Monday, September 28, 2015

A Poem for Winter


Crisp against the blue, blue sky
my landscape rises, confident
and smug into my soul until
it reaches where I smile.

A little while ago I only
lived within its comely buildings,
fit myself to shapely spaces,
places I could be.

That was all before I spied
the crisp, crisp edges, 3D-painted
whimsical across the sky
drawn by my own hand.

And I laid back my head and laughed
and sighed my answer, yes I do
participate and re-create
my constant dream of  life.

Not like southern shimmering
seen vaguely as mirage,
softened edges, cadjoling,
lolling toward old age;

Northen skies are bold and brash.
trompe l'oeil to be believed
in living color, so relieved
to recognize the pact. In fact,

To flash this crystal brush, and learn
its colors from my home of choice,
and steep my voice in soaring spheres,
and sing again of joy.

Monday, September 21, 2015

New Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo

A little symboleering on the way to work this morning: whatever music comes up on my iPhone I will listen to, loud, in my ears. I put it on random. Surprise surprise, it was Steal Your Face.

I got off the bus on the west bank just to walk across the Mississippi, my river and my metaphor. A gorgeous fall morning with the sun directly down the river, where I want to look. Where I must look for the course of my future. It is a sign, of course, that the sun is down the river, because that is certainly where I am heading and it has only recently come to me that I should be about making a boat. I am not sure that I want to completely float down to the end, as I once wrote:)  Maybe I can steer a little.

I have in the last few months jettisoned several major trajectories in my life, including one for which I have been building steam at least three years. Plan A was to pursue a Ph.D. degree, and with one fell insight I swept it away and quit. The Theory class I started reminded me that I had already rejected this pathway after finishing the same course 20 years ago. I had totally forgotten that I had a good reason!

I came up into the west bank plaza in the morning sun with Ship of Fools in my ears. Perfect of course, since this is Anthropology’s neighborhood – the message could not have been more clear, and I truly was grateful I left that path. 

As I walked out on the bridge the pace and jaunt picked up for Half-Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo. OMG could it be any more specific as I walked into the sun over the Mississippi River?  Or perhaps it was more like dancing – certainly a good little cardiac toodeloo.  

"If all you got to live for is what you left behind, Get yourself a powder charge and seal that silver mine. Lost my boots in transit, babe, a pile of smokin' leather. Nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather." 

Down the river the water curves almost out of sight – you can pick it up again near the Franklin Ave. bridge.  When I finally retire and leave this view, so much will have changed in ways I cannot know. I understand that I have the remainder of my time here to develop my own river landscape, my own transportation, and much to do before I round that big curve. 

So, now I am in the process of turning my boat toward Plan B (for Belledame Publishing), which I put in place exactly for this kind of emergency. I got that book (The Bridge: Using Symbols to Build your Life) out the Amazon door, some basic plans for operation in place, some youthful help lined up, and web space researched and purchased all before I had to focus entirely on academics. So even though I find the turning to be a monumentally slow, churning process, I am thinking I am still pretty smart, because I am prepared and don’t have to start from scratch. I probably don’t have enough years for that:)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Faster You Go, the Rounder You Get

I read an interesting post from Ronnie Bennett at Time Goes By yesterday about living a less active lifestyle in her 70s, by choice. None of the pulling and hauling from an earlier age, she tries to pace herself so that she enjoys more of her moments, and she asks her readers: Have you slowed down as much as I have?

Among the over 40 comments there were only two in disagreement. Mostly people were grateful to have someone else recognize the slowing pace of age as normal and healthy, pretty much the same response I got from Silver Fox when I ran this by him, because he tells me daily that retirement has brought him the long-sought wherewithal to be built for comfort and not for speed and I should just slow the heck down too.

The thing is, like the two out-of-sync commenters at Time Goes By, I don't want to slow down. I recognize that I am physically less potent and not only do I need more breaks in my action, as Poster One suggested, I need to put far more time into maintaining the machine than I ever thought possible. Me, semi-regular at a gym. Imagine that!

Just as important, Poster Two advised that she takes much more time to organize her activities than in her previous life. I have always listed and calendared, but things have become more, um, layered as I make sure not only that there is ample time to complete projects, I must schedule smaller chunks of time for getting them done. It is not only the physical that is less potent - so is the intellectual. I get tired of thinking and become muddled, just like my back starts to hurt if I cook for more than two hours at a time. This makes for a whole bunch of NEW activities like finding recipes I can make ahead or that take little time, buying paper dinnerware for parties that once would have displayed my best china, or getting my kids to help move furniture; all those new activities also need to fit in the schedule.

Still, Silver Fox has always been a waltz to my jitterbug, and so this difference is of longstanding discussion. If Time Goes By is any indication, I am by far in the minority, but at 66 I am still not interested in sitting too long or committing any less; I just have to finesse it more.

Speaking for the minority, there is not a reason in the world that we can't continue to dash around all we want until something stops us other than the solicitation of our friends and family. They mean well. They are worried we will break is all, since they think they would. I would counter that how we wind ourselves up is an art with which we are very familiar, and that we will only get better with practice.

So boogie down, belledames, if it is what you choose. We are slowing down more than we want already.

I don't recall now but perhaps in my career days I bragged about how busy I was as much as today's workers do. And perhaps one of the minor bits of wisdom we gain in old age is how much nicer (and, probably, healthier) it is to stop and smell the flowers – as they kept trying to tell us back then in books and song. Have you slowed down – particularly out of choice – as much as I have? - See more at:
I don't recall now but perhaps in my career days I bragged about how busy I was as much as today's workers do. And perhaps one of the minor bits of wisdom we gain in old age is how much nicer (and, probably, healthier) it is to stop and smell the flowers – as they kept trying to tell us back then in books and song. Have you slowed down – particularly out of choice – as much as I have? - See more at:
I don't recall now but perhaps in my career days I bragged about how busy I was as much as today's workers do. And perhaps one of the minor bits of wisdom we gain in old age is how much nicer (and, probably, healthier) it is to stop and smell the flowers – as they kept trying to tell us back then in books and song. Have you slowed down – particularly out of choice – as much as I have? - See more at:
I don't recall now but perhaps in my career days I bragged about how busy I was as much as today's workers do. And perhaps one of the minor bits of wisdom we gain in old age is how much nicer (and, probably, healthier) it is to stop and smell the flowers – as they kept trying to tell us back then in books and song. Have you slowed down – particularly out of choice – as much as I have? - See more at:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

All That Space to Decorate

I had a dream during finals week.  In September had I signed up for a graduate class in Anthropogy with some vague idea that I could complete a Ph.D. now that I work at a university and my classes could be free.  Not only that, I could take them in the day – what could be easier? Seems like I forgot a lot about being a student – like how hard it is and how much time it takes. I was profusely sweating a B and the future affections of my largely ignored Silver Fox by November.

But in December I dreamed that I was in this enormous, beautiful room, and a small very comfortable corner of it was oak and bookshelves and an overflowing desk, and I thought, “How beautiful” before I noticed that is was just a small corner.  Then I slowly turned around to the expanse behind me, impossibly high and lined with brilliant light through the glass and absolutely empty, and I thought to myself, “I have all that space to decorate”! 

And so I solved the puzzle of where to put academics in my life.  It was a great relief and I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner, but I am not ever going to have enough time to dedicate to that one goal.  I instead am looking to fill all the other corners of my room with things that please me as much as books.

Music, for example – I could certainly see a big baby grand piano in front of those mammoth windows.  My father and grandfathers and uncles were all musicians and I learned the keyboard at six, only to forget it all after I left home at eighteen.  Well, maybe not all, but most.  I have a piano, my dad’s in fact, and I never now play because I don’t have the time to be good. That could change.

I’m thinking that this house might not even have a kitchen, as I am sure I can get delivery if I put in a phone; or maybe I will go out hunting, book in hand, for exotic flavors.  I certainly live in the right neighborhood!  After thirty-some years of being chief cook and bottle-washer I am considering hanging those particular pots out to dry for the duration.

A studio will of course be the grandest space, all light and glass, an atelier of my own with speakers aimed at my head from the high high ceiling as I stand in front of my easel.  Groovy.  And an impossibly long row of vertical storage for all the paintings I create and a wall for showing the newest above. It seems so real to me I can smell it.

And separate from that room a room filled with long tables holding sewing machine and fabric, book press and paper, crafty fancies of every kind, the pick of the day. This room has high stools for small people to share with me the luscious tabletop and sharp tools for making lovely things.

And somewhere central and with a huge roof window will sit an enormous electronic screen with every possible means of entertainment and research at the touch of my hand – email, internet, movies, television, libraries – complete interface with the outside world without leaving my comfortable couch. Or wheelchair, if it comes to that. Absolutely fabulous, to keep me in touch.

And so I could continue on and on, but these are some goals to work toward.  Getting academics into my house took a lot of focus, both to perform and to see what it really means to me.  For each of these other interests, all things I love, the same kind of focus will locate its place in my grand scheme, and before I know it I will have decorated much/all? of my space with joyful employment. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Dance with the Dolly

I took a risk today. After forty-some years away from performing music, I auditioned for the university choir and was absolutely astounded to hear them say yes, they would like me to sing with them. Far freaking out!

I was raised with music. Almost every member of my family played and or sang, and I was taught piano and trumpet beginning at the age of six. I sang with the church choir, the high school choir, and my college choir as well as in several smaller groups. Then life happened and I left all the easy opportunities to warble behind, never quite finding time or energy or commitment enough to join with other voices again. Even then I had extreme performance anxiety and could not stand up alone, but I miss being surrounded by soaring voices, miss the sense of group achievement, miss the beautiful color of an alto chorus. I BELONG with the altos, where I can sing harmony and the solos can be taken by someone else. 

I have never forgotten the thrill of making a joyful noise, and so I whisper Simon and Garfunkle with my earphones, I belt Bob Seeger in the shower, and I counterpoint Annie Lennox in my kitchen. I know all of Robert Hunter’s lyrics and Linda Ronstad makes my day. I am my own best audience, and my family just has to put up with it.

Making music is joyful. It stimulates every emotion: we are “played like a violin,” “feeling the blues,” “marching to a different drum,” or any of hundreds of metaphors that compare our feelings to music. Lately it occurs to me what a wonderful gift it is for aging, to once again create the music; to add that joy back into my life at a time of increasing challenge. And so I went looking for some altos.

My knees were a’knockin’ but my toes were a’rockin’ and even if I had not made the cut, I overcame my stage fright to actually stand up and sing for someone, someone who was there to judge me.  It is so important that we do not forget to risk that no matter the outcome I am proud of me. What euphoria then to get the nod.

Sometimes the light's all shining on me.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Folding the Laundry

Laundry is my favorite muse.

Sorting clean things, folding and stacking, it's so easy to park in my comfort zone and slip right into neutral. My gears shift down and I idle, thoughts thrumming through my fingers into socks and underwear, folded likewise into new ideas, stacked for later reference. They sigh with relief at their freedom from my internal dew loop, grateful for attention, and I touch the napkins with a smile.

I never hurry through the folding. It is a chore that must be done, and so I am justified in spending the time, deliciously turning it to my own purpose. When my kids were young and I needed to keep tabs, had to share the time, I turned on TV and at least emptied my head. Now, without distractions, I can free-associate or focus as I wish, the time all mine.

The laundry muse is particularly useful for setting priorities, sifting tasks through the sieve of my feelings. The most important thing is not always the most efficient thing (in my usual functional appraisal), so in laundry musing my tasks and ideas are always weighted by their pleasure potentials. Of course, this means that when the laundry is put away, I go after the things that I like the best. I have found (rather counterintuitively) that this is good policy in general, because when procrastinating the awful things, they often just fall off the list altogether.  Like putting off cleaning the garbage can and suddenly the City brings you a new one - what a waste if you had bothered to clean out the old one when you should have! I call this my Pursue-the-Smile production policy.

Alternatively, the laundry muse is also good for a full-focus review of whatever plans I am considering. Creative projects particularly benefit from the desire for order that results from my working hands. At the same time, the relaxed flow of thoughts releases my imagination, and during a laundry muse I am markedly better at visualizing and understanding details and outcomes. As a result I feel more in control and better prepared to undertake the good ideas, while hundreds of others have met their demise at the hands of such aha moments. Deservedly. I am hardly every without a new project and they can't all be winners.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Taking Space

At a party last weekend I was approached for “elderly wisdom” by a young friend, one of many mothers attending the fete that evening.   I had to laugh even though I admit I was flattered–I know a lot of young mothers (and fathers) who were once teenagers in my home, and I delight in having kept up with their lives these way many years! The conversation re-minded me of my own hectic days and nights managing children and home and dogs and jobs, blindly groping to survive.

Those years have taken on a pleasantly psychedelic aura now, looking back through the (beaded) curtain of the past: intense colors, deeply depressed purples and overwhelming wild yellows, swirls of ruby chaos and hanging on by the toenails, a roller coaster of what I now experience as all joy. I know that it was not, and I know that it took me two whole years to feel recovered from my teenagers once they left home, but boy oh boy it was worth the ride.  To use an old cliché, my family are the wind beneath my wings.

The deal is, nature has so vested us in loving our children that nothing is ever enough, no sacrifice assuages anxiety, no grand gesture erases the guilt of not being able to make everything all right for everyone all the time. I still am susceptible to this, as far removed as I now am, as much as I have perspective. These young women now in the fray, carrying the shields and wielding the weapons, they have no TIME for perspective. And yet, perspective is the necessary element, and it must be found in spite of the wars.

And so the wisdom that I pass on to them is not my own but what I learned to use, what Virginia Woolf called A Room of One’s Own. In a tumultuous household, if it is possible, by all means secure one for yourself. However, it is not the room but the space that is necessary, and that means that you must arrange to not be responsible, for all of them to leave you alone whenever you decide you need it. Leave a partner in charge and retreat to your bedroom, drop them at daycare or their grandparents’ and take yourself to lunch, arrange a weekly playdate to free yourself for a Saturday morning, ignore the laundry and retreat to your bedroom after their bedtime.

Know that regardless of daycare guilt and employment, overwhelmingly ubiquitous household chores, and frantic desire for couples time, these times do not qualify as space. You need times alone when you can think, write, muse, speculate, cry, listen to music, be creative, whatever it is that re-minds you of your own true Self. If you lose your Self, all is lost until you find it again, and you will be unhappy. You must have quiet to listen when pursuing the golden thread, the Golden Road to Devotion, the personal path–whatever you call your own true feelings. In my experience, there is no quicker way to forget than to get lost in the loving.

I took long baths with the door locked and wrote in my journal in the tub, regardless of my two-year-old banging on the door. She gave up after a few months. When they were both in school I set up an easel and an art space in the basement for while they were out. When they got more competent and could spend some time without supervision, I began taking vacations by myself, leaving Silver Fox in charge for four or five days at a time. Travel meant long hours to think or read, and it is amazingly supportive to bathe in the personal recognition of old friends. Unfailingly, I left home tripping over myself to get away, then returned in a few days as eager to see everyone as if I had been gone a month.

I am pretty sure if I had not rejuvenated like this, I would never have made it to the third stage in one piece. Yet here I am, dispensing elderly wisdom with a big cynical smile on my face for the shared experience of mothering.  My best advice? You go, girl.