Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Namaste to a Snail

Early morning of a rainy Sunday as I slip out the front door, barefoot, making a slow dash for the newspaper.  The air is rain fresh, richly damp, the small puddles softly gleam in the cloudy grey light, flickering in the light rain.

I dodge to avoid a snail on the wet sidewalk, instinctively bow and say...something,  namaste, good morning, I greet you, how's it going?  Hey, snail, nice day, huh? I'm not sure which, but my hands palm-to-palm and I bow.  It seems as much in the nature of things as peeing when I first get out of bed.

The crow on the light pole gives me a raucous good morning and I return it.  The one rose--a little brown and withered at the edges, bt nicely rain speckled and brave--we bow to each other.  I'm not so brown but I am a bit withred and weathered at the edges and I hope to be brave and so we greet each other.

I pick up the paper, double bagged in plastic.  Water sheets off  onto my bare toes splashing up onto my flannel pants, leaving the hems dripping and clinging to my ankles.  The raindrops sparkle on John's metallic grey truck. Clutching the sopping plastic paper I realize, as more water sheets down my pants, that I have bowed good morning to the truck.

It does not bow back.

My feet are getting cold and the soggy clinging pants are uncomfortable.  I'm moving as quickly as I can back up the sidewalk, but I pause to see how far my snail has made it this morning.

He, she, it hasn't moved.  Because the snail is actually a curved snip of a succulent, probably blown by the wind, balled up and turning brown.

I laugh as the rain blesses my upturned face.  Namaste to a snail which is really a twig, I bow to a truck, the crow calls, two withered but brave roses bow to one another....

Maybe the truck bows back and twig becomes a snail?  What difference does it make?  It is. We are.  Twig that might be a snail, snail that might be a twig, woman who might be...or not.  Dazzlingly different, incredibly one.

Nameste, good morning, bowing to snails and twigs and rain sparkled trucks. laughing as we bow.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Delete, Therefore I'm Sane

Well, semi-sane.  But semi-sane did not play off of Descartes' I think, therefore  I am, nearly so well.

Precision is overrated.anyway.

I'm not talking about the spam that sometimes eludes the filters--Viagra, penile length, weight loss, make a million, get my degree from (my all time favorite) a prestigious, non-accredited university.  Spam, spam, spam. (Come on, you know you you want to sing along.)What the filters don't catch I happily delete. No prob.

No, what I'm talking about are the emails that at one time or another--deliberately or inadvertently--I signed up for. Companies I love--Landsend, Hearthsong, LL Bean, Novica, etc.  Companies that one way or another I've ended upon their email forever but I really can't afford them so I wonder why I'm too lazy to cancel them--thank you much, not a Nordstrom shopper.

Delete, delete, delete. I used to enjoy looking through the online catalogs, but occasionally I bought something--good deals and good deals that on arrival got thrown in the what was I thinking? file.And I know that there's not a chance I'm going to send them back.  (I will think about sending them back of course, but thinking won't get me as far as the post office.)

Still and all not so bad.  Dreaming of a fantasy life in which I really need outdoor gear or can walk in 4" stilettos--deleting those away is really no big loss.  I live in SoCal, I have one knee replacement and one knee headed that way, which tends to eliminate both hiking in the hills and walking in stilettos.  Besides I'm 64 years old and I own mirrors. Greed and envy are not god for the soul.  Overspending is not good for the bank account,

Of course all of this is tap dancing and tip-toeing around the real pain.  (Who really cares if LL Bean has organic cotton sweaters at half price? )  It's the political news and the causes I believe in that are now getting hit with the delete key too.

For one thing, they all want money.  I have no money to give them even though I support the causes wholeheartedly.  Gay marriage, in favor.  Subsidies  for oil company CEO's while teachers are laid off, against.  Torture? Firmly opposed--horrified and sickened by what has been done in our names.  Unions, yes, over paid executives, no

I don't mean to sound mocking or poor mouthing.  Place to live, food on the table, not headed for a cardboard box anytime soon.  I'm one of the world's fortunate and I live in one of the richest countries the world has ever known (despite the recession that is over--so we are told).

Why am I doing this?  Good citizens stay informed.  They act on their principles.  The truth is that I can't stop the "we're so sorry" accidental bombing of children in Afghanistan.  (Children of our allies. might I point out.)  Outrage and grief are appropriate responses to most of what makes the news these days--and I'm not asking for happy talk instead.

However, a continual state of anger is not good for the soul and mind either.   Anger at "them" out there can lead me to ignore those closest to me. A constant state of feeling helpless can mean--for me--that I don't return a smile or offer one. I don't do the things that a peaceful and mindful person can do. Why pick up that aluminum can and put it in the recycle bin?  One can or a hundred cans--so what?  I mean, I'm helpless  Or even encourage local recycling.?  Buy produce from sustainably managed farms.  Buy American made? 

Why should I listen to people I disagree with?.  I'm always right.  (Actually most of the time I am--insert grinning emoticon.)

Even if some of these people and I disagree on nearly every issue in the world? Does it mean I lose myself or yell at them until they pretend to agree with me? 

I try to listen.  Search for common ground. Avoid debates over issues that neither of us will agree over and over which we have no power. Sometimes I listen and say good-bye.

I delete, therefore I'm saner than I would be if I didn't.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Every Kiss Begins with...A Girl's Best Friend

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I was born without the gene for jewelry.  I'm not saying I'm immune; I love earrings when my ears are willing to cooperate and the funky and the folk art can win my heart.  (I'm more likely to be sentimental over who gave it to me or wore it before me.)

The point being that there's no moral high ground for my complete disinterest in diamonds and rubies and such.  My heart is not going to melt over a diamond ring. Besides I'm careless and would probably lose it.

I do that.

But I really really really hate the love for sale commercials that proliferate around the holidays:  A couple by the fireplace, at dinner in an elegant restaurant, or some other romantic scene, he produces the magic box, she opens it, gasps, looks teary-eyed and then throws herself in his arms.  Voice over: let her how much you love her, what she means to you.  Sometimes the giving happens with an audience--whispers of he's giving her "the ring," children watching in anticipation of mom's ecstasy over her gift and, of course,  the inevitable kiss.

I know I'm hardly the first person to rant about this.  We live in a capitalist society and our economy pretty much depends on creating wants.  But I hate hearing the cynical remarks of see, you CAN buy love, even if some of the comments come from women.  Not only is it disgusting but it's also both sad and destructive.

I used to teach classes for Planned Parenthood around subjects related to reproductive health, sex, relationships.  Boys in the class--because many of the places I taught had a large number of students from poor--would sadly and bitterly remark on their chances of getting one of the fine women.  No fancy car, no well-paying job.  No woman.

A lovely doubleheader.  The girls they could get were quite explicitly NOT fine, the guys were losers without the money and the stuff money can buy.  Hmm, McDonald's at nine bucks an hour or drug dealing...?  And the girls better package their product (themselves) or theirs is a future of loserhood as well.

Of course it all moves up the food chain--the guy with the good job knows that there's a guy up the road who provided a bigger rock and got the more prized spouse.  She knows that the woman across the street has a bigger diamond and is consequently more prized.

Exaggerated?  Oh, Lord, yes and thank god for that.  I think love, attraction, caring are still the reason most of us couple and we know enough from celeb relationships that  great big diamonds may promise forever but surely don't buy it.

And there is a certain evolutionary sense to it.  The diamond (or ruby or gold) may be the equivalent of slapping  an antelope down on the table to let the female know "I can provide" for you and our young.  Of course if she doesn't produce said young and/or doesn't have the skills to contribute to survival he will probably start flinging antelopes at another woman's feet and as for her, if the supply of antelopes starts to get a little thin and infrequent...she'd probably be movin' on, too.  (Unless of course that strange thing called love had shown up.)

Of course the song does make sense "...we all lose our charms in the end, but square cut or pear shaped, these rocks don't lose their shap..."  When you come right down to it the only real uses for a diamond are industrial, scratching class, or the fact they can be resold--an investment that you can wear.  That makes a very practical kind of sense.  Logical.  Men may keep money until they die, but if a woman's salable commodities are looks and (maybe) fertility; well, those fade. Gonna need something too buy those antelopes.

(This leaves aside the horrors of what many diamonds actually cost in terms of human suffering and environmental damage to acquire.  More significant but irrelevent to fancy packages and gifts that end in kisses.)

Nothing profound today.  Just the rant of an old woman who doesn't give a rat's about expensive jewelry, but hates to hear every kiss begins with...he went her you would marry her all over again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dreams, Spirits, and Talking to the Dead

He was running up the hill like when he was young my aunt tells me.  I woke up crying and told Buck, Stu's dead. I had called to tell her that my dad, her brother, Stu had passed in the night.  I could see my parents, daddy, my mother, my brother Clyde, and Momma was holding the little baby that died when she died--and they were all sitting on this hill and they were smiling. But they weren't looking at me. So I turned to look where they were looking and there was Stu, just running, flying up that hill, like he was a kid again and looking like when he was a kid.  And he was smiling too and his arms were out and so were theirs and I woke up Buck, crying and saying Stu's gone.

I cried then when she told me her dream. I'm tearing up as I type even though it's been over twenty-three years since that phone call.  I still hold that dream close to me, a candle in the dark, a teddy bear, all the icons from every faith I've encountered, along with the special crocheted afghan from my friend that covers me with love.  

The dream comforts me.  The dead are so very gone, the body empty of...everything.  And yet we talked to himMy brother took the oxygen tube dad hated out of his nose. We talked to himIt's very uncomplicated with the newly dead--no equivocation, no conflicting emotions: I love you, I will miss you, thank you. 

0h, well, the tears, of course, the stunned this can't be happening disbelief, the gut-wrenching pain that makes you want to howl like a pack of heart-broken wolves in the dark of the moon. They say the first death is the hardest and maybe that's true. Certainly kittens and old dogs don't prepare you.  But all the deaths that come after still tear your heart out, still stun you into a walking mannequin that apparently says and does all the appropriate things--to judge by peoples' faces--but really you don't know or careYou grieve, you cry.

But you aren't surprisedNever again surprised.  You have learned something of what life is capable of.

Are these dreams a way of anticipating loss?  Preparing for what is inevitable. We are born dying.  A cousin dreamed of white things and granddaddy died.  But he had already seen his mother so he know his time had come.  The cousin told my aunt of the white things (had she just done her wash?), he told my aunt, his daughter, about his mother . He died within a few days.

Not all dreams are of death--I've heard of dreams of lovers, babies, and long lost friends.  But my family is dramatic and we dream of death and sorrow.  Sometimes the dead return to say they miss us as well, to offer solace.  But more likely they show up just to let us know we're going to join them soon. Which is usually not really a  a message of solace.

Do I believe in dreams?  Of course I "believe" in dreams. They happen. The brain is sorting out events of the day, new information, deciding whether to file it or discard it.  The mind makes it into story.  Sometimes solutions to problems show up--mathematical and emotional.  Conflicted feelings, buried memories...the psyche plays with all of that.  Of course I believe that dreams are real, they happen, and while dreams themselves are not rational, one can understand them rationally.

Do I believe in dreams? Of course I do.  A dream of white things predicts a death.  My aunt saw my father at the moment of his passing joining his family, young and free of pain.  With all my heart of course I do. Granddaddy's mother--she was half Choctaw--came to him, Mamaw saw angels who carried her away. And in my dreams? Too many things to tell.  So many I will not tell.  But if I dream of death I might tell you but not of your own and not of mine.


I don't think spirits like being called ghosts.   Ghost is too Caspar, too sheet over the head BOO!, really too Scooby Doo.  A spirit is ephemeral, elusive when it chooses to appear, but there is no sense that when it disappears it is gone.

"Do you believe in spirits, in ghosts?" my psychiatrist asks. No. Well, mas o menos. Maybe. I don't know. I had told her of an experience I had had recently.  She prescribes my meds, keeps a watch on my disordered moods.  I thought maybe I was beginning to hallucinate, which is actually never a good sign, unless you've bought the experience from a street corner.

I know I was awake, really awake, not dream within a dream awake. When I saw it, I thought it was a trick of the light, an image conjured by my macular degeneration and non-focusing.  And just like in the books, I closed my eyes, blinked, expecting it to be gone once I opened my eyes.  Funny how writers sometimes get it right. You know?

She --not it--was standing by bed.  A little girl translucent, glowing green. She began to reach for me and I was terrified, though I'm not usually terrified of little girls.  (There have been exceptions.) Her fingers were long and thin, splayed.  She kept reaching, though I demanded, begged, pleaded for her to stop, stop, please stop.

 I knew she wasn't there. I was terrified, turned my back on her, clung to John, and could not not look behind me to see if she was still there.  I couldn't get out of bed, purely panicked, even when I had to pee so badly my back teeth were floating and my eyeballs were yellow.

I mostly only talked to friends who firmly believed in ghosts, spirits, that other world.  Meaning?  All sorts.  Who?  Abundant guesses.  But the fear subsided.  After a few nights I didn't even think about her anymore.

I told my doctor who asked if I didn't believe.  Believe?  She's a scientist, analytical and rational.

She has her own experiences.  "There are things we don't have explanations for. Yet."

Guess I can go with that.  And I never want to see the little girl with the long, thin, splayed fingers ever again.  Dream, spirit, hallucination--I want her to stay away.

Though it would be nice to see my mom and dad and even if they reached for me it would be okay. I think.


He always finds a way to make me laugh.  My aunt--not the one who had the dream--but my dad's baby sister is going through one of those hellish times that validates the Buddha: Life is suffering. My uncle has a rare, very serious very godawful type of cancer. Waiting for a diagnosis, a treatment plan, radiation, chemo, he's sick, she is bone tired, no sleep, and beyond sad.

My dad takes care of her.  He was always the tease. always the one who could make everyone laugh, dig up a joke in the deepest shit.  No matter what, she tells me, Hermaw finds a laugh for me somewhere in the day.

I ask my dad to take care of her.  Make her laugh. 

When my dad was dying I asked my grandmother, the grandmother I never met, his mother to comfort him and take care of him in the night when the pain was more intense, the drugs confused him, and if no one could be with him they tied his hands to the bed.
The first time I asked Mamie to be there, the nurses told me he had the best night in the long time.

She did good.

I ask my mother's advice.  To look out for her grandchildren. and great-grandchildren.

Ask her mother , Lula, to take care of her.

The older you get the more dead you have to talk to. Do they listen?  Do they do anything?

I don't know.  I tell my parents I'm sorry--there are so many sorry's to be said.  And thank you's.
Do they hear, do they answer.  Yes, I can feel them.  No, they are dead and dead is dead with or without an afterlife.  They probably aren't swinging from a cloud watching earth and us like a long running reality show.

And dad had the best sleep he'd had in a long time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Beauty and the Beast" with Shoes

I love this movie--the Disney version.  The music, the characters, the animation.  I like the message (as my grand daughter explained--I like the Beast best because he learns how to love and that's the most important thing).

And we were cuddled together on the couch watching the movie which was great for two reasons: most important was the cuddling, but a close second was that it gave me a chance  to rest from running up and down the slope in the backyard without admitting ...well, you know, granma not so good at the whole running up and down thing anymore.

And yet, and yet, Belle misses her whole town as she walks through the morning bustle with her nose in book.  Everything. No freshly baked baguettes, she doesn't see all the little kids clustered around their frazzled mother, sheep nuzzle her while she sits by the fountain and reads and she seems unaware of their soft noses, their lanolin greased wool.... (Though I guess missing out on the sheep aroma might be on the positive side of the ledger.)

Belle is wearing shoes and doesn't touch the ground.  She wants more than her little provincial town; she knows "there must be more than this."

There is, of course, and she finds it: enchanted castle, a prince hidden inside the body of a beast, danger, courage, and true love.

I still tear up at the ending, when all is lost and unexpected grace and the power of love bring that leap of joy, the fairy tale twist that breaks your heart.  The Beast is brought back to life because he has learned to love and because Belle has learned to see beyond appearance (though he does turn into the rather boring handsome prince).

So what?   Why do I (over) analyze this beautifully animated, happy ending Disney movie? I think it's because I've spent so much of my life nose in a book, a head full of dreams, and feet that don't touch the ground.  I love words, the play of them, the sounds, the elusiveness.  Imagination: dragons that ride the wind, Frodo destroying the Ring, glittering unicorns glimpsed in the night.  Remembering.  My babies. The taste of grape Popsicles. My dad carrying me in from the car when I pretended to be asleep.  My mother reading to me, on chapter of the Bible everynight (except of course the "begats."  We skipped those.)

But so much is lost.  I read while nursing my babies.  How many times was I so lost in a book, in writing, that I didn't see anything around me, didn't hear what was said?

And yet--here I am.  Writing about being barefoot on the ground. Imaging this piece finished.  How to end it.

Wondering what you will think.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small Things that Have No Words

This is the 5th blog I've started since April.  If you're reading it, well, I actually finished it. I hope you're reading it because I'm getting tired of me and my apparent inability to finish anything I start writing.

  I found my raggedy old Golden Book of Prayer's for Children the other day.   It's missing the covers, some of the pages, and is well embellished with my five year old's artwork.  (I loved to draw angels.)

But I found the page with my favorite prayer, which is by that prolific writer anonymous.

Dear Father, hear and bless
Thy beasts and singing birds,
And guard with tenderness
Small things that have no words.

Small things that have no words. Even at five I knew the world overflowed with small things that had no words.  Kittens, especially kittens in the rain, babies like my brother who could only cry which hardly counted as words, the mice no one wanted, stray dogs...the world was full even then.

"Thy beasts and singing birds." Well, there was never a shortage of (ant covered) dead birds lying around and we killed animals for our dinners.  The chickens that came from the store in those days looked like chickens and had eggs inside them.  Pickled pigs feet were a dead giveaway on their origin.

I didn't put it into words exactly, well-raised little Christian girl that I was, but I had the strong sense that  Father was a bit behind in his work.  It was with an aching hope but very little optimism I said my prayer.

Time has passed.  I'm 59 years over the age of five.  I've learned enough to know that if the grass hurts when I walk on it, there's nothing I can do. Kittens die in the rain, at the hands of budding serial killers, and at the pound--and there's nothing I can do about it and I can't adopt them all.  There's always a poet dying down the road and there's always a lovely young body having a pint of pus removed (J.D. Salinger).  Someone's celebrating a victory and someone's child just got blown into a puzzle that can never be put back together again.

There's love of course which puts our broken pieces back together again and again. Which gives us hope in this world which is so notably lacking in tenderness.

But my prayer gave me another gift, one which has never tarnished and has given broken wings to grief and flamed this world with beauty.


The rhythm, the beat: Dear father hear and bless. Ta dum, ta dum, ta dum.

Thy beasts and singing birds.  Not animals, BEASTS.  Beasts and singing birds.

What words can do.

Guard with tenderness small things that have no words.  Small things that have no words....

Small things without words are given a voice.  There may be no tenderness for these small things but the prayer gives them a voice, gives the frail wishes of our hearts a shape and a being.

Words can be powerful

The world lacks tenderness and small things hurt and die.  But with words we can hope, we can imagine, we can be entranced with beauty, seduce and be seduced by.


We may fail words but words do not really fail us.

Small things that have no words.

But we do.

Amen. Amen.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Who Am I?

"Who are you and what have you done with Gwen?"  John was watching me lay out my clothes for the next day before I got into bed.  The things I planned to take to work were by the front door, both lunch (leftovers packed right after dinner) and breakfast yogurt parked neatly on a shelf in the refrigerator waiting to be put in a sack in the morning.  I found myself thinking I really should get one of those insulated lunch bags.

In the morning I would know right where my car keys were, my glasses, and my cell phone.   An Obama style no drama departure for work.

Half joking, half serious I came back with, "No, the question is, what have you done to me?" A reasonable accusation, actually--he's an engineer (which means you can always find a pencil around the house) and ex-military.  Which does not mean he doesn't lose things; it just means that wherever you find--wherever I find them--they will be in formation..

Never, not really of my own free will, never have I been tidy or organized.  Chaos has always been my natural state and you could track me through a house or office by a trail of forgotten coffee cups, misplaced glasses, and lost keys. Fear, pressure, my mom, my ex, the prospect of company, and  a kind of frail optimism have led to the short term wow clean up, but never long haul order.

Please understand, I never did this deliberately and 99% of the time without any intention of pissing anyone off.  It wasn't, I would try to explain, that I thought being organized, tidy, neat was beneath me; it was beyond me.  I didn't just frustrate the people around me--I frustrated myself.

A good survival strategy was cultivating a drifty artist, aging hippie persona.  Not too far off--I'm a writer and I do live in my imagination a lot.  And I was usually the third or fourth to point out my failings.

Now I'm 63. Medicated with a mood stabilizer, an anti-depressant, and more than enough other meds for the various mental and physical issues I am blessed with.  I'm in a good relationship with a funny, cantankerous, loving, nonjudgmental man. I mostly live at his house which isn't haunted like the home I've lived in since 1969.

It isn't cluttered.

My anxiety levels are down.  I've learned that my fear of failing turned my brain into an untuned, static filled radio station.  And, besides, it was easier to screw up and disappointment everybody earlier rather than later.  Saved time for everyone.

So what happened?  An overdetermined result? Medication.  The people in my life--including John but not exclusively him, who keep reminding me that they actually love me no matter what.

Which is a wow all on its own.

It's nice to know where my keys are,

So why, why, why do I sometimes feel like screaming that I've been taken over by aliens?  Possessed?  My mind not my own?

And that I don't know who I am.

The woman who lays out her clothes, remembers the papers, CD, and such that I was asked to bring to LA the other day. Who gets up and plugs in the charger for the cell. Who does these things almost naturally.

Who is she?

The thought processes are alien. It isn't that I haven't done these things before; I have never done them with so little effort.  Never done them before without almost complete confusion, frustration, and a kind of inner resistance.

Is there a self? No self? What self?

If I am not Gwen the *charmingly* drifty and disorganized, who am I?

If my mind works in a way that feels completely alien and yet natural am I just a chemical soup modified by other chemicals and my self an illusion?

Who am I?

For that matter--who are you?