Monday's Meanders: Extinct Volcano, River and Woods

I had mentioned before that our area spreads about an extinct volcano, Mount Sylvania–one of several that provide enjoyable small “peak experiences” around Portland. This one is about 1000 feet. Nansen Summit (named for Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian diplomat, polar explorer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) is close enough to walk to–if you call trudging up a long, steep incline mere walking. The area is lushly green on the way and when at top, gratifying as when final views are embraced with wind and sunshine. The West Hills, Tualatin Valley can be seen. The more distant Coast Range is often clear enough to take in, as well as the Cascades. It was a bit smoggy or misty (take your pick; we do often have some foggy conditions) that day. Portland sprawls below the volcanic site.

We headed down the other side of the steep hill to look about, and turned this way and that to avoid residential areas with imposing homes since we like being in nature more. All persons we passed on foot–a couple dozen in an hour–were friendly as usual, if “socially distanced.” We were surprised so many were venturing out with the virus worry, but good to see as t hey stayed safely apart.

The previous day we enjoyed a familiar Willamette River walk. A creek or two also gurgle along as they seek to join the big waterway. Perhaps this is the last time we will be there for awhile; Governor Brown, following many others, has mandated today that we “stay at home.” We can still walk, run and hike in more open swaths of space and air but carefully, where there are fewer people…But Saturday there was no mandate and there were some groups gathered, to my surprise, especially young people who love the water. Of course, six feet apart is not always hard to accomplish outdoors–not on some water craft. We saw a fair number of lone fishermen and women, also.

Ignorance is bliss.
Flowers keep flowering everywhere, thank goodness.

Marc enjoying a view; me, taking a break before entering a city park. All in all, two happy walkabouts we got in over the week-end! It sure is true that fresh air and feet on the move are always good if possible. See you soon with my usual “Wednesday’s Words” post. Until then, be well. I am off for a shorter, chillier walk.

Wednesday’s Word on Thursday/Nonfiction: Our Lives Put on Pause

Today during my daily walk through vivid green trees and other burgeoning plant life, under overarching sky that beamed with radiant blueness, my eyes brimmed suddenly. Such beauty and joy juxtaposed with a flash of longing and sadness. I was thinking of the almost one year old twins; I wasn’t able to write yesterday as I was with those glorious grandchildren. And it just hit me as I power walked: it was a good thing I was there enjoying their effervescence, their happy curiosity, the small new accomplishments, as now I will likely not see them– or our local daughters and son and their families– for some time. Of course, I suspected this might happen sooner than later-didn’t we all, in the back of our minds? The coronavirus has now been confirmed in 24 people in Oregon; half are in the county where A., my daughter and mother of those babies, works in city offices. Not even a couple of weeks ago it was “just” 11.

Portland is starting to shut things down and mandate restrictions on large group events, as is more and more of our country. The NBA? The NHL? Sports have likely never looked like this. More primary and secondary schools are closing for a period or going online. Our neighbor, Washington State and the city of Seattle, is hardest hit now and they are taking emergency measures. Many universities are going online (one daughter’s place of work, University of South Carolina, is for a time) and scores of other employees are starting to work from home if at all possible. As so many say that this all feels unreal but there it is, a conglomeration of facts adding up to more challenges than we have seen in a very long while and more to come.

What will our lives look like shortly? How do we cope with the risks and hurdles and not become fatalistic? It is a tall order these days.

A. and I chatted about things at length yesterday when she got home from work: should we now cease meeting up? She worries that she might become a carrier eventually, and even if never that ill, she then could pass it to me. She truly fears for my health and her father’s, of course. It is hardest on older adults, after all, even kills them it appears…not babies or kids or younger adults. She has been talking about this since the first cases here– while I’ve become increasingly hesitant as i decide where to shop or visit. And I conclude today, best to stay out of stores, finally shop online if needed. This is not my way of doing things. But caution and prudence and wash those hands, I have mainly thought and reminded my family: common sense practices help contain any viral spread. We are everywhere and always now inundated with this advice. Hopefully more and more adhere to it. How else to effectively fight against something so miniscule but powerful?

We are up against invisibility, when you think of it. And what a thought that is.

My husband, meanwhile, was travelling from the East Coast to Mexico to home and back the last three months. He finally asked Human Resources and his boss about curtailing work trips. And they have now, despite concerns economically, as with all businesses lately. I have even encouraged him to take off a couple weeks and relax, rest up–he certainly has that time coming and yet he has forever been and is a dedicated nonstop worker.

Meanwhile, I think of my older and only brother who has been on a photography trip to Cuba with a small group. He is used to all sorts of things happening internationally. But the fact that he has a cold now concerns me. Havana is now barring planes from the US to land. He is due back soon.

I can’t think of a time this kind of scenario has happened in my lifetime. No one my age and younger can, I imagine. Sure there have been influenza outbreaks with complications of terrible pneumonia for too many over the years–and bird flu, swine flu, anyone?–and we had SARS to worry about. I long have had to work with clients who had MRSA infections on (bandaged or not) skin and sitting not a foot away from me,and those with serious health issues of all sorts due to addiction, homelessness and poor if any health care. But this particular virus replicates so fast that avoidance and containment has to be much more immediate everywhere.

Well, I am over 65 and have heart disease. I don’t normally feel like a person at high risk; I am healthy, overall, and the cardiologists last looked in my arteries a year ago stated there was no current issue seen–as partners we’ve managed coronary artery disease very well. But I am on that watchful list, anyway, and it is sobering.

I have been terribly ill from a number of causes several times. I have been near death and did not expect to “come back” four times and lived to recall the tales. And I don’t have an insurmountable fear of dying, nor even of becoming very ill. Of course I can worry at 3 a.m., imagine what it would be like to get coronavirus, then play it out in my head…then I do fall asleep. What else to do but go on? Every one of us has worries about health, at times; this one is big. But I believe that whatever is ahead will do what it will and come and I will be able to meet that physical challenge– or I will not. It is that simple. I can do as much as I can to prepare to stay well, but the spectrum of possibility in human life creates and destroys as it does. And if I must leave this world, it will happen, I presume. Yet–I do not feel fatalistic. Only realistic.

No, what bothers me right now is that with more restrictions placed on our movements–for the good of all, yes–I may well not get to see my friends or family for…who knows how long? For their sakes or for mine and Marc’s, we have to determine choices clearly, pragmatically.

One of my dearest friends has been ill for decades with lupus, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and a patchy liver and many other things as a a result. Brenda has been recovering from pneumonia the past 8 weeks. She is still weakened. She works as a counselor in a prison. I fear for her well being; she is not cavalier about it. When we last checked in she talked about her will, and her desire to make sure her friends know how much she cares. I listened, swallowed hard. I know this virus could kill her but, like me, she has had brushes with death before and so takes it as it comes. There really isn’t any other choice. But I have loved her a long time and I am hoping against hope she will stay safe.

Another friend of decades, Eileen, has been meeting with me for lunch or dinner plus a a movie for years. Or a tool around books stores or garden walks. I so enjoy her ready laughter and sunny spirit, her intelligence and her wit. We have a particular sort of great time together; the lack of it will be sorely missed as we wait this out. But she is to retire and move to Arizona in August. Perhaps sooner now.

It felt good when Marc and I held a family dinner three weeks ago. Even then I was thinking–when will we easily manage this again between time scheduled for other things, work, and this virus concern? Their youngest sister and her family didn’t come, though; now it will be more time apart. But it was good see them convened at the table, to update on work, activities and experiences, future plans as we shared a hearty meal–as ever it is. But I also thought of ones not here–the daughters in Virginia and South Carolina. I wished for a fuller table, a raucous house, but was deeply grateful our grown children enjoy our company, as we do theirs. I looked at them and thought: this is my clan and how lucky.

And now, the pause on meeting, sharing, hugging at will. No longer can I comfortably and spontaneously call my son, say–“Hey, I’m in the neighborhood, what’re you doing for dinner?” A pause… on visiting my only sister (in early stages of dementia) as I have done every 10-14 days, as her retirement community is barring visitors for at least a month. A pause… on getting together with my old work friend, Jim, with whom I enjoyed lunch and laughs only awhile ago.

And another kind of companion: I for the first time am loathe to keep visiting the library, and find that more sad than most changes. All those beautiful, mind-expanding books…and all those germs. Let’s face it: Whatever we touch can seem too much these days. Thank goodness I have many books waiting to be cracked open in my very home. And I am already reading them more.

It will be difficult to not see folks…to not be with grand-babies (who live ten minutes away) I am used to being with three times a week for almost a year –and what of their one year birthday in April now? This separation from family can make me ache from soul to brain and it is just beginning. It is as if we are being asked to put not only activities on hold but the chances of deep loving and living. We humans need to give and accept actual hugs, to study the face of a loved one, to be near enough to hear a soft sputter of delight or exasperation under the breath. Not send heart and flower emojis, those odd, cutesy emblems of emotion that say so little even when they do mean to say so much. Even virtual/video meet-ups don’t come close to meeting face-to-face, not really. Awkward and limiting, I always wonder what all to say. But I guess I can learn how to do it better, with more heart.

So we get ready for “the long pause” as we–individuals that are whole communities, countries–rally to respond to this serious health crisis that reaches its tentacles farther every day. To preserve more and more lives, it is a no-brainer, and social distancing as they call it, begins in earnest. We need to stay friendly, supportive in any small ways we can. So we remember we are in this together; we can pool resources and maintain a problem solving viewpoint with positive attitude to get through it, somehow.

Love, like water, must find its way, its outlet, its home; it wants to find those beloved. Humans are unavoidably interconnected at heart, that is clear. I hope the best for us all, and do pray we reach out to one another in the manner in which we each can. We can’t let fear run us over and hold us down, make us less willing to care. Better to appreciate singular moments, anticipate and plan for healthier, less strained days and nights. To do what we can with our time, talents and our will for good. Call each other on the phone for a change. Send cards and letters. Video chat and send pictures. Let neighbors know we are around, even at an arm’s length if necessary.

Blogging, of course, is a terrific way to be present despite worries, a safe place we can share our creations and ruminations. I will be right here among you all–that is still my plan!

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Something Once Experienced and Done

(Be forewarned: this is real life and not attractive. )

The slate-grey window yawned at me, a near-cavernous thing, a gaping void just beyond which I leaned and teetered, pressed against the cold pane, eyes half-closed. It could have been night or day, either a measure of my sight, my mind, or my disposition. It was 3 a.m., it was 3 p.m., either way it was about to be my undoing, a weak surrender to another gasp of the binding air, a squelched human inhalation/exhalation.

Well, you may ask, how can the very air have binding properties unless filled with smoke or other noxious chemical release of choking minute particulate? But for the time, it felt as if it was, a hazard of living day to day. It was the ponderous curtain of depression, and a deep seeding of unworthiness and powerlessness, and the plaintive sorrow that accompanies it. And it attached itself to me like a second skin that slowly engulfed not only my body but the shrinking core of me. Until a kind of terrible breathlessness came…despite walking, talking, doing as habit bids. Usually. Until an likely imminent failure of purportedly reliable systems.

******

I have never written for a public readership much of the hardest realities of my life in first person, as nonfiction. The details, even a few that resonate and stick to me like powerful sap. I hesitate. I wonder what can be gained for myself, for anyone. I only know a strong desire is suddenly to, decades later, speak of some things in the way it wants to fall onto the page. Call it a shedding, call it a truth telling, call it a writers impulse to confess, even self indulgent–that worst of writing which I tend to think serious, difficult soul-baring writing too often is. Nonetheless, I keep writing. And the black letters leap onto the white expanse like spooked deer running for their lives, or, perhaps, running to better grazing grounds….

“Don’t let the past steal your present or future”: this is taped upon my mirror on a scrap of paper. I meant it back whenever and I still do. Practice it like a mantra, like a psalm. Use it like a life preserver.

******

I have not felt those above difficult sensations nor daily carried such burdens for multiple decades–way back when I was in my late teens, when I finally almost gave up the fight with late-diagnosed PTSD due to damage of unspoken (and ignored by all adults) childhood sexual abuse. Emotional abuse, the kind that lingers as a low drone, unheard perhaps by others but unmistakable. Those times and those stories are not even fit to print, I always think, so terrible was my habitation within them. It went from bad to worse: those many storied, high-ceilinged Gothic buildings with dark, too cold or hot, near-empty common spaces and such tiny sleep cells, one of which I sheltered within at night; the lack of control over any waking or half-sleeping moment, and many patients roaming and muttering or locked and tethered and mostly drugged out of time and thought, and ultimately alone and deeply lost. There were those committed for drunk driving, for drug use. This was not an enlightened place or time. There were no addiction treatment centers, no dual diagnosis help back then.

The absurdity of it, trying to heal within a decrepit mental institution and a system that was a maze of a nightmare, antiquated, more ruinous than imagined at first glance–which was bad enough. The place where I did survive 4 months. But it was so toxic and poorly run that it was closed not long after I exited via power of a court order. True, I had experienced what was called an acute toxic psychosis, brought on by amphetamine and barbiturates with psychedelics tossed in, then subsequent withdrawals and the old PTSD flourishing in the midst of it all. There was more that happened in my young life than anyone ever knew. And I wasn’t soon talking. And a badly run psychiatric hospital would not make me talk, either. I determined to stay alive, endure, day by day, but being there with those issues was like being scalded then nothing but burn and ash, bereft. The body sickened, wounded by being dunked/scrubbed/yanked/detained, magnification of emotional robberies past and present and a team of medical “judges” lined up as I was sat on a small chair on a platform, interrogated, given sentence, told that doing my tasks and trying hard was not enough, I had more time: the internment as I called it felt like being left in far greater peril, with no way out. No one incarcerated thought differently behind high barred windows… unless they no longer could think, at all. One could see why not and crying about it helped nothing.

Then, too late for so many, there it was: that it’s doors and windows had finally to be shuttered was, of course, no surprise to me. That it took that long, too long, stunned.

That sprawling compound where so many had lived for years, not just weeks or months, remained vacant for a long time, perhaps I imagined to be razed to the ground as it needed to have been, or sold for its considerable, pretty acreage. Then, perhaps fifteen years ago, I came across a glossy article about how a resurrection had taken place: that dark castle of horrors had been reconfigured, renovated, reborn as a resort of sorts, a high-end shopping and fancy hotel with spa kind of place. Imagine my astonishment and dismay. To think of people taking pleasure there. It will never be anything other than it was, to me, and I can imagine there roam ghosts of its long and ignominious past. I wish it had been made into a garden or a wooded haven, a nature preserve for birds to fly free, all creatures roaming at will. Space to be, nothing a barrier to what comes easily and with no harm intended.

But I made it through that experience and the grueling times (including before and the aftermath) as I could only hope that others did. I sometimes think of them, recall their faces, the longing and fear. Since I exited through those gates and found greater freedom I learned there were good ways in which to get better, rebuild my life. It required time, stubborn intention and work to leave behind the oddly magnetic pull to give up. To find sturdy “earth legs” again to keep me steadier. But I found despair did not have to commandeer me; there were coping methods that did not involve drugs, either illicit or prescribed. I may have been fortunate, yes, to read the right books, find a few wise therapists, avail myself of friends and other support people along the way. And I had a faith that I did not altogether abandon, a belief that I would prevail with God’s constancy and compassionate guidance one way or another.

That kind of torment, the black well of it, has not revisited me as happened there in that time and place, the late 1960s. And still the impact has not quite left me, though I might think otherwise.

It wasn’t just the provoking illness and addiction, the self loathing and hopelessness that accompanied it. It was those streaked dirty pea green walls and corridors, the cups and needles full of soul-negating “medicines”, heavy thud of steel doors as they slammed tightly shut and even locked, screams and garbled monologues of agonies named and unnamed, the grave mental states so many inmates inhabited–if one can say they inhabited anything but their bones and flesh. Even I felt taking leave of one’s senses was the best prospect for relief, at times. Then there were less mentally or physically impaired individuals who might possibly have thrived if they had lived more safely, been loved well…they so touched my soul. We found each other’s eyes often and spoke less, there was little will for that. But those things I had to do to get by each day, the labors forced upon me since my mind clarified and I was capable before too long. The required mental gymnastics and learned obedience I was put through by people doing what they were paid to do…the rough hands that informed me there was no escaping anything: these can and do haunt. One does not precisely forget. It gets into sinew and cell and those who’ve known the experience keep it hidden in a series of scars, even as the damage is repaired.

One presses on and looks for anything better. For light amid the depths. One scrounges for courage where there is none. Where every breath feels useless and yet one must breathe. This is how human beings are outfitted if we get to be fortunate enough: we are made to persevere beyond all reasonable cause or any evidence supporting hope. We will ourselves to keep on.

How I prayed when crumpled in dank and dirty corners that if God would only release me from that desert of spirit and mind and body, that Gothic nightmare, I would spend my life in service to help others. I wanted to care more for any sort of real life, but was beaten down and beyond caring…and one prays harder when great need presses in, and also strikes bargains. I was entirely committed to such a bargain (and one day would make good on it).

There it is. Words testifying. But I haven’t thought of this story within the greater context of my life nor of that distant past in so long. Perhaps not since my late twenties. So why now?

I have good cause, maybe. The recall may bring me closer to truths needed so I can rally and come back to joy and peace, not mere facsimiles, not only a hope of both. I already know what hell is; I also know what a sort of heaven is that can manifest here and now.

How does one write of shifting shadows and powerful undertow of depression when I still barely understand it in my own life–despite treating others in some way or another for decades as an addictions and mental health counselor? I have easily empathized with others; I have believed their fight valiant and purposeful. I’ve rallied resources, cheered them on, held the line against more loss and for greater renewal. But, really, perhaps I had lost something vital–a conscious knowledge of all that had been placed on a shelf: Something Once Experienced and Done. Like being beaten or or raped, overdosing or having knives thrown at you or being shot but surviving. I have such stories, too, death and life. So it makes sense to me that it was put behind me and I have simply gone on. This is what survivors learn to do, even as we work out the peace we must have.

Not that I haven’t been miserable other times over the decades for a couple hours, for days here and there–quite low, a darker shade of “blue”–even a greater kind of sad for this or that reason, and also wracked with grief for months after losses, but still living in this world better than expected. We cannot escape these repeats the longer we live; it is only human, as it goes. It’s tested me. I’ve felt becalmed, “emotionally inert” for brief times. PTSD affects things a long while and when the triggers arise even briefly I do know what to do. And yes there are the burdens carried about by the wrong decisions made, aching and worn out. But then they are let go.

So—really depressed? More than here and there\ then done with that? I have had no patience for it. I shake my head, say, No, that was back then–this is now. I am so grateful I have not been there again, not like that. Get down? Get back up, it is simple.

But today I tell you: I have over the last few months glimpsed that misshapen, relentless old beast and found it a daunting thing once more. Not as before, no–I am sober and clean of substances. I am not the same age or of the same time, not that same young, mute and bleeding person. I have had years made sweet and sweeter with happy times to encourage, fortify and heal me. I have learned a ton of efficacious coping methods and use them. And I have time on my side, and it teaches and strengthens me each year. At almost 70, I am stronger and better prepared for meeting “life on life’s terms” and more resilient than ever.

But am I? I am re-evaluating a few factors every day and am not so sure sometimes. IT is not the same, it is not even every day I feel run over by the old self abnegation, but it is a fearsome thing, nonetheless.

And the truth is, I don’t sink too low for no reason at all. It is not chemical as far as I can tell, certainly not for eons, if it ever was– not in the classic sense of clinical depression etiology. I tend to feel internally solid, more or less balanced mood-wise and I do know who I am, know what I need and what to do. Sure, I feel and express several emotions in a day, this is h ow I was built for the world my heart a sieve for feelings and impressions. No one ever accused me of not being transparent, either. But my internal barometer reads acceptably warm or cool, or I change it to what works better for the environment.

No, it is always a particular circumstance which I find more demanding and then finally near-impossible to effectively problem solve around, to improve; or a number of those times with weightier cumulative effect. So I have examined many changes in my life and found that they have taken me down without my full knowledge. Little by little. From one sort of confusion or loss or hurt to another. This low time has been 3 or so years in the making. And I have had to look it in the face; I do not like not turning on a light bulb to see what is coming at me, and what I need to work out.

I will not bore you with endless details but will note some major events. (Those who read my posts weekly, please forgive any repetition.).

Six people I loved have died one after the other in a fairly short time, some in a very difficult manner. I’ve had significant health crises and interventions–cardiovascular issues, serious dental problems (dental matters effect heart health, too, FYI), flares of gastrointestinal illness and issues related to inadequate treatment of a previous female health (mis)diagnosis. I had four random injuries due to hiking terrain/missteps as well as a slip and fall; though no broken bones, they suspended my necessary and loved outdoor activities far more than expected. Years of chronic neck pain from an assault at 40 that can steal endurance. and equanimity–I cannot take opioids, nor even ibuprofen (the latter interferes with my heart health). It can get a bit complicated.

My spouse developed a couple of serious and chronic health problems–surprising, scary. Then there were other life crises/financial worries/emotional issues for our children and others at various times, things that have kept me awake at night. And my only remaining sister–an executive director type, a doer and shaker, and one of two siblings left of four–has weirdly developed dementia, perhaps due to concussion from accidents…. but it doesn’t matter how, it just IS. No other members of my birth family now are here excepting this sister. A brother is in Virginia or travelling the world. (Of course, there are three adult children here plus s few grand kids –for that I am grateful beyond measure.)

One dear friend is slowly preparing to move to Arizona in a year; I already see her much less due to our area move. Another has had a major mental health impasse far worse than my current debacle and another (though younger) who is my dearest friend may be dying even as I write this– her medical diagnoses take greater toll week by week.

Where have so many I have loved gone? Of course this is a not even a sensible question. But it is asked. I count them as they fall and still cannot believe it at times. But we age or get ill, and there you have it.

Earlier in 2019, we moved after 25 years in the same abode to an area quite unlike the old one; I still cannot recall my way around all these crisscrossing, winding roads. One of our daughters had twins (after high risk pregnancy) last spring, and then came unexpected postpartum depression/anxiety with many ripple effects. It was overwhelming for me, too, at first. But she rallied with great perseverance, excellent helps. The readjustments remain ongoing though she returned soon to a good if demanding job. Her spouse has not worked outside home, taking on the household duties and daily child tending for eight months, as well. Money is terribly tight. I have helped out 2 times a week or more for the last nine months.

It has been a past year of unforeseen demands as life just presents us, yes. Communications glitches, ongoing stress with tiredness, expectations not met as imagined. We have all learned things about each other that have been surprising and at times difficult. Not to say soul bruising, now and then, requiring more courage, flexibility, ingenuity, patience, compassion–not all of which operate as well as others or often not all at once for us. We each have had our work cut out for us. But the twins are so worth every single bit of labor and devotion. Their magnificence–who cannot embrace and adore new beings given to our care? We so love them. Still, I think it needs to be said that being grandparents and parents and in-laws all at one time is not so easy-breezy as some would have you think, nor an endless happy celebration day in, day out. There are needs coming at the family all the time, and important. But our delight in those two small girl persons is unending and we care for family so much.

I had a major car accident Thanksgiving Day, not so bad, I made it out okay, overall. But it seemed a tipping point. (I’ve had only one other crash, in 1974; it left me unconscious/leaving body, “jaws of life” employed, significant recovery time, etc.) This was a couple months after my husband also had had an accident. My car was totaled, it was a lengthy process with insurance and finally abating. More expenses, injury to address. It took me a month to stop feeling anxious on busy streets, to stop feeling oddly fragile, and it jarred me emotionally–more than I thought it should. It seemed too much at moments, though it was so small an actual thing in the end. It helped hasten a faster descent; I berated myself for my error of judgment, of being in the wrong place, the wrong time. And the loss of money–a “new” used car, higher insurance rates, etc. when it was needed for more important things.

I have to admit that I have spent more time weeping than in decades. I cry over truly sad stories and real human suffering, but I’m not a sniffler over sad songs, fussy people, flat tire in a downpour, one-eyed dogs, bad hair day, etc.–and not a full-on crier even when life hurts. But I have become one the past couple of months. Not every day, but far too often for my comfort. There have been words: I have heard that I am a person with several flaws. I have never pretended otherwise; there have been shocks. More words, regrets and bafflement.

There has been grief. The grief is what moves me to lay on yielding pillow and moan, press my forehead against a tree on my walk and let tears run. For what? For my losses, for the earth’s losses, even for your losses. It can feel like one and the same, all of us paddling or swimming best we can but too many of us sinking, even drowning. I intend to–I must– at the very least float until I swim well once more. What else can done do? I am far too old to quit and start over. I get up and face the day; truly, some are better than others. But it takes work and risking more hope again.

I don’t know if these things are “enough” to create a moderate to significant depressive state. I call it as it is today for me. I tried to clarify events and my responses. For how I react shows me my perspective and deeper feelings. Why have I in other times been quite able to “bounce back as usual”? Why have I felt more alone than before? Why is it tougher to well protect myself from what feel like a bunch of harder knocks? And why are more sleepless nights gaining the upper hand, and heavier days being distracted by ruminations that net too little progress? I have been stopped by the accumulated life happening this time. One can get weary. I find what works and does not, what to seek that will enable greater well being. And thus, to be a better parent, spouse, grandmother, friend, sister.

I am more a “yo-yo” for the first significant period since I drank or used drugs so long ago. So I attend AA meetings. I don’t want to drink or use but I don’t want to be on a “dry drunk”, either. I want to be better than this. I go and I sit and listen to the group’s collective wisdom and experience. I know no one at these new meetings out here but I need to listen in silence for now.

I go to church at times. I read Scripture and other spiritual offerings. I read daily meditations and find meaning that helps. I pray for whatever it is I need to be stronger, be kinder, more adaptable and accepting. The courage to let things be. A lack of acceptance can be a stalling point for me. I have to yield to life more, even as I stand up and keep moving. And that movement daily takes me outdoors, without which I could not locate a deeper peace amid the storms of living.

I write, I draw, I listen to music and sing and dance about. I know the power of creating, its deeply restorative effects. But some days….even that seems hard. And that has scared me some.

For so long I have thought, Oh, I am pretty good at taking care of myself. And I have a spouse who can be here for me, too, in many ways. I know the methods by which to bolster and keep steady myself. And about effective therapy services, which I am willing to use whenever needed, so seek one now. In the end it continues to be a process of learning and experiments, the daily smaller gains and losses. And it will be myself once more who rescues me, along with the durable core and support of my faith. It always has been. I am not a user of psychoactive drugs even for mental health and it isn’t due to not finding them valuable but because I know from experience what else to do, and prefer to do that, as it has worked. I am open to suggestions. Let it not be said that I am unwilling to gain greater understanding. Or to practice that authentic acceptance which comes hard, yes, but can be done if it is the right thing, the best thing.

The good news is that I am not nineteen, nor in the grips of the kind of acute distress that takes me to such terrorizing darker places. I have lived that, and I am done with that. And I am an action taker; I am not paralyzed. I am thankful for all this. But I remain sad and confounded more than I want to be. I am impatient to become a braver and better person still. I got a bit of decent input from my brain as I wrote, more ideas so there is more hope. We all must keep searching, reaching, learning, and not letting go of hope–it is what is available to us in times of trouble.

If these tears must fall and fall again, well drat and damn it and so be it. I must require a true and hearty cleanse. I will not dry up, I will not evaporate. If I feel hollowed out by it for awhile there will be more amazing and tough experiences to occupy those spots. I am just another person, a woman who will not rest until life is ever fully embraced, its variations of light and shadow attended to–its dignity discovered daily… and its steady shining, shining through the murky gloaming, upon this path of dirt, brier, sand, sweet grass, blossom–and humblest rock, which after all, tells stories, holds secret gems.

******

Something “once experienced and done” might again shadow your life, my life. It does not have to own it. Take back your unique and inviolable self still deep within you. That is what I still do.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Who and What Goes There, and How?

.…She came into its possession without knowledge of it, the creek riffling over her feet, about her ankles as she waded out farther to meet her mother. Their baskets swung on their arms and made a good hard sound with their cargo, small rocks clicking together, blushing in the sunlight. The forest gave enough light and cover as they pressed on, backs bent more often than not. Sika dawdled , then lifted her foot enough so her pointed toes spun a watery circle over the darkening bed of stones. And then and there it showed itself.

This paragraph arrived in my consciousness in three pieces over the last three days–as well as names of more characters, not including the mother who remains nameless now, or forever. But I know what Sika found: that was the very first thing, how an image came to me so clearly it was as if I saw it up close, felt its presence on my very skin. It holds strong energy; it has not left me. Last night, late, I scribbled more of the above on a scrap. It may turn into more greater or lesser; it may even fizzle. We shall see.

But how did this all come to me? Does it even matter? Is there a best way to open up that wellspring of creative energies?

I often hear writers and others debate and share how ideas flow. Many ask: from where does “enough” inspiration arise to not only begin but to keep on? How do we keep that drive going? “Creatives” in all mediums seek inspiration as we usher into fullness of being some subject or image or hypothetical situation we find stubbornly interesting, disturbing, surprising, enthralling. We share so many sources and yet bring our individuality to each experience. The process of making something grows with us or without us entirely at the helm, but it must begin. Indeed, we welcome it with a door or more flung open.

And that is the start of it; being wide open, even vulnerable to experiences, ideas, dreams and visions, to people and place. It requires attention. This requires willingness to attend to what is happening all about, as well as to the insides of ourselves and others.

We can hope to know ourselves better and better as time goes on, if we maintain enough steadiness in turbulent times, can be honest and alert to the variables of our days and nights. We have an emotional barometer, and it can be well used not only for well being but for big creative output. I am, like it or not, one who can sit with the darkness, the unknown or difficult, but also be ready and able to turn on the light when the signals I experience require more information, fast action. Meaning, I am ready to be “on”, ready to face fears. I am not passive or, rather, I also perceive the waiting state of mind as receptive, awake to potential moments. I have a lifetime of being aware of activity internally and externally, sometimes out of a need to survive, but mostly out of the desire to be present in this life.

This readiness alone gives me a surplus of ideas and energies with which to work. And I suspect this is a common characteristic of creative persons. We want to know more, are willing to feel a wide spectrum of emotion, we want to seek out possibilities, solutions. And we want to participate somehow in the discovery process, even if it is making possible a basic translation of an experience. We also have an urge to “re-do”–make something more or less or different of it. And, finally, when we determine it is enough for that round, we might hope to reveal what we have made of various fragments gathered together. That basic curiosity and the urgency to engage with material of all sorts (and even other people) underlies much of our creative impulses, like a foundation for a building.

We can know our own personhood with effort and time. But can we truly know others by sheer observation and interaction? We have vivid or hazy glimpses of people and events. There are many ways in which to do this. I have a few.

The senses come first, no doubt, for most: we hear, see, smell, taste, touch. If I sit next to a stranger on a plane, for example, I likely will touch little to none; taste will not enter into the data except for how smell may trigger a subtle taste counterpart. So, then: a man’s bulk or lack of it; an odor of perspiration or cigarettes, booze or mints or cologne; the expression when he took his seat, if he gazed out the window, the focus with which studied his computer or book or did not; his clothing choice and condition; the tone and timbre of voice when speaking to a flight attendant or me, plus any automatic sounds emitted. His posture, the way he moves, gets up and down, if with consideration, stiffness of movement, or a lack of awareness of others’ personal space. And there is mood, which often can be discerned by the above observations. His body turned away from me and others, his coat pulled close about him. Or simply being still until a feeling comes about the person. We all feel some sort of energy of a person and it informs much of what we do or say. Other clues might be what he is reading if it can be glimpsed. Or if he avoids eye contact or sleeps the whole trip and loudly so. If he chats with comfortably–or better yet, shares fascinating info. If I choose to politely ignore the person after a cursory glance (on a plane, often a good idea), that’s fine. But something has registered with me.

There is an impression made, formed by all of it, and quite quickly. We make note right off, may observe more later. People offer strong impressions for me, and I take with me those I want or need to keep to consider further. Overheard conversations are like gold, as well. A writer keeps a mental catalog of emotional nuances, behaviors, speech and appearance on file. These can bring to the fore ideas for fictional renderings. But it is never boring to observe others. It might seem nosy. It is perhaps aligned with detective work, but we don’t realize we’re doing it.

Because I am a quite visual person–I think in pictures, generally; I am drawn to form, color, design, smallest details; my memory is stuffed with scenes or “movies” as I well recall what I saw (or best I can)–I gather clues and cues about life this way. I am happy with camera in hand, gravitating to this angle or that snippet of view or the thing that kid is doing with her hands or face as she walks by. These photographic slices of life are squirreled away in mind, as well. Many a visual clue leads to a short or long story, often a poem. Just one photo can do it, even a minor shot, and when I see it again, I begin to wonder. Many posts on WordPress start this way, and in workshops if I am given a picture or an object, I am off and running with an unfolding story line almost immediately.

Music can be a great trigger for language to flow meaningfully, though music reaches me at a level beyond language. It finds my soul, and I associate that intertwining less with language and more with experiences that cannot be described easily. Still, music impacts mood or clarifies thinking. It also may provide a neutral background “canvas” upon which a exchange of form and colors, scene and ambiance unfold via heart, mind and language; it can both settle and open things up. I tend to write for hours in silence but if I play any music it is classical or jazz, and quietly. No lyrics–no, not words. I supply words needed and cannot afford to be sidetracked by another person’s story when I work.

Walking and hiking are great release agents of creative flow. I have written countless poems while walking or climbing and tend to record them on my phone as I go. Perhaps it is the rhythm of legs and arms in motion. The heart pumps, purposeful feet push off the earth while also noting its vagaries, oxygen enters the blood stream differently than when sitting. I feel more alive in the wide open–even if it is city’s open spaces I traverse. I do prefer woods, mountains, rivers and ocean. It is the deep breaths of fresh air, the variety of scenes. A stirring sense of unity with all life expands and intensifies with dopamine and serotonin levels rising. And words and images come and go in my head as I move at a fast clip–or pause to observe more closely the fine, symmetrical veins of a curling leaf, the flicking plume of scurrying squirrel’s tail. I embrace God’s presence even better outdoors. I feel my humbling insignificance, but am more free. These are good things to experience for me as a writer. I would rather be a conduit for language, for story than a holding tank for my more tedious or redundant thoughts.

And yet. There is abundance right inside us. What we create comes from the reservoir of our history as well as current mode of living. We can conclude that the vast interior of our beings includes billions (depending on one’s age) of bits of information that can meld sufficiently to birth more words, images, ideas and feelings. A sentence, an idea, a paragraph or picture; a conglomeration of particles of stuff that construe a whole work, an entire story. We bring ourselves to every moment we create, within a context of countless other lives and a humongous variety of experiences. It is a treasure trove, the sprawl of humanity. All we have to do is pluck what we desire to use as it bubbles upward into our conscious view. Perhaps we may forget where the essence of that useful moment originated. Or we recall only too well. It matters less than what can be done with it anew.

Have you ever been inside a prison, talked with inmates about life, like I have? Use it. Have you ever seen hundreds of tundra swans in a muddy winter field, as I did? Use that. Have you been up most of the night crying and watched your windowpanes change from claustrophobic black to radiant silvery light and felt relief again? Use it, too. Have you loved so hard that, despite knowing it might be an error, you gave over to it, suddenly afire? Use this. Have you passed by a street youth smudged with dirt and despair, slouched on a doorstep, then quietly gave every dollar in your pocket– even though you didn’t know what the money could do? Use this. Or have you sat in the top of an old maple tree as a child and wished with every fiber you could fly beyond the houses, beyond the city, beyond ordinary times and into the universe? Into one extraordinary moment–and there it came like magic, just like that for you, inside you? That is imagination. It needs you to use it to stay alive and well.

Take out the tools of language–or art of any sort. Put them to work in the faith that something will come of the exercise.

But back to kinds of wellsprings. What to make of the times I hear a word clearly in my head and it won’t let loose? Or a heretofore unknown character walks across the stage of my mind and starts to “speak” as though in a play already made and I am the audience? What of the entire sentence or paragraph that comes to me like it floated up from the depths, as if down a long river and then it got off its little boat to visit me? Here, it says, is a small bundle of words for a bloom of a poem, a scene for a story; now take it and poke around, turn it inside out or about for a few good ways to use it. Let the language live and breathe, move and sing, unlock and awaken.

That is the Muse. That is the wonder of being possessed of the passion to create. I can be dogged by these ideas and scenes until I sit down to write. I can dream of them night and day, then find they are already transforming, often long before I put the letters to wide, white space for a landscape in the making.

But I also can sit with one hand resting on the keyboard, mind simmering with too much or mind wan and blank as the other hand pushes hair out of my eyes. And then I write something. Anything that seems an okay way to start. Then I write another few words that connect to become a sentence. I can manage this because I have done it for well over sixty years. It is the fruit of hard-won discipline as well as tremendous energy of love for Story.

So where did that first paragraph at the start of this come from, one that may be a new story? It might come from thinking of or seeing rocks my husband seeks for their uniqueness, that my son hunts for their hidden crystalline beauty and my sister roots around for, for their capacity to become animals she creates by painting them. It might come from the love for my mother and daughters. And the powers of nature at hand any time we pay heed. A wonder I feel, for living life deeply with appreciation and determination. Joy, and a willingness to see what arrives next.

What did this unknown character who claims the odd name Sika Standalone find–or what has found her? I know something, but I don’t yet know what it can mean to her greater story or to the shadowy characters nearby–Aubra Tinnert, “Mischief” Mannerlin– or to Sika’s mother, quietly bent over the darkly gleaming rocks under creek water. Why is she gathering all these? Do they need them for trade, for protection, for entry into somewhere, for an offering to–what? My curiosity will lead me on.

I don’t really write fantasy. I don’t know what this is about. But the words will take me there. Or somewhere else altogether. I know enough to trust that much. And I am compelled to stay with it, shape the rawness into something definable. I keep at it despite not making money from my efforts over decades, nor publishing a great deal. I am just a writer and thus, in cahoots with language so as to write.

Lucky me, I must add. How terribly fortunate to be possessed of such a passion as this.

Monday’s Meander: Chihuly Garden & Glass

A “contained ceiling” installation of glass art by Dale Chihuly

One of the big sights in Seattle is the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition housed long term in Seattle Center, established in 2012. Marc and I enjoyed it at its inception that year and were pleased to visit again. Born and raised in nearby Tacoma, Chihuly is world renowned for his organic, imaginative glass formations. A major installation of site-specific work is Chihuly Over Venice, his glass sculptures installed over canals and piazzas;he has installed several other major works. His work is included in over 200 museum collections around the world.

Botanic and oceanic forms largely highlight the Seattle exhibit, and large and small bowls inspired by Native American basketry also are significant. The colors of his work are vibrant and saturated, the forms often sinuous. There are eight galleries represented here, as well as a Glasshouse and Garden. As during the original visit, I was swept happily into his original, curious world which shone with a radiant light. Enjoy this fantastical meandering!

Space Needle behind the Chihuly sculpture