Against all odds…

If you’re a fellow word-broker you’ve undoubtedly noticed that expressive language is not the common currency everyone deals in, and words don’t carry the same meaning across the board. PEACE, for instance, the term I’ve been flinging about for the past week or so, connotes different strokes for different folks, so in case anyone’s tiptoeing around the subject like it’s a deceptively passive quicksand bog waiting to drag you down to the Slough of Despond, feast your quaking spirit on this anonymous piece of writing that came into my hands yesterday. I’m grateful to the author, whoever he or she is…

Knowing I can live exactly that way, free and at peace in myself, feels anything but passive or depressing, just in case there was any misunderstanding as to where I’m coming from with the PEACE thing. It comes down to making my choices for my reasons and quietly standing by them against the world. And I’m one voice in all the confusion saying you can do the same, because I know that to be true. It’s how you manage to live your one wild and precious life (as Mary Oliver puts it) against all odds, and you really must! This is likely the only shot we get, kids, so get started ASAP. It’s that thing at the top of the list.

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That fragile balance…

Trading anxiety for peace is no small beans. It takes constant focused attention and intention. Attention to the little things, the small ingrained habits that carry us through our days, the attitudes that are dear to us, that come to define us despite our best intentions, and there it is, the second word. As a lover of words, sarcasm is dear to my heart and often shapes and moves my intentions far more than I’m aware, coloring my attitudes and leading me down rabbit trails that don’t look or feel all that peace-laden.

Twitter, one of my habits, is a bizarre world of its own, but it’s good for speaking unvarnished truth with an economy of words. I don’t advise hanging out there if a sense of humor isn’t your strong suit, and even then it takes a toll on us softies. Jeez, the viciousness is truly unbelievable, the worst of it emanating from equally incredible stupidity and thus fairly easily rolled off. When it issues forth from people who I know are educated and who should therefore know better, I have to bail out for a while and remind myself what the thinking, feeling, caring world looks and sounds like, wrap myself up in that, and consciously choose PEACE. Again. On purpose. Until I get it right and it becomes my new habit, and the state of my psyche rightly reflects the life I actually live instead of the insanity of a percentage of the population I don’t even recognize.

No matter how passionately we might involve ourselves in knowing what’s going on at the various levels of government and society, we ultimately understand the infinitesimal effect we personally have on any of it, and yet some of us can’t refrain from adding our words to the mix in the hope of either connecting with one other soul or ridding our own soul of a tiny portion of the burden we bear because maybe we care too much. It does help a little, especially the connection part, and so we persist, we feelers. We seek a place of workable peace while trying not to shirk our responsibility for our fellow humans and other creatures.

It’s a balance not easily won, and why would we expect it to be? This is the stuff life is made of, the big questions, the literal life and death choices. So it’s okay to spend a little time weighing the options, even when we annoy the partial life out of people around us. The ones who love us finally get it, cut us the slack we need, and try to roll with us, which is so cool. Because this (waves hands around) just goes on and on and nobody knows the endgame so here we are, and loving each other and being real are all that count. Life really is so fragile.

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Putting things right again…

Everything went super today, but this chicky is wiped out (just go with it.) I asked my RN if I’d have to do this again in ten years – she looked at my chart and said not likely, which was a relief – not sure I could pull all that off at 82. I mean, good gawd, I might actually be starting to get old by then.

We got milkshakes at Sonic on the way home, Kim’s talking smashed batatas and mac & cheese later, I had a delicious drug-laced nap in the chair, and then tried to repeat it on the bed with no luck so I’m up, kinda bored, and looking for entertainment. It’s hot as blazes, he’s out running errands, and I’m without adult supervision – what could possibly go wrong?

Maybe I’ll just tell you a story. There’s a guy in our building (he & his wife are probably younger than Kim, both retired educators), who has a dog he loves very much, a big yellow lab who’s been with him a long time. He has a Vespa with a sidecar that was built just for her and he used to take her to class with him when he taught high school. She can’t get in and out of it anymore so his golf clubs ride there now. In fact, Zoey’s so crippled up with arthritis she balks at the journey out to take care of business, so at least once a day in nice weather Will makes it worth all the pain and effort. He takes a lawn chair and sits down under the trees, and lets Zoey lie in the cool grass for just about as long as she wants to. That’s love, and on the days when the world feels especially awful it makes me cry. Today was a cry day. Guess I needed it.

We ignored the world today and things were pretty all right. But sometimes when you’re a feeler, crying is the answer when you can’t come up with a better one. Amazing how much it helps.

So did the potatoes & mac – it’s comforting to know the old remedies still work. Like having somebody who loves you and knows from long years’ familiarity and caring what makes you feel better.

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It’s personal…

Peace. It’s a GOOD thing, as Martha Stewart (remember her?) likes to say. It isn’t easily come by, therefore of great value. Once chosen it requires a moment by moment conscious choosing until it settles into a fixed attitude. The world, of course, doesn’t magically change just because we wake up one morning and decide we’re going to wrap ourself in peace instead of constant angst…but it feels a little like it does, because the perspective shifts. A thought comes and the next one behind it is “But wait, is that my job? Is it worth my mood? Is it fair to affect Kim’s day and the life we’ve been given, this amazing second chance after all the loss we both slogged through to get here?” Reality doesn’t change a bit, but my place in it starts to take on an altered significance – and this is okay. I can get used to this. After all, nobody died recently and left me in charge again, I can probably lay down some of this heavy-duty responsibility for a while.

If you noticed, my last post wasn’t titled “Finding Peace,” but rather “Making Peace.” Most intangible things we go looking for we never really find – it works best to make them out of the raw materials we have available to us and go from there, otherwise we’re off on an endless goose chase, we get distracted, forget what the goal was, and end up frustrated and discouraged. The good things and the beautiful people have a way of finding us when we’re chill and receptive instead of tied in knots – the past week has shown me the truth of that again and I’m glad I didn’t miss it by being all wound up.

This year since March has been about tracking down some elusive health issues, and tomorrow is D-Day for a twice-postponed endoscopy/colonoscopy that for some reason has filled me with dread when it’s a rodeo I’ve been to before and know is routine. I’ve done all the self-talk and for all of Saturday and Sunday I restricted myself to liquids and soft foods in order to make the prep as benign as possible, so it’s just me being a basket case. Pretty sure it’s because last time we tried this I had that super-scary totally unrelated sulfa-drug reaction in the middle of everything that landed me in the ER, so you see what we’re up against here – it’s never easy, kids, jeez. How will I ever convince you I’m not simply crazy? Never mind.

So… I’m “starving,” but there’s no food in sight for me until late tomorrow morning after the propofol wears off, when Kim’s promised me a salted-caramel malt, but at least for now black coffee is considered a clear liquid, how cool is that? This whole process is much improved from when I did it ten years ago, so see, it doesn’t pay to worry and fret. Far better to let yourself be at peace.

You heard it here first.

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Making peace…

Yes, we made that road trip and it was wonderful! This was our first one in a few years and we were thrilled to find that we’re still true road warriors, in spite of having relied on the airlines for all of our extended travel for a while now. Full disclosure, the process of flying wears me out far more than driving, especially with the benefit of ergonomic seats in a genuinely comfortable car, with my best California freeway guy at the wheel. Having said that, it’s taken me two full weeks to recover, but this is better, trust me.

My sister and bro-in-love have retired to the lodge-pole pine forest of the Southwest, up where it’s warm but not too warm and the air is supremely breathable (except in pockets where fires are still raging). Most days the humidity hovered around 5-15% and our skin drank lanolin like water. The mornings are cool and still, perfect for sitting on the back patio with coffee, watching iridescent hummingbirds attack the feeder while elk graze in the National Forest that butts up to the cedar picket fence. Later in the day they bring their spindly-legged, still-spotted babies with them. We got to watch four and a new one was born after we left. There’s a large, multi-generational crow family that’s intriguing to observe, not least because their King has a head roughly the size of a bowling ball and he’s as arrogant and raucous as you might imagine, with a wingspan to back it up.

The days evolve on their own, with maybe a ride to a sweet little spot a few miles up the road for The Best Hamburger in the World, or another day to a place that legit has the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, with all ingredients either grown on the premises or handmade, wood-fired outdoors in the mountain air and served with the latest house brew. Memorable. Or mid-afternoon, perfect filet-mignon on the patio, with bakers and the whole menu. My brother-in-law is a genius at the grill.

It was definitely not all about food, although we lived like kings. One day they took us to Sedona, beautiful, mystical Sedona, of the red, red rocks and the spires and formations. The entire area is stand-alone gorgeous, but in order to give the neophyte a feel for why it’s become the mecca it has, I’m quoting from a generic Google search:

“The majestic red rock scenery and evergreen vegetation are two reasons for the unique energy of Sedona and its tangible regenerative and inspirational effects. …Sedona is also internationally known for the uplifting power of its Vortex meditation sites.”

You’re most welcome, of course, to explore that on your own time, but I’ll remember Sedona for the view from a back balcony on the main drag, the chips & salsa and cold beer we all shared there, and the perfect peace-symbol necklace Kim brought me when he came back with refills in the icy mugs. It’s so timely I want it around my neck every day.

Evenings in the forest are for the hot-tub and star-gazing…and peaceful sleep while the cool soaks into the house again.

After letting the road-weariness drain out of me, and the heavy-heartedness of recent months sift down to a numbness of mind that defied words and finally dissolved into inevitable tears, I’m ready, as a friend so wisely said yesterday, to surround myself with peace instead of drama on every level, a goal that takes intention. Life insists on bringing everything back to a mundane level, to silly jr high deceits and intrigues, infighting and craziness – and my new favorite sight (again, until I get it right) is that of my feet walking away.

Love and family are real – give me more of that, please.

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What’s today?

I have a post in progress about the fact that we’re home, but it’s going nowhere, so – WE’RE HOME, KIDS, it’s official. Feeling cute, might make something of it later, but I’m tired of it hangin’ on me. I’m waiting to feel properly inspired to tell you “What I Did On My Vacation,” as it so richly deserves.

What’s on my mind right now is change. We thought a wet spring would never become a hot summer, but the change was like overnight, BAM and wow. It’s the kind of heat that gets you from the inside out when the air stops moving, and this year for the first time I’m wearing a cold cloth around my neck when we move outside for the cocktail hour(s). This delicate prairie flower is feeling the ire of summer, so hot it seems personal all at once. Yikes. (Note: We’re getting a welcome break at the moment.)

Change is afoot in #lfk, as is likely true in most small cities with rich histories and distinct personalities up against a shifting tax base and somewhat changing demographics. While we were away, a change or two took place that I assume will eventually require some sort of mediation in order to arrive at a resolution. As much as any of us may vow that we like change, it rarely arrives easily or smoothly. And most of us are in some way lying as to how we feel about it.

Change has been underway in the lives of my close family members for the past few months and it’s been a happy thing to see. And sometimes good change for the people we love opens new doors for us, too – bonus!

A lot of change is happening right now in the building we’ve called home for seven years, where the lofts are owner-occupied. People moving out, people moving in, common in rental situations, but not at all here until recently. I’m getting the message – people moving out of our lives will be how this works, more and more. Thanks, reality, you’ve been a delight all year – I could use a break for a while. Let’s talk vacation again…and how cool is that, we’ve accidentally segued into a 4th of July post. Clever, no?

Be happy and safe today, friends, and aim for good change in all the ways you can – it’s what keeps things moving forward.

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Annnnd…

ROAD TRIP, BABIES !!

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A list of happy…

***Another spring flashback for new friends…

Our clean quiet loft

Sunlight slipping through the wooden blinds and striping the bed

Half a pot of coffee staying warm until after I talk myself into

A hot shower and day-jams fresh from the dryer

French Open in full murmur on TV

Cold milk, crunchy cereal, and a flawless banana

Endless selection of great art on the internet, to be transformed into jigsaw puzzles that let my brain freewheel in a world of words and ideas, sometimes for hours (I was always a fairly cheap date)

Friends, with their unique ways of showing me I’ve been seen and heard and I don’t have to be cautious with my words

Plans that carry me forward and remind me I’m not finished yet

Lunch with my husband, after listening to him play guitar for an hour

A soothing pedi

Projects that lay hold of my attention and validate the future

A town and living space that nurture my humanity and affirm that life goes on

NOT THE END

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I’m okay with real…

***Reaching back three years for new readers…

Summer water classes started on Tuesday so this chicky is in the swim again. It’s great exercise and a lot less dance-y than my initial plunge at another facility – this could work out. The instructor is easy to love and it’s all friendly funny women plus one cute shy husband. Other than a few younger women we’re all approximately from the same era, including our badass sweetheart of a teacher, so there are lots of Judys, Susans, Paulas, Lindas, Nancys, et.al.

Other commonalities – surprise, surprise – would include hearing loss, bad backs, arthritis, sucky balance, and a laundry list of other choices. There’s a certain comfort in knowing I’m not the only person my age who’s falling apart, but it’s even sweeter to know that everyone in the class, including Token Man, cares about him/herself or they wouldn’t bother showing up. I see it on all the faces – “I matter. This part of my life counts big-time. Let’s keep it evolving upward.”

Humor is how Baby-Boomers roll, because DUH, without it you stop rolling. I advise you, boys and girls, to maintain a healthy personal space between yourself and humor-challenged people – close interaction rarely ends well. And if you happen to be a “feeler” like someone I know well, you’ll haul the sand from every encounter until it all finally sifts out through your flip-flops. Our happy lil’ class is populated by people who love laughing at themselves in good ways – how does anybody keep putting one foot in front of the other without that? Yikes.

Their sweet little downcast faces ^^^ would break your heart.

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Well, THIS sucks…

***Bringing back a golden oldie for new readers – yet another from the early days.

We didn’t win the lottery AGAIN, which is crushing because PLANS — I was on a quest to revolutionize my wardrobe by way of that venerated institution, the Sundance Catalog.   Please don’t sue me, Robert Redford, for naming names — I obviously can’t afford that since we STILL DIDN’T WIN THE LOTTERY.

It’s all so disappointing because my first new outfit as a gazillionaire was going to be killer, starting with the jeans, which are $108 and still have PIECES OF ACTUAL DENIM clinging to each other!  There’s a sweet top, a twee rumpled creation weighing less than an ounce and going for a very reasonable $198.  There’s a distressed-leather peacoat that looks fab with the little top — it’s only $548.  The shortie boots in the same shade as the jacket, complete with fringe and studs, are a must — they retail for $575.  To nail the look I’ll need the slouch bag for $368 and a cool nubbly belt at $120. Then we get to the fun stuff — the jewelry.  Three necklaces, layered, at $1190, $3400, and $1300 respectively; eight stacked wrist cuffs totaling $4800; seven rings for $1603; and the earrings, $285.  And a perfectly darling may-or-may-not-keep-time watch for chump change of $98.  The surgery to add 10″ to my height is probably going to run into actual money.

So for just the debut ensemble, not counting height-enhancement because who knows, I’m looking at approximately $15,000 with shipping.  And realistically I couldn’t wear the outfit every day because it isn’t wedding and funeral appropriate, so it’s imperative that I buy out the catalog in its entirety, including the furniture.  My dreams are all-encompassing.

Way to ruin my life, Powerball.  Mr. Redford and I were going to be besties.

Plan B:  Snag this $98 vintage bandanna scarf and accessorize my overalls.

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My Life in Books

Not everyone can say this, but I still live in the same town where I was born.  I was temporarily away, as I was raised twelve miles outside town, but in western Kansas that meant I could practically see the hospital from the farm.  I spent a summer in New Jersey in the 60s, a boyfriend thing.  I lived on yet another farm two counties away for almost 35 years, a marriage thing.  Even during those first-marriage years, though, I wasn’t more than a half-hour from my birthplace.  And now I’m back.

You might be tempted to think that my life has been deadly boring, but you’d be wrong, although the potential was certainly there.  On the contrary, thanks to the incredible world of books, I’ve traveled just about everywhere and gotten to know people I’ll never forget.  My mom, a woman wonderfully ahead of her time, started reading to me from approximately the second I popped my head out in the delivery room, and she did the same for my sisters and brother.  Books were always a hot topic of conversation in our house and pretty much nothing was off-limits if we thought we were big enough to handle it (other than the fascinating volumes I discovered in my parents’ closet, but that’s a story that shall never be told).

Our mom fully understood that reading holds the power to ward off prejudice, ignorance, and dullness of spirit.  We all shared the isolation of the farm, but she had no intention of letting that shape us for life.  We even got by with ducking work sometimes, as long as it was for the sake of a book, the unspoken agreement being that we had to make sure no sibling saw it happening.

If you locked me in a room with only a bodice-ripping romance novel for company, I’d scan it for erotic parts, strictly in the interest of Continuing Adult Education, but I might not read it.  I’m not sure I could.  I’d rather count fly-specks on the walls or stains on the carpet.  If that makes me sound like a snob, I apolo … um, no, I don’t, it’s the truth.  But that’s just me … I’m not judging. Full disclosure, I was the girl who read the backs of cereal boxes and devoured the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, so take me with a serious grain of salt.

Give me a great biography or autobiography, a historical novel, a sophisticated mystery, a realistic crime novel or true account, an entertaining travel journal, stellar fiction … then walk away and I’m not likely to even notice.  A question I’ve never been able to answer … “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”  Impossible!  Usually it’s the one I just finished.  I crawl inside every good book I read and live there until it’s done.  And then I take time to mourn just a bit before I pick up the next one …

***A summer rerun from early in my blogging days. And I’ve since moved from my birthplace to a land of peace and discovery.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinctive authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular thread – The People, as they have always called themselves – and their existence from time primeval.

First in the “series,” entirely by happy chance, was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – hallelujah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.

Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of all the seemingly unrightable wrongs that have altered The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.

So when both a friend and an esteemed nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped in again and placed a shiny object in my path. Off the top, let me quickly address a few negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of existence, but in the end taking nothing from the whole.

Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.

Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada – with side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each more fascinating than the last.

I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages BARKSKINS was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter engaging and/or redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.

BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.

As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:

“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'”  – June 17, 2016

***It’s summer re-run time and this is a piece that was published in another forum a couple of years ago.

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We shall haiku on…

inspiration gone

could return if life sorts out

may be a long road

JSmith 12/08/2017

*****

falling asleep on

a pillow soaked with tears makes

for a soggy rest

JSmith 11/12/2017

*****

the rollercoaster

is eating my lunch today

walking away now

JSmith 11/9/2017

*****

doubt butts into life

and tricks us into sorry

paralyzation

JSmith 09/28/2017

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But wait, there’s more…

dark house, rain falling

lightning flashing thunder crash(ing)

bed invites me back

JSmith 06/29/2017

*****

gray flannel morning

melancholy permeates

in here and out there

JSmith 09/16/2017

*****

rain makes me happy

when the sky cries i feel joy

am i damaged goods?

JSmith 09/18/2017

*****


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Are you smiling?

While this lush green NE corner of Kansas decides which season to settle into, winter or spring, here are a few previously posted haiku verses from June of 2016 when my muse was very much with me. I hope they’ll coax the sun from behind the clouds for ALL of us!

***

oh the odd day when

karma runs over dogma

redress is too sweet

JSmith 6/27/2016

***

I’ll bring the Zen and

spend my day not thinking ’bout

sewage in a suit

JSmith 6/25/2016

***

the DH of me

saves my life by riveting

the little heart holes

JSmith 6/24/2016

***

pooled our ignorance

and got it done

old not daft

JSmith 6/22/2016

***

summer solstice hits

crank up the whine-o-matic

sweat is water too

JSmith 6/20/2016

***

no earthly sense in

fear of flying

light me up

JSmith 6/13/2016

***

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