Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Week - 130

Word(s) of the Week:  CONTEMPLATED LOSSES

On Saturday a Priority Mail package arrived from my 83-years-old stepmother.  It contained a letter, some current photos of deer nibbling on everything green in her yard and an album, with this description:

"I am sending you the enclosd because the fire at Lake Nacimiento is moving west (we smell it and sometimes see the smoke) and the folks on San Simeon Road are on evacuation alert.

"This photo album of Russ from babyhood to newspaper reporter and columnist was prepared by Russ and given to me one Christmas and I have treasured it.  But my feeling is that it really belongs to you and your sibs and I would feel terrible if, in the continuing drought and very long fire seasons, Cambria might be decimated and this album destroyed."

The album holds photos of my father, now gone nearly 22 years, that I'd never seen before, including the one above of a tiny fellow in a sailor-type suit, long before his naval enlistment in World War II.  I wept for the words in the letter, for the pictures never seen and the faces of my brother and his son, perhaps a bit of mine, so clearly present in the serious and smiling images of my father.

As of Sunday afternoon, I have not been able to reach her by phone, will keep trying and then send off a letter in the morning if that fails.  She tells of packing the car in preparation for evacuation notice, which it seems did not come.  Having been through that once myself, I am familiar with the sense of unreality and terror that comes with contemplating the loss of all material goods, the notion of sanctuary and home, the always uncertain whims of weather and chance.

She mentions also, during the description of California's more than 60 million trees dead from drought and bark beetles, that the five trees she and my father planted on their hilly lot have had to be chopped down.  "The two redwoods at the foot of the driveway are turning brown," she says.

That she felt the need to part prematurely with Dad's gift left me without coherent words to speak into the phone on Saturday.  Thinking of her on her own having to decide just what to save if word came to flee caused me to admire, not for the first time, how capable she is, how good at figuring things out.

Loss, the contemplation thereof if we must, and the memory of it, never leave us.  For too many, this will be the summer of smoke, of ash, of tears.  For some, it is a small, sweet-smiling boy and a book reluctantly surrendered to keep it safe.  May we be good stewards of this gift.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Word of the Week - 129

Word(s) of the Week:  IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
RubberMoon Stamp.
Life against all odds.  Winston Churchill told us, "Never, never, never give up."  In daily matters, matters of heart and mind, expressions of spirit, stubborn refusal to take no for an answer, fingers in our ears singing "la-la-la" as we are scolded, chided and told all the reasons why not.  Ha! we say.  The voice of that flea, that gnat, one of our better angels in disguise, sets up a rumbling soliloquy that only we can hear, either telling us to do it anyway or to wait, wait, wait.  Patience is considered a virtue for a reason.

I suppose "believe" is the operative word here.  We do not dissolve in our baths.  The great winds come yet we are still standing.  Reversals of fortune suggest that we grow more frugal, more cautious, but never hopeless.  Perhaps the opposite.  I have never accepted the notion that we are tested.  Life comes along wearing its ordinary-life resoled shoes and frequently washed, possibly hand-me-down unassuming and faded uniform and delivers messages good, bad and indifferent.  To each of us.  We are free to choose the next step.  Recall all the times goodness of a most unlikely nature sat itself down on your front step, more astonished than even you, beholding its presence.  Messages and their carriers are dispatched, who knows from where, and suddenly what couldn't possible be, is.  Today might be the day to run through the streets, calling "Thank you" to the animate and the inanimate.  Both will understand.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Word of the Week - 128

Art by Jack Vettriano.

Word of the Week:  HOLD

Storage for a ship's cargo or loving arms, words and where they can run to.  Hold on, hold out, to have and to hold, hold this for me, hold up.

Gravity holds us in place, yet recent displays of gymnastic excellence say this may not be true for everyone.  Hold a job, foothold, toehold, behold, I wanna hold your hand.  He's a holdover from the last administration.

Contain, keep, protect, ensnare, persevere, cherish.  Determined, stubborn. clinging, trapped, lawless, powerless.  What is this strange hold you have over me?  Hypnotic, possessive, bewitching, fated.  Hold my place in line, hold me in your thoughts.  Reserve, guarantee, promise.

Don't put me on hold.  Disregard, dismiss, ignore.

We hold these truths to be self-evident.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Long Game

Photo credit, with thanks.
What I love most about the Olympics is told without speaking.  I love the costumes, or uniforms, of each country at the opening ceremonies.  They require no hired narrative, no press releases.  "Hello.  We are here," they tell us.  "We have waited and worked and, at last, we are here.  How do you like our hats?"  At the events, the athletes' bodies are eloquent, models of strength and determination, focus, belief, desire, effort, discipline.  Not one of the men or women has chosen the short game, the easy path, for none exists.  As though seeing it all for the first time, this year's Olympiad feels like a personal schematic for the process of becoming, the ultimate long game.

In response to the most recent Word of the Week, which was "experiement," my friend Penelope Todd shared an article about Buckminster Fuller and seeing our lives as just that, experiments.  While my style is far from what I consider scientific, the term gives a framework to a way of approaching life and goals that eliminates failure as one of the options.  We are not here, I'm certain, to fail or to feel as though we have.  What an absurd notion.

Additional musings about the seemingly endless highway along which we travel, perhaps without destination, came from discussing GAME OF THRONES' latest season with my son and my sister, and from observing our state of national politics through as many filters as I can summon.  Undiluted, it becomes Kryptonite.  In G.O.T., for those of you who don't watch, there are the noir-esque characters who seek easy answers, quick fixes for what they believe thwarts them.  Concurrently, others plan - or plot - over greater periods, seeing what will be needed to carry them toward a desired outcome, time not a deterrent.   Acknowledging that we likely have hoped-for achievements as we totter toward infinity, how do we know that what we long for is not a skillfully disguised increment with the job of contributing to our spiritual evolution?

Without having a name for it until a few days ago, I have appreciated the long game most of my life.  Lewis and Clark, John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in John Ford's THE SEARCHERS, Odysseus, the way Werner Herzog makes movies, those who study and practice Buddhism.   Once we admit to ourselves that we are here for the long haul, a learning curve becomes less daunting, a time of doing-without feels less like deprivation, a wait of unknown duration seems bearable.

To be continued.  It doesn't all want to be said in one sitting.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Word of the Week - 127

With thanks to Ray Bradbury.

Word of the Week:  EXPERIMENT
"A Trip to the Moon."
In my mind, the phrase "painful trial-and-error" has repeated itself over the decades.  How else do we learn?  How do we discover?  Life as I experience it is highly adaptive and therefore, experimental.  "THIS could work," the optimist's creed.

Because catalogs persist in showing us plus-size clothing on model-size models, we order with hope in our hearts, visions of loveliness making us nearly drunk with anticipation.  Reality often has different plans.  If we hadn't tried, we wouldn't know.

We continue to try on this existenc, that is our mission.  Mary Chapin Carpenter sings of, "...a life that's never safe and dry."  So it should be.  If the answers were known, why would we ever explore or step beyond the known, the tried, the relatively true?  It only takes one solution to erase the discouragement of the first million attempts, or something very like that.

And in case you forgot, very little agrees to being hurried.  Like, say, love.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Shirley/Manifesto Part 3

The sisterhood of the sand.  Seaside beauties who still, these decades later, raise in us the joy of simple frolic, a covetous pang for era-appropriate headwear.  Shirley's sister, a longtime bringer of the metaphoric fine-toothed comb to every flea market she ever encountered, had been sending her postcards of these lovelies most of their adult lives.  Shirley loved their poses, self-consciousness so absent, undiluted affection so immediately present.  The easy way their threw their arms around each other.  Not quite how we learned to do it in my family, Shirley thought.  When one of the cards arrived, she tended to give each paper face a kiss of welcome.  Friends from way back.  I am here at the same shore, real estate having overtaken your playgrounds, your lightness of heart grown heavier once you bequeathed it to me.
"IX.  Melancholy is a natural seasoning.  To leave it out of the recipe is to invite the bland, the one-note dish.  Without knowing the bitter, how can we appreciate the sweet?"

Friday, August 5, 2016

Shirley/Manifesto - Part 2

Copyright Marylinn Kelly
As an intermission from manifesto jottings, Shirley reached for the mail she's brought along when she left the house.  The Auto Club envelope appeared to contain travel promotion and would, she hoped, show spectacular quadrants of the world she'd likely visit only in her dreams.  After the exposition photos, the opening page spoke of meals aboard the two boats - not ships - being glorified.  When she saw they had used the word "decadent" twice in the first two paragraphs to talk about sugar-laden food, she gathered up her pen and notebook and wrote:

"VIII.  Desserts are not decadent, just as they are neither degenerate nor depraved.  Nor is it reasonable to call a favorite television program or commonly popular book a guilty pleasure.  It is simply a source of pleasure.  Do not apologize for being alive, human and ordinary.  It is within ordinary that we find and recognize each other."

Her patience with and interest in the steamboat experience now vanished, she decided whatever else the mail contained would probably make her cranky, too.  It was, she admitted, a short trip from agreeable to glowering.  Not always, but the things people did with words, people who were probably being paid enough to know better, could give her the blues.  While she would never send an affronted note to the Auto Club or anyone airing one of her pet peeves, she wished heartily that a bit more care and imagination could go into, well, everything.  She was likely breaking her own directive to "let it go" by giving small matters so much attention but cripes, she thought, reverting to adolescent vocabulary which still seemed a good fit.  Cripes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shirley (not her real name) Writes A Manifesto - Part 1

RubberMoon stamp image, one of mine.
We reach at point, most of us, when it just won't do.  Sometimes none of it, sometimes very little.  Shirley (not her real name) had already rolled at least two county lines past that point.  She sat with her unstockinged legs and bare feet out the driver's side of the still-sweet, almost-impossibly vintage Cadillac Coupe de  Ville and started to write in her green steno notebook.  The angle of the sun caused her to squint but she needed the good light to see by.  Nobody here is getting any younger, she said.  She talked to the sky or herself regularly.  Both were good listeners.

"MANIFESTO," she printed at the top of the page.  She'd chosen a fresh pen so it would be less likely to skip.  God, she hated a skipping pen.  "Whenever possible, choose not to be an asshole."  In front of the statement she printed a Roman numeral I.  Something much more Biblical or academic about Roman numerals, she thought, more adamant.  Like those (shudder) term papers.  She had only tried to bluff her way through one once, disastrously.  In her mind's vision, though, she could still see a format, indent, indent, indent.  Not likely, she thought.  Flush left all the way.

"II. Be grateful.  Period.  You don't need to say for what.  Just say thank you a lot.  You won't go wrong."

"III. You'll survive being a fool, if you don't do it too often." 

"IV.  If love wants to make you stupid, let it.  We're going to be stupid anyway so we might as well have some fun."

"V.  Say yes to any opportunity that requires fancy dress.  Be in a play or a talent show.  Go to a costume party.  Carry props with you.  At any moment, someone might need a fairy godmother.  The pros are always prepared."

"VI.  It is rude not to dance with someone who asks you.  The same is not true for proposals of marriage."

"VII.  Let it go.  Doesn't matter what it is, let it go.   Let.  It.  Go."

-to be continued

Monday, August 1, 2016

Word of the Week - 126

Dancers on the Eiffel Tower.  This as referring source.
Word of the Week:  INSOUCIANCE

If we leave ourselves open to common talk, we will find these to be days full of trouble.  Maintaining a state close to calm, unworried, may not be possible, insouciance unattainable.  The gravitational pull of endless debate, speculation, outrage wears at the resolve to maintain quiet dignity and business as usual.  As I prefer to live a peaceful life, I not only choose my battles, I sidestep them whenever possible.  One reaches a certain age with no idea how many gallons remain in the tank, just how far from here one may be able to travel before the sputtering halt.  I am capable of being wasteful with various resources, many of which I took for granted for too long.  I am, however, clear about the finiteness of energy, emotional, mental, spiritual and physical, and wish to expend it on what/who matters.  Inviting fried brain syndrome through unanswerable questions, chasing my own tail, allowing my spirits to sink under epic unpleasantness will not do.

Is there any city on the planet so associated, historically, with what is beautiful, art-filled, love-powered, glittering, intoxicating and far, far from the madding crowd as Paris?  To see the dancers, some en pointe, satin ribbons all around shining under the Paris sky while the yards of tulle in their costumes identify them in such an unambiguous way, is to remember we have choices about how to engage with the sea of life in which we tread water.  I am not unconcerned nor disconnected from the politics and future of the free world.  I know I have nothing to add to the rhetoric.  For reasons of preserving peace of mind I will not step into it as into battle and refuse to try and shout down anyone whose opinion differs from mine.  Because it is what I wish for myself, not just on this matter but generally, I feel that all of us are entitled to our preferences, without explanation, without defense.