Monthly Archives: November 2019

Aspirations

In high school we had to identify a life-goal for our senior profile in the yearbook.  Most of my classmates gave a glib or silly answer, but I spoke with unyielding honesty.  I wanted to have a poem published in the New Yorker.

I write fairly awful poetry.  I’ve had three published as companion pieces, forty years ago in the long-defunct Eads Bridge.  They might be the only decent verses that I’ve ever written.  Still, I kept trying.  The flow of words captivates me.  They trickle over stones, spring waters running through my winter-weary mind.

I’ve memorized three or four poems in my life.  “Jenny Kissed Me”, by Leigh Hunt.  “Fire and Ice”,  by Robert Frost.  The last few lines of “And There Will Come Soft Rains”, by my favorite poet and fellow St. Louisan, Sara Teasdale.

And, “The Eagle”, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

At times in my life, I have also wanted to be a photographer.  I hold fewer illusions in that regard.  I do not claim to be adept at the technical aspects of camera-work.  I shoot on automatic, and only for purposes of recording my world and illustrating what I write.

This afternoon, I chanced to glance out of my window and see a bird high above our meadow.  I could not stop myself.  With the lyrical Tennyson lines rolling over themselves in my mind, I grabbed my camera and scooted onto the porch.

My friend Sally asked me yesterday if life’s vagaries had slowed the pace of entries here.  I contemplated her words, but then, found myself telling the truth.  This blog might have run its course.  It could be evolving.  I cannot say.  This much remains true:  Writing compels me.  My words might not dance over the smooth stones of a river’s bed, but they tumble to the keyboard as swiftly and as relentlessly from my hands as from the pen of any poet.

It’s evening, on the seventeenth day, of the seventy-first month since I began this endless year, in which I strive not to complain.  From the California Delta, my corner of paradise, I exhort you:  Take up your camera, your computer, your brush, your song, your courage.  Do not let go of  that which you grasp until whatever you long to do consumes each waking hour and sends you tired but content into the night.

Life continues.

The Eagle
BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

I can’t say for certain that this is an eagle.  More likely, it is a hawk.  Taken with a simple Canon PowerShot SX530HS on full zoom mode, sitting on my porch across the meadow.

With special thanks:

To Sally Kerchner for her mad listening skills;

And to Genevieve Casey, for encouraging me to value myself.

Common bonds

I tried to make a one-eyed Egyptian egg today.  Though I made a few technical errors, I enjoyed the taste and remembered my mother with each luscious bite.  I used the good brown bread which Sally brought for our shared lunch yesterday, and a cage-free, pasture-raised brown egg from Sprouts in Lodi.

My mother made this dish from Wonder bread and cheaper-by-the-dozen eggs from Bettendorf-Rapps.  I’d stand on the wooden stool which she painted green in later years, with some left-over paint the way everything got treated back then.  She let me tear the hole and eat the little nugget of squishy bread.  Into the pan went margarine and then she laid the bread down, cracking the egg to simmer in the hot fat.  With a deft movement of her wrist, the treat got flipped so the yoke would cook.  I sat in the breakfast room and sprinkled salt all over the plate before piercing the delightful egg and letting its yoke run.  I never had anything so wonderful.

Sally and I have nothing in common and yet, we have become close.  I met her last year when she and her husband Bill spent eight months in the Park where I live.  She hales from back east; has Conservative, Christian views; and moves comfortably within the broad, beautiful parameters of her lengthy marriage.  

We dined on my 8 x 8 deck.  I set the table with a cloth of my mothers and napkins which, truth be told, belonged to my ex-husband’s first wife.  Hawks flew over head.  Her dog Buddy and two pups that she’s minding for her daughter sprawled in the sun-drenched meadow.  An early fog had lifted by mid-day, leaving behind a cloudless blue sky which on its own provided an excellent justification for continued enthusiasm.

Sally and I shared heart-felt conversation, sitting for hours, until we finally realized that she had to go if she wanted to get over the Antioch bridge before dark.  She embraced me before bundling the dogs into the backseat of her Jeep and gliding away on the gravel road.  I stood on the porch for a long while.  The chilly air did not discourage me.  I felt the warmth of Sally’s arms around me.  I thought about my mother, with whom Sally also has little in common — except that both were daughters; and mothers; and friends; and strong resilient women who, for some inexplicable reason, chose to love me.

It’s the seventeenth day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

#Brightsiders

The blood moon crouched on the horizon as I came home from work on Tuesday.  I longed for even my scratched lens to capture the glowing orb.  By the time I got to the Park, it had risen, bright, full, and radiant.

I cannot sleep these days.  A few hours of rest ends with tense moments of wakefulness before I finally drag myself from bed.  I huddle under the blankets as long as possible, wishing for the silent shroud of sleep. Eventually I cannot avoid the futility of my efforts.   But I don’t use the extra time for anything productive.  My body still yearns for rest, steered wrong by a scrambling brain.

The next year could make or break my mortal salvation.  Mindful of my promise to live to be 103, I consider that I have a third of my life remaining.  I could do so much with three decades:  Finish my book; atone for my misspent youth; send countless ripples of joy across the surface of our moonlit planet.  I do not suggest that I have any special power other than hard-won awareness.  My muscles still shudder; my heart still wobbles; my stubborn nature persists.  But I have stepped out of the shadows into the dazzling light on the bright side of the moon.  That has to count for something.

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

Turning tables

When I had my tiny house built, I envisioned my eating table dropping down from the exterior wall perpendicular to the kitchen.  This would allow for two persons to enjoy a meal with adequate room for a chair on each long side.  But the builder did not realize what I wanted, and put the large window in the exact spot where the table was to be attached.

Instead, then, my lovely live-edge cherry table drops from a cabinet and slides out into the room parallel with the kitchen.  This unsatisfactory arrangement necessitated the construction of a bench from the last good board of the hundred-year old wood from the Holmes house.  I like the bench, but it’s hard to navigate around the table, over the stairs, and onto the bench.  It’s rarely used.  Instead, company sits on a small chair at the short end of the table.  For my daily meals, I face the window with my back to the room.

Tonight I turned the tables on myself.  From the bench, with the front door open, I listened to the sounds of the park as I skimmed through social media.  I studied the accumulation of clutter on my counter; the dangling curtain in the guest sleeping loft; and the cobwebs on the ceiling.  I sipped cool water and reflected on my day.

Later, I saw a post from the person whom I have come to regard, with a fair degree of sorrow, as one of the few people in the world who genuinely loathe me.  The post had me as its subject and a markedly unpleasant inference.  But as I watched, it disappeared.  Maybe the person thought better of the comment.  I sighed and turned away from the computer.  I could have been upset, but I let it go.

Darkness has fallen now; and soon, I shall wash a few dishes and settle for the night.  I’m not much for bedtime prayers, but I have some guardian angels to thank; and one or two whom I want to dispatch to watch over President Carter, my son, and some friends whom I know are struggling.  I’ll ask a special, sweet cherub to find the person who seems to despise me and soothe that person’s soul.  Angels abound; I can spare a few.

It’s the eleventh day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Anniversary

I wear my heart on my sleeve.

My heart beats over my shoulder in the sketch drawn by a street artist in 2006 of my son and me in Rochester, Minnesota.

My heart nestles beneath the soft fabric of the sweater which Caitlin Taggart Perkins gave me for Christmas three years ago.

My heart falls from around my neck in each bead of the necklace which I made with my mother-in-law during my desperate hours of trying to save her from the grip of dementia.

My mother’s heart shines from my smile.  

The heart and soul of  each woman who trudged the rocky path before me radiates from the crinkles in my eyes and the grey roots surrounding my face:  My Nana; Grandma Corley; Mom Ulz; Great-grandmother Corinne Hahn Hayes.

Two years ago this Sunday, Angel’s Haven came to rest on a small lot here at Park Delta Bay.  I stood in front of her, smiling, hopeful, maybe even a little brave.  Stacks of boxes within the house held the small allotment of personal belongings which I had allowed myself.  I had no idea what the next two years would provide.  I had no job; I had no friends here; I had no family within driving distance except a few Corley cousins with whom I had not managed to connect.  Everything I knew remained in the Midwest.  The endless possibilities intrigued me; the monumental potential for failure terrified me.

My clumsy feet seem to find every pothole.  If a task can be botched, I have managed to do so in my sixty-four years on earth.  I continue to struggle with focus and ambition.  In the early hours, doubt overcomes me.  Fear makes itself at home in my domain.  Every effort which I have undertaken falls short of expectations.  I see disappointment in the eyes which turn away from me.

But I still wear my heart on my sleeve. 

It’s the sixth day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

One Perfect Oyster Shell

I have acquired an enemy.

I don’t intend to out the person.  I will strive to avoid gender, circumstance, and character.  I don’t want to complain, kvetch, gripe, grumble, or grouse about this individual’s apparently unrelenting campaign to discredit me.

I just want to talk about one perfect oyster shell.

I got the shell at lunch on Saturday.  My friends Jim and Nancy ordered oysters to start their meal.  We sat at the last inside table at Sam’s Chowder House on a length of Cabrillo Highway which could be Montara or Half Moon Bay; I’m not quite sure.  The infinite blue sea stretched beneath the cool creamy azure of a California sky.  A table of adorable people on the deck beyond our window delighted us:  Mother, father, son, daughter, all in little fisher-people hats to shield their delicate skin from the sun’s zealous affection.  

Sam’s is one of three places at which I break my vegetarian diet to eat seafood.  Jim and Nancy’s kitchen is another, along with that restaurant in Jenner at the mouth of the Russian River which serves overnight tomatoes and freshly-made lemonade beside fish caught in the harbor and all along the coast.  At Sam’s, I had perfect fried cod and coleslaw, with a Chardonnay and gluten-free apple-crisp for dessert.

Nancy wiped the debris from their oyster shells and offered one to me.  I wrapped it in a napkin and buried it under my wallet in the bottom of my handbag.  I promptly forgot about it.

Last night, I saw a trail of my enemy’s bombardment in a virtual realm.  One of the other hostel guests sat adjacent to me at the table with its sign suggesting that we talk with each other.  I’ve got an an enemy, I told the lady, with whom I had been exchanging increasingly less superficial conversation for an hour or two.  I shared a little bit of what I knew about the rising anger of my attacker.  We talked about the sadness which must drive the person to spend so much time castigating me.  She told me the story of someone whom she had found to be equally adverse, and how she handled the controversy.  I liked her ideas.

I drove home by way of San Ramon today because I had an hour or two in which it didn’t matter whether I got anywhere or not.  For that matter, I could probably wander, lost, for a couple of decades.  My son might text. My sister Joyce would certainly call.  But most everybody has become accustomed to my strange behavior and besides, they have their own lives.  Eventually, alarms would sound but I reckon it would take at least a few weeks.

As I drove, I gazed over the rolling hills and towering trees of Contra Costa County.  Mount Diablo sat on my right.  I remembered the day that I foolishly decided to climb its southern face in my Toyota, and the trepidation, if not hysteria, which coursed through my body.  I felt again the tenseness of my hands as I clutched the steering wheel and the fervor with which I begged whatever angels had not abandoned me to stay by my side until the end, bitter, sweet, or boring.  Again I reminded myself that I had to keep living.  I have a lot for which to be thankful, but even more for which to make amends.

When I got home today, my neighbor Barb greeted me with the news that power had gone out.  She didn’t know if it was local or island-wide.  Jackie, who knows most and sees more, answered my texted query with updated information and an estimated time of restoration. I talked a little with Josh, who lives in the converted school bus and plays exquisite music on a soundbox with stretched wire, as he has been known to describe his guitar.  

Then I carried some of my things inside and opened the curtains.  On a whim, I rummaged in my handbag and unearthed the wad of paper.  I slowly pulled its edges back, and studied the oyster shell.  After a few minutes, I nestled it among the rocks in my mother’s old bowl.  I stood and beheld the pale blue of the Delta sky and the rising limbs of the tree above my neighbor’s house. 

I suddenly recalled a telephone call in which my son and I participated after Marshall Rosenberg died, a peace call, I think the Center for Nonviolent Communication called it.

Dr. Rosenberg divided communication into giraffe language and jackal speech.  I’ve still not perfected the former, but I recognize and strive to eschew the latter.  All jackal speech arises as a tragic expression of an unmet need, Dr. Rosenberg taught us.  My enemy apparently spends a fair amount of time hating me; and so much energy expressing that hatred in oblique, sad ways in obscure venues.  I wonder what unmet need drives the fury.  I closed my eyes and let myself feel the venom.  I tried to manifest the force of wrath and allow it to flow through me, with the hope that I might perceive the unmet need.  When I opened my eyes, my gaze fell on the delicate contours of the oyster shell which my friend Nancy gave me, on a joyful afternoon, two hours west of here, on the coast of my Pacific.

It’s the third day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.”

— Marshall Rosenberg

Happenstance

When my son was about three years old, he leaned toward me from the seat of the grocery cart and said, Mommy, you tell me not to talk to strangers, and you do it all the time.  He studied me with his serious eyes until I responded that there were different rules for grown-ups.  I don’t know if he believed me.

I talk to people wherever I go.  I suspect this tendency springs from a perverse desire to fight my essential introversion.  The search for different factions of my tribe compels me.

Last weekend, I met a woman at Pigeon Point who had come for a weekend respite, to write and walk on the bluffs above the sea.  Today she and her wife traveled from San Francisco to share coffee and watch the sunset on the ocean off the point at Montara.  An easy comfort settled on our conversation.    Odd that I originally had intended my hostel stays in the reverse order of how they have happened.  I would not have met Joyce and Jane in that event, and two dear souls would continue moving outside my orbit.

Now I sit at the same table as I occupied last evening, near the little chalk board exhorting me to talk to others rather than hammering on my keyboard.  Another woman writes in a chair beside me.  From time to time, we exchange observations, remarks about the work each of us pursues, or some other idle talk which gives us the companionship that the hostel gods seemingly want us to enjoy.  Neither of us needs more.  A cup of cool water, a shared power plug, and the knowledge that someone else understands the drive to pour one’s thoughts upon the page.

It’s evening, on the second day, of the seventieth month, of what has become My [everlasting] Year Without Complaining.  Another perfect day in paradise draws to a peaceful close.  Life continues.

  

Forty-five Years to Here

I first saw an ocean in 1974 at the Jersey shore.  The Atlantic spans cold and cruel, stretching beyond one’s imagination and certainly beyond the reach of yearning.  The Eastern sea never claimed my affection, though I gasped as I crested a hill and first beheld her wide expanse.

I lived in Boston for ten bleak months after graduating from college.  I never felt at home there, nor did sound of the Atlantic ease my perennial longing.  I came away unconvinced that I could ever feel peace anywhere but the landlocked Midwest of my childhood.

Then I wandered westward into the irresistible pull of the Pacific, into the wave of welcome for which I yearned.   The Atlantic scorns your adoration; the Pacific invites you to rest on her shores and heed her song.  I’m older now, of course.  As the last third of my dubious life commences, it stands to reason that I might see romance in different quarters.  But my heart did not fabricate the sonnet of the western sea.  She might not speak especially to me, but neither does she silently sit on the wide expanse of the horizon.  Her endless melody drifts to shore on following winds.  I lay my head upon the meager pillow and fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of her voice.

It’s the second day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Heart is sea,
language is shore.
Whatever sea includes,
will hit the shore.”

― Rumi

“May you have fair seas and following winds.”

Continuing on the #journeytojoy

I passed the entrance to the hostel twice today, once upon arrival and later, after dinner.  I’ve improved my turning skills and navigated back each time, through the gate which will close at 11:00 p.m. and along the edge of the sea to the bottom driveway.  I sit in the dining room next to a little chalk board extolling me to forswear my laptop, and to enjoy “each other’s company”.  That command sits right next to another sign suggesting that I follow the hostel on Facebook.

The kids used to play a computer game on DOS in which the hero crashed his plane on an island and had to navigate through various challenges to save himself.  One had to type commands and do so in precise sequence.  You could not tell him to walk into a hut without first directing him to open the door.  If you said, “Pick up the flashlight” before “walk into the hut”, the program would say, “I don’t see any flashlight here”.  

When I read the invitation to partake of the other’s company, I thought, I don’t see anyone here.

The friend whom I met for dinner brought her six-month old puppy, half Dachsund and half something else.  She kept the little thing in a scarf which hung low on her body, like a baby sling or a papoose.  We exchanged updates on our lives since we last shared a meal, which we strive to do a couple of times a year.  I met Kristin three or four years ago on one of my first trips to the coast for medical care.  She’s like a slightly younger, cooler version of the woman that I always strove to be.  She wears flowy clothing, designs and creates jewelry and fabric art, and writes poetry.  She lives in El Granada and has a wrap-around deck overlooking the ocean.

I can’t even hate her for being so cool because of her amazingly kind personality.  She’s also forthright and intuitive.  Dinner with her leaves me wishing that I lived closer to the coast.  But then, she’d probably get tired of me.

The hostel lady moves around the kitchen, retrieving abandoned coffee cups which the users should have washed.  A family has taken over the back dorm in which I normally sleep, the one with the good bathroom.  But there’s a lady in my room who is an attorney and a writer.  She recently returned to California after four years in Maryland, where she exhausted her savings while writing a book.  Now she’s come back, to look for work and edit the manuscript.  She helped me put the fitted sheet on my bed and complimented my yellow hat.  I seem to find angels everywhere I go.

Tomorrow I will walk down to the point to watch the waves break against the rocks.  Eventually, I’ll make my way to lunch, to an afternoon coffee, and then, with any sort of luck, to a gorgeous sunset in Half Moon Bay.  This afternoon the ocean reached out to wash over me as I stood at the rail on Rockaway Beach.   Her calmness seeped into my soul.  A vague euphoria lingered long after my clothing dried.

It’s the first day of the seventy-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Peace

Peace flows into me
As the tide to the pool by the shore;
It is mine forevermore,
It ebbs not back like the sea.

I am the pool of blue
That worships the vivid sky;
My hopes were heaven-high,
They are all fulfilled in you.

I am the pool of gold
When sunset burns and dies, —
You are my deepening skies,
Give me your stars to hold.

— Sara Teasdale