Tag Archives: writing

This, That and the Other

It’s been a busy week. I haven’t done a lot of writing. Some weeks are about notes, research, sudden creative inspirations, edits and days with a foot in two worlds, the world of the auto shop I’m sitting in this minute with a rattling air conditioner in the window to combat the 100 degree heat index outside while mechanics do surgery on the inside of my old Hyundai to fix the air conditioning, and the world of my imagination.

Other weeks are just about life — activity, interaction with others, appointments, friends and unexpected opportunities, along with the small stories of household and routine, like the AC in the car suddenly ceasing to breathe chill and becoming as thickly humid and overheated as the land’s late August exhalations here in Maine.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A long time ago, when I was a teenager, I got my first job as a summer lifeguard at the local outdoor pool. I loved it. I got trained as a water safety instructor, which means a swim teacher. I was also an IV-certified EMT doing volunteer fire and rescue work.

I’ve never lost my love of water and swimming, and I visit the pool once a week here in Maine. As a regular, I’m familiar with the staff and the facility. A couple of weeks ago one of the pool staff mentioned to me that a part-time position was opening up. Before I left that day I applied for the job and was set up to re-certify as a lifeguard, more than 30 years after the first time. Thirty years. How did that happen?

Now, of course, the process for getting certified is all online. There’s a book, a big, brightly illustrated textbook filled with pictures and graphics, but all the material in the book is also online. The first time around, I learned out of a small paperback manual with black-and-white line-drawn illustrations. The online course is about seven hours of audio, video, multiple-choice questions and written material. At the end, there’s a test. A few hours at the pool in order to practice skills (the most important part) completes the re-certification process.

I’m a good student and confident of my skills, but I unconsciously expected much the same learning experience I had the first time around. However, lifeguarding techniques have changed. The emphasis used to be on personal safety, as drowning people often panic and become dangerous to their rescuers. I spent a lot of practice time in the diving well with a huge college kid built like a tank while he pretended to drown and then tried to drown me as I tried to save him.

Now, there’s great new equipment and gear that make water rescue considerably safer, and the techniques have changed accordingly. Also changed is the way one approaches CPR. When I learned and performed ventilations as a first responder, it was, literally, mouth-to-mouth. Now, lifeguards are equipped with fanny packs in which they carry plastic ventilation masks and Nitrile gloves as protection from body fluids and possible pathogens. Everything, practice included, is done with the mask as a barrier between victim and rescuer.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

It’s a strange feeling to revisit this information. Lots of memories. I don’t know if I’ll get the job, but even if I don’t I’m pleased about the chance to review. I think everyone should take basic first aid and CPR, and it’s been a long time since I had a refresher. The first time around, I was the youngest lifeguard on the team. This time, if hired, I’ll be the oldest. What an interesting circle.

My partner and I love cats. For several years I’ve been uncomfortable with the problem of cat litter disposal. I’ve tried some of the more organic litter, but never found anything both the cat and I liked. The clumping litter is convenient, but I collected it in plastic grocery bags and never found a way to compost it. We’re trying to reduce our use of plastic and our non-compostable waste, and dealing with cat litter has become more and more of a problem ethically. My partner recently came across the idea of using wood stove pellets as cat litter, so we tried it.

I’ve never had a pellet wood stove. It turns out the pellets are small and made of compressed wood scrap, a little bit like animal feed to look at. They’re cheap to buy, especially if you buy a pallet at a time. Cat litter costs three times as much. When they get wet, the pellets dissolve into sawdust. Cleaning the box is like cleaning an animal stall bedded in shavings. I scoop out the damp sawdust and solid waste and throw in a new scoop of pellets. There’s absolutely no smell and less mess outside the box. If our old cat does get pellets between her toes and tracks them outside the box, they’re easy to pick up.

Best of all, we can compost now, and I can stop throwing away any kind of plastic shopping bags. We can switch entirely to canvas bags. Less to haul off to the dump.

My partner has a fleecy polyester blanket in deep, rich colors of brown, black and green that has been a bed for multiple cats for years. We recently cleaned out the little niche it was lying in. I went over both sides with a stiff dry scrubbing brush trying to remove grey and black hair belonging to long-dead cats and then we washed it, but it was still coated with cat hair. I had a lint brush, but that didn’t work at all. I also tried a damp sponge, which is what I’ve always used on upholstery and cloth to remove cat hair. A damp sponge works well if you do it once a week, but this blanket had no attention for years.

So, I googled it. As you can imagine, this is a common problem.

My favorite solution was to obtain a paint roller, wrap the roller in duct tape, sticky side out, and store it, along with a roll of tape, in a closet, bathroom or with cleaning supplies. What a great idea! Fast, easy and cheap. However, I wasn’t sure we had a clean paint roller, so in the end I found a clean plastic dish glove, hung the blanket over the back porch railing, and rubbed it with my gloved hand. I didn’t have much hope, but it worked like a charm. Who knew? Cat hair came away in clumps and clots and floated down onto the grass, as well as adhering to my sweaty face. Too bad it’s not nesting season. I wore out my arm and the blanket looked a lot better, but there was still plenty of hair adhered to it. When I’d rubbed away all I could, I put it in the dryer with a fabric softener sheet on the air setting. A half hour later the dryer trap was filled with cat hair and the blanket was like new.

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash

I also spent part of a day kayaking with a friend on a lake. Too bad I’m not as graceful with paddling as I am swimming. Too bad my arms are about as strong as spaghetti noodles. Too bad I’m so inept the paddles clunk against the side of the kayak with every stroke. Too bad I can’t get the hang of using the paddles without having water run down them and into my lap, or inadvertently bumping my long-suffering friend in the head.

I had a fantastic time.

Then we spent a hot afternoon with an old friend of my partner’s shooting at round metal targets with various firearms and varying degrees of accuracy while I asked a thousand and one questions and continued my education on handling guns safely and developing confidence and skill in using them.

So that, friends, is what I have been doing instead of working on the sort of post I usually write. In the pause from writing, I’ve been refilling the well of creativity with everything, and with nothing. With what it’s like to be alive in the world. With sore shoulders from paddling, remembering old rescue skills and long days on a lifeguard stand in the sun, the challenges and joys of living with cats and the smell of cordite. With spending a morning working in my friend’s farm store chatting to locals, enjoying the animals and studying my lifeguarding manual. With heaving boxes around and shelving books during my volunteer hours in the used bookstore. All of this will somehow, some way, someday recycle into my writing, because everything does.

My car is ready. I’m off to pick up my partner’s laptop at the computer shop in air-conditioned comfort. Then I’ll go home and give this draft another look; decide either to delete the whole thing and start over or get it ready to publish in the morning. I wish you all a good week and a safe Labor Day.

Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash

 

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

To Listen

In the used bookstore in which I volunteer, I found a slim paperback book of poetry, modestly and plainly bound, entitled A Gypsy’s History of the World, by Kim Robert Stafford. It called to me and I bought it for $4.00.

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

I had never heard of this poet, but he turns out to be quite well-known and has published several books, which I’ll be looking for now. In the meantime, this book is filled with treasures.

For a couple of days I’ve been groping for this week’s post. Sometimes they come so easily, these posts. Other times I flounder. It seems that the more I have going on, the harder it is to come up with a focused essay. Irritating, but writing can be like that.

When I listen to the sound of my life this week I hear a cacophony. There are the half-excited, half-apprehensive feelings I have as the night approaches on which I’ve scheduled a local venue to once again try to start a dance group. (Will I be a good leader? Will they like me? Will anyone come?) There’s the increasing pressure I feel to find a way to earn a paycheck. There are new friends and our conversations as we strengthen our connections. (Am I talking too much? Am I offensive? Am I too blunt? Do I ask too many questions?) I’m preoccupied with family dynamics, past, present, and future possibilities and fears. (What’s the right thing to do? What’s loving? What’s useful? What will people think about me? How do I take care of everyone’s needs and expectations? How much irreparable damage will I do if I make the wrong choice?) There are my weekly activities and appointments. All the material of my daily reading swirls in my head, awaiting synthesis and integration.

In my creative world, I’m with Pele, the Earth-Shaper, sensual, passionate and angry. This week others will come to dance with her, to make offerings, to propitiate and reconnect. Revolving around her are other characters: Rumpelstiltskin the dwarf; Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea; a little brown bat called Ash and his companion, a bark beetle; the eldest of the twelve dancing princesses, Ginger; an old woman, Heks, apprentice to Baba Yaga ; and Persephone, who comes to drum for the dance.

All this, and I can’t come up with a thing to post about.

I know this dynamic. The more pressure I put on myself, the harder I try, the more elusive inspiration will be.

Photo by Pascal Müller on Unsplash

It’s a foggy morning here in Maine. Foggy and oppressive with high humidity and a threat of severe weather this afternoon. I’m planning on meeting a new friend for a walk and then I’ll swim. I decided to stop trying to write a post. I turned off all the lights up here in my little attic space and lit a candle. I picked up A Gypsy’s History of the World and turned back to the beginning of the book.

Duets

A dream flips me into the daylight.
I pry my way back:
a door opens, I enter, never
escape; the jailor sings by morning
duets through the bars with me.
I wake and out my window
by dawn a blackbird sings and
listens, sings and listens.

Listen. Thistledown jumps its dance
in the wind. I’m small and have
no regrets. Yesterday is a temporary
tombstone, a hollow stalk
on the hill. I’m putting my best
ear forward; in the space between songs
I’m travelling. My hands make
whistling wings in the wind.

No things meet without music:
wind and the chimney’s whine, hail’s click
with the pane, breath in a bird’s
throat, rain in my ear when I
sleep in the grass. I miss the
whisper of a swallow’s wings
meeting the thin air somewhere far.
Branches of my voice, come back.
Inside each song
I’m listening.

At once the cacophony in my head faded away, no more than the murmur of the trees and breeze or the ocean’s breath. For a few minutes, I thought about being small and having no regrets, let alone imagining future regrets. Yesterday and yesterday and yesterday, all temporary tombstones. All my yesterdays add up to almost 20,000 hollow stalks on a hill. And yes, activities and schedules, efforts and appointments, hopes and fears, words and information, friends and family, the way the shadowed ceiling looks in a sleepless hour and the path of silent tears on their way to my pillow. All of that. But I forget about the space between all those songs. I forget that I’m traveling through this place, this life, and these landmarks.

Photo by Dakota Roos on Unsplash

Sometimes I forget to just listen to life’s music, just witness, just be present and still. Sometimes I forget to fold my hands in my lap and watch the wavering shadows the candle makes inside the song of my life. The song will not be endless. One day it will be yesterday’s song, held in a hollow stalk on a hill. I can’t reach out my hand and clutch it, pin it down, record it and make sense of it. I don’t need to. I don’t want to.

Today, friends, I’m listening.

My daily crime.

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Unforgiven

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
― Oscar Wilde

It’s been a chaotic week for me of fear, memories, fire, grief, a couple of new friends and unfinished emotional business resulting in a foul snarl of neglected feelings. Also, in common with millions of others, we are sweltering under a heavy blanket of heat and humidity and I feel about as attractive, energetic and friendly as a slime mold.

My old home place, my old community in Colorado, is burning. I’m not there. I’m glad I’m not there.

I should be there. I hate myself for not being there.

I’ve written before about blessing the ground between us . Now my mind is filled with the ground I once lived on, and all I can see are the horrifying images of flames, smoke, the ashy remains of structures and scorched land. I spend hours every day searching the web for updates from local command and incident centers, the local papers, TV and radio and residents who post pictures and videos. I watch interviews with old friends and weep. I see video clips of my town and it’s like a ghost town, the streets empty and everything looking sere and dry because of drought. Towers of smoke loom and the air is an eerie sullen color. This should be the height of the tourist season there, the streets busy, flowers growing, and shade trees green and cool.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Now there are tens of thousands of scorched acres between me and my memories of that place. I bless the ground between us. Given time and water, it will renew, but I think water is no longer a certainty and my lifetime will have run its course before the land recovers and the forests regrow. In a strange sort of way, the desolation of all that scorched earth echoes the desolation I feel as I watch nations, communities, and people become more divisive and competitive. It seems we’re getting more and more skilled all the time at scorching the ground between us, soaking it in blood and then sowing it with salt.  We do not forgive differences. We carry hatred between peoples from one generation to the next, and many are at work in the world to increase the divisions by fanning the flames with rhetoric and disinformation, and pouring gasoline onto the fire in the form of resentment, ignorance, shame, guilt and fear.

We do not forgive. We are not forgiven.

Never have despair, powerlessness and fear seemed so darkly seductive to me as they do in these times. My experience is only an infinitesimal part of what’s happening now on Planet Earth, and I’m quite sure we have not yet descended as far as we’re going to. At times, it’s only by deliberately stoking my stubbornness and will and refusing to take my gaze away from where my power is that I continue to cling to faith in some kind of a cosmic balance and plan in spite of fear.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about my family and dealing with some of the aforementioned unfinished business. I’ve written letters, both to the dead and to the living, some that have been sent and others that never will be. As I make new friends, I listen to what we talk about, watch how we get to know one another and feel the flowing give and take of compassion and support that healthy female friendships create.

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Over and over again, in all these places in my life, I stumble upon the theme forgiveness: The power of it; the terrible, helpless pain of feeling unforgiven; the weapon we make of it; the fear that we will not be — cannot be — forgiven for whatever our particular stain or shame is. I have lately asked myself and others: Am I unforgivable? Can that be true? Can love be true without forgiveness? How do I continue to demonstrate love and connection in the face of obdurate unforgiveness? When others told me I was unforgivable, did they mean it, or am I still bleeding over something they have, in fact, forgiven?

It struck me this morning, as I lay in bed at 6:00 a.m. with the rattling roar of the window air conditioner in my ears and the damp sheet over my sweaty body, that I’ve once again lost my way, been seduced by the false comfort of victimhood. I’ve been lost in the tangled maze of all those messy feelings and forgotten, temporarily, that the point is not what anyone else does about forgiveness. The point is, and the power resides in, what I do with it. Furthermore, the biggest question of all is the one I haven’t been asking.

Can I, do I, will I forgive myself?

That’s where my power is.

East Peak Fire, Huerfano County, CO 2013

Can I forgive myself for living in this lovely green, lush, landscape where we do still have water? Can I forgive myself for reading the signs of what was to come in the long, unending drought and fires in my old place and leaving before I was forced out by climate change and fire? Can I forgive myself for the mother, daughter and sister I was and am? Can I forgive myself for loving, trusting, hoping, believing, trying, accommodating, pleasing and failing? Can I forgive myself for all the years of neglect, silencing and abuse I colluded with and perpetrated toward myself? Can I forgive myself for now recognizing and responding to my own feelings and needs first? Can I forgive myself for writing or speaking the simple truth?

Forgiveness is a slippery concept, like tolerance. I don’t think of forgiving as forgetting. I’d be foolish to forget what I’ve learned as I interact with others. I’ll cripple myself if I don’t forgive. For me, forgiveness is an integral part of loving. Forgetting is not. Nor do I equate forgiveness with trust. Trust can be lost and rebuilt, but it takes time. Trust depends on forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t necessarily include trust.

I’m not at all sure we can create a better world together without forgiveness. I’m quite sure we won’t forgive one another if we’re unable to forgive ourselves. As resources shrink, we’re going to be forced onto a more level playing field in terms of our standard of living. Some of us have a lot more to lose than others. The have-nots are filled with rage. The haves are filled with fear.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

There will be a lot to learn in the years ahead. I might as well start now to work with forgiveness, to befriend it, to embrace it, and to talk about it. Forgiving and letting go are both easier for me to do externally than internally, but internal work is the one place where we all have equal power. That’s where it must begin. We’re going to need our power, and we’re going to need to manage it well in order to survive. When our houses, businesses, cars and stuff disappear in fire, storm and flood, when our arable land becomes too hot to grow food, when no water comes from the tap and when money no longer allows us to pretend it’s not all happening, then we will rediscover what true power is, and then perhaps we can begin to bless the ground between us, forgive what has come before, and find new ways to collaborate and cooperate with the living system we call Earth.

In the meantime, I think I’ll stop begging others for forgiveness and concentrate on the places where I have power. Others may think of me as unforgivable, but I needn’t agree, and no one can prevent me from forgiving another.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

― Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections

My road to self-forgiveness may be long. It’s hard to take back the power of forgiveness, because now I have to be responsible for granting or withholding it. In some ways, it’s easier to beg others for it. If it’s not forthcoming from others, well, it’s not my fault. The path of self-forgiveness, though, is all up to me. It will be interesting to discover what sort of shame, guilt and self-loathing lurk in my internal terrain. It will be interesting to challenge the power of what others will think and navigate by my own stars and compass. It will be interesting to put out fires on my side and observe whether others are invested in keeping them smoldering or assist in quenching them so the ground between us can heal.

Here’s a poem by Wendell Berry that maps the journey of self-forgiveness. It’s a good map. I’m taking it with me.

Do Not Be Ashamed

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.

It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.

Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.

They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.

And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.

They will no longer need to pursue you.

You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.

They will not forgive you.

There is no power against them.

It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.

When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

Photo by Yuan Yue on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted