She sat across from me at my favorite funky breakfast joint and told me how her schedule just seemed to open up to allow her to travel back to Seattle to work and play with some of her favorite theater peeps. They were deep in rehearsals, reworking part of a play for a showcase. A play she had been an integral part of twenty years ago as a young actress. Her eyes danced as she spoke of it–matter of fact, her eyes have always danced, for as long as I’ve known her. As if she is perpetually concocting some sort of delicious mischief in her imagination. I’ve never met anyone else whose eyes dance like hers. It’s magic.
We ate our bacon, egg and arugula sandwiches and I told her about being in the (metaphorical) wilderness. Between this place and that. About hearing so many of my pals talking about their next chapter and how the perfect job/opportunity/plan/person just landed in their lap. Or about how “the universe” sent them clear and sure signs, leading them into a sense of direction. And then I told her about my sense of flailing. Where’s my sign? I asked her.
What if your sign is no sign? she stated more than asked. I rolled my eyes and told her that was the very thing my daughter had suggested the night before. Now I had two people remark that perhaps my sign is that I don’t fucking get a sign.
Is that a sign?
I went on to tell Dancing Eyes that I had begun this Three Things blog a month ago, so sure that I’d have plenty to say for the foreseeable future. I’m empty, I confessed to her. Running out of ideas is one of the biggest fears writers have and here I was only one month into my project and I was as barren as a sun-baked brick in the desert. I was ready to throw in the towel, quit, give up and move on.
Write about the empty, she said.
SOMETHING I’M LISTENING TO: EMPTINESS
One of the biggest things I missed after having kids was the sound of silence. It was jarring, really, that transition from quiet afternoons reading by myself to non-stop sound. It wasn’t even noise–just the absence of silence. Even growing up in a family of seven kids, we all had our own private bedrooms in which we holed up fairly regularly. I was conditioned to quiet time. Having children changed that, for awhile anyway. Both of my kids came from the same basic introverted DNA as the Mister and I, so even though our days were immersed in kid sounds, I was always grateful we didn’t produce any screamers. (You know the ones I’m talking about–those wily rugrats whose ear-piercing shrieks can, well, pierce ear drums? Not in my house.) I learned to live with and cherish a busy home, filled with the voices of the ones I love. Ideas and questions and laughter and outbursts. And then, before you know it, they’re gone.
Empty nest. Emptiness.
I know people who keep the television on all the time, just to keep them company.
The silence doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t make me sad. But with all the distractions and opportunities for busyness, it takes real discipline to sit in the silence. To listen.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” ~ Ram Dass
I want to hear everything.
SOMETHING I’M COOKING: FASTING
Dancing Eyes suggested I write about fasting–you know, to keep with the empty theme. I thought about fasting in the context of religious practices and how it’s believed to be an important ritual to do periodically in order to detach from our earthly habits and connect more deeply with God. I’ve never fasted religiously. But I have religiously fasted.
Making myself as empty as possible was my superpower. I could go without food longer than anyone I knew. And yeah, I was proud of that. It was the only thing I was proud of. You might not know that in the sisterhood of eating disorders, a hierarchy exists. Anorexics are at the tippity-top of that pyramid–those of us able to go without food completely, or at least very little. Bulimics–those who binge and purge–were considered below us, lesser than. What loss of control! How gross and messy! My journals from that time in my life are filled with declarations of disgust over the act of eating and how much I hated it. The sound of it. The chewing and swallowing. I wrote about hating the feeling of fullness and how I couldn’t wait to feel empty again. I’d run and do leg lifts for hours in order to get rid of the fullness. Eating was for the weak, I proclaimed, and I was strong.
I stayed as empty as possible for as long as possible to become as small as possible to take up the least possible space.
Even today, old enough to know better, I’m pulled toward that exhilaration of complete control. I feel it, especially when things seem to spin out of my reach, out of my understanding and I start to grasp for something–anything–to regain composure. It’s a slippery slope, for sure, and one that never completely goes away.
“Nothing tastes as good as feeling thin feels.” Some of my friends still say this. I try not to hang around them so much.
SOMETHING I’M DOING: BREATHING INTO THE EMPTINESS
My daughter and I were at her physical therapy appointment and her therapist asked her to breathe into her back right lower ribcage. She did it. I saw it. She breathed spaced into a place in her body that had collapsed due to a curvature in her spine. The yoga teacher in me was giddy as I watched and listened and observed the power of breathing space into places that had become dark. It was a powerful, effective therapy that yielded results.
Take your inhales into places that need light, length, healing and space, I tell my classes. Direct your exhales into parts of you that need to release, to loosen their grip, to let go.
I lay on my bed and breathe light into the muscle of my heart. Expand, contract, in and out, full and empty. I move off the bed and drape myself belly-up over my yoga wheel. Breathing into my chest and shoulders, allowing my neck to lengthen as I drop my head back. I feel wobbly and unsure until I take another breath and relax backwards into space. I’m looking upside down and behind me.
Dancing Eyes tell me, “Whenever I’m looking for something–a direction, a sign–it’s almost always behind, sometimes right over my shoulder.” This seems odd and new to me, someone conditioned to looking ahead. Planning, strategizing, setting goals. She shares a little more about going back to a theater role she performed as a young woman so long ago. To explore, to learn, to add to what was already there. To see what’s next.
In order to see where you’re going, you need to know where you came from.
After our breakfast, I drop Dancing Eyes off on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle. Before she leaves she turns to me and says, “Hey, be good to yourself.” My eyes flood with unexpected, hot tears. I drive home in silence, thinking. Remembering. Listening. Breathing into space.
A few days later, I’m stirring the two green olives into my extra dirty martini, chatting with another good friend, bemoaning the wilderness and the emptiness, all while looking for signs. She smiles at me and says, “You don’t get a sign.”
Third time’s a charm. I’m pretty sure that’s a sign.