Dresses

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safe_image (1)Is it frivolous to have spent many many moments in the past few months discussing dresses to wear to weddings with my younger sister Meg?  Her daughter Amelia is getting married this weekend and her son Alex is getting married in October, and Dave, the middle son of our late sister Chris is getting married in two weeks.  There was also the wedding of my son-in-law’s brother this past weekend.  I’m officiating at two of the upcoming weddings, so there are mother-of-the-bride dresses to consider, officiant dresses, rehearsal dinner dresses, and wedding guest dresses.

Add to this the fact that Meg, Amelia and I have traded dresses at the last two family weddings, taking turns with each one.  Sort of like musical dresses, except no one is ever left without a dress.  At the last wedding we got a bridesmaid and mother-of-the-bride in on the swapping too.

That’s a lot of dresses.  So every time Meg and I are together we try on dresses from our closets (luckily we’re close enough in size that most everything fits), we buy dresses and compare, we look at dresses online.  Yesterday I got a text about the dress plan for this weekend just as I was headed in to Marshall’s to look for another dress.  Which I found.

To answer my opening question, no.  I don’t think spending mental energy and attention focusing on what dress to wear to which wedding is frivolous.  It’s a relief.  The world is a tough place to take in these days — a hate-mongering sociopath as a major candidate for President, constant reports of mass shootings and massacres and fatal shootings by police and against police, an attempted coup in Turkey, another too-young death of a friend, escalating climate change that may be a contributor to a dry enough summer that the farmer across the street is already putting out hay for the cows in the pasture where the grass has stopped growing.

The hard edges of life can’t be all we keep in focus.  People still fall in love and get married. People still have fun dressing up and usually look great when they do.  Having reasons to celebrate is a reason to celebrate itself.

Thinking and talking about and texting pictures of dresses back and forth with Meg is a happy thing to do and harmless.  Or maybe not completely harmless.  Maybe the dresses we’ve ordered and bought were made by women and children working in terrible conditions with inadequate compensation.  Do I have to think about that too?

Well, yes, but I can still enjoy myself, even if all those dresses keep stalking me on every page of the internet I open.

Celebration of life-affirming events puts good energy into the world, and right now the world can use all the good energy it can get.

Posted in Family | 2 Comments

What To Say

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Social media has been full of people struggling to find appropriate words for the anguish that rose in our guts last week.  So much loss, so much anger and mistrust, too many guns. What can any of us do?

Maybe instead of asking ourselves what to say, we should ask, what to read?  If you’re white and struggling with meaningful ways to respond to last week’s shootings, you could start by understanding how your skin color provides you with a privilege that’s probably invisible to you but that’s had a powerful influence on your life.

Read “White Privilege:  Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” the 1989 article by Peggy McIntosh that has served as a seminal piece to help educate white people who strive to be allies with communities of color.  Doing ally work means understanding the ways in which whiteness has allowed you to move through the world with a freedom and lack of fear not available to people of color.

Then listen to the Code Switch podcast “Can We Talk About Whiteness” which includes an interview with Peggy McIntosh.  And while you’re there, subscribe to Code Switch, an excellent podcast that explores “race and identity, remixed.”  Keep the learning going.

Read two recent books that speak directly about the experience of being black in the United States, from both a woman and man’s point of view.  Citizen by Claudia Rankine is brilliant and startling, that she lives with so much overt racism everyday.  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is Coates’ letter to his son about the very real and often lethal danger that faces black boys and men in our country.

We all need to step closer to understanding how profoundly race affects people of color in the U.S.  Black lives matter.

 

Posted in Justice | Leave a comment

Youth

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As we moved in to summer I started crying, the light letting the sad memories in — how sick Chris was on the 4th of July last year, being in Humarock without Chris and thinking about what it’s like for her widower and sons to have that hole in their traditional family beach time, what it’s like for my parents.  But our family time in Humarock was also sweet, lots of family still gathered in a beautiful spot.

I don’t mind the crying.  It’s been balanced with the joy of having youth around me. Yesterday I sent Adrienne a chat and asked her to snap the kids for me through the day, happy enough just to see Emilio and Ava but knowing there was the bonus of two more children there over the weekend, adorable child video riches.  And I got to share those videos with the youngsters here, Melia and Mackenzie and a crew of their friends, of course not as young as the grandkids but still much younger than me, in lives that are still expanding and reaching out and full of energy and hope.

Not that I don’t reach out still, but more and more I’m content with what I know I love best.  Home, family, close friends, garden, time at my desk to write.  It’s not only me.  This is a researched phenomenon.  As people age, they more and more value time with a closer circle of people and experiences.  We’ve learned what we like and know there’s limited time left to enjoy it.  We get more careful about how to spend our time when there’s less of it to spend.

Being with our kids and grandkids is top of the list, always.  I realized this weekend David and I never mediate when we’re with our kids in spite of being regular mediators otherwise.  We don’t need it.

So my sad weekend was also a great weekend.  I love a full house, the crowd in the kitchen, the meals with multiple palates contributing to the taste, the conversations and laughing at stories, coffee and toast on the deck in morning sun, cocktails and beer on the porch in the evening. Now I have a line full of laundry, flags of the pleasure being with loved ones brings, soaking up the energy of youth

How lucky we are.

 

Posted in Family, Friends, Gardening, Grief, Home, Seasons | 4 Comments

Ready, Set, Write

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For me there is magic in writing with others.  A group of my poet friends and I gather every month (or try to make it every month) to generate poems together.  PoGens we call ourselves.  We each bring a poem by someone else to read, then offer a prompt.  I set my meditation timer for 10 minutes, we all write, and when the bell chimes we stop.  We go around and each read what we’ve written. Then we do it again.

At the end of the two hours we spend together there are 16 new poems in the world. During the sessions, themes and images and vibrations start to move among us and the writing deepens and builds.  Being in the physical presence of others who are writing creates an energy of its own that makes its way on to the page.  The opening poem and prompt light the fire, but the commitment to expression, and to sharing the process of expression, is what feeds the flames, what keeps us all burning.

This week I’m at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in a workshop led by Joan Wickersham, the author of The News From Spain and The Suicide Index.  If you haven’t read them, do so.  Her writing is honest, authentic, searing, tender and brilliant.

She’s also a terrific teacher and so far the week has been instructive, supportive, and magical.  The 10 of us in the workshop all have a piece that’s being critiqued by the group, and even when it’s not my piece being discussed I learn a lot.  What I learned from the group’s response to the beginning of my memoir, which I brought to be workshopped, was invaluable.

But most magical is the writing we’re doing together.  Joan gives us a reading every night which we discuss the next day.  Then she gives us a prompt and we write for 20 minutes. Like PoGens, after the writing we all share what has come out in those 20 minutes. Everyone in the group is a good writer so what’s been produced through the prompts has been predictably good.  And getting better.  The pieces we wrote this morning were excellent, every one of them.  The energy we create talking to each other about our writing, being honest with each other about the piece we’ve brought for critique, bending our heads together over paper for 20 minutes to respond to a prompt is pulling us all into our most creative and expressive selves.  Magic.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s chemistry and how being with others who’ve arranged their lives in order to spend a week in Provincetown, bending their heads over pads of paper to write about an object or a photograph or a memory allows us to write at our best.  We’re not alone. We’re not crazy.  We’re writers.

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Summer Time

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Once again, more than a week has slipped by without time to write a blog post.  What have I been doing?  Playing Chutes and Ladders and Match game, and spending a bright, windy day on Governor’s Island, a former army base and now a 173 acre island park just off the southern tip of Manhattan where I watched Emilio scamper over climbing structures and spent only a moment on the long stretch of criss-crossed logs myself and ended up with a splinter in my thumb that throbbed and seeped and shot pain under my nail for a week.

I spent a day with Ava who spent an hour going through my purse, taking out everything and putting it back, mimicking putting on chapstick (“open, open”) and holding up an appointment card and pen (“color, color”) and scribbling and who helped me walk the dog at the end of the day but not until she’d gotten properly set for the walk (baggie, baggie”) which meant hoisting an empty handbag almost as big as her over her shoulder and dragging it along the sidewalk, taking the longest two block walk in the history of dog walking, averaging a step every 30 seconds or so because there was the bag to drop and readjust and neighbors front steps to try and a driveway to run up and flowers in the grass that needed to be touched.

I went on a carousel and roller coaster and spinning cars and bumper cars at Adventureland with Emilio, and we make a good amusement park pair because neither of us like scary or twirling rides.  The ferris wheel was my favorite.  By the time we left I was with batman.

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I got to watch Emilio figure out how to cross a line of monkey bars and then experience a 6 1/2 hour car ride from Long Island to New Hampshire with a five year old and one year old in the car (very long).

This weekend we had a full house — family, friends, peonies, strawberries, teaching Emilio how to make whipped cream, swimming, visiting the cows across the street and counting motorcycles everywhere we went because it was motorcycle weekend in NH and we saw 70 in a 5 mile trip to the store and back.

Finally, last night, I stopped being a baby and let Melia take out the splinter that was plaguing my thumb.  Good thing — that 1/2 inch of wood wasn’t going to pop out on its own.

So, this is a very long introduction to a substantive blog post I did write, for the Prevention Innovations Research Center blog.  Given the Orlando massacre and the previous attention to a too-lenient sentence in the Stanford rape case the topic of this blog — child sex offenders ending up on lifetime registries — may seem mild.  But it’s another example of how we need to make sure our intentions line up with our actions.

Onward into summer.

 

Posted in Family, Friends, Justice | Leave a comment

The Elasticity of Time

 

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Time moves horizontally, a train that passes on tracks and drags along minutes then weeks and months and years.  A station approaches, a dot in the distance at first, then gets bigger until it fills the entire window when the train stops.

Time stretches into a balloon of stillness then unfolds into a fan with a story on each rib.

A rocket shoots past the gravity of time and moments pass so quickly we don’t inhabit them, we only know time has passed by looking at an outside measure, a clock.

What if we didn’t measure time?  If the passing of the sun across the dome above us meant only what angle of shadow we could expect, and when it would be warmest, when our skin could burn and when we should rise and go to sleep?

Time?  How can the dimension of life that rules everything be nothing?  It’s consciousness itself, only the awareness of is and was and will be that moves the train, inflates the balloon, fires the rocket.

So it’s been a week and a half since I’ve written here and what is it that’s kept me away? I’ve been right here, just not in this definition of this time.  We work hard to be here now, in this moment, because we know it’s all there is.  But is it?

The wind was fierce yesterday and I felt sorry for the potted flowers on the porch, the onion greens all bending to the east, the zinnias putting out their first leggy blossoms into such a powerful force.  Today the branches of the old maple in the front yard are still twitching and the grass of the pasture across the street ripples with wind, the seed heads bowing and rising in waves that move on and come again.

I’ve been writing, I’ve planted vegetables and flowers and mulched the garden beds.  I ran for a long time in the rain and sucked up the endorphins.  I drew vessels and peonies and worked on shading, then scribbled the creases in my cupped hand without ever looking at what I was doing.  I glued and colored.  A lot of time has been spent with friends and seeing people I haven’t seen for a long time.

A long time?  What is that?

A poem from 2002.  So much time thinking about time.

South Twin Mountain

The land has a lot to teach –
rocks, roots, gullies, water’s
effect visible everywhere; land
hauls us into the exact
moment we are in, musings
about the nature of time gone,
how the asymmetrical arrow
measures in only one direction,
how time cannot be experienced
by any of our senses.
What would time smell like,
how would it feel
in our hands? For now, we can see
light, taste the wind, hear earth
crash as we walk along its borders
in to the next valley.

Posted in Time | 2 Comments

Shehechiyanu Again, Which Is the Point

 

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The cows are back in the pasture, the pond is warm enough to swim, laundry goes out on the clothesline rather than in the dryer, I wake to birdsong and light already in the sky, the back deck is a private enclave enclosed by leafy trees, the woods are full of blossoms, there are pots of flowers on the porch and the screen door is up in the kitchen.  All the pleasures of the new season to be enjoyed again.

I’ve written about Shehechiyanu before, the Jewish blessing giving thanks for being alive to complete another year’s cycle, coming around again to a festival or holiday or favored event — the first outdoor swim of the season, the peonies first open blossom, the cows crowding the corner of the field across the street on their first day out.

I thought I’d posted the poem I wrote many years ago imagining the blessing for the cows. If I did post this before, the WordPress search function doesn’t think so.  Here it is.

Shehechiyanu

The cows are back
in the pasture, random
black and white a foreign
light in the field of green

tipped with a sheen
of moisture from rain
that fell last night
steadying the grass

in its surge of growth
sufficient to allow
the cows’ return
to fresh fodder.

Does a cow bless,
once again, far fences
after winter’s pen,
silage and hay,

open air a tickle
in a fold of her teats
just past where her tail
could reach?

Posted in Animals, Outdoors, Poetry, Seasons | 2 Comments