Another report from real time. I apologize in advance that this post is longer than most.
A friend invited me to an five-hour writing and meditation retreat. My first reaction was, Who’s got time for that!? My second reaction was, If that was my first reaction, it must mean I need it. So I signed up.
On Sunday I got up early and schlepped over to Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis, which is slightly smaller than New York’s Central Park. I didn’t get lost because last winter I got “pre-lost” on a walk there. I had to call this same friend to come and rescue me in the dark snowy woods.
The retreat was in the pavilion, which I would guess was built in the 20s based on its deco-era light fixtures. It has a high vaulted ceiling, screen porches that run the length of it on both sides, and a gigantic hearth. The pavilion is set on a hill with oaks whose leaves were in their autumn finest colors of russet, pumpkin, and gold.
The retreat was led by a woman named Jeannine who runs something called Elephant Rock. Their retreats “harness the transformative power of writing in breathtaking natural settings.” The first thing I noticed was the vocal fry. I was going to be here for five hours, so I “set an intention,” as they say, to not let this get on my nerves.
Jeannine was paired with a guy named Tyler who is a Buddhist monk and the director of a temple in Chicago. There were a dozen or so participants, all women. White women with scarves, we call them where I work. Upper middle class, white, professional women. Oh well. That was me, too, so for the second time that day I pledged not to be distracted by my observations.
The pattern of the day was that Tyler led a short meditation, then Jeannine gave us a writing prompt to inspire us in 10 minutes of scribbling, followed by a brief discussion. The first prompt was an excerpt from The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
In my new backyard, I sit on the bench we threw out here because we didn’t know where else to put it and the U-Haul had to be returned by 7:00.
I smoke a Swisher Sweet and drink a Blue Moon and look up at the leaves of an enormous oak tree. It’s the end of September and the leaves are just turning.
Once a week or so I repeat this ritual and if I’m able to actually notice the leaves—if I don’t pass the entire time in my head—I notice they are now gold, now brown, now gone, fallen in heaps in the driveway, now slimy after a rain.
I moved, my mother had a stroke, then we moved her, all in a month. My minimalist pride was blown because I had taken home piles of her shit that I just couldn’t throw away, like the giant, heavy-duty cookie sheet she used to bake chocolate chip cookies for the four of us.
My mother is recovering in her new $6,000-a-month “continuum of care” digs. The same apartment can be independent living, assisted living, or memory care (they put a lock on the outside of your door when you get to that stage). There’s a cemetery next door.
But no one moves out of there alive unless they’ve run out of money.
We’re all moving along a conveyor belt. My mom will never spend the winter in Phoenix again. Never ride a bike again. Now she’ll never drive a car again. No more baths now. She’ll never go for a walk in the woods alone again. Now, no more showers without an aide nearby. Her daily glass of wine is forbidden.
My mother is blessed with a mind that never worries, never obsesses, never ruminates. Yesterday I found her in the party room at a Bloody Mary party. When she saw me she put down her plastic cup and said with a foxy grin, “I forgot I’m not supposed to drink!”
I do worry, obsess, and ruminate, which is why I need to write and meditate and sometimes, have a beer and a cigar out in the backyard. But not now, not until spring, because it’s too cold and dark outside.