Archive for June, 2012

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings. (Eric Hoffer)

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about my friend Gladys as I shower, as I add just a tad more warm water and savor scented soap. Gladys didn’t have running water when she was young. I remember the story she told me about the first time, as a child, she had a chance to experience the luxury I take for granted. After gym class the teacher told the girls to take a shower before going back to class. Most of the girls wouldn’t consider nudity in a school setting. They dabbed a little water on their necks, then left. Gladys closed the curtain, turned the knobs, and discovered a vast improvement over a metal tub in an outhouse.

Gladys told me that story years ago. She took a difficult life where poverty and hunger were everyday realities, and survived. She died four days before the September 11 tragedy. Nevertheless, sometimes, when I allow my heart to become free enough, I remember—and celebrate simple gifts.

I wrote Gladys’s story and tried to sell it. The last agent I spoke to said that the story’s flaw could be that I loved her too much. She wanted more distance, I suppose. She had other more concrete suggestions. Excellent ones. Those I can use. But I cannot forget a woman who taught me to recognize what is important in life—more than a decade after her death.

In the meantime I write other stories, very different. Sure, someday, I will go back and rewrite the book. Add, perhaps, even subtract. Love less? I doubt it.

from Positive Words
To Live By

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As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. (Carl Jung)

I only saw part of the Stephen Colbert interview of Lawrence M. Krause, author of “A Universe from Nothing.” Stephen interrupted, as always, but Krause got his point across. Oh there could be a god, given a capital or small-letter title, but a supreme being wasn’t really necessary. It is the author’s theory that something can come from nothing, scientifically—given enough time.

Maybe. Maybe not. Mr. Colbert was born Catholic, and has never denied that he believes in God. In fact, he asked, “What do you have against my God?” Krause smiled and shook his head. That power was never required in the process.

I shrugged my shoulders since I wasn’t there when the first planet found position in space, even if some younger folk I know think I could be that old. When the light turns on at the flip of a switch it feels like a miracle to me. My eight-year-old granddaughter Kate had to adjust her goggles for the pool. They were too complicated for me to figure out. The world is far larger than this small intellect can interpret.

This much I do know. As far as anyone knows this condition known as life lasts only a certain unknown number of years. The entire universe could have created itself; that fact would not affect everyday reality. Random creation may elicit a certain scientific awe. Add love, however, and that awe multiplies. Did love explode from an empty vacuum?

Random. Random what? Particles from nothing. Acts of Kindness. Red lights. Green Lights.

Forget preaching. It makes me break out in insecurities. (Remember the small-brain statement.) Until I learn bi-location, levitation, and the formula for world peace, I am not telling anyone what to believe. However, if I can bring hope, peace, joy, or even the realization that another human being is worthwhile, my few days will have meaning. I’ll go for that instead.

In another blog, Positive Power, May 27, I wrote a story about Eric Hauck, my guitar teacher. He broke his back and neck in a freak zip-lining accident. He was told he would have surgery six weeks after the accident when his neck brace was removed. He was spared that surgery. Random? Perhaps. After all, there are plenty of people not given the same gift. Then again, there is always the miracle possibility.

As for me, I’ll choose the miracle. If I lived my entire life, died, then dissolved into nothing, yet sought a higher good the best way I could, every opportunity I had, I would not regret these choices: to give, to love, to be, and to celebrate each day as a gift, not an accident of nature.

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We all have more power and less control than we realize. (Ann Ward Simpson)

On Wednesday Little Miss Ella discovers she can reach my underwear drawer from her pack-and-play. The drawer is now empty and our two-year-old stands victorious. Temporarily. “No,” I say, trying to keep a grin from escaping as I lift both child and bed over a few inches. Ten minutes later she sleeps. Peacefully. Or so I think. Until I change her diaper two hours later.

“Oh my! What made your urine purple, child?” Fortunately the cause is easily discovered: a purple crayon, tucked inside her diaper for later. At least that is what I would gather. Can’t say. I don’t understand two-year-old logic. It was most likely borrowed from her cousins’ morning art projects. But, she will need to find another writing utensil. This one is on its way to a landfill. Ella grins. I wish I woke up from a nap that quickly.

Jay has older-kid duty at the Y pool, a much more demanding job. He needs two sets of eyes, bi-location, and enough snacks to last the afternoon.

This is extra-babysitting week. My writing projects are on hold. It’s okay. I wouldn’t give up this opportunity for projects anyway. Little people don’t stay that way. Their stories fade and disappear if they aren’t saved.

I imagine hearing from my girls in some future year, “You mean you enjoyed changing diapers when we were babies, Grandma?”

“Well, okay, some of your stories got romanticized, but we did have fun, didn’t we?”

What more could I ask?

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Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest. The maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves … But the trees also commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also hang together through the ocean’s bottom. (William James, psychologist and philosopher, 1842-1910) 

Okay, I’ll give up my critique group this week and next. No problem. It is more important that I be available for my granddaughter’s speech therapy appointments. Besides, this is temporary, and I need to catch up on my story anyway. Uh huh! Then the plot thickens, both in fiction and real life. I give up another day this week. For the same wonderful granddaughter. Then, when I do get moments to write, my computer decides to rebel with a nervous tic and types sporadically all over the page, as if the mouse were a firefly with a bad attitude. Fortunately a restart repairs that problem. But my laptop needs a few updates. Now I’m behind four chapters in my revisions. Or, at least it feels that way.

So, writing isn’t an instant-gratification art anyway, Ter. What’s your problem? I remember when I retired with the dream of writing six hours a day as morning shifted into afternoon, my nimble fingers finding the next word with ease. A cup of decaf coffee would stay at my side. I would write either in silence of accompanied by soft music. Yes, this would be the life! Then, God had other plans. Our little Ella was born with Down syndrome seven weeks early at three pounds, three ounces. She needed two surgeries, one before she left the hospital. She needed several family caretakers while Mommy and Daddy worked. Sure the staff did an excellent job, but an infant needs love. I was asked to supply it. In other words, I was given a better offer—no pay, but lots of benefits. All spiritual. Her other grandmother and step-grandmother took the other proffered positions.

Plans. Not going to stop making them. In sand. Knowing the wind, governed by a larger spirit, could change course at any time.

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Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. (Carl Zwanzig)

My favorite duct tape story occurred over twenty-five years ago. I was driving. My two sons and a young neighbor sat in the back seat. The subject of the famous tape came up. Don’t recall how. Our young neighbor was the most literal child I had ever known. “Well,” he said. “I guess it is kind of hard to take the feathers off of a duck.” My older son asked him if he planned to be an accountant when he grew up. I bit my tongue and kept my eyes on the road.

I’m not sure duct tape has been used for “de-feathering,” but it has been used for almost everything else. Garrison Keiller of Prairie Home Companion suggests, “Use two-sided DT to clean your house by putting it on your feet and working around picking up old papers, etc. or use it to attach your beer can to the wall.” I don’t drink alcohol—haven’t for years. However, I’m not so sure someone, somewhere, hasn’t taken him up on the suggestion.

I have tried the famous sticky stuff to fix something else, however. It didn’t work for long. In fact, it was kind of irritating. I tried to patch my water shoes with it. Then I covered my heels with waterproof bandages. The gray tape held; the bandages gave up long before the exercise hour ended. I have the sore heels to prove it. I have included the last photo of my well-worn shoes before they made their way to the trash.

Actually, our young friend from the past was partially correct—with the product name, if not with its purpose. Duck tape, the brand name, the first product of its kind, was first manufactured by Johnson and Johnson to protect ammunition cases during World War II. Then, after the war, when construction projects boomed, the tape changed color from military green to silver to match pipe work. http://www.octanecreative.com/ducttape/duckvsduct.html

Now, duct tape can be found in craft stores. I saw a display at Michael’s today. People make flip-flops, prom apparel, and crafts as well as seal broken windows on a car that should have been junked before its muffler fell out.

Well, then there is the case of the hastily repaired water aerobics shoes. Maybe if I had taken my time, and made a work of art from that sticky silver. . . Oh well, at least my old shoes lived a good and active life.

What is your favorite duct tape story?

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For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon. (W.B. Yeats)

My husband Jay and I have a better-than-average relationship. Much better, actually. But we don’t live in fantasy land! Sure I know he likes yes or no answers to his questions. And sure I would like to give them. But, unless the question is, “Do you need to use the bathroom right now?” or “Is it 4:00 yet?” chances are, I’m going to give an essay answer. This is not an intentional ploy to drive my husband crazy. It’s the way the creative brain works. Or at least that is my theory.

Reality has causes, consequences, history, possibilities. I live in it all—simultaneously. There is a why and a how and a who and a what to almost everything. I observe the whole before answering. And it can be maddening to someone who wants to get to the point. Now!

This is Father’s Day weekend. I sit at the table with my two sons before they take their Dad out for the evening as his gift. I’m struck by a hundred events from the past. Can’t see the future, but it, too, feels present at the table. Even as we celebrate I envision friends who have been hurt by their families in ways that can’t be repaired. I want to fix these situations—now, as simply as a yes or no answer. I have been able to give nothing more than empathetic tears.

I listen to my son Steve as he talks about Ella. He accepts the cost of her care as a special-needs child as if he were approaching the counter at a convenience store with a pack of gum. I am proud, but shed no tears. Reality is filled with possibilities; I live in it all. This time, with hope.

Laughter surrounds this table. My men are funny. Greg is doing a stand-up routine tonight in Latonia, Kentucky. The two boys and Jay are going. I will wait at home. Mothers can’t male bond. Yet, even if my absolutes come sparingly, I can proclaim,

For I will be thinking of love
till the stars run away . . .

from Positive
Inspirational Quotes

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O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales. (Leo Rosten)

While the two smaller kids watch a show designed for preschoolers, Kate creates a castle with my computer paper, then turns it into a hat with a piece over the nose, suggestive of white knight armor. She asks if I want one. I am unwilling to sacrifice that much paper.

That is okay. Minutes later her adventures lead in another direction. My kitchen towel drawer. A rubber band turns terry cloth into a pirate hat. She tries to make one for me. My head is too big. She drapes the towel as-is over my head. Sure, I advocate imagination. But I can’t find pirate anywhere in red apples, particularly when the cloth has fresh chocolate milk stains. Besides, Ella would pull my “hat” off my head the second her show ended. Even a two-year-old child recognizes the absurd. Kate laughs. Apparently she agrees. That experiment is gratefully over.

“I need a belt,” Kate says.

“Sorry, sweetie. I don’t have one your size.”

“What about Grandpa? He has belts.”

“His definitely wouldn’t fit.”

She shows me how she wants to drape the belt over her shoulders.

“Okay, that’s different.”

Her attire now needs a sword. Thank goodness she suggests a spatula. Even if she leaves it on the couch when her play leads elsewhere, her little sister Rebe and cousin Ella won’t get hurt by this blade.

Kate is wearing her most feminine summer sun dress today—topped with pirate attire. She doesn’t let incidentals get in her way. Perhaps she will design a tiara the day she comes to my house in jeans and faded shirt.

Okay, so I have been around a half-century longer than she has. That doesn’t mean I can’t think out of the box anymore. The boxes I use just have more creases and don’t include pirate hats.

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Under Construction (Situation Permanent)

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads. And along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. (Herman Melville)

I am trying to decide how to resolve a problem in the story I am writing as I drive home from critique group. My main character visits the past and views an older character he respects when this man is younger. One of my critique members referred to the confusion about how he should be treated. As Grandfather? Or by his given name? After all, the two are both children in this scene. An answer comes to me that resolves another concern: explaining how this visit fits into the plan of the story. Wonderful!

However, I realize I am on autopilot. Usually I bypass the usual route and take the back roads. Construction is in the way! According to the workers it’s going to be awhile before free passage is returned.

Darn. Darn. Triple darn. Ah, wait! It’s raining. No trucks. Of course that means the whole project will be delayed just that much longer. Good news for the moment, but not for the long term.

Under construction. Seems like that is a way of life. In writing and in this strange journey that may have a few perfect moments. But those respites don’t reflect the whole.

Oh well, I’m glad there is always something to construct and a back road when it is needed.

(Photo from Positive Inspirational Quotes)

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To live long, live slowly. (Cicero)

Astronomers and folk who barely recognize the Big Dipper assemble at Fernald Preserve to watch Venus cross the sun on Tuesday, June 5. The best time to observe is sunset. Paper eclipse glasses are available for a donation. I save mine, although the next Venus Transit won’t occur until December 11, 2117. Maybe my granddaughters’ grandchildren will watch. Can’t tell. One-hundred-five years is a bit too far ahead to make plans. Of course Mercury will transit on May 9, 2016. That’s what earthsky.org tells me. Another Venus fact comes from transitofvenus.org. “Historically, this rare alignment is how we measured the size of our solar system.”

In the meantime I admit that I belong to the learning population, the people who look at the different shaped telescopes with a sense of awe. How can anyone experience a part of space? Dave, one of the astronomers, shares a square of welder’s glass. I am amazed at how clear the tiny black circle, Venus, appears with the help of a dark glass no larger than a hand mirror.

A strange parallel strikes me as I stand on a very tangible earth and watch surfaces I couldn’t touch if they were available. Neither sun nor Venus is a people friendly environment. I think of the long travel of sperm and egg, eventually joining out of myriad possibilities. I am surrounded by those possibilities. My son and two of my grandchildren have come for this event. I know some of the people in this crowd. One man appeared from my past after twelve years! Okay, so this is the observation of a poet, not a scientist.

This is an occasion tailored for the patient person. Truly exciting and significant moments don’t necessarily come with neon lights, lots of advertising, and huge meals. Sometimes it takes six hours on an evening that looks ordinary in every other way.

Kate and I take a short walk along one of Fernald’s trails. The sun has begun to set. She hasn’t brought a sweater. I wrap mine around both of us as we watch pink rays of sun reach out through the clouds into a photo-perfect setting. Even so, I would rather have what can be embraced now, and hold the ethereal in memory. Then savor them both for a long, long time.

Kate at Fernald Preserve

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Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. (Rumi)

Fresh chi, I can’t keep up with it, but don’t mind basking in its glow.

Rebe and I spend time at Parky’s Farm, a child-centered portion of Winton Woods on her last day of school. She pretends this is her farm and I am her neighbor. Sometimes I am a child, then become an adult—all based upon her whim. Doesn’t matter. I’m looking for entertainment.

I watch as she plants corn, then help her. However, she tells me I am dropping seeds on her goats. Didn’t see when I trespassed into their territory.

“What animals do you have on your farm?” I ask.

She shows me where the chickens live and where the goats are fenced. The horses, painted chickens designed for kids to bounce on, are supposed to be obvious. I’m not prepared for the lions. They stay at the edge of the sidewalk.

“Oh, okay. And what do the lions eat?” Rebe is a gentle soul, so I’m not afraid of her answer.

She thinks for a second then nods, smiling, “baby food.”

“Because they are babies?”

She gives me the patient teacher look as if to say, Of course. Why else? Although I know her answer was random. Just as everything is in a young child’s play. It isn’t planned. And for a moment I get to be a part of it until the adult world reminds me that time makes demands.

For now maybe I’ll pet Rebe’s lions.

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