September has been a long, lingering sip of wine for me. In my youth, I was thoughtlessly busy with the beginning of school, homework, new friends and harvesting on the farm. This year I have slowed to a crawl and savor the heat and dry days while letting go of my former life yet again. I’m facing the fact that I will never return to work with the public as a teacher, writer or artist. The crone’s inward turning after 60, release of old blood ties and obligations, and a new gratitude for simply waking up every day have replaced the angst in my fifties.
I am grateful daily for the little dramas and triumphs I find in my small urban lot–the spiders who live or die by what ends up in their web, a mockingbird’s virtuoso performance all day long in the backyard, the monarch’s heroic journey as it finds respite from the Tithonia or zinnia of its homeland before heading south, and the late-planted poppies that insist on flowering no matter how late in the season.
I hesitate before planting my fall crops, afraid to break the spell of this enchanted late-summer slumber before the hard frosts. I know the cold will come but I’m in no great rush, lulled by the soft song of tree frogs and crickets amid the whir from grasshopper’s wings that continue to fairy dance on languid evenings. Winter will come soon enough, but until then I pause on the doorstep, listening to the faint echo of summer’s retreating footsteps.
Time once again for the annual unveiling of my word for the year, a theme that always becomes eerily accurate as the months flow by. Last year’s “Rebirth” certainly lived up to its potential by anticipating my eye surgeries as well as our recent relocation. Little did I know how life-changing 2020 would be in my little corner of the world and all over the planet as social, political and scientific transformation was brought to disruptive, often violent, life.
Since I began to stay home and avoid public spaces last January in preparation for my medical procedures, I have essentially been homebound for a year now. My new life became very limited in scope, forcing an internal perspective and examination which I had been avoiding for decades. For me, it was much easier to mold my motivations and actions around someone else’s agenda than to determine my own. For one, it’s easier to blame the other party when plans don’t work out, which is usually the case when you aren’t on the right path.
In retrospect, my forced isolation in childhood and subsequent expulsion when I no longer fit the family dynamic catapulted me into a series of careers and relationships that never seemed to work out. Like the prince in Cinderella, I searched tirelessly for someone or something that would fit my life’s slipper without really examining the shoe itself. What color and style was it, what was it made of, and where did it come from? I acted out the traditional roles of artist, writer, academic, teacher, librarian, proofreader, shopkeeper, caregiver, house cleaner, and office assistant to fulfill others’ wishes and unfulfilled dreams, and conform to the expectations of my generation. In many cases I didn’t feel I had much choice as a female raised by a woman who thought my role was to marry a farmer and stay at home while also insisting I go to college and become a famous writer or artist.
Needless to say I was confused. What I really wanted was to work in the family nursery and tend to the colorful seas of annuals, geraniums, poinsettias and tropical houseplants in magical kingdoms under glass. I come from a long line of growers and farmers who passed their green thumbs along to me. But due to misogynistic views and family dysfunction, that dream was not to be. So I created gardens for myself: an entire bedroom full of houseplants in high school, an assortment of zonal geraniums my father grew wholesale that I dragged around for all four years at college, an obsessive collection of herb plants at a duplex as a newlywed, a square-foot garden hand-dug while recuperating from a difficult pregnancy, backyard raised beds as first-time homeowner, an ambitious but doomed try at homesteading 5,000 square feet of mule pen out in the country, feeble attempts at container gardens in the suburbs and finally a stint at running a community garden at a retreat center with no help from the community.
Which brings me to today’s little California bungalow on a very narrow urban lot in a neighborhood that encourages gardens rather than lawns. In fact “Gardens” is in the name of this century-old historic suburb built for limestone, railroad and factory workers in a town known for its creative quirkiness. Last year, despite some medical setbacks and supply difficulties, I managed to start some seeds, buy plants, build a cold frame and create garden beds with my husband’s help. This year I’ve ordered seeds early and made big plans to replace our barren lawn with vegetables, flowers and native plants while continuing my quest for year-round harvests. The photo shown above of my cold frame was taken two days ago, in January. I can’t wait to winter-over more vegetables and greens next year.
Which finally brings me to my word for 2021. After last year’s traumatic and frightening process of birth, there has to be “Growth.” Now that I’ve found my place in the world, I have the opportunity to grow, literally and spiritually on my own terms. Will I create art? Well, yes, gardening is an art form, and I plan on producing some garden-inspired art, too. Will I write? I certainly hope so. There’s much to be noted in tending a garden, particularly nature’s lessons in humility. Will I engage with others? That remains to be seen, but I fervently wish to contribute to my little neighborhood and provide a better habitat for wildlife, especially the insect world that is rapidly vanishing while we wait for vaccines and herd immunity.
I guess the glass slipper may have turned into a gardening clog, but it’s still beautiful to me.
The time I’ve been preparing for all my life is here. For years now I could smell it coming in the wind, felt the rumblings under my feet, heard whispers from the trees overhead. I’ve spent a year painfully eliminating all that I knew and believed that was no longer sustainable or trustworthy, pushed along by an inner urging. With the past crumbled into a pile of lies and the future so murky that my sense of direction was lost, I groped along in the dark with only basic instincts to guide me. Where I landed is all that I had when time as we knew it stopped.
I thought I was prepared for this: stock up on necessities, stay home and till the garden, be creatively mindful, and support those who sought my help in any way I could as I recovered from surgery. I limited the daily horrors of the news, played soothing music and started garden seeds while listening to audio books and chatting with friends as I kept a watchful eye on my level of anxiety and proclivity for mental depression.
But doing my part in staying home to stop the spread of disease was not enough, it seems. Complications from my eye surgery began promptly on the day my state’s stay-at-home order was issued. I was forced to travel three hours roundtrip to seek medical attention, where I found out I had a retinal detachment underway with orders to lie flat on my back for five days after laser treatment to keep from having surgery in some already overburdened hospital.
I thought I was prepared but fear had other ideas. The villain finally got to me, and took what was left of any security and stability I had managed to salvage since starting over in a new home and town where we had barely begun to know our neighbors. My days and nights blended together as I memorized every crack in the ceiling above me, hoping for the best and dreading the worst, letting my overactive imagination play out in creatively dreadful ways. My dreams at night which had already taken a sinister turn turned ugly with anxiety.
Seeing no other way out, I began to give myself permission to grieve the beautiful eyesight that I had briefly experienced along with the world’s sorrow as precious loved ones everywhere suffer from this insidious virus or pass away alone in hospitals while others isolated at home are tormented by abusive partners set off because of their dire circumstances. It was overwhelming at times, but I kept hanging on to what was given to me–a loving partner who takes great care of me, health insurance to cover my treatments and a roof over my head with plenty of food and toilet paper.
Five weeks have passed in a blur of uncertainty, fear’s faithful companion. Lying still for so long was an exercise in release, of expectations, of routine, of control. With all the time in the world, I found that I could truly listen to conversations and savor the moments when I sat up to eat. Since I spent several weeks not bending over or lifting anything, I left the gardening to my spouse and watched him gain confidence when the plants responded to him. I let go of planning anything besides the next doctor’s appointment as I watched trees bud, bloom and leaf out from the inside as an exceptionally colorful springtime unfolded.
Despite fear of what was happening out in the world, I realized that this was an opportunity to be still and heal, to become intimately aware of my own physical needs and what I’ve always taken for granted. I was forced to finally learn moderation if I wanted to recover and proceed with any quality of life. Nothing was spared from scrutiny, from alcohol consumption to diet to screen time to worry. And I had to allow myself to be vulnerable but not a victim.
Yesterday, I was given the green light to live life normally again. I was told to do what I want, with the exception of engaging in any boxing tournaments. The country and the state where I live are starting to entertain lifting their restrictions. But I know better. The normal we knew is over. As time goes on, the more experts realize how little they understand about this virus, the more frightened the powers that be become of the unrest already taking place, and the more we as a people acknowledge how undervalued and under-compensated those who provide our basic needs and services have been.
Whatever my purpose will be moving forward remains a mystery without expectations. For the time being, my job is to live mindfully and provide for my own basic needs and those around me in a sustainable way, making sure to leave enough for others and never taking for granted good health, plenty of food, a safe place to live and the connection to loved ones again. Fear can only destroy us if we let it in to stay.
Every sixty years the entire calendar of Chinese zodiac signs and their elements begins again. 2020’s Chinese New Year marks the beginning of one of those cycles. The last one occurred in 1960, the year of my birth. In a reassuring sign of synchronicity I discovered this fact after announcing in the previous post that REBIRTH is my chosen word for 2020.
In Chinese astrology, the Rat was the first of the twelve zodiac animals to reach the Buddha’s door for a great feast after secretly riding on the back of Ox across a river only to scamper down across the finish line before anyone else. Even though Rat cheated, the Buddha admired the animal’s craftiness and placed it first on the calendar in front of Ox. In addition to twelve astrology signs, the five classical elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal also contribute to the cycles, and once again, the Metal Rat is the first of all Rats in the zodiac calendar, which was the case in 1960 and now in 2020.
While this particular rodent gets a bad rap in Western culture, they are respected in the East for their resourcefulness and skills in adapting to difficult times. They are always on the go but seek stability in their lives. The Metal element adds strength, courage, generosity and forgiveness to the Rat, who has a tendency to be frugal (stingy) and ambitious (greedy). No matter which element of Rat, it is always the first zodiac sign of the twelve-year cycles that have been documented for well over 4,000 years.
In Eastern creation myths, the universe existed as an inert egg-shaped space until Rat gnawed a hole into it, allowing life-giving air to enter. Whatever year you were born, a Rat year signals renewal and regeneration with opportunities to lay foundations for the future and determine goals for the next twelve years, or in this case, the next sixty. Think about the new era that began in 1960 with all the social and cultural changes that revolutionized the world for better, and for worse.
Personally, I am on the other side of eye surgeries in February that removed cataracts and allowed me to see distance without contacts or glasses for the first time in my life with the help of toric lens implants, an advanced technology that was non-existent until recently. As typical of Rats, I had managed to adapt to my extreme myopia for decades with the help of contacts and glasses until they were no longer effective. I endured many months of blurry vision no matter what the distance and relied on others to help me navigate the world, which is not easy for an independent Rat whose fight-or-flight response is overly developed. I spent much of my time last year managing the fear of not seeing what was happening in the world around me, and what was worse–not being able to recognize what was up ahead.
Now I can not only see ahead, but what’s going on a block or two away, whether I want to or not. I’m finding this new super power a mixed blessing in many ways. There’s much to like about being blissfully ignorant, but that does not sit well with the nature of the Rat, who is ever vigilant to scarcity and danger, ready to pick up and move to safety at a moment’s notice. My ability to always have an escape hatch, whether I use it or not, has been a comfort to me all my life. When I have no better options, I will stand my ground and fight armed with a sword committed to fairness and equality. It’s no accident that I was born into tumultuous times where many were fighting for civil rights and social justice.
But the better options for me and perhaps all of us at the start of this new era, is to work together toward building solid foundations and setting progressive goals that improve our lives using the abundant energies of the Rat with the help of tools like creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, open-mindedness and restoration. In the long run, these are the only weapons besides love that can conquer the enemies of fear and want that loom on our horizons in the next sixty years.
As the dust from moving house settles after the holidays amid whiffs of freshly painted walls and new furniture, I’ve been contemplating my word for 2020 while looking back at the significance of my choice for 2019. According to my rough calculations in scrolling back on this blog, I’ve been picking a special word since 2013 or so that began with One Little Word. That’s seven years of farsighted intention that has always been prophetic by New Year’s Eve.
Which brings me to my 2019 word, “Light.” It was a heavy year, judging from my few posts, highlighted by plenty of dark times. Ironically (or not), my physical sight began to noticeably dim last year, especially when I travelled to London and struggled to view Turner’s murky paintings in archival lighting. When I finally made an appointment with my eye doctor in August, I was stunned to find out that I had advanced cataracts and my vision had deteriorated dramatically over a year’s time. Because I have been extremely myopic all my life with a very high-powered prescription, the cataracts were causing blurriness that could no longer be corrected with glasses. Eye dryness has also prevented me from wearing contacts for decades so the only solution is to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of 59 and corrective lenses implanted.
Obviously too young for Medicare, I still qualify for insurance coverage because my vision is so blurry that I haven’t been able to drive for the last six months. When I finally got in to see one of the best ophthalmologists in the state, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I was quickly fast-tracked to the “3-month” waiting list. Meanwhile, as a plein-air artist who was finishing a 4-year grant project by creating distant landscapes and holding a final art show, I struggled to see what I was painting and more than once had flashbacks to Monet’s foggy work in his later years due to cataracts. After touching up four years’ worth of art for the final show, I stared at the 25 paintings on display while wondering how shockingly bright these will look after my surgery.
Which brings me to 2020 wondering if I will be able to see 20/20 on the eye chart when I finish the surgeries in February. For my entire life I’ve never been able to see distance without glasses, and my blurred view of the world has both protected and isolated me from the harsh truths and prejudices buffered by my thick glasses and gullibility. And while my long distance vision may be restored, the near-sight that I have relied on for so long will be gone. The tiny veins that glisten on a dragonfly’s wings and the intricate maze of threads while detangling a knot will disappear into the lost lands of foreground without reading glasses or magnifying glass, so close yet so far.
No matter what the outcome, my focus and perspective have begun to turn inward in these grey days of perpetual twilight. The harsh artificial lamps glow with angelic halos and the sun has become gentler in what he reveals. The moon is welcome but ghostly now, and often tripled in a sky out of a science fiction movie. The senses of touch, smell and sound have become more amplified, and when night comes, the womblike absence of light surrounds me in a waiting period of gestation before the post-surgery grand re-entry and big reveal.
So it will come as no surprise (especially if you read the last post) that my word for 2020 is REBIRTH. I am prepared for a whole new world of light and color, sharp insight and fresh point of view. The little crossed-eyed infant from the past will get a second chance to take wondrous halting baby steps into my third life stage. And perhaps in life’s theatre I will prefer the balcony this time rather than a front-row seat to the world’s troubles. A little distance at my age may not be a bad thing while I cheer the young on in their noble causes and fortuitous frays without craving the spotlight myself.
After all, the bright lights would only blind me from the inner path I now need to follow.
It’s the last day of March, and I’m not gonna lie: the last three months have been rough. Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually and all other categories have been engaged, thank you very much. I’d like to say I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d like to say that spring is here and new beginnings abound.
But I can’t.
I’m in the midst of my second Saturn Return and completely undone. For anyone who knows astrology you’ll be shielding your eyes right now. For most of you who still read this blog, you’ll be puzzled by this statement. What is a second Saturn Return you ask? Every 29 years Saturn returns to the exact position that it was in at the moment of your birth in the natal chart. Think about what you and your world were like at 29 or 30, 59 or 60. And then you will understand the turmoil and transition to a new beginning, the burning off of old patterns depending on what sign and house your natal Saturn is in.
Saturn’s territory covers ambition, mastery, responsibility, duty, tradition, paying one’s dues, and the father. The second Saturn Return focuses on finishing up unfinished business from the first return, and acknowledging my mortality. In Capricorn which is Saturn’s ruler, the lessons are hard and long. I will get three chances to break the extremely strong patterns that hold a vice grip on my soul. The call to finish what I have come here to do are incessant and undeniable.
This astrological challenge plus the ten-year anniversary of this blog in 2009 has me reevaluating, questioning, and yes, even welcoming my life’s path moving onward. I will continue. I will persevere. With much help from the guides and friends who show up for me everyday, I will know love and support.
As a gardener, April has been the most challenging, frustrating and puzzling month so far this year. I have enjoyed it immensely. There’s nothing more “in the moment” and strangely invigorating than carting 164 tomato plants to safety amidst gail-force winds and snow, or protecting 260 lettuce seedlings with 16 sets of cotton sheets kindly donated by a fellow gardener.
I remain in debt and awe to the remarkable recovery witnessed in plants and the kindness of community in helping to grow food, plain and simple. Looking forward to Beltane and May’s gentle (non-freezing) breezes.
After a hiatus of many years, garden mania has once again taken over my soul and my house. Seeds are germinating in my art room while sweet potatoes hide in our coat closet and tomato seedlings await their peat pots on the kitchen counter. These days you’ll find me wandering around with a plant mister and planning charts while checking projected night-time temps on my phone and muttering about frost-free dates in my sleep.
On gusty nights I wake up in a cold sweat wondering how my lettuce starts are faring now that they’re finally hardening off in the unheated greenhouse that tends to lose its panels in a strong wind. I’ve been known to rescue them after dark for an overnight stay in the protection of my house, much like a parent sheltering her young from the blows of life.
Nearly twenty years since my last foray into seed starts and county extension handouts, I’ve found that much has changed with the proliferation of new technology in growing lights and heating mats, but very little in terms of my anxiety and protectiveness toward my “plant” progeny.
And while garden centers and box stores will be full of perfectly potted specimens lined up in pristine rows to pop into soil when the weather finally warms up enough to shed our winter coats, the little farm where I live grows organic with an eye to the unusual and the flavorful, and strongly supports the seed companies that provide ethically obtained, preferably heirloom seeds that are untreated and unsullied by the corruption of corporate tampering.
Besides, that first taste of juicy home-grown heirloom tomato will be well worth the vegetable invasion overtaking my home.
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.
On this extra day of 2016, I have taken the leap, plunging into a brave new world of creative expression. I’ve pulled out my painting equipment from winter’s closet, and brushed off the brushes. Palettes have been scraped clean of old doubts and crusty fears, big ideas packed for the move and my muses notified of my new location.
My calling cards come in the form of a new blog, a fresh Instagram account and a different email address. Like the proud new owner of a second home, I will split my time between the original writer’s cottage of Suburban Satsangs and a recently acquired rustic artist’s cabin called Paints in the Parks.
As with any major move, I’m sure that adjustments will be made in this transition. The mental furniture may need to be rearranged and ego expectations repainted. But I find that there’s nothing that a summer’s worth of fresh forest and field of flowers won’t fix. I look forward to flinging my door wide in welcome to babbling brooks, gushing waterfalls, stoic cliffs and mysterious caves.
And of course, my door is always open to you, dear reader. I hope you’ll make the leap with me and that I’ll see you soon at my new digs.