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.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: The Dreaming

At last, in the lengthening night

there is a turning around on

velvet pathways with curves set

softly afire, oceanic darkness linking

conversation with wisdom, Mother Wit

coming up from deep wells, talk that seems

real as dreaming slips in, out, past day

and tufts of songs rise behind teeth

like whistling grasses caught on branches

and light threading petals, future morning glories

while the mouth, heart are rich as darkness

and in its absence speak and are understood,

rising from waterways where traces of stars

act like power, lithe and brazen with love–

then with no warning: my awakening and

leaving bed and entering dawn

as though saved, realigned body, spirit, mind

and my Italian mug blue with silence,

waiting on a counter and ignorant of

sleep or little of it, yet a fine fit in my hand–

always deaf to talk, even this gratitude

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Night Vocabulary

stars-610670_1280

Then night’s dark environs curved a cave
about as I shut eyes and mind cruised
among a cornucopia of thoughts,
such a banquet that seemed not to
whet my appetite, so I let go and fell

in a wilderness of words, nets
of rapture and folly that caught me,
brave conspiracy of verbal happiness,
a wardrobe of syllables crafted for me
of dismal slags and daring surprise.

Such vocabulary leaving and arriving
hews deep, familiar pathways
to moments which manifest life
despite being paused–by age or health,
temporary material circumstance;

or that restlessness of worry,
all the hard prayers to high slung moons.
Every arc of words creates a visage
of love that recognizes me or not as yet
as I navigate waves of wakeful slumber.

These tricky acrobatics of curiosity,
capricious nouns holding forth, verbs astir,
a language of energy launching me toward
horizons colored with shining letters…
ah, may language of this small bestowed life not desert me.

May I attend and serve until the ending blesses.
And we shall leap, drift into rhapsodies of silence.

Notes From the Edges of Sleep and the Day After

snowy-january-054

It was that fine velvety stillness which held my attention. No mechanical clangs or motors roaring, no ebullient voices ballooning in the darkness after bar closings. The crows had taken a hiatus, were asleep or perhaps frozen stiff on their perches after the evening’s steady snowfall. I peeked out the window once more: nothing but rapid accumulation of an almost florescent snow upon rooftops, fences, tree limbs, parked vehicles. A January night’s attire arrayed itself with grace. Nothing stirred amid the restful snow, or pounced on blowzy flakes as once my calico cat had zealously attempted.

But why was I thinking of feisty Mandy, she of snappish meows and fast claws, dead and gone for a decade? I didn’t miss her warmth at my blanketed feet since she hadn’t been allowed there due to ending up a nuisance, though I loved her. No, it was another sneaky thought from nowhere. I lay on my back, blankets pulled up to my chin. Why did I think of anything at this time of night? I ought to have been snoozing, traversing vaporous realms at the most or loosely tethered to a wakeful consciousness at the least.

It was way past two in the morning; I didn’t want to check again. I had had my usual herbal Sleepytime tea while watching some innocuous television, headed to bed to devour many pages of an engaging novel. Tried to think sleepy thoughts. Let the day’s work and play be put aside. Worries offered up to God as well as a few suggestions that might be helpful, then humble retractions and surrender once more.

Closed my eyes. Ignored familiar inroads of pain that crept from neck to shoulders to head to back. Visualized warmth and healing in each spot, fell toward restfulness. In thirty minutes: fully awake again. This time, heart skipping about as if deep darkness was the best time to change things up, do a little sidestep, try on a galloping jig and then a waltz. A long pause or two and a swing step. Be at ease, I counseled the muscle that drives this flesh, fuels this life.

But beyond the bed, the vibrant quietude of snow carried me first to blizzards of my Michigan childhood and youth. The snow houses, sledding, ice skating, tunneling into the depths, falling into sharp sweetness with a boisterous shout. All that force of beauty and opportunities for fun; the ways it shaped the flow and tenor of my life for sometimes five or six months of each year. It gave me fortitude, more room for imagination and pure happiness.

And I thought, too, of a time in the north country with my first husband, our children gallivanting in brilliant snowdrifts, the skittish and graceful deer living right alongside our lives. The wood stove tended all day and night to keep us warm enough. That last winter of complicated snowstorms and love, more snow and loss. As I tried to let sleep come, I greeted him somewhere, wherever he is since body failed. But why was this necessary to revisit? Because the snow is made of memories. A unique elegance, freedom; it smells and shimmers of wonder and sorrow.

Music came forward from somewhere far away inside my mind– kept awakening me with chords, clear and robust. Giant icicles used to shine at the windows of my parents’ home, the music house. That was then and this snow was now but they were superimposed as I lay there half-awake. Trees must have shivered, as just like childhood I felt their aliveness, my eyes closing tighter against seepage of sky through the blinds and that far away past. I hummed a melody almost recalled as it melded with a sudden wind. Chimes jangled on the balcony, sonorous, comforting.

Three forty-five a.m. I sighed, re-positioned, fluffed the pillows. Thought of Marc on the East coast after flying all day. Was he awake, too? Sleep is often more elusive in hotels. He would likely be at work already.

Wait, a few poetic lines floated across mind’s eye…the slight of a slivered moon left behind, a pale cascade of stars nudging my waking… I grabbed pen, slip of paper.

Flopped back down. My heart rat-a-tatted over and over– electrical messages, small circuitous interruptions. That prescience of shocking mortality. We are not only memories and dreamings. But I know to wait it out, breathe well. It was persistent, then passing as mercifully, I fell asleep for awhile.

That night was a winding road. Long, crammed with bits and pieces that entertained, annoyed, jolted, intrigued and even soothed as each moment leads to another unlike what is expected or needed.

I am not alone with such night voyaging. All who experience insomnia for any reason know how it goes: it starts to feel long and unreasonably temperamental, then to feel more like floating in ineffable space and finally it feels like nothing but weariness. That waiting for dawn. It can be survived if you are friendly with it, acknowledge it as a terribly stubborn guest, and behave as if it is not unexpected and not despised.

And I finally awakened to full light. Looked outside. The snow was more immense, lay in high mounds and cancelled grayness with its reflective light. A foot of it? (Fourteen inches in places, I heard later.) Where did all this come from (an Arctic front via Canada, likely) and why to this valley saturated with a cold rain each winter? This was our second real snow so far; it was by far the biggest. I got up but it was as if my body came forward first, my self came second while, in between, I wavered. Then, steadier on both feet, it was time to greet another day properly despite the specter of exhaustion after four hours of sleep.

The pain in my neck had dug in. My eyes burned with bleariness. A daughter asked to come by as she usually does, using our computer (hers being broken) to search for another job. I dressed, put on the teakettle and toasted a bagel. I had things to get done. And I longed to walk into the snow. Discomfort does not usually excuse me from a daily walk, though it can be tempting. It’s better life management to keep going. I find such good moments, an infusion of strength–and it’s a good work out. Fresh cold air was surely a perfect antidote to poor quality sleep and a tenacious soreness.

And so we did walk for over an hour, good daughter and I. We clomped about in our heavy boots and I took pictures. Neighbors and passersby were chatty; it was satisfying to compare pleasures (and inconveniences) of such a rare snowstorm. Contentment filled me during that hour.

But this is all I have to offer today. No philosophical musings or insightful anything. Just this bout with a trying companion, insomnia. A glimpse again at my resilient but touchy heart. A sharing of bounties from an energizing winter mosey. Pain lessened, heart rhythms more settled. I’m quite tired out. Happier.

Time to sleep again, I so hope, And for all who traverse that oddly mysterious landscape of stony nights when trying to snooze: I wish you good rest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Sky, the Rain and Moving Through the Night

From my bed at night, the world as experienced through window blinds seems a finely wrought, haunting place.  The sky is silent and deep. The streets rustle with animal and people feet, each voice clearer than in daylight. In my urban neighborhood, night stories unfold like moon flowers, brief and mysterious, perhaps desperate or passionate. I follow them as I lie awake at two, three, four in the morning after something awakens me–a couple calling to each other across a street,  cats in love, a siren slashing through the darkness, the swish of many bicycle tires. Or the past comes alive: someone loved and lost. A small replay of grandchildren singing to me. The peculiar drama of a murky nightmare. Pain in a place I had ignored in daytime that now berates me. But I am at ease in the middle of the night, so give in to its essence. I settle in and drift as though on a sturdy boat.

 The window is left ajar in all weather so air can flow in and out. The blinds are usually shut against any light, but when sleep does not reclaim me, I open them, as well, just enough to see the elements at play, the roof lines of neighboring houses and an apartment building. That is, if I put my glasses on. Without contacts or glasses everything blurs like watercolors on paper. Still, myopia may be responsible for my being at ease in the dark in the first place; I learned sightless navigation from an early age. Night always called me, a secret place of calm and curiousness, senses altered by lack of light but increased quiet, the mind fully alert. It is like walking into a vast space where no one else seems present but things still happen. I am surprised, and usually take comfort.

I could read when insomnia strikes, and occasionally I do, taking the first book off the stacks beside the bed. And I sometimes am taken over by a poem or the first lines of a new short story. But a greater attraction is the sound of the wind as it barrels up the Columbia River Gorge and stirs up the sweet gum and big leaf maple branches. There are the delicate scents of pansies and lemony gardenia drifting from the balcony garden. Roses have been known to intoxicate long after summer. I inhale, lean against the pillows. The bands of sky I see are lighter, sooner that I expect, ebony turning to a deep dove grey, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of the North star if I raise the blinds higher.

As a child I waited for the first snow, going to sleep in great anticipation, the air sharp and clean and full of promise. Now, long gone from Michigan, I wait for the first deluge of our Northwest autumn. Last week I heard it arrive, at first a gentle crescendo so faint I had to sit very still to be convinced it was rain sliding off the roof, splashing against the asphalt. I felt the air breathing. The birds stopped what little they were doing and held fast to branches. Then the rain began to vocalize, fat tear shapes crashing all around like they couldn’t wait to get to earth. Then they joined together in a veil of wetness, falling upon all, hitting my screen sideways, cool spray jumping onto my hands as they pressed against the screen. I nearly got out of bed and went to stand in the triumph of it all.

So the rains had truly, finally begun. I closed my eyes and heard the rapturous sound, smelled the loamy-mineral scent. Sensed the red and yellow dying leaves being happily pressed against dirt and cement. Tasted the richness of rain like a balm. The dark earth welcomed the cascade, and the whole night was transformed.

The sky, the rain found me in the darkness and we then kept each other company as though old lovers.  Brushed velvet sky with its divine embrace, rain a sashay of glistening sound, light that sifted the darkness of this autumnal night.  Relief of rain rain rain rain rain