Impressionist Stories

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If poems are to story what Impressionism is to landscape, here I’ll dabble in the mixtures.

What if I just wrote a little scene with glimpses of light and feeling, brush strokes of an ordinary day?  It probably won’t count as a story.

It may not peer deeply into a psychological truth, or reveal a flash of insight. But perhaps today I have a craving for something simple to mellow out the stressfull thoughts, like a balm applied to the scattering of randomness that seems to dominate my mental state since putting certain apps on my phone.

And so being this distracted, there’s no story here.

Just a few little moments.

I walked outside on a familiar bustling street, the wind in my face, in my hair.  Jeans on my legs, cotton flannel on my chest, back and arms. To walk was liberation.  I was alone. Strides long, energy high, I felt everything, the muscles in my body working as if I were a little horse. Forward, fast and free.  I came upon the bookstore before I was ready to stop walking in this air so charged with alive-ness, feeling bliss, feeling high on low temps. A northerner can be once again at home when the breeze whips up into something like gusty blows.  But there was the doorway.  Overhead, the tree planted in the sidewalk commanded me to enter, slaping her branches together and smacking the air with her leaves.

Inside, I was captured in the house of words, a home warmly lit and scented with spices and coffee, the schhhuuup of the frother matching my inhale. The volume of everything living had been turned down, as if the golden light shushes us low talkers into meditative listening.  We are here to read.

And I become a bee.  The pollen seeking begins.  Odd contrasts bring me to myopic inspection and I land on something unexpected.  A case for negative thinking appears among the positive psychology books.  This wry kind of humor is the edge that delights.  It reminds me of my love for Richard, who would have written such a book, given more free time.

Can negative thinking bring us to joy?

Example from the book: A bear pops out of the woods on the trail you are hiking. Be happy or get mad?

Get a little mad, be firm, and talk to the bear as if you are the boss of this universe.

Your joyful reward?  Passage.  Freedom to keep hiking.  An intact, uninjured body and the sudden miracle of that.

Joy was in this new awareness…hey! I have this fleshy body with skin holding everything in, and isn’t this the most amazing and wonderous miracle?

I didn’t get that joy from thinking happy. I got it from being pissed off to be interupted so rudely. Get off my trail, bear. You didn’t cut down this section of brush.

After that, the titles didn’t seem to interest me much. It was time to go back out into the fresh gray afternoon, where the wind found my face, rushing in to kiss it. A little hungry, I looked for a place to eat.  A man inside the sandwich shop told me his favorite uncle just died and he was heartbroken. I wanted to tell him that I related to grief, about how going back into the world of people and work was such a surreal detatched experience, and that my body felt as if I were walking underwater.  I may have said a few comforting words, then took my sandwich back outside, a little less bouncy, a little heavier with feeling. But the wind pushed, and I heeded her swift call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confidently, I Love You.

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Love is fueled by confidence, which is a matter of belief.  Analysis, by it’s nature of breakdown, might lead one closer to the truth, or to a semblance of reality. When we love, we want it to be real, as Jane does in Austenland. But like the slippery nature of meaning through language, reality is complex. As my friend Courtney writes, by way of her father’s wisdom: “there is no reality, only perspective.”

I want to be confident that love is real and lasting, and that the perspective I have regarding love, is true.

 

That what lives in my heart is not so ephemeral and fleeting as the foam that dripped into the water from my bath pouf, in the perfect shape of a heart that disolved before my eyes.  A sign of love, but not love, just an image fading into the water.

But love is also a thing that works on me, like sandpaper on wood.  It is a knife that carves, trying to find the form within the block.

But enough of metaphor.

When it comes down to it, criticism, that knife that carves the wood, doesn’t make me feel love.  And I want to feel it so I can give it.  Criticism can give me writer’s block and lover’s block.  I guess I want praise, and that makes me needy.  I guess I want compliments, and that makes me greedy.  I want to be lifted up somehow, not shown where I fail.

But I also want the feeling of love, and the idea of love, to be real.

And not being perfect, all that praise and complimentary talk would ultimately lead me into enough self doubt as to wonder: is this real? Do I always want my relationships to be exchanges of non judgement?  Can I, as as my friend Mariela says, give what is vital to love–acceptance?   Acceptance for hard uncomfortable stones in my boots?

Can I accept that relationships involve criticism, and that I have given out loads of it over the years?  Is there a way to truth in love without critical judgement and analysis?  Do we always need the perspective of distance?  Or just some very close eye contact, and no words?

Let me be silent, and sweet, and kind. The truth is that I’m fire and ice and storm.  I’m earth, soil turning with blind worms.  I’m clouds and leaves that drop, brown and thirsty.

 

 

 

Somethin’ t’ Do.

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Betcha’ don’t have much to do on a Saturday.  If you’re like me, the day would normally stretch out in an eternity of unfilled hours, where all the chores are caught up and your imagination for creative projects remains in a holding pattern of a blank screen.  No one in your family needs you to help them with anything, and the pets are content not to eat or ask to go in and out eleventy million times a day.  It’s just one of those days when you suddenly realize that every last stich of laundry is totally caught up, and the grass never grew all week, the groceries never ran low because no one ate, and there was certainly no need for you to do anything except sit around all day in your hammock on the back porch with a blank gaze toward the ceiling.  There isn’t, even in all the libraries in the whole city, a book worth reading.  The second hand stores ran out of junk to sell you, and the facebook feed is totally empty of anything. You’re all caught up on ted talks and podcasts and blogs, and there is just simply, nothin’ t’ do.

You have Saturdays like that, don’t you?  So, you decide that since there’s a few buckets of gray paint sittin around doin nothin, you might as well open one up and paint your garage.  Nice and early, but not too early. Like around 9 am when the sun has started to help the midnight dew evaporate.  When it’s not yet unbearably hot and humid.

You get to work right away, when your neighbor comes out to get the newspaper with his big yellow lab, who barks in your face.  Thinking of being polite, he says “Dais-ey. Knock it off.”  Then he notices you with your paint and says, “Well, look at you! Painting the house!”  And you reply, “Yep! It may take a while.”  And he answers in his usual big booming voice, “Well that’s alright, it’s SOMETHIN T’ DO.”

After he goes back inside, you consider his observation.  You think, by golly, yes.  This is something to do.  I am doing something.  This is good.  It is good to keep myself engaged in a long, interesting process of slapping gray paint on the side of this garage in August.  When simply standing around doing absolutely nothing at all produces a full body sweat.

By 11 am, you have managed to paint your way around to the opposite side of the garage, where there is shade.  Climbing the ladder, you again enjoy the simple process of swiping your gray glop back and forth while the sweat soaks the back of your shirt and your head begins to feel a bit swimmy.  You decide it’s time to go in for some ice water and a bite to eat, and step backward, into thin air, which quickly turns into concrete.  You only feel a ripping pain in your ankle as your head hits the concrete.

Somethin. Ta. Do.

Stunned by the fall on the driveway, you realize that something is not quite right.  You feel like you are going away.  Slipping out of consciousness, you call to your son.  “Elliot.  Call Daddy.”

In a moment, you hear the sound of your husband’s voice telling you to keep talking, when you really just want to close your eyes and take a nap.  But the pain in your ankle keeps you awake.  You ask for ice, for ibuprofen, for water.  Which your son brings to you while you listen to your husband on the other end.

Then a strange sensation appears in your ears, and you feel like throwing up.  Your ears feel as though they are pressurized, and begin popping.

Realizing that you might need to go to urgent care, you ask Elliot to bring you a clean t shirt.  The paint flew every where when you fell.

Your heart is racing,  and you think it might be a flow of adrenaline.

The pain in your ankle is pretty much a problem and you decide not to get up right away. In fact you just sit very still until your husband arrives. At the urgent care, they send you on to the dreadful ER, because, you know, head injury.

In the ER, you can’t stop laughing.  The adrenaline does something funny to you, and your husband starts to worry that something is seriously wrong because whatever you are laughing at is, in his opinion, not the slightest bit funny at all.

But he doesn’t understand.  Every summer, my dad would need an ER visit for some freak accident.  And because this was a pattern with him, my mom would start laughing.  And giggling, and chuckling and wheezing.  She would ask him, “Rog, is it time to go to Wheeeeeeeeelock?” (Whelock was the name of our small town hospital.)

He once drove his car off the road during a sneezing attack, broke his nose on the steering wheel, came home late for dinner (my mom had invited guests and had been working very hard all morning on the meal)…anyway, she made him sit though the meal before taking him to the hosptial.  Because, this was just a normal thing that happened every single summer.  And she laughed. Even though she tried to stop and knew that this was serious.  She just couldn’t help it.  Nerves or something.

It sounds so mean of her, but my father always understood.  It’s that relief that happens to know that you made it through without dying.  You will be okay.  Dad was going to live.

As I sat in the waiting room for six hours on Saturday, my laughter keep coming out.  And it flowed knowing that at this very moment, I was both my parents at the same time.  Here I was, being my dad and my mom at once.  The person hurting in the hospital, and the one laughing.  And then, I got my son to laugh, and he couldn’t stop laughing.  He was sucking air  when he recognized that when he laughs uncontrollably, he sounds exactly like a chimpanzee.  Just imagine a chimp.  That’s Elliot when he laughs.  Now try not to laugh when you think about it.

So it’s no wonder that it took six hours.  The nurses must have realized that I wasn’t going to die that day.

Anyone who laughs that much in a place like the ER must certainly be okay.

And I am.

They even had crutches just my size.  And the CT scan says my brain is not injured, although it is surely up for debate on whether it is normal.

So if you have nothin to do on a Saturday… you could spend it like I did.

By the way, after the paint was applied, it rained.  Like mad.

And when I came home, all four of our pets surrounded me.  It was so good to be home, with nothin to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pergola Makeover, A Family’s Creative Project

 

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This ivy and rose covered pergola stands in our yard, a mature vision of the former owner’s dream.  When we bought our home thirteen years ago, the structure stood bare, with a single stalk of a thorny climbing rose, and a pot of English Ivy at the base.  A decade later, it became a mass of leaves and blooms, so lush and full as to inspire a daily retreat into the arched garden.  I loved it then.  I loved it when it was a bare thing waiting for leaf children to climb on.  I always thought it was a romantic sort of thing for someone to build.  A bit of poetry inside a chain link fenced yard.

Last year when mom came to visit, we discussed the idea of removing the ivy because it was a struggle to keep clipping back.  At one point the ivy from the top would reach down and touch the ground on the back side.  Mom thought it was beautiful and said try to keep it.  And I agreed.  Then this year, I noticed the entire structure start to sway in a strong breeze.

It turns out, English Ivy, so romantic of vines, is also a destructive force of weight and a hide-out for chewing, munching, wood hungry ants.  And the thought of losing our beautiful little pergola, which for some reason I’ve always called “the arbor” sent me on a mission to the garage for a shovel, some clippers, a hatchet and gloves.  And this is what I found:

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And underneath that,

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Aye!

With the help of my husband, who said a few cuss words and threatened to get out the saw and bring it all down, we worked for days removing and burning the old ivy.  Getting to this point was a huge relief.  Almost like a psychological cleansing.  A clarity of mind after a meditation.  A sigh of relief.  Whew!

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But that is not all.

I have become more aware about the magical power of intention when it comes to projects big and small.  That my focus has a tendency to draw me nearer to manifesting my imagination.  And the way Spirit provides things that I might want to make use of.  First to arrive was a gorgeous, heavyweight, textured cotton duvet from an overstuffed rack on the back wall of the Goodwill.  A couple of small stains meant it was perfectly acceptable to use it outdoors and was meant for my project.  A few days later, I was on the hunt for some hooks to hang curtain rods.  Elliot, patient, tolerant son, who was nonetheless pulling on my sleeve, bumping my side, gently prodding me like a herding dog to leave the second hand shop when we didn’t find hooks, got a lesson in treasure hunting.  “See, Elliot!  See how this works? I had an intuition that there was something in here we can use.”  Our treasure?  An old brass chandelier!

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A few days after this, four white flat sheets arrived like magic for 2.25 a piece!  The basic elements were in place.  I worked for a few days at the sewing machine and came out with four white panels for the back of the pergola, and two heavy duty drapes for the front, with fabric leftover for new chair cushions.  I even had some leftover fabric paint to make my own designs, and that turned out to be a fun day making art in the back yard, the sweetest therapy there is. Elliot enjoyed using the spray paint on the chandelier, which was his reward for being so patient while I treasure hunted.

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Richard even contributed by bringing home some galvanized pipe and hooks for hanging the curtains and drapes.

I wonder if this ever happens to other folks when they are working on a project.  Everything starts to come together, piece by piece.  The anticipation for completion builds.  Excitement is high.  Then, there happens to arrive something to thwart the completion, just in the last push to the finish line.  For me this is usually a knotted thread on the sewing machine, a crazy grinding and humming and slow to respond computer issue, a big distraction that requires immediate attention, or a mistake caused by the increased momentum and speed of the work as it comes to a close.  This time, that Canadian cold front brought us big gusty breezes, which on a sunny spring day can be so absolutely wonderful, especially in a subtropical, dense humid climate. But yesterday it was really giving us fits!  Trying to hang curtains in the gusts was testing all of our nerves.  I ended up sewing a wide hem on the bottom and Elliot helped by hunting for rocks, washing and drying them, and placing them inside the hem to weight the light cotton back panels.

And then it suddenly came all together at once.  Richard brought out the handpainted pillows and our plastic wicker chairs, followed by our old iron table that he resurfaced with tile.  Elliot brought a washcloth to wipe the dust and pollen from the table, then said, “We need flowers!” And so after wiping the dust, he brought a sad little pot of yellow marigolds for our centerpiece.  Richard, being the tallest, hung the chandelier.  I snapped a few photos, and we went inside to fix our Sunday chicken dinner.

But excitement was still high.  After dinner, guess where we went?  Not to the living room to watch a movie.  Not to our tablets or phones.  Not to the road for our evening walk.  We went on a mini vacation on a Greek Island formerly known as our back yard.  And we read about Shakespeare’s language in the sunset.

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And just in case you were worried, the rose bush was saved.

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As the moon shone above us and the candles flickered, Elliot asked, “Did your mom ever do magical things for you when you were a kid?”  And I said, “Yes. Yes, she did.  She was the one who taught me how to make the perfect blanket fort.”

 

Put the Inner Critic Out

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Here’s a fun little experiment for those who struggle with the inner critic.  Try kicking her out and letting her sit on your desk.  Then you can talk back to her when the writing is happening.

My little hag is named Finnola, inspired by a character in Catherine Cooper’s The Golden Acorn.  I made her for a children’s book club gathering in the woods.  Once all the children found her hiding place, I took her home.  In between moon time, where she might sit on my nightstand…she works in my writing space.  I wonder how chatty she will be when I sit back down to work?

Learning the Peace Response

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In the wake of bloodshed in a Parisian concert hall, I shared a graphic of a peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in the center.  An old friend from school left this comment: “end Islam, end these attacks.”

It seems like such a simple answer.  Let’s just wipe out everyone who is associated with terror, without consciousness about people who may be practicing a world religion but who do not hold the seed of killing planted in their hearts. It would be safer for everyone that way…

My response was to say that wiping out a world religion will not stop violence, even if you could somehow stop people from believing what they have been educated to believe.

And this caused my friend to reconsider his earlier statement, agreeing with me that perhaps a reform would help.

But instead of worrying about trying to “fix up” someone else’s religion as an outsider, I propose that we begin teaching pacifism as a practice in our society wherever we are, if that is in our home, school, workplace or church.

Because if the response of violence is a learned and therefore acceptable behavior in every society, then peace is also a learned behavior, but one that is underfunded, under valued, and misunderstood.  People think of pacifism as a passive, non response, no responsibility kind of stance.

And it’s not at all like that.

I am still learning on my journey to becoming a pacifist, and plenty of times I have struggled with the impulse to fight back at some injustice or personal offense.  But I’m learning new tools to help me navigate those times when my heart is burning with flaming rage and wants so much to take action, so that I can live with much less regret, and a lot more gratitude.  In the process, I have become a happier person.  And the peace that I have chosen to practice is now arriving in my life as a gift from others.

We homeschool in our house, so it might seem unfair of me to suggest this, but if our public educational institutions made “peace and justice studies” a special like P.E., Art, and Technology, to teach children how to respond in nonviolence, the effect would be significant.  It would help our young generation be able to appropriately respond to the random acts of violence which they will face every day, in places near to home and far away.  There is so much more to peace than people understand.  It’s not about peace signs and hippies, or white doves.  It’s not a symbol of the holidays, but a way of thinking about our responses to unfair situations and trouble.  It can lead us to avenues of communication that reveal deep truths and compassion.

What I hope to convey here is that people will respond how they have been educated to respond.  And too many times, in regions all over the world, the options for peaceful resolution are squashed, so that politics and religion and ethnicity and technology and money and greed and revenge take priority over human life.

Derek Flood, author of Disarming Scripture, wrote a great article for the Huffington Post that attends to the problem of protecting vulnerable people from harm without going the route of war.  He writes:

“What’s crucial to understand is that nonviolence is not simply a refusal to add harm (whether that harm is physical or spiritual/emotional) but more importantly it involves action to restore, heal and make things right. So in the case of the Islamic State, what we need to ask is this:  what can we do to make things right?  What can we do to protect the vulnerable? What can we do to stop the violence?”

He then goes on to quote Erin Nimela, who proposes three practical ways to do this:

  1.  Immediately stop sending funds and weapons to all involved parties.
  2. Fully invest in social and economic development initiatives in any region in which terrorist groups are engaged. (terrorists are fulfilling these needs in those communities right now.)
  3. Fully support any and all nonviolent civil society resistant movements.  (Between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.)

Here is Flood’s article in full:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/is-there-a-nonviolent-isis_b_5670512.html

The Personal Day

100_7450Yesterday I woke up and decided to take a personal day off.  I claimed the day as “my day” to do whatever I wanted to do, within my means.  Having spent the last two weeks preparing for big day of entertaining, I awoke to an awareness of self in the silent void that fills our home after a party.  Still full of the previous day’s cake and the warmth of old and new friendships, there was suddenly an emptiness; a pause where nothing urgent was anticipated.   It had been a busy two weeks, where simple things like cleaning the house and mowing the lawn were complicated by a sprained ankle, a massive three day sinus headache incurred at the pool, and an irritable monthly cycle.

So I wasn’t feeling physically strong.  But instead of cancelling our party plans and staying in bed with ice packs on my ankle and head and a heating pad on my middle, I worked every day with this thought:  each task is my opportunity for creativity.  Instead of rushing through decorating and seating arrangements, I savored the process.  Then, I repeatedly challenged my inner critic who told me that my work was amateur, imperfect and cheap.  I told the critic that I’m not perfect and that no one expects me to be perfect.  Perfection makes guests uncomfortable.

Real is comforting.

The party was a great success.  We were all enriched and loved and entertained.  A new life is on the way for a very loving young couple and being a part of that hopeful expectation was a privilege and a gift.

And just like it happens with visits from family who eventually leave to go back home, the space that our friends filled was once again, space.

How often have I said the words “today is mine to do as I wish?”  So rarely that I am unable to recall the last personal day.  Even my husband who works at a large company is allowed several PTO’s.  I suppose it’s a very tricky thing for me to take a day off when I live in the same place I work.  Taking time off is something that only seems to happen if I leave the house for a day or a weekend trip.  But what happened yesterday was a shift and a challenge to that perception.  There is a way to detach and reframe.  Isn’t it true that since I’ve been given a life to live, every day is my personal day?

Because it’s the only life I have to live?

Today is mine to live as I wish, as is tomorrow, and the next, and the next after that.  And if what I’m doing no longer serves my basic needs for survival or my spiritual longings, I can make changes.

This leads to the question of how much I “own” my life.  How much of each day  is mine to choose, and how much is dictated by my responsibilities? What portion of my time is spent in the service of others, and what slice is left for solitude or creativity?

Perhaps this is a first world problem.  People in slavery and bondage don’t have these choices.  Prisoners and people in debt don’t have these considerations. Parents with young children might not be thinking that this is a realistic goal.  My husband looked directly into my eyes and said “this is impossible for me.”

But is it?

I wonder.