I sat at the computer, settling in to my writing routine, when a pop-up caught my attention.

Hemingwrite. Clever name. What’s that about? I clicked on an article about an invention for writers, which was being funded on Kickstarter. A word-processor sans internet browser, it looked like a flattened-out typewriter with a postcard-sized screen. What a godsend for me, because the internet distracts me. Never fails. It’s too tempting to peek at Facebook or email. This might be the solution. Just sit and type and it backs up the document to the cloud, and that’s good, because … well let me see how much it costs.

As I poised the cursor over the link to the Kickstarter campaign, a cartoon lightning bolt zapped my head. Here sits a woman distracted by an internet article about a device designed to prevent her from reading internet articles.

Sigh. Once again––figuring things out. Searching for answers to self-created problems. Poor little head.

It’s not my job to figure out how to avoid the internet. My job is to notice I’m distracted and then take note of how that feels. Pay attention.

Life works out. It always has. The details are above my pay grade.

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"You're sixty-four? Sure don't look it. You look great."

On hearing this again, I want to explain calmly why it's not a compliment, But calm eludes me.
I'm on fire to argue against slogans about growing old. Let others strive to be young at heart; let my heart be ageless. Youth is not wasted on the young; nothing is wasted on anyone. Defy my age? No, thanks. This woman's not looking for a fight. Or is she?

The cliche´s––as well as my antagonism––miss the mark. The stampede toward youthfulness bypasses a resting place that avails itself only to old souls.

I pause in my typing, trying to recall the word.

Memory fades in and out these days like reception on a cheap T.V. Experience teaches me to relax. The word will materialize in a minute or arrive tonight in a dream. My hands hover over the keyboard, the skin wrinkled and translucent. Thick blue veins course from wrist to knuckles. These hands rebut the pseudo-compliments about my appearance. They map a lifetime in ways my unlined face cannot. I hope to use them wisely from now until the end. Stroke the face of my loving husband. Dig holes in the garden for daffodil bulbs. Press into downward-facing-dog.

Such images cool my resentment and offer a senior's moment of respite. The missing word appears. The word is grace.

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This year I'm coming to terms with nature. Starting right now.

Nature means trees: ticks dropping out of them, spider webs stretched between them, and snakes curled up at their roots. I dislike these things. I walk every day, but choose sidewalks and treadmills, preferences no doubt borne from my suburban upbringing.

Easter morning, my husband and I hiked in Wallace State Park. He studied the map painted on a wooden placard and selected Rocky Ford Trail, labeled moderate. As directed, we crossed a dam and headed for the trail. Once across Ben veered right. I continued straight. "How the hell did you know to turn?"

He pointed to a spot a couple yards beyond where he'd stopped. Sure enough, a trail, but it petered out into the patch of weeds at my feet. My attempt to understand the natural world was doomed. Hopeless. Mother Nature had failed to provide me the gene that signals where to change direction in the absence of street signs.

The trail wound through oaks still naked from winter. Bone white sycamore skeletons reached skyward, as it ran parallel to a stream. We stopped where a waterfall trickled over a limestone shelf. Cardinals sang accompaniment to the gurgling creek. The music so delicate you had to hold you breath to take it in. It nourished even a room service kind of girl like me. Lesson one: listen.

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I awoke reluctantly, weighed down by the burden of drawing breath. I was devoid of ambition. No unresolved problem spurred me into action. No unmet need beckoned. No impending disaster threatened. A single desire loomed like a specter in my just-waking fog: let me be done with it. This life is complete.

But the bruising pressure of the mattress against my spine grew louder than my ennui. I shuffled downstairs for aspirin to ease the nagging in my back and then returned to the bedroom, slipped back under the covers, and waited. The pain reliever's caffeine cleared the clouds from my imagination. My equilibrium creaked back to center; the blood, bones, and breath of this lifetime became as inviting as the void that stretched beyond them.

The Dawns––pre- and post-caffeine––they seem so real, as though I might be trapped inside one or the other. Their story lines run parallel, as relentless as railroad tracks, but they are false selves. Me, Myself, and I? We're only dandelion puffs born on the winds of eternity.

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I first encountered them when I was a child. My mother said, "They're good for you." That mix of slime and seeds and skin? It looked like ooze from the smashed corpse of a mutant cockroach. It would eat your guts out, leave you writhing in agony and foaming at the mouth. From that day forward I kept a safe distance from tomatoes.

But when I was fifty, I married a man who adored them fresh from the garden. So, wearing rubber gloves, I sliced them into pretty crescents for my honey-bunny.

At fifty-five, I realized my crimson nemesis was a necessary evil. It kicked up flavor in spaghetti sauce. I hacked a couple into chunks the size of meteors, which could easily be identified and left behind in the pot when I served myself.

At sixty, I diced them into pea-sized cubes and they swam incognito in my chili. If accidentally spooned up, the offender was gulped down my gullet, bypassing taste buds.

At sixty-four, I ordered vegetarian loaf at Eden Alley. It arrived crowned with a suspicious blood-red glop. Maybe I was mesmerized by the aromas of thyme, basil, and oregano, but I could no longer see the existential threat in those tomatoes. I scooped up a forkful along with mushrooms and spinach. An acidic tang mingled with the smokey flavor of portobellos on my tongue. My God! Surely the angels serve this dish in heaven.
After six decades, in instantaneous revelation, I transcended slime, seed, and skin. Today, tomatoes. Tomorrow, Everest.

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Can it be a year since she died? Wasn't it only yesterday I fell in love with her?

She'd emailed me, troubled that an acquaintance of hers had accused her of making a comment that was racially charged.

Back then, I was mistaking spirituality for a carte blanche to analyze my loved ones. I replied, "Maybe you're upset because you really are prejudiced and you don't want to face it." I threw in some Buddhist jargon for good measure.

A week later, her email response. "I'm furious with you. I've been storming around my house trying to figure out what to do about it. I didn't ask for your opinion. I wanted you to listen."


Oh. Her words stung. I recognized myself––that damned impulse to spout my opinions as though they were facts that would transform you into a better person.

She asked, "Can we meet for coffee, to talk this through?"

I was grateful for the chance to apologize in person. "Yes!"

We crowded our coffee, pastry and roiling emotions on to a tiny wrought iron table.

She said, "I couldn't let this go. I'm mad, but scared to approach you. I thought you might blow up, walk out on our friendship. Then I realized that would have to be okay. I only want relationships where we can talk honestly."

"Me too, Stef. I'm really sorry." We talked it through. (I listened.) I miss that Stef, willing to reach for my hand, so we could slog through the muck together.


 
 
  1. A rising tide lifts all boats.
  2. Beauty's in the eye of the beholder.
  3. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
  4. Here today, gone tomorrow.
  5. I haven't got a penny to my name.
  6. I wasn't born yesterday.
  7. The lights are on, but nobody's home.

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Dear Junco,

I'll try to be kind. After all, you were the first special bird to find our feeder. The sparrows that preceded you were nothing to marvel at. I felt quite important when my friend Sarah pointed you out, way back under the evergreen.

"See that little black bird?" she said. And I did! My first day of bird-watching, and already I excelled.

"So cute," Sarah said. "He is," I replied. "He'll poke around right here under the feeder, if he approves your seed."

That was a last week, Little Junco. Every day since, you and a couple dozen of your buddies are hopping around among those un-marvelous sparrows. Under the feeder, and on the feeder, too, where frankly, you're not supposed to go. So, little junco, please do me a favor. Take your gang to somebody else's backyard. I need the space for that darling black-capped chickadee, who's waiting over there in the redbud tree. Isn't he cute?

Sincerely,
The Management


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Betrayed

02/26/2015

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The passage of years sheds new light on dark memories.

My first husband's buddy touched my crotch, uninvited, unwanted. As he walked by me in my dining room, the back of his hand grazed my skirt. His knuckles tapped, in a subtle move that only a pro could have pulled off. My simultaneous reactions were: 1) That did not happen, and 2) Oh yes, it did. Sensation-wise, sirens blared and horns blasted; and neon arrows and helicopter searchlights pointed at The Spot. My mind might have doubted, but my body knew the score.

The man was a respected manager, trailing a string of whispered allegations from promotion to promotion. He reported to my husband, who'd heard the workplace rumors, but believed his friend. Why not? None of the women could prove a thing.

I didn't tell my husband. He would have said I was mistaken. and that betrayal would have shamed me more than the knuckles did. That's the dark memory.

Here's the new light: That silence said nothing about my spouse, but it spoke volumes about me. I denied him the chance to take my side. I withheld an opportunity for him to love me. By failing to trust him, I betrayed my first husband.

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I first suspected the existence of parallel worlds last spring, when I passed beneath the branches of an oak and heard birds roosting above my head. I tried to get a good look at the warblers, but no amount of tilting my head or squinting rendered them visible. Chirping emanated from everywhere and nowhere at once, so I spread my arms and let the chatter rain down on me, grinning at the enchantment in the canopy.

After my husband installed a bird feeder outside our kitchen window, an overpopulated city sprung to life in our silent winter garden. As I pressed my forehead against the icy pane, great clouds of birds swooped in to feed in a jittery mass and then exploded off the perch like scattershot. I was a child again, watching a magician wave his hankie. Voila, a flock appears; voila, it vanishes.

My husband and I ventured in to a feed store redolent of cedar. We were explorers, who'd crossed a border into foreign territory. The owner spoke a language peppered with exotic words like milo, while she rang up a fifty-pound bag of seeds and a bird book for identifying our backyard population.

Today a visitor clad in polka-dotted plumage flapped onto the feeder tray. I scoured the book for its photo in order to prove its existence. When I looked up, the traveler had vanished … along with the magic.

Another lesson from the animal kingdom.
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