“Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” ~ Carl Schurz

Sun Reflected in Frosty River

 

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on the Road

Well, we survived Thanksgiving and my mother’s lovely running critical commentary throughout dinner. Had a bit of a snafu though: Alexis overslept because her electricity went out during the night, so her alarm did not go off, and as a result, the turkey went into the oven rather late. Since it was a 20-pound turkey, we didn’t eat dinner until 8 p.m., which doesn’t really bother most of us because we tend to eat late, but my mother was beside herself.

I called her at 2:30 to tell her that everything was going to be late and suggested that she eat a small meal, but that didn’t stop the bitching. “What do you mean . . . why? . . . how did her electricity go out in the middle of the night . . . I’ve never heard of such a thing . . . I can’t believe this . . .” Unfortunately, we could not cook the turkey here as we are still without natural gas, and our oven is a beautiful, large gas oven that is sitting unused, but that my friends, is a different saga.

This couple couldn't take the time to put on clothes

So the waiting became too much for eldest son as he had an urgent need to get to his girlfriend’s house; we sent him on his way with our blessings and suggested that he check back in later, although he didn’t.  In spite of the delay, dinner was delicious, not way too much food as it used to be, and we had open-faced hot turkey sandwiches on Friday night for dinner.

The madness that is Black Friday did not leave the country unscathed. No stampedes at Wal Marts this year because the stores allowed shoppers into the building; the catch was that no one was allowed to touch the early bird specials until 5 a.m. Everything was on pallets and covered with plastic. I know about this not because I was there (Wal Mart the day after Thanksgiving? me? shudder), but because Alexis’s friend Jennifer went and was out by 5:40 a.m. in time to go to work. Amazing.

I didn’t read any stories about fights in the aisles or mayhem, and the American consumer seemed to be more willing to part with dwindling cash, somewhat. Preliminary data show that shoppers deposited almost $41.2 billion into retail coffers (oh to have just .001 percent of that), this according to the National Retail Federation.  But the madness that normally plagues the pages of the news seemed to be less this year.

There was a shooting in which a man killed his adult sisters and a 6-year-old cousin on Thanksgiving day; another man locked his children in the trunk of his Trans Am while he ran into a sporting goods store (“They like to play in the trunk”). However, the most horrific thing that happened over the holiday weekend state side was the shooting of four Seattle police officers in a coffee shop early Sunday morning. The officers were sitting at a table with their laptops preparing their day when 37-year-old Maurice Clemmons walked in and opened fire. No other patrons were shot, only the officers. For more details on this story, click here.

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” ~ Taisen Deshimaru

A Salvation Army Kettle

Oh, and one more on holiday cheer and good will towards all: In Toledo, Ohio, a man grabbed a Salvation Army kettle full of donations and pushed the bell ringer to the ground. Supposedly the man said, “I can’t stand you and your bell-ringing. I hate Christmas.” Clearly, this year’s winner for the Ebenezer Scrooge award. Personally, I love to see the kettles, but I miss seeing real Salvation Army members ringing the bells. I always try to put something in at least a few kettles each year.

And by the way, the rumor that bell-ringers receive part of the kettle coffers is absolutely false. Bell-ringing is done by civic organizations, scout troops, schools, etc, but the Salvation Army does employ people from shelters to be bell-ringers. These needy individuals receive minimum wage to stand out in the cold, snow, and rain collecting donations that are used to fund the Salvation Army’ s many charitable programs, including shelters, meal programs, after-school programs, to name but a few.

“You’re the love of my life
And the breath in my prayers
Take my hand, lead me there” ~ Dave Matthews Band

So with the one holiday over and the big one looming, Corey and I are in a kind of stasis. The bills continue to pile up, and the money continues to be non-existent. We have a huge payment due to the power company in just a few days, and absolutely no way to pay it. It’s hard to think about putting up Christmas lights when there might not be electricity to power them.

So that’s what I mean about stasis. We cannot really do anything as far as decorating until the living room undergoes a major clearing, but that is dependent upon painting the bedroom, and I had forgotten that one of the reasons that we didn’t move  the very heavy bureau into the bedroom before this is that the bedroom needs to be carpeted. Once that huge dresser is in place, it’s going to be very hard to move it. So do we wait to paint until we can carpet so that we move everything once? Do we move everything twice? And who is this we I speak of, Kemosabe . . .

I must admit that my recent renewed addiction to home renovation shows is not helping with my complete dissatisfaction with the state of our house. There are so many things that we could do to make the house better, less cluttered, easier to get around in if we just had a little cash. Having said that, using cash for renovations has to take a backseat to using it for bills, so once again, the infamous Catch 22 comes into play.

Oh well, moving along . . .

“We clasp the hands of those that go before us, and the hands of those who come after us.” ~ Wendell Berry

Brett's Hands

I have been thinking of hands lately. Don’t ask my why, but  I have. Hands that are moving through the air. Sunlight glowing through hands. Babies’ hands. My children’s hands, which are very much like my own. I have very long fingers, which was great when it came to playing the piano, and all three of my children have long thin fingers.

I remember my father’s hands. He had a degenerative condition in his right hand that caused the muscle to atrophy, so much so that he had to use his left hand to turn the ignition in his 1966 Ford Falcon.  I remember more than once looking at my father’s hands, so bent and worn with age and work, and being just amazed at how much those hands had accomplished over the years.

I really don’t remember anything that my father couldn’t do when he tried. He built things around the house, sewed things, fixed things, worked on his car (all of the time), and maintained the engines on those huge cargo ships that traveled all over the world. I know that my father was very good at his job because he had ship captains who routinely requested him.

In the end, when he was in the hospital, it was his hands that I watched. So small and shrunken, they knitted the sheets to and fro. This man who was never really still his entire life was working even in the midst of his morphine dreams. Watching that automatic movement day after day almost broke me.

But my thoughts about hands are not all painful. In my mind’s eye I see a pre-school craft project that Alexis made: a piece of muslin with small green handprints in a circle, forming a wreath. I still have that. Brett’s hands, specifically his thumb, which he sucked when he was a baby. I never really fretted that he sucked his thumb because I knew that he would stop when he was ready. Nine-year-old Eamonn’s long fingers scooped around a basketball, his slightly crooked smile as he stood for his team picture.

These memories are good memories. I can take the memory of my father’s hands when it is balanced against these memories from my children’s earlier days.

My hands when I had long manicured nails

I look down at my own hands as they skate aross the keys: long, thin fingers, the one vein on each hand that has always been prominent, cuticles a bit ragged from worrying them unconsciously. These hands have touched piano keys and computer keys; they have brushed my daughter’s long hair and finger-combed my son’s waves. These hands have held four babies, cupped their small heads and massaged their backs. These hands have polished a thousand pieces of furniture and cleaned thousands of dishes. They have planted countless flowers and strung colored lights year after year.

These hands are my strength and my weakness: For everything that these hands have allowed me to do, they have also felt the pain of being idle at times when doing something, anything, would have helped.

These hands stroked the soft dark hair on my daughter’s head as she lay dying in my arms, but these hands could not stop death. These hands held my father’s small, curled hands as he lay sleeping in a hospital bed, but these hands could not keep the pain at bay nor force death to wait.

These hands have held newborn babies, and puppies seconds from their mother’s womb. They have stroked the flanks of a chestnut mare and loosened the bolts in an engine. They have turned the pages of thousands of books and held countless cups of tea and coffee. Each morning, these hands move across a face that belies its age, while fingers probe for wrinkles that have yet to appear. These hands stroke Corey’s cheek when he is asleep, and rub the belly of my fat, spoiled dog as he lays snoring by my side.

Everything that is or has been me is within these hands, and when I hold them up to my eyes when the summer sun beats down relentlessly, my fingers seem to glow with life, and I am reminded of that scene in the old movie Ladyhawke when Isabeau raises her hands to the morning sun just before she transforms into the hawk.

I have my father’s hands. My desire is that when I am in the dusk of my life, my hands will have created more than they have destroyed, that they will have caressed more than they have repelled, that they will have calmed more than they have worried, and that they will have written a million words, filled with the myriad sides of myself, my life, and those who have used their own hands to help me, guide me, hold me, and teach me along the way.

More later. Peace.

This video of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s “Falling Slowly” somehow seemed appropriate.

 

 

Let us give thanks . . .

 

Shadows and Reflections

 “Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve written several posts on the subject of being thankful, including the Grace in Small Things series. Today, I thought that I would focus on things, events, and people that I have encountered in my life that have helped to shape me into the person I am.

  • Having the opportunity to see original masterpieces by Renoir, Monet, Glackens, Bernini, Van Gogh, Klimt, Morisot, Wyeth, Hopper, Sargent, Kadinsky, Pollock, Caravaggio, Tiffany, Manet, Leighton, Rembrant, Tissot, Matisse, Veronese, Rothko, as well as ancient Ethiopian art, tribal masks dating back to the 12th century, real Samurai armor and weapons, and photography by Brady, Stieglitz, Bourke-White, Mann, Strand.
  • Walking through a tropical rain forest in Africa and seeing shades of green that I never knew existed. Crossing a hanging rope bridge that was situated high in the air above a stream.
  • Sitting in the dark and listening to live performances by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seeing Nureyev and Margot Fontaine perform.
  • Hiding in the trunk of a car to get into a drive-in movie for free and then not watching the movie because it was too scary.
  • Going snorkeling in the Caribbean
  • Walking among the ruins of Tulum amid the huge iguanas and then eating fresh guacamole with cold Sol atop a small mountain.
  • Seeing the volcano in Baguio, Philippines
  • Riding up a mountain to get to Baguio in a bus very much like the ones you see in the movies, which was filled with villagers, chickens, a pig, old women, and my very American mother.
  • Reading some of the best literature ever written: all of Shakespeare, Michael Ondaatje, Marlow, and far too many others to mention.
  • Meeting some of my favorite poets and writers in person at literary festivals, including Chris Buckley, Mary Oliver, Tim O’Brien, Barry Lopez, Caroline Forché, Bruce Weigl, and many others
  • Working in a newsroom right at the crest of computers. Watching the paper be printed, smelling the ink.
  • Attending three wonderful universities: The George Washington, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion.
  • Doing on-camera interviews for the museum, which sometimes meant being at the studio at 5 a.m, but still fun.
  • Performing for the Queen Mother in London in a Dances of Asia program.
  • Starring as Rizzo in Grease.
  • Participating in a drum-making ceremony with a drum master.
  • Working in a donut shop for a few months during high school and getting to bring home the leftovers.
  • Dancing on the runway at a go go bar for a story on the Norfolk nightlife.
  • Hanging out over the water in a trapeze while sailing on a catamaran in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Going cave tubing and not feeling the least bit claustrophobic
  • Hiking on the trails at Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Getting my four-cylinder Pontiac Sunbird up to 80 mph while driving home from Blacksburg one Sunday night
  • Attending grade school in London
  • Going to a military tattoo in Scotland and sitting in the outdoor stadium wrapped up in blankets because it was so cold.
  • Seeing huge statues in the mountains of Spain as we drove through the country.
  • Seeing live concerts by The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Sarah McLachlan, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Sugarland, Norah Jones, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember.
  • Playing Chopin and Mozart on a grand piano at a recital in front of 100 people.

These are just a few of the highlights. I deliberately did not include anything personal about my children, husband, family, or friends as that is an entirely different list. But putting these things down in words makes me realize how very many opportunities I have had in my life to travel, to embrace other cultures, to see stunning natural and man-made beauty.

I have done things that I never thought that I would do, and I have seen in person things that I had only dreamt of.

I have not led a life of privilege, but I have been privileged to have had these experiences. There is nothing on this list that is earth-shattering, nor is there anything that changed humanity. But individually and collectively, these moments in time have changed me in ways seen and unseen. They have moved me to tears and made me cry with delight. Trite as it may sound, I have had a wonderful life.

More later. Peace.

 

Itzhak Perlman performing Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” a song that I performed in recital at Virginia Wesleyan College.

 

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” ~ Kenji Miyazawa

“Rose Pastor Stokes,” by Clarence H. White (1909)

 

“Existence is a series of footnotes to a vast, obscure, unfinished masterpiece.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov

I found a new blog last night called Crashingly Beautiful. It’s the kind of blog that I might create myself, filled with quotes, poems, music links, passages, Zen stories, photographs, and other artwork. Lovely, just lovely. I found several quotes there that are new to me, and I liked them so much that I am using in tonight’s post. I am also borrowing some images that were posted on the site. Many thanks to Luke Storms for offering such inspiring material.

 If you get a chance, check out the site, along with the companion blog Intense City, also by Luke Storms.

“if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves . . . ” ~ Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet”

"Autumn Trees," Egon Schiele (1912)

Aside from finding new blogs to read and achieving high levels in online Bookworm, not much new to report. Corey’s burn on his arm is healing nicely, just a little sore and no infection on the part that blistered. It’s getting ready to rain again because we so obviously need more rain. Tillie has been hanging out on the platform of the pool’s ladder, almost as if she expects to go swimming at any moment. I had to inform her that regretfully, November is not swimming weather, even for a Labrador Retriever.

I am feeling a bit better emotionally. No big changes, just a slight upswing. I’ll take anything that I can get. Perhaps I am feeling a bit better because I have printed out pages and pages of forms to have my PCP sign and then send on to various pharmaceutical companies (five total). I decided finally that being without my medication has gone on long enough, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t apply for patient assistance directly with the companies.

Happily, I found that I can get almost all of my medications through the companies, with the exception, of course, of the ones that now have generic formulas. Nexium will probably be the hardest one to obtain, mostly because they want my entire life history to prove that I am worthy of receiving assistance from Astra Zeneca. AZ recently received the right to retain their formula for the purple pill, so no generics anytime soon on that front.

If anyone else is having problems with affording his/her prescription medications, look up the name of the company that manufactures the medication, and then enter patient assistance into the site’s search. Almost all of the major pharmaceutical companies have some sort of patient assistance program. I really wish that I had thought of this three months ago.

“Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough.” ~ Jeannette Winterson

"Four Trees," Egon Schiele (1917)

Thanksgiving is only a week and a half away, and already the drama has begun in my family. Incredibly important issues such as who is going to cook what dish are on the forefront of family discussions. Three vegetables or two? Really?

I made a passing comment to my mother about butter, and her response, verbatim, was this: “I can’t get you to lose weight for anything.” Ummmm, alrighty then. I have real butter on my bread maybe three times a year. I’ve gotten comments like these my entire life. Now do you see why my self-esteem is so low?

Brett and I stopped by my mother’s house the other day on the way home from school. Brett had his sketch pad with him, and I thought that it would be nice to show my mom some of his recent work. Big mistake. Brett is really good at pencil sketches, and his latest was done during the nor’easter. It’s a dark self-portrait, done in sort of an anime style. For those of you who may not be familiar with this style, anime (アニメ) is short for Japanese animation. Anime, like manga (Japanese comics) is considered to be a non-traditional but pervasive art form.

The facial characteristics in anime can be exaggerated or muted (e.g., very large eyes and head, or simple lines for eyes), depending upon the artist. Coloring the cornea to indicate depth is sometimes employed. Some anime (sometimes spelled animé with final acute accent) attempts to draw characters whose nationalities cannot be discerned (e.g., Pokemon). The sketch that Brett showed my mother had very exotic, piercing eyes. The first time I saw it I was amazed by the detail that he had included, and I think that it is one of his better sketches.

After I got home, my mother called me to tell me that she’s worried about Brett. Specifically, she’s worried about what’s in his mind, “all of these dark pictures.” She asked why he doesn’t paint geese. I tried to explain to her that Brett doesn’t like to paint, that he likes charcoal and pencil. I noted that not all art is mountains and fruit, but it really didn’t matter what I said because now my mother has decided that Brett’s art is cause for concern.

I made a point of telling Brett how much I like his work, and I told him to take what his Oma says with a grain of salt as she doesn’t realize how much her words can hurt. She really doesn’t realize this, which is something that it took me many years to realize myself. My mother has good intentions, but she has no sense of self-censorship: whatever she thinks comes out of her mouth without any consideration of the hearer’s feelings or reaction.

I hate to have to say this about my mother, but it’s true. It’s also something that I have learned to live with, although not without its consequences, so I want to ensure that her remarks do not affect Brett’s already fragile self-esteem.

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” ~ Erich Fromm

Untitled by Maurice Tabard (1932)

Anyway, that’s about all for now. I must pause here, though, to express my incredible gratitude to all of you who took the time to send me very special comments in response to my last post. Maureen, Kelly, and Andrew sent very lovely expressions of support, and no matter how many times I say it, being on the receiving end of such generous statements always makes me feel better and helps more than I can say.

Even though I have not been as focused lately as I would like to be, this blog continues to be incredibly important to me. It allows me to vent, to bemoan, to rejoice, and to share with a wonderful community of people.

NCIS this past Tuesday night featured a major power outage in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area as a backdrop to the crime. The investigators had to do things the old-fashioned way—by hand—and they were all complaining about how hard life is without computers, without mobile telephones, without PDA’s. I know that when we lose electricity around here because of a storm (which happens more than you might think), I always enjoy the quiet; no sounds of air conditioners or televisions permeate the neighborhood, and the streets are so dark.

Having said that, I do have to admit that as much as I like the simplicity when the lights go out, I do love the convenience of a lightning-fast search engine and the fact that the Internet and the web keep us connected all over the world. Just a decade ago I was still struggling with dial-up and having to wait to get online. Now I am so completely spoiled by our high-speed connection that I cannot imagine living without this convenience in my life, although I’m sure that I could if I had to.

I suppose that all of that was a very roundabout way of saying that yes, I am able to appreciate the small things, but especially how technology has afforded me new avenues to friendship and support.

YouTube video courtesy of Kelly. I’m including a poem by Mary Oliver, and I apologize in advance if I’ve already included this one, but it seems very fitting.

 

 

More later. Peace.

                                                                                                                                     

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver