As we were walking off in the rain to meet his mom for breakfast, Steve made this sound of spring….boinnng! I thought that would make a good title for a post. I admit that I am a sound effects gal. It comes with being an actor of sorts and a singer. Ever notice how most guys do use sound effects at least occasionally in their conversation, but women do less often? Maybe it’s not really ladylike, but I get more animated as I get more comfortable with the people around me. I enjoy hamming it up. I’ve been posting some pretty serious stuff because I have a lot of that in me, too, but lately, I’ve been itching to burst out with something creative and lively. I am ready to engage in some collaboration, but I’ve been frustrated in my recent attempts with voice students and job interviews (still waiting to hear from Old World Wisconsin). I’ve found something to try, though….a poetry challenge!
That’s right, folks, the NaPoWriMo challenge is about to begin on April 1! This is the National Poetry Writing Month challenge: a poem a day for 30 days. I once self-published a booklet of poems and sold 50 copies at my church’s gift shop, all proceeds going to charity. One of my poems got published in The Living Church magazine, though I got no payment for it. My religious poetry tried to be very serious. Nowadays I write rhyming greeting card poetry for Steve’s aunt, just because she lights up so generously when I do. I’m curious to see how I might respond to the prompts offered by the challenge organizers. It’ll be another way to discover who I am, and possibly there will be a collaborative element as I post and receive comments. My father used to write very amusing little rhymes in Valentines and birthday cards for me and my kids. I loved getting those in the mail! I miss that. Perhaps some of that joy will spring up with this endeavor in April. Also, it’ll be fun to try to illustrate my posts with photographs to match.
What do you do when you hunger for creative collaboration? (…besides what the birds & bees are doing , which is very satisfying as well!)
Those solitary places where great expanses spread to absorb thoughts, dreams and other venturings of consciousness always appeal to me. They feel accepting and safe.
An appropriate physical place to house a mood is often hard to find. I think that’s one thing that keeps me exploring. I keep my favorites locked in my memory and go back to them by closing my eyes. This is how I try to listen to myself, I suppose. Before I face any jury, I want to know my own story.
I completed another training session at the Wehr Nature Center today. We learned about different habitats from a kindergarten perspective. Food, Water, Shelter and Space contribute to the supportive habitat that living organisms need. We talk about the animals and birds who live in the Wetland, Woodland, and Grassland areas surrounding the nature center. The kids meet the live animals that live in the building and then go out on the trails to explore. I have so much to learn! I don’t have any problem imagining the curiosity of the young and the excitement of discovery. Here’s a sample of what I found today:
Scilla siberica scattered all along the wooded trails by the pond.
The wetland wildlife is really interesting to me. There are beavers and muskrats and mink around, but they don’t pose for pictures very often. We see their tracks and traces and homes, though. The turtles do sometimes pose nicely. They keep their distance by staying in the pond, so they don’t rush away as readily.
Yesterday, when I didn’t have my camera, we found a baby turtle in the stream bed. It was only the size of a silver dollar. Today, though, I found a biggie. The snapping turtle. This mud monster has very powerful jaws. No teeth, but it is reputed to be able to snap a broom handle in half.
Unfortunately, my camera is just the point and shoot kind with a standard zoom lens. The snapping turtle looked like a boulder out there on the log, with a painted turtle a respectful distance away. I looked through my binoculars to convince myself that yes, that was a turtle, with its front legs and head down in the water, keeping its shell balanced.
Kids get a thrill from anything with an “Ewwww!” factor, and skunk cabbage provides the right stuff. It looks weird, and it stinks. I broke off a leaf and passed it around. It’s more earthy and green veggie-smelling than actual skunk spray, but it is reminiscent of that unforgettable odor.
I had the most fun today with our American Toad, whom we call Savannah. She has two special tricks: she walks and she eats. Well, a toad doesn’t hop; it kind of waddles. And Savannah is FAT. She also puffs herself out to look more threatening. Her movement is just comical to me. She doesn’t see very well, so she has to eat food that is moving. We feed her live crickets. I didn’t get a photo of her today, but I did get down on the floor on my belly to watch her, like a 4-year old would. That picture is in my mind instead.
If I could have another life, I would choose to be David Attenborough. The Nature Neighborhoods he got to explore absolutely overwhelm me. I am in awe of a common toad, and he’s paddling around with platypuses! Comparisons don’t matter, actually. Everything is spectacular when you pay attention.
Easter Sunday in southern California was beautiful that year. As large as I was, I wanted to be up and active, to meet people and spread the joy around. Jim and our two young children were not feeling well, though, so I went to church by myself. I put on my brightest maternity dress and went eagerly. I don’t remember if I made an Easter dinner or did any special activity with the kids. I started feeling some cramping that evening. I took a late bath to relax, then lay down to sleep. Suddenly, my water broke. Jim got the kids up and took them to a friend’s house, then he came back to collect me. When we pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, I could barely walk. I looked at my watch. It was midnight. No longer Easter. Seventeen minutes later, before any of the staff could complete paperwork and processing, Rebecca Louise was born.
“Monday’s child is fair of face.” It became evident to me by the time Becca was able to crawl that she was exceptionally beautiful. She had large blue eyes fringed with fantastically long lashes, like her father. She had the most perfect little nose and rosebud lips. Her face was open, balanced, symmetrical, delicate. I became so proud of my live doll and enjoyed dressing her up and showing her off. She, however, had no desire to sit on a shelf and be admired. She wanted to move! She made noise! She definitely had a mind of her own. She challenged my idea of “perfect” and began educating me in parenting at an early age…and continued that education more vigorously in her teenaged years. Here is a picture of her as a baby, out of focus a bit, scanned on a dusty screen. It wasn’t until I cropped it and enlarged it that I noticed she has a cut on her lip. Typical. She climbed on everything. When she was a toddler, she fell in a parking lot and shattered her front tooth. It had to be extracted. Until she was 6, she sported a gap-toothed smile in the middle of that perfect face. The day it happened, I cried for hours. I would have given anything to reverse that split-second event and restore her to completion. Not for her sake, mind you. She really wasn’t badly hurt. For mine. She was already teaching me that my attachment to perfection could create suffering.
Becca’s beauty went deeper as she grew. She became a graceful gymnast, then a dancer. Her remarkable intelligence was evident, but seemed to be tempered by a soft heart for people. She became quite popular, admired by her peers for obvious reasons. There’s nothing more daunting to a comfortably nerdy mother than having a popular, attractive daughter! Again, she challenged me and made it necessary for me to educate myself in social awareness.
High school was a minefield. “Perfection” was blown up completely. The bits of Becca that came floating back down became unrecognizable to me because I was still looking for an image, not for a person, a person who had a million deep feelings and only a few words safe enough to utter about them. My best efforts at communication boiled down to the times I simply held her while she cried. I won’t even mention my worst efforts.
Finally, she graduated and moved down state to live near her brother and study massage therapy. That’s where she was when her father died. She was 18.
It was a new minefield, but this time, we were both better at dealing with fallout. She moved back home, and we both worked hard at rebuilding, not “perfection”, but life. She is a certified massage therapist now. She creates original jewelry, grows vegetables and “mothers” a dog and cat with that same combination of beauty, grace and energy that she showed as a toddler. Her heart is large, tender and tough all at the same time. She is so much more than a pretty face!
So, Happy 23rd Birthday, Rebecca! I am forever proud of you and grateful for all that you’ve taught me. Have a great night celebrating with Joe. I’ll see you next week at the Museum of Science and Industry – can’t wait!!
How well do you know me? How well do I know myself? How well can any two people know each other, accept each other, celebrate each other, or be open and honest with each other? Do you really want to be that intimate with someone? It sounds like a lot of work. And there are some things that might not be pleasant to know. Even about myself. Maybe especially about myself. I want to present the pleasing face. I’ve worked on being able to do that. Is that not me? Are you sure you prefer the genuine me over that pleasing mask? Why?
My partner Steve and I go around and round about this. He maintains that he is honestly working toward a genuine intimacy that is non-judgmental and completely open. Whether that’s attainable is another question, rather like a Zen koan. I find that my brain is hard-wired to make a million comparisons, a million analytical assessments, a million judgments all in a short time…about everything. I turn that brain on myself all the time, without being terribly conscious about it. I want to practice being aware of those thoughts and communicate them honestly to Steve. He promises to practice accepting, appreciating, and honoring them, holding a safe space open for me to continue my practice. What might that look like?
We go on a walk together. His long legs want to stretch; I can’t keep up. I assess myself and feel slow and out of shape. I begin to feel like I am a hindrance. I blame myself. I blame Steve. I decide to communicate. “I want to walk more slowly and take pictures.” “I want to keep up a good pace and get more exercise.” “Let’s just do what we want and meet up later.” Sounds reasonable.
There he goes. The Walking Man walks. James Taylor sings in my head. I wander toward the river, away from the parkway, the bicyclists, the dog-walkers, the joggers, the strollers and baby strollers. On a sunny Sunday, the village moves outside. I find a spot by the river’s edge, alone with my camera. I watch the water glide over rocks, reflecting light. What do I reflect? Is that me? Is it genuine? Is it a costume, an act? Maybe I am everything — change and movement. Maybe communicating is so important because this change and movement is constant. You will never know me if you’re thinking about what I said a minute ago. You can never step in the same river twice.
If I take the energy I might have spent on “formatting” myself for presentation and apply it to communicating myself “as is”, will I get closer to knowing my true self?
I am still learning how to be what I am. Just that has taken half a century almost. This conscious brain is cumbersome, manipulated early by social constructs and patterns, weighty now with baggage. The simple forming and blossoming of a bud reminds me that life can be much freer than I make it.
I dreamed last night that I could fly. It was like swimming in air, gliding where I wanted to go, my feet never touching the ground. I have had this dream my whole life. I’ve always known how to do that, effortlessly. But only in my sleep.
Sunday morning, a sunny Spring day. Oatmeal with honey and dried cranberries, orange juice, chai tea. Grab my camera and take a walk. Come along! We got some rain the past two days. Now the colors are so bright!
Steve and I got into another “relationship talk”. The sun was shadowed by a passing cloud, and I saw this lone female duck, head tucked under her wing, standing on one leg. At that moment, my soul was hiding and this seemed like the perfect illustration.
We passed a church where families with well-dressed children crossed from their cars into the open doors. I remember getting myself and four children up and dressed tidily and bundled off to choir and Sunday school week after week. I miss the expectation of meeting people, the habit of seeing and being seen. I don’t miss the bickering between the kids, the passive teenaged resistance. I do miss the bagels and lox and chocolate croissants. I definitely miss the singing.
Junctions. Life paths, habits, structures, changing, evolving, maintained and unkempt.
Useful and interesting, I suppose, but I really want to be graceful, too.
I suppose my biggest fear is that I am neither useful nor graceful.
There’s another way to think of myself, though. Instead of the Western idea of being an artifact, something made by a Maker, I could adopt the Eastern way and imagine myself as something grown and growing.
Thinking, pondering, musing on my self, my vision, my viewpoint, my place in the vast universe. Steve grabs the camera from me and shows me his vision. It’s different from mine. I think it’s kind of Zen, kind of quirky. Very Steve.
I’m back home, sharing my thoughts with a congregation of bloggers. Did anyone bring bagels?
In the expansive mist of morning, when my soul takes time and room to breathe and stretch, I gaze around my room and wonder what I might do with myself. My eyes light on the top shelf of a bookcase, where stands a handmade paper album. Pages of rough texture wait to absorb something well-constructed, like a bed of rice made to nestle a complicated curry. What poem or drawing or photograph would be worthy to lie in those lush furrows? Surely nothing as lowly as what I would create. Yet I long to put my time, my love, my hands to work, to make something. I want to slowly blend my life into some material. The satisfaction is exquisite. I felt it once, birthing and raising children. The medium responds, reacts, engages, resists. It is not a work of power; it is a work of love.
I have begun to notice an impatient annoyance building up in me when I look at photography sites. I am enamored of the images, but so often the captions leave me irritated. I do want to know what I’m looking at and where it was found. I don’t like the flavor of language that suggests violence. “I captured”, “I shot”, “I took”, “I caught”. Why not just say that you were there? It was there. You made a photograph of it at that place and in time. Doesn’t that sound more respectful somehow? It does to me.
I like art that shows that respect. An artist is generous with time, patient, slow, allowing something to unfold, gently. There is a generosity of presence in art. An artist gives herself – body, consciousness, energy, and love – into a relationship with her work and medium. That’s what feels so rich, pleasing and compelling in a well-made piece. Whatever it is. I am often so task-oriented that I don’t think of that. I was taught to be efficient, neat and accurate. In preparing a meal, for instance. When I began cooking for Steve, he’d ask me about supper, and I’d tell him the steps I planned to take and ask for his input on decisions. He’d respond with something like, “Just make it with love.” I wasn’t sure what that meant. I think I have a better idea now.
I have a whole day and a whole chicken ahead of me. I want to make something satisfying, not just in the end product, but in the relationship along the way. I’ll let you know how that turns out. Meanwhile, I’ll share these pictures from Horicon Marsh. I didn’t take them. I like to think I invited them, and they came willingly.
We visited two different marshland wildlife refuges this week. The turtles are coming out of their winter sleep! I found one sunning itself on a country highway and gave it a lift to the other side of the road. Painted turtles can live to be quite old if they don’t get squashed by a car or eaten by a raccoon.
The snapping turtles at the Wehr Nature Center have a favorite log for sunning. They stay off the roads.
This wood turtle is a pet at the nature center. I like his smile!
Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, wood ducks, and red-winged blackbirds are pairing off and getting ready to start having babies. The red-winged blackbird is one of Steve’s favorites for its distinctive song. The first time he described it to me, he said it sounds like water. Some people say it sings, “Purple TEA” or something like that. Once you recognize it, though, you won’t need to describe it. It is simply the red-winged blackbird’s song. I love how they stall in flight and land grabbing one slender stalk, which sways dramatically, but never breaks.
Chipmunks are awake from their winter sleep, too, but they’re too quick for me to photograph. I did find a fuzzy spring friend who moves at about my speed: pussywillows.
And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce a guest photographer to my blog. Steve took this picture just before we climbed back into the car to go in search of dinner.
Enjoy the beauty surrounding you in this wonderful world. Enjoy waking up to it each moment, becoming aware.
I learned that the blue flower growing in my garden and all over the Wehr Nature Center woods is called scilla siberica (wood squill) and is native to southwestern Russia, the Caucasus and Turkey. I am guessing that settlers brought it over here about a hundred years ago. I’m tickled that we have parts of our name in common! I am thinking more about the settlers and their way of life while I wait to hear about the outcome of my Old World Wisconsin interview. What did they find different about the flora and fauna here? What did they miss from the old country? How does the emotional connection to land, a place, a “mother country” develop, and what did it feel like to venture out from there to an unknown place?
Memories are sweet; what is here right now is also sweet.
I find myself using more energy to be present with what is right in front of me. When I retreat to my memories, I take that energy and shelter it deep within myself. It feels like I’m hiding, in a way. It’s not easy to allow anyone else to inhabit that place. It’s slow and calm and secret.
I have a memory garden. It blooms with the flowers of the old country: my babies, my husband, my house, my youth. I like to visit it and inhale its familiar fragrance. I am alone there.
The world of the present is all around that secret garden. It asks to be acknowledged, appreciated, and invited into my deep consciousness.
I could call this my “settler’s mind”. But there really is no division. Here, there, then, now…it’s all fluid, connected, like the roots and rhizomes of wild flowers.
“One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every day is the best day, every place you are is the best place.