Please Slow Down

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I have umpteen self-help books on meditation, mindfulness, and slowing down.

Do I practice what they teach?

A bit of background:  As a young lass in the cro-Magnon, pre-digital era  I  signed up for a mantra.  (I admit to being partly influenced by the fact that my favorite Beatle — George Harrison — was playing sitar and following the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at that time).

I even recall my mantra.  But today it goes something like Om…Om…OMG I forgot I have a dental appointment at 3:00.

How do I know this?  My smart-ass phone just beeped.

Monkey mind is cruel and unkind.  Who enjoys swinging from synapse to synapse on a daily basis?  Who enjoys digital distractions?

Am I contradicting myself being on the blogosphere?  If so, I am in company with the Good Gray Poet, Walt Whitman:  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself,  I am large, I contain multitudes.”

But let’s get back to monkey mind.  Do I blame monkey mind on my college and working years in the concrete jungle of Chicago?  There was never enough time for quiet in the mornings before hopping on subways and buses.  But no, I had the choice for quiet time in the morning or not.  I preferred the snooze button on my clock-radio.

At any rate, I left Chicago in the 1990’s and moved to Seattle.  Mt. Rainier, the Pacific Ocean, the Hoh Rain Forest — all eye candy for me and my husband.

And something else called out that was new and exciting:  the Internet.  When we arrived to this high-tech city, the Internet was just a dirt road, not yet a superhighway, nor had it become The Cloud.

The Internet was cool; I enjoyed scootering on the dirt road.   I even created a health and safety intranet site for the organization I worked for.  But then, during a walk on the beach, I spotted a young man wearing a t-shirt that said “Rage Against The Machine.”

The t-shirt was disconcerting enough, but at the time I was also reading a book titled I Live In The Future and Here’s How It Works:  Why Your World, Work and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted: 

“There needs to be a way to opt out of the constant retrieval of images, audio, and information. What do we do when the Internet or computers refuse to forget?”

And “The Internet is changing our concept of location, trust, space, time and connections.”

The dark web is undeniably out there today.  But I like blogging.

Walt Whitman, will you please travel to the future and help me deal with these contradictions?  My monkeys need sleep.

 

 

 

Not a Truffle

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She is random she is free and uncontrolled by time and space. The clock shatters when she appears.

She is the Muse, a butterfly offering on-again, off-again glimpses of light to those open to her inspiration.  Try and catch her, but not with the nets of over-thinking. If I take a walk, ride my bike, she might return.

If I try too hard, she disappears. A muse, after all, is not a truffle to be rooted out from the earth by pigs and served up at the dinner table for $200 a pop.

In our time-starved world she is free to visit wherever, whenever and whomever she wants.   Are you a Mother longing for time to write?   Listen for her whispers even though you yourself may feel like a babe alone in the woods. Or you may actually be in the woods, walking a shoreline, standing in line at a subway station, at the check-out buying groceries.

It doesn’t matter where or when or how she shows up.  Maybe you like to write at cafes in the early morning and you are halfway through your double Americano when an image, a sentence creeps in.

She shows up Anytime.  Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight.

Is she fairy, is she mist?

All I know is that if I stay in the Now, silent in my head, hopeful in my heart, I might feel inspired.  I have a notebook handy, a tape recorder.  Whatever I am doing she just might show up.

 

Primordial Life

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The swamp is gone.  I steer the car to the side of the road and park under the shade of a Dutch Elm.  Crossing the road  (paved,no longer gravel),  I wander to where the marsh was, recall the chorus of crickets and frogs that lulled me to sleep as a child.

No soothing chirrups, no cattails.  Only grass.  My gaze sweeps to the split-level house.

The rev of a lawn mower.  A strange woman rides it, cuts swaths in the grass.  I notice that the chokecherry tree is gone along with the tire swing.

I watch the woman make pivots with the machine.

And the weeping willow?  Vanished also.

Isn’t it poetry the way that tree weeps?  I flinch — realize that I sound  like my Mother.

The woman angles the mower toward the fence at the rear of the property.  It’s then I notice the cornstalks in the distance.  Yes!  The maize waves in the summer breeze, reassures.  The warm, sweet scent of silky corn hair as I played hide and seek with other children.

The woman circles the mower towards an unfamiliar tool shed.  She shuts it off and dismounts like a seasoned cowgirl.  Her hand dips into her shirt pocket and she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.  Tapping one out, she lights it and surveys the work she’s done.  Then her platinum blond head turns in my direction.

“Hello,” I call out, moving towards her.

She flicks ash off her cigarette and the corners of her mouth rise in a smile.  I remove my sunglasses.  Her hazel eyes are warm, friendly; somehow the crow’s feet add to their sparkle. An aroma like freshly baked bread escapes the chambray shirt she wears.

I hold out my hand to clasp hers in greeting.  “I hope you don’t mind my snooping.  I lived here when I was a girl.”

The woman’s name is Barbara and when I tell her my parents last name, she recalls my mother.  In a gravelly voice, she tells of Mother stopping by once to ask for some plantings from the back yard.   How could she refuse such a sweet little widow wanting flowers for her husband’s grave?

Barbara offers to show me the house.  She leads me to an enclosed porch with wicker furniture.

“The patio used to be here.  There were no screens.”

“Mosquitoes,” Barbara answers, “a nuisance out here.”

I don’t recall this being a problem.  What I remember is fireflies glowing and dancing in the distance.

Barbara leads me to the living room.  The picture window is enlarged and there’s a wrap-around view of the grass that replaced the swamp.  I am not disturbed by the changed house but the disappearance of the marsh with its humming, primordial life makes me sad.  It teemed with crickets and frogs and we children dipped into it to catch tadpoles.

As I stand in my old living room with this stranger, I feel how time distorts place.  It is like returning home after travelling long and far away.  How rooms seem as small as those of a doll’s house, how they cramp the humans inside.

The humans who look outward for primordial life.

 

 

This is So Serious

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Every now and then a scene from the movie Royal Tennenbaums, bubbles up in my thoughts and I laugh.  In the movie, Ben Stiller is hyper-vigilant for disaster.  Ben plays the character Chas and he has two little boys.  Chas has his boys practice timed fire drills in the house.   Fire alarms blaring in the background, Chas yells at the boys to go, go go!  Once they safely exit the house, Chas clicks on his stop-watch to see if he and his boys will survive or be burned to a crisp.

I can relate to Chas’s character.  I, too, have been known to awfulize.    Perhaps my vigilance for disaster began in childhood.  I had a vivid imagination and once believed I saw the outline of a bear in the darkened hallway of our house.   It turned out to be a pile of rugs.

Then, when I was seventeen disaster did hit — my Father collapsed in the house and died from a massive heart attack.

Ever since then, the Grim Reaper taps me on the shoulder and tries for my attention.  It is a life-long challenge to be at peace with the knowledge that some day I, too, shall pass.

Until then, why not have faith that there is a reason for the way things happen?  Being crisis-oriented is horrible.  It robs life of joy, detracts from living in the moment.

Oddly, my worries took on a deja-vu turn a few years ago.  My husband collapsed in the kitchen and at first I thought it was a repeat of what I experienced with my Father.  But it was not a heart attack.  He’d been broiling Leeks Au Gratin and bubbling cheese dribbled down the rubber mitts he wore, burning his wrist.   The doctor in the Emergency Room lightened things up about the Leeks disaster, joked about wine pairings.

My husband still makes Leeks Au Gratin.  I just look the other way.

 

 

Sew What?

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Atta Girl!  I commend myself for measuring, cutting, pressing and sewing a curtain valance today.  The inner critic wants to berate that the rain drop pattern (white raindrops on black cotton fabric – I love black and white design) is not moving in the correct direction.  Raindrops fall downwards, the critic says.  They don’t travel sideways and they certainly don’t levitate skyward. 

If that isn’t enough, the critic starts in on my math skills:  You should have measured and cut more carefully.  If the width of the fabric is 42” and your window is 75” and you stitched the two 42” pieces together to make 84,” how come the valance looks skimpy?

Inner critics are such bores.  I silence her with a gentle voice, letting her know that instead of skimpy, I prefer the word minimalist.  My goal is a valance with a Zen feel to it – no frou-frou for me, thank you.

And if raindrops in the fabric pattern travel sideways and levitate skyward, oh well.   I call it artistic license.

Liver Days

I was edgy.  The caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. was keeping me awake.  It was the cat’s sleep or mine.  It was time to take our tabbie to the animal hospital to have her put down.
But neither of us could stand the thought of Mimi taking her last gasps on a clinical metal table.

Luckily, I discovered a local veterinarian who made house calls.

“I’m phoning the home pet vet,” I told my husband.

Showing up in her starched white doctor’s jacket with her medical bag (straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration – and this was for a pet, mind you), the vet took one look at our 5-pound cat, listened to our description of her dwindling appetite, ran some tests and confirmed that Mimi had kidney disease.

The vet recommended daily hydration injections through an IV catheter.

“It’s simple,” she said, demonstrating by lifting a lump of fur on the cat’s back and poking it with a needle connected to a plastic hydration pouch.

I have a dread of needles going into anything other than a sewing machine.   It didn’t look simple to me.

And the cat?  I could see that her feline dignity was clearly insulted:  “Huh?  How would you like carrying a plastic pouch on your back?” was the overall attitude as she skulked away.

Then the vet recommended we start cooking Mimi some liver.  From that day forward we did not own the cat, the cat owned us.

I gave my husband free reign — both with buying and sauteeing the liver and poking the cat with the IV needles.  But the caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. did not stop.  I was tired and between the vet bills and hydration bags and trips to Whole Foods for liver, Mimi was costing us.

The bigger cost, though, was my sleep.

“Eeeeeoooowwww.”   The piercing cry grew louder with each shrinking ounce of cat.
Her huge green eyes seemed to look into my soul as I warmed milk for myself in the wee hours of the night.

I felt nostalgic for the days she used to circle her kibble bowl as if she were a Cheetah moving in for the kill, crunching dry food as if it were zebra bones.   I felt guilty and conflicted in my heart about her euthanasia, but I did not offer her my milk.

“Do you think we’ll be treated this well when we’re elders,” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

And then, on one of those insomniac nights, I happened upon a quote from Mark Twain:

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

That was it!  It was as if we were carrying Mimi by the tail and all her caterwauling was at us for meddling with her natural process of dying.   Her rebuffing food, her pleas to end it all in the middle of the night.

Set me free, I imagined Mimi screaming.

And so we had the home pet vet pay her last call.   My husband stayed true to the end in ministering to Mimi.  I left it to him to hold her in his lap while the doctor gave the fatal dose.  Tears streamed down both our faces.

“Do you want me to cart Mimi away, cremate her, send her ashes to you in the mail?” the vet asked.

“Of course we do,” we said.

“I also offer a plaster impression of paws.  Would you like me to cast one for you?”

“Of course we do,” we said.

Within a week we received Mimi’s fancy container of ashes in the mail.   And at Christmas Mimi’s plaster cast nestles in our tree.

I painted these words underneath her paw print:  Liver Days.

Northwest Folk Life Festival, 2010

A youth staples dollar bills to his bare chest.
A woman reacts:  “I will pay you twenty dollars not to see that.”
The stapled man accepts the twenty, stays planted in his pain
between the Black Death All-Stars
and the Festival Food truck hawking Pennsylvania Dutch Funeral Cakes.

I imagine the stigmata of his wounded childhood:
Smashed arm off a recliner chair, crumpled beer cans, and his father’s leather belt.
In his Mother’s coffee cup, the ash heap of regrets pile high, turns green.
She once dressed him as Medusa for Halloween.

The bleat of a bagpipe drifts on the wind –
“It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.”

A young girl says “Let’s go to the fountain.”
Her friend wears a sign – “Willing to sell I-phone to buy ride home.”

On another stage, a young capitalist offers “Expensive Ass Hugs.”
His counterpoint, a maiden in white, announces “Free Kisses If You Measure Up.”

Centrifugal Force.  Like a carnival ride where the floor drops out,
youth spinning, pinned, with no connection home.

Just open-mouthed shock, slack laughter.

Alone

“He travels fastest who travels alone.”
From Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Winners

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This is an homage to Alone.  She has travelled with me from Chicago to my home in Seattle.

An ancestor painted Alone based on a copy from an original illustration.  I know nothing about the ancestor.  The painting has been in the family for approximately 100 years.

It seems fitting that I inherited Alone.  She was a formidable presence in the home of my childhood.   My sisters were not in my play arena.  They are 15 and 11 years older than me.  I joke with the eldest one that when I was growing up, I was an “only child.”

“No you weren’t,” she says.

But it felt that way.  And so while my sisters hung out at the Sugar Bowl with pals, I made up imaginary friends.  One of them was Frosty, pictured here with me, Mother, and sisters:

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Later, in the basement of our house, I constructed my own wooly home made from blankets draped over cabinet doors where I snuggled inside to make believe this was my fortress which no one in the family could storm.
Eventually I re-potted myself and moved to Seattle and married.

But Alone is still with me.  She helped me locate my imagination and realize that “home” — even if attached — is the domain of each individual to seek in his or her heart.