One for the pocket

Junco wings

Snow day. Or ice day. The sky was raining frozen pellets at 6 this morning and school called to say stay home.

This is H’s last semester of high school. This time next year she’ll be watching snow fall outside her college dorm window and deciding for herself if it’s safe to hike across campus to her first class.

How many more school snow days will there be before spring? Maybe this will be our last? I shoved the bills and to-do list tasks aside. As M reminded me on his way out the door this morning, Save this day to put in my pocket for a rotten January day next year when she’s not here.

So I’m writing this down here for me next winter. Because I’ve missed a whole lot of lasts in my life without knowing it until it was too late, and I’ll be darned if I’ll miss this one.

So I’m putting this in my pocket….

The ice falling and collecting on the branches. The birds flocking to the feeder. The flutter of wings and the occasional muffled collision with the window. Her coming downstairs mid-morning, in a navy blue t-shirt and jeans, suggesting maybe we should try out some new facial masks she’d ordered.

Us sitting on the sofa, faces draped with cold therapeutic masks, watching “The Women,” laughing and repeating our favorite lines, heating up frozen chicken tenders for a mid-movie lunch.

Us sitting on the sofa with the TV on talking about the election and the march, about Aziz Ansari, about how sweet-neurotic the dog is, and how cute-weird the cats are and how we both wanted chocolate.

Us not talking, each in our own online worlds, but within arm’s reach of each other.

Us listening to The Weepies and Jake Bugg and deciding to make crepes for dinner.

Us breathing and being and often not even talking, just living in the same square footage.

Us waiting for M to come home and join us, to make and eat dinner, to do whatever we do as a family, the way we’ve come to be a family these last 17 years.

Me, folding this into a crane, or maybe a cardinal, and slipping it into a safe place in my heart.

There

This little light of ours

Brave Little State Says No to Hate

We held an election on November fourth. We held an inauguration on January 20. We held a march on January 21.

I’ve had months, weeks, and days to get my little duckling thoughts in a row and I find myself still bewildered. But here’s a try.

Eight years ago this week, we took the week off work and school and drove the familiar 750 miles to Michigan to be with family when Barack Obama took the Presidential Oath of Office.

It felt important to observe this in a way that we’d never before observed such an event, important enough to drive through two days of winter, to take nine-year-old H out of school to make sure she would have this memory to hold on to, a memory of the moment when politics seemed somehow even momentarily washed clean of cynicism. We were told we could hope, and we did. Yes we did.

I have a scattering of water colored memories from those few days, faded color slides: a nearly shut down hotel with no heat or toilet paper; an unheated swimming pool where a pack of little birthday party girls had released a tiny school of goldfish (rescued by M); the warm, inviting living room in M’s parents’ home, with the glowing television in the corner; the upright, earnest young president at the podium; H coming down with a fever that day and sleeping on the sofa through the entire inauguration ceremony; the sense in our hearts that there was much more work to do, but that a door had at last been unlocked and opened just a crack.

I remember another day, many years earlier, when I said to friends that I thought that it didn’t even matter who the president was. That a single person couldn’t have that much power and effect, considering our government’s systems of checks and balances. I’m cringing now at what I said.

I’m certainly older now, and less innocent, and maybe a smidgen wiser.

On Saturday we went to Montpelier to be part of the Women’s March. It was an electric, moving experience to be there, we three smalls bird joining a flock of starlings, a murmuration of feet, hearts, voices. The march itself was short, a mere half mile from the high school to the state house, but there were 15,000 of us (or more) and we lit up the grey day with smiles and songs and purpose. And we were small beans compared with what was going on in DC, New York, London, the world.

My older, less innocent self knows that this was an important first step, but a first step only. And it’s meaningless unless we continue to metaphorically march, every day, together, all of us. I know that we have a lot of hard work to do to make sure that everyone is included, to make sure that everyone is heard, to listen, learn, and let go of prejudices we don’t even know we have. I know that one march, regardless of size, isn’t a solution in and of itself. But I still feel a blossoming hope that was gone only last Friday.

Maybe this weekend was a small movement in the face of the big obstacles ahead of us, the tiniest sway that can build, the way little legs pumping at the air on a playground swing take the swing into the sky. The way single voices make a chorus. The way one candle lights another and another and another.

We Are Each Other's Harvest

Climate Change Does Not STOP by Deleting a Website

99.9% Sure I'm a Miyazaki Heroine

Wow Guys

Black Lives Matter in Vermont, too!

Perfect

Girls and Women Are Good

Arriving at the State House

The crowd

No to Hate. Yes to Pancakes

Bernie

Hope

Something old, something new

2017: 1
A year ago I stood at the scrolled ironwork fence at the edge of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario and took a photo.

We were just returning from a trip to visit family in Michigan and, like clockwork, I’d picked up some sort of virus and was sick in a way I hope never to be again in a soggy hotel room. On January 1, I was just coming out of the mist of the virus that we dubbed “Douglas,” and I wanted to breathe some fresh Canadian air. Poor M and H were still in Douglas’ grip, some 30 stories up in a hotel that has a beautiful view that neither of them could appreciate that day.

I have a lot of memories of that day, largely due, I believe, to the photo I took, which anchored me to the moment (pulling my coat close around me in the drizzle, not quite snow, not quite rain), to a feeling (unfettered and a bit loose on my feet after days of being in bed), to a thought (how quiet that rushing water is when you’re so close to the edge).

The next day, home at last, I snapped another photo with my iPod, this time of a lamp’s reflection on our bedroom ceiling. And then I decided to continue. I don’t know how I did it because I’m truly lousy at resolutions and doing anything on a regular basis (diaries, exercise classes, writing projects, reading projects) and there were many days in 2016 when I didn’t feel like taking a photo, or didn’t have a good idea of a photo to take, or didn’t have my camera with me. Still somehow I managed it: 366 black -and-white photos, one a day, no faking, no fudging, not always fabulous, but a record of the year.

That project taught me many things:

  • Set small goals: one photo a day is not a lot to ask.
  • Always have a camera on hand; you never know when a good photo will jump out in front of you and it’s a rotten feeling when that happens and there’s no camera to record it.
  • Don’t worry if you forgot your camera. Sometimes it’s just good to look with your eyes and record the moment with your heart. There will be other photo opportunities.
  • Be persistent with a project even when your will is weak, when you are tired, when you are sick, when you are NOT IN THE MOOD.
  • Look for light (and shadow) in new ways, look for texture and contrast, find beauty and detail aside from color.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition, of returning to favorite scenes, themes, ideas. Each version is a bit different and the accretion of repetition is beautiful.
  • When it’s time for a project to end, put an ellipsis after it and then start a new one. Momentum is magical.

To that last point, I began a new daily project this past January 1, using last year’s photos to create a new found poem each day this year. I may post some of those poems/photos here from time to time, but if you want to know more about the project or to see them all, you can follow along at thefoundnow.

I have another photo project idea up my sleeve, too, but I’ll tell you about that later.

And what about you? Did you have a project last year (daily, weekly, sporadically) that brought you pleasure? Do you have plans for this year? I’d love to know. You are all so clever, and creative and inspiring; I can’t wait to hear what you’re up to.

What’s Going On

Missus

So I’m sitting here on a snowy afternoon at the end of December and I have to say I’m not sure what day it is. I think it’s Thursday?

Between holidays, storms, and school vacation days, it’s all become a blur of candlelight, chocolate gelt, wrapping paper, cellophane bags of sweet things I shouldn’t be eating, new books, classic movies, sparkling lights, eggnog, and a scattering of appointments here and there.

I’ve lost my fragile hold on my internal calendar.

Okay, I’ve verified my hunch with the computer’s calendar and don’t feel like a complete dope. December the 29th. We’re within arm’s reach of the end of 2016, which I think many of us can agree has been a bit of a disaster.

As if we weren’t on our knees already, the universe sees fit to take Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds just as we thought we might sneak under the wire and leave this year quietly behind.

Well.

I don’t know a soul who hasn’t lost someone dear to them this year. I feel foolish in my sadness at the loss of two women I’ve never met. I know I should feel this grief for the thousands of Syrians who lost their lives this year. For the children who met their fate with a bullet. For the families who never made it from one shore to the other. But it’s too large for me to feel it all, and instead I’m vacuuming the house while singing “Good Morning” with tears in my eyes.

So maybe this is how we compartmentalize a larger grief, and how we share with a world of other hearts a general outcry at the unfairness of time and mortality.

But that’s not what I want to think about here on the brink of the year. I want to think about the snow falling down, quiet as a candle, erasing the sky and pulling a discreet white sheet over the earth.

I want to think about this goofy, faithful dog, with just a little bit of grey on his chin, curled into an “O” in front of the fire.

I want to think about a tall daughter, sitting at this same table, listening to music as she draws, still here under our roof.

I want to think about a tender husband about to get into his car to drive home to us through this storm, on tires that are fast friends with snow and ice.

I want to imagine Al Green crooning to the mated pair of cardinals who are visiting our feeder today, to the chickadees, to the nuthatches, to the woodpeckers, to the blue jays, to the juncos, to the tufted titmice, to the woman with the camera: Let’s all stay together.

Winter solstice resolutions

Birches

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice sunrise photo and substitute instead a photo of favorite birch trees. They are as beautiful as any old sun, and throw off their glow all year round. What’s not in the picture is the dog, who is a boat in my gaze’s current, floating directly in line with wherever I point the camera. Sometimes I can fool him by focusing on something to my left or right, then swinging quickly back to the original object of my lens’ desire. In this photo, he’s just to the left, and I cropped him out. Not because he’s not beautiful, but because he isn’t a birch tree.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice poem and substitute instead a poem by Wallace Stevens:

Valley Candle

My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.

I love this poem because it has so many possible interpretations, a mood ring of a poem that means what I want it to mean on any given reading. Today his valley is my valley. Today, this house is the candle. The solstice is the huge night, and the promise of the sun’s return is the beams. The wind, of course, is the wind. The dog is standing next to me, staring at the cat on his bed, willing the cat to move or me to move the cat. And all I do is try to point out the second, empty dog bed, a mere three feet further from me than the first. For the dog, perhaps I am the candle, and the dog bed is the immense valley, and the cat is the wind.

Resolved: to forego a proper solstice song and substitute one I didn’t know existed until about four hours ago, because it mentions cold, and because Joan Shelley writes songs I can listen to endlessly. Shelley is from Kentucky so maybe her thermometer is different from mine, but either way this song feels suited to the day, while I’m writing by the fire and the sun has slipped behind the hill and the snow is brittle and shiny with ice.

Fire warms and fire burns
Now I’ve learned
The cost of the cold.

When I started writing this, I felt so full of resolve, but now I feel tired, worn small and smooth by the endless rush of the day and the hurry to make hay while the sun glides just inches above the horizon. I pine for long summer days, but there’s an unrecognizable part of me that relishes these early, switched off evenings, when so little is expected.

Tomorrow we gain less than a tenth of a second of daylight. We won’t feel it much, but our bones will somehow know it, our hearts will somehow sing it, and our hands will set to their work. There’s so much to do, and so much light to gather in.

p.s. Forget my resolve, I need to share this solstice poem by Liz Lochead with you, because, well, you’ll see.

356 : 366

A long calling down the wind

The other day the phrase “time and the flying snow” drifted from the sky onto my computer keyboard as if released from the clouds. But it didn’t come from the atmosphere. It was released from my memory. Long memory.

The phrase is the title of a book of songs, sheet music by Gordon Bok, a book I bought years ago when I believed I could learn to play the songs on my guitar. One specific song, really. I was ambitious and very wrong about my ability. I could strum a tune with a few basic chords, but my talent, or perhaps it was my persistence, went no further than that.

I still have the guitar, though I haven’t picked it up in years. The book is somewhere, too, though I haven’t seen it lately. But the song, that I do have. Not every word and note because it’s a long song, but phrases that worm their way up into my mouth now and then the way stones in the New England soil find their way to the surface in a spring garden.

Don’t you wonder about the mystery of memory and music? It’s like the mystery of memory and smell. You know how, when you go through the front door into a house you’ve never been in before, and you smell the residue of slow-cooking onions, and you know that even though your body has never moved through that house before, you know that smell, from your grandmother’s house, say. And then not just any day of cooked onions comes to you, but a very particular day riddled with the particular sounds and tastes, pleasures and hurts, worries and choices, and the particular angle of the sunlight that eases through the front curtains around 4 in the afternoon. And her voice, calling your name, as if nothing had ever changed or slipped away. A voice from far away, or is it just the wind?

It’s like looking backwards through a telescope so that everything from that moment is tiny yet visible, contained and embraced in the gaze of single, unblinking eye.

That’s what a song does, too, doesn’t it? It’s a ticket on an express train right to some moment when you are ten, or maybe twelve, sitting in the apartment of your mother’s friend, and your mother and her friend are drinking coffee (you can still smell that, too) and talking about something that you don’t care to know about, but there’s a record collection and the friend says put anything you want on the turntable and you see this song takes an entire side of a record album so how can you resist that?

And the needle makes a miracle, transfers the sound from the vinyl to the speakers to your ears to your memory to this moment.

And you play the song again today, in a different room, in the library where your daughter volunteers one afternoon a week, your daughter who is on the tippy edge of launching herself into her own life. Soon, very soon, but not quite yet. And when she smells onions, she’ll remember home.

Time and the flying snow*

I just wanna be here with youThe time of snow has come.

This is now a waiting time.

All my effort every day is going into the waiting.

Or the holding still in the waiting. Or the being busy in the waiting. Or the restless flicking of fingers or searching the white white white for that one red-splash cardinal.

Or the remembering to breathe in the waiting. Or the looking over my shoulder in the waiting.

Or the flipping through magazine pages in the waiting. Or listening to the snow melt off the roof in a drip drip drip.

I took my watch off in hopes that it would make time foreign. But time is internal and part of my blood. My blood, which quite likely is rushing too quickly from heart to fingers and back again. Like thoughts. Like birds.

These little birds are staving off death every minute, flying back and forth between the feeder full of sunflower seeds and the cold, bare trees.

They’re not waiting. They just are. They’re living in spite of the dying. Getting on with living while the daylight is on their wings.

Take a lesson, right?

I just want
I wanna be here with you
Not bracing for what comes next
I’ve got some new words
I can see sideways
If there’s a limit
It hasn’t found me yet

My friend is an artist
Doesn’t fit in
Lost a front tooth
Can’t keep a job
But the things you make
Are so beautiful
They bring me joy
Don’t you ever stop

The hungry fools
Who rule the world can’t catch us
Surely they can’t ruin everything

I just want
I wanna be here with you…

*”Time and the Flying Snow” is a book of songs by Gordon Bok, which reminds me of another song I want to share with you.

Heck, yes! I mean no!

Even I can admit I’m good at some things. I’m good at taking care of animals. And checking things off my to-do list (and even better at putting things on it that I’ve already done just so I can feel good about checking them off). I’m good at baking. And I’m good at taking someone else’s good idea and making it happen.

Of the many things I am not good at, saying “no” is the thing I’m perhaps best at not being good at. If you know what I mean.

But I mean to learn. I really really do. At this particular point in history, in fact, I feel it’s my duty to learn to say “no,” and my duty to make sure our daughter knows how to say it, too.

But I don’t think I’m going to have to worry about that. She’s as strong in her convictions as any young woman I know, and vocal about them, and it’s thanks to her that I know today’s song. It’s one of those songs that sounds so 2010 generic to me that I likely would have turned the radio dial if I’d heard it without H’s introduction, but..

No … listen to what she’s really saying and then get to the chorus and, well, isn’t that just darn fun to sing at the top of your voice?

Sure, it’s just a song. It’s just a small word. It’s just one tiny grain of pop defiance. But I’ll take my reminders where I can, and a catchy tune doesn’t hurt either.