The sudden, shocking challenge that appeared in my life recently continues, with my wonderful kitchen partially dismantled, its wet, leak-damaged wood floor torn out by water remediation experts and replaced with astonishingly noisy drying machines.

Image taken from a short film Ellen Silverman made in my Harlem space

It has been deeply disorienting to live in a noisy, vibrating space partitioned by hazmat-like zippered plastic walls. Writing has been impossible.  I’ve come up hard against attachment, need, my difficulty with not having answers, even as I know that I am very very blessed, that nothing is dire.

…my kitchen after the water remediation service moved the island island and many boxes of kitchen equipment into my living room, and erected plastic “containment walls” with zippers to contain the heat and dust generated by the machines…

My reliance on — attachment to —my space and the nature and life in the park across the way has kept me from moving out for more than a night here and there.  I’ve managed though frequent rereading of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart; Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It is one of the most potent survivial manuals I know, applicable to just about any life challenge. (I carry it on my phone’s Kindle).


fallen tree diy:
…’before’ the kitchen was water damaged and torn apart…

Here is the passage I’ve read daily:

If we find ourselves in what seems like a rotten or painful situation and we think, “Well, how is this enlightenment?” we can just remember this notion of the path, that what seems undesirable in our lives doesn’t have to put us to sleep. What seems undesirable in our lives doesn’t have to trigger habitual reactions. We can let it show us where we’re at and let it remind us that the teachings encourage precision and gentleness, with loving-kindness toward every moment. When we live this way, we feel frequently—maybe continuously—at a crossroads, never knowing what’s ahead. It’s an insecure way to live. We often find ourselves in the middle of a dilemma—what should I do…? Basically, the instruction is not to try to solve the problem but instead to use it as a question about how to let this very situation wake us up further rather than lull us into ignorance. We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity…This is our choice in every moment. Do we relate to our circumstances with bitterness or with openness? 

That is why it can be said that whatever occurs can be regarded as the path and that all things, not just some things, are workable. This teaching is a fearless proclamation of what’s possible for ordinary people like you and me.”


…the noisy, barren, 95’F plastic-walled room that was my kitchen…

Chodron’s words have proved to be a healing lens through which to view the upheaval that may last months and that as yet has no clear answers. But her counsel is indeed a practice, with my forgetting and then remembering it constantly, as I cycle between my old way of thinking to her radically new one.

…whatever occurs can be regarded as the path and that all things, not just some things, are workable.


As for Improvised Life, because there are so many unknowns still and so much to figure out —it’s possible the kitchen will have to be dismantled further, and  I will have to move out altogether —  I am having to play life, and publishing, by ear.

I appreciate your bearing with…


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13 replies on “When Things Fall Apart, I Turn to This Powerful Survival Manual

  1. I wish there was a way to give you just some of the peace that your words and ideas have given me over the past few years. You will get to the other side of this eventually. I am sure that all your readers miss you, but completely understand and will be waiting patiently for your return.

  2. Sally,

    What a powerful reminder that we don’t control our world.



  3. Thank you dearest Sally.
    As always, you find a way to that hidden star.
    Hang in there friend.
    Hopefully our paths will cross again soon.


  4. And remember Sally,
    ….you’ve still got us!

    (hee hee ha!)

  5. If only you could come over for dinner every night. I could hug you and hope to ease your discomfort.
    Much love to you.

  6. If only you could come over for dinner every night. I could hug you and hope to ease your discomfort.
    Much Love

  7. This post is so heartfelt..timely for me as well..I just made a life changing move from a beloved perch to a very new heart seems to break daily..but the thought of turning it around and seeing the value of change is a strong lesson..stay strong Sally..

  8. Sally, your photos of the “in transformation” kitchen, and the challenges of dealing with disorientation really speak to me. We’ve spent the past 25 years in our 1886 Victorian home, doing one renovation project after another, some quite lengthy. Going through photos, I was struck by how much of our lives has been spent in that state of disruption. I started a new artwork series of hand-colored b/w photos of some of those scenes of destruction. In my mind the series is called “Evidence of Work”…. work on so many levels! Thank you for continuing to think of your readers during this difficult time, and for continuing to pass on the essential wisdom of Pema Chodron…. always a tonic.

  9. Dear Nina, Coming to your place every night for dinner with hugs would totally make things better. I keep that lovely thought in mind. Sending love back, my sister.

  10. Jeanne, thank you for the note. The word “disorientation” nails it. It has been just that, and profound. And quite complex, as I have to admit once again how much my physical surroundings impact me, in so many ways, with a subtle and complex internal conversation that attends it. Pema Chodron’s words about “softening” really does help to quiet and navigate.

    And then there is the question: Why opt for states of disruption? as in your many renovation projects. I’m thinking that disruption is very much a part of living, and making, and change….

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing Evidence at Work and your thoughts.

  11. Dear Megan, I was JUST thinking about you, and remembering some of the dinners we cooked together many years ago, in the Ennui Club.

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