2008/05/30

Tony Hoagland anyone?

I haven't read anything by him yet -- but I think I must. The titles of these books merit a purchase, don't you think? (And why doesn't the library own them? I better find out what's going on there. Need to make a suggestion or something.) Has anyone read any of these enticing books? The one above is titled Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft. Below is the cover to What Narcissism Means to Me. Seriously. With titles like that ... especially if the author looks like this!!

Twenty-five Years Ago

Last night, as we fell into bed, I said to my patient and steady husband, "Twenty-five years ago you wouldn't come with me when I went to bed ..." His response was blissfully familiar. "That's because you didn't like me. You always made me go away." My response to that is also familiar. "Huh-uh ... YOU wouldn't stay with ME. Remember? You said, 'I won't go home tonight. I'll just stay here,' and I said, 'Okay.' But you never did stay! YOU didn't like ME." That's when he tells me again in a very very serious voice that I am bad and naughty and tempting him all the time. And that is the conversation had at night after nearly twenty-five years. In the middle of July this year, twenty-five years.

Of course, with that kind of milestone in view, I remember what it was back then. How much we wanted to just stay together all the time, all day and all night, and everyone else in the universe could just go soak their heads for all we cared. (Sorry, everyone else in the universe. But that was what we felt back then. We'd been engaged for the last year and a half of my college days, and we were really really tired of waiting.)

I've been remembering the showers and plans and sitting in the living room wrapping the tiny little packages of things for the reception. (But I don't remember what was in them.) I remember sewing the little seed pearl beads onto the lace that went onto the dress, and watching my mom make my veil. Taking endless drives up the old highway in the Gorge, in that tiny red Opal (which, conveniently, only held two people, so no, we can't give you a ride). Picking up the invitations from the printers (I used the only local printer in town so I'd know whose neck to wring if they weren't right), and the constant consultation over "who's that?" when a gift would come and the name on the card wasn't one we recognized. We didn't know each other's extended families very well yet, and both of us have extensive extended families who loved us and loved our parents. We were often unsure as to whom a particular aunt or uncle belonged - had to check with our parents all the time.

I've heard that some couples fight a lot during this time before their wedding - we didn't. We just don't, as a rule. There are those close to us (nowadays, I mean) who roll their eyes and make comments about "another reasoned discussion" while they're walking away and leaving us to it. Even back then, we thought arguing was a waste of time, didn't solve the problem, and it just seemed smarter to "work the problem, not each other." Besides. Neither of us would stoop to it. (I'm not boasting - this kind of self-control has its limitations. I'm just sayin.)

It did seem to me like everyone else was trying to pick a fight, though. I remember saying repeatedly - reciting it to myself over and over, like a calming, centering mantra - "in ___ more days, I will only have one boss."

And people who knew me wondered if I had some kind of distortion glasses on because I'd told people for years that I'd be getting married "as soon as I find someone big enough to boss me." Most people thought that would take someone the size of the Empire State Building, who kept a hidden reserve of the energy of a cornered badger close at hand. They figured, whoever he was going to be, he'd have to be some kind of a Uberfierce Argument Champion. (I think they were looking for someone to do their dirty work and tell me where to get off. Wimps.)

But I didn't marry a fierce man. I married a steady one. Twenty-five years ago, in this part of the year, the two of us were attending other people's weddings, and doing the myriad of wedding tasks together, and trying to find an apartment we could afford.

We were invited as a couple to dine with other people, too. One older single woman invited us to her home, served us a pie for dessert that she gave me the recipe for, and said to us (in words she'd obviously thought about so that she'd get them exactly right), "I know you two will be happy. It's obvious that you think the world of each other." That was a sweet moment. Someone who'd been watching could see the key to the thing. We respected, admired, and deeply wanted each other. On our wedding day, our chief emotion was relief. It had felt like a long, long wait.

We spent a lot of time talking and planning and planning and re-planning while we were engaged, but --- see the picture to the left here? All the fancy and expensive and glittery and golden and sparkles? Not us. We were each going to have one attendant, accompanied by my nephew as a ring-bearer and the flower girl who was a couple of years older than little Andrew, and could commandeer a small country even back then - I think she was about six. She volunteered - enlisted, actually - for the job of flower girl. Told us she even had a few dresses still, from other weddings she'd been in - and two of them probably still fit. Just in case we were interested. She was just letting us know. Just in case. (Followed us to the car after church one day to make sure we were aware of her experience and availability for the job. It was simply impossible to say no to that.)

The church was full of gorgeous dark wooden pews and railings and wall paneling, a huge pipe organ, and tasteful, Presbyterian orderliness (that's a picture of it, linked to the website for the church) -- and it was not in need of any gilding of the lily. White carnations and greens - a few roses and greens on the candelabra - and then know when to stop. Elegance is a function of restraint. Planning and restraint. (We had a looooong time to talk about this.)

The memories are flooding in right now. I might write some more about it in the next few weeks - before we go out of town to remember it all together. Like ... the fact that we got married on July 16, and it rained every day for the first fifteen days in July that year - and my mother had a party planned that required the use of the outdoors. (I think the weather angels were just messin' with her.) Or the woman who figured out as we were leaving in a borrowed car that no one had decorated the vehicle or provided rice - so she tore into the kitchen at my parents' house, grabbed a box of Rice-a-Roni, and ripped it open to throw the uncooked San Francisco treat as we were leaving. (We found the flavor packet when we cleaned out the car to give it back.)

At the end of that day, our faces actually hurt from all the smiling. Since that day, a lot of other things have hurt too. But the day was worth it - the effort was worth it - the waiting and the planning and the details ... all worth it. He turned out to be big enough not just to boss me, but to love me too.

2008/05/29

Incensed

Go here. Look at this. And then light yourself some of the good stuff.

BALTIMORE, May 22 (UPI) -- Religious leaders contend burning incense is good for the soul, but U.S. and Israeli researchers say it can be good for the brain as well.
When you use words, you're able to keep your mind alive.
Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.

Gao Xingjian

"Not only do I not write to change society," the Chinese expatriate said, "but I feel an individual could not do so anyway."

2008/05/28

Dear Grandma,

Greetings from your very own granddaughter, here in stormy midlife! You were right! Everything here is the strangest stuff I ever saw in my life. Isn't it weird that this can exist in the same world as the familiar and predictable stuff back home?

This week, I remembered something you did once, and now it makes sense. We were all vacationing together down at the beach. Remember that? After everyone else was in bed, I found you in the kitchen, with just the light over the sink on, and you were standing up to eat (which was really weird - you never used to do that). You had a bowl with some kind of fiber cereal in it, and you were just pouring hot water over the top. And then you ATE it! Remember? You ate that cereal with water on it. (That's why I thought of you. This ad was in a guy's blog - isn't it funny? You should see what he wrote about it.)

I was so shocked that day you ate cereal with water on it that I asked you what on earth you were doing, and you told me to keep my voice down. And (this part has really stuck with me) you didn't explain yourself one little bit. You just looked knowingly at me, and finished your cereal (and washed your bowl and put it away, of course) and left the room.

So I thought I'd drop you a note. Now I get it. It's not just high fiber eating you were doing. Since you lived here on the vast plain with us until you were about ninety years old, and you were pretty healthy right up to that point, you must've been onto something there. But it wasn't just that. It was more than that. You subscribed to the wisdom of "never complain, never explain," and you took care of yourself. You were dignified and self-possessed about it - even when your loud mouthed granddaughter practically called in the whole family to witness. (Sorry about that, by the way.) You showed me how to be a grownup more on that day than you did any other time, but for a long time, I didn't really understand what you'd done.

So -- anyway, I just wanted to send you a note to let you know. Now that I'm about halfway through, I've finally crested a hill and I can see it too. You were one of the Travelers. From here, I can sort of see the path going off into the distance, where you went.

You didn't have any patience for the Hunker-downers, and you really got huffy with all the Armchair Know-it-alls who'd never set foot outside their own petty territories but presumed to know everything there was to know about all the other territories. You didn't try to grasp at your youth, and you didn't moan about what you'd lost when others took your stuff. And I know more of your part in my story now. Other people did take your stuff. You always seemed to us like the Person Least Likely to Welcome Surprises, but I just realized that that's crazy! You were the one who welcomed your own life and kept on traveling.

The thing is, Grandma, I never heard you talk about it. That's why I'm writing you this letter. Remember how nuts (not grape nuts! haha!) things are up here on this crest of the hill? I'm stunned nearly every day. What on earth is going on? This isn't what I thought I was planning - almost none of it is. But nothing in your life was what you'd had planned either. Most of it was a surprise. I myself was part of your surprising midlife - there - in that spot, just a little further on from where I'm spending my life right now.

So now here I am, and I'm looking around, and I see it. I see what you did. Now I can marvel at your sense of restraint when you knew your breath was wasted trying to tell anyone else what to expect from life. You can't, can you? Nobody ever believes you. And I wonder why you didn't clobber some of the other people in our family back then - or throw things or something. But you didn't. You fussed a little - but not much, really. Mostly, you just kept your wiser mouth shut.

I've remembered something else too. Remember that time I was looking at your old photo album, and I burst out laughing at the zig-zagging hemlines on the dresses you and your friends were wearing? You were just as amused at me as I was at the picture of you, and you told me, "You wait. You'll see dresses like that again." Honestly, I did not believe you. You didn't mind much that I didn't believe you -- so let me just say right now -- you were right. We've seen that hemline again.

We've seen the seasons change, as you saw the seasons change. And I have followed your example of journeying on. I try very hard never to complain, and never to explain, but only to do the job I have in my hands to do today. I've learned not to noise it abroad when I'm taking wise care of myself, and I know what goes around comes around, but sometimes people take your stuff. I've seen all that, now that I'm cresting this hill.

From here, I can almost see the place up ahead, where you left us. And today, I have been thinking to myself, when you got to this part and you experienced all of the shocks and surprised and baffling moments of the middle of your life, you didn't run back to a previous place. You went through this, and you saw even more wonderful things later on. I'm going to go back to school, Grandma. Me! (Crazy, huh?) I'm working on a book - for publication, I mean. They told us at your funeral that you'd kept your journal every day since you were seventeen. One thing's for sure. Nobody ever said you weren't disciplined. You were always the opposite of "flaky" - and I don't mean pie crust.

Speaking of which, our daughter tells us she's getting married - and we're not convinced she's ready. (Not that they're asking that question.) We want happiness and peace and beauty for our children, and now we've had enough life as a couple that we know how important roots are. But ... I don't know if you were ready either - the first time. I just know that it didn't work out for you, and if it had, I'd never have known you. So the other thing I know is that life has a way of working itself out if you just keep going. The boys are both in college now. I kind of wish you could hear them play their guitars, even though I don't think you'd like the music very much. You'd be able to hear the talent anyway. "Anyway." That's a word I associate with you. Do it anyway. I'm going to try my best to do it anyway and keep going - like you did.

Thanks for leaving some clues along the way. I'll catch up to you in another 45 years or so, probably. I hope so. From here, where you went looks amazing.

Love,

Me

2008/05/27

Aaaahhh.... rainy bikes in Copenhagen

This is from the wonderful blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic. The music and images in this video are wonderfully lovely today.

2008/05/22

Midlist

There is an occupational hazard in library work. In short, this hazard may be called Bookish Conversation. (Seems obvious - yet, for some inexplicable reason, I have been surprised by it.)

When you work at the library, you talk about books. You talk about the ones you're shelving (and whether they're in the right order or not, and where might be a better place to put them so that the people who would enjoy them might find them more easily), and you talk about the ones you're checking in or checking out to patrons (and you say things all day like, "Hey! Look at this! Have you seen this before?" or "Wow, the illustrations in this book are gorgeous. Do we own a copy here?"), and you talk about things like funny titles, or titles sitting next to each other on the shelf, or how heavy they are or how skinny and easy to lose they are ... you just talk about books all day long.

When you work at the library, you also work with people who are writers - professionally and otherwise. It goes with the territory. We're all like a bunch of people employed by the symphony hall, and most of us play instruments, some better than others, some more than others. All of us know which instruments go where, how to set the stage, and what to do about the sheets of music. And we all have unreserved admiration for any instrumentalist who can make his living "playing."

(Isn't that the most gloriously aggravating thing to call it? "Playing?" To library folks, writing is play, reading is serious business, and the people who are good at making the music are our rock stars - our objects of envy - our celebrities.)

Among these folks - the groupies - the devotees - the faithful - there are a few who get gigs, but aren't yet employed full time in the business of making literary music. (They've been published. But they're still working at the library. I'm making a metaphor here, folks. Does it makes sense if you're reading a blog, and not shelving books?) At "my" library, there is an employee who does this. His published work is on the shelves of the library - and so is the work of his wife, who also gets gigs but doesn't make a living as a member of the orchestra full time. It's chronic - endemic - and for me ... it's really really cool! This whole situation, with a large component being their frustration, gives me published authors to talk to. Very cool, in my opinion.

So, yesterday we had a conversation that made me slightly dizzy. He's just been to a writer's conference, and he was telling me about it, and he said the word "midlist."

Now, if you're the slightest bit exposed to the world of writing and publishing, you know what The Midlist is. Yesterday, for the life of me, I did not know. I'd heard of it, but suddenly couldn't recall at all what it was. So I asked him, and he reminded me.

The Midlist is the stuff that sells, but doesn't sell huge. It's the backbone of the entire industry, really.

Feel that? Feel the sensation that your insides just fell down a hole?

Just thinking about The Midlist made an old, familiar sensation of slight nausea well up within my depths. Midlist. The books that sell, and then sit on shelves, and then get replaced by more of the same sort of good, dependable, enjoyable, attractive books. Stuff people want to read. Perfectly good books ... that keep getting replaced by more perfectly good books.

UGH! The notion makes me want to throw myself off a cliff. Screaming. (Odd, how many sensations of disequilibrium, imbalance, and general disorientation occur to me at the mere name, Midlist.)

Hours after the first part of this conversation (held, of course, in the intervals between patrons at the desk, phone calls, carts of books to shelve, and other such things - we were supposed to be working, after all), I faced my fear. Like the cartoon character that stops, mid-fall, and looks around to figure out that he's falling, I braced myself for the truth.

And I said my fear.

Out loud.

To another human being.

"This feels," I said, "exactly like trying to find space in an already crammed full box. I mean, look around the room! There are already so many books in here. The lid won't fit on the box already, and it just seems like writing a book that would really get published is like trying to cram one more book into an already full box."

And that's when he said it.

"It's an industry, and they're always looking for more material."

Midlist material.

The Midlist isn't dead or dying, and it never really was. Blockbusters get attention, of course. Sometimes there's a blockbuster. But mostly, every day, on all the shelves of all the bookstores and homes and libraries in the world, there are just ordinary, good books. Stuff folks want to read. The beat goes on. Join it or don't, but --- wait. Let me write this the way it really is.

I can join it or not. But I can no longer hold the illusion intact. Being a writer with published work isn't a matter of finding a way to do something permanent in the world. This isn't about becoming immortal. (Damn!) It's not about finding something so perfect to say and saying it so perfectly that it will be treasured forever by anyone. Writing can be about being good enough to do a job. It can be about the fact that in the world there are people who write stuff that other people want to buy and enjoy. It's an industry. It's one kind of entertainment, and it's one kind of information exchange. And there will always be people looking for new material. More of it. There's room for more in The Midlist. There are a lot more cellists in the world than Yo Yo Ma, and some of them even make a living at it! The beat goes on.

It's not sexy, but it's the truth.

Thanks, Mario.

So ... where'd I put that file?

2008/05/21

Mauriac's Knowing

Fran├žois Mauriac (October 11, 1885 - September 1, 1970) was a French author, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is acknowledged to be one of the greatest Roman Catholic writers of the 20th century.

So saith Wikipedia.

And,
'Tell me what you read, and I'll tell you who you are,' is true enough, but I'd know you better if you told me what you reread.
So saith Mauriac.

It got me thinking. What do I reread?

It's not that long a list, really.

Elizabeth Goudge is at the top. She wrote a trilogy of books about the (fictional, technically, but very alive to me) Eliot family, and one stand-alone novel called The Scent of Water. Anyone who would read those four books would know a lot about me.

Both she and Madeleine L'Engle wrote about the effects of the Great Wars of the twentieth century on the ordinary, regular folk, who live with their families, and speak to their neighbors, and try to figure out what anything means. I love the work of these two women authors, and I reread them frequently. L'Engle's adult novel, A Severed Wasp, is my favorite. I agree with Melissa Howard. This book is "a novel about humans, through the lens of art, psychology, spirituality; and as lived by one of L'Engle's most fascinating characters." But I don't agree with Howard's recommendation of it being best read by readers in the midlife age group. I read it as a teenager, and it changed who I became.

But I reread Pat Conroy's Beach Music every few years. And the works of C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers, in both their fiction and non-fiction writing. I think all of these authors knew the beauty of language, and their story-telling art is profoundly effective because of its beauty. This goes, too, for Graham Greene's Wind in the Willows, and the children's books of E. Nesbit and L.M. Montgomery. So ... I guess what I reread is tales of human courage, and the effects of human love in the world, and the beautiful language that sings to me over and over that "there's some good in the world, and it's worth fighting for" - even if I can't make myself reread Tolkein.

2008/05/20

Watered

Oh, now, that's better. That's much much better. Lilac leaves and luxuriant rhododendrons are supposed to be wet. Rain is needed on these plants. They just aren't made for the heat. It's not their fault. They can't help it. They're children of the region, and the region is wet. This is where a great and mighty Gorge with a river coursing through it is surrounded by rock walls of mountains that themselves run with water. Waterfalls. Water leaching from the edges of the earth in the places where the people have gouged out a place for asphalt, water running and dripping and flowing down into the highway's edge. With the short exception of the warmest part of the year, here is where even the rocks flow with water. So the plants are to be forgiven for hating the heat. Right? And the people whose deepest selves are rooted in this same soil - they're to be forgiven for their deep and thirsty need to throw open all the doors and windows once the sky remembers that its job is to send us the rain.

2008/05/18

Another one over the cuckoo's nest

Yes, folks, it's true! Three kids, three mostly peaceful and happy childhoods, three young people taking their places at the grownup table, the grownup conversations, and the grownup movies, books, and music ... and now three kids moved out, and in school. That last bearded young giant got his acceptance letter yesterday! Very, very soon ... after this summer ... all those Braxton-Hicks Evenings will be complete in the reality of our empty nest. For the record, our particular cuckoo's nest seems anything but empty.

I think we need a new term. Empty Nest is bleak and used up and no longer serving any purpose. Dead sticks. Bits and pieces of old cloth or a fuzz from a blankie. A shoelace or a feather waving all alone at the edge of the round world bordered by what was once a nest full of eggs. It's a sad picture, that one is. Empty Nest. Ugh. Barren wasteland.

But that's not what I have! It's not my house. We loved having a full nest. We did. The experience of birthing, breastfeeding, diaper changing, reading, teaching to read, teaching to clean or cook or mow or sew or listen or sing or play an instrument ... it's all good. Conversations are good. A child's perspective glitters and glistens and sparkles like a newly minted coin, and reflects the world in such incredible clarity. We loved having those exhausting, exhilarating kids. But we loved them into their own lives. And off they go! The last one over the cuckoo's nest is flying this fall.

So we look around.

What do we see now?

Who are we?

We were their parents.

Who are we now?

Well ...

First, we are still their parents. But instead of showing them how to dedicate themselves with all of their powers to the well-being of their own families, we show them now that the fruitful years of growing a family lead to the fruitful years of a different kind of life. We let them know - without saying a word - that people who have been married for 25 years are still quite impossibly mad for each other. We show them that raising kids is good for the brain, and prepares a body to take on new projects. We turn our attention to a closer dance with each other, but now we cover more of the dance floor. I think that's it, really. When your kids are little, you keep a long tether between the two grownups in the couple, and you maintain it and watch over it and you make sure it does not break. You need it. Each parent needs the other, and the children need the parents to be at each end of that connection.

But when your children have flown your nest, you don't need the tether any more. The need for boundaries and bindings has gone. And what it seems we have instead is the freedom to dance - and we learned a lot of the steps by way of the raising of our kids. Odd. I didn't expect this. But that's what it feels like to me. Dancing in concert, tethered together for the sake of those small people who were necessarily underfoot has taught the two of us a very beautiful dance.

2008/05/17

I don't, but if I did

...want a bumper sticker, it would be this one. Because I laugh out loud every time I read it.

Indeed they do

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak,
men mistook magic for medicine;
now, when science is strong and religion weak,
men mistake medicine for magic.

Thomas Szasz

2008/05/16

Surprising

Well, who'd a thunk it? I've read a lot of psych books, and I've read a lot of self-help books, and I've read a lot of style and design and fashion books and magazines. I do not expect the same sort or the same depth of insight or useful analysis from Vogue as I get from Lenore Thomson or David Kiersey. That would be like expecting the same health benefits from chocolate covered almonds as I could expect from organically grown vegetables with a little bit of chicken for protein accompanied by whole grains. It's not that the chocolate covered almonds are bad - or even useless. It's that they're not complete food. They just are what they are.

But the book I held a contest for? The brand spanking new Style Statement by Carrie McCarthy & Danielle LaPorte? Well, it might be hard for you to believe me, but I really do think this book has found a unique place in the world. In fact, I'd say it would be as useful to an interior designer to use with her customers as it would be for a fashion designer to use ... and for a chef or a nursery school teacher or any CEO. In fact, I think it might be imminently useful for those who do psychological counseling for a living! No kidding.

I know, I know. It seems pretty far fetched to make the claim that analyzing your own affections and tendencies, and doing this analysis in a context of figuring out what's most "true" about your own self ... well, it just seems self-indulgent at best - and perhaps even delusional at worst. But the fact is that once you can say to yourself that your foundational self - 80% of you - is encapsulated in a word, and that your creative edge of expression in your life is another word - your top 20% - your spin - your personalization of your place in the world ... once you have that word and that other word, you really do end up with this oddball experience of being ... um ... well, have you read the Harry Potter books. (This isn't helping the seriousness aspect of my claims, is it?)

There's a scene - the kid has just discovered that he's a wizard and not just really weird, and he's in a wand shop. The startling proprietor claims that the wand chooses the wizard. Harry finds this to be true. There is a wand - a very special wand - that resonates to his touch and he to it. When you know what sort of stuff you're made of - when you find those words - you find yourself in the slightly shocking yet oddly powerful position of a person with powers.

I don't think I can explain it to without music to express it - or a painting. This isn't the "science" of a lab (or, I should say, it isn't merely that). It's an art. I wonder ... is there a painting? Something that shows the beauty and power and delightful confusion of not quite knowing what to do but knowing that you have the powers? Knowing that you will know when you get there? Finally understanding "to thine own self be true" in a way that isn't selfish and narcissistically dangerous?

Yes! Allow me to introduce: John William Waterhouse's The Sorceress (1911). This, I need on my wall. She looks like I feel.

2008/05/15

Lookin' for the down side

Last night ... local news ... daily rendition of the weeping and wailing and gnashing of local teeth ... over gas prices! They had so very many people on camera. Oh, it's terrible it's terrible. It's killin me here, man. Just look at what these outrageous prices have done to my life! Why some people have even had to:

1. Buy used clothing instead of new.

2. Cut back on vacation plans.

3. Take far fewer car trips.

4. Buy a smaller car.

5. Have only one family car.

6. Not buy a new car this year.

7. Start riding the bus - or even a bike! - to work instead of taking a car at all.

8. Cook food from groceries instead of buying food already made from a drive through on the way home.

9. Get out of consumer debt because the payments are killers.

Well, holy crap! This is just terrible news! The air's cleaner, the community is less wasteful, and families are staying home sometimes and being a bit more prudent with their money. Damn. The world just might come to an end if this keeps up. Why, people are mending things they already own instead of supporting the beautiful and patriotic market economy by buying new stuff!

But add all this to the HOUSING crisis? And the general LENDING crisis? Oh, doooom, dooom ... the death knell sounds! Some folks are having to get into smaller houses. Honest! I'm not kidding here. There are people in this country who have to live in housing they can afford. And banks are starting to lend only to consumers who can pay them back! And ... it's becoming less profitable to speculate in the real estate market too - so one of these days, average monthly RENT might just decrease!

This isn't progress! This isn't our America! Why ...

it sounds

exactly

like

the

America

where I grew up!

Now, listen, you absurdity of a local news broadcast. Just listen to me. I'm not a dinosaur. I have some grey hair, admittedly, but I'm not even fifty years old yet. So it just wasn't that long ago that ordinary, middle class, normal families has only one family car, parked in front of their modest homes, wherein lived children who were not scheduled to be on the other side of town for all kinds of activities seven days a week. This didn't happen a hundred years ago. We had running water and color TV and everything! I'm tellin' ya. Listen to me. It's possible to cut back on all the running around town, it's possible to learn to sew, and to buy quality in the first place, and to buy second hand clothes, and it's possible to grow up happy and healthy without a huge house to do it in.

Just pretend I'm a visitor from another planet.

I bring you good news.

Your life is not over.

Not yet.

In fact ... there might even be an upside to this modern disaster. An opportunity, maybe ... hm ... what could we do? What could we do?

2008/05/14

Not exactly rich

Rich, dark, coffee beans finely ground.

Check!

Filter in filter holder.

Check!

Water in water reservoir.

Check!

Pot under filter.

Check!

Machine on.

Check!

Hmmm... coffee seems a little weak. Clear, even.

Oooohhhh.... Put the coffee grounds INTO the filter and THEN turn on the machine .... oh I get it.

Someone needs to bring me my coffee before I make my coffee in the morning.

2008/05/13

There is still beauty

The news stories and the images coming from Myanmar and from China are so heartbreaking right now. I need to say something - to object - to help - to fix it -- and I want to admire the work being done to bring relief and humanitarian aid. Great sorrow and loss bring the great heroes into the word. I know too, today, as I see the images and hear the voices of the villagers trailing into the urban areas in search of things like food and water and medical care, that I am blessed and happy and that I have a very beautiful life.

Below is a repost of a response I had to a choir last fall. Today I remind myself - There Is Still Beauty. And we do well to breathe it in.

~~~

Last night the Oregon Chorale did a benefit concert at our parish. The all a cappella selection of music was exquisite, and exquisitely done, but I was not a regular member of the audience for this. I was in the narthex, listening through the barrier of the windows and doors. I could hear it, but I could not hear all the infinitesimally small nuances of that very acoustically live space. There was a damper between me and the sound. I sat in its shadow to listen.

And so, instead of immersion, there was a distance. And in that distance there was awareness of all that was not the music.

Outside the building, people walked by, skateboarded by, and drove by in the street. I could hear snippets of conversation and the noise of the bus at the stop.

And then, from inside myself, in the distance between my thoughts and the music, came the words from the end of "prayers before Mass" - unbidden came the thought, "heal the anguish of the world."

Anguish? In the midst of that achingly beautiful music, the word "anguish" bubbles up from inside?

Perhaps it is my age - or the season of unseen warfare - or the fact that our children are not children and are beginning their adult lives in earnest now, and the Mom Reflex is at full alert. Whatever it is, the anguish of the world does not hide from me right now. Darfour, and Pakistan, and beatings and brutality and anguish - those things are in this world, and they are still there, even when I do not think about them in my safe and comfortable life.

But there is music too.

That's what came into my thoughts last night. The choir's closely articulated harmony soaked into the bricks of the walls and pillars, and reverberated off the frescoes and stained glass. This thing of auditory glory is in the same world with pain and hatred.

There are willfully stupid people who listen only to their own reactions - who never get a broader perspective because they energetically refuse all perspectives but their own. Racism and greed and dominations in the name of self - these things are ever with us.

But so is song.

Usually we rich, fat, safe, swaggering Americans say this the other way round. We must feel a bit guilty or we are unable to just say "thank you" for all the blessings of this life. Whatever the cause, we say "yes, there is this good thing, but think about the people who have less than we do." All of us talk like this. It seems to make us feel better to end with the thing that is not the blessing.

So my thoughts feel a bit subversive. But I can't ignore them. During the music last night, in the dark and chill of a November evening, with the music soaring into the clerestory and the careless laughter and honking horns on the doorstep, the order was reversed. The presence of the eternal Good kept finishing the sentence.

Heal the anguish of the world; there is music.

Somewhere right now, some unspeakable act of cruelty is happening. It's true. I know it's true. But there is beauty. Somewhere right now there is a choir with voices raised in song. Yes, somewhere there is a nasty argument over a petty bit of transient power. But there is also a child practicing the violin. There is a dance. There is an embrace.

Yes, two and three is five; but it is also true that three and two is five. The world holds both at once. Not later. Not eventually. Not when all is weighed in the balance and Good ultimately overcomes. Here. Now. There is beauty.

Love is all around, but hatred is still with us.

Anguish breaks the world, but there is beauty.

This is the thought the choir brought me. Heal the anguish of the world; there is beauty. Beauty is here. Right now. Listen.

Breathing In

This morning my kitchen was barely light when I came into it. Sleeping like a rock used to be one of my best things. Apparently my new thing is waking as the sun does. Perhaps it was the lack of light that caused me to notice it so strongly. The lilacs. The smell of the lilacs. The lilacs on top of the refrigerator have dropped their scent into the kitchen all night long, and they smell like the outdoors, and spring's rain, and the cool of the day. They fill my head and the scent runs down my arms and drips off the tips of my fingers. This morning I stood in here and breathed it in until I was dizzy with it.

Now, a couple of hours later, I've sent my husband off to conquer the world again today, and the peelings from the orange I cut up for his salad are on the cutting board in the middle of the room, combining the sweet acid of orange smell with the deep water of the lilac smell. It's enough to knock me silly.

I've made coffee in here this morning too. Good coffee. Deep, dark, rich, fresh, gorgeous coffee, ground into the morning in a fine dust, and added to the kitchen's scents. The undertone of every morning. The outline filled in today with the sharpness of a sweet orange and the liquid of a lilac.

This morning it is good to breathe in.

2008/05/12

Happy today


They say the heat will be quite strong this weekend. When it gets here, the lilacs and I will both wilt a bit. But today .... ah! Today we are both very happy. (I wish the computer had smellavision.)

I really love lilacs.

I'm glad Aunt Nita liked them too.

Know what week this is? (Just in case you didn't know)

Just thought I'd mention it. It's all week too -- so -- read a good book lately? A good children's book? Care to share?

I've discovered a few gems whilst shelving at the library. And I've noticed something. There are a few (here to be unnamed) employees who canNOT be trusted to shelve in the E books. They are very likely to be found over in front of the shelves - ages and ages after they went over there - sitting or lying about on the floor - READING the things they're supposed to be shelving - or the one they had to move in order to shelve the one from the cart. They're not the least bit ashamed of themselves either. The employees, I mean. Carts and books are never ashamed of themselves.

Some I simply must add to my own collection are:

ALL the Fancy Nancy books!

The rest of the Harry Potter books

Everything by Jan Brett (I really don't know why the only one I've got is The Mitten)

But mostly ... well, it's just all about Fancy Nancy. I asked for the complete set for my birthday this year. Yes, I know how old I'm going to be, thank you very much.

What are your favorites?