WHO Are YOU?

Owl by the Alchemist Pottery

Who Are YOU?

That’s what the owl said to me, in the voice of the hookah-smoking caterpillar from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. However, unlike the caterpillar, it delivered the question without disdain, and the owl was not expecting an answer.

We were walking around Town Lake for my birthday, moseying northwest under the high leafy canopy of pecan trees just before the Lamar Street Bridge when I spied a fluttering of wings out of the corner of my eye. I stopped, looked up and saw a giant barred owl staring at me from a tree branch above. “Look!” I said with awe, and Gage followed my pointing finger to the owl. His eyes grew big and he grinned.

“I’ll go get Dad and Jack!” He raced off ahead, his sneakered feet pounding the packed gravel. Owl’s head turned and followed Gage’s progress with mild interest. Then it turned back to me. Eyes big and round, calm, attentive, curious.

Who ARE you?

I watched and snapped pictures as Owl stared, turned its head to survey the surroundings, adjusted its stance in the tree, and stared again. Owl glided to another branch facing the water, then swiveled its head in that impossible, 180-degree way and made eye contact again.

Who are you?

As I watched Owl, a calm resoluteness came over me. I was not intended to answer the question. I was meant to be it, go out and find it, in the world and inside myself. Owl’s was not so much a question as an invitation, one posed without judgment or attachment. Then, Owl soared away.

Days later, an owl landed in my inbox. A raku potter I follow, the Alchemist, had made some. I picked one who spoke to me, and my very own owl arrived, carefully wrapped, in my mailbox a short while later, all the way from Canada. It was addressed by hand.

Now Owl sits on my desk. I smile when I see her. She watches me type, and she is always asking….

Well, who ARE you?

And I am always answering. There I am.

The Lorax, Guinea Pigs and Charles Lindbergh

Stonehenge Brain Beasties
(Stonehenge:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_coffe72′>coffe72</a&gt;; walrus:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_alexlaz’>Alexandra Vasilenko</a>; Guinea pigs:
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_ayutaka’>ayutaka</a&gt;)

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I see Stonehenge, the massive horizontal stones looking deceptively precarious atop their supports. The circles of rocks are surrounded by a lush, green, rolling landscape. The monument is bathed in late afternoon light as are the inhabitants atop it. Calmly perched on one of the horizontal monoliths is a cartoon walrus who resembles the Lorax. He’s pink, anyway. Keeping him company are several, normal-colored guinea pigs – the kind who look like their hair is one big cowlick. They are brown and white and frolicking around on top of the stones, making those cute squeaky noises. There is also the name, Charles Lindell. Not printed anywhere, and certainly not a person in the flesh, but just the idea of a name. In the air, maybe. An aura?

Stonehenge, pink Lorax walrus, cheerful guinea pigs and the idea of a name? It’s not an acid trip; it is what is going on in my brain as I lie in bed between waking and sleeping, in a perfectly ordinary bedroom, no drugs involved.

I am crazy. Or I am some sort of oracle.

I watched a documentary on Stonehenge right before going to bed last night. I also saw a cartoon walrus who made me giggle in a Facebook meme yesterday. An old friend sent me a message recently and mentioned his kids had lots of pets, which prompted me to wonder if they were the regular dog-and-cat variety or something more exotic like birds, lizards or guinea pigs.

The documentary mentioned that the horizontal cross stone on the tops of the supports are called lintels. I remembered that’s also what you call the crosspiece over a doorway, and noted that lintel is a general-crosspiece word, not one specific to stone monuments. It was interesting (to my writer brain, anyway.) Lintel sounds like the last name, Lindell. Which reminded me of Charles Lindbergh, who did something cool with planes or aviation or something, so the name “Charles” got attached to Lindell.

The Stonehenge documentary got me to thinking about how we, as people, tend to have a less intimate relationship with nature and the celestial cycles for which Stonehenge seems to have been created. Thus, the Lorax element. I didn’t realize I was doing any of this. I just saw the trippy Stonehenge panorama, complete with cavorting beasties. But when I traced each element, I realized its origin.

So that is what my brain sometimes does when it is supposed to be sleeping. It’s pretty entertaining. It makes me wish I could draw better, too. I’m not crazy or clairvoyant, just a little weird maybe. And super adept at free association. What does your brain do in the twilight world between wakefulness and sleep?

The Inconstant Moon

Photo by Roman Klimenko on Unsplash

I finally got up the nerve to make an appointment to get my second tattoo, 20 years after my first one. I’d known what I wanted for quite some time. It wasn’t until the day I was going to get it, though, that I completely understood what it meant to me.

The Moon

I’ve always been fascinated by the moon, from the time I was a toddler and named it “noom.” Its obvious influence on our planet and artful appearance has kept me looking skyward at night ever since. You can stare up at the moon on consecutive nights, and it will appear differently each time, but in a predictable cycle. Waxing crescent, half, full, waning crescent, new. Comfortingly, it even has a name when we can’t see it. Regardless, the whole moon is always there, apparently consistent. But…

It gets about one inch further away from Earth each year, and its tilt on its axis has changed over time. In the past, it has sustained impacts that have altered its landscape, adding new craters and debris. There’s no reason to think there won’t be more. There has been some evidence that our stolid moon is rusting. The moon, a constant in the night sky with its soothing, reliable cycles, is changing.

In the wee morning hours of yesterday, I observed the moon, Venus close at hand, in its Cheshire Cat form, grinning at me from above. I then fell back asleep on the couch and had a vivid dream that was a very literal interpretation of killing the past. At the end of the dream, I looked skyward to see that same smile of a moon. A letting go of what no longer exists, a look toward the present and future.

Middle Age

Middle age can seem like it sucks. My body is doing all sorts of socially undesirable things — getting bulgier, wrinklier, less predictable. Involuntary physical change can be distressing regardless, but when it’s in defiance of our cultural worship of youthfulness, it can feel downright alarming. Suddenly, I’m different. But I’ve always been different.

To paraphrase Heraclitus, you can’t step in the same river twice; you are different and so is the river. My body is plumper now than it was five years ago, my hair is purple, and (as of yesterday) I have a tattoo of moons along my forearm. But look back a little further, and you’ll see a creature with a pregnant belly, a blond bob and a naked forearm. A bit further, a fiery young person with long pink hair and a chip on her shoulder. A strong, tan little girl who happily spends all day in her own head. Remove the societal stigma of aging, and this body I have now, this person I am now, is just the latest iteration. Remove the stigma, and I actually feel pretty damned good about it.

My body is changing. My mind is changing. Yours is, too. In a world where even the moon isn’t truly constant, we should expect no less. Instead of fighting the inevitable, wouldn’t it be more fun to embrace it?

Thanks to Maggie Hughes at Little Pricks Tattoos for honing my idea and making it a beautiful reality

Waxing Positive Poetic

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Photo by Van Williams on Unsplash

I’m not sure what this post is about. I just got tired of seeing my poem, The Doldrums, at the top of the list. It’s a good poem, but it is depressing, and I need a break from it. That poem is not how I feel about life, generally speaking, but it was how I felt that one day that I wrote it.

Over the years, I have learned to wait out my emotions. I can start the day feeling lethargic and unmotivated, move on to serene, through energetic, then punch my way through pissed off, and end up feeling grateful I have a family. Then, it’s lunchtime.

I used to try to fix my negative emotions: Why am I feeling this way? Do I need a new job, new relationship, new approach to life? No, odds are, I need a nap, a coffee, a run, or just some time, and it’ll pass. These days, I don’t spend too much time analyzing myself if I wake up feeling irritable or sad. I try to do some things to help my mood, and I know it probably won’t last too long.

There’s this fine balance between acknowledging emotions and wallowing in them, between moving on with life in the face of them and denying them. Wallowing too long can send you tumbling to the bottom of the pit from whence it feels impossible to extract yourself. Denial is like trying to cram silly putty into a too-small container — you can’t get the lid on; it’s going to pop out somewhere and make a mess.

I’ve been both places many times. I’ve been in the pit, where everything seems pointless and terrible, and there are no stairs, no handholds to climb my way out. I’ve been through denial, which is like pretending a volcano is dormant and then it blows half its top off and spews lava over all with the misfortune of being near. I don’t want to be either of those places again if I can help it.

Wrestling with depression and PMDD does make me appreciate the good days, like today, where I can feel the warmth of the goodness of my life. And it has made me stronger, forced me to improve my emotional coping skills.

I do what I call “real self-care” — not expensive spa days or massages, but things like getting enough sleep and allowing myself alone time. I know that the doldrums are not a reality, but the filmy lens through which I see things that particular day. It is a real feeling, and it deserves acknowledgment. It craves its own poem, and I shan’t deny it. (We start talking poetry, and I start saying things like “shan’t.” I’m so pretentious sometimes.) That is what allows me to let it go, to move past it.

The thing is, when I look not just at the doldrums or the shallows but at the whole ocean, there are storms, shipwrecks, beautiful sunsets, pretty shells, calm and choppy waters. There is the rare tsunami and the occasional island paradise. But you don’t get to stay in one place, and if you try, you’ll drift anyway. Or that weather will come to you. Change is inevitable.

That ocean is not just confined to this earth. It is vast and limitless. Who knows what great and terrible things lie within its depths — structures, beings, ideas we can discover, ponder, and some beyond the limits of our human imaginations.

The only sure thing I know we have is our lives on this earth, and the time we have here is too short not to spend it appreciating the full and complex range of human emotion.

The Fighter Still Remains

The Fighter Still Remains
The Fighter Still Remains

Back when my maternal grandfather was still here and the last of my living grandparents, I wrote, The Fighter Still Remains. With diabetes and heart problems, his health was poor and his morale was even worse. On the way home from seeing him, The Boxer, by Paul Simon was echoing in my head.

I was driving back from visiting and caring for him. The thirty-minutes of travel was enough for me to mull over his life, our generations, what the future holds, and by the time I was halfway home, I was sobbing.

When I got home, it came pouring out of me in the only way I know how to cope effectively. I wrote this essay. It’s been edited, but it’s not far off from that first, emotion-laden waterfall of words.

That was five years ago. I’ve just now entered “The Fighter Still Remains,” in an essay contest. Winning entries are based on writing quality and votes/likes/comments. Please read and like or comment if you enjoy the essay and don’t hesitate to share it with others. Thanks for your support, friends.

Why Do I Like This?

IMG_1647Recently, my kids decided they no longer wanted to share a room and were ready for their own space. As is my nature, I was both wistful at their growing up and excited for them. With each of them in their own rooms, I was able to move their desks out of my office. I didn’t realize it, but it had been a long time since I’d had my very own space to do with whatever I pleased. So, I set about, with marked mindfulness and purpose, arranging the office I sit in now. I didn’t just let it happen; I made pointed decisions about what would be included in my very own space – something I hadn’t experienced since my early twenties.

The things I put on the wall and arranged around the room were half practical, like pens and pencils, and half intuitive. Today, I began to wonder: Why do I like these things I intuitively picked out as decor? Each one has a story. There’s a painting Jack made when he was three. It might look like your standard abstract child’s finger painting to the untrained eye, but it’s his depiction of the 2011 Steiner Ranch fires – a huge, disastrous event that threatened to burn down our entire neighborhood. I have a lamp with a cheetah-print shade. It used to be my sister’s, and it reminds me of her. I have a large, cheap photo print – a closeup of a tulip. I love the bright colors, and I have a thing for flowers, but it’s also one of the first things Jason and I bought together. I have a calendar of local events that a friend gave me. It reminds me that, even though we now live out on the edge of the Hill Country, I’m still a part of Keeping Austin Weird. I have photographs of the kids when they were younger. In some of them, they are grinning at the camera as asked, and in some, they are completely unaware, lost in a book or play dough. I have photos of friends and family, some whom are still in my life, some not. Some have died and moved onto wherever our energy goes when our bodies no longer function for us. There’s a bright-red, plastic Ikea chair I bought off of a neighborhood resale site. I walked to pick it up, thinking it was a kid-sized chair, and was surprised to find it was almost three feet tall. I walked home, Jack at my side, carrying it over my head – quite the spectacle for passing traffic.  I have a thing for birds, and I just recently realized I tend to pick out bird-related things. I haven’t figured this one out yet. Why birds?  I like artistic, shadowy interpretations, especially when they’re red, like the decal I picked for the specific space it fits on my wall.

Each thing has a story; some of them make me want to cry, and some make me laugh. Some give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. They are just things, and things are not people or memories, but they help me. They spark something, remind me of who I am, who I have always been. From the birds, to the memorabilia, to the lamp from Target that a million other people have, what these things have in common, despite all their varied stories, is they are all me. I don’t share this office space with anyone else, so each thing is just because I like it or connect to it or find it useful. So, while things are “just things,” any of which I would give up in a heartbeat if it would help someone in need, those things are useful to my memory, my sense of self. And my kids are welcome to come in my office anytime they like…as long as they don’t touch anything.IMG_1645

 

It’s Full of Stars

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Several years ago, I walked into a coffee shop. I had some time to kill before an appointment and a good book to read. As I approached the counter and inquired about decaffeinated options, the barista asked me, “What are you reading?” It was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. He hadn’t heard of it but commented that he liked to read but hadn’t read anything recently. I, in an uncharacteristic spurt of extroversion, asked, “What did you like to read?” Then, his eyes lit up, as he began to talk about quantum mechanics and string theory, subjects of which I have an extremely tentative understanding, but his passion for it was captivating. In the few minutes it took my coffee to brew, he explained to me how everything in the universe was made from the same source, if you believe the big bang theory, so the elements in our bodies are the same as those in stars millions of light years away. “We’re all star dust,” he said with child-like delight. Then, my coffee was ready.

The whole conversation lasted less than five minutes, but the star dust thing stuck with me, and I feel just as delighted by the fact as that barista seemed to be. It’s where poetry and science meet. It makes good, logical sense, AND it feels right. The idea that we are made of the same stuff as whatever is on the other side of the universe is calming and comforting to me, and I have integrated the idea into my spiritual contemplations.

It’s a cool idea, but what does it mean in everyday life, besides being fun to think about? As I look out my office window, I see a tree, the house across the street, a white SUV. The elements in all of these things are the same as what is in me. My neighbors who have different political views than I do are made of the same star dust as I am. People who are a different nationality, race, age, body shape, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity than I am  – same star dust. The idea that, at our cores, we are all made of the same stuff means there’s no reason for us not to help each other, show compassion towards one another and work together to fix what is broken with our current world.

If we are the same as stars so far away, we can only imagine their existence, it’s a no-brainer that we are the same as each other. We are all in this thing together, so let’s act like it.

Image by  ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1207a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27850385