therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Time outside Time

“Wherever you’re going, we can get you there and there and there!” exulted the United Airlines on-hold record-a-voice.  Well, unfortunately, no, not on this midsummer Saturday. One packed flight from Seattle to Washington D.C. cancelled; 200-plus people, including me, suddenly stuck in airport purgatory.

For half an hour, I thought a few of us were lucky: we were rebooked on a US Air flight, via Phoenix, arriving in D.C. a mere five hours after we were originally supposed to. I sprinted from one end of Sea-Tac to the other, fingers crossed. But the US Air flight was delayed four hours.  The gate clerk ordered all of us United castoffs to go back and start over.

Back we went, now with no chance at all of getting a reasonable re-booking. Long story not so short—long time on hold on my cellphone; long time in line—I left SeaTac, now scheduled to leave the next afternoon.

And so I had a strange, sort of secret day. No plans. No responsibilities. No one, besides my immediate family and my disappointed friend in D.C., knew I was in Seattle.

I could have pulled weeds or caught up on some work. Or caught up on sleep, after a night spent tossing and worrying about waking up in time for the flight that never happened.

Instead, I left a note and got on my bike. On a whim, I rode straight to a Columbia City nail shop, where the staff is friendly, the massage chairs are the tacky best and offbeat nail colors are the rule.

From the nail shop, my bike and I carried on. I felt like I was 15 again, pedaling aimlessly along the lake on a summer Saturday, the breeze tickling my Friendly Skies-turquoise-blue toes.

I got just warm enough biking to go swimming. Now I felt more five than 15, splashing into the cold water, emerging baptized.  Now time truly felt like it did at five, especially in summer: slow, bedazzled, each minute like a jewel on a bracelet.  I basked. I read. I ate a snack. Time, this unexpected chunk of slow, summery time, wrapped around me like a blanket.

I’m so sorry I didn’t get to be in D.C. that night with one of my oldest and best friends. But I hope she got some secret time too; some time outside time. Lord knows she needs it: she and her husband manage and co-own two restaurants, the second of which just opened.  She rarely gets any time alone at all.

After dinner, I sat down at my desk and opened the window wide and watched my son and husband throw a Frisbee in the park across the street.  A few younger boys joined in.

There’s something about the leisurely pace of a Frisbee in the twilight. You think for a moment it might stop altogether, right there in mid-air. But of course it doesn’t. It curves, slow but not too slow, high but not too high, and gets to where it needs to go. Then everyone says Thanks and Good night and See you next time.

See you next time we step outside time for a few minutes and sail this disk through the sky.

Our film, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

 

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Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits

Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits. When you’re in a searching mode, you hear clues everywhere, even on the call-the-gardeners radio show. What could this mean, I ask myself? I know they’re talking about crop rotation, but what could it actually mean to me personally?

Act. Observe. Be Open. I recently went to a yoga class for the first time in quite a while and this was the phrase the teacher repeated and riffed on. Act. Observe. Be Open. My mind raced as I stretched into unfamiliar positions. What could it mean? Maybe… take action, but be observant and open as you do?

Now, I’m trying to put these pieces together. I am trying to act, observe and be open as I rotate into a new phase of my working life, but it is one tendon-straining reach. I have to fight the urge to curl up instead of act. I have to fight the impulse to constantly judge myself, instead of gently observing. And I don’t want to Be Open, I want answers now.

So back to the gardeners and their formula for crop rotation. Leaves, roots, flowers, fruits. I’m guessing the idea is to rotate the same patch of dirt from year to year between plants grown for their leaves, roots, flowers or fruits, respectively. So: one year lettuce, the next year carrots, then daisies, then berries? Something like that.

Viewed from a metaphoric gardening perspective, I think what I’m trying to do right now is a little crop rotation. It’s not always a pleasant job. You have to pull up and get rid of the old plants. You have to get the soil ready for the new ones. Then you have to plant your tiny seeds, water them and weed.  It is work.

And for me that’s what this is about: my work. I don’t want to stop making films for a living. I just want to move that crop over to a new bed, freshen it up, and get some new stuff growing too. I want to mix more writing and more teaching into my rotation. But I’m not known as a writer or a teacher: I’m starting there at the seedling level.

Of course the prediction, made loudly several times per day, of my killer-dandelion-sized inner demons is: These new crops are going to fail, wither, die!

And my instinct, like a good gardener, is to yank those dandelions right out and throw them away. They’re bad, right? Weeds, right?

Not according to the principles of permaculture, which is all about encouraging mutually beneficial relationships in the garden. A trained permaculturist would tell you the biggest baddest old dandelions are great for breaking up compacted soil, working it with their deep taproots. Getting it ready for more fertile future endeavors.

I like that.

Could I learn to think of all my fears of failure, success, change I think is what we’re getting at here—could I learn to think of these fears as useful, dirt-digging dandelions, working me up into a state where new stuff can grow? Hmmm.

I could take the yoga teacher’s advice and act on this. I could. Act, observe—and maybe even be open.

News Flash: Our film, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites. 

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Grown-up Brain

Sitting in my email inbox is a message with this subject line: “Five memory-killing foods you should NEVER eat!” But does this email tell me what they are? No, of course not, because the spammer who sent it wants me to click on their hack-trap  link. The email is from someone named “Alzheimer Cure,” whose address is gaynell at brendy dot lookharbor dot info. Hmmmm.

Clearly, Gaynell, you have not heard the good news about the middle-aged brain. Turns out I am not a), so dumb and desperate I’m going to open your email or b), on some grim downward slide that started around 25, when my brain peaked, and will continue until I keel over.

Clearly, Mr. or Ms. Gaynell at Brendy dot Lookharbor, you have not read the book I just read: The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, by New York Times science editor Barbara Strauch.

This is a book is packed with good news: the kind of news that tends to slip under the radar because it is so counter-cultural and confusing to our youth-worshipping media world. Strauch’s mission is to bring us up to date on the brain research of the past few decades, nearly all of which refutes the prevailing cultural brain myth of our time: namely, that young brains work better.

She does not deny the specific ways in which youthful brains have it over middle-aged or older brains, which mostly have to do with speed and short-term recall. But she paints a fascinating picture of the ways in which our brains not only compensate for those age-related changes, but in most cases, vastly over-compensate. I am simplifying 200 pages of great science writing here, but the main point is this: what we lose in speed and recall we more than make up for in judgment, which builds up over decades of perceiving, discerning, weighing, deciding. Wisdom: that’s the old-fashioned word for this.

And even as those of us over 45 lament our inability to instantly recall names or keyboard shortcuts, we get a lot of mileage out of our accrued wisdom. But we rarely acknowledge this, even to ourselves. All our lives have been spent in the era of youth-worship, of middle-aged crises, of the acceptance of inevitable brain deterioration. Experience, mastery, knowledge—those are not words we’ve been conditioned to value, not in the same way we value words like innovation, genius and start-up.

About that notion of brain deterioration: recent research shows not only do we not lose large numbers of neurons over time, our brains are actually capable of making new neurons.  Or, as Strauch puts it, “scientists now believe that the brain does not undergo complete disintegration as we age.” Not only that, but—and here, perhaps, our obsession with youth should get a nod—researchers can now clearly see the connections between exercise, nutrition, cognitive engagement and brain health. Especially exercise. Which means: if you want your wise, middle-aged brain to stay in great shape, there ARE things you can do. Number one: stay physically active. Thirty minutes or more, five times a week, or more.

Strauch thinks it’s time for a “middle-aged revolution.” After all, she says, the numbers are on our side. Maybe we need a better label, though. The word “youth” has such a nice whoosh to it.  “Middle-aged,” not so much.

Let’s all go for a long walk, run or bike ride and think about it.

News Flash: Our film Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Best Days, Worst Days

“If I die tonight it will be with every single thing unfinished (like, I suppose, any other night), and yet, what a gift to die on the verge of tears.” I didn’t write that. I wish I had, because I find it so beautiful. It is a quote from Pam Houston’s autobiographical novel, Contents May Have Shifted.  She goes on, in this one paragraph of speculation, to ask questions like “why my best days and my worst days are always the same days.”

I read this book three months ago and yet my mind keeps returning to this passage. Because there’s something about these notions—our best days are also, often, our worst days; we feel most alive when we are on the verge of tears—that feels important to me. Especially after a week in which there were so many bests and worsts. The Affordable Care Act—upheld! Writer and director Nora Ephron—for 30 years one of my role models—dead of a rare leukemia.

This verge-of-tears week started with a funeral for an old friend, Kathy. The opening hymn, which I’m sure Kathy selected, was “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You.” She wanted us to feel joy in the midst of our sadness; joy at the wonders of love and life, whether it ends with ovarian cancer at 55 or continues for many more decades. And I did feel it; I cried but I felt uplifted at the same time.

It didn’t last. The day was dark, wet and cold, even for June-vember, and we had a nail in our tire. Our plan was to drive to Chelan, get up the next morning, take the ferry up the lake and hike the 18-mile Lakeshore Trail. The forecast for usually-sunny Chelan was pretty mixed. Shivering in the rain outside the tire store, we were tempted, for a few minutes, to call the whole thing off.

But we didn’t. And once we drove over Snoqualmie Pass, sure enough, the sun started to break through.

We talked about Kathy a lot that night in Chelan and the next two days on the trail. Kathy came to our wedding. Big deal, you might think. Our wedding was in Scotland. There were seven guests. Not only did Kathy come, she and I went to Ireland together the week before, a trip she completely arranged. When we got there, she sensed immediately that I was in a useless, romantic, pre-wedding fog and took me in hand, by which I mean she took me shopping for a wedding dress in Dublin. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about what I would wear.

I met Kathy when we both worked in TV news. She was a gifted video editor who taught me, a writer and producer, how to do my job better. She took my messy scripts and tapes and turned them into little movies. Often, I exasperated her, as did many of the producers and reporters who plonked their stacks of tapes on her bench.

Often, life exasperated her. Challenged her. There were a lot of curve balls, and she batted them with grit and grace. Cancer was just the final one.

And yet we sang “Joyful, Joyful” as we bid Kathy goodbye, on a day when the Seattle sky refused to lighten but the sun flooded over us in Chelan. It was a best and a worst kind of day. I was on the verge of tears for, well, hours. I’ll never forget it.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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