a journal of...

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

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.