The Geese

It’s like that. One day you realize something has changed. For all I know the geese may have been back for several weeks. But last week, I noticed them in all their honking glory.

2015 spring 3My part of the Earth has turned from winter to spring. It was cold yesterday, but it was spring cold. One of those days that surprises you with its chill. You know winter has passed because the signs are all there: the blossoming trees, the tulips and daffodils finding their bloom, the lengthening days, the woodpecker on the telephone pole.

The chill is as cold as a winter’s day, but it is spring cold. A reminder that change isn’t fixed. It has its own rhythm. Change happens over time.

I’ve been trying to come up with a description of my blog, Writing Shed. What it’s about. The closest I could come to was that I’m a woman growing older writing about what a woman growing older writes about. Which means I write about life’s stuff.

The dust seems to be settling for Tom and me. A new reality in which cancer is a player, but not what defines our life. It catapulted us into a more intense experience of life, but now we are settling in again to the mundane: paying bills, daily household chores, grappling with what to do next.

The mundane is also life. We enhance it by making sure to honor the grace of everyday living: the time we spend talking with each other over breakfast; the attention paid to making dinner a meal worthy of leisure enjoyment—and then enjoying it at a leisurely pace.

And then, of course, we have to do the dishes.

I just rewrote a piece that describes how I went from thinking being a married woman was a what that trumped me, to understanding that anything I do is nothing if it doesn’t include me. I get to write my own story.

The piece is based on the period following my divorce in 1974, which was chaotic. I couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t a married woman, so what was I? I had ended the marriage. Felt that I had escaped it. But I had no real idea of why.

I traveled to Europe alone in 1976 (radical for my background). That was when I decided I was a writer. And when, without my realizing it, I began to shape being a married woman around who I am.

But, as I said, change isn’t fixed. It takes place over time. The dust has to settle.

There is something about the recent before-and-after-the-shark event we just went through that has helped settle the dust wrought by that nearly 40-years-ago seed of change.

I am a writer and a married woman. The shark made me realize that being a married woman has a unique vulnerability. It’s not so much a what I am as a who I am by virtue of loving.

Change is time. Time is change.

I’m a woman growing older writing about growing older. Which is life’s stuff.

I look forward to the geese family stopping traffic on Third Avenue—the adult geese raising their necks in defiance as they usher their fuzzy goslings from one side of the road to the other.

Growing older. Aren’t we all?

When Your Butt Can’t Be in the Chair

There is that day when you know the season is changing. It’s something about the light, the feel of the air against your skin, the sounds in the early morning.

This is my first March in my new home in the Northwest—a home sheltered by a rainshadow, but I think I’m right—spring has taken the baton from winter. Either I am hearing birds again in the morning, or there are new birds with new songs. At night, the symphony of the frogs fills the air. Mystery flowers are pushing their way up to the surface. And, the days are longer.

I have been off the grid blog-wise since the end of November. Sometime in November I either tore my meniscus or it tore itself. I’m not sure. I’d like to claim that it was due to an aggressive swoop down a ski slope—but me and skis have never seen fit to be good company.

I believe my meniscus tore because it has been around for 64 plus years and just got tired of being ignored. It worked. I learned I had something called a meniscus.

I am a stranger to pain. I have not had children so can only imagine the pain of childbirth. I’ve never had a severe injury—I sprained my wrist when I was in sixth grade, but I got a Dr. Pepper out of that. The pain eased pretty quickly.

A torn meniscus is really, really, really painful. It interfered with my sleep because I sleep on my side. I had to adjust to sleeping on my back—waiting for the pain to ease.

I relied on marijuana for pain medication. I can attest that it works, and it gives you creative ideas for chip and dip—Moose Track ice cream with vinegar and salt chips, an idea way before its time—and it isn’t habit forming. The marijuana or the ice cream and chips. Fortunately, I live in a state where it is legal.

It’s true that you don’t remember pain. But I do know that during the two months it took to recover, I couldn’t write. For one, I couldn’t sit down for long periods of time—long being more than ten minutes at a time. So much for the butt-in-chair mantra.

For another, pain clouded my brain. I simply could not write. Or to be more precise, I could not think—except for thinking about how debilitating it is to have a knee that doesn’t work right. Who knew how important knees are? Well I do now.

I wonder if this is what a bear feels like when she comes out of the den after a winter’s slumber? Awakening to a world that has changed, lightened up, alive with signs of new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on your skin.

After a long winter’s slumber, I have a new appreciation for my knees and mobility.

I also have a new appreciation for hibernation. I think sometimes, change is so great that we have to slip into a deep sleep to let it wash over us, trusting that where it takes us is to the place we need to be—a place of changed light, new growth, and chilled air that touches lightly on our skin.

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

Cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Back row: Nina Mendiburu, Me, Lola Bond; Front row: Sharon DeLaBarre, Susan Dwyer

I am directing and acting in a production of Love, Loss, and What I Wore (written by Nora and Delia Ephron). What a great experience to say words aloud that have been written by such awesome women—not to mention the awesome women in the cast who are speaking their words.

The Right of Spring to be Sacred

Kali stood for Existence, which meant Becoming because all her world was an eternal living flux, from which all things rose and disappeared again, in endless cycles.
From The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Last week, blossoms started appearing on the bare branches of the red maple tree. This morning, a blue jay (at least I think it’s a blue jay) tugged at a still-bare twig, and then flew off with it. I assume a nest is being constructed nearby.

Though spring has been revealing herself for a few weeks (this is California, after all), today is the first day I felt her presence. The air is cool and crisp in the early morning, but the light has changed. The sky is intense, Mediterranean blue.

Persephone returns from the underworld.

According to The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Persephone is the Crone form of the Triple Goddess Demeter, the Queen of the Underworld long before legends of Hades/Pluto abducting her for his bride. She is the Death-goddess. She was, in another form, Kali Ma, the Hindu Triple Goddess of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Spring has always been a difficult transition for me. It has never felt like the beginning of something for me. It has been rather confusing.

I’m listening to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) as I write this. There is nothing pastel about it. Nothing Easter bonnet about it. It is the laborious ascent from formless to form.

“Black was Kali’s fundamental color as the Destroyer, for it meant the formless condition she assumed between creations, when all the elements were dissolved in her primordial substance.”
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Now I know why spring was always confusing to me, why when I see the pastel blossoms, I also see the gnarly beauty of the twigs and branches they claim as their residence.

Spring isn’t the butterfly; it is the transition to the butterfly. Caterpillars, I think, are one of the most courageous creatures on earth. They respond to the call to enter the cocoon, in which they dissolve into a kind of primal soup that eventually gives birth to the butterfly. The same creature that trod on the ground, now flies above it—sees from a different perspective.

That is the promise of embracing the ordeal—creation, preservation, and destruction—that life is. In the end, we have a different perspective. What we once knew gives way to what we now know. To grow means to change.

I am not a fan of either matriarchal or patriarchal systems. I think that both tend to require a loyalty to a system over loyalty to one’s heart. So, I’m not advocating for a return to a matriarchal system.

I do think, however, that it is time for the patriarchal system, best exemplified by our Congress (in particular the Republican branch of it) and the Papacy, to give up the ghost. It would be nice if it did it quietly, but it seems like it wants to take as many of us down with it, including the earth as we know it, to prove it is right and powerful.

I am a woman in her sixties. This is the Crone phase of my life. We live in a society that demeans that. Think Mitch McConnell, a man in his seventies, called Democratic women “The Golden Girls” —as if that is an insult.

So while it is not necessarily time to restore the matriarchy, I do think it is time for us Crones to embrace what we have learned as women—within our own bodies we experience the profound way of life that is bound up with death and destruction as well as birth. It is time to call the patriarch what it has become—little-boy bullies—and send it scurrying.

We need to destroy the sentimentality that the patriarch has descended into so that life can ascend.

I ask you, would a society that really embraced the ordeal of life have allowed the poor patients in the charity hospital in New Orleans to die after Katrina because they were poor? Would we really think we have a God-given right to own weapons that are weapons of war—intended to cause as much death as possible in the briefest time? Would we deprive women of the right to make choices over their bodies? Would we think we are all in this alone?

Crones have been dismissed as dried up old women. Really what Crones are are people with the wisdom that comes from living life authentically. You do not have to be a woman to be a Crone.

It’s time for the voices of the Crones to rise and be heard so that what ails us—a disconnect from life itself—can be healed.

It is time for the right of spring to be experienced for what it is.

Bring in the Crones. Don’t bother they’re here.

Dream Seeds of the Cold and Dark

Celebrate another passage through winter. Manifest the dream seeds of the cold and dark.”
From the Spring card in the Wisdom of the Crone deck.

Spring has come to my part of the world.

Delicate blossoms appear on the gnarly trees in the Arroyo where Tessa and I walked this morning. Buds appear on the tips of the lilac tree in our yard. We thought the tree was dead when we moved into our home. But it just needed a bit of care. Now it is a centerpiece in our yard, a sculpture in the middle of the path on the way to the Writing Shed. Mourning doves scurry past it this morning.

It was a rough entry into this new year. I found myself descending into a place I thought I had left behind—an esteem held hostage by the demon that whispers discouraging words. Words that dis my courage, send it deep underground.

Depression and a persistent virus silenced me. Or at least my blog voice. I wrote every day in my morning pages. I sometimes wondered if they were my mourning pages.

I would start my morning by pulling cards from the Animal-Wise Tarot deck and the Wisdom of the Crone deck. I do not see these cards as fortune-, or even truth tellers. They just give form to the chaos of feelings and emotions that rise during change. The recurring theme in the cards I pulled said, “Let go of the past that haunts you.”

What was the past that haunted me?

Ideas and concepts that I had discussed with various art groups appeared all over town during this time period, but with no acknowledgement of my contribution or any room for my own creative endeavors.

I’m not a victim. I don’t even play one on TV. Yet it is a recurring theme in my life—being left behind. So what was this about?

I have started writing Beans and Meatballs and the Pink Stuff—a creative nonfiction account of three women of similar age who influenced my life: my mother, and two women, Sally and Jeanette, I met through the Gray Panthers. I was 30 when I met Sally and Jeanette. I was in my late forties when they died. I was in my fifties when my mother died.

Each of these women was quirky, none aspired to be a lady. I don’t know what it would have been like to be the daughter of either Jeanette or Sally. Jeanette never married and had no children. If she had, I suspect she would have been a bit tyrannical in her expectations. Sally had a daughter. From what I could glean, I think that to reject the conventions of her time, Sally rejected the importance of mothering a child.

I do know what it was like to be my mother’s daughter. She rarely pulled out the matriarchal card with me. But when she did, that demon that dissed my courage was dissing hers, saying, “You’re a woman. To show love, you give up all that is you.”

It was a covert act, done under the cover of being for the “greater good.”

I was angry that my ideas and concepts had been co-opted. And then I felt guilty that I felt angry. That I felt entitled to what was mine. Guilty that I felt entitled to my own life. As I had done throughout my life, I sought to leave myself behind.

It was the ghost of that self that haunted me, a ghost left in limbo, waiting for permission to be, and wanting that permission to come from my mother. That ghost wanted to feel loved and loving. To let go of it, I had to leave behind the regret for the love I did not find in her, and still love my mother.

The dream seeds were planted in this cold and dark time—another round of grieving for my mother. The dream seeds are beginning to rise to the surface where they will reveal themselves. They are the seeds of entitlement to my life and the gifts I bring into the world.

Spring has come to my part of the world. Soon lilac blossoms will adorn the gnarly ancient branches on the sculpture that is the lilac tree. As I walk past it on the way to my Writing Shed, the delicate, subtle fragrance of its flowering will remind me that during times of cold and darkness, the seeds of change are awakening.

Tame the Savageness of Man and Make Gentle the Life of This World

The frogs were in full symphonic mode as I walked through the arroyo on Thursday evening.

It was the first warm day this year — warm enough that we could have the windows open in the evening. A soft breeze drifted down on me as I lay in bed, descending on me like a fine mist.

This is the other side of spring — the one that heralds the coming of summer.

Change.

On Wednesday, we had dinner with Tom’s college friend, whose wife had died the week before. They had been together forty years. We hadn’t known she was ill. It all happened very quickly. Diagnosed in early February with an advanced cancer, options quickly ran out. She was ready to exit, she told him, the day before she died. He spent the last two weeks of her life by her bedside, holding her hand, providing comfort care as her life ebbed in the final days.

On Thursday, after I returned from my walk in the arroyo, Tom and I listened to Vaughn Williams’ Third Symphony as we ate dinner, the music providing a cushion for the intimacy born of the fresh awareness that one of us could be the one left behind.

Yet, we were grateful.

I remembered a Russian skater who at 28 years old collapsed and died from a congenital heart defect as he practiced with his 24-year old wife. They had been thrown together when he was 14, and she 10, fallen in love, got married, had a child, and skated together. The kind of skating that is ballet on ice.

Their names were Sergei Grinkov and Ekaterina Gordeeva. She was an Olympic champion, and  together they were four time World Champions in pair skating.

About a year after his death, the professional figure skating community paid Sergei tribute with a televised show titled, “Celebration of a Life.” She performed the routine she and Sergei had been practicing the day he died. It was beautiful, but I remembered thinking that something was missing. Perhaps, I thought, she wouldn’t be as powerful on her own – that she had spent so many years being part of a duo, that she didn’t have the chops to be a solo skater.

Then, she performed her solo piece to the Adagietto section of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in tribute to her husband. The power of her grace and beauty was unquestionable. And I understood that what had been missing from the routine she and Sergei had been practicing, was Sergei. What a brave woman she is, I thought, out there in front of a live audience showing us what it means to lose the man she loved and with whom she had spent half her short life.

The phantom limb that is grief.

I had a conversation about God recently with a woman who had lost a child. She wept because, she said, God loves us in spite our being human. I wanted to scream at her, “No! God is in awe of our being human, of our willingness to love even though we might have to endure loss.”

Loss is the price for loving, yet we love anyway. If we’re smart, we don’t hold back.

Our friend recounted to us the first time he saw his wife. She passed by him, dressed in a blue velvet miniskirt and blouse. He turned his head to enjoy the view. Just before she left the room, she turned her head and smiled at him, letting him know that she noticed that he noticed.

Forty years later he was with her as she left the room, the visual not as enticing as the day he watched her sashay by in her miniskirt. It’s not easy to watch someone leave her body behind. And yet, love compelled him to be there with it.

Most of us at some time, and many of us many times, have to dance solo the dance we planned on dancing with another. Even if the relationship was troubled, there is the palpable sense of something missing for which we need to learn a new dance.

It’s what it is to be human.

We owe it to each other to recognize this very fundamental vulnerability of our lives. We owe it to each other to have this recognition be at the core of the debate about entitlements, so that when death does come to claim us, we can leave with dignity, and those we leave behind can find a gentle clearing in which they can endure the price of loving.

Robert Kennedy, when he delivered the news of Martin Luther Kings’ death to a mostly African American crowd in an Indianapolis ghetto, quoted Aeschylus, “In our sleep, pain which we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

He concluded with this, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

The Scent of Lilacs

The lilac tree and bushes have blossomed in our yard.

The tree is a particular miracle. We thought it had died when we took over the house. Now its gnarly bark, deep green leaves, and lilac flowers provide a spring sculpture in the garden.

Our whole yard is actually a garden. The birds seem to like it.

I don’t know where I’m going with the blog, or why I started with the lilac tree, so bear with me.

What is weighing on my heart right now is some advice I was given yesterday. I was, a woman told me, my own worst enemy. I was not really warm and fuzzy, she said if I felt passionate about something.

My delivery was the problem, she said.

This came from someone who had either witnessed or heard about (it’s not clear which) the outbursts of rage I had counted on as my homing beacon.

It also came from someone I liked. So I felt like I had to give it some consideration.

In light of what I wrote just two days ago – that rage had been my homing beacon – I could see why she might think that. And because shame seems to be the emotional hangover from rage, I felt ashamed.

I searched inside myself to determine what I felt ashamed of. Had I hurt anyone? Had I harmed anyone? Had I offended anyone?

Then I also remembered that she said, “Sometimes you just need to learn to swallow in this world.”

I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask her, “Swallow what?”

The answer to the questions did I hurt or harm anyone is no. At first I thought I might answer yes – that I had hurt or harmed myself. Then I realized that any harm that came to me came from trying to gain acceptance from a system that requires you to swallow – or as I sometimes put it – eat a shit sandwich and pretend it is chocolate. The harm didn’t come from the anger – it came from wanting blood from a turnip, thinking that it was my fault that the turnip couldn’t give me blood, and then being angry that there was nothing I could do to get blood from that turnip.

That’s what I mean about releasing demons. I learned to let the turnip be a turnip.

As to whether I offended anyone. I probably did. But that was not my intention. I think that sometimes, when you let the turnip be a turnip, it gets offended that you know it doesn’t have any blood to give you. And it doesn’t want to believe that.

It’s complicated because I know I’m the common denominator in a group of women who don’t like me – who really, really, really don’t like me. I have never experienced anything as vicious as what was directed at me by these women.

As I said, I learned what I wanted to be acceptable for, and sought those who found that acceptable.

It feels much better.

Yet, it was very painful yesterday to be told I wasn’t warm and fuzzy. That sounds like I was being mean, and I don’t think I was. I think I was just refusing to accept what was unacceptable for me.

I think that all of us, men and women, need to stop thinking that we have to smile when we eat a shit sandwich and act like its chocolate.

I started writing about the lilac tree to keep from writing about what was weighing on my heart. It didn’t work. It didn’t take me away from the weight.

But I trust that I started with it. Maybe it’s that because I watered it, the lilac tree began to thrive. In the spring, for a very short time, it blossoms and its blossoms have the scent of lilac.

It’s a light scent – lightly sweet.

It is what it is, that lilac tree. Old, gnarly, with blossoms that deliver a lightly sweet scent.

This Morning in my Garden