Tuesday’s Thoughts: The Farewells We Make

I have been on a few lovely meanders recently. I had hoped to share decent beach photos and experiences. I still intend on doing that. Just not now. I have had many good intentions the last few years, then had to change my plans. Alter my expectations. It’s the way it is: none of us is protected from a halt-and-change-route kind of life, and we have to do it many times, at that.

Within the next 12 hours my sister Allanya’s partner, Skyler, will be leaving this realm for the next. It was not unimaginable that it might be sooner than later–she has been unwell for years– but not this soon. And I was hoping not this way. Oregon has the legal option of a physician-assisted death. And this is Skyler’s decision.

Of course, I have been mired in quandry– as have most who are part of the extended family. And some numbness. I can’t begin to sort out all my thoughts and emotions regarding this determination after her being in hospice care a short time. I have been trying to make it somehow align with my view of living and dying in my confused brain for a couple of weeks; it was to have happened in July. Then the date was changed. Suddenly last week on the way home from our beach trip I was informed I had to soon say goodbye to her. Yet another family member.

There has been no time to “prepare” myself. How does one do that in this circumstance, really? How do we ever prepare for death of those that have taken up time and space in our days and nights, our hearts? There are many sorts of death, and have been mourning a few of them– in this country and abroad. And now at home. What do I do with the plunge into the depths of it?

I breathe fully as I awaken another day, and meditate, pray and walk, listen to music, write, reach out. Everyday things can reshape so much. Another human being can soften the blows some.

She–Skyler– will be the eighth person to die in a few years. Many of you know we lost a granddaughter only last spring. My family is shrinking each year, to the point where I almost wonder when another must leave us…It happens usually in the spring. Beauty arrives; death follows. It is a river of grief and I float in it more than I think I can manage, but it is a most human thing. We all must do it; we learn how to do it.

I don’t make any judgment of her choice, even if I understand almost nothing of it and I don’t like it. I can note that Skyler is in her eighties, has been ill and in pain for many years with many ups and downs. I believe she has thought of this long and hard and believes this is best. But it still doesn’t seem simple. It doesn’t add up right now in some meaningful way I can grasp or feel fine about. Perhaps one day, perhaps never. But it is just not my life or death. I have cared about the woman my sister has loved. I will miss her and cherish the good memories shared. But right now I am confounded as well as feeling the sadness creep in as I anticipate a very hard day tomorrow. And the others after.

I am much more focused on my sister, her impending gigantic loss and compounded sorrows. It’s a grief she has tried to fend off… even if she has also worked on accepting such a possibility for years. I will spend alot of time with her for a long while to come, driving across the city whenever she wants me there. I imagine packing lunches and sitting outdoors in the sunshine with her. Telling her stories and hearing hers. Walking her dog through lush grass. Crying, crying, and holding her. (Waiting for her laugh, triggering it. She has the best gutsy laughter. But that will come again later and not for a long time.)

The thing is, I soon gain medical power of attorney for the rest of Allanya’s life because she has dementia. I am five years younger than Allanya and yet I am now helping manage her life more and more. She was a powerhouse and I still feel that in her, her strength and intelligence. She is lucid and present and cheerful–until just lately–if also increasingly lacking decent short term memory. I will be needed in ways I cannot even anticipate, though she is living in a good assisted living residence.

I cannot know how she is truly experiencing this. We are as close as sisters can be, the very best friends. But still her mind and feelings are not mine; her life has changed in essential ways and will be more altered so soon. I cannot understand this wholly. We will weep and weep more. But I seek ways to build better bridges to her heart and mind so I may continue to walk with her during the coming years.

What this all means to me and our family goes far beyond this clumsy language. But I wanted to share this much; I know I am not the only person in these situations. We are called to be expansively loving and courageous and also strong when family members–or, yes, others–need us more and more. And so I will do my best to answer that call again.

If I don’t post here for awhile you now know why. I will write and post as I can. I have truly missed being here regularly, as well as reading more of your great blogs this spring.

I sure hope you seek and find the illuminating, small wonders, and grab and share every good moment with those you love, and just keep on keeping on. It is a such mammoth mess of a world…we need to survive heartaches the best we can and discover more ways to love life even more. To do good work and cherish what matters most.

At least, that is what I aim to keep doing, moment by moment. Tears are not the worst part. Not honoring life with compassionate presence and curious attentiveness may be the worst, I think.

Til next time…sending good will out to you.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Library Week! The Countless Words To Guide Us

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To imagine a world without books is impossibly hard. As I look around my home I can see I never intend to do so. I haven’t once bothered–or dared–to count them. I have sorted, passed on and re-sold physical books numerous times, have bought new volumes (and read a few online). I often buy books for gifts and rarely turn down a good freebie in a streetside Little Free Library or languishing in a cardboard box by trash receptacles. It’s not that I will read anything at all…we do have our preferences…but, then again, if there was nothing at hand but an ancient census report, I would gladly read that. And read it again. I am definitely one of those who reads fine print on packaging, randomly peruses dictionaries and reads every sign that catches my fancy on a road trip. So one might conclude it is the basic act of noting letters, then reading them that “rings my bell”. Perhaps that’s partly true–it lights up that language portion of human brain instantly–but only a small part of the story.

I like to learn about almost anything. To be gathered into another’s life or informed of another culture or to ride the wave of an epic tale. I like to find the path in storyland and follow it with mind and arms open, whether fact or fiction. Books, books, books. They are friends and teachers, distractors and challengers, quiet partners in my life.

And I write of this as it is National Library Week in the USA; School Librarian Day was April 4th. And April 16 is National Librarian Day. A time to consider how fortunate we are to have books at our fingertips–or not far away. Library books are a blessing shared by the community with ever changing and diverse residents. Hopefully, this week even more people, young and older, will take advantage of it.

I have much to consider when I consider how books have helped shape and even transform my life. Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N. kept me up late with my flashlight as a 9 year old. I devoured books for fun, but I was also reading because I also was writing my own stories and plays and poems by then…I was learning by osmosis, perhaps. But later I read a variety of works by poets Denise Levertov, ee cummings, Theodore Roethke, William Wordsworth and Kahlil Gibran– as well as wide ranging writers as Hermann Hesse, Dag Hammarskjold, or Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck, for a few examples. They each strongly impacted me both as a young writer and spiritual seeeker. Books and their libraries were good escapes, yet also a deeper balm for the troubled youth I was. Reading provided me with greater perspective and stimulated more hope. More than a few times, what I sought and discovered helped me keep my head above water. They still can have the same power for children and youth.

I read as a hungry creature grazes in a field of delectable offerings, often and with excitement. I most often read not what any class reading lists recommended… and have not ever been in a book club. But I’ve made it a weekly, even daily, habit to study multiple book reviews or simply wandered through libraries and bookstores, on the lookout for the next fitting volume.

Recommendations, anyone? Let’s talk it over–I’d give it good thought. I do enjoy swapping personal preferences, such as with my neighbor today.

Public and school libraries have been particularly important because they require only a library card and my time and respect. They are ubiquitous in this country–and free! I like them so much that when we travel, Marc and I often seek out local libraries. And any ole bokstore, of course. To see what there is on offer, to experience the electric yet cocooning, amiable energy the presence of books in hands perpetuates. I’ve visited tiny, dusty libraries that have perhaps not purchased new books for years yet offer many gems. And light-dappled, multi-storied, shiny buildings I could move into with sleeping bag to spend a year or more. (The stalled novel I wrote features a country library in several scenes, so that tells me something.)

In elementary school I anticipated library hour as much or more than most other things in the school week. I lingered as long as feasible, content with browsing then slipping a book from its cozy place within the company of like-minded books. The librarians–rarely stern ones, the mythical library policers of the stacks– were eager to help aid me. And they seemed to know everything, or could find out in a flash. Best yet, I was often pointed toward resources to find out my own answers. Patient and appreciative of young, inquisitive minds, librarians were congenial and supportive watchers over children as we strove to enlargen our minds, stoke imaginations. On the way home, I hugged my “find” close, eager to get reading if only between other activites until bedtime. –It is this way even now.

I grew up in a city that was fortunate to have wonderful arts, sciences and other educational facilities. Our public library was one designed by Alden B. Dow, a protege of Frank Loyd Wright. It opened in 1955 and was contemporary by common standards, with its angularity and stark elegance and turquoise trim (or perhaps a wide flashing) right below the roof edge. It had floor to ceiling windows that overlooked lush landscaping. It had a big study space that was open to a second floor mezzanine with more rooms: more books. The smells and colors and shapes… I was transported being there.

As a kid, I made myself comfortable in the children’s ample room with a pile at my feet. Later on, I sat huddled over books read for academic needs or pleasure, soaking up the hush of a place that harbored readers and those who researched. The wooden drawers of card catalogs held more than I could begin to think of; I took my time thumbing through them, as one thing led to another. Among the aisles between tall shelving I found nonfiction sections as fascinating as fiction or poetry sections. How could there be that much to investigate? Awe, perplexity, and pleasure flooded my being.

It was a pleasure to enter the high-ceilinged two-story building and so difficult to leave. Time evaprotated. A visit might also be a ruse for meeting friends (or a boyfriend), during which we’d surround oursleves with tomes then whisper intently back and forth or write furious notes. But more often visiting the library meant a treasure trove to delve into, plus a pause from life’s ordeals and uncertainties. I felt at home in the grand but often undefined scheme of things more than in most places. The library: sanctuary, a repository of wide-ranging wisdom, a safe place for bookish entertainment, a haven for those who thirsted after curious places and peoples which lay beyond those sturdy walls.

Of course, there were magazines as well, and music, then movies and over the years surprising things (we can check out all sorts of odd and useful items at our present library). Most of which I don’t utilize, I’m afraid. My priority has remained simple book hunting.

The greatest feature: all the public is welcome. Everyone can be sparked by the thrill of learning, nourished by engaging or challenging tales. Or a quiet nook with a comfy chair within which one may doze, reading material in hand. The word library means simply a collection of books or bookshop; in Old English etymology it is a “book hoard.” Makes sense to me.

One view of part of my childhood’s Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland, MI-in this shot, magazines take front and center, as does the view. Ahhh…

When Covid-19 roared into our lives and many public places became inacessible, I turned to online offerings of local libraries (and virtual bookstores). Though I greatly missed prowling the stacks of our smaller city branch, I was glad to browse and put “on hold” many titles to later pick up. In fact, I chose more books than I might have otherwise; it became a meditative experience to search and find. I read a wider variety as there was more time than ever. (I also read more and differently to further inspire my own writing; the more I read the more I always learn.) But I also enjoyed lining up with other people to get the choices in hand. We began to converse as we waited for the librarian to bring out our orders to an outdoor shelving unit. It was a pleasant ritual in otherwise worrisome months… then more months.

When our actual library doors opened again, only 5 people were allowed in fifteen minutes at a time. But what surprising happiness! I could see it in everyone as they browsed and fingered books and other items: a sense of contented relief, just for a brief spell. I am certain that those who visited libraries online or in person have felt that this has been a favored event. Perhaps it was even a lifesaver, emotionally. When all else was fraught with fear or loneliness, health issues–that loss of bearings in society at large–we could still, thank goodness, generously welcome books into our ives.

I recall once during that time that I searched for a certain novel, reportedly available, within my fifteen minutes. To no avail. So I asked a librarian if she knew the author and if the book was misplaced. She did; the author was a respected, long deceased one not often checked out, anymore. She searched further. Failing to locate the one I wanted, she announced she’d purchase the book–and two more by that author–so that I and others could have access to his work. This was said with a triumphant smile. I was flabberghasted. She was, as she noted, “here to support our patrons and provide great materials whenever I can.” And she did, and she always has done so.

So, here is to libraries and librarians. Here’s to the hours of work put in for us (work we often do not see or think about), and to their patient, knowledgeable and kindly assistance. The countless books and other materials kept track of and then offed to us have given me, for one, more freedom to roam far reaches of mind, heart and soul, to critically consider diverse notions and gather quite useful information. Books give good medicine as well as good direction more often than not.

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Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Hair=Signifying Crown of What?

My almost-twenty year old granddaughter sports a mane of ebony black hair though she was born with blond fluff that became a thick honey blonde. (See above, middle: she’s nine, at play) I bit my tongue when she first dyed it–glowing pink. Then blue tips on blond then beachy blond and stawberry blond and finally to blue-black and blacker. It has remained the latter for perhaps four years. I don’t ask about it; I tell her she is lovely– as she is, body and soul. But sometimes I long to see her real hair color again–whatever that is. Will it tend toward her mother’s, her grandmothers’ (I’m at right from last year in a shot for my friend, who gave me that delightful shamrock plant) and great-grandmothers’ (her paternal grandmother, my mom, above left, is about 28) hair color–all wearing a spectrum of auburn to chestnut to walnut brown full-bodied hair? Maybe that will come to be. But it’s her head of hair, not mine, and she’s growing into an adult whose crowning glory means something particular– to her. The style will evolve as she does; who knows where her journey will take her?

I get it, though. One reason I never criticize her dyeing sprees–or in the past, my four daughters’ and a son’s– is that I sure wasn’t immune to hair dye. I once tried a rich black-brown in junior high (now called middle school) and somehow it transformed into a muddy green horror. It even cast its ugliness onto my skin. I didn’t return to school until a stylist corrected the mess. I tearfully begged for my natural color’s retoration. She came close, yet it all was a disappointment. My first spontaneous experiment–and pushing against our cultural norms– met with hideous results.

Back in my earliest teen years I’d suffered with bristly rollers overnight or weird foam ones that left me in ringlets until I brushed hard, patted and plumped. I thus achieved a “bubble bob” cut at earlobes or jawline, or a puffy longer bob if it had somehow grown out some. That style required lacquering in place with many spurts of hairspray. It was the cool thing to do, so middle class WASP; we all looked alike–and dressed in matching skirt and sweater outfits with complementary Capezio flats. I got tired of enduring it all by 15 and found it singularly uninspiring. I was a diehard romantic, a poet and musician, not a sheep. And I loved being outdoors. I suited myself and let things go natural, bangs growing out so they formed a short curtain over my eyes. I was forever being nagged to push them off my brows or chop them off or I’d end up going blind, according to Mom. I left them as they were, the better to glower surreptitiously, and to observe…and hide a bit. But I liked that it was all so moveable, that wind could mess it up and I didn’t care.

Next came a daring change: the Twiggy haircut. Twiggy, a British model from the ’60s, was rail thin with huge eyes darkly outlined and fake-lashed. Her hair was pared down to bare minimum and it was fantastic. Actress Mia farrow had that haircut, too, and I wanted it. loved the bold statement. My classmates by then were wearing straighter, longer or medium length but still coiffed. (The guys slowly became shaggier a la Beatles.) I quite liked the severity of that cut. I saw it as gamine wearability–but it shocked my classmates and many adults who thought it “boyish” and “extreme” at the worst. I believe some guys I dated liked it fine. But I’d slipped into noncomfromity while in the midst of turmoil. It was an act of rebellion, as well as a way to demonstrate my growing interest in creative decision making.

I underwent DIY alterations. I toyed with blond streaks in my twenties, hoping for glamour that in fact was too transient and washed out my lightly sallow skin. Then I tinted it deeper auburn until it grew out. Until late thirties it grew to become shoulder length and beyond. The point was that it hung free, even tangly and true to hippie style. Once, at 33, I was struck by the lack of captivating curls so gave myself a perm. It sprang to life like a mad thing I couldn’t control, yet when I boarded an airplane to go meet my husband on a business trip, I felt like a new woman. He met me and stared at the corona around my face and said nothing. I felt so let down. Perhaps it wasn’t my best look, though once again it was liberating to do it. I recall pulling it back for months to keep it out of my eyes and mouth. Afterall, I had five kids by then, and off and on we lived in countryside. I wasn’t keeping up with fashion despite enjoying, from a distance, its creative aspects.(I often shopped at second hand stores for those fast-growing kiddos–and sometimes myself.) I’d half-forgotten what it was like to put on a pair of high heels and a dress. My weekly uniform was a clean shirt or sweater, jeans and Frye boots in winter; in warmer weather it was shorts, tank top/Tshirt and sandals. Like many mothers who stayed at home.

All that changed at 36 when I got a worthwhile, full time job that I loved and had to wear dresses or at least pants suits. It was 1985. My life was turning a corner and if it was positive it felt risky. I kept my hair chin length and easy but started to color it a bit red. I wanted to be someone else, I suspect, than who I’d become when drinking too much and failing to meet a myriad duties. And being sequestered in each new place my husband’s career set us all down. I was worn thin and thinner by endless housework, stress of life demands and our contentious marriage; and I was glued to my lovely but exasperating kids for many years. I tried to keep writing– children’s stories, poetry, short stories seeming like lifeboats in the midst of unpredictable seas. But it was often impossible and I flailed about. It may not resonate with some, but living unhappily in suburban Detroit did not work for me, anymore. Developing a career was a way out of the corner and it was a good transition. But it was not enough.

Before I embarked on a major change or two, my hair color had slipped into a fiery red as it got shorter. If that wasn’t a foretelling….and, unfortunately, not all for the best. Don’t get me wrong, I like (natural or otherwise) red hair on people just fine. But not for me. It was too flashy; it was an abrasive red. I was restless and mad, at times drinking again to muffle the miseries. I was getting ready to do something drastic even though I loved working and adored my children. Where all of that led me was to a couple bad choices.

I was divorced a second time at 42. But with a move to Oregon and upon making greater changes I began to find my way back to a more authentic self. And to my natural hair. I stopped dying it, rarely cut it much. It breathed, while it was apt to snag twigs, provide a resting place for flower petals and leaves; it shone in piney air and the sunlight of my new (sober, once and for all) and soon curiously improved life. I was on my way to peace.

I always had decent volume of hair if fine in texture. People complimented me; it half-embarrassed me, surprised me as I had increasingly “let it go” as my mother would have chided. It had grown wavier like my parents’ and siblings’ hair. It was a family trait for silvery streaks to adorn temples by age thirty, yet mine remained a stubborn single color for another three decades. I got regularly teased about it by family, as if something in my DNA had gone rogue. One niece had fully white hair before forty; it was ethereal, gorgeous with her alabaster skin. My sister in Portland sported deep waves of glimmering white like our mother. My jazz musician brother near by us had a head covered in silvery hues. I felt, frankly, left out. I wanted–no, needed–to identify with the tribe that my older four siblings and I embodied, especially after our parents died. But I checked in the mirror: same auburn-brown hair that grew by mid-forties to the middle of my back, curving about shoulders and face. It was curious.

I thought by fifty it would happen; it did not until my mid-to-late sixties, shiny strands here and there. But at least I had more healthy hair than ever before. It leased me that on hikes gusting wind lifted and swirled it around so that I felt like a creature at liberty to roam at will. Which I was, I realized. Only once more–after a heart disease diagnosis at 51 after my mother’s death and not working 3 years– I cut it once more. Very short. I felt it had to be gone for awhile. That I had to start over. And I can’t tell you how many people expressed disappointment I had done so. I had no idea my hair had secret admirers. I found it disconcerting, wanting to cover my near-naked head with hats. But it grew, of course, for a decade, then two.

Now I am 71. It is gradually going whiter at last, drier, coarser and wavier, too. But I’m also losing hair. Over the last three years, it’s drifted out and down quite a bit, and I can get alarmed when I note a small nest of it on the shower floor. I saw a dermatologist who said it was inherited hair loss via maternal genes and welcome to the club: 40% of older women have thinning hair. Sometimes even younger ones. And the past two years or so? Stressful doesn’t even cover it, so I doubt I’m the only one shedding more.

When I got home after my appointment I stopped to ponder how my mother aged. I had only known her since she was 40 when I was born; her hair was worn shorter and a gleaming grey. And we all loved her beautiful crown of hair above laughing blue-grey eyes. Few lines on her face even at 90. (My father had so-called good hair, once black gone white; his eyes were bigger, bluer.) She infrequently complained it had become more scarce but it was no tragedy. She got her hairdo “done” every week until the end–that was what women of her generation did if they could possibly manage it. A few times I rolled her soft hair in the bristly rollers, dried it under a hair dryer cap. The look was curlier than she liked but attractive. Nonetheless, she preferred her small beauty shop, and her stylist was one of her best friends. It was a happy social ritual, too. It’s safe to say it was a point of pride to keep her pretty hair in good shape. It was clear my father thought she was wonderful to look at no matter what. Yet pictures of her when younger astonish me–her spirited, intelligent face framed by cascading dark auburn hair. Her personality likely was close to the same.

What does hair mean to us women–and, likely, men? How much does it impact our sense of identity? How much speaks to our specific cultures and chosen subcultures, our socioeconomic groups? I suspect it affects how we feel about ourselves more than we care to admit. Which seems absurd as i write it. It likely moves others to pigeon-hole us, make decisions about who we are despite true identity being very much deeper. I experienced this to a dregee in the 1960s and ’70s. Activist men and women became more androgenous in atttitude and behavior, more experimental with fashion and risk-taking with political activism. After all, the personal was and can yet remain political. How are we set apart or pressured to blend in? How do we keep oursleves unique in a world where there is boring replication and uncannily fast? Our variety is an aspect that makes humans so fascinating–unlike the vast numbers of strikingly similar other creatures we live with on earth!

Let us be who we are– it seems such a reasonable thing to expect…and yet it seems even more a hot topic despite the loosening of strictures regarding appearance. Perhaps the more our world becomes multicultural, the more dividing lines may blur. Some will welcome that; others will not. But when it comes to hair–it is our own, it’s attached to our bodies so we own the right to do with it what we will. It ought to be an enjoyable freedom. We need to play it and adornments, if we chose–it can indicate more of who we are. But I know that for many this choice is not a given. I can only speak for myself, my own lifestyle milieu. I left behind judgments of how I look long ago (my thinness being another focal point of others over decades).

Our interest in hair–not to say obsession–daily supports a huge industry. Not only hair salons but endless products that one can amass, each more nature-made or fancy or miraculous than the last. I have a few but mostly forget to use them, so end up pawning them off on daughters. I haven’t tried aything to stop hair loss. I’m not close to balding and I guess if that happens I may cut it short once more. As an older woman, I choose to not shear it off yet like so many do. I want to feel it sway at my neck, let breezes muss it up. But my more loosely woven grey-to-brown hair doesn’t define me now, if it ever truly did. It’s like a practical accessory; it protects, warms and can be decorative.

I’m settled in with myself, this body. I’m my everyday self–no need to dress up or look fabulous–and so life is lived in such a way that renders what is on top of my head the least of priorities. Still, maybe one day I will blend in a soft lake hue of blue. My daughters have thought I should do that for years. It’s a tiny bit tempting–a last hurrah from a woman who knows her own mind, with hair that seems to have its own life. The aforementioned granddaughter, just back from Hawaii and glowing, would likely give me a “thumbs up”, as well. Meanwhile, there are many more intriguing matters to capture my interest, regardless how this mop of hair looks as I go through the day and night.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: After the Party, a Respite and Rewind

(Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com)

It was not a restful night. I awakened fuzzy, trailed by difficult dreams. So I spent more than enough time reading a fashion magazine, the sort you don’t have to absorb so much as scan–the words and pictures. The greater emphasis is on pictures. (A few fashion magazines highlight essays, interviews of powerful women, the latest socioeconomic or political info, and health and beauty.) But I am not so intellectually or ethically elevated an individual (well, in my fantasies, likely) that I can’t enjoy a fabulous fashion shoot.

I have always liked aspects of fashion–its visual abundance; the process of transforming inspiration into an array of materials and designs; the performance aspect, no matter where it is shown to the world. It’s ordinary or glamourous impact counts; it’s startling at its best, an accessible sort of theater. It ventures into experiences that most only observe and consider, not engage with beyond the looking. But it somehow can matter a bit. Maybe it gives a jolt to creatives in odd ways. Like the designers whose work reminded me of old Lily Pulitzer designs plus the artist Miro’s paintings. It made me want to get out my own box of paints or collage scraps. It made me, decidely not domestically skilled, want to sew a bit more.

Let’s face it, though: a fashion mag is brazen escapism. I imdulge in this recreation as needed, a simple prescription for discouragment, physical unwellness, worry, even anger. It’s one little coping skill learned as an adolescent. After crying/praying/working hard/helping others, or heavy speculation about a future so like a maze, I take twenty minutes and go through a breezy fashion portal. Fashion also interprets and broadcasts societal goings-on–but from a distance that is safer. Me, I go straight to the easier stuff first.

I read more challenging magazines. I enjoy piles of physical books, delving into a chapters each day and night of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. I study coffee table tomes at my leisure–dragonflies? Pottery? Old maps? Check. I can be enchanted and frustrated by the smorgasboard of materials, the time factor. And then: choose stimulation of mind and spirit or of the eyes, perhaps the heart? Today has been a day for perking up weary eyes and brain cells. A leisurely taking in color and texture and style. And what about the photographer’s interesting ideas? (Oh, uh, I can name admired fashion photographers, old and new. I’ve read these mags for decades, you know.) I dive right in and float awhile in those inventive tableaus.

Of course I enjoy clothes, the looking and wearing of comfy, fun or classy ensembles, and unique, handmade jewelry, a brilliant scarf. But that’s another sort of personal essay, me and how I use or disuse things–closets I have known and choices made. (Did mention I also just enjoy clothing? Or at times, these days. So I wore velveteen emerald green pants and an apple green sweater on Christmas Eve… and a fuschia cashmere with navy pants Christmas Day. And navy wool felt slippers both times. In case you wondered.)

But today I fell into the shiny pages because I am still–after nights of decent sleep (also poor)– sluggish following kaleidoscopic activity of the holidays. The time passed feels a long way away in some regard. I mean Christmas, really. (We watched a show on house renovation New Year’s Eve, then read, then to bed. I heard fireworks going off: 2022 and I lay awake a long time.) The leading up to the Season, then various experiences of the Eve and Day. And a daughter and her partner staying a few more days since they had flown quite a distance. Four out of five adult kids, their honeys and children! I have video of some of the happiness I can replay now and then.

Then at the end of it all closing the door against a wintry mix of weather, turning on the new electric fireplace from our son, sitting and sighing. Imagining how those adults were once kids in other houses with fragrant trees chopped down and decorated to the max. On January 1st we began the tear down and clean up. Which took three days. There are still two boxes that need to be stacked up somewhere in the garage.

How is it that the weeks leading up to Christmas were such fun and now I am still feeling the aftereffects of socializing and eating and gift wrapping and exchanging and ….well, the whole lovely, blurry, fast-action experience. I had shopped like personal shopping was my full time job, a smart and happy shopper, rooting out items on lists, triumphantly spotting options. It felt good to know that the money was there this year, as it was not so much last year after my husband’s lay-off. I headed out on foot but also online, family members square in mind as I got to it. Because this year we planned on as muich family gathering as possible at our home. (Only one daughter was not, and her son, our grandson; she is a minister far away, he works in another state, too.) Between testing, vaccinations and masking, we could make it happen.

And we did, thankfully. It was amazing to have most children and grandchildren at our table, then circled about glimmering, gift-laden tree. But at times I felt as it was a dream. Being much more isolated for nearly two years, it was a rare experience to be in the middle of such abundance. Our unique, adored family. Overwhelming at moments, perhaps, joyful for the time we shared. Love disseminated with words, looks, laughs. It seemed almost too good to be true since life has been defined so often by turmoil, unease and sorrow. One can become leery when so much has been torn from normalcy; foreboding can creep right in. But we seemed to vibrate with pleasure, nonetheless.

Christmas was a mixture of secular and religious/spiritual energy. It has been for a few decades. Sometimes I think it’d be better to separate the two experiences. Or skip gifts altogether. (But: toddler granddaughters…) Or set aside greater time for faith traditions–much harder to do when in a pandemic. No candle lighting service in a sanctuary stilled by respect and full darkness, believers with hands raising brilliant candles aflame in that dome of darkness. The singing of hymns and carols.

Well, no actual church for us but we had family, and cause to cautiously celebrate completion of a difficult year. Though I admit: I forgot the prayer at dinner, our hands holding each others’ hands. No, the truth: I was afraid I would break down due to the invisible but real empty chair…our oldest granddaughter suddenly died in April. How do you pray with gratitude when someone has fast exited the circle? Everyone would weep, there would be tears covering us, grief’s mask with its heaviness. I thought her mother, our daughter, would no longer be able to embrace beauty of this Christmas, only heartache cracking it into pieces. But she had tried and she had done it, enough. So I let that prayer go and proceeded with my husband into the wonders of the time. We wept later.

All that. All the good a tonic, a reprieve, a break in many onerous days and nights… until even coping seemed barely enough. So each moment together was necessary for me, for us all. It wasn’t perfection. We are not all in accordance about everything, not at all, and are opinionated and expressive and smart. It was great human hope and a penchant for more goodness that brought us closer again, and it was seen, heard and held. We wanted to be normal. More caring. And it was further shaped by the eternal presence of Divinity; no matter how people practice their beliefs, everyone knows it, acknowledges it. At our old oak dining table, God has the best seat, the one in the center of the show. And we are family forever, amen.

Now the days go on in their pedestrian manner. Catch up on chores. Catch up with a few not here. More time to read, write, walk, consider creative projects and stat one, call friends, other family (my remaining sister, who has dementia, did not join us but I saw her a few days before).

But, too, harder news: one member who came on Christmas Eve became infected (via an acquaintance) with Covid-19 several days following our gathering. She was vaccinated. She is slowly recovering after 5 days. A daughter that visited from the east coast is now in Colorado with her partner, trying to cancel her flight back. Because she got shingles. And major airports are madness, short staffed, and there are many cancellations with travellers stuck. Snow may complicate things. That Omicron variant is speeding its way across America every moment. It is strange–science but still strange–that something invisible to the naked eye has made us captive to it…

It is back to living more like a solitary soul, with greater cautions– despite being vaccinated and boosted. A virus has its ways. I am suddenly ordering food and essentials for delivery again. No more fun outings unless outdoors and apart from people or picking through a bright mound of tomatos. It is not so bad; I deal with it, as we all must. Being a daily walker and a hiker when I can do that works magic. I can get through most things with a decent walk and a prayer.

The point that came to me after Christmas was how holidays bring an avalanche of real-time love, a release of pent-up energy, the sudden waterfall of happiness. And then the possibility of so much loss. It is enough to make my heart swell and skip too many beats.

How long shall we plod on?–who knows? We have held on, have practiced acceptance, and those of us who’ve been able to have gone on day by day–with courage and adaptability. We gain from greater introspection, become more self-reliant. Are we stalwart enough to keep on fighting discouragement, perhaps loneliness? There have been good dashes of hope; it has been enough for me. Now it’s the wait and wonder part– whatever time will reveal.

And so, then, moving into 2022 from one hard year to another made of primarily unknown qualities. I could tell you how many years have been that way in some iteration. Much if not most of my life. So one more can be looked in the eye.

And hence, the fashion magazines. Not The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin that awaits me a mere five inches away. I admit that more frivolous diversions seem so frothy that it is embaraasing to mention but, hey, we do what we can do to alleviate the odd mental dizziness tensions can create these days. And I have done more foolish or worse, that’s for sure. It’s not a drink or a drug or, goodness forbid, a man captivating eye or mind. It’s just good ole Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren; The Row; Dior, Chanel. It’s Bulgari or Van Cleef and Arpels or Paloma Picasso. It’s glossy pages, fast reads. I soak it all up with a flick of the pages, chocolate and strawberries in a time of so many radishes and turnips.

In the midst of challenges that lack few certain answers, problems that want for full resolutions I can find random moments of respite, even insignificant and fleeting. The mundane has its curious nature; a simple thing can offer an illumined moment. It doesn’t all need to be more lofty, though that may be a preference. A fabulous fashion photo by Annie Leibovitz or David LaChapelle interests me immediately, as does a Vivian Maier or Paul Nicklen photo. Then my attention flits to other matters. After all, these are not deep clues to more purposeful questions. Not the core of peace I build upon.

So I stand up, stretch, and discover a refreshed, jauntier viewpoint. I have had a break from a pressing immediacy of reality. I spin around, arms opening to whatever comes. The dryer stops so gather a warm bundle of clean laundry. Then send a quick check-in to two daughters. I’m up to more substantial business, creative explorations. Like a little song writing, power walking, poem making. Blogging my way into 2022. It takes everything–the tinsel and the constancy of the North Star.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Eleven Years/Thanks Giving

Eleven years.

WordPress informed me this week that it has been eleven years since my first blog post. That seems almost absurd. How can that be? I was sixty years old in 2010. And the passing of time has been a rhythmic flow of minutes, hours, days…starts and stops and this life resuming once again. And so, too, the posts on WordPress.

I recall it feeling like a small, entertaining adventure when I first learned the ropes. I jumped in and charged ahead. I learned through trial and error. And soon enjoyed the process. Yet, who would keep toiling away at a blog that long? Some of us just keep our foot on the pedal and go. It becomes a discipline and a habit, a way to also keep writing juices flowing. And the truth is, it hasn’t been very taxing to share the small theater of my life. We bloggers find pleasure and meaning as we put on pages the images that speak to us; stories that snare us; heartbreaks and recoveries that add up; random encounters that puzzle and move us. Blogging is a method of placing our thoughts and feelings into a more coherent perspective–as it is with any sort of writing (or any imaginative) endeavor.

Perhaps it has become one way to journal–whether the content is travelling, photography, hobbies, personal transformation, commentary on society and the world, true passion projects, deepening spiritual experiences, multimedia endeavors, humorous anecdotes. Or a simple tale of life that presses to reveal itself–and so we–I– obey. We create and place it into others’ hands…those often unknown others who are also moving and resting, chuckling or crying out.

Here: take these words and images and perhaps find me there and then find yourself here and there. Reach to the core of the story. The bare elegance of the view. The soundtrack of night as a woman or man flees wakefulness. The spill of light that flushes roots and limbs of the tree. But connect, be less alone. Peek into another way of living and engage mind and senses with no goal besides learning. And risk being open with moments of sharing. It will pull you from yourself even as it expands your knowldege. It has mine.

When I began this blogging adventure, I actually created and wrote one separate blog for poetry; another for prose; and one for photgraphy. Then I condensed the format (it got a bit much) so it became one blog that spanned three basic genres of fiction, nonfiction and poetry (with subgenres), as well as photography widely interspersed. It has evolved like most blogs do– and I have evloved, I suppose, and thus found my way from one kind of expression to different ones. I could spend more time on design, presentation and so on. (Proofreading more carefully, my apologies; also, there is a physical explanation for my poor typing–but another time!) I might attract more readers, who knows? (I guess I have well over 15,000 readers, but I have doubts about that count.) I lack motivation to experiment with it more, still. Maybe in 2022–year 12?

The bottom line is that I write and photograph because I am a creative person –here among countless others. I so love the process. The end results are of interest, but it is the actual doing whatever I do that magnetizes me, holds me captive until I am done enough. I spend on average 6-8 hours three days a week writing posts, working on the blog. I could do more ambitious things like submit work again, tackle another novel, explore art more seriously, get back to music (my cello sleeps upstairs in a corner; my voice hums very quietly). Some days I suspect I blog so much because I can procrastinate re: taking riskier chances out there. Perhaps, or perhaps not. I keep at this because it is a pleasure to do it, within a parcel of time put aside for myself. A rambling journey that takes me to bloggers and readers. We can all equally exchange our work and thoughts here. An overall democratic platform. I peruse the work of others, then begin once more.

In 2010, I had an active career in the mental health field, providing assessments, doing education groups several times a day, and counseling clients via individual therapy as well as group therapy. I valued and enjoyed my work. But I needed to write more. To breathe more freely, cleanse myself of the trauma and loss of those complex lives that could hover about my being when I got home. I had long been keen on good self-care and did a decent job of it. But that part of me that yearned to be more creative for myself first and last nagged at me. I was hungry and thirsty for it. I looked into blogging for that fun and release, for greater community with others, and another route to creative growth. It worked out nicely. I have been happy to keep my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule (more or less) for all this time. I am nothing if not a persistent sort, it appears.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I, like many millions, am a bit worn by the anxiety and drear that try to engulf us. I refuse to give in to it. I may weep and gnash teeth now and then, but then I am done–until the next time. I get up from the floor. And not that I don’t know sorrow. I grieve the vanishing of easy freedom and also people. In just the past year my 26 year old granddaughter died. My older and only remaining sister is losing her way in the morass of dementia. My best friend moved to Arizona. I feel the weight of our sorrowing earth–I have a devotion to nature–and of the slouching and redeeming humanity that inhabits it. We are full of our failures and long for wholeness and peace. And I keep striving. I know I am not alone.

So, I am not giving in to any lingering melancholy much less despair now. I have made it this far. I hope to make it at least a bit farther. I am powered by the regenerative essence of life, the leaps of joy in living–if also challenged. I am inspired and invigorated by the peculiar mysteries of love; gifts of encounters with other people; and surprising illuminations of God that I experience in everyday moments. In short, I am grateful, yes. I say so each morning and night. Praying and working to be present and to learn from others and remain aware of a multitude of wonders is edemic to my path.

What is at the root of your creative blogging journey? How do you keep moving forward amid strain of troubles? Where lives your gratitude?

We keep at it, don’t we, and what we find may instruct or thrill us. As one more blogger and writer, I do feel privileged. How auspicious an experience to offer our words, images and more. It is an opportunity to practice what I care about doing without judgement or pressures, and it brings such happiness.

I’ll remain here, then, at least for the time being.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Blessings to you and yours,

Cynthia

Husband Marc and me, 2010, when I began this blog. A little tension around those smiles, perhaps… We both worked too hard and such long hours back then. Careers that demanded much, but all work asks much!
Now retired for 7 years, still dreaming and doing–I thank Divine Light/Love/God.