The Unbearable Lightness of Reading…

 

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinct 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 – halleluiah, 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 one 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 all 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

 

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The Art of Humaning

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Like the world outside our doors the place I call home is endlessly quirky. Our daily lives are first off influenced and impacted by the commercial entities under us and the wheels of commerce send a hum upward through the girders that assures us the world is on track, a nap would be good. Above the hum, on floors three through five, independent thought rules. We’re a collection of young to old, friendly to cold, liberal to conservative, social butterfly to I-vant-to-be-alone, moneyed to who knows/cares – the quintessential microcosm in so many directions. A neighbor-sighting is rare for me, possibly because I vant to be alone.

Consensus is often hard to come by in the governance of the building, inside and out, concerning the simplest of matters. Many tears can be spilled over a paint color while the landscaping dies clean away. We are know-it-alls and trust-me-I-know-nothings. A lawsuit is for some the quickest route to satisfaction, while for others patient thoughtful communication is the only way to go. Some are quick to take offense, some know how to deflect it, and some truly do not give a shit.

We’re a civil bunch – in the hallways, the mailroom, on the street, we’re nice AF, voluntarily forgetting what he said about…what she told her…where they stand on… Life requires it because humaning in close quarters is deadly after all the civility leaks out.

Wherever two or three are gathered, there will be the basic building blocks of personality among us and those elements have to continuously mesh in order to prevent societal meltdown, whether on a grand or intimate scale. A spinning globe scabbed over with layers of bloodied inhabitants has no alternative but to stop being stupidly selfish and help each other. It really is that simple.

Nothing about our particular living experience is new, different, or unique to the world – this is who humans are and we will never align perfectly with each other. But forget perfect, we have to collectively make the whole thing work or let it all go down the sewer – we’re out of options. Will we figure it out? Will we keep ourselves from erasing all life from the earth? Or will we hold out for what we want, damn the consequences forever?

 

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I’m okay with real.

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.

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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 her/himself 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 beings – close interaction rarely ends well. And if you happen to be a libtard “feeler” like someone I know well, you’ll haul the sand from every encounter until it all finally sifts out through your sandals. Our happy lil’ class is populated by people who love laughing at themselves in the good ways – how does anybody keep putting one foot in front of the other without that? Yikes.

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

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For Krista

morning glorious

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families farmers mowers runners riders pedalers

dogs kids coffee sprouts

players hangers-on sun-babies

he does so we can

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Fat Lady mute

JSmith 4/24/2016

 

{Thoughts while pondering The Meaning of Life on a Saturday, prompted by feelings about the artists who’ve helped us get through the night, know ourselves better, value our existence more, give ourselves tacit permission to be weird. Those friends of the heart are relentlessly leaving us, and not by choice. They got older along with us, and talent can’t necessarily buy extra time – so we have a sacred responsibility to own what they tried to show us, and keep the lights on. Life is a good thing.}

A gift to my niece because she asked. She is a true poet and I love her enough to put some words out, knowing it isn’t a contest. ❤

 

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On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in January …

So tell me you’ve been finding every opportunity to dance since last week — it’s such a good habit to get into!  By dance I mean sparks of any sort inside the person that is you.  You give your heart permission to feel not just okay, but fabulous, even if it’s only a hit-and-run, and should it leak out your fingers and toes, by all means … make rhythm out of it.

It’s a bits & pieces Tuesday.  Here’s a glorious bit that Mary Oliver wrote about her partner of forty years, Molly Malone Cook, that makes my heart dance.  “The dance” is often The Blues …

“She was style, and she was an old loneliness that nothing could quite wipe away; she was vastly knowledgeable about people, about books, about the mind’s emotions and the heart’s. She lived sometimes in a black box of memories and unanswerable questions, and then would come out and frolic — be feisty, and bold.” 

I love that so much.

And these two pieces made my brain boogie today …

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Is it just me or is there a connection in all these jangly bits?    Seriously, anything’s possible when your brain dances with your heart.

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Sweet winter peace to all …

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My girl Marilyn knew …

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What scares you?

Not BOOGA-BOOGA pants-crapping scared, where your skin crinkles up and makes little screeching noises with sparklers on the ends.  More like what are you AFRAID of … that fundamental sense of dread that a cog will drop into a random sprocket somewhere and life will change.  Fear of loss is a keen motivator — what else drives us with that same force?

But what if life changed and you lived through it?  And what if that happened over and over ’til you realized how brave you were and then you just started doing things and saying things you didn’t know you could do and say?  What if people didn’t get any of that at all and you didn’t care?  What if you just started kicking ass, including your own, and life really did change and you wouldn’t change it back if you had the chance?  WHAT IF?  Not the question I want to be asking myself when I’m gearing up for the choir eternal.  What if I’d done all those things I knew I could do?  What if I’d let myself be who I knew I was?  And to quote Captain Obvious, what if I’d just been nicer?  Regret, let’s not go there.

Holy balls, I’ve survived too long to let fear force me back into the box, and by now he’s like an old friend anyway, sort of.  You know, keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your powder dry.

“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.”  ~Dawna Markova

 

William Stafford

 

 

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A Fairytale for Throwback Thursday

Once upon a time, there lived a handsome young man of steel who told a little white lie about his age, joined the Army at seventeen, fought at the front during The War to End All Wars on many fields of battle, came home intact in mind and body, swept a lovely fifteen-year-old store clerk off her feet, married her straightaway, and started a dynasty.  Thus reads the CliffsNotes version, you may thank me after the test.

But before that, a lot of other things happened.

And while those things were happening, the young man was growing steely because clearly he had good genes plus a step-father who was certifiably unhinged.  When the lad in our tale was less than twelve years old, his step-dad took him to the barren plains of eastern Colorado to “prove up a claim” and homestead it, worked him like a dog, left him there and went home to Kansas.  But not before taking a pot-shot at him off the porch that put a hole through his hat and knocked him flat in the hard Colorado dirt.

The boy lived out there in that little shack by himself, with the heat and the wind and the wildlife, until somebody came for him.  Whatever steel he wasn’t born with must have crawled into his bones in those months, and it never left him.  I know this because he was my grandfather and I know he never lost his metal, his discipline, or his looks.  He and my grandmother raised six sons and three daughters, all worth knowing in their own right.  Grandpa knew how to do everything and Grandma knew the rest, so there was always food on the table and a good roof on a house full of voices laughing, crying, arguing, singing, talking, yelling, but mostly laughing.  Smart funny people, this dynasty.

It’s my favorite fairytale to slip into on cold gray days because it’s all true.  And a thing to love is that with everything Grandpa survived in his years, he never got smelly and mean-spirited and old on the inside. He and my grandmother both figured out how to stay alive and BE alive and how to pass that on.  Pretty cool.

 

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If I’m lyin’ I’m flyin’ …

My grandma, who had to tolerate me a lot since I lived within rock-throwing distance and never knew when to go home, used to tell me that I was as happy as if I had good sense.  That is, when she wasn’t accusing me of lacking the sense God gave a goose.  Clearly she noticed a certain deficit in the reasoning department.  Time and experience have predictably sharpened my perceptions, but if I have to base my mood on whatever life’s currently dishing out, I’m done.  Hey, I KNOW things suck, generally speaking.  I’m perfectly aware we’re all headed to hell in a disintegrating hand basket at warp speed.  You know the drill: our atmosphere is imploding, our ground water’s drying up, our oceans are gunked up with plastic and sewage and a sick radioactive glow, the whole planet’s at war in one way or another, and disease and pestilence stalk the land.  But I can’t shake the feeling that life is good, gosh darn it, all indications to the contrary.  What can I say, things just have a way of working out, and it’s always too early to give up.  To quote the great Lucimar Santos de Lima (it’s okay, even Wikipedia can’t find him), “It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic, you can always cry later.”

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And now, a message from our sponsor …

Due to circumstances beyond our control, Playing for Time is currently on hiatus.  It’s complicated.  First there was a road trip across seven states, followed by a reunion of great import along with great joy.  And in the interim, much fine wine and stellar food.  And since.  More of the same.  Frigid-ass weather has followed us on our journeys, so there has been nesting in Irish pubs with fireplaces and Guinness and pub frites and welcoming beer wenches.  We are now in the Deep South, but ensconced in a liberal enclave, basking in the deliciously sarcastic company of our son.  We shall return anon.  And on.  And on …

 

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30 Things to Start Doing For Yourself

 

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http://themindunleashed.org/2014/07/30-things-start-4-absolutely-vital.html

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Mondays are for ranting …

Poor Monday gets a bad rap, the short end of the stick, it’s the redheaded stepchild of the week, g’head, throw your own bad cliché into the pot.  Monday is my official day to uncensor myself and vent, so you’re lucky I have very little to bitch about in any direction.  By this point I have only a smattering of self-censorship left, so if I were to toss my last remaining constraints a whole lotta people who thought they knew me would be bailing out of this clown car.  But riddle me this, don’t we all tend to be colossal stacks of filters from womb to tomb?  And if you, personally, have managed to shed a few layers along the way, does that not feel amazing?

Why does it take so agonizingly long for some of us to realize that we can’t love ourselves if we’re busy keeping everybody else happy?  Why so long to know that our opinions, thought processes, and convictions are as legitimate as anybody else’s, and far saner than many most?  Why are we so … human?  As you no doubt picked up on, BECAUSE YOU ROCK, those are rhetorical questions and you are in no way obligated to send me the answers.

So on this chilly November Sunday (yes indeed, overachievers do today’s homework yesterday) while I track a friend who’s running the NYC Marathon, I’m thinking about relationships.  As a Social Introvert on the chart, my relationships center, in time spent, around people on Facebook and WordPress and the two forums overlap greatly.  My core group of out-there-in-the-greater-world friends are almost all part of the Facebook zoo as well … so as Zucky might want us to say, “It gets complicated.”

I write about Facebook once in a while because it’s such a funny animal.  Age and lifestyle differences notwithstanding, my experience with it seems to be basically the same as everyone else’s — we’re all looking for community, a spot to fit in, people to talk to and listen to, a place to say things so we can figure out what we really think, share funny stuff, and brag about pets, kids, grandkids, fairytale weddings, and vacations.  However, there are some obvious differences attached to the experience:  If you’re in it to troll, ridicule, hate on people, do harm to animals, men, women, children, or anything else that lives and breathes, including Mother Earth, or expose your (clearly amazing) body to the universe … then you and I occupy different worlds, thank god (except I’d take the body).

As with everything else, my personal Facebook and WordPress guidelines are simple:

1.)  Since it’s my life/page/blog, I say/post/read/write/share whatever speaks to my spirit.

2.)  I will never knowingly or purposely say/post/write/or share anything that would wound or humiliate someone.

3.)  If you disagree with or are offended by anything I say/post/write/or share, then I encourage you to take full ownership of your newsfeed or reader and opt to keep scrolling on down the Facebook/WordPress Road.  My brain flies in all directions at once and my tastes are ludicrously eclectic, so I’ll eventually get around to either pleasing or offending you and all the rest of my friends, possibly in a single post.  Or you could talk with me and I promise to talk with you back, not AT you.

4.)  If you’re family, going out as far as that extends … in-laws, outlaws, exes, cousins repeatedly removed … I will likely never unfriend you.  However, if you’re rude I probably won’t choose to get into a discussion with you again either.  Most of you in my gene pool are of the opposite political persuasion so I’m fully aware I can be a trial, but you’ve been pretty patient so far and it’s a matter of honor with me to be fair, to vet what I post, and to stay true to where I am on any given issue.  You also know by now that I consider politics to be some of the most important stuff we can think and talk about since that’s what determines the kind of world we live in, so if you have to hide me, so be it, there are lots of other people here who share my passion.

5.)  If you send me a friends request but never once say hey or talk to me or acknowledge that I’ve dropped in on you, my bullshit detector goes off and I start thinking about sending you to the cornfield.*  So let me make this easy for you:

a.)  Yes, I’m still married to that guy you probably didn’t trust, we celebrated ten years this past summer, and we’re still disgustingly stupid over each other.

b.)  Yes, I’ve gained a few pounds, let my hair go silver, moved to a liberal outpost, and started living.  And that’s okay.

c.)   No, I don’t know why you’re here either, so we’ll probably be saying goodbye soon.  I ain’t mad, bro, it just isn’t gonna work out between you and me.  Really, it’s not me, it’s you, no hard feelings.

*Fellow introverts are exempt, of course.  I know where you’re not coming from, and why.

To all who’ve been part of an adventure I’ve ended up living publicly on Facebook and WordPress, all the friends who were already in, have bought in, and/or hung in … thank you.  You’re a big part of where life’s going — I have tremendous role models among you and find myself incorporating bits and pieces of your personalities, writing styles, mindsets, fashion revelations, food loves, humor, and more.  I’m pretty sure Kim and I didn’t win Saturday night’s lottery, again … but how much could it matter in light of wealth like the above?  Tomorrow the mid-terms will finally be over and we’ll know where we’re headed.  And hey look!  I still have genuine friends at this point, what a gift.

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This is life, not a dress rehearsal …

After comments from Facebook friends like “I’m so jealous,” and “I want to MOVE,” I’m thinking I should add a disclaimer to yesterday’s post:

Lawrence is obviously not heaven on earth. All of life is what we make it, and we came here with a goal of making it amazing, to make of this part of our lives all the good we possibly can, and to overlook the negative. That colors our approach to what we see every day when we wake up, what we do, where we go. Someone else could come here and have an entirely different experience and wonder why they feel let down in view of all the “hype.”

1.) Life is what you make it, and 2.) no matter where you go, there you are — two clichés that are truth just because they are. Kim and I are making up for lost time — we met late in life, we’ve both lived places we weren’t wild about, we’ve both felt stuck in routine and longing for more “soul” food. We don’t have the luxury of waiting and hoping at this point, so we get up every day and make fun things happen, whether we step outside our own walls or not. Some may see my ramblings as bragging, but they’re my way of being thankful. I don’t want to wake up later and wish I’d appreciated life more when I had the chance.

Young people think they’ll always be that way — young.  And some people just need to be told it’s okay to be happy — to give themselves permission to live, from the inside out.  Just do it — regret is a killer.

HAPPY FALL!

 

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A Tuesday FULL of thankfulness …

On a perfect fall day, temps in the 60s, sun shining through a light haze, leaves turning every shade from gold to purple, Kim noodling on guitar and finding melodies and chord changes that bring tears to my eyes, the house in just enough disarray to feel comfy, and our tiny white terror (nope, not a misspelling) running back and forth from balcony to everywhere else, I’m thankful for my town.  Also all of the above, none of which would have happened without this town, except the guitar man.

We’ve been here a little over a year now, and it’s home in a way no other place has ever been.  From the University of Kansas on Mt. Oread to the tiniest neighborhood we love it all.  Lawrence is marinated in history, and as much of it as possible has been lovingly preserved — there are still rock houses standing since before the Civil War, and several businesses on Mass St. have original interior rock walls.  Following Harper’s Ferry and other John Brown exploits in opposition to slavery (don’t get nervous, there won’t be a test), Quantrill and his raiders came through town in 1863, killing 150 men but no women and children, torching every house and business they could, robbing all the banks, and looting what was left.  Lawrence immediately started rebuilding and the pro-slavery forces lost, end of story.  The town is founded on that legacy and hasn’t wavered.  Here people cheekily ask, “WWJBD?”  (What Would John Brown Do?)  The town’s beginnings were the roots of the open-hearted approach to personal liberty that permeates everything here and resonates so deeply with us.

We love the tree-lined streets full of dignified 3-story homes and whimsical “Painted Ladies.”  We’re equally in love with the more haphazard neighborhoods, where every block is home to at least one artist’s studio, gallery, or workshop.  A few more things we’re hooked on — Mass Street, with its blocks of stores and restaurants, housed in carefully preserved old buildings, all of it walkable and friendly.  Live music all over town, plays, art shows, nice weather, rain, trees, great food, beautiful lakes, and the wide Kaw River, which is endlessly fascinating to us after living with a dry dusty riverbed for the past few decades.  And KU Basketball, need I say more?

Here’s a small photographic sampling of what makes us so happy to be living here …

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