Friday, February 29, 2008

False Sense of Wellbeing

“MADAM,--I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your letter could proceed only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope that you had formed. Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.”
Boswell's Life of Johnson by James Boswell

Years ago, I had some surgery, and afterward was rewarded with a prescription for Vicodin. I recall sitting in my bathrobe on the living room sofa and reading the lengthy package insert with all the warnings about harmful side effects. When I got to the one that said “false sense of wellbeing” I giggled with delight to think that this would be considered a harmful side effect of the narcotic. Then I got depressed to think that the wonderful floaty feeling in the absence of pain was not real, it was “false”. Thanks a lot, Major Buzzkill.

But that wasn’t as bad as the above letter that Johnson sent to some woman who had asked him to find a job for her woefully untalented son. What a crushing way to demolish somebody’s expectations. Particularly, expectations raised by desire and/or the wants of the expectant. Whether it’s drugs or unreasonable hopes that lead us to think the world is okay, Johnson is trying to explain that pain is the price we pay for hoping too much.

But Johnson obviously didn’t garden, or enjoy the expectation as Spring begins to peek around corners and things in the yard begin to awaken. Now that we’re about to turn the calendar page to March, Nature confidently assures us that it is ok to start expecting Spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Antidote for Winter

“Surprise me!”
Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963)

Today I went to the nearby public Garden where I volunteer. I was looking for a rainbow. Here’s what I found:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Food for Thought with the Crusts Cut Off

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
- Franz Kafka

Kafka was a pretty tortured existential guy, but he had a sense of humor. I think he would appreciate what I saw in my garden today. While eating my yogurt, I found a website that translates English into Latin.

For some reason, translating things into Latin gives them a distinguished appearance and the weight of profound reason. For example, how much more edifying to say “Bovina Sancta!” instead of the rather dated “Holy cow!” The wonders of the web also gave me the following which I’m thinking of carving on a stone and placing in my garden to mark the way: “Da mihi sis bubulae frustrum assae, solana tuberosa in modo gallico fricta, ac quassum lactatum coagulatum crassum”. Well, you might say, it’s a bit long. Yes, I say, but how much more edifying than “Give me a hamburger, French fries, and a thick shake”.

I’ve always been a big fan of words. The successful search for just the right words can, for instance, convert a dire condition into a charming social status. I prefer to characterize myself, not so much as morbidly obese, as hilariously fat. Likewise, my garden isn’t a jumble of neglected junk and ill-considered plantings; it is a whimsical and refreshing escape from the weight of the real world. Better minds than mine have disagreed about the tipping point when kitsch becomes art, so I’ll just say my garden has begun that journey, but it’s likely to be a while before it arrives at the finish line.

Who cares? I prefer my imagination to the consistency that is the hobgoblin, or troll, if you will, troubling little minds. Many years ago, a lady in Accounting informed me that, with regard to a specific accounting practice, “Sometimes we’re consistent, and sometimes we’re not.” Which, if I’m not mistaken, is the definition of inconsistent. I’m giving some thought to translating that into Latin and making it the new subtitle of my blog. Consistency is all very well, but not all of the time.

At any rate, a vivid imagination is necessary to fully appreciate the subtle details in my back yard. I sat outside on the porch swing in the first warm afternoon of the year, and I tried to take Kafka’s advice about sitting still. And then I noticed a magic troll hiding in the shadows under the bridge.

When our children see trolls under bridges, we dogmatic adults often tell them they are too credulous. The price of holding too tightly to your belief that there are no trolls under bridges may be miss the ones that lurk there. Who is missing more: Those who will question everything, or those who will believe anything? Today, I tried to believe a little bit more, and to question what I saw a little less. And there was the troll, not exactly rolling in ecstasy at my feet, but sitting in a meditative pose, and looking back at me in disbelief.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One Man’s Treasure...

"There are three things that last: faith, hope and junk, and the greatest of these is junk." - Bible, I Corinthians 13:13 (slightly paraphrased)

Unlike the people I live with, I’m not burdened by the pack-rat gene. Accordingly, when they give me unopened 12 year old bottles of vitamins, crochet needles and yarn that’s older than I am (I don’t crochet) or that moldering stack of National Geographic magazines from the Fabulous Fifties, I can manage to throw the stuff away without a qualm.

We share a dirty little secret. They give their junk to me because they cannot bear to toss it out themselves, whereas I’m an unsentimental fool. Unlike them, I can throw away every single generic birthday card they’ve ever sent me (cold-hearted bitch that I am) as soon as they leave the room they entered to deliver said cards. I’m pretty sure they know I take out their metaphorical trash, but at least they’re spared from discarding the untold treasures buried beneath Grandma’s old Mothers Day Cards inside the cardboard grocery carton of Velveeta Cheese, with smashed corners repaired by curling duct tape. One box has a scrawl in spare red crayon: Household. I assume that if I say “Hhmmmm (pause) Household” in a soft, ponderous voice, while slowly scratching an imaginary goatee, and letting my voice trail off into a whisper, that the contents of this mysterious box will magically be revealed.

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then pack rats are the devil incarnate. There’s Satan, crouching deep inside their souls, amid unlabeled packing boxes, stacked and teetering, plastic bags with old bedspreads, and old shoeboxes of candles from celebrations past, melted into a single ur-candle of indeterminate shape and color, but with some old newsprint transferred to one surface. My theory about the mutant candle is that individual candles tend to meld together in some process of devolution that takes place only during dark nights of the closet’s soul: resistance is futile. Either that, or the metal roof of the shed conducts too much summer heat to expect candles to survive intact. But I’m no scientist.

Way back in Holy Christ Elementary School, I learned that there are three things that can survive the direct blast of nuclear bomb: cockroaches, disposed-of disposable baby diapers, and Velveeta, the processed cheesoid material sold in brick-sized lumps whose cartons seem to constitute the majority of the boxes in one section of one junk room. (Actually, I made that up. I don’t think disposable diapers were invented until after I was expelled from high school for passing out Bola Cola from the tailgate of my boyfriend’s station wagon outside the front gates of the school, because the principal, peering out from between bushes, had mistaken it for beer. In that brief moment, my hopes of being the only person canonized as a saint before dying went up in smoke. But that’s another story, as is the reason why I also lost all hope of wining the Nobel Prize in Diplomacy that day. Interestingly, they’re the same story, but that’s not important now.)

Getting back to trash: my spring cleaning fantasy is that we rent a giant sized dumpster, park it by the front door, and make about a hundred round trips between the junk rooms… (Yes you heard me – not only do we have junk closets (plural), junk outdoor sheds (plural) and junk piles in various and sundry rooms we occupy, we have - not one - but two entire rooms filled with junk.) …to make as many trips with a wheelbarrow between junk piles and dumpster as my stamina permits. Tolerance of other people is all well and good, but I’m developing serious intolerance of other people’s junk.

Lest you think I think I’m perfect, I too, have a heroic fatal flaw. Unlike junk, I have trouble leaving books and other written information behind. This might be the death of me since, as my sister recently told me, in these days of information overload, the pursuit of knowledge is less about a process of acquisition than about proficiency in tossing stuff out. But I'd rather die of information overload than from a concussion sustained by a falling stack of Velveeta cartons filled with mutant candles.

Clearly the recent rainy weather has left me with a bad case of cabin fever. At least in the yard, I’m in charge and junk is tolerated only so long as it amuses me and not a moment longer. I can’t wait to get back outside.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My War on Reality

"Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality."
Jules de Gaultier

We’re probably all sick and tired of the war on terror. For myself, I’m sick of the endlessly unfolding bread and circuses of the primary election coverage. Lately, I’m finding the political news both tedious and overly dramatic – not a healthy recipe for life, friendship, or soup. The other day, I went out to the backyard between showers to cut some broccoli for broc&cheese soup. I had to put down the scissors and return to the house for the camera. The brighter spots on the broccoli florets are drops of rain, polkadotting the already beautiful flowers.

Perhaps today’s reality is exhausting because it’s a dramatic foreshadowing of my entropic future. All systems – and all people - are winding down, losing heat, cooling off, become quiet – it’s the law. As if to illustrate the third law of thermodynamics with the force of a hammer to my forehead, my body forces me into a slower pace as I age. All my life, I have thought faster than I move. I perpetually struggle to slow my life down to match the pace of my body.

My own impatience is a shadow crouching over these winter days of forced absence from the outdoors. I am reminded more intensely of my - often futile - struggles to accomplish the calm balance where my thoughts slow down to the speed of my real life. I inherited this from my own father who, shortly before he died, told one of his grown children he thought he was making progress in his struggle against his own impatience. He was winning his own war on reality. Like Dad, I’ve always been impatient at people who would do things slowly – hurry up, slow poke!

So, I’m prepared to wage war on the reality of my unbalanced life: swinging between tedious and overly dramatic. The perfect icon for my war on reality is Slo-Poke candy. Remember Slo-Poke? A “delicious caramel” penny candy in a muddy yellow wax paper wrapper, with brown and white letters. It turns out the candy was a very profound message.

Back then, I kept trying to fly into the sun, I was in such a careless hurry to burn. Fortunately, the lesson of Slo Poke is not too late to learn. I still have the time to subvert the reality of my present days, to simply slow down. Being a slow poke is not a bad scary thing. It’s a sweet savory thing. If I manage to slow down enough, perhaps I’ll become as delicious as my broccoli cheese soup on a rainy afternoon. Or perhaps I'll become a delicious caramel. But hurry it up. Time is short!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

As Long As I Can See The Light

"Put a candle in the window, ’cause I feel I’ve got to move.
Though I’m going, going, I’ll be coming home soon,
Long as I can see the light."
John Fogerty

A good way to slow down, I’ve found, is to spend an afternoon playing in the dirt. At some point the light tells me to come inside and take a shower. But first, after putting away my work, I slowly walk around and take pictures in my backyard. That’s why I have many pictures that attempt to catch the sun at precisely that point in the western sky. In summer, the sun sets from farther toward the NW, and in the winter, the sunset tilts further toward the SW at quitting time (I think I've got that right). I could see it two years ago when I took this picture in the magic golden time. I’ve always enjoyed the light and shadow of this, my favorite time of day, even on those brief winter before the twilight deepens. It gives me the feeling I get when John Fogarty sang “As Long As I Can See the Light”.

This year, February is not as gracious as 2006 in this picture. Today, no golden light before the blue of twilight deepens. Still, the winter here is generous compared to where I grew up.

But even in San Diego, I have more time for introspection, especially on days when the sun rarely pokes through the clouds. Not only do I miss the physical movement of gardening in summer, but I miss the golden sunsets. Often, when I cannot obtain direct garden therapy by spending the afternoon outside, I hide in past glories and muse over old garden pictures. So far, so good: I can still see the light.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Arranged Suburban Marriages

“Alas! for all the pretty women who marry dull men,
Go into the suburbs and never come out again,
Who lose their pretty faces, and dim their pretty eyes,
Because no one has skill or courage to organize.

What do these pretty women suffer when they marry?
They bear a boy who is like Uncle Harry,
A girl who is like Aunt Eliza, and not new,
These old, dull races must breed true.

I would enclose a common in the sun,
And let the young wives out to laugh and run;
I would steal their dull clothes and go away,
And leave the pretty naked things to play.

Then I would make a contract with hard Fate
That they see all the men in the world and choose a mate,
And I would summon all the pipers in the town
That they dance with Love at a feast, and dance him down.

From the gay unions of choice
We'd have a race of splendid beauty and of thrilling voice.
The World whips frank, gay love with rods,
But frankly, gaily shall we get the gods. “

- Anna Wickham, Meditation at Kew, 1921

Parts of my backyard garden are like an arranged marriage between incompatible plants - and work as well together as you'd expect under such circumstances. Once I insisted on putting things together that nature never would. For example, I’ve tried to grow a weeping cherry tree at the foot of my waterfall. But the soil it too hot and dry there, especially now that much of the shade canopy has been lost as the giant pine in the center of the yard self-prunes to survive.

Once, I planted tulip bulbs next to watsonia bulbs in the place where the cherry tree died more than ten years ago. Natives to South Africa, watsonia (aka sword lily) need little water, thrive in hot weather, and survive in any old soil. Tulips, not so much. Once I fertilized the crap out of everything I planted, mistakenly believing all growing things liked hefty doses of chemical vitamins. In my harsh climate unsustainable things like cherry trees need richly composted soil and appreciate fertilizers. Natives aren’t fussy about soil, and clearly are not amused by fertilizer.

I’ve always loved this meditation best of all Anna Wickham’s poems. I’m particularly drawn to the first two lines. I think she was way ahead of her time about the effect of dull suburbia that Betty Friedan captured 30 years later in The Feminine Mystique (1965). She described suburbia as modeled in the prototypical post-war suburb Levittown PA, where The Greatest Generation(tm) - our parents - settled to breed boys like Uncle Harry, and to mow identical lawns. Fortunately, one metaphor that doesn’t fit my garden these days is the dull suburban landscape – boxwood hedges flanking the front door and each boundary between yards marked with singularly unimaginative borders of hothouse pastel button-shaped flowers.

When I grew up, Mrs. G, a few houses up the hill across the street used to spend summer afternoons with an old screwdriver and a plastic bucket, crawling around her front yard and meticulously digging up dandelions that dared to encroach on the uniform green patch nobody was permitted to cut across. Perhaps she was pretty once, but my recollection of her is a woman in a faded gingham apron, dulled by her narrow life.

I graduated from high school the year Betty’s book came out and changed my life. Those were the days when Mrs. G embodied the opposite of Goethe's man who could stand anything except a succession of ordinary days.

But – holy crap – who wants to groom a flat green slab nobody may touch - especially in the dry desert my yard is becoming? My yard is decorated this rainy season, by yellow oxalis and dandelions, both unruly yellow weeds. They are my yard’s stubborn anarchists, sewing insurgent chaos for me amid a succession of ordinary days. I may not be ready to dance naked in the sun – but to this day, I can’t bear to dig up a dandelion.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Plastic Flowers

"The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behaviour control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers."
Lewis Thomas (1913 - 1993)

I refuse to include a picture of plastic flowers with this post. Use your imagination – I know we’ve all seen them marooned in plastic flower pots outside window panes dreary with rain. In the interests of full disclosure, I do admit that I have a box of silk flowers and I put spare seasonally-appropriate vases of flowers about the inside of my house. It’s my practice in ikebana, and it provides me with something to dust. So, shut up about silk flowers. This is about plastic flowers placed outside, especially in winter. They look as out of place as a bowlegged old man in shorts on the boardwalk amid beautiful young people celebrating spring break: their pale knobby knees covered with way more hair than we all would like to admit.

Plastic flowers are in a league of their own. They look tacky when they’re new, and adding insult to this injury, are denied the dignified patina of age. Plastic flowers, no matter where on the rainbow they begin, all fade to a blotchy milky opaqueness that defies any aesthetic pretensions they might cling to.

Spiders don’t seem to mind that they’re not real, happily making webs between the flower petals and stems, thus collecting more dust and debris to insult the poor flowers. The too-bright pinks and the garish greens and trashy reds shout their imperfections. The lilies of the field may not sow or reap or whatever, but they manage to retain more dignity, even in decline and death, than immortal plastic flowers.

Then why do so many people put plastic flowers in flower pots and decorate their yards, their gates, their doorways? Better to pick some dried crepe myrtle blooms, or sumac clusters and arrange them casually in a jar. Their spare architecture and uniform but natural brown give them a spare dignity that the pot of poor fading red pelargonium flowers can only dream of.

I had my eyebrows trimmed yesterday by an Indian lady using a long length of regular sewing thread, twisted between her fingers and pulled by her teeth to trim and shape them. An amazing experience. But now, although I look tidy, I also look somewhat surprised.

So, therein lies the lesson of the fading plastic flowers. I might be able to try to stay young and fresh by resorting to increasingly desperate measures. It’s probably better to permit myself to age and live out my assigned seasons, clinging to some semblance of dignity instead of having so many face lifts that I can barely blink my eyes. It’s better to look like a stand of dry weeds than a pot of once-garish plastic daisies, managing only to look despondent and sad as they fade in the harsh winter sun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Change of Mood

“The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree,

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.”

- Robert Frost “Dust of Snow” 1923

Keep an eye on the little things. The freesia growing in the rocks by the old pond are already in bud. Days are getting longer, and hange is in the air. There may be more snow, ice, rain for some gardeners. But, regardless of our climate, something is happening beneath our feet. I can feel it when I stroll through the back yard. Neglected for months, things look scruffy – like your old boyfriend when he needed a haircut. I can still see the potential, but there’s work to be done.

So, I’m getting ready to take on the challenges again. The first days and weeks in the Spring are taken up with cleaning up, digging out, plotting and planning. The seed packets wait patiently in their cool dry box on the porch. But it’s not yet time.

Meanwhile, I wait inside, trying to prepare for the season of hard work. I’m flabby and out of shape. Just trotting out and back to dump kitchen waste and turn the compost, I feel slow and sluggish – my rueful mood darkened by the short trip through the neglected yard.

I'm feeling sluggish and lethargic, but the garden is beginning to come our of hibernation.

Although I don’t have snow, or hemlock trees, or crows trespassing in my yard, I return to the house refreshed by the crisp cool air, my mood improved and my heart softened. I saw my first hyacinth today, shyly appearing in an unexpected place. Did I plant you there?

Monday, February 11, 2008

What Color Was Your Day?

"The only truly magical and poetic exchanges that occur in this life occur between two people. Sometimes it doesn't get that far. Often, the true glory of existence is confined to individual consciousness. That's okay. Let us live for the beauty of our own reality."
Tom Robbins, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"

I noticed cactus plants quietly preparing to burst into bloom today.

When I had a small child, and I tucked her in at bedtime, we would often sum up our day for each other by answering the following question. What color was your day?

It started out simple and intuitive – my day was often blue because I hated my job. Hers was often green – especially on days she got to play outside at after-school day care.

After a while, we got all existential and symbolical. I’d have a day that was pastel blue shading into pink with shiny silver highlights. That meant there was a silver lining inside my professional rain cloud. I was going to law school, and was learning how to think straight. Hers was sometimes yellow with orange streaks and flecks of gold, a kind of impressionistic finger-painting representing a sunny day on the swings, but with a bully lurking at the bottom of the slide. She was growing in body and spirit and learning not to be intimidated by playground bullies.

The fun was explaining to one another how we arrived at specific combinations of colors, and what they signified. Yesterday, we had a preview of Spring: warm, sunny, temps in the middle 70F range. I went to an event at the garden where I volunteer. My day was pink and green, like the prickley pear and bearded cactus plants getting ready to burst into bloom.

It’s been years since I’ve summed up my day in terms of color. I should get back to that.

Friday, February 08, 2008

We Are What We Eat

“There’s many a strong farmer
Whose heart would break in two,
If he could see the townland
That we are riding to;
Boughs have their fruit and blossom
At all times of the year;
Rivers are running over
With red beer and brown beer.”
- William Butler Yeats, The Happy Townland

My lovely red cabbages are covered with white flies. I’ve salvaged lettuce, and the root crops (a few beets and last year’s potatoes) may survive long enough to eat. There will be more lettuce, even though I harvest a small salad daily. But, it’s back to the farmer’s market for the rest of my winter vegetable crops, and for any other produce I desire. Yesterday I finally gave in and bought some grapes from Chile. I can buy any vegetable or fruit at all times of the year without having to consider what might be “in season” locally.

Something has gone badly wrong with the state of agriculture in America – the disease, drugs, animal torture. Corporate dairy farms put us in danger of becoming mad cows unless we eat exactly what they tell us to eat. Panicked consumers are held hostage by terrorists in big pharmaceutical companies who sell us the drugs they make us need. Farmers must pay licenses to re-plant Genetically Modified Organisms growing from Monsanto’s hybrid seeds. These same farmers created the parent plants of Monsanto’s licensed mutant progeny.

Cloned cows and licensed lettuce, mutants modified by Monsanto. This has become our food.

Our vegetables and fruits and grains are mostly grown in fields doused with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics. Our harvests are tainted by chemical fertilizers, laced with pollutants, and possibly carcinogens. Our children eat produce grown for its looks rather than its nutritional value. Our food is selected by laboratory chemists whose mathematical formulas include how far the product will be shipped, and how long it can be stored without sacrificing its youthful good looks. What we buy to eat is often wrapped in stiff cellophane and vacuum sealed with an inert gas to retard spoilage.

Monsanto sues small farmers whom they accuse of using their proprietary hybrid seed without buying a license to plant it. Monsanto warns the FDA that dairies who dare to label their milk products as “hormone-free” or “not grown with antibiotics or GM organisms” are endangering the eating consumer by confusing them with misleading labels. The FDA does not require that Monsanto’s dairy products grown with their chemicals and GMOs must be so labeled.

I don’t know why I’m ranting about Monsanto when it was white flies that got to my cabbage. I should have sprayed the entire yard with pesticide. Then at least, I’d have cabbage to enjoy…

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

It’s a Tricky Thing

“I've always thought that one of the worse things in the world would be to live to be really old & feeble. I'm torn about the assisted suicide thing. I don't want to be in a physical/mental situation where I'm helpless & useless. (Who would?) …
“But then I suspect that the closer you get to death the more you cling to life... And like the aging athlete, does anyone ever really know when they're washed up? ...
“It's a tricky thing.”
KP (aka, “Seven of Nine”)

Remember when “assisted suicide” was a joke for old people who weren’t, we always assumed, giving up much? So, what’s the deal with assisted suicide, eh? But now, it’s different. We’re beginning to figure out what life would be if… if WE got older. Who’s laughing now, monkey boy?

For many of us old enough to be called “crones” we have become caregivers of our parents – who are now older than old. I don’t particularly like the word “crone” because it conjures that scene in Macbeth where three witches stir a bubbling cauldron. To me that word carries some negative baggage of pre-liberated womanhood, and low self esteem. I wear flowing purple robes, and scarves of lavender pink.. I neither dye my graying hair, nor wear it up like the elderly. I wear my hair long and trailing behind my head like a dusty comet’s tail. I’ve lost my looks but gained 20+ pounds of wisdom. Lucky me, I’m frickin’ magic.

Which - to get back to getting even older than old - is why I’d prefer not to seek the refuge of yesterday. Sure, I don’t want to surrender to intellectual entropy any more than the next old lady, but I don’t want to hide beneath some myths from prehistory. I don’t want to explain who I am in terms of what’s in the past.

Of course, this line of thought reminded me of my own past. When I was a know-it-all of about 30, I watched my ex-MIL care for her mother - who was then in her mid-90s. Nana no longer knew most people, and spoke mostly in her native Polish. By day, Nana sat in a rocking chair and knitted a single skein of cheap, fat, neon pink yarn into a 8 - 10” wide scarf. By night, ex-MIL would unwind the day’s knitting, and roll the Sisyphean ball of yarn back to the sewing basket.

Then, I was a smug size 8. I thought it was a heartless, endless, cruel chore. But ex-MIL was in her sixties, about where I now find myself in This Pageant, Life. Now, I see that scene of mother and daughter re-enacting Penelope’s glorious Trojan War Tapestry. By day, Penelope would weave the story to put off her aggressive suitors. By night, the Queen would un- weave her day’s work, as she waited for Ulysses to make it back from war.

I see the world from both sides now. Tonight, I offer a prayer for the peace of the lonely elderly – wide-eyed and awake through the dark nights, and nodding off during the fuzzy days. Tonight, like Penelope, I pray: Please, try to get home before dark.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I exist as a tatterdemalion

"I have been a tree with its roots reaching deep into the good dark earth,
I have been a lake sparkling in the sunlight,
I have been a hawk in rapturous flight,
I have been a dolphin dancing in the ocean,
I have been a mountain dreaming under the moon.
I have been a flame dancing on the hearth,
I have been a light in the window to guide a weary traveler home."
Kerrdelune, Light

Before Sunday’s rain, I managed to get into the front yard for a few pictures of the acacia, which insists on looking its best on cold drizzly winter days. The bright yellow blooms almost glow.

J’s assigned her undergraduate English class the challenge of writing about a “concept”. The example she uses to demonstrate is “authority” which she then lectures on with great relish. Included in her lecture, she reminds the students that they can’t just begin with: “The dictionary defines X as blah blah, and I believe that is very, very true….” She admonishes writers to consider their chosen concept as a dynamic “process” not an inert “noun”.

That was on my mind as I read Kerrdelune’s post on Light (quoted above). Consider light: talk about the whole mystery of light as a concept. I was soaring along on this flight of fancy, when, without warning, I hit a brick wall: “In this lifetime I exist as a tatterdemalion…”

What’s a bloody tatterdemalion?

Before reverting to English composition 101 and going straight to the he dictionary, I took a moment to dredge up any shreds of meaning attached to this obscure word that might be floating at the back of my mind - like garbage sloshing around the legs of dark and rotting piers.

A tatterdemalion is something disheveled I thought, somewhat raggedy, but still standing up straight with a certain inner dignity showing through the cracks. I pictured this concept as a small rustic cabin, seen from outside on a moonless night, with a candle glowing humbly behind curtains in an upper window. My unkempt acacia trees, dressed in their unseasonably bright flowers and brightening a cold winter afternoon, seem to fit this mood. Like disconnected lights, shining inside an old soul, dressed in the wrong fashion, and wearing the wrong accessories, and simply not like us, my dears.

Then, I Googled it. The dictionary says “tatterdemalion \tat-uhr-dih-MAYL-yuhn; -MAY-lee-uhn\, noun: A person dressed in tattered or ragged clothing; a ragamuffin.” Humph. I flatter myself that my “concept” is richer than the flat definition. I do however, appreciate that the dictionary voiced a certain dithering indecisiveness about the number of syllables pronounced aloud.

There’s a state of mind way beyond this noun, that the word invokes in Kerrdelun’s post on light. Her lyrical poem paints a picture as lovely as the photo she chose to illustrate her point.

Here I am, existing on today’s spin of the cosmic clock, embodying the concept of a tatterdemalion. And who knows what we’ll each be next time around? I love the idea of being a candle lighting the weary traveler’s way home What a concept!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Nothing Left to Believe In?

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on – and have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear… what remains? Nature remains.”
Walt Whitman

The other day, I harvested my first crop of the year: mixed greens, some broccoli florets. I augmented with some nasturtium flowers, some mint, sage and thyme. The whole time I was wandering around the yard with my salad washing bowl and scissors, I was hunting for edibe stuff as I greeted pots and plants I hadn’t seen in the past week or more. What a refreshing harvest.

I’ve reached an age when my passions are starting to harden into clichés: I believe it, therefore it is true. A world view that is neither reciprocal nor compassionate. So, I’m about there, cowering beneath the last shreds of my denial stage, and harvesting lettuce. I may be slower, but at least I’m wiser. I may have Alzheimer’s but then on the bright side, at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s. I’ve become my own cliché: an opinionated, 60-something, Grumpy Gus.

How did I get here? Well, there I was, retired at the ripe old age of 56, so I’d have some time to grow up before I died. It was pretty cool in ‘03, and remains moderately fresh to this day. Now, I can do what I want to do. For why I want to do it. Felt like being 12 and getting an adult library card: grown-up life awaited.

Then, as I added crumbled blue cheese, grated fresh ginger, and a sliced (store-bought) pear, like that Frisbee that comes closer, and closer - it hits me! I’m going to get old now, and I’m going to become acquainted, if not with sorrow, then with sorrow’s mother: death. And did I mention that upon reluctantly awakening in this time period a few years back, my luggage was lost: my faith? So, here I am getting old without the consolation of anticipating that reunion picnic with loved ones on a puffy cloud.

So here I am at the station, only to find no one is here to meet me. It’s a dead end. I added some glazed pecans to the salad. This is the season of the year when I have a sweet tooth. Compensation for loss of faith?

As I enjoyed what can only be described as salad heaven, I glanced at the clock to see how close my meal came to lunchtime. The clock said that any minute now, the people I love and care for will get even older than me. It’s like I retired and was dreaming blissfully on the beach as the tide rose. Waves started to crash over my chest. Our new god Science hasn’t quite figured out how to make our bodies young again.

But such a fresh and nutritious lunch fired up my brain. I realized that while I may be in the last generation facing unconditional surrender to physical degeneration of age, mine is probably the first generation who have an option not to surrender to the mental degeneration. That part is optional.

So, here’s the plan. I plan to live out my life span and remain alive to the last sunrise I’ll ever see from earth, and then I’ll lay down and die a happy death. Possibly after enjoying a fresh salad I grew from seeds. Belief in that is stronger in my soul than the faith I lost, with it’s false promises and sweet lies.

Today, I’m no longer waiting for my real life to begin. Man, that was a good salad!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Lovely Lunacy Part 2

“I think the imagination is the single most useful tool humankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.” From Ursula K. LeGuin, The Wave in the Mind.

I have just turned the first calendar page on February. 2008. The year is no longer young, and the moon is on the wane. I found a lovely website from the U S Naval Observatory that lets you calculate moonrise and moonset anywhere for the whole rest of the year.

This picture*, in impossible shades of imaginary sky-blue-pink, is real – but it’s not my sky. This is what the world looked like when the moon rose in New Zealand on March 5, 2004. I don’t remember what I was doing that day but, according to the website above, the moon rose in El Cajon on 4:45 on an waning winter afternoon, and set in the wee hours (05:45) of the next morning.

(* Photo by © 2002-8 Mark Phillips, used with permission. Check out his photo page. He’s got an artist's eye for color and an offbeat way of seeing everyday things differently.)

But imagination serves where memory fails. I now know that my westerly setting moon rose a while later in the eastern sky of Paihia, New Zealand. I don’t have to imagine what the world looked like that moonrise, because I have this picture.

Now, what good would such a picture do if you didn’t have an imagination to see the moon rolling around the sky like a marble inside a globe? What if you lacked the imagination to believe that all things are possible everywhere for a moment every morning?

Here’s what Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849 -1924) imagined about the magic of sunrise:
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender, solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes on cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange, unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun – which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so” (From “The Secret Garden”)