Choosing again

One of the blogs I keep in my reader had this poem posted today, and honestly, I do not know a better one for the beginning of a new calendar year.

The Wild Rose
by Wendell Berry

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart.

Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

That's it, really. "Choosing again what I chose before" and being able to feel in my bones and skin that this is the path for me. Sensing in the soles of my feet that I am walking on ground that wants me here, and seeing with my eyes and breathing deeply into my body the air of a place that knows and loves me as much as I do it.

In this year of our Lord, two thousand and ten, I turned fifty years old. I have been on my path for half a century. Every time I say this fact, I try very very hard to say it soberly. But I can't! It makes me laugh! The fact that I am fifty years old makes me want to throw my arms in the air, and reach into the vastness of space, and laugh so loudly that the echo comes back to me from the mountains on the other side of the frozen Gorge I can see from here, where I am, indoors, and in my own living room (throwing my arms in the air, and laughing). What a glorious and marvelous thing it is to be so ridiculously old, and so hilariously young at the same time. And I'm not the only one to be nuts in this way.

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming... suddenly you find - at the age of 50, say - that a whole new life has opened before you.
Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976)

See? Me and Agatha. Aware of a second blooming.

Now, I still have more in common with the child playing on the floor than I do with the incessantly talking heads on the television (now more than ever, since the apparent fashion du jour is a combination of tortured colloquialisms and Barbie and Ken hairstyles on people too young to know what they're talking about). But I know I'm not a kid anymore, and I'm finally free from wanting to be.

And I do not want to be a teenager either.

Or a twenty something, or a thirty something, no, nor even a forty something.

Or a superhero.

I do not want to be a spy.

I do not want to eat meat pie.

My kids are grown and I am too,

And I know what I want to do.

I do not want to go back there,

I even like my graying hair.

It's true! It's as if I curled up with a book when I was about 10 years old, entered the magic palace inside the fairy tales pages, and fought the wicked stepmothers and monsters, and broke the spells, and got imprisoned and freed over and over again ... and while I was in there, even though I didn't even realize it at the time, I drank the elixir of radical acceptance. I have swallowed the cupful of Goodlife. I am full of the light-bearing liquid of Yes.

And the funniest part of the whole thing is that this ridiculous surefooted sensation probably looks to the rest of the world like the most wandering, goofy, purposeless saunter anyone ever took. It couldn't be any further from a "purpose driven" life if I were -- well, if I were still a child, curled up with a good book. This is not "the secret," and it's not the "power of positive thinking." I'm not reciting affirmations to myself either, although that can be a good tool to use. I haven't climbed a corporate ladder, or even bothered about an uninterrupted employment history, for that matter. My life has often looked (especially to the more - uh - linear people who've had opinions) like Billy's shortcut home from school. Trajectory, it is not.

But life, it is. It's not "all good," but it's also not nearly as distracted as it looks. This is my path. Mary Catherine Bateson is right. Life is Improv. It's freestyle, even if there are compulsory events. The artistic merits weigh at least as much as the technical ones, and I don't care any more if the judge with the unibrow is glowering at me. In fact, I think I just might twirl on over there and blow her a kiss.

Goodbye, 2010. And thanks.


Standing Close By

It's the twenty-third of December. It's my grandpa's birthday. Last year, I found a YouTube recording of I Jesu Navn, and the year before that I had just discovered the fire and ice of the Trio Mediaeval. This year, a friend asked me about Grandpa Les, and I told her that he was the grandfather who cried (for happiness) at my wedding, and who told me when I was a girl that I had beautiful handwriting, and that the reason his tie was colored like that was because he had once stood too close to a rainbow.

I typed those words to my friend - that my grandpa told me he had once stood too close to a rainbow - and I started to cry. I miss him, of course, but not in any regretful way. I miss my girlhood, too. And I grew up, and he passed on, and that it as it should be, and that is a life I love, and today - on December 23rd, Grandpa Les is standing close by, as much a part of my girlhood and my selfhood as my handwriting.

He gave me my first roller skates, and the joy of roller skating on a summer afternoon is the joy of a granddaughter. He built us our stilts, too - and the thrill of the danger and the height and the practice and the sound of the butt ends of 2x2's on the sidewalk are the gifts of a grandfather. My cedar chest was built by his hands. My Norse identity was offered to me by his grin.

The taste of buttered and sugared lefse, rolled up into a tube and always slightly messy to eat, and the taste of Kringla, soaked in melted butter out of the oven, kept nice and cool between the sheets of waxed paper inside grandma's wooden container and then spread with more butter by the uncles when they finally got some, and the taste of blue cheese salad dressing on iceberg lettuce ... these are the flavors that came to me from my Norwegian grandfather.

Today, in this December after my girlhood and before my own grandmothering, Grandpa Les is as near to me as a rainbow and that's why my life is colored this way.


All Good

In the midst of the last week before Christmas, a list of new things I can welcome with joy:

  • Continued production of candelabra candles from IKEA, candles I use in this flat black metal candelabra from Michaelmas until Easter
  • Adult children who bring presents and food and things like that to the party, making it possible to spread out the responsibilities of party-making -- and many hands make light work
  • Readiness for the first year of the grownup tradition of real egg nog to be served to arriving adults
  • Tiny little class holders that perfectly fit the tiny little "Glimma" tea lights from IKEA, and can be scattered throughout ... well, throughout everything everywhere
  • An old headboard, discovered in one of the garages (or maybe the barn), once owned by and probably made by the same great-grandpa who built this house, ready to be cleaned up and brought into our freshly painted bedroom in time for Christmas
All in all, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here, and even though it looks a little different from any of the others, I think I kinda like it. Hmmmm... yes .... I like it.


Linen Closet

This isn't a picture of the linen closet in the house where I grew up, but the closet in the picture is definitely of the era. It's the same idea.

Have you ever lived in a house with cupboards in the walls? We had one upstairs that had the sheets and blankets and towels and things in it. Our linen closet was on one side of the center square of space on the second floor of the square house. The bedrooms were ringed around it.

Across that little center room of the second floor of the house was the cupboard where we kept the vacuum cleaner, and next to that was the door that opened to the dark stairs that went up to the attic.

The stairs that came up through the middle of the house from the first floor opened into this space, and so we had to pass through this center square whenever we went to our rooms, or to the upstairs bathroom, or to the attic.

Downstairs there was another cupboard in the wall, near the kitchen, in what we called "the playroom." That cupboard was also in the center of the house, on the main floor. It butted against the back wall of the front coat closet in the entry hall, across from the front door. That deep, deep front closet reached under the stairs at the back, where it gathered old coats and mittens into its belly, and gave us a good place to hide in a game of hide-and-seek. There was one long winter and slow spring when opening that closet would show you the box - right at the front - under the coats hanging on the rod - the box that contained my new roller skates. Grandpa Les gave them to me for Christmas, and oh, it took so long for spring to arrive so I could go outside and skate on the sidewalks! (Mom wasn't all that tolerant of indoor roller skating for some reason.)

For me, a home is a place you go into for shelter. Within the shelter - at its center - there are stairs to go up or down, and in that center space, in and under and near the stairs, there is a cupboard in the wall. In the cupboard are clothes for the beds, or favorite puzzles, or vacuum cleaners sitting like fat pigs with hoses extending from their noses and metal tubes leaning near them against the closet walls.

Recently, I've realized that this is not only a description of the house where I became a person, but it is a description of me as well. I wonder ... are we all shaped by our homes in this way?

I don't want to live a life open to the street, for instance. Our house was above the street, and our folks removed the stairs that once led up from the sidewalk (which I would keep), and so it was necessary to walk up the driveway to the front porch steps and then up to the door. That's the right amount of privacy for me. I want a public face exposed to the world, and also a separation, but with a way through so that I can go out and come in when I want to.

It was a "single-family" dwelling, and I don't like apartment living. I also don't like too much time spent too near to too many people, and have a few close friends even though I'm hospitable to many in my life.

We invited people over, and my parents still love to invite people over, and I wonder ... all of those nights when I was up in my room, listening to the sounds of grownups together downstairs in that house ... did that form in me my deeply abiding longing for the writerly life of observation more highly valued than participation?

Lots of things about that house seem to me like pieces of myself. Today, I do not know why, it's the linen closet that pulls and draws me. I remember that I used open the doors to stand in front of it. Sometimes I would pull boxes down from the deep, top shelves and open the boxes to see what was in them. Photos, sometimes. Mementos. Bits and pieces of gift-giving or vacation-taking, hidden here. Baby books and a box of buttons. The things to be found inside a closet which is inside the middle of the inside of our house ... they were not hidden. But I had to go looking for them to find them.


The Thermodynamics of Family

In Thermodynamics, a closed system can exchange heat and work (for example, energy), but not matter, with its surroundings. In contrast, an isolated system cannot exchange any of heat, work, or matter with the surroundings, while an open system can exchange all of heat, work and matter. For a simple system, with only one type of particle (atom or molecule), a closed system amounts to a constant number of particles.

That's what wikipedia says.

And what I say is this.

I used to be the mom in a closed and simple system. We had a constant number of particles (five). We kept things closed, but not isolated, and simple for the sake of strength. Little particles do better when not disturbed by overwhelming matter from their surroundings, and so all our heat and work had limits. Overwhelm was something I was pretty vigilant about.

We even homeschooled our kids - but we rejected the isolated system. This is the "homier than thou" homeschooler type who grinds her own wheat for making her own bread (and buys the wheat from a Good Christian, who probably also homeschools), has all her babies at home, and has church at home too, with all the anachronistically dressed children sitting straight and tall while they participate with a whole heart and a willing spirit. (feel a little ill yet? ... you should ...) We wanted our kids introduced to the wide world - not kept away from it, in a sterilized place where no immune system can develop.

Get the idea? We parented consciously. There are at least as many ways to be a fully conscious parent as there are parents to be conscious, and we did it in our way, and we chose to be a closed but not isolated system while the three particles were developing.

But they are all developed now.

And they've blown apart my system!

I resent this!

I resent the blast of the brightest supernova ever, and I resent the flying particles and heat and light and matter and exchange with so unexpected a set of surroundings, and I resent the apparently endless Are You Kidding Me? moments!!

I liked the closed system, okay?

I liked it.

There is a theory that at the beginning of the universe, the blast of heat and matter spun the solar system into place. This, so goes the theory, is how the earth spun about, like a drop flung from a hot spoon of boiling sugar accidentally dropped off the stove, and in its perfect distance from the heat source of our sun, and after a few little scrap meteors crashed into it and broke up the surface and put the right minerals into the shell, we had a fertile planet.

I hope I put all the things they'll need into the three particles, but in any case, they're on their own now. The spoon has dropped, and the drops are flung, and what they make of themselves is up to them now. But in the meantime, I seem to be living in a permanent meteor shower, and the novelty is wearing off.

Is there hope of a new, closed, stable solar system for spent Big Bangs, I wonder?