It is so very faded now, the red suggested in the folds. The sides are fallen, not only weathered, not even worthy of recycling. If a cigarette was left casually, even that would be gone and no one would remember how the barn had once been raised. We needed it for the lower pasture. There were things growing, cows giving birth, eggs in the coop. That was happiness. The boards came out of the truck, long and rough, shirt tied around his waist, sweating. The nails going in with steady rythym breaking through the birdsong, scaring them away. Hammering and cutting. The smell of cut wood strong then. Working simply, with a lunch break and long pulls of lemonade. Nothing is left of that. He can feel the anger simmering, the sorrow a scar in every attempted thought. The radio comes through in static gulps, the number of losses tallied. So why do the announcers sound nearly happy? Another flag to fold and place on top of the bookcase. Looking down when the gloved hands were proferred with murmers of expected sympathy. He lets himself hate, for a full three minutes, the sun coming down on his face hard before pulling his sunglasses back into place and driving away.
I wonder how long I can sit here. It’s busy now. I like watching people and hearing their bits of conversation. I like hearing their worries and excitement. Most of them seem too worried and angry. I think they like feeling that way, but maybe not. It just gets to be a habit you know. Lots of things do before you’re even aware of it. Then it can be too late. Changing things gets harder. And they’re all bored. They talk clipped, fast, with their shoulders hunched up, keeping up handles and bags close by their bodies. Trying to hold everything. It must hurt. I remember feeling tight like that. Relax, look relaxed. Look at the paper and my coffee. I get it simple, all black and whatever is the cheapest in large, extra large. I don’t leave the change in the clear box. I hurt by the end of the day too but I didn’t always know it. But then you could have a cocktail. Something with a toothpick, or a pink umbrella sticking out of it. Or maybe sex if you didn’t mind with who too much. Hooking up or blacking out. Or you could go to the gym and sweat. Going round and round like a gerbil on a wheel, or is it a hamster? I don’t remember. I kept the membership as long as I could, even after losing the apartment. Like that made all the difference. But everything has be done fast, efficient, scheduled in. I’m different now. I still have habits I wish I could change, but they aren’t the same habits. I miss that, and the boredom. With other people feeling the same. The total boredom of this one chore, getting the paper, reading the headlines. Ordering coffee, exact requirements of blackness, sweetness, levels of fat. There’s a separate language for it. They’re really good at it. They hardly look at anyone while they do these things. No one really reads the papers through all the way. Most of them, they don’t even touch the papers. Instead, they sit with their phones close to their faces or iPads or laptops. They stick things in their ears, bluetooth, headphones, little cords that attach to little boxes. They smell of their busy lives. Chanel, Calvin Klein, and many others that I can’t remember the names of. I wonder why I can’t remember. The monograms are everywhere. I should remember more of the names. Sometimes I have to work at it to remember, but if I can’t right away I make it up. This week I like the name I gave to the cop. Maybe I will keep it awhile. I do remember how my mom would use my longest name to call me in for summertime dinners. I remember how she would brush my hair in long strokes before going to school. My hair needs a good trim. Is this how the mind begins to slip? I was never a collector of monograms though sometimes I bought them because it helped me fit in. The quality was supposed to be better. It wasn’t always true. I will read the papers. Reading makes you a better person. And someone always has it worse off than you, the media will remind you of just how bad things could be. I will start from the front page and work all the way back to the ads. I like the smell of the newsprint. I don’t have a beginning to some of the stories but it’s okay. It’s like being plopped down in a middle of something important. You have to have an opinion about it, because it is important. Monkey minds. They get you worked up, on purpose you know. Like I am supposed to feel bad all the time. I’m not bad. I’m still a good person. Basically good, really. Afterwards, I will have to wash my hands again. They’re clean now. I got the soap under the nails this time. No one knocked on the door, so my hands are completely clean. I don’t smell but I wish I could wash my hair. I feel itchy. I miss my mom. I miss the gym. They had shampoo and clean towels. They had free lotion. I’m gonna have to leave soon. It’s better if you leave before they ask. Then you can come back later. The guy next to me is loud but that’s okay. He’s taking up space that otherwise might be where I’d be noticed. It feels good to sit here. But I don’t feel that comfortable. The chair is sticky. There are a lot of chairs in here all cramped together. Most of them are still filled. I don’t have to go yet. I am not one of them. Was I ever? It was a long time ago. Okay maybe not so long ago. But it feels long ago. I look like it was a long time ago. I couldn’t look in the mirror directly. I don’t look like I remember. There’s white in my hair now, and it is greasy and thin looking. But it isn’t messy. I have it tied back. I have combed it, there aren’t any tangles. But I do wish I could wash it. I wonder how fast I can manage that. I would need some shampoo. I tried once with soap. The kind that comes out of the dispenser. That just made it look worse though. It felt horrible for days. Then it rained. That was a good day. It rained but it wasn’t too cold. It felt okay down my neck and on my face. My body feels odd. Like a stick figure made of wires. Like a kindergarten drawing. I feel itchy, but I dare not scratch. I can feel someone looking at me. I won’t look up. I will study my coffee cup. I haven’t drank much of it yet. It will be cold soon. I like the taste either way. My hands look like someone else’s hands. I don’t remember how they got so rough looking. I don’t have anything left in the tiny lotion bottle. I like the gloves I found. They were sitting forgotten, maybe in this shop. I wonder if the person they belong to missed them at all. They’re mine now. Finders-Keepers. I wouldn’t give them back. I would say they were always mine. They were never theirs. They’re really perfect. No rips or pulls. They don’t deserve them back. I sat next to them for a long time before I put them in my sack. I pull them back on now to sip my coffee as if it is still really hot. I don’t always have morning coffee but sometimes I have just enough for an evening coffee. It doesn’t matter about the caffeine anymore. I don’t sleep much at night. I have to wait til the city gets really quiet and that usually isn’t until much later. Then it’s really beautiful. The quiet. It goes on and on, and you can feel the sound of your heartbeat. Until people start waking up. I don’t know how much longer I can sit here. I have too much stuff with me. I tried to find a safe place for it, but you never know. I’ve tried to squish the important stuff down tight in my pack. The man has left that was sitting next to me. He left the bottom of his bagel. He only ate the top half with the cream cheese. I slide the plate closer to my own cup. People waste things. It’s fun because you can afford to. I do it fast. I’ve made everything as small as I can. I lost my parka that way, but now I have a slicker. For now, that will be okay. Someone had stuffed it into the goodwill bin but not so far that I couldn’t pull it out. Its navy. It’s good to be such a dark color. The dirt hardly shows. The left pocket is completely gone, shredded. I wonder what had been in there that left it so completely shredded. What did it take to destroy it so fully? I am like that now. Shredded I mean. Like this pocket, that once could hold things. I can’t hold anything much anymore.
For me, the last couple of months have been a strange blessing, a teaching in letting go. The lockdown in San Antonio has been in small bows to Cover-19’s rising numbers, which now thankfully seem to be stagnant. On a clear sunny day, when the heat of the day is still soft and there is competing bird song, Summer is not so far away now. It is the 114th day of 2020. it is hard to believe there is any danger of disease. Still, we put on masks and gloves to wander six feet apart from neighbors in the grocery store’s depleted aisles. We bemoan the lack of lysol, flour, yeast, and the signs limiting dairy and meat. We stiffen at any gentle cough or sniffle in public when we finally do go out. But too, perhaps now we are gracefully slowed. The media has continued its relentless coverage of deaths and illness to the point where it’s noise has become a blur and no longer brings a rush of panic. The first few weeks, sleeping was difficult. Worry was in my dreams and all waking hours. I remind myself of the recovery numbers now instead. I am in no hurry to get to a theater, or go to a salon, though yes, when we can I intend to savor it. There is a definite feeling that life has changed, but it is okay. I am spending more time in my garden. Reading books that have been on my shelves unopened for too long. Opening up my craft closet to finishing those things begun and then cast aside due to being so overly busy. I am cooking, pulling out recipes from my books and notes stuck inside saved magazines. I am sitting with the dogs longer waiting for the sunset. We are lucky. There is a roof over our heads and the pantry is full enough. And when the morning does come, I might linger just a bit in bed watching the light instead of going through a mental list of things to do.
I haven’t written in a long while. It’s been difficult with all the chaos to think clearly. Today I started by just cleaning. I swept the floors. I took out the trash. I mopped the floors. All the while, in silence with my thoughts dampened, just breathing and trying not to think. This thing next, now the next thing. Three, then four hours went by. And finally some calmness. I know of too many people being affected by this pandemic. It is nearly impossible not to be overwhelmed with worry. For them and their families. For myself. One only needs to turn on social media or the news to have an ongoing crashing onslaught of terror, anger and sadness. With that, comes further panic and then an inability to find compassion and clarity. That is not who I am or who I wish to become. So, I have had to stop and step back a bit. I have to force myself to look away, to find some good things to focus on. After all the cleaning, I showered. I took my time. We have more time now, that is if you are staying inside and self isolating. I didn’t have to rush anywhere. I could use all the self indulgent soap, lotion, perfume etc I felt like. I took the time to fix my hair for myself. To put on some beautiful dangling earrings I had bought on my last European trip. I put on a silk shirt and some comfortable jeans, a definite step up from the usual yoga pants and t shirt. I pulled out some old vinyl records- ones I have been lugging about for years without playing- and listened as I repotted the neglected orchid I keep in my hallway. I spent time looking over some online classes and even signing up for one. I spent another hour just listening to some stand up comedy. I let the panic drain away. I think it’s something we all need to do. I am grateful to have a responsive media however, the minute by minute coverage has become nearly harmful and at times hysterical.
I’d love to know what things you are doing for self care. How you are managing the need to stay inform vs. being informed at every minute. Are you able to find points of connection despite the need to stay inside and let this pandemic run itself out? Are you able to just stay calm?
I’ve been working hard this past year to not be so critical of my creative attempts. It has been difficult to let go of that voice that says rubbish, not good enough, or start over. Playing with craft, whatever medium it is, for just the sake of playing is not my strong suit. I like goals, boundaries, rules and coloring inside the lines. As a child, I loved to go make things in the mud. That same child also ran inside multiple times in the day to “clean up”. There are too many crafts that capture my admiration and inspire me until the hours of the day have melted. The year is nearly gone. I have semi retired from working in the conventional sense. Work that gave my life meaning and repetition, but also took a toll on my body and my personal relationships. I do miss it. Leaving that safe space and releasing worry and the desire to please, I have made ten or so quilts- handquilting them all, completed two older oils and put them on the wall, begun to watercolor again, and am attempting to collage and sketch with less of a demand to perfection. My short stories and poetry may again be published. It is very much a “return” to an earlier personhood- a personality that was put “on hold”. The house is messier than I prefer but very comfortable. The garden has weeds in it more often than it used to. The animals are getting more attention, as are relationships. I do still worry. Did I leave my profession too soon? Will the economy have a meltdown? Will a visitor look at my home and think, wow, dusty? Will my art ever be good enough? But that critical voice has a counterpoint finally that reminds me, there are only so many days to this life and each one should be spent carefully and with full intent. So, hello 2020- come on in. Let this new year be a better year of relationship to all the ways the heart feels joy. And if possibly, let it be open to community where playing and messiness is welcome.
I recently went to see the movie “Dark Waters”. If you haven’t yet, please do and soon. The story is based on the real struggle of a lawyer against Dupont- a struggle that continues on many fronts but largely away from public view. It’s not exciting news. It’s difficult and depressing and mind boggling astounding. The thought that this company knew that some of its product line was hazardous to all, knew for decades, and yet continued to put on the happy face while collecting billions. That was the hardest thing for me to get past. After all, companies are made of human beings. Sigh. And if there is even one company that would be willing to count income over lives, then there are surely others. Oversight is largely by the companies themselves. I haven’t had a teflon pan in ages. Telfon though is still in production and still used in other items. This is just one such chemical that pervades our lives. There are many, many more that should be removed from production. I much more skeptical that the packaging and wrapping could ever be without cost. Over time, I have tried to reduce my plastics in general. No one needs microplastics. No one needs this continued production of things that will continue to haunt our environment for decades to come.
Recently my youngest sister posted yet another ode to the greatness of her father, and how much she missed him. He passed away of cancer, painfully and in my mind the painful part was rightfully so. I left home at 13 due to this man’s abuse. The abuse was physical, mental and sexual. Social workers and cops knew our address growing up. The last time he punched me, I left to never come back. I lived initally at a friend’s home, then the street briefly, then at an Aunt’s, and finally was shuttled off to live with my Grandparents. They were appalled that I had run away and never dived into the mess of why. I barely knew them as they had moved South to Texas years ago. At that time, my youngest sister, half sister, was only two years old. I later returned to that home to find my middle sister was being abused, more subtle this time around but even so enough to force my stepfather and mother to let her come to live with my grandparents. My Mother seemed actually relieved blaming my middle sister for the obvious petting and flirting. In my absence, my youngest sister had learnt to villify me- calling me bad, not being able to talk with her on the phone, and no longer being allowed to play with her. It was a painful time. For years I had very little contact with this youngest sister even though I had reached our several times, and now it is via social media and little else. She has no idea really of the why I left. She knows that both her parents had addiction issues with most of the blame seemingly placed on Mom. I cringe everytime I see the celebration of this man’s birthday, his death idolized, his relationship with this sister placed on a pedestal and so far I have bit my tongue. In the meantime, the players are mostly gone- my Mother to her alcoholism, my sister to one bad relationship after another and evenutal death due to drugs. In my own life, intimate relationships have been downright difficult even close friendships. I know that this abuse has shadowed a good deal of my life and am blessed to now have a good relationship, and no addiction issues- though in that case, I censor every glass of wine and re-examine all holiday blues….
I enjoy collecting cookbooks, especially those that are part travelougue and culture commentary. My latest addition, “The Flavor Thesaurus” by Niki Segnit is though more akin to a painter’s wheel reference and may be more on my bedside reading table versus my kitchen. Instead of a step by step guide to kitchen cookery, ingredients are broken down into flavor profiles. An example would be of Earthy being mushrooms, eggplant, Cumin, beets, potato and celery. I have combined mushrooms and eggs but hadn’t considered mushrooms with apricots. There are suggestions of recipes but little instruction. This is the way my Grandmother often cooked, pulling things out of the pantry and refrigerator and measuring by eye and hand. This is more a meditation of intuitive cooking versus a how to guide. I found for instance, my beloved avocado, under the green and grassy profile. Some combinations then suggested I had already tried- avocado with bacon, with blue cheese, with chili or tomatoes. But how about avocado with coffee? I am looking forward to the experiments this book evokes.
I haven’t been as grateful lately as I should be. I think this is partly due to watching too much television, too much bad news, and too much negativity from social media. So I’ve cut back, way back despite a nagging guilty feeling that I could be missing out on something important. But then I read a book called “Stillness is the Key”. It isn’t a great read but as I plodded along it began to make a lot of sense. News used to be more thoughtful. Journalists took the time to research and craft a well rounded story, and then at the end of the actual news, perhaps an opinion piece would be given with the caveat that it was indeed an opinion and not necessarily well rounded. I think that is greatly missing these days. It seems everyone has a opinion and if I don’t agree completely then I am shamed, labeled and made to feel less than I should. There is very little civil discourse or agreement to meet in the middle, to come to a compromise. To be able to understand the other side’s viewpoint is a sadly missing component of nearly all media. And that has an effect on everything- our ability to think critically, to feel valued in our own abilities, to be able to contribute. Anger and guilt seems to be nasty feedback loop that many operate on. In the book, the author gives advice on how to be more selective and less reactive via examples of leaders, celebrities and other known people. One of the more thought provoking examples was President JFK and the way he moderated his own behavior during the crisis with Cuba and Russia. His notebooks full of doodles and deliberate writing show that he slowed down his reactive and engaged more meditatively in thinking about how to help Russia back down and save face.
I think it’s easy to stop seeing the bright side of things. Too easy to forget to see things are less dark than some would have us think. People want to feel safe, to be able to feed themselves, their families, to feel basically secure for the most part and happy. And the majority of those I know, are just that no matter how much doom and gloom crawls across the screens. So today my gratitude centers on the just this and movement away from anxiety and worry about what if.
Right now in this moment. I have a solid home, a loving partner, food in the pantry, and my health. I am able to enjoy a great cup of coffee, sitting on a comfortable couch with my feet up surrounded by my pets. I can look out the window and see the sunrise pinking the sky and the branches of the live oak tree. I can see a squirrel chattering at the dog, and some birds flitting around. There is a hummingbird checking out the feeder. I am in no rush to start having to address a to do list, but even the to do list should be something I can feel good about- I can do those things or I can set them aside if needed.
I hope today brings some joy to you, some quietude and peace, some feeling of a job well done and a whole lot less worry than yesterday.
The schools have all started up again here. Its nearly the end of August and I don’t remember when we last had any rain. I cringe at the thought of my water bill, especially as now I have just put out new beans, tomatoes, herbs-including some catnip for my furry babies, and more peppers. This past season, I only had peppers from my lemon jalapeño and italian banana pepper plants- not one sweet pepper from either the red or green ones. Instead those plants seem to stay stunted with every so often a bloom but not one single beginning pepper. Other failures include disappearing onion plants- literally one morning to the next- full tops to absolutely gone, none! I have no idea who the varmint might be- do opossums like onion tops? They didn’t seem to have any pests otherwise. I did have a group of horned caterpillars show up on my banana peppers but after two days of careful picking them off, the peppers regrouped and have gotten nice and leafy again. Tomatoes this year were a mixed bag. None of the bigger tomatoes had any fruit. I did however get plenty of cherry tomatoes in red, summer gold, and zebra striped. The okra had mixed results too- I inspect every day but still somehow a good deal of the fruit goes from mini sized to hard and too large and woody to eat before I pick it. I had a few cucumbers but not what I’d expected- trying again this season with a new crop of those and so far they seem to be growing fantastically. I think the garden just gets overly hot no matter how much I water or mulch. I did put in a grape that had been languishing in a pot, and now that is throwing some small shade as it makes its way up the trellis. Eggplants- the Italians withered and the Japanese and Thai varieties did great- so no more Italian versions for me I think. All the basils are doing fantastic, and I’ve already frozen several mini bags of pesto. I have way more oregano and rosemary than I could ever use. So far, I’m taking cuttings to maybe use as ground cover in another part of the yard. I wish I could extend my dill. It went to seed as soon as it got hot and maybe (?) it will send up some babies this next season- time will tell. I find it funny that the dill is gone just as the cucumbers are producing anything worthwhile. I haven’t been writing in some time due to having to keep up with the watering and weeding- despite the heat, the weeds just keep chugging along. I’ll try to keep up better- meanwhile, if you have any gardening tips leave me a comment. Thanks you’all !