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Hard Truths

Today the hard truths of life hammer my heart.

People crash into my life and then stagger back out.  One task after another presents itself; I push against my limitations, frustrated.  I gather my standards and my wits around me, blindly stumbling down pitted highways.  Most of all, I bite my tongue; I tell myself, over and over, Don’t complain; just keep walking.

The most and least that I can say for myself remains consistent.  I strove to be genuine at every turn.  The same qualities evoke devotion or hostility depending on the beholder’s vantage point.  My independence, my persistence, my steadfastness, my intelligence gain praise and condemnation at either end of a relationship.  On meeting me, people exclaim over my fierce individuality; on leaving me, they declaim the same quality with equal vehemence.

I do not change.  I just keep walking.

Whatever I have been or become depends not on my aim to please, but on my dedication to growth.  I take baby steps.  Sometimes I fall.  I keep walking.

Whatever else I am, whatever else I become, you can count on this:  I have no artifice.  And I will keep walking, though the road stretches long before me and the journey unfolds with the eerie silence of solitude.  Break the silence with your song.  I will be glad of the companionship.  But if you wish to fly, I will not hold you hostage.  I will bid you farewell with as much compassion and understanding as I can manage.  I hold no grudges.  I take no prisoners.

It’s the thirtieth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Motivation

I agreed to be part of a documentary film-maker’s exploration of tiny homes.  In preparation for her visit today, I spent several hours straightening and cleaning my house.  This proved fortuitous.  Two sets of tiny home tourists  happened by Angel’s Haven yesterday. I could proudly invite them into my space and accommodate their comfort and interest.

When I awakened this morning, I had a message from the prospective film-maker to our group cancelling her appearance today.  Putting aside mild annoyance, I acknowledged her note and rose to make coffee.  I looked around my home.  The potential of its appearing in a movie had inspired me to make small adjustments and to accentuate features of Angel’s Haven which please me.  I had been happy to allow strangers into the space without worrying that I had not adequately cleaned or that something looked amiss.

With Angel’s Haven looking so spiff, I decided to make my own video, an updated tour for my YouTube channel of how the place looks after seven months of living.  In truth, I do keep it fairly clean and organized.  Tidying a 200-square-foot space takes much less time.  Perhaps  I’m not a true minimalist, but I no longer make purchases which add to the clutter.   I don’t need more tools or trinkets, though each visit to Kansas City has given me a chance to rummage through the shrinking pile in the storage unit.  I make happy discoveries, return with three or four additions, and spend gleeful moments working the cherished finds into my decor.

I sat in my rocking chair this morning, looking at how I’ve arranged the space in which I write.  I can gaze out the window from my desk.  I see beloved faces and artwork from every vantage point.  A friend could come and sit reading while I work.   Everything lies close at hand, bathed in sunlight.  This alcove reflects the essence of my existence — a place for creativity, a spot for relaxing, and mementos of my life and of those whom I have loved.

These days, when people ask me what I do,  I tell them that I write.

“Oh, what do you write,” they ask.

“I’m working on a book,” I reply.  “And I have a couple of blogs.”

They usually turn away.  They avoid my eyes.  Most folks expect to hear that one writes for an online journal, a television show, movies, or a newspaper.  The world has always looked askance at those of us with works in progress, like the half-finished painting on an easel or the page in the platen.  I accept their skepticism.  Sometimes one must take a different view of any situation.  From where I sat this morning, casting my eyes over the writing loft, I understood the direction of my life.  I convinced myself.  That suffices to keep me moving forward.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

A panoramic view of my writing loft seen from my rocking chair this morning.  Light streams into the loft.  Cool air dances through the space.  Tres bien!

Confession

I like to think that even Stephen Hawking got the blues.
Did he rebel at the entrapment of his beauty?
Did he moan at his body’s slow decline?
In the deepness of a night spent thrashing
did he lament the love whom he sent packing?
Could he stand the awkward bent of his legs –
the uncontrollable draw of his arms –
the irritating whir of the machines –
the tortured rise of dawn behind his tangled curtains?
Websites burgeon with his pithy sayings
from which I admit to stealing inspiration.
I’ve used them even here on these rank pages.
But when the silence overshadows me
and I lay sobbing, plagued by unrelenting failure
I like to think that even Stephen Hawking got the blues.

P.S.  As an apology for my rather lame poetry, here are some lovely pictures taken during my recent retreat to the wilds of northern California.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

IN LOVING MEMORY OF PAUL ORSO, WHO ENDURED ALS AND NEVER ONCE COMPLAINED.

Patrick Corley, Paul Orso, and me; August 2014, a year before Paul’s death.

On solitude

After two days without cell or internet, I have come down from the mountain and now make my way back to the Delta.  I’ve logged back into my life, paid the piper, and sent smoke signals in all directions.  In a few hours, I will unlock the doors of Angel’s Haven and resume the normal activities of daily living.

I plunged headlong into reality last evening with a slip on the floor of the shower in the bunkhouse at Point Reyes Hostel.  A woman named Dena hoisted me from the floor, summoned to help by another woman who decided she wasn’t strong enough for the task.  I don’t know the first woman’s name but they undoubtedly appeared as angels always do, when I need them and without hesitation.  In the kitchen this morning, I thanked Dena with a hug and a warm smile, meager offerings but all that I could conceivably tender.

I walked farther than I normally do yesterday.  I could not get to Limantour Beach because the sand on the trail gave way beneath my feet.  But I took a hard-packed walking trail which ran parallel to the bluffs.  Eventually it turned upwards and I could see the Pacific, the endlessness laid before me.  Her song heralded me as I trudged the length of the pathway, beckoning, encouraging.  The sight and memory of that scene more than compensates for the bruised hip and wrenched shoulder, and nearly offsets the mild humiliation of lying naked on the communal bathroom floor hours later.

When I crested the hill and stood beside the tree for which I had been aiming, I looked southward to the white cliffs at Nuvo Albion, the point claimed by Sir Francis Drake for his queen.  I had driven to the spot by land in the morning fog.  To see it from a distant point seemed somehow fitting.  Like Drake, I have come far, although unlike Drake, I will not return to my place of origin.  Tendril shoots have begun to grow from my discontented feet.  I feel myself taking root.   In the fertile soil of my new life, I might find nourishment.  Certainly I lift my face to the sky, and let the sun caress me as I never thought possible.

The day broke cool and gentle.  I rose and ventured into the kitchen with a clutch of other folks — Lauren, an artist from Richmond; Ron, a retired tech worker who lives in Rio Vista; and a woman from Switzerland whose name I did not hear.  We ground the beans and waited for the water to boil.  When I had my mug, I walked across the living room and stood in front of the window.  I felt an inexplicable surge of joy as I watched a little rabbit who surely has been the same one that I’ve been observing for the last three days.  He crossed the driveway and resumed nibbling which he must have abandoned as yesterday drew to a dusky close.  Something about his pluckiness makes me glad that this dawn was one to which I was awake.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Finding center

Yesterday morning Jeanne said, “Were you complaining, just now, talking to yourself?  I paused to reflect.  I could not summon any memory of talking outloud but I must have, if my voice carried down the hall.

Her question started a train of thought that wrapped itself around the start of a poem and kept my fingers from the keyboard.  That I could have muttered a protest so loudly that it seeped through the guest room door and let itself be known disturbed me.  To have done so without realization compounded my consternation.   I pondered all day; the seed which Jeanne had planted flourished and grew, choking my ability to articulate any decent understanding of its meaning.  I kept asking myself the same question:  How often does a running line of discontent lurk beneath the surface and poison everything I do?

On reflection, I realized that I might have been lamenting the difficulty which morning presents to my body.  Stiff and sore on waking, I struggle out of bed and move through my morning routine with difficulty.  In straining over the simple task of getting dressed, I must have cursed, or uttered some sharp judgment about the unfairness of the small burden which life imposes.

Later in the afternoon, Jeanne and I went shopping. When the clerk rang Jeanne’s purchases, multiple errors drove the final tally significantly higher than it ought to have been.  Jeanne calmly asked about the discrepancy, and the clerk and she went over the entire transaction.  In a few minutes, the mistake had gotten corrected and we left the store.  As we made our way back to her house, I silently observed that I might not have been as gracious as Jeanne in handling the transaction.  Even now, even with four years of dedication to living a life without complaint.

The morning light rises outside Jeanne’s kitchen window.  Yesterday we saw a woodchuck in her back yard.  The previous morning, a deer studied us through the window.  It’s a beautiful place and I am happy to be here — for many reasons, not the least of which flows from Jeanne’s simple and unwitting query which led me to a sobering pause in this never-ending journey.

It’s the twenty-second day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Me, wearing a necklace made by Kat Nemati which I got one “Free Art Friday” at Gallery 504.

Without Judgment

I’m in Missouri.  It feels peculiar to be here.  Nothing seems familiar; yet everywhere I turn, I have been a thousand times before this time, this day.

I spent the morning in court on a case that would give any loud talk show a run for its money.  Afterwards, I had to draft and file no less than four motions for various orders to try to impose a little sanity on the situation.  Mom, Dad, Mom’s boyfriend, Dad’s girlfriend, Mom and Dad’s child, Dad and girlfriend’s child, Mom and boyfriend’s child:  seven human beings impacted, three of whom have no control over what the adults decide to do with their lives.

I tried to recite only facts and seek only an orchestrated orderly process for these people to manage themselves until we can get a final disposition. I tried not to impose my judgment on their conduct.  It’s hard, though; I represent the children, the helpless children, a five-year-old, a one-month old, and a six-month old.  What will these machinations do to them?  We can guess.  What we strive to avoid is a cycle, the same cycle which probably prompted their parents to act as they did to position themselves for this drama.

Then I sip coffee and read about seventeen souls drowned at Table Rock Lake.   No one would call me a religious person by anyone’s standard.  But i am left, at the end of this day, with one solid thought:

There, but for the grace of God, go I. 

And now, I’m off to dinner with friends.  Tomorrow, I will move files to storage. On Sunday, I visit Corleys on the eastern side of the state.  Then, on Monday, I fly west, to my Pacific, and home.

It’s the twentieth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Clouds

Above the clouds, the world looks the same in every direction.  You can’t tell if you are in California, Colorado, or Kansas.  You don’t know if a city or a desert lies beneath you.  The rivers creep silently across the earth.  The sea makes its unnoticed way to the shore.

I leaned against the window and drifted in and out of a dizzy consciousness as I flew from Oakland to Kansas City today.  The man in the middle seat rested his head on his thin hands.  His wedding ring slipped towards his knuckle   His black linen suit jacket fell forward onto bony knees.  He slept for nearly the entire flight, three and  a half hours.  When we landed, an enormous shudder coursed through his shoulders.  He pulled his body from the chair and dragged himself to the front of the plane, running one hand through his hair.

I studied the other passengers as they trudged down the aisle.  They all seemed to be still immersed in the clouds.  I waited until the flight attendant came forward to help me with my bag, then smiled at a man who paused to let me exit.  The weariness left his gaze for a moment, just a moment, as he gestured.

In the terminal, a tense clutch of people waited to board our plane, bound for Los Angeles.  A fresh crew slipped past me as I made my way to the baggage claim area.  The man who had sat beside me waited, one hand clenched, one arm crossed, eyes closed.

I don’t know what those clouds did to us, or how everyone else fared as they made their way to the city.  As for myself, I could not shake the feeling that I had gotten lost somewhere in the sky and had yet to come down.  I might be drifting still.

It’s the eighteenth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

the world
gives you so much pain
and here you are
making gold of it.

there is nothing purer than that. – rupi kaur

Not complaining about not complaining

Four years ago, the effervescent Jane Williams observed that I spent a lot of time describing the people, places, and circumstances about which I strove to refrain from complaining.  She hazarded the mildly voiced guess that doing so tiptoed perilously close to complaining.  I saw the wisdom of her thoughts and switched gears, for which I remain in her debt.

Now I study the people, places, and circumstances at hand and wish that I could throw this mission over my left shoulder and have me a good old-fashioned bitch session.  I’m joking but just barely.

Listen:

A video making the rounds on social media depicts a trio of sad women yelling at a clerk.  One of them snaps, “Are you laughing at me?  Don’t you laugh at me!” and my heart clenches.  I can remember hurling just that accusation at a customer service rep in a Kansas City business.  And you know?  I think the clerk was laughing at me.  I had gotten upset, and justifiably, but the vehemence with which I registered even my valid protest had risen beyond the pale.  His laughter might have been mocking or it might have been nervous.  I saw it as treacherous.

I remember how I felt in that moment.  The error which I strove to protest cost me $200.00, which it took me about a week to recover.  My life had fallen into a shambles — a true mess, not just a bad hair day or a summer cold.  I barely dragged myself from bed each day.  I could not even bring myself to ask anyone for help. I had no idea where to begin to salvage the tattered remains of my existence.

I should have been at home. I should have been in a shrink’s office. I should have been sleeping, or enlisting the help of people who cared about me. Instead I stood at someone’s counter screaming because I had no idea what to do and the guy smirked at me.  I had had weeks on end of last straws and his giggle put me over the top.  I felt just like the lady in the video which I watched in horror a couple of days ago.  Are you laughing at me?  Don’t you dare laugh at me!

I understand her anguish.  I don’t laugh at people anymore.  I’ve been on the receiving end of that demonstration.  However innocently meant, that particular sound, in that moment, can sear a body to the core.  I stood  in that woman’s shoes once.  I could never do that to another person.

This journey has broadened my understanding of life in immeasurable ways.  I’m not complaining about not complaining.  It’s done my spirit a world of good that might just make a decent human being out of me yet.

It’s the sixteenth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Separating trash from treasure

I am a saver.

I keep buttons, and love letters, and folded scraps of fabric from projects that my mother started before dying.  I keep the sweaters that my mother-in-law gave me in the early days, before she slipped into the dreamy stage of dementia.  My drawers still hold photos and trinkets — fewer drawers, fewer photos, but still.

When I went tiny, I culled bag after bag of the flotsam and jetsam of my life.  I had no idea how much of a keeper I had become.  My son’s school papers; wedding photos with a painfully younger self and three different men over the years; the scribblings of a woman who wanted so badly to write.  I spent an entire week looking at every blessed page of every album and each card, every cardboard cut-out memento of the life I had led.

On one of my trips home, I smashed my sewing box on the concrete floor of the storage place. I lamented its apparent destruction.  It’s a cherished antique which my mother gave me, and much of its contents came from her own collection.   My friend Sheldon repaired it; and his wife Paula nestled all the spools of thread and packets of needles into its compartments.  I hauled it back to California in my suitcase last time I traveled to Kansas City for work.  Today I got it down to stitch a tie onto a chair cushion.  Afterward I reorganized its contents.

I realized that my mother, too, had been a saver; and that I perpetuated the legacy.  I stared for a long time at the pile of “extra button” packets, some from her, some from me.  The likelihood of ever needing any of them has grown slim.  I started to cram them back into the box, but realized that the buttons themselves could be saved without their sleeves.  Fifteen minutes later, a pile of paper and plastic had dwindled to a handful of sweet little buttons in three small boxes.  I put the debris in the recycling outside and poured myself a cup of coffee.  I gave myself over to thought.

I am a saver. But  I think I’ll refine the criteria for what I will keep.  I’ll save pledges of friendship and love; the memories of warm embraces; and images of welcoming smiles.  I’ll cherish the throaty sound of my mother’s voice  and the lingering echoes of children’s laughter.

I’ll let go of grudges, and judgment, and nasty sideways cracks.  I don’t need cobwebs or clutter. I don’t have room for pain.

From this day forward, I’ll only keep the treasures. Everything else gets tossed in the dumpster and hauled away with the rest of the trash.

It’s the fifteenth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

When my brothers Frank, Steve, and I were small, my mother sang us to sleep with a song about Christopher Robin.  I knew it came from “Winnie the Pooh”, but I thought she herself had set it to music. During my son’s childhood, I sang the same song. 

I recently discovered versions of it dating back to 1939.  This recording done by Shirley Temple Black most closely resembles my mother’s rendition.

 

Hello

I sauntered into Mei Wah’s Beer Room in Isleton an hour before the pop-up art gallery had been scheduled to start.  Iva looked over her shoulder at me and said to a man on a nearby stool, “Don’t believe anything she says, she’s from out of town.”  The guy smiled.   Iva drew his beer and raised an eyebrow in my direction.   I nodded. She poured a kombucha and set it on the bar.

The man asked what Iva had meant, was I going to lie or something?  Before I could answer, he called over to Iva that I had just told him she was a great bartender, was I lying? and we all laughed.  He asked why I had sat on the end and not right close to him and his friend.  “We don’t bite,” he admonished.

I gestured to the large fan in the doorway and shrugged. I don’t like a lot of air blowing in my face.  The man told me his name, Jeff; and his friend’s name, Dan.  Then he asked what I was reading.  When I showed him my copy of In These Times, he wanted to know what it was.

“A leftist magazine,” I explained.  And he and his friend slid one stool further away from me.  They played it off like it had something to do with the food that the owner of Yes My Sweet BBQ had just delivered.

The first one asked if I considered myself a leftist.  I debated before replying that I would rank somewhere on the continuum between liberal and progressive.

“What about Iva, is she a leftist?”  I didn’t know if he was gigging me. Iva, the owner, a woman married to another woman, would certainly be considered liberal if nothing else.  I didn’t answer though, and he turned back to his food.  A few minutes later, they finished their ribs, settled with Iva, and vanished.

A young woman and her brother took the vacated stools and ordered from Iva’s killer beer list.  They wanted to talk.  He said he lived in Sacramento; his sister had just come from Oregon.  They were driving down to LA to see their parents.

“Do you live here?” the woman asked.  “How do we get to the Delta?”  I explained that they already were in the Delta. I took the man’s cell phone and found the Loop on Google-Maps.  He asked, “what exactly is the Delta, anyway?” and I spent a few minutes explaining the history.  Iva sent them to the foyer for a copy  of the Delta magazine.  I showed them the Loop on its centerfold map.  They seemed excited when they left.

The door had closed behind them before I realized that I’d been mistaken for a native.

When Iva brought me a second kombucha, I told her about Jeff and his friend and my magazine.  She chuckled.  “I’m definitely a leftist,” she assured me, and went over to pour another round for three men wearing shirts that said #RESIST.  I went to the back of the bar and watched the artist at work for a few minutes.   I asked him where he lived.  He said that he had been traveling the world for two years and had come to visit his parents.  “They live on a boat in Owl Harbor,” he told me.  “I used to live in my car but I sold it.”   I couldn’t think of a reply so I just nodded and took his picture to post in the Delta News group on Facebook.  It never hurts to give the place a little free publicity.

A little while later,  I paid my tab.  I hovered in the door, watching the room: Iva behind the bar, the itinerant artist sketching a lady in a silver dress, and a couple of tables filled with people who looked as though they had regular stools and their own beer steins.

Nobody noticed when I left.

It’s the fourteenth day of the fifty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

John Prine’s HELLO IN THERE.