Pain

The other day one of the doctor visits for my 88 year old mother included seeing the spine doctor who has given D. shoulder injections for the pain caused by deterioration of muscle and presence of rheumatoid arthritis.  Weythi hadn’t seen Dr. M. since she suggested we go to ER the day before Thanksgiving.  D’s pulse rate was very high when we got to the doctor’s office.

Now Dr. M had on a face mask and her voice was almost gone from the laryngitis.  She looked extra tiny and frail with a mask.  As the consultation went on and I had to “translate” meaning say again what the doctor said so that D could hear it, it became apparent that D was not going to receive a pain injection on this visit.  Now we would need the cardiologist’s approval to be off blood thinners for x amount of days.  And besides, explained Dr. M, there is a limit to the amount of steroids one can inject over the course of x number of months.

As this news sank in with D, sitting next to me, her thin arms hunched in, her chest caved and when her chin dropped she muttered, “So, I’m not getting anything for this pain?”  And she began to cry.  Shoulder heaving sobs and tears poured down her face.  The doctor and I sat quiet.  I put my hand on D’s shoulder and murmured apology.

When D looked up the doctor said there was something else we could try.  What they used on veterans, on soldiers who couldn’t (or didn’t) have pain meds.  She explained the simple procedure of ear acupuncture with tiny gold needles.  She asked if D wanted to try.

“I’m willing to try anything,” D snuffled.  Dr. M brightened up and explained that this procedure is what she did her research in.

After placing several gold pins in D’s right ear, Dr. M asked how her pain level was now.  D replied that it was a little better, so they did the other side.

I saw D’s face scrunch up and wince with the discomfort of needles going into sensitive places in her ear.  But, after it was done as she stood there she said that her pain level was better.

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I made arrangements for next month’s visit and took D home, relieved that this procedure seemed to help.  In the afternoon mom confirmed it had.

Breaking News: Seven newly identified planets orbiting a nearby star offer a realistic chance to seek signs of life beyond the solar system

So says the NYTimes headline.  It has been a long time since any planet searches have offered us hope – mostly because they aren’t Earth-sized or positioned relatively similarly to our diurnal orbit around their star.  But these are offering a realistic chance.

Seeking signs of life beyond the solar system sounds as if astronomers and astrophysicists have given up on finding signs of life in this old solar system.  No NYT headline reading to the effect, “Mars Rover Still Scratches the Surface and Reveals No Signs of Life,” nor reports for Venus.  Obviously Mercury is not inhabitable and the demoted planet we shall not mention definitely out of the question.

I wonder if this “nearby” star is similar to Our Mr. Sun, as the grade school science films depicted the star that provides our solar energy for life.  Is it a medium-sized, middle-aged star likely to burn out in a couple billion years?  Does it burn helium?

The real question here though is, how are we doing on seeking and discovering signs of life right on this planet?  I know the pioneering spirit will always seek new territories, but I think it is a fair question.  Are we just going to give this planet up as a toxic mess and send off a few hyper-bred humans to start life someplace else, in another solar system.  Yikes, in a different galaxy?

I adore the romance of space travel and love that we have space stations and the Hubble Telescope to see so far beyond our tiny conception of what is Out There.  But the line, “realistic chance to seek life” gets me.  Realistic with a budget of oh, say, 5 trillion dollars?  Realistic as a multi-generation program?  Okay?

But I just don’t see enough life-seeking behavior going on, at least not in American culture.  It appears to be death-seeking.  Life seeking could be a realistic improvement in the quality of life for the teeming numbers of children in poverty in the U.S. A. Life seeking could include a shift in viewing education as social engineering to feed the world economic machine.

Life is more than air in one’s lungs, after all.  More than something that wiggles and squirms on a petri dish.  I never thought there’d be life on Mars, nor Venus.  The ancient waterway stories were just that.  But I did always hope that life could hold promise and fulfillment, for each person who wants to be more than a consumer or TV clone.

We’ve got the green planet, the water, the oxygen and the technical know how.  What is missing?

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The Best Day Ever!

I will admit I am an overuser of “best ___ ever.”  If I eat a damn good cookie I will shout, “best cookie ever!” If I spark an idea it is “the best idea ever!” So yes, there have been quite a few “best days ever!”  But what is wrong with that?  I’d rather proclaim best evers at whatever whim than to go without ever saying any.

So the other day happened to be one of the many best days ever.  Laura met me at Peet’s.  I took her my drafty little books – seriously, imagine cut up pages from regular paper clipped together to look like a book.  Oh, by the way, this is recycled paper that I was writing on. I swear Laura probably bit back laughter or a proclamation such as, “Are you kidding me? Really? This is how you’re drafting your books? (slaps her knee and has a fit of giggles so hard that tears come out of her eyes)”

But no, she didn’t do any of that, instead she asked me to read them to her.  In Spanish. And then translate.  So I did.  And magic happened.  Laura took my drafty pencil book on recycled paper and practically transformed it into a real children’s book.

At one point I was so mesmerized by what she was doing that I stared. And I found myself doing what I always do with picture books that I love.  I gazed at the tomato and chili hanging out in the hot tub.  I could hear their sighs of relief as they settled into the bubbling warmth of the tub.  I believed them into life and imagined they had a conversation about how good it felt to be on vacation and to be in the simmering waters of the hot tub.

Then when Laura drew the pestle (hope I have that right, it is the thing that you use to grind something on mortar – ok I quit, do your best to  figure out what this English Learner is trying to say…) circling about and grinding the garlic, I was reminded of myself.  As a child I would have spent hours just staring at that page; imagining how the pestle would go around and around and wondering how the garlic felt as it was ground into smears on the mortar.  That is the page that I would return to over and over simply because I would want to reimagine the scene and make sense of it.  How did the pestle feel grinding away at the garlic and dissolving it? Did the garlic really enjoy that pestle? About how much work did it take to mash up the garlic? Did the garlic know what was coming to it once it was thrown on the mortar?

The icing came when Laura drew another copy.  She gave it to me and said, “something to keep you writing.” I couldn’t believe it! I had a copy! Smart as I am, I had her date it and sign it.  I haven’t stopped staring at the drawings since.  They feel real to me.  They feel like a real picture book (even though there are only 4 images).  And what makes it so incredible is that the accompanying text is in Spanish. A beautiful, precious, silly, fun story told in Spanish.

Best Day Ever!

OLW [one little word] Update

Love.   We can almost say that love is everything that touches on eternity, that gives us a sense of something good and greater than the sum total of what we are, that points to what is best in the human spirit, and maybe what animates the glorious teeming life we enjoy on this little blue planet.  We can almost say what it is, but not quite.

This morning I wrote a spiritual leader a short story to explain why I do not need to meet with her now.  We had agreed to talk sometime in February about the pains I was experiencing connected to years in a “church” that became an oppressive cult.  [Are there any which are not oppressive?]

I attended the New Year’s service at CSE (Center for Spiritual Enlightenment)  to set our intentions for Dharma 365, which is a daily practice of meditation and a reflective journal for the year.  I placed the pinch of incense on the burning coal and then stood as we were invited to experience the fulfillment of our intention.

My intention was to manifest a primary love partner.  I could completely create the experience the joy, oneness, and thrill of being in love with a partner who was my best friend and lover.  Yep, it’s going to happen.  I believed.

So, I set out from New Years in the online course, Dharma365, with purpose and curiosity.  Early a.m. meditation had become a kind of life line for me, as a busy educator who was also caring for an 88 year old mother living with me who suffered heart failure over New Years.

Two years ago, when I took the Tuesday night class two month class on meditation, I had enjoyed about eight months of uninterrupted daily meditating.  At that time, I had heard the teaching, the claim,  that super conscious meditation can change the brain maps, or the force of the habits of mind we carry.  And I frankly could not believe that.  I told a close girl friend so, and she challenged me with, “And so, what if it does?”

Somewhere in the first 40 days of this year, my love candle I had purchased from the CSE bookstore was almost spent.  I have a little altar, a small table where I sit in the predawn to meditate.  I went to the book store to get a replacement and — what?  Out of love candles?  Surely there can be no shortage of love!  And so I chose the “Confidence” candle – because I knew by now that I needed to place my confidence somewhere other than my lower case e ego.

What had happened, as the love candle burned into February, was that one morning the entire love joy/suffering I carried for my husband of 16 years whom I divorced about 16 years ago — the love I felt for James, that I didn’t realize was in my heart — was lit up in my full consciousness — the entire map.  And I just sat there being with it.  All of it. It was enlightening to realize that the relationship was not closed in my heart and that what I was intending in 2017 was somehow a version of having the ex husband back.

I also had bought Yogacharya’s book, The Moon Reminded Me, and there’s a line from the woman who wrote the preface in which she explained that her her spirituality was entangled with the pain of missing her deceased lover.  Her words confirmed what I sensed had happened to me.

My relationship with that second husband had began in spiritual quest, in seeking God and rearranging our lives to serve Jesus in a small Christian community.  (Yes, some things went terribly wrong in time there, but that’s another story.)

My morning meditation, when my heart was open by grace, had not only healed me of a lingering pain of attachment to a long gone relationship,  but also showed me the triggers I was experiencing in Sunday services at CSE were not really about previous cult leader abuses.  They were reactivation of my loss of love.  Think I was giving this person a little too much power, or what?? 🙂

Needless to say, my recent visits to commune and meditate at CSE have not been fraught with those old maps from my brain.  I hope not to underestimate the power of super conscious meditation again. If I do, the Universe will be happy to instruct me.

Staying open to love, and realizing that I meditate because I do love myself.  And confident that I have much to learn.
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Live

Friday evening at CSE was indeed beautiful.  The sanctuary filled with happy people hugging and talking to each other.  Down front three tall stately vases held sweeping branches of trees blossoming.  Two were white like almond.  The largest in the center was a pink tulip tree, the shape swirling so that the blossoms not only reached up but turned as if stirred by some unseen wind.  Ah, as I took my seat, this was lovely.

When the program began with Yogicharya reading from her new book, The Moon Reminded Me, I settled into the places the poems took me, sometimes out to the coast along West Cliff and sometimes deep within my heart.

The musicians, Edwin Huizinga and William Coulter, performed Baroque classical music interleaved with Celtic dance tunes.  Both my favorite kind.  Edwin was a Rueben painting as he played standing, long fair hair swinging around his pink white glowing skin, and his sturdy frame swaying.  The violin singing and storytelling while his face mirrored the music.  While Yogicharya read, Edwin reposed seated in calm attentiveness.

William played the classical and Celtic tunes on a steel string guitar, masterfully.  He explained the story of the main piece they played, how they came to do a partita with a piano score on a fiddle and steel string guitar.   I loved the way the two leaned in and listened to each other and let their instruments converse.

The music took me to a marvelous place where there was nothing else but the music.  To be still and only have the song was exquisite.  Another selection lifted me to a realm in which everything was sun, wind, waves and I was coursing along, running – perhaps without a body – definitely not in time as I never ran out of breath.  I was in the soul place perhaps the composer wrote from, or an experience from the performers, or experiencing my own spirit exalting in freedom.

I will not be able to recount all the moods that the poems Yogicharya read from The Moon Reminded Me and the insights they offered.  I not only got cookies afterwards, but stood in line for the book signing.  And bought a copy of the music CD, Fire and Grace.

The next morning, with my tea in hand, I put Edwin and William’s CD in the player.  The Prelude from Cello Suite #1 began to play. I turned up the volume, to amplify the music squeezing from the Bose.  I was disoriented.  My experience from the live concert was a mismatch with this.  All that beauty was in a box, scaled down like a memory.

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A Little Seed

And the little seed fell to the ground.  She could feel the other little seeds plummeting along with her.  Heading to the rich brown earth.  It was a cheerful a moment.  Being born, set free, each seed on its way to find its own life.

And the little seed dug herself deep into the earth where the dirt was darker, richer, with more to give for life.  Thinking that her seed friends were doing exactly as she, the little seed shoved as best she could, knowing that the further she dug herself into the dirt, the likelier her chance to get nutrients and to survive.

And the little seed, twisting, tugging, turning, settled into a cocoon of dirt, deep in darkness, surrounded by moisture laden earth.  Having settled herself and with a final wiggle, the little seed exhaled a deep sigh and closed her eyes for rest.  She thought her seed friends, who were probably not that far from her, were doing the same.

And the little seed came to find that being in the dirt was not that fun.  The time dragged painfully, seconds were stifling.  The little seed could only look around at the darkness.  Sometimes the tightness of the dirt made her feel as if she could not breathe.  But she would think of her seed friends, who were suffering the same as she.  She thought there were a few who were probably fighting better than her.  This gave her motivation to keep breathing.  She could do it too.

And the little see realized it took so much work to begin growing herself out of the dirt.  It hurt, it was exhausting, sometimes the dirt had nothing to give and the little seed had to keep pushing to stretch out of the darkness.  Each move brought her closer to sun, she needed light now.  She was ready for it.  But the seed had to work for it.  She would shut her eyes and fight with her little seed heart to move a bit more.  She thought her seed friends were there, pushing up too.

And the little seed found the ray of sun. She poked a little out of the dirt.  Was this really it? She breathed in fresh air.  She knew she would soon see her seed friends.  But now they would probably not be seeds…

And the little seed became a tiny plant.  Little leaves sprouted from her stem and she could see so much around her.  But the little seed was alone.  Where were her friends?  Maybe they still hadn’t breached the earth? The little seed waited.  And waited. And waited.

And the little seed suddenly had to accept that her seed friends were not coming.  All she had thought about them doing the same as her had been wrong.  They hadn’t fought as hard as her to survive.  They hadn’t pushed or toiled to get out. They were not coming.  The little seed, looking at her leaves and growing blossom, accepted that she apparently fought that much harder, had kept herself going even in the toughest of conditions and she had earned the right to now feel the warm rays of sun.

Memento Mori

Early this morning, the car in front of me at the light on 10th was a silver grey something, maybe a Mustang or a Camaro.  The back end didn’t have a bumper but a silver skull in relief was mounted on the high back end.  The message I got was hell bent, or death defying. Definitely about young and rambunctious.  Danger doesn’t scare this dude.  Car says power.

At the same time I looked across the intersection where a wheelchair was stopped on the sidewalk.  There was a body bent forward, head over knees, not moving.  Just as the light changed and I pressed the accelerator, an elderly person in a hood sat up and put hands on to start the wheelchair rolling.  The message I got was breath gave this person a reprieve from death. Strength to go on.

As I drove I thought about my youthful days in which I didn’t think I would ever live to 40, nor did I suspect I might actually grow old.  The aging try to hold off death and the young defy it.  Yet death persists.

Perhaps remembering of our mortality, in a conscious way, might offer more appreciation for the breaths and the moments we get to enjoy.

My granddaughter has a tattoo “memento mori” and it sobers me that a young woman has that perspective and wisdom.

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Just Because I Want To

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I don’t know any educators who get to only write for fun, but I do get worried when my writing life is filled with prompts for pragmatic things, for work and writing project.  And now, between rain storms it is sunny in California.

I have a new “chair” – actually a saddle stool, hoping that I can sit more ergonomically at my writing desk.  It is very much like a Western saddle I used to use on horses, except that it is cushioned and swivels.  The amount of sitting in small plastic chairs I do testing students and the amount of sitting I did recently for projects drove me to investigate alternative chairs.  Something is up with my hips now that my feet are functioning again.

I also got a wood kneeling type chair though Amazon which is currently in a pile in the open box.  The bolts and the drills in the wood pieces don’t match so, try as I might, I would begin to get one part together and another section fell apart.  I felt like a kid challenged by TinkerToys.  And, of course, now I get to wait for a “technician” to email me.  “What seems to be the issue?” a nice phone person asked when I called on my lunch hour.  “Well, the drills are too big for the bolts, so the bolts don’t screw in. They fall out.”

For this I need a technician?

It is lovely that the days are getting longer.  I can see shapes out in the garden and the sky is still blue grey at almost 6 pm.  I took a walk around the square of 4 city blocks and admired new blossoms in front yards and how things look when the sun comes out.  May as well enjoy it because day after tomorrow the winter rains come back.

I have a good book going now, getting into Anthony Doerr’s collection of short stories.  The first, the title story, “The Shell Collector,” was weird but kept me reading.  I like the way he writes, so I don’t have to love the story.  It is good for my mind to be back into a book, rather than spinning out about my profession, house needs, etc.

Now, I haven’t found a central thread, or a really kicky idea to organize this post around.  But I have moved my fingers, done some description, let words go where they will and followed along.  It feels good to write as an exercise, just as it feels good to walk for exercise.  Getting back to my desk daily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Poems off Paintings

Today I will join other local poets and poetesses (hilarious word!) at Le Petit Trianon where, after the Mission Chamber Orchestra concert, we will share the poems we wrote in response to the painter’s exhibition.  Reading the poems aloud is not the part that interests me. Writing an ekphrasis poem to Liyuza Eisbach’s paintings, an artist I do not know, was an interesting process.

The images I selected had a similar composition, with a main subject off slightly to one side in the foreground and then a play of light and texture creating a perspective of landscape or lightscape in the background.  To write to a painting required a great deal of looking at and into the painting, and I began to be curious about what the painter had in mind.  What was happening with the palette, with the line choices, and with the feel of this work?

In the same way a character in a book sometimes causes me to want to know the author, the two subjects in the paintings I chose to write to made me want to know the artist.  What kind of person is she?  What experience prompted this piece.  Is there any correspondence between what I feel when I look at this picture and what the painter may have felt?

I took one painting at a time. And, of course, in my general writing style, I placed a barrage of words all over the page of legal pad.  I found words for words and nerded out for awhile on phrases.  Gradually I began to write and revise and revise a piece with some thread of narrative in it.

The poem couldn’t simply be my view of the painting.  It had to have some life of it’s own and still be true to the painting.  This was challenging.

I’d leave the draft alone and come back another day.  Take some phrases out, write some new ones.  Now the painting was familiar and my words could be managed better, as if I had the palette knife or brush in hand.

And, as with a painting, there comes a point when the writer must not overwork it.  A painting becomes muddy when overworked and can fill up with small non essentials.

I let go of my worry of misrepresenting the painter and released the painting to stand on its own, which of course, it always did. And somehow the words I shaped on the page began to stand on their own.  It was an interesting way to write poetry.

It felt like the layers of reading a good novel, or the meld of experiences when I travel.

Reflection

When I think in a primary palette

I sit on the blue brink

Of the next

Moment.

 

When I rest in bright confidence,

My reveries turn

Into a yellow fractal

Mirror.

 

When I layer red textures

The portrait glows

Breathing in the

Now.

 

Red, yellow, and a bit of blue.

 

When I lean into a future sense

A new bit of blue

Draws me

Forward.

 

When I think in a primary palette

Wearing a feather

In my cap

I muse.

 

Red, yellow, and a bit of blue.

 

Moment

Mirror

Now

Forward.

And the other painting:

Beached

From red clay in green woods

To the water’s edge

This shore speaks to me of time.

 

Here is a paradox

Of celestial motion and

Still life.

 

Now the evening gleams

Suspended in water and sky.

Sunset seems eternal.

 

Who drew this rowboat

Upon the rock beach

Mooring it in the crunch of gravel?

 

Who left this empty shell?

The craft casts a long shadow

So I should be hiking back.

 

Do not tempt me to make

More metaphors.

I won’t worry about the tide.

 

I’ll skip aspirations too because

This is not an endless river.

I’m beached on a lake shore.

 

Writing to Think

There was a moment this morning, as the 16 children tried out a free write to their chosen essay topic in our workshop, in which I remembered the feel of engagement that I treasure in reading and writing.  That in-the-zone, reading state.  It seems there is a writing state, too. The writing pulled them in and their thoughts grew into other thoughts.  And I love that palpable sense of engagement anywhere I find it.  Any way I can foster it.

Lately I have wanted to do the sort of journal writing to shift from weeks of pragmatic writing.  And when I garden I think.

So, when I got home from writing workshop, I was eager to enjoy my first day out in the sun in the yard.  Whether the Ground Hog called for more winter or not, today was like spring, and the wonderful dousing of rain we’ve enjoyed made the grasses and their weed cousins thrive.

I was bent over squatting in the front yard pulling weeds out by the fistful.  The soft, damp earth, layered with cubic yards of compost l wheel-barrowed and shoveled in last spring, made the weeds yield to my tugs, so many came out without resistance.  The grasses, flat against the ground, required more strategic twisting and lifting to bring them out by the roots.  Gradually I made little piles of greenery to toss into a big pile by the driveway.  All very satisfying.  Perhaps if you are not a gardener, this would not sound like fun at all.

Meanwhile my cat Mickey had come out to watch the dogs walking by and hang out with me in the sunshine.  My garden gloves were wet and I officially had dirt under my fingernails.  Perhaps it is because I come from a long line of farmers and orators that I like to garden?  Why else would dirt under my fingernails feel satisfying?  (I know, some would be saying, “Ewww.”)

As I worked, my mind went through versions of thoughts about recent things my women friends have said to me.  They seem to see a version of me that I cannot get clearly.  Well, of course, when one is in the middle of being oneself, it is hard to step out and get a look.  I remember drawing a cartoon a long time ago with the caption, “Get a good look at yourself,” in which this person was trying to stretch out of his own skin and look back at himself.  At that time I thought it witty and weird.

But today, trying to think about myself in that way — to get a look from my friends’ perspective, or see myself more clearly — was difficult.  What will it look like; how will I change or grow up to be more settled with myself?  I wonder?

And, when I had shared my intention (to attract a love partner) with one girl friend, she said that I will find myself to be the perfect love partner I seek.  That thought I mulled as I took out tiny weeds around the daffodil bulbs that are pushing up through the wet earth. And my friend had then exhorted me to think more highly of myself – in short, to knock off self-deprecating talk.  Which was like a bucket of cold water because I had not until then noticed that I do speak critically of myself.  Sigh.

Hmm, pulling weeds is easy, bending gets tiring and some weeds are resistant, but this felt like a tall order, if indeed friendly advice leads the way I need to go.  Will affirmations help me?  I am dubious — but willing.  Carl Barth wrote, a long time ago, “Nothing is so loathesome as the self-loathing of the self one loathes.”  Which again, when I was younger, like that cartoon I drew, was a statement that merely amused me as clever.

However, when one is perched on this view of life, noting precious few years left and wanting to make every minute count, the idea that I need to grow into my own skin, or adjust my self attitude seems like I have somehow missed the boat.  My thoughts don’t lead me to certainty about exactly what my challenge is.  Or where to begin. I guess I’ve lived my entire life without knowing what self love is.

So I mused and the succulents in my front yard were revealed as the weeds had been plucked away.

This much my meditations have provided:  I admit to a need to grow in self-confidence.  To be confident of my ability to succeed.  In spite of many things I’ve done successfully, I don’t carry a card that introduces me as someone who knows what she is doing.  Look up confident in the dictionary and my picture is not there.

The pile of grasses and weeds would make good compost, but they’re waiting for the green pickup on the curb.  I got dirt under my finger nails.  I made an attempt to sort out some things that puzzle me.

Perhaps all that needs to happen in my soul, or personality, is a good weeding.  Then maybe I’ll find this wonderful person my friends adore?  I’ll find that she’s been there, growing or going dormant all the time.

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Laura & Lorena: Inspiring Teachers to Write