Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Beginning and the End

Thus ends the year. Though much has been taken, much abides, to quote Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and something big begins: My daughter Milo became engaged as autumn turned to winter, to a man we love too. The rainbow photo, taken in the mountains of northern California, is for her, my child who has always loved this symbol of hope.

This final post of 2011 is for love. Love is not blind. With eyes wide open, love sees, bears, believes, forgives, and celebrates. Love does fail, but it can dust its mucky knees and stand again. Its strength is tensile, a bond capable of stretching beyond the reach of human arms.

My daughter said I have never written a poem for her. So I wrote one last night for her and the man she loves, whom we met for the first time at a storage facility where our daughter lived with her best friend in the manager's apartment. With their permission, I share it with you on the last day of a hard year that ends with rejoicing, in love.

My Child’s Freshly Minted Fiancé

We did not have to wade
through an ocean of assholes to reach you;
you, unbidden, appeared,
our Knight,
to claim our daughter’s hand, heart, hazel eyes
laughing as we had never seen her eyes laugh
you came.

You, unbidden, appeared,
completely unexpected,
a Knight in a storage yard where junk is gold,
where junk unwanted yet unloosed is locked
behind blank doors
in an undead limbo between lost
and claimed, paid for but
You came

unbidden, unexpected,
from that storage yard into our daughter’s heart,
our Knight
in chain-link fencing, your clear eyes kind
and your mind keen, seeing in our daughter
that great beauty
like a flower in a crack in the asphalt
you freed her.

Milo and Kaleb

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An End To It

Music ended a decades-long writer’s block for me. What I wrote that night five years ago is not a great poem, but it was an ice breaker. I’ve learned that making a beginning is the key to everything. And with the Poetry Jam’s prompt this week being music, and with the year ending, this subject has special meaning for me. I’ll share the song that ended the long silence of poetry for me, “Tu Quieres Volver” by Sarah Brightman.

To get the gist of what happened to me, you might listen to the song first, then read the poem that arose from it. I’ve posted the poem before, so if it sounds familiar, please just enjoy Sarah singing.

Look at It This Way

this is you
this is her
twin threads twining in space
up and up andupandup
sinuous as snakes
the dance of the double helix
making life grow high

this is you
this is her
round notes soaring
high and round as the moon
in a purple sky
full of light a bird in flight
a waltz of wind and feather
mounting waves of air

this is you
this is her
a swelling-rising-rearing-
crashing wave
shatters on the sand
and the sand soothes
calms and suckles
a soft sighing washing smooth
the rough edges and the fury

this is you
this is her
strong arms gripping
across the precipice of loneliness
strong limbs bowing with the wind
strong lines moored in heavy seas
above all holding fast
in the face of all storms

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I watched a war take place this morning. While reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee (that grammar makes for an interesting idea: could an electronic eye be embedded in a coffee cup & used to scan the paper to a speech program for people with sight disability?), I glanced out the sunroom windows to see a war in progress.

This bird, the acorn woodpecker, lives year round with his flock in the oaks outside:
Acorn Woodpecker, from Wikipedia
He and a flockmate or two were harrying a couple of cedar waxwings, who migrate through here in the winter on their way south to Mexico:

Photo source:

The cedar waxwings love my neighborhood because of the luscious red berries of the cottoneaster shrubs in my blog header:

US Fish and Wildlife
So the small flock of cedar waxwings was under attack by the small flock of angry acorn woodpeckers. As the waxwings tried to swallow a berry or two, a woodpecker would dive-bomb them. This made the waxwings nervous, and they either would duck and hunker down or would fly off. Having won the skirmish, the woodpecker would then retire to the big oak, where it would raucously screech its triumph with a wing display. Whilst it was doing the victory dance, the cedar waxwing or two would return to gobbling berries, hungry as hell from its long flight from the northern reaches.

I'm a fan of both birds, but I was a bit ticked off at the woodpeckers. The cedar waxwings were not stealing their food supply. Acorn woodpeckers eat insects and acorns, for Pete's sake, which they store for year-round cuisine in the oak, in lovely holes they drill and reuse just for that purpose.

On the other hand, maybe woodpeckers don't know cedar waxwings from a hole in the ground. What they DO know is the terrible starlings who periodically attempt to take over the oaks, and then a real battle ensues between the woodpeckers fighting for their home of decades, maybe centuries, and the starling squatters. The woodpeckers, fighting for homeland, always have won, so far. Their vigilance has paid off. So, dear waxwings, flutter onward, where other berries are in abundance nearby.

My lesson today, then, is to choose my battles carefully, lest I drive away a harmless body merely hungry for kindness and a rest from life's travails.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Lesson in Fractals

What a fine Christmas Day: Hubby and me, daughter and fiance, my sponsor & spouse for dinner; expenditures minimal but pleasure in giving maximal, small thoughtful gifts and lovely times. Wishing such peace for everyone....

A Midnight Course in Fractal Geometry

Sleepless again    a repetition of many nights
Windows in the pentagonal glass room reflect
Endless patterns of white Christmas lights
Cheerful chaos erupts
From ordinary roofs and shrubs
Curves and angles and loop de loops
Swing in a wind rocking a storm in its arms
A rope of blue light transforms the invisible
Fence     Waves on a blue sea undulate
Again and again and again
In the looking glass
Infinite points of light
Form infinite replicas of stars
Repeating themselves until they vanish
In the midnight place      Men know how
To wrest order from chaos
They can turn these patterns into formulas
Explaining why the shapes make sense
But they can’t say why
The stars make peace
On a December night

Peace on earth, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Poetry Jam: "solitary"

Monday, December 19, 2011

Furrst Love

Heavy Petting

Oh Kate, Kate,
hefty weight of softest fur,
the pat on lap brings her leaping
up to crouch contented there
prickle paws, claws dig in
sumptuously glad
for stroking hand on silky back,
she lifts her head, squinty eyed,
for cheeky rubs, damp-nosed
happiness, vibrating purr
leaning all of her against my breast,
my Kate, my joyous cat.

Kate and her sister Mystery were abandoned feral foundlings, eyes barely opened. Nursed by hand, raised by beagles and women, what they know of life is human kindness and doggie tolerance, the world is their oyster, and our laps belong to them.

Sometimes, when the world seems dismal, my cat helps me to remember simple things are still priceless.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Tiny Victory

I hope I'm not the only writer who sometimes can't think of a single thing to say.

All my energy has been devoted to working through a paralyzing anxiety attack this week. I'm grateful that in spite of it I've conducted the basic stuff of living. Small things like paying bills and trimming the Christmas tree have been accomplished with gritted teeth and prayer, and the fear recedes a little more each day.

And today, a migrating flock of cedar waxwings paid a visit to the shrubs outside my office window. Their annual visitation always gives me joy. This morning I was especially thankful, because I have battled a beast and not been defeated. There are many kinds of victories, some so ordinary that they can be easily overlooked. I'm glad my eyes were open today.

(Don't know who to credit for this lovely shot of a cedar waxwing)

Sunday Morning Addendum:
Cedar waxwings everywhere! This morning's flock is huge, gorging on the red-berry bushes! Underneath the bushes, the kitties crouch, yakking at the beautiful birdies!

"Come to me, lovely little birdies!" says Mystery the Cat. The waxwings respectfully decline.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Occupy THIS

An amazing thing happened today. My husband said he thinks a water pipe is leaking in an interior wall, and he pointed out his evidence. (This man has been ordered by our plumber to refrain from “fixing” things himself.) I studied hubby’s evidence, and it didn’t look like evidence to me.

But my head leaped straight into fear. Another expense! More bad news! Another explosion in our tight budget! My head freaked out so thoroughly, it hurled me right into an anxiety attack.

I was mauled by the sense of impending doom, pummeled by the “What Ifs” and the “Oh Nos”! Right off the top of my head, I conceived of 1,000 other things that could go wrong, from the personal to the global level. Then I went straight to the place where I can kneel in prayer, did that, jumped up and went to an AA meeting. Came home, breathed, called my sponsor. Was instructed to breathe some more.

I haven’t had an attack of fear like that in a long time. In recovery I’ve learned how to redirect the kind of catastrophic thinking that used to plague me. I have tools that work. Hours later, I’m still shaky, but my feet are planted firmly in the present, where all my needs are taken care of. After dinner, I’ll go set up a church hall for an AA meeting, where I know I’ll hear the music of faith from people who have been transformed.

I’m grateful that I can occupy my mind with what’s good, here and now.

Too Preoccupied with Birds to Notice

Sometimes when my mind is full of dire news
swollen by streams of the world’s sorrows,
I hunt for robins.

A pair of them live like lords on my land,
where they feast on a cornucopia of insects
leading busy lives in centuries of mulch.
The world’s calamitous chatter fades,
irrelevant, as the robins strut and pluck
the strands of their living harp.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Oh, Boy! Deep Freeze

The killing frosts have hit us here on the central coast of California. Our nights are down in the 25-degree zone that kills all the tender growing things in the garden. Tomatoes that remained on the vine are popsicles in the mornings, turning to paste after sun-up. My beautiful dahlias are now brown stalks of mush. Normally, this would depress me: Winter is coming, alack! alas! But something’s different this year. I don’t feel like Eeyore.

In fact, I feel pretty interested in life. I’m checking out this garden scenery….

…and I’m thinking, I betcha that puppy has viable seeds in it! I’m looking at this dahlia….

…and I’m thinking, there’s a gift for me in there! I suspect a praying mantis laid an egg case on one of those branches, and I’m going to find it and save it when I cut that dahlia back.

Several things are different in my life this year. I’ve been working with a new AA sponsor, and she’s had a big impact on my outlook. We’ve been studying faith and gratitude, and I’m reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You. She also was diagnosed last month with stage-four lung cancer. Now we have our weekly talks while she’s getting her chemo treatment. I’m not scared about her future; I’m blessed by her life.

Maybe it’s the added vitamin D in my diet. I’ve taken substantial D-3 since a deficiency was diagnosed back in March. My immune system is vastly stronger than it was last year, with its serial pneumonia and relentless infections. There’s a correlation, too, between major depression and D deficiency. Maybe the converse is true as well, and I’m nutritionally better equipped. Who knows? Is it God or vitamin D? Who cares? Life is good.

The deep freeze around here has sent the sap earthward, but my spirit lifts upward. Tolstoy has affected me greatly, a gift from out of the blue. I caught the tail end of The Last Station a while back, and it sent me on a research run to learn more about his "spiritual anarchy." His study The Gospel in Brief held me spellbound. When the word “deep” was offered this week as a prompt on the Poetry Jam blog, I thought of this poem, written a month ago at a café while waiting for a lunch date who never showed.

The Water Walker

Faith made Peter climb out of the boat
and walk on water for a while until
he remembered people can’t do that
and then he sank. I understand
his sinking; I too have sunk
into the impossible and had to stroke
for shore, arising on reality
drenched and choking.

It’s the faith I want to summon in the boat
that mesmerizes me: to see the liquid
which I know cannot support me, yet
to trust in God’s incredible command
that I be more than bone and flesh
tethered to physics and the imagined
certainty of all my limitations.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Bravest Thing I've Ever Done

Getting sober is the bravest thing I’ve ever done. To look the world straight in the eye, without self-medicating first, requires this alcoholic to dig deep for the courage that many people seem to come by naturally. And she has to keep digging too, to keep up with the adventures of being human.

The artwork I’m using today is an illustration by Gustave Doré in the 1866 version of John Milton's Paradise Lost. “Satan rises from the burning lake” illustrates what Milton calls Lucifer’s “courage never to submit or yield.” The piece also has been used in reference to one of my all-time favorite poems, “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which ends with these wonderful lines:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I memorized “Ulysses” for a college speech class, drawn to its celebration of the enduring adventuresome spirit. I never have read Paradise Lost, and I find the Satan connection a little icky. But the prompt for this week’s Poetry Jam asked poets to write something inspired by Paradise Lost, John Milton, or Gustave Doré, and my research led me to my beloved “Ulysses” via the aforementioned Lucifer link.

Courage is the thing that gets me excited. I’ve had to find some. I’ve had to learn how to endure when life goes sideways. I’ve had to learn self-discipline, the courageous act of refusing to yield to my own wild impulses, which would have me flee from uncomfortable circumstances. I’ve had to plumb my inner resources when shit hit the fan, and when I came up empty, I’ve had to discover that God’s grace is sufficient on any given day.

All of which is a boatload of verbiage to introduce a very short poem ~ 160 characters, to be exact, counting the spaces. Visit other poets monkeying around with ultra-shorts at Monkey Man’s place here, or jamming with Milton here.

Here is my extremely short epic poem:

Without a shield, I face my fears
Weak, unarmed, I will not yield
As the smoke of battle clears
I’m still standing on the field
By your cheers my wounds are healed!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank God My Car Was Smashed, Not Me

A tank destroyed my rear end this week. I’m grateful that it was my automobile’s and not my own posterior.

I didn’t see that at first. My initial reaction was a lot of effin’ this ’n’ thatness when the young lady in the souped-up Suburban plowed into us at full street speed, having failed to notice the cars ahead were stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk. Her apologies seemed inadequate to my shocked and whiplashed self as I confronted our seriously wounded beautiful car.

Afterward the 12-Step training kicked into gear and waged a rousing battle with resentment, armed with those formidable “Thank God” weapons. It’s not a walk in the park to be grateful in the face of crap, but it’s doable. Thank God for insurance on both automobiles, for no serious injuries, for credit cards and car rentals and trustworthy auto-body specialists owned by AA friends.

We’re off now to spend Thanksgiving amid the blessings of family, friends, and our old AA home group. A study of gratitude made the news today, finding that gratitude is good for the brain and the body’s well-being. Alcoholics Anonymous has preached that for 75 years. May you swim in thanksgiving, no matter what adversity you face.

"Every decision I make is a choice between a grievance and a miracle. I relinquish all regrets, grievances and resentments, and I chose the miracle."
(Deepak Chopra, “The Soul of Healing Meditation”)

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Priceless Gift

The garden's last flowers
I received a precious gift on my birthday, making it the most beautiful of birthdays in a long time. It came from a beloved member of my family, who was given the great burden of a severe-early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, shortly after Mom died of that disease.

To understand the gift’s significance, you have to understand that severe Alzheimer’s steals not just memories, not just language in all its totality as the foundation of communicating between people. It steals the brain’s computer processor, so it can’t access stored information, filter data, recognize context, transfer essential messages, or discern logical pathways in the process of decision-making. Areas within itself are isolated from each other. The brain fights through this incredible interference to make sense of a whole world in incoherent motion, as it tries to serve its owner’s needs.

After months of withdrawal, as my loved one struggled in the aftermath that diagnosis, a birthday card arrived the day before my birthday. It was followed by a phone call on my birthday, opening with the birthday song, and then a long conversation, full of news and willingness to patiently work through spots where words would vanish, a strength of attention to hear my words. Love lived energetically in that phone call, a wonderful feat of reaching out.

At dinner with my husband later, I opened all my birthday cards, saving that special one for last. It was signed with a loving message, warm with recognition of our history together. At first I wept at the evidence of language difficulty, fleeing to the ladies room for another (brief) war with God over this. I washed my face, came back, and read the card again, this time thankful for the strength and love that glowed in its message. Sorrow can be blinding. When I wipe my eyes, I can see the tender mercies that always there.

It was a blessed birthday, rich with loving gifts from my family. I’m thankful to be part of the human experience, present and sober and wiser for the life given to me to live on this planet. May all our days be rich with reaching out, offering some simple blessing to someone else.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Learning Endurance

Photograph by Dorthea Lange, 1936

Great moments in history on this date: Goodbye, Ford Edsel; Hello again, Moon (second Apollo landing); and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
 "We can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. ... It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ... that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I wonder if survivors of the Great Depression and the Midwest Dust Bowl bequeath a primal-memory gene to some of their kids… some inheritable, shady sense of having endured the catastrophic and standing ready to endure it again.

I owe my life to the Depression and the Dust Bowl (proof I should remember next time I question whether ill winds really do blow in some good). On both sides, my parents’ families were migrant workers in the 1930s, one from Oklahoma, one from Montana, who came together in a small California town, eventually creating me. It’s my birthday this week, and I’m pondering my beginnings.

The photo I’m using with this post was taken by Dorthea Lange in 1936 just down the road from where I was born. It shows a woman named Florence Thompson with three of her seven children, at a migrant camp near the pea fields (which still are grown there). Lange easily could have photographed one of my grandmothers with my father or mother in tow, heading for their rendezvous with destiny (sorry).

Besides my own family history (discussed around dining tables all my life), I’ve also interviewed many Great Depression and WWII survivors in my magazine work… so maybe it’s just familiarity with their generations that gives me a sense of kinship, rather than some unconscious primal memory of endurance as a way of life. What I know deep in my bones, whether it has come via genetic code or education, is that human beings are capable of suffering great loss and misery with dignity, without complaint, and with a majestic patience. That character is something I want in my life.

Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is the poetry prompt this week at Poetry Jam, where you’ll find other interpretations of that great photo. Here’s mine.

Good Norwegian Stock

My grandfather’s ways sprout from my fingers
like seeds lifting their round heads
out of black earth under a broad blue sky.
Skydotter, he called me, with mirth in his eye:
the Norwegian name for rain-laden clouds.
And daughter I am, a loaded ship of cloud
in an ocean of sky, sailing the big Plain
sowing grain in my wake.

In his time,
Grandfather paused to tip back his hat
and watch the wild geese vee southward
as clouds lowered for winter’s long march.
Eyes watering with Montana cold,
well-worn flannel warming his neck,
he spared a moment in endless treks
from house to barn to fields and back
to honor the enduring geometry of geese.

The time came
when he bowed his head before dry fields
that refused the seed and sealed the land
against the grain. He surrendered
the farm to the drought-battered Plain
and turned westward, where his hands
skilled in the nurture of growing things
became carpenter’s hands, sawing trees
into usefulness as cupboards and houses,
though he preferred them wild.

he dug his hands in the unfriendly dirt
behind the small place in the new country,
with aging patience coaxing from it
fields of freesias and clouds of lilac,
roses bowing heads heavy with buds
above a sea of tulips. Tomatoes marched
through rainless summers in his garden
guarded with small offerings of water
and waves of corn ripened by the fence.

I grew up in a field of plenty, cultivated
by a grandfather still wearing the old felt hat.
I, his sky daughter, wore his hat with pride
the day I stood as the heavy sky burst,
my dirty hands outstretched to catch the rain
falling, falling, on the young strong grain.

Dorthea Lange’s photo is reproduced from The Commons on Flickr, an awesome site of worldwide photography in the public domain, with use restricted to personal, educational or research purposes.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lightness of Being

each day
you wage a thousand wars
to preserve the nation of yourself

to defend your freedom
to lie down in your bed

you are a good country
responsible, alert
so you

marshal your resources
govern your thoughts
safeguard your borders
discipline your troops

you exercise vigilance
moment by moment
in every transaction
every choice, every plan
no wonder you’re weary
of fighting the war

stop now
and rest
notice light plays
in a window
it wanders
and dances
through wars
without ceasing

Prompted by the Poetry Jam, "Photograph a still life and write about it."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Gimme an Asteroid, Sunny-side Up

Weird stuff to ponder on a weekend morning: What plans should we make for our appointment with an asteroid Tuesday afternoon?

I have a freelance writing deadline that day: Will it matter if I make it? The looming asteroid stimulates Hamlet questions. Is it nobler to spend the weekend nose-to-grindstone, honoring my commitment in hopes of a future? Or should I shine it on? Shall I take arms against a sea of oppressors and their outrageous fortunes, go Occupy somewhere, or should I go to the movies?

Seriously, folks, I’m going to see Puss In Boots before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Now, after that peek through a window in my silly mind, here’s another, hot off the press. It was provoked by this week’s Poetry Jam prompt (more sneak peeks here).


What hides from the outside world
behind her face festooned with flowers
might be the prick of the poisoned rose
or worse
the clatter of cloven hooves
as her demons cook their dinner
with this day’s torments

You never know
what gingham curtains veil
what beast exhales
behind that convivial cloak
willing you to leave
frightened by the light
you stand in so bravely

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do You Ever Wake Up Batty?

Do you ever awaken with things on your head,

woes or worries, or what you should have said?  

Do you wrangle with someone who's not even there?

Are bees in your mind, or stuck in your hair?

Have you wakened offended, or stuffy with wrath?

Only one thing can save you:

Have a nice laugh.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

“We Are Not Saints.”

Frances, my mother, age 18

I live a checkered life. When I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, I went back to the church denomination I was born into, which happened to be Lutheran. A wonderful pastor helped me find a “new” God there, one I could sort of understand and sort of not understand but be comfortable with.

The pastor introduced me to Martin Luther, the man, not the author of the catechism I had to memorize as a kid. Luther had an idea that people of faith are a paradox: They are simultaneously both sinner and saint, screw-ups who live in a state of grace. That concept helped me find forgiveness.

I’m thinking about saints, tarnished and otherwise, because this week’s host of Poetry Jam, NanU, wants us to write about the eve of something hallowed. [Poetry Jam, eve of holy somethings] Tuesday is All Saints Day, which actually means something spiritual to me today. I live to Google, and I found a nice little essay by a Methodist pastor, Rev. Dean Snyder, on

“If Easter is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of Christ [Snyder writes], All Saints' is when Christianity celebrates the resurrection of the rest of us. The focus of Easter is the victory of Jesus over death and the grave. The focus of All Saints' is resurrection and life eternal for the rest of us.

“I think it can be an act of courage to believe in eternal life and to strive to live lives consistent with this belief. It takes courage to live as though our lives matter eternally -- even if they seem to us very ordinary, even frustrating and disappointing. It takes courage to believe that our lives matter beyond this lifetime, or even the earthly memory of it, when so much of what we do seems trivial and even pointless. It takes courage to choose to do the good and just thing in terms of eternity, rather than what is easiest, even when it will cost us something in the short-term and nobody will much notice or care anyway.

“It takes courage to believe that the lives of others are eternal — that each life we intersect and those we don't have eternal meaning and value and that we have a responsibility to each other that transcends the time, place and circumstances of our present lives.”

When I think of the “eve of something holy,” I think of the three nights I sat vigil with my dying mother. Both of us started out scared. Both us found courage. She’s one of those full-blooded saints now, no longer living a checkered life. This is the poem I wrote as she lay dying.

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your
cedar chest, scarred with memories. Here
is your sewing cabinet, made by your father,
its varnish worn. Here am I, in your office
chair, slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat,
its squeaky, rusty wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity,
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's Left?

At day’s end I came to the egg.
I had cried all the tears left in the sac.
Only me and it, and the shadows now.
Did it matter, really, what had happened?
I had magic in my hand. In this egg
lay the seeds of unknown future.
I cradled it. Later I could decide.

This is a flash poem, because blogmeister Mr. Knowitall digs it when people write micro-work for his Flash 55 Fridays, and I dig Mr. Knowitall.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don’t Say What You’re Thinking

Anger was the topic of our Tuesday meeting, and I heard good stuff, from people whose thought processes I can understand. I share more commonality with the Vietnam-vet biker who says, “Rage is the wind that blows out the candle in my mind,” than I do with the average 50-something I meet on the street. One of the things I love about AA is the wonderful cross-section of purposeful, thoughtful, flawed, and honest humanity I’ve come to know because of meetings.

I got to share that last year I took on the F’d Be I, the Dept. of There-Is-No-Justice, the U.S. Secret-ary of Health and Inhuman Services, the Attorney Generality, and the health-care-not industry over the moral and civil-rights outrage perpetrated on my defenseless 79-year-old demented mother [is that bitterness I hear?], and nine months of misery later, this caped crusader for Truth, Justice, and Human Rights for Alzheimer’s Victims was a sad piece of a work, drowning in her outrage, and my mother was dead, free at last. I got very ill last winter, and by early spring it was clear that my outrage over injustice was harming only me, and I was going to have to change myself so I could live in an unjust world.

Resentment, says the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is poison to the person who nurtures it. How are we to make peace in a life where people and institutions do wrong and suffer no consequences? How are we to live serenely in a world where sh*t happens to innocent people? The fellowship of AA has devised many brilliant means of doing just that.

Mostly, they all boil down to what Gandhi said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Start with giving grace, unearned forgiveness, to people who wrong you, as you have received grace from the loving God in your own imperfect life. Practice restraint of tongue and pen. Do not retaliate, argue, fume, or chew on arguments in your head. Instead, go do good work, own your own part in the shit, and be grateful for the ordinary miracles in your daily life. Work with a mentor. Wash your floors. Reach out a friendly hand to someone in need, and in general, learn to stay out of the bad neighborhood that is your own selfish head.

I am ceaselessly surprised that these things work. They work, in that they build a level of inner peace with the ebb and flow of life. Even if you choke on what you know is hypocrisy as you pray for the person who has offended you, doing it on your knees with your teeth gritted every day for two damn weeks, just because your sponsor suggested you try it, by God, it works! The one who changes is you, not the world, not your neighbor, just the one you live with day in and day out ~ that person becomes someone kinder, calmer, thankful, and a little more honest.

An aging ex-gangster at the meeting said his morning prayer is simple: “Hi, God, I’m awake, good luck.” Laughter is like tapping anger in the back of its knees: down it goes, toppling over like the great pretender that it is, mostly smoke and mirrors, self-justification and often fear masquerading as righteousness. Laughter heals a lot of wrongs, including our own. I’m grateful to be part of a community that laughs at itself and goes to sometimes great lengths to help others.

These days, I practice a lot of not saying the judgmental things I think about others. To a trusted few, I say whatever I think and laugh at it. My head, says one friend, is for entertainment purposes only. When the serious stuff that warrants deep thought crops up, I go to someone who has the kind of faith and wisdom I want, and I sound it out.

A line in a humble little book changed me this year. I found it in AA’s “12 Steps and 12 Traditions” under the discussion of the tenth step, in which we make a practice of honest self-examination and prompt admission of wrongs done. In a paragraph advocating a more merciful view of others, the writer says, “it is pointless to become angry or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.” The italics are mine.

If I can recognize that my life is a series of adventures in growing up to be the person I want to become someday, if I am in the process of becoming and haven’t yet arrived there, how can I not grant you the grace of your own suffering?

You too are on a journey. I might enjoy thinking, in the private entertainment center of my mind, that you’re damned far behind me thanks to your stupid behavior ~ enjoy thinking that privately for, say, ten minutes max. Okay, twenty, AND I get to tell a trusted friend. Anything more than that is a resentment, otherwise known as beating myself with a hammer and hoping you are the one it hurts: a habit to avoid.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ripples in the Pond

Fog in the harbor, Morro Bay, California

Ripples in the Pond

Sometimes it hits me upside the head,
how what happened to her
touched him and he touched me
and I told someone and
in the telling she was touched
and the touches keep touching.
One day I want to ask God:
Please show me
the ripples in the pond
where my stone reached.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Found: One Set of Wings and a 160, Free

Now here’s a strange true story, mostly, proved by a photograph:

Angel Wings

I know it means something, this moment
of surprise
when I’ve hurled myself out of the car
late as always for an obligation
in that grim world of a parking garage
too far from where I have to be to be there on time
and at my feet
on the yellow paint between gray spaces
rests a pair of white feathered wings
child size
Immediately I see they’re too small for me
but I’m staggered
caught in the open door
between the woman who is late and another
who can stop, bend down, take the gift
slip them on, lift my arms and fly
In that moment, the clocks stop too
the whole world shrinks
as the white wings spread
and stroke
and stroke
against the sky

And for no extra charge,  
a Sunday 160 version in exactly 160 characters
a sort of angel rap piece for my favorite character, Monkey Man,
He Who Hosts the Microest of Micro Fiction:

Angel stop
Angel drop
Angel rock’n’roll
What da weather
Chicken feather
Angel do a poll
Weather fair
Angel hair
Angel wear a stole
Angel wing
Angel fling
Angel save a soul

Strange, the things you might stumble across while doing the humdrum stuff of daily living, if you keep your eyes open. May you be surprised today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Time for Everything: Killed By a Bank

My family’s business folded this week, 40-some years after my father and mother started it from scratch and built it into a small company that employed 40 people. It’s now in the hands of a large bank that received $316 million in bailout funds from U.S. taxpayers in 2008. The bank demanded large payments on principal that the small business, struggling through the economic times, couldn’t make. The bank received grace from the American people in its hour of need. The bank did not give back the same grace. There's a parable in the Bible about such things.

It’s been a sad day, and it’s been a challenge to quell the little bursts of bitterness. I took flowers to my mother’s grave and sat on the grass beside her headstone as the sun lowered in the sky. I could hear her voice in the distance saying, “For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

My mother loved the Bible, and it was among the last books she could read before Alzheimers disease took away her words. She raised up her kids in church and planted a lifelong reverence for God in us. The Bible verses I learned in my youth come back to me at times when I need to be reminded that life has an eternal value.

Pain is a good teacher. I’ve been driven to my knees in pain, and come away from it stronger, kinder, more forgiving. We all need so much grace in this life and we find it hard to give. We keep getting lessons in grace because we have poor memories, I think. I keep learning about forgiveness all over again.

I came home Wednesday and laid down on my bed and let the memories of my father and mother’s business play through my mind. Many of them come from long ago but they rolled out vivid and textured, beautiful in their way. I prayed for my brothers and others whose livelihoods are affected, and then I went to an AA meeting, where the topic was gratitude. I looked up the verse from Ecclesiastes that had come to me at Mom’s grave. I was reminded that in the end, the best we can do is enjoy our labor and do good in our lives, and be grateful for the gift.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
What profit has he that works in that in which he labors?
I have seen the task, which God has given to the sons of men to be occupied in it.
He has made every thing beautiful in its time: also he has put eternity in men's hearts, so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.
I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, for it is the gift of God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Today's Monumental Events

Waiting for something to happen
 I am restless, uncertain, uncomfortable in my skin. What is wrong, I wonder.

I could sit and stew all day in this miasma. Or I could answer that question: If I'm honest, what troubles me are three unmade phone calls about unpleasant possibilities, and I don't want to tackle them. That's all. So I go outside with the camera to visit the praying mantis in the dahlias. I eat a little because I ought to, not because I'm hungry. Then I make one of the calls.

Hello, little fly!
No one's there, and I leave a message. This is called "baby steps" in my 12-step program, and it counts on the plus side of my personal little inventory. How I feel is my responsibility, so what action can I take to be more comfortable? Take care of business, sweet pea! That would be a start.

Then I make the second call. Check! That one's satisfied. I feel better already. I ponder the third and final call, the ickiest one of all. I'm in a position of strength now, and I can see that I should get answers to "x" and "y" before I place the call. Now I get to make more choices, with a level head and honesty. This problem has no urgency, and it could spend a while in the hands of someone wiser than I am. I have a place for things like that, called a "God box" ~ a gimmick I've been using lately, a little red box and shreds of paper scribbled on and dated. So I put that last call in the box.

I love my lunch.

"Look away from unpleasant surroundings, from lack of beauty, from the imperfections in yourself and in those around you. In your unrest, behold God's calmness; in your impatience, God's patience; in your limitations, God's perfection. Looking upward toward God, your spirit will begin to grow."
Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Oct. 17

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ghost Town, Mojave Desert

I’ve been gone a while, doing things that require work like traveling, writing assignments, lying sick in bed, but today has been a restful day. I took photos of my desk,

my cat,

my flowers,

myself reflected in the computer screen (up above). Then I researched quartz for no compelling reason and wrote a poem based on an experience I had while traveling last week.

Some sad things have struck my family since my mother died last summer, and they caused me to be called out of town. I knew I wanted to write a poem about something that happened on the trip but didn’t know how to begin. At three in the morning Wednesday, sleepless, I wrote down five words ~ ghost, laugh, laundry, edges, beer ~ and posted them as a prompt on Poetry Jam, a blog I’m hosting this week. I wrote the poem Thursday. I’m interested to see what other poets do with the words.

Ghost Town, Mojave Desert

Someone spilled a glass of milk in the sky
and the indifferent wind pushes it
against the barren hills that frame this town.
From the open window of a stale motel
I watch the creamy puddles eddy
among signs that scream for gas, food, lodging
as mesquite brush waffles in a vacant lot.
When I was a girl, I cruised that drag
in a blue Mustang and worked at a florist’s
over there, where that pawn shop squats.
I want to hate it now, with everyone I love
erased from here. But I see my father
teaching me to steer an army Jeep
across the desert, his brown arm braced
against the windshield as we bounce along
and laugh. I see my mother hanging laundry
on the clothesline by the driveway, where
my brothers and their cronies lounge
against their trucks with cans of beer
and shirttails hanging out. I hear my family
working, banging, revving, hammering,
the pop of rivet guns, hissing blowtorch,
the hollow whine of sheet metal
sculpted in their hands. I smell the tang
of ozone, sharp as a knife, after the rain
and I smell the sand, a billion shifting grains
of memory that stick like windblown grit
and won’t wash off, except in the blessed rain
which comes only when it will, not
when you will it. On the edges of my life
the wind still sings its love for the desert
and I taste the sweet bitter fruit of loss.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I’m a Microclimate for God

I found some treasures at an antique show this weekend and took great pleasure in bargaining for them. One of them, a small hand-forged pitcher, asked me to write a poem about it. So I made a little 160-character ditty for Monkey Man’s Sunday 160 challenge. You’ll find others on his blog here.

The Tin Pitcher

Call me old,
rusted and flawed,
but in the confines
of my battered state,
I am a microclimate
for God
where flowers grow:
apparently, my fate.