Rhythm and Blues, from the Coast of Maine

“The Dancer” © Alexander Yakovlev – Fotolia.com

My parents named me wrong. “Lisa Marie” comes from Elvis Presley’s daughter, and I’ve not a lick of rhythm. With a name like that, dreamy and ethereal, I should waltz or glide or at least shimmy through my days. Instead, I mostly trip. A lot.

Dancing is an art that requires letting go. First, you build the muscle memory. Then, you trust your limbs. Instead, I stumble over expectations – my own and others I imagine. I am a coiled-spring ball of focus, nearly brutal in intent, my fist white-knuckled on the slender neck of time.

My choreography of minutes is completely without rhythm. I pile lessons, plans, and schedules in precarious heaps that block out all the light. Rushing, always rushing. No one moves fast enough for me – not the lady in aisle ten, the red sedan on Rt. 2, not my kids, or the dog, and definitely not my husband, a man who actually sees the world he lives in – and takes time to enjoy it. I inhale coffee like a demon and cry when the computer freezes, as if it were a personal cosmic curse.

For many years, I’ve tried to be a robot. Robots never tire. They never need a nap, or an early night. Robots don’t need hydration or protein or a good, dark chocolate. Robots finish the laundry and the dishes and they get the kids to dance on time. If a robot were a writer, its novels would all be epics, perfectly crafted, twice a year. A robot never rests.

Now my gears have gotten stuck. Five months after hitting my head, I still have post-concussion syndrome. My brain doesn’t work the way it used to. Even simple tasks like pumping gas or paying bills require extra concentration. Writing is like running through the dark and crashing into walls.

Let’s face it. If I were a robot, I’d be on the junk heap, wires crossed and fried.

Instead, I’m on the coast of Maine, watching the tides move in and out. They are slower than I imagined, taking hours to shift from high to low. Nothing rushes them. They have their own steady and inviolate rhythm. The fish and crabs and lobsters, the gulls and herons and cormorants, all depend upon the grace of tides.

Maybe Isak Dinesen was right in her creed that “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” For months, I’ve tried to push to the other side of loss. I’ve cried at every stumble. Now, I am delivered to the ocean, to the rhythms of the sea. I sway in the cove-shore hammock, my daughter nestled close. I roast marshmallows at the fire pit, and squish them in s’mores. Such sticky, gooey sweetness would ruin any robot’s gears.

There is a still point in every rhythm, a silence between beats. Without that pause, there’s nothing but cacophony, an endless burst of noise. That’s what I’ve been living. I’m not sure why I fight the stillness, why I push away the waiting. Maybe it feels too much like surrender, a loosening of the reins I’ve always held so close. Maybe I’m not sure what could happen in the pauses, what might open up or change, or what might blow away.

Robots seem invulnerable, but they cannot feel the sun. They haven’t any rhythms. Without muscle memory and a letting go, they cannot learn to dance. My rhythms, such as they are, have always been in language, in the cadence of my writing. Post-concussion, those beats and trills are difficult to summon. I need hours to do what used to take me minutes. I am still trying too hard, still tripping on myself. I haven’t found the hidden truth buried in my name, some ethereal lightness or deep and natural grace. Still, I’ve always been a dreamer. Maybe dreaming by the ocean is at least a place to start.

How do you find ways to slow down in an express-lane world? What is your secret for choosing s’mores over circuitry? And, what does your name say or fail to capture about who you really are?

I found inspiration for this post in Lindsey Mead’s “Ease” and Brenda Gottsabend’s “Pure and Simple”. Please stop by and check them out.


34 thoughts on “Rhythm and Blues, from the Coast of Maine

  1. Oh, Lisa … there is so much here that sings to me. The white knuckled fist on the slender neck of time, and the slow but steady tides … yes, yes, and yes. I’m so grateful for your poetic musings on what it means to be stuck, what it means to let go of an age-old coping mechanism, the difficulty (and beauty) of seeing the world around us. I’m so sorry about your concussion, and hope these days at the coast heal you. Isak Dinesen’s quote is one of my very favorites. xox

    • Ah, I am not, not good at letting go. One of the many reasons I love your blog is that you are so skilled at acknowledging that desire to hold tight, while also finding such beautiful, heartfelt ways to move past it.

      I wish I could have met Dinesen — I’m sure I would have learned a lot.

  2. The tides really are slower than one would expect, aren’t they? I can’t think of anything more healing than the sea — and long hammock days with your daughters nestled close. It sounds like heaven. I am by observational and contemplative by nature, with the need for much quiet and down time, and so the breakneck speed of life often overwhelms me. When it does, I retreat back into the quiet of my home or my garden or at some solitary spot near the sea — to try and slow things down and just be. I hope these slower days in Maine help you…

    • I wish I were move observational and contemplative, instead of so frantic and erratic!! I am definitely an introvert, recharging my energy in peace and solitude. It’s just that I have to fight myself to get there.

      I’ve thought of you often these days, especially in the morning. I’ve been taking out a cup of coffee and binoculars and watching all the marvelous sea birds. It takes me forever to identify them, flipping through the pages of a gigantic bird encyclopedia, and I think, “Oh, Julia would know just what these birds are!!” But the bird watching and the book are another way of slowing down. Plus, they are so magical. So, I’ve found another love and another pathway to consolation.

  3. Hi, Lisa, I came here by way of Lindsey. This is a beautiful post. I am wondering if you’ve read “The Memory Palace?” It’s a new memoir that I mention because the author suffered a traumatic brain injury and penned her book in the wake of that — the book isn’t about the injury, per se, but she makes mention a number of times how difficult it was to function, nevertheless write, after her accident. If you haven’t read it, I think you might some affinity with the book. In any event, I’m a recovering “robot,” too, and it’s so difficult. We all need moments of rest, no matter how small.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by — I get a lot of inspiration from Lindsey. I haven’t read “The Memory Palace”. From your description, I’ll have to add it to the top of my list. It sounds as if there would be a lot there that would resonate with where I am right now. Thank you! It’s great to meet another recovering robot. And, you’re right — even the small spaces of rest can help to heal us.

  4. Lisa, beautifully written. Your hours in the slow lane at the sea, will we hope help to you to rest and heal. I can see the sea has inspired you, as it has many before you. Edna St Vincent Millay lived in Camden not far from where you are now, and some of her prose must have been inspired by just sitting, watching, listening to white noise as the tides changed, in and out, like our lives.
    Emily Dickinson who lived closed to your home; once wrote:
    A soft sea washed around the house
    A sea of summer air
    And rose fell the magic planks
    That sailed without a care………

    I live but 45 minutes from the ocean and each time I am there i vow to return more often. My most peaceful moments have been by he sea. I wish that for you,

    • Dad, you introduced me to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and to the sea, and probably to Dickinson as well. All favorites now. Thanks for coming to visit us here, sharing the peace and beauty, and the laughter of the girls. I love what you’ve written here about “the white noise as the tides changed, in and out, like our lives.” Love that — and you. Magic.

  5. Ah, Lisa – this one moved me to tears, with its beauty of language and the heart-break of losing who you were – but perhaps to find someone new, a “Lisa” that recognizes the pauses, the slow-movements of the tides. Whether it takes you hours or minutes to create, your prose is always, like that rich dark chocolate, a treat to be savored. (I am in wonder that my “pure and simple” images lit the tiniest spark that resulted in this).

    • Last night, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m lost.” I feel that way a lot lately. I just read a beautiful post by Elizabeth Grant Thomas, “Growing Down Into Life” where she talks about how we tend to cycle back into similar ways of being. I’ve certainly been lost before, and Elizabeth suggests that maybe we are better off not looking for that ultimate spark of enlightenment, the place where we’ll be all fixed up. Maybe we just have to be, here and now, lost or not. I’m working on it. And I’m grateful to have you and so many others to feed me inspiration!

  6. This is a classic Lisa post. Honest, soulful, lyrical, and insightful. “Such sticky, gooey sweetness would ruin any robot’s gears.”–ahhh, yes.

  7. Beautifully written! How I recognise myself in these lines: the personal affront when the old lady in front of me at the check-out counts out her coins twice… Why? Why? Because if I pause long enough I may have to come face-to-face with myself?

    • Ah, a fabulous insight. I don’t particularly like coming face to face with myself. I can be a bit . . . scary! I’m working on the whole deep breathing thing. Hopeful, it will help.

  8. This is another beautiful post, Lisa! I can so relate. I’d never heard the quote, “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea” before, but I couldn’t agree more!

    I have a hard time not feeling guilty over the ‘pauses,’ because I feel like I should always be doing more. I work full-time, but don’t have kids, so I worry that nights and weekends should be a lot more productive! By about 6 or 7 o’clock every night, I usually throw in the towel and watch TV and drink wine!

    So glad to hear you’re finding ways to turn off the auto-robot button to enjoy the shores (or lakes?) of Maine with your family and s’mores! That sounds heavenly! And your writing is so beautiful.

    • Thanks so much Jules! I know exactly what you mean about the guilt over pauses. I’m trying to balance homeschooling my kids and writing, and I try to pack something into every minute. I’m sure this drives my husband crazy. It drives me crazy.

      I read a great blog post recently — kicking myself for forgetting where — on the idea that a work/life balance is an illusion. Some aspect of our lives always takes more weight — and then the weight is constantly shifting. Ah, if I could only absorb that idea!! Let’s work together and inspire each other to celebrate the pauses!!

  9. The sea has such incredible power to heal, that’s why I have such a hard time now that I live so far from it. The form of letting go can be hard but it’s in the letting go that we’re able to extend our hands forward towards something new, albeit different and wonderful in its own unique way.

    Even as you find yourself in a new state of being, your gift remains. It’s not about counting the minutes and hours but what you choose to do with them.

    Funnily enough my name ‘Kathryn’ means pure. I feel anything but!

    • I definitely feel that the sea is magic in its power to soothe and comfort. And I love what you write here about having our hands free once we let go. Maybe that’s what scares me?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your name as well. Purity can mean many things though — maybe it ties in with your artistic vision and focus?

  10. Writing may come harder to you now, but your words still have poetry and rhythm. This is a good reminder to slow down, to soak in the sun, to drink in the slow majestic cycles of nature. I lived a slow-paced life in Vermont, but Northern Virginia is all go-go-go at eighty miles per hour. I haven’t found my quiet tide pool here yet.

    • Thank you Rabia — sometimes I’m not sure how much of myself is still here, if that makes sense.

      I can imagine that the shift from Vermont to VA would be a major one. I hope you find a “quite tide pool” soon. As for me, I’m not sure how I will tear myself away from Maine.

  11. Your words always move me to think (which I am slow at doing most of the time!) I know it has been a struggle for you lately, but you will come out of this on the other side an even stronger person because of what you have had to endure! And I’ll be there every step of the way!

    I do move and think slowly, but often not intentionally or consciously–it just takes me a bit of time to take things in, absorb them, and figure out my response. But I must say I do savor many things such as a gourmet cuisine that we enjoyed at Catalyst Restaurant in Boston last night! Or a nice paddle out on a kayak in a beautiful Maine setting! But I do my share of rushing as well when the slow poke driving in front of me (I think the comedian, George Carlin, put it best: those who drive faster than us are f—‘in crazy and those who drive slower are f—‘in a–h—s!)–but it’s all relative! Or as we are trying to get somewhere with the children and they just are moving fast enough for me. In many ways, I am still somewhat Swiss in my thinking from living and working in Switzerland for 3 years–timing must be precise. So, given that about me that also may explain why I move so slowly at times–you get fined in Switzerland if you don’t park your car without touching the lines that outline the parking space!

    • I never made the connection to Switzerland, but that makes sense. And I’m glad to have you to balance out my crazy. xo

  12. Hi Lisa,
    I came over to visit from your comment today on Writer Unboxed. Enjoyed your post very much. I admire your honesty about how you lived for many years like a robot. Until hitting your head. One question I ponder a lot is–does a person ever slow down before they are forced into it? I tried to. I knew I needed to. But didn’t actually do it until I was forced into it. Also wanted to share a quote about the sea from Tara Brach who I admire very much. It has been really helpful for me. “The waves don’t matter when we know we’re the ocean.” Apologies to Tara, I probably don’t have the exact words correct.

    • So nice to meet you here — thanks for stopping by and chatting. I agree that we often don’t slow down until we have to. It’s so difficult to check my pace unless something external makes me do so. Coffee probably doesn’t help much.

      I’ve never heard that quotation before — it’s beautiful. I think I usually forget that I’m in the ocean and so I struggle with each and every wave. Can you tell me where the quote comes from? Is it a novel? Thanks!

  13. Pingback: Are you caught inside the “‘Busy’ Trap”? | Lisa Ahn

  14. This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I, too, am a Lisa Marie. I remember as a kid shouting “But I came first!”, being older than that Presley girl. When you wrote about dance, I flashed to dancing on a demonstration team for Scottish dancing. A place for each movement, years of history for each step, done just so. I was good. And then tried a tango. “My hips don’t do that!!” That fluid dance was too uncontrolled. I read about your rushing through life and saw myself. I read about your trauma and saw my cancer. I read about your new lessons from the sea and saw my mountains and forests. At first I thought, why didn’t I learn these lessons sooner? Why did it take trauma to teach me to give up some control, to slow down? Now I am thankful that I learned because so many never do. We have found the places that our spirits need to be for now, and thank you for reminding me.

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment, full of so many connections. I’m glad to meet another Lisa Marie! Sometimes I kick myself that I am so slow to learn these lessons, that I keep on stumbling, but at least I’m moving forward. I suppose it would be worse to be stuck, without any insight into where I want and need to go. I love your phrasing — “the places that our spirits need to be for now.” That “for now” is so lovely, and so crucial. Thanks for this wisdom and encouragement.

    • I, too, like your words…”the places our spirits (and bodies) need to be for now.” Does anybody ever give up control until they are forced too? This is a question I have been pondering for a long while. It seems we are dragged kicking and fighting until we can’t kick and fight anymore.

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