vast experiences I have accrued in this peripatetic life of mine, they pop right up, smiling in Infinite Jest.

As some of you might know the late writer David Foster Wallace published the novel Infinite Jest in 1996. My story is not similar to Wallace’s story but in many ways, I understand the weight of the words– Infinite Jest.

That life is but a series of interconnected yet simultaneously disparate experiences where you are stuck in the middle of something that you don’t really understand but you are a willing participant of. What does it mean to be really honest in this world? Are you the type of person that is starving for gut-wreching and soul-soaring honesty in life? Honesty that comes from real sacrifice and attention and the desire to treat human beings not as objects but as breathing, living organisms that have feelings and the right to earn their freedom with openness and genuine consideration?

Wallace wrote: “If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”

So you see, if you live in a circumference of Infinite Jest, where your own life is mocking you, because you run away from those revelations that scare you to point of adopting artifice or dis-ingenuousness, you will forever become a victim of life’s Infinite Jest. Face those demons head on and accept your fallibility. Don’t waste time with suburban malaise or inane conversations about how much money your landscaping costs. Don’t leave your children with strangers for more than one night a week. Don’t worry about strictly reading books that are in your child’s school reading programs, pick up a poetry book and show them the world of Dickinson and Rilke. Don’t get caught up in the role of being a social goddess. Get off your arse and get your hands dirty and experience the magic of being silent for an hour every day. Shut your mouth from time to time and listen, actually listen to the person you are talking to and look them in the eyes.

Most of all accept that the only thing that matters in this moment is how honest you are with yourself and the moment itself.

In Search of the Familiar

I have always yearned for the familiar. It never seemed within my reach. I’m talking about a familiarity that comes from bearing one’s soul in a place or with people across a period of time. A type of familiarity that allows you to breathe in your own skin with ease and poise and a with a sense of undeniable knowing that you have forged a connection that goes beyond the mundane. It speaks to a recognition that encourages acceptance and nonresistance and comfort.

But here is the thing, I never really sought it out until now. And just when I thought it wasn’t possible, I am finding the familiar everywhere. I find it in my little Moon’s eyes when she hugs me and confides in me that she loves the smell of my skin. I see it in the excitement on Sun’s face when I am the first person she runs to after losing her first tooth! I taste it in the cup of decaf sweet tea my husband makes for me every morning after I drag myself out of bed. I find in the feeling that overcomes me when I listen to Airbag (Radiohead) five times in a row. And I find it in the moments of anticipation before I read an email or message from a dear friend.

I was looking for the familiar in all the wrong places. It was always there, right in front of my eyes.

The Only Way is Now

It is the new year and with that comes the urge to throw away the old and usher in the new. I’ve been absent from this incredible space for many reasons, most of which I will write about shortly but right now, I want to honor the age old tradition of commemorating “possibility”. Time is cyclical and abundant in my opinion  but it has become a linear calendrical construction that structures our busy lives. Time is a celebration of possibility. Time gives us possibility and the opportunity to let go and observe and to stand back and see things as they are really are.

In 2014, I would like to spend my time doing the following:

1) I will practice mindfulness everyday

2) I will not get caught up in my own “busy story”

3) I will be more accepting of myself and others

4) I will replace my impatience with awareness

5) I will observe with gratitude all the wonderful things I already have in my life and observe with humility and patience the things that I aspire towards

6) I will not be busy at the expense of my children

7) I will play and be more silly with my children and not focus on the constraints of time

8) I will let go of the over-thinking, catastrophisizing and problem-solving and learn to accept things for what they are. 

9) I will bake more cakes, write more and stop putting off doing the things that give me great joy because I have chosen to be a victim of time.

10) I will not buy into stressful and unhelpful thoughts. I will become more aware of these thoughts, observe them and let them go, so I can connect to the present moment.

 

Into My Own Oblivion

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads in life? We all experience intense moments of self-doubt  where nothing seems straightforward and choice becomes our biggest enemy. Sometimes, however, change seems unavoidable. We feel propelled to shed ourselves of the mechanisms that are no longer working or feel right. You find yourself at that proverbial crossroads, wondering which path to take. One thing is certain, you can feel in the deepest part of your being, that change is imminent.

After working in the art world for almost 15 years, I find myself at a crossroads. Working with art was about experiencing life to the fullest.  I wanted to be immersed in the visceral 24/7 and be exposed to eye-opening realities. This was my drug. I didn’t have particularly glamorous jobs in the art world. I wasn’t a curator or a director of a museum or a conservator but I have observed these roles from a close vantage point.  I’ve worked with artists who see poetry everywhere and I have marveled with awe at the rigor in which they live their lives. I’ve seen artists who travel the world in search of inspiration so they can memorialize just a little part of what they have seen for posterity. And then there are those artists who just seem to exude awareness and a sense of knowing, as if their craft was a tool for  self-realization. All of these experiences were deeply transformative and inspirational. From art, I took a slight turn and fell in love with paper and the act of preserving it. To awaken the history which is embedded in the  paper we transcribe our lives onto is a miraculous occurrence. Like alchemists, archivists take the remnants of a life or a history and then transform it, so others can also be touched by the achievements of the people who lived before us.

To work for art is to make certain sacrifices. I gave up the 401K and the benefits that come with a mainstream job. In America families struggle to pay healthy insurance, even if two parents are working. The price of transportation, gasoline and car insurance is suffocating. Practicality is rearing its head around every corner these days and I ignore it. I look the other way. But there it is, taunting me and beckoning me to make new choices. What do other families do, I ask myself? When I drop my children off at school, I see the faces of countless parents every day and wonder, what sacrifices have they made? How do they afford to put their children in ballet, dance, soccer and music when we can’t even afford to order take-out once a month or go on vacation at least once a year? Do you ever look at other people and ask yourself the same question? Life seems so effortless for some people. Or perhaps it just appears that way. Maybe those of us who live on the margins are just cursed, we are cursed with the gift of scrutiny and of knowing and of feeling displaced. We find comfort in those in-between spaces.

And now here I am at the age of 42, caught in the classic conundrum. We are a hard-working family but it doesn’t seem enough enough anymore.  Do I walk away from this life that has nourished and sustained me for so long in search of something that is practical and stable? Even if I do, there is no guarantee that  I will find anything.

What is this American culture that denounces a healthy work- life balance in favor of selling your soul to your employer?

Life is full of so many painstaking questions and the answers are almost always never that clear. But one thing seems certain to me– change is imminent.

Crash Landing

Well, it is official. My hunch was right. Moving back to places one has left behind is not advisable. It might be suitable for some adventurous souls who are hard-wired to face challenges with a smile and a positive attitude that is a knee-jerk reflex but some of us, this way of processing information is not natural, but learned. I am learning now how to shed the aura of negativity which has so often framed my responses.

For those of us who live in a maelstrom of crippling self-analysis, these changes can be tough. I think we all make certain associations in life, even if they are not necessarily healthy or true. We walk around for a good chunk of our lives harboring fears and ideas about past experiences that can define our futures.  My fears of returning to Miami are probably unfounded. My therapist would tell me to give it time. She will say that I am not the same person and Miami is not the same city. But on the heels of moving back to Miami, I found myself unraveling.  After a two and half month hiatus (which prevented me writing), caused by a serious of stressful incidents, I find myself emerging from a haze of anxiety, worry and stress. The biggest challenge isn’t actually the stressor, rather is it the way we react to those stressors. It is the self-talk. It is what we tell ourselves right after the trigger that matters. Those thoughts cause the reactions that end up crippling us. Does knowing this in any way cause liberation? No, not really. For the mind is the most insidious of creatures. How do we control it? In a battle of wills, where you instantly know what the right course of action or thought is, there is always a counter-thought which is ready and poised to knock it down. With practice however, it is possible to train your mind to rid itself of those combative and counter-productive thoughts. I now know what I must do. For me, this journey is about mindfulness.  Watch. Observe. Shed. Live. Let go.

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Lost in Translation

I have moved forty-two times in my life and I am forty-two years old. As I write this post, I am in the process of moving for the forty-third time in my life to the city of Miami. I’ve tried to get my head around the jolting realization that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life surrounded by boxes and the feeling of never feeling permanently settled in any of the places I have lived in. Most of these moves occurred in my youth when a child’s sense of place and self is developing and they were profoundly life-changing and dislocating.

In England, I lived in Bradford, Birkenhead, Surrey, Croydon, Birmingham and London. In London, I lived in many areas that are too long to list but here is a snapshot (Kensington, Camden, East Dulwich, Angel, Chalk Farm, Russell Square). At the age of seven I moved to India and here I was lucky enough to only live in one city, the southern city of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh. In the five years that I lived in India, I moved about three times and these were the happiest of my life. Idyllic and surrounded by family and friends, in India, each move was a gift full of exploration and freedom. It was a time of unbound innocence and security where I truly understood what the meaning of a community was.

Fast forward to the age of twelve and there I was again, facing a move of epic proportions that was to change my life forever. Following in the footsteps of other family members that had immigrated to America to reap in the benefits of its well publicized opportunities, we followed suit. We sold most of our belongings in our flat in central Hyderabad, said goodbye to beloved family members and friends and as a family of four, began a long and surreal journey to the Miami in the summer of 1982. I spent the rest of my young adulthood trying to erase the feelings of alienation that I felt as a teenager living in the beige blandness of Miami’s massive suburbs.

The rest of my life was dotted with frequent moves to London, New York and Miami. My college years were spent in Miami, my post-graduate years were spent in London and the years of my early career were spent in New York. I was to move between these three cities forming a rather obtuse triangular existence in my thirties. 

I was fueled by a rigorous sense of wanderlust back then. With no fear or worry of consequence, I boarded planes and trains and buses in search of experiences that were radically different from each other. I saw bands, lots of them, danced on the ornamental cliffs of Cornwall, broke into medieval castles at night in Coventry with my Kenyan best friend and wandered around breathtaking temples in Angkor Wat in 100 degree heat.

With impermanence I had freedom, pure unadulterated freedom but I also began to live quite naturally in a state of constant longing and nostalgia. I moved so frequently and took fragments of friendships, places and memories with me and every time I arrived in a new place, it became a little harder to look forward. Wanderlust became a disease and I spent a lot of time looking back.

As I return to the city that introduced me to life in America, I feel trepidation. Things are different now. I have two little girls and I am weary of repeating these patterns of nomadic life. While the pangs to move and be itinerant are buried deep within me, for the first time in my life, I can visualize a more stable way of life.  I want to experience a commitment to place and time and geography in a way that I’ve never done before and this time I want to do it with my daughters who at the age of five, have already move five times.

I spent the last 30 years running away from the place that I find myself returning to again and I’m hoping this time for a more enduring welcome.