Monday, May 31, 2010

Storms Of the Heart

When the rain finally came, it fell as if from the lip of an overturned bucket, then as though someone had tipped the earth and spilled the ocean. Wave after wave of water splashed down. My windshield wipers could not keep up so I pulled off the road and sat listening to the hammer of the drops on the roof of my car.

It’s like that sometimes. The gray clouds hover, you expect rain, but what you get is a deluge—more life than you can handle at one time. It further occurred to me as I watched the slide of water over the window that no matter what happens in nature, there’s a mirror of human behavior somewhere in the event.

My own life’s weather has been tempestuous with just enough calm moments in between to suspect that there will always be more. The storms still catch me unaware, however, despite the warning signs, the rumblings of discontent like far off thunder, the harsh words and heavy silences that precede the tempest.

I was taught as a child to harness the lightning that threatened to blast relationships to smithereens in one brilliant, violent flash. I was severely reprimanded for pulling my brother’s ear in an argument, was punished for biting and kicking and scratching to settle a score, was banished to my room for outbursts of verbal wrath. Slowly but surely I built a container for my anger, put up walls. I wore deliberate kindness like a suit of armor and learned that what you practice in earnest can become an integral part of you. There were always chinks in my armor, though, and I was continuously breaching the walls to see if the climate outside my own sense of self had changed.

As a teenager, I channeled my intensity and passion into safe outlets, pouring my turbulent thoughts into stories and diary entries and poems. I created happy endings where none existed, wrestled with fears, practiced acceptance, wrote and rewrote my real life into something I could believe in. I learned that I could be at odds with everyone else’s real life and still be secure in my own.

As an adult I’ve come to see the mirror in natural events as an aide to figuring things out. Just as surely as I knew the rain sluicing over my car and obliterating the highway would ease and finally cease, I know too, that storms of the heart blow themselves out. The incessant winds that ride the sky, winds that change the world just by moving through it, blow the tears, like the rain, away.

I have learned that, try as I might to outrun my life storms, they always catch up with me. Far better to stop by the side of the road and wait them out, letting the rain and the tears wash down, revive, cleanse, release, than to shake my fist in helpless anger at a natural turn of events. Gradually, as I sat thinking these very thoughts, the rain ceased pounding, became a gentle patter. I eased my car back onto the highway, safely along a road I could now see.

 Thank you Hilary for the POTW mention!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Limited Editions

Barbara asked for a glimpse of some of my artwork. What follows are bits and pieces of bits and pieces I've done over the years. The framed prints were difficult for me to photograph - I am not familiar enough with my camera settings to avoid weird flashes and odd angles...
my first (and only) oil painting

 my first water color

this began as a landscape but it went amok

I've been drawing and painting off and on over the years but only as the mood strikes. I've never taken formal art lessons beyond high school though I did paint with my friend Lora (see here and here). Her husband Bernie, looking at one of my earlier attempts remarked, "I have the side of a barn that needs painting when you're done here."

For a while I made and sold greeting cards...

and what I called namescapes - a drawing to accompany a newborn's name.

I also drew pen and ink sketches of buildings, houses, and scenes and made them into note cards...

and sometimes I just sketched and painted for my own amusement...

It's been awhile since I've drawn anything other than quick sketches to decorate my journal entries. Barbara thinks spring is a great time to get out the easel. Maybe I will.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eleven Questions I've Been Asked

1. If you had to choose one vice in exclusion of all others, what would it be?

Are we speaking here of the infamous seven—vainglory, envy, anger, dejection, avarice, gluttony, and lust? Or are we talking of imbibing spirits, smoking, cussing, indolence, lying? So many choices, so little time… If my back was to the wall, I’d choose indolence.

2. If you could change one specific thing about the world, what would it be?

Its self-perception.

3. Name the cartoon character you identify with the most.

Hobbes from Calvin and.

4. If you could live one day in your life over again, which day would it be?

The day my mother died. I would not follow the doctor’s suggestion to go home and get some sleep, but would stay with her and hold her hand until she was gone.

5. If you could go back in history and spend a day with one person, who would it be?

Lewis Thomas. His view of the world was perceptive and encouraging, and he was a most eloquent writer. If he was busy, I’d be happy spending the day in the company of Carl Sagan or Albert Einstein, chatting about stars and time.

6. What is one thing you lost, sold, or threw away that you wish you had back?

I regret losing the old family homestead.

7. What is your one most important contribution to this world?

My four children. They are all fine young adults with a sense of purpose, an innate kindness, and an honest desire to be of help to others.

8. What is your one hidden talent that nearly no one knows about?

I can draw fairly well.

9. What is your most cherished possession?

I cherish them all – that’s why I keep them. I’ve dragged a few pieces of family furniture from pillar to post. I have my Memere’s china, my mother’s tea pot, the coat tree my father made in high school shop class, a handmade flowerpot from my eldest son that says “To a great mom from a great son,” a photograph of my home street from my second son, two framed original poems from my youngest daughter, a beautiful woven basket from my eldest daughter. From my sisters there are bits and pieces purchased in the countries through which they’ve traveled, photographs and books and records, the broken mantel clock from my childhood…

10. What one person influenced your life the most when growing up?

Besides my family members? My high school English teacher. She encouraged me to write, and took the time to help me find my own way of expressing myself.

11. What word describes you better than any other?


Monday, May 17, 2010

Magpie Tales #14: True Story!

 Dinner, Anyone?

There were ten empty blue willow plates set before ten hungry guests gathered around the table, all sniffing appreciatively at the spicy aroma of pork chop pizziole. They heard the oven door open. There was a scraping sound, a grunt, and a tremendous, squishy thud. Investigation showed them what had become of dinner. Pork chops, tomato sauce and cheese lay in a puddle on the floor. Sauce slid down the walls and some of the cheese hung from a doorknob. “Ah,” remarked one of the guests, sizing up the situation. “Pork Chops Linoleum!”

For this week's Magpie Tales.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

That Kind of Day

It was that kind of day - every hour was filled to brimming with minutes waiting to be used up. I was up at dawn and by 7:30 a.m. I'd hung two loads of washing on the line, the floors were vacuumed and washed, and I was rummaging among the gardening things for my gloves. By 8:30, my little cotoneaster shrub had a new home, the blackberries were staked,

and the two heeled in plum trees had been transplanted to a sunny spot next to the fence.

The rhubarb plant needed weeding, and the patio stones were nearly covered in runaway violets. I spent the next hour on my knees.
The vegetable patch is coming along slowly. It is located at the farm behind my cottage and this year my neighbor J and I decided to align all our boxes so we could mow between them. It was a huge project, dismantling all the boxes we'd made the year before, transferring the dirt and cleaning up last year's debris from the paths. I had one last box to stake and fill.
I finished at noon and dragged my weary self home for some lunch and a rest. While I was sipping a cold drink and thinking about afternoon projects, J called. It was bulky waste day at the transfer station and did I want to go along for the ride? I did - my TV had decided to take its own life a few nights before and, as sometimes happens, my electric kettle followed suit. J came over with the wheelbarrow, fetched my TV, and together we bullied it into the back of her car.

As we pulled into the transfer station someone was unloading a futon, neatly rolled and tied. "Look!" said J. "Isn't that on your want list?"

I am modestly famous in the neighborhood for that list. Almost everything that's ever been on it has appeared at the transfer station or on a tag sale table for mere pennies or has been donated by someone who is getting rid of the very thing I need. We unloaded the TV and shoved the futon in its place. It was destined to replace the old cushion on my outdoor swing which had flattened so much with use that it hardly provided any padding against the hard steel frame. I'd been looking for a used futon for months.

The mattress was much heavier than the TV, and unwieldy, but the two of us managed to jack it out of the car and sling it onto my outdoor swing. It was just the right length but hung to the ground front and back. I fetched scissors and we gutted the thing, removing a good two feet of stuffing. After tugging and pushing the remaining part into place, I stitched the cover back up and plopped down on my new cushion, delighted that I no longer could feel the steel bars at the back of my knees.
"You'll never be able to take this in every night like you did your old cushion," J pointed out to me, so rather than take a nap there in the sunshine as I longed to do, I decided to set up my summer screen tent. If it rained, the swing would be partially protected by the tent roof and I could always cover the cushion with a plastic cloth. But of course, the lawn needed mowing first...
By the time the tent was up, the sun was sinking ever lower, it was suppertime, and I was hungry. I went back to the garden for the asparagus I'd seen earlier in the day, cut several stalks and plunked them in a cup of cold water until I'd showered and was ready to make a meal.

The evening air was beguiling, perfumed by lilacs and lily of the valley so after supper I grabbed my camera and took a walk in the waning light. I'd used up nearly every minute of the day.
Goodnight now!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Be It Ever So Humble...

I have been house/dog sitting for several days. I live in a snug one room cottage so the prospect of having room to spread out is always so beguiling that I usually say yes when asked to take care of someone's house or pets for a bit. The first night I was there, I found notes on the kitchen counter detailing the feeding and toilet habits of the three dogs with whom I'd be living for the next four days. Jake, the elderly Golden Retriever, was to get two scoops of kibble laced with gravy from the fridge twice a day.

 The elderly but childlike Jake

The two Shih-Tzu, Brady and Oscar, were to get a scoop each of a different kind of kibble. Oscar needed a pill (hidden in a small spoonful of canned dog food) which was also offered (sans pill) to Brady. Jake got to lick the spoon so he wouldn't feel left out.


They all had their own private spaces on the extensive lawns. Jake went out back on a long leash that was chained to a porch post. Oscar and Brady had their own individual retractable leashes and use of the side yard. Jake liked to play throw and fetch. Brady and Oscar liked to bark.

They all love being with people and did not want me out of their sight. They followed me everywhere, their toenails click-click-clicking on the wood and tile floors. It sounded as though I were dragging something behind me. I'd take a step and hear ch-ch-ch-ch-ch as the three scrambled to their feet and came to see what I was doing or where I might be going. Kitchen? Oh goody, we'll come, too. Bedroom? Wait! We're with you. Bathroom? Not without us!

Jake slept on a mat in the hallway. Brady and Oscar were trained to kennel and mention of a doggy treat had them scrambling for their wire cage. I had a large bed in a large room with a bathroom just steps away. The trouble was that the room I was to sleep in was at the other end of the house from where O and B were bedded down. I was just drifting off to sleep when I was wakened by a barrage of yips that threatened to break glass.

I sat up straight up, every hair on my arms and head standing straight up with me. When I finally realized where I was and what the sound was, I crawled out of bed, dragged the kennel into my room and fell asleep to the sound of snuffles and jingling dog tags and grunts of contentment. Then at the door came a scratch and a whine. I crawled out of bed again and opened the door for Jake.

The feeding and toilet schedule for my three furry friends became routine by day three. We all slept together in peace, and wherever I went I knew that if I looked down, three faces would look back up at me. The morning I left, Oscar and Brady took one look at my suitcases and set up such yelps of protest that I was moved to tears. I took a picture of them saying goodbye - you can see Jake looking resigned to his lonely fate and Oscar pleading at the door. Brady did not want to watch me leave so he went into the living room, barking goodbye as he went.

 Jake and Oscar saying goodbye

I am home now. It is very, very quiet. I sleep through the night. But I find myself looking down a lot and listening for the ch-ch-ch-ch of tiny nails on the floor.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

At least that's the cliche. I am about to attempt a proof. I am no photographer. When I was writing news for the local paper, the editor always sent a camera person with me. The photos I brought back myself were out of focus or indecipherable - were those someone's feet and if so, whose? Was that a photo of someone's hair? Why on earth was there a picture of a yawning black chasm amid pictures of a parade?

A few years ago my son gave me a small point-and-shoot digital camera. I fell in love with taking pictures because the software that accompanied the camera allowed me to crop or even better, delete any photo unworthy of publication. Not that my skills improved, you understand, but the end results could be displayed without the embarrassment I'd suffered previously.

Now into my hands has come a new camera - an Olympus FE, a lovely sleek silver thing that has more focus than I ever dreamed, a zoom lens that operates all on its own despite my ineptness and produces photos like this:

and this:

and this:

I am off to read the manual with its pages of buttons and settings and picture taking tips. Then I'll be back.