Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Notes on A New Solitude

Trillium Lake and Mt. Hood

It is Wednesday, my daily journal tells me. Time seems malleable; it morphs from the moment I arise with a peculiar elasticity so that it might be morning or afternoon, sooner or later. And then flattens into a distant horizon I note but move past. The birds wake early, speak out, sing as they take their fill at the feeder, their wings a blur in the light between the trees branches, the cherry blossoms. The everyday dark-eyed juncos, black-cappped chickadees, wrens and robins look more beautiful each time they flit into my view. Deft, inquisitive, efficient, their bodies soft and strong.

*

Sunshine fades into a thin veil, then bursts into a soft fire as clouds scud about then stall out. The hours feel dense, thick as if sultry as the breeze cools. They hang upon the me as if in anticipation of something not always defined. The unknown is a thousand wisps of shadow. I wait. And wait. I move about, attempt to complete tasks well enough.

This time we live with now is about health and economics, also about life being lived in bits and pieces, starts and stops, then swirls into more familiar currents–as if little has changed. I live inside those groups of statistics that accumulate, fluctuate hourly. It can seem like watching from the edge not from inside. It happens like this when one is stunned.

Numbers do not stay apart from one another like we must, but bunch and crunch and spill into virtual atmosphere awhile a virus is carried across the streets, the tables in the plaza, the windows that blink, the swings that stand empty. So time takes on its own weight though I walk in and out and through it. My body takes in this day like it takes in the forest when noting the low huffing of bears: I find my way with squashed fear, heightened senses, with the caution of survival even as I still admire the sky, the trillium, small things that skitter and gobble and mate and seek cover as I pass.

*

It was a gift our parents gave us: freedom. I didn’t know it then, but reveled in it alone or with neighborhood friends.

I sailed about, melded to my rattling blue Schwinn bike, on the sidewalk, around corners of each block, up and down an empty overgrown lot’s narrow path. Into parking lots where I’d practice tricks: balancing torso across the seat, grasping handlebars with taut arms and small hands; crouching on the seat while steering with a wobble; one knee on the seat and one leg sticking out behind me a bit. I was fearless. I knew I could do these things. When I could not, it was only a bleeding knee that would scab over.

Oh, the circus. I wanted to be in one–didn’t every child of my era? I used to envision the weird mathematics of flight called trapeze artistry, and at night would dream of a guy and myself high above the circus ring, our moves enabling us to fly through the air as if we belonged there. As if we had special powers.

But really it was learning how to exert energy, allow physics to work–and let each spare, coiled, tensile person to grasp those other hands or bar. A practiced synchronicity of factors set into motion and completed. As a child, I thought: magic, that’s what it was, and that seemed sensible.

I tasted a kind of sweet power on the bike and in those dreams. But it was easy, harmless, accessible. No thought of failure. A child knows the exhilaration of boundlessness. Until she does not. But it is potent before then. We try to replicate such ease and unfettered living ever after.

I think of all this today, of how movement and precision, spontaneity and vigorous energy impacted times of victory that have been a part of my life. Expectancy of more and better. That thrust toward greater heights. And how small and ground level it has all become, wavering expectancy in the face of growing catastrophe.

But at 69, there is still a burning fire in my soul, with that mysterious nerve center that carries me into and out of each waking day and sleep-seeking night. That keeps me alert to possibility and wonder. One does not need a bonfire to keep needed warmth and energy engaged. It takes a spark well tended to illumine what is needed, what gets and can keep one going,

I must be sure to tend it, feed it with appropriate and worthy fuel. The storm that brews and rages beyond the door, these woods–it could blow it out, leave only smoke.

*

It is not that I am alone.

My husband works at his desk nearby. He takes loosening-up steps about the place, pads around in tawny leather and sheep’s wool slippers. I keep on my red wool felt slippers, the hind end of a black cat outstretched on left slipper and its front half running across right one. Held side by side they make a good whole feline. I look at my slippers more–I am sitting down more than usual and there they are, the cat that’s one or the other part made entire–and on the move only when I am. We schlep around from chore to chore, though I do put on my usual clothing, not too often giving in to lazy stretchy yoga pants which I said I’d never wear for general use–they can make me feel old. Halfway through the day I might leave a dusting of blush, add a slick of sheer lipstick; old habits die hard. It makes no sense. I see no one but the man who took me for better or worse. And vice versa. And it has worked out well enough.

But other than the split cat and peeks of Marc, I am alone. Not counting the daily check-ins with friends and family–those have increased but are from the other side of somewhere else. We know what matters when there is a lack of things to busy and distract us. We see how time leaks away faster some days and then never gets around to wrapping things up nicely. And we don’t want to lose it, these moments that keep us better, fuller.

I mean, though: I am alone with my innermost self. That isn’t such news. But now it is tinged with a deep, conscious solitariness I have not felt in decades. It is the confinement. It is the drastic curtailing of activities, the fast shut down of the country and far beyond. I look out the windows and see no one there, mostly. My neighbor with the shimmering white hair and sunflower yellow pants and bulky white sweater, her chihuahua barking like crazy at the end of its taut leash. A car with an unknown someone who unloads grocery bags at a nearby door, quick quick and gone. It is silent awhile. What about the guy who sells insanely expensive fishing equipment–is he at home dreaming of finally only fishing– some day? He does not meet our eyes. And those delivery trucks come and go, roaring up and down the hills, drivers slack- faced as the package exchanges hands, then they race to the next stop, on overtime but under pressure, at risk themselves.

Meanwhile, the natural world blooms and shivers in a ritual carnival of color and fragrance as we seek the interior life literally and otherwise. I see the bees and they see me, circling, zigzagging onward to their targets of love. I used to be afraid of bees, after a few stings as a barefoot kid. They began to seem more like heroes and heroines–those blooms, that honey. It is apt right now, the terribly frightening stings and yet still gifts of bounty, often side by side.

I stand on our balcony, pull in gulps of piney air. Watch red maple leaf buds swell, a potted geranium release a flower. I am eager to plant lettuce seeds in the rich soil of pots, to order other useful seeds. I want to purchase and care for more flowers but still have patience for the ,long wait. This is who I still am, only a woman who sniffs each new bloom with eyes closed and heart swelling, who is entranced with the elegant work and guessed-at nattering of birds. Hears a cello playing an old hymn or an Elgar concerto, both rich and soothing so that within my chest a vibration hums along and takes me to a kind of ecstasy. Who finds the soles of my feet making quick purchase of earth as my mind bobs about in search of poems, a kite tethered.

And I await the lone owl who hoots in the dark when we are all tucked in. Wait with patience, as if it is a good sign.

But it isn’t too rough, or not yet– this aloneness that holds a big place in life. I have lived essentially alone with webs and mazes of interconnected thoughts, the spiritual and emotional wayfaring for a long, long while. Have had good practice dealing with pressures of sudden crises and a lingering of repeated loss and pain. We mostly all take the brunt and puzzle it out, find ways to endure. These times are not the same as before, no, at closer look more arduous. Clearly uncertain. Yet a solitude of spirit and mind becomes more significant only if I choose.

I am never actually alone within the numinous presence of God. And I am not without kinship all over the world, if I know your names or not. Still, solitude, the living with one’s self deeply has benefits. I know myself well. I can live with who this woman is. And there is room for more in my head and heart.

And so I will these bones and sinew to stay strong as it can as I climb the hills each day. But, everything is a gamble…I say that even though I have never played Rummy much less Black Jack for as much as a penny. Chance does what chance may do.

*

Where is this God?— some are demanding. Why are we nearly abandoned once more?

Are we abandoned? Why is this not the long and dangerous trajectory of intersecting factors?

Regarding God, I have no rational answers to those sorts of questions.

I have never been able to explain what was embedded in my core from the start. At age three or four I sat at my mother’s feet while she sewed by the big window. A pleasant, unremarkable domestic tableau. But she told my sisters and father I talked aloud with Jesus and God…she found it disconcerting, my mother a lifelong believer. A mother who had more than a few foretelling dreams and could size up a person inside two minutes more often than not. Maybe she was worried I would be like her.

Maybe I am. But I don’t really remember the talks she recalled. I straddled two (perhaps more) worlds so easily then, as children are keen to do. I recall dust-filled streams of sunlight cast over her feet and my knees and hands as i p layed with scarps of fabric. And singing to myself, the whir of her machine and the snipping of threads. I recall sheer happiness. Likely God was in the mix a lot. It never surprises me that this is so.

*

I find it startling that people don’t believe God lives and moves within and among us. Here. There. There. In me, you. Outdoors, inside. In darkness and in brightness and flux of in-betweens.

We come into the world quiet or bawling, vulnerable and alone; we will leave it by and with our own selves. In the moments beyond anxiety’s fiddling with us, this surely is not a bad thing. It is the sheen of separateness that is temporary, our singularity proscribed so we might make more of less, make greater from smaller, make complete from fragments. Recognize in our own existence a map of an infinite universe at rest and at work. We are given a momentary chance to practice human creativity, find unity in an onslaught of divisiveness. Or so I have lived long with this idea; it makes more sense to me than most.

Not understanding cosmic mechanisms at work yesterday, today and tomorrow does not diminish, much less negate, the mostly unfathomable realities of the Cosmos. What we do not know, we just do not yet know.

We are separate wherever we may be, but reside in the whole together, every creature and other living thing on a very small planet. The trees know about this; they depend on one another as their roots entwine and reach beneath the teeming surface and also receive one another’s every signal above ground, transmitting helpful chemical information in return. In their great varieties and with steady growth they shelter and nourish, give clean air and life-preserving shade. They watch and know much, survive and revive decade after decade. This is not just a fancy; it is now researched facts.

Science sometimes seems to lag behind what we intuitively know. Why do children run up to trees and hug them? Climb them no matter falls, and set up house in the crooks of branches? It is only natural. They love them, and so do we bigger people. I move among them in all seasons, see, listen, learn, gather joy. My hand upon their rough or smooth bark, my fingers skimming leaves and lichen and mosses. I embrace them gently, thankful. It is a welcome shared entirely without deceit or rancor.

Would that we lived more like trees.

I would rattle my spring leaves and arms right now, let the wind sing me, then settle in with the others who come by.

*

I learn from other people. On the way back from our walk, we saw this on a sign in a neighbor’s window:

“We choose brave love, fierce joy, and active hope for ourselves, others and the planet.”

Worth believing as best we can, even as we wave from behind panes of glass, even as we pass one another with a brief nod, gazes anxiously glancing off one another–and a real half-smile feeling more precious than a handful of precious gold. I feel rather brazen to offer a soft “Good afternoon.”

This new solitude brings solace and succor as well as the ache of separation for us social beings. But I am here, and you are there, and we are not so alone. It is, I think, an illusion, a self-centered error to assume we are that unique and on this trail of our very own. It has been trod for eons by those like us and unlike us.

*

Words, only words, I think. But words are a comfort to me. Words are one way of doing things when other tools do not or cannot. Words can transform and free and uplift. They are part of my life blood, in any case.

Words keep me in place as I, along with the rest, navigate this twilight time and try to survive an invisible power of a virus.

When we think it, speak it, pray it, we are clearer, stronger:

Hope. Courage.

Perseverance. Compassion.

*

*

As a Christian I believe in much that guides me well–and may we all seek strength and wisdom from what we each do believe:

“Be not afraid, for lo, I am with you always….”

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Revisiting Heart Chronicles #1; i.e., Save Your Life

February is American Heart Month and Go Red for Women. Heart Disease is the number 1 killer of women. We don’t always recognize the symptoms. Many factors increase the risk of heart disease, not just cholesterol or having weight issues. I have heart disease and got it young; I was thin, exercised, ate okay, did not have high cholesterol. Below is the first post of a group of essays called “The Heart Chronicles” that I wrote for my blog starting 2011 about my experience of being ill, getting the right help, the work of ongoing recovery and my gratitude for so much well being. If you even suspect you may have a heart problem, do not delay: seek help, be of good courage and win the battle for greater health.

I am a born walker.  I love the way my arms and legs swing rhythmically and how my breathing deepens, the close up views of place and people from  sidewalks or forested trails. My appreciation of walking likely started when I was a child. I rode my bike often but I walked ten blocks to school and back both alone and with friends. I took leisurely walks around the neighborhood to see friends or just to seek folks on front porches or working in their yards–I wanted to see what was going on. I spent hours in nearby Birch Woods, jumping over roots and navigating leggy plants, around birches, maples, elms, poplars, oaks, along the creek. Sometimes I fancied myself a spy and kept tabs on the crusty old Benfers (and their strawberries and tomatoes and such flowers!) in their sprawling and gorgeous garden in the plot of land by our house, or shadowing Stark Nursery’s customers poking around rows of bushes and trees– where later I ran about, a cowgirl on a wild horse as sunset spread vividly above.

I also recall my mother walking with frightful efficiency and pace, two heavy bags of groceries in her arms, my short steps scurrying to keep up with hers. Freedom was unfettered movement of all kinds–the hallmark of children and those who love to be on the go. But when I became a mother, my children actually nagged me to slow down. Then one of those years I realized they were power walking past me, well-trained.

Now I walk daily unless constrained by intolerable weather or bed-bound by illness. I hike in woods and on numerous trails around the Pacific Northwest, as nature nourishes me. I walk during the day in the city and at night after ten to eleven hour days at my counselling job, and my spouse often joins me. We update each other on day’s events, enjoy beautiful old homes adorned with graceful gardens in our neighborhood. But mostly I walk not to be sociable or to rid myself of stress but because my body loves to move–and my life depends on it.

Almost eleven (note: the heart event was in 2001; this was written in 2012) years ago my husband and I were hiking in the Columbia River Gorge area. We had taken a well-used trail with steep ascending and descending trails that took us deeper into emerald-green of an early September day. I felt sweaty, and a bit breathless but thought little of it. I’d experienced shortness of breath before–and even since I’d quit smoking 9 months prior. I pushed myself harder, not one to shirk at a challenge.  I could hear our destination waterfall in the distance. I would rest then. As we climbed up railroad ties embedded in a hill, my legs began to feel rubbery and to weaken, my chest compressed and breath came hard. I was having trouble getting oxygen in me and it hurt each time I tried. My spouse had moved ahead of me. People passed by with barely a glance as I began to crumple. I willed my legs to carry me up the last bit. Then it landed with a vengeance: the proverbial elephant on my chest. It weighed so much and created such deep aching I could not cry out. I somehow–about on my knees– pulled myself over the top step to where my husband stood. Then fell forward onto the viewing deck as Bridal Veil Fall roared in my ears, then was muted by the physical crisis.

It was a hallucinogenic dream sort of trip through primeval forest as I stumbled, then was half-carried by Marc to the car. Breathing was labored. An odd electric sensation shot through my chest from time to time. I felt nauseous, so exhausted it was as if I might sleep an eternity. But once in the car we did not head to the hospital. I thought only: I’m tired, need to sleep in my own bed, it can wait a night. We went home and I said to Marc that I would make an appointment to get my lungs checked. Was it the start of COPD– or cancer? Damned cigarettes. I knew viscerally I was in serious trouble. Tomorrow, I thought, and fell into a restless, haunted sleep.

When I awakened weary and anxious the next morning I held in my mind one clear thought: Find a heart doctor. Not a lung doctor. It was as though I had been sent a blaring message: my heart was warning me. Rather than look online at my insurance providers list, I oddly–perhaps testament to how bad things were–went through the phone book’s yellow pages and asked each cardiologist’s office closest to my home if they took our insurance. I felt urgency that superseded all. After a half-dozen calls, I found an office that accepted the insurance and had a physician who would see me without a referral. Dr. P. was a new doctor in the large cardiology practice. After I described all my symptoms to a nurse, I was given a slot first thing the next morning but was informed I should call 911 if previous symptoms returned.

I shivered with fear, then calm enveloped me. I had unprecedented faith in forthcoming medical help. This, despite the two doctors I’d sought over the previous year having told me I had “anxiety due to menopause, take a benzodiazapine and relax.” I left disgusted, and without a prescription. I knew there was more to it, but what? I carried on with my life, trying to ignoring the too fast/missed beats, weird pains and general uneasiness–maybe it was just stress symptoms…until a hike in the Coast Mountains, August 2011, where I couldn’t get back up the steep trail without breathlessness with racing heart. Still, I waited another month–the doctors knew better, right?– until that momentous hike in the Columbia Gorge forest. It is amazing how denial can befuddle us.

I could list the tests, share the discussions we had that day but what really happened was that Dr. P. listened. He heard me–my symptoms (which included a worsening rapid heart rate with increasingly less physical exertion, feeling breathless, uncomfortable in my chest–perhaps, yes, as if anxious at times), asked me probing questions– and took immediate action. He believed I’d had a heart attack but it would be hard to discern at that point. I was fifty-one years old and had no risk factors other than having smoked for thirty years until the last seven months. He didn’t believe it was the smoking, though it was perhaps a contributor. Perhaps stress or a genetic link. But I was too healthy, overall, in good shape, and young for such an event. He seemed nearly as shocked as I did but knew my heart was ill.

Dr. P. informed me he was newer to this work but had done over three hundred angiograms–the procedure most used to determine if and how badly an artery is closed or clogged. An attending cardiologist and he would do all they could to help me not only stay alive but become healthier for the long-term. Did I trust him? Was the procedure going to reveal what was needed to help me? I asked myself as I went home to share the news with Marc. As I awaited his arrival, I stared out our big picture window and knew that I did. I was also caught in a strange state, knowing I could have been dead or might yet be, but also felt vibrantly alive, if a bit out of body as well. I also knew I was ready for whatever came next. I thought it all good enough.

On September 17, 2001 I was provided a way back to health with the first stent implant. The tiny device propped open an artery that had narrowed and was more than 90% closed. I was, he said, lucky to be alive. And it wasn’t cholesterol but inflammation that was the culprit. I had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. It was not the end of it. I would have four angiograms over the next two years and another stent implant as well as changes in heart medications. I returned home each time with wild arrhythmias that sometimes still want to bully me. Tachycardia became an intimate foe, from zero to one hundred and forty until we found the right medication )I was allergic to many).. I learned that if it held at one hundred and twenty I could bear it but if it went on and on, I might still call 911. But medications finally worked better. I went to cardiac rehab. I became brave enough to walk on my own again. Ultimately, with time and exercise and support systems, my heart became much stronger and it beat far more safely so I could inhabit a life worth living.

And so, though always an active person, I began to walk more, first ten minutes and then twenty minutes, in a few weeks forty-five, then finally an hour or two, six days a week, sometimes seven. I had taken time off from work and might have become engaged in swimming or bicycling; I flirted with the idea of flamenco. or something else exotic. But it was simple walking that drew me out of the painful sense of loss and into the world; walking that gave me a little thrill of anticipation; greater encouragement each day as I felt my heart flutter, jump, pause and startle. Walking reunited me with a life of kaleidoscopic wonders. Everything tasted, smelled, looked and felt better. My heart pumped hard, oxygen surged through me so that my mind clarified; my spirit felt more courageous, and lighter.

Oddly, my emotional heart felt more open to everyone and all I care about. I had been a tough woman for many years so that I could survive an assortment of trials, get past loves that had soured. I discovered the path to healing a heart is more challenging but richer than I had imagined. Not a day has passed that I don’t find a reason to laugh for the sheer pleasure of it: my heart became profoundly capable of more living. My emotions were loosened so I felt fully human, closer to who and what I knew as a young child.

And each time Dr. P. tells me: “You’re a star patient. You’ve beaten the odds so far. Your hard work pays off every day.”

I tell him: “You listened to me and saved my life.”

That day I walked my fingers to the yellow pages? They took me to a person who is a fine and committed cardiologist, one who has always cheered me on my journey. Maybe it was a guardian angel who left me the urgent directive that early morning. But I still walk every day out of respect for him, for myself, for this irreplaceable treasure called life. I discovered the power of a mended heart. I intend to use it well.

Still living well–so can you!

GO RED FOR WOMEN:

G: GET YOUR NUMBERS

Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol.

O: OWN YOUR LIFESTYLE

Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise, and eat healthy.

It’s up to you. No one can do it for you.

R: REALIZE YOUR RISK

We think it won’t happen to us, but heart disease kills one of three women.

E: EDUCATE YOUR FAMILY

Make healthy food choices for you and your family.

Teach your kids the importance of staying active.

D: DON’T BE SILENT

Tell every woman you know that heart disease is our No. 1 killer.

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.

Wednesday’s Words on Thursday/Nonfiction: What’s New, What’s Not?

I’ve not gotten far on contemplating this new decade. In fact, I am barely attuned to the idea of a brand new year. I try to get serious and come up with clear goals, those things good for you like kale, but my notepad remains empty beneath the brief heralding of 2020. Maybe it is my age–is passing of time more irrelevant than it was at 20, 30 40 and so on? Some say more important but it does speed by, then slow down, even pause a split second or two–all as though I’m captive in an oddly edited video. Naturally, I see the past/present/future linked and pertinent to anyone’s identity. It just doesn’t seem as confining to me as it did when younger.

I was thinking, for example, about a class in film making and photography that I took at age 19…50 years ago …and I still want to take a class on film making and 35 mm photography. It was thrilling, that dark room. It would be a different course now but the spring of creative energy and intellectual passion are not less than before. I have plenty I’d love to do–and maybe I will get it done, and maybe I won’t. It was the same back then. But nothing so critical as back then hinges on my decision, only whether or not I fulfill my own desires. That was not the case in 1970, all life met head on with a restless, at times painful urgency, an inbred hunger for perfection, my intense dreams replete with plans for two or three Great Things before the next decade roared in. God forbid that I Not Accomplish Much. I can’t say I did by some standards, but there were other matters of importance, human life being surprising as it is.

Some things came to be, then, some did not come to be. Now I plan less, live more, much oftener in good ease. More spontaneously. I have my calendar with instructive and colorful notations on it already, conspicuously hung. But I know anything is likely to change. I don’t have the power to keep the unexpected from occurring, after all. I can shape my personal time, perhaps some space and events therein, but I cannot perform omnipotent acts.

My life is now in part reflective of the photo shared above. Gathered together: newer and older, inherited and intentionally acquired, chipped but functional, and lovely if spare, open to possibilities and accompanied by light and shadow, comforts of written and spoken language and, though you cannot hear it, music. In this case (from a genre termed “light classical” on TV’s “Music Choice”), a piano sonata by Mozart. I can feast on silence but music suits me more as perpetual winter grayness is absorbed into everything…a humorless palette that needs tonal brightening to be appreciated.

Tea or coffee with almond milk sits close by sooner or later, and chocolate. (Food is sometimes an afterthought. Chocolate covered nuts and fruits are preferred to get a little of the food tucked in.) The chipped china cup and saucer–one more thing that got marred in the move we made, yet still good in the hand. If I am not on my feet doing this and that day into night, I am sitting with a cup or mug, writing tools, my thoughts and a soft light, a stack of books at the ready.

It is 2020, I know, yet how many things remain the same despite that change. Little seems so different from the long past. Much has advanced, self-destructed or worse, it is true. And my generation certainly protested, we marched, demanded a higher national conscience and much better quality of life–equal rights and reproductive rights, cheaper or free and much more informed, expansive education for all. And several goals were met. And also, there were so many lives lost to causes.

Still, those days, these times: the essence of who I am remains, with suitable variations. Like it is for a mature tree, the core of personhood has decades of growth rings, marks left by adaptive responses to the environment, to a myriad interconnections with others that organically or perhaps shockingly came to be. It isn’t only in ind; it is in my very cells and in my soul. We may become ourselves–show ourselves– quickly after birth, I think. But then we tune ourselves up again and again as we grow and conquer and falter, readjusting to circumstances and altering needs.

So what does 2020 mean to me in a personal sense? What is changed or is anticipated? (Note: I do think globally but don’t write strictly of politics here, and am not in the mood to write of it now despite knowing that all that happens around us impacts in some way. The world shares its energy; if the energy wave that flicks us seems small, it still is there. We cannot survive and thrive in exclusivity, despite sometimes wanting to do so.) If I consider my singular life for a moment, I may learn something new here.

First, I have actually lived to see the new decade arrive. A fortunate and necessary grace.

I can’t count on it as it is not a given. My car was totaled in an accident. It might have totaled me. But did not. My heartbeat might have taken utter leave as I enjoyed a brisk walk this morning since heart disease has nagged me 20 years. But it did not. I might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But was not. I’ve also had more stress (due to many life changes plus a health issues for Marc and me) than I can recall encountering in a very long while. But have not retreated, blithering, to the corner (at least not for long) remaining heaped in a soggy ball. And likely will not this year. I have endured harder years and known less joy by far.

Second, this April the grand-baby twins will have been here for an entire year.

Alera and Morgan were not here last January, they were wriggling and snuggling while waiting to arrive. But it was possible they may not have been able to stay there long enough as our daughter was a high risk mother with high risk babies. She’d been informed she’d likely never have children due to severe growth hormone deficiency and other hormone issues since birth. But things can change with right help. And the baby girl-people are strong, well, luminous and such fun.

Third, I am not moving this year. Change can be made to happen or not, at times, and this is not happening.

I almost argued for a change of address to save more money in the long run. But we did this move in 2019. It was taxing. Month by month it has become better for the best reasons. It has enriched my thinking and doing being out here among impressive woodlands, in a pretty place right outside Portland. Never wanted to live a suburban lifestyle, it just doesn’t hold the rhythms and textures I love. It was either city center or the country for this woman–and I’ve enjoyed both with many moves during my life, a suburban town tossed in a couple of times. But this spot has its charms, more quaint town than suburb. And we’re five minutes away from baby girls and their parents, fifteen from another daughter. I can still getto my son and sister within a half hour or less. So I am for now stuck here and starting to like it, surprise. And regarding finances: I’m deliberate with finances for the most part, and do worry about the future at 3 a.m. But some things have to be done in faith. This was one of them. There are babies right here. Much to learn and share.

Fourth, I can write more comfortably as well as edit photos better this year.

This is no small thing. I now have a new Dell Inspiron 15 5000 that I was reluctant to buy (the money thing, though on the cheaper end). But Windows 7 was not much working, anymore, and was not to be supported soon… so my limping Sony Vaio had to be sidelined. Since I am no whiz on the thing–it’s about intuition, trial and error and learning pretty fast I guess–this new machine is a godsend. It does what it is supposed to do; it displays all with orderly clarity. No more cussing at my desk every hour or more as I labor. Or push away and give up for a day. Which means my blood pressure will improve and my creative juices will rise to the occasion with far less interference. I will get more done–ah, this so relieves and heartens me! And Marc will have more peace.

Fifth, I expect to be outdoors a great deal, and not just on sidewalks or attractive balcony.

Is this different? Perhaps not. But some years it has been many city walks and parks (admittedly, still scintillating, refreshing), whereas now it is all woodsy pathways. I might find more routes in city center, though–I miss gazing at varied architecture. And I would like to hike, explore more; the beaches, forests and mountains around here are fabulous as ever. But I know this for sure: walking fixes nearly everything. Writing does the most good for me on a regular basis but walking loosens and polishes ideas as well as being more generally kind to soul and flesh. Such meanders are meant for humans to right the body, mind and spirit.

Oh, plus, I have a gym membership gratis with our housing. So: swimming, treadmill, Zumba, rowing, etc. as needed. Another good year to keep on shaping up.

Sixth, I may find myself designing houses soon. And composing music. Well, to some degree.

They are old plans of action that want to be made anew, that’s all this is. Another daughter and my son told me there are countless apps online to enable those creative forays. Who knew there were so many choices, even for free? So I have made notes and will check them out. I cannot imagine a life without creative activity, no matter my skill level. I don’t demand perfection of myself, not with these endeavors, at least. I wanted to design–and sketched quite a few, built a couple models– houses as a kid. I wrote music as a youth and even as an adult awhile. I can still do both if I want to do. So often we get in our own way. I need to get out of mine more.

And there is that art class I keep intending to take. And didn’t I mention film and photography?

You cannot ever stop learning unless you desire stagnation with resultant boredom. There is not nearly enough time to gather in wonderful bits of knowledge to peruse and use. I am as excited this year as every other year to just keep my mind a-humming with new ideas and experiences.

Seventh, my spiritual life could use more, not less. Of prayer, yes, of sacred moments. But I also just need to stay alert to the shining heart of life, to root out hidden treasures, and keep my being open to grace. The heat of passionate engagement with life’s small miracles can cool, leak away in minuscule woundings as well as grave trials. It is easy to let perplexing moments, those cruelties and hardships of my small life–not to mention those of the billions who make up humanity–transform me into a more jaded person. Or be turned into one who becomes dis-empowered. Empty and unmoved.

But I won’t have it. I wasn’t born to not pay attention. To not take action. To not embrace. To not believe in greater possibilities. We can always be more than we think, better than we imagine. We are made of cosmic stuff; we live our lives in part within realms of Spirit because we are more than flesh, blood, sinew, bone, neurological labyrinths, and our mad self will with many faulty choices. Everything in God’s creation reflects a vital complexity of the magnificent infinite story. Can we not see that for the grand good fortune it is?

I claim my part. Not vaulted, nor far-reaching in scope. But this life is mine, to use as can be of benefit as long as breath is in me. I will be celebrating 70 this spring if all goes well. I care much less than I thought, but it is quite okay with me. I mean, what’s another year? We move through time like secretly winged things, catching the updrafts where we can.

Well, I have to write when I need to understand more. Now that I have some insight, my friends, this is how I see 2020. This particular day. Maybe not tomorrow. But not so differently than before I undertook the exercise. I suspect I am fairly ready for what may come, but then again I may not be. I have been taught a bunch of things this past year and more to come. I carry a bit of goodly knowledge from many years of surviving, growing. Perhaps we don’t quite know what we are made of until we have need to know it.

I do persist in tending an intrinsic hope, despite tatters and moans. Hope for what is good for me and for you. May you each care well for your life and loved ones… and whomever and whatever else you can manage.

Monday’s Meander: A Pittock Mansion Christmas and Moving Onward

Still haven’t meandered much since my car accident, but that will change once more, in time. I’ve opted to share old (2012) photos of Portland’s gracious Pittock Mansion dressed up for the holidays. Apologies if they seem too familiar. One does what one finds expedient some days….

Good news: I have another set of wheels at last minute after a trying month, and am grateful I could do that. Better news: my neck pain should improve with more help. Best news: my state of mind is set more on half full rather than half-empty after much prayer seeking insight and fortitude, stern self-talk, rest, greater acceptance of self and others, kindly support and many good walks.

But I haven’t forgotten about the heart of the Season, nor to keep an eye out for goodness and beauty. I’ve felt blessed with life-giving moments: a dear and very ill friend hospitalized for pneumonia is safely recovering; my son made not one, but two lovely meals for us in the past two weeks (plus we had a great time hanging out); a daughter from SC has stayed in touch daily and sent us a bushel of gifts; our twin grand-babies have delighted at every turn, as ever. Other adult kids always offer an encouraging word with check-in and hugs. And Marc has been a great partner dealing with me as not my best self.

Speaking of which: may we keep praying and working for peace in our neighborhood, our own abodes, our countries, in a beleaguered world we call our greater human home and worry about because we love it and need it to keep on turning… We can be activists in diverse ways but I hope we will act out of compassion, not react from fear or anger; may we honor one another as fellow travelers along each smooth or rocky path traversed.

I will be back in a week, right after our little getaway in Seattle–hopefully to share fresh words and pictures!