Wednesday’s Words: Wildfire Nightmare

This is an old picture taken near city center; what I see out my own window is far, far worse.

The sky beyond our conifers and deciduous trees turns pastel orange before 4:00 pm, and the jittery air beyond is clogging up with smoke. Since last evening we have been under a Level 1 warning for wildfires, which means our bags are packed, our documents are gathered and we are alert to changes in conditions. Our particular Oregon county–Clackamas Co.– is already partly engulfed by fires; a third to one half on the fire map is noted in a critical state, a deep red color. Though these are not yet too close to our home, they have already destroyed so many properties. We don’t know how many acres are charred, or what the loss of life and property is yet. But we have packed our bags and are alert to the ongoing reports and notices. Where will we go, with COVID-19 still circulating? An emergency shelter site? We’re thinking on a workable plan.

It is very difficult for firefighters and other agencies’ aid to keep on top of multitudinous firestorm areas, as we have been experiencing higher gusts of wind a couple of days; foliage and trees are so dry that ravenous fires spread rapidly. And we cherish our a multitude of trees, including this spot where we are. It is a fraction of the greater state of Oregon. There are 35 devastating wildfires burning now. And worse in California. There are some burning in the State of Washington, our neighbor across the Columbia River and Portland metro.

We have a yearly fire season; the Columbia Gorge in 2017 was a bad season. This time they are occurring in areas not often impacted, not ever as huge or close to suburban spots and many small towns. Thousands have been evacuated from the area, but south/southeast of us. Our governor has declared a State of Emergency, as there are these various and broad areas of raging fires. In fact, it has been called “unprecedented fire behavior.”

Unfortunately, sliding glass doors were left open a short while as potted balcony plants were watered early morning. Even before I came downstairs, I could smell it–that dry, noxious permeation of unmistakable if faint smoke. The doors were closed tightly again; we taped every window shut. We do not have an air purifier or even air conditioner. The good portable purifier broke a couple months ago. I didn’t think to replace it yet since my allergies don’t kick up until the leaves start to fall. So we’re sealed inside our townhouse. We’ve not needed the air conditioner as it remains evenly cool, even when temperatures reach mid-nineties. Why? Because we live among an abundance of trees…and face the west side, looking toward the Coast Mountain Range… where now the sky is not ordinary sky but a blanket of tangerine smoke that camouflages foothills and peaks.

It is ominous, strange. I feel secure here in the valley between mountain ranges. But now both an external and internal energy is powerfully unnerving, as if a suddenly unearthed demon spewed its breath across our astonishing and gorgeous topography. It feels irrelevant to calmly type as the smoke layers and bunches. The updates on fires are a constant background track to our days and nights. Just now another evacuation notice was posted, and people will flee with little in hand and hearts in their throats, pets under their arms and families rushing beside them. All the while knowing their homes will likely be gone, just like that. I cannot imagine such reverberating loss, not having endured it before.

This has been a blessing, to live within hills by rivers and forests, mountain ranges on both sides, beauty that is awe-inspiring. It has been both solace and joy to walk circuitous, challenging trails, visit rejuvenating waters that abound nearby. Now all we can do is wait out the horror of September 2020 wildfires and hope that the area is spared. Such a small word, hope, but essential.

Yet my words feel off-kilter as I try to think carefully–it feels uncomfortable or even wrong, for our state’s neighbors are not safe as they evacuate or wait to hear if they must go. None of us could imagine this, not here, not away from forested mountains. None of us are safe, nowhere near it yet. Not until towering fires are contained as dominating winds settle down–until our usual pure “green” air is near-breathable once more. It is enough to humble this woman, to threaten tears–but I remain vigilant, organized and prepared to leave all that fills this home if need be.

Think of us kindly, and countless numbers more. Discover and hold close all the gratitude for your lives. One never knows what is ahead–not in these peculiar and often dangerous times. I plan on writing another poem to share with you this Friday. Such is the nature of my own stubborn hope.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: When the Creative Well Seems Dry

Just when I was feeling pleased that I am never at a loss for inspiration or words that tell of it, I found myself being just that. I’m not over it yet, despite writing this post. My brain’s language function is operant but it feels as if there is little worth saying to myself, much less others. I was about to seek out writing prompts–not a bad idea–but I resist it. It somehow feels like cheating though I know it isn’t. We can get creative juices flowing in many ways. My favorite is letting notions and their language unveil themselves; it happens this way for me. I am grateful. Until it doesn’t.

A writer doesn’t look kindly on a very long pause. I know it’s the same for a composer, longing for a few measures of decent notes. Or an artist with the blank paper or canvas or metal sit there, accusingly blank, so that she also blanks out, at a loss. It might be hours or days; perhaps weeks. Longer. Anyone who loves to create–it may be a basket, a piece of jewelry or woodworking project, a new flower garden or a dance–knows what I mean. We are wellsprings of energy and ideas, then suddenly, we are not.

These days we might suggest it is the pandemic that has bled us dry of great possibilities. That seems reasonable to blame dry spells on, but I am loathe to agree. Lots of people are being productive–perhaps even more so now that millions are forced to be at home. At least I keep hearing of individuals starting afresh, setting themselves to all manner of marvelous endeavors: writing books, starting nonprofits, becoming supercharged political activists, redesigning their homes, discovering new talents. But for me life has bumped along in basic and familiar ways. I have managed to avoid the virus’ infection thus far. And I quit working in my chosen field a few years ago so open ended days and nights are not novel. (It is my spouse who now struggles with the impact of sudden downsizing.)

So what is my problem? How come I’m not getting more done, why do I feel it is not as comfortable to write? Maybe I am all written out. Tired of keeping fingers on the keyboard week after week. Weary of the life I do live, and of writing about it as if it is interesting.

It might start with basic ennui…lack of motivation related to feeling below optimum level of well being–the common malaise…that happened to me this week, as I battle with chronic health issues best as I can. Or, say, a friend or family incident might require that my energy move into a different direction, to another need. This happens, but less than when I saw family and friends routinely. Sure, I text, I call, we Zoom–we all know it isn’t the same.

However, this morning a daughter let me know that she had gotten “jalapeno hands”–look it up, it is real—last night after cutting up the peppers; her hands were extremely painful for hours, burning. And this morning their cat attacked her viciously enough that he might need to be sent elsewhere…for good. So I have had her on my mind, and wish I could run over to wrap my mother hug about her.

And I will note, as well, that Marc has applied for 100 positions since April and nothing has worked out–that gives me plenty to tune into other than what I want to write. I have studied how to manage things on a seriously restricted budget–like many others have done. I’ve even had a dream about adding up figures, trying to work it out. These are topics readers can relate to, so I could write of them more, I suppose. Note my lagging interest. Even though I do write memoir, I can’t so often write precisely what I live. It gets dull for me. And perhaps can be too tender a telling to share.

However, there are other times I feel my friendly Muse has lost interest and taken a leave of absence. I understand, if so. It can get redundant and claustrophobic in this head, the same themes rising to the top, like those songs on replay as I go about my business–and driving me nutty. Sometimes one has to stop all input, clear things out, take a break to rejuvenate.

I might also I struggle with a project a long while. Months or years. So many rewrites, countless excisions of bad adjectives, whole paragraphs, wimpy characters–until it can seem piecemeal, not a whole creation–and thus, becomes ruined. I feel used up then, and think the original idea was worthless. And sometimes it is. The manuscript goes into the documents files, taking up much space, and is ignored. I might get back to some of these–and maybe not. They may have served their purpose, been a housecleaning mentally, got me going in other directions. And I have only so much time. I am not 30, 40, 50…well, the years are not getting longer.

The truth is I can get story-shy for awhile, averse to writing. I despise those times and though few, they leave me sad and longing to write again. Even a title, a sentence, a phrase–so that is what I do. Write these on grocery list pads of paper or my “resource notebooks” stacked in a basket by my computer. Or junk mail envelopes, scraps of napkin, sticky notes left on my desk to gather dust, a book mark I pull out of a bedside novel middle of the night. And, too, I leave voice memos on my phone and check those now and then if I run too dry.

One way to guarantee a loss of writing impetus, and loss of confidence, is to think hard on something I learned a few years ago: a writer is not an author until his or her book is published. That means no matter how much work appears in anthologies or articles are printed in a newspaper or pieces are included in literary journals, the writer is still not, apparently, an Author. One can even be nominated for a prestigious literary prize (it happened) and still, “author” is not attached to one’s name or work. Being a blog writer also does not “count”, no matter how many people read the blog. Those who are authors state this in no uncertain terms.

Why bother writing? People who don’t write ask me this often. I have published this and that since I was a youth and yet, no book. I’ve not been bitten with a lust to publish a book, not yet. I think the “what if” came and went at least 15 years ago. It seemed like so much work for so little gain. I know how it is to send out a manuscript and have it returned, again and again and again–I mailed them for decades, that’s how long I’ve been writing–and also have done the online submissions route. I try not to think about how tremendous a number of writers are doing the same. Sometimes it has worked out alright, and that’s good. But no book. Not enough in print.

Without earthly gains, it is clear the reason I write is simple. And a cliche: I love it. I write because it is endemic to who I am so this act of creativity will not cease until finally I have no more wherewithal: no lucidity or strength to put a single sentence down and set it free, right along with my own self.

So I continue, yet can question if my writer’s warrior will has gone missing. Or the stories have gone hiding, lying in wait for another receiver, another scribe. And, for sure, I might have gotten emptied for a bit. It is a parched state of being. I realize intervention requires more of that clear, cool water of psyche and soul. It has to bubble up from subterranean places where words are offered life– so they percolate and permutate, slowly rise to the opening mind, and come to glorious (or acceptable; one cannot always expect marvelous results) fruition.

I feel sure my brain’s language function knows I am a receptacle for story, no matter how small and no matter if unread. The left hemisphere and right hemisphere are in cahoots with each other and thus, me. Never have I believed stories and poems (or anything artistic) were mine alone, if mine at all. I cannot gather and develop them without the mysterious sources of inspiration that reveal, clarify, transform and liberate them. Maybe only to a deep silence or beyond the ether–but that is not such a disappointing bit of alchemy. Go with the flow, it all works out.

Maybe the writing magic is akin to what happens in a farmer’s field. The farmer plants and tends, brings forth from the soil a cornucopia of necessary, beautiful, delicious vegetables and other wonders. But there are also fallow times for a field, when it is left idle to recover nutrients. And its fertility returns in greater force. Every creature, every part of nature requires time out, whether for night’s sleep or period of hibernation. Work still is being done–in an episode of restful repair, a quiet regeneration of life-giving substances and forces. The result is more visible productivity when it comes time to take more action. To once more plant the seeds, to tend, to nourish–until the wholeness of growth is ripe and ready for further use.

To let rest: this isn’t rocket science, as the saying goes, but it can prove an elusive concept to me regardless. I have to stop and remember important things, how forces and ideas work at deeper levels, how many have examined and embraced different ways of being, growing, creating. This has gone on for centuries; what my predecessors have found useful wisdom can well supplement my own. And alter it in significant ways. So I do use fallow times to read others’ work more, to contemplate spiritual matters, to be among the trees. To remain open. The simplest things can mean the most and replenish me more thoroughly. And when something new or just fun is experienced, that wellspring can erupt once more.

I know I will write more prolifically again. Perhaps better, perhaps not, though I am always reaching for a finer moment of creation, make progress as I continue. I can discover possibilities every hour if I am patient and attentive to life, let my heart, soul, mind and senses take it all in. The words will come and even if they resist my need of them, the stories are right here, at my nose and fingertips, waiting. The well will not, in fact, run entirely dry. It is only an illusion that my ego notes and fears.

Above my desk is a photo of a woman, eyes closed and leaning at her open window; her elbows rest on the sill, chin in one hand. She smiles as early sunlight gilds her skin. Below the picture is a quote from poet Mary Oliver’s work, “Where Does the Temple End, Where Does it Begin?”. I look at it daily, savor those words– how much more there is to hold close, I think, and am humbled and glad. The poet says:

“I look; morning to night I am never done looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open.”

Such sage words. And I wonder what else that woman hears and smells and loves and knows. See, this unknown woman is one of the necessary and golden stories, gifts I am fortunate to find.

Monday’s Meander: At the Park with Three Dads

Any day can be a day of gratitude for fathers but Sunday being Father’s Day, we spent time with my son, his wife and his son, as well as our daughter, our son-in-law and their two 14 month olds (plus one other daughter with partner). Gabriel Park has great groves of trees and broad grassy areas, woods and a community garden. Many people wore masks as did Marc and I though this was in open air with plenty of space –much safer. Son Josh (Falk), a pro skater, and Asher (14, long hair–our grandson), were mask-less due to much sweaty athletic activity. They had a great time out there sharing a mutual passion.

I can’t show much of the now-toddling granddaughters as it is preferred we do not. But I took action photos of the guys skateboarding. Josh has been skating since he was 12; he is 45, still sponsored with his skateboards and other items sold, and photographed for magazines (though he’s a contractor full-time). During most of my shots a man (in a black t-shirt) who was filming asked, without knowing who I was, if he was ruining my shots. I laughed, “Oh, I have hundreds of shots of my son, several of my grandson!” He asked who it was so I said, “The guy you’re filming mostly today!” He replied with surprise and appreciation that I was his Mom, out there a dazzlingly hot hour shooting away, in my sweaty mask. Hubby Marc relaxed on a bench.

Earlier in the day we met with another part of the family. Here is a far more protective picture with the toddlers and their parents–sorry to not share more. We brought fruit and animal crackers–those growing girls loved munching on a pear and a peach, and our short visit was good fun!

Alera, Alex, David, Morgan

On through the trees and into the community garden area to finish the beautiful day.

Marc, here on the pathway, helped me raise five kids! He is still standing, God bless him.

An altogether happy Father’s Day with loved ones. My own father passed away 30 years ago, but he is lovingly recalled. I hope you were able to appreciate your fathers and grandfathers, here or gone, as well.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Over the Ramparts We Go?

It was my intention to get up at a decent hour and head to the coast with Marc for at least a look-see. It was to be a considerable consolation to visit the Pacific Ocean for a day since we are not yet taking a hoped for road trip through eastern Oregon and Idaho. It meant I’d re-post a piece from a few years’ back, something I’ve rarely done in ten years of writing and posting on WordPress. But for such a great reason.

I just wanted out. To embrace some real freedom. Out of our home, out of our city, released of some of the binding constraints imposed by Times of a Most Terrible Virus. I had read about “quarantine malaise”, and I considered that it might be creeping up on me a couple weeks back. This day trip was a healthy act of self-care–for Marc and for myself. Blue skies predicted! The roaring lull of big waves guaranteed! Piney forest air plus sea salt=a thrill+peace. An equation for a span of pleasure.

Over the ramparts we go, then! Face the relentless threats semi-armed and mostly fearless! Off to sea and its radiant, wild delights!

However, life is a chameleon that will trick you despite solid strategies to avoid any such tricks.

Last night a chronic health condition flared badly and as usual with bad timing it followed me to bed, where I attempted to fall asleep, not fooled by my desire to do so. This is not a new thing; I have years of practicing the inexact art of living with insomnia. I sometimes am victorious without any aids; most often I sweat it out. But I can give in and take half a pill of something that seems much more benign than not halfway resting. Luckily, when I finally seek an aid, a little medicine goes a long way toward a triumph. This is noted for those of you who haven’t followed me long: I am several decades past being a drinking, pill-popping part-mad woman, a user of self defeating escape routes. For any reason. Some nights I nearly (but not truly) regret that–at wide eyed 4 a.m.–but persist in the ways to wellness. (I might add that I savor Sleepytime or Tension Tamer tea nightly, perhaps even Kava tea a couple hours before bedtime.) I know where I am headed by 11 or 12, and it isn’t always kindly there, no sweet rocking chair drowse, despite a fine book.

But I am lying there (alone–made the smart move long ago as he also has sleep issues) with intermittent punching of pillows to reshape/ reposition them, re-smoothing sheets (or even re-tenting the top sheet about my head), re-settling limbs into a tolerable degree of discomfort, listening to and shushing hidden innards griping–yes, lying there and thinking: This is not what June was to be. As if that would be a revelation to anyone in the world. I repeat a variation silently. This is not the life I had hoped for at 70. As if it was planned for by the 7, 17 or 37 year olds, the middle aged folks and beyond when one might feel a tad more secure or at least on near horizon. All humanity has been aghast at what lies beyond their door–and also inside it, at times. What on earth is next? I shall not fear– but fear I do now and then, as one does.

I get too hot, toss off a a layer. But the vexations begin even as prayers are recited with earnestness. And any whiff of gratitude is often noted on the bumpy night path. I can still breathe, no coughing or fevers, I am okay, overall, so far, and we have food to eat, and family not far.

Last night I was fortunate: it was not even 2 a.m. when I last looked at the clock. Which I do try to not look at, but I tend to count how many hours I will need to function. Say, at 2 I will still need at least 6 –until 8 or 9 in the morning–to function reasonably well. But this is not often fulfilled on that kind of night. Rather, hit or miss, take what you get and be glad to awaken feeling like an only slightly less than average older human, overall. I might get to sleep at 2 awaken at 5, finally sleep at 7:30 again, get up at–gasp–10. It is a messy way to live in some regard but works well enough if it must.

But not this morning did I roll out of bed and feel fit enough. I surmised I may not have deeply slept, at all–a blur of soreness and uncertainty, getting up and down, reading, trying to not check my phone, then at last almost acquiescing to sounds of the fan on low and a meditation app on repetitive ocean waves. And there is a fragrance diffuser that releases something like a lavender scent. It wafts about, then lingers only briefly as if reluctant to bear witness to my wrestling. There is a small lavender sachet under my pillow, though–a back-up.

All this did not spare me of dreamy fragments and waking exhausted. (I always wonder what planet I was on, what was that room crammed with people who looked like escapees from an old fashioned carnival?)

I came a bit more awake. The heralding sun sneaking through slats designed a stripey pattern across carpet and skin: a show of shadow, light. I watched it move, barely–I don’t see well without help–and it shimmered. But it was really the first morning I have lain there (since March) and had this thought: why must I push off bed covers and press feet to ground and run water for a shower and get dressed to greet the day? How is this day any different from all those that ran, pranced, crept, and slogged before it? But I kept on and dash it all to any doubts that came.

The high ramparts I saw in my mind were daunting, the views a mixture of dismal and enticing. It took me awhile to think that over and then: was I depressed? Not really; no classic symptoms. Generally speaking, depression and I are not cohorts much. The feeling has been different… lazy, dumbfounding in its ordinariness yet with streaks of strangeness. Distracted even when engaged. Maybe I was only in need of a break from all the reality we are forced to reckon with day in, day out.

So I didn’t look at the news on my iPhone before getting up–well, for just a moment. That helped only a little. Texting my son, then, about a casual family Father’s Day gathering in a big park didn’t help, either–I am glad of it but worry. I am sure we will try hard to stay six feet apart, we will wear masks, though my son tends to fight against a harsh reality made rougher with harsher impositions as if it was a fight quite worth winning. He likes to be in control, I get it. One of his sisters barely gets out, anymore–she works remotely–but naturally craves safe liberation. Well, agreed and agreed, my adult children.

I yawned and got up by crawling from one side of the bed to another–less walking required–slid down to the floor where soles of feet quite woke up, found the en suite and splashed cold water on my face, then turned on a steamy shower. Breathed. Dressed, brushed hair. I was doing it despite resistance and grumbling, achy spots. On to another day, sans leisurely trip to the coast for the time being. Probably best to stay off the beaches awhile longer, avoid any clumps of people there, anyway, I decided, though didn’t half believe it.

By the time I headed downstairs Marc had long been up and at ’em, doing what he does each morning. He has developed a marvelous cleaning routine since he lost his job–disinfects every vital area; 27 drawer knobs and 8 light switches; tidies up his work station for use; sweeps the balcony of anything fallen abundantly overnight from pines and maples and who knows what all, then checks every vegetable and flower. We have likely intolerable (sorry) kale, we have promising snap peas, and tiny leaf lettuce and faltering tomatoes and more in clay pots. My flowers seem happier as rain lessens somewhat and temps warm. (Though it rained so hard one night it recently drowned my confetti plant and three baby birds therein…awful to confront. Marc did this for me…) My hydrangea is soon to pop open in blues, the geraniums are coming along.

Sometimes Marc can be heard from far off singing out there, talking to a bird–or something. I call out but he doesn’t remotely hear me from the kitchen so I boil water and pop a bagel in the toaster. Several minutes more pass and he’s singing possibly opera, possibly his own made up song. His sweeping is new, as is his very presence, various ways and means.

Over the years of our marriage, he has been gone 500-75% of the time on business trips. And then was gone 14 hours days when working locally. Who is this man in my home? I admit this occurs to me… He has led one life while I have led another–quietly, industriously– except for week-ends, and only when he is in town. A shock when you realize you married at 30 (second for us both) and all those minutes and hours swept by full of kids and work and moves and then– solitude at last. And now you are 67, 70 respectively. What actually happened with all that, and now what? Another vexation at points. But I have thousands of photos to more clearly identify who we were and gradually became. (Same with five children.) It comforts me to look at them; I know what we have been through and achieved yet need reminders.

Because right now I might feel puzzled by my own face in a mirror– Cynthia, seeker of clarity, swimming through the murk of the 2020 Miseries. His attractively aging face? Getting used to it more and more. Even he must get used to it since he is not in dress shirt and slacks, now, and a black hoodie is perhaps a kind of relief, or a solace. And all of it a shock to his system and mine. Retirement is planned. Suddenly being unemployed is a hatchet falling but just missing you, leaving one breathless awhile.

It is a blessing and a conundrum, being at home together all the time. I can spot a similar congenial dullness or slight wariness in other couples’ faces. We all want to be good spouses, supportive more than ever for one another–but… “Could you please watch that show in another room? Also, leave the candles on that table as they were–try ear phones for your music more–and, oh, please stop interrupting me…”

Such togetherness is unknown territory but we prefer to have some fun. So, of course, getting out to the beach–anywhere at all–is a great idea. Better than Scrabble much of the time.

None of us had time to prepare mentally much less physically for a pandemic. We once had the nerve to think all was not so bad, even all was well. It is the deciding factor in nearly all we do. There are stringent limitations. Whole countries have been stopped in their tracks. Amazement at that, though we know it is the right way way to have responded. So, follow the rules and bide our time and yet we chafe at it. Social, questioning humans want to get up and go, mix things up, hang with others, explore places. The very thought that I cannot go somewhere any old time or chat with a neighbor without worrying about swapping germs–it adds up, a creeping unrest and then underlying surrender–both tiresome to cope with daily.

No, we cannot just “over the ramparts and off we go”, off to battle with something invisible but too often overpowering. There are some well suited to the battle, our true warriors of science and medicine. The rest of us adapt and observe the action; we try to ready ourselves the best we can for what comes. We live as we must live, working our brains to consider the previously inconceivable. We get up and do what we do in a blind faith that we will make it alright til bedtime, then get at it again… God or/and lucky chance willing.

I admit to feeling ashamed more than is comfortable. I can’t say I suffer so; there are fewer discomforts than so many have. I am not a medical employee or other front line worker facing often dangerous days and nights; I am not ill with the virus; I have enough decent food and requisite paper goods today. I might not in time have all that but today I am standing on rocky but stable ground, in a life still woven in part of good moments, basic comforts. So I try to alleviate guilt in small ways, help others– but it never is quite enough. Then I get out of my head, try for better.

Endurance and stamina as a way of being: this comes to the fore as I eat breakfast on the dappled balcony among trees. Flexibility of thought, and creativity of spirit. Patience and acceptance of what cannot be changed soon. If I am a little wearied by things–more than some, far less than others–I also have motivation to make each day better. Even this morning despite a weight of burdensome something.

We decide to take charge and go to the wide river, follow it like one follows the intelligent lead of a favorite teacher. I act as if I have energy and somehow it fills me enough that I make an hour and a half with Marc in and out of woods, past unique houses and a variety of boats, past teens splashing and laughing, and older people smiling at their roused and thankful dogs, and singles speeding by on racing bikes or running, hair flopping, many hands and smiles signaling hello. This is how it happens, how I rediscover what it good for me–even writing this simple post is a balm. It’s all in the living, one moment after the other, in any satisfying way it can be managed. The harder times, I pause, then just hold on–or let go as seems best.

Tomorrow I am meeting my best friend, a born fighter with significant battles already won. We’ll sip tea even in the new warmth of June, chatter away at six to eight feet apart, take to the winding park pathways, and laugh easily despite life’s harm and worry. It carries us better through the rest of it all. It makes us stronger and happier, and that matters even more these times.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What I Love, i.e., How I Thrive

Astoria, OR. by the Columbia River

The deep center of this body–where we live in the many parts that make us and more– sometimes recoils and grabs hold of belly, ribs, heart and solar plexus at the same moment: speechless depths of misery and longing, at once. It pierces, reaches beyond the cellular to spirit. The universe seems to open and close, an accordion of sadness, and want. Stunned. I move around that current all day, navigating my way, but if at night I make my nest, rebuild a tent of pillow, sheet, bedspread and settle in. Then start over again. Silky or raw half-dreams, ponderings here to there. Eventually a facsimile of sleep. Then three or four hours later, repeat.

Are we not all trying hard at times to even sleep, not only more but peacefully so to awake and fumble our way better into another day, perhaps even take charge of it? Are you, as I, struggling in this worldly morass much of the time lately? It is fatigue of relentless adaptation, that push for coping–but also a need of connection and peace. Or a moment of frivolity in the midst of multiple, severe realities. At least it is likely here, the land in which I reside.

How do we manage to live with all the changes and difficulty? The fury and the despair out there that comes to haunt us, too? But everyone needs better than managing it all.

I was going to write a lighter personal essay about something I love, about how some smaller thing is a good trick that keeps me even a bit better afloat. Say, thrift shop vases of fresh-cut flowers. Oregon State Park hikes. Bach cello concertos. Singing along with Eliane Elias, dancing. Yet none of this is quite the crux of my need to write today. I am writing about coping with the world’s increased demands, its violence and grief, its obfuscations, its lies–and that asks me to name what counts the most.

What is a major element that enables me to withstand testings, disappointments, worries, losses? The quickest answer is my faith in Divine Love, God within/around us. That is always foremost or I would not be here writing.

But then came this: imagination. And it’s cousin, curiosity.

One of the first times I realized imagination wasn’t only for creating a story or music and had practical uses was when I was a young girl playing baseball with neighborhood kids. I found myself trying to imagine what it looked like from different bases and the pitcher’s mound when looking back toward me, a batter. I tried to imagine what they were going to do. It was odd, perhaps, but I felt as batter and hopefully home runner that it might help. And it did the more I practiced this switching perspectives, even if it was imagined. I had more confidence and in time was better able to anticipate reactions, which aided my choices.

Imagination influences us daily, in everything we enact or think. It is pervasive even without our fully knowing it as we consider possibilities and try to find answers to a series of minuscule or mammoth problems in our personal and professional endeavors. It intervenes on our behalf as we dream, seek to understand another, set up goals, test theories, develop new inventions. I think of imagination as a partner, as well as an aspect of my personality that motivates me to seek authenticity and depth in what I learn. I can become a healthier person with such help and, naturally, create better. It expands who I am by virtue of its pervasive presence, and its interesting array of offerings–which can be accepted or rejected or used as springboards.

We use imagination not only to give life in our minds what we cannot directly experience with our senses. We imagine connections and study those ideas, synthesize them for insights and solutions. We construct a future goal and then utilize imagined steps along the way, developing a structure by which to tackle the chore. Failure of one option is a possibility that just isn’t usable; we move on, the imagination considering an alternative.

Empathy seems a result of this creative force, for if we allow ourselves to imagine how it must be to live as another person we start to understand the individual or the group. Then we can develop the ability to see the world differently with greater caring and sense of shared humanity.

We can entertain ourselves imaginatively, of course, by daydreaming,letting the mind roam wherever it will. Or casually participating in various activities for hours–movies or other arts, games, socializing with new friends. We try to interpret and engage with them in some way that answer questions and stokes the imagination further. Observations alone can be entertaining–we all speculate on who that platinum-haired person we see walking the Great Dane at 8 am, noon and 4 pm really is, or what that conversation about a judge, missing lawyer and a July deadline might lead to– we will imagine it if we like.

The plasticity of the mind is a grand thing. Born with a vast curiosity, we’ll use it constantly unless forbidden for some absurd or terrible reason. I suspect even then it will come to our defense, drive us toward more questions, potential answers. How fortunate we are to have that innate desire to explore and gather information seen and unseen; the capability to conceptualize, construct entire stratagems to gain greater ground. Intellectual curiosity coupled with imagination discover theories that can split open a universe within or without us.

I have felt my entire life that my imagination was a basic necessary tool to keep my self in decent working order. And to find fulfillment. Joy. It not only kept me alive in devastating circumstances–we have to be able to first imagine possible relief and the light returning to hope even a bit–it has led me into a life that has been richly interactive with many levels of experience most every single day, even in harsh times. (I had to think about that, but find it essentially true.)

Using imagination is a rescue tactic. I can step into a picture, a story, a poem of my own making, a view before me, a random conversation, a different perspective, a fledgling idea, a framework for tomorrow. Nearly all things can be tolerated for a time with constructive use of imagination. It can aid in keeping one on more even keel– thus, healthier and sane at the core despite pressures and pains. If in dire circumstances, what we can imagine, we can live for and aim to more fully realize in this three dimensional world. It also takes us beyond what seems mundane and useless.

Yes, it can also help devise an answer erroneously; make inferences regarding events that may have no grounds for truth; lead me down a primrose path that goes in circles. But I still have free will and choice and my human curiosity will seek another way out, a new conclusion, a deeper look. Besides which, imagination does not insist I keep only my own company. I can be alone with it and be entirely happy. But I can also find others’ knowledge and wisdom. I can call upon anyone that will allow me to ask for help. For another idea. A helping hand. A spiritual opportunity. An inspiring jog to my suddenly lethargic mind. Without imagination, I’d be far less likely to believe a viable option was to reach outward, as well. And it would be much harder to keep on keeping on.

What I love is the human capability to wildly or meticulously imagine anything desired, and talent for seeking the unique spark in all life. We can freely consider and embrace the intriguing or unexpected. And for me that means honing in on the good in all others, imagining the best rather than the worst. Though this has not come easily some years, it still comes to me as I pause and ask more questions. I keep eyes and spirit open as I need to live thoroughly, thoughtfully.

It is true imagination can snag, boomerang and sting; it can make me seriously reassess my intelligence and courage so that I must start again, take different chances. Yet I let my imagination consider the beauty of a panoply of possibilities to lead me forward. There is more to gain than lose, always. Otherwise, there are too many empty gaps. And that is akin to missing the boat while traveling this spectacular river of life.

I believe everyone wants to be in on such a journey. If I can think of it and pray for it, I can extend a hand or speak up, clarify imaginings as I help with a few more hopes and dreams. Perhaps they may even come to resemble a finer reality.

The Columbia River