Grinding Stones

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Photo courtesy of Writing Our Way Home

I’m Grinding in January.  I’m also going to write a “small stone” every day.  What is Grinding, what is a “small stone” and why do they work together so well?

Having written about both on this blog before, maybe you know.  But here’s a refresher. The Grind is a monthly commitment to writing that poet Ross White organizes. You pick your genre and get put in a group of 10 or so other writers, get each other’s email addresses, and then are  responsible to send a new piece of writing every day of the month by midnight of whatever time zone you’re in.  You don’t provide feedback or even acknowledge what you get sent.  That’s not the purpose of the Grind.  The purpose is to write every day and having a group of strangers expecting your work in their inbox, even if they never read it, helps.

It more than helps.  For me, it works.  This is my seventh Grind in the last two years and it does make me write.  Every day.  A good thing always.

In January 2012 and then again in 2014 I joined the challenge of writing a small stone every day, reminded to do so both years by sister blogger A Woodland Rose. A small stone “is a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.” The bloggers at Writing Our Way Home believe that small stones “help you connect to the world, in all its richness & complexity & juiciness.  When we translate something we’ve seen or experienced into words, it is necessary to pay more attention than we usually would. A few minutes of mindful attention (even once a day) helps us to engage with the world in all its beauty.”

The party I was planning to ring in the New Year isn’t happening. Instead I’m navigating another of those left turns that seem to come up in my life regularly.  My mother’s in the hospital recovering from a fall due to a stomach flu and David and I are in Massachusetts helping to sort out next steps in getting her healthy and home.

So instead of cooking and decorating and welcoming a group of close friends to eat and drink and be merry together, I’ll be talking to doctors and eating hospital cafeteria food and driving my father back and forth to the hospital.  And hopefully getting my mother set up to recover fully at home.

My New Year celebration will be writing every day — a small stone to share with this month’s Grinding pals, and most likely with all of you.  Stay tuned.

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A Gift

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The waning moon hangs in the sharp morning sky, a pale reminder of its full self in darkness two nights ago, now surrounded by high, wind-thinned clouds and low, dark ones. The wind is cold, coming at my face where it’s bare between my hat and neck warmer. This is winter and it’s my first time out in it.

It’s my first time outside since Friday, a day spent celebrating with family, which included time on the porch of Chris and Jon’s house, bringing back all the mornings I drank my coffee there this summer.  Keeping with the family tradition of Christmas at Chris’s, Jon and his boys hosted the family dinner, which was delicious and lovely and sad.  I know the hole a loved one leaves lessens over time, or takes up less of the available awareness in any given moment, but this hole is fresh and big.  And Adrienne and Matt and the grandkids weren’t there because Adrienne had a stomach bug that sent them straight home after Christmas morning at my parents’ house, meaning they didn’t come back to NH after dinner at Jon’s.

But it was warm and sunny.  Porch weather.  I’m glad I took advantage, because the stomach bug got me that night, and I barely got out of bed on Saturday and got out of bed but not out of the house yesterday.  Two days of illness makes the simple act of waking up with enough energy to walk towards a waning moon feel like a gift.

Which, of course, it is.

Day Fourteen — Tilting Back Towards the Sun

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December 21:  Black morning, lights over the kitchen table, coffee in my mug. Today the North Pole will finish its furthest tilt from the sun – 23.5 degrees. The sun hasn’t really been slipping down the horizon until it sets behind the old silo. We’ve been tilting away.

Yesterday David and I climbed Parker Mountain, the first hike we did together, on our first date, almost eight years ago. It had snowed the night before, heavy and wet, and we trudged up the first steep incline on snowshoes, me well ahead of him. Was I testing whether he could keep up with me? Probably. He didn’t climb as fast as I did, but he got there.

At the first peak we stopped and looked out over the coastal plain to Portsmouth, a plume of smoke from the tall chimney of the power plant, ocean a flat line behind it. David talked about his sadness, his worry about losing friends. I talked about losing Eric.

We’ve climbed that same trail probably 50 times since and yesterday was glorious. On the north side of the mountain, we started in shadow and climbed up into the sun. The trail was a pageant of sage lichen on gray granite, dark green hemlocks, shiny green white pine, brown oak leaves burying the path and then piled alongside, deep purple stalks of bare, scrubby blueberry.

By the time we got back to the car, it was twilight, leaning over in to dusk. David and I don’t talk all the time as we did on that first hike, as we did in the first months and even years we were together. But we still talk most of the time. So much happens in our lives and, for us, in our heads. There’s always plenty to sort out.

Day Thirteen — Blessings of Boys

 

The world is full of light this morning – sharp, bright, cold finally.  I woke late, the sky already gray with dawn, sounds coming up from the kitchen. Last night watching Snapchat stories for Sam and Will I suspected they had started their drive north, and here they were, Sam plugging in Sylvia, the espresso machine, Will smiling.

“Why are you making coffee? Weren’t you up all night driving?”  They were, but they took turns napping, they wanted to get in a round of disc golf at Beauty Hill before crashing – they’d played a sunset round in Johnson City before starting their drive yesterday, they were excited about following that with a sunrise round.

Will would have napped but was willing to be swept along in the stream of Sam. Mike arrived, they all drank coffee, they left to play. These beautiful young men who’ve been in and out of this house since they were boys.  Twenty years. Such a blessing.

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Eleven, Twelve — Double

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December 18

Guitar music comes up the stairs. David is playing.  He hasn’t painted since April. I’m building a standing art desk next to my writing desk, a space to turn and make things with materials, not words, colored papers and pens and boxes of cards and catalogues I’ve been collecting for years to use for collages.

Which means emptying a book case so I can run the new desk into the corner. Already my date books are in a box in the barn.  Next go my journals. What do they say?

March 6, 1979: I confront Jim, a nasty and misogynistic roommate who lived with Eric and me in a house we rented from Lynne Cherry in Marlborough, CT. Lynne sometimes spent a night or two there, had slept with Jim one weekend, but now she was angry at him, he hadn’t paid his rent.  She asks us to talk to him so I do.

I don’t back down when he tries to placate me. At one point I just kept talking back at him, wouldn’t shut up – making him face my anger & he told me to leave his room – we had a stare down & he couldn’t budge me – I loved it.

One journal has no date on the cover and my entries don’t even have the day of the month: saturday evening, sunday evening, thursday, saturday early afternoon, friday, the next tuesday may 24 – ah, a date. Still no year and no upper case letters. I think it was 1977. Who needed to know the day of the month in 1977? Not me.

I write a lot about writing. Needing to get possessed. Art desk.

December 19, 2015

When I sit on the end of my bed to put on my shoes, I see a Great Blue Heron on the other side of the far farm pond in the cow pasture. A really big one.

Then I quick catch yet again that it’s not a heron. It’s not Eric. It’s the tall stump of a small tree that blew over two years ago, the wood bent forward in a thick figure of a heron.  Eric isn’t in every heron, though seeing a heron fly overhead or standing in water makes me think of him.

This summer when I was home from being with Chris for a few days a heron stood in the intersection of Canterbury Road and West Street for about 30 minutes. It didn’t move, other than to swivel it’s head. A car went by, in the lower part of the intersection several yards from the heron. The car stopped, then went on.

I kept watching. The heron stayed so long I stopped watching. Then I decided I wanted a photo and went to get my phone and a truck came and needed to make the turn up Canterbury Road and the bird lifted and flew away.

Chris has a story on her blog about a heron seeming to follow her one day, and thinking about herons are how Eric comes to me. The winter she learned she had cancer in the lining of her brain she was scared, but she told me Eric had visited her and been close and that felt comforting to her.  She wonders about magic — Birds are special; they can fly, they can soar and they can also put their feet on the ground.  Birds connect heaven and earth.  

 

Day Ten — Why I Cry When I Cook

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The boys are making lasagna for Christmas dinner, Chris’s boys. Chris has been hosting Christmas dinner for many years, and Jon wants to continue the tradition of the family gathering there and knew his boys would help with the cooking.

Which they are. But thinking about Matt making lasagna makes me cry. In early July we made our first trip to Stow to help, right after Jon emailed David and me to ask for advice about how to handle Chris’s growing infirmity and lack of awareness of how her illness was advancing. Our advice was our presence. David and I both knew you don’t do what Jon was doing alone.

Matt arrived two days after us.  Chris was still walking, though barely and mostly with someone beside her and helping her get up and down from her chair, where she spent most of the day.  She was having trouble hanging on to what was happening around her.

Jon and Matt and I had decided to make lasagna for dinner, and Matt and his girlfriend were putting it together as David and I got ready to go for a swim at the local lake, our regular release on those hot afternoons of confusion and sadness. Watching my hands plunge in to the green water below me, over and over, right then left then right then left then right brought me back to myself.  Or to familiar bilateral motion anyway.

“What’s going on?” Chris asked, because she could see the activity in the kitchen and it was confusing not to be part of it.  That was what she did, put together meals.  Why was it happening without her?

A couple of hours later, when she shuffled to the table where her other boys had gathered with their girlfriends, her face was blank. She was quiet, fallen out of the present, her eyes fixed, looking at another world.

It was light then, the summer evening still too hot, windows open to any breeze. Now it’s so dark and so hard to think about that blankness, how Chris disappeared before she disappeared.

 

Day Nine — Inside Out

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The day is folding itself back inside. When I got home early this afternoon there was no wind and bright sun, a good combination on my porch. I had lunch at the porch table. The weather may be scary warm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

So I moved my afternoon projects out to the porch, origami sailboats first. As the sun got lower and spent more and more time behind clouds, the reality of December started to chill my fingers. But by then I’d mastered the reverse fold of the two boat designs I was using and I kept going, folding and unfolding and pushing the paper back on itself so a valley fold tucked in to a mountain fold and the inside of the paper made white sails hoisted in a colored boat.

Origami is full of reverse folds, and you have to learn to trust that what looks backwards is going to turn into what you want. It’s not intuitive and I mess around until I can make it work, then do it again, and again. Training my fingers to ignore my brain telling me it’s wrong.

Now the day is doing the same thing. The sun is long gone below the horizon and it’s cold. It’s black out my windows, as it is when I get up in the morning, as it is for two thirds of the cycle that makes a day. This is the fold that shoves the pocket back in to the dark. Tomorrow it will turn inside out again. The pocket will be empty, but it will be open and the light will last until the next fold, whether I know how to make it or not.

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Day Eight — Left Turns

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The unexpected left turns of life can be dangerous. You have to cross a lane of traffic so hope for a quiet road without too much to dodge. But life is a busy road as a good friend found out last week, suddenly navigating a turn she didn’t see coming, hanging on to the wheel and weaving through the potential collisions, steering for safety.

I know what it’s like to be in the hospital room where a sudden medical crisis landed her, sitting for hours listening to the beeping of monitors and watching the line of heart beats on a screen. I’ve spent the night drifting in and out of sleep in a reclining chair, ears alert for any change in the rhythm of machines tracking vital signs. Waking up and waiting. Waiting for the doctor to come in and deliver the latest news. Waiting for the results of scans and blood tests. Waiting for the day to pass because then it will be night and maybe everyone will sleep better and tomorrow will be better.

Then tomorrow is worse.   And still getting shorter and darker.

Last night, driving home from visiting my friend I had a couple of close calls. A truck made a left turn in front of me, drifting across my lane as if I wasn’t there. Then a car pulled out where I was turning left, making a wide arc that cut in to my lane. It was dark and I had trouble seeing the road once I’d made my turn.

Right.  My headlights weren’t on. So I was as invisible as I felt.

We are all so small and invisible. So I pay attention to the road, to what’s coming at me, and to everyone I love who’s riding out a scary turn.

Day Seven — Building Bridges

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Eric and I used to call short hikes up the small mountains around Northwood, more than a walk but less than a several thousand foot ascent, hikettes. Climbing to Neville Peak, an open knob on the ridge of Nottingham Mt. in Epsom, is one of my favorite hikettes.  On a clear day the peak of Mt. Washington, 100 miles to the north, is visible, a white cap behind the horizon of closer mountains in winter.

For the decades I’ve been hiking to Neville Peak it’s been mostly deserted.  Now, with a new trail reopened by an Eagle Scout and my friend Alison’s efforts to publicize this local treasure in the Epsom Town Forest, we often meet one or two people on the trail, and when I got to the peak a few months ago was surprised to find a collection of cairns scattered across the open ledge.

Though my friends and I have been climbing to this spot for decades, we’ve never built cairns. As much as I like piling and balancing rocks, and always add to cairns when I find them on a mountain top, it had never occurred to me to build them on Neville, even though the open ledge is scattered with all sizes of loose rock, mostly granite.

When I was on Neville a few weeks ago I used a long flat rock to make a bridge between two square rocks and then started a pile on both the bridge and each end. Yesterday when I was there a new bridge was balanced on the edge of the ridge, framing the horizon of mountains.

Mt. Washington wasn’t visible but there was a garden of communal sculptures at my feet.

 

Day Six — Checking & Keeping Track

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“How many times do you check things?” I asked a group of my colleagues about ten years ago, other Executive Directors of state domestic and sexual violence coalitions. We went around the table, out for dinner after a day of meetings. One friend talked about the 79 potted plants on her porch that she needs to water every day in the summer, making sure she gets to them all. Everyone double, triple, quadruple-checked something — sums on budgets, spreadsheets, brochures about to go to print, sensitive emails. I checked that my medication was in my luggage at least three times before I would get on a plane.

“How much checking is OCD, and how much is what makes us good at our jobs?” I asked.

I still don’t know the answer to that, but Saturday night, after hours of eating and drinking with a group of these old friends, the topic of checking and keeping track came up, different but related habits.  One of my friends keeps a log book of her bike rides.  Another wears a FitBit and makes sure she walks 10,000 steps at least six days a week.  I write down my exercise every day in my calendar, and apparently have been back to 1988, as I can see in the old, spiral bound Note-a-Date Weekly Business Appointments for that year. I had my old calendars out, considering whether to dump them in the process of rearranging my study — they take up a lot of shelf space (though far less than all my journals, which is another whole story).  But tracking exercise isn’t so uncommon — I have numerous friends who record their daily workouts and some compare what they’ve done each day against what they did a year ago.

Then the topic of tracking periods came up and I remembered I did that from my late teens until well in to my 40’s.  In the 1985 date book I found small back-of-the-book calendars from 1983, 1984 and 1985 taped to the inside back cover. The dates of my periods are circled, as they are in all of the date books.  Tucked in to 1985 is a piece of paper that graphs my basal body temperature and the quantity and consistency of my cervical mucus for the month of June. Tracking my fertility cycles.  After the beginning of June there are no more circles in the 1985 calendar.

Sam was born in March 1986.