Tag Archives: money

Spoor

I took a walk yesterday on our land. I have a route over our 26 acres that winds around the open fields and keeps me out of the heavy woods and brush, where the ticks are waking. It was grey and overcast, not raw but damp, a combination of snow and rain coming down and turning my already wild hair into a mad woman’s wig. The surface of the snow is glazed hard in most places, but when I got too close to the tree line or the streams that trickle down to the river I punched through it and sank. Walking on the thick layer of leaves under and among the trees was like walking on a sopping sponge. My winter boots immediately let the water in and my socks became sodden.

I saw thickets where the deer had slept, melting the snow with the warmth of their bodies, lying out of the wind in the shelter of trunk and branch. I’ve seen them bedded down before, and I imagined them rising to their feet, squatting in their awkward way to leave pellets and a splash of urine, and then stepping away through the snow with those delicate hooves and legs. Their spoor was everywhere.

The medical transcription business is wildly unpredictable. One seesaws between frantic pleas from supervisors for overtime because of a sudden flood of work and the dreaded “no jobs available” message upon logging in. As I’m paid by production, no work means no money. Since the new year, work has been slow in the company and transcriptionists and supervisors alike are feeling the stress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my fear of not enough these days, and how small it makes me and my experience of life. One of the reasons I like to go out and walk is because it pushes against my tendency to curl up in corners and play hours of solitaire while I make up stories about living under bridges and berate myself for NOT PULLING MY WEIGHT and WASTING TIME.

The river is still ice covered, but the edges are yellowish and slushy. I could see animal prints in the snow over the ice, but I wouldn’t have dared try to walk on it. As I leaned against a tree and looked down at the ice-bound river, I heard a nesting pair of barred owls calling to each other, though it was still early afternoon.

The truth is my medical transcription job is nothing more than a means to an end. It’s all about the paycheck. I take some modest pride in my ability to do an accurate, fast job, but I’m just a pair of skilled hands and ears. One day, when the job and I are finished with one another, I’ll leave no remnants of myself, no track, no scent, no spoor. It irritates me that it has so much power in my life when it means so little.

The bare twigs and branches of the trees were hung with water drops and the pussy willows are beginning to bud out. In the cloudy light the willow buds and water drops were the same silvery grey and I had to get close to tell the difference.

We’ve lately found a local lawyer to help us update our wills and take care of end-of-life paperwork. It’s made me think about all the fragments I’ll leave behind me, the furniture I’ve loved and polished; the mirror I’ve looked in since I was a child; the books I’ve handled and read in cars, in bathtubs, at tables, in beds and chairs and waiting rooms. All these things will be sifted through, separated, sold, passed on. What money there is will be divided and wind up in other bank accounts or hidey holes or cast back into the flow somehow. Perhaps whispers of me will cling to a few objects, but for the most part no one will ever know I passed this way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We have an old shed/garage on the land and the snow slide off the roof has had the door blocked and partially pushed open for most of the winter. I was just able to squeeze in the door over the thick layer of ice on the threshold, formed by melting snow dripping off the roof.

We had cleaned out and swept the shed last fall, but when I went in I found pages of paper blown all over the floor. It was a few pages of the first draft of my book manuscript. Last summer we had visitors who used the shed, and I’d hoped they would read and give me some feedback. They didn’t, and I’d never found the manuscript when I looked for it after they left, but the winter currents and drafts discovered its hiding place. Perhaps the wind read it as it ruffled through the pages with chill fingers.

It was odd to stand there and see those pages. It gave me a desolate clarity. Those written words are the most important thing I have. Working or not working, large paycheck or vanishingly small paycheck, all the objects I love and use and call mine—none of that is really who I am. None of it really matters, though it takes up space in my life.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do.

None of it contains the smell of my breath, the taste of my pain or the spoor of my love the way my words do. It was as though it was me lying there, discarded, damp and wind strewn, unseen, unread, unwanted. It hurt me.

As I gathered up the scattered pages, I noted where the snow had drifted through gaps in corners. Wrinkled beech leaves lay on a discarded futon, whirled in through the broken window above it. I opened a ramshackle cupboard and found a roll of shredded toilet paper and evidence of mice at work, making the most of the unexpected bonanza of nesting material.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I found a bottle cap and cigarette butts on a window sill. More leavings. I know who stood there, smoking, looking out the window. I stood where he’d stood and picked up the butts, knowing his lips were around them, his long-fingered hand had carried them from pack to mouth and then stubbed them out in the bottle cap, a tiny ashtray. I wished for the nose of a wild creature so I could search for the cold, lonely ghost of his scent.

He was here. I am here. Deer crisscross this land we call ours. Mice go about the business of ensuring more mice, and the barred owls carry on their early spring conversation about mating, nesting, eggs and all those mice. We are so caught up in jobs and money and things. We give them so much meaning. The days go by and we alternately struggle and dance through them. But one day we’ll be gone, and we’ll all leave spoor behind, a scent or sign or footprint that is uniquely and simply ours.

These words are my footprints, my scent, my lingering warmth in the places I came to rest, my spoor. They are the signs of my passage and the truest things I have to leave behind when I’m gone.

Visit my Good Girl Rebellion page for a song as this week’s antitoxin. 

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

The Failure of Money

I’m thinking about money today. This is not new. Sometimes I think most of my life has been consumed by thoughts about money. Well, not thoughts so much as panic, guilt, shame and worry.

There’s a heavy snowstorm today here in central Maine. I’ve just been standing looking out my attic window, watching it fall on the huge elderly maples, bare as old bones, and the grass and the street and our little black Hyundai car in the driveway.

We found out this morning that the car needs about $1,300 worth of work. Almost exactly what it’s worth. Time to make choices.

We went out to walk, my partner and I. I didn’t cover my head, and when we got home my hair and eyelashes were clotted with wet snow. My son, who had gone out to run errands, was backing into the driveway as we came home. He’d been meditating in a ditch, not being able to get in touch with us, after sliding off the extremely slick road and into a guy wire securing a telephone pole. Some kind soul drove by and pulled him back onto the road. Fortunately, my son wasn’t dented, but the car was. This, needless to say, does not improve the resale value!

I also took time this morning to buy Christmas gifts, so I’ve been absorbing all the jingle bells, merry merry and buy buy online. Quite a contrast, all the glitz and glitter, deals and special buys and impossibly joyous advertising, to the silent world outside the window, grey, smoke blue, brown, dark green and the ivory snow. Over the years, I’ve done less and less gift exchange for Christmas. There are only two people left with whom I do it, not because I don’t love giving gifts but because of financial stress and my resentment of the pressure to consume.

I’ve always had a dreadful relationship with money. My earliest understanding of what it was became inextricably tangled with anguish, fear, rage and power issues. As a child, I was always afraid there wouldn’t be enough. As an adult, I was locked in a belief that money defined me. To have money was to be successful, and to not have it was to be a failure. There was a well-known and well-defined path to follow: Graduate high school with top grades and scholarships, obtain a college education in something employable and lucrative, get a job with benefits, and never NEVER touch the principal. If you must borrow, pay off ASAP and stay out of credit debt. Save for retirement, own your own home and pay off the mortgage, take vacations and have a nice car.

However, during my lifetime the world has changed considerably. The middle class from which I came has all but vanished. I didn’t want to go to college, but did it because it was expected. I didn’t get a good scholarship and felt guilty every day I was there, and my guilt was made worse by the fact that the only subjects that interested me were religion, literature, history and the like. After two years, I dropped out. (Note: Dropouts are NOT successful. Ever.) I’ve been working ever since.

Then I got divorced (credit card debt), saved for retirement but cashed a couple of those out for emergencies, lost all my investment money to a crooked contractor, never took a vacation or even a plane ride out of my own pocket, and never in my life bought a new car. Retirement? You must be kidding. What are the chances there will even still be social security by the time I’m 65?

This is in no way a remarkable biography, I realize, but for me there’s a red stamp across every page of it that says FAILURE.

I’ve only in the last two years really understood how much power I gave money to define who I am and what I’m (you guessed it) worth. The idea of monetary value, like sexism, is embedded in our very language. There’s no escaping it. In my culture, the failure to make and spend money in ever increasing amounts is unpatriotic, unattractive, unsuccessful and sometimes illegal.

This is all wrong. I feel like the little boy who said out loud the emperor had no clothes.  Everyone was appalled and shushed him, lest the emperor hear and be offended.

I know myself to be an intelligent, heartful, creative, empathetic, honest person. The numbers in my bank account have absolutely nothing to do with those qualities.

The most important things in my life are my healthy relationships. Again, the numbers in my bank account have no influence over my ability to love and be loved and connected. (Hint: A relationship dependent on money doesn’t fit my definition of healthy. Just sayin’.)

My ability to be present, entertain joy, laugh, create and learn has nothing to do with money.

My enormous talent for life has nothing to do with money.

Unfortunately, our broken system does require money for health care and the necessities of shelter, food and water. To be human is to need these basics. Not having money for them is the experience of increasing numbers of Americans and the vast majority of others in the world. I myself don’t have the money to buy health insurance. Does that mean we’re all failures?

Of course not.

Not only that, but we’re exhausting our global resources and when no amount of money will buy food and water we’ll all starve together, regardless of our bank balances.

So, yeah, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with the car. We’ll have to get a loan and work on finding a good used vehicle that can deal with our weather. It will mean a monthly car payment. No idea how we’ll do it, but I know we’ll find a way. Before that, we may have to do some work on the Hyundai in order to get top price for it.

But none of that is about me, or what I’m worth in the world, or what I can do or be. It’s all just static and distraction. It’s not failure or success, it’s just that cars age out and need to be replaced. If I could go out and buy a brand-new Subaru, it wouldn’t be failure or success, either.  It would be CONVENIENT and LUCKY.

Here are a couple of Christmas presents from me to you. The first is a quote and the second is an old wisdom tale from the Hindu tradition, one version of which is in More Ready-To-Tell Tales from Around the World, edited by David Holt and Bill Mooney, and told by Jim May.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

–Jiddu Krishnamurti

The Ruby

A holy man awoke, as usual, in the hour before dawn, on his mattress of grass. A warm wind moved across the land, bringing the scent of dust, animals, early morning cooking fires and blossoms, fresh and sweet in the cool morning.

The holy man was beginning his morning prayers when an excited young peasant ran up to him. “Master, where is it?”

The holy man raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“I had a dream,” said the peasant, calming himself. “In my dream, I met a holy man at the edge of the village. And here you are! The holy man gave me a precious jewel.”

“Ah, yes,” said the holy man. He bent and pulled from beneath his mattress of grass a ruby the size of his fist. “You must mean this. I have no use for it.”

He handed it to the peasant, who had never held more than two copper coins in his hand. The peasant raised the ruby between himself and the rising sun and his awed face was washed in red shadow. He walked slowly home, his eyes fastened on the ruby. He entered his simple hut and sat down on the dirt floor with the ruby before him.

All day he gazed, enchanted, and dreamed of what the ruby could buy him. He forgot his morning prayers. He didn’t eat, bathe, or take care of his livestock. He didn’t scythe grass for hay. When night came, he didn’t say his evening prayers, make a meal or lie down and rest. He sat before the ruby, worshipping.

The next morning the peasant took the ruby in his hand and went out, searching the fields for the holy man. When he found him, he handed the ruby back to him.

“This is not the precious jewel I want. Teach me what you know that made it so easy for you to give it away.”

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Dancing Home

Last weekend I took my own advice and surrendered to the now of my life.  Two big, heavy wooden doors opened like wings and I came home to dance between them.

New England Barn

One of the dearest friends of my life introduced me (kicking and screaming all the way) to dance more than ten years ago.

“No,” I said, “I can’t do that.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

But she, in her infinite female wisdom, nagged and niggled and poked and prodded until at last I agreed to try it.  Once.  Just to get her to shut up about it!

So I tried it and found myself there, waiting.  I rarely missed a dance for years and years afterward.  Ours was a small group of dancers, ebbing and flowing over the years, but the core group remained remarkably the same.  Sometimes there were only two of us.  It didn’t matter.  It was a safe place, a place to be with myself in candlelight, a place to be in my body without thought, shame or responsibility.  Everything happened at dance.  We raged, we sobbed, we hurt, we lay on the floor.  We shouted and clapped, farted, belched, giggled, played, pounded on the walls and danced until we drooled.  It’s one of the few places in my life where I’ve felt I belonged.

Leaving my dance group was the most painful loss when I left my old life and came to Maine.  I knew I could never replace it, but I hoped to find another place, another group, another dance.

The farmhouse I live in is more than a hundred years old and that means the ceilings are low.  I don’t need a lot of room to dance by myself, but I do need to be able to move freely.  I did dance a couple of times the first winter and spring I was here, but I had to make myself small so I didn’t scrape the ceiling with my hands and my mind was filled with what I’d left behind.  It was so painful I didn’t want to face it again.

In Colorado we danced in a yoga studio.  It was a beautiful space—clean, high ceilinged, wood floored.  Perfect.  Our little town was safe after dark, the studio was easily accessible, it was heated, there was a bathroom available and for most of us it was less than a five minute drive to get there.

Since I’ve come to Maine I’ve searched for a local group.  I’ve talked to several women about dance.  Some have been intrigued, but they’re busy, or they have partners, or we don’t live very close together, or there’s no place to get together and do it.  You know.

Here, the nearest town is twenty minutes away in good weather.  I’m sure there are places in town we might use, but I don’t know where.  Or who.  Or how.  I’m intimidated and overwhelmed and it seems ridiculous to try to find a suitable gathering place when there’s no dance group to use it.

So I stopped trying.  Too painful.  After all, now I have a partner to hang out with in the evenings.  I told myself I’d keep thinking about it, look for openings, and eventually, maybe, be able to start another group.  Or even find one.  One day.  When we had more money.  If we moved somewhere else.  If we had a better car that could actually deal with driving on winter nights.

But this summer there’s a lot of movement and change, not all of it comfortable.  I’m learning a lot.  I’m feeling a lot.  Writing is good, and so is swimming, but dance accesses something deeper.  I’ve known for a few weeks now I need to find a way to get back into those depths for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

So I decided to quit playing games with myself and figure this out.

Naturally, an old farmhouse in Maine comes equipped with a barn.  Ours is a total of New England barn in winterfour stories, a typical New England nineteenth century barn   There’s a bat colony in the top of it and it’s an apartment house for rodents.  It’s constructed of gorgeous beams and posts, high ceilings, huge blocks of stone in the foundation.  Windows look across the tops of the trees and over the river valley, most of them without glass now.  We have six cords of hardwood stored in the garage level and miscellaneous stuff on the top two floors.  The spirit of the building is in the bottom, though, which is accessed through two huge heavy wooden doors that are permanently propped open in the back of the building.  This area is mostly underground and the stone foundation can be clearly seen.  There are old pens and animal stalls built by hand from the plentiful wood here; not boards, but logs and saplings, rough cut.  The mowed area in front of this lower floor is not visible from house, driveway or road and is surrounded by trees.

So, I built a playlist of good music, a mix of old familiar dance tunes and some new discoveries.  I swept and raked, picked up trash and got rid of some impressive spider webs.  I found an old rusty tin can, filled it with dirt and stuck incense in it.  I put on a skirt and some jewelry, found a pair of light shoes I thought would work (I’ve always danced barefoot), grabbed a yoga mat to sit in the grass and stretch on and went to see what would happen.

They were all there, my dancers.  It seemed to me I could almost reach out and touch them.  They mingled with the ghosts of animals, long dead; generations of birds, now flown from empty nests in the rafters; and the dirty lace of old cobwebs.  My feet felt clumsy and heavy in shoes and it wasn’t night, but my body remembered how to move and my brain remembered how to lie down and rest.  The music swept me up, pushed me with sharp elbows and knees, shook me by the scruff of the neck, played with me and soothed me.  I danced with my expectations, my stories, my fears and limitations and loss.  I danced with my disappointment and grief and rage.  I threw down my rigidity, refusal and denial and danced in their blood.  I danced with the joy of coming back to myself.

I danced in an old barn, in a new life, but not alone.  The past is still with me, the dancers I knew green and supple in my memory.  The pain of change is not, after all, too great to bear.  I don’t need money.  I don’t need a better car.  I don’t need anything that hasn’t been here all along.  I don’t need to wait for anyone else or anything else.  I just needed to surrender to what is now.

So this one’s for you, my dear Bobbi; for you, Jill, in all your beautiful sensitivity; for you, Rena, who taught me so much about strength, courage and being real; and for you, Pat, who brought essential balance to our group and allowed us to dance with a playful small boy.

Half a world away, you all still honor my dance with your presence.

**************

The experience of dance is a hard thing to convey to someone who’s never done it.  I’ve written extensively about it, however, in my book.  Please see ‘The Hanged Man’ page for a new excerpt.

We based our dance practice in Colorado on the work of Gabrielle Roth, and I still follow this template.  Please see my web resource page for links.  Also, here’s a wonderful piece about the power of dance:  https://godsandradicals.org/2016/08/22/in-praise-of-the-dancing-body/

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted