Archive for category musings

Power Outage

image of poem and writing paper

Power Outage, August 20, 2019

I like the sound of the cars, passing lonely on the rainy afternoon street, the way the sound of the rain rises up like a wave crashing, then falls softly to patter. I like the way the Catalpa dances, tossing her branches like girls toss long hair.

I wait for the power to surge back, for the refrigerator to chime in with the cicadas and crickets cued up by a pause in the rain, I wait for work to resume and life to go back online.

Far away, an alarm siren is hyperventilating, wailing up and down, hiccupping distress. Birds sing and then go silent as the rain begins and thunder rumbles again; chirping and trilling rise up as the sky dries.

The lights flicker on, and with them, low drone of machines waking and then gasping dark and dumb as the power drops out again. Nature rushes to fill the vacuum of quiet, thunder’s rolling again—or is it a dump truck, rumbling up Hamilton?

I like the feeling I have of being all alone, floating in a bubble of sounds that stream around me, under me, over me, as if I am bobbing in a warm river of thrum and strum, rattle and hum.

Across the street, Mary’s raspy voice floats, softened by the weather, “Hey,” she asks her next-door neighbor, “Hey, is your power off, too?” She sings the syllables. Fading rain pats the roof, gently, gently. The catalpa sways slowly now, back and forth, back and forth, steady, steady, like I swayed when I held my babies long ago.

I close my eyes, remembering the feeling of baby skin against my chest. Suddenly Mama’s right next to me, as if the storm has swept her into the house like a wind-sucked sparrow. Eyes closed, window open. Breeze tickling. We listen to the clouds lifting, to the birds calling. We take turns guessing Goldfinch or Cardinal, Robin or Wren, some silly game we began in 1992 and take up this August afternoon as if nothing’s changed, as if no time has passed, and nothing is ever lost.

 


This was the result of a two-part prompt. In a nutshell, part one is listening, eyes closed, for 6 minutes. Just breathing and listening, noticing whatever sounds are present. Part two was reading the poem “Aware” by Denise Levertov, then beginning a ten-minute fastwrite starting with “I liked the sound”.  (one of the phrases from the poem). Any poem that focuses on sound or listening would work for this two-part prompt. Try it and see what happens.

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I smelled fear.

photo of chalked quote by James Baldwin on a panel.

James Baldwin quote rendered in chalked calligraphy by David Ostrowski, in Newport, Kentucky. Photo by author.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

—James Baldwin

I was struck this morning by the feelings that came up in a fastwrite about childhood. After reading it over, then turning to a review of recent news, I felt the endless echo of bullying and othering playing out in rallies and in life.

I often wonder where our deepest fear are born; they seem part of us, inescapable. The fears that make us hard-shelled and defensive. The fears that make us withdraw and give up, and/or also make us into playground bullies, ugly-spirited and hurtful, or into the bullies’ sidekicks. It is the sidekicks who truly make this bullying possible.

No bully acts alone.

The chants of recent rallies are primal, terrifying, and I feel them deep in my heart. They are not the healing chants of love and truth.

“Send her back.”

It’s a chant of othering, of ostracizing. It is racist, it is damaging. The enabling of this damage is as bad as the chant itself. Fear-driven, it can feel like your choice is either to join the bullies or be a victim, like a cruel playground game played out forever. Social ostracism is a painful tool of control. Enabling—being the sidekicks, looking the other way, feeling disempowered to speak out—is how it becomes systemic. Hungering to be accepted, we might compromise our values. Do we value love? Equality? Inclusiveness? Or are those things just fantasies to make us feel better as we choose to enable and/or behave in ways that are not loving at all.

We contain our selves at all our ages, but we are not controlled and powerless like little children, unless we permit it. Unless we haven’t faced the fears that drive us.

There is a third way. You can face your enabling behavior. You can rise above your fears, and the people I am most talking to here right now are people who are white, and looking away from blatant racist behavior, hoping to avoid having to choose.

Choose. Choose to be the grownup on the playground, and speak for fairness, for equality, for justice, for humanity. Speak against racism and xenophobia. Do not let the blanket of powerlessness put you to sleep. The world depends on you to be awake. It is not nap time.

The prompt I used was “I smelled fear.” and as always, I wrote from memory and imagination. Maybe you could try a fastwrite on this, too? Or on “Send her back.” Do it as a wake up call, looking at your fear instead of being driven to unforgivable enabling.

For what it’s worth, the fastwrite:

I smelled fear, and I think it was my own fear. It smelled like bazooka bubblegum mixed with Love’s Baby Soft lotion with a cloud of chalk dust mixed in, from the erasers that Angie—dull, backward, awkward Angie—was pounding together. If I didn’t move away from her soon, I’d be branded a social outcast, like she was. Why did she have to come over here, anyway.

I was in grade three, I was new, I said “soda” when everyone else said “pop”—I kept forgetting to say “pop”—and yet even I knew I needed to step away from the sidelines, where Angie liked to hide. I needed to try. Just enough to be marginally accepted.

We were on the playground outside the low-slung flat-roofed elementary school, by the big windowless brick wall where games of Dodgeball raged. Groups of kids were forming; the game was about to commence. At least in gym class I’d be chosen, maybe almost last, right before Angie and Karen and Bob—almost last but not dead last. But on the playground, you could be not chosen. Angie chose erasers, Karen sat reading a book next to Mrs. Schultz, the playground monitor who never looked up from her romance novels, their covers hidden behind ugly floral quilted covers, but once I’d seen a nearly naked lady, swooning backward onto a nearly naked pirate, when the cover slipped. Mrs. Schultz had a whistle around her neck but she was afraid of the boys, and never blew the whistle on them.

Waiting to be chosen, and dreading it, too, I tried to look busy, to look cool. I studied the ants crawling in the cracks of the asphalt by the jungle jim, then worried I’d be branded as the ground-staring-girl. I looked up at the cloudy October sky and worried that I’d never find a friend.

 

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Mnemosyne and the Muses

image of new orleans and flowers

Last night I woke in the teeth of the storm, shaking in a strange bed in a strange place. This time, it wasn’t a dream.

I woke to thunder so loud I could feel it course through me, over and over, the way a bass beat at a rock concert vibrates in your spine. Thunder so intense it rattled the old wooden double-hung window of the century-old shotgun house on Maurepas where I slept on Mother’s day eve, my youngest nearby, both of us startling awake and sliding into dreams again and again, as the storm rolled overhead.

The drifting and waking reminded me of the way I slept between contractions during labor, slept and woke, slept and woke, a nether world of sleep and memory.

Sliding between storm and sleep, the picnic of the evening before replayed. On  blankets spread on the banks of Bayou St. John we shared crusty bread, sharp cheese, black bean hummus, sweet strawberries and veggie stir-fry with gingery tofu. Wine and laughter. My dear ones and their dear ones, all of us sprawling together as the cloudy daylight slid into darkness, the bayou reflecting the lights of the big houses on the far shore.

There were seven of us, six twenty-somethings and one fifty-something: me, mother to two of the group, mother-aged for all. I felt a bit like Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, listening to the younger ones discussing their dreams and how they are bringing them to life. I marveled at their gifts, admiring their drive and determination without any maternal pride, because it’s become clear to me that I have very little to do with how even my own adult children turned out, apart from nurturing them and then getting out of the way as much as I could while they explored their gifts.

Mnemosyne—mother of the muses and keeper of memory.

Sitting in a circle with these beautiful young ones, I imagined how Mnemosyne’s heart must have swelled with joy, seeing the brilliance of the offspring she helped bring into being, one for every wild night she spent with Zeus, collisions of passions like storms in the night, wild creation birthing wildly creative beings.

Back to the storm of last night. This was not a normal Midwestern sort of storm, where the gods battle high in the heavens. This storm blew in at sea level, and I was inside this storm as if at sea, the little shotgun house a boat in the waves, the rain sounding like cresting waves crashing on the tin roof, hail pounding, windows rattling.

And in the morning, writing this—all magically calm again. Birds singing (where do they go, I wonder, in that kind of storm?)

On the shotgun porch as I write, it hits me how scared I’ve felt lately about the state of the world, about the global storms blowing the world off-course. This Mother’s day morning, I am hopeful again. The muses are at work, with their creative vision, their bravery and resilience.

It makes me want to forget the idea I sometimes have of being too old to join in. Because we can’t shirk it all off on the younger generation. That was what happened to my own generation, after all. All hope was thrust onto us to save the environment. Hippies turned to stock brokers as the impossibility of one generation creating change alone drained all energy. And here we are, sliding backwards. But from the bottom, maybe we can surface to a new world? If we all wake and work?

Even the old birds are singing hopeful songs this morning.

Even the worst storms eventually clear to a morning like this one, with sunshine and possibility.

Note: there is a wonderful section of New Orleans where all the streets are named for the muses. Read about it here: http://kreweofmuses.org/the-muses/mythology/

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Negative belief #452: “I don’t have it together.”

sketch of balancing toy

Maybe having it together has nothing to do with those benchmarks of graduation, certification, publication, validation?
Maybe having it together isn’t about someone else’s notion of 
achievement. Or being better than anyone else. 
Or that winning makes someone else a loser. 
Or that trying and failing is somehow shameful. 
That you have to be balanced all the time.

New belief: “I am on a journey, doing my best. Imperfect.”

That means when the anxious zinging starts, the uneasiness arises—I can just FEEL it and stop trying to bargain it away, hoping when I do THIS or THAT—whatever new thing I find lacking, like say, being organized—that when I achieve that thing, I will be “together” at last.

Imperfect. Not great, never was. See what is, and build from there. Stop pretending. Let what is reveal itself.

Perfection is deception. Perfection is a poison pill packaged and sold next to the botox and collagen injections. Perfection is the woman on a pedestal who cannot squish mud between her polished toenails. Some warped white-washed selfish notion of perfection, I think, lies behind the toxic, racist Make America Great Again slogan—the notion that rewriting the past will coat every ugly truth in the golden light of remembered sunsets past, and save us from ourselves. No. Recovery from perfections micro and macro requires seeing what is, ugly, messy, real.

I will treat you gently, Perfection. You are bone-china blue-white transparent, so damned fragile. I pack you up in a pine box, swaddle you in virgin cotton balls grown and picked by browner hands in hot sun, oh porcelain beauty, flowers fine painted with single-hair brushes by small hands in some far-off land, petaled curves over and over perfect, while outside the sun and rain and wind are lost, years are lost, squinting childhood away, lost.

Perfection, you voracious beautiful wicked thing. I hold you, marveling at how I carried you proudly all those years, thinking it was an honor, my duty, my job?

I’d smash you, and maybe I should? But I fear I’d want to reassemble you somehow, find a way to make you whole again—and so I would waste more time.

Because you are just what you are, shiny prize, symbol of false wholeness.

I will nestle you in this little wooden box, so like a coffin.

I will bury you outside in the moonlight before the hard frost comes, bury you under the cherry tree with all the other beliefs I have, at last, I hope, outgrown.

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Happy New Year. (I’ve been bad.)

sketch image of hand with words

My first sketch of 2019

Happy 2019.
It′s started off rocky, and my heart is feeling heavy for reasons both external and internal. Familiar questions echo: bouncing from the global to the personal.

Why are our societal systems often so cruel to the most vulnerable, the most innocent?Why do we so often hurt the ones we love?
And me: Why can′t I always be direct, and open?
Why does the past creep up and put its grubby little fingers over my eyes, my mouth, my ears? Why do I often run when I need to face things?

So much is born in seeds of fear. This year I will do what I did last year. My best.
Sometimes good, sometimes, well, not so good.

Focusing on learning, and growing, and cultivating more love, more understanding.
More forgiveness when we fail, as we will. More celebration when we succeed in loving kindness, joy, compassion…let’s do this.
Let′s grow a better world, together.

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waiting for the sunshine

painting of flowers in vase with hearts on the table

Waiting for the sunshine

You stood in the kitchen, waiting for the sunshine.

Oh, Mama. You waited.
You waited while the tickle in your throat rattled and rattled. Every phone call, eruptions of coughing. I listened, there was nothing else I could do—and sometimes I’d cut in, “hey, I’ll call you back, how about, when you’re feeling better.”

Now I see it through a backwards lens, time is funny like that, now I’m about how old YOU were then and my daughters are the ages I was then; I was your little last bird flown. Now I know the feeling of that emptiness, that new empty-nest, and how precious those calls become. Now I can feel, all these years later, how alone you must have sometimes felt, in your small kitchen, especially that last winter, coughing, insisting, talking, waiting, insisting that you were just fine.

You couldn’t really talk, but you didn’t want to hang up. It was a tickle, the end of a long lingering cold, a cold-on-top-of-a-cold, it was nothing.

Now I see you, frozen in the amber of that long-ago cold alone kitchen. Me not so far away in miles, but twenty-something me. So busy, busy, busy. A budding Bokonist, junior capitalist, believing that being an adult meant staying on the spinning hamster wheel. And also believing that you were going to be around for years and years, Mama. You were my mother. Life without you wasn’t comprehensible, and I didn’t imagine it, wouldn’t even try.

So I believed you, about the cough being nothing.

And still you coughed. I began to notice the unendingness of it. Worry crept in. I insisted you go to the doctor, but not soon enough. You locked my worries out and I let you. I locked them up, I guess. They were scary. Where did I learn to lock up so well? From you, Mama, you who waited in your small kitchen, vinyl-tiled, traces of avocado green barely visible in the corner, a little spot you missed when you carefully painted over with eggshell cream.

The wall phone is still avocado green in the mists of my memory. The round orb of the pendulum lamp casts a golden glow over the Formica table of the past, littered with bridge hands and newspapers and you, sitting there, smiling. So warm. I wish I could climb back into that kitchen, climb back to you.

I went to a movie with a friend the other day, an art film. Over ice cream afterwards he asked me, wonderingly, did I think the movie meant that all a man really wanted was a mother? I looked into his slate-gray eyes, and I thought of you, Mama.

No, I thought. It’s not just men who want that.

I thought of that horrible Psychology textbook photo, of the poor little monkey in the experiment who could choose, while starving, between a wire-framed “mother” equipped with milk and a nipple, or a fur-covered “mother” to cling to.

The little monkey always chose gnawing hunger and the fuzzy mama.

My friend’s sad eyes after the movie made me slide backwards through all the years. His eyes made me want to find you again, find you and fold you in my arms, to mother you, Mama. Because that is what you must’ve most wanted.

Because sometimes, life is scary, and you just want your mother.

But life is a funny circle, too. Scary and funny. In seeing how I failed you, I found you once again.

You’re here, waiting in the sunshine. Sometimes the darkness covers your shine, like a cloud. But you’re always there.

 

(Fastwrite from a prompt on regret).

 

 

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in this one, you’re…

cheetosIn this one, you are standing by the old canal at Holcolm Gardens. The sun has made your hair catch fire, the sun is coating your tanned legs and long arms with a honeyed light, and for some silly reason lost to me now, you are holding up a big red box of Cheetos, holding it proudly, as if you are Carol Merrill and the box of snacks is a glistening prize that a nervous contestant is pondering.

In this one, you’ve driven back east to visit me, with a loaded Magnum 357 tucked under the front seat for company. It was the last time I would ever see you, but I didn’t know that then.

I guess you never really do know?

In this one, you are as I imagine you still are — slender and strong, tough and flexible as a zip tie. I was sure, in the way only a young person can hope to be, that somehow we’d stay best friends forever. That some how the trauma-bond of our shared childhoods and barbed wire moments of our teen years would bridge the miles, bridge the chasm growing between us, already as deep as a Colorado ravine.

In this one, I was laughing and my boyfriend was squirting lighter fluid on the grill and you were smiling, that sharp sickle-shaped smile of yours. Behind your mirrored aviators, your sky-blue eyes must have been smiling too.

In this one, I already missed you, even though your were still right there, holding the Cheetos.

(This was a fastwrite from a prompt: imagine a photograph that you have in an album or on your phone; get a picture of it in your mind, and begin with “In this one, you’re…” Write for 10 minutes.)

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