Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree

Yes, I know it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, but it was so warm out yesterday (70 in town, 65 up on the mountain) and someone said it was going to snow Wednesday, so I figured I should get one while the getting was good.  I drove up to King's Tree farm after I got finished working on my day off.  They seemed surprised to see me, I guess most everyone waits till after the turkey is roasted.... "You got any Hemlocks?" I asked, and the man seemed dismayed.  "You don't want one of those, the needles start falling as soon as you cut them!" So maybe one year when I'm running super late I might get my dreamy fernlike tree, but I decided against it this year.
I had the whole place to myself.  It was a nice safe place to walk considering most of my favorite trails wind through prime hunting territory. Not one hunter, not a soul except the tree man moved through the farm.  He was busy driving his cool little Bobcat around, smoothing the tracks and spreading gravel in preparation for the onslaught of tree shoppers in their family cars and pickup trucks and SUVs.

The fields change from year to year, as mature trees are harvested and new ones planted.  I got lost, sort of, just like I like to do, wandering from field to field.  Here the Scotch Pines, there the Blue and Norway Spruce.  White Pine, which is soft and pretty in it's own fuzzy way, I avoided.  The Frazier Fir field is still relatively young, and I stayed out of it this year.   After about an hour of wandering through the neat lines of trees, picking up stray pinecones, brushing my hands over the soft or prickly boughs of a hundred or more trees, I found one that wanted to come home with me. With my handy folding saw I cut it down, all by myself.  Not difficult at all, kneeling on the damp leaf covered ground in my Sunny Day skirt I sawed back and forth, back and forth, till only an inch of trunk remained - then I pushed it over with ease and sawed the rest of the way through. Dragging it back to the car, the needles scratched my calves with every step.   A Norway Spruce, the tree man said. It cost $42, a little more than the trees at the Kroger, but worth every penny.

Memories of years past chased me around every corner.  Little Delia, about 6, throwing snow, eating snow, and then throwing some more.  Pregnant Lisa, carrying the unborn Pippa in her belly through the rows of trees in late autumn to pick one out for later cutting, since we were pretty sure she wasn't going to be heading out there once the baby came.  Snow play with Kira and Piper, the year Steve and Sarah came with us to cut down a tree.  Last year, with Pippa in her smart coat and tiny Iris in the baby carrier.  And every year, for the last, well, almost a decade, my husband with his saw, patiently waiting for me to give one tree the honor of being our family Christmas tree.  As good as the Griswold's.  Sigh.

This year, I took that tree home to my new apartment, spare and full of light, and I put it into the magic EZ Up tree stand I found at Lucky's Attic on one of the thrifting trips Mark and I make almost every week. It really was easy, I did it myself. Then I donned my long leather Lighting gloves, and wound the pink lights around it like my father taught me how to do.  I thought of him, I thought of my girls, who were both off in their other lives - Becca with her mother and Delia with her father.  I dressed the tree with birds and butterflies, and stars, in pink and white and silver.  All the ornaments are new, I haven't had the energy or the heart to go about splitting up seventeen years of Christmases Past with my husband.

Mark came over later that evening and admired my work.  We hung the little sisal hedgehogs, and bronze glitter pinecones, and snowy owls covered in glitter.  We played the vinyl records he'd picked up at the indoor flea market, and we laughed at them, all warped and creepy sounding, one after the other they went into the trash.  Then we drove up to WalMart and found some CDs in the $5 bin and came back to sing and dance in the kitchen with Burl Ives, laughing at ourselves and our terrible dance moves the whole time.  He went home to prepare as best he could for a stressful hearing the next day, and I fell asleep in my bed, christmas lights glittering in the next room.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Reflections on "Song of Myself"

I had to look up the word "kelson" because I didn't know it.  Turns out it is a beam in a wooden boat that runs the length of the vessel and holds the boards of the hull in place.

Yes, I think, Love does hold all the pieces in place.  Self love, and the love we give to others, and the love we receive from others.

Before I read this poem, I thought that in essence, we are in fact the sum of our parts.  All my life experiences, everything that has happened to me in my forty years, all the people I have loved, lost, hated, barely known - I thought, and still do think to some extent, that these things made me who I am.  I have been thinking a lot lately about my marriage, my long relationship with my husband, how we grew into adults together, made each other into the people we are now.  How we have made our daughter into the person she is now.  That's a lot of responsibility, to think that you have such an important role in the formation of the self of another.  I can't help but wonder how I would be different if I had made different choices, how my daughter would be different, how Husband would be different, how my life and our lives would be different.  Is there something inside me that deserves the recrimination I feel for shuffling us all into the current disarray?

Who is my true self?  What is the entity which
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head, curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it. 

Whitman says in his poem
The other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

 I wonder if I have been letting that Other me, the one that is made of my relationships with the world, drive my life, and I have not been listening to my True Self, the one that whispers to me when I am walking in the woods or sitting quietly in contemplation.  Do we all ignore our True Selves in favor of the masks, the separate identities we wear?  Is that why after years and years of being The Wife, The Mother, The Daughter, I finally found myself flailing about completely unmoored, drowning in an ocean of shoulds that I can't even remember jumping into?  I had to go on medicine to keep from killing myself.  It was awful, for me, for Husband, for Daughter... For everyone. And then it got better. And then ...

I'm learning to be human, one day at a time.  Walt Whitman clearly knew the depths of his own humanity, and his poem is one shrine on the faneway of self discovery.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Song of Myself

Excerpt from the 1855 edition

Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet….the effect upon me of my early life….the ward and city I live in…of the nation,
The latest news…. Discoveries, inventions, societies…. Authors old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, business, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks - or of myself…. Or ill-doing…. Or loss or lack of money….or depressions or exaltations,
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head, curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

I believe in you my soul…. The other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loafe with me in the grass….loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want…. Not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.

I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning;
You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my barestript heart,
And reached till you felt my head, and reached till you held my feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of earth;
And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers…. And the women my sisters and lovers,

And that a kelson of the creation is love.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Every community has "characters".  Stuart was one of ours.  His skin was red and weathered like leather, from years of working on the rooftops of the neighborhood.  He was disinclined to wear shirts in the heat of the day, which led to many disagreements with the afternoon staff at the Bakery.  Sometimes he would clamber out of his peach colored pickup and drape a t-shirt around his neck like a cowl, a one finger salute to the "no shirt, no service" rule we tried to stick to as a reputable establishment.  His cutoff shorts were sometimes so miniscule that they were more revealing than the average human would have been comfortable with.  Not Stuart.  He was comfortable.  Always smoking, he would lay his half finished American Spirit down on the brick of the sidewalk outside, and often leave it there when he left the shop - hands full of coffee for himself and sometimes his crew.  Stuart was in Recovery, and sometimes when Tyler and I were wrestling with our Saturday morning hangovers he would comment sympathetically on the bitter pleasures of drink.  Nobody ever begrudged him his cigarettes, because we all knew he'd given up far worse demons.  

A few weeks ago I ran into Stuart at the Giant Eagle, as I often did.  We chatted in the checkout line about the aches and pains of manual labor, he told me about his health problems, I complained about my wrists and elbows.  He was sympathetic. I didn't know it would be the last time I would have a real conversation with him - how could I know?  I remember his ropy arms in that t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, his beak of a nose that reminded me of the crying Indian in those commercials from the seventies.  How he called me "girl" and "honey" and always gave me a smile even when I could tell he was pissed off about something or other.  He was short, and wiry, and had an air of determination about him that I have noticed in many of the laborers that come into the Bakery on their way to to their workdays.  

When I came in to work this morning - late - the first thing Danny said to me after "good morning" was, "Did you hear that Stuart died?" And I said no, and he told me what he knew - that Stuart didn't show up for work on Monday and one of his crew went to his home and found him dead in his kitchen.  It was so shocking, so unexpected, so sad - it left me feeling hollow and listless.  

When Johnny Cash died, I heard it on the radio.  I was working on the poolish, kneeling over those buckets of flour, yeast, and water, blending them the way I do every day, with my hands.  I cried, like I had lost my Grandfather all over again.  I sobbed over those starters, stopping every so often to wipe my eyes on my sleeve, sobbing again, stirring still.  Today I couldn't cry, I think the meds I am on keep me from crying real salt tears, but I did the same thing.  When I think of Stuart, I think of WORK with a capital W, I think of long days climbing ladders in the sun, of swinging a hammer or pulling a hook billed knife through tar paper, through shingles.  I think of him yelling at his workmen, I think of him bringing them coffee.  I remember the sidelong smiles he gave me when I came out into the front of the shop carrying trays of scones, of the kind words that were never demeaning and always bolstering - he recognised that I worked hard, I labored, just like he did -  to bring worthwhile things into the world.      

My compatriots at the bakery are waiting to hear about funeral arrangements for Stuart.  I hear his daughter is coming in from out of town - I didn't know he had a daughter, I didn't even know his last name till today.  And though I hate funerals in general, I will go to his funeral, if just to tell his daughter how awesome her father was, just to be a body in the room remembering this guy who touched my life in a small way almost every day.  

Rest in Peace Stuart Cobb.  You were a real character.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflections on Mary Oliver's "The Journey"

In his book, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Roger Housden examines this poem, the way it speaks to us and wakens within us the desire to live more authentically.   He reveals the massive change that took place in his life (ending a relationship and moving from England to California) and how it changed him.  I too, experienced a moment where everything inside me shifted - several moments, actually - over the course of this past summer.  It is almost impossible to explain that kind of epiphany, but Oliver does it so well in this poem. 

My marriage was a fairy tale to everyone, including me!  Which made it so hard to walk away from.  All the voices coming at me, directly and indirectly "Don't do anything rash," and "is she off her meds?" and "what a shame."  I could have tried harder, I know this, as I tried and tried for years and years to justify, to reconcile these warring thoughts that had been raging quietly within me for all that time.  There was a moment, in the middle of the night, during one of the extremely rare conversations that passed for an argument, when everything crystallized in my head, and I knew what I had to do.  And it was hard, and sharp and painful, but liberating too.  In my quest to hold everything together, to live up to that fairy tale standard that Husband and I had set so long ago - we ourselves barely more than children - I had forgotten how to live authentically.  All the self help books tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first, and I had forgotten this rule in the tumult of life.  That fresh air, when I finally breathed it in, was strange and wonderful.

Over the course of 20 years, Husband and I learned how to walk on eggshells, our lives were a minefield of eggshells.  Every conversation that might have become a disagreement turned into a piece of ground that could not be tread upon.  We spent so much time avoiding conflict, watching our feet, that we never looked where we were going.  When I looked up, finally, I didn't like where I was.  And I don't think he liked where he was either, but that's not really for me to say.  The lies you tell yourself start to look like truths after a while, I think. 
Now I am doing the only thing I can do, which is save my own life from regret, to examine myself not in the hazy pink glow of some fractured fairy tale, but in the light of the sun.  Maybe some people could have done that and stayed married, but I am not one of those people.  It reminds me of a novel by Anne Tyler I read, a long time ago, called Back When We Were Grownups

Oliver's poem suggests "the birth of a new self, one not conditioned by the past." according to Housden.  I am finding it difficult to free myself from the conditioning of the past.  I see behaviors in myself, protective, evasive, self sacrificing - I am aware of them now, in my interactions with others, in ways I didn't notice before.  They are getting easier to spot, but changing them is going to be a long process.  The whole process of finding myself, that's what I'm doing here, in my life and on this blog.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Journey

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I've been in the new apartment for almost a month now.  The details of this great change are difficult and personal, and it's all too complicated to share with anyone right now.  Suffice to say that Edgehill House isn't my home anymore, and I'm trying to build something different, something that better serves the person I am now.  
Please join me here, in my Sanctuary, as I explore this next chapter of my life.