fairy tale at the speed of light

Daily Post – Retrospective

Once upon a time there were princesses who lived in a legendary land called “Phoenix.” Phoenix was a magical city in the middle of a desert surrounded by mountains, a city hung on a pendant which spun between rolling dust storms, burning sunshine, and torrential rain. This city has died many times and reincarnates itself in uglier and stupider ways each time.   It becomes hotter and hotter.  And dirtier and dustier. And more and more freeways twist through it’s bloody cowboy heart.

These western princesses, in their youth,  visited majestic market colonies  called “Town & Country” where the symbol of the city, the Phoenix Bird itself was surrounded in flame; and they went to  “MetroCenter” where you could eat lunch in a plane, and a mall called Thomas, with giant fish tanks, and “Park Central” a mall lined with sidewalks that sparkled in the open air.  The young women lived happily, studying the Classics, learning foreign languages, planning their futures, learning instruments, passing their young lives not in castles but in little patio homes with bougainvillea’s and Ocotillo cacti, cursed only by the passing of time.  And occasionally a scorpion king or a rattlesnake would slither silently past.

The princesses were the daughter’s of virtual Kings and Queens, virtual relative to what we know of the world now – the word “virtual”  a different word with the passage of time.  I suppose I was one of these girls, these princesses who believed in what was a new freedom in the world.  I saw the movie Easy Rider, and Hair, and even sort of liked Major “Hot Lips” Houlihan, though she was too coarse and man like for me.  I did not want to be a secretary and had no vision of being a wife.  But that was a different time.  We were not afraid to say what we thought, we were not afraid of our freedoms being taken away… after all, we had just gotten them.  Freedom was our birthright, something our mothers fought for, by wearing a short skirt or going on a hunger strike, or helping to build bombs during the war…or not letting a man make you into an object.

Time stood still for a second, like we miscalculated the speed of light.  We were friends though, and could help each other on our lunch breaks.  There was plenty of time.

But of course, time did pass.

From the highway near the Superstitions, Weaver’s Needle looks phallic and foreboding, a shape we’d giggle at as teenagers.  The mountains sidle up next to it, like women vying for its attention.  It stands erect and weaves in and out between the cars, hidden in the skirts of the foothills, appearing and disappearing as we drive past. It’s an unmistakable penis,  a flag waving in the looming of shadows.  The legend of the lost Dutchman’s’ gold, cradled by its shadow, both longing to be discovered and never satisfied.

In Hollywood, Debbie Reynolds, star of Singing in the Rain, one of the most iconic movies of our current history, had a daughter of her own.  Carrie Fisher was Hollywood royalty, a Hollywood princess.  All princesses loved the movie Singing in the Rain, it was the story of men making money from women’s talent, women putting up with the drama of the casting couch; the way another woman might be jealous and sabotage a younger talent; the way one might end up in the background supporting the establishment — the horrors of the world….But the woman, she won!  A fairy-tale in which she stepped out from behind the curtain to sing love songs in her own voice.

A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation.  Audrey Hepburn.  

Debbie Reynolds husband, ironically enough, ran away with Elizabeth Taylor.  No one remembers him now, Eddie Fisher.  But who could resist Elizabeth Taylor?   So beautiful and a little terrifying.  Sex and talent.  Sex and Intelligence.  And Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf?   Me.  Afraid of being the professor, the wife of the drunken prof, the fight. Afraid of the screaming that was alien to my suburban life. Afraid that that was the future, which it for a brief moment was.

Meanwhile, the child of Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, only seven years older than the Phoenix girls, studied for a starring role in a movie about space.  A revolutionary movie that featured special effects and two handsome men, one a lost boy, one a smuggler.  But the fictional princess in the movie, Leia, with her white dress, her alien hair, her chiffon scarf, she was as brave as the boys.   She flirted with them, she sparred with them, she was a worthy counterpart, an essential part of a rebellion where George Lucas didn’t just make her a simple symbol of royalty, or a sex symbol, a small wimpy girl, or a Marilyn Monroe blonde. She was articulate and cultured and determined.  Strong.

I am a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side. – Maya Angelou

This is also the story of Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, and a summer romance.  A story of secrets and sex.

So, there was this moment in the Cine Capri, in Phoenix, when  Star Wars premiered there, when those world’s first collided… a moment in the minds of the princesses, who fell in love not just with the boys, but with Leia.  Or rather, they  fell in love with what they knew they could become.  She was them.  Leia’s name appears in the opening crawl, she has her own ship, she has the stolen plans which may save her people.   This is the story of that moment, when the girls realized that this was the dawn of an era that hadn’t been before.

This is the story of high school romance, of stolen kisses and stolen boyfriends and broken hearts the fairy tales didn’t mention when the prince left to go make another movie, or trace his fingers on the lips of your best friend.   Memory and time intertwined.  This is a story of Postcards from the Middle. Edgy postcards from nowhere.

(To discuss waves and particles of light, the massive forces of nature, typhoons, tsunamis, the weight of planets, we must also talk about Time.  Time is a fairy tale, you see, relative to the observer.  Is it measured in days, in years, in coffee spoons?  )

The best quote about time:

Time held me green and dying/  Though I sang in my chains like the sea.  – Dylan Thomas

This is the story of all women :  Just because someone desires you, it does not mean they value you.  – Nayyirah Waheed

Women in the past had been denied, had been protected, staying at home, waiting to be saved, barefoot, helpless, symbolic and unreal.  Or worse,  made to appear as the playtoys of men, sexed-up, simplified, cleavage heavy,  smiling.  Kept.  Simple objects to be desired or tossed away.  Like objects.  Objectified.

This is the story of animation…the moment objects came alive….a vital person, not a Barbie, not a figurine, not a blow-up doll, not a significant other, not the “Mrs.” or a horizontal, and especially not a trophy wife.  A Pinocchio-ess of a girl…a non-robotic creature made from sex toys and baby doll pajamas…who like a replicant in the Harrison Ford movie, BladeRunner,  becomes real.  At least to him.

I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone.  You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.  Oscar Wilde.

I want to write about the fire of the moment, the princess heroine, the feminist heroine, the men who barely managed to save the plans after her capture.  When we appreciated Princess Leia, (and Carrie Fisher), we appreciated being a girl, even a woman. We admired her the way we did when Lauren Bacall said, “you know how to whistle, don’t you? “ in Casa Blanca, the way Barbara Eden saved her helpless NASA astronaut again and again in I Dream of Jeannie, the way Goldie Hawn wasn’t just a dancer on Laugh-In but used her hips to show the written message we all waited for.   We discovered that year that boys liked Mary Ann just as well as Ginger.   We had eaten an apple.  We had the knowledge that Princess Leia killed Edith Bunker.

And so time passes…

The princesses, armed with their new knowledge, set out to conquer their (Brave) New Worlds.  They traveled to distant lands, lands where it snowed deeply enough that humans could not survive outside, lands where the rain never seemed to stop.  They trained and conquered both strange beasts and stranger demons.  The raised their own princesses and puppies, and retained their independence.   Slightly grey-haired, a few of us, not me yet.  (hahaha! sorry my friend! ( Somewhat wiser sages. They ran for political office, and often failed.  They put the baby doll pajamas back on Courtney Love, and they failed.  They tried to get equal pay, rights to stay at home after having babies…. the right to have men go to jail for violating them.  Affordable medicine, affordable education.  Maybe there are steps backward on the way to progress?

The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.  The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.  Albert Einstein.

And what has become of the princesses themselves, the day after the death of Carrie Fisher?  So grateful for her pioneering spirit, her rise and her terminal velocity.   Thank you young eloquent Carrie Fisher, and you too, old, crabby New York curmudgeon Carrie Fisher.

For every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out.  The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school. —  Oprah Winfrey.

As they say in Star Wars:  There is a new darkness, a presence that hasn’t been felt for years.  I sense great danger. A disturbance in the force.

The princesses are from the city of Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun.  Perhaps there is still Sky Walker blood and our daughters can bring back the old fight, and the alliance of the rebel forces.

A day later, Debbie Reynolds has passed away at 84…..

To hell with it!  They had FUN.    “we gabbed the whole night through….it’s great to stay up late…Good morning, good morning to you. ”

Waves as Wings, or Water as Dark Matter

 via Daily Prompt: Folly

Seabirds walk along the pier.  The beach is rocky or you’d be barefoot.   I’m stuck here working in a chilly room.  Temperatures falling.  I’ve borrowed a blanket and put on gloves.  I’m looking forward to your return, your warmth and  optimism.    My friend, you watch waves under a bright white sun, the sky for once not the usual grey.    

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” ~Edward Abbey

I noticed on BBC World news last week the story of thousands of Snow Geese in Montana.  Just a small story at the bottom of the U.S. section.  It’s said, “Thousands of Snow Geese Dead.”  It’s been 3 days, and no further news.  CNN reports the story a day later as “hundreds” of geese.  I am waiting for a public outcry. I am waiting for more stories.  I’m waiting for the final count.  Will there be a follow up report?   Likely not.  The local Montana newspaper said there were about 10,000 birds.   Imagine it.

 With a storm behind them, 10,000 snow geese fly fast seeking a large body of water for sanctuary.  They find themselves at the Berkeley Pitt mine near Butte, Montana, a former copper mine, a Superfund site.  They lock wings, gliding down and down onto the surface of the shimmering water.  They swim in the quiet, they clean their dusty feathers.  They stick their long necks into the murky water and drink deeply.  A few perish immediately.  The crew at the SuperFund site fire shots to try to scare the birds away.  They blast noise cannons.  But there are too many birds.  The workers are frightened that there are so many birds.  They know what will happen.  Nothing survives the lake.  They have seen the birds die before, but they have never seen this many land before.   One man, runs, runs for the rifles to try and stop them.  Nothing stops them.  Many begin to wash up on shore. After the first onslaught of birds, only a few of the geese remain swimming on the lake. They manage to stay alive for several days.  How long before they, too, perish?

 So far, we don’t know just how many just fell into the lake and won’t be counted, and how many flocks flew to the wilderness and fell out of the sky, never to be found.  Their carcasses eaten by coyotes, coyotes who in turn die from their poisoned throats.  The water is so acidic, it’s been reported that it would dissolve the steel rotor of a boat.   I’m feeling waves of nausea at the thought of thousands of dead snow geese.  They are beautiful snow white birds with black-tipped wings.   People have made the point that these birds are not endangered.   I would like to shout that this is no way for thousands of living beings to die.  Imagine them as puppies.  Facebook puppies.  Thousands of puppies who drink Drano.  Would this be acceptable to the masses?  Would they not be horrified?  10,000 puppies would bring how many “views”?  10,000 snow geese bring very few. 

 “Nature may reach the same result in many ways. Like a wave in the physical world, in the infinite ocean of the medium which pervades all, so in the world of organisms, in life, an impulse started proceeds onward, at times, may be, with the speed of light, at times, again, so slowly that for ages and ages it seems to stay, passing through processes of a complexity inconceivable to men, but in all its forms, in all its stages, its energy ever and ever integrally present. A single ray of light from a distant star falling upon the eye of a tyrant in bygone times may have altered the course of his life, may have changed the destiny of nations, may have transformed the surface of the globe, so intricate, so inconceivably complex are the processes in Nature. In no way can we get such an overwhelming idea of the grandeur of Nature than when we consider, that in accordance with the law of the conservation of energy, throughout the Infinite, the forces are in a perfect balance, and hence the energy of a single thought may determine the motion of a universe.”   ― Nikola Tesla

 These are dark times, troubled times.   The BBC reports the news of the decline of the giraffe, that elephants too are in danger.  There are massive die offs of the coral reefs.  The reefs are white with death. Hundreds of whales and crabs have beached themselves.  The bees are dying.   The frogs are in decline.  Is it all true, are we entering a time of mass extinctions?

“You may live to see man-made horrors beyond your comprehension.” ― Nikola Tesla

The waves of the tide are tied to the gravity of the moon.   The migration of birds to the proximity of the sun.  Up to Canada they fly, and then back again South, year after year like waves across time.  But we can see the world changing.  In my backyard, fewer birds roost in the trees.  The scientists report that the seas warm, ice caps melt.  The coral dies, turns dirty white.  The salmon do not make it all the way home.   The moon is very close and very large, as if to say, “I cannot be ignored.  I will light the sky, brighter than you have seen for a century.  Look at me, lunatics, watch me! You’re tied to me the way the stars are tied to night.”

Everyone I know is on edge since the election.  Our President-elect is an unknown.  I’ve always believed the best thing to do when the world is going wrong is to go outside, listen to the wind in the trees, become aware of the moon.  But I’m starting to wonder:  how long will we hear frogs croaking, bees buzzing, the songs of the meadow birds?   We may soon genetically modify the mosquito.  (good, doubt it.  I mean, how do you control a mosquito if it gets screwed up?)

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and the flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” ~Rachel Carson

Light and pain seem to travel in waves, like alternating current.  Sleep and dreams are interrupted.   Nature doesn’t give us many straight lines, but circles or patterns.  Fibonacci spirals.  Even pain comes in waves, see: childbirth or toothache, we are given a reprieve before the next spasm.   Sometimes there are rogue waves.  Sometimes there are hopeful deviations.  Sometimes there are terrifying tsunamis.  Light waves and seismic waves flow soundlessly across the earth.  Real earthquakes are attributed to real fracking.  Our children can’t afford college, our college adjuncts can’t afford health care, our health care workers can’t afford prescriptions.

In Phoenix, where we grew up, we braced for monsoons, giant dust storms from the Superstition mountains raising up dark in the sky and visible from a great distance, followed by torrential rain.  It was a crazy desert landscape where we could see for miles into the distance.  Sometimes the storms weren’t so bad, they traveled the city outskirts and veered away.  I feel this strange stagnation in our country right now…like nothing can be done, like everyone is holding their breath.  We can’t see anything in the distance. The calm before the storm is a misnomer, it’s more like the feeling of running in place, or screaming without sound.  Shutter the windows, get out the battery powered radio.  Find the candles.  Brace yourself, stock up on water and ramen…pay your bills.  It’s an eerie quiet.  Instead of a view of the mountains, we seem to be in a ravine, a slot canyon, further away a flash flood may bring raging waters to our feet.

“Certain periods in history suddenly lift humanity to an observation point where a clear light falls upon a world previously dark.” ~Anne Sullivan

Unlike the sweet arctic geese, let’s fly safely through the present and beyond the reach of any storm, avoiding the lethal waste that humanity has created, into a figurative refuge anyway.  Remember the Snow geese and be careful.  It seems that no one cares about the slightly winged, the distant deaths.  Thankfully we’re not in Flint Michigan drinking lead-contaminated water.  There’s got to be a way through this mess.

New York Times article

My conundrum, I promise, my next post will be funny and happy.  I can’t wait. Actually, I can’t wait for yours.

Refraction

Light changes when it changes mediums; so do waves in the ocean or in the bathtub, and sound is muffled by the walls.  Encounters change the progress of travel itself, whether you run into a wall or pulses of light hit the side of your eye, undetectable, until you’re in bed with a migraine. It doesn’t have to be that brutal. Light softens a room, candlelight travels through water, love becomes easier.

Without refraction, nothing would move through us. Hard sharp corners, reflection only, the ultimate narcissism. You’d only see yourself looking back. It’s hard to avoid as it is, being the center of your own universe, the sun in your own solar system.  No refraction, then nothing penetrates, nothing gets through. We’d be static as well as unaffected, unmoving and unmoved. Alternatively, I suppose, we could absorb everything and end up dark and muddled. Nothing would escape, but that’s a pretty heavy existence, especially if you hang around people who give you a lot to soak in.

I try to take a refractory approach to life.  I think it’s the years of sitting in the orbits of others lives, listening and listening. If I reflect everything I hear in therapy sessions, I’d cause despair and loneliness and make the problem worse.  If I absorb everything, I’d have the trauma of genocide to carry, and I’m sure I can’t carry anything that dense.

It’s been two years since the passing of a fine man I knew for a brief while. The formal arrangement was that I was to help him with a forty year old regret and a tragic recent loss. I believe he tried not to weigh me down and I sometimes let these waves pass through me with a false objectivity, as if I were playing at a crystallized existence. I saw a glimpse of a barracks destroyed by a bomb, a flash of a knife, a military funeral, tiny children dancing in Indian regalia, a small girl sleeping in a truck, a makeshift boxing arena with Blackfeet men gathered around to watch a fight, a high school baseball game, veterans in uniform at the mall, sipping McDonald’s coffee, a brush running through an old woman’s hair.

I heard a voice ask for forgiveness; I could only listen, and channel the forgiveness from someone who wasn’t present to offer it herself.

I felt the warm press of his hand.

The light travelled through me.

One day his son called me  and told me that his father was with Creator, and the waves hit me hard enough that there was no air, and I sat on the floor. I didn’t get up until someone knocked on the door.

 

 

 

Prism

I’d like to move light around. .. I would blow some  your way, a comet of daylight streaking to you…light the sky and burn everything along it’s unearthly path.  If light is a particle, why can’t we move it?  You were always better at physics.   I know light can be bent, like so much truth.

It’s so hard to be two things at once: particle and wave.  It’s difficult to believe two things at once,  hope and despair. Lover of light, lover of rain.  I know, you’re not a lover of rain anymore, but you once were.  Before Portland.  I see nightly weather reports: streets are flooded, pines dripping.  Very windy here, branch-breaking- windy, chair-overturning-windy….and very light outside, bright cold.  Little white storm clouds circle in a Crayola sky-blue sky.

November light is weird. I’m refracted, I’m prism-ed split, magnified and obfuscated, distorted, kaleidoscoped, a chipped crystal heart prisming colors on the ceiling….that’s me.

We must talk about light, we’re from the “Valley of the Sun.” Why is everything so poetic?  Maybe it always was, but we missed it. Miss it.  The Valley of the Sun, Death Valley,  El Paso, the Rio Grande, Mesa, Camp Verde.  I adore those places.   Now at high altitude, I feel sunlight like a sword, I’m the lyric “lady fair.”  So British.  Burning easily.  Burned.

“She shoots colors all around/ like a sunset going down/ have you seen a lady fairer? “/ She comes in colors everywhere … ” /   -She’s a Rainbow, Rolling Stones

Ironically enough, speaking of noses, or sunburns, or light, one my favorite stories is Gogol’s, The Nose, written two hundred years ago.  Skin cancer took a bit of my cute English nose ten years ago, left me a scar. The connection there being sunburn.  I was fond of my nose, as I suppose most people are, especially if they are not giving it up willingly.  The doctor massacred it…or it seemed then. My nose, walked away, probably grabbed by a hawk or an owl…..wait, that’s Gogol.

I earned that scar from sunburns on those tubing trips down the Salt River.  We put on sunscreen, wore hats…but not often enough, or not knowing enough at 17.  Did we know anything at 17?  At Seventeen. We listened to music constantly, and I remember all of us yelling out “Bye bye, Miss American pie …….good old boys drinking whisky and rye, this’ll be the day that I die...” Steve pounding drums on the roof….Bob driving, Jill… they  fade into the shadows of time. Black and white memory, monochrome maybe….full Kodachrome 80’s.

At seventeen, we knew next to nothing, or maybe more than we know now.  I know, you’ll say, (I agree we knew) “BUT, we knew light was both particle and wave.”  Remember how we laughed with our feet in the water?  Wearing beat up sneakers because of the glass in the riverbed from broken beer bottles would’ve cut our feet.  The current carried away our sunglasses.  We smuggled cans of our parents beer, we swam and carried on….only noticing the sunburns too late, as the sun went down.  Careless, caring less. An absolute abandonment of what might be.  If we could move light, we could go back.  I understand it’s not free anymore, and you have to take a bus….or so I’ve read.

“…lose your dreams and you may lose your mind, ain’t life unkind?”   Ruby Tuesday,  – Keith Richards

Darkness should provide cover, a blanket we pull up for protection, an estuary, or, aviary, or reliquary, since neither of us are saints, and we’ll get to birds later, at least a sanctuary where we, like our Neanderthal ancestors, cave born, chew bones by the fire.  If darkness no longer casts us into  the spell of dancing or glitter, and short black dresses, at least it should give us a fireplace and some brandy, firelight to keep and tend. Because almost nothing is as pleasing as tending a fire.

Darkness a monster in the night, thing under the bed, or worse, regrets that fill the blackest, sleepless 4.a.m.   We’ve both lived through the charring of the soul– a quick flash of sleep drops like the wings of an angel. But it’s not the deep black that’s killing you, I think it’s the grey.

Lover of light, lover of rain.  Despite the relentless rain, part of you must love rain the way a Saguaro loves a monsoon, but without contrast it’s all grey, and no, not 50 shades. To hell with 50 shades, it doesn’t work. We’re all both….sometimes we want to dance, sometimes to sleep.  And nothing’s a game. Grey becomes not just the world, but the life.  Symbiotic cactus wren weaves through the sharp spines.  Green Saguaro only covets water in August.  Duality by nature. Desert and thunderstorm, thirst and swamped.

Poetic hates the practical, and the artist cusses the business man. ..don’t care what you say, you can’t do both without losing your mind. We’re light absorbed in a yes/no black/white whirlwind world. What I want is wind through trees, transient, transcending this.

Past tense. “…yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone.” Moonlight reflected on the lake with the paddle boats, EnCanto Park, even now, but not now.  Rather, not anymore.  I called it Enchanted Park as a child, but already time was gnawing it into oblivion. Red hibiscus and pollen covered olive trees, green mallards and crumbling bread crumbs.  Swings and carousel horses. A calliope.  A kaleidoscope. Things from long ago, as if long ago were anything but memory. Be careful, it’s easy to get trapped there.

In Colorado, vast plains scream endlessly with an unmitigated wind.  Tall grasses blow in the drainage ditches. Little yellow birds dip through like all they want to do is sing. “all I want to do is sing.’  No, it’s “I just want to bang on the drum all day” ….remember?  I long for a city street like yours in Portland, music drifting through the air, girls selling flowers on the street corners. The soft wind blows and blows, and then blows more, gains strength, reportedly drove pioneer women, alone in their sod huts, to nervous breakdowns.   The same brain damaging wind drives me home every day.  All the black cattle on the plains hunker down in lowlands near fences. Still, confess I’m grateful for the blue sky.

Would that I could run the world on windmills.  I would start a wind farm, call it Sancho Panza’s, ah, but there I go again chasing dreams, or windmills, as they say.

I lay awake listening to the wind; a branch thuds against the eaves of the house.

“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
― Vincent Van Gogh

I was up in the mountains this weekend, feeding my gambling addiction.  I went alone and played cards mostly.  It’s a pretty drive, pine trees and treacherous curves. I played a poker tournament with 43 players and came in fifth.   I think that’s the part I like the best now, coming in ahead of the men.  What a terrible thing to say.  Put a woman on a dollar bill, then we’ll talk, gentlemen.

Personally, I think Ruby Tuesday was a one night stand, probably Keith’s since he wrote the lyrics…..probably didn’t know her name…. so called her Ruby Tuesday…maybe it was a Tuesday.  Mabye there was a Linda Thursday.  He said his grandmother’s name was Ruby.

“Who could hang a name on you?

Present tense. “When you change with every new day still I’m gonna miss you”   On the way home, I stop for a –guess they’re called– a herd, of big horn sheep.  Cattle or buffalo come in herds, not big horn sheep.  They come so close to my car that I can see the grooves on the ram’s curled horns.  Sleepy and half-broke, or broke and half-sleepy, I pause to watch the fellow climb quickly up the rocks.  He is a rock star ram, a Mick Jagger or Keith Richards of a ram, agile and a little smarmy, with a bunch of young girls by his side.  Big lips and a weather worn face.  I look in the rearview.   Four cars stop behind me.  No one honks.  I have to say it again, no one honks. The ram takes his own time leaping up the dirt and rocks, agile, like the wind.  I gain a little faith in humanity.  We watch from our cars.

Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

Future tense.   From ten this morning until five, I haven’t looked out of a window. Tonight, by the time I leave work and walk to my car, dark  will be falling.  Cold winds will howl across the parking lot across miles and miles like an anti-sun,  to scatter leaves and heave the earth around, to encircle my car where my gloves are waiting for my frozen hands. Sweet nature, not cooperating tonight.   It leaves me standing with my car keys in the cold and dark of an empty parking lot, hands too cold to pull the door handle.  As I drive home, the sun is almost down…the streetlights sparkle and I catch a pair of wings landing on the top of the closest.  I look to see the horns of an owl silhouetted against the descending grey night. Sweet, horrible nature, this owl in the night. I mean beautiful, sweet, beautiful owl, silhouetted against sky, fading into the deep star-lit canopy over Earth. I need that owl to give me her wisdom.  Fly on down owl.

Past, present, future, sets of threes

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.

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?