Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I've thought about tattoos.
I like them. I don't think I'll ever end up with one.
I don't think I know myself well enough, nor am clear enough on what is solely me, to think I could choose a symbol or image that would represent me that permanently.
We are riding down an extended path, alongside a rural airport runway, and I am scanning the fields beyond the fence on my right looking for coyotes or deer as we ride. The varied shapes of the lightening streaking over the mountains to my left are a distraction, as is riding to avoid rushing the somewhat slower child in front of me, but I still can't believe I totally miss it. Of course, the child in front has not, and calls out to her father to look. He continues to converse about how close "it" is, and I keep looking, now backwards, across the fields for the animal they've seen. Now I overhear him say "I've never seen a hawk that close" and suddenly my horizon becomes higher, but no spread wings there. I stop, and turn around to pedal back the way I came, as do the father and child now behind me. I am suddenly aware of deep yellow eyes far more alert than I am just 18 inches or so away on a fence post along the trail, the fence post I have just ridden up to. Slow. Stop. I would not have approached this close knowingly, but here I am, and now we watch each other. He turns his head side to side to make eye contact with the others as well, we are literally arm's length away and at the same eye height. I don't know why he didn't startle, other than the fearlessness of youth, there was no snake in his talons to keep him rooted. Maybe he too was watching the lightening approach across the peaks to our west, calculating how long until he must take shelter from the late afternoon rain. Finally he silently lifted off and flew a few hundred feet further away on the fence to alight on an identical post. I have to admit, at such close quarters, I debated the possibility that he might lash out with those sharp talons and beak at the tender flesh of the small kids around me watching so quietly. I wonder if he also debated the possibility of us harming him. For a few short moments though, we held the space in mutual interest and respect.
We sit in the family-run bakery, cinnamon rolls as large as a breadbox in front of us on our tiny table. (ok, precision requires me to admit they are 7 inches across, large enough to overlap the small cake plates they sit on.) There is bright sun outside the window, and people in shorts with the kinds of bags and backpacks that betray us all as vacationers - bug spray, beach towels, suntan lotion, water bottles, hiking shoes the obvious contents. The TV is blaring morning news and the first report is about Bush, a different sort of hawk, and the convention, and the claims he is making about the inroads in the war on terror. The next report is about bombings and many commuters dying on their way to work in another part of the world, and yes, it feels so remote compared to the scene in front of us that it takes a few minutes to sink in.

I don't understand how we can claim an inroad in the war on terror when there are so many countries torn apart by it, and when there is so little anyone can actually do to catch every needle in every haystack. Less can I understand how our actions so far in this war have done anything but create more terrorists. Still, it strikes me what a delicate dance this is, keeping us (the American public) paranoid enough to believe the government needs to act to protect us, and keeping us positive enough to think that we should elect the same administration because it is making progress in this "war." Is this the dance of a hawk? Not anything like the one I watched along the bike path. Maybe we need some new terms, rather than "hawk" and "dove" as I feel nothing like a dove at this moment.

The cinnamon roll got set aside for tomorrow, when I won't have a television in the background ruining my appetite. There is much more to be said and done on this, but my children are ready to to play in the river with our dog so I shake off the futility worn like an unneccessary parka in the high desert sun.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The kind of thing a previous collector of sometimes-considered-of-questionable-taste religious art (i.e. me) would find facinating.

Did you know there was a Christian Tattoo Association? Get your tshirt order in fast, they are already sold out of XL.

But I'm perplexed over what body part this is adorning? Obviously a limb? But leg or arm? Front or back? Male or female? It just looks so disembodied.

I had several work deadlines today due before 4:00, and I went to bed last night a bit stressed knowing I would have trouble meeting them. But at 5AM I awoke obsessed with trying to figure out if my garage was long enough to build an addition that could house my aging father (who currently lives alone in L.A.). Then I thought maybe I should just move to a house where there'd be another bedroom he could use. (my house is too small). Then I started in on the questions about how his addition to the day to day family dynamics would change our home life. All this continues to swirl in my busy mind, alongside the growing panic that I surely cannot do my work tasks on 5 hours of sleep. Sometime around 6 I fell back into a fitful sleep, and 45 minutes later the alarm dragged me up to shower and let the dog out. I stared out the back door, and thought "hmmm, just how long is that wall along the back of the garage?" and the mind is off and running again. "We'd have to change the whole garage roof line, a bit more of a project than just extending the walls" all the while struggling with how I am challenged spending time with my Dad when I visit him the last few years, and then "hmmm, shouldn't I have enough patience and compassion to look forward to spending each day with my dad when there are limited days left?" Then it occurs to me, that very spot I was thinking of for the addition was where I had dreamed not so long ago of putting in a small sunroom and meditation area. My dad's a talker and the quiet of that place in my mind seemed too great a dissonance to get past, so I moved on to wondering if any of the smaller houses in my neighborhood were up for sale. :) At that point, work seemed like a viable alternative to further thoughts on becoming a sandwiched mom/daughter, and I headed off to find coffee.

I love my Dad. I am a single mom, and there is rarely quiet of any kind as it is, you might say my kids believe children should be seen, heard, and then heard some more. "Mom?" "Mom?" "Mom?"
He needs as much or more listening time as my two kids, and has a hard time dealing with them talking, until things devolve into one big competition for air time with me. As if I'm such a precious audience!

I am thinking, that we could share dinners and survive. I want to be there for when he is sick, and I don't want him to be lonely. I'm fairly sure I can't live with him following me around the house talking as I do my chores, getting up early so he can chat before I go to work, and there's no way this is going to work before the election is over with. :) A townhouse, or house, early next year, around the corner, walking distance maybe, dinners (especially if he cooks on work nights) and doctor's appts, and we might remain sane and friendly to each other. He'd love my son's baseball games.

Or maybe he'll decide he'd rather move to my sister's town instead. I guess she's losing sleep too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Peter over at slow reads speaks of following recipes, bringing words to life in a precise manner, following a set of instructions to bring about a transformation.

I want to invite him over for the weekend, and have us cook together. I'm sure it would be blasphemy, yes even and including the baking. This tangle of disorganization that I call my life, it just as surely shows up in the set of instructions I try and relate when someone asks me how I made the dessert. There were typically not less than three recipes used as a starting point, at least four ingredient changes, often major shifts in the whole make up of the dish, until it comes out of the oven unrecognizable as something other than "mine." I don't find myself in the reliable, I suppose.

It's not that I don't sincerely believe that there is a perfect recipe for bread pudding. That it might be better than mine. It's just that I wanted mangos and coconut milk and once those were added, some bittersweet chocolate for the marbling contrast with the orange in the mangoes. It might take an extra hour to bake, but I will know it's done by the way it jiggles, a 3.4 earthquake rather than a 6.1. Wouldn't it be interesting to add some caramel sauce, maybe a touch of hot chile in the sauce to lend a zing to the sweetness?

I have to admit, I couldn't make it again, not precisely. But it was the bread pudding du jour, or is that bread pudding du chef? and no one else's recipe seemed to do. I guess this explains why I don't follow a theoretical tradition, don't color coordinate the rooms of my house, don't add much order to my chaos. I'm quite sure I'd be a failure at any written tradition. I'd try and practice in good faith, wanting to do it right. But in the end, improvisation would take hold and I'd be explaining yet again why I lacked the sort of steady persistance that succeeds with dieting, dispositioning the mail, and following a liturgical calendar.

I think I could use some of Peter's balance though. It gets old blazing a new trail every time, even if it seems to align with my make up, and I never seem to lose weight. Maybe this once, while he's here, I could try and follow his recipe for pecan chocolate chip pie to the letter. I bet its yummy. Especially if we added a shot of Kahlua to the ...
Maybe its hopeless. *smile*

Dog Days of Summer

A white feather drifts down to settle
On sleeping dog's white fur
I follow it down
See a waylayed cash register receipt
Tucked white beneath his paw
Tally of pencils, pants and portfolios
He little knows it soon means days
Jack-rabbit-started then barking fury abandoned at eight
Backpacks, lunchbags duly packed, slung, carried
Through the white woodwork frame of our door.
He sleeps, unworried, eyes rolling back
White in their cradles
Whimpering dreams of herding sheep
On hills still green from spring rains
Tomorrow school still waits
While his children throw balls
Blow clouds of white dandelion stars
Play shoutingly in the sprinkler on these
Last white-hot days of August.

Monday, August 23, 2004

"Not only does God play dice, but... he sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen."
- Stephen W. Hawking

My 10 year old son has been given orders to gain weight by his pediatrician. I've informed him that he no longer gets to fill his tummy with liquids, especially soda, before he eats his meals. My explanation goes: you drink soda before you eat, it fills up your tummy, you don't eat enough. Tonight he asks me whether I've cooked things that will make him gain weight, and I point out that any wholesome food will help him gain weight if he eats enough of it. We reach the end of the meal, he has eaten a lot, and he asks if he can have a soda for dessert. I accede this request.
Then he asks why I haven't eaten any of the potatoes, and I explain that while he needs to gain weight, I should lose it. So he offers me the soda. In fact, he tries to force it on me. I ask why he's so adamant that I drink his soda, and he points out that I've told him that drinking soda has kept him from gaining weight. So all I have to do, he explains, is drink soda to lose weight.
I hate logic, so often it gets me in trouble.
My daughter, 12, enters my room at 2AM after an infrequent bad dream. She crawls into my bed, continuing to call out in her sleep on and off. This morning she awakens, groggy and out of sorts, but once she has played with the cats a bit, she explains the bad dream to me.
She is on an island, and in a forest where there is a couple who are (she says she knows this, although they have said nothing to her) supposed to be together, and trying to run away. But suddenly, a huge Trojan Horse is pulled up to the forest, pulled by Trojans in white togas and helmets of course, and lo and behold President Bush and a bunch more Trojan soldiers jump out, and President Bush orders them to attack the couple. My daughter says in the dream she is sure this is wrong, so she starts to fight the Trojans, and the lovers get away, while she has gotten the bad end of the fight, and is badly injured. Why, she asks me, did she dream President Bush in the Trojan Horse? And I am wondering, how did she unconsciously arrive at such a perfectly apt allegory?
There are few things that upset my son. "Ah well, we lost the game, no big deal, I still had fun."
When I arrived home from the wood carving workshop, the dog was acting a bit off, not eating right, and stumbled twice, and I came to the conclusion we needed a trip to the vet. Unfortunately, it had to wait until the plumber fixed toilet seal which was leaking water down through my newly painted kitchen ceiling and onto the stove, a pretty disgusting issue to start the week with. So finally, at about 3PM, we leash up the dog and start to head downstairs to go to the vet. Joey stumbled and fell again, into the closed entrance door, and then, within seconds launched into a full scale epilepsy seizure. My son had been leading Joey out, so I grabbed the leash, undid the collar, and asked for towels. My son is usually the "can do" kid, quite practical and logical in a crisis, the one you rely on to come up with a better solution than the adults. But he was asking questions at a rate that I couldn't deal with while taking care of Joey, and I got a bit too brusque, and a minute later my easy going son was in a full scale tantrum in the next room. My knee jerk reaction is, "Shouldn't he KNOW that I have to take care of the dog right now?" When the dog is in a seizure, you have to sit with him to keep him from thrashing into a wall or furniture, for what seems like an eternity, my son now also kicking, screaming, as best I could tell in a pretty destructive state. I am sitting on the floor a room away trying to talk calmly to the dog and explain to my son he's really out of line. This went on for a good 5 minutes before it finally occurred to me that my son was actually scared and it was coming out as anger. A few minutes more of looking at it as I massaged the dog's ears, and I realized that he thought he had caused the seizure when he led him down the stairs and he crashed into the wall, that he was to blame for what was happening. Ah. He tearfully confirmed this, and I yelled over that it was about the dog's brain chemistry, and that Joey was coming around and doing better, and he had nothing to feel bad about. Suddenly he's able to talk normally again. And I think, who wouldn't be upset? A few minutes of reflection can shed a lot of light on things.
A trip to the farmer's market was on the agenda for Saturday morning, and we are lucky enough to have several options in the area. Traditionally I go downtown, about a 20 minute drive, because it has the most variety, but there was terrible traffic this week and we didn't really have time to spend an hour to get there and back. So I chose the closer one, knowing there was a very tiny chance that this would turn out badly. It runs from 8AM till 1PM, five hours, and what is the chance that you will run into someone in the 30 minutes you happen to be there, someone you don't even know for sure will go that weekend? But sure enough, we are just leaving, after a terrific time tasting fresh tortillas and late raspberries and yellow cherry tomatoes and loaded down with all kinds of produce and huge bunches of dahlias, when I spot him. Of course, he is there with a woman, presumably the person he had "sparks with" the night after our first date, such that there wasn't a second date for us. Should I admit that I was pretty crushed that there wasn't a second date? Anyhow, I had dreaded the idea of seeing him within a week of this icky situation, but there he was feeding this lovely woman a piece of fruit. The kids and I made a beeline to the car. First I conclude, this is just another streak of bad luck to go with the whole chain of events, and then suddenly I realize, that the glow from spending such a good time with my kids at the market has totally obliterated any bad feelings I thought I'd have seeing him.
I sometimes wonder how I learn anything the weeks my kids are with their Dad.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A prayer before sleep
Dear god,I pray for grace
Grace in fear
Grace in loss
Grace in weakness
Grace in chaos
Grace in faith
Grace in wakefulness
Grace in balance
Grace in acceptance
Grace to forget today's cares
Grace to wake to tomorrow's hopes
Grace to love where love seems absent
Grace to love where love is overflowing
Grace to trust in the larger way

"I can’t help always feeling this screen of unreality veiling our tenderness; like watching a heartbreaking movie from within a shower. You want to cry, but the tears keep getting washed away by the water."

Monday, August 16, 2004

"The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced."
- Aart Van Der Leeuw

So much of my brainwork is useless. Seeking explanations for the inexplicable, then looking for some way to predict the mystery even as I know it is a mystery, and finally struggling with what to believe in if I don't fix some compass point on the horizon of my dreams. Yet, once fixed, I must acknowledge each step on the map towards and away from that place.

This is an adze. Used to cleave into and cut away unnecessary pieces of wood when carving something like a bowl, or a mask. Unfamiliar with the feel and use, I struggled with the right swing, digging too deep at times, hacking unevenly at the alder. "Hold the shoulder and elbow still, swing from the wrist, let the tool bounce to make the cut, don't move down the wood but let adze move its own way along the grain. Let go and the tool will do its work."

The instructions fall on deaf ears. I'm no more able to precisely control my errant arm swing than I am able to control my errant thought swings. No wait, make that give up control of either, I continue trying way too hard to force it to work. The fates rain down, some expected, some not, only a fraction of my prayers answered, and the chunks fly off leaving me splintered and rough here, smooth there, all in all an unreliable thing, my forecast, my reactions, the bounce off my surface uneven depending on whether you hit this week's wounds, or this week's triumphs. Hardest to live with, a week ago, I would have charted a totally different terrain than now is exposed.

A pile of alder chips around my feet on the hard cement floor proof that I have nothing but experience of each moment to show for each fall of the blade. Just a pile of chips, nothing more to it than that.

"As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of being."
- Carl Jung

Is it faith which tricks me into believing that the impossible good will happen when each data point would forecast yet more disappointment, or is it faith which labels the awful realities as useful and necessary in the path of good?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I often think I need to be "useful" to justify my existence. Or maybe it is more true to say to justify my very comfortable existence. In any case, being useful to others was a strong family value propagated in me from the point in time I could hold something for Mom while she opened the car door, from the time I was able to help my Grandmother in her garden. Do unto (for) others before you do anything for yourself.

Anyhow, I came across this article in an email, and I am thinking hard about how it applies to my attitude towards doing for others, and how it applies to my attitude towards doing for myself. When I shift my perspective to see that the events of my life, however they transpire, use me for something greater and essentially unknown, I can release the controlling, stress inducing mania which sometimes gets ahold of my fluttering mind and torments my ego, my centeredness, my trust in my path. There's a lot of pressure to be perfect if I expect myself to be helpful to others. There's a lot of pressure to question if I am "good enough" when I try and fix myself. But I know that the moments of service, even serving myself, are the moments I'm least tied into the material, the past, the wants, the ego. I just didn't see how to draw the line between help and serve, how to be wholly there honoring the sacred, and still useful. This seems to make it clearer for me.

In the Service of Others

by Rachel Naomi Remen
Noetic Sciences Review - Spring 1996

"In recent years the question "how can I help?" has become meaningful to many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not "how can I help?" but "how can I serve?"

Serving is different from helping. Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals. When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength. If I'm attentive to what's going on inside of me when I'm helping, I find that I'm always helping someone who's not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am. People feel this inequality. When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness. When I help I am very aware of my own strength. But we don't serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves. We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt.. When you help someone they owe you one. But serving, like healing, is mutual. There is no debt. I am as served as the person I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing. Fixing is a form of judgment. All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference. In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Teresa's basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise. Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe. A fixer has the illusion of being causal. A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown. Fixing and helping are very personal: they are very particular, concrete, and specific. We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we serve we are always serving the same thing. Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing. We are servers of the wholeness and mystery in life.

The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving. And we can help without serving. And we can serve without fixing or helping. I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul. They may look similar if you're watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different. The outcome is often different, too.

0ur service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will sustain us.

Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing, and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Lastly, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing. In 40 years of chronic illness I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness. All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways. Only service heals."

Monday, August 09, 2004

what passes
the wedding announcement leaves me unmoved
beyond a kernal of disbelief that it will last
even that so small
I know his hold is finally gone

what lingers
he leans over the sink
whispers Happy Anniversary
behind us, the sounds of our son's birthday party swirl in
the sudden pool of my tears

what wishes
possibly it would be wiser to trust a wolf
than build this house of cards constructed
from the same unarchitected hopes blown down so many times
but here I go again, trusting this time the magic glue will stick

what fears
For miles I watch them in my rearview mirror
commuting, mute, to work together
coifed, groomed so perfectly I wonder would words break the spell
or has an icy resentment frozen their vocal cords?

what dreams
tonight they will spoon their bodies together in bed
tomorrow they'll call during lunch,
mutually obsessed, it doesn't matter with what
this time, let one of them be me

Friday, August 06, 2004

My friend Robin lost her father recently, and now that the formalities are over, the sadness is that much harder to deal with.

Why is it that returning to our daily life makes it harder rather than easier? I am thinking it is because there is no longer a locus on which to center the grief. Where in our daily lives do we find space to squeeze in our attention to that which isn't present but which is all present? Grief seems to consume the very breathe in our cells. The light is dimmer, the sounds are muffled, and we walk around wondering what matters in proximity to this overpowering presence.

I wish I could shower her in soft gentle notes, warmth and healing, restore some of her joy, but for now I wish you would take her into your thoughts, in prayer or in a walk or in a lighted candle, help me lift her spirits. When my mom died, I shared this poem with those that came to the memorial services.

"The love of the human heart is the most real and the most beautiful
Of all the realities we know
It is the richest gift of our manhood and womanhood.
It is the bond that joins us together as lovers, as husband and wife
As father and mother, as parent and child,
And as friends and neighbors.
Whatever the length of time may be,
To have known something of this
Is to have experienced the supreme privilege of being human.
The anguish of parting cannot destroy this most real of all realities.
The love has been,
The affection has existed,
The ties have been woven.
Life has been shared, the joys and the sorrows.
This is as real and strong as anything we know."
-John Lovejoy Elliott

Monday, August 02, 2004

"He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters this world with a passion for flowers in his soul." -Celia Thaxter

August here in Portland brings a bounty of production. The last few days I've been noting the mounds of apples piled on the ground under sagging trees, brown spotted and rotting into apple mush, a virtual bee heaven.

Walking Joey down along the creek, the winey smell of huge bunches of overripe blackberries is overpowering - rich and heavy, the musky perfume reaching out to coat my nose and throat.
It occurs to me that there are so many places where this fruit would not be wasted.

I doubt that Celia ever experienced starvation in her home town.
I certainly haven't.
I too often forget that the majority of the people in this world do not have the luxury to let apples fall and rot. Let blackberries ferment unharvested.

It's really just a horrible waste of time for me to get wound up in thinking of the "things" I've been denied, or the "things" I wish for.

I am carrying an abundance of fruit and it is more than enough.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

I want you to see why I added Eeksy-Peeksy to my must read list. This is from July 27. I know it's more polite to post just a quick line to entice you, but it is too beautiful for me to cut it short. I've never seen a firefly, at least, not until now.


"The kid is home from camp. Saturday night, when no one has to sleep, we go to the woods and catch fireflies in our hands, lightly, lightly, don't hurt them. They glow green in your palm. I think they like you.

But a boar is a werepig. They snuffle and grunt and, as the rhyme goes, you hop up in a tree if you meet one. When we hear them she barnacles and cries, but just a little. Then we like the fright of the noises in the dark and we walk home late, just us down the middle of the street.

Sunday night, we go back with mama and three old birdseed buckets made of see-through plastic. We catch fireflies in our buckets and make too much noise to worry about boars. I walk behind and see the woman and the kid by firefly lantern.

When we're home with our catch and too tired to stay awake, we open our buckets and set them out on the window sill. The fireflies are still stretching and flying off one by one as we fall asleep on a summer's night."

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