Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Zen and the Art of Halfway Done

Happy Birthday to Me. Today I am 48. As I mentioned already, if my grandmother's lifespan (94) is any indication of what I have to look forward to, then turing 48 means that today really is the first day of the rest of my life. I couldn't be more pleased.

For the past several days I have been writing in my heart a long, heartfelt, eloquent post about this occasion. The in-my-head version of how I feel though, is probably not going to see the backlight of a computer screen because instead I am going to hastily dash off a few thoughts, then I am going to hastily dash off and play.

It's barely 8 am and I am so excited I want to pee my pants. I am totally a little kid about my birthday. The universe, anticipating that mine would be a life full of Christmas trauma, attempted to make up for this in advance by handing me an immediately post-holiday celebration I could call my own. Sure, having a birthday right after Christmas means whatever gifts you get come from folks' pile of shit they forgot to return to the store for exchange-- like when I turned 16 and all my friends got birthstone rings except for me, I got a Stretch Monster. But I don't care. I don't even want gifts.

My Birthday Card
You know what I think I love most about today? It's MINE MINE ALL MINE-- mwahahahaha. I don't care how old you get, you can never fully outrun your childhood crap. I have eight siblings, which meant a lot of "sharing." Never mind that's technically it's not sharing if you're forced into it. And yeah, it's totally a first world problem to have to wear hand-me-down pants your whole life. Nonetheless, to have one day a year designated to oneself is a magnificent thing.

I've used this day in the past for all sorts of things-- to drink until vomiting, to honor others with Kick Ass Awards, to order four desserts at Chez Nous. A couple of hours ago, at around 6 am I think, Warren wandered into the bedroom after one of his late night awake spells. "Happy Birthday," he said to groggy me. "What are you going to do?"

I was so out of it I can't be sure what I said, but I think what I said is, "I don't have to do anything, it's like your field of dreams, I can just hang out and pretend."

Let me explain. Warren lives on a couple of acres that I am always proposing we use for one excellent purpose or another-- Let's build me a little house back there! Let's start a goat farm! Let's get a million chickens! Warren often responds enthusiastically to these ideas but after awhile I realize he had no real plans to act on any of them. He said that as long as he keeps those acres blank, he will always have the luxury of looking out on them and they can be something different every time.

Along those lines, I think I could sit in bed all day today and just imagine all sorts of celebration possibilities without actually executing any of them. Besides, I spent the past several days gearing up for today, pre-celebrating. As I've gotten older, and immersed myself more in Buddhist teachings, and deepened my meditation practice, I have tried hard to pay more and more attention to the wonders of my life. I cranked up that attention paying over the weekend festivities, noticing as much as I could every good part of every moment, which has left me plenty to savor today as I just sit here, under the quilts, feeling very, very happy.

On Friday I had dinner with friends who gave me an early birthday card fashioned out of a piece of cardboard so large that, I think, came wrapped around a billboard. Then I went to hear my friend Jim play at Jovita's, prompting a cascade of memories of other times I've heard Jim rock it, and another cascade of memories of all those nights I took Henry to hear Don Walser yodel back when he (Hen, not Don) was three. Henry, in his little vest and red Ropers, used to wander up to the stage with his stringless mini-guitar, stand next to Don, and play along-- easily one of my fondest memories of the first 48.

Paw rocks out on the keytar.
Saturday included-- as all my perfect days do-- a meditation and a long walk. I tried to watch TV since I just got cable turned on as an experiment, and I failed, which I'm pretty sure was not actually a failure. Then, even though I finally managed in 2011 to cut almost all seafood out of my diet, Warren and I went to Tam Deli so I could get a pre-birthday garlic shrimp sandwich, which I refused to feel guilty about-- this is the best sandwich in town and you all need to get one today, this I command you as the Birthday Princess. Post garlic shrimp,  we went to hear Southpaw play a hilarious set at Flipnotics, and here he unveiled the theme song he wrote for my KUT v-blog. Driving home I took a circuitous route so I could see if any Elvis movies were listed on the Paramount marquee (seeing as Elvis's bday was January 8th and they sometimes celebrate him there). No signs of Elvis, but this random route allowed us to bear witness to a massive dance party at the Capitol, where about fifty million people were belting out Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer-- as if I needed any more reason to love Austin, TX.

Sunday I went to the funeral of my friend's mom. And even though funerals are, by their nature, tinged with sadness and full of mourners, this service was so beautiful. Incredible. Leona had been a Rockette, among other things. The tributes paid to her were many and gorgeous, in particular words spoken by her granddaughter who opened with a Rilke quote and eloquently went on to capture her grandmother's memory. May I recommend, as an annual exercise, that all of you attend a funeral right around your birthday, a good reminder that this is not a dress rehearsal. Post funeral I did East Side Yoga with some friends and then, as a counterpose to that, we ate East Side Pies-- if you haven't tried their curry pizza, you should get one of those right after you eat a garlic shrimp sandwich from Tam Deli.

Henry and his lady friend joined me for rainy day yoga-- K made me an amazing lemon  bday cake.
Monday I took my time getting up, using the rain as an excuse to hang out in bed with the dogs and read some more of Buddha Standard Time, a wonderful book that spells out clearly and smartly ways you can stop feeling rushed and start truly digging the moment. It was in that book that I read something Jung said about how we spend the first half of our lives developing ego and the second half is... uh... well I'm too lazy to go dig up that passage in the book, but what I took from it is that the second half is about setting that ego shit aside and getting out there and serving others and figuring out this Higher Self shit.

Toward that end, I had a lovely meeting with my friend Owen, who is crazy talented and hilarious and thoughtful. Owen volunteered with Hospice for years, and I was getting ready to turn in my application to work for Hospice, so I wanted to quiz him. He cheerfully offered up some tales about how, no matter how mightily you fly into a death-related situation with your superhero cape on, as in other stages of life you'll encounter plenty of the mundane in dying. Which doesn't mean there aren't profound moments-- and, if you think about the way we Westerners are fed the notion of death (resist, resist, resist!), having an opportunity to discover the mundane and see that it's part of the process just like the rest of living, well you know, that sounds pretty profound to me.

And speaking of mundane, after Owen and I parted ways, I headed to the laundromat. For the past couple of years I have lived dryer free, this despite jokes and bets by Warren and Henry that suggest I am going to break down and buy a new dryer one day. I am not. I love my clothesline. I love hanging up clothes. I love watching clothes dry while I wash the dishes (by hand, no dishwasher). I love smelling line-dried clothes. And given the drought, I hardly ever run into problems using the sun as my dryer. Yesterday was an exception and, eager to start my new year with all clean clothes and sheets, I decided I would go ahead and go to the mat to get that done.

I went to the laundromat over there at 43rd and Duval in Hyde Park. For years I used to live right across the street on Park Boulevard. That old rental house, now literally falling down, is where Henry spent his most formative years. And though we lived in several different places, I think, looking back over his life, that will be the place he most identifies as his childhood home. We used this laundromat countless times. And I remember when he was first old enough to cross the street and go check on drying clothes himself. That laundromat, like the Hancock HEB, is packed with old ghost memories for me, the spirit of little Henry everywhere. Far more than my own aging process, thinking about my son growing up-- from the little sack of potatoes I used to lug around and silence with a tit to the 6'2" young man who has to bend down to let me kiss him-- this is so much more a palpable measure of the passing of time for me than my own life, a wicked vivid signal of how very fast time truly passes.

Being in that laundromat moves me so much. Really, it was the perfect place to spend the last day of 47, the washer with its cycles and the dryers with all that tumbling lending cheesy but nonetheless apt metaphors for where I've been and where I'm going.

Happy My Birthday to You. It is so good to be alive.


Dr Shitbag said...

Yes, it is good to be alive, and you're not dead yet, and it's a fine morning, and happy birthday!

Anja said...

Happy Birthday, Spike and thanks for making many of my mornings so funny and interesting!

Aaron Vyvial said...

Happy Birthday?