Wonderstruck by Odds and Ends

DSCF7871

I am surprised by how many sources of inspiration for writing exist. They are endless, in fact. My brain is like a Pavlovian dog: when the figurative bell of an idea rings, I have to write. I post many stories that are jump-started with a photo prompt. I see it and a story comes in full force. I write quickly; time vanishes. But there are other things that release words. Inspiration does its job, whether or not the outcome is acceptable or not.

I decided to share some of this process with you, kind reader. Here are some examples of inspiration, each of which has given rise to a sentence, paragraph or whole story or poem:

1-a client (I counseled folks) talking about his advanced cirrhosis
2-awakening to saws whirring and garbage trucks clunking
3-an aged woman with a black headscarf studying a bag of chili peppers
4-a stranger’s hands that looked like my deceased father’s
5-a photo of an Italian alley with laundry hanging outside a window
6-the various erratic rhythms of my heart
7-a mouse giving my calico cat an evening of comical chase
8-my cello, cracked and silent
9-the scents of daphne, moss, Shalimar
10-a rose gold ring in the gutter

Anything can be an excuse to write. Rain at three in the morning. A daughter’s wild hair. Ghosts felt in a hotel. A beetle; I am fascinated by bugs. Music, any. No matter the nudges, words choose me more often than I choose them. When I revise what has been written, I am conscientious about my choices, scrupulous enough to re-write many hours more than it took to first write a piece. But when I pick up my pen or pencil or pound away on a keyboard, something has struck me–moved, confounded, delighted, disturbed me. I might not be able to identify the sense or sensibility of it at first, but there it is. It is requiring presence of mind and response. I take its essence into me, examine its depths and breadth. Look for its wily ways. Seek the mystical moment. Feel shocked by dangerous emotions. Compelled by strangeness. But I rarely am empty of a desire to open myself to life, then to liberate language to speak of it.

I am in love. Stories beguile me.

My husband, Marc, and I both enjoy language that performs in many ways. When watching t.v. we sometimes entertain ourselves with deconstruction of a commercial message. Or we recreate them so they seem more interesting (to us) and have a laugh. I once wished I had gone into advertising; I am fascinated how words and images incite us to think and react–or not. Last night when we were watching television, an ad came on about medication. It was not remarkable. It was for pain relief. A colorful image flashed onto the screen that seemed to depict a cross section of a nerve but, then, maybe not.

“What was that supposed to be?” I asked Marc.

“Hmm, maybe a hip joint? Looked like sinew that felt really bad.”

“Maybe the inside of pain? Red and yellow. What were those cylindrical things? Rods or tunnels of pain? Darts bleeding pain…”

Marc nodded. “Someone standing on her pain? Creature of pain?”

“How about: You follow me right into my pain. Or, I can’t get away from you inside my pain. Gosh, sounding like a country song…”

“A little more ‘singer-songwriter’ to me… I like it.”

“Hmm, maybe something else.”

I grabbed my red notebook and started to write.

??????????

So, in the interest of sharing that writing foray, I have included what resulted. It’s the first page of a poem with few self-edits.This is what happened after a commercial for pain medication that targeted people with chronic pain. Is it about physical or emotional pain, the body or a relationship? It is just an exercise; it may lead to something good, at least a few sentences. It was fun and took a simple idea to an extreme, which can lead to a mess of nothing worth keeping. Still, writing anything at all counts; it is practice. I wrote about fifteen minutes, non-stop. It was not what I might have predicted. I am a writer and we first write without restraint, hoping a phrase or two sings. You never know until you set it down on paper (of one sort or another).

You follow me to the inside of my pain.
I cannot lose you, not even in
the darkest well of this hurt.
My pain is damaged by your hands and face,
your thieving words  a terrible echo.
My pain is papered with your name.
You are the cruel architect of a refuge
my pain has sought for only rest. 
But it is inhabited by your acts of unkindness.
I know now you cannot find your way

back to the hallowed ground,
that small dominion of the humble
where the loving become beloved.
What will be the apex of your life
as you leave this place where
you once lay down your weaknesses?
Perhaps you are sinking into
the vortex of a soul that’s forgotten
its function, its blameless shape.

What is left you, in this ending?
The pain you make has left a
widening wake and still, you float.
You cannot even be a stone;
a stone has a history
of a life lived long and well.
No, you somehow slip the bonds
of devotion like a leaf abandons the branch,
then goes where it will.

You come here where there is no room.

I breathe an incendiary pain,
mind creased with memories,
hands full of ash,
my heart flattened to the wall
when once it filled the sky.
This is a point of no return, and
in a blink of power who I was
is gone and I become someone with
no good name. Senseless. Transparent.
Riven with grief,
inside the bone and blood of me,
undefended and indefensible.

But now with your stamp upon it,
this pain is no longer recognized,
no longer welcome;
I will not claim it if you  must
set the seal of your denial here.
Then it becomes yours to ruin,
to own or upend.
Take as you take, without guilt.
I leave this rich ache of pain
for another, a greater world.

I am moving my heart into the universe:
you cannot find me in your state.
In the interior of my living
pain will not want to speak of you,
I will travel past the vastness of it.
There will not be one corner
left for you.

??????????DSCN1962

Anita’s Busker

Pic of busker-

“Well, there you go! You never know who you’ll bump into. See that guy over there? The busker. Blue shirt and sharp little cap? I knew him once. Yeah. He played around. Anywhere there was jazz of some sort, he’d hang around the edges, inching his way in so that by the end of the night he’d be sitting in. You know, when everyone else left and the real music started up. I wonder what happened to him?”

Anita pulled her sweater close around her. It was sunnier than it had been in days. She and Chilla met at the park on Saturdays. Chilla brought the donuts, Anita brought the coffee.

“I might know him,” Chilla said, mouth full, lips rimmed with powdered sugar. He ducked when she tried to wipe it off.

“Naw, you don’t  know this one. Right before your time. You came- when? Nineteen seventy-nine? This was when I was just twenty-two. When I was starting to make money. I was with Zero to Ninety. We’d made our first record and I was busy. Making the rounds, getting into good joints like suddenly we were something hot. Always hot, always something. Took some folks off guard but I had it goin’ on.”

Anita added more sugar to her coffee, blew across the top so that the steam floated away, ghostly feathers. She listened hard. The man sounded pretty good from where she sat under the aspens.

Chilla shrugged. “You had it, I had it, we were smart and bustin’ out. ‘Course I was particular about my tunes; you were about whatever you needed to be.”

She turned sharply to face him. “What do you mean? Versatility! I had chops. Fluidity. Yeah, sang anything you wanted.” She took a gulp, frowned. “How would you know, anyway? You were a drummer. You were so full of sound when we played together you could barely hear me.”

“Oh, I heard you. How could I not? ” He smiled. “Want a chocolate creme? Or maple log?”

Anita took a bite of the maple log, then watched the busker. Two couples had tossed money in the coffee can. She smiled. She liked that, liked him more. Coffee cans were hard to find these days. Maybe she should edge up closer, sit so she could catch all the notes. The tunes were a mix, old and newish. His shirt looked fresh; he was clean. Where had she last heard him play? Was it with Smithy Levin’s band? Forty years ago…

“You know I don’t think about all that much.” Chilla leaned against the bench, put his arm around Anita. “What’s the point? I can’t play, anymore. Even if I beat five minutes on one of my drums, the landlord would set me free in the world and no, don’t want that again. Did enough travelling once. I like my place. Like my peace.”

“So you say. I like remembering. Cheers me up. What’s going on now, Chilla? We watch the pigeons sneak up on every crumb. Watch the kiddies endanger their lives on monkey bars. You have your t.v. shows. I have my books and fish. Well, that’s nice. Oh and we work together–too much. I’m so glad we don’t live together, anymore. I can’t abide television on every day. What about more fun? Music was fun!”

He looked out over the street. Chilla didn’t care so dearly about music. It used him up, spit him out, so he was done. Maybe it was mutual. No matter. Anita knew all that but she had to make a fuss about the past, anyway. It was true she was good. She made the room hold its breath sometimes. She managed to acquire admirers faster than decent money. That came later, a good ten years of success. And then. A car accident, months in the hospital: her voice on its way out. She said she’d sue the EMTs who did the tracheotomy but, really? They saved her life. So he got it. She was still sorry it all ended. He’d played for thirty years but everything ended sooner or later.

Now they did alright with their part-time tax business. Musicians had a talent for math.

He brushed away the dusting of sugar on his lap and looked at her. Lines around her eyes and her deepening dimples made him want to plant a kiss on her cheek.

Anita raised her hand, as if reading his thoughts. “Wait, listen. That’s ‘Stairway to the Stars!’ Oh, I do love that old big band number.”

She sang along, the tune rolling out, voice rough but rich in timbre. Closing her eyes, her face tilted in amber sunlight, she was transported. Her long grey hair flew off her shoulders in the breeze, then caressed her face.

Chilla shut his eyes and was back in the blue smokey depths of Night Cap Lounge, his beats sure and deft, underscoring a grand design of sound. His hands were so limber they belonged to a superman. He felt the thrill of liberation. Anita was making a statement in a blue and silver dress, her voice grabbing them all with its saucy beauty. She was dangerous, that woman, her warmth a beacon, her vocalizing a bearer of adventurous messages. It was another world and it was theirs for the asking.

After the music stopped he sat still. The wind picked up; the trees answered each other with rattles and sighs. When his eyes blinked open he saw Anita walking rapidly toward the guitarist. He pushed off, eased onto his aching feet and followed.

“Why, Griff Baxter! Of course! I was saying to Chilla–I know that man. How long you been around here?”

They were chatting it up like old friends. Chilla held out his hand.

Griff looked uncomfortable. “Not so long. I was in Baden Baden the last big gig but then had some problems. The last three years, see, I’ve had two hip replacements and then medical bills came in and now, well, I’m staying with family, a daughter. Just for awhile, though.” He took off his cap and turned it in his hands, then resettled it with a nod.

Chilla felt embarrassed for the guy and looked down. Anita put her arm through the crook of Griff’s and grinned up at him with her toothsome smile.

“Well, imagine, you in our neighborhood. You ought to come by. We have two apartments, both in the same building. We could have dinner. I have a piano, old upright. We’d share a modest feast and then play a little.”

“Or not,”Chilla said. “I was a drummer.”

Griff laughed. “Or not. Yes, it’s not quite the same in a small room without the blue haze and ice cubes clinking and talk so thick we could barely hear ourselves sometimes. Right?”

“Oh,” Anita laughed, “we can light candles and make some drinks with little umbrellas and have a go at it.” Then she put her other arm through Chilla’s. “Or not.”

Griff chatted amiably and then took a request from passersby. Anita and Chilla left him their phone numbers and started home.

“Now who was he? I really don’t recall that name,” Chilla said. “Seems I’d know of him, Baden Baden and all.”

Anita shrugged. “Me, neither! He’s younger than I thought, but that face…had a head of wavy hair once, I think. Thing is, he sure can play, Chilla. Beautiful soul in those fingers, right? Just got to love how good music compliments a sunny day.”

The Lives that Live in Drawers

DSCN1796My desk is crammed with paper items and I immediately got sidetracked from my objective–finding a document. Each drawer I opened revealed sign posts to other times. I realized my life could be considerably pieced together by whomever rooted around in the piles. Two deep drawers contained unsorted cards, letters, drawing and photos from many decades.

I shuffled the photos. My children stared back at me, busy, happy, worried, loving, annoyed, surprised, sassy. All aged before my eyes. I pondered how time and experience had molded them.

All children are born into a voluminous web of longing, desire, and hopefully, love. Some are not born easily, on a doctor’s timetable and certainly not with all the world at their naked feet. Some leave the aqueous mysteries of womb with fierceness and some with solemnity. The unique creature each baby is peers out at us with surprise and acceptance: this is the place to be. For now.

I had been informed at age twenty-one, after my first marriage, that I had a very slim–emphasis on very–chance of pregnancy due to reproductive problems. My core trembled with distress. After a couple of weeks I decided it was alright. Maybe some women were not meant physically or psychically for mothering. I was working hard to heal from some life-altering events, so allowed this might be best. And I was in college, studying creative writing, painting, sociology, art history. The man I’d married was a sculptor, obtaining his Master’s degree. We were poor but there was much to aspire to and to accomplish.

But a prognosis such as I was given should note dramatic exceptions. I got pregnant and gave birth to three of five children and every time it seemed an astonishing thing. Maybe the doctor had been wrong. But her concern about the reliability of my reproductive capacities was not.

My children did not arrive in a timely fashion. They were born prematurely. The heftiest was five lbs. four oz. This was thirty-five to forty years ago, when premature babies were always considered very high risk. Interventions often seemed desperate and minimal. Very tiny newborns were placed in Isolettes–really, incubators for human babies– in the hope they would survive, then grow well enough. That they would have minimal damage internally and externally. The probabilities of things going wrong outweighed any optimism. 

There had been warnings of things going askew almost from the start with intermittent cramping with bleeding, warning of a disastrous early labor. At six and one half months, there was no stopping my body’s insistence on slipping Naomi into earth’s atmosphere.

It was a night of a swirling blizzard. I was cold, fearful and overcome with the beauty of snow. It took longer than I expected, but I hovered on the rim of consciousness after being administered an alcohol-solution IV (something no longer done) for hours along with other medications. The foot of my bed was raised up to  encourage her to stay tucked inside longer. Labor and childbirth were experienced as though underwater, from a distance. I wondered how she felt about it.

And then she arrived. My first daughter was born shining through her skin. Her luminescence overtook all and burst into my awareness as hope in the flesh. Her tiny voice ensued like the cry of a new bird, insistent, soft. It was a moment of reckoning. For the doctors: She breathes but how much longer? For us: She breathes and so she will carry on. Even as she was attached to a monitor that noted any interruptions in vital functions, even as each sudden alarm cast a dark shadow across my prayers, I felt her spirit rise up to greet the world.

Naomi was born two and a half months early; she weighed two and a half pounds. She fit neatly into the nurses’ palms. Tiny veins traced purplish-blue designs under fragile skin. She held a purity and innocence despite her hard work of survival. I could not touch her; it was not allowed back then, not until she grew stronger, gained weight and could eat on her own. We watched nurses and doctors through a nursery window, saw her wriggle thin limbs, saw how unready she had been to come. Staff reached into the portals of her Isolette with gloved hands to check vitals. She accepted feeding tubes with forbearance. Her father and I pressed against the cool glass, watching our daughter stretch inside a glass box. We wanted to break into the room and that glass, pull her close forever.

That first time I whispered, “She has artistic hands, oh, look at her long beautiful fingers!” It was terrifying to not hold her, feel helpless in the face of so much wonder. I was not encouraged to keep breast milk flowing; she was too weak to nurse. And it was not the way in nineteen seventy-three. I wept hard over it.

For over two months she remained there. We drove  forty minutes to the hospital each way many times a week. Each visit increased our longing. But Naomi grew strong; her eyes began to focus better and follow us. She finally breathed well and drank from a bottle.

She came home at last, into the lushness of spring and our arms.

Caring for a preemie infant, even one with no serious issues, is not without challenge. There was finicky digestion that presaged allergies, sleep issues, skin sensitivities. She quickly tired of being touched, so foreign was it to her realm of experience. There were painful ear infections, a fickle immune system. But in the midst of this was a reigning delight. Her tenderness of spirit and probing curiosity were evident as soon as she began to better interact with others and the environment. Her determination to thrive and explore were heartening. As for me, being a mother was an epiphany, a series of lessons in love.

DSCN1798

A first word uttered was “moon.” Her eyes were two blue stars glowing in the center of my universe. Large, round and keenly focused, their new acuity informed me of intrigue once unseen. She was indeed an artist; her hands guided me in making new the ordinariness of things. I discovered how to be accountable not out of obligation but out of devotion. How, in fact, to build another life, a far finer one. Her very presence, as well as the duties required, aided in saving me from myself. I think it can be said that my first daughter taught me how to love without expectation. To know God in a more intimate manner.

Each child gives us a chance to find the best in ourselves. As we go along for the journey a child’s presence and needs define a new life together. One’s first child unearths a great and ancient story of primeval bonds, of the boundlessness of familial loyalty. The first child informs us of ourselves in ways we cannot imagine.

Before Naomi, I had given little thought to parenting; I had babysat only a handful of reluctant times. But my knowledge was hourly expanded with skills soon diversifying. Moment by moment, I became more willing to traverse that rugged, breathtaking terrain. I realized parental love fills a bottomless well from the inside out; it is there despite our errors.

Naomi plumped up and communicated with us but didn’t speak sentences until well after she was two. We worried a bit. But she spent hours building complicated designs from blocks and other more random items. We watched her, loathe to interrupt. Her concentration was uncanny. She could sit at my feet and play while I wrote poetry and stories. She did not have any disabilities that we could see. Instead, she became a gifted student. Her need to gather knowledge, make sense of the universe and create of its components were an intellectual engine that drove her. But quietly, so that teachers commented on how she seemed to disappear at times. Her way of being was marked by tenderness toward others, as well. The capacity for stillness and observation grew. She increasingly focused on visual arts although she also had excellent aptitudes for mathematics and science. She completed her Masters of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University, and became the visual artist she was meant to become.

Time has altered some things but not all. Her passion for the arts and for learning have taken her many places. She is no longer the quiet one off to the side. She has been making all kinds of art for many years– sculpture, installations, performance art, videos and photographs, printmaking, drawings–and teaches at a liberal arts college, as well as coordinating the art gallery. Exhibiting often and winning prizes, she has also attended many artist residencies here and in other countries.

The infant who appeared delicate and weak in doctors’ eyes and spectacular in ours defied the odds for that time. She became strong in body and mind, and has hewed her path with tenacity and vision. I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire her charitable heart and independent spirit. Her courage to create despite the obstacles that being an artist presents. She has made my own world a more habitable and happy place.

This is a very brief story of one of three children who were not supposed to be here. And there are two others, also welcomed, who were given to me to help raise. They each inspire and intrigue me. Do you begin to see why those pictures waylay me. I am in my sixth decade. That is how motherhood is; it is never truly set aside.

My drawers remain stuffed. They need a full day of attention. And my thoughts are still full of color, tumbling, rushing, rippling as I contemplate all the treasures. What a grand tale every life is. What an exotic, a lustrous thing.

Naomi-6

A prescient poem by Naomi, age 12. Her website is www.naomijfalk.com.

??????????

The Beauty of Another Country

yo30097-breaktimehudsonriver1973 Taking a break Along the Hudson River, NYC by Wil Blanche

(Photo by Wil Blanche, Break Time Hudson River, 1973)

The river flowed as if it had a plan, deliberate, strong-willed, slathering the banks and concrete retaining walls with dirt and detritus. Heat-powered scents were redolent of city life combined with ground beneath concrete and brick. Cass had biked there. She wished for a strong breeze. But it was a miracle to be resting, sunshine so easy on sore arms and legs. Honeyed light soothed her. She let go of a twig she had picked up and watched it bounce away on the Hudson.

Cass worked hard at the cabinetry shop her dad owned. The business was even better than last year. She knew how to do things that men older than she did not. There were four other women there, two in the office, two laborers. He liked to think himself progressive, but they were paid less than others. Only Cass made what the men did, with top overtime allowed. That was due to thousands of hours she had clocked since age twelve when she was a “go-fer”. Unpaid labor until fifteen.

Lately she had thought about talking to him about moving on. Making it on her own. She watched seagulls wheel and dive. There was a loud girl chatting up one of the road crew; their talk leaped over the sound of barges. Cass shut her eyes tighter. She wanted to forget all the people who acted so special because they were desperate; the shop and its demands; the endless traffic din. It was the countryside she tried to conjure.

She had last been there three years ago. Hills were burnished with the glow of autumn. Emerald grasses, cows lolling and red weathered barns all seemed to her a part of a living art museum. Trees like bouquets of copper and jade. As a kid she had studied such scenes in a heavy library book of photographs and felt a stirring but to visit it was always like seeing a foreign land. There was a family reunion every five years at Great-aunt Dinah’s farm until she passed. She and her dad and brother had gone to her funeral, something her dad hadn’t wanted to do; it was an obligation. Cass didn’t recall the viewing (other than her hair, white as snow drifts against deep-lined skin) or the funeral (except for a cousin swearing he’d never put on a suit again no matter who died, the idiot).

Later, she’d sat on Dinah’s creaky back steps and drank in the openness of vast acreage. It was like drinking fresh water when she was parched inside and out. She had been needing something, She hadn’t fully realized it until then.

In the city there were weeds that struggled through sidewalk cracks and little parks bounded by streets crammed with people and vehicles. It gave her a headache. Their shop had a break area, a patch of dirt with a wobbly, splintered picnic table that Cass finally fixed up with a blue-potted ivy and a yellow checkered plastic tablecloth. No one said anything except for the office girls who liked looking at it from the second floor window. Her dad saw the modest improvement; he said so when she asked. But the workers often took a smoke and coffee break at the side door, ate lunch down the street.

Great-aunt Dinah had left her farmhouse to her son, Howard. He’d leased it and one hundred-fifty acres, then week-ended in a house he’d built on a pretty spot a few years previous. It was really a cabin, as though he’d dreamed of remote forest living. The majority of land was sold off. Howard was an ancient history professor. He liked to go to read and write, take long walks, he’d told them during a recent visit. He’d retire there soon.

mohawk_002

                    (Photo courtesy of Discover New England)

Howard had some business in the city, so called to see if they wanted dinner at the Zenith; he’d pick up the tab. Cass enjoyed his conversation as well as the food. Her dad, less so. They only saw each other two, three times a year, Howard’s idea.

He said, “You two should come out for a long week-end. There are beds in two rooms upstairs. The master is downstairs. It’s a nice refuge. People enjoy the peacefulness.” He cocked his head, raised his grey eyebrows. “Time is fleeing; family should gather.”

Cass recalled how comfortable it was and the gentle land. She had looked at her dad with anticipation but he shrugged and lit another cigarette off the butt poking from his lips.

“Not likely, Howie. Got a business to run and Cass is my right hand. Started to make great money again. Can’t risk taking time away. Thanks just the same.”

Howard wiped his lips neatly with the white cloth napkin, studying her. “Well, Cass, you’re twenty-one so decide for yourself. Savor some time away. Bring a friend, too!”

Her dad had grunted as though a) Howard had no business extending such a grand offer to his kid; b) Howard was too high and mighty–like he didn’t work for a living, too; and c) Cass wouldn’t consider a three-hour train ride for a week-end marred by “eau de manure”.

“I might do that,” she had said. But she had one week’s vacation, saved for Atlantic City with her best friend. Still, which sounded better?

The girl by river’s edge shrieked with laughter. Cass’ eyes flew open. She watched a man trying to grab her so he got smacked. They roared as if this was hilarious.

The strong waters churned but Cass imagined reclining on a pontoon, holding an iced drink. Coming to join her might be someone tall like her, with wiry brown beard and longish hair, a guy who appreciated women who knew machinery and wood and had a mastery of both. Who had some savings and a dream. They would sit and watch the world drift by. He’d also like a horizon far enough away that you had to travel a long time to feel any closer to it.

Cass’s shoulders slumped. She needed more beauty in her life, hard-core awesomeness, the kind that multiplied with each season and is valued for all time. Trees, bugs and creatures, dark rich earth, flowers among vegetables. The weather seen coming from the distance. The strange music of birds in the morning. She wanted kindness, enough so her hard work and restless nights finished well with interesting talk and a kiss that meant something. Her long, muscled arms stretched above her, soaking up sunshine.

Then she said aloud, “Dang, I want my own carpentry shop. Sooner rather than later.”

Wanted to leave this city, sit on grass by Howard’s cabin and learn about the things he knew. Figure out how she could start her own true life. She felt a frisson of energy slide upwards. That’s what she was going to do. It was amazing how easy it was to decide once she was ready.

As she rode her bike back to the shop, she looked long at the girl with pastel bell bottoms and bare shoulders, the bottle blond hair. It was not her destiny to be that way but she raised a hand  in greeting. The girl stared back and Cass wanted to call out, Don’t take what you can get, find what you want, but peddled on.

Hagg Lake outing 023

Eyes to See

DSCN1650

The morning was bleaker than it had been in weeks. Fog had arrived in a villainous blur, then crept through the blinds. I glanced a second time at the clock, then yanked the quilt over my head. Tiredness clogged my brain; it begged for a longer time out. I drifted and awakened, drifted, awakened. I was trying to get comfortable on the tightrope between waking and dreaming, to put off the inevitability of daylight and its requisites.

Then dangerous thoughts erupted: No reason to get up; dreams are preferable; besides, you are getting older every second and what do you have to do? In fact, what is there to show for all your efforts up to this moment?  I enumerated chores and errands as well as writing goals ahead of me. They seemed insignificant. Why even write? Who actually cares? What are you DOING with your life? The taunts brought forth an overpowering urge to do…as little as possible. I peered between the blinds and found the fog in communion with the black hole of my ruminations.

Well, almost. I looked again. Billions of chilled molecules of water gathered pallid light and illuminated air from inside out. The fog being hovered, mysterious. I opened the window a half inch and smelled the delicious cold. Then vacated the warmth entirely.

DSCN1606

Another day to greet if not welcome with open arms. Enter here but be forewarned. Remnants of negative energy trailed my footsteps. I thought briefly of ODAP, the acronym for “Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities”, widely known to those familiar with AA. How ODAP can sit on one’s shoulder, dispensing sabotaging directives.

Not going to a job every day can be sweet but harbors pitfalls. I have to be mindful of booby traps, like those in old jungle movies: if I am not paying attention I can end up dangling upside down, on my way to a snake hole. Other than accepting that there is no paycheck for my toil and isolation is more familiar than it has been for years, I am supposed to be having fun. And awakening with a lovely sense of few-and-far-between pressures. A lack of critical usefulness to which, finally, I am entitled. But time has shown me that, to paraphrase Pogo the possum, “I have met the enemy, and the enemy is me.” I forgot I knew that before. But I had been too busy working, with family and managing a household for forty-five years to dissect who I was every single day.

There are times in our lives when we need a full inspection, to root out the weak spots and shore up the mightier ones. In early recovery I was instructed to take a personal inventory daily to become truly honest with myself and others. It wasn’t easy but not so taxing; I still practice it in some form. I’ve long been enamored of introspection and self-analysis. Raised to be responsible for my actions, I knew how to track the good, not-so-good and unacceptable aspects of my life and personhood. In fact, I thought too much for my own good, so my mother noted. It was a luxury people could ill afford if they were engaged in achieving something. She was right in that, though a dreamer at heart, action made me happier. But I didn’t quite get it as a youth. Many years of being introspective to the point of burn-out clarified her statement. What she really meant was self-analysis can border on self-obsession, which comes to no good. Such as selfishness, or narcissism in therapeutic language. I didn’t want that.

??????????

I thought of these things as I struggled through the internal charcoal palette of the morning. “Blue” it was not; blue implies a tinge of bitter-sweetness. This was not that. By noon I had concluded I had little good to offer and nothing decent I might yet accomplish. How can one get to my age and not have blazed trails I envisioned at sixteen? All this, partly resultant of a year of mini failures added to unforeseen challenges. Dissatisfaction with little successes. But it also came with the transition into another stage of life. And having way too much time alone. My head was a neighborhood I needed to vacate more often.

So I went to the park. There is almost nothing a good walk cannot alleviate and I walk daily. I took my camera and started to shoot, as usual. I felt peace elbow out the dis-ease. Creatures both human and otherwise cavorted and chattered. Rested and worked. I watched sunlight melt away fog and reveal colors of the Northwest in winter. There were kids practicing for track and couples arm in arm. Trees presided over all with stolid strength. Green shoots broke through dirt. Everywhere were stories of earth’s old ways and lives being lived.

DSCN1585??????????

IMG_2334

It may seem rudimentary but suddenly it came to me that I have these eyes to see. Not just to record, but really see life. They are one of numerous gifts of the body that can create and bridge whole worlds. Sensory data enters the brain’s alchemical laboratory and informs me. But my eyes also are a bridge from my own internal world–my particular ways of observing and responding–to the greater world with its moving complexity. What if, I thought, we are also given vision–and our other senses–in order to profoundly align us with all that is is just outside our skin and, thus, to save us from scrappy egos that meddle? To keep us closely attached to the earth we share, this planet we call home. So we can more often stay out of our own way. We can then forget our aloneness, recall our universality. Remember the compelling qualities of life that we  often want to divide and compartmentalize. Try to control. Personalize and dramatize when it isn’t remotely necessary.

I speculated what it would be like to have eyes that looked only inward and shuddered. The walk lasted over an hour and gratitude for sight increased. I wondered what it would be like if my vision one day fails me. I suppose other senses will come forward more, to the rescue. Our bodies are made to fit our needs. At least I have been blessed with basic operational requirements, if they’ve sometimes sputtered and paused.

Taking action is what I can do to change my life daily. Once more my vision scanned the horizon, allowing healthy escape and refreshment. It was opening a window when spiritual suffocation was threatening. My walks take me out of a cramped habitation–this mind that can stir up trouble–so I discover conduits to finer wonders again. With these eyes, I can see but what and how I perceive is a choice. And without fail, there is God within and without, my sure compass wherever I go. The path again clears.

DSCN1600