Knitting

And now it is February

My birthday present to myself this year was going to be a car adapter so I could listen to my phonePod while I drive (safely, without ever looking at it to switch songs, even if I'm listening to some tragic police procedural and it suddenly becomes desperately important to hear Burt Bacharach). Instead, I took a small wad of money that I'd collected in my yoga jar (I put a dollar in a jar every time I practice -- someday I hope to save up for a soul of my own!) and went to see Adyashanti (whom I have mentioned twice before) speak at the Methodist church down on Garden Street. It wasn't a class on how to meditate so much as eight hours over two days, with a lot of breaks, of listening to this guy talk about his experience as an awakened person and former student of Zen, and then answer questions from the crowd. So it was sort of post-Zen instruction on meditation, inquiry, contemplation, getting out of your own way, etc. There were no cushions or robes or sitting precisely this way and doing that thing with your hands and inclining your head just so. For him, meditation is mainly about finding a comfortable position and then persuading your ego that everything will be much better if it would stop making up stories and allow things to be as they are. ("Wholehearted cooperation with the inevitable," in the words of the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello.) Once you manage that, then full, universal awareness will pour through your entire being and you'll become the change you want to see in the world, I'm pretty sure. You know, like Jesus and Socrates and Gandhi and all those other people that we admire so much that we want to kill them.

When the floor was opened up to questions from the audience, one woman who was nearly shaking with grief stood up. She explained that she'd had a terrible year but to get through it she'd been trying to live one particular teaching, which was to always keep an open heart. To her, being open meant saying yes to everybody that asked something from her until she became utterly exhausted and felt like a total doormat. But she couldn't stop saying Yes because isn't that what we're supposed to do, walk through the world with an open heart? Like Mother Theresa or something? But it was crushing her.

So Adyashanti looks at her and he says, "Maybe you should try closing your heart for a while, then." And she was all, "Uh, what?" Speechless. I mean, what kind of spiritual teacher would tell you to shut your door and tell the world to fuck off? Yet here he was, giving her permission to do exactly what her heart was begging her to do, which was give it a rest. He explained it really concisely by saying that sometimes No is actually a deeper Yes. In other words, saying no to someone else was saying yes to herself. And this woman, who'd been so bound up in trying to be spiritual and do the right thing even though it was killing her, was so grateful for such a simple thing, but you could tell it was going to completely change her life. I'm sure it had an effect on all of us, to one degree or another, but especially on those of us who have a tendency to let ourselves be heaped with burdens like little emotional pack mules.

He said a bunch of other wise stuff that helped people, too. Some of it was really specific and intellectual and over my head, some of it was deeply emotional, some of it was funny (especially the Japanese woman who asked him if, now that he was enlightened, he still wanted to have sex with his wife). Good times.

A few days later I was working at the library and I got a call from one of our older, homebound patrons asking me to order a book for her, which I did, no problem. Then she says, "So. Do you have absolute power?"

And I, thinking she's making a joke, like she's going to ask me for something that she thinks will be really hard to get so she's flattering me like I'm some sort of genius, I go along with it and say, "Why, yes! I do have absolute power."

And she goes, "You do? Is it right there in front of you?"

And at first I'm thinking, Well, of course I do, I'm right in front of a computer with Internet access, and then I realize that she's asking me if we have the book Absolute Power by David Baldacci. I hope I am not the only library worker that this has happened to, because I would like to join a support group for people who think they know what they're talking about but actually don't.

It turns out that Jackson, at twelve, has about two-thirds more emotional intelligence than I do and 100% more gratitude.

Jackson, sitting on the couch doing something on his iPad, not even looking up as I walk past with a load of laundry: "Thanks, mom."

Me: "For what?"

Jackson: "I don't know . . . anything."

It was my birthday on January 10, and Jack and Jackson threw me a surprise party. Actually, they made it an even bigger surprise by throwing the party on the 18th. Have you ever had a surprise party? I'd always heard people say things like Never throw me a surprise party, surprises are the most dreadful thing imaginable! so I spent my life thinking Surprise parties are terrible! I hope I never have one!

And then I got home from work and this happened:

surprise!

I'd never had an experience where I screamed involuntarily like that. I mean, I've been in the movies and screamed when a monster burst through a window or whatever, but it had never happened in 3-D real life that I opened a door and was confronted by people yelling and throwing shit at me when I had fully expected to open the door and see Jack sitting on the couch watching a Lakers game. I am glad Jack invited our neighbors to witness it or they would have heard me screaming on our front porch and the police would have arrived three minutes later. (I hope. I hope they would have called 9-1-1 and not just turned on the blender or whatever their loudest appliance is and waited for me to stop.)

Anyway, I clearly survived the experience, and I honestly loved it, once my pulse returned to normal, which probably took half an hour. But surprise parties are great! As long as your house is filled with people you think are awesome.

Lastly (since these updates are monthly now I have a lot to cram into them): sweater update! When last we met I was committing myself to doing things right instead of just slapping my life together with Elmer's glue and good intentions, and to that end I decided to rip out the weird, wrinkly top of Jack's sweater that I had supposedly "finished" in time for Christmas. So last month we had this:

Jack's new sweater

and this month we have this:

reindeer

I'm changing the plain yoke to a fair isle and I'm using the Fornicating Reindeer pattern, which I found on Ravelry. I've knitted right about up to where the sexy times are happening and because I am still the person doing the knitting I am pretty sure that I'm going to run out of yarn before I'm done. My plan B is to start unraveling yarn from the sleeves to finish the neck, and then figure out some other way to finish the cuffs. It probably won't matter anyway since it's going to be so pornographic that Jack won't be able to wear it in public.

But I'm still not going to join a gym or stop drinking

Thus beginneth another year at Fussy.org. Updates for 2014 will be monthly, if you're wondering whether you should drop me from your feed reader or not. Blogging: it's less urgent than ever! I'm not one to do year-end roundups, but I would like to remember December 2013 as the month I realized I not only needed to but had the resources and energy to stop half-assing so much of my life. (Brace yourself for an explanation that might involve yoga.)

Normally (when I'm not sitting in bed playing iPad solitaire) my life strategy* has been to stand just inside the sideline of [something] and see if I like/can succeed at [it] without putting a whole lot of effort, focus, or hope into making [it] work. The list of [things] I have approached this way includes knitting, sex, college, buying a car, parenthood, cooking, working in publishing, relationships, and preparing for my own death. You truly can make a life for yourself by relying on other people's energy and commitment, especially if you don't mind knitting sweaters that don't fit or eating partially-cooked chicken.

*"Why are you such a fatalist?" my father once asked me in frustration when I was a teenager, to which I did not have the vocabulary to reply, "Because I'm smart enough to get decent grades without trying too hard, I'm pretty enough to get attention without trying at all, you're emotionally abusive and controlling, Mom is a detached and passive female role model, the Catholic shame I've been infused with from birth controls every other aspect of my life, and I've learned to feel helpless most of the time." God, being a teenager was the worst.

The sad irony, of course, is that trying to save yourself from disappointment by not really caring so much how something works out will lead to having to accept disappointment as a result of almost everything you do. Now, it's true that some degree of disappointment is inevitable in a lot of what life brings, and it can be used to spur us on to refine what we want, learn new skills, find friends that really get us, and figure out how much yarn we need to make the sweater beforehand, instead of running out three-quarters of the way through.

Jack's new sweater

Yes, that's Jack's Christmas sweater, and I ran out of yarn three-quarters of the way through. I started it last year (unsurprisingly, given that it's me we're talking about, it was supposed to be last year's Christmas sweater). I just assumed that the box of vintage Irish wool that I found in my mom's house after she died was enough to make a sweater. And it would have been enough, if my husband were the size of Reese Witherspoon.

Anyway, the sweater humbled me. I had to buy different yarn to finish it, and it's weird and poochy around the shoulders in a way that blocking hasn't been able to solve, and I'm about to accept the fact that I need to rip out the entire top of the sweater and knit it again to make it right. And I can't tell you how much it shocks me to hear myself say that. Historically, I have not been a person who goes back and fixes her mistakes, I've been the person who says fuck it and shoves a year's worth of work to the back of the closet in chagrin and goes to bed to play iPad solitaire.

But what really drove home the idea of slowing down and doing things right (here comes the yoga): back bends. I hate them. I'm afraid of them. They require a huge amount of openness in the chest and shoulders along with leg strength, butt awareness, and a fair amount of spinal flex, none of which I was graced with at birth. For years I've been hurting myself over and over again by sort of heaving myself up and doing them in this bad, misaligned way and feeling envious of the people who could drop back into these delicious, flawless arches. Most days I'd just avoid doing back bends altogether. Which is a perfectly fine attitude (something hurts: stop doing it), but just underneath giving up was this nagging belief that the poses you hate are the ones you need the most, so I'd keep coming back to back bends but I'd continue to approach them in the least-yogic way possible: grit teeth, hold breath, wrench self up. Why? Because that's what we do when we're scared, and that's what I did, hurting myself again and again, I guess because my ego couldn't comprehend that there was something that didn't come easily to me. I belonged to the looks and good grades come easy club, right? So why couldn't I skip all the hard work and years of slowly developing the strength and openness I needed and make my body do this one thing?

In yoga they sometimes talk about "the gift of inflexibility," which I'm finally beginning to appreciate. Not being naturally flexible means you have to develop awareness and you have to develop compassion for yourself, and your ego has to back the fuck off because it might take you years to do something that the guy on the next mat can do the first time he tries it. So it's a "gift" because that guy can wander off and be amazing and buff without developing any of the interior qualities that you, if your ego can face you rolling around on your mat like a stranded tortoise, will discover inside yourself -- things like patience, bravery, humility, and being able to laugh at yourself because let's face it, you look like a stranded tortoise lying there. And your ass is really lumpy.

So this is my new year's resolution: to do what doesn't come easily at first, to do stuff right. To listen to people who know what they're talking about and let them guide me when my internal guidance has led me to a dead end. To be the best _________ [friend, knitter, worker, writer, dog washer, wife, mother, woman, human] that it's possible for me to be from moment to moment without gritting my teeth and holding my breath and heaving myself in and praying for it to be over. Standing still, looking, breathing, not running away from others, not running away from myself. Not trying to skip to the finished thing without having done all the work that leads up to the sweater that actually fits, the back bend that seems to do itself, the novel that works, the promise fulfilled, the deeply satisfied existence.