Saturday, March 20, 2010

and since that Thursday . . .

                                                                                   (other miracles

You, dark-eyed daughter. Months

of ambiguous haunting then

pain then nothing but the impossible

wrinkled birth-cap    Blood

fingers and legs   Angry open mouth

Another living body beside

my body . . .

And like that
I am the mother of a full grown woman.

thank you, my dearest Eldest, for 18 years of miracles

Friday, March 19, 2010

i'll get by with a little help from my friends

and days like yesterday bringing not only this postcard but the sunshine and mud on my fingers and a quick ride into town for groceries (see Dream Wheels for details) which led at last to a bubbling pot of fragrant minestrone and baked apples stuffed with lemon-gingery figs and macadamia nuts. 

This is the long-sought secret to life. 

Macadamia nuts optional.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

a note to my email readers ~

It is the first publishing of a post that comes to you.  Not the most recent.

To read the most up-do-date version of the post, just scroll down to the bottom of the message that arrives in your email and click on the Imaginary Bicycle link printed in blue.

xoxo, emma j

p.s. - biopsy = completely clean.  Maybe this means we can get back to writing happy posts that make us laugh rather than these tiresome worry-fests

I am seeing a trend here.  I worry.  I want to think of something else.  So I contemplate wider, shapeless dangers.  So intelligent.

I'd be better off posting pictures of ducks.  Or of bicycles.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Am Wrong

Walking home this Saturday morning, I thought out of the blue - maybe I am wrong.  

And I did not doubt it. 

I was looking up at the blue sky breaking through the clouds and found my whole heart assenting, Maybe I am wrong, and suddenly an overwhelming relief.  The relief becoming, step-by-step, contentment - almost joy - that if I was wrong, then all was right with the world after all. 

Except my feet, which were threatening blisters.  Feet that have grown soft from too many days writing, too many days away from tramping up hill and down.  Because lately I've been feeling eaten by worry, I had taken a break from the usual pre-dawn walk with my friend so I could stay home and sleep it off - or lie in bed talking quietly with Fritz, which is what more usually happened. 

And my friend and I have not even been walking our long-standing Saturday morning walks:  mismatched schedules continually postponing our usual hilly miles. Hence tender feet.  But now, once more, my friend and I were back on the road together.  

We talked about education - which we always do.  And kvetched about other things - which we often do. 

She saw a cobble mark dissolved into the clay of a fresh road-cut.  Evidence of a weathered rock that was once picked up in the lava - eons ago.  We talked about volcanoes: how from the basketball court on Mt. Tabor can be seen a perfect cross-section of a volcano - the layers of lava, the central core.  How the West Hills are bubblings up like tar on a hot day.  How Portland itself, though, is built on the gravel gathered up and layered there by the Missoulas - huge floods of long ago.

For her, the whole landscape is in motion. 

For me, too, when I walk with her, looking at what she sees. 

She points out the ferns growing out of an old tree, still living but leaning almost onto the ground. I'm supposed to remember it so I can plant it on her grave.  If I outlive her.  If I remember.  I've asked her before, "You know that you might  end up with the giant anthill on your grave? Haven't you pointed that out to me as often as that old nurse tree?"  But she's told me so many times now  - not quite serious, not quite joking - as we pass the mossy trunk and the small forest of tiny ferns, that I may very likely remember.  Though that is a long, long time from now.  Years and years,  God willing, of Saturday morning walks.  Miles and miles of hills still ahead of us. 

Coming down the last of the hills, we talk about bananas, how they are all genetically the same and threatened by a deadly fungus (or bacteria?)

Would it be right to genetically modify bananas so that they are immune?  We think perhaps so.  Because we like bananas. 

I tell her Jasper Fforde's theory that bananas are actually GMOs from the future, brought back to the 1800s by time-travelers who needed to establish a conveniently packaged, all-natural wonder food.  Genetically modifying something that is by nature genetically modified seems just fine, doesn't it?

She tells me about wild African cats that have been cloned to avoid extinction - though they have no natural habitat left and will live out their lives in zoos.  Is this ethically right?  Environmentally?  We're not so sure. 

And what if researchers figure out how to clone mammoths from DNA frozen for millennia?  A sudden mammoth seems a waste of resources. Such a huge organism without its supporting ecosystem? But also, we admit, very cool. "If I were a researcher and could bring a mammoth to life, I'm not sure I could resist it just for the wahoo!"  My friend agrees.

The anthill at the edge of the road - as tall now as we are - we've been watching it grow through the years - teems with movement.  When we walk that way around the hills, my friend often stops there, as if at an altar.  This is her church, if anything is.

I had told her, back when we were still talking about volcanoes, about the beetles and spiders another friend had just learned about while visiting her sister in Hawaii, that eat - yes, eat - the barren lava and excrete it out the other end as the beginning of soil.

She told me in turn about the strange wormlike creatures that live deep in the oceans, their heads stuck into the trenches living on the torrid, caustic gases from the core of the Earth, their ends waving out into deep water so frigid that only the immense pressure keeps it from freezing.  "Who would think anything could live there?" But these worms have circulatory systems that move so quickly that their internal temperatures exactly balance both extremes of hot and cold.  She wonders, If the core of the Earth heats up, do they grow longer and extend further into that icy water to cool themselves off a little more?  Or the other way, if the oceans get colder, do they shrink in, stretch out into the unbearable heat of the trench?  And isn't the world full of marvels?

And we lingered at our last corner talking about the beauty of diatoms and the recovered meadows of mint and mustard, forests of almond, birch, and pomegranate that paleo-botanists can call forth just by reading the fossilized pollen record.

And then we parted ways and I began hobbling home, aware suddenly of my sore-footed state.  That is when I heard that thought in my mind - Maybe I am wrong.

About what? Wrong about my worries or about my consolations?  Wrong about my hopes or my despair?

Sure, why not. 

I am wrong. 

And it is such a relief to realize that this isn't an algebra problem that I have to work out.  This isn't an essay whose right conclusion I have to construct.  What if this is a world where kindness and violence, injustice and mercy, heroes and cowards hold hands and dance around in a ring?

I don't want to be right, if all that is true is only what I can contain in my own head.  We are lucky that in some way, in some essential part, we are all always wrong - about everything that isn't our joy at the color of the new leaves on the willow.

Or the smell of the wind.  Or our wonderment for marvelous bugs.

We asked the captain what course of action he proposed to take toward a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable. He hesitated to answer, and then said judiciously: "I think I shall praise it."

Robert Hass

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dream Cycle: "The Old Bike" and "The Cleverness of Clever Cycles"

For those who have been wondering, yesterday was Fritz's biopsy.  We are encouraged to hope. Results in a week.  But we have reason to believe this may be the last biopsy.

And being the bikety people we are, we chose to celebrate with our Togetherness Outing #7 (thirteen more to go) by poking around some nearby bike shops.  Not my favorite cycle shop - Clever Cycles is too far for a quick swing past.  But Performance and Bike Gallery - fun places all the same.  Pretty cruisers right on the main, central section of the floor.  Nutcase helmets.  Baskets and bright-colored woven panniers.  Interesting bike parts.

I am (with the knowledgeable advice of my dear one - but hands off, Fritz! well, mostly) adapting my old long-distance bike to be more comfortable and useful.  You can read all about it over at Dream Wheels . . . if this isn't already more bikety detail than you can stand.

One of the shop clerks, a likable, humorous young guy, found two seat posts for me - neither of which would work.  One because it was a suspension post which is what I am replacing because it wobbles around too much and gives me less control.  The other because it is black.  And black just doesn't go with a dark blue bike - "which is of course very important to me," I told him with mock (and also real) sincerity.  And with zero apology.

There are lovely things about being 43 and one of them is realizing you really don't have to apologize.

He laughed.  And suggested, with an engaging twinkle, that I might like "Carbon fiber?  Guaranteed to make you go very fast."

"Mm-hm."  We laughed back.

And that's another thing about being 43.  I don't have to go fast to be happy.  I'm a slow rider but I'm strong . . . and the world is full of roads . . . and the weather getting warmer.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


lines from alfabet by Inger Christensen, translated by Susanna Nied

In the email queue this morning, from my friend:

I look to nature for clues as to what we really are, primates prefer peace over violence and they express compassion. Even mice express compassion. I hold with the idea that peace is the desire of every heart, it is just our limited understanding of what it takes to get there that gets in the way.
In the comments to an earlier post, from my other friend:
Kind people are everywhere.

So I will tell you about Genet with whom I sat as my grandmother was dying.

Genet ran a group home for severe cases of Alzheimer's near where my aunt Jan and uncle Jack live in Seattle. My sister had spent the summer with Jan and Jack, coming over each morning to take care of Grandma, spending the days talking with Genet as they dressed and fed and sat with the women there in the home.

During that summer, Genet taught my sister also how to cook African style. When I came one weekend just before my sister headed back to school, Genet showed us both how to mix up berbere spice, kneading it together, "Only with your plastic gloves on and you never touch it so that it stays wholesome." She fills two large jars - one to keep there at the house, one for my sister to take with her when she goes.

Genet has the face of an artistocrat and dancer's hands, a quick laugh and a gravitas.  Intelligence gleams from her and stubbornness.

Then the summer was over, the college semester had begun, Grandma was failing and I had come for a short week. I asked Genet if it would be okay if I spread my sleeping bag out in the corner of Grandma's room? She approved.

Genet more than approved, "Of all the people I take care of only Norma has her family come. It is not like this with my country. Norma, we love you!" cupping my grandmother's face. My grandmother smiled up at her.

One afternoon we bathed my grandmother. It had been a hot day but the wind had begun to move. Genet opened the window above my grandmother's bed. I helped her pull back the light blanket, the sheets. I watched Genet's great gentleness and my grandmother's face lit with pleasure as the breeze blew over her old body there at the end of the day.

We changed the sheets. And we sat holding my grandmother's hands, talking over her body as she slipped into a light sleep.

Genet was born the year that I was born. When we were both 14, when I was getting braces and contact lenses, she was married. She was born in Eritrea, a small coastal country bordering land-locked Ethiopia.

Genet talks about coming to this country. About the advice they pass on to the new ones. And things that had had to be left behind. Not all of her family was able to come. She misses them.

"Our names mean more than they do here.  Genet?  Heaven.  My last name, too - the first part" which she says quickly - beginning with a hard G... -  "It means—what is English for this?  Like when Jesus dies and then come back to life. The people who have not seen they just wait. They know—" she clasps hands and looks upward.  "It is this they have."

“Faith?” I suggest.

"No," she brushes this away, an insufficient word.


"NO, no, no," worse and worse. "Stronger,” she says.“There is no English for it.”

“Faith is probably the best we have.”

"Hmm," which is either disapproving or pitying. But she continues, "Second part of my last name—" something like Mehun but continuing longer, "—means when the people first came and the land if they were hungry they could just pick fruit from the tree. No one went hungry because there were not too many people at that time.

“So, like Eden?”

She shrugs and nods. Close enough.

She tells about a man she knows.  His name is - Garineme . . . ? (a long, multi-syllabic name). "Before he comes I am telling Jan and Uncle Jack his name over and over. So they will know it.  He comes, he say . . ." she puts out her hand to shake, “Hi, I’m Gary.”

She rolls her eyes.

"I didn’t say anything. I just give him a look. Later I say, what do you say that your name is Gary? And he tell me when he first comes to America he is filling the papers. The woman says, 'What is your name.' He says, 'Garineme . . .' She says, 'What is your name?' He says, 'Garineme . . .' She says, 'Do you speak English?'" Genet raises her head up proudly, a royal woman dealing with idiots, " 'Do you speak English?' she say like she think he is saying something else when she ask him his name?"

One evening Genet invites us to come back that night and eat dinner with her. "Andrea liked this very much," Genet tells me that afternoon while getting things ready. Andrea is my sister. Genet wants to know what Andrea is doing lately, what she has been studying.  I am sitting beside my grandmother, rubbing her hands with lotion. Grandma smiles at me and I feel she knows me. When Genet walks past, Grandma looks up eagerly, her eyes lighting. "We love you, Norma!" says Genet. I feel my grandmother knows Genet.

That evening, after my grandmother has been settled into her bed for the night, we sit down around Genet's table: my aunt and uncle and their daughter-in-law Andi who is Hungarian, and as she told us once, when asked to tell something about her that most people don't know, actually a countess . . . not that that means anything these days after the political upheavals of the last century. Hungary, like Eritrea, has long been a small, proud nation geographically vulnerable to invasion. Andi works now as a translator. Her husband, my cousin, has to work that night selling cars, though really he is a poet.  Times being what they are, they live in my aunt and uncle's basement.

The food is incredibly delicious.  Very hot and spicy with pieces of sour bubbly injera flatbread to scoop everything up.

Of course we talk about food. "That is my favorite—" says Genet, "the part that holds the food and . . . " her hands make grinding motions, " . . . the food."

"The gizzard?” says Andi.

"Yes. It is my favorite. Always my favorite. My father he always shared it around because he is very successful man. Much groceries and land where they grow food. I was married fourteen years old. And my husband was the big man. He make all his invitation. One day big company coming. Chicken has to be cut in twelve pieces. Woman not supposed to eat alone, right? Wait for husband to come home. Old neighbor - we call her Mami - I say, 'Mami Mahen . . . ?'"

Again I cannot catch the name. Genet continues, now in a young girl's voice, "'I am so hungry!'" now in an old woman's, "'Is the chicken done?' 'Yes?'" and then she cackles, “'Let’s eat!” So I ate it."

"When Big Company come, I say 'What part do you want?'" She shakes her head and my aunt and uncle and Andi and I laugh.  It is so obvious which part the Big Company will want.

"I know it is gone, but I am going through the dish like I had lost it. Then I say, 'The cat ate it. Oh, I have such a terrible cat!' Later I tell my husband, 'I am going to tell you the truth. It wasn’t the cat. I ate it.' Then he tells everyone all through the place. It is a very famous joke. 'Better say the cat ate it,' they say. I was a very young girl. I was 14 year old. Very young wife. So when a woman wants to eat something they say, “Better say the cat ate it like Genet’s.”

The next morning we are sitting again at the table as I feed my grandmother her breakfast.  Genet is telling me about the Eritrean Church.

"Our church is very old. Very early.  The apostles - the saints?  - they come there to make it. Older than Rome," she waves a hand dismissively pff! Her grandfather - great-grandfather? - had been Italian.  Part of that army.

She does not see her family much now, her father, her mother, though some of them are here in America.  Her husband, she makes a dismissive gesture. Her church now is her strongest support. She is planning a big party for her son's high school graduation, "If you are membership you pay not a nickel to rent hall of  the committee." She tells me it is the same church as the Ethiopian church.  Though Ethiopia and Eritrea have been at war forever.

"They wanted to take us over. We are shown films. How they would lay us down in the street to run over us with their tanks. They would cut off the breasts of women. They would show these films so we would not forget. Now here I am and these other," she means two of the aides in the home, "they are Ethiopian. We live together. Here we live together. It's no big thing."

And when my grandmother dies later in the month, Genet takes a leave of absence and flies to the funeral.  At the family dinner the evening after, Genet stands and her voice begins to ululate.  She stops.  She explains, "This is what we do in my country. I cannot stop it. We love you, Norma."

Kindess is everywhere. But so is violence. But so is kindness. Can you make sense of this?

Can anyone?

All I know is that when recently I read the book, Little Bee, it was in Genet's voice that I heard it.

images from Wikipedia Commons

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

wherein I consider . . .

 I mentioned  assumptions by those who presume they know my story without listening first to me.
Shall I write about this? 
And touch on - oh, two at least of the three forbiddens? (Religion, politics, sex - what are yours?) Forbidden not because they are distasteful or unimportant but because they are, these days, fields taken over by loud machines.  Fields made miry, torn up, compacted, no longer able to support any life but the hardiest and thorniest of weeds.

And my dears, a bicycle is not a bulldozer.  Less destructive indeed and more observant, but also with a strong preference for smooth pavement.  I fear a puncture and a good hour lost fixing a flat if I venture off the paved path I've chosen.

So maybe I will tell you instead about the adult literacy program that has at last begun to roll into motion. 

Before moving here to Oregon I used to be the director - co-director - of a family literacy center.  Though I began simply volunteering as a tutor.  And it is with the one-on-one tutoring that my heart lies.  One of my longest and most rewarding clients was a man in his 50s who had never learned to read.  Intelligent, humorous, persevering - I had to admire the clever ways he'd taught himself to negotiate in a world written over with markings that shone no light for him. 

I thought volunteering might work better with a writing schedule than real (i.e. for-pay) work but there has not been a literacy program here in my town.   So I've been talking to people who have been talking to people and there have been connections made with community organizations.  And now they want me to be the "face" of the effort.

Oh, no.  Partly to protect the writing schedule (heading up this effort could easily swamp every waking hour). Partly because to write I need to be free to represent What Is and not any group or organization.

And mostly because I don't want to be the face of anything except myself.

Which brings me back to what I wasn't going to write about.  Clearly the Muse has it in for me today, flexing her muscles and switching my path so that no matter how I try to change tracks, I'm still bound for the same destination.

I once TA'd for a professor who wanted me to be the "feminist perspective."

As if there were only one. 

I would be the Feminist and he would rebut me by pointing out all the glorious heroism of Beowulf's lone stand against the monsters.  Because he knew my feminist perspective couldn't include an appreciation of male heroics. 

But I'm really not much interested in perspectives that narrow the view like those blinders they put on horses.  What interested me as a woman student looking at this wonderful old poem was the hero's burst of glory and what was happening on the side to the women married off to enemies as "peace-weavers."  I wanted to look at both sides.  Or more sides.  Because it's a blinders' idea that there are only ever two sides to a story. 

Wrong or right.  Yes or no.  For or against.  Enlightened, benighted.

I had had another teacher as a high school senior in the Bay Area (California) who liked to tell me what I believed.  He knew, because his ex-wife's family were or once were members of the church I had grown up in.  I don't know what his estranged in-laws believed (or once believed) but I could not recognize anything in his narrow portrait and wondered why his valuing of the individual voice didn't include letting me define myself.    

But his class was a great training ground for learning to work around the bigotry of those who are, after all, only humans like me and you.  Whether they say things like, "You environmentalists . . ." or "You Mormons . . ., "  they are only other humans with full histories of hurts and losses, fears and hopes that blind them as they can blind us all sometimes.  We are all liable to being bigots - and most of all when we believe ourselves not in the least danger of it.

I love fractal patterns and the idea of an ordering chaos.  I love exceptions to the rule.  I think even the sound of the word anomaly is adorable. I love the shape of coastlines with their secluded bays and promontories far better than international borders drawn with a straightedge.  I am afraid sometimes that I am blinded by my hopes which grow out of my beliefs that our world is not slated for hatred and destruction, that we will actually dance out of the way of the deadly curse of Versus which fuels our wars and ethnic conflicts and bipartisan politics.   That we will awake to the fact that we are we.

I remember standing once outside the San Diego zoo.  We were a small crowd of people of many ages, languages, skin tones, backgrounds, ways of life.  We talked among ourselves, softly, happily, waiting for the gates to open.  The weather was sweet and soft - it was early in the spring - and so I may be forgiven for imagining this was a foretaste of  the peace we all (don't we? in our strangely separate and apparently but not entirely opposite ways?) wish for and even sometimes work for.

I worked for a while at an organic farm. I enjoyed the outside work.  I enjoyed the flocks of birds flying up over the fields.  I enjoyed the wide-ranging conversations with the full-time farmers. I loved their gentleness, their openness, their easy voices.  Their kindness for each other and their patience in teaching me.    I loved hearing their stories from teaching in Nepal to starting gardens in city schools.  I got the idea that to them I was an anomaly - not quite their mothers' age but not young, and not what they expected.  That they let me be what they hadn't expected made me feel that I was among kindred souls.

"Is your husband like you are?" one of the farmers asked me once, a young man with a sweet sad face beneath his dark beard who had recently moved off the farm to care for a dying friend.  

"In what way?" I asked.

He explained and I laughed, "Well, my husband says I am a flaming liberal. But it's okay, I tell him he's a hidebound conservative."

"What? How could you ever marry him?" this was, I could see, from my companion's face, deeply shocking. Cats and dogs . . . living together . . .

I suppose Fritz and I are happy together because we are neither of us so much liberal or conservative as we are curious.  I like that Fritz can't seem to see a person as part of category, that he just sees the person in front of him and wants to know what they do,  what they think, what life is like from over there.  I know I married him because he could see me.

But I am afraid sometimes at the virulence of division in my country and in the world.  Though my actual experiences in the world have mostly all been gentle and full of peace.

But which is real? 

Sometimes I am afraid that my past experiences have blinded me and made me expect more kindness than I can really count on - experiences with the gentle and kind Baptist ladies who welcomed me so helpfully into their homeschooling group the year or so that our local schools were re-arranging themselves, with the two women raising their son together whom we've met with through the years and who embraced me with tears in their eyes when I sang at the funeral of one of their mothers, with Fritz's Moroccan and staunchly Muslim co-worker who came to sit with me once when he saw me waiting so that he could tell me what a good friend, good listener, good man Fritz was, with the young and earnest shopowner Fritz and I (also young, also earnest) met in Mexico who stood talking with us through the evening in the middle of the street about business and ambition and life in general, with the loud laughing group at the front of the bus in downtown Chicago who didn't mind my pale face but got me to my stop safely, calling out advice and giving me a list of must-sees, and then later that day the soft-voiced father on the El train on his way to the airport to visit relatives in New Orleans with his curly-haired son asleep in his arms who talked with my sister and me, also holding our sleeping children, about parenting and our hopes for the future of our children - and I am afraid sometimes that they have all been anomalies. 

Exceptions to a harsher and, by now, unfamiliar rule.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Don't Quote Me."

If you are reading this it is because Middlest has given me the nod.  It's part of the pact I have with my children.  They tell me things.  I don't tell other people without their permission. 

At least, I don't now.  Many years ago when Middlest was young, she told me she wanted to be a nurse midwife when she grew up and a flute-player and  an acrobat.  It seems (here is where I can't be sure if this is what I spun or what she told me) these endeavors were meant to co-exist in a single practice.  Of course!  the flute could be so relaxing to the poor laboring mother.  And acrobatics always come in handy. 

When I retold this story to our friend, Middlest insisted I had made it all up.  She didn't want to be a nurse midwife.  And certainly not that stupid part about the flute and acrobatics.  Sheesh! who would think something like that? 

I wished I'd kept my mouth shut.  And let that beautiful idea grow roots and put out a few more fantastical leaves.

So I don't tell stories about my children without running it past them first.  I too hate having assumptions made about me by people who presume they know my story without listening first to me. 

I hate having my stories mis-told.

And so when Middlest ends her breathless what-happened-today account with, "Don't quote me."  I don't.  Though she is deliciously quotable.  Middlest has always been a deeply wise child. 

Because you do know, don't you? that all mothers are amazed at their children's wisdom. It is endlessly amazing how amazed parents are at their own progeny. It must be hardwired into us, evolutionarily advantageous and also divinely designed, both at the same time. Though I'm not sure what purpose our amazement plays.  And I am sometimes amazed at other parents' amazement. 

But I am amazed at Middlest.  Once when I was correcting her, she stood up, lifting her chin in all her six-year-old dignity, "I am not the kind of girl you can talk harshly to." And what could I say?

She was exactly right and exactly what I wanted to be raising - a strong daughter who knew what she was worth.

"You are right.  I'm sorry. Though - remember too - I am not the kind of mother you can just ignore when I ask you to do something."

Because I still have to get my word in: I am that kind of mother. 

Not that I believe I'll ever get the last word.  That's a privilege that parents cannot really wish to have.  Because it would mean being the outliving one.  And yet I know I won't always come off well in the stories my children will be telling for years to come.  For example, Middlest hates that I always have to look on the Other Hand.  "Can't you just be on my side sometimes?" she says.

"I am - always - on your side.  But it's just that it helps me to try to understand why people would do or say what they do.  And then I can fix what is my fault and move on and let the rest drop away."

"But sometimes I just want you to be unfair and on my side only."  And I know instantly what she means - I love bringing my outrages to my youngest sister because this sister always assumes that those others are just idiots.  And of course that I, her undeservedly beloved big sis, am right and reasonable and utterly adorable too.

So I say, "I can try. Though I don't know if I can.  It's become such a habit that now it's just the way my mind moves."

And Middlest sighs, "I don't think you can either."

Middlest was talking about her track coach the other day, how great she was.   "Naomi loves me because I work hard."

"But I thought you were frustrated with that coach?"  The last I'd heard, during the last of cross-country, was that the coach had been overscheduled and missing in action a little too often and had written an aggravatingly clueless pep-talk letter.

"Yeah," said Middlest.  "So I just rewrote her letter for her."

"You what?"  What I'm really asking is, Can you play fast and loose with reality like this and not get caught?

"I knew she meant to be encouraging so I just erased her note and wrote in what would have actually been encouraging.  It all fit in right above the Love, Naomi . . . "


This strikes me as deeply wise.  When she is old, she may not need an imaginary bicycle.

 I do love her tidy mind, her lists and schedules, the way she plans ahead, packs beforehand, lays everything out and waiting.  Where did that come from?  Not from me. 

But I love even more a schedule I came across not long ago that she'd written (during French class? hmm.) in the middle of a particularly horrible awful no-good very bad day. It was a plan for what her perfect day would be - in detail -

"You travel pretty fast between city to beach to river - how's that done?"

"It's an ideal day.  And in an ideal day I wouldn't have to travel by car.  I'd be there already."

Makes sense.

6:00 am       Wake up & go on a run
6:45 am       Shower & dress
7:00 am      Breakfast - sliced peaches w/ vanilla yogurt on top sprinkled with grape nuts
7:15 am      Tidy up dishes
7:20 am      Vintage clothes shopping
10:30 am    midmorning snack - oatmeal cookie or maybe croissant w/ nutella
10:45 am   go up river and go hiking around a waterfall bring lunch - roast beef, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, green peppers & cream cheese on a hoagie bun  - and eat on hike w/ a friend or by self
1:15 pm      go play on the beach, play in water & collect seashells
3:30 pm      go on a bike ride
4:30 pm      take a shower & get ready for a dance
5:30 pm      dinner - Alaskan salmon 
6:00 pm      go on a walk on the waterfront
6:50 pm      youth dance in an outdoor setting w/ lots of Christmas lights etc. (& a fountain)
10:30 pm    after dance - graham crackers & nutella
11:15 pm    go home & sleep
My schooldays notebooks, too, are full of writing - rants and detailed accounts of every horrible thing that had happened with full dialogs of and then he said and then she said and I am afraid an analysis of all the probable back-stories thrown in. And ruminations on what I could have done to make it turn out differently.

Obviously, I needed to discover Nutella.

And to realize that truth has its place, but there are truer things than bare facts.  She told me a while ago, "It made me feel sad all day that you were so, 'I don't like those shoes.'"

To which I spluttered, "I didn't - !"

"Well, that's how it made me feel," said Middlest, getting to the essential point.  The essential, ironic point because I have next to no fashion-sense while Middlest is in love with textiles and patterns.  She has an eye for color and combinations that amazes me.  (Yes, I am repeatedly amazed.  I think I explained that already.)

As of now (having given up being a flute-playing nurse midwife with amazing flexibility) she wants to design water-purification devices for humanitarian aid work (or microfinance or building houses), but I also hope she'll make some room in her future life for shaping gorgeous fabrics . . . Anyway: "You asked me if I liked what you were wearing," I reminded her. "Do you just want to me to say yes?"

"I don't want you to lie to me."

So I tell her, "I almost always love the things you choose to wear."

"Aargh!" she grabs her forehead, "You are so painfully honest - almost always?!"

"How's this? - I can't think of a time when I haven't generally loved what you're wearing."


Last summer Middlest and I were sitting together with my mom outside in the mountains looking up at the stars in the clear, clear sky.  Her grandma was telling us about some research she'd come across recently in her practice.  The researchers would show a picture of a fern then ask people to draw it from memory.  Afterwards, no one could reproduce it but - ! my mom said, they found that if they scanned the drawings into a computer and then combined them, they made a perfect fern.  "I've often thought if I could shake all my kids up in a bag they'd make one perfectly balanced person."  And laughed, "But only one!"

And we looked up at the stars. 

Out of the darkness came Mid's voice, "You know,  I've always thought, if you could somehow combine the faces of everyone on the earth? . . . then I think you would be seeing the face of God."

Friday, March 5, 2010

letting it go

You can find just what you need at the hightouchmegastore:

I love how well-rehearsed and carefully orchestrated all this destruction and chaos is. 

Kind of gives you hope.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Wish we were there.

On our last evening away this past weekend, Fritz and I were trying to remember how many times since our actual anniversary (six months ago), we'd managed to be away from home alone.  Just the two of us - no kids, no friends.  Not that kids and friends aren't wonderful.  But so is being alone together.

We counted:  this weekend and that one overnight . . . (begun as disaster, ending up not quite so bad).

Two movies I dragged him to see  . . . after seeing them with friends and/or kids  (Julie & Julia/ Avatar).

One morning when my friend couldn't walk so Fritz walked with me instead.

The evening we drove around and found his parents a place to rent.

That's it.  Maybe we went shopping for a lamp for his parents just the two of us? No, I think YoungSon was with us then . . .


We decided that from now until the end of August when we'll celebrate twenty years of legally and lawfully, we have to make room for a total of twenty times it's just us together.  That means in the next six months, fourteen walks, dinners, picnics, bike rides . . .

 . . . why didn't we think of this years ago?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Safe as Houses

Does it seem unsettling - this juxtaposition of happy weekend posts with a series of posts about free-floating dread?

It is rather. 


For me, too.  But it is what happens.  It's what happens when I come home to the place where I am meant to be the refuge to others.  When the weekend of Freedom from the Future ends.  And present realities come home to roost once more. 

It is actually the weekend away -  mentally, emotionally, as much as physically -  that gives me energy to turn and look at this shadowy and unnamed fear.  To growl back at it. 

I know that part of this cloud of anxiety is biopsy-induced.  Though the news this morning is that Fritz's PSA count is down in the zero-point-somethings where last time it was two-point-whatever.  This is good news. It gives me more heart to stand and take stock of my fear's characteristic disguise.

Fritz feels one should not entertain fears, nor make space for them.  Do I really need to talk about these nebulous things in such a public place?  "People don't really find others' neuroses all that entertaining, do they?"  Which is why he reads meterology for fun.

And I consider Othello, The Scarlet Letter, The Brothers Karamazov, all of Chekov.  It's such a good thing their writing technique is so good that it can compensate for all that nasty miasma of off-putting neurotica.

Fritz says, "And I just wonder, what does this free-floating fear have to do with either 'Imaginary' or 'Bicycle,'  you know?  Imaginary?  Bicycle?  Hmm?"

My dears, you have been warned.  If you are looking for the bikely life please hie yourself over to the Dream Wheels.  Plenty of happy cycling moments over there.

Though where would brightness be without its dark? 

Here is my soul's bicycle, my darling Fritz, imagine it if you can: wobbling between the two wheels, Dread and Delight.  I am balanced so long as I keep moving with both of them.

Literally.  Moving. 

It's no accident that I walk many miles every week - more when I am working my way through loss or grief, less at other times, but always regularly.  This past year I've walked most mornings in the dark with a friend. In addition to our usual eight-mile rambles over the hills on Saturday morning.  For health and fitness, for talk and companionship.

Mostly for that, let us say.

But more than I would like to admit because the movement eases the flutter and tightness inside me. 

So much of it, no doubt, just bodily maintenance. A lack of sleep? hormones?  Erratic blood sugar,  I sometimes think, vitamin B too low. Or vitamin D.

But I am never afraid when I'm out riding the roads, cycling alongside trucks and other traffic.  Watchful, maybe.  Vigilant.  Observant.  Aware.  But the release from anxiety is part of what I find so exhilarating about cycling and hill-climbing.  That, and becoming so physically tired that when I sit down to rest I can just breathe in and breathe out.  What I find hard some days is that all my roads eventually must loop around and come back home -  before I am worn out enough to just rest.

I can feel it - the inner sigh as of one re-assuming a heavy pack -  as the worries creep back into their familiar pockets with their evil chuckles and abominable self-assurance, sharp fingers clutching through the fabric of my shirt as they climb back up on my back. 

When we had just come home from our biking weekend, while the endorphins and oxygen were still coursing through my blood, my young son climbed into my lap and I felt all that energy turn to a kind of hovering, an ache to keep safe.

Which I cannot.

Which I hate.

Mostly safe.  That I can do.  But this world is not a safe place.  And we are tough and resilient.  We know how to climb hills and laugh at spills. 

We will pray for courage because we cannot in good conscience plead to be kept safe.

And when dread empties us out, we will delight in whatever we still find.

Dream Cycle: "Half the Fun . . . "

Remember last August? the biking weekend that got away?  the anniversary celebration that never happened?  The season of biopsies that is once more upon us?

So this past Friday we stole the time and made our getaway.

Fritz had to go in for blood work that morning so it meant we left at 2 rather than 12. 

With thirty miles of cycling ahead of us.

And it rained all the way in. 

And he got a flat tire.

But the weekend was wonderful.  Not despite, but because of the effort it took to get there. 

If you want more pictures and juicier details, I'll be posting day-by-days (moment-by-moments?) on the Dream Cycle site for the next little while beginning with "Half the Fun . . . "

Monday, March 1, 2010

Burning Houses

Fritz says, "Why show people where your weaknesses are? Where they can get at you?"

Because, no matter it's real root cause, my fear wears a characteristic costume.

A dear friend of mine was attacked by a rapist and fought him off. She was, in those days of my first knowing her, in the days of this outrage, of an ethereal delicacy.  She fought him past the point of pain, past the point of hope. And he gave up, snarling, "You're not worth it."

God and angels stand as witness to what she unflinching knew of what she was worth.

She has since faced other struggles - raising a handicapped child, her own cancer - with the same ferocious faithfulness. Over and over, she fights that attacker off.

I am afraid of fire. This is not my real fear, but it is close enough.  Metonymy:  a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but instead the name of an adjunct thing, intimately associated, is substituted. Fire.

When I was young I'd come up with reason after reason my parents didn't really want to build a fire inside the house.  If they gave up reasoning with me and carried on with their dangerous plan, I'd sit close beside the fireplace, watching the flames.  My eyes jumping back and forth, on guard for sparks.  Hands ready to slap out any errant firebug snapping suddenly from the logs.  I'd finger the interlocking chain mesh of the fire screen - so much more space than solid.

At night I would lie awake and go over my escape route, planning the things I must be sure to bring - my orange diary with the lock, my picture album, the doll my mother made, my beautiful Hans Christian Andersen, my cowrie shell brought back from an island I'd never seen.

Treasures all kept close at hand on a shelf by my head.  In my mind I rehearsed the sweep of arm that would scoop them up.  Could I run to the closet and grab the red velvet dress Granma made for my birthday?  No, that would have to go to the fire.  There was a limit to what could be saved.

"Where did this fear come from?"  I asked my mother once, knowing my fear was bigger than the danger.  Hating it.  I had never been in a burning house.  I had never in real life seen a house burn.

"I don't know," she said.  "Some fears are like that.  They just come.  I remember you watching a show once as a little girl.  There was a house on fire and you suddenly jumped up and turned it off.  You insisted we not turn it back on."

With her words I remembered the climbing tongues of flame, fluttering from the upper windows like curtains.  I remember it now, with a sick fear in the stomach pit.  But that is not where the fear first came from.  The fear was already waiting.

One year, my parents gave me a handmade dollhouse.  The unpainted wood smelled clean, as fresh-cut wood will.  The doors opened and closed on tiny hinges - doors for both bedrooms opening out onto a tiny upper balcony above the proper front door opening out onto the covered porch below.  A narrow stairway connected the two floors but there was, as well, a secret attic that no doll inside the house could access without my intercession, without my throwing back the roof on its own hidden hinge. 

It was too big for me to carry.

I would lie awake at night, stepping away from my dollhouse in my mind, snipping away each small thread of attachment.

By day I loved it still and fervently.  I wove little rugs for the floor.  With my father, cut small shingles for its roof.  With my mother, stained and glued them on.  We painted the smooth and perfect wood a pale stormy blue.  At my grandmother's, while she worked the wheel - wetting the ball of mud with a sponge, pulling the sides of a grand vase up into the air - I made tiny clay platters and glasses and thick forks and spoons, gouging out the bowl of each spoon with a toothpick.  She helped me choose a glaze for my tiny dinnerware - a watery blue and gray with swirls of earthy brown and black - and lowered them all into the kiln as I peeped over the edge. 

But every night I resigned myself to the utter loss of my house, imagined it burning, dreaming my way beyond its destruction. 

When I was ten, my sister was born.  More precious to me than any books or toys.  And I realized I could not carry anything but her.  Everything else would have to stay behind in the fire.  Not only the dollhouse.  But also the Hans Christian Andersen. And the photo album. Photographs of Christmases and cousins with ice cream cones and lost birthdays curling up in the heat, blackening away into the nothing that had already eaten the past.  But we would be safe, my sister and I.  I pictured us together at the end of the road, her head tucked up against mine, our faces warm with the orange light of our house going up in flames.

In this way, I lost my fear of fire.

I am left now with just fear.  Free-floating. 

It comes by seasons.  With no regular pattern.  I am not sure what invites it in. 

Or I do.  Partly.  This blank above these words is filled with many erased beginnings of sentences I will not finish.

This blank is filled with fear.

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