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Like a blank piece of thick stationery, or a crisp linen sheet, a new year and decade begins. We start anew with a clean slate; no mars on the veneer, no tears in the fabric, no dents in the steel.
Yet it won’t do to tiptoe around in the false hope that by not breathing or moving everything will remain pristine. Stains will appear, injuries will happen, the messiness of life will write new chapters.
Still, for the moment, we can revel in today’s freshness, believing that we have the capacity to remake ourselves, as surely as the day dawns.
There are new years resolutions, and new years intentions; both have merit. When one makes a resolution it implies having made a firm decision about something, while having intentions implies that one has a plan in mind. Both provide us with the initial impetus to take action toward the realization of a goal. However, neither resolutions nor intentions give us the outline or map of a step by step process that will move us toward goal actualization. That’s why we often fail. Either the benchmark is set too high (unachievable) or the necessary steps to accomplish are ill defined (unrealistic).
In a paroxysm of “oh my God, it’s almost the last day of vacation and I haven’t followed up with friends about getting together as I’d promised...” I sent out invitations yesterday to Kate and Abby for new year’s cheer, and to Bill and Carol for dinner. As it happens, all will arrive here at about 4:00 today. Though they haven’t met before, I trust that we’ll have enough in common that it will be a successful mix of personalities. It takes a bit of courage to say OK, let’s do it, let’s step out of our comfort zone!
Throughout the holiday, whenever I’d hear about an automobile crash involving fatalities, or a fire, or some other traumatic event in the area I’d get this nagging premonition that I was going to hear from Wendy about the need for counselors to be somewhere due to a deceased student.
The call came last night; a girl at a sister high school died a week ago from injuries suffered in a crash. Although reluctant to have the first day back be draining, I thought about my fellow counselors and said I’d be there. This is their third student death this year.
Without NPR’s Morning Edition, I might never have learned that there is evidence that social interactions, particularly conversations, have a physiological effect upon the body. The hormone oxytocin is released which creates a sort of high. The same hormone is released during nursing, orgasm and other pleasant physical experiences. How cool is that.
A couple days before Christmas I went to each of my neighbor’s homes with one of my calendars and a Christmas greeting. After five lovely encounters, brief but caring, I came home high as a kite. Creighton commented on how elated I seemed. Now I understand why.
Something in me has shifted. Like a large mechanical piece in a huge clock tower, or a small puzzle piece finally come home, I no longer feel compelled to keep up appearances. There’s no need. It’s a new freedom, and I like it.
Half of this work day is for student contact time, and the rest for inservice/meetings/collaboration. If I needed to accumulate hours, or if there was sure to be something new and valuable, I’d attend. Instead, I’ll be running errands and going home this afternoon. A half day of health time - exercising the senior in seniority.
As I think back upon 2010, one of my best memories is when judi and I walked the length of Dylan Beach. It was a mild, high overcast, early October day. Barefoot, we ambled south, then north over the flat sandy shoreline, at a relaxed and steady pace.
Our reconnection, now well established, went a layer deeper. Talking while walking allowed both of us to explore some of our more hidden emotional chambers. Unasked questions emerged naturally, and thoughtful answers followed. All prompted additional honest inquiries, and equally honest responses. Infrequent stretches of silence were comfortable; each anticipated enhanced understanding.
I’m worried about Mattie. He’s had an open sore on his hip for months. It started as a growing sebaceous cyst which I popped and cleaned out and have tended with frequent sprays of hydrogen peroxide. I’ve cut the fur away to make it easier, but it hasn’t healed, and he licks it whenever I spray a fresh mist of HP on. These cysts have been a constant problem; where on his body they appear and fester changes, and the others, eventually, healed. Today I’m switching to a topical erythromycin I have a prescription for. He won’t be licking that!
Mattie also has a large growth on his rear leg, right at the “ankle” in a place where we had a similar tumor removed 3-4 years ago. He’s had tumors on both ears which were removed and never returned. Sometimes he goes completely off his food, not even wanting it when I add luscious food scraps and juices. and though I give him more food regularly than Jacques, Mattie is thinning down. He sleeps a lot, but still will go out for a walk or a park romp. Poor little guy, he’s showing the signs of doggie old age.
In ten days Mattie will be sixteen. Using the 1 calendar year equals six doggie years formula, he’ll be 96; or with the standard 1=7 rule he’ll be 112. Old either way. So he’s earned the right to lay on the couch with his head on a pillow; to ask for a lift downstairs (or up) every once in a while. What a sweetheart he is. He always goes outside to take care of his business, and at least twice a day takes a nice long "sniff about" through he back yard grounds. We call it “doing his rounds.”
She sat in her favorite chair observing her old dog as he slept soundly, oblivious to her worries. “I’ve no regrets for taking you in,” she murmured, as memories of the seven years he’d been part of their family filled her with simple joy. Many a good laugh he’d provided them with his uncomplicated, puppy-like demeanor.
But tonight a new disquietude filled her as she watched his frail frame rising and falling at each breath. “I hope you’ll last the winter,” she whispered, “and I wish you could tell me when it’s time.”
He rose and flapped his ears vigorously.
She was suspicious at first; not sure whether she could talk with me, but frustration overcame her skepticism. At fifteen, she’d been left in her aunt’s “care” by her mother. The scene at the aunt’s was unbearable and she’d talked about it with the School Resource Officer (a policeman assigned to the school fulltime) and she’d reported it to another counselor as abuse. She’d been told someone would come to school to interview her. It hadn’t happened, and the other counselor wasn’t available.
I knew the aunt and “uncle” were crazy. Thus began an odyssey to get her safely out.
An interview of Elizabeth Gilbert on Saturday Edition caught my ear. Reading the transcript I found the point that captured me which I’ll paraphrase: “Women forget how new and radical this unprecedented social experiment is; what happens when we have autonomy, education, finances, control over our sexual biology; what will we do with this freedom? We have only two decades of role models, and we’re all still puzzling it out in a very intense way.”
It’s why I love talking with girlfriends when we explore our joys and sorrows, our womanhood in this second generation of a groundbreaking social trial.
As I finish reading Sue Bender’s lovely book,
Plain And Simple
, I look around my home and think about how much I love being here. I admit to feeling joy after scrubbing the kitchen floor clean, and being satisfied when the wood floor and furniture glow from my attention. I’m not even remotely Amish, but I do share some values that Sue Bender summarizes nicely.
“”It’s the everyday things that give life its stability and its framework.” All work is important and honored...an Amish woman’s home is as much an expression of who she is as any art work.”
Integrity. It’s essential in my work, and integral to my being. When someone lies to manipulate an impressionable young person (you) at my expense, I’m pissed off.
I’m also disappointed that, after two months of working with you, and being straight up honest, open, and helpful, you would believe your aunt’s trickery; swallow it whole.
I still trust that you understand your aunt consciously deceives you to manipulate you to her will. For example, she just tricked you into not believing in me.
I will continue to keep my door, mind and heart open to you. Now it’s your choice.
This so upset me that I had to write it down (yesterday’s words) and then came up with a way of keeping myself from obsessing on it over this three day weekend. I told myself I was placing this one in an envelope and sealing it. I’d open it again at work on Tuesday should the need arise. Sometimes little tricks like this help me and this one did. I stopped thinking about the situation and have had a great day topped off by a good Jazz Casual practice including new tunes, and a delicious dinner at Bill and Carol’s.
Through Facebook Creighton has reconnected with a friend from high school; one of the few people he has talked about over the years with stories of fun memories and a genuine wondering about what his friend might be up to. Turns out Buzz lives over in Beaverton and the two of them have had a lunch together. This evening Buzz and his wife and daughter are coming over for dinner. I’m a bit nervous since I’ve not met any of them, but I also am excited to welcome new people into our home. Dinner’s prepped and the house is clean.
I really can’t remember when the last time was that we had friends over for dinner with their teenaged child(ren). We’ve had many family gatherings, and have been to our various friends’ homes over the years as their young ones grew up, went to college and moved on in their lives, but this is maybe a first!
Jasmine was very composed and pretty; at 15, a bouncy freshman. She and her mother stuck close and I did my best to help them become comfortable as Creighton and Buzz picked up the conversation where they left it 40 years ago.
If she could only find the right pattern she knew the answers would become obvious. But even knowing what questions to ask that might solicit a clue, escaped her imagination. Standing to stretch she was surprised how tired she felt. It had been a hard night; too much loudness around her, smoking friends, maybe one glass too many, and crazy life was creeping in around the edges of her tidy life.
“Breathe!” she commanded silently, “focus on the horizon.” Her brain felt as closed in as the distant hills cloaked in dense fog, with no sign of relief in sight.
Unsure when I’d be able to get off work, I didn’t call ahead. What if I excited hope in Jo and then had to cancel? Better just to show up if I could.
Walking the short distance from my car to her duplex, I saw a frail old woman, nicely dressed in a purple sweater, slowly making her way toward me. Eyes examining the walkway, Jo didn’t recognize me until I greeted her. She was going to the 100th birthday party of a neighbor resident.
While she ate cake and drank coffee, I listened; my gift on her 88th birthday.
All day long she sat at a computer in the media center, doing her best to be polite with parents and their children entering the room to become Union students. They ranged from a freshman who had failed all but one of his first semester classes at his prior high school, to a junior with straight “A’s” in AP classes. In between were the currently enrolled others who had marginally legitimate reasons to request a schedule change.
“I’m a pushover, we’re all pushovers,” she confided to herself, “and all the kids know it. Tomorrow they get my lecture about timing.”
There is a psychological hazard when one loses weight. A year ago I was fourteen pounds heavier, a significant change for which I deserve to be very proud. But four months ago, I was three pounds lighter. Stepping on the scale this morning I felt discouraged and resentful. Yet it is my own battle with self image, and my own determination to live in a more healthy manner that drives me. Too well I know the trap weight loss can create, and too, well I know that winter is the hardest time of year to maintain, let alone lose weight.
Oh my, a beauty day. No rain or wind, cold but not frigid, and on a Saturday! I was out in the yard most of it cleaning out the gardens. Only the coming of dark, and stuffed full yard waste bins, pulled me back inside.
Under the natural duff I found the beginnings of perennial rebirth; nubs on the cusp of emerging, and early bloomers pushing up bright green blades of faith. Lenten rose blossoms stood out from the crowd; their quietly dusky flowers facing the earth atop long, slim necks.
The promise of spring heralds the middle of winter.
Flames flicker up the glass front piece of my wood stove. Usually I’d shred and recycle this stuff, but there’s too much, and the house needs warming on a rainy winter morning.
Conscious that I may be adding to the carbon footprint, and justifying my action by believing that a dead shredder would have even greater impact, I sit transfixed by the firebox. Reams of private information I diligently toss into the flames, burning away financial and medical history in orange, pink, and blue hues.
Let go: surrender any grief harbored on these pages and emerge from this ritual, cleansed.
A bad case of indigestion, acid reflux, hiatal hernia, gerd, all the same to me. Genetic, it’s something I’ve not had to deal with in a long time, but came on with a vengeance last night. Time to mix up a jug of Aloe Vera juice and serve yogurt with probiotic enhancements to get my gut flora back in balance.
Among the papers burned yesterday were the medical records from 2004 when I came down with
Won’t let that happen again! That means it’s been six years since I’ve used an oral antibiotic to cure my ills. Cool.
nothing, she said
her voice trailing
as Cetacean echoes lost
in fathoms of chasms
her tone reverberates
but no longer moves me
to know you’re good
not good enough
to ‘cut the mustard’
leaves a hollow ache
a dry metallic aftertaste
a glass half empty
to compare is folly
to compete futile
more at rise to the call
in this spirit
I read your words
in awe and wonder
at your incredible gift
which you share and
which prompts me
to write a response
not so elegant
but at least
Sick, but not really. Not puking, not shitting guts out, but feverish without a fever, tired after plenty of sleep. I bet if I’d kept records from all the years I’ve been alive; a log of how I felt each day, whether or not I went to school, or work, or was productive, there would be conclusive evidence to support what I already know of myself. It’s midwinter, and even knowing how the season sucks me down, even using every tool in my kit, I succumb. But gracefully, and the staying home is a tool as well, and worth employing.
Over the course of three and a half days, as I recuperated from winter’s doldrums, I managed to get the dogs their baths (after a trip to the park which Creighton joined in), shopped for groceries, ran a couple other errands, sewed another accent piece to match the quilt my sister created for me, did the initial preparation for 2009 taxes, drew a color pencil sketch of the carnations Creighton gave me a week ago, posted my words, and finished a fine book by Hemingway;
The Moveable Feast.
Went back to the fray for half-a-day, and it was A OK.
A Moveable Feast,
Hemingway tells us he knew he must write a novel, but that he wouldn’t write it until “it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build.” Oh, I admire those who have novels in them! I’ve written some small short stories, and the odd poem that flows out, but I cannot imagine there is a novel in me.
Still, his lesson applies: “In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.” So I draw a picture, plant a flower, watch it grow.
Whenever I post something I think is relative genius, a moment later I wonder what the hell prompted me to do it. I am not self excoriating like Creighton, I don’t yell at myself in the shower (and elsewhere) but I second guess my desire to be noticed. I think that’s it. I want to be accepted, noticed, told “you’re OK!”.
I was such an ugly duckling, a blind one at that, and the least wanted child until thirteen years later. It was never easy for me. Every time I took a stride forward, I’d fall a couple steps back.
Always use the good stuff and when it breaks, toss it with the knowledge it was loved, used, praised, and provided moments of luxury and happy memories.
Good stuff provides another level of joy; it’s not only a delicious wine, but it’s served in esteemed stemware! Possessions that we love, that we’ve imbued with meaning, create another measure of pleasure when we use them. Yet when they break, do we no longer enjoy our wine?
And in the end, it's just stuff that when we’re departed, others will either cherish or discard.
It’s the people we’ve shared with that matters.
The Tip Jar