I was going to start this with a list of things I'm thankful for on this day-after-Thanksgiving-reflective-windy-grey-cold sort of day. But I think I did that in my last blog, so I'm going to sail on a different pond today.
I woke yesterday to the smell of coffee brewing and children playing. I admit, I woke up slightly dreading the day. My first Big holiday "officially" single, rather than those others where nobody really knew what was going on with me yet I came uncoupled. Big holiday=Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Years. Little Holiday=4th of July (see my previous post). Even Little Holidays can provoke panic attacks in those of us facing our 40s uncoupled, decoupled, never-coupled. And even more so unchildrened. But with a good year of therapy and meditation under my belt and a confidence that my choices this year have been right (for me), I was going to face this day with joy. Damnit. Even if it killed me. So I started the day by writing. A purging kind of journalling that I do most mornings. Then I decided to go for a run, my first run in over a month. And it was a hard run, although a very short one. The first mile was all uphill and my breathing was just not cooperating with my legs, nothing felt easy, my heart felt like it was struggling out of my skin and it was all I could do to make a metaphor of this attempt at cardiovascular activity being directly related to my psychological grasping at centeredness. I kept repeating the mantra "Do what is directly in front of you. The next thing. The next step." And I pushed past the aching knees and the clipped breathing until the run got easier, the breathing flowed and I was on the next mile, breezing past woods and A frame log houses, and the clean air scent of a stone fireplace. The sky was grey but a patch of blue opened up over the field where a horse was grazing on a stack of hay and I passed a couple of runners, struggling up the same hill I'd made it over on my way up. We waved our sweaty hellos. I said "Happy Thanksgiving." He said, "And after this, we can enjoy it!" and I smiled, widely, and then looked out over that field with the horse and felt this sudden burst of total joy. Grateful for the healthy use of my own body, that I was able to run, that I would be surrounded by family later. Just deeply grateful.
Of course, later, there were moments surrounded by family where my joy would sink a bit. Small moments of fighting the feeling of being the alien in the midst of the earthlings. Everyone coupled. Everyone with their 2.5 children. Beautiful children. Healthy and playful. And everyone with "ordinary" jobs. I know that my "career" is awkward for some people to wrap their heads around. I've had good friends from college question me, confused as to how is it possible to be making a living doing music when ... well, to put it bluntly, I'm not famous. Because most people don't know about the middle class of the arts. The Upper Class=famous. The Untouchables=that guy who dropped out of college to make it as a rockstar, got signed to Sony for one record that never came out, got dropped by the label, picked up a coke habit, and is now either teaching guitar at the local record store grumbling about his one shot at fame, opening for Dylan on one gig, OR, more likely, got clean and went to law school and is now a 3rd year associate at some white shoe law firm in Chicago. But this Middle Class land of journeymen/women musicians is a mystery to so many. There are many of us who make a living patching it together by concerts and teaching, and we are not famous (well, maybe famous in Slovenia, but not in the U.S.). As a friend says "We don't make a great living but we have a great life." Its hard to explain that to questioning relatives over a holiday meal, who seem to feel sorry for a woman in her 40s who is childless, husbandless and who travels so much it seems impossible to have what they like to think of as a normal life. "Oh, you travel so much...it must be so (tilt of the head) hard...." they say. And I say simply, "No. I love it." and then drink the wine and change the conversation. Its ok. How would they know? Its impossible to explain the fullness of a life lived as a gypsy. But at the same time, these concerned relatives do touch the fear nerve in me and all of us. Of course we wonder (all the time), did we do the right thing? Will we ever have enough in the bank to retire or will we have to be doing 180 dates at 70? Will Carrie Underwood ever record our song and allow me the cashflow to take a month or so off to write? Am I working hard enough? Am I working too hard? We all think this. Even those of us with "real" jobs. So if we're all constantly embroiled in the same questions, the same anxieties, then I choose to believe I'd rather be doing what I love and what I feel called to do, regardless of my paycheck, than simply choosing something that would make more sense at a family reunion. And maybe I read into what I perceive are the questioning looks from friends and family. Maybe they are proud. Or maybe a bit envious, as sometimes I am envious of them in their houses with their 2.5 children and PTA meetings.
And so, Thanksgiving came and went and there was much joy, and a deep sense of pride that my family is large and close and we gather each holiday to celebrate ourselves and those that passed before us. And we celebrate (and illuminate) our differences, sometimes arguing and sometimes avoiding the issues, sometimes stumbling on our attempts to reach out. But we always gather.
I started the day with that run, like a meditation on where I was in my own body, in my own skin, and that moment when the run got easy and my legs felt stronger than any 16 year old, and in my sweat and matted hair I swore I was happy. I don't believe we all have the unalienable right to happiness. Rather, we have the right of the pursuit of it. So I pursue happiness with zeal, grasping for it in dark corners, in quiet conversations, in crowded gatherings, by myself here writing and listening to the wind whistle through the few leaves left on the birch outside this borrowed bedroom window. I pursue happiness while letting go of relationships and ideas of myself that are illusions. I pursue happiness in the grand gesture and in the simple non movement of one breath. And yesterday, while I was running and ruminating on whether or not I believed in God, the sky opened up and great joy passed through my skin and I thought, whatever that was, blessed be.