You've been erased - probably - maybe - well, it depends

I can't help it. Eraser and True Lies (and all of the Die Hard movies - yes, all of them) - I love them. I get in a mood to bash up some bad guys, and I put the disk in (and I set up the ironing board and get out the shirts or the altar linens), and Arnold or Bruce or someone like that just clears 'em all outa there. And no mess for me to clean up afterwards! It's a pretty good deal, I think.

Somewhere near the center of my chest and up in my neck and shoulders, bashing up the bad guys is connected to having a good clear-out. That's what Jean calls it in As Time Goes By. "A good clear-out." From under the stairs, from the back of the cupboards and the closets ... a good clear-out for donating things or taking them to the country house or throwing them away entirely. A good clear-out feels very action heroey to me.

And so, apparently, does moving all my RSS feeds to a new reader. Who are all these people I've been "following?" Why did I put that one in there? Oh, good grief. I haven't looked at that in ages! ... or, sometimes, Awwww.... I'd forgotten about that one. I wonder why he's not posted in a long time.

But one thing about a good clear-out (or thinning the carrots in the garden, callously discarding so many tiny orange strands, playing God like that ...) one thing about a good clear-out is the moments of pulse-quickening, "You've been erased." You, Mr. Snarkyman. The tools of irony, wit, and even bare-knuckle sarcasm -- you're not up to it. You're a whiner. You've been erased. Oh, my. This woman. I'd forgotten about her. No wonder I never follow that link and look at her page. That level of intensity over sock drawers and flea market finds ... no thanks. It's just not going to happen. Some stuff goes away because, like the denim jumper, it's just not me anymore. And some stuff goes away because I'm tired of averting my eyes. Erased. You're not coming to the new reader, you ... You've been erased.

But there's another thing about a good clear-out. It's the reason I used to put money in my books at school (which turned out to be a bad idea, since I could never remember which books), and it's the reason putting away the holiday decorations between Epiphany and Advent II or III is better than Christmas in July. There's the thrill of re-discovery.

In my old web crawler, under the headings of Books and Writers, or Homeschoolers (the two largest categories in my list) are a few real gems. "Families" and "Folks" are pretty promising boxes to sort through as well. It's reassuring. Restorative, even. It's an exercise in appreciation of the friends and family and peers and admirable people that surround me - people to whom I want to measure up - people who help me remember to laugh or to rewrite my work or to say thank you.

No, I'm not going to share my list. I won't say who's being erased. But you? Have I erased you? Probably not. If you read this blog, you're probably going into the witness protection program. I'll know where you are. Me 'n' Arnold 'n' Bruce. We only shoot the bad guys.


Totalitarian regimes ... like dormant recessive genes ... waiting to flare up at any time

Wrong in a thousand ways, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves, and it has to stop. Creating horrors to fix problems isn't okay.

Feel a Thought

Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.
E. Y. Harburg

Even if music's not really your thing, this little tiny lesson sort of interview about a song you've heard a thousand times will be fascinating. And if you're a song writer, you should memorize it.



All out of proportion to the number of years and the distance in the past, today, with the rain and receding colors of fall, come all the feelings of being separated from the man I wanted to marry -- a long time ago -- a lifetime of raising a family together has come and gone since then, and yet here they are.

All of these feelings, just as if I'd never left them. Just as if we'd never married, or moved so many times, or seen each other through the fears of serious illness or the fears about our children -- just as if we'd never moved here, to where his great grandfather lived with his own wife and six children -- just as if we were still young, and still separated and still trying not to breathe deeply enough to feel the panic of our separation.

Odd. I wonder why certain emotional seasons never lose their intensity. And I wonder what perverse little sprite it is that devilishly dances to the gates and lets the memories flood back, and why the memories are scenes or feelings or moments, and not narratives. I remember the stifling feeling pressing into my chest whenever I thought of the distance between Seattle and Pensacola. I remember the desolation of hanging up the phone after a weekly phone call (in the days before cell phones and email and facebook and blogs and unlimited long distance). I remember barely being able to breathe as the plane carried me out of the Pacific Northwest's air space ... and breathing faster and faster as another plane carried me back into it months later.

One winter, on my way into the Portland airport in a plane full of college students and military personnel, the rain started pelting the windows of the cabin, and everyone stopped talking. The stillness vibrated for a moment, and someone on the other side of the double-aisled, fat-bodied plane breathed out, "It's raining!" Only someone from our wet wet world would ever say that with so much relief and longing ... and everyone laughed.

I was only gone for four school years, and I was only leaving and then waiting to come home to my man for three of those years, and those years were nearly three decades ago, and yet the rain and the cool air ... and maybe my reading for school now and my grappling with ideas of the sort my man used to talk to me about back then ... whoever or whatever has done it ... I remember it again.

To paraphrase Mary Catherine Bateson, we're still us. We're the us we've been becoming for all these years. Today I remember how we started, and it makes me cry a few of those ancient tears.



Whaddaya think? Once a teacher always a teacher? Once an eight-year-old always an eight-year-old? Whatever it is, I have wanted and wanted and wanted a way to keep track of my always too-flexible tasks and obligations and goals.

You know the recommendation, right? Everyone says it. Keep a record. Keep a food diary. Keep an exercise log. Keep a calendar. Keep a schedule.

(groan ...)

It's not just this quarter's online course (no regular hours for study, but deadlines for assignments) and the goals of other outside work for school, together with sub hours at the library (ditto the irregular schedule) ... it's not just the desire to keep track of simple things like vitamins and exercise (seriously - I forget to eat) ... it's not even the writerly bewilderment that makes me sing, "Where did the ideas go, Long time pa-a-sing? Where did the ideas go? I used to know."

It's everything. It's the fact that a lot of my life proceeds by the clock, but on top of the clock's ticking there is a flux that works like a tide with no table. And I am tired of getting a mouthful of water and a tangle of weeds wrapped around my ankles every time things shift again.

So ... there it is. (You can click on it to make it big, right?) I saw someone else's and I made one for myself. There are no clock times on this Habit Keeper. It's not about when I do this stuff. It's about doing it at all. I've written my various activities (not the specifics of how or when - just the names of the things I do) across the top, in those slanty slots, and there are only four blank places for things I didn't think of today. ALL of the things are things I've obligated myself to do, and I know I won't get to each one of them every day. But at least this way, when I check something off, I'll have some sort of record of what on earth I'm doing with my time.

All it's going to take now is remembering to make the mark on the page.

Word Search

Dear David Shields (1) has done the darn'dest thing
and made me look at words and how they are
at random but we know nothing
is random

About a word search.
And I never search a word.
I search words.
I search sentences.
I search phrases and authors and names and
ideas search
for meaning and a context.

Try "feeling" "feeling return" try
"waiting for the feeling to return."

I leaned into the wall, cradling my arm, waiting for the feeling to return, wondering if I could find my gun in the dark, wondering if I had time. ... (2)
And then it was all over and I was back home in Las Vegas, waiting for the feeling to return to my fingers. That's when I had an opportunity to reflect (3)
Exhausted, he rested a moment leaning against Prince waiting for the feeling to return to his legs. Everything was happening so fast. (4)

The feeling returns eventually.
I know the feeling returns because
I feel it.

I'm still waiting for the feeling to return and the rest of the toenail to fall off. I think she did it on purpose, too. (5) (but this one is about a goat, I think -- this is not a horror film)
our love had grown stronger into the distance of the wide sky sent up thankful for the day waiting for the feeling to return (6) (people love. They don't seem to be able to stop themselves.)
Squall said nothing, but exhaled, watching his breath dissolve into the air, and waiting for the feeling to return to his limbs. (7) (Squall a character. A final fantasy.)

Is there such a thing as the sense of words
I wonder
and I search.
I do a word search but I do not
search words.
I wonder when the feeling will return.

(Google searching made this poem. Credits are the following:
(1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7))



I didn't think she meant it. I didn't think my mom was really irritated at my desire to be left alone with a book. She was, though. She thought this was the height of hostile, rejecting, anti-social behavior. She did not like it one bit.

But who would be irritated with a reader? There are a lot of things a person could interrupt in this house, and the interrupted person would simply have to put up with it - nicely, too! But reading? Huh-uh. Reading and movie-watching. "Don't bug me." It's very very very rude in this house to interrupt a reader or movie watcher.

I'm re-reading In This House of Brede. I've put one of these on hold at Powell's because they had it for a good price in this edition, which is the edition I got from the library last week. I'll pick up my own copy tomorrow. I'm a fully growed woman with fully growed kids, and it's the middle of the day on a Saturday, and I'm not showered and dressed. I've been reading. (Reading, and doing course work, and reading, and talking to friends, and reading and reading and reading, and placing a book on hold, and reading. Now I'm so good at the reading that interruptions don't pop my bubble.)

But now I wonder ... I've resurfaced for awhile - there's stuff I have to do today. And I recognize the air around me as my reading bubble. The atmosphere of the book encompasses me, and it will stay with me like this while I'm reading the book. Next up, all those difficult reads for my Literature of Resistance course - and I'm resisting starting them - it's not going to be a nice atmosphere to live in. This is what reading does for me, and this is what reading does to me, and this is why my mother resented it when I "read too much" as a kid. Reading puts me into another place entirely, and right now I only look like I'm here in this room, typing on this keyboard.

And here's the problem.

Writing does it to me too. Now that I've gotten almost as good at writing as I am at reading, whatever I'm writing is strong enough to make an atmosphere of its own. A weather pattern. A season. Temperature and precipitation and light and dark and wind and pressure.

And so I suspect that my resistance to the writing I love just might be a resistance to barometric pressure changes. When a writer goes inside, deep inside where the real writing is ... it's a long trip back, and it's never to where she started from.


And speaking of planning ...

I have started to gather up composition notebooks of all different kinds. (I have one from Powell's that's called a "Decomposition Book" because it's from recycled materials. hahaha!) One notebook is for ideas. One is for notes from all day, all the time, different places, heaps of writing fodder. One is for keeping random ideas written down for later. One is for the ongoing religious education curriculum I'm writing. One is even for keeping track of all the other notebooks!

And no, I'm not doing it electronically. Here's why.

Accessibility: electricity quits sometimes, computers crash, hard drives or software or mother boards or processors or whatever else is in one of these things stops working, and I never ever know why - nor do I have any desire to add computer programming, maintenance, or repair to my list of things to pay attention to.

Tactile: if I don't use my body to interact with my art (my writing and my projects), I lose my connection to it.

Lined, and sewn: Little Miss Magical World from the previous post is married to Mr. You're A Writer Act Like One ... and I work with him at the library sometimes, and he's the one that told me these this. If you keep your notes on unlined paper, you won't want to look at them in the future because it's too hard to read stuff not lined up properly. And if you used notebooks with staples or glue, over time (especially here in the rain forest) you'll have rust or disintegration. So ... lined, and sewn.

Cheap: turns out that writing things into a book that is too expensive or precious stops me from just writing. Notebooks are for notes, not for posterity. That makes it easier to fill them.

Matching bindings: I know - silly, right? But if all the notebooks have a cloth tape spine, and they're all about the same size, then they can line up on my desk, or stack nice and neat, and I can write with a white pen (which I need to find - so far, I haven't seen one I could use) to identify them, and they're handy and useful and neat and attractive and inviting.

I really need a good white pen.

Permaculture Brain

(warning: totally internal dialog ahead)

The tune and the song keep looping in my brain.

This is the way we wash our clothes
wash our clothes
wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes
early in the morning!

This is the way we plan our life
plan our life
plan our life
This is the way we plan our life
early in the morning!

Yesterday, a friend who's studying permaculture came here to our place to walk around in the field and yard and garden and everywhere, to talk to me about possibilities and plans and let me know what to do next. She's a published author, married to a published author, and so, of course, a thought occurred, and I concurred, and we will probably write about this entire thing, from its present wildness to its conclusive sustainability and joyful restoration. We'll take pictures and talk about the folklore of the plants and the ways in which we can work with the natural world instead of trying to force it to be something it is not. Comfrey under the orchard trees, and many kinds of trees instead of a monoculture in the orchard. Carrots Love Tomatoes, after all. Might as well admit to nature's power and work with it, right? We can't beat it. It hurts us and it to try. Joining it is better.

As we were talking about all of this, she asked me about the way I come at a project, and said she feels a need for "all" of the facts before she can move - but she's letting go of that perceived need because permaculture is so huge that there's no way to do it! (hahaha! Nothing like a little dose of impossibility to make us stop a behavior, eh?) And I knew just what she meant. It's a habit I've been working on for awhile now, too. There may be wisdom in "look before you leap," but eventually a person setting out on an adventure has to leap, even if the statistics regarding leaping might not be fully memorized, nor the future fully imagined or pre-recorded. After awhile, you just gotta jump if you're ever going to do a thing. And there is also wisdom in knowing that "he who hesitates is lost."

(This is the sort of discussion that happens when Little Miss Huge Ideas plans a landscape with Little Miss Magical World, and neither can stop being a writer looking for the words.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about the way to approach a task - or a life, for that matter. My life. I've realized that I need the Macro-Plan first. Or, that I want it. I don't always get it, sometimes I have to move into the job anyway, but I hate like poison to work that way. I want the zoomed-out map, and I want the ability to zoom in on the particulars. I want the atlas and the guide to the local bacteria. Both, and the movement between them. That's how my brain works.

Before I could start on our landscape here, I needed a way to plan for the whole thing. For me, the plans morph along the way. That's okay. The thing's in motion, or it's dead - so movement and change are good things. But I really must have the Macro-View in my head - and on paper, or else the apparent (to me) futility of working against an ultimately more powerful Reality pulls all the wind out of my sails and makes me sadder than sad. Futility demoralizes me.

Some folks like to complete tasks. Some folks like to think up Ideas. I prefer Ideas to tasks (and now note that I've even capitalized the word Ideas, and evidently do not consider tasks to be a proper noun) but I know I need to be able to move between Ideas and tasks, or I find it very difficult to move at all. After yesterday's first planning meeting for our house inside our yard inside our fields inside our woods (a meeting of two of the most non-task-oriented brains in Skamania county), I think the name of this sort of thinking is Permaculture.


The Siren Call of Easier

Remember this scene from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? The Sirens? So pretty. So ready to "love 'em up" - so ready to delay and stop and drink and slow and distract ... their calls are oh, so attractive - so hard to resist.

The guys were trying to get somewhere. They had stuff to do. They had a treasure to get to before the flood came and swept it away forever. And along the way, they heard the Sirens.

I hear them too.

I think I passed the place where two roads diverge in a yellow wood. I think that fork in the road was several miles back, and I'm already on the road less traveled by.

I decided to go to school, for one thing. And then I decided to create an interdisciplinary degree instead of staying within a discipline. I decided to go back to work - but not because we needed the money (we did - we do). I wanted to work at the library again. I have let everyone know I'm doing it, and I have recruited cohorts to help, and instead of keeping or using the curriculum available now (which is seriously inadequate for the current situations), I have decided to design and write a three, morphing into nine, morphing into 12-year religious education curriculum that I hope will be useful long after my body has returned to dust. The road more traveled by? I can't even remember where the turn-off was.

Last week, when Mary Catherine Bateson was speaking at her Marylhurst stop on the tour, I watched her and listened to the main points - but I also heard her humor and I heard her being a good sport about the stuff we can all complain about.

An aging body does have limits, after all. The woman's not delusional. She's aware that, at seventy, she cannot stand for very long at a time, for instance. So ... what did she do about it? She perched like a 20-year-old college student, and sat on a table! She's not tall. Her feet didn't touch the floor while she sat there - but she did swing them back and forth a bit. Bateson is not young - but she's not "old" either. Her road has been one of the less-traveled-by roads, that's for sure. And today I wonder what her Sirens have sung to her during her life. I wonder if she can still hear them, and if she would sometimes rather have a less profound life. I wonder if she still wonders if easier would have been nicer.

I've been listening to the people my age and older, and I've been hearing something lately. There are two kinds of people after awhile, and they get more and more obvious. There's the more usual type - the type that always seems to be looking for something that's not this. The good old days or the way things used to be or the way (they thought) things were when they were growing up.

And then there's the type that does life the Bateson way, pursuing meaning and depth and conscious understanding and deliberate choices. This type is honest about challenges, but seems almost never to be ready to complain or whine or doom-say or fuss at life. This type finds things to smile about and approve of everywhere they go. They talk about what they enjoy. They laugh easily. They work hard to make things better, but they don't stop for very long to discuss how they, personally, feel about it all. They just get on with the work - and they know the old days were not something to romanticize and long for. More tolerant of ambivalence. More ready to work for the parts of life that matter.

My Sirens go mute when the voice of people like Bateson is in my ear. This morning, I wonder if she was ever tempted to stay home and watch Masterpiece Mystery instead of getting her books and working on her projects. I wonder if she kept her house better than I do, or if she was as distracted about it as I am. My Sirens are the voices of my peers from days gone by, and they have learned to harmonize with the voices in my present life, and the whole crooning chorus sings as I pass by the water. "Why must you do it the hard way? Why not rest? Why not stop? Be contented. Stay at home. Nest. You love to nest. Nest and write and calm down and stop working so hard. Just nest. Rest. Nest. Rest."

You know what irritates me about the really dangerous Sirens? They tell the truth. I do love to nest. In my own good old days, when the kids were small, we all cleaned up around here together. I taught math, and dictation, and history, and nesting. They can cook, and they can clean (when they want to), and they know how to do their laundry, and they like the Christmas decorations to go up. And now - now that they're off in their own lives and I need not be teaching math or nesting - if I were a person to do it, nesting and hostessing and staying home to write would be my best path. It's a true path for me. The Sirens know their music well.

But I can hear Bateson's voice, and it's getting stronger in my head. "More tolerant of ambivalence." "I'm still me - I am who I've been becoming my whole life." "Experience is the best teacher - but only if you do your homework." "Advocates for the future." We have longer, healthier, more active lives than ever before in human history, and the question before us is this: what are we going to do about it? With it? With this opportunity?

It feels like unnecessary difficulty in a lot of ways, but I will block my ears to the Sirens, and I will keep going. I turned fifty this year. That's how old Bateson was when she wrote Composing a Life. Now she's seventy, and she's written Composing a Further Life, to answer the questions. No ... to think about the questions. To posit some answers. To have the discussion. To wonder - in the deepest and wisest parts of our beings - what are we to do with this long life we're given? Evolution has granted our species a longer and longer period of time for reaching adulthood; active adulthood is so active that there is nearly no time for reflection, but we must make the time so that when we reach the second half of adulthood we are ready for it; and now we are being granted elder years like never before.

My sirens want me to want an olden days that, in truth, I always found slightly constraining. For a couple of decades I could see this freedom up ahead, and I tried to get ready for it. And now it is time. This is the year I begin composing a further life. Rest, in full measure. Reflection, in abundance. Activity to its fullest potential. Expansion beyond my expectations. It's not time yet for Easier.


Changing my mind about the kid in the principal's office

Last winter, during our annual trip out of town for walks and movies and relaxation at the coast, we watched the entire disc set of The Prisoner, and I figured out (again) that other people think I'm unmutual. I was bemused (again) at this notion, considering the strain of mental and emotional effort I have always, always expended trying as hard as I can to understand and be understood. It's hard to express how important this is to me - to understand and be understood. It's a need that flows from my sternum and from my lower back, and it has caused the deepest physical and psychic pain in my life when this need cannot be met. (yes, really)

I know, right? Weird. What's anyone else supposed to do with that level of intensity in one of their friends? What were all my friends and family supposed to do with that?

Mostly, people just love me anyway, and tolerate my relentless drive for clarity and understanding. Mostly, it's a good thing I married a man who would put up with such an intensity of endless conversations that start with my saying, "I don't understand this," and he will have the conversation with me for the thousandth time, parrying with my mind, refusing to give in just to make me leave it alone. (Thanks, honey. I think this has kept me out of both the loony bin and the pharmacy.)

See, back when I was a kid, I was never - no kidding, not one time - sent to the principal's office in school, except on errands, to deliver messages in the days before intercoms were ordinary, or to retrieve the naughty student and escort that student back to the ordered, stable, mutual and socially predictable classroom. The classic teacher's pet. The good child. The natural student, in fact so naturally at home in the classroom that I started studying my teachers for methods, pedagogy, and classroom management techniques at about the age of seven. When you're a kid, no one's really listening to the kinds of questions you're asking anyway, so no one thought my desire to understand and be understood was unmutual. I was just a kid - and when I didn't get real answers, I figured it was because I'd made an error in the way I asked the question. (yes, I really thought like that, even then) And the island was not such a bad place. If you grow up in a very mutual place, the fact of imprisonment does not fully impress itself on the mind until you've been a grownup for long enough to see people escape - or try to.

Is this too metaphorical? I will try to be understood. Here is what I mean.

The parents and teachers and babysitters and camp counselors and club leaders and recess monitors who surrounded me as I grew were all people who gave me the same set of rules for living. They really did love me, and I really did trust them, and because of this, I really did believe that the kid who got sent to the office was a kid who had done something immoral. Wrong. Bad. Naughty. I thought, I mean to say, that every rebel - every unmutual - was wrong. (yes, I really thought that)

And yet ...

There was a relative or two who hinted to me that beyond the walls and beaches of the island, there was a wider world. Sometimes the parent in some other household, or a teacher who didn't stay long, or even one of my peers would let me in on a reality I'd never imagined.

And now that I'm so old all of my own kids are grown, and I've seen many, many people younger than I am try to figure out how to avoid being unmutual, and I've learned about some huge ideas like "civil rights" and "racial equality" and "war crimes" being committed by our side.

If the sign says "Whites Only," but you drink from the fountain with your colored face, you have been unmutual. Uncooperative. But wrong? Not really.

If you're a child in a school, and you hit back when someone weak is being bullied, have you disobeyed the rules? Yes. Are you very, very likely to get into trouble for standing in the way of oppression? Yes. But have you done something wrong? Morally wrong? No. Sometimes the rules are wrong.

So now I've decided that sometimes, in fact, much more often than I knew, being unmutual is the best, more moral, most brave thing a person can do. And I've even changed my mind about the kids who got sent to the principal's office. I might finally be beginning to understand the difference between being cooperative and being good. Yes, really.