"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Peer Pressure

When Kindle first came out we had a long discussion in book group about whether it was a good thing or not. The consensus at that time was that the four of us loved paper and ink books and the multi-sensory pleasures they offer far too much to switch to electronic. Our homes were full of treasured volumes, many of which we had borrowed from one another. Trips to book stores and book festivals and book signings were among our greatest pleasures, both as individuals and as a group.

Lou was the first to change her mind. She spent the better part of one evening extolling the virtues of her new best friend: the portability, the instant and relatively inexpensive access to nearly unlimited reading material, the fact that she could share all her new purchases with a number of other people on one account. It wasn't long before she began clearing all but the most important books from her shelves, and refusing all offers of loaned books.

Patty joined Lou on her account soon after. With two of them switched to Kindle, and sharing their purchases with one another, they began to pressure the remaining two of us to take the leap as well. Their logic was sound: the four of us could share books again, just in a different format. Their emotions were strong: they never imagined feeling so attached to an electronic device (and both own smart phones). Their campaigning was relentless.

Deb (there are two of us), the other writer in the group, swore she'd never get a Kindle - at least not in the foreseeable future. Her logic was sound: she already had more books to read than years left to live. Her emotions were strong: there was no way an electronic device could hope to replace books in her affections. She was immovable, and even a little cranky from time to time as Lou and Patty leaned harder and harder on us to join them.

I've been as close to neutral on the subject as I think it's possible to be. I love my books, but I love the act of reading more than anything. So I can't hate a tool that would allow me to read the way a Kindle does. Besides, as a writer, I'm fascinated at the impact e-readers are having on the business I hope to have an active stake in sooner rather than later.

I've said I was holding out because of the cost, not just of the Kindle, but also of the downloads. But just last week as I passed a big display ad at a local one-stop-shopping store I realized that even if I had unlimited funds, I'd probably rather spend them on travel or a class or a charity. While I'd be tickled if someone gave me a Kindle, it's just not high on my list of wants.

Book group met on Sunday. I hadn't been there long - we were still settling in - when Deb said she had something to show me, and that she hoped I didn't hate her once I saw it.

Given her strong stand previously, it took me a minute to register what the slim black rectangle in her hand was. It took me a lot longer to understand why she changed her mind. In fact I'm not sure I do understand. Deb said she had the money in hand and it was an impulse. Except she's not an impulsive person, and it's never really about the money.

Not that it matters.

Except what was once a split vote has now become three to one, with me as odd man out. And while the pressure is for the most part friendly and playful, it's also sincere and steady.

I found myself thinking of junior high when it really mattered that you not be the one different one in a group. And then high school when it mattered just as much to stand out from the crowd in some rebellious and unique way. Adulthood has been about learning to accept and tolerate and value differences of all kinds, both within myself and in those I share the path with. It seems odd to be dealing with peer pressure at my age, and even more odd for that pressure to be that I conform.

I don't want to buy a Kindle just to fit in. I don't want to not buy a Kindle to prove I'm my own person. I want, I think, for the stories to matter more than the method of delivery. I also want to matter more than my choice to stick with the library for now. I'm happy for my friends and their satisfaction with their new toys. I'm hoping they'll be happy, too, to have a group member who chooses to hold off a while longer before joining them in their electronic bliss.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A New Light

Fragments of the dream follow me into waking. During that space of time when I'm not fully in either world, I feel the fear and urgency as though they need to be attended to in the daylight. While unsettling, the feelings and images are not new. This dream comes to me often.

It's always dark, nighttime, and I'm always searching for something, on my way somewhere, needing to meet a timeline, none of which I'm ever successful at. The circumstances shift from dream to dream. In this one I'm in danger and being hunted. The people who are after me want to hurt me, maybe even kill me, at the very least imprison me. I'm with a male companion who is trying to help hide me. We're outside, concealed in a hole in the ground, and then in the way of dreams, I'm suddenly standing alone in an empty field surrounded by the night, the sound of my own frightened heart and the distant voices of those who mean me harm.

Because the day was sunny and promised all the gifts of true spring, I shook off the dream. Frustrated at not ever quite understanding its message to me, and determined not to allow the darkness of it to dim the light of the rare day, I proceeded with my morning routine.

Sitting at my computer, reading my favorite daily message, the end of the dream flashed through my consciousness with all the illumination of a shooting star.

I'm standing in the darkness alone, and then I feel a presence that I know without doubt is God. Only this isn't the God of my childhood or many of the churches where I've sought him in my life.

I had the opportunity last week to share my story with an older woman. Of the many great questions she asked were, "What about God's love? Where was that? When in your life did you feel it?" And I realized that the most honest answer I could give her was that I'd never felt it. Because at a very young age I believed I'd ruined my chances to deserve anything but God's wrath and disappointment.

In the dream, for the first time, I feel the love of that presence. Without words it tells me that no matter what happens to me, even if those men catch me and hurt me, I will be okay. Nothing can happen to separate me from the protection and completeness of his love. I feel like I belong. I know the safety and protection from pain I've spent my life seeking are illusion, and that true safety, the exact rightness of my being in the larger scheme of things, has been there all along.

It's been two days. The new awareness persists. Evidence supports the new knowing. Yesterday Julie, who from time to time offers visions that come to her during a massage, saw this picture: An Indian woman standing on the edge of a canyon, a long loose braid hanging down her back, watches an eagle soaring in the updrafts close by. The feeling of the scene is one of freedom and peace and connection with all living things.

The curtains have shifted. New light shines in. The darkness will never again hold quite the same power.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On the Wings of Angels

Sitting in front of my computer, my finger poised above the touch pad, I watched the seconds count down. I'd already bid and was waiting for the seven to flash before I confirmed. I considered whether I'd bid enough, whether I should make a last minute change, whether there was anything else I could do to guarantee the winning of the item on my screen.  Seconds later, after the figures on the screen shifted and I held my breath, I learned I had won the bid. 

Actually last night I won three bids, after a number of unsuccessful attempts in the weeks before, and my sense of accomplishment and glee was way bigger than buying opera glasses, a Victorian parasol and an asparagus plate might account for. 

As Mark's antique business has grown, so has my involvement. At first I was the cheerleader and decorator and sounding board. We'd prowl shops and shows and find the most unusual and arcane Victoriana at amazing prices. He'd send me pictures of his case and I'd offer feedback. I'd drive friends north to show off his hard work. 

Before long I found myself driving two hours each way on a Tuesday to go to auction with Mark where he acts as though I'm a full partner instead of just a helpful sister. I get so caught up in the excitement of the auctioneer's yodel and watching my brother acquire merchandise for his business, I find myself wanting to applaud - which is of course not done at auction. Every time Mark wins a bid, it feels like a game won at least as much as an object purchased. 

Our fellow bidders provide another source of pleasure - each one offering the promise of story: the bald man with his head completely tattooed; the old man who comes every week carrying his pomeranian; the mysterious couple who seem to buy everything without caring about the cost - one night alone spending over $10,000 on little things. The culture of auctions and antiquing draws an interesting assortment of characters, which deeply satisfies the storyteller in me.

One auction Mark surprised me with my own Angelwings Antiques business cards (I'm officially a buyer now). 

At my suggestion he started a blog for the business, and then signed me up as an administrator (I may have hinted at the benefits to him). While there's little I like better than having my fingers in a bloggy pie, I enjoy even more reading my brother's stories and watching him in his glory as he teaches us what he's learned about the Victoriana he loves so much.

At some point he invited me onto his eBay site. I was encouraged to add items to his watch list and even to bid if something caught my eye. One of my favorite things is to find arcana that he hasn't seen before. If you go to the blog, the sardine box was my discovery. We found the pancake warmers together. He spotted the condensed milk containers.

Just a couple of weeks ago he called to tell me a space opened up at the antique mall where he rents his case and asked what I thought. The expansion means a shift in focus, and more work, as well as a bigger risk. He moves in (we move in) the last week of May. Our conversations are now full of planning for this next step, and excitement that it's actually going to happen.

For me this experience is one of pure and simple pleasure with no risk, no pressure and no pain. I get to indulge my love of antiques in a unique way. I get to shop and spend someone else's money. I get to immerse myself in the learning and people and language of a new culture. Best of all I'm watching someone I love with all my heart follow a path on which he thrives and glows with success. A success  that not so long ago seemed impossible. A success measured by the heart and soul, not by mere worldly standards. 

I invite you to visit us - Angelwings Antiques - either on the blog or at Tacoma Antique Center. Stop by the end of May and grab a paint brush as we create the perfect background for Mark's treasures, or be one of the first to shop our new home in Space 24. An endeavor begun with such faith and grown in the soil of deep joy is sure to bring light to anyone who enters in.  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Finding Solutions

For as long as I can remember, I've loved word puzzles. My mom did, too, and always had half-finished books laying around the house. Although money was so tight we couldn't afford a washer and drier, she managed to find a way to add the latest edition of Dell puzzles to the shopping cart on the Saturday grocery and laundromat trip. And when I was home sick, which was often, she'd allow me to pass the time working puzzles she wasn't interested in.

I would start at the beginning of a book and work my way page by page through it, solving those she hadn't as I went. If a puzzle was too easy or too hard, I'd leave it after a bit and move on. The diagramless puzzles were beyond my ability or patience. I loved word searches and word mazes, but crosswords were always my favorites, especially if there was a theme or a puzzle hidden within.

When we moved Mom to assisted living and I was clearing out her house, I found dozens of partially finished books, mostly word searches. Even there evidence of her decline showed in the shakiness of the lines circling found words. Tempted to take the books home and finish them, the smell of old cigarettes and mildew was too much to overcome, and I tossed them as I'd had to do with so much of her stuff.

In my early adulthood I followed her pattern, and always found a way to throw the latest issues of Dell puzzles (always Dell, never the other kinds, like it always had to be Best Foods) into my grocery cart. I graduated to logic puzzles for a while, then moved to Sudoku.

I don't remember when I first discovered the NY Times crosswords in the paper. I'd read about them and assumed those puzzles were way beyond my solving ability. After the first one, it didn't take long for me to be hooked, although it took a David Sedaris story for me to understand about the increasing level of difficulty. Monday's puzzle is the easiest. Saturday's is the hardest.

I don't do Monday or  Tuesday (too easy), work steadily and happily through Wednesday and Thursday (both of which usually have the extra kick of an inner puzzle), and sometimes take days to complete Friday and Saturday. Once in a while there will be a Saturday puzzle that I can't crack, so I turn to Google and Rex Parker for help. Admitting defeat is hard, and doesn't come easily, but not knowing the answers is nearly unbearable. I need to understand how a clue and an answer fit together.

Some weeks I'm willing to allow a puzzle to unravel in my subconscious for a while. If I leave and come back, answers that weren't there before, appear almost magically. Some weeks, I just need the answers any way I can get them, and concede defeat after a couple of hours of trying to solve on my own.

This morning as I breezed my way through Thursday, pleased with myself for solving the inner puzzle fairly quickly, I realized that my relationship with crosswords is the same as my relationship with most of my life.

I need answers, and as long as things make sense, I'm fine. I'm generally impatient, but allow myself the satisfaction of challenging that urgency from time to time. When I can't seem to solve life's bigger problems, my ability to solve crosswords gives me at least the illusion of power and comforts me.

Words delight me in a way little else in my life does, and word play tickles my soul like a stroking hand elicits purrs from a cat.

Even when I'm frustrated at my inability to find a solution on my own steam, or get to the core of a certain challenge without help, eventually I find a way to acquire answers. And always, I'm happy to sit with a fresh puzzle and my favorite pen, looking for just the right word to fit into a defined space with nothing more to go on than some obscure and tricky clue.

I wonder if it was the same for my mom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I think about Japan, the Mideast, Haiti, Africa. The front page of our newspaper tells the story of a beautiful young woman who applied drain cleaner to her face, claimed it had been splashed on her by a stranger, and now lives disfigured with the course of her life forever changed. I read a memoir about women in prison, many there for long years as punishment for crimes in which they were the biggest victims.

So much suffering. More, it seems, than historically usual, although how would we ever know?

Most of us live lives of relative ease and some semblance of security. We're mostly healthy, surrounded by abundance, love and are loved. We have suffered, do suffer, will suffer - that's the thing about being human. And while the comforts we take for granted today could all be gone in a blink, we tend to move forward with optimism and grace.

Mostly we choose to be grateful for what we have, to pray for those less fortunate than ourselves, and to embrace whatever comes as part of the adventure we signed on for when we were born.

This spring that is more winter than winter was has worn my optimism to tatters, even knowing how small this suffering is in the bigger picture - a tiny prickly bush in the larger forest of sad and pain-gnarled trees. The damp chill seems to have somehow frozen hope, and drained energy like a battery left outside on a below zero night.

For the first time in my life, I check the weather forecast in the mornings, hoping beyond hope to see gold among the gray, and temperatures that would render my breath invisible. Finding gold to be an extreme rarity in the last two months, I pray for weather experts to be wrong, as they are more often than not. The problem this season has been when they are wrong, we get snow instead of sunshine.

The usual gifts of spring have been arriving since February, not in their customary lushness, but present nonetheless.

Crocuses and hyacinths and forsythia bloomed and are now gone. The flowering plum hesitantly blushed its way through March, and is beginning to lose its pink before ever reaching the full glorious glow it offers most years. Birds mate, nest and sing the arrival of day as they do every spring. Trilliums announce the coming of Easter. The neon green of cottonwoods buds flickers itself into gray air. Thatch ants take advantage of every dry or warm second to swarm and build mounds that will double their current size before the end of summer.

I marvel that so much life abounds in conditions that are colder and wetter than most days we had midwinter.

And maybe that's what keeps us all going, no matter the level of our suffering, discomfort or loss at any given time. Life finds a way, even in the chill of grieving or the shift of climate or the predictability of death. We hold and celebrate the rare warm moments of sunlight, offer our inner light to those sitting in darkness, and learn to wait, to simply be, without despairing.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I was getting ready, fresh out of the shower, legs just shaved, thinking about doing what I could to make the massage I was scheduled for that day a more pleasant experience for Julie. It's one of life's greatest opportunities for humility that in order to take care of my body, I have to make it available in all its lumpy, knobby imperfection to the caring healing hands of others. Since Julie often starts her therapeutic massage at my feet, I considered what she sees.

My feet have never been pretty. Not even when I was a child and my parts were fresh and new and smooth. Wide and short, hard to find shoes to fit, most of the year so calloused (and dirty) they often looked moccasin clad even when bare. Bare was always my chosen state for those feet, because until adolescence and an awareness of peer-defined beauty, I enjoyed them and all they allowed.

Almost all of my best childhood memories involve those bare feet and summertime. The tickle of soft wild grass. The soothing wash of the creek current. Even the squish and warmth of cow pies. I knew a friendly world through my feet, one that offered endless variations of sensation and pleasure.

I learned early that without my feet, life was much more limited. Stepping on a nail. A bee sting between toes. The weight of a cow. All slowed me down, and made me long for lost freedoms. But none were enough to convince me shoes were a good option.

During the vanity years, aware I didn't meet the standard for foot beauty (long and thin and white and smooth) I covered mine with shoes that were fashionable. I ignored their cries for mercy, only allowing freedom in the privacy of home or at the beach where I saw other feet perhaps uglier than mine.

Then there were the years when I ignored them altogether, acknowledging neither pleasure nor pain, just expecting them to carry me where I wanted to go as they always had. Even then, however, bare was my preference, and bare feet on summer grass always had the power to make me feel connected to life in ways that nothing else could.

The feet that Julie so gently manipulates have not grown magically beautiful over the years. They spread like river deltas, creating a whole new definition for wide. Bunions moved into the big toe joints. Heels are a cracked desert landscape. Toe nails are odd sizes and shapes, and even the occasional attempt at decoration with color does little to disguise their quirkiness.

And yet I present them to her in all their gnarled glory. And something she does wakes them to a former sensitivity I didn't even know I'd lost. They loosen under her touch, and release, and respond to her understanding and non-judging attention. So when I ask them to hold me again at the end of my time with Julie, I feel the ground under my feet in ways I haven't since childhood. The contact feels alive, humming with energy that reaches up through my soles to the center of me.

Finally, I am at that place where I wouldn't trade my beloved and hard-working feet for even the most beautiful. After a lifetime of wishing for so many things to be different, including much about the body I was given, I'm content and grateful - glad - for the parts that connect me with home.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Old Women

It started in the beauty shop where Nancy, who has cut my hair and been my friend for over three decades, was just finishing with me. A sturdy old woman walked into the space with a look of mischievous expectation on her face, and dumped her purse and coat into the one empty chair. Nancy looked at her with an expression I'd seen before - Betty had shown up for her appointment at the wrong day and time.

In the course of the negotiations that resulted in Betty hanging around until Nancy could fit her in, I saw confidence, spunk and a spirit that seemed to make room for everything. Betty's substantial body, her quick wit, the smile that didn't once leave her face all stirred some deep longing I hadn't felt in a long time. We were left alone for a few minutes while Nancy went out into the waiting area to explain to her other client, this one 90, that she was early and would have to wait a bit.

I asked Betty how old she was - rude, I know, but I needed to know more than I needed to be sensitive, and I knew she'd tell me in no uncertain terms if she didn't want to tell me. "I'm 87," she answered with some pride in her voice.

As I left to the background music of Nancy's and Betty's laughter, I noticed the older woman who had shown up early. Tiny, perfect posture, immaculately groomed, she looked as fragile as Betty seemed indestructible. We made eye contact and she surprised me with a soft warm smile.

Driving home that day I found myself thinking about old women in general, and how for a while now I've longed to have one in my life. Not a mother, although I'd consider it a gift beyond measure if my relationship with mine had blossomed into something sustaining. More like a grandmother, a mentor, a role model to show me the way into this last, hopefully long, chapter of my life.

Demographically, I'm considered to be in early old age (or I will be in November when I step officially into a new decade).  I don't mind. Especially when I see women like Betty who get to later old age with so much style and life still radiating from them.

My fifties seem to have been about facing and accepting a new direction. Life is more about loss than acquisition, which offers amazing opportunities for gratitude and sunbeam focus on what remains. Forgiveness -  both of myself and of the people I share this journey with - has become more important than ever in order to move forward in gentle grace. Maybe tolerance is a better word - a greater willingness to live with the frailties of being human so that the time remaining can be lived as fully and joyfully as possible.

As I've studied old women in the weeks since that beauty shop encounter, I've observed that whatever they are is easy to see and know the minute you meet them. Somehow the layers of persona and protection have been worn away, and what's left is the purest manifestation of soul still held in a human body.

In New York we shared an elevator with an elfin woman, hunched hard into her walker, exuding quiet dignity with her permed gray hair and her perfect pink quilted robe with the wide Peter Pan collar trimmed in the tiniest edge of lace. Two much younger women stood with her, I guessed daughters, allowing her space and the freedom to get herself out of the elevator, while at the same time doing their best to help her without being obvious. I wanted to follow them onto their floor and ask questions, both of the older woman and of the youngers. What is it like for you to be this old? Do you see your future in this frail being? How do you live with the many losses and indignities of old age? Are you aware of the gift you have in the time you have together?

Grandma Dee, my biological father's mom, the one I knew for only a year, was 89 when we met for the second time. Our first meeting, when I was an infant, exists somewhere in my cells, but nowhere in my memory. She was sharp, independent, and a great story teller. The sadnesses of her life were acknowledged, but she wasn't willing to dwell there - instead spending our time together admiring the flowers around her retirement apartment, asking about my life, talking about memories of her husband whom she clearly still missed deeply even though he'd been gone for years.

It's her path I hope to follow into my own old old age. Living full tilt as long as possible, and when it is no longer possible, to leave as quickly and quietly as possible. She turned 90, then stopped returning calls and within the year was gone.

I'm still looking for a day-to-day grandmother. Still feel the need as though it were hunger or thirst. Perhaps Betty will show up for the wrong appointment again and I can ask.