Sacred Spring Space

Sisters, I am celebrating! I moved stuff around and cleaned the garage, and ended up with a private sleeping, reading, and writing sanctuary. My best bed, at a perfect height, tucked into mattress-walled walls. Canopies to follow in this nap-pit! There will be bugs. It can be light or dark, quiet or a sound-chamber for the Honda to offer up Hozier. It’s in the garage, sharing air with the lawn machines and tools, intimate art (Daddy’s bad murals, Annelise’s sweet herons, and a political sign, Will Work for Peace.)

I’m so happy. Don’t mind a bug or two here or there. Small price to pay for living almost outdoors. Explained several times to the exploring huge bumblebee the other day that she should not think of settling inside this building.  I’d rather have a writing train of thought interrupted by a bee than the TV.   For much of my life, finding spaces free of television background sound has been one of the biggest challenges to my writing life.   So, that part of the garage-bed is bliss. Among others. The dark. The privacy. The coolness. Music.

the creature that sleeps in my garage!

the creature that sleeps in my garage!

So I’m happy in some primal way. Spring and strawberry blossoms again. With all my writing and reading friends, I am finally, wholly and humbly, feeling fulfilled in the sense of believing that enough people understand and appreciate my writing, and that it is somehow bigger than myself. Which is a great feeling, except there is still a scary ridge for me. What is private/public? Now that makes a girl think, and pull inside the shell a bit!

But, I’m happy in here, pondering things, novel-writing, organizing my tribe. My precious client hours are few and heart-touched.   I serve boards and committees, for the co-op and the Quakers; I’m a seasoned jester always ready to make lists and throw phrases around. Thinking, talking, evolving, growing community. Happy.

Travels lined up, more easy scenic trips and heart-bound visits, like the one I took in March. Not leaving my state, which I know so well, but going to some of its edges. Camp-out retreats along the way. One, by sheer blessing, very near one of the locations I chose to put in the Nessa Allen novel this time around.   I’m thrilled about doing some not-google-map road research!

Within this bubble of public cheer, I admit to some private fear. I can see the shape of my weeks and months for the whole year to come. The adventurer in me feels bound. I try to set limits, time-wise, forward, how long can I stand the routines? Don’t complain of boredom: be careful what you pray for. I schedule escapes into other routines, other services.   Even the sacred times must be assigned a number. This grates my spirit.

But, I escape a little bit, every day, blessed and obsessed with Hozier’s music. Comes from the goddess. Mmm… remembering great sex with musicians… complex rhythms… supple fingers… too private? But so true, sacred to the core, my spring garage happiness.

My Best Dog, My Next Dog

Scan_Pic0006I got Sheridan in 1976. I was visiting a friend who was living in Sheridan, Oregon when I found this puppy, through a want ad, and then at the farm where she was the most timid of a litter of mongrel pups. The ad listed these dogs as a “Heinz-57” combination: German Shepard, St Bernard, Labrador, Australian Shepard, and a couple other breeds that never stuck in my head. Based on her looks, we eventually came to describe her as “a mutt, mostly St Bernard and German Shepard.” Bigger than the Shepard, with the St Bernard mask, but not the slobbery jowls or wide head. Nor the sharp pointed ears or coarse coats of the Shepard.

She lived twelve years, although by then the “we” who raised her through puppyhood had become just me, single, with that loyal canine as my best friend and daily life partner through many challenging years. She was just entering doggy old age, losing her eyesight and getting stiff joints, when she had seizures and collapsed while we were camping on a beach. She went off in the middle of the night, dying on her own. It took a couple days to find her body along the railroad tracks. Later that year, I did some theater stuff that included coping with that death, integrated into my love of Harry Chapin. Twenty-seven years ago.

Scan_Pic0007I never liked people asking “What kind of dog is that?” I would say “She’s a Big Dog.” Dog breedism felt snobby to me. I had many interesting discussions with my father, a German Shepard aficionado, about the value of knowing a dog’s breed. My mongrel dog was as good an animal as any breed ever created. Sure, my dad agreed, but the problem then is how do you find another dog that good, if it is such a one-of-a-kind animal?

Then came that magic day, in 2005, almost twenty years after Sheridan died– I was at my vet’s office and picked up a promotional calendar, with photos of puppies for each month. December’s pup looked exactly like Sheridan. Seeing this photo, my parents instantly said “That’s Sheridan.” But he was only one of her relatives. An Anatolian Shepard Dog.

An old breed, from Turkey, used to guard herds of goats. Tough, loyal, smart. BIG. They shed grocery sacks full of underfur, dig holes big enough to bury roosters, bark incessantly. That’s my dog! We lived in the trailer park then, a huge noisy dog wasn’t practical, but knowing that someday I could have another dog similar to Sheridan has been one of the happy chips in this game that is my life.

Now, living on rural land, with more time at home, and fences that are 90% in place, the time has come. Plenty of room here for a young smart big dog, who can learn from Zeffer, my current aging smart dog. I’ll be in two-dog heaven, watching them run together, tearing around their meadow circles, digging moles! Arrf, arrf!Scan_Pic0008

The Unexpected Year – Recalibrations

It’s been almost a year now since my mother had her emergency hospitalizations – three of them, massive bleedings, near death, and a grinding recovery. She’s now as recovered as she’ll ever be, with CHF and COPD as part of her daily life. Our daily life.   Because she’s low income and elderly, and because I’m a trained caregiver, the state pays me about $15 a day to take care of her. At this point, with her regaining mobility and some strength, that’s about right. Legally, she’s my employer, on a contract with the state that defines her as the “consumer” and me the “provider” of her care. Much bureaucracy involved, of course. That system didn’t kick in until September. Over the summer she needed someone with her pretty much 24/7, and I couldn’t afford to give up my client work and still make household budget work.

So, I’m thanking the universal Goddess for my personal young goddess Tess, and my dear friend Roxanne, for taking up the slack and keeping me and my mother both sane over the past nine months. I also thank all of my writer friends, caregiving partners, and friends in general who have been so patient with my babbling and scribbling. We’ve all come through and out of that maddening sick forest.

A year ago, at this frog-singing season, I had some ambitions. To get another dog. Large, smart, Anatolian Shepard Dog. This requires fixing fences and gates. I thought I might get some chickens, and I definitely had garden expansion dreams that fell through. Today, seeing the last fresh snow frosting the distant foothills, I’m remembering that last year at this time, I was making optimistic promises to myself to get into the mountains more, to listen to the river’s song, to swim in wild lakes, to do some hiking, to explore new beaches, at whatever pace my sixty year old body could manage. I thought I might find some new friends who were not over eighty, not other oddball writers, not my caregiving partners, and maybe not even female!

The Anatolian Shepard Dog is still my highest priority; I’m planning to blog about her/him soon. I watch the ASD rescue website; so far, our new canine family member hasn’t shown up there. With internet searches and new friends in mind, I contemplate the possibility of “internet dating,” but I can’t imagine that working for me. Twenty years ago, I ran a personals ad, dated some, finally gave up. Then Will arrived, fitting no description. A gift, unsought, my magical soul mate.

Shopping for a dog by breed is one thing, but seeking men friends with lists of desirable or not acceptable traits, physical descriptions, or other limiting categories  feels immoral to me. That feels strange to say, since I’m ambivalent about mainstream “morality,” which seems randomly judgmental to me. But, deeply, I can’t stand to be a commodity; friends aren’t commodities; honest friendship is too sacred to be made digital.

Death; Discussing Distant Horizons

A few months ago, I went to one of our local “Death and Coffee” meetings. This discussion group is modeled on the international Death Café movement, about which much can be found on the internet if you want to know more than my personal quirky take on the whole thing.

Previously, I’ve blogged about death, and how well I’ve avoided it so far. I seem to not fear it; who knows whether that will hold when the real thing arrives? Until then, it’s all talk, but some of the most interesting talk we humans have. We hold that our conversations on death are a special claim to superiority over the rest of the animal kingdom. Never mind grieving elephants or the eloquent 4 AM howl my dog let out, 48 hours after Will died, which told me exactly how she felt about his death.

I had my coffee at a table with a small group of about six others, including two dear friends. We had as our conversation starter this question: What would you do if you knew for sure that you had three months to live? My memory now of the discussion boils down to everyone agreeing on some version of “I would quit doing things I don’t like doing and spend all my time enjoying my family and friends.” Well, I’ve been working hard at quitting stuff I don’t like and doing only stuff I do like for a couple of years now. That’s going fine for the most part, except that living is still hard work. From what I’ve seen of people dying, death can be painful difficult work, not what anyone really wants to be doing. Although, here’s a simple truth: sometimes it’s unbelievably beautiful.

And then, there is the hanging out with loved ones part… I didn’t chime in on that expectation. After thinking this over for a few days, I realized that if I had a short amount of time left in this life, what I would want would be to hole up somewhere lovely and comfortable, and to write as many words as I could. Finish these novels, tell my few untold important stories, outline my life, polish up my legacy of word-farming.  If dear people wanted to come by to bring me comfort foods or to rub my feet, that would be okay. If I knew the exact day and moment of death on the calendar, surely I might save some days at the end to wallow in farewell hugs and kisses, but they’re not my priority.

Another realization from that evening’s conversation: I’ve come to a stage of life now where suicide has totally lost its appeal. Having had imaginary flings with that death devil in the past, I’m relieved to have arrived at this point, where I know death is headed my way. It will catch up soon enough without me chasing it down. So, I’ll reconsider death when it’s on that horizon, hopefully with faith, love, and dignity.

Oh honeys, you would not believe

ATR & Chet

You would not believe this if you knew her two years ago. She has two pair of functioning glasses and keeps them found, and uses them. Very cute. She hauls her own junk around, jumps in and out of the car, shuts her own door. Still hates the seat belt; let’s not talk about that. The important thing to see here is that she scuttles about, and you’re not afraid she’s going to totter over or pass out or trip. She isn’t fragile. So, holding hands is just for fun.

So wonderful to have the day with her. We visited the COL office and Binyon Optical, and she went to yoga with me! This was after the waterfall and a long walk in the park. Such a joy to see her tromping along those trails. Earlier she was running in a crosswalk, in her tiny bouncing little Jewish lady way. Sorry to interrupt the flow of the park scenery, but, BEHOLD!: the amazing miracle of her strength and sturdiness! The kidney was a miracle, but her ability to heal continues to seem superhuman to me.

Where were we, oh yeah, stopping to commune with trees. Whatcom Falls Park. Being of the forest. A beautifully distilled afternoon, all of our favorite things. At the hotel, I read to her, yesterdays’ blog, and all day, she dipped into Emily.

So amazing and a bit disorienting to be with her as a physical equal rather than protecting her. I always believed that if she had strength that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her because of her naturally high energy levels. After recovering from the shock of seeing her so spry, I was happy to discover I had no trouble keeping up. Another sweet surprise– she was more relaxed than I’ve ever seen her. More organized, with her beautiful brilliant mind. Another pleasant treat; she wasn’t caught up in her usual compulsive generosity. (Though we did deliver tasty cookies to COL office, I must say!)

All amazing, as she always is. But here’s the BIG Shock. Sit down to read this. She was on time for everything. Not that we had a tough agenda, but we got a lot done! There was some new consciousness, like she’d learned to tell time or something… I was in a day-off clockless zone, personally. Missing yoga to hang out longer with Chet? No problem. We could have kept chattering. She’s such a great listener. I had many stories for her; we share stories like air. But she kept checking the time, keeping us on course like some kind of librarian sister, lest I miss my yoga class. Full of sensible estimates about how long things would take, travel time, time of day. She also suddenly seemed to have a calculating sense of our crooked town’s jiggly geography, how to arrange our activities efficiently. Spooky. Who is this woman and what has she done with our Chetana?

So so happy that we all have her!!

Girl, Gone to Church

I write this in a ferry line, headed home. I’ve been on the road for four days now. I travel in behalf of a continued responsibility, the joyous opportunity of meeting with a committee charged with revisions to a Quaker book. As usual, the eight hours with Friends, adding commas and slashing quotation marks, moving paragraphs and polishing sentences, discerning meanings in our deep and amused worshipful way, was a delight.

But there’s more!   Lately, I seem to time-travel, in that bizarre way of elders, not knowing my new age number; am I really sixty-one? How can that be, when I feel sixteen? One powerful manifestation of my topsy-turvy aging is finding myself obsessed with a new song on the radio. I can’t remember the last time I knew a song so well, could sing along with every word. Driving south, I kept punching radio buttons searching for the voice that sings “Take me to church… I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies…”

On this trip, I saw people dear to my soul, and I fed on knowing them, being known, at whatever age this is. On a lawn, rolling with a four-year-old who bowls me over with pure love. “AL-IX!” he calls me. “I want to sleep with Al-ix,” he says in supreme innocence while his mother makes my guest bed. “You don’t want to sleep with me; I kick,” I warn him, truth being part of my religion. Still, he has melted me.

“Al-ix, what is that noise?” he says when I play the Hozier song on my tablet in the background, while we play with chess pieces on the bed. The noise begins “my lover has humor…” and rises to “worship in the bedroom.” Further on, it sweeps into paganism, “keep the Goddess on my side.” I’m every age from four to forever, sunk in song, clinking smooth stone queens and kings against humble pawns, knights, bishops. We are all priests.

I spent two nights in the sweet home of a cohort; we grandmas sat up late, telling life stories we would never trade for a return to younger bodies or the chance to do anything differently. Oh, but, what would we widows give for another day, another night, with our soulmates? Luckily, no devil comes along to tempt us with that deal.

And, a divine blessing: I had dinner and a moonlight walk with my dear teenage buddy. I confessed my confusions; despite this latest birthday, my hormones rage. “I’m so horny,” I say. She gets that. I explain the Hozier obsession. OMG, she loves that song! Girl minds agree – “this song has everything!“ The video, on the other hand, is something altogether different. Scary, important, dramatic; not our vision. She plays the song on her phone while I drive; a connection fails, four lines in. “Damn, we’ll have to start over again. Well, the beginning is the best part!”

Souls in sync; that’s the church in my life. All priests. Amen, amen, amen.

Rocky Writing Ridge

rock ridge

As a writer, I’m a climber on a high rocky ridge, in a stiff wind, without ropes. Some loyal companions are in sight, above or below me on my metaphorical mountain, but I’m alone on this high narrow edge. I’m thrilled, but also frightened and exhausted. This sharp ridge represents past/future, love/sex, boredom/excitement, public/private, reality/fiction.

This ridge rises up in my blogs, because they’re public, and yet, shadows of diary-truths. Not the absolute self-Truth that I’ve practiced in my fifty years of diary-keeping, but some public lower-case version of that personal experience. Not whole, but not sanitized, slippery like ice underfoot. To make this movie more dramatic, I’m carrying a too-heavy backpack; I’m more than slightly off-balance. Oh, yes, and I’m lost, not sure which direction I’m traveling on this ridge. I’m just hoping I don’t fall off one side or the other before I get my bearings.

Unwrapped, my dilemma is what to write, where, when, how. In regards to sex stuff, especially. How I got up here is sort of how cats get themselves high into trees, chasing pretty tasty bird bait. Having lost track of the flown-away lunch, claws stuck on a flimsy branch, I’m yowling in terror. I’ve written in blogs about my wild promiscuous youth, my sexual re-awakening at age sixty, smoking weed, masturbating, screams in the night. I’ve been “writing naked,” experimenting with George Carlin’s seven taboo words, adding some scary ones of my own.

Private readers have had mixed reactions to my “marriage novel,” which contains some sweet love-making scenes and some cruel sex, neither written as well as I’d like. Some anonymous strangers read it and gave it a Blue Ribbon award. Privacy and publicity clash. Next comes the rewrite phase, preparing for publishing, an opportunity to erase the sex and give readers an easier book, focusing on the lost-in-the-city Alzheimer’s-woman, which is, frankly, enough story for most people.

What then, of my cozy but now perhaps irrelevant blogging confessions, in which I was preparing myself, and you, my friendly public, for publishing those wicked sex tales? Honestly, it’s an enormous relief to consider deleting the nasty stuff, even though I’ll be letting myself down as a writer. Dumping that story-line means backing down from my mountain altogether, abandoning some hard-gained truths, relinquishing this bid for that peak’s dizzy summit. One sure thing: I can’t edit out the strange sex and keep the soft kissy love-making. That would be too fairy-tale. Not my genre. I’ll be carrying the dangerous sex-love saga in my writer’s backpack until I can tell it whole, right, well. Those fictions hold some hard truths about which I’m horribly embarrassed, but not ashamed. The difference between those two states is another snapshot of how narrow this ridge is.

I cling to my slippery mountain top, surveying the dangerous view. In the forest far below, I can hear cats screaming in the trees. Maybe I should go down there, throw up some ladders, rescue the silly creatures. Maybe not.

Relinquishing the Hermit

I think I’m a solitary creature, unsocial, a hermitess. I love living alone (with dogs.) I’ve typically endured more than enjoyed my housemates, during any era in my life. Sadly, I didn’t understand this about myself when I was trying to understand the “why isn’t this marriage working?” problems of my youth. I’m pretty good at long-distance and remote (writing!) relationships, but face-to-face, I’m never exactly sure how to relate to people. I can be amusing, or an organizer, but that’s exhausting for everyone. I usually prefer solitude, books, writing, dogs, and gardens over human chitchat. However, two glaring contradictions rise in protest as I think about this.

First, my current circles are huge. I’m on the fringes of many circles, and have many useful relationships with people based on shared interests. I’m important to people in many circles. I’ve lived in the same town a long time. But, that’s not the main thing that’s bugging me.

No, the strange thing is the sheer guessable quantity of known-by-name persons I have known in my lifetime. That population is greater than I can grok, overwhelms me if I seriously consider my long life of peopling. I’m staggering with evidence of this today, because I dragged the last of the bound journals in from the garage. With them is a stack of index cards, about two hundred of them, on which at various times in the 80’s, I tried to catalog my human interactions by name. Some cards contain nothing but a name, now meaningless to me. I apparently once knew someone named Joyce Dahms. She’s a mystery. Lots of these cards have nothing but a name, and yet many of those undescribed names recall a person who was important, sometimes huge, for me. Others have nice little notes, about where I met them, what they looked like, or personality traits. Classes, jobs; pretty, rough; loud, shy, funny. The notes seldom help me remember someone if the name doesn’t click into place first.

When I was twenty-three, I hand-wrote a list of names on two sheets of notebook paper. There were more than three hundred names, representing everyone I could remember from the time I first began learning people’s names. Beginning in childhood; Jackie G–, who lived across the street in Sinnemahoning, PA when I was five. This list went from PA names to WA names, tracking the Air Force marriage, our friends in Texas and Germany, into my brief real estate career and then, the early years of my bartender life. That list has been lost for a long time now.

Cuss the bus, where I lived a hermit live on and off for twenty years.  The girl is now older than I was then.

Cuss the bus, where I lived my “hermit” life, on and off for twenty years. Barely room for one person! The niece-child is now about five years older than I was then.  Lost the dog in 1987.

I’ve grieved the loss of that list, have searched hard for it in some moves, but feel resigned. One of the worst times in my mostly lovely life with Will was when he would not relax and let me take the time to sort my papers from the bus when I did my archival burnings there on Harvey’s land. This reminds me that I want to contact the Skagit land trust folks and visit those forests. Oh my gosh, my circles overflow.

Thanksgiving in February

I like February. Where I live, frogs sing the nights, birds push the mornings, and the daffodils dare yellow buds. Two or three dry days in a row seem unlikely, but whenever that happens, I can mow! The outdoors is inviting me, and the weather teasing, and I’m playing hard to get; it’s all very sexy.

Meanwhile, February’s such a nice short even month. Exactly four weeks, twenty-eight days. Sure enough, I checked my calendar, and we’re not leaping, though that can be a thrill when it happens. I never do New Year’s resolutions; January is hard enough to get through without self-torture. But by February, the chatter on setting new goals has run its race and died down, and I am inspired to slip in for a run at a finish line. I can do anything for twenty-eight days, maybe break some bad habit or start some new good one. One month at a time. This year, I’m abstaining from marijuana.* It’s an experiment.

February has two official holidays. I wish President Obama well on his day, but won’t be buying mattresses or otherwise** celebrating. As for the other big holiday, let’s just say I’m no fan. But then, I’m not into any of the official Hallmark dates. I grew up in a family that ignored them all successfully, and continuing that habit is my best-kept “tradition.”   I do always notice Groundhog’s Day, because I’m from Pennsylvania, but that’s a quirk. For the most part, I am exactly like, (okay, so yes, I am in that regard) one of my fictional characters, who rants a bit insanely against “the fucking holidays!”

In my family, we celebrate one another whenever we can get together, and we make plans to get together according to our personal lives, rather than making a fetish of any number on any calendar. We like one another enough to want to be together, so we don’t need the F— Holidays.

I have my own oddball rituals, mentioned in another blog (1/1/15). My worshipful attitude toward Halloween, my Buy Nothing practice, from the end of November until the New Year.   This February, appreciating my family and dear friends (three of whom were born in Februrary), I’m feeling a surge of gratitude, appreciating my blessings . I had to do some health and stress surveys lately, and one question was “Do you have people you can count on for support?” Yes, I say, instantly counting six super-dependable friends, including three dear ones living within a four mile radius, which is close considering our rural life.

So, I say thank you, and you, thank you, thank you! to my family and my friends for being in my life, for being so dependable and interesting and smart and mine. Almost sounds like a Valentine, my precious Thanksgiving in February.

MORE ON FEBRUARY: a blog with footnotes, oh my!

*I have stopped harder habits. Marijuana is very strange right now, because of the new legality. I once quit talking, for a week, whew. I love to experiment with myself as subject. So far, so good, by the way.   Getting a lot done, saving money. Kind of bored.

** ”otherwise celebrating”    thinking of Valentines… Will’s been ghosting me lately, and people who knew him may remember his joke, if someone said they were hot: “Weather-wise or otherwise?” Purely goofy, my man-boy. When his bedtime came, he would say he was “off to the mattress ball.”

Circle of Life Caregiver Cooperative, celebrating 5 years!

… Caregivers are a special people, doing important work, and we should appreciate each other and ourselves, a lot. One of the long term goals for Circle of Life has always been to raise the status of this work, throughout the larger society, and we start here by recognizing one another, what hard work this is, caregiving as well as keeping this business healthy, and how good we all are at it. We are caregivers for our clients, for our families, for each other, and for our business.

Our business has grown up over the past five years, it has a life of its own now. We are strong competitors for homecare clients and for skilled caregivers in Whatcom County. Our wages are the highest in the county. We now pay caregivers for meeting time and travel time, and we compensate our board, and also we are fair employers to our office staff, who are not members but are a skilled and dedicated team. The mechanics of the business are all in place, running smoothly. At this point, although we value every single person employed by COL, no one is indispensable. Anyone can move on, maybe retire, win the lottery, or go on to other work or school, and the co-op will continue in its success, offering good employment and providing excellent care to our clients. We are one of the few caregiving businesses in the whole country in which the workers own the business and share the profits, and this is something about which we can be very proud.

The future of the COL in many ways will be the same as the past. Several years ago, our board formalized some long term goals, which we continue to hold in mind and work on as the company grows. These are: to pay a living wage, to develop good training models for giving high quality care to our clients, to grow at an even sustainable pace, and to help all of our workers to understand how our co-op business functions, and to appreciate what a privilege and responsibility it is to be a part of a cooperative business.   We’ve made constant progress in all of these goals, and have some specific plans to move forward with them this year   ….. Learning how to participate in meetings and work as teams is a huge part of being in a co-op.

Lucky for me, I like meetings! Each year, the board has an eight hour meeting in which we do long-term strategic planning. At our 2014 meeting, the board came up with a lot of long-range possibilities for the future of the COL. For a minute, imagine our business as a young eagle just taking off from the nest for its first long flight. Which direction should it go? The board had many exciting ideas, lots of different possible directions, but we don’t want to head off in any specific direction without consulting with the rest of the membership. So, this spring, we’ll be doing a survey, and also dedicating some of our staff meeting time to discussion of our ideas and getting member feedback regarding the long-range goals for our business….

… Back to my eagle metaphor. The sky is the limit for our young eagle, but only if both wings, and all the feathers, are working together. So, that’s us, the members and our staff; together, we are the wings and feathers, the heart and the muscle, and we are going places.   Meanwhile, we’re still flying close to our nest tree, exercising our wings, but wow! what a great view we have from up here!