Today is the inaugural day of a new project called Present Tense. I want to explore through interviews with wild, wonderful, wise women the way we all grapple with the tension we feel about being present in our lives. I am fascinated by the way that some peoples’ lives are both splintered into pieces and refracted into beautiful lightshows through the variety of identities they assume on a regular basis.
The struggle to be really present in my life defines me. Every day I walk through many different worlds and juggle responsibilities to many people and places. Integrating all of these selves into a consistent lens of identity through which I can really see my life and be present in it is the challenge of my life.
I’m delighted to kick off this series with my interview with the marvelous Kelly Diels. Kelly has been one of my most favorite discoveries in the wilds of the ether. Her blog, Cleavage, showcases her marvelous voice, which is hilarious and insightful at the same time, and her penchant for digging into complicated, multilayered thinky thoughts. Please visit her blog, and then read on to hear her responses to my questions and my thoughts on them. Thank you, Kelly. For this and for the thousand other ways you both support and inspire me every day.
1. When have you felt most present? Are there specific memories that stand out for you?
I have a couple of moments where I had the feeling: this is it. Don’t miss it. Be here. You’re going to remember this. My first-born daughter, Sophie – a tiny, perfect baby far too small for a name that means knowledge and wisdom – was only hours old. Her father was cradling her in his arms, glowing, talking to her.
Suddenly, he looked at me, and asked: What day is it? When I told him, he looked at Sophie, marvelled, and whispered: You are my freedom. Sophie was born exactly five years, to the day, after her father escaped his country and awful, violent, terrifying persecution with his life, a small valise, an address book, and an extra shirt. Freedom. Wisdom. Yes.
Last week, while making dinner, I played the fool. My eager-beaver babies were sitting at the island while I chopped vegetables and held court. I was ridiculous. I spanked myself with the spatula. I said things that were wildly untrue. I pretended I couldn’t see them and wondered where those little hungry voices were coming from. They belly-laughed and they shone and my little one nearly lost control of an activity that she most firmly has control of, most of the time.
Then, after that crisis was averted, she said: You’re the best mommy in the whole wide wo-wode. Tears rushed my eyes, and I thought: why don’t I do this more often? Why do I rush them from activity to activity and really, try to minimize our interactions so that I can get things done, faster? Nobody enjoys that. Not even me. I need to slow down. I need to be with them. Not just for them – and they deserve a present, engaged mommy – but for me, too.
I had a moment like this last June, too. I drove from Vancouver to Whistler – a windy, mountain road that I have never enjoyed driving. But it was a day stroked with sunshine and good feeling and good music and the road had been renovated and wow, what a drive. Eagles. Ocean. Cliffs and trees and blue sky. And while winding my way through paradise in highway form, clarity kissed me hello.
I was on my way to a workshop (a firestarter with Danielle LaPorte) and was thinking about who I was and how I was going to introduce myself (my elevator striptease). I mentally ran through all my titles: proposal writer, contract manager, single mother, commuter, sex goddess, writer, woman, blogger and realized, fuck it, I’m an artist. And I said it out loud, too, to Danielle, while we poured ice tea. And I teared up a little. Because the truth is now and searing and hot happysad tears can result.
So, those moments: they’re about love and truth and epiphany. And they’re almost always a surprise. We can’t predict them and I think that’s why we’re so afraid we might miss them.
2. Do you have rituals or patterns that you use to remind you to Be Here Now?
Your yoga/running is my sex. Really. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
3. Do you have specific places or people that you associate with being particularly present? Who? Where? Any idea why?
I wrote about this, this summer. For me it is anywhere near oceans, lakes, rivers (but preferably the ocean). Fresh, simple food. The time to think. Help with my girls. More time to play and enjoy. Cuddling. And a lap top and wifi.
4. Have you ever meditated? How did that go?
Oh, Lindsey, I think we are the same person. I can’t meditate. I also can’t understand Eckhart Tolle. I read The New Earth and The Power of Now and was like what? I don’t get it. He’s way too zen. I would only get to that state if induced by mediCATion not meditation. My brain is like a streaming, rushing faucet. Or a waterfall. Or something. I despair of it sometimes.
(Have you seen Before Sunrise? There’s a line that Ethan Hawke says, with great greasy-haired earnest yet lacksadaisackal angst: “It’s just usually it’s myself that I wish I could get away from. Seriously, think about this. I have never been anywhere that I haven’t been. I’ve never had a kiss when I wasn’t one of the kissers. Y’know, I’ve never, um, gone to the movies, when I wasn’t there in the audience. I’ve never been out bowling, if I wasn’t there, y’know making some stupid joke. I think that’s why so many people hate themselves. Seriously, it’s just they are sick to death of being around themselves.” )
YES. With this line, it’s painful, overthought truth – hello, me – and the soulful delivery – and despite the fact that he and shampoo and razors just don’t get along – I fell in love with Ethan Hawke. And then he went and cheated on Uma Thurman. Who cheats on Uma Thurman? These are things I wonder. So I trailed in Uma’s wake and broke up with Ethan Hawke, too.)
To recap: my brain will just not turn off, except during sex. Sex works for me quite well. (Apparently, contrary to what I answered in #2, I am going to say more about it.) I wish it was something socially appropriate like yoga or running (although running has worked a little for me in the past. I don’t get a ‘runners high’ but I do start to daydream about 30 minutes in) but it is not. It is sex. But yes, you’re right – when the body is engaged, the mind is free of the clutter of little thoughts. And focused. Very, very focused.
5. Has having children changed how you think about the effort to be present?
Yes. Definitely. It has also engendered in me a paradoxical, pathological need to escape.
6. And just cause I’m curious, what books and songs do you love?
I’m fickle. These things change all the time. My favourite book of all time, though, is To Kill A Mockingbird. And maybe, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I also recommend Girl by Blake Nelson. Ok, there’s a pattern there. Apparently I’m a thirty-six year old who likes YA fiction. If it has a Newberry medal on the front of it, I’m in. (I swear to you that I have read books in the years intervening between 16 and 36. Really, truly.)
Favourite song of the moment: Clear by Kardinall Offishall. I can’t get enough of it.
The story about being with your girls and wondering, after a few moments of humor and – gasp! – being really present, why you don’t do it more often? Yes. I know it well. I ask myself that after every interval where I find myself able to let go and really be there, with the laughing and the giggling and the mess.
And I just finally admitted to myself I’m going to stop listening to the Eckhart Tolle book on CD I was listening to on my commute. It’s just over my head. I can be as sad and melancholy as the next guy (maybe more), but I like good top 40 or a cheezy murder thriller to get me through my drive.
Your answers make me think. A couple of what I suspect will be themes are emerging already. The first is that I think many of us have touchstones that viscerally remind us to be here. You mention water, the ocean. I have a similar reaction to being near the shore. There are also certain people with whom I am for some reason more likely to be present, less distracted, less preoccupied. Certain people just pull me back to the moment, with a distinct tug whose presence I recognize but whose source I cannot yet define. There will be richness in understanding what these touchstones are for others, and, even more, in unpacking the contents – the who, what, and why – of that tug. If we understand it, maybe we can replicate it. At least we can invite it into our lives more often.
The second is that some of us require our bodies to be occupied in order to have a prayer of a quiet mind. For us meditation feels like a battle, and the only way out of the monkey mind is, maybe, turning the traditional rubric upside down. Instead of trying to still the mind and the thoughts through a still body, perhaps some of us need to approach it the other way: through engaging our bodies utterly we can, perhaps, tune into our faintest and most profound thoughts. Maybe.
There will be more trend lines to draw, more patterns emerging from the vast chaos, after I’ve interviewed more people. But for now let me just say that much of what you say resonates with me at the deepest level. And, thank you.