a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A new brain, or Is life a carousel?

My sister sends me a text the other morning, meaning to forward the video from my nephew's wedding, but instead when I open the link, there is an instagram post with a rather unlikely quote in caps from Gloria Steinem.  It's followed by a note from the instagrammer, whose moniker is "growingbolder":  Life won't always be easy but sometimes those tough times are what enable us to fully realize our true selves.  "I hope you can open the video," Ann adds.

"There's no video," I text my sister back.   Whoops! she writes back.  Let me try that again...

Eventually, the wedding pictures arrive, but it's too late...the real message has been driven home to me. I can't tell if the instagrammer is quoting someone else (if she is, she's also borrowing that cracked infinitive), but those words, tough times...enable us to fully realize our true selves, zaps my somewhat less than cheerful consciousness that moment, and my first thought is, Either times aren't tough enough, or my true self, if there is such a thing, is this ratty, weighted-down lump, kicking the hours around like tin cans on the street.

Okay, okay.  All that wallowing in life's complications is tantamount to fussing over a bad hair day (which it also was), I know that.  I need a new brain, not a new life. I like my life.  I just don't like the way I have dressed myself for it...hatless and in the wrong shoes.

But as if to give me a good shake, that evening along comes an email from Kathy Steinsberger, reminding me that I have signed up for her Carousel Book workshop at Blam! the next day.  Yes, I'm coming, I tap back, and race up to my workroom for supplies and tools.

I have to wade through a mess to find them;  I still haven't made the beds from my sister Ann's visit last week, and I've been cutting up paper and testing paints for holiday cards, which I am not entirely happy with, but which will have to do.  Plus a shelf holding 30 years of journal workshop stuff broke, and the papers are strewn about yet, while I waffle over what to do with them, or the shelf.  (Do I re-order them?  cull them?  toss them?)  But I digress.

I am sorry to say that my mood was still in wallow gear (are you enjoying all these mixed metaphors?) when I reached Kathy's studio the next morning, late as usual. I sat at my assigned place and tried to focus on her demonstrations.  At first, I seemed to trip over each direction, though they were straightforward enough.  Kathy, bless her, took me in stride.  But then something clicked.  I pulled papers together, cut and glued, changed direction and angle, and as I worked, things began to happen.  Art. 

When I left (early), I was still grumbling (for which I apologize profusely to all in hearing range), but I had seen the light and knew how to finish what I had started.

Later, Alexander came to dinner.  We made a house out of clay.  We lit candles. We changed our tune.

It worked.  Not only the carousel book, but an uplift in spirits I am still living out. You saved my life, I wrote back to Kathy. 

Interestingly enough, when Kathy's reminder came in that previous evening and I had jumped up to ready myself for it, my uncle's caregiver tried to puzzle out what the fuss was about.  I explained what a carousel book was, showing her some pictures from the book arts site, and how I'd need to think fast to create an idea for it before I got there.

Carousel book with floor and ceiling, Kathy Steinsberger

 She looked at me a minute, and then said, "Well, it's cute, but what do you do with it?"

Readers, I didn't really feel I could answer that.  I'd have to go back to forty centuries of art history, creative theory, a thesis on the left and right brain, a visit to the art museum, and then underscore it all with that line from King Lear, "Oh, reason not the need..."  I knew I would fail.  I went upstairs and packed my art bag.

Today, after I clean up that studio mess, I begin again.   Some of you, I hope, will see the results in a week or so.  Meanwhile, here is my Carousel Book, Pace (Peace), a re-framing of the poems I had written for my Set a place at the table for peace.

Pace, front cover

Pace, back cover
 As I used it say to my creative writing students, changing one's standpoint...that is, the point where you are standing (or sitting)...changes one's point of view. 

Pace (no floor or ceiling), star formation

Pace, open accordion

To wit:  though the poems on their own mean the same no matter what print you make of them, each art piece which encapsulates them defines them in a different way.  I like both my Peace pieces, and, frankly, like the art of the carousel better than the art of the table; although I still think of the table as the more dedicated one, Pace has the more interesting viewpoints. 

But I'm not about to try to explain that to our caregiver.

May art light your world this season, a little more each day.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Around the bend

An email from Frank Harmon, architect of fine sensibilities, recently popped into view, as one does each month, sharing an image of memorable travels.  "Native Places", he calls them...simple watercolor drawings followed by brief but often poignant reflections on the scenes he passes, and the pleasures and insights he finds along the way.  Sometimes, as you might expect of a man of his profession, they depict famous facades...a hidden cathedral...an ancient marketplace... but often they are just interesting street corners, or a string of power lines, or a barn in the country.  No matter the fleeting glance we might have given them ourselves, each one grows in significance as we see them through his eyes.
Frank Harmon, In Praise of Curved Roads, November, 2018
Though he is by far the wider traveler, the places he records are, curiously, often places I have been.  This month's was as familiar to me as the back of my hand on the steering wheel...a point where a bend begins on I-85, the curvy road that stretches from us north to Petersburg,Virginia, through forests and farms and smaller byways, over waterways and under overhanging boughs until, at a raucous switch of speeding lanes, it is overcome by I-95, the north-south horror people insist on using, as he observes, under the illusion that it's faster than the older highway, if only by a few minutes.  Those minutes, though, are worth it:  I-85, he writes, a road without "sunburnt grass medians and billboards [that] hawk fast foods and no-credit loans", reminds us of the journey more than the destination. "After all," he adds, "Americans naturally look for adventure around the bend, just like Huck Finn."

 I know what he means...bends in the road always spell me, too.  And also curiously, I had been thinking of those rolling roads, though in rather a different way, when his message came through. For instance, this watercolor by artist Kathleen Vanderbrook.  Once of New York State, she and her husband Terry (whose elegant ceramic jar is also a prize among my pottery) moved to the tiny community of El Rito, New Mexico, where a few other artists came to settle and to begin a journey of desert proportions. 

Kathleen Vanderbrook, On a Clear Day, 1993
We found ourselves there one summer, taking a bend in the road on our way to the more celebrated Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, and for a moment...indeed for years...the place itself enchanted me.  I thought to myself, I could live and work here.  Even later, I thought, This is a place to run away to. I never did, of course; places like that are places to dream on, and in my travels there have been plenty I've dreamed the same about.  But the studio we visited, the Vanderbrook's, was a small opening in my field that gradually enlarged not only the path I was on but the art I could envision for myself.  I brought home her watercolor, to remember the road's bend up to a hill where who knows what would lie ahead.  It hangs in my studio now, with other pieces that inspire me, and around each bend it shows me something else.

Road on the Hill

Since my own art began with small, rather clumsy watercolored drawings like the one above, I admire Frank Harmon's for their effortless wash.  His have the quick-sketch charm of travel journals, accompanied by the few words that skirt across your mind as you pass by a place that turns your head.  Like him, I myself prefer to take 85 going north, just as, when I lived farther east, I would eschew the maniacal interstates 64 and 95 and ride the saner and waterier US 17 to 13, over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, through the flatlands of coastal towns to the Lewes-Cape May ferry, then up the parkway through the beaches and the pine barrens, around bend after bend.  Even now, I will drag my tires along narrow quiet US 15 as long as I can before even 85 becomes a necessity; taking the small roads allows me access to the live worlds along the roadsides in ways that interstates never can.

Rachel Victoria Mills, Solitude, 2000
Metaphorically speaking, it's the bends in the road that I have come to expect (perhaps only later to appreciate) on journeys, more than the straightaways. Bumpy as they can be and unpredictable, they are more hospitable than the competitive, horn-honking asphalt. Before you make assumptions, I assure you that I am not exactly among the ranks of the tortoises you curse at...I am as likely to pass you in the left lane as you me.  Otherwise, you will find me the laggard, wandering, wondering.  The fast lanes just don't inspire me...they never have.  I am in fact famous for making my own bends in the road just when things get too straight ahead.

Bends in the road, though we cannot see around them, bring us to the points where we leave old roads behind and open ourselves to the new ones.

The other day, my friend Lee and I, coffee cups in hand, chatted awhile about the way our lives had changed, how with each change the years segment, forming their own characters, one by one.  Our old versions follow along behind us, and yet there is a separateness about them, a theme in each, undeniable and dominant, with its own landscapes and undercurrents.  I think of the roads I have traveled, bend by bend. Who am I?  I ask myself each morning. Have I been to this place before?  And what is this new perspective I am treated to today? The ever-changing view as the road twists this way and that lets us know we are traveling farther, further, day by day.  Where we end up is another story entirely.

A grateful Thanksgiving to each of you, wherever you have been, wherever you are on your way.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Voices

The other day, imagining my mother's response to something I was thinking, I thought about the voices we carry in our heads, the ones that resonate as we go on after our relatives in life.  Sometimes it seems that they could be spectres hovering over us eternally, watching every move, so vividly do their words and gestures, though physically long silenced, interrupt us.

I can't remember at the moment what was in my mind, but I heard her voice loud and clear, that characteristic tsk! arguing that whatever it was wasn't right.  Don't worry!  I wasn't about to commit a crime, except perhaps the sort of act that goes against propriety...a table setting wrong...who taught you that?? a bow tied askew...you're just like your father! a word uttered more publicly than would be seemly...really!  what would your grandmother think? the right way to clean broccoli or grapes...are you just rinsing those??

Some people might say that it's our consciences talking in familiar voices, but I would agree only if "conscience" meant all those anachronisms we had drilled into us by our elders from our infancy on...family first, school from kindergarten to graduate, street mentors, friends and enemies.  (I admit I am stretching the definition of anachronism a bit here, but it's actually what I mean...bear with me.)

There are more voices in my mind than I could count; it would probably appall me to count.  Some are sharp reminders to color inside the lines (so to speak); some tweak the way I would prefer to do things by presenting me suddenly with a vision of the "expert" way;  others simply grimace, elbowing me into considering that my own experience and skills have nothing on theirs, and I might as well give up now.

And yet I...we, I am probably more accurate to say, aren't I?...carry these voices from task to task, thought to thought, at the whim of some ghostly catalyst, begging for deference.

Why?  Well, there are voices that push us along to better things, too...not just a more exact placement of a napkin, but a rise toward challenges for ourselves and for others.  My Aunt Martha, this instant, comes to mind.  I have never heard her tell me anything but wisdom.  Your son needs you now, she wrote me at the precise moment he did.  And she hadn't seen him in decades.

As for the ones dictating from the edge of my paring knife, telling me how to slice mushrooms, I could call them good company, I suppose, and laugh it off.  Or I could admit to failings along their lines, and bow in my dishonor.  Or, I suppose, I could just grow up, nod, and say politely, yes, that's certainly one way to do it.  And then go on my own merry way.  After all, those voices are as much fond memory as anything else, a way of incorporating (almost literally sometimes) the way we are as much born from them as from ourselves as we evolve, hopefully to mature, to mature hopefully.  Not a bad thing, most of the time.

On the other hand, I could include among the voices in my head the young, untrained ones, who grow up around me inspiring with their outgoing minds all sorts of new ways to do (at least until their heads fill with their voices), and enjoy their freedom while we can.

Thank goodness for them

Thursday, October 18, 2018


You thought this post would be another ovation to the shore, didn't you? after my week's vacation there, restful and peaceful, walking the boardwalk, feeling the salt water over my feet, visiting with friends and relatives, dawdling each day over books, movies, painting...even managing a row of knitting in the nice front room as the breezes came through.

And you would be right...all of that happened, gloriously, and, at the last of my stay, my nephew and new niece's wonderful wedding, when everyone we hadn't seen in a long time danced together on the floor.

But a few times during our celebrations, calls came from caregivers minding my uncle at home; there was an edge to their reports that I didn't like.  My sister and I made a quick visit to my aunt nearby (I wasn't going to miss that chance) before I headed home.  Well, I mulled as I rode the eight hours, we might need to juggle schedules a bit, see how things go, reorient our thinking about my uncle's care.

Driving up the street toward my house, however, I spotted the fire truck, with ambulance behind, parked at the foot of my driveway. 

Off to the hospital we went, where tests showed that pretty much everything suspected...stroke?  infection?  pneumonia?...wasn't an issue.  In fact, the cause of his seizure-like symptoms was most likely his dementia heightening and confusion bleeding into his brain.  In the emergency room, he  made a short-term career out of pulling every bandage, needle, and electrode attachment out of his body.  His first night on the geriatric floor he spent parked in front of the nurses' station where there was always someone to watch him.  I found him there the next morning, seated alertly at the low desk at the end of the stations, as if he were meant to be the floor greeter.

Soon new behaviors appeared.  He began to see people, things, situations the others of us couldn't.  He talked all day and night a jumbled streak of memory and immediacy. These dialogues and monologues, by the way, especially the ones weaving his young Glasgow days and perceived present-day problems--"workers" who don't show up for jobs, children who pop up from the floor on staircases we don't have--are actually amazing to listen to and try to decode.  It's a whole different system of meaning, this overlay of time and time, place and place, fascinating. And on some plane it surely makes sense.  If only we could reach the same plane.

The next day he slept and slept.  Calm reigned until we returned home on the third day.  We got easily through lunch and a rest, and then suddenly too much care, too much change, too much company, became too much.   Agitated and angry, furious at his loss of independence, he decided he'd had enough, and announced he was throwing us out of the house.  The biggest indication of his off-balance mind...he wouldn't finish his supper.  This from a man whose appetite rarely fails him.

It was well after midnight when he slept again, a good twelve hours.  When he woke, calm reinstated itself and we had a good afternoon.    Now, day four, so far so good.  As I begin this post, I can hear him wondering when it would be time to go home, and our day caregiver reminding him that he is home.  When he finishes breakfast it will be time to get dressed.  It's a nice day, she adds, so maybe sit on the porch?  Hm, his enigmatic response.  Later on, dressed and more energetic, he will voice the need to go out, to do something, and so we send him for a haircut, and he comes back looking his dapper self.  But he falls asleep immediately on returning.  A haircut can be exhausting.

The interesting thing about these mental revolutions and their attendant physical changes is not so much what they are--although some of them could take prizes for invention and drama--but the way others react to them.  Most of the caregivers take them in stride (some more stridently than others).  Each personality instates itself into the matter at hand...some take past experience and impose it on the present; others try to out-strategize him; still others decide just to let things take their course.  Some use words like non-compliant; some try to reason with his oddities; others smile his miscommunications off.   Everyone from physicians to passersby freely offers advice on the rigors of dementia, often contradictory advice, always absolutely stated.  I am learning not to frown so much at the barrage of good intentions, but simply listen and nod and keep my own counsel.  It's a learning experience, as one says when one means several other unprintable phrases.

The absolute best, and superbly timed, guidance, however, has been a gift from my friend Margy Campion, who out of the blue sent me her beautifully written book, the Betty, a description of the journey of an elderly mind at this time of life and of the strange way that we who are not as far on that path must watch by their side.  One after another, in her sweet, generous, but honest recounting of her mother's life, come anecdotes that parallel my uncle's passages.  And responses that parallel mine as well.  With her two- or three-year advantage, she allows me to see what may come to pass, both the rewards of experience and the grindings of frustration. What is possible to help, what will undo itself despite your best efforts.  Though she published her elegantly designed book only privately, I hope it will come into the public domain before long.  There are at least a dozen people I know who would, like me, be grateful for its real insights.

Meanwhile, the very good thing is that Fall is here, and we are full into its doings...mums in the yard, pumpkins to decorate, crisp air to walk in, children counting the days until Hallowe'en. I find some good help cleaning up leaves and branches left by the latest hurricane in my absence, the best of all being Alexander and his mother whom I found the other day raking and piling, sweeping and picking up while I was off to get the car serviced.  Alexander is a good worker, and, as you can see, an avid list-checker.

 And there is always the memory of tranquility, the one sunrise I could catch, the sound day and night of the waves like a heartbeat, the place where I capture myself again.  Another gift so timely, so perfectly attuned. 

Wide open to a ripening sky, or hidden behind a cover of clouds, the sun always rises.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Yesterday, Denise and I, at her instigation, met for lunch, then a much needed session for a deep tissue and, for me, a foot massage with a reflexologist.    My gratitude is unbounded to her for signing us up...though I needed help, I hadn't realized how tight I was, how much stiffer I walked these days.  I also hadn't realized how bound up, creatively, my mind and hands were.  But I found out.

The reflexologist, whose name was Lea, was gentle and firm, kind, and soft-spoken but insistent.  As she worked, her hands found places on my body that I hardly knew were resistant until she tried to open them...shoulders ("your left one wasn't half as tight as the right...") and hips ("hmm...feel the knot here"), legs ("your range of motion is good; your ease of motion isn't so much") and feet ("that was quite an adjustment in your right foot!").

It didn't take me long to realize that the knots in my body had a lot to do with the mental state I have put myself in...closed up, shaded.  After the session, riding home in stalled traffic (three accidents along the interstate), I might, on another day, have zipped off at the nearest exit for another route, impatient to move.  Now I felt no such compulsion; I rode along in the heavy tide, feeling rather heavy myself, and a bit emptied.  When finally I got to my own street, I was tired but not frustrated or annoyed.  The trip seemed only a slow venture into wellness.

Physical openness and ease means mental and emotional ease.  This is, of course, no surprise to most of you, and in theory not to me, either.  But theory and practice too often cut communication in my life.  Yes, yes, I tell myself, and go right on ignoring signs of distress, clumsily stepping right over them in the interest of time and trouble.  And perhaps there are some rags of belief that I am above such things as bodily renovation.

Today I see the change in me come to its fullness.  I wake refreshed rather than cramped; I enter the day slowly, not racking up things I could or should be doing if only...

It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance... and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.   -Henry James

When I am free, I walk into my stalled art project--a project I would have the day before seen as stale--with insight and willingness to act on it.  I delve into it.  Plans for the next book suddenly seem clearer, as well.

Other issues untangle themselves.  Midway through my neck adjustment, I thought to myself, I am always carrying too much on my shoulders...I always put too much on myself.  Why is that?  Am I not enough on my own?

And then, a bit later, I need to let go.  There are too many things I presume I need to fix.  

The clutter working against idea and inspiration is made up of such shoulder-heavings.  Art, like the self, is an expression as valid and significant...imperative...as any other responsibilities of the day.  It says something about us that we must learn that time and again, hoping it will take hold. 

Likewise with peace.  This piece I have finished revising today, for example, Setting a Place at the Table for Peace...without yesterday's session, I probably would not have noticed how unnecessary...indeed how distracting...were some of the embellishments with which I had initially chosen to set it.  I pulled off extraneous ribbons, reset (Kathy helped me see this) the places, accepted the whiteness of the cloth, and resewed the poems on more genuine paper.  If it mattered to me in the beginning that this be seen as a statement of where peace might be welcomed and honored, it mattered more now that the table be set for nourishment, be clear of clutter, of artifice, of cheapness.  Calm, not ceremony, would engage the company.  The path would be open for good to come, rather than impeded by posturing or fidgeting, or supercilious one-up-man-ship.

I didn't revise any of the poems, by the way.  From the beginning, what I have needed to say has been said.  Now, hoping that someone will hear it, undistracted by the inessential, I let it go.

Friday, September 14, 2018

It's been good...

Image result for paper doll outfits
Periodically, my mother and I would go through her closets, sorting through seasonal clothing, choosing what to keep, what to put away for the next year, and what to give away to the Senior Center.  It wasn't always easy to tell the difference.  As she held up a shirt, suit, handbag of whatever age, she might say, "Well, it's been good..." and we'd ponder the usefulness of it still.  Often, the value of the item had more to do with its comfort and ease, and a lot about how it fit so many occasions.  It's easy to reach into the closet for the same familiar outfits, especially on days when one feels like being arrayed in simply oneself.

Who one is (I am, you are, he/she is) has been showing up from all sorts of directions these days.  Some of us look intently at who we are, like a puzzle that needs everyday solving.  Some of us prefer not to look, accepting self (for better or worse) as is.  Sometimes crises spur this one; sometimes a sudden left turn in life.

My sister texts me this morning, "still tt find myself."  (Actually, she has thrown that in between a sigh over the "crappy job"she's getting dressed for and the news that her son and his girlfriend have gotten engaged.)  As she is considerably younger than I, I thought I would cheer her up by reminding her that I am reminded every morning at 8:45 to remember who I am, a ding of the calendar that I find very useful...not because I am showing signs of dementia (at least, not too many), but because each day I am prompted to think about my life right that moment...what am I this morning? How do I fit into the self I call me?  Some days I don't really have an answer.  

Not that I'm worried about that.  My life, it seems to me, has morphed endless times, and yet I feel rather the same.  I go about doing the same things...new things being just variations on the old, probably...and live in pretty much the same way, whether I have been in or out of vocations, funds, focus or sorts. In fact, much of what I am has little to do with any of those.  It occurs to me, looking back, that it hasn't mattered what I do for work or what place I am living in; I exercise the same traits, habits, values in different circumstances, finding the fit.  I'm not necessarily celebrating that fact...some days I like what I am, some days I shudder.  But I am thinking that maybe my sister is looking too far afield for herself.  Maybe my mother was right to choose usefulness, comfort, ease, as her yardstick of what to keep.  My sister, a useful person, comfortable to be with, easy to love, is already herself.

Of course, my mother walked out of her closet each day looking perfectly dressed for whatever occasion, including staying at home.  Even with summer shorts and a cotton shirt, she likely as not had a small matching scarf around her neck and the right color sandals.  She used to remind me of that character Erma Bombeck created in one of her humorous pieces entitled Supermom in the Suburbs:  on her way to the hospital to rescue a child with a broken bone, Bombeck wrote, "she threw on a coordinated sweater over her coordinated slacks" and set out with a map in her hand.  My mother may have been useless with a map, but she knew her way around her closet. 

I on the other hand can't claim that talent, I'm afraid (I am good with maps), but I do go about sorting my clothes and my life in terms of usefulness, of whether its chapters have been good or not.  I'd like to think that however stylish I thought that blouse or dress was when I bought it, I would eventually recognize its wrongness and throw it in the discard pile.  Just this last week, I took quite a haul to the thrift store, where someone else will either think they've died and gone to wardrobe heaven or wondered who on earth would have put such a thing on her back.  

But by then I have left the parking lot, all of that behind me.

Today, not to turn to a subject not too far afield, we are all here waiting for a hurricane--Florence, of all the ill-suited names--that probably won't come.  We've spent the week following orders to be prepared. Fill the tank with gas in case we have to evacuate, get cash in case the power goes out and the stores don't take cards, get water in case ours is polluted, fill buckets to flush the toilets with, fill the pantry with canned fruits and vegetables, lots of peanut butter and tuna fish.  Fill prescriptions. Get ice for the coolers, candles and batteries for lamps.  Plug in your cell phone and laptop.  Batten down the hatches, whatever they are.  Take a shower, wash all the clothes...who knows when you will be able to do that again.

Image result for florence radar
I have been through all this before, of course...hurricane after hurricane, each one going in a different direction and each one with a mind of its own.  This one, following true to type, that is, going against predictions, is turning south, its eye missing us by a few hundred miles.  It's still big enough that rain and wind is the weather of  the weekend.  Thank goodness.  My uncle doesn't really like peanut butter, and he hates his tea cold.  On the other hand, it could change course again.

Anyway, as I write, I am thinking about how we carry into any storm what we already know, what we already have, wearing what is most comfortable, most useful.  We wait and see what hits us; then we deal with it, with whatever we are.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Labor Day...Change in the Whether

Sunday morning, quiet, except for the rattle of locusts in the trees behind the house, and a sharp-toned exchange from two little brown wren telling tales on one another.  I am on the porch enjoying the peace of no intrusion, the house all mine for a change.

Up before six this morning, as I am every weekend morning, just in time to hear the night carer's report and wish her a good rest and day, I opened the door to the inclinations of fall.  The purples bloom, there are small pops of scarlet on the ficus trees (or, its more romantic name, weeping fig), and this week, three scarlet spider lilies suddenly shot up straight and tall in the bulb patch out front.

The droopy hellebores and my two sturdy heuchera have picked up their heads from the moody heat of August, no doubt sniffing the change of season.  The morning's cool draws me outside to wander the yard, pull the last brave weeds in the driveway, pick up the night's rain of twigs, plant the dark burgundy pinella I rooted from a broken piece of Nancy's voluptuous yard (I'm hunting for more broken bits, now that I know they root so well), and stand chatting with neighbors of the same inclinations.

Labor Day Monday is early this year, bringing with it seasonal changes not confined to the garden.

My neighbor Anna has gone to the beach for a few months after a trying summer.  Like ours, hers has been riddled with surprises she could well have done without.  I know the months away will be restful for them, and am a bit envious, but I miss knowing she is only a back door away.

My uncle, still asleep, is coming to grips with a turn in which his memory suddenly took another sharp leap backward, layering place and time and event over one another into a difficult-to-decode set of presumptions.  This predicated by nothing, probably, but a temporary change in caregiver and an evening's jaunt into town I took myself for a nice change of pace.  It was good to get out into a social world for a few hours, cheer among people I don't see very often, take a long walk back home...all thanks to Joseph for sitting in for me, even tired as he was after a day working in the yard.  Now my uncle's legs are refusing to hold him up properly, which confines his movements even more.  Time for a change in the caregiving schedule.

Change is hard, whatever good comes of it.  Alexander is beginning kindergarten, after a summer of anxiety about what that means.  A few weeks ago, he told me, "I want to stay five and keep going to playground school!"...that's what he used to call his preschool. Who can blame him?  Five is such an enchanting age, full of curiosity and sweetness and endeavor and soaking in of huge amounts of knowledge about the world, small as it might seem to us, large as it really is to him.  And playground school has its virtues, too.  What did you do today, I would ask him when I picked him up in the afternoons.  "Play," he would say, "just play and play!"  Sounds good to me.   Playing is the most creative thing you can do...ask any artist, any inventor in any field.  Play is inspiration's fertile ground...problem-solving's best arena.

But after a week, he likes his new school and is making new friends, one step toward handling the unwitting shifting about in his young life these days.

Change comes upon us in sometimes simple, not to say simplistic, ways, too.  Last week, I rearranged the furniture on the porch.  Change for change's sake?  you ask.  Not really.  Remember that disgruntlement I mentioned a blog-post ago?  Lately I have been trying to work myself out of it, and small adjustments, I find, are helping me more than big ones.

So why pick on the porch, in which everyone is comfortable, and indeed clusters, taking in the breezes, the sense of being outside, the sense of community where people gather or share what's going on on the street, in our lives.  The pride of my house! (I am, as my husband used to accuse me, house proud...I admit it.)

Well, that's it, to tell the truth.  Because while everyone gravitates to it, I seem to be left without a seat.  I like working on the porch, reading on the porch, writing on the porch, just sitting as the morning opens itself or the evening shades lower.  And while I'm glad everyone else finds that peace there, too, I decided that I needed my own corner, unqualified, uncontested.  I discovered, moreover, that it took little effort to make one...just switching two tables and one chair did the trick. I also discovered that to make it work I'd have to convince people, as tactfully as possible, that the sitting area on the right was the better place for them.  (You didn't think change would work that simply, did you?)

Fall is heating up with more social events, and I am finding ways to make myself part of them again.  A night out with friends, celebrating whatever the occasion, a weekend away to visit a friend (celebrating, too).  I pounced on a chance to host the weekly neighborhood gathering last week, when the young couple down the block who generously began it were on vacation in a cooler climate.  Everyone thanked me for it, but frankly the gesture was pure self-service:  having the pot-luck at my house meant I could finally be there, too.  Even a phone call to a friend...making the time to catch up without the ever-expected "oops!  better run..."  It took two long phone calls, with an "oops" in between, to connect with my college friend Kathy, but we did it.  Opportunities for reconnection are like fall itself...a great breath of change.

A corner of my own seems to be the theme of those little adjustments I find myself making, and feeling better for it:  a corner of space, a corner of time, a corner of my psyche not ringing with other voices.  A chance to be out in the world to wander on my own.

I have to say here that I miss having someone to wander with on the spur of the moment, when getting in the car and riding somewhere, anywhere meant throwing off the blues, frustration, the edge of a quarrel, the uneasiness of the mind cooped up for too long.  Fall has that kind of freedom, no matter what circumstances we are in, and, this year, I most appreciate its gifts.

Happy Labor Day...may your life be for this day a picnic.