Rough & Ready

Photo: Rough & Ready 1

Feeling ragged as an old mop lately? I rely on my cadre of kindly supporters to help me untangle my life.

If you’ve been reading the posts hereabouts in the last few days, you know I am no tough customer. I quailed as much at the thought of waking my poor sleepy spouse up in the middle of the night as at having him take me to the emergency room, let alone facing the fear of the unknown pain in my guts. And that was all for what might be the least horrific attack from a kidney stone in history, for all I know. Certainly I am as stunned (albeit happily so) as the follow-up caller from the surgical center when I say that I haven’t taken so much as an over-the counter mild painkiller since emerging from the happy haze of anesthesia yesterday afternoon.

The mountains of incredibly, indelibly kind and compassionate notes and calls I’ve received since airing my tiny miseries to you all are a true embarrassment of riches. I am grateful beyond your imaginings for the uplifting warmth and steadiness of your collective response to my discomfort and fears, and I treasure that surrounding goodness more than I can ever adequately say. But I feel more than a little sheepish, too, for being such a baby when I know that many, many who have offered such sweet and patient care and thoughtfulness to me in my weakness have also suffered far worse pain, deeper trials, and greater danger than anything I’ve faced in my whole charmed existence.

I look around me at the heroics of the people I love and admire, the friends, neighbors, and  companions who go about your business in the guise of ordinary mortality and hiding your bravery and strength behind the rugged facades of everyday occurrence, and I am slightly abashed. Slightly abashed, and very moved. You lay down your work and take time out of your already busy days to send off a word of comfort, an ethereal hug, a generous thought in my direction, and suddenly I feel myself filling with strengths and hopes that were not my own to begin with, and I am touched to the core with joy at my wealth and good fortune.

I am not nearly bold enough to manage the easiest of lives without endless help. You, who are so much more rough and ready in spirit, are always there to offer it to me. I thank you.

Photo: Rough & Ready 2

Whenever I feel like I’ve been tied to the railroad tracks, my friends come riding in to save the day.

Calling All Saints

This is a day designated by the Christian church for the remembrance of all the good, fine people who have lived, illuminated our lives, led the way for the rest of us, and now are also gone before us in death. Recollection, commemoration and admiration of those who have lived as great-hearted souls on the earth and set an example, large or small, of excellence for those of us who follow is, I think, a practice that anyone of any stripe, religious or not, can embrace; we are certainly all made better by such meditations, especially if and when we are made stronger by their guidance to follow in our honored loves’ radiant footsteps.Photos + text: How Sweet the Moment

Spending a day in remembrance of loves lost is bound to be bittersweet, of course. When the bond has been close in life, it remains so in death, and however the pangs of loss may subside over time, on a day devoted to thoughtful recognition of our trusted and beloved friends, mentors and avatars of all things great and good, the pain can be as sharply new again as in the first sweep of sorrow. But if I am genuinely mindful and respectful of their gifts in life, I think that this can be transformational and healing and comforting, too.Photos + text: Bittersweet

Can I live as a reflection of my most-admired angels? It’s too tall an order for any ordinary mortal, I know. But that’s exactly why I think we have these living and loving models among us: to show that in community and mutual, loving support and with determined and patient growth on our own, greater things can happen than if we try to do significant and meaningful things independently. We are raised up by the waves of support around us. How can I not be grateful for that! This realization sweetens the day perceptibly. Do I wish that I could have my lost loves back again? Who would not! But I wouldn’t trade one tear, one iota of the hurt and anger and grief I’ve felt over any of their losses, to miss out on recognizing the beauty and joy and brilliance that they brought to this world in their too-short tenure here, and I know that some lights seem so bright in life that they can blind me at close range to what’s more easily discerned, when seen from this greater distance, as having the distinctive shape of an excellent soul.Photos + text: Last Lullaby

I am a Three-Year-Old

Digital illustration: Coloring Book/Stained GlassHave I matured as much in three years of daily blogging as a toddler does in her first three years of life? Highly unlikely. I was, after all, already a half century old and probably set in many of my ways to a degree that could forestall any large amount of progress toward real change, or at least drag it by the ankles dramatically.

Chances are, I haven’t made a huge number of changes as a person in general during the last three years. But I can lay claim to some growth, after all.

Moving to the wholly new world of life here in Texas in 2009 certainly necessitated some change. My aging corpus may not have made the transition perfectly: being over-endowed with the internal furnace function of middle-aged hormonal fun isn’t entirely compatible with the outdoor temperature norms here, and like many transplanted citizens I’ve done some battle with the local slate of allergens new to my system.

On the positive side, what I’ve found as a blogger echoes the best of what I found in migrating from my longtime home in the Pacific Northwest to the new-to-me frontier of North Texas, an entirely different sort of northern-ness. Entering new territories, both the real and the online ones, presented the possibility of encountering insurmountable tasks and challenges, or worse yet, unfriendly natives. Of course, my being still in Texas after five years and still blogging after three tells you that none of those fears proved true. Quite the reverse, in fact, considering that I’ve had some lovely experiences in both worlds during my brief tenure here, and I’ve garnered a whole cadre of wonderful friends in both, as well.

In short, I would amend my initial statement so far as to say that anything leading to such an exponential increase in the size and variety and quality of my circle of compatriots seems to me the very best kind of growth possible. Happy blogiversary to me this week—and more importantly, from me to all of you, who have made the journey so worthwhile and still so inviting. Who knows where the next three years may take us all!

Yet More Advice-to-Self

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Struttin’

digital illustrationIt’s especially nice, when I’ve caught myself wallowing in self-denigration and insecurity for a bit, to think on those things that actually, really, truly are pretty darn good about me. It’s no sin to appreciate the gifts we’ve been given, and their relative smallness in comparison to others’, as there are always people for whom we have [possibly unwarranted] adulation as exemplars of all those things we long to be, is irrelevant. Safe to say that every one of those great and mighty high achievers has some hidden insecurity and certainly, all have imperfections. Our inability to see those reflects more on our own worries and wishes than on who anyone else genuinely is.

So I go off looking at the astonishingly skillful artistry of others and am ashamed at how little I’ve accomplished in my artistic life thus far and feel inadequate and cheap, and sulk for a moment or two, and then I need to pick up my tools and get back to work and remember that I do this, to be fair, for the love and joy of doing it, not because I need to impress somebody. And I remind myself that despite my ordinariness, I am in my own way new and improved in comparison to where I started my artistic journey.

The same holds true for looking at others’ writing, cooking, gardening, housekeeping, home decorating, DIY projects, you name it. If there’s anything I do that I wish I were better at doing—and anything worth doing is worth getting better at doing, no?—the reason I have such a wish is that I know I’m far from the best, and I can only know how far I am from the best if there are others leading me there by example. In fairness to my meager position in the relative scheme of things, I need to recognize that most experts spent a tremendous amount of time and energy becoming the avatars that they are, that if I did think I were nearly perfect at anything it would be foolish and delusional and hubristic and, well, tiresome, and that I do improve over time, if not quite at the rate I would fondly hope I could.

This is not a pity party for Poor Little Me, lest you be misled by my maundering start: it’s a self-reminder that I am very fortunate, and yes, a little bit gifted, too. My gifts may not be the kind that were evident from my birth and improved exponentially over a shining, prodigious span of growth and productivity and marvelous output. But incremental growth and modest gifts can be celebrated, too, and since I have no need for fame or (however pleasing I may find the idea of it) wealth, it matters none whether anyone else celebrates them. That they do, and indeed, tell me so, is a kindness and brings the kind of wealth and fame that have a far greater value than the more worldly sort, when I accept them wholeheartedly.

I know I’m not the greatest of or at anything. But I like who and what I am and think I’m on a slow upward incline regarding what I do, and that’s reason enough to hold up my chin and puff out my chest a little and march on forward with a smile on my face and my head held high. I’ll bet you could do it, too, even if you merely do so by letting yourself believe what the people who love and respect you tell you. They don’t love and respect and admire you for no reason at all, and who are you to question your admirers’ integrity! Go ahead, own up to being the new and improved you. Preen a little. You deserve it.

Sometimes No News is Just…No News

I’m not here a second time today to announce I’ve discovered the cure for halitosis, let alone cancer. But I’m back simply to share a link with you because another blogger’s words for today had such a thought-provoking effect on me and I figured you might find them equally intriguing. Jen, the smart and compassionate translator/interpreter for her charming and handsome malamute Rumpy over at Rumpydog, is a committed animal activist. My friends, you know that it’s more likely I should be committed [IYKWIM] than true that I am disciplined, self-confident or wise enough to be an active advocate for much of anything. But today Jen addressed a topic that’s long been nagging at me, to the extent that I know I’ve actually mentioned it to you: it’s not that we as humans are incapable of caring about things enough, too stupid to figure out some solutions, or unwilling to do the hard work to enact them–it’s that we are too self-centered to do so together with anyone who fails to think and care about, and approach, those problems in precisely the way we personally approve.

I’m absolutely certain that no matter how much I liked or admired Jen it would be impossible for me to agree 100% with her on everything, or her with me. But I’m also sure that I do deeply respect her commitment and willingness to act on it and speak her mind. So I encourage you to go and visit her to read her most sensible, cogent piece I’ve seen in ages about what does and doesn’t work in discussing, promoting, advocating for or acting in *any* good cause. I don’t know a solution, because I suspect it’s such a universal ill among humans that it would require Nobel Peace Prize brilliance *plus*. But if we gather around the conference table determined to listen, learn and share the best of ourselves, there just might be some hope for us. The very thought cheers me.Happy days to all of you, and many thanks to Jen for sharing. (Click on the word ‘sharing’ to go to her blog.)digital artwork from a photo

Hands

What is more beautiful than the hands shaped by devoted work? The marks of time and trial make wonderful maps of all the history and care that make each hand unique, every capillary the path blazed on the journey of toil or triumph.

An elder’s hand might be craggy both with age and strength and a dancer’s, always artful, even in repose. A farmer’s and a gardener’s might both have creases full of long-embedded earth, looking like furrows in the plant-rich soil. Craftsmen’s hands are often as modeled and sculpted as their works, and the athlete’s power and precision and timing and sensitivity bespeak years of training and focused will. A conductor’s hands, as I happily know, conjure music out of thin air with the way they guide and join voices and other instruments into a whole new thing, a sound that transcends all of the individuals responding to the gesture, transcends the single pair of hands.

But best of all, I think, are the hands that hold. Cradling and offering gifts to those in need, they hold a hint of another, better world. Reaching and taking another person’s hand with kind tenderness or sweet familiarity and love, the message they send for all to see is very clear. Would that every person on earth could feel the touch and know the purpose and meaning of such hands. What a pure and magical message. Send it out to the rest of the world, won’t you?photo

From the Bottom of a Well

digital illustrationThere are wells whose bottommost dark can hardly be imagined, let alone reached, abysses hidden in all of us that emit no light and rarely give up answers. There are parts of each of us that we can scarcely understand ourselves. Places in which no one else seems able to make sense of us. It does not diminish us, singly or as a species, but it makes living life a greater and more delicately convoluted adventure at every turn.

For me, this means that I need to find the positive in an assortment of inner oddities and personal distinctions that most often remind me of their presence in random, unpredictable and even annoying ways. The unusual synaptical dances that cause me to read upside down, backwards and sideways instead of the particular direction in which my peers and comrades read make me a very slow reader since texts around here are designed with the literate majority in mind. But I think that reading things four times through just to make sense of them does sometimes immerse me more thoroughly in the text if I let it, and it can help turn a mere reading requirement into a commitment. Drawing, when my hand tremors are being pesky, demands that I become more than ordinarily focused and deliberate as well. There are lots of frustrating nuisances that can be turned into usable stuff with enough thought and effort and patience and, well, acceptance.

I still have a mighty tough time scraping up that attitude, though, when it comes to getting a handle on anxiety. That, my friends, is my bête noire. Most of the time I work around it fairly well. My medication and years of learning coping skills and the support of family, friends and health professionals have made much of my anxiety mostly manageable, especially the social anxiety that long made it a near impossibility to meet new people or have conversations with any. But there’s this lousy aspect that keeps on lounging around in my psyche and popping out like a jack-in-the-box at the most inopportune times without so much as a how-d’ye-do, and I have yet to discover a single upbeat way to dress it up and take control of this fiendish pop-up and its ghoulish torments.

The particularly loathsome aspect, to me, is how utterly ridiculous and tiny my personal bane appears to my rational mind, yet how entirely paralyzing its power remains over me whenever it rears its nasty clownish head. It’s not especially complicated to explain, just seems impossible to me to solve; the parts of social anxiety that I’ve never been able to undo or conquer thus far have to do with any kind of business or personal transaction that seems to me to have any chance of including a need for me to request or require help of any sort. Add to that my continuing pointless yet persistent horror of using a telephone or communication forum of any kind for those needy purposes, and it’s a peculiarly potent combination of fears that can keep me from getting the littlest and quickest things done for days or weeks on end while I try to summon the nerve to move forward with them.

Sometimes I can persuade myself over a long enough period to make the call or write the email or knock on the door to ask for information, make a transaction, or schedule an event, and sometimes I just remain stuck in the grip of that inertia that neither solves the problem nor lets me forget that I am in its power. And believe me, I know how abysmally foolish any attempt to explain my terrified reluctance to any sane person sounds: it sounds beyond childish and outlandish to me. But that rational part of me has very little sway over my phobias, so only once in a wildly long while do I get up the courage to do that unbelievably little thing that others can, and I should be able to, do without batting an eye.

The good news, and yes there is plenty of it to get me through the day, is that I have lived a good long time visiting the bottom of this particular and soggy well without losing my ability to see the light up at the top end of it or even to experience a truly happy life by keeping my trips down there as separate from the rest of my existence as I know how to do. And strangely, I have found that the same rain of frustrations, frights and fears that occasionally pelt down the well around me can also lie at my feet like a watery mirror, reflecting enough of my better self to remind me to come back up into the brighter world and leave my fears behind. Even if I have to wait for the rising tide of it to carry me back up and out of there for respite.digital illustrationMeanwhile, I can remember that having Spasmodic Dysphonia tends to make me not merely a prisoner of my halting speech but also more conscientious about conserving, preserving and rehabilitating my voice. More importantly, it gives me yet greater admiration for those who use their voices in extraordinary ways, both those with SD or other speech anomalies (i.e., Diane Rehm and James Earl Jones) and those without (Angela Meade, Colin Balzer, Morgan Freeman). And while I may not have perfect pitch or infallible hearing, there’s nothing notably wrong with my ears. Sometimes I even suspect that being at the bottom of a well gives me a better appreciation for good acoustics!

Back from the Brink

photoBurnout. Tension. Stress. Exhaustion. Doesn’t matter what I call it, the unfriendly truth of that state of being is the same. Distraction. Aching and malaise. Irritability, withdrawal, collapse. The dramatic drops in life participation and wholeness all come together in equally unpleasant responses.

What are the causes, catalysts and triggers? As many and varied as the moments of any lifetime, of a million lifetimes, can allow. How is it that I–or anyone else on this madly spinning globe–can survive such stuff assailing us, let alone prevail against it and win?

Why, in a number of ways, we all do it pretty much all of the time. That’s how our species can even continue to exist; if we didn’t have a whole arsenal of defenses and strategies for the cosmic battle, it would’ve taken little more than a moment’s stray breeze to blow us all to oblivion. But vulnerable and weak as we are, we do have our ways, and we survive.

Faith. Whether it’s the belief in something as grand and benevolent as a Supreme Being that will rescue me or in something as small and ephemeral as the offer of a stranger’s hand to grasp mine and pull me up, faith can overcome many an obstacle.

Hope, too. If not utterly confident of it, as long as I can summon a sense that there’s some probability or even possibility of better things ahead, I have a chance of mustering just enough strength, patience and will to wait for the good to come to me. I may not be able to reach for it myself any longer, but I can hang on, however thinly, to a promise of change and renewal. For the return of the light.

And love. When all other resources are at their lowest ebb, even faith and hope having withdrawn in the impenetrable distance, love can carry me through. I have a greater store than most, being surrounded as I am by not only the encouraging affection and support of spouse, family and friends but also the remarkably kind uplift I’ve received at the hands and words of a wide array of acquaintances and strangers buoying me in my life over every would-be catastrophic wave. Beyond even this, there is another love that serves me well, when I can remember it: the love inside me that, however pale and faint it’s grown in my weakened state, recognizes a need to care for and comfort others in their time of need. The moment I can step outside of my own need, my hunger, despair, anger, longing or sorrow, just enough to recollect the existence of anyone else, I tend to draw back, however slowly, from the brink myself.

I can look around again with eyes less inward-focused and with a heart more willing to keep living, hard as it may seem at the time, and crawl back toward more gracious and sanguine days. My fellow survivors show me how to do it all the time. In this, I am once again truly at peace.digitally enhanced photo

Super Chicken

mixed media artworkMy superpower, if I could be said to have any, is being supremely ordinary. Yeah, I’m really, really good at that. Now, you may think it’s not impressive that I’m good at being so-so, and you could be forgiven for thinking it. And yet . . .

Besides that it requires massive numbers of us mid-range sorts to keep nature in a sort of balance with the various human outliers at the top (and bottom) of the spectrum, there’s also the comfort and safety of being able to travel under the radar of scrutiny and pressure to which both kinds of exceptional people are exposed.

What on earth does this mean I am good at doing, at being? Why, I do what’s expected. I go to sleep; I wake up. I eat and I walk and I get dressed and undressed, and the world carries right on around me. And though I don’t at the moment have employment outside of our home, my current occupation being Homemaker, I spend myself and my efforts, rather, on doing the small and yet significant things that might not be essential to keeping the world operational but grease the gears, instead. And keeping the cogs working relatively smoothly is as useful in its own way as being the driver, the engineer or a cog myself. I go to meetings and do Projects, too, to be sure, but mostly what I do nowadays is fix a meal, repair a door-jamb, ferry my spouse and a student to a rehearsal. I do laundry; I prune the plantings near the window. Glamorous? Just exactly enough.

Because the luster of the day comes not from being admired and lauded but from being appreciated, even if it’s hardly necessary to hear that announced constantly–after all, the proof of its value is in plain view if the needful things get done. Any reward lies in the belief that I make life that one tiny iota smoother and pleasanter for that one brief instant, even if only for this one other person. It’s borne on the smile of relief worn by him whose sheaf of office paperwork got filed at last when he couldn’t get to it himself, or whose old slippers have been mended by the time he gets home from the office at the end of the day. It’s in the neighbor being glad to have the excess garden supplies or box of art materials I’ve collected to send to school with her. It’s with me when I arrange the chairs alongside the singers before a rehearsal when I come by to listen to their work. It’s mostly in knowing that the stuff needed to keep quotidian action on course is being looked after, bit by little bit. And that I’m the person for the job.

I don’t do this selflessly, of course, because I would hardly keep it up for long if it weren’t so simply and inherently rewarding. And it certainly bespeaks no genius or courage on my part that I do it, for clearly it takes greater skill and ingenuity and bravery to do all of the shiny, showy things for which I provide my atoms of encouragement from the periphery. Maybe a jot of courage only to admit to being a homemaker and loving it. So many who haven’t the privilege of the life seem to disdain it and misconstrue its meaning, especially if it doesn’t have either children or wealth as part of the equation. I am far more fearful of having no sense of purpose than of being thought unimportant by anyone else; I care more about feeling my own worth than having it validated by any outside agents.

So if I seem to anyone to be afraid of taking a larger role in the Real World as they see it, I suppose I ought to admit that in one sense I am. I know that having this Job for a few years has given me new strength and the ability to go out in the wider world for a so-called Real one again when the time comes, yet I do dread leaving this role that has given me a feeling of vocation more than anything else I’ve ever done and risking the dimming of any of the self-worth I’ve garnered or the value I’ve learned to impute to the tasks of being normal and simple and everyday, which I’ve learned to see as so much deeper and richer than they’d seemed until I tried on the role of their custodian myself. I do, at the end of it, think that if I’m a dull, bland or unimportant grease-monkey to the cogs of the world, I’m a damn good one, and if I’m scared of giving up that high honor, then I at least credit myself with being a superior variety of chicken.