Change is Messy

DjB Allagash FallsThis is me diving into Allagash Falls way back when. As I was about to leap, the guide informed me it would feel like being thrashed in a washing machine set to rough handling, and then instructed me to “swim like hell” when I broke to the surface to avoid being sucked into a whirlpool. I almost changed my mind right then and there but then I would have to climb back over the slippery rocks to where I had started. Leap or stay safe?

I got a little banged up and went back and leaped again. A lesson remembered now that the first week of 2016 has arrived, a time to glance back to see where I have been and forward to where I need to go to avoid getting sucked down.

It is tempting to berate the many mistakes and bad decisions made in the process of these past two years but I wanted to change from the person I was to the person I believe lives in me, a MORE me. But change is a messy business. Unless you are Scrooge and wake up a new and improved human being after an overnight series of weird dreams, change happens in fits and starts.

If I were to write a New Year’s blog post, I would write about change, how sometimes it happens overnight but not usually. Usually it happens over time, deliberate or not, life happens to you and sometimes you make it happen, you can only plan so much while God laughs. One of the changes I want to make is to push through the dense cloud of resistance to living a creative life, a daily life enriched by art, be it writing, drawing, coloring, photographing, meditating, laughing. Change is about sometimes stepping, sometimes leaping, into the intimidating known and the scary unknown without scooting  under the bed of the comfortable familiar. I do not make New Year’s resolutions but if I did, it would be to step out every day with my vulnerability as my shield and a “fake it until you make it” kind of courage.

I am, at heart, an introvert. With some effort, I can throw out flashes of sociability; however, the clock ticks on how long I can keep that going and invariably, substantial recovery time is required afterward. I have been in Middlebury for 5 months now and despite some pleasant experiences with the local birding organization, I have not yet uncovered a current of relationships that fit. There is no “newcomers” clubs or organizations; political groups are of no interest to me, what I am looking for is a small, intimate circle of people, preferably women, who are also seeking their creative arc.

Well, says the little voice: If you can’t find one that fits, start one yourself. I am thinking about it, maybe a writing group, one that meets in the mornings, “MY” time to write. The goal would be to connect with others by connecting to our inner artist, admitting she exists and then living into it. Show, don’t tell.

We could start by meeting for say, 10 weeks, so if it doesn’t work out, the end will already be in sight. It’s been awhile since I’ve organized something like this but there is nothing to lose, and besides, the reluctance I feel is the very thing I need to push through to get to the core of change I want to make happen.

If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, and I won’t, it would be to write  to OakintheSeed, twice a month to start off, to let the infection of creating something, anything, settle into my bones, start the fever to fire up the passion of creating because I am yet alive, let it be that I will not leave this earth empty of my passing.

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A Pair of Percherons

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Meet Jerry and Jake, two Percheron draft horses pulling the trash cart through Middlebury. Imagine getting the coffee ready and seeing these two on recycling day instead of the hulking truck coming down the street.

I have a childhood memory of a horse pulling a broken-down wagon rolling up Kingston Street where I grew up. The junk man, he called himself, and every now and then, the call would go out among us neighborhood children, “Here comes the junk man!” And I would run, thrilled to hear the clop-clop of the horses’ hooves, it stirred an excitement in me that has never diminished, and ignited when I saw these guys clopping down Buttolph Drive yesterday morning. I grabbed my camera and flew out the door as they glided around the curve at a speed we would all be better off going. The driver and crew were accustomed to breathless photographers in sloppy clothes who wanted to see the horses, be near a living vestige of our past but what they did not know was my own long history with horses and the burning attraction that somehow these animals are an integral part of my living spirit and always will be.

It’s not something I can explain. You horse people know what I mean.

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The connection goes further to people I have been drawn to over the years. I have come to expect that whenever I meet someone I like immediately (I am reticent my nature, not inclined to connecting easily), who moves a certain way or sees the world from a different, usually kinder (but not always) viewpoint, invariably has pets, who may not like but is not put off by bad weather, is clever with a shovel, is not afraid of getting dirty, and in general, exudes a kind of independent confidence, that we share some common history of horse involvement, past and or present. This is not limited to friends and acquaintances, there are some people in my own family I am drawn to for the same reason, imagine that.

Jerry and Jake work Tuesday and Thursdays at this job, another pair work Mondays and Wednesdays. I wanted to ask more questions; heck, I wanted to scratch their withers, I wanted to feel the warm harness, I wanted the smell of horse on my palms, I wanted to hop on the wagon and drive. But they had a job to do, the man and woman picking up the recycling from the homes of the people who had hired them were waiting patiently for me to step away so they could move on and finish their cold job.

I count this as one of the many little miracles of living in a new place, wouldn’t you? The world opens up in unexpected ways, it changes you, if you let it.

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Knitting & Purling, Crashing & Burning

IMG_0820It’s been 15 months since we left New Jersey to move to Florida, 4 months since we left Florida to move in Vermont, where we currently live. Long story. I have not established a routine yet, every day has to be figured out, not a bad thing and a far cry from the mediocre existence I was floating in at a job that started off great 28 years ago but ended up a casualty to politics. As John Katz writes on his blog, Bedlam Farm, “…stasis and complacency are just a benign form of suicide.”

Last month, a friend I have not seen in twenty years came for a visit. She introduced me to the surprisingly addictive hobby of knitting. I’ve been fumbling with it since, spent hours YouTubing videos on knitting and purling, yarn-overs, then tried my new skills on knitting a pair of wristies to see something REAL, and not endless practice rows. I used the cheapest yarn I could find for my maiden voyage into garter and stockinette stiches but no matter what I did, the first two rows came out a row of curly knots. I cut my losses, cast on three more times only to knit myself more rows of scrambled yarn. Screw this, I can’t knit, I said to myself, and threw my little project against the wall where it poofed to the floor, still slung on its needle.

If I had known taking a chance and leaving my job and home would have been as hard as it has been, I would not have done it. Period. There, I said it. (All those memes about leaping, faith, dreams coming true!) I should have come up with a better plan, I should have been better organized in my decision-making, I should have gone to therapy.

I picked up the rejected knitting needle, pulled the cheap yarn off, cast around for a different project. Something totally different, I thought, start over. I vowed to keep going with it no matter what kind of mistakes I made, whether I gained or lost a stitch, whether the pattern got skewed, I swore I would finish it, even if it was full of mistakes, I would…will…make this work. It may not look the way I expected it to, it may not be as pretty as the picture, it may even be unrecognizable to anyone but me, but so help me, I was going to get this sucker done.

The thing was…is…the one clear thought that pushed me off my pedestal of professional mediocrity, was knowing I could do better, be better, there is more to me than marching from one day to the next waiting until Medicare kicks in. I am not sure who that someone is, but I would rather crash and burn and die trying than slide silently into my grave, retired at last.

The thing is…I did crash and burn. Some friends faded away, one went up in a puff of deceit, some stuck around but kept their distance, not quite knowing what to do with the nut in the corner. But the skies opened and new people arrived in my life, a dog trainer now soulmate partner, a dear friend from long ago showed up on my doorstep, acquaintances stepped forward into real friendship.

I got a third of the way through my new knitting project and realized I had missed a section of the instructions that would minimize the pattern. I could keep going and let the pattern fade or rip out a bunch of rows to try and fix it, taking the chance that I could ruin the entire thing. I had no idea how to drag a knitted piece off its needle, pull some of it apart, then thread it back on again and keep going. I could wreck everything I had done so far and I wanted to have a finished piece. But I also wanted the whole pattern, I wanted the best part to show. So I pulled it apart, the stitches sprang from their moorings, leaving a ragged row that had to be lifted back onto the needle in a sequence that made sense. It was touchy work, I held my breath a few times. The yarn is a bit ragged now, a little loopy in that section but it all went back on the needle, one way or another. I keep knitting and purling, the pattern is becoming clear again.

 

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THANKSGIVING 2015

I have posted earlier versions of my Thanksgiving Gratitude List in the past. Here is this year’s update…because it is always timely to be grateful.

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I am grateful to be still on this earth.

I am grateful for my husband, my parents, three sisters and brother. My oldest sister has passed on but I am grateful for fond memories of happier times. My new home in Vermont and the people who helped me get here, it was a series of miracles, really ,that I will happily never recover from. For my 2 cats and dog, good food on the table three times a day, my town, a car for both Ken and for me, clothes on my back, hair on my head, my family of friends in various stages of coming and going. My health, my strong legs that walk me miles every day to and from upon this earth, laughter, books, insight, notebooks, shoes, shampoo, dark chocolate, enough money, watches, soft socks, smooth-writing pens, brakes, air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter. Potential. Hope.

Pandora, buttercream, the sharp scent of ozone before a storm, geese calling from their “V”, friends who tell you the truth.

Not ever giving up.

Electricity, otters, French press coffee pots, lace tablecloths, airplanes, rain, Xanax, trees, raccoons, bears and flying squirrels. Coming home at the end of the day, newspapers at my front door, pancakes with real Vermont fancy maple syrup. Being lifted by the smell of balsam for my daily morning mile.

Crisp sunrises, moonlight stroking my sleeping husband, heated birdbaths, warblers and woodpeckers, intuition, prayer, shoes to walk miles in. Telephones. Dirt. Suet you can buy in the store for chilly Chickadees. The flashing wings of Blue Jays picking peanuts off the deck railing, deck chairs, music, the cinnamon spice aroma of mulled apple cider.

Earthworms, quiet afternoons, scented candles, hard boiled eggs, pizza with extra cheese, solitude, naps, friends who understand pain, birds, the Grand Canyon, wild horses, bubble baths, sparkly rings, blank pages, poetry, Mary Oliver. Dishwashers, growing up a girl, roses, periwinkle.

Kind veterinarians, long walks in the woods, recipes, corduroy, fingernails, medicine, cat food, chants, indoor plumbing, clothes dryers, knitting (learning) green, restaurant dinners, lemons, hummingbirds, blogs.

Loons.

Water, duct tape, wireless routers, flush toilets, soap, icicles, forsythia. Swingline staplers, batteries, fingers, calendars, keyboards, love, switches, picture frames, flashlights, bookends, E. B. White. Answering machines, gas stations, orange juice, chocolate chips, apricots. Angels. Stories with happy endings, fleece, Dr. Cappitelli, flour, highlighters, harmony. Calligraphy, combs, toothpaste, wild bunnies in the yard. Wolves.

Pencils, bees, pansies, polka dots, pillows, zebras, salad, laughing children, convertibles, magazines. Sleeping kittens, fireflies, peanut butter, good clergy, email, purple, American flags, dragons, acorns, light bulbs, soap, jewelry boxes, ponies, walking sticks, dragonflies, guitars, tomorrow, cat litter, mirrors, blueberries, blinking Christmas reindeer, sequins, dictionaries, windy days and wet tree bark.

Unicorns, beginnings, grace, bats, stars, computers, bookends, hosta, garbage cans, skin, new tires, sunglasses, BINOCULARS, Cedar Waxwings, birding days, screech owl nights, duplicate car keys, paved roads, caller ID, friends who don’t let you go.

The list never ends. AMEN.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Where Home Finds You

IMG_0454There is a sofa under the window in the back of one of the rooms at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury. No one was sitting on it the other day, it was as if it had been reserved for me, so I plopped myself down, put my feet up on the painted bench that serves as both a book and foot rest and donned my writer’s hat. While not alone in the physical sense, I was in the psychological one, for social norms dictate leaving the lone reader or writer to their own devices, who knows what kind of reaction you would get if you interrupted them and asked what they were cooking for dinner that night.

It is three months since I rolled into Middlebury, VT, my new home town, with two cats and a dog, after four days of sweaty, dirty travel, with everything I owned or loved spinning somewhere on wheels between southwest Florida and midwestern Vermont. During these 12 weeks, we made the unplanned purchase of a new oven, had a heating system installed, located and had our first appointments with our new medical provider, Toby was attacked and bitten by a pit bull, I’ve had two job interviews and declined a third, I climbed Buck Mountain and did not die, been birding half a dozen times, won a petty argument with the condo board, bought my first snow tires in many years and some, hopefully enough, warm clothes to walk into our first Vermont winter after a year off from snow and ice.

It’s only been the past few days that I have almost slept through an entire night. While I still wake up often, I inform my brain to go back to sleep, it’s okay to turn off the switch that turns to the ON position earlier each night and stays there until I hear the church bells gong 5 times. I have made up my own scientific reason for this: the dark places of the brain, the black hole of our unconscious whose well has no bottom, has its own unfathomable timetable for healing, for shoring up layers of emotional scar tissue to dull the daily anxieties of redirecting a life. Now is the time for thanks, it is always appropriate to be grateful, but this is the kind of thanks that has no words to match the fears it has surmounted.

What these weeks have also quietly presented is an awareness of creativity in its many forms, my own bright energy running clean and true, every day I pull permission from my Protestant ethic upbringing of work before pleasure to practice joy in whatever presents itself to passion: guilt-free writing, drawing, reading, birding, photography, walking in the woods. I am learning the moving meditation of beginner Tai Chi, a friend is teaching me how to knit and purl and cast on and off. These are the things bringing me home now, 14 months after leaving the only one I knew.

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The Facebook Bridge

  

I find comfort in knowing how many people like it in Florida, who have embraced the heat and humidity and don’t let themselves be bothered by the storms now part of daily life during this time of the year. I am getting a grip at recognizing a distant rumble can mean present danger, lightening can strike up to 20 miles away from where the thunder roars. You can be standing under blue sky and get nailed.

I woke up at 2:30am the other night, wondering if I should get out of bed to use the bathroom or wait until morning to avoid waking myself further by stumbling through the dark, only to go back to bed and lie awake for the next three hours. The choice was snatched away by a piercing siren emitting from my iPhone. I recognized it as the same awful blare from this past January: “Tornado alert: Take cover immediately,” is no lullaby. Like the January incident, my eyes popped open while Ken slumbered on. The steady rainfall that had been falling all evening had become a torrent of sound, it was as if someone had opened a fire hose full bore onto the roof, there was a single roar where raindrops should have been.  

I did not feel as panicked as the first time. I sat up and contemplated the possibility of dying, there isn’t much you can do to avoid the capriciousness of a tornado. Might as well make the trek to the bathroom and hope the roof doesn’t peel off while in there, like the scene from Jurassic Park where one of the characters in the movie was chowed down after the T-Rex ripped the roof off the outhouse where the guy had gone to take care of business. There is no explaining what thoughts churn up in the middle of the night. 

On my way to the bathroom, I peeked into my closet, supposedly a walk-in but it’s more like a stand-in with rows of those annoying wire racks that are supposed to be efficient but annoy the heck out of me. I had cleared most of the stuff out after January’s incident so we could probably cram Toby, Macy Gray, Little Bear and me in there, there is even a bag of emergency supplies crammed in the corner, in case we manage to survive in an air pocket of tornado debris, we can dine on Fancy Feast until discovered. I don’t mean to leave Ken out but the truth is, he would deny the necessity of a plan, tell me I am being ridiculous and then roll over and go back to sleep. Which I did the other night but not until after the tornado alert timed out at 3:00am, when the waterfall on the roof also subsided. 

As I sat in bed wondering if we were about to be airborne, I grabbed my iPad, opened Facebook and wrote, “My iPhone alarm just sounded, “Tornado alert, take cover immediately. Please no,” knowing full well that everyone I know who is on Facebook would be asleep in their own beds; nevertheless, I needed to reach out and not be alone in my fear. Believe it or not, it helped, as having stayed connected to beloved family and friends these many months since leaving home has helped ground me in the knowledge that I am not isolated, there are those who have not stopped caring, whose lives I have shared across the continuum of our existence, some closer than others, but all create a web of knowing, of having touched me somehow during our years on this earth. Whether or not we know each other from years of shared experience or from a brief encounter, we can still connect with each other, I know you are there, know you remember me and when you respond to my messages of joy or success or sorrow or terror, I feel reclaimed in the invisible bonds of love. There is a lot to dislike about Facebook but for me, it has lived up to its mission about keeping people connected. It has been part of the bridge I have walked to get from one side of my life to the other without falling in the dark. 

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Where Resilience Comes From

  
I am learning about resilience, as in, I have some, like a good disease. My internet broke the other day right in the middle of scanning, reading contracts, jotting down notes about insurance companies and movers and fiddling around with this blog. I was able to troubleshoot, diagnose and purchase the right unit to replace the storm-casualty router, despite the snotty sales kid who made it obvious he did not waste his time talking to a woman over 20 years old. I told him I needed a router but he rolled his eyes and said, are you sure you don’t mean a modem?  No, I insisted, momentarily confused by his cocky confidence. (Did I have the wrong terminology all this time)? He yanked a box from the shelf and mumbled about Mbsp (megabytes per second), the larger the number, the faster the speed but leaving out the part about how much broadband speed you are actually paying for each month. 

While the diagnostic guesswork was going on, I needed some paperwork signed, scanned and delivered, so I went to Mom & Dad’s house to borrow their machine. While I read the instructions on how to use it, Dad wiggled his power scooter from its corner in the den to prepare to head down the street to the mailbox. After wrestling it into position in the living room, he fetched his straw hat and sunglasses, then mounted the scooter.

It dawned on me while watching him, this is where I learned about resilience. I grew up watching my parents figure things out, seek and discover options. If a goal can’t be reached this way, let’s try this one, it’s different but it could work. If this tool won’t fix a broken part, maybe an unconventional use of another tool will. Suspend assumptions about what will and won’t work, and then suspend expectations about the results. This is easier to do when you know the end of the story. We are all blind to the future, we all grope in the dark. 

Back to Dad. I offered to open the two doors to the outside driveway so he could motor out to the mailbox island at the end of their street but he said no, I got this, then picked up the end of a tattered old dog leash tied to the inside door knob. He drove the scooter through the door, holding the leash that neatly pulled the door closed behind him. He gave another tug to latch it quietly so as not to wake up mom, who was napping in the other room. I saw the resilient genius as if for the first time, and more than that, recognized it in myself, finally acknowledging a lost piece of a puzzle to put together the woman I am meant to be, here it is, I found it and it belongs right here, front and center.

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