Make My Resolution a Double

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This new year of 2017: the phrase has a certain heft to it, a vaguely momentous ring. Is it that I like the number seven? It is soon to be the Year of the Fire Rooster according to the Chinese, and that image is fantastic and lively, rife with speculations, bordering on gaudy in my mind’s view. Everyone is taking note of a series of troublesome, even devastating events, wondering what on earth is to come next. How does one prepare for a purely speculative future?

The more usual response in January is to gird yourself with knowledge as well as embark on a serious personal makeover. But to what lasting effect? Transformation is a process that requires patience–but first, willingness. And the process can be an altogether different thing than expected.

I, for one, am resisting the tiresome spectacle of earnest change-making , of planning a noble siege upon my own life. Yes, I am being the odd woman out. Scads of folks scramble to conjure new or bigger goals; the ole inner critic nags anxiously until it’s done. Or perhaps you are not-so-subtly being encouraged to get on it and shine things up– for the betterment of those around you, too, one might gather. Either way, nothing like a team effort when it comes to change. Get out the megaphone and pom poms!

Hold on. What if you want to opt out of the New Year ritual? Say, coast along until a truly superior thought alerts you to a finer scheme? Or you feel the biting burn of discomfort and it finally behooves you to seek an alternative to the usual, even deleterious habits? Or just the annoying daily grind? Isn’t this the way we tend to address changes and if so, what’s wrong with that? Just a “take it as it comes” sort of program.

I’m  honestly of two minds: take charge or let go. They both sound good. On one hand, I’m not keen on this year being a repeat of last year. There were tough enough times I’d rather not have to revisit–it seems many I’ve heard from feel that way. So, like the others, I do imagine what might be done differently, consider how to begin a quiet repair here and there. A few inklings and options intrigue me, but I’m not overly impressed with my plans. I tend to gather odds and ends, borrow ideas, encourage inspiration any way I can and then dump it all in a grab bag to sort out as I go. I try to find likely places for a host of ideas, then test their usefulness. If they are intrinsically good ones, things click into place– more or less.  Of course some get trashed. I plan but can release those plans to a whirlpool of the fates. This is coming from a woman who used to schedule each moment hour by hour while raising five kids and tending to an often absentee husband/father. Who wasted not on second at work, driven by the need to do something more. Even occasional coffee breaks got penciled in. I admit I yet keep a daily planner but it’s primarily shaped by a few probabilities, more maybes with flexible timing. That is, other than walks and writing hours, which are firmly set and almost never altered.

I am at last old enough to grasp that life often morphs, takes switchbacks, carves new avenues without my barest judgment–or interference. Random events can have a remarkable and at times fearsome power. I would note much of what happens daily, anyway, is a result of much that’s out of my hands. I am rarely not surprised by one thing or another. Overall, despite shenanigans and hardships that may arrive, I wouldn’t edit out such randomness. I much prefer to call it life’s spontaneity. My willingness to embrace it makes a vast difference. Either I am digging my heels in, yelling “My way! My way or none!” as life tugs or yanks me along, making myself miserable–or I am hopping into a proverbial life boat or even raft, perusing the views and engaging with the experience. For the most part, the last intends to be the better choice and I am not one to dicker with good outcomes.

Much more fruitful to make peace and not war with human doing and being, if at all possible.

I sought out a lauded poet for more wisdom today. A famous poem written by the esteemed Alfred Lord Tennyson is entitled “In Memoriam.” I’ve noticed people like to offer up a few of its stanzas when bidding the previous year farewell. More popular parts of the lengthy offering go like this:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

   The flying cloud, the frosty light:

   The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

   The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

I well appreciate this masterly poem; its entirety spans a great deal more than you may take time to finish reading. Tennyson addresses all manner of human ills and yearnings but also an abiding faith in God. It speaks to me, to a deep longing for a global plan of improvement that is built around concepts of enlivening harmony and a stable Golden Rule and basic dignity for all–those lofty principles that vast numbers of people fervently hope and work for, anguish over.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind

   For those that here we see no more;

   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

 

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

   And ancient forms of party strife;

   Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweeter manners, purer laws.

 

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

   The faithless coldness of the times;

   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

   The civic slander and the spite;

   Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

 

There is yet more, every bit worth admiring as entreaty or prayer as well as poem. It’s heartrending as I carefully read each line from start to finish; I blink back tears. Alfred Lord Tennyson lived 1809-1892. It would seem we have quite a way to go.

When will the love of truth and right be fully rung out to the world and answered in kind? It gets sticky considering this question though such a worthy goal. We each have our versions of what may be right and therein lies the rub. And yet more far-reaching conversations need to be regularly undertaken, and resolutions made that benefit more than the loudest or biggest or privileged.

These lines, “Ring out the false, ring in the true”, lent a good weight as I read it over a few times. That is what I honestly intend. I might add, intend once again; I am willing to keep at something I believe in. And I’m not averse to change. Whereas, as a youth and then right into middle-age I sought it out, took pleasure in its woolly wiles, the mild to mad delights and a stubborn recklessness too often, I have come to regard it as more a major constant despite my naive attempts to provoke or direct it. Change abides, period. So I surrender to life and discover it provides me with more than enough personal power. Sometimes a letting go of the so-called mighty controls of our lives can render hands free to actually do more. I find immutable control is a tacky illusion best set out to the curb.

If you read my post often, it comes as no surprise that my faith in God is an overarching theme. I don’t expect to have the ultimate say on much of anything. If I thought life to be a finite thing, I might be frantic about finishing every good intention and making a mighty mark for posterity. If I believed that humankind is in its best and final renderings on a perhaps isolated and superior planet, I might not ruminate on the “beyond-ness” of all that’s possible, nor consider how alluring a spiritual journey the majestic cosmos offers. If I believed that hope was mere rhetoric, a vehicle for stultifying the masses rather than a potent state that sets us on a course toward good even amid rampant evil–then maybe I’d just throw in the towel. Soon to be uncoupled from my small clamoring life. But I think and believe no such things. God is my trail guide and eternal witness. And so I claim and try to follow Divine Love’s tender and powerful renderings. To act as if charged with fully caring about life.

(But wait, did someone out there murmur that he or she doesn’t even see God? Look truly at one another; prepare to be moved. Locate a corner of simple earth, a spot of sky; attune to energy or vibration, a presence, even a song scored for each and every intricate thing. You will find what you look for.)

Each year we are asked to appraise our pasts and survey the future. All I can do is consider the preceding times as interesting, bumbling and often worthwhile experiences. Invisible mini-missions of faith. Aspirations of intellect and heart. A series of habits both helpful and useless. It all illuminates struggles with my own deficits and others’. Which, by the way, brings up the question of why I imagine I can change another person? I cannot easily alter who I intrinsically am without an occasional strike or two of lightning. Such events have made major inroads; one can’t just sidestep big reckonings. And always there was a cost to pay for awakening to crucial insights a bit late.

The rest of the time I can follow my personal compass toward what makes good sense. The rest is hard work, little to no crying allowed. I can practice the best of what I know, looking forward to a better result. And also knowing it may not come to pass as expected, at all. Being open to clues or portents or wisdom or interventions all help. But in the end, it is all just faith. I have faith I will awaken in the morning, continue a journey that seeks to render authentic, true and good these days and nights–this life. Until I do not. The calendar I have hung on my wall is just a loose sketch of brief possibilities.

So make my resolution a double one. First: to accept that even unsolicited change is a force to respect and heed. Second: to get done the best I can whatever needs to be done.

I’ll be writing, anyway–on stained napkin, saved concert program, torn envelope; in a notebook or on computer or as a voice memo on my phone while walking. That’s the one thing I know for certain. So far.

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A Night for a Madwoman

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Halloween, when everyone tries hard to be something other than who they are. Or succeeds in becoming who they may have been already, I mused, and slouched into the sofa. I sleepily watched “Key Largo” when Daedalus’ husky-German shepherd ears pricked and he came to attention.

Thundering feet hammering the earth roused me. Dae growled ominously, barked at the front door like the wild beast he wished to be. I swung it open, pushing Dae behind the door before it shut, his protestations increasing. Whoever was out there rustled the bushes, their voices a staccato of noise that fell quiet at my appearance. I sensed others lurking about my old chapel-house and fear flashed through me.

There it lay in hideous glory, flung upon the porch: a large effigy, an imaginative  rendering of a witch that, on closer inspection, might have been meant to resemble me. I picked it up amid snickering from dark foliage. I saw not a soul. I brought it inside, took off its rumpled pointy hat, examined the stuffed body, partly clothed in a black swath of cheap shiny fabric. Dae sniffed every inch, snarled, pounced at it. I signaled him to sit; he did so with head erect, watching. On the stuffed pillow case noggin was a garish red wig. The white squashed dumpling of a face was marked with dramatic black eyes, single line of nose, purple mouth gaping to reveal drawn jagged teeth. It’s body was overstuffed with damp leaves and rags; it wore a black cape safety pinned together and bloomers of grey and white ticking. But no pretend feet with ridiculous shoes. My stomach clenched.

I’m a dancer, after all.

I had learned to let whiffs of gossip and little digs roll off. I was overall accepted–as perhaps mentally unfit or at the least a sad, peculiar person. Most were not unkind while some stayed their distance. The villagers knew I fell mute the day of Thomas’ death, drowning on stormy Ring Lake. Mia, beloved daughter now thirteen, was recovering–father gone, mother, too, in vital ways–at her aunt’s in Vermont. It was going as well as could be expected. There was not a day or night I didn’t feel her absence like a thorn embedded that could only be excised by the sight and energy of her restored to our home. But I believed she’d be saner, safer there. Away from the rocky pit into which I’d tumbled.

Friends and neighbors recalled my life before such losses. Sophia, they said, remember when you swam and boated with us, danced spontaneously and entertained us with adventures of your dance troupe and more? We loved to hear you tell stories. We want to hear your voice. But I barely could recall it all. And I hadn’t tried to dance again in the airy loft space that echoed with bitter denouncement. Those sudden puncturings of illusion, revealing the frailty of my hope, the faulty design of expectations. My body and spirit were marred by a dense darkness that had transformed me. Set me apart from much that mattered. Still, I owned an unyielding will to stay alive. It was less certain I’d find a way back from a creeping madness that could steal clarity of mind, resilience of heart. I waffled.

But I was filled with a desire to take action now.

I pulled the hag-witch close, twirled once about the living room as Dae nipped at its straw nubbins of feet, his blue husky eyes lit by candlelight that warmed the rooms. I yanked the wig from the creature woman, placed it over my own, nearly waist-length sandy hair. Positioned the ratty hat at an angle.

I opened the door. Descended the porch steps with deliberate effort.

Bushes shook, whispers rifled brisk fall air. A rock was tossed over my head and hit the door, setting Dae off. Laughter, hard laughter. Was I an idiot to be out there? I lifted my hands skyward and began to dance in place, then galloped and lunged across the yard, legs loosening, arms flung out, about. Zigzagging, I felt almost lifted off my feet despite heavy hiking boots. I lurched and spun more than danced but I was moving, that was the thing. The intention was to give them what they wanted: a mad woman. My greying hair flew out from my head as wig and hat slipped away. I would not be put off. Let them think what they would; I was not bowing to their meanness.

A flurry of footsteps from the road–were there more coming?

“Did you kill him, crazy lady?” a girl shrieked.

“Did you do your ole man in, did ya?” a boy bellowed.

I went cold as brittle ice, went blind as well as deaf for brief seconds.

Then someone else hooted, another yelled words I couldn’t interpret, one more whistled, and it pierced me.

A roll of toilet paper then another were thrown in my direction. I grabbed and wrapped the end of tissue around my neck, walked back across the yard with head up, the roll unwinding behind. Laughter, more whistles, stamping feet followed as I disappeared around the back of my house. I pried open the sliders, ran indoors. Locked all doors, shaking. Ripped apart the ugly effigy and stuffed it into the garbage. Dae guarded me, pacing back and forth to check on doors.

I thought to leave the first floor. Climbing stairs that led to the loft, I at last sat on thetop step until breath slowed and diaphragm felt less quivery. A killer! That had been some talk, I knew, despite the circumstances and what was known. But it was the unknown that rattled people, the what ifs, the unanswered whys. Why hadn’t I done something to stop him from taking the boat out, what had happened before he left, had I suspected he might be reckless?

I could not say, that was the problem. And kids with mischief on their minds made it clear they had their opinions, even if stoked by the night’s wildness. It scratched at my recently found courage.

This space, a room full of unforgiving. I had tried to remake it over the months, change its character by painting huge canvases, playing great music on the stereo. But it had remained empty of what bone and sinew knew best.

Now I stood, took off shoes and socks, wandered over the wooden floor in bare feet, its smooth coolness greeting my skin. Familiar comfort to reaching arches and toes. I found and put a CD of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” on high volume. And then I began to move into an unspooling span of timelessness. Past the bruised and brightening colors, the defined yet forlorn shapes in my paintings; they leaned against wall-length mirrors like preternatural beings, waiting.

I located a center of balance and it rocked, then righted itself. I picked up speed, limbs lengthening, muscles contracting and releasing, skin stinging, my neck weary of holding a head weighted with need. I danced in a fury until the metallic taste of fear and sea-taste of sorrow dissolved on my tongue. Breathing harder, working up sweat, letting go more of what Thomas had left behind. As the musical movement resolved, I stopped, panting, frightened by what coursed through me. Coils of energy given access to my limbs, deep cave of my mind.

It was all of a few minutes and yet I was spent. Was I attempting to dance for life or back at death? In faith or in fear? What was this stirring me, taking charge of my blood and breath? How could rage align with mercy?

Suddenly I recalled words my female dancers and I had chanted on a stage. It was on a Boston stage, a performance before Halloween. After we’d woven ever-changing circles inside circles, we formed a “v”,  myself at the point in front, their hands on my shoulders and one by one on all other shoulders. And we spoke in unison as we, dressed in silver chemises, slipped through blue shadows:

            May all women seek their magic

             in ways light will seek the dark

             May our souls be deeper, stronger

             in the center of life’s spark

             May we transform every anger

             May we fight with powers of love

             Whether midnight or the morning

             Let your life become reborn

I looked through the old glass of a skylight high above, near roof’s peak. It opened onto a complex, sensuous natural world, one I had long believed in. Once long ago a church choirmaster had opened or closed it to circulate air or to protect earnest singers from the elements. I found it reasurring to imagine people vocalizing as birds and bugs flew in and out. Inside that rectangle a new moon and faraway stars beamed. Beyond that realm, as well, were my accusers, supporters and those undecided. But I had danced a few secret moments on Halloween Eve. I was closer to embracing the reawakening of my long-dormant power. And that revealed a modicum of freedom, if I could follow its call.

The night fell into itself. Dae rested his wooly head on big paws at an edge of my loft. Beyond my doors ran sugar-stunned children; teenagers found mischief and left their marks. But there was one timid group trying to be bold who’d pass around news: Sophia Swanson has gone freaking nuts, we saw her do a crazy zombie dance…she is seriously strange! We won’t go back to her place. 

One day, I may find the will to speak and they will no longer brand me someone they suspect I am. They will no longer wonder, at all.

 

(Readers, this story arose from a novel’s chapter, the novel in ongoing revision. Other posts featuring Sophie as well as a male protagonist named Cal may additionally be found here: https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/life-in-pieces/