“Maybe writing can’t be taught, but editing can be taught—prayer, fasting and self-mutilation. Notions of the lousy can be taught. Ethics.” ~ Donald Bartheme, from The Paris Review

Reblogged from The Paris Review: (Click on link for full interview.)

“[T]he task is not so much to solve problems as to propose questions. To quote Karl Kraus, ‘A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer.’ There’s also an element of reportage, the description of new situations or conditions, but that’s pretty much a matter of identifying them rather than talking about solutions. Baudelaire noticing that the boulevards of Paris were no longer a means of getting from here to there but had become more like theater lobbies, places to be, and writing about that. The search is for a question that will generate light and heat.

“All this has to do with a possible extension of means. Abstraction is a little heaven I can’t quite get to. How do you achieve, for example, “messy”? De Kooning can do ‘messy’ by making a charcoal stroke over paint and then smudging same with his talented thumb—in prose the same gesture tends to look like simple ineptitude. De Kooning has a whole vocabulary of bad behavior that enables him to set up the most fruitful kinds of contradictions. It frees him. I have trouble rendering breaking glass.”

~ Donald Barthelme, The Art of Fiction No. 66

“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.” ~ Rumi

lotus 

“Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the moon’s reflection.” ~ Rumi

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.” ~ Rumi

I’ve been having really strange dreams again, probably due in part to my latest bout with insomnia. Most of these dreams have involved killing in some way, knives, and blood.

Dark-stormy-cloudsDelightful, n’est pas?

For example, one of the dreams involved a young girl who murdered her parents and younger brother. I had watched a program about this true story, and found it appalling as the girl was only 13 years old when she committed this crime with her 23-year-old boyfriend.

When she appeared in my dream, the girl was much younger, about 5, and she had killed a kitten and was storing it in a drawer. She had made a purple velvet pillow and placed the tiny body of the white kitten atop the pillow inside the drawer, which was spattered with blood stains. I was trying to explain to someone that psychopaths very often kill animals when they are children, and it can go unnoticed.

Freud would have a field day with that particular dream.

In another dream, I was speaking with a woman who had a head but no body. Her head was encased in glass. She was alive and articulate, but she had no torso, hence, no heart. I thought to myself in the dream: “How can she be alive with no heart?”

Wait, they get weirder.

This morning I forced myself to wake up as I knew that I was in the middle of a really terrible nightmare, which, thankfully, I do nt recall, and I was close enough to the edge of wakefulness to be able to force myself into an upright position. What I didn’t realize was that I screamed out loud when I woke up. Scared the bejeezus out of Corey.

But the worst one involved a concentration camp. It wasn’t a Nazi camp, but it was a camp in which the people arriving were separated into two groups. I realized that the guards were taking all of the women with long hair out of the main line and putting them into the line that went directly to the showers. I took a knife (that I just happened to be carrying), and began to saw off my hair in big chunks. I convinced a female guard to help me to cut off the rest of my hair before I got to the head of the queue.

I hate having these kinds of dreams. I wake up totally discombobulated with my heart racing, gasping for air. Not the best way to greet the day.

“Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.” ~ Rumi

Metta Prayer Beads
Metta Prayer Beads

Speaking of greeting the day, I was reading a post on After the Gold Puppy a few days ago in which Reya was discussing manifestos, life affirmations, statements of purpose.  Throughout my own life, I have always had phrases and sayings that I repeat to myself silently. These affirmations or mantras have varied depending upon my need and/or at what point I found myself in life.

Metta prayers or meditations, which are derived from the Buddhist tradition, are focused on the translation of Metta (trans. Pali) as loving kindness or loving friendship. A Metta prayer allows the speaker to feel empathy for others and for all living things. Metta is unconditional love without attachment, without a desire to possess.

Metta prayers should be repeated often as a means of exercising positive mental qualities. The intention is to create a habit of mind that “allows us to soften into the deeper experiences of our lives, the chances to connect with all that is around and within us…. to live more fully. It allows spaciousness to develop in the mind allowing us to be less reactive, less stressed out, more calm in the face of challenges, losses, injustices (http://www.bemindful.org/metta.htm).

Metta meditations are usually harmonic in patterns and sounds, for example, pairs of words, or phrases of the same length:

Mind clear and alert

Body fit and strong

However, an individual who wishes to employ the Metta can adapt any of the existing prayers as needed. Here is an example of a Metta Bhavana, which encourages us to give Metta to ourselves so that we can be better able to offer loving kindness to others:

May all beings be free.
May all beings be peaceful
May all beings be happy
May all beings awaken to the light
of their True nature
May all beings be free

The following is a selection taken from the Metta Sutta, Universal Love Prayer (adapted by G. R. Lewis):

May all beings everywhere,  
Seen and unseen,  
Dwelling far off or nearby,  
Being or waiting to become:  
May all be filled with lasting joy.  
 
Let no one deceive another,  
Let no one anywhere despise another,  
Let no one out of anger or resentment  
Wish suffering on anyone at all.  

“Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more—more unseen forms become manifest to him.” ~ Rumi

The Metta must first be directed towards the self. Only by learning to nurture ourselves can we offer love to others that is based on integrity and truth. The purpose of the Metta is to become more open and aware in our love towards the self.

Botswana agate prayer beads
Botswana Agate Prayer Beads

Metta is then directed towards someone for whom we feel gratitude and respect, such as a teacher or mentor. This person is known as a “benefactor.” Next, the metta is directed towards a friend or family member. By making these connections with people we respect and love, it becomes easier to move on to the next step, which is to direct the Metta towards someone neutral; this may be a hard step as it is not always possible to identify a person to whom we feel true neutrality, but consider all of the people who are in and out of your life on a daily basis with whom you do not interact directly: the mail carrier or the barista at Starbucks, for example.

Finally, the Metta is directed towards those for whom we may not necessarily feel loving kindness, someone with whom we have experienced conflict, fear, or who we have been unwilling to forgive. After praying for all of these individuals, direct the Metta towards all sentient beings (taken from “Facets of Metta” by Sharon Salzberg).

The Metta prayers can be recited with or without prayer beads. These beads can be made of stones, agates, crystals, and can be anything from simple wooden beads on a string to carved jade beads on silk string.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”~ Rumi

Here is the Metta that I have composed for myself:

I am content
I am calm

May I be safe
May I be strong

Loving kindness and
Peace will come to me
Clear mind and strong body
will set me free

Loving friendship
from sister moon
and earth mother 
will strengthen my heart
for the trials I suffer

And I will face each day
with hope and joy
and truth in my soul
anew.

 

flower2

 

More later. Peace.

“The Promise,” Tracy Chapman

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~ John F. Kennedy

AWARD--Honest_Weblog_Award

Me? Seriously? You Shouldn’t Have But I’m Glad That You Did

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

This is a little late in coming, but I would like to thank Zirgar for bestowing upon me the Honest Weblog Award. I have been told by several people that one of the better qualities of my writing is its honesty; I know that I do write from my heart, which is not always a good thing, I realize, but it is my way of being true to myself. So many thanks Z and all of the other wonderful regular readers who stop by here to read and sometimes comment.

Chesapeake Bay
End of the Day, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia

As we all know, no award comes without a few strings, and the Honest Weblog Award is no exception. Here are the rules: 

  1. You must brag about the award.
  2. You must include the name of the blogger who bestowed the award on you and link back to that blogger.
  3. You must choose a minimum of seven blogs that you find brilliant in content or design.
  4. Show their names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with the Honest Weblog Award.
  5. List at least ten honest things about yourself.

Then pass along the award with the above instructions.

Top Seven

So here are the blogs to which I have chosen to pass along the Honest Weblog Award. The blogs are listed in no particular order, and their content is as varied as their owners. I try to visit these blogs daily or as often as possible, and my interest in each of them is evidenced by the fact that you can find them listed under the different categories of blogrolls to the left of my site.

  1. White Orchid: This blog is written by one of my dear online friends, Maureen, who lives in Australia. Maureen’s blog covers a wide range of topics—family, friends, work, Australian politics, and much more. Maureen has a very loyal group of followers, and she is diligent about responding to comments and e-mails.
  2. Supersense: Written by Bruce M. Hood, the Director of the  Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol in England. Bruce recently published Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, an incredible book that I found immensely enjoyable and informative (I promise that I’ll get around to posting my review soon). Part of what makes Bruce’s blog so interesting is the comment section: His regulars are a diverse bunch with very strong opinions.
  3. Floridana Alaskiana v2.5: This blog is written by Janson Jones, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. If you appreciate fine photography, then you definitely need to visit this blog. Janson, who recently celebrated the birth of his daughter Aurelia, fills his posts with beautiful images of landscapes, wildlife, and people. He also comments occasionally on political issues in which he is interested.
  4. Islamorada Florida by JJ
    Islamorada, Florida by Janson Jones
  5. My Sweetest Downfall: This pseudonymous blog is beautifully written by a woman with incredible wit and enough sarcasm to keep me entertained. She doesn’t post daily, but the content of her posts makes up for the wait between. I think that what I probably enjoy most about JaneyLynn’s blog is that I can totally relate to it, to the craziness of her life, and to her occasional funks.
  6. Zirgar’s Fresh New Brain Squeezins: Zirgar, who presented me with this award, describes his blog as “a place to vent and find catharsis.” Very left of center, Z takes on Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the whole Fox circus, as well as most far-right politicians and politicos. Be warned, he doesn’t censor himself, so if you are offended easily, then this isn’t the blog for you. That being said, I greatly enjoy his rants and screeds on closed-minded racists and bigots, as well as the regulars who comment on his posts. Very glad I found this particular blog, and many thanks again Zirgar for remembering me.
  7. Leaving Lilac Sky: Another pseudonymous blog written by a very talented poet. I have been following this writer’s blog for almost a year now. As with most poets, she has her dry spells, and then she goes into periods in which she is incredibly prolific, turning out a poem a day. A confessional poet, her poems deal with heart-rending emotions, but at the same time, she celebrates life.
  8. Willpen’s World: This is another blog that I have been following regularly since I began blogging last year. Another kindred political spirit, WP is not afraid to voice her opinions about the state of affairs in this country. Worth noting: Several of the blogs that I now read regularly I found through the comments section of WP’s blog.

A few honorable mentions: November Fifth (intelligent, articulate, and a college-level English prof), Really . . . Really . . . Seriously (music and movies), David Bridger (writer with a lot to say about writing, life, and lots of other things). There are a few other blogs that I read as much as possible, but these are the highlights.

Ten Honest Things About Myself

  1. I am hypersensitive, although I try very hard not to be. Just how sensitive I am depends upon the state of my life, which means that currently, I can tear up upon hearing a song or watcing a commercial.
  2. I believe in reincarnation. I know that this is not logical (Bruce), but it is something that I have felt very strongly about since I was very young. No, I was not Marie Antoinette, but my affinity for and knowledge of things that I don’t have a logical reason for knowing has to come from somewhere.
  3. I was a daddy’s girl. As an only child, I was spoiled, and my dad labeled me as a “Want-Whiney” when I was a little girl. If I am to be completely honest, the label still applies. 

    Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay
    Catamaran on the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
  4. I love to wear boots, long skirts and sweaters. I should probably live in a cooler climate as this is how I would clad myself everyday if I had somewhere to be.
  5. My biggest personal regret is not going for my doctorate in English.
  6. I am a collector: books, stuffed bears, boots, office supplies, and watches probably being the top five.
  7. I don’t do things half way. It’s either all in or nothing.
  8. I have become too much of a recluse in the past two years, and I really need to get out of the house more.
  9. I love words. I love to find new quotes by writers I have been reading for years. I love to find new writers. I love to put words together and push them around until I have created something of which I can be proud.
  10. I love the man who has been the biggest part of my life for the past 10 years unconditionally and completely, and my children are my joy. Never try to come between me and my family.

Okay, a couple of other tidbits: I am not afraid of spiders, but am terrified of snakes and centipedes. I love the colors red, black and purple. I really enjoy nature: backyard birding, mountains, waterfalls, and sunrises and sunsets. I am very insecure about the way that I look. I do not have tons of friends, rather, a select few. I love them and miss them every single day, and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for one of my friends.

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” ~ Lionel Hampton

So, gentle reader, this ends my conferring of the Honest Weblog Award upon some of my favorite online sites. I hope that you take the time to visit a few of these worthwhile and diverse sites.

More later. Peace.

Middle of the night muse

 

j0395964

This came to me in the night, and for once, instead of telling myself that I would remember in the morning, I got up and put it down while it was still with me.

                                                                                                                               

Fractured

Into the night we move
restless, footsteps heavy with grief
and guilt. We do not speak about these things—
these things that enter the spaces between us and hang
like veils of thick smoke: the long ash of a cigarette left burning
and forgotten

intentions not kept, never intended as promises—
We keep the silences of our anger alive, synchronous
with drops of rain on black panes of glass and the second hand
of my favorite old watch, left to wind down from disuse and neglect:
Past caring, we have forsaken the fraying thread of our conversation
at the beginning

where we began—this flaying of words
fraught with sadness. We do not acknowledge these things—
the deep wounds created by the unrelenting intent of our desires
laid bare, left abandoned to heavy-hearted despair and needful disquietude:
Neither touching nor speaking, we pass one another, leave by different doors
for our separate journeys

into the night.

September 13, 2009

More later. Peace

 

“That time was like never, and like always.” ~ Pablo Neruda

Anchorage Alaska by Janson Jones

Blue Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

Ode To Enchanted Light by Pablo Neruda

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,

 
Van Gogh The Starry Night 1889.
"The Starry Night," Van Gogh (1889)

Outside, the tree frogs are chirruping loudly. The crickets are singing, but it’s too early in the evening for the cicadas.

Inside, silence. For the first time in it seems forever, I am totally and completely alone in the house, well, aside from the dogs. Eamonn is out with friends. Brett’s good buddy Gordon came by and picked him up, and Corey is still in Ohio. Hence, the silence.

I have plenty of things that I could watch on the DVR, episodes of NCIS and Law & Order, and a few movies that might make for a good night, although, no Asia Extreme while I am completely alone. Sleep would be impossible if I did that.

I have very mixed feelings about being alone. By nature, I love solitude. I love time to myself to do what I want when I want to do it. But when the middle of the night comes, I like at least one other person to be in the house with me. It’s not that I am afraid to be alone, per se, but rather, that I prefer to know that someone is nearby in the night.

The irony here is that I have always thought that I would dearly love to live somewhere in the country, away from everything. No distractions, just me and nature and the opportunity to write. But truth be told, I don’t know that I would actually want to live isolated, down some dark stretch of country road, no neighbors around for miles. I could really talk myself into being a nervous wreck in a situation like that.

But I don’t like cities much, any more. Who knows? An island? The tropics? Australia? Alaska? France? All have their special appeal and for such very different reasons. 

light
like a green
latticework of branches, 

Something fairly outrageous along the lines of my true nature: On Facebook, I took one of those damned quizzes that are a waste of time. This one was about which Disney character you are most like. My answer: Cinderella.

My friend Rebecca got a huge guffaw out of that one, as did I. Fairy tales and and fairy princesses and prince charming. That would be a big no. I honestly thought that the results would be Cruella da Ville or someone like that. Although I do have to admit that Disney’s Cinderella is actually one of my favorite movies: I love the singing and sewing animals. Alexis and I would watch that particular movie frequently when she was young.

But my versions of fairy tales always ended with a caveat: They didn’t live happily ever after. They had to get jobs to pay the mortgage on the castle. I suppose I felt the need to include that part mostly because of what my own parents drilled into my head as I was growing up: Always make sure that you can take care of yourself. Get a good education so that you don’t have to be dependent upon any man.

shining
on every leaf,

Van Gogh The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles at night 1888
"The Cafe Terrace on the Place de Forum, Arles, at Night, Van Gogh (1888)

Odd advice from a couple in which one person was the primary breadwinner (my dad), and neither of whom were college graduates. But my dad new the importance of a good education, and my mother knew the consequences of being dependent upon someone else to take care of you.

So in that way, I suppose it makes sense.

At least there was never any question about whether or not I would go to college, and I know that I was luckier than most because my parents paid for both my undergraduate and first graduate degrees. One of the benefits of being an only child and going to an in-state public university. I do wish, though, that I had ventured beyond the borders of my home state, gone to a liberal arts college somewhere out west, maybe. Or perhaps, studied abroad for a few semesters. Something different. But it didn’t happen. For a while, I actually toyed with the idea of pursuing my music, the piano, and I also gave serious thought to going to a school for the arts to pursue acting. But I did neither.

Even without the drama degree I have always managed to keep too much drama going on in my life. My internal monologues and external diatribes never really needed honing in a classroom. And I realized that while I enjoyed the piano, it wasn’t my calling. I was good, but I wasn’t excellent, and just being good allows you to teach but not to play with a symphony.

Little realities that I am awfully glad that I realized in time. 

drifting down like clean
white sand.

Unfortunately, the night sounds outside have turned into the sound of an engine revving repeatedly across the street. One of our neighbors works on cars at all hours of the day and night. Most of the time, I don’t notice the sounds. But it is so quiet tonight that that’s all that I can hear.

And of course, the dogs have to bark at the neighbor—a man who has lived across the street since before we moved here—because they’ve never seen him before ever in their lives. He is an alien and therefore worthy of a three-part concerto: Alfie’s high-pitched yips, Shakes’s midtone arfs, and then Tillie’s deeper, more ominous sounding barks.

That’s what I love about Labs. To hear them, they sound like big, mean dogs. But if someone were actually to come into the house, Tillie would wiggle her butt and roll over to have her belly rubbed. You only buy a Labrador for protection if you want to trip someone in the dark.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

Van Gogh Starry Night Over the Rhone 1888
"Starry Night Over the Rhone," Van Gogh (1888)

Originally, Corey was supposed to come home today from Ohio with the new/used van. Plans changed, and now I’m not sure as to when he will be home.

I’m trying very hard not to become too anxious about his job prospects, but it’s difficult. Part of me wishes that we lived in a small college town so that I could apply for a teaching position with a college or university. But other than doing something like that, with the flexible hours that such a position affords, I really cannot think of anything that I can do, not with the limitations that I have.

And besides, there aren’t many employers who would be willing to take me on, not knowing my health background. So ironically, I have ended up in a situation very much like the one my parents cautioned me against: being dependent upon others. In this case, dependent upon my disability insurance coverage and dependent upon Corey. Odd how things work out.

If I dwell on it too much, then I start to become maudlin, pondering the what ifs and whys. Worrying about not carrying my weight in this relationship, fixating on what kind of message it sends my children.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.

See, this post has become dreary, aside from the Neruda, that is. I started out well enough, talking about being alone but not being lonely, and somehow, I ended up in the same place that I too often find myself: feeling sorry for myself. My life is just a sad, country song—one of the old-fashioned kind full of heartache and lost dreams and empty whiskey bottles (where in the hell did the whiskey bottles come from?) . . .

Patsy Cline has nothing on me, well, except for that voice. It seems to me that if you are going to have the life of a sad country song, then you should have the voice to go with it.

Oh well. The car engine has finally stopped. Midnight is almost upon me. The frogs are back. And it’s time to watch some crime drama, especially since I don’t have a new book to read. Speaking of which, I want to read Atlas Shrugged, don’t know why that’s been on my mind, but it has. As has Alice B. Toklas. I woke up a couple of mornings ago and said aloud “Alice B. Toklas” and then spent hours trying to figure out why her name greeted my morning.

Aside from knowing that Toklas was Gertrude Stein’s amour for many, many years, and that Toklas published a very famous cookbook, I have never had any interest in the woman.

Don’t you just hate it when something like that happens and you cannot discern why? Well, I hate it. Bothers the daylights out of me.

I’ll probably awaken tomorrow from a dream filled with frogs that sound like cars, my mother singing Patsy Cline, and memories of trying to fit a glass stiletto onto my foot. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll be able to fall asleep to choruses of cicadas at 3 in the morning—just me, my dogs, and the echoes of night sounds.

Infrared Stars
Infrared Stars (Spitzer)

More later. Peace.

 

Touching Home Base

Chugach State Park AK by JJ

Fall Colors Chugach State Park, Alaska, by Janson Jones*

“And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus

It’s been rainy and cloudy here for days, which is all right considering that my spirits have been rainy and cloudy for days as well. But a few days ago, something subtle changed: It is beginning to smell like fall.

Looking Skyward by Janson Jones
Looking to the Sky by Janson Jones

I remember when I was a child, fall lasted longer. And before they were such harbingers of air pollution, the smells of neighbors’ fireplaces infused the night with the comforting aromas of woodsmoke.

The falls that I spent with my family in Great Bridge were especially wonderful. With the longer days, my cousins and I would stay outside as long as possible playing hide-n-seek well past dark, the big Sycamore tree in the front yard serving as home base. The sounds of tennis shoes crashed through the thick carpet of fallen leaves as we all raced home so that we wouldn’t be tagged “it.”

Leaves and sticker balls everywhere. Ignoring calls to come in now. Irreplaceable memories of our innocent days.

On Sunday afternoons, smells of burning piles of leaves permeated the neighborhood. This was before Great Bridge was overdeveloped to the point that trees are almost non-existent. The big trees in my aunt and uncle’s yard were enormous. Someone tied a tire swing to one of the trees in the backyard, and we would push each other so high, high enough to get flutters in our bellies.

My cousins Butch and Sheryl tried to get me to climb the tree with the tire and then jump off a branch while in the tire. If any of our parents knew an iota of the things that we did. Good times.

“Autumn to winter, winter into spring, Spring into summer, summer into fall—So rolls the changing year, and so we change; Motion so swift, we know not that we move. ” ~ Dinah Maria Mulock

Fireweed Chucagh St Park
Fireweed, Chucagh State Park, Alaska by Janson Jones

Sundays at Great Bridge were such a large part of my life for so long. Being an only child, those times spent playing with my cousins are some of the best memories of my life. We were a motley group. No one wore designer clothes or expensive tennis shoes. We were made equal by our extreme ordinariness.

Of course, I was different—no blonde hair, no ordinary name, the ony one with no siblings—but after their initial mistrust faded of anyone who didn’t know what iced tea was, I was never treated any differently.

In actuality, the younger ones, the ones who were my age, were my second cousins; my first cousins were closer to my mother’s age, daughter’s of my Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Ros. We were all close, until the first divorce, the first move out of the area, the first pregnancy. Time and circumstance, as they always have a way of doing, stepped in and ended our idyllic lives.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one of them, but I’ll be seeing all of them soon. My Aunt Ronnie died yesterday. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. That most unkind of diseases that takes over the brain, erases memories, makes even the most familiar face into the face of a stranger.

The last time she saw me, she did remember me, fleetingly. But it was so long ago

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made.  The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.”
Eric Sloane 

Eastern Tiger Swallotail by Janson Jones
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail by Janson Jones

For me, Aunt Ronnie was the closest thing to a grandmother that I had. When my cousins called her grandma, I was always so envious. A part of me wished that I could call her grandma as well.

I used to buy my Aunt Ronnie butterfly pins for Christmas. She loved butterflies.

I never knew my mother’s mother. She died when mom was only eight years old. The youngest of 12 children, my mother was raised by her older brothers and sisters. My Aunt Ronnie was almost the oldest of the 12, so my mother’s relationship with her oldest sister was very close, more like mother and daughter than sisters at times.

I wasn’t as close to Uncle Ros. I don’t really know why, but the first time I met my Aunt Ronnie was when Mom and I were visiting the States while Dad was stationed in London. I remember that my cousin Jeanette and her husband at the time had been in a horrible car accident, and everyone was recuperating.

I was overwhelmed by all of the people and completely unused to so many children in my own age range. It was great. I never wanted to leave. 

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” ~ Stanley Horowitz

December Snow Anchorage by JJ
December Snow, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

Once my dad retired from the Navy and we moved back to the area, visits to Great Bridge became almost weekly events. 

Christmas at Great Bridge was such an occasion. We would open presents on Christmas Eve. So many presents everywhere. But Christmas Day we would all get together for Christmas dinner.

I know that I’ve written about Sunday dinners at Great Bridge before, but Christmas dinner was the ultimate Sunday dinner: turkey, stuffing, country-style green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, country ham, homemade biscuits (usually two batches), sweet tea. Homemade banana pudding, fudge and pies for dessert.

And the most amazing aspect of this feast was that until she was in her 70’s, my Aunt Ronnie made almost all of the food by herself. If someone were going to contribute something to the dinner, it was usually dessert.

We would eat in the early afternoon, and then the parents would watch football and nap on the couch, Uncle Ros in his recliner, while all of the cousins would go outside and get into whatever we could, depending upon the weather. If there was snow, so much the better. There was no keeping us inside.

Then later in the early evening, people would snack on ham biscuits, turkey sandwiches, cakes and pie. Sleepy, satisfied and totally at ease in each other’s company

“Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.”~ Edwin Way Teale

I remember their long driveway would be packed, two-wide with cars, the overflow going onto the street. Leaving was always strategic, depending upon who was parked where and whether or not the car was small enough to turn around in the front yard.

Anchorage Dawn by JJ
Anchorage Dawn by Janson Jones

Eventually, we stopped going to Great Bridge for Christmases, long after I had gotten married (the first time), and Alexis was born. Of all of my children, only Alexis really remembers Aunt Ronnie. My mom would take Alexis with her when she would go to Great Bridge to visit. Alexis would play with my cousin Theresa’s daughter who was a few years older.

Christmas celebrations had moved from my Aunt Ronnie’s house to one of her daughter’s houses. It just wasn’t the same.

And of course, we had all grown up, gotten married, moved away, changed jobs, had children. My second cousins still went, but I kind of dropped out of the fold.

I saw many of them at my Uncle Ros’s funeral several years ago. It was an event that I had to attend and then return to work, so I didn’t have time to visit with anyone. Sunday will be different. I have the time now. I have the memories. I have the regret. I have the loss, the second in less than a month.

“Once more I am the silent one
who came out of the distance
wrapped in cold rain and bells:
I owe to earth’s pure death
the will to sprout.” ~ Pablo Neruda

My mother says that she isn’t going to go to Great Bridge for Aunt Ronnie’s funeral, that she’s never going to another funeral again, that she doesn’t want to see Aunt Ronnie in her coffin; it will give her nightmares.

Turnagain Arm Sunset Anchorage AK by JJ
Turnagain Arm Sunset, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

I don’t agree with her method of coping, but it really doesn’t matter if I agree or not. Does it? Her unwillingness to visit the family bothers me tremendously, just as her unwillingness to go to Uncle Melchor’s funeral bothered me.

We are so different, my mother and I. While I love to keep hand me downs from family members, appreciate antiques and the memories that go with them, my mother calls it clutter and sees no point in it. I see a tea service that she bought on Portobello Road in London as something to be cherished, a reminder of our time in London and that wonderful section of booths and shops. My mother has no use for it.

Who knows, when I get to be her age, maybe I’ll feel the same way, but I doubt it.

My memories make me who I am. All of the little nooks and crannies in my mind are filled to overflowing with the sweet and the bittersweet. To me, that is life. Little pieces of jewelry, a china cup and saucer, a silver sugar bowl—each is part of a story, my story.

It makes me sad for my mother who only wants to think about happy things, who won’t watch anything deep or sad, who loves sitcoms and talk shows. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not what she does but what she doesn’t do that makes me sad. What saddens me is that she closed a part of herself off a long time ago, and it has been so long since she went through that door that I don’t think she remembers how.

 “There is no answer to any of these questions. It’s a matter of time and timing, of seas and seasons, of breathing in and breathing out. It’s a matter of balance.” ~ Peter McWilliams

Yes, funerals are for the living. My mother wants to be cremated, as do I, as does Corey, all for different reasons. What happens to our bodies after we die is not really the important thing. But memorial services allow a chance for those left behind to say goodbye, to talk about the person who has been lost with fond words, to forget petty arguments, to remember Sunday dinners and sticker ball fights, new bicycles at Christmas and melt-on-your tongue homemade biscuits.

Dawn in Deland Florida by JJ
Aurelia's Dawn, Deland, Florida by Janson Jones

My Aunt Ronnie’s death is like the closing of yet another chapter in my life, a very good chapter, one filled with so much loving and giving. The woman in the casket is not the woman I loved. The woman I loved is already gone; unfortunately, she has been gone for quite a while, ravaged by an unrelenting disease that rips apart everyone touched by it.

But in my mind’s eye, I still see her smile quite clearly. I remember her dining room table, filled to overflowing, and the conversations around it. That was my Aunt Ronnie. The woman who said come and see me sometime. The woman who liked “The Old Rugged Cross” but did not like “Amazing Grace.” The woman who accepted butterfly pins from a young girl with as much relish as if they were rare gems.

These are my memories, the pictures inside the permanent locket of my heart, the ties that bind and make us who we are. The sweet tea of the soul. Piles of fallen leaves. Running as fast as possible when the coast was clear. Touching home base. Being safe. Knowing unconditional love.

 

More later. Peace.

*Many thanks to Janson Jones for giving me the perfect images for this post. Your photographs help me so much to form the words that I need to say.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~ Rumi,

Detail of Hand Phra Atchana Calling the Earth to Witness

Pra Atchana: Calling the Earth to Witness (detail) 

“What the material world values does not shine in the same truth of the soul” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening” 

“You have been interested in our shadow” ~  Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

BuddhaSomewhere, the gods are laughing hysterically. Somewhere, Sisyphus has paused in his uphill struggle to push his boulder to the top, and he is grinning sheepishly. Somewhere, at some point in time, all of this became an ongoing comedy of errors.

I’m just curious: Who forgot to send us the memo?

Last night, just because it could and because it would be the worst possible timing, Corey’s truck died in the parking lot of the nearby shopping center. Oh, we knew that the truck was living on borrowed time, but we were hoping against hope that it would give us at least another month, time to get the van down from Ohio, time to get Corey on a boat, time to park it and let it rest until the repairs could be made.

Mais non. ‘Twas not to be.

Which leads me back to my original statement and the question that keeps going around and around inside my brain: exactly who did we piss off this badly, whose crappola list, who did we offend in this lifetime or a previous or next in order to keep getting served cold Haggis when a nice, healthy mango salad would do?

 “Look instead directly at the sun” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

Chiang Mai Orchids
Chiang Mai Orchids, Thailand

I hear from those of you out in the ether, and I know that we aren’t alone. I know now just how many of you are in the same dire straits that we are navigating. Believe me, it does help with perspective.

But exactly when is this merry-go-round going to stop? Trust me when I said that I am beyond nauseous from the circling and circling, never arriving, never achieving any kind of forward momentum, the kind that grown ups are supposed to be able to achieve.

Actually, a better metaphor might be that horrible cups and saucers ride. You know, the one in which the cups and saucers spin themselves, and then the whole ride spins? My father actually had to ask the man who was working the switches to stop the ride one time when we were at a local amusement park. I had turned this lovely shade of ecru and was shaking violently all over. Carnie said he’d never seen a reaction that bad.

My cousin thought that it was hilarious. She would. If I had been able to manage anything but dry heaves, I would have hurled on her, kind of how I feel like hurling at the world, leaving just this stain on the sidewalk of life to show that I had been there for a moment, but frankly, had had enough.

“We are born and live inside black water in a well. How could we know what an open field of sunlight is?” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Buddha in the ruins of Wat Mahathat
Buddha in the Ruins of Wat Mahathat

Internal playlist: Life right now reminds me of that Sting song: “I’m so happy. I can’t stop crying.” Laughing through my tears: “everybody’s got to leave the darkness sometime.”

Or maybe Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” would be more appropriate:

“It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control . . .”

Visions of torn fish nets and too much lipstick: “And nothing can ever be the same . . .”
Time warp would be a perfectly logical explanation for what’s happening. At least it makes more sense than the real explanation: There is no explanation.

“Don’t insist on going where you want to go.  Ask the way to the spring.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Wooden San Jao Thi
Wooden Spirit House

Moving along . . .

Did you know that in Thai culture, claiming to be haunted by a ghost is perfectly acceptable?

No, I’m not digressing. I beg the court’s indulgence whilst I attempt to make connections . . .

In Thailand, if I were to tell my landlord that my apartment has the spirit of a dead person, I would not be recommended for psychiatric counseling. On the contrary, spirits abound in Thai culture.

Spirit houses, or San Phra Phum (Abode of the Land Guardian Angel) are incorporated into most Thai homes so that the spirits can be left offerings for their well-being. It is believed that most homes have their own household spirits.

Fortune tellers, contrary to being frowned upon as in Western culture, are highly respected and consulted for most major decisions.

I find that to be a very logical way of looking at things. For example, let’s just say that Corey and I accidentally insulted the spirit of someone’s departed great aunt Mei by stepping on her threshhold (big no, no). Great aunt Mei would hang about for a bit to remind us of the error of our ways until we could perform the necessary rituals for her to rest in peace.

Quit looking at me that way. I’m serious.

“Your living pieces will form a harmony.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Thais, almost 95 perMoon and Buddha image at dusk Wat Mahathatcent of whom are Buddhists, also believe in animism, or spirit worship. Animist spirits stem from the belief that it is not just humans and animals that have souls but also plants, rocks, geographic features, rivers and even natural phenomena such as thunder. These spirits can have an effect on the well-being of those around them. I am not feeling the least bit cynical about such statements.

My own acceptance can be attributed to my personal beliefs in pantheism, that god is in all things.

I found the following passage on Teaching the Ghost: The Thai Supernatural very illuminating:

The greatest fear of an average Thai is of a break down of the social order and the resulting chaos. This explains why the system of hierarchy is so entrenched there and why an average Thai is so ready to unquestioningly follow a superior . . . in 700 years Thailand has never had a civil war. The Thai fear of chaos is personified in their spirits. Thais pay respects even to spirits that are dangerous, not because they have any love for them but because they leave people alone if they are respected. These can be the spirits of women who died in childbirth, malevolent nature spirits, ghosts or, most dangerous of all, the ghosts of people who have just been let out of hell but who have not been reborn in the human world yet. They have something of a chip on their shoulders. One thing that all these spirits have in common, besides their malevolent nature, is that they are part of no social hierarchy. Their world is everything that Thais fear—a world of chaos with no social order. If not respected they can unleash their violent natures and their social chaos on humans.

My point? Somewhere, somehow, we have—to mix my cultural metaphors—opened Pandora’s box and unleashed a very chaotic spirit that wants appeasement. Certainement. It is the only thing that makes any sense at this point.

Somewhere, lurking about us, is a spirit who is lambasting us with chaos. Unfortunately, not having been made aware of this, we have failed to proffer the proper respect, our inconsideration in trampling on a door sill rather than stepping over it.

“There is a moving palace that floats in the air with balconies and clear water flowing through, infinity, everywhere.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Karma. Joss. Fate. Nirvana. Infinity. Big concepts. Big questions.

spirit_house_RatanaHere are a few interesting things to consider if you are planning to build or place your own spirit house to appease the spirits that dwell on your land:

  • Erect your spirit house in front of a tree.
  • Do not place a spirit house to the left side of a door.
  • A spirit house pointing towards the North or North-East is considered especially lucky.
  • Your spirit house should not face towards a road or toilet.
  • A spirit house should not be located within the shadow of the main property.

Remember, the spirit house is intended to honor and placate the spirits by providing an appealing shelter for the spirits, which admittedly, can be finicky and interferring, not necessarily good or evil. Traditional offerings to the spirits include edible and non-edible items such as rice, candles, flowers and incense.

My mother has two marble Buddhas in her house. My mother is the least Buddhist person I know. However, these small figurines have been in her home for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it is time for a spirit house and some prayer bells in our own environs.

More Rumi:

Thai prayer bells
Thai Prayer Bells

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Translation by Coleman Barks

More later. Peace.