Remembering…

An edited nostalgia piece from 2013 …

During a nursery visit to replace trees and plants lost to the western Kansas drought and heat (we’ve since moved to the northeast corner of the state), the greenhouse owner snapped off a king-sized rose blossom and handed it to me.  As soon as I caught its scent, my grandma was there beside me and a whole era lined up for review. 

We grew up across a gravel driveway from my paternal grandparents on a farm in the middle of wheat fields and pastures.  There were cows and chickens and a big barn populated by sleepy cats, but the best part of the farm was Grandma and Grandpa’s garden.  It spanned acres, and included most of the veggies you could name — potatoes, carrots, onions, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus, sweet corn, peas, green beans, turnips (yucky), strawberries and tomatoes (both of which we were allowed to pluck warm from the vine, with a tap on the salt shaker Grandma kept tucked under the leaves); fruit trees including apple, cherry, and peach; and flowers.  Peonies, mock orange, baby’s breath, tulips, daisies, columbine, cosmos, daffodils, lilies, phlox, snapdragons, roses. Not a complete list.

All of this was surrounded by hedges that my grandpa kept trimmed — a tall one across the back, with openings into the orchard beyond, and shorter hedges along the front and sides with shaped entryways into the three main sections of the garden.  In a corner, close to the cattle pens, grew watermelon and cantaloupe.  And a quarter-mile away, next to an irrigation engine, was a colossal watermelon patch (which became infamous in its own right — a story for another day) that produced enough for all summer and into the fall, including a happy celebration for friends and neighbors in the yard.

Outside the confines of the hedges sat the two-story farmhouse my grandpa built, saturated with decades of living. Between the house and garden a hammock was stretched between two big cottonwoods, and a rope swing hung from a branch.  The clotheslines where we helped Grandma “hang out a nice wash,” as she invariably declared it to be, stretched across the grass.  

There was a cement and brick milk house where our dad and grandpa filtered the milk from the cows, skimmed off the heavy cream, and left it all in glass jars to cool in troughs of ice-cold running water brought up by the windmill anchored next to the building.  A battered tin cup hung on a pipe next to the well so anyone who wanted to could pump a fresh drink of water. (There was no pandemic raging.)   

We (my sisters and brother and I, along with cousins and neighbor kids) spent long hours in that yard, held tea parties under the tall conifers set in the middle of the garden, and built more than one fort among the fruit trees and evergreens out back.  And on occasion, we worked.  

When I think of my grandparents – she born in 1889 and he five years earlier – he shows up in long-sleeved chambray shirt and faded Levis and she’s wearing a homemade housedress and apron, tied at the waist and pinned to the flowery cotton of her dress at the shoulders.  And she never went out, hoe in hand, without a handmade sunbonnet.  A real lady had creamy white skin, and although Grandma had been born with distinctly olive coloring, she tried.  Grandpa protected his head with a well-worn felt cowboy hat that he sweated through in nothing flat.

Thus they went forth every morning equipped for work, intent upon it, dedicated to it.  Those luscious fruits and vegetables out there in the hot sun were life, and life doesn’t wait.  They did their best to corral us, to slow our head-long summer romp through the garden, to foist sunbonnets upon us and thrust hoes and rakes into our grubby little hands.  I remember thinking I really should help out more, take more of an interest, learn something while I was at it.  But the fork in the big tree behind the milk house was calling my name, my book was still stashed there from the day before, and I was hot and tired and needed a drink of water from the well …. and I never quite found time to own responsibility and discipline in any discernible way.  

There was one time of year, however, when we all pitched in and did our part.  I’m ashamed to say, it had a lot to do with the fact that we got paid for our efforts, but, well ….

Every year in the days preceding Memorial Day, my grandparents would cut armfuls of tightly-budded peonies, wrap them in wet burlap, and store them in crocks of well water in the cool cement-lined root cellar.  The other flowers, too, found their way into crocks, awaiting that early-morning observance at cemeteries around the countryside.  Our job as grandchildren was to take old paring knives and snip daisy bouquets in counts of twenty-five, band them and put them in canning jars in the cellar.  It was a treat to go from the sunny garden to the damp coolness of the pit, and Grandma and Grandpa paid us a nickel a bouquet. We were suddenly rich, and Woolworth’s, McClellan’s, and Duckwall’s were a mere twelve miles away.

Despite our mercenary outlook, we managed to gain a sense of having contributed to something special.  The day before Memorial Day, which was known as Decoration Day in the 1950s, and very early the morning of, neighbors and strangers from surrounding areas started pulling into the drive to collect the big flower baskets and smaller arrangements they’d pre-ordered.  And many, knowing there were always unclaimed flowers, stopped by to see what they might pick up.  The air had a special freshness about it and people invariably seemed happy and intent on their mission.

I remember feeling proud of my grandma for her ability to grow and arrange flowers into spectacular gifts, and a connectedness to all those people coming to embrace her talents.  I started to feel tied to all the generations being honored on those Memorial weekends, and I still remember snippets of stories from the conversations I overheard.

After all the paying customers had retrieved their floral offerings, Grandma let us kids have the leftover daisy bundles to place on the graves of the nearly-forgotten babies from the 1800s in our small community cemetery a mile west of the farm.  It always felt like we’d done something amazing by honoring those brief little lives, and the yearly military ceremony conducted by aging war heroes in a sometimes haphazard and ill-fitting assortment of service garb lent added poignancy.

If my grandparents were here now they would be gratified to know how much I actually did learn through their example and the privilege of living in their shadow.  Things like hard work, respect for the living and the dead, a certain acceptance that no matter what happens life goes on … all of these have stood me in good stead over the years.

As with most farmers of that generation they never became wealthy in a monetary sense.  But the things they passed along to us are beyond price … and worth consciously appreciating as another Memorial Day arrives.

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New decade who dis?

Hard rain against the windows, turning icy as it hits. Dark and gray, quiet and warm inside, and Kitchen Man has biscuits and gravy in the works. No early-morning walk for him, no PickleBall with the crew. He’ll be here playing guitar while I do that thing I do… that space-off thing.

It’s a cold, cruel world out there this morning. It can be a cold, cruel world everywhere you look… unless you know where to look. Like the story about the six-year-old who’s raised $100k so far for Australian fire relief through the little clay koalas he makes…

Or the rescue on Wednesday of a 68-yr-old woman with dementia, lost for six days in the California mountains, her car covered with snow, who looked at her heroes and said “I’m very cold, I hope you brought a blanket.”

That same afternoon, Massachusetts State Police stopped a car containing an 11-yr-old girl who’d been kidnapped when she stepped off her school bus, in something of a miracle rescue, where she was a total champion through the whole thing and gets to go home and live her life.

So as the little icicles lengthen on the balcony railing, I’m thinking what a nice round number 2020 is, one we’ll not see again in our lifetimes. We won’t make it to 3030 or 4040, possibly this Big Blue Marble won’t either, so plump 2020 strikes me as the year to say what we mean and mean what we say, we don’t have forever.

This feeler has always had a hard time leaving things behind… sentimental trinkets, cards, letters… relationships. But after so many years, Steven Wright’s philosophy comes into play: You can’t have everything, where would you put it?

Reality bites:

  • Only certain things matter on this trip between birth and death.
  • People head that list, family in bold lettering at the top.
  • Energy is finite so I’m sticking with the people who are sticking with me.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it:
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

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(S)he had a face like a blessing… Cervantes

Last year a friend added me to a Facebook group, an action that would ordinarily raise the hair on the back of my neck except for who connected me and to which group. I like to be asked first, but if I know and love you, you might slip that cheese past me without an implosion. Oh, but the misguided adds I’ve quietly tiptoed out of!  What was it about my posts over the past ten years that revealed a secret affinity for Home Canning groups, Fundie Prayer-Chains, or a support page for Nursing Mothers?

This new page, though, is serendipity – all about women and faces and selfies.  One of those things is not like the others. Women and faces = good. Selfies = I suck, both at taking them and accepting the results.  But happily, this is all ABOUT acceptance – for ourselves and other women. Without camouflage, before coffee, after a run, in sadness, elation, frustration, other women’s faces are endlessly beautiful to me and seeing them every day is showing me more about genuine acceptance of my own than anything I’ve encountered until now. If they can all be real, why would I think I couldn’t? When someone shares a shot that’s possibly less than bare-faced, I think “No, please, show us your genuine, natural, beautiful self, the one who can trust her sisters.”

Over the past decade or so my body has been trying to quit me, but even at that we’re better friends than back when my pudding-brain thought I was such an irresistible speck of humanity. I’m getting pretty comfortable in this body with this face on it, but my selfies still shock me every time. “Hello, Me, this is what we really look like now from the outside, can you believe this shit?” I choose to blame it on Bad Inanimate Face because Resting Bitch Face sounds so judgy. Pretty sure two things are at work here to make me uncomfortable with my own shots:

  • It’s MY face in the viewfinder.
  • Selfies allow me to study my face in a way that invades my personal space and hurts my feelings.

But…sigh…the suggestion is that we each post a selfie every week for a year and write something positive about every photo we share, which I think is delightful advice in theory.  I’ve managed one so far – for now I’m busy drawing from other women the inspiration to be as naked as they are. Faces, guys, naked faces. As you were.

And being real at every stage of life is all that counts.

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” – Abraham Lincoln

Author’s Note: This post, and the two that precede it, are edited repeats of pieces I’ve published before, a fact that I’ve neglected to mention. I’m going back to fix the preceding posts.

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Known only to me…

When I am old I shall wear purple and every damn color I want, probably all at once. I’ll be just like every other dried up old malcontent you’ve encountered, but different in ways known only to me, thus this brief Manifesto of Independence for whoever ends up having to deal with me, most likely husband then son, not that life ever follows a script.

IN CASE OF FUTURE FULL-ON FOSSILIZATION, BREAK GLASS TO READ:

  1. If I’m hungry, all efforts toward anything else are futile until food happens – I more and more don’t have the capacity to maintain sanity during hangry spells. Good news: the devil within is easily placated, provided we like what we’re being bought off with.
  2.  I still hear music inside my skull from the ice fall that winter and it can get overwhelming in a way that loosens my hinges a little. It may never go dormant, so please factor that in when trying to reason with me.
  3. If I’m certifiably demented, don’t try to reason with me at all. It’s too much like arguing with the proverbial porker – only serves to frustrate you and irritate the pig. I’ll probably be fine in whatever world is current for me at the time, so don’t waste precious resources trying to talk me out of it.
  4. Likewise, if intractable pain can’t someday be addressed with legal medical-grade cannabis – the thing that stops it – then pain awareness will have to be a fixture in the equation, too. I hate that, it sucks, I’ll be doing my best to stay sweet and not cause anybody trouble, but there it is, the big whiny elephant in the room.
  5.  It will be in everyone’s best interest to keep #’s 1, 2, and 4 from happening simultaneously. Good luck to ya’.
  6.  A great set of Beats headphones and Elton & Leon’s “The Union” will keep me out of your face for days – use it. Joshua Radin, Jennifer Warnes, Jason Mraz, the soundtrack of Catch & Release, The Lone Bellow, The Milk Carton Kids…  Merely a sampling – I’ll try to keep the playlist updated* until check-out – it will always be eclectic.
  7.  I don’t require much for survival, but two must-haves beyond music are books and a way to communicate. Even if you think I’m past reading, leave a book or two around because…you never know. No fluff, no bodice-rippers, best no serials. Poetry is good, a lot of niece Krista’s, please. Give me an inactivated iPhone if it seems to provide a sense of being in touch with somebody, but if we’re all fortunate I’ll simply slip into a world where none of it matters to me anymore except the good times and die with a smile on my face. Or get hit by a bus. We never know.
  8.  Apparently women are programmed to eventually grow an increasingly disgusting amount of extraneous hair on our faces. If you leave that shit intact I promise I will come back after I die and sleep between you and your significant other until the end of your days. I mean this.
  9. If I have to live in a care facility for the good of all concerned, please try to find one that operates like a highly tolerant family – one where eating and sleeping are managed individually rather than institutionally – that would be huge. Also, of course, where no one will hurt me, whether on staff or in residence – that’s huge, too.
  10. The age baseline changes imperceptibly with the decades, but I will never not want to look and smell as good as reality allows. Please don’t subject me to the pitying faces of strangers without helping me look as much like this still-me person as anyone could expect. And while I’m here – please universe, no diapers, ‘k?
  11. After I’ve made my presence felt in my immediate world for as long as I can and something takes me out of here, give me a smokin’ hot body one last time and pack my ashes to the coast – pick one – for a sweetly drunken campfire and whatever you want to say about me. Talking to you of course, Kim and John and whomever you’d like to bring along.
  12. In the past few years since I started writing again, I’ve put a body of words out there in the cloud that may or may not survive in one jot or iota. As long as the synapses fire I’m sure I’ll keep contributing to that pile of thought-turned-words that will, odds-on, prove to have been solely for my own rescue. That’s another thing we never know about – where it all goes when we do. Kind of pisses me off that I won’t be around to see if any of my sentences end up on Google Search. What I’m saying is, you two guys can do what you want with what I won’t be taking with me. Big Kev knows how to get to my passwords – that’s for the wording, the bits and pieces of ME. The rest of it…you know what to do.
  13. Anyway, thirteen points being my style, that’s about it. Keep it simple, keep it all about love, keep Karma in our corner. Plus all the things I’ve ever said, ever meant to say, never thought to say – take that with you. And did I mention the love – you know all about the love. 💙💜

I have no thought that anybody might need this vital information any time soon. But if you don’t write it down when it’s now, a day comes when you can’t say it anymore – you’re no longer your own advocate. And everybody needs one.

*Also Tracy Chapman. Keb Mo. And Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours,” the album.

*A previously published piece, lightly edited for re-post.

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Make Mine Chocolate

Speaking of friendship (see previous post), there are people who so seamlessly demonstrate it that we don’t realize how completely we’ve been immersed in its graces until they’ve packed up their toolkits and rolled on down the road toward home. Kim and I are rich beyond measure because we have a few key people like that in our life, and a few are all you need.

One of those people came to our rescue yesterday, on a totally voluntary basis, didn’t have to do it, on New Year’s Eve day, for six hours, as if he had nothing else in the world to do, such as watching the Liberty Bowl game where his beloved alma mater would be playing, followed by a 2020 party AT HIS HOUSE.

The backstory: My desktop computer and Kim’s had been giving us grief all year, and this friend and another one had been helping us baby both of them along while we were all legitimately distracted by other things. In the past week mine started crashing for real, and although it was connected to an external hard drive, it was, um, not good. Our friend and his family were out of town, but he picked the day following the day they got back, came here first thing in the morning (yesterday), drove us to KC, provided backup while we bought two units just like what we had, only newer-faster-better-shinier, turned around and drove us 35 miles back home, and then took the time to get both of us set up enough that we won’t be roaming the streets, wild-eyed and barefoot, before he can get back here. And he was STILL out the door in plenty of time for the big game, Karma sees all.

We’ve so far avoided advanced boomer-hood and it was an adventure we could have managed perfectly well, by which I mean calamity was possible at every turn. Kim’s always cool with driving but we’d have had two questions at the computer store. And once we got home and unpacked the merchandise we’d have been stuck like Chuck and it would be a no go until we found a guru, and good luck with THAT, post-holidays. Instead, thanks to the joys of having a younger friend who loves us and knows our limitations without making making us feel deficient about them, it was a smoooooth experience and a fun way to end a supremely challenging decade.*

*Ignore the random underlining, it won’t go away.

Turns out we were mere weeks from dropping off Big A’s support horizon, where they cease to know you, so those units owed us nothing – still looked new but were old dogs in tech years, and a clean, mean, smooth-running machine is always a sweet thing.

But this isn’t a story about tech for the new decade, it’s truth about friendship for the long haul. The kind that starts out rooted in trust that’s rewarded with integrity; grows for a generation; starts to feel a little like family; and begins to cause people to just *be there* for each other. That kind of friendship doesn’t lend itself to language very well, but it galvanizes me for the new decade because of the sweet goodness under it. Our friend has been through plenty, knows we have too. We’ve often been caught up in the slings and arrows of the boomer years while he’s still back there hacking his way through the forest, so *being there* has been an imperfect effort on our part but the love underneath never wavers.

Yesterday was a gift because it felt so pure. “I can do this for you. Let me do this.” Thank you, friend, sometimes it truly IS blessed to receive, and to know the things we thought were real… really are. I don’t think you set out to show us that, but you did – in the most genuine way possible. Here’s to a clean reboot for 2020. It’s ON, dude ‼️

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Thoughts of home & family…

Hello, babies, and Happy Thanksgiving. I hope your day and the weekend will surpass what you’d hoped for and the good memories will stay with you through the winter months and whatever lies beyond.

America and all the world rely on tradition to tell us what to do, how to order the months of the year, how to plan our celebrations. It’s been described as peer pressure from dead people, but it holds heavy sway over most of us and proves hard to break with when we try.

This Thanksgiving is unique in our downsized family. Before our mom’s eight siblings and their offspring scattered to the winds, holidays were oversized productions at our grandparents’ house, any work involved taken for granted by kids under twelve, the mountains of food appearing by magic, clean-up accomplished by swanky uncles with shirt-sleeves rolled, children strictly banned from the kitchen.

Those storybook times are long past, but most years since, my two sisters and I and parts of our families have managed to be together, sharing the love and good cooking. This time, for whatever reasons, a perfect storm conspired to keep that from happening, so we deal.

Middle sister and bro-in-love have retired to beautiful but relatively remote environs and their daughters and families are prevented by various circumstances from being with them, nor will they be with each other.

Baby sis has fallen in love, has recently retired, is spending the weekend with her new people, and happiness abounds. We get to connect with her kitten, Big Jade, twice a day while Mama’s away. Baby sis’s kids and grands are on the Left Coast, thus not physically huggable on this holiday either.

Pa and I are here, dead center USA, least traditional of the siblings, he of original hippiedom, I a rebel from jump. One of our guy kids is deep in the heart of Texas, the other two keep Georgia on our mind. The Oncology RN is working, as is so often the case, on behalf of coworkers with families. His other half, one of the youngest in his big family, is trying mightily to be their rock through a stretch of rough road, and it’s likely nobody will even get around to dinner this year.

And how are the non-traditionalists faring? So far so lovely. We made sure the Jadester was safe and warm, first order of business. Loved her up good, then came home and Kim made Belgian waffles in his snazzy hotel-style waffle maker – so right with fruit, syrups, bacon, sausage, lots of excellent coffee. It’s been raining lightly all morning and the fireplace feels wonderful. Right here is where we need to be while I baby my back some more. We could be kind of iffy conversationalists right now anyway, like after the toasts, yikes, wouldn’t be prudent.

And now the day stretches before us, quiet and full of possibility. Kim’s on the other side of the wall playing guitar, I’m here with my coffee, we never lack for books to read or movies to watch. If angst should overcome me, I can always sit back down here, open a vein, and bleed on the keyboard. We might watch parts of the National Dog Show in a bit – it’s becoming a sort of campy tradition with us. Anyway, we’re not allowed to get bored, that would be a crime.

I don’t miss turkey – we could have shoved one into the oven if we’d wanted to. I do miss all the cooking aromas and the happy activity. What I miss for real, though, the only thing that will matter to me, ever again, is my family. I really, this year, miss those hugs, both given and received, those familiar voices, those beloved laughs that are like no one else’s. There’s only one wish in my bucket right now – that at some point in the foreseeable future we could ALL – we three sisters, our amazing men, our kids, their partners, and their kids could be together in one place. And if our brother’s kids and their kids could be with us too – that’s my idea of heaven, which we can choose to make at least a little of right here, right now. Henry-boy, you’re on that list too, kiddo.

That’s where we get our traditions – from the things that mean the most – and now we’ve come full circle, for the non-traditionalists among us.

The sweetest of thankful days to us all. Amen.

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Sunday blues time…

Oh shoot, a Sunday when the blues come down with the rain, so ya’ roll with it, because what else. They’re just the ol’ familiar “Vacation’s Over, I Miss the Highway, Winter’s Comin’ Blues,” and they’re nothing a pot of Kim’s coffee, some introspection, a few tears, and my keyboard won’t play like a sad harmonica simply because that’s how I deal.

When the skies go all gray and weepy, my psyche does inventory to see what we haven’t felt bad about lately, haven’t cried bitter tears due to the rank injustice of, and we let those bad kids out to dance a fugue or two. The pathos is so satisfying – we were wronged, yes we were, there it is, so clear anyone could see it…

And from that silly exercise this rainy morning, an insight: being a farm kid carries with it an inherent amount of social isolation, especially for girls, in key ways. Because I rarely got to hang around in town after school, by the time I started high school I didn’t know the code, and my whole life has subsequently felt that way, like trying to catch up to a world the insiders knew about but I didn’t. 💡 This thought is multi-faceted and I still need to flesh it out, but I did promise you I’d keep working on this knot of letting go…

I grasp at my core that the base knowledge of belonging is seminal – it informs everything else. But in the end, we give ourselves permission to be – no one else holds that power, so we can be bold and SAY who we are and where we belong, if we decide to. However, the flip side is that it doesn’t matter who you decide your community is, it’s made up of individuals and those individuals can turn on you, or fail to support you, or leave you out of the loop at any time and it will no longer feel like your place in the world. So if you unexpectedly found yourself on the outside looking in, would you have a place to go, another community that might not only take you in but where you would want to go and would at some point fit in and feel at ease? Or would you care?

Would you maybe be old and settled and formed enough by then to decide your family and your books and your online friends were all the comfort and companionship you really wanted – and trusted? Would that be sad or wise? If it were informed by experience would it be logical? If it were, by that point, based on available energy of all the varieties there are, it would have to be acceptable, and finally, forgivable, am I right?

Different strokes for differently-wired folks, and I’ve written myself unblue. There’s even a bit of sun glowing through the clouds.

Gloriously, at last, we belong only to ourselves, which answers so many questions no one else can even name for us. They’re ours to think about. Namasté.

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Oh, the places we could go…

It sounds so cliché and yet what IF? We all, if we’re lucky, live several lives from our beginning to our end. Our “tinyhood” is first, when we’re so new and unset that things mostly roll over us, leaving only small traces of what took place… if we’re lucky. Those memories fade as we move through other lives – our youth, our high school and college years with their general trauma, relationships, marriages, families, beginnings, endings, the pneuma – the creative energy – of life.

But all of it, as we roll or slog or trip or struggle through the panorama of our lifespans becomes part of who we are at any given time, a lot of it hard to shed, some of it buried pretty deep, most of it just outside the grasp of our conscious awareness, so how would we even start to deal with it? In simpler terms, how do we stop toting around all this pneuma? Just because we’ve accumulated it, is it forever ours by default?

We get older, hopefully we get smarter, we learn how to forgive and to let go of resentments and old scores. But whether we know it or not, the seed of every wound, every piercing, every time someone was able to make us feel less-than is still in there somewhere ready to trip us up if we let it. Maybe we have somehow been strong enough not to give it roots, but we don’t know exactly how to find it for full extraction, so it lurks and hides, the partial remains of who we were.

It would be so satisfying to dig up all of that accumulated rot and get it out of there – all those markers signifying “I go this far and no farther, so DON’T PUSH me.” “Here’s where the bad person/people hurt me, embarrassed me, shamed me, failed to love me enough.” “I can’t get rid of these, they’re my security blankets, my hedge against big-time pain, against things I never want to feel again. They help me remember where the lines are drawn.” I know, you probably hoped I was going to tell us both how to do that, how to ruthlessly excavate. So did I, but the answer didn’t miraculously appear as I typed the words.

And so the remains remain. But oh, what we could be and the places we could go if we could figure this out. It’s a worthy goal because it would change everything. I’m holding out hope to get there in my lifetime, sooner rather than later – while I still have time to enjoy the fruits. I’m still thinking about this…

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REALITY = a full-time job

My Muse has been kind this summer, and attentive. I no more think of something and BOOM, like somebody has ESPN, there’s a reference on a timeline or in an article I’m reading. In reflecting again lately on letting the past be the past, and having been marinated in Midwestern guilt from birth until the West Coast Wild Man (according to the locals) strolled in and stopped that shiz right in its Ropers, I’m well-versed in the dilemma represented up there in the meme. Baby Boomer girls make nice, talk nice, say everything but what we really think, if we know what’s best for us and want nice things said about us.

But if we ever once start saying what we really think, all bets are off. Because sometimes people see what looks like an opportunity to dig a little, and feelings get hurt, peace gets wrecked, doors get closed. It never feels good but you finally have to use what’s been percolating in your Boomer self since shortly after WWII and just stop the bleeding once and for all, say No, I’m not up for this, buh-bye, whatever we were we’re not that now, and memories don’t give you carte blanche to my life. But then, Midwestern guilt would tell us, it’s our responsibility to open that door again and make peace face-to-face, all nice, and start over.

You know what, no. That’s phony and it isn’t peace. I’ve tried it repeatedly and what I got was what most peacemakers get, which is taken advantage of. I’m not whining, I’m stating a fact. If you cut people slack they use it all. They decide you really are a good person who wants them to have it their way. And then they hit you again. From a different angle out of the blue when you’re weak and vulnerable but they didn’t know that, no, they just have great instincts.

I like things real and I subscribe to the knowledge that it isn’t on me to try to build a relationship with people who don’t even like who I am. It’s shocking and absurd that the exact things I was trying to figure out in eighth grade to keep friendships in balance are the same sorts of things that are still canceling the potential for genuine friendship in my eighth decade of living. It makes me despair just a little for human nature, but only a little, because I think of so many friends with their wide, wide hearts and their beautiful minds and their nonstop belief in truth and lovingkindness in the world, and I know arrested development didn’t claim everyone across the board, so sometimes it really is safe to trust. Whew!

Welcome back to Blogging as Therapy this morning, and thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

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Urgency of stillness…

I. hope. you. read. that. really. slowly.

When somebody says something better than I can, it seems wise to let them. Just the act of reading the above makes me feel deliciously Zen. Laundry? What laundry? Ohhhhh. Thoose twoo looads I’im goooing tooo runnnn laaaterrr.

We get so conditioned to doing everything in a rush, we lose conscious awareness of our behavior and our pace no longer registers with us. We automatically think every decision, every choice has to be made right now, on the spot, with no time for discussion or fully rational thought, because it’s only action that matters. The realization that I have time available, critical time, makes my heart settle in my chest and my skittering brain synapses organize themselves into productive pathways – at least that’s what I visualize happening. I could google it sometime for backup.

Having time to think about things is a luxury. Having time to space off and go someplace else in our heads for a while is tricky territory for a lot of society – better to stay busy, stay grounded, stay on message, stay outta the weeds, and don’t make trouble. Kinda how it feels – too much thinking makes waves, and before you know it somebody’s saying words out loud and we’ve got problems. Oh dear. I do it anyway, living on the edge and all, because I have time and inclination and not two fks to give when good trouble breaks out. My Twitter “profile” candidly warns that this person is chronologically seasoned, but past the statute of limitations on maturity. What’s anybody gonna do, take away my birthday? By all means, Governor, proceed.

Thinking does have its perils, but I offer the current state of the Republic as evidence that the perils of failing to think are far more grave, which would be a morbid place to end on a hot Friday when breathing the air is a challenge, so I’m now urgently returning to the Zen of stillness, the slow quiet from the inside out that lets me pay attention to reality – the life I live. I’ll meet you there. We’ll have cold seltzer with lemon & lime.

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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, whomever he or she may be…

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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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 there, 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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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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