Anniversaries


I spent yesterday celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary with my amazing husband, almost 33 years since we first met. If you’d told me all those years ago that I would be married this long, I wouldn’t have believed you. My track record up to that point had been nothing short of disastrous. Nevertheless, we usually recognize the date simply, a day free of work and the usual chores, a quiet dinner out.

We always manage to note our nuptials in the nick of time, right before the looming national holiday, a boisterous and bombastic event that steamrolls over our quaint little memories of a small country wedding with only 25 guests. (And that count included my husband and me.) For Throwback Thursday on Facebook yesterday, I joked that the above photo could easily have been taken in 1925 instead of 1985 if it weren’t for the Instamatic camera with 110 film that my husband holds in his left hand.

This year another anniversary follows fast on the heels of firecracker festivals and sizzling backyard feasts. It’s a new one that I dread, and one that I will always remember because of its proximity to the Fourth. Funny, how I don’t often recall the death dates of dear, departed pets, but this one seems to be different. He was the last, at least for a while until we become settled again; and in my travels of late, he returns to me in the form of farm cats at the retreat center where I work, who snooze on the porch steps all afternoon, or find a warm lap in the cool dawn dew when one becomes available from a lawn chair.

Once a country cat, my old buddy would have loved this place, where his kind roam freely all day to catch mice and tease the birds, though still called in to safety every night away from coyotes and other creatures of the night who would do them harm.  When I first came, they ran from me and stared back at a respectful distance, but now we are on a first-name basis. They tell me all about their nine lives, and I tell them about my old friend, how he could hunt even without his front claws, how he loved to stay out all night and sack out all day in a corner on the floor, no soft bed needed.

But I keep to myself how he ended his days up in a third-floor apartment, with a cupful of grass instead of a whole backyard lush with the stuff, while birds taunted him through the glass door of a balcony the size of his litter box. We did what we could to make the transition easier for him, since another home in the country or even a new suburban yard were out of the question for us in this stage of our journey. A cowardly trip to the shelter was unimaginable. In the end, he was stuck in his geriatric ways enough to be dependent on the people who took him in all those years ago, for better or for worse.

At least on this Fourth of July, I take solace in knowing that he doesn’t have to endure the battle sounds of our country’s anniversary, unless he wants to.

Passing Through

A double row of hornbeams planted twenty years ago.

Here it is the end of May and I’ve barely been here. My focus is kept packed by the door and my psyche feels like it’s still moving after an interminable car ride. I stop by just long enough to check my email and pay the bills, wash a big pile of neglect that’s accumulated. There are cobwebs all over some best-laid plans left piled on last winter’s table.

My “word” for 2017 has been “awake,” and boy, have I. To the point where I rose early enough to see the dawn in all kinds of wind and weather for seven days in a row. There are no photos because I refused to carry any form of electronic distraction. Instead, I wanted to burn the sun’s first midas touch on the tips of trees into my eyeballs, let a heavy dew sink into my bones, be swallowed whole by the rising rush of bird song. How could I have missed these treasures for all those countless years spent lolling about in bed like an apathetic teenager?

Some mornings we danced intricate steps set to modern astral music inside a labyrinth’s ancient patterns. On others we were high above ancestral land and its tree-lined ribbon of river, at a circle made with stones that whispered power and prayers. And still others were spent in the gardens, tended by human hands but retouched by faery folk in those magic hours when mortal souls still wander through the grainy dreams from other worlds.

There has been art and music, poetry and dance, and some really good gin. Despite an early rise, I’ve stayed up way too late talking about crazy-beautiful ideas and inspiration, because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this precious time or interrupt the messy, foolish freedom that doesn’t fit into a shifty shared cloud calendar or antsy time-management app.

But perhaps the most precious gift I’ve been given by staying awake long enough, is to rediscover a forgotten little keepsake tin with the rusty lid I left hiding in my memory’s bank barn. Inside, once again I heard the quail’s call in tall grass, felt hard rain rumbling across a field, finally found those missing linch pins from an old Farmall tractor hitch, inhaled the sweaty scent off a low morning meadow, and watched with great joy some gritty, grinning kids stagger home covered in the satisfying filth from a mountain of freshly dumped sand.

You see, somewhere during those adult years of dysfunction, darkness and despair, I had lost my childhood’s best mementos. I’d fallen into a slumber of numbing responsibility and restriction. I could only recall the disappointments and failures harped on by my mind’s endless critiques, where the rules are always changing and your advisors never let you leave.

Nearly halfway into the year, I’m happy to report that I’ve been awake long enough to know now, that I’m finally free to go.

From Where the Sidewalk Ends


Somehow, February got away from me. And then March. The days just slipped away through a hole in the floor, the grate, the ground, the sidewalk and ultimately, my soul. So, I search for them along the loop I walk most mornings that harbors mature oaks, maples and evergreens that have been around since this former army fort was established in the early 1900s. And some trees have been here long before that.

The other day, I noticed that a tree company had shown up and marked many long-standing sentries with ominous red x’s spray-painted on their trunks, or orange tape throttling their worn bark. There were too many to ignore, and some choices were downright puzzling. Sure, there were those that were mostly dead, or lopsided. But quite a few looked perfectly fine.

One morning before I left on a long trip, my walking partner and I marched around the loop saying a quiet goodbye and blessing to each of the doomed ones. The rumblings of the chainsaw and shrieks from a chipper could already be heard at the other end of the long parade, seemingly lined up like good soldiers waiting to be struck down by an enemy who claimed friendly fire, as if fire was ever friendly for a tree.

By the time I returned in mid-March, the sadly singled out were all gone, and in their places stood mounds of chips, where their very roots had been sought and ground out of existence. The innocent smell of freshly cut wood wafted in the breeze.

I still feel their ghosts as I walk, searching the sidewalks for a glimpse of the bottomless holes with their shimmering deceptions of days that are no longer there.

The Kindness of Strangers

Homeward bound.
Homeward bound.

I was traveling at the beginning of the new regime. On Inauguration Day, I witnessed the protests at a different statehouse, one that had defended slavery and bore the marks of a broken nation. On Saturday during the Women’s Marches, I walked the red clay trails of a state park, marching with all in spirit. On Sunday, we arrived in New Orleans for a much-needed vacation from the burdens of a country already spinning out of control, and found ourselves in an emergency room.

My husband became very ill with a bad infection on the 8-hour drive, and so we checked into our hotel and headed straight to the nearest emergency room. What followed were three days of uncertainty and fear in a strange city where we’d never been before and knew no one. Three days of an endless stream of nurses and doctors and housekeepers and aides who spoke in odd accents, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, with compassion in their eyes and caring in their hearts. Three days of hearing and seeing the city’s poorest and sickest soothed and treated along the ER bays and hospital wards. Three days of witnessing what the world is like from outside my comfortable little box. Three days of relying on the kindness of strangers.

After spending our entire stay in The Big Easy living moment to moment, the drug-resistant infection finally turned a corner and we were cleared to go home on a beautiful spring-like morning that the natives thought unseasonably cold. Everyone on the staff shook our hands and told us how sorry they were that we never got a chance to see the real New Orleans, to taste her food, hear her music, savor her spirit. They told us to come back and give their fair city another chance.

And we will. But I feel like we’ve already experienced her soul without ever setting foot on Bourbon Street.

Reflections

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I could say that 2016 was a strange year, but then most of them have been strange lately in this modern mixed-up world we live in. I could declare that it’s been challenging, but so is life in general. I could lament that it’s flown by too quickly, but this is the price of growing older. I want to say that 2016 has been happy, and I did find many bright spots among the dark days.

But what I will say is that 2016 gave me permission to let go, to start over, and to find my joy through intentional living, my reason to exist. May 2017 be a continuation of this journey. And to all of you, dear readers, may the new year bring you fulfillment in whatever way you wish to take.

Happy New Year!

Waking Up

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The post-election Supermoon of 2016.

The morning after the US election, I woke up strangely calm. I didn’t expect that reaction. And then I remembered; I’ve been through this rodeo before. On a personal level. Ironically, or maybe fortuitously, I’d been studying our president-elect’s particular personality disorder during the months leading up to our national November surprise, trying to get a handle on the kind of panic and physical paralysis I experience every time I hear him speak on TV.

His rhetoric throws me back to my old childhood and even recent adult showdowns with family members who exhibit the same traits. In or out of therapy, I’ve used all the tactics that have played out on the national stage in social media and comment threads. Anger, denial, defensiveness, sarcasm, blame, finger-pointing, compliance, withdrawal, pleading, compromise, escape, negotiation, a blind eye, even an occasional proactive offensive — you name it, I’ve tried it. Some of them seemed to work, at first. But in the end, what little gains I’d thought I’d made were just illusions, part of the narcissist’s great charm in promising you the moon but vanishing before you come to collect at sunrise.

I have neither solutions nor cures to offer. As long as the narcissist is getting what he or she wants, there is no motivation to change. It’s a very hard addiction to break. But what I do know is this: that hunger for the spotlight can never be satiated. The more attention (negative or positive) that is fed, the hungrier the appetite. I can only imagine that the gnawing search for more must be a form of hell on earth. And while I must forgive in order to be set free from the vicious dance I participate in as a narcissist’s compliant partner or even adversary, I will not forget.

What’s at stake is the sanctity of life for all of us, narcissists included. The ones in my life have taught me the hard way that no matter what I do or sacrifice for them, it’s never enough. Instead of beaming all our attention on the insatiable ones, I vote that we focus on ourselves, the stars of our own reality shows. We may not determine our outcomes, but we can control our outlooks. Do we sustain healthy boundaries? Do we care too much about what others think of us? Are we doing what’s important or just marking time, filling up space? Are we aware of the lessons being taught to us, supporting us, warning us? Are we awake?

I, for one, have seen the enemy, and behind all the bluster and bravado, they look just like us. In fact, they are us. We all play our parts in this tango, whether we lead or not. And if one partner changes the steps, the other must react, one way or another. Sometimes we follow, sometimes we break apart. And maybe, just maybe, we find a new rhythm, a new dance.

It’s time to get to work.

The Scariest Halloween

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A truly frightening local exhibit of overly zealous holiday decorating. (And this is only a PORTION of the display!)

As a kid, better holiday plunder was only to be had at Christmas; as a young adult, the all-important party behavior was a gateway persona to an alter ego; as a mom, my photo albums are still full of my child’s timeless cuteness from costumes’ past. This year, there is nothing, the scariest Halloween of them all.

That’s right, no holiday decorations, no industrial-size bags of candy, no never-ending stream of trick-or-treaters, no holiday parties, no laborious dressing up for those same parties, no spooky music or creepy movies. “The Great Pumpkin” has already aired, and the Halloween aisle is currently being packed up to make way for its jollier rival.

We have downsized ourselves into a whole new world, and I can’t say that I miss the old ways of celebrating All Hallows Eve that much. I can get my fix from streaming favorite music and shows on demand, or walking around our nearby affluent neighborhood with a “more is better” philosophy in decorating. The kids in our apartment complex trick or treat at the fire station across the road, or leave in cars to canvas distant housing developments more expertly than door-to-door salesmen.

But this year, I find that what scares me the most comes from turning on the TV news, or scrolling through Facebook, or even reading the homemade billboards showing up in concerned citizens’ yards. I am horrified by the hateful viewpoints and polarizing contempt exhibited by people I thought I knew, much less strangers.

Lately I find myself frozen with fear like the small child lost in the night who can’t discern what is real from unreal. But as an adult who thought I had the dark all figured out–I am truly more frightened than ever–not by the masks, but what I see when the masks fall away, mine included.

May we all find our way home to the light after traveling dark paths, and forgive us our own mischief.

As Above

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While I really enjoy the month-long photo prompts that are prolifically offered on Instagram throughout the year, sometimes you just have to go maverick and wander off on your own. All the storms and fast-moving weather fronts during the past two months in my neck of the woods have led to plenty of drama in the skies, so I’ve found my camera tilting upward daily (when I’m not cowering in a first-floor hallway while the tornado sirens wail nearby).

After the first two days of sky photos in September, I said what the heck, why not a month of skies, unfiltered, shown just as they are, or as much as my limited but convenient iPhone camera can capture. I wasn’t sure whether thirty days of sky shots was sustainable, but I found ways to incorporate them as reflections on water (or car hood), and as metaphors for a mood to match the front-page antics of the country I live in.

Indeed, with all the drama manifested this month in both sky and earth, I can’t help but think that the ancient adage “As above, so below” is still a very relevant one.

When the Last Pet Leaves

The last picture of him.
The final picture of him.

We said goodbye to our cat this summer, the last of five pets who came with us when we moved from the country back to the suburbs 13 years ago. With his departure, our 30-year streak of caring for a dependent (pet and/or child) ended, as well. We are truly empty nesters now.

I won’t lie to you — it feels strange. I’m having a hard time adjusting. No more trips down the grocery pet aisle, no more lugging cat litter up two flights of stairs, no more fur in the dryer vent. Okay, maybe I don’t miss those. But on the other hand, I do miss his greeting at the door after a long trip, his purring for no particular reason, his warm body hogging most of our bed on cold winter nights.

This particular cat was MY cat, my familiar. In early years outside, he left me half-dead gifts by the backdoor; in later years indoors he brought me tiny trinkets carefully placed on the floor by my side of the bed — buttons, toe nail clippings and plastic bits, choking hazards that a lesser being would ingest and end up at the emergency clinic. But not him. He caught elusive flies and terrorized the house spiders, leaving their gigantic crumpled carcasses in full view as evidence of his love for me.

He was a sickly, flea-infested stray who showed up at our door 14 years ago, and pushed the limits of my husband’s patience when I called to tell him that “we had a situation” with a stray kitten. “You didn’t feed him, did you?” he asked warily. And of course I had.

I must admit, this was always the plan. Child off living her own life, pets gently ushered out. But the empty rooms devoid of hairy tumbleweeds seem sterile now, and the silence that greets me when I turn to say we’ll be back soon is hard to bear.

Life goes on, however. Every day I notice more spiders moving in, rejoicing in corners free of feline tormentors, still alive.

What the Water Says

Contented chuckling from the creek at Turkey Run State Park.
Contented chuckling from the creek at Turkey Run State Park.

More painting than writing is happening these days, as you can see over at Paints in the Parks. However, I’ve been enjoying some poetry hikes in a local state park as part of our Indiana Poet Laureate’s Arts in the Parks grant. Poet in residence for the summer at Fort Harrison State Park, Shari Wagner has led us along poetic paths to history and nature, providing thoughtful prompts along the way. Last week, her prompt to write in an element’s voice inspired me to start a new poem by a creek in the woods. Though destructive at times, water has always had a calming effect on me, whether in the bath, near an ocean or beside a babbling brook.

What The Water Says: Fort Harrison Poetry Hike

Born babbling
from embattled
ground I could
not stop myself
from gleeful giggling
with the faster flow,
seeking a rush in
rapids, shouting
down the stone-
silent elders who
tried to hold
me back, before
cascading full of
laughter into a
reckless roaring
tide of carnival
tunes and siren’s
sea songs.

Please check out Shari’s website called Through the Sycamores featuring her workshops and wonderful poetry as well as submissions from poets all over Indiana.