Fantasia of Spring

Joaquin_Sorolla_My_Wife_and_Daughters_in_the_Garden (source: Wikipedia)
Painting by Joaquin Sorolla, My Wife and Daughters in the Garden (source: Wikipedia)

I’ve never thought the weather makes a big difference in my perception of life or my activities. Not unless it interrupts or shuts down basic amenities, which I’ve sure experienced as everyone has. But I am not a person who gets seriously blue thanks to the Northwest rain-saturated greyness. I didn’t hate winter when I was growing up with dazzling yet inconvenient snow. Summer is special here, perfect for outdoor life though high heat can be taxing on my patched heart. Autumn has long been perhaps my favorite season: not too cold or hot, prompting another cycle of life that soon unleashes the nourishing (if relentless) rains. Every season heralds the might and mystery of superior designs emergent on earth. Who I am is shaped by seasons, sure. I adapt to them as needed, I respect their place in the botanical, animal and mineral kingdoms, and my place in theirs. But emotions don’t routinely get high-jacked by them, either, and for that I am thankful.

Still, I am taking a another look at this as I admire altered landscapes and temperatures once more. There are subtler effects that insinuate themselves into my life. I realize, for one thing, that I tend to become more internal when chilled rain descends. From late October to April, though walking daily and busy as ever, my attention moves ever closer to realms of mind and spirit. The natural isolation that develops in winter (especially as I don’t hunker down in pubs with much of Portland) leads me to more pensive states. Quieter ones. The rain is a constant background sound track. There is comfort in those drops splattering away as I read, write, pray and meditate, do chores, enjoy hobbies, socialize with others.

I suspect I am less materialistic during rainy season, perhaps more spiritually inclined. Or in a different way. My senses are turned down a notch when indoors. Winter pulls me to activity within–home, mind, spirit. If there is a touch of melancholia it arises from a natural sense of poignancy, of the bittersweet, not deep sadness (except last year when grief dictated much and then rain was a tender companion). I write without noting  change from foggy light to a total lack of it. Often my husband comes home and turns on lights so he can find his way in. My mind is working hard. It pesters me to unearth ideas and spin stories, turn up the action on pages. It nags me to commune with God in all. In winter this is accompanied by a natural desire to delve into solitude. It is resonant deep inside. I pay attention.There are less distractions as shadows shift about me morning ’til night.

I have a different awareness of my body. It feels bulkier, slower and may be. I strive to stay warm and drink lots of hot tea, bring a blanket to my computer chair, wear half-gloves at the keyboard. Appearance matters less as rain and winds drench and whip about everything. The uniform is jeans, boots, sweaters or hoodies, an ever-present fleece. Slippers inside. It’s a monotonous but a necessary uniform. I like to stay strong so walks are long but faster in damp half-darkness, cold threatening to infiltrate a hooded rain jacket. Hiking, unfortunately, has to wait until things dry out. I dream of the deep woods; I so long for this one thing. It can be written about, at least.

So if I am less material, more ruminative in winter, there must be differences in spring and summer.

I notice shifts in energy, a rising in my blood like growing things must. It’s the sudden revelation of golden light and longer days. The neon blue of sky that blinds me the first weeks I am out under it, sans rain gear. I feel lighter on my feet. My head empties of more severe thoughts. I look outward into a jeweled palette of colors taking over the city, my neighborhood and country. Each sign is noted  with eyes that hunger. Dry spells begin to intercede. Afternoons remain brighter and extend into early evening. Voices of children shriek and guffaw. Basketballs thud and bounce on street-courts. Cyclists off to work shed water repellent body suits. Walkers clad in shorts, t-shirts and Birkenstocks say “hello” with a smile. At the park I am prepared for marathon runners in training; I can feel the air pressure shift as they whiz by. And the dogs let loose–they are mad with glee.

So, then, it’s finally springtime if I am to take the sighting of a velvety royal purple iris as proof perfect. The divine scent halted my walk for several heady seconds. Charming daffodils began making their entrance in February. Tulips have been waving their brilliant heads about since at least early March. I noted an errant red rose, but surely it decided to warn its citywide companions to hold off. That iris assures me of continued forward motion toward balmier days and nights. There are so many colors my eye darts from one to the other all day long. I am drunk on the beauty of it all, and understand perfectly what is meant by “spring fever.” I was so overcome today during my walk that I felt compelled to dance down the sidewalk a moment, imagining a rendezvous was in the offing. Everything else is having fun; I can, too. I emailed a picture of the iris to my husband, which made him happy at the office.

I felt giddy, a tad younger,  high on sunshine and the magnetism of the present moment. My camera was full of shots that told the story of earth’s bounty. Holy unveilings.

Aglow from the power walk, at home I yanked off tennis shoes and socks. I peeked into my closet, seeking sandals worn on the Monterey trip. They’d been tucked away but were untucked again, just in case it remained short sleeve weather this week. Spring means warm clothing is exchanged for light-weight so breezes get in and sunlight gets to rest upon patches of skin. Everything breathes differently, even the earth, even me.

I rested some, opened a new fashion magazine. This is a clue about another difference between winter and spring for me. I start thinking more about outward matters, material trivialities like my winter dry and bland skin, about clothes. Wearing fewer but more colorful, pretty things. I’ve enjoyed fashion all my life in some form or another, if usually on sale and for practical use. There have been a few exotic or pricier flourishes that remain special.

But as I perused the pictures, I was dismayed for the first one hundred fifty pages. Slouchy young women weren’t demonstrating individuality as much as how well clothing could just hang off frail shoulders. The frocks were barely inhabited. The designs and colors seemed….deconstructed, even wimpy. There wasn’t any variety in body type or hair style. The photos seemed tediously similar for all their high prices. Page after page showed faces askew with contempt, boredom, even challenge as if they wanted to fight. No one smiled. Come on, it’s spring, come alive! Insouciance was the impression–heedlessness, a lack of care. I flipped pages quickly until finally, there was a woman with hand by closed eyes, wearing a drapey, fiery red dress with black block heels, lying on the crimson leather back seat of a fancy convertible. At least I could relate to that–I love red, it speaks brightly, and I adore interesting cars and I can use more sleep at times. (I’ll take the whole ensemble, the car, too.) And after that, I swear the models started to smile a little from the glossy pages. Now we might get somewhere cheery.

I don’t know why I was surprised. High fashion tends to run off a beaten track, or thinks it does. My own fashion style doesn’t match up, a failure within such a perspective. I like tried and true mostly. The random or reckless I leave to exploration of other mediums–and far riskier stylists. (I may be reading the “wrong” magazines, but I find choice intellectual bons bons, as well.) I like to root out fresh, daring creativity in everything. Designers clearly have artistic visions they translate into clothing, accessories and more. Still, today I wanted frivolity. At the least. Floral, perhaps, looser lines that move with me. Gemstone and petal hues. But made with an older woman in mind so our well-worn softness or minimalist sharpness coupled with the appeal of wiser–we hope–faces are well and happily enhanced. (I am thrilled to see women in forties, fifties and beyond in ad campaigns more.)

Though Ferragamo, Escada (oh, that turquoise-with-a-touch-of-coral  frock!) and Armani offer superior fabrics and elegant lines, I would be s low to buy them if I could. Simple, classic clothing, multi-purpose and meant to last are preferred: I’m an outdoorsy person who likes to dress up a little. There is less use for fussier or accessorized clothing as I am no longer a professional, a counselor who works at an office. I am not meant to impress anyone now, thank goodness. I just want something comfortable with a lively dash–and now springy.

So here I have landed soundly in the midst of those most material desires. Thinking of new sandals and rose polish on my toes, a vivid printed sundress. Thinking even about straw hats and gold hoop earrings. (Obviously, missing that California seashore where we were two weeks ago with our daughter and son-in-law.) I am ready to loosen things up and relax more. I want to play a little more. The iris showed me that the rain may soon give it a rest and let the sunshine flow like manna. It’s that time again.

Ah, I come back around to heart and spirit. Each spring when I see the first iris, I immediately sense my mother’s presence. Mom died in 2001 at 92. The iris was her favorite flower, complicated, graceful and sweet, gentling to eye and soft to the touch. She always told me that tulips came out of the hard, cold earth for me, as my birthday is in spring. But along with stalwart tulips, there were such irises of lavender, deep purple, yellow and white at my childhood home. After the harsh snowy winters, we reveled in each signal of springtime. It was such a relief. It was renewal at its best and God’s handwork in full glory. Those flowers filled me up with magic and delight.

On Easter I wore light grey slacks with a blue wildly patterned top. I hesitated over shoes– silver or black flats? Then I remembered my mother’s navy blue heels, kept in a box, rarely brought down from the shelf. She wore high heels until she hit her late eighties; I gave them up long ago. For years we had shared our shoes because we could. She tended to have the better ones.

I turned them over in my hands. They were in good shape, still attractive in a vintage way. The heels were not very high; I could handle them.

The sun graced me with warmth as it slipped through curtains. I started to sing as I got ready. Outside the window were splendid growing things, their perfume sailing on the breeze. Liveliness abounded. Like my mother, who loved to dress up, spritz on scent and had good shoes. Who had a heart that never gave up on others no matter what and a soul that was plugged into the Divine. So I put on her blue shoes. They still fit perfectly. And instantly I stood taller. I walked carefully, nervous at first, but soon I had the hang of it again. I felt more… something. Good. Joyful and profoundly grateful for life, for being loved by God, for family and friends. Certainly for another springtime. I wore those blue high heels all day long.

004

019

Monday mosey 013

More Hocus Pocus

Monday mosey 022

Everything was fine, overall exceptional in fact, until it wasn’t. And Roxie had to fix it.

Phillip had left for West Africa on another medical humanitarian posting–he’d said something about tending to the burn epidemic once more, all that open fire cooking that injured so many vulnerable women and children who gathered round the flames. He was a dedicated doctor, and she had early on adapted to his leave taking. He was fortunate to have married her and said so. Roxie was no clinging vine in addition to having unusual empathy for others. Phillip knew he could trust her to take care of their daughter, house and bills while away, and also suffer little from the loneliness he’d heard colleagues note of their wives.

“Oh, not Roxie. You know her–she’s more capable of entertaining herself than I am. Or she’s on some sort of field trip with Marta or working on the latest home improvement scheme. Or taking some kind of class–remember her flamenco phase?”

He laughed with delight, eyes looking in the distance as if imagining her dancing. The others understood he was perhaps luckier than they could imagine, and envy skirted their consciousness. They did wonder about her. Their wives thought she was a bit of an odd duck if one with impeccable taste. But most saw Roxie as a kind of free spirit who was as dedicated to her responsibilities as Phillip was to his.

She, on the other hand, found her husband sexier, brighter and more thoughtful than any man she’d expected to engage in a lifelong partnership. Other women could honestly agree, in private if not in public. They were like two lovely but mismatched socks that somehow looked and worked very well together.

Phillip had been gone two months last winter; this time it might be three weeks or four. Roxie knew to be flexible. Marta was so used to kissing her father goodbye as they idled at the airport curb that she’d have been alarmed if he had always stayed home.

“Dad texted yet that he got there?”

Marta had stopped by to get her tennis racket. Her friend waited at the door.

“Hmm?” Roxie looked up from the pile of mail. She waved at Ginny and studied Marta’s outfit of leggings and a blousy cotton shirt. “It’s not that warm, get a jacket. No, he hasn’t yet. Time zones, you know, immigration authorities, exhaustion.” She turned the corners of her mouth down and her eyebrows rose in a mock show of dismay. They both knew how it went per his descriptions.

“Okay, tell him I said ‘hi’. Tonight I have that group project at Ginny’s, remember? After we play tennis. And oh, I got invited for dinner before the project.”

Roxie looked from Marta’s to Ginny’s open faces and was satisfied. They were twelve. They were not the same as last year. Even their eyes were different, as if they saw things in a whole new light, or in more shadow, hard to say which. But so far, so good, she most often surmised. Marta kissed her mother on the cheek and bounded out with tennis racket and backpack.

Roxie finished sorting mail, then stowed it in cubbyholes of her desk by the sunroom. She fed the fish in the aquarium, petted Wiley the cat who was curled on the window ledge catching the last heat of day. She saw what Wiley might see, neighbors arriving home, dogs chasing kids versa across emerald lawns, skateboarders whizzing down the sidewalk. It was all so orderly. Predictable. She reached toward the ceiling, stretching.

Roxie couldn’t think what to eat now–she had planned on pizza before hearing Marta was leaving–so grabbed a banana and iced tea and took two steps at a time to the second floor.

Their bedroom was vast. High ceilings, many windows encouraging light to bathe the space. It was so accommodating there was a floral loveseat, another desk (antique one she’d refurbished), the king sized bed, a caramel-colored leather chair with footstool, a small lamp table and two dressers. She pulled several bronze sheers closed, then ate in the chair with feet up. A free night, unfolding like a dream.

Chilled tea slipped down her throat as she closed her eyes. It was nice the first nights he left, shaped by silken quietness if Marta was gone or in her room. Roxie luxuriated in their home, felt as if it expanded with Phillip’s absence. Not necessarily a good thing. But sometimes. Her breathing slowed while the rhythm of the day changed its time signature as the sun hovered above the tree line beyond. A subtle excitement infused her body and mind.

Roxie admitted she at times felt as if her real life leapt up and did a brazen little dance when she was left alone. She might actually sway about the rooms and hallways, humming away. Feelings welled up within the emptiness: relief, restlessness, curiosity, acute awareness of her senses, a desire to reach outward or inward to something else. She had a good and decent life day in, day out, a metronome life in a sense: orderly. Fruitful, too. Even Marta was all she might have ordered for a child. But when they were here, when Phillip was about, there was little time to attend to her other life.

She changed out of navy pants and white shirt, then into a loose aqua caftan and long sweater. Her long straw-colored hair was unbraided, rippling over her shoulders and down her back. She took banana peel and glass down the stairs, feet bare, quick.

In her most used desk, a bottom drawer held among other things a bundle of papers secured with a rubber band. She took it out, picked up her slim, silver-cylindered mechanical pencil and entered the sun room to settle in, tea close at hand.

They were unbound. She first fanned out the correspondence on the glass-topped coffee table before her. Which to choose? It was a group of eight letters received over the last few weeks that she hadn’t had time to address. The freedom to re-read, to study, to respond succinctly.

Roxie was a certified graphologist. She studied people’s handwriting to learn of their assets and liabilities, their public and private lives, their health and hopes. If there was one thing Phillip abhorred it was attempting to label something as exacting, even scientific, when it was all just hocus pocus to his thinking. Phillip disapproved, thought it was a waste of valuable time and attention. They had argued about it when they had become serious so long ago. She had grudgingly agreed to stop “playing around with it” then. But gradually Roxie had begun secretly taking the esoteric (he: “hogwash”) coursework, practicing the art and science of it and finally passed a difficult national certification exam.

She had not told him of it until he had discovered her triumphant notification letter folded up in a drawer of her jewelry box. Six months ago Phillip had been looking for a necklace he’d given her to adorn a dress she was wearing to a formal dinner. She forgot it was there, her little private spot not private anymore.

“You have to be kidding me!” He’d sputtered and gasped. “I can’t believe you did this!”

“But it’s not nonsense, Phillip. Graphologists are engaged in useful, meaningful ways! Police departments use us, employments agencies and human resources departments and psychologists utilize us. I could make money using my skills. I could have a career doing this!”

“Don’t say ‘us’, you’re not one of them yet, Roxanne. Some fortune telling fool. I don’t want my wife pretending this is anything but a game, an entertainment. Certainly it is not science.” His upper lip almost curled. “And you don’t need to make any money. If you really want something more to do, use that good economics degree, volunteer more, take up another hobby.”

Roxie thought he was a misaligned copy of her husband for those moments. She had never felt anything but his equal even though she’d stayed at home rather than work in some high-rise. She knew she had a worthy mind; she knew he respected her. This life had been one she chose in part because he believed her capable of so much and encouraged her to enjoy even imaginative leanings, reach beyond comfort zones, learn new things. But graphology? It was just ridiculous to him. As it seemed to be others who didn’t understand its nature and applications.

“But it helps catch criminals, it can decipher hidden talents or liabilities that make one fit for a certain job. It can help determine if one person is a better mate than another.”

“Oh, save me from your impassioned attempt at persuasion, Roxie. I’m not going to change my mind. It was one thing when you messed around with it for fun, another that you now take it this seriously. I still can’t believe you secretly finished coursework–how much did that cost? how did you manage it?–and now you expect me to praise you for it? You know better.”

She watched his forehead furrow in a deeper scowl. His gaze of clear judgment was close to intolerable. Roxie found his masculinity and beauty revolting at that moment and turned away. Left their room. As far as he was concerned his intelligence was marred by egotism–that fabulous mind of his, that command of reality– run amok. What could he be thinking, that he would call her accomplishment ridiculous?

It was a long week of separate bedrooms and by the time he’d left again, she’d determined to carry on with her passionate involvement in handwriting analysis. But he would not be the wiser as long as he felt her foolish. Their marriage didn’t feel as neat and clean after that, but they staunched the rupture with greater good will and their healthy, continued chemistry.

There was a post office box rented for her new Interpretive Analysis Enterprises (IAE). She advertised online at sites he would never look at. She offered cogent evaluations of personality types and offered input on problems with relationships based on samples of handwriting. Roxie opened a savings account in her name at a credit union. What felt at first like deception began to seem more like a tandem life that was well designed and pivotal to her happiness. One day he might come around; one day she would tell him the whole story, yes. Meanwhile, her work was starting to flourish and she found it harder to get it done without him knowing.

Marta knew about IAE and didn’t have to be told to keep it to herself–she had heard their noisy differing opinions on it. She thought her mother was cool to do this if also risky to do it. But Marta didn’t feel it was any of her business so really didn’t care.

Roxie’s eye now caught sight of handwriting that was elegant yet sharply drawn. She held it close, scanned the loops above and below each invisible line, each dotted “i”, every crossed “t”. The handwriting was rapid, almost thready. Intelligent, steady of hand but jarring–slashed “t” crossings and quickly dashed “dots” above letter “i”s. There was a compressed quality to script and a pressure that belied irritation. Roxie moved her fingertips over the inky page and then under it. There was more than irritation, there was anger as each word left progressively deeper indentations. Handwriting that was beautiful at first glance became an instrument of vehemence and displeasure.

She had seen anger before, of course, but it was the fine quality of the paper took her aback. Most used notebook paper or simple computer paper, as not many people had in their possession much, if any, stationary. This page was written with rich blue ink, a micro fine point. Roxie preferred a basic black ballpoint pen to be used as it was easier to read. She could garner different insights due to the sort of writing implement they used. Others sent inquiries written with felt tips or boldly flowing, perhaps pink or purple ink. Some sent penciled letters. The problem with that was that such writers tended to erase often (perfectionism perhaps a trait) and start over–that interrupted the natural flow of letters, spaces and so on. And if the lead was dull it could skew the entire effect.

Frowning at the aggrieved words, she held it at a distance to properly read through. Then she read it two more times.

Dear Roxanne Stannis,

You won’t recognize my name–it is an alias–but I know yours because I know about your husband. Who doesn’t, in the medical center? He’s outstanding in every way, as we all have heard. Gifted diagnostician, reassuring in manner. Generous of time and clear in every intention (more on that later). I could write a well-informed biopic of Dr. Phillip Stannis and his work at Grand Isle Medical Center and Silvertin Hospice. But if I did I would have to include the other side of Dr. Stannis.

I think you should know the rest of the story. Oh, yes, he’s a selfless workhorse and so altruistic he helps the neediest of the lot. He sacrifices precious time and money to travel to dangerous places whenever he’s called to use his skills. He’s the go-to as far as the horrific burn unit, for certain. I am not writing to cast aspersions on his medical abilities. I am not truly able to ascertain his level of expertise as doctor, to even understand some of his methods. So bear with me. This is not professional in a typical manner.
No, it is personal even if within a professional context.

Roxie put the letter down and put hand to throat. Who on earth was this? The name, Cassie Weaks–was to be an alias so it didn’t really help to study a fake signature. She felt like she was going to choke from her own anxiety. She took a long gulp of iced tea and continued.

I’ll simplify, Mrs. Stannis. He’s a dictator to the underlings. He can be boorish, blunt and critical to the point of some wanting to slap him. He finds flaws and then picks, loosening ends until they come undone. If one does the thing instructed but lags a second, then it isn’t done fast enough. His looks can scald when displeased and he doesn’t know the meaning of a genuine compliment. Never have I met anyone so difficult to please–and my parents were despotic commanders of excellence so I should find him manageable in comparison.
Is this the underside of moderate genius? I think not. He is just dismissive and unpleasant to those who have so much less power, who are at his beck and call. And for this, I loathe him.

So I just wanted you to know the rest of the story of your husband. We work so hard and he gives so little to those who are helpless to do anything but take it. We need our jobs. I think we should have trophies for putting up with him. I don’t know how you manage it–you deserve a trophy, too, or maybe you just deserve each other…

He will have no idea who I am. Because I’m just a nobody while he’s a wonder of wonders, a most valiant human being, a handsome paragon of men who deserves all and more. Right? You can have him!

Sincerely,

Cassie Weaks

Roxie felt her insides scrunch up and turn over but she peered at the words, each letter formation, the spacing, the pressure and rhythm. She studied it all; as if they were written of someone other than Phillip.

She could not imagine who this was but after twenty minutes noting all the details and adding them up, there were some things that came through: the writer, likely female from the choice of words and their formation, was completely disgruntled with her job as well as her self-image. She was run ragged by her own miserable perfectionist tendencies. Smart–perhaps smarter than her position encouraged–she was taking the upper hand and protesting rather than feel powerless one more day. Greatly offended by what she perceived as Phillip’s critical responses, she felt it as a far deeper wound than it should have been. She was a person of neediness who was not feeling fulfilled in many ways at home, not just at work. Lonely, if her lack of trust was noted correctly in how the truncated endings of words and the too-close spacing, protective of self. Perhaps even enamored of said doctor for whom she reportedly held contempt; romantically satisfied, she was not. But her anger was certain. She could even snap one of these days, create some havoc.

Roxie looked at a small stack of envelopes but one that matched her handwriting had no return address, of course. She worked on the sample an hour more. After she concluded it was a letter of complaint, one that was to distress Roxie, she determined she might have to turn it over to Phillip or the hospital’s human resources unless she could solve the mystery. She might visit his work space more often, meet for lunch if possible, check out employees he was around, sneak looks at written memos on his desk to compare handwriting. Maybe they could resolve this together–well, that might be a stretch. But maybe he would even suspect who she was.

But did Roxie believe her husband was all that? No. Not one minute. She knew him warts and all, and yet she knew he was a man of principle. Could he pressure others at times? Yes, in more subtle ways than mentioned. Was he liable to ask a lot of the staff? Yes, as he did himself. Was his brilliance difficult at random times, his ego likely to show up as annoying pride? Again, no denying she had seen that. But she could not believe he would be so unkind deliberately or even remotely unfair in his professional interchanges. He believed strongly in the his own as well as the medical code of ethics. Phillip loved his work and his patients, held staff in generally high regard. He sacrificed a great deal to care, to heal, to try to make life better for others. Roxie believed in him even if they were not always in agreement.

Even if he did think her graphology was smoke and mirrors.
So it would be worked out somehow. It might mean telling Phillip what she was up to a gain; her little business was a success so far, after all. But this one letter only served to expose the writer’s personhood, to open up her secret anger and pain, to share her misguided desires for more in her life. Roxie felt a little sad.

She stood on the back steps and looked out over the rolling lawn. The sun was setting making the puffy clouds pink and coral at the edges. Her mind roamed and recalled women she’d met who worked with him or near him. One after another was eliminated until…Anne? An RN. The night shift head nurse who had blatantly looked at him with a changing combination of admiration, desire, coyness and rage? Roxie had noticed her when she’d picked him up three times that winter due to his ancient Volvo having issues. Her coppery hair was pushed back impatiently when he asked her to do something out of the ordinary so he could finally go home. Her eyes flashing, then lingering on his face. My oh my, Anne. Well, Roxie would have to get a handwriting sample and compare. It couldn’t be that hard. She could be wrong. Work to do, for certain.

Her phone rang. She took it from her caftan pocket, put it to her ear without looking.

“Yes, sweetie? Coming home soon?”

“Oh, Roxie, how I wish, just to hold you for a good, long moment,” Phillip responded, his resonant voice laden with weariness. Tender with affection.

They checked in briefly. Hung up. Roxie wandered into the yard, admired tulips, daffodils, hyacinths in their glory. How she loved to hear Phillip’s voice when he was gone. If she wasn’t already married to the man, she would have to fall smack dab in love with him, herself.

Modest Journeys, Large Rewards

Modest Journeys, Large Rewards
Pardon my back–I’m mesmerized by Big Sur, California

When a person has a family that travels but you do not (not the way they do), it’s a big deal to finally organize suitcase contents and not break zippers closing them, get in the car or board the train or plane without a crisis of memory about the mints I must have at the ready. (Did I pack snacks in my carry-on? Lactaid for the lactose-intolerance?) To finally, breathlessly, embark on a trip.

My blithely globetrotting kin would be appalled that it can take me a week to get ready. I daydream and read about the destinations. I worry about variable weather (is there any other sort?), what shoes and jackets to take, which medicines to include (can I pare down to a critical three?). If I will remember to leave a couple of lights on. To close and lock each window. My family can pack for a six-week trip in a matter of an hour. Or less. My husband is ordering me at the last minute to just leave on what I already have on, quite fetching enough, and stuff those tennis shoes in a suitcase pocket. Pronto. And he’s the one who I usually have to beg to hurry up. But Marc is a veteran business traveler who finds my fussing humorous until I am about to make us late (his idea of late is arriving at the airport an hour or less before the flight). He is Mr. Confident and I am an adrenaline-charged Ms. Greenhorn in this matter.

My parents, now residing in the Great Beyond, had a deep fondness for Europe. They weren’t wealthy but made travel a priority, even if it was a trip across state to visit historical markers. They visited museums of all sorts; composers’ birthplaces and haunts; every possible cathedral. They attended concerts often, Dad being musician and conductor. I turned down a chance to go with them after high school; I had more important things to do though I can’t think what now. An older sister went along, instead, and reported with laughter that my father drank a mug of dark German beer, which appalled my mother–they both appeared to be teetotalers. I couldn’t imagine it–but travel clearly called for different choices now and again. I looked forward to their informal presentations with slide shows and admired lovely objects they added to their home. But they were also campers well into their sixties. My mother kept journals of their trips wherever they went.

One of my brothers and his wife are just returning from a five-week photography trek around South America and environs. They last emailed the rest of us about the Falkland Islands which I haven’t yet located in my new huge atlas (one way to mosey about is studying maps). They seem to embark on at least three longer journeys (interspersed with shorter ones) yearly since retiring. And one of our daughters, Naomi, is heading out on a clipper ship with various crew and creative types in early summer, sailing somewhere between Scotland and Iceland–there are islands out there they’ll stop by. This makes me want to hold my breath and say ten thousand silent prayers already. I can’t keep up with my daughter’s itineraries; she takes off somewhere or other any time she can. But they are impassioned about living like this–and it’s clear there is a huge population that does if WordPress travel blogs are an indication.

I admire that my family members have been so many places and later share their fascinating adventures with me via photos and stories. But it would be a lie to say I don’t find travelling alluring, as well. As a youth, one of my top five dream careers was to be a photojournalist, roaming worldwide. I had enough courage and stamina, as well as more than enough risk-taking impulses. It wasn’t to be, however, so now I sample the world’s remarkable offerings from a comfy armchair. But in real life, too, in smaller doses. And just for the record, I once shared the family’s intrepid travel trait. I bussed halfway across America at fourteen and flew about with ease. Heck, we all hitchhiked around back then. I have tented in deserts atop scorpions and coyotes (or were those wolves…) howling, among other locales. Laid out a sleeping bag and made campfires by the great Lakes. Moved to Seattle from the Midwest at age 19, lured in part by majestic mountains. And much later, when raising five children, we liked to take off for new places–to visit or to live.

Then in 2001 my mother died. On the way back across the continent I had my first (hopefully last) panic attack on a plane that was not about to descend and let me off. Something changed at that moment. I didn’t like feeling so powerless, strapped inside that oblong hull of metal and heavy gears and engines, speeding at some unearthly rate through dense clouds and thinner atmosphere. Somehow grief and that acute awareness got mixed together. And I was alone. It created a near-phobia for a few years. If I couldn’t get to a destination within a couple of hours’ flying or a leisurely road trip, I was apt to have many second thoughts. Trains are marvelous if risky as well and I’ll travel on one again–I can see the good earth outside my window, at least.

I do favor smaller journeys. They’re less demanding and less uncomfortable. One has more choices during those forays. Such trips offer a window on life not yet experienced, each moment a blossoming of surprise without being overwhelming. I perhaps appreciate travelling by car the most as I can pause any time, hop out to explore fresh sites and chat with people of all ilks. Even if it is only days, I am satiated by random conversations, visionary vistas. Quite generous writer’s input. The anticipation of more surprises–if not this time, next time–is the magnetic compass that directs me both here and away.

One motivation for my travels is a visit with family. So that’s what I did last week. There was a bit of repacking after readjustment of expectations (it was to rain the first couple of days; I’d planned on blinding sunshine)) but I was all set to go on time for once. Marc and I flew from Oregon to California to visit our youngest daughter, A., and her husband, D., on the Monterey Peninsula. It was a two-hour flight each way, so that was easy. It was defined by love and beauty and each day was fun. The fact that the adult kids are engaged in the arts is a bonus we enjoy. It was seven months since we last saw them; voluminous sharing was a hallmark. It was one of the best trips we’ve taken together and though it was just a week-long, it will remain with us a long while. I felt stirred up, poured out and reassembled a little at a time throughout our stay. Reclaimed by a greater sweep of life and thus transformed in even imperceptible ways. It was a commendable result of another small journey. I enjoyed several restaurants (not my favorite activity though one of Marc’s), slept well enough in a foreign and colorful room, breathed deeper in that salt sea air. The clear and warming sunlight was illuminating in multiple ways. My heart was sprung like a trapdoor to set musty Northwest cobwebs free, let more good and simple happiness in. I feel replenished, ready to spread more around.

The final report is that I’m grateful I still board airplanes and do step out of imagined comfort zones (challenges occur no matter where one is), if even for shorter periods and closer destinations than some.

Come along, take a look at part of all we enjoyed. There were so many choice moments, it was hard to choose. But I hope you find glimpses of the Monterey Peninsula area enticing, too.

The blue, blue Pacific in CA.
The blue, blue Pacific in CA.
CA. trip 617
Pacific Grove is full of enchanting Victorian homes.
Who knows why this old wall with gate and door was built? There were many, some with courtyards within.
Who knows why this old wall with gate and door was built? There were many, some with courtyards within.
Such succulents!
Such succulents!
Marc and I at the fine Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Marc and me at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Mission style architecture everywhere.
Mission style architecture abounds.
CA. trip 242
Hiking the Balconies area of the Pinnacles National Park.
CA. trip 276
A view from the top of a trail.
Just in time for wildflowers!
Just in time for wildflowers!
The Balconies, shaped by ancient volcanic action.
Chaparral country. The Balconies, shaped by ancient volcanic action.
Big Sur
Big Sur’s teal waters.
A cafe in Big Sur area.
A cafe in Big Sur area.
Charming Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Charming Carmel-by-the-Sea.
One of many mosaic tiled entryways in Carmel.
One of many mosaic tiled entryways in Carmel.
View from my chair in a terrific Carmel restaurant, Forge in the Forest.
Late afternoon: view from my chair in a terrific Carmel restaurant, Forge in the Forest.
Hat, anyone? Another quaint shop in Carmel.
Hat, anyone? Another quaint shop in Carmel.
CA. trip 435
California poppy and ??
Farewell, Monterey.
I’ll miss Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row,  author John Steinbeck’s old Monterey.
Later, lovely boats and sea!
Later, lovely breezes, boats and sea!
Until next time!
Until next time!

 

(PS My oldest daughter just suggested I might travel with her throughout New England this summer. Since she has the nerve to embark on a sailing adventure, then manage an upcoming move to new university for another teaching position, I should be able to step up and do that small trip with her. Despite a long plane ride. Despite a reluctance to leave behind daily work at my familiar desk. So let me study up on that. I’ll keep you posted.)

 

Note: Another post you might enjoy re: my hesitant, overall happy travelling: https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/becoming-bolder-disclosures-of-a-somewhat-reluctant-adventurer/

Fine Art and Benny Boy

Photo by Garry Winogrand
Photo by Garry Winogrand

Dear Henry James Harner,

I’m at the Everson Art Museum an hour earlier than we’d planned on meeting. I thought of leaving after a peek at the new exhibit which was baffling and wonderful. I hate to admit it, but it intimidates me being here without you. You’re the expert, right? I’m the neophyte artist; you’re the professor. The one who has guided me the past years, taught me the nuanced secrets of each skill I desperately needed to develop. Given me just barely enough encouragement, and thoughtful and expert if damaging criticism. I need to wait for you, should listen to your erudite exposition on Rothko, Haring, Rauschenberg, Johns, O’Keefe, Nevelson, and–well, you know.

You know it all. Or so it has seemed at moments.

Karin covered the page with her palm and sucked in her lower lip. She looked up as a lanky woman and dressy child walked by briskly, the little girl straining to free herself of the gripping adult hand. How she would have loved to be taken to art museums as a child. She had been to so many the past three years they were beginning to blur in her memory, along with the paintings, drawings and etchings she had completed and tossed.

But her parents had been consumed with working two jobs each, then critical sleep. Karin had cooked and tended to her younger brother. She had managed the household, in fact, from age eleven. The laundry, cleaning, cooking, tending to the mail and picking out bills due to give to her father at breakfast if she could catch him before he disappeared through the door. He’d give her a kiss on top of her auburn crown of hair and tell her to take care of it. She learned to forge her mother’s signature in time for all sorts of things, including the school days she had to stay home to take care of Benny with his chronic bronchitis. It was cold there, off the northern coast. The scattered homes huddled on a small island. In the winter, rain battered them as hard as wild winds and waves. As hard as their lives.

Benny moaned often those days. He was feverish and barked up gobs of phlegm and hobbled about for days on his skinny, bowed legs after each crisis. He liked to sit with her by the fire as he recuperated.

“You want to go to school every day, don’t ya? I don’t get it. Being sick is awful, but missing math and spelling is okay.”

Karin tucked nubby blankets closer around Benny and got up to tend the wood stove. “I can do my homework here. But I do like Mrs. Hilversum. The classroom. Just being there, the smell of the books and the fresh chalk and pencils nice and sharp. Talking about ideas.”

“Yeah, you like all that artsy stuff. Mom says you’re a born mainlander so will be leaving us.” He raised a sharp shoulder, let it fall again. “Easy come, easy go! You’ll be back.”

But he stared hard at her profile, then coughed enough that Karin refilled the kettle and put it atop the wood stove for more herbal tea with lemon and honey. She took the rocking chair and stared out the window at the sideways rain and wondered how her mother was doing at the alterations shop, her second job. The main on was the cannery where she worked with her dad, who was lucky to be a supervisor now.

“I can’t imagine living elsewhere, Benny. Where would I go?”

Karin closed her eyes and imagined everywhere else, China with its surging throngs and Norway with pristine fjords and even New York with Broadway shows and cabbies driving like maniacs and people rushing to fascinating places. She pulled her wool sweater close and crossed her arms.

“Who would take care of you?” she said then, voice going soft. She got a tea bag and clean mug, filled it, then sat beside him.

Benny sat up and turned to her. “I’m growing up, then I’m hightailin’ it for Seattle. Teddy said his uncle lives there and there’s a market so big you get lost in it, fish flying everywhere and gobs of flowers and all kinds of weird stuff for sale!”

Karin laughed and high-fived him. He settled down, legs and feet stretched close to the rotund iron-clad hearth that warmed the whole cabin.

“You should just draw, be famous,” he muttered and fell into a gentler sleep.

A sudden lump clogged her throat but she swallowed it, got up to finish the dishes and see if leftover pork roast could make a casserole. In two more years she would graduate. Mrs. Hilversum had talked of colleges and scholarships. It might happen, or it might not. Benny was twelve that winter and he got sicker before the spring. Karin missed school six weeks altogether and almost didn’t pull off needed As and two high Bs. Her mother was sorry it was like that, that they had to keep working to get just a little ahead but maybe next year the alterations job could be let go. Karin needed to keep at things the best she could and all would work out eventually. Her dad said little.

“Show me what you drew this week,” he said every Saturday morning.

And she showed him a sketch of Rudy, their bushy dog on the bed, and one of Benny asleep by the wood stove, blanket around him like a heavy robe, mouth hanging open. The final one was of their living room window with the radiance of a clear-skied sunset seen through lingering raindrops. It shone, Karin thought. It was made with colored pencils; she loved all those colors. She longed for paints but knew they were too expensive to use at home. And her time was limited, anyway.

He put on his wire-rimmed glasses and held the window drawing close, smiled and gave one nod, then handed them all back. Karin flushed with pleasure. He liked that one best, too. For one moment she thought how wonderful it would be to be this happy every day, making pictures and sharing them. Mrs. Hilversum thought it could happen if she would just get off that island.

If only. There was Kyle, her boyfriend, too. He didn’t want her to ever leave. He wanted her to work at his parents’ booming hotel with him and have their three children. Or four, he had amended with a wink when she looked at him dumbfounded. He said even numbers were better luck. Karin never thought in terms of luck. She thought about working like a dog toward a goal and making art and kept intact her long-guarded, though hard-to-keep hope of eventual success, whatever that might be. For her.

******

Karin looked at her watch. Henry would arrive in thirty-five minutes. She stood up, feet pinched in her one pair of high heels, and stretched discreetly, walked across the corridor for a drink of cold water, then sat again, notebook in hand as always. She wanted a coffee but didn’t want to leave. She needed to wait; they were to have lunch after the art museum.  She had put on her suit for the fine restaurant, wanting to look more than decent.

The art museum was chock full of fine work, of genius. Henry had informed her of so much, was a fine teacher, and his students gained appreciation for mediums and movements, even radical thinking over time. They learned how to discriminate, to re-tune their impulses into ones that unearthed different art than they’d believed possible. Karin was slower to latch on to things than some, he’d allowed, but when she let the Muse nudge her, she produced pieces that could astonish. She never liked what he liked quite as much. She missed a simpler format, the drawings that came from a meditative state, loose lines divining a kind of essence as her hand worked, transferring to the page energies that confounded but filled her as she went. Smaller paintings that whispered rather than shouted yet told more. Being away from home had released things. Being among a diversity of people helped her reimagine life. She came to even live differently. And Henry taught her requisite skill sets in class. Karin latched on to them, then carried them into another realm when alone in her dorm room.

Oh, she gave him what he asked for in class. She wanted to please him, he would brighten like the sun when she did. She wanted to do much more than commendably well, to graduate with honors. One day Karin would also teach well to pay bills. But her art would always win out in the end, at least in her innermost self.

They had met more times than she thought they would. Karin knew it was because he saw in her someone who should be loved by someone like him. Someone to shape her destiny and mold her ways. He was more like Kyle than Henry might think possible, a man with wants and needs and a deep determination to fulfill them. But so, too, did Karin have wants and needs and another vision that had begun to form and natter in sleep, then flutter in and out of her waking hours. She saw herself more alone than not. But he had eyes that gathered her to him with the force of an uneasy gravity, as if she had stepped into a place gone askew with enchantment. She had been warned by her roommate who knew someone courted by him. Had an affair and then was ruined.

She opened a clean page in her notebook.

Dear Henry James Harner,

I sit here and think of the times you held my hands and said, “Create something divine” as if it was your will that moved me to attempt something worthy. I would believe, feel your confidence in my abilities rush like new blood in my veins. You would buoy me when I faltered and then I would be certain you held the key somehow. It made things seem easier at first.

But you don’t hold any keys, not really. I do. I am the one who must and will do what I do, under my own steam. I see now that you feel powerful with me, not the other way around. I always feel just like myself, pretty comfortable, full of passion for a creative life, directed by an internal arrow of intention that must find its own mark. I may not be utterly fantastic but I’m alright with that. I’m working on it.

Your beautiful mind and body are distracting! I feel the brush of your lips on my cheek and it is like a heat that then freezes; I can’t think, can’t move, captive by your fascination and desire. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy for me to resist. I am young and have my dreams of love, the real sort–but I’m older than many students. My life kept me home five years longer but that doesn’t mean I was protected. I just never had time for fairy tale longings or endings.

I had to face that life comes with abrupt changes and at times demands a high price–and we’d better be equipped to withstand it all or just figure it out fast. An artist like me has had to puzzle it out more often than not.

There is so much you don’t know because it doesn’t fit your idea of who I should be. And that is sad to me. Because I’ve had some experiences that matter, too.

She took off her hat and scratched her head. She studied the words, then rejected them with a giant “X.” There was too much yet so little to say.

 ******

Will it stop this time?”

His hand clutched hers as he lay on the narrow bed. She smoothed his forehead and wondered when on earth her mother or dad would finally get home. He had been breathing like his ribs could barely support his chest or the very air that entered and exited with short miserable wheezes. She had given him the medications, gotten a wet washcloth to cool him. She had called her mother twice, dad, too, and the doctor. The doc was coming.

“What, Benny, tell me?”

“…scraping inside, lung sickness…”

He squeezed her hand tighter but it still was a soft leaf of a hand even though he was eighteen, a smaller and bonier eighteen than his friends. They had gone kayaking as they often did. The storm swept up with a vengeance. He had come home soaked and shivering, gone bluish of lip with a shadowy red circling his eyes. Benny had collapsed and not gotten out of bed for four days, then was up and about for two days, then that morning had suddenly failed to breathe right again and was so weak she helped him into bed again. She shuddered to think what might have happened if she had gone off to work at the hotel but they knew by now how it was; Kyle had given up long ago.

His weary gaze clung to hers. She thought of all the times they  only looked at each other, no speaking–because he couldn’t talk without coughing or she could think of nothing to say, or they knew what the other was thinking, anyway. So they glanced into each other as long as necessary. Now his eyelids closed hard, locked shut as if they couldn’t bear to stay open. She felt their heaviness; it claimed her shoulders, then heart and mind. Nothing had worked well enough the past week. Now his breath seemed to be slipping away, she could feel it not wanting to stay.

“Draw.”

Karin looked up but his eyes were still sealed shut.

“Draw, draw,” he whispered.

“What should I draw, buggery ole Benny boy?”

“Karin, aw…” He seemed to grimace at her babying him. “Boat, sea, sunrise.”

So she got her pencils and sketchbook and began the drawing, talking to him as she drew. He’d nod or his face would twitch but he couldn’t really talk, he had to breathe. It hurt her to hear the rasping, each intake one more cut felt on her own chest, a tattoo of pain that made her love him more, beyond the looming fear.

“I’m shading the sea, pulling out all my blues, I should name every one for you, huh? But soon the perfect sunrise will change all that big expanse. What will the boat be or do out there? I’m making it a sailboat, Benny, a Lightning–you, me, Teddy on crew, you can see the glint of light on your ole big blond head…I’m not drawing me or Teddy, this is your sailing adventure, okay?”

Her hand worked faster, forming lines; she felt she was compelled to infuse it with a sense of the island way of life they knew, that landscape so loved and loathed, charging the the picture with humility yet a palpable glory, their island peeking from the foreground. The sunrise was starting to spill over the far horizon and it felt warm even to her hand and she wanted Benny to feel this pleasure, the life that was unfolding when she heard the front door open. She kept drawing, fervency overtaking her, her created sun releasing its vivid sheen on the bland paper.

“And here is that sunrise, Benny boy, it rises for you,” she said, laying down gradations of orange, red, yellow. Transparent, lush. “That boat is sailing, it sails with you, Benny! Oh, I do so want to come along as it finally rides those magnificent crests to–.”

“Karin.”

But she was busy drawing, the page awake with life’s colors and forms as Benny’s eyes stayed closed–she knew that without looking, he had gone silent inside and out–and her mother took her hand and stopped the pencil and her dad knelt beside the bed and the doc came in and moved them aside.

Karin felt her mother’s hand, then her dad’s, parents and daughter a tight trio of family as the doc pressed a stethoscope on Benny’s chest, withdrew it, placed his ear close to Benny’s lips. Looked up and shook his head.

“Oh my ole Benny boy!” she called out, eyes squeezed shut, too, against the day’s terribleness. Her sketchbook hit the floor with a thud.

******

Fifteen more minutes. If Henry James Harner was even on time–he often kept Karin waiting, kept everyone waiting. Perhaps this was to cause an effect, perhaps it gave more attention to his entrance, or it made women more anxious to see him or told other men he was important and they owed him respect. But Karin lately found it sloppy of him, a lapse of manners. Especially since he had indicated he hoped to take her with him to the luxe hotel he had rented for the week-end. From the start it had intrigued her, this whole charade. It was so indirect and yet aggressive and she found it thrilling and disappointing at once. She was of an age when she could make any choice and own it. But he was not, finally, that appealing. As she waited in the museum, she had concluded he was even lacking in creativity. How much more attractive if Henry had been careful, approached her with genuine ethics, acknowledged the premise that she would never accept such a proposal from her art professor. That would have impressed her.

As she quickly left the building, her high heels clicking on the tile floor, she thought of the year to come and all that was yet to be accomplished. There was independent work to do, and one thing was a showing of selected art work. Karin had begun to choose ten drawings and etchings. Benny, she thought, likely knew the ones. She took off heels and jacket, entered the sweet, aromatic heat of a California spring, joy surfacing from many deep-sea places.

 

Time Out for This Bird

DSCF7177

Well, it’s been a busy, fruitful week, ending on a pleasant note though underlined by soggy skies and cooler temperatures. True, hyacinths, daffodils, magnolias and more are bountiful, happy dabs of color within our ever-green landscape. I do adore the Pacific Northwest. But I have a mind to head out on a warmer, even brighter mosey. High time to again flee comfortable territory and explore other captivating scenery and meet interesting folks, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy family I don’t get to see often.

It may be hard for me to write less…it’s a need I do heed wherever I am…but I will return to this blog on March 21st. I am hoping to share a refreshed perspective as I let loose new stories. It always helps me to take in different scenes and consider other ideas milling about out there. And, of course, there are photographs–I have a grand time recording experiences via camera, as well. Or a notebook or sketch pad. Or a lunch napkin, for that matter, if that’s handiest.

Thanks for so many positive, helpful responses to the latest nonfiction post on smoking and other unhealthy habits. I am also gratified that you’re enjoying other stories, fiction or otherwise. I feel truly blessed to be gaining a great readership as I bang away at my keyboard each week. My deepest creative joy, my privilege, is to write. Over eight thousand followers now; I cannot even imagine it. I just keep blogging away each week as well as otherwise writing something, anything, daily as though it is essential. But I genuinely look forward to other people’s intriguing offerings. Truth is, I’m thrilled to be part of the diverse thought-provoking, humorous and caring worldwide WordPress community.

Bishop's Close, teal 004
Catch you later–you have a safe, adventurous week out there, too, and practice kindness while you’re at it. We all need to give and receive more, just for the good of it, just for this sweet life.