REPEAT

Just when you thought you learned the lesson, you find you need a repeat. It’s okay; growing up to yourself takes time.

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MOONBEAM

 

broken,

over cereal

on a moon-lit counter.

 

it’s 1:30 am

and I find

I am not uneasy

with this

unsleeping

of my mind,

 

unsleeping

of my body

that aches for yours.

 

there were moments of light;

I saw them radiating from within you.

 

those moments said,

yes, stay

and see!

 

and now that seeing

has eclipsed the moon you

might have hung for me,

 

I will have to be golden

without you.

 

remember the elbow grease

of my mother’s good sense,

 

fall apart under the beam of moon

lighting me over the counter.

 

~Jennifer Sandberg

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For Anyone Who’s Asking

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FRUIT STAND

            In Barcelona, Spain

 

How much are you worth?

That’s really the question

we always ask.

 

A new pair of shoes for

your bunion feet? A vacation

in a watery paradise?

The shiny earrings dazzling

against a softly blushed cheek?

 

Sure, there are the ones we’re

told to find.  Like work that

gives us joy or love that makes us glow.

But sometimes the easiest place

to start is in the smallest way:

 

Stand in front of the fruit stand

on the street closest to your home.

See how quickly a pearl drops

right into your hand.

 

–Jennifer L. Sandberg

ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

How comfortably do you tell the world who you are? Recently I made announcements for my psychotherapy practice with the addition of my licensed status on them and noticed how long I spent tweaking and polishing them. I took a couple of breaks and went back to them later, noticing more and more that everything works out so much better when I’m not trying to make it work. Thank the gods for moments when something like grace drops in and gives us a mercy ride, a welcome acquittal from the false charge of not being enough.

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AWAITING COMMERCE           

                        In Rota, Spain

           

It was in Andalucía

where I found the precise,

red shoes. I had looked for

months, wanted them to say:

Comfort. Baseball.

I am from Minnesota.

 

Seven euros, a lucky find.

So the timbre of my voice

crawls its way into a question.

 

I let the Spanish slide in

softly, guess my European size.

Explain the predicament of not being

“from here,” and the girl is still.

Open.

 

Was I waiting for a reprimand, a

chuckle? Me again, always explaining:

                       I have a good reason!

                       This is why I don’t sound perfect!

 

But mercy owned the air this time.

No scoffing at my somewhat Spanish

or other-nationality.

Only easy things between us.

 

There are moments like slippers:

satin, unexpected, relieving.

We want to put them on

again and again.

 

-Jennifer Sandberg

Movin’ On Up

 

 

Am I the only one besides my sister who misses hearing that song from the Jeffersons? How could you not like that song? Makes me want to sing LOUDLY, irreverently, and shake my trunk wildly. Who ever thought I’d move into a high rise? But Lord have mercy, it feels exactly right. Here’s a view from the 7th floor balcony. In 15 days I am moving, and already breathing in the sweet solitude of being alone. It’s not a view of the sea in Spain, but I’m finding out that any view can be oceanic if you let it. Where I live is becoming home again, but more importantly, I am coming home.

The Rocky Mountains from my patio

The Rocky Mountains from my patio, looking north

Mindy-Natalie, as in, We All Need Mindy-Natalies

 

My friend in the panhandle sent me a box and now it’s a shrine on my bookshelf. It wasn’t just any box, but a box filled with connections and thoughtfulness that only a true friend would feel led to send. Opening the box on the patio was one of those moments where you feel that the universe is conspiring gently and very clearly, on your behalf. In it was a light catcher with the word, “play” etched in one of the silver pieces, and three books: The Artist’s Way, Writing Down the Bones, and Do It! (subtitled quite comically, Let’s Get Off Our Butts).

 

I went to the nearest coffee house with an outdoor patio and sloshed around in the words. I had read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones before moving to Spain a few years ago, but her admonishments struck me differently this time. I’m not as interested in being appropriate and successful as I once was, so the encouragement to write anything, “even garbage” was a welcome invitation. I wanted to move into her words themselves, take up residence with them, and linger there all evening. I said a soft thank you to  my friend, Mindy, and the raw writing of Natalie Goldberg, each of which confirmed what I have known is true for so, so long: Your true nature wants to come out. It’s been knocking for a long, long time.

 

Trio

AJ empties himself into the drum

while I sit, alone and tiny

on the maroon couch,

a distant, frontal position

so that he can see me and I him.

But not too closely.

In every moment, even a fresh one like

this, I’m wedded to strategy.

 

The guitarist opens his mouth to

“Just the Two of Us,” and lifts his chin

above the microphone,

eyes squinting, forehead creased,

reaching up for the note he

imagines he wants.

 

Two friends on that little stage

and me, tiny on the couch.

Hoping for some way

to lower myself into drums,

to go screeching my way into light.

 

–Jennifer Sandberg

Losing It

 

When I was sixteen I wrote a poem called “Discovery” which in retrospect was really an appeal to adults for acknowledgement, and maybe even an indirect expression of anger. One of the stanzas was, “I am sixteen and lost–because teenagers are–I am seventeen and found–because at eighteen I become you. –I am the lost and found.”  At this age I was in the field, if you will, of beginning to understand how we move in and out of our true selves as a result of programming and socialization. These are topics that continue to compel my attention ceaselessly, topics which I understand for others are likely regarded as simply stultifying. If you are one of those people, this post will put you to sleep!

 

One aspect of this lost and found dimension is that we actually must lose something to find it, or that we find something else buried under the metaphorical rubble of our lives. Last week I blogged about a sense of grief overcoming me, and in doing so, recovered a sense of refreshment and energy that I hadn’t felt in several weeks. I lost my composure for a few moments and gained a more authentic experience of myself.

 

Adjusting to a new country, or a new job or anything at all can impact us in this way. My sister is about to embark on a new job within her vocation and I wonder what pieces of herself will become more effervescent as a result. My dear friend Michele with two young girls is juggling the demands of work, marriage, and motherhood and I already see the solid ground rising in her as a result of these new changes. I’m ready to move into a new apartment, after these months of getting my sea legs back and nothing could feel better.  This moment I’m in, which feels so good, has not surprisingly flown in on the heels of so many things I initially felt I lost in returning to life in the states.

 

When I arrived to Spain back in the Spring of 2009 what I had clearly, and I felt, tragically lost was my profession. But the months of living without it gave me a completely new perspective on who I am. Here’s a personal essay I wrote while I was there with the aim of describing the lost and found en vivo. Have you heard there’s a new book out with that title also? Could that be the butterfly effect?

 

 

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On Being No One Important

The little sign taped to the glass door of the jewelry hutch read, “Es agradable ser importante, pero es más importante ser agradable.” I translated the words into English and felt my metacognition revving up for an analysis. I always had to think about how I was interpreting the information I read in Spanish in order to understand what I was reading: It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice. I thought it was a thoughtful sentiment to find posted inside a downtown jewelry shop.

 

A girlfriend had come to visit me in southern Spain and we were trolling around for the perfect ring to add to her collection. I had been living in a little city called El Puerto de Santa Maria for five months and still didn’t feel at home. Of course, I was aware of the stages of cultural adjustment and expected the transition to take some time, even up to a year. But my professional credentials were taking a long time to process and this new dialect of Spanish was giving me verbal paralysis. Sometimes I stayed inside all day just to avoid being misunderstood during simple exchanges at stores and in my neighborhood. What was most shocking about the move to Spain, however, was how unessential I felt as person.

 

As a Midwestern American, raised with a myriad of messages about proving my self-worth as a worker, I expected I might wrestle with my sense of personal agency in a new country. I had traveled in other parts of the world and knew that the United States had an obsession with professional identity and success. “What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask upon meeting someone. We seem to feel more comfortable when we can put things and people in their proper “doing” categories. Americans who travel abroad, however, quickly realize that this is not the burning question on most people’s minds in other countries.

 

In the province of Andalusia, for example, people want to know if you like Spain, if you speak Castellaño, and if you’ve tried the fried fish. They ask about things you like and don’t like, and when they tell you about themselves, they don’t discuss their profession. Someone might say a man is a buen tío (a good guy) or that a woman is friendly. They usually don’t ask about your career, and may even be offended if you ask about theirs.

 

I certainly noticed these cultural differences, but understanding them conceptually and applying a new way of being to my personhood were not the same things at all. I was becoming aware of the possibility that perhaps my move to Spain was going to be more complex than I had anticipated. But since I had always believed that external changes can bring about positive internal changes, I could hardly run away from this belief now. Being a non-working foreigner in Spain was going to deepen my understanding of who I was. No longer having a professional identity to rely on, I would have to allow other parts of myself to emerge. And I would need to relate to myself and to others differently. It seemed like a perfect fit.

 

But as I waited for my friend in the jewelry shop, I noticed how uncomfortable I was with the notion of just being, for example, a nice person. It didn’t seem like enough. I could feel my chest getting tight as my breathing became increasingly uneven. Even though the words I had read on the jewelry hutch seemed to offer a very gentle truth, I could tell that being nice wasn’t going to do it for me. Simultaneously, I felt embarrassed about this recognition. Was I just some seemingly educated but hollow vessel relying on my job to make me feel worthy? I was ashamed to admit I felt invisible and forgotten, surrounded by a new language and a new culture where nobody knew who I was and probably didn’t care what I did for a living. Who was I without my profession? If I couldn’t name the category to which I belonged, then what? It was a difficult subject to digest on a Saturday morning stroll through the jewelry shop.

 

The store owner’s son waited patiently while my friend sorted through the rings and tried on each of the sparkly possibilities. He chatted with us, smiled, helped other customers, and easily followed his parents’ instructions as he manned the jewelry booths. They stood quietly by and watched the customers shop. I wondered whether the announcement hanging on the hutch behind the son had seeped into his values like the need for a professional identity had seeped into mine. I watched his response as my girlfriend decided against the rings and we turned to leave the store. There was no discernible disappointment or chagrin in his face, but he had been very nice to us. I had the sense that if he didn’t sell one piece the entire day, his countenance wouldn’t change.

 

I stepped outside the store and looked down the narrow street ahead of us, like the months ahead of me I would adjust to this new terrain. I wondered if I could learn to feel at peace with being kind or thoughtful, and whether it would be enough. Suddenly, I tripped on a patch of uneven stones that had popped out of their cobblestone pattern and I laughed aloud. If I was going to learn to be a person with some meaningful inner qualities instead of someone with an important career, I might as well go down in a truly klutzy fashion as well. I laughed again as I watched myself already trying to turn this new opportunity into work. I was going to have to fumble around for several months before I finally started feeling at ease with being no one important. And once I did, I noticed that I was calling Spain my home.

 

–Jennifer Sandberg

Where is home, exactly?

 

 

I think almost everything we do is an attempt to discover or reinforce a feeling of home. It’s a bit of a paradox that when I moved to another country, across the Atlantic ocean and into the arms of Andalusia, I slowly came to experience that the location of home is inside of us. Where you find yourself on the globe doesn’t give it to you or take it away. But it’s the outside things we’re doing and yearning for that inform and impact the relationship to our interior lives. I knew this to be true conceptually before I moved to Spain, but experiencing it is another landscape entirely. I’m so appreciative of how living in El Puerto de Santa Maria changed me that I even personify the region of Andalusia, as in, “I miss the kiss of that ocean,” or the above comment about moving into the arms of Andalusia. At times, it did feel like a mighty person holding me, inviting me to chip away at the exterior pieces of myself I clung to with such tenacity. You’ll notice in the poem below how likely we are to make plans for what we think will happen, and how our deepest yearning is always mixed into the hope we have for a new place, a new plan, a new anything.

 

LEAVING DENVER

                        February 2009

 

Driving north with a smooth interstate underneath me,

I hope the city exits I need take their time.

I’m 31 and moving across the ocean, with a skinny, wiry thought

that brings the feeling of mortality to my chest.

But who do you tell in a moment like this?

 

If I had told Rumi, I think he would’ve said,

                 You are sheepish and half-wincing with the love of your beloved.

He would retell how I sneak away from sweetness

and go thinking about death instead,

hoping my beloved is tucked and hiding in the sunflower-y hills of Andalusia.

                 How many of us would rather go there, than inside?

 

Before I made it to the interstate,

I had left the home of a newborn baby,

where we talked about brises and souls.

And on the ride home I make agreements:

 

In Spain, I’ll peel off the sticky machinations I no longer need.

I’ll leave them in a train station, toss them in the Mediterranean,

place them in my lover’s eager hands.

I still believe salvation comes by shedding a certain number of clunky things.

 

I arrive back in the city and park my tiny Honda,

gazing at the glow of the seven-letter Safeway kissing my sidewalk.

I bow to the wisdom that stands before crazy

and say, “It’s me.”

I decide we are born with death, with thirsty rumble strips

under our sulking legs, betting that any shimmy of the wheel

will finally deliver us into the greenhouse of living things.

 

–Jennifer Sandberg