Wednesday’s Nonfiction: An Anonymous Life is Still a Life

Lawrence Wilburn Guenther and Edna Kelly, 50th Anniversary, 1983

What has ever happened to living a quiet life and finding that meaningful? There is such a garish trumpeting about people and events, about what is deemed commendable or abominable and it often drags lives into the grit of the fray, the spotlight of adoration or scrutiny. Conversations are necessary when they make a meaningful impact but the loud voices that promote fame–or infamy–stop me cold. Why this being splashed all over news outlets as if meant to be so vital to us all? How did it happen that people–even youths–crave fame enough that they will go to any lengths to get it? And who said that a visibly higher socioeconomic status equals lasting happiness? All this talk and focus on being a “Somebody” in the world has me cogitating about the value of ordinary human lives. Because there are far more of us out here than the other sort.

Some history is useful as in a far more innocuous way, I once knew the heat of a spotlight’s beam. I did not grow up feeling strictly anonymous, another face in the crowd, invisible, untraceable. Instead, I was easy to spot, quick to name. I was so used to being introduced as “Lawrence Guenther’s daughter” that much of my childish and youthful identity sprang from this shorthand reference. In fact, seldom did anyone need to say that much; my last name covered it. And, I imagine, my large blue eyes–a family trait many of us shared. Not that it was a bad thing, this quick naming. My father never robbed a bank or stole a car or drunkenly crashed one or worse. He was an upstanding citizen, I have to admit. But it felt like a bit of a burden more often than I cared to say.

I knew nothing of how public a man he was until my early teens; he was often surrounded by students and adults wherever we went. He was not overtly gregarious but had a gentlemanly, winning manner. He was sincere and he was smart; there were far worse things than being the youngest child of such a person. My father’s warm smile and expressive bright eyes had magnetic properties, it seemed.

In a town where the name “Dow” defined everything, being known by any other last name was something of note. Herbert H. Dow was a chemical industrialist who founded my hometown’s Dow Chemical, an international company. His son, Alden B. Dow, was a well-known architect. My dad was not famous but he did enjoy a fine reputation across the state and perhaps beyond for his work. Lawrence Guenther was Midland’s public schools’ music administrator, and a teacher, musician and a conductor of an impressive Midland Symphony Orchestra. This may not seem newsworthy at first glance. Yet this town that was marked by pristine, manicured lawns and graceful homes, a top state school system, international scientists, and a plethora of variously gifted students–well, that meant a little something.

Our about 28,000 (when I was ten; it is now 47,000) people greatly valued arts and sciences, so music programs were high on the list for financial and community support. Classes started when students tested well for musical ability. They began in fourth grade–unless their parents had already sent them to private music lessons, which many had (we already had one built in). Dad was an innovative music programmer and teacher with indefatigable passion for his calling. He advocated for the fine arts tirelessly as well as performed and encouraged, with strict expectations, thus exacting from students their best work.

So it came to be that he was well appreciated. And the family name was synonymous with music. My mother, I might add, was a respected elementary school teacher among other things–a substitute teacher after I was born. Plus, a great hostess and supporter of his career. And she was the more innately extroverted. She was not that musically inclined though her voice was a pleasing alto. My four siblings and I were, so we studied hard, practiced our instruments. This led to endless recitals, orchestral performances, church musical events, musical theater, classical competitions, small chamber groups–and small pop groups for me (not as a cellist for once, but a vocalist–what pleasure tat gave after classical music day in and out).

This did not bode well for lasting anonymity in that city and beyond–in music camps, workshops, state competitions. The better I performed, the more it felt as if I was becoming a more public person, too, not only a reflection of our father’s presence and influence. I adored all the arts so participated with enthusiasm. I especially embraced the actual performance part and duly appreciated applause–but preferred to run off right after performances. It was embarrassing to say “thank you” when complimented; I was doing what I was supposed to do, trained to do, enjoyed doing. But I also worried that I might not achieve the best performance each time I walked onto the stage. It would remain a joy to perform but also a relief to exit stages. The problem with having attention drawn to you is that people start to have expectations, bigger ones as time goes by. The problem is then you must please others and smile on and on when you want to take off the finery and walk into a silent, fathomless, starry night.

For me, the fuss became more trying than emboldening. It never occurred to my father that I was not as accepting as was he of this side effect of doing well. He was fairly ambitious and dedicated, yet marked by a humble nature, and so seemed to take in stride being so visible (despite displaying a vastly more introspective nature at home–no doubt he needed major “down” time). And he had no doubt his children could, would and should excel. He was a faithful believer in God and hard work and so believed that a talent must be honed, and that to waste it was akin to committing a sin. I know he meant well enough, yet that alone provided a penchant for a perfectionism that has dogged me all of my life. But it did not produce a stellar career nor a craving for fame. I excelled at enough, but at some cost. I wanted to a place to create–and found it mainly at a renowned arts camps where there were many such youth as myself.

Still, the thought of being well known–of being recognized as I walked down the street or shared a coffee and occasional forbidden smoke with a friend at a cafe–became less and less appealing. I needed more emotional space. For one thing, I was a young person with secrets due to childhood sexual abuse unknown to my family, and I planned on keeping it that way.

But I was also a dreamer. That state of being requires solitary time to develop and nurture ideas, to embrace with intention each act of creating, to seek an abandonment coupled with unwavering focus. As much as I liked dating as a teen, I was often loathe to leave a new poem or song, a dance or art project–to vacate my busy mind–to meet someone at the front door. My major fantasy by age 12 was to become a well-published, well-read writer (or singer) but to remain primarily anonymous amid any success. It  seemed a more comfortable and natural fate. Did I imagine being interviewed? On the phone, perhaps, once or twice. Did I want pictures of me circulating? I didn’t expect that would be to my advantage. Then more people would recognize me and I would have to duck into bushes.

How different these times are–our personal data quickly accessible. I am at moments startled to see my own image despite having gone along with the trends. But I wonder: how much does that add to my life or anyone else’s? I think very little, even at best. My writing–I do hope that matters some, but the fact is, I will still writing. No fancy byline or authorship would lessen the muse calling and my need to create with language. Or maybe it would. Now I have freedom.

Despite an avid interest in others, enjoying meeting new folks and entertaining from time to time, I embrace solitude, still. More than mingling face-to-face with people, generally. I feel satiated in most ways while burrowing into my writing space or reading chair, engaging with an activity even with spouse nearby. We have our own routines and rhythm, like all older married couples. And I have noted before that I seldom mind when he has long business trips. I do what I do still at 68 because I am daily motivated to create, to gather new information or try out new ideas, to pray and meditate, to take care of myself and, I hope, others. There is no applause as I complete a task or challenge. There is a gentle sense of self-fulfillment. And I can guarantee you that I have labored hard for this peace of mind that anchors my living even–or most–in more arduous times.

Yet, sometimes all this almost–if not quite–makes me nostalgic for the sort of  intense in-person contact after a performance, or after poetry readings that were part of my life once. Or even the career I undertook of counseling broken people. The field of mental health and addictions treatment even in a city like Portland is small enough that others in counselling know who you are soon. One’s reputation, for good or ill, precedes one. I was as known then as I would ever be as an adult, and I was satisfied with that. It was not the yawning ego but the work that mattered so dearly to me. Just like youthful performing, itself, mattered most–the reaching and connecting to others via music. As a clinician it was listening with an open heart and being steady n the face of crises, offering solace and new skill sets.  It is not about winning accolades or making big money–heaven forbid–but simplest caring.

It all–this anonymous v. public business–comes down to what I believe about God. If there is any light within me it can be shared, and by sharing it, that persistent light is freed like ripples in a clinic, on a stage, in a neighborhood, even perhaps the world as it is passed person to person. Creative work and any useful human-focused work are spiritual conduits, each a way to enable the blossoming best in everything, everyone: to bring forth the regenerative energy of miraculous, abundant life. We are given souls to greet one another as allies and helpmates. Minds to share constructive problem solving. And bodies to celebrate genius of a cosmos mimicked in our cellular make up.

This expansive yet essential anonymity has been the formative factor of my life, after all–not being publicly known by many, at all. I did not end up living the life my father expected of his offspring.  Family members became expert in their fields (including music), some of their names quite known. It is true that I had dreams of “making good” in the music business as a singer, and also as a writer, but my life trajectory took another route after marriage in 1971. It became more isolated and a quieter life made of more mundane events than overtly extraordinary–or so those judging types out there might state. I redesigned my criteria for a life of success. And I have experienced amazing people, beheld more than a few wonders.

I was relieved at a crucial level within to be no longer only “a Guenther” but to incrementally become myself on my own terms, and with a husband here and there. Even if all that fell short at times, I began to claim my life fully as mine. I devised it, I tested it, I rebuilt it and God redeemed it many times with an effortless love. I found that, in the end, what matters is what happens during unnoticed years of countless small actions undertaken, and with the ones I get to love, and any goals I can bring to fruition, whether or not others admire them. There are those who won’t know what matters to me as I attempt to manage a few true and valiant things while I have the breath; they are, after all, busy with their own industrious lives–I could reach out to them, too. But many more may not deign to care about my talents and deficits beyond my quick actions or chatter, as I am not “important or accomplished” enough to discover at a deeper level. To them, I have failed to win the awards or money games–while I keep mining the subtler riches of what I have, will yet discover.

I have learned that the most important acclaim comes from inside. And as long as I recognize my basic (if flawed) integrity which upholds a reasonable self worth, I am alright. Just important enough to those who care. No accolades are necessary. This anonymous life is still a life. I am pleased to be working on it and relishing it, day by day. And surprisingly, I suspect that would be alright with my parents, too.

 

Wednesday’s Words: Gratitude/Goodbye, Hello, Thank You

MI trip for Beth and more 046
Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2018

A late afternoon in November, home territory. Walking as one is meant to, arms swinging, head swiveling from this to that, feet sure and frisky on leaf-strewn sidewalks. A veil of frostiness overlays an opulent sunshiny sky. The taste and sight of all is clear to the tongue, bright on the retinas. I can feel the atomic life within each cell, a complexity of heat and light as it stirs, an energy of miracles. Brain to heart to sinew fires frissons of electricity.

I look up. Sky cradles a moon that silences the blueness, a small signal of dusk shading transparency. Cold dashes my face, snaps at my heels, scours thoughts. Red and orange, blue and green and yellow: this coloration of life is like a buffet of delicacies, a sustenance of happiness, I think. Spirit billows and thins, a swinging door from earth to universe, all that imbues this day. I gorge myself on aliveness.

The high nests are brittle, birds on the wing gone to exotic places, to beauty of other trees. Except for the crows who cannot bear to leave, and tend to one another, mark my passing with shrill greetings. Suddenly I long for cardinals flaring against wintry plains, festooning treetop bony limbs with their artful attention and a promise of hope, rejuvenation, celebration. I blink at fiery leaves in piles and see strong wings rustling. The birds of my childhood left long ago and yet they still sing.

My lungs fill with this gorgeous air, then my throat closes on a sprinkling of tears: that elegance of snow in Michigan, which fell like manna, yes. And, too, a shroud that nonetheless glistened as it shielded the dead. A desolation of white finery, the land stark but at peace. We attended the grave site as shy visitors, more speechless than prayerful, knowing you were aloft by then. What has exited cannot be called back. And who would want to? This amazement of our doing and being is a sliver of the whole. You are no longer akimbo in the midst of the chaos. But free, yes, that was what you awaited.

The new snow, a veil of tenderness, its cold melted by our soft breath and warmth of this skin that keeps us intact, whole, as long as needed. We touched one another lightly, fragile in the chill and emptiness. Reminded of ties that bind tightly in life, so loosely at the end and we fail to accept either sometimes.

But here, as I continue my blissful Oregon walk, so empty of snow, of dying, of grief, I find all the gifts of the day and its messages: Be not forgetful of the abundance given. Be not greedy for more. Be not angry at loss, for out of loss also comes renewal. Be not wistful for what is done and gone. Be not quick to forge barriers where none are even needed. Be never afraid to live life with passionate love of its entirety. For we are alive this long and no longer.

Be in this momentary grace, treetops whisper as they play catch with the moon,  they who see much, keep secrets.

This late afternoon of dying leaves and glow of moon and remembrance of snow, heart deeply beating, body tall and strong, spirit and mind leveraged by a persistent joy. For all of this, I am grateful.

 

 

 

Passing Through

last autumn leaves 032

We have lost a third family member in 6 months so I will not be writing this week other than this post–my dear mother-in-law now, following my brother and sister-in-law in spring.

Too many funerals–for far too many, not just me. We never hear the end of it. Will not.

But we gamely live out our time as long as we can, an assortment of contentments, aspirations, losses, accomplishments, wounds, and varieties of loves, our random musings circling in an infinity about our minds and shared with one another, and our daily motions made large or small, selfish or not…then exit this atmosphere in some way or another. And those left behind…are left behind awhile longer… to muddle through while keeping our hearts open, minds alert, spirits attuned. Or so I hope.

Be brave, be kind, and I send blessings your way. I will return here next week.

 

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Found Tent

Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

In the spacious front hall closet I was rearranging toppled baseball caps, a pair of  hiking boots, three IKEA folding chairs, two camp chairs, a small storage unit for more hats/gloves/scarves and a box of Architectural Legos so a new vacuum would fit behind crammed coats when it jumped out at me: a Three Person Wedge Dome Tent snug in its plastic casing.

“Huh,” I said to no one, since I was alone. “How come this is still here?”

Never mind that the corners are shadowy even with a hall light on. It seemed nonsensical that a full-sized tent could be hiding out in there. You see, we don’t camp. The “camp chairs” are what we take to an outdoor concert, or for a restful afternoon by a lake–not for hanging out in the woods for several days. Then I recalled dishes on the shelf above, the pine green enamel service for two plus stainless pot that are good for…camping. We do have basement storage. Yet here this stuff sat.

“We don’t ever camp, likely will not camp again, so what the heck?”

I pulled it out. It almost pained me, looking at it. The tent was beautiful with its lightweight royal blue water repellent fabric and polyethylene floor, the mesh door to bar insects yet allow ventilation. It’d look great with camp chairs and green enamel ware out there in the misty cool mornings under a canopy of Oregon evergreens and big leaf maples and so on and on, with eagles soaring above in hunt mode, owls hooting in velvety depths of night, and a campfire charging up the storyteller in us, even a few songs rolling out as we sipped soup from mugs…But not to be, I mused wryly.

I used to camp a great deal, with enthusiasm. I camped out as a child when at various summer camp programs, of course. And with my parents during  my teens (though not too often) with a simple pop-up camper they towed behind their Chrysler and then the Plymouth. We even camped in Canada which was more interesting to me then the camping with parents.

My first husband, Ned, and I went “primitive”; areas we camped around northern Michigan had no electricity or flush toilets with few other tenters around. When we had a family, we took our babies along, I nursed on the go. We backpacked along overgrown trails, branches reaching down as we made our way. We scavenged kindling, chopped and split “downed and dead” logs and cooked simplest fare over an open fire. I had married a man who was at perhaps most at home in the woods and the solitude found there. I wasn’t so far behind with willingness and appreciation. At first there were more skills to learn but it was fulfilling to work alongside him. It was peaceable out there and we and our kids felt good.

My current husband, Marc (who camped as a kid on Lake Michigan during summers with grandparents), and I camped at times with our combined five kids, borrowing my parents’ camper until they sold it. We tended to do this for other purposes, i.e. we were visiting a certain person “up north”, attending a folk or bluegrass music or similar event or were on our own Canadian sojourn. It was more economical and fun to camp rather than throw away money on hotel rooms. Not all the children were thrilled–hotels were luxurious playgrounds, unlike home–but most adapted. Naomi and Joshua, my children with Ned, were at ease, happy, helpful. Alexandra, our youngest, was excited to try anything new and adventurous. My stepdaughters were more skeptical. But Cait easily embraced the beauty of nature, loved finding wild berries, cooking with us. Aimee loathed it. She insisted she was genetically programmed to be a city person and to drag her out into any wilderness–despite flush toilets, showers, electricity: near civilization–was a true injustice and perhaps neglect of our responsible parental duties. (This never changed–she adores the concrete jungle and generally avoids being in dirt or in spitting distance of bugs unless required.)

Over time camping was less and less a family activity choice. A few grandchildren still went, however, with my parents–even when Mom and Dad were in their seventies. They were good at the more comfortable style of outdoors living. My dad had talents one would never suspect when he was in his tuxedo, conducting a symphony. He’d set up camp with simplicity and speed. My mother was a farm girl-turned-teacher and organized, efficient, if not thrilled with constant dirt in her makeshift home, under her nails–hadn’t she been done with all that? But they both respected, even seemingly revered what nature offered and taught the children more valuable lessons with each trip. Among which was cooperation with others–a love of familial fellowship. Those who enjoyed those trips still recall them fondly.

The last time spent hunkering down in a tent was autumn of 2010. Marc and I bought the tent when my son, Joshua, and his family (with two dogs) invited us to join them. I was thrilled he invited us. We didn’t  have what we needed but he did. Joshua is a veteran camper and hiker, a woodsman-type like his father. He, his two children and their mother know how to manage the basic and arcane things one learns when spending much time in wilderness or close to it. By the time they were in school Avery and Asher could identify many animal signs via scat and tracks, bird calls and even wild plants. They could explain differences between poisonous and nontoxic ones for use as, say, poultices for injuries and bites as well as for teas and food. I looked this info to verify it and was stunned. And Joshua can start a crackling fire with little and no modern helps, spot a deer in the distance before anyone else, root out stones from water or earth and name the types found. He has made a peaceable connection with all bugs and even spiders, despite a few having bitten and infected him badly with venomous wounds made.

My son and I experience nature at a perhaps primitive core which also encompasses our highest sense of all things–but he knows more about the outdoor life by now. Hence, it would be good to tag along with him into Oregon’s forests in the Columbia Gorge.

If only I could  tell you it was an entirely satisfying time but our one night camping experience was rough at moments. For one, my husband snores and has sleep apnea and without his CPAP machine, even with pillows propping him up a bit…well, it was an even less restful sleep for me; he seems more adapted to his apnea. We inhabited two separate sleeping bags with thin foam cushioning beneath. Nonetheless I felt may stones, lumps of dirt and stray twigs every time I was awakened by the drone from my husband. And I sweated too much so threw off top half of the sleeping bag, then felt the chill of skin drying inch by inch.

Sightless in the seas of blackness, I listened to the wilderness’ darkened voice in between  the snores and coughs. Its enveloping presence was alternately soothing and disconcerting. Thoughts arose about cougars, my most feared (such hunting prowess with stealth and fierceness) wild thing in these parts. And bears which I knew tended to be avoidant of people if food was securely put away (it was).  I had long trusted deep forest when I’d camped before and that night it was like a familiar but also a stranger one. I had lived at the edges of a few woods, miles out in country, and rustlings and sighings and snappings and occasional unknown soundings of something, somewhere…yes, it was so recognizable. I was duly mesmerized. The trees were so alive–of course they were!–but they were so utterly alive even if sleeping–did they ever sleep?…What else was awake besides me? My blood coursed with adrenaline at odd moments despite sensible self-talk.  Heart rat-a-tat-tatted or harrumphed. Mostly I wanted to stop itching and sweating, feeling the uneven ground and hearing Marc emit snores. Wait, what was that landing on my forehead?  And why didn’t I just buy a second small tent? Pitch it on the other side of the site? Why didn’t he just find a happy pause in racket and lsnooze on? Likely scared off near anything out there.

But even the dogs were sleeping.

Breathe in the good magic, Cynthia, be at your ease.

It started to rain, fat drops smacking and sliding off  tent walls. A relief to hear its music. I closed my eyes and fell asleep a couple hours out of exhaustion. Dawn arrived with a whisper and sweetness that is unlike city mornings, not with a slap but a caress. And the fragrance of fire burning and oatmeal cooking and coffee simmering. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, sneaked outside and stretched sore muscles and bones, grateful for the new day. Mist hovered in the distance like a benign spirit gathering. I could hear the kids at the river, their voices soft. Joshua was tending to the fire, sitting on a log. He looked up and smiled his crooked smile. The dogs noted me, licked his hand and took off.

“It was a sort of rocky night, but glad to be here.” I wanted to be a great camper so I did not want complain to Joshua.

He chuckled quietly. “Good. You just have to get used to it again.” He gestured to the flickering fire. “I piled some wood in the tent. Found other kindling not too damp.”

I nodded, looked out into the wetness and light creeping into inside the cooled air, a persistent brightening of a dullish day. The forest was breathing its fresh breath and I took it in deeply. Damp earth radiated its musky goodness. How I loved woodlands after rainfall, how trees shook off their shower and other plants bathed and glistened. My grandchildren scampered about with muddy boots and clothes, hands full of stones and berries. I thought back to those other days when my children were their ages and life was woven of inexplicable beauty and sorrow, not unlike how it was, still. But now it was safer, freer, deeper for me in countless ways. And my son was cooking breakfast, hugging his two, quietly talking with me as I poured coffee into our mugs. I watched him and was startled, as I still always am, to glimpse his father.

Before long Marc followed his nose to join us. I held my tongue. He seemed more achy and groggy than I. He and Joshua talked wood, stones, fire building. Content to listen, I heard Avery and Asher chattering as if freed of a spell of enforced stillness. The dogs, a mess of mud and plant matter, caroused with them.

Sitting around a small sputtering morning fire, sipping hot percolated brew, hearing birds’ wings slice through a sprinkling of rain and our muted talk, I was nearly as pleased as when camping years ago. Just more sleepy and quite a bit older. But I felt perhaps even more alive than decades ago. Oh, I was flush with boundless energy and vivid talk and brave dreams then. But now…now I was more rounded at my sharp edges, more permeable, flexible. Able to welcome insights other than my own fragments. I was humbled. Enriched. In fact, I had stayed alive when more than once I thought I might not make it so long. And that was something.

Only the enormous, aged trees about us might grasp this and they seemed to lean toward me, branches graceful and strong, their lives enduring an opening of every new day and its progression in this communal place, then into nights. Events of import that seeped into them, slipped about them. I nodded at the forest and heavy sky that promised more rain.  A gratitude that filled my throat with tears a second. But, too, I wondered if I could do it again or if aging had begun to conspire against me. If I had what it took to be fearless and sturdy enough of body and soul to make a camp out there. If we would take another chance, just go out on our own s before.

We tore down our lively camp, hiked as light rain came and went. By the time we separated and said farewell, sunbeams were vanquishing soft fogginess and how it shone on us. My heart swelled with wonders even as my body griped a little.

 

I put the tent back in the closet, tuck it into its corner. Can we even think about camping again at 66 and 68? Maybe, maybe not. But I want to see it there when items need reordering or when I just want to pull it out and look it over. Or when we finally move from here. I want to know it has been done and done well enough. How it has nourished us all, made us let go and attend to the immediacy of life, venture just a little more into the wilder variations of what matters: love becoming even more visible within the realm of natural manifestations.

Still, I find myself dreaming of staking my claim to a spot amid the sentinel trees. And a sturdy blue tent–one for Marc, one for me.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Stuck in a Blue Room (with Escapes)

Photo by Naomi Falk, Sunset Rain Sky, 2013,

I awakened a recent morning and stretched well, squinted at the window to ascertain what the sky was up to, then lay still again, as has been usual. Just coming back into this world. Through half slits of myopic eyes I scanned the soft blur of an inviting, comfortably large space around me. A thick warm dullness weighted me inside and out, and words arrived: stuck in a blue room.

I closed my eyes, drifted, wished for gold, wished for amethyst or vermilion or sage or flamingo pink.

The walls of my bedroom are painted a tender sky-in-lake blue. The quilt is Wedgwood blue. The bedroom light appears a sheer silvered blue early mornings, a soft navy at night. My mind, too, generally seems blue as I lay in bed. This usually reflects a peaceful ease, but it can also emphasize variable sadness or restless worry. Also, this blueness is a celestial dreaming that carries me, or a threshold to cross that reveals a poem or story that arrive unbidden. Then I must write and the blueness morphs into a span of colors–I use the word loosely here, color can be more than actual color– that rise and fade under my pencil.

Stuck in a blue room…

Blue is the way I live when at repose–not engaged in living with greater amounts of physical energy and movement. Those activities are differently colored. Though it may seem odd to others, this is what it is for me. Color means life. There is no such thing as colorlessness to me. White, after all, is all colors that show themselves on earth. Each reflects more, is a vibration of energy, physics made mystical. They can telegraph to me an active emotion, a deeper expectation or a simple state of mind. I accept these with delight –until it bears down, makes me think hard. Color, then, signals clues to life as I know it.

So that morning it meant something other and more. If blueness is a state of being I walk into when I open the bedroom door, it is familiar and I accept it’s character. It is the color always chosen for my bedrooms. But there are times it can feel oppressive, close around the edges. It can be such density of blue, creating a wide boundary beyond which I feel less able to experience fullness of life. If I was a long and languid sleeper, this would seem reasonable, I’d gladly succumb, but I am not,  by nature. I am used to jumping up and getting going. I prefer to not waste much time in that state.

But lately I often find myself captive in this blueness, and the room, for more than a little extra time. Floating amid watery light that fills the space.

I want out of there faster, more easily. I tell myself this as I lie there, let my eyes drink of this rich tone of palette, see early autumn’s cooler light chime its way in.I am not restive but becalmed.

I remind myself: it is grief, nothing more or less. I have been here before. My days and nights have not shown up the same since my brother got so ill and died late spring after a conversation with him shortly before. His gentle kiss stayed on my cheek a long time; I still can recall it. Then a sister-in-law who had my respect and friendship. Actually, it has been since four family members in total that have passed in three years. Like my world is shrinking. Rooms are emptied even as I sense presences. Just there…weren’t they….then not there at all.

Not that life should be the same as before. We lose parts of ourselves a little each time someone we love dies. They are not here for us to rebound off, to connect with, to herald similarities. Laugh with and be frustrated by. Those certain familiar meals/conversations stop. That part of my identity, of being sister and sister-in-law—only as I could be with them and they with me–has dissipated.

I get it. I don’t much like it. Nor the tears that rise and spill as I smell a familiar fragrance, hear a piece of music, catch sight of their images. Or just see a child reach for an extended mother’s hand: exquisite tenderness of blood with blood. Or read of more sudden deaths in the greater world. Such fragility  and rawness of life stun me anew; I want to turn away even as I want to wrap my arms about it, hold all close. It is a magnetic thing, human life. But it also can repel us when we have had enough for awhile. When we need a rest.

I thought today (as I power walked, admired green if drier rustling leaves) that if I still drank, if I still harbored that desire, I might be a little drunk by evening. Instead, I drink tea with my breakfast and an iced tea or coffee in afternoon. But there was a time when I’d dose my morning cup with a dab or two of whiskey. It made the hard, the tedious or loathsome qualities of living less damaging, I imagined. Way back then I couldn’t find the right effective remedy for that stuck state of mind–or perhaps I was too worn out to keep trying. But alcohol was a generous giver and soothed my fighting ego/wounded soul/aggravated heart/sleep-hungry body. My housewife boredom. Overwhelmed motherhood. The woman with displaced dreams. Well, just tamp it down and carry on. Put on a good show–but first, have a small drink.

It was the sweet escape discovered later than many (age 27) and when I did it was: Amazing, it’s not illegal, expensive or lethal and also is socially acceptable. Not many years after, I gained a more vicious experience in time. But meanwhile it was handy, it worked pretty well on inner and outer kinks, scars and blockages I’d wrestled with for so long. Or rather, the illusion of aid was convincing. One little sip was good, three big drinks or wine glasses were better or finally why not the entire blasted half pint of liquor…and more, who’s even counting. Somehow I carried on with life for a long time, so thought I fooled everyone. That thinking led me down an escape route from which it took a long time to safely emerge and when i did, I was blinking like a captive creature turned into brittle sunlight.

Alive by the skin of my teeth. That’s what alcohol does to some: strips us down to the core and then abandons us to try to survive in the human wilderness, anyway.

So I don’t drink. Not for decades now. I have far better coping skills. I seek spiritual help, pay attention to what feels (as in instinct) best and actually works. But at times I long for escape. Not with the old avarice for oblivion. Just a kindly breather. Another trail to traverse. A better vision to replace what I have. My story redesigned so that I fit it better–or it, me. I want to be happier again, and I want to be more useful to others. To feel more worthy of each day’s arrival. To slip these bonds of grief, the depression of the sorrowful.

Single out the spark in daily discoveries once more.

Is it so much to hope for? Maybe I was born rather too lucky…I have always felt able to find replenish-able joy despite the miseries that informed and bordered my life too soon. So when taxing times hang about I am still shocked like a foolish innocent who finally realizes the world is as it is. Like I have forgotten that this is part of it, we cannot be safe from it , and no one gets off easy even when it appears otherwise. Every time I ponder how it can be so sorry on this earth. And at times in my own life, which I used to feel was fabulous. Not me, but simply being alive– despite evidence otherwise. I know that heartaches reach and twist innards even as they teach us, and so deepen us at the seams,. Make us stronger and more aware.

I long ago created a life motto: Courage, Strength, Tolerance, Determination (“CSTD”, I said over and over to myself). I was 12 or 13 and decided it had to be that for me or sink. But before each challenge ended I’d experience resistance to being courageous, would rather claim my basic life joy in all its permutations. I think it’s human nature to shrink from and even fight off tribulations even as we rise to meet them head on.

So I still have to root about for it, dig deep and seek far until I can locate it– that shining thing, whatever emanates possibilities–then bring it close, spread it about for a look. I have to get out of bed, that room of waiting/dreaming/perseverating, out of that eternal blueness. The room inside me which offers a small protection. But not enough of what I realistically need otherwise. Right now.

Writing does this for me, as might be obvious. Who–if he or she is a writer or reader– can resist the cure of language that carries one inside other characters’ lives and their landscapes, creates a whole new, eventful territory? The horizon shimmers, tantalizes. Such force within the explorer words. Writing for me is the proverbial silver cord that attaches me to God. But also to earth and much that matters to me.

Any creative pursuit can provide remedial action. I am taking a world music choral workshop once a week for two months. I’ve learned a Zulu song (I haven’t mastered words yet) and a Native American-derived song. I like the people, how easily they sing out and share talk afterwards, though I sing with self-conscious reluctance (I am yet rather too blue) and it will take time to feel more chatty. I intend on taking a drawing or painting class this winter. When the hand moves the mind quiets, focuses, awakens to visualization of ideas that are freeing. I need to dance beyond my living room but also need to choose wisely how to expend such energy. One woman I met at choir noted she’d belly danced for 18 years. I try to imagine it… but am likely to do interpretive dance or Latin styles or perhaps Zumba again. To each our own.

I walk. Every day whether tired out or in poor weather. For my heart to stay better and become  stronger. To get out of the blue rooms of mind. To reconnect with nature’s potency. I hike in forests and on mountain trails, with or without my husband. Every walk cures something, a surly mood or a medium headache. Realigns my soul. Last Sunday Marc and I spent a couple of hours in Portland’s fine Japanese garden, enchanted at every step as I took photographs and breathed in the forested air. So much better than the blueness alone.

Reading is a favorite way to get me out of a confining head space, such an easy escape. I read several articles and pages of books every day. Recently my landlord had to check a window in my bedroom and I was a bit embarrassed by the two walls covered in full to overflowing bookshelves as well as neat stacks of books near bedside. Also, my dining room table tends to look as if designated for massive paper and print, but it feels like home to see it. I flip a page, am entertained but also instructed, moved, irritated, thrilled, shocked, healed. Given sustenance.

Movies and television serve a prime purpose of escape–last night it was the last of an Agatha Christie mini-series and a baking show. Tonight it may be a house renovation show or a wildlife documentary. Even a reality show, lowest of the low culturally, yet it can grab my attention a bit. I recently attended the fine film “The Wife” with one of my best friends, after which we went out for a great Italian meal. She prefers to escape into movies. I am happy to go along with her. Inhabiting another story, marveling at the artistry of film–a pleasure that broadens horizons.

This week-end we are attending the concert of glorious classical songstress Renee Fleming. Next week-end I am attending a musical based on Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” with another dear gal friend. Escape with intention of gaining intellectual nourishment.

I am fortunate to have these options, I know. It is a good thing I have them. I drank before, yes, and at a younger age also seriously abused drugs. But I have never escaped into gambling and my shopping is not much or pricey. I am far past the sexual hunt mode. No food addictions beyond intense desire for chocolate that visits me suddenly (I will pay well for superior quality). I am not a “techie” who buys lots of gadgets or even a fancy computer. Collecting items other than books or maybe t-shirts (so comfy) is not on my agenda. My love of music is upheld by fairly cheap transmitters such as radio and CD player plus a few concerts each year. Well, I do have a Sirius XM subscription for my car.

I could become a board game addict–a real draw for years, and I still love a competitive Scrabble game. I am as already noted quite enamored of frequent physical movement–hikes and walks, dance, exercise with out without weights, just wiggling about. I could see that taking up ore time. Exciting, aye? My escapes are manageable these days, and that works for me.

Travel has become more attractive though I tend to be reluctant initially. Last night Marc said he is longing for travel soon. Which is interesting as he travels too much for work. But now it needs to be for fun once more. So it seems we are escaping somewhere for a week or so. There is my being lately stuck and so slow to want to leave. Yet as he noted, travel can re-set or refresh the self, the body. It might be a way in which we both benefit after the year’s memorials, tears–and a fresh batch of questions about our family’s future. (We have several children, grandchildren and extended family and there is always another concern now or later no matter what  family.)

All escapes noted are fleeting, of course. They are still effective coping mechanisms. Far better than nothing. And without a doubt more effective than the drink (or other distraction that is problematic) that leads to greater losses. Healthier entertainment escape routes bring forward the relief desired. Or they are the beginning of small movements inside us, leading to inspiration, a glimpse of new viewpoints, an expansive moment shared.

Other people can steer me away from myself. Thank goodness and it is mostly good. I appreciate others’ ideas and experiences. People are a wealth of fascinating things, of wonders more often than not. And if I can be of assistance, so much the better.

When there are significant concerns about people it can get sticky. That’s a reason for tossing about in bed at night, counting the long list of “why life needs to be kinder” and naming names of those whom God must watch over even more, if God may please use my advice. In the morning I may awaken with residual memory of adrenaline spikes or tears, images of loss wallpapering my mind. Words of discouragement can erupt and tackle me like an adversary. I need them to stand down if I am to have a decent chance at making it a good day. I try to open to clues, to wisdom that floats from Divine Spirit to me. To us all. Because I know we are not left alone, even in blinding dark, echoing valleys.

So I get up at last, absorb the blissful blue of the walls, then watch how daylight shifts and illumines books and quilt and drifts over my bare legs, hear birds trill in an old tree and balcony chimes sway and speak into breezes. My heart ratchets up a few beats per minute as I exit through the first door into the new day, released from my haven, that small box of day and night, homey bluest of rooms. As my mind sharpens there are prayers for well-being and guidance, and the power to inhabit life as well as can be done this coming 24 hours –mine and others’.

I set out to discover what is good and true, whether in sadness or joy. It’s required, isn’t it, to go on, to hold onto another new morning. To be readied for what comes this way. To yet hope when all hope seems so small.