Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Own "Island of the Blue Dolphins"

When I was an adolescent I felt caught between two worlds. There was the world that called to me from the future, asking me to sojourn into a place that was unknown, even a bit frightening. And there was the world I was still deeply attached to, where my true self seemed to live, a world of adventure, a bit of imaginative play, a life of living at one with the land, the woods and fields, my natural home. I felt a deep sense of disconnect with the new world that awaited. I was not ready to go there, a place my friends and siblings had already left to inhabit. I felt betrayed by my body, a body that had already arrived in that New Land and was waiting for me to catch up. It brought on strong feelings of discontent. It was a discontent that stayed with me for quite some time.

This thread of thought started this morning when I had a flash on a long-ago book and movie I had loved, "Island of the Blue Dolphins." It was written by Scott O' Dell in 1960, became a movie in 1964, when I was eleven. I remember reading the book, then spent that summer living on that imaginary island. I became Karana, living alone, stranded there for eighteen years, living off the land and by her wits. I set up a small piece of the yard, down beneath the far end of the clothesline and there I lived in my head and in my heart for more than one summer.

Perhaps you recall this story, the book or movie, from your own childhood. It's based on real life events that happened in the early to mid 1800's on the island of San Nicolas, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California. A young Indian girl from the island village of Ghalas-at, along with what remained of her fellow villagers, was being taken to Santa Barbara after a deadly altercation with the Aleuts who had come to the island to hunt otters. Realizing her brother was not on board, she jumped into the water and swam back to the island. Soon after, she found her brother. He had been killed by feral dogs. And so, she was alone.

She created clothing from bird feathers, whale bones and seal skins, stitched with bone needles, using seal sinew for thread. She got drinking water from a spring among the rocks. As a child, I was smitten by her story, her resourcefulness, and how she grew to handle her eighteen years of isolation. She ultimately was able to befriend the lead dog from the pack that had attacked and killed her brother. He became her sole companion and, I cannot help but add, her soul companion.

Eventually, a ship returned to the island and she, having come to the understanding that life is meant to be experienced among her fellow beings, met it in her finest garb and willingly returned to Santa Barbara. Or so the story goes. Unfortunately, she did not live long after her return and I have often wondered if what must have been an extreme case of cognitive dissonance didn't make a strong contribution to her death. There's more to the story, of course. There always is. But, this is the gist and this is what is etched in my memory. It's what I took with me.

So, the summer I was twelve, after seeing and loving the movie, I was still spending time at the end of the clothesline, pretending to be on that island, feeling a deep affinity with Karana, and desperately wanting to remain there. It's as if I knew the waiting years would present challenges, challenges I wasn't sure I was equipped to handle. My self-assurance came from the woods, the land, my natural environment. I felt completely unprepared to meet the New World. I wanted to spend my days with the sun on my right shoulder, leaning into some simple task at hand. But, I sallied forth and fell into an uneasy peace with this other self, this self that was unfamiliar.

I sometimes feel that I am still trying to work the puzzle, make all the pieces fit. I suppose that's why I write. Looking at where I've been helps me see where I am with greater clarity and understanding. I am, as I sit here and write this, writing from the standpoint of discovery. I know, that as much as the image of an apartment in The Village In New York City still beckons from a small place in my heart, the place that meets my truest self is among the natural world, whether it's the desert, which was once a vast ocean, or the fields and woods. It's where I am most at home.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Old Black Van and a Ripe Yellow Pear

I awoke one summer morning when I was five with the news that the neighbor's son had returned from working away and had brought a woman home with him. This was not news delivered directly to me, but to my ears as I lingered in bed listening to Mom and Dad talk at the kitchen table. Ours was a small house and listening to them was comfort food. It also gave me the inside dope on what was happening in our little neck of the woods.

They had apparently arrived together the day before and were staying in a van parked in the woods near his grandmother's house on the corner. I knew that his Grandma Korich was a good woman with a big heart beneath her full bosom. But, they were not married, so they were relegated to their van in the woods. It was a time when the un-marrieds, when visiting, were not allowed to sleep together, even under the same roof sometimes, for fear of what the immortal souls of those who allowed such behavior would suffer in the afterlife. But, it was music to my ears. They were living in a van in the woods!  How magical was that?  My sister and I could hardly wait to go and pay a visit.

I don't recall the specifics of getting ready for this but I probably didn't take time to put on my shoes. I rarely did. I know we had to walk the dirt road, about two hundred yards to the corner. I know the distance because Dad had a big sign up near the corner, close to the highway, telling folks that we bought wild rice, just two hundred yards down the road. I have an image of knocking on the back door of this black van, circa 1950 something, and being invited in to their little abode.

We found out her name was Carol. She had long black hair and a beautiful smile. And, she was a Native American. She asked us to come in and sit down. There we were, our sturdy mid-western legs dangling from the bench seat inside. I was in heaven and thought she had the best place to live of anyone I knew. Its smallness felt just right, like a cave with soft edges. Deep in the recesses of my memory it gave me a sense of home, of place. It was perfect.

Carol offered us some fruit, handing each of us a yellow pear. We quietly ate them, relishing their ripeness, wiping the juice from our small chins. We didn't ask ourselves the questions that those who lived in the world of grown-ups might have, we were just happy to be in her presence; we felt her gentleness, her graciousness. Her willingness to invite us in, to feel a part of something bigger, something more than what our small world allowed, still reaches out to me across the years, across all time and space, where it rests in my memory, peaceful and pure.

Painting by Paul Cezanne

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jamie Ross: The Soul of a Poet

Most of us have an idea what poetry means to us, what appeals to us, speaks to our viewpoint of the world -  traditional or free from any restrictions, straightforward or masked in layers of language. I like all forms of poetry, but especially the ones that ask me to look at the world with fresh eyes. I've loved poetry since I was a very young child. The magical use of a word, a beautiful turn of phrase, a seemingly small idea - the one that lights that spark inside my heart -  and I find myself awakening into a new way of seeing. I prefer poetry in small portions, reading only one or two a day so as not to get overwhelmed by the richness of beautiful ideas, but just enough to feed my soul, to help me move through the day, hopefully, in a state of grace. True poets, the ones who speak in "new tongues," see the raw beauty of this world and their words spill out, to show us, to help us see it, too. I cannot imagine life without poetry. For me, it is the heartbeat of the world. It speaks to our Oneness.

It had been awhile since a poet had really spoken to me, my truest self. Then, I found one, one who has, without a doubt, the soul of a poet. I was staying at a friend's house on a mesa west of Taos in late November and on their end table was a book of poetry by Jamie Ross. I had heard Anne speak of Jamie, of his poetry, knew he was a neighbor, but had never read his work before. I had met him once, briefly, when I was up from Santa Fe, visiting Anne. We were outside the store in Carson, standing in the driveway, talking beside his red Toyota truck. So, it's the day before Thanksgiving. I'm in Anne and Paxton's living room, holding a copy of his new book of poetry, Vinland. It's an advance copy, a gift to them from Jamie. I can't wait to look inside, see what he has to say, hear how he says it. 

To give you a bit of his background, I'd like to share the biographical note inside Vinland:  "Jamie Ross was born in Connecticut, grew up in Colorado. At the age of ten, he won a red Schwinn bicycle in a comic strip contest sponsored by the Denver Post. He's been writing, drawing and traveling ever since. A member of the first National Geographic Yukon Expedition, he's lived in Iran, Italy, spends much time in Mexico, currently lives on a mesa west of Taos - where he chops wood, hauls water, and rebuilds his Toyota truck. His poetry was selected for the 2005 Muriel Craft Bailey Award, also included in the national anthology Best New Poets 2007."

Of course, these are the things that speak of his life, his outward self. It's his inner life that hails me, that helps me to see what he sees. And, I believe I'm better for it.

Vinland. I open it at random. And this is what I read:


So, I'm looking at this thing - let's
call it a bear. Let's call it the soul. Let's
call it, we were calling in our red

caps with the fleurs-de-lis, up
against the line, our khaki shirts, green-
forest shorts, our blue, blue scarves,

we were up against a line that wouldn't
back down, between two trees in front
of the tent with somebody's hands, most

of the hands gripped to the poles
as if to hold it up, the soul I mean, the
shaking in the body just across

the twine stretched there
in the twigs on the dirt and the bodies
of the insects, a smell of grease and

shovels shoveling down a fog with its
sheet of superstition, clothes hanging up
and I'm wanting them back

because I'm right here
where it's rising like a bear, huge gaping
mouth, sharp gruesome teeth,

but I don't have a hat, some pants
more like pajamas, my scarf disappeared
before the orientation - and there's

no room left to grip, it's
a four-man tent, for their hands only - It's
a fact my shoes are loose and I've got

a bloodshot eye; the other one's floating
off to the left, up into the orbit
so I'm staring at this bear

and I'm looking direct, nothing in my fingers
dripping to the fog and it's got
some things to say - something like

a scream, more like a groan - just beyond
the line where it's more than wretched,
lifting its paws in the searchlight

of a throat with its red grieving horror and
the green snake teeth and the blue
thought of fear that everyone has left

with the pocket guide to slipknots, they've
taken the flashlights, jackknives, the matches
and the dice. It knows I'm alone. It knows

like a planet: Oh, I'm ugly. It knows
like Saturn. So I step across. It
knows I'm screwed. But it's got my eye

and I need to see.

~ Jamie Ross, Vinland

And, for reasons I can't possibly explain, I fell in love with poetry all over again.

Note: If interested, it can be pre-ordered through Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, Eurospan, or let me know. He said he'll be happy to send out signed copies (only $20 with postage) when it comes out early this spring. "No one writes poetry expecting to make money, but it's a sheer pleasure when someone else gets to read it."  Jamie

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Taste of Terlingua

Terlingua, 1936. We were a few years too late for its heyday, when burros may well have outnumbered the townfolk. Just down the road from the western edge of Big Bend National Park, it's an old town of ghost houses, piles of rock, and loose foundations lying scattered around like the ruins of some lost civilization. There's one trading post, a cafe-theater and other remnants of a town that used to be. Having heard of it, but never been, I was drawn in by the very things that also drew me into the canyons of Utah: walking among the ruins, photographing windows and doorways, the feel of history beneath my feet and all around me. It could easily have been a town in Old Mexico. We were just on the other side of some arbitrary line drawn in the sand, back when borders were being made, as Tommy Lee Jones said during the making of "No Country For Old Men."

We climbed up onto the ramada of the trading post, a pleasant place that felt incongruous against this backdrop. Looking around inside was like looking in so many other tourist stops along the road, but this one felt different, like anything could happen. It was what was left of the really old southwest, what was left after the last cattle drive north. I looked around a bit, perusing books of photographs that pulled me into their language, the language of light. I lived there, in that light, for awhile, and then felt pulled back onto the ramada. I wanted to just sit and see what would happen.

It was like a scene out of a Larry McMurtry novel, as though he'd sat there, too, and Lonesome Dove had been born. I know that's not true because I know he was in another small town in Texas when he saw a van with lettering on the side that said, Lonesome Dove Baptist Church. That was when his writer's block let loose and we all know the rest of that story. I fully expected to see pigs rooting around in the dirt, raising hell with a snake they'd cornered, Gus coming around the corner, spittin' tobaccy and saying, "Igod." Instead, a young man came up, sat down at the end of the long row of benches, pulled a guitar out of its case and started singing Bob Dylan's "Man In the Long Black Coat." It happened to be one of my faves from his album "Oh Mercy," which is now, I believe, a classic. It had been a long dry spell for Dylan and then he came out with this thing that knocked the socks off fans and critics alike. I sat and listened, soaking up all that moment had to offer. Here is a link to a video of it, in case you'd like to listen, too:

Jeeps started pulling up and folks were getting out, happy, tired, not-so-fresh, just off the river. River rats, the men who had taken them down the river on an adventure and, hopefully, a new way of seeing, were still quietly giving directions. Suitcases were laid out on the ground, fresh clothes were fast becoming a priority. I watched this scene for awhile and then the group started to disperse, slowly moving towards their vehicles and to a life that probably didn't look so fascinating to them now, feeling, perhaps, that the river was really their home and now they were returning to something that didn't quite fit anymore. I wished for them a new awareness of the possibilities.

My companion had moved across the road to visit with a young man who was working among the ruins, lifting rocks into place. He was building his own kiva, a ceremonial room much like those of the Anasazi we'd seen so often in Utah. It made us happy to know that a young man would put his attention to such an endeavor. Not an easy task.

Just before we left, we bought  The Three Little Javelinas, mentioned in the previous post, and a small Mata Ortiz pot we couldn't resist. As we were leaving, we realized we had front row seats to what surely must have been, in that moment, The Greatest Show On Earth: a sunset that burned through the evening sky and into our memories. A small crowd had gathered on the ramada to watch in quiet stillness. As it started to wane, everyone applauded, a standing ovation for beauty itself.

We made our way down the road, past the Flying Pig Cafe, landing at a campground a short distance away. We had been there a week or so earlier to take showers, knew that we'd want to come back. The bathrooms alone were reason enough. Cool copper sinks. It was on the edge of a creek and there was a place to have dinner. Turns out, the fun was just beginning. La Kiva is an underground bar/cafe that not only has the coolest entrance ever to a bar, but the best ambiance we'd ever found inside a bar. It also happened to have really good food and really good people to go with it. We were there on a Wednesday night. And not just any Wednesday night. This was their annual open mic night party, where folks from all over came to play and sing. We had dinner and waited for the fun to begin.

What a motley crew of amazing talent it was. It included a man who looked like he'd just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, but instead he sat down and played the autoharp. Beautifully. Then, there was the woman who looked like my son's second grade teacher who played electric guitar and belted out "Born to Be Wild," better than anyone else ever has. Ever. I mean it. Turns out she was a local elementary teacher. There was also a young gal who played the fiddle and sang some country. She was very good and accompanied by first rate musicians. A man who may well have come over from Mexico for the night, played and sang a song in Spanish. That alone made the night seem magical. Then, one of the river rats I recognized from earlier stepped up with a guitar and sang a song by someone I'd never heard of, "Pull the Lever Down." It was about a prisoner on death row and it was so plaintive and sorrowful it made my heart ache with its sad, sad beauty. He came over and sat down to visit with us afterward. I was able to get info on the song and tell him how moved I was by his rendition.

Later, on the way back to the van, we looked up at the night sky. A blanket of stars surrounded us.

The next morning, we moved further down the road, heading for Bisbee, Arizona, and more adventure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Sister and BFF, Jane

I was going to write about Terlingua, but first I have to tell you about my sister, Jane. My BFF. She is coming over to visit today and I'm really looking forward to seeing her. She has a very busy life, so it has been awhile since we had a chance to have "in person" time.

She is not quite two years older than me. When we were very little, people sometimes thought we were twins. We don't look alike, but we were pretty much joined at the hip in our early years, so I understand why people thought that. We colored together, bent over our books intent on achieving new levels of creativity, despite the fact that we were, at that time, color-in-the-lines kind of gals. We made clothes for our paper dolls, designing women that we were. Natalie Wood and Joanne Woodward come to mind. We picked them out at a Five and Dime, on a rare trip to The Cities.

When I finally got my Barbie Doll, we competed for the love of Little Joe in our imaginary lives of Barbie and friend. I decided, after too much irritation, to choose Adam instead. His dark good looks and intelligence (he was a well-read man) was more to my liking anyway. Who needed Little Joe's charming smile. Right now, Hoss is looking pretty good. He had a kindness about him...  But, I digress.

She's the one who was always there helping me to find the Perfect Fort, the Perfect Picnic spot, and the one to tell me the facts of life, all mentioned in previous posts. Jane and I smoked our first cigarette together, out behind the garage, sitting on Dad's upturned boat. We "borrowed"  it from our cousin Mickey, who probably knew we'd be sorry. And, boy, were we. I still remember how sick I felt. Glad I got that over with early.

We danced the Loco Motion in the living room, practicing for my first school dance and she was there the first time I was allowed to go to the Purple Peanut. It was a local dance place, with live bands playing every Wednesday and Saturday night. The very first guy I danced with at the Peanut was, unbeknownst to us at the time, her future husband. Small towns are like that. She gave me sought after, and probably much needed, advice. We were each others wing-woman. We both fell in love with Rusty, a summer friend (who remains a dear friend to both of us to this day). We vied for his attention, until Rusty brought Bill with him one summer and due to Rusty's lingering affection for my sister, my attention turned elsewhere. Bill was my early Jack Kerouac.

We both married young and had children, young, spending time together as often as possible, helping each other get through the hard times. And there were some hard times.

We both fell in love with visiting antique shops, each of us adding to our collections as often as possible. It was tough sometimes to step aside when something caught our eyes at the same time. I was into anything bark cloth. One Christmas she gave me an incredible quilt she'd found at a second-hand store with a variety of beautiful squares, a bark cloth extravaganza. It was accompanied by a very old glove box with a beautiful image of an Indian chief gracing its cover. To top it all off, she had in her possession a few small home-made gift cards our mother had made before her passing. She used one for this gift. It was perfect. They remain among my prized possessions.

She continues to give me a wise and loving ear from time to time, whenever I need a non-judgmental visit with someone who knows me, and loves me in spite of it.

Jane is one of the most giving people I know. When my parents needed a lot of care, she was there more than anyone else, with her love and attention. After raising four children of her own, she is now playing a major role in the raising of her grandchild, CeCe, and doing a beautiful job of it. She continues to work in an assisted living apartment complex helping the elderly with their daily lives. And, I know she brings joy to their lives every day. She lives in a three-story Victorian house painted yellow and raspberry, with a beautiful yard every summer and many hanging baskets. She also has a really quaint place on a canal off the Gulf of Mexico in Port Isabel, Texas. It's yellow and white with a porch overlooking the water, where I love to have morning coffee with her in the spring. Everyone that visits talks about the wonderful, very peaceful energy there.

Here's a picture of Jane when she was about 5. What a poseur (I say, with deep affection).

And one of her today. She's still beautiful, inside and out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Two Little Javelinas: An Adventure in Big Bend

Ebenezer Bryce, an early Mormon settler for whom Bryce National Park was named, once said of the terrain surrounding his home, "Hell of a place to lose a cow." That could be said of several places in the southwest. The one that came to my mind this morning is Big Bend, down in Texas. It covers a hell of a lot of territory, over one million acres of public land. Hell is an apt description on a hot day in this back country. It's the kind of country that comes with brochures on, "How to Survive in the Desert." Water, being the key word. A lot of it. More than you might think. But, it's a beautiful place to be.

If you head down that way you might want to stock up on victuals in Marathon. Marathon is a cool little town on the edge of the park with a beautiful hotel and some fun shops. It was the first time I'd run across a sign on the door of a shop stating, "Closed from 1:00 to 4:00." Siesta. I wished the shop was open, but even more, I wished I lived someplace where siesta was part of the natural flow of the day. Sounded good to me.

We were accompanied on our trip in by the Moody Blues, "I Know You're Out There Somewhere," "Nights In White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon," all the way to Cottonwood Campground on the southern edge of the park, close to the Rio Grande. This was the late '90's and we were spending a couple of months in the southwest, traveling in a van like a couple of old hippies. Things can get tense traveling that way so we spent as much time as possible in the great outdoors. Not hard to do on the roads we were traveling.

The first night, we settled in for a spirited game of gin rummy at the picnic table, by lantern light. Later, we talked about the signs. You know those feelings you have that tell you when someone else is present? In this case, it was something else. Quite a few somethings. The Universe has a way of sending along additional information in case you've ignored the first communique. So, a sudden burst of wind came through and across our table. We managed to hold on to most of the cards, but a couple of stragglers left, landing somewhere on the ground among the trees, away from the table. We went after them with the lantern, only to discover that, indeed, we were not alone. A small herd of javelinas were quietly munching their way closer and closer to our picnic table. About a dozen of them. They were so close by the time the wind came up they could have hopped up on the table and said, "What's for supper?"

Not wanting to be supper, we slowly moved toward the van, one walking forward, the other walking backward, checking the trail between us and the van, not to mention our back trail. It seemed a lot longer than I know it was. We must have looked like a couple of the Three Stooges. Had either of us been startled it would have quickly become mayhem, possibly resulting in flesh wounds. Needless to say, we made it into the van, piling in with the thought of javelinas nipping at our heels. I am here, writing this, so all's well that ends well. We can't say we hadn't been warned. The brochures said they were out there. On subsequent nights, we watched as they foraged their way through the campground from one end to the other. It was a nightly ritual.

A few miles from the campground we took a boat ride across the river to Boquillas, a small town in Mexico (I read this is no longer an option, for security reasons). There's a man with coal black eyes ... No, not really, but they were kinda dark and he was kinda handsome and we brokered a deal to have him ferry us. He stood at the helm, a long pole in his hands, and brought us across the river. No, his name was not Charon and it was not the river Styx and it's a good thing. We would not have had the proper coinage. Obols under tongues and all (God, I love mythology). Anyway, he seemed a kind soul and I felt very safe. We walked the dirt streets of the sleepy little town, stopped for lunch at a small cafe where a few other gringos had landed, and then back across, safe and sound. Day-tripping at its finest.

Every where you go in Big Bend constitutes a day trip. This is a big place, as I mentioned. A few days later, we needed to lay in some supplies, so we headed to Castolon, a historic little town with a general store called the Harmonia. That it was. Few choices, but a nice place. I love back country stores, still serving the people in the most fundamental ways. We bought supplies, I made a few calls home on the payphone outside, and then we headed back.

Later, we bought a children's book, "The Three Little Javelinas," to commemorate our adventure. We bought it in Terlingua. But, that's another story, and a favorite memory of mine. I'll share it with you next time.

A note for clarification: the photography in the body of this posting is not my own. I borrowed it from a Big Bend website.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Feast for the Eyes

A friend suggested I might want to take a look at the photographs of Paulette Tavormina. After checking them out, I just had to share them with you. They have the feel of old Flemish paintings, don't they? She has a slide show with one scrumptious image after another. What a feast for the eyes, and the soul. Here's a little something to whet your appetite:

For the main entree:      (Note: revised website link)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Fox and the Butterflies

Spring had come to Ansel. The lilacs were getting ready to bloom, kittens had been born in the hay shed and Coleman had shimmied his way up to the roof of the garage, binoculars hanging from his neck, to survey his kingdom and make plans for summer. He spotted two baby fox in and around the old house, out beyond the fence line. At the time, Coleman was into "The Fox and the Hound," a children's book, as well as a Disney movie. Copper and his pal had captured our attention and our affections, so seeing these two was a real treat.

It was early evening and they were hanging out in the doorway of the gray, dilapidated house. One sat up and looked around, checking out his new world, while the other taunted him, desperately trying to get him to come out and play, but he ignored him. He just wanted to sit and Be for awhile. We stood very still ourselves and watched them from the fence line. After a few minutes, we quietly retreated. We didn't want Mama to see us and feel it necessary to move her family elsewhere, away from nosy neighbors.

Every spring contained more than one magical moment. One day, I felt the need to take a walk, go down the driveway, perhaps into the field and sit on the neighboring farmer's pile of rocks, made years ago while preparing the fields. It wasn't just any old pile of rocks. It was quite magnificent, really, and it wasn't just the rocks that made it so. If one sat still and listened, the sounds coming from that field were simply astounding. Later in the summer he would hay that field and there would be large bales all around and dotting the horizon, like the buffalo I like to imagine might have one time roamed those gently sloping hills.

On this particular morning, I was having trouble getting going. I'd had a rough night's sleep with too many thoughts pinging around in the ol' noggin. I desperately needed a break from my internal life. I needed to get out of my head and into the morning air. I felt an urgency almost, as though the Universe wanted me out the door, like Now. Timing was everything.

It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. As soon as I walked onto the porch it felt different, like the air itself was alive. As I walked down the tree-lined driveway, I noticed movement in the branches of the trees. It was a calm day, not much of a  breeze even, but there was definitely something going on in the trees. I looked around me, looked more closely at the branches. And then I saw them. Butterflies. Monarch butterflies. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Everywhere. Every leaf, every inch of every branch, was covered in butterflies. I quietly and slowly turned around in every direction. I was surrounded by Monarch butterflies. I stood perfectly still. Several came and floated around me, as though keeping me company. There was no other sound, and no other movement, except for the fluttering of butterfly wings. I cannot describe how I felt. Blessed doesn't begin to cover it. It remains one of the greatest gifts the universe has ever given me. Out of all the tree-lined driveways, in all the corners of the world, the Universe guided them to mine. On that day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Getting Grounded

I went to the movies yesterday. I'd been wanting to see "Up In the Air," with George Clooney, since it first came out and was afraid it would never arrive in this area. Yes, part of my desire to see it had to do with George, but I'd also read that it's a good movie, very relevant to our times, and it was made by Jason Reitman, who made "Juno," one of my favorite movies of recent years. I've been missing the movie-going options of Santa Fe, where on any given day you have your pick from the latest mainstream movies, recent documentaries that have intriguing topics, or foreign films, new and old; figure out your mood and you can pretty much find a film that will sustain it, enhance it, justify or alter it, depending on where you want to go with it.

I've also developed a bit of a hobby around my love of movies and theaters. Every year I try to watch, in a theater, every film that's receiving Oscar buzz. Then, on Oscar night I arrive in Hollywood via my television, ready to enjoy all the glitz and glamour, ooh and aah over all the right dresses, and wait for all the Big Moments. My big moments may not be remembered as anyone else's, but they brought tears to my eyes, sometimes big elephant tears.  Right now, as I type this, I remember Chris Cooper accepting his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in "Adaptation," a film about orchids in the Florida Everglades, among other things. He made it with Meryl Streep, whom he mentions so sweetly in his speech, big tears in his eyes. I suppose I thought of him because I saw a trailer for a new film he's in while waiting for "Up in the Air" to start. Which brings me back to the real subject at hand.

I'd read a few reviews of this movie, all alluding to the timeliness, given all the lay-offs and terminations that have taken place in the last year or two. Every time I think of well over six million unemployed people in the United States I ... can't even finish this sentence. Yes, that is definitely a theme in the movie, but it's not The theme. The theme is loneliness and how we cope or don't cope with it, how we choose to connect, or not. George plays a character named Ryan Bingham who does motivational speaking, along with flying all over the country to act as a hatchet man for those companies who need to relieve themselves of some overhead. Overhead, in the form of people. His "motivational" speaking involves a  backpack sitting on a nearby table, a backpack in which he asks the audience to, metaphorically, stuff all their ... stuff. And then set it on fire. Which gave me pause for thought. I thought, how many backpacks have I set on fire in my life, and, even more important, how many more times will I set my backpack on fire? At what point do I realize, too late, that I put something in the backpack that didn't belong there, or that I wish I hadn't?  Little things. Maybe a house, maybe a relationship. See where I'm going with this?

I have spent most of my life in one relationship after another since I was a teenager. Some of them were marriages. Some were short-term, some not so short. Each time I thought this is the One, or a reasonable facsimile. Reasonable enough to keep trying, even when the Universe set up road block after road block, one fallen tree across the road after another. I just pulled out my metaphorical chainsaw, cut it up, hauled it home, told myself it would make good firewood. I was not to be deterred and my listening-to-the-Universe skills were not as sharp as my chainsaw blade.

And then, weeks or months, or maybe even years later, I would move on. The open road would call, the wide horizon would beckon, something didn't feel quite right, it didn't fit as well as I thought it did, I would realize I'd made a false decision, and my life would, once again, be full of options and possibility. Up in the air.

So, now it's been going on four years since my last relationship, the kind where you have ongoing companionship, someone with whom you can to go to the movies, laugh with in the kitchen, exchange a quick hug passing in the hall, have dinner with in the evening, talk about the day, talk about the world. Like that. If it sounds like I'm whining, well, I am. Sometimes I get tired of being alone. I can hear your chorus now: what I would give to have the ability to make all my own decisions about how I spend my time, how I spend my money, what I eat for dinner, what movies I see, how I'm going to spend each and every day. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Well, it's not. Not always. Sometimes I feel very blessed to have all this freedom. Everyone deserves to have uninterrupted time; to make decisions about their life and how they want to spend it. A good relationship allows for that. I've had friends tell me they would love to have my freedom, love to be in my place, living with the flexibility I have, go where I want, when I want. But, I was talking to my sister in Texas awhile back and was describing my feelings around all this freedom. Both of us, at the same time, called up Kris Kristofferson's song "Me and Bobby McGee." Yeah. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." And then we laughed. There are days I love my life and there are days I would definitely trade with my married friends, friends who are less-than-happy some of the time, maybe even a lot of the time. But, they have someone to go to the movies and laugh in the kitchen with, all of the above, and right now, The Biggie, they have someone to spoon with on cold winter nights. Right after that rambunctious sex that can make huskies howl.

I know I'm whining and I should be grateful for my life, and, I am, most of the time. But, sometimes loneliness kicks in, and I'm reminded of how many backpacks I've burned. Last night, in the dark of the theater, I recognized myself. I'm not nearly as good-looking as George, nor as charming, but as the movie went along, I found myself being asked to take a deeper look at the real issues here. And see what I think. I think I found myself receding deeper and deeper into my seat. When the movie was over, I did my usual credits-watching, letting my reactions sink in. This time, though, when the credits were over I felt stuck to my seat, had trouble wanting to get up and leave. And it wasn't just the arctic cold waiting on the other side of the doors. It was also the empty efficiency I call home right now, waiting for me. It was the voices coming from the neighbors, talking, sharing, having someone to communicate with, someone to make the world feel, not just hospitable, but downright cozy.

My biggest moment of recognition came, though, when the movie was over, when I had to realize that I had made decisions that brought me there, to that moment. And, here's the important part: I can make other decisions. I know this.  I can agree to open my life a bit more, a whole lot more, to all the possibilities. I can stop telling myself I'm not any good at relationships. I can make an agreement with myself to nip every negative thought in the bud. Every moment that calls up the notion that I am lonely, without companionship, let it go without resistance; let it move away from me without examination or entanglement. Because I am not. Not really. In the classic, timeless sense of Life, I am surrounded by friendship and beauty and laughter and goodness. I have to keep choosing these things, to really see and feel them. Make it real. Because it is. Always has been. I just have to open my eyes and See it. We always have choices; choices of perception, choices of how we will respond to each moment. And that is how I aim to move through my days from here on out. Each moment I will make a choice to see and feel companionship with the world around me and remind myself, as often as necessary, it's not about a singular individual. It's about an abundance of ideas and those ideas contain everything I need, not just to sustain me, my life, but to move through it experiencing that abundance. In every area of my life.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ricky Nelson and the Back Road into Arches

You haven't lived until you've been on the back road into Arches National Park with Ricky Nelson in the CD player. A few miles north of Moab there's a back road, more like a ghost road really. To the uninitiated it would seem you're just looking at the desert, but there is a road and it's a pretty cool one. I'm warning you, it does get rough. 4-wheel drive is not recommended, it is required. It gives "jostled" new meaning.

Fortunately, JB knew how to set the stage. He had been on this road before and knew the ropes. He also knows good road tunes are a must and he's very good at picking just the right thing. It's always the most incongruous thing, which is, of course, what makes it the right thing. We're in the business of memory making and that's the perfect way to do it. I bet if you think of a really good memory there will be certain music, a certain song attached. At least, that's how it works for me.

We set sail for Arches around mid-morning, the crack of dawn. My friend's a Virgo. Any questions? Adventure bound, we were still chatting away sans music as we drove down the open road. Then, it was "exit, stage right,"  and a few of the prettiest miles of back country you'll ever see; just this quiet timelessness and perfect peace that comes with a good stretch of road.

And then, the road took a turn for the worse. We careened. And we careened some more. Soon after I started silently complaining a tad about the road conditions. Well, I thought it was silently - he said he definitely could hear me. Nothing serious. Just wandering when it was all going to end. Or, at least get better. Something like that. I received some soothing words, some promises of better roads ahead. And then he skreeetched to a halt. And we piled out. It's kind of our m.o. He skreeetches to a halt, we pile out, and then we find or see something jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, or head-scratching, or, you get the idea.

This time it was dinosaur tracks. A lot of them. Embedded in stone for, lo, these many years. We walked among them, I put my feet where they had stepped. We spent quiet time in distant thoughts of life a hell of a long time ago. It was so cool. When we got back in the truck, Ricky Nelson came on. It was magical. "Young World," of course, followed by "Travelin' Man," and, "It's Up to You," my list of favorites goes on.

We stopped at a long-unoccupied, decaying cabin a sheepherder or cowboy probably used for a line shack. It felt like something out of another life and made for some dandy photos. We could well have been in a 1949 Chevy pickup truck headin' for Ed Abby's place up by Balanced Rock.

We got back in and drove on as Ricky played on, from "Poor Little Fool," to "Garden Party," all the way to Balanced Rock. We took some photos and walked around, even called on Ed's spirit to come out and play. Watched the light dip and fade. Then, piled back in for the breathtaking journey down: a winding road between towering red rock and the valley below. It was evening. And it was stunning. I could tell you about the colors of the desert, what I thought, what I saw, but it was nothing compared to what I felt. I felt beauty, everywhere. As far as the eye and the heart could see.

And that's what memories are made of. 

It's a Young World:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Barnyard Babies Grow Up

I grew up on a small farm in north central Minnesota. We had several cows, a few pigs, a couple of horses, a dog, more than a few cats, and a whole bunch of chickens. We did not call it a hobby farm. Every spring we would go to the local creamery and pick up the chicks my dad had ordered. That would be baby chickens. On the way home I sat in the back next to them. They were in a lightweight, rectangular cardboard box with individual cubicles. My job was to leave the lid on the box and keep them alive, or so I thought. I took it as a point of personal pride if I could get them all to their new home safe and sound. I don't remember being traumatized by dead chicks, so I must have done alright with that chore. I did not, however, strictly follow all the rules. I peeked into the box. More than once. I might have even reached down and touched their little yellow softness. More than once. The sound alone coming from that box made them completely irresistible.

We would put them in an enclosure in the barn with a very low-hanging light to keep them warm and chick-like. It was our favorite place to hang out in the springtime. We kept a close eye on them, very close. More than once Dad had to tell us to back off and keep our distance. The end result was, of course, chickens, which were not nearly as cute and cuddly looking. We eventually lost interest as spring rolled into summer.

One summer afternoon, Jane and I decided to spread a blanket on the ground inside the barnyard. I have no idea why we did that. The closest I can come is that it was another day of looking for The Perfect Place to Have a Picnic. This time, with a less-than-happy ending. Looking back, it was very fitting. Mid-way through our sandwiches, Jane asked if I'd heard about periods. I said, "You mean, like at the end of a sentence?" Turns out she was not referring to punctuation. Not even close. The news was stunning. How could I have been raised on a farm, with animals that must have been copulating with a fair amount of abandon, and not gotten more information along the way? I must have asked. The answers had to have been less than satisfactory. I probably ran off into the woods to find The Perfect Place to Build a Fort. I might have, at that moment, re-dedicated myself to that effort, had I all the information. I was, apparently, deep in la-la land, and never even noticed when two older sisters might have provided clues. Mom must have spent a fair amount of time hiding the evidence. I suppose good old shame came into play. Hide all evidence that we are women. Hide all evidence of the impending future.

So, of course, when it did show up, it took me completely by surprise, and embarrassment. Especially when the teacher called me out of the room to tell me that my mother had found the clues I'd left at home. Now I was going to have to wrangle that confounded feminine belt gadgetry all by myself.  Damn it. How did I get so lucky?  It was sixth grade. I was 11 years old. I still had years of running around in the woods left in me.

But, I went down the hall to the bathroom.  And came back a woman.

And that's when things really started to get weird.

 P.S. I found the chicks at the Fryeburg County Fair in Maine this past fall.  This guy over here, to the right? Well, that's.....another story.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Why I Do Not Want to Be a Hotel Manager

My computer is talking back to me. Some days it seems like it is scrolling along in time with my thoughts, reflecting back to me right where I am. For example: a while back I was going through a bit of a struggle and needed a little help from my friends. No, not the pharmaceutical kind, real people who know me and offer help according to that knowing. I opened my email that morning and there was a message from a friend out east reminding me to, "just breathe."  While I was reading that, another friend called from up by Taos and when I told her my tale of imagined woe kindly said, "remember to breathe." While she was saying that I happened to glance at my computer screen and there above my email inbox was an ad with a tree and big letters that said, "Take a deep breath." See?  And that's just one example. I could go on and on. I also get messages from bumper stickers and billboards, but that's just me looking for, "signs and wonders," and thus finding them.

There are also ads encouraging me to sign up for online singles match games and, "find my own brand of happiness." That's right after the reminder, "sex after menopause doesn't have to be painful." There are so many lines that could follow that, I've decided to let you fill in the blanks. Here are some possibilities:
1) It depends on the position.
2) You must not be doing it right.
3) I'd settle for even painful sex.

My computer is also trying to find a job for me, a new career, most of which involve cubicle imprisonment. I see the old standbys are still available, such as social worker, accountant, paralegal, graphic designer, criminal investigator, the usual suspects. There is also HR Officer. I think that's human relations officer. When did human relations need an officer? Or is that human resources? That begs the question when did we become resources? I was also a bit intrigued by the addition of Bounty Hunter. Dawg has unduly influenced our culture, methinks.

Then, there's Hotel Manager. I used to work for a large resort here in Minnesota. A friend worked the night shift for the maintenance department and reported that one night he got a call to a unit in which the television was on the fritz. When he arrived, he found three youngsters lined up on the couch in front of a television with a blank screen waiting for his arrival. It was as if their lives were on hold and he had to turn on their reality for them again. We laughed about it, then went back to watching NYPD Blue. Now, of course, it would be The Mentalist, because he's even yummier than Jimmy Smits.

I'm not looking for a new career or looking for love in all the wrong places, but I do enjoy seeing my thoughts mirrored back to me from the most unusual places. A great movie I had almost forgotten about, "A Thousand Clowns," with Jason Robards, came to mind for reasons I haven't deciphered yet. Maybe because it was -30 degrees here this morning and I could hear the sound of cars not starting. Jason, as Murray Burns, goes out to the street in the early morning, his angst following him around like a lost puppy. He looks up at the endless empty windows and yells, "Alright campers! Everybody out for volleyball!"  Life is so fun if we let it be.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ode to My Two Sons, Trevor and Coleman: New Years Day 2010

I've been thinking about our future. Yours and mine. I've been hearing a lot of talk lately about what that might look like, feel like, be. Sometimes it sounds pretty scary. Other times, I cry from the depth of my being for the joy I feel about our future, ripe with amazing possibilities.

My day started with opening my Facebook to videos that had been posted by a friend; videos which speak to what visionaries are seeing as a valuable year in our evolution, our awakening. I don't want to try to convince anyone what to feel or think, I'm just sharing what spoke to me this morning, this first morning of the new year. The song,"Amazing," by One Eskimo, is worth the price of admission (see above link).

 I had interesting and incredibly gratifying conversations with both of my sons on the "State of Our Union." Our union being our Oneness. Younger son, Coleman, is reading Stuart Wilde's book Infinite Self and finds it really speaks to him, as it did to me. I'm so happy for him. It's fun to find books that speak directly to us, answer our questions, illumine our understanding. He shared many intriguing ideas and insights into what he was reading and what resonated. Insights that were almost mind-boggling in their perceptiveness, their depth of understanding. Can't tell you what that meant to me.

Older son, Trevor, texted me and asked me to send positive energy to the Buckeyes this afternoon. It was a must-win, apparently. Rose Bowl, and all. He had also talked earlier about transparency, Oneness, all the really good stuff. But it was getting closer to game time and, well, priorities. This man has spiritual gifts that make me weep with gratitude for having him in my life, as my friend and as my son. Both of my sons have come out with thoughts, ideas that knock my socks off and I cannot tell you how happy I am for them, to understand so much at a young age and to be able to go into the future well-armed, well-prepared for the adventure that awaits.

So, when people talk about our future, I Know that no matter what happens, no matter what challenges we might have to face, no matter what calamity might befall us, as a people, as a nation, as a world, we have a fabulous future. How do I know this?  Because my two sons are in it.