Light

img_0044Pacific Northwest winters leave you no doubt as to the need for a solstice, a festival of light. The days are disturbingly short here for an Arizona native, sun mostly gone at 4:30 pm this time of year. Still a month to go before it turns around, before the days begin to lengthen.  I suppose it is a matter of perspective. I remember a friend’s mother who came down from Alaska for the winter, for the sunshine, the grandchildren, and the longer days. Her desire to migrate south for the winter to balmy bright Oregon made me laugh.

Mostly when I look out the window here in November, I see grey, and more grey, and soppy trees, a few leaves clinging to branches in orange or red, but now mostly brown. I force myself outside; I don’t like getting wet. I own rain pants. Incandescent lights flood all the houses. Most of my psychologically minded friends have a “full spectrum” desk lamp, to mimic the sunrise we can’t see, and to tell us to get the heck out of bed.  Everyone is on high doses of Vitamin D. You can hire people to put up thousands of outdoor Christmas lights on your overbig suburban home.

I remember the frost on the continuously green lawns in Arizona, our weak version of snow. You could erase the frost by walking on it, trodding around in ridiculously warm boots to make a traceable path. You could even slide a few steps, or try to scrape it together to make a feeble ball. How I wished for snow! ..thinking of the one picture, some cacti with white coating, taken when I was very small, evidence that  snow actually fell just a bit on one Christmas day. Maybe this year! Inevitably though, there was no snow, only the sun sparkling off the frost until it got too warm.

There was light, though, and plenty of it, and playing outside as much as you wanted, even in December.  And a strange plastic white Christmas tree, with gold and red decorations, and there were lights on the tree, too, lights that drove my father crazy because those lights needed to work, EVERY SINGLE ONE, or none of them would. I remember  the obsessive compulsive search for the offending burnt out bulb, and the victory when it was discovered and ruthlessly replaced, and I think my father had a scotch to reward himself when the tree finally lit up.

Portland is vastly different from Arizona in this respect:  no one would have a fake tree, or very few people.  Pine trees grow like weeds, sometimes in backyards. Christmas trees have to be dried in garages before they’re brought in, and  once installed, watered relentlessly in their stands.  Moss can take over the grass lawns, water pours from the skies, down the streets, off the roofs. We’re so wet we don’t carry umbrellas; maybe it’s another layer between our eyes and the hidden light of the sun, and we can’t afford more shade.   A few days of sun, of unobscured natural light, is all we can hope for in late November and December.

I sit here and contemplate a walk outside, with my full spectrum lamp beside me, the kitchen lights reflected in the window, the surrounding rooms black in contrast. It’s not even 2pm. I’ll put on my raincoat, and maybe my rain pants, pull up my hood, and take myself outside.  I’ll unplug the orange lights from Halloween and look in the garage for the twinkly red ones.

Light is both a wave and a particle, I’m sure you’ll remember. I’ve had my share of both, lived in unremitting waves of light, in a place where light could power all the houses and the cars, where light transformed to heat could burn the back of your thighs on vinyl car seats, where sometimes you’d wish for night to come and cool you off, so that you could finally open a window. I’ve also lived very particular light, so precise and time limited that a glimpse of it would provide hope for the coming week even if you only saw the sun for four minutes on Monday at 9:47 am.

Given I’m in very particular light right now, I’ll  try to imagine the blue sky of the desert, and look forward to the Winter Solstice and the tilt back towards the sun.

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Pumpkin Pie

“Never say ‘no’ to pie. No matter what, wherever you are, diet-wise or whatever, you know what? You can always have a small piece of pie, and I like pie. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like pie. If somebody doesn’t like pie, I don’t trust them. I’ll bet you Vladimir Putin doesn’t like pie.”  — Al Roker

As a single mom, I’ve seen the holidays as a financial burden for years now.  By being dark, you keep me in the light.  I have a resolution: this year will be memories and pie.

I can see Arizona morning light filtering in through the yellow curtains.  My mom was baking a pie.  Full of conversation, she spun stories one after another the way a person in Phoenix loves air conditioning, with continuous search and reckless abandon.  I remember standing in front of an open refrigerator to try to get cool.  A shy little kid, I was no match for my mom’s boisterousness, but she did understand that I was a bit fragile and often sick.  Sometimes she read me letters from her sisters, sometimes we discussed the news.   She had sweet nicknames for me, her only daughter…. she called me honey, sweetie, or “pumpkin pie.”

She didn’t really *teach* me to bake per se.  I sat beside her handing her ingredients, watching and absorbing.  She rolled out dough, sifted flour, sprinkled it on the rolling pin…. sprinkled it on waxed paper…stuck the paper with water to the Formica table, her pretty hands white with flour dust.  “You don’t push down on the dough, you push outwards.  You don’t want to crush it or make it tough.”   She sprinkled cinnamon on the crust. She learned to make pie from her mother… back on the family farm.

My mom stopped in Arizona on her way to California to become Rosie-the-Riveter.  She left her parents to look for a life of her own.   She took off with her best friend, by Greyhound I think, though I’m not sure of the details anymore.

I call my youngest daughter “pumpkin pie.”   Just a few years and she’ll be out of the house, beginning her own adventures.  She tells me she can’t cook, and I try to show her, before she’s gone into a world of Mrs. Smiths, Marie Calendars and Pepperidge Farm.

My mom must’ve known she was handing down family secrets:  my grandmothers pie crust, her own relentless optimism.  Looking back, we were pretty poor, but she didn’t let me know that.  Only rarely did she mention a missed opportunity or a regret– and that was after I was grown and out of the house.  Little hints of things… my dad was working at a law firm…he should’ve stayed there…. or that his parents could have helped more with a down payment on the house.  I assumed everyone clipped coupons and ate tuna casserole.  Pie was for the holidays, and they were full of little traditions, from a manger scene we pulled down from the attic (Jesus had a broken neck, glued together), to lights my dad hung on the eaves and palm trees, and a fresh blue spruce tree bought at a local lot.   There was all the regalia of Catholic mass and a candy my dad made with peppermint.  Presents under the tree, turkey dinner, the whole ball of wax.  My dad’s chrysanthemums from the backyard at Thanksgiving.

Soon, my dad lost his hearing and became very isolated… my mom was stuck at home dealing with his increasing dementia.  As soon as the kids were grown, the holidays completely stopped for them.  The first year they got a “tabletop” tree.   After that, no tree at all.  I suppose the necessity was gone, but maybe the joy as well.  I don’t think they were completely unhappy, but I think life handed them a bitter blow of bad health.  There were jackrabbits and quail in the backyard, and a lemon tree, and I think that helped my mom to keep her sanity.  I thnk she found solace out on the back porch with the gladiolas.  I try not to feel badly for her, as it’s useless to live with regret.  She wouldn’t have wanted that.  When I’m low, I try to remember to go outside, sit on a rock and let the wind blow.  After all, I do live in Colorado.  I breathe in the sky, I make a  new universe.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”  – Carl Sagan

The election has taken the wind out of my sails.  From a man soon to be in the White House who spouts profanity about grabbing women, to the sad cast of pro-life characters he’s putting in his cabinet, it’s a discouraging time to be an American woman.  I think the President-elect puts Sarah Palin in office though, I will stand out in my front yard and scream.  Then there was the recent debacle with Pence going to see Hamilton.  Rather than a President-elect demanding an apology, could not our future President have diffused the situation?  Perhaps saying “Of course we support diversity; Mr. Pence enjoyed the show.”   I have to pull happiness from something other than the nightly news, that’s for certain.  Especially the cute little filler stories at the end.  Jesus, they must think we’re idiots.  But how difficult to bake a turkey when they’re bombing civilians in Mosul and Aleppo.

I see the light still, filtering in lazily through my parent’s yellow kitchen curtains. Outside, the grapefruit trees sparkle green under the bright blue sky, the grass slightly white with frost.  I reach for my “Rosie-the Riveter” oven mitt. Although I don’t believe in all the trappings of the holidays, I still believe in pie.  Baking pie you see, and Rosie-the-Riveter, even for a feminist like myself, aren’t disparate things.  We can be both baker and office worker.  Women can both think and bake.  If  the President-elect asks, I hired someone else to make the pie.  Perhaps an unemployed man.

Go outside….look at the sky.  Watch the wind for a minute.  Feel the sun. Sit on the back porch for a while.  Have some, please…one little piece never hurt anybody, damn it.

via Daily Prompt: Aromatic

aromatic

Gratitude

Well, the holiday season is underway again. I’m weary of it.

I wish I had the internal resources to approach the holidays with the joy and anticipation children have naturally, and which the advertisers try to generate with their Santa clad models and sparkly champagne, with smiling families all around a turkey (and if you’re one of the newly defunct liberals, certainly acknowledging that their are “issues” and “unacknowledged grief” but agreeing magnanimously to set that aside so we can stuff ourselves).

I’m ready for a diet, and I might begin on Thanksgiving.

I recall a conversation with a woman at a church I attended once; she was probably in her sixties or early seventies. I had young children at the time, and of course I was in the midst of planning the Santa visit and wondering which matching dresses I could pick for my adorable daughters. I must have asked her  what she was doing for Christmas, and she looked at me somewhat ruefully. “I’d be fine if we did this every five years” she said. “That’s about right for me.”

I haven’t enjoyed Christmas for years now. It’s possible that I am a Grinch, or that my Jewish roots, long suppressed, are exerting themselves.  Perhaps I need a Day of Atonement before the winter holidays so this natural tendency to ruminate on my sins could have formal expression. Or…if I could just focus on the True Christmas, the gift of new life and a savior for all? And the best values of America for Thanksgiving, the American Holiday?

I’ve got to admit, after this election, that last statement seems like a sorry joke. And I sort of resent having to bolster myself to see through the trivial in these events. Where’s the heart? And am I the one that has to dig through the nonsense to find it?

I’m aware  that I am weighed down by loss and grief which by social rules forbid expression at the happy holidays.   In fact, my most joyful holiday in the past few years , (one I’ve always liked a lot, in fact) is Halloween, the holiday that acknowledges pretending and relationships with those no longer with us.  I can say out loud “hey, all these people I love, they’re dead!” and everyone says “yes! they are!”

Awesome.

We don’t want too much of that dead people stuff, though, and so we move on to the joy and smiling, and the unacknowledged pretending and family truces.

The mindfulness and meditation movement coaches gratitude, and I agree in theory and try hard in practice.  I will say it here-I have much to be grateful for.  I wish gratitude outweighed anxiety. I am anxious in the arrival of the holidays, because I will be sad.

This year, both by choice and coincidence I will actually escape, or at least  I will be on plane on Christmas day, returning from a pilgrimage I hope will put a positive spin on a very challenging year. What is remarkable is that even though I would love to skip Christmas, I feel a sense of loss for the very thing I want to avoid. How sad not to have your family all round you at Christmas, brothers, sisters, parents, children, spouse. How doubly sad to realize that those relationships are absent, distant,  or isolated to a spiritual realm. The plane actually makes little difference; there are not that many people to celebrate with, and certainly not the people I miss most.

But here is a bit of gratitude: Halloween comes every year.

Mopping the Floor

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – Fitzgerald

The gin and tonics melt in a frosty glass with a sprig of mint, resting on a big pine table on the stone porch at the  Grove Park hotel. Fitzgerald’s ghost softly whispers “come here, come listen to this…” — in invitation. His hair is parted in the middle, and he’s wearing a jacket in my vision, he always wearing a jacket. I don’t believe in ghosts but he has things to tell me.

“Maybe there’s a god above, but all I ever learned from love was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you…. And it’s not a cry you can hear at night, it’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” -Leonard Cohen

You say the trip would be an act of love.  But there are floors to mop.  Does anyone voluntarily mop floors? The kids don’t know how much I hate it, and they shouldn’t.  It’s part of the pact that we entered bringing them into this world.  It’s an act if love showing the kids the little things – from a fine novel to a Tiffany lamp in a dark world. Transcending the blandness of the everyday, so that in times of despair maybe they will remember.

We walk on the bones of the dead, and I think spirit is as real as memory, as anything. I tell myself magic is everywhere, in the wind– if you listen for it above the commotion of cars and humanity; you can almost see magic in the pale stars above the city lights. I’m afraid that rings with resignation or despair.  You can’t really see stars anymore. They’re just gone.

Thanksgiving is approaching, a holiday that’s been distorted into a celebration of deep-fried turkey and football, children’s white paper hats and Indian feathers. How terrifying that we’ve trivialized the past, when so few pilgrims actually survived the first few years of their “pilgrimage” to America. Wasn’t it around 50? How did they even have strength to bury the dead? What a disservice to remember them this way, and to the Indians who helped them survive. All of our holidays have been compromised and commercialized… with the exception of MLK day, which is too young to have been tainted by the scourge of time. With all the shooting it may become National Ceasefire Day.

I can almost taste those gin & tonics,  glasses sweating with condensation, ice cold. We’ll travel like the arc of a modern novel: rising action, self-realization, with no denouement. A pilgrimage of passion toward a past that flies from us as we reach toward it.

Something spiritual is in the air…maybe it’s personal or maybe has risen from the depravity of the election. With Leonard Cohen’s death this weekend, “Hallelujah” is in my head. Really more of a ballad about lost love, isn’t it?

“But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya”

When I first moved to Colorado Springs, about twenty years ago, I made a visit to Frank Water’s house. It took a little doing. A trip to the library to find the address…a lunch hour, a parking meter, quarters. Most importantly to stop procrastinating.  When I found it, I discovered it had been turned into a multi-apartment rental. I asked some of the tenants to let me peak in and I caught a glimpse of an elaborate stairwell, crown moulding, peeling paint. There’s a little park next to his house, and I sat on a bench there under a pine tree, trying in vain to see the mountain peak as it was a hundred years ago.

Part Cherokee, Waters wrote from the Native American’s point of view. He wrote The Man Who Killed the Deer, and also a historical piece called Pike’s Peak. I bought a signed edition of the latter for a dear friend of mine, but that’s another story, for another day. It was nice though, to hold his signature in my hand.

Maybe you don’t find the pilgrimage, maybe the pilgrimage finds you. I stumbled across Sophia’s Cathedral somehow, in Novgorod, Russia, and inside was an icon of the Virgin that reportedly stopped bullets in WWII. Madonna and child. If ever there was a mystical place, that was it. I could’ve stared, literally stared, at that image for hours. …. I can’t help but feel with our current view toward art, that we’ve discarded any reverence toward beauty and poetry. With the recent remarks by our President-elect, I feel belittled and degraded by our society in a way I’ve never known before.

“…her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you…”

On the same trip to Russia, a once in a lifetime event I know, I think I knew it then…I also saw Dostoevsky’s staircase…the apartment where he is reputed to have written Crime and Punishment… Dostoevsky looks a little like Jack Nicholson if you imagine him without the beard. The stairway was filled with graffiti from around the world. Hundreds of pilgrims paid tribute to a man who stood up in troubled times, risking his life and trying to preserve both his life and his sanity.  Few writer’s had such insight into the human soul.  “Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”  – Fitzgerald

Spiritual quests: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/12/spiritual-healing-pilgrimages_n_4944030.html

Door of Sophie’s C3f03827309ade96b3a0b58c43c1de752athedral, Novgorod  stock-photo-famous-bronze-west-entrance-gates-of-st-sophia-cathedral-in-veliky-novgorod-allegedly-made-in-40871959

Pussy Cat

Today’s piece is a copy with permission from a promising young woman. I offered to publish any and all manifestos that she and her associates would produce from their base overseas, where these intelligent young people struggle to make sense of what is truly insensible.

As I promised, here is her contribution.

Mom shares photo
caption reads
“You know,
someday,
you might grow up to be
President.”
Sorry, mama
Today it feels I’m more likely to be grabbed by the pussy
and not let go
for four years, at least.
Because today I learned
that powerful women
come in second
to white male womanizers
even if
she wears a pant suit
so the men don’t look up her skirt
as she breaks through
the Glass Ceiling.
And while I watch what I cannot do
boys everywhere learn:
Experience isn’t needed for the job.
But mama
I woke up today
and I realized there’s 24 beautiful hours ahead
and 24 more
after that
For Compassion
For Change
For Ambition
For Success
and For Me.
I’m with her.
I’m still with her
whoever she may be
The first woman President of
The United States of America.
And maybe
just maybe, mama

that could be me.

Pilgrimage

I can’t mix the idea of the typical American with the idea of  a pilgrimage. I imagine disdain or at least discomfort with meaningful travel.   Modern travel is a status symbol. The suburbanite has already arrived; there is no need to travel anywhere for greater purpose. Travel means something to post on Facebook, making sure that your coworkers and “friends” know you can head for the tropics or the ski resort and therefore have something for the holiday brag letter.  Even for the world wandering millennials, travel is like a better car, an indication of an upgraded life, a signal that you can afford the latest rendition of the I-phone, which will be disparaged as out of date six months from now.  Travel destinations rack up like prizes, like pairs of shoes, at least for the top 5%.

Pilgrimage, in contrast, is something different.  A solemn procession of the pious, feet bleeding from hot sand, finally scratching up the steps of the church or the mosque.  So there an element of suffering.  THE Pilgrims, huddled together in a dank wooden ship, pale with scurvy and most barely able to keep their rations down, some who will end up on a different journey as their racked bodies are discarded in the ocean,  their briny souls seeking redemption in water instead of in the New World. So death is possible in pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is leaving behind, not just approaching. It is poverty seeking prosperity, not prosperity reaffirming itself.  It’s a no return policy, even if you come back to the starting point, you are not the self that left. It’s the heroine’s journey.

Really, why not just hit the beaches?

I think it’s because of love. I’ve been thinking a lot about love, how what I thought was love, was not, how I don’t like the idea of “pillow talk” because the murmurs of constancy and of passion are lies of the moment, or truth only of the moment, how love is inspiration for work, for pilgrimage! and how mopping the floor or driving to work because you want the kid to have flute lessons are really better examples of love than declarations of passion. If mopping the floor is transcendent care for those who walk on it, then a special journey to the Fitzgerald’s porch, where he faced a decision no one wants to make, that is the pilgrim’s love for Fitzgerald, for the idea of him, for his work and for what the pilgrim aspires to.  Pilgrimage is an interruption of love-as-duty for love-as-transcendence. The journey to Fitzgerald’s desk takes time, money, reverence and belief.

It may take more of your resources than you think.

It’s risky. You could dare to be more. You might not be able to bear the responsibility and the misunderstanding, like Kurt Cobain and Hemingway, or your foibles may interfere with your aspiration (like Kurt Cobain and Hemingway). You might less than you think, or more, and have to live with the knowledge.

Once I taught an hour long lesson to my daughter’s third grade class. The topic was Louis Comfort Tiffany and his glasswork. Six months later, we had a pilgrimage to  Samuel Clemen’s Hartford ,Connecticut home and stood in the pale light of one of Tiffany’s lamps.  It was November, cold and slushy. Certainly not a day at the beach.

She said, “now I see, momma”.

Tell me again, then. How many pilgrimages are too many?