Sunday, May 29, 2016

New Moon

March, 2016
Tonight I walked outside around 6 pm to check out the skies.  The sun was down, but its light shown as a pale blue, with the outline of the mesa shrubs, one car, and the stair railing etched black against it.  The blue continued up, cloudless, darkening until overhead it was that deep velvety color, not indigo, not royal blue, but some luminous blue in-between.  About halfway up the arc was the clean paring of the new moon, parallel to the ground, cupping the darkening blue within its thin semi-circle.  It was a smile, a handle-less teacup, an offering bowl. 

Sometimes the new moon holds a star at its tip, sometimes the star is an eye, winking above the smile, but I liked the enigmatic Cheshire Cat nature of this moon's smile:  simple and solitary.  Here I am, it said, take it or leave it.  I have nothing to prove.

I wanted to sit, like Jane Eyre on the stile, watching the sky deepen to black, the sliver of moon brighten with the contrast,  as the earth turned and the night came on.  But, I had to go back inside.  I had two more hours of work, in the brightly light small room that we call a library.  There was one student in the computer lab,  another student talking to the work study student at the desk in CASA next door, and the adjunct professor who had been busily working at her laptop.

May, 2016
I wrote that two months ago.  I marvel at the serenity it implies.  I am anything but serene.  I have just turned 57.  I have been talking for years about retiring, and in February I actually penned a letter of resignation.  I was tired of being sick and just working and sleeping and coughing.  I  did not know what I wanted, but I didn't want to keep doing subpar work and being responsible to others.

My boss did not accept the letter and instead talked me into going to a 3-day, 30-hour work week.  I decided she was right:  if I want to figure out my helalth, it behooves me to have some health care available.  And so I moved out to the llano near campus, out of the suspected mold of my Taos condo, and I found a place to stay in ABQ for the other days off so I could see if the probllem was environmental.

Two months later, I'm still second-guessing that decision.  I have a 6-month lease and a one-year FML, and G is fine with me hanging out at his place on the weekends.  I was able to play the spring APO concert (Mahler 2!) and see some ABQ friends, but that is all over now.  I've moved into my new place, which lets me see the skies from my window and listen to the doves and other birds that are nesting in the eaves of the backyard structures.  The vigas and tiles are what I love about southwest architectures, and the rich woods match the Tropical Salvage armoire and Granpa Shapira's old desk.

This is as close to home as I've gotten, out here in the desert Southwest.  And, I'm still restless and unhappy. G calls it wanderlust, but that's not it.  I am searching, yes, but not for a place.  I'm searching for a life, a meaning. I'm searching for the serenity I felt watching that new moon two months ago.

Still, was I really feeling serene?  The reference to Jane Eyre says otherwise:  she was waiting, unknowingly, for Mr. Rochester to come tramping through the tranquil scene, bringing his harsh masculine worldly presence and changing her life for better or worse.  She had been pacing the halls, longing for a more exciting existence.  She, too, wanted out of her respectable, calm, useful life.

Yet, she returned to Thornfield and re-entered her servitude, just as I returned to the Library that night, and finished out my work day.  The difference is that change came to her.  I am creating change, but it's forced and unsatisfying.  I am beginning my 5th year in New Mexico, and I am as insecure and unhappy as the day I arrived.  T once said, within a year of my divorce I'd have more money and less weight.  That's true, but it's not enough.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Full Moon

Last night I came out of work and saw a gibbous moon, not quite full, but close enough to inscribe a clean circle in the dark blue evening sky. I was alone for the moment. Most of the campus had closed down, and that particular stillness that comes over the mesa at sunset surrounded me. I saw one raven, but even he was still. My footsteps sounded loud as I walked to the car, watching the moon the whole way. I snapped a few pix, and then posted them to Facebook.

Out the back door and
Into a still, bright gloaming.
At last, the weekend.

Because I had no plans, I turned left out of the campus drive and drove to the end of the road to watch the sun set. It was not the most spectacular sunset, but it was a beautiful evening. I watched the colors change to the west and the moon brighten to the east. I thought of the Ansel Adams photograph of the moonrise in Hernandez, NM. I was watching the Taos version, and the sense of isolation, clarity, and beauty was very similar. Of course, I couldn't capture it: I'm not Ansel Adams, and all I had was a cell phone.

Moonrise over Taos
As I drove back to highway, I thought of how I keep refusing to live in the moment.  I go through the motions, but the spirit and connection are equally tenuous.  I wanted to share this moonrise with someone other than the people on Facebook, but what I really wanted was to be able to revel in the freedom to create this moment.  I hadn't needed to coordinate with anyone, I was able to follow my spur of the moment whim, with only my own feelings to consult.  And yet....I wanted to share this with someone.  And there was no one.
Today I am home with an increasingly bad cold.  I remember last year, when I was sick for 3 months and finally wound up with pneumonia.  I was whining about wanting to retire, and my brother said there was no proof that Taos and the job were making me sick.  A year later, here I am, again doing nothing but working, sleeping and coughing.  And yet, I'm now not sure that retirement is the answer.  My sister wrote last month about the difficulty of being retired:  she feels unproductive.  My response:
I hate being back at work, but I don't have anything better to do. Just read an article about finding your passion: it basically said, quit your bitching. You already have found your passion, you're just ignoring it. However you spend your time, that's your passion. Rather reminiscent of the Swedenborg philosophy: God is not hiding, he is very obvious, he's just waiting for you to pay attention.

If that is so, my passion must be listening to Judge Judy and playing online Sudoku. Or making fudge. ;)
Or, in today's case, making brownies.

When I'm sick, I bake
Things I should not eat, such as
Bacon grease brownies.
I should go out and watch the full moon, but I think I'm going to live in this moment:  eat some brownies, drink some tea, and go to bed.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Every once in awhile I go through that little ritual of counting my blessings. Usually it's a reality check, a way of acknowledging that things aren't as sucky as they feel. But somehow, I can't experience gratitude, neat. I find myself qualifying my gratitude, saying things like, "I'm grateful that I have my health......sorta." And then I think about all the things that ail me, trying to convince myself that those are minor problems, and basically I'm in good health because I can still climb Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch, or go hiking in the Sandias with G and P. Doubtless it is true, that I am basically healthy. But it's not all the truth, and I need to acknowledge the yin in the yang and the yang in the yin, right? Isn't part of living in the moment recognizing all aspects of the moment?

And so it goes, with all my causes for gratitude.  My family?  too far away.  My friends?  ditto.  My capacity for joy?  drowned in exhaustion.  My capacity for productivity and creativity?  ditto.  The gratitude in my heart is silenced or diminished by the carping of my inner critic, and all I can do is whine, "what am I doing with my one beautiful life?"

My more robust companions will have none of this.  Some try to bolster, some speak sternly, some send hugs, virtual and real.  None of them say, "you're being boring," for which I am....grateful.

Sometimes I listen to my friends, and sometimes I listen to myself. A few weeks ago I had the amazing experience of listening to my heart through the agency of another human. My friend M's friend L is a dowser, and she spent 2 hours with me, talking, dowsing and clearing. Afterwards, I felt....light. I went to the clay studio and played on the wheel, producing an off-center vase, with thick lower walls and thin curvy rim. I took one side of the upper excess and curled it down, attaching the edge to the container and creating a handle. The opposite side was transformed into a spout, and the lopsided vase became a lopsided pitcher. In the ensuing week, as the mass of dark grey dried to leather-hard greenware, I trimmed and smoothed and carved. The resulting imperfection is actually rather interesting, but that is not the point. The point is the process, experiencing the transformation. I don't say I guided the process, nor did I control it. Again, that was not the point. I experienced it. I gave my inner critic a much-needed vacation.

There is a cult of excellence in our society. One's productions  must approach perfection as closely as possible. People must be beautiful, writing must be expressive, pots must be balanced, bodies must be taut and muscular. In such a culture, it is difficult to be grateful, for how can one rejoice in the imperfect? And yet, I do, and I must. Otherwise, what is the point of creating. And, if you are constantly judging your work by an unreachable standard, how can you live in the moment, how can you enjoy your life, how can you be anything but exhausted?

L's take on my constant exhaustion and nausea is that my heart wants to be free and my soul wants to connect, and my body is expressing how much both hate where I am right now. Yes, my head says, it's beautiful here, the job is good, and so is the financial reward: I should be content. But my heart says "get me out of here!"

So, we asked questions and the pendulum answered yes/no. Some of the questions were directed to the body: am I taking care of it properly? Yes. Do I have a diabetes? No. Most of the questions were directed to my heart, And, according to that guide, it seems pretty clear that I need to get rid of my possessions (even more than I have) and go out and explore, and I need to do it sooner rather than later. Apparently my heart does not want me to move back to Portland or Albuquerque or Wit's End, but it does want me to bring my violin along with me on this soul's journey. It doesn't want me to change my attitude towards my current situation, it wants me to move out and on. It wants me to trust it as I have trusted my brain all these years. I'm good at taking care of business, thinking things through, analyzing. Now I need to work with feeling. 

My first foray into that was most successful.  That day, when I got home from the studio, still feeling light from the session with L and the session with clay, I split some kindling and built a fire and posted the following haiku:
Content to be home
Lying by a crackling fire.
Who will make dinner?

A few moments later, I received a phone call from S, who said: "We will make dinner!" They were in Taos, and I met them at Kyote Club. The Universe responded splendidly.  Ask and ye shall receive.
Still, I'm not clear about my choices here.  I teared up during some of the discussion, and part of it was knowing that my friends and family will be worrying about me if I take this journey.( Not that they don't worry about me already.) My head wants me to wait for a few years to build up more retirement,  But it also says, what's the point of having an extra thousand a month if I have to spend it on healthcare? After years of living with D and years of working a stressful job, my body and soul are both hurting. I don't think I can afford to abuse them any more.

Yet, I'm not sure that a change of attitude is not the solution. I do have so much gratitude in my heart, and my critical thinking brain cannot always stop that. I am grateful for family, friends, health, talents, capacity for joy, capacity for productivity, material comforts, meaningful work, beauty in nature, beauty in art, beauty in people. Not necessarily in that order. I'm grateful for hearts and heads and souls.  And sometimes I am able to tap that gratitude, neat:

I spent much of Thanksgiving Day worrying about my niece.  Her labor had begun the day before, and as the hours wound on on the contractions weakened, and the medications came and went, and the baby reacted negatively to the whole process.  I wanted to be there, because of course if you are there, things will be okay. Finally, they decided on the C section, and my sister sent us the word:  I have a grand niece.  And there was no inner critic to say anything about it.  I felt light, happy, and intensely grateful.

I am grateful for
A great end to a long wait.
Welcome, Abigail!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Don't be a jerk

We had our first fight the other day.  Actually, G is so laid back and understated it's possible we have had other fights and I just didn't notice.  And, it's possible he didn't think this one was a fight either.  Maybe a disagreement, maybe a source of frustration, but not really a fight.  I don't know, because I have a skewed view of fights.  I don't easily get angry, and when someone is angry or irritated with me, I get hurt or confused.  Sometimes I get indignant because the angry person is not seeing things accurately, in my opinion, and it feels willful.  But usually the response is an internal curling up into a ball.  The fetal position has long been my default.

Fights with D taught me that I had it in me to scream so loud my heart hurt.  I found myself saying "Fuck you!" and meaning it.  It didn't feel like me, though.  I had changed my default from fetal position to flailing.  I stopped apologizing or taking my share of blame for the fight, because he rarely reciprocated.  My compassion was seen as capitulation and weakness.  Finally, I just ran out of energy.  I had no more investment in defending myself, I neither flailed nor curled.  Our final fight, the night I left, barely qualified as a fight.  I just looked at him and left.  There was no more fight in me.  As T often said, "when you're 'thu,' you're 'thu.'"

Since then, I have been in some fights, but they remain strangely passionless.  Yes, I've been hurt, yes, I've been irritated.  But mainly, I've just ignored my opponent ("It's his/her problem,") or walked away ("I don't deserve this.")  I still don't have the energy for fighting, it seems, and I don't know if that is good or bad.  Neither, I suspect.  It's where I am, part of the healing, part of the lesson learned.  I never again want to care so strongly or hurt so deeply that I invest in fighting.

For the less personal fights (war, gun control, environment, abortion), I have the good fortune to live in a place and in a way where my safety, livelihood and selfhood are not overtly challenged.  I know that there are real problems, real attacks, and that they do impact me as a human on this earth, but I can live in my bubble and leave the fight to others.  Is this a symptom of the lack of energy, or is it another example of my stunning first-world self-absorption?  As I recall, I've always been that way.  The fights with D were an aberration, as were many aspects of that relationship. Normally, I just want to enjoy what I have.  I don't want to fight for it:  if a fight is necessary, I walk away.

So....our first fight.  As with many fights, it was about nothing.  It was about a game.  It was about an unequal investment in the game.  It was about a lack of caring, a lack of focus.  It was about a misunderstanding.  It was....a fight.  I first realized it was a fight when G handed me the game rules and said "You need to read these, you don't know the rules," and I said, "I DO know the rules," and G said....I don't remember.

I curled up on the couch with the rules and started reading. It was a role-playing game, and the rules would have made no sense to me if I hadn't already been playing the game for several weeks.  Most of the rules had to do with setting up the game (G's job).  But I dutifully continued, occasionally saying: "this doesn't make sense," or "we haven't been doing this," or other mutterings to indicate that I WAS NOT THE PROBLEM.  G passed in and out of the room, sometimes responding, sometimes not.  And then I hit the jackpot.  I laughed and read it out loud:  "Be courteous and encourage a mutual interest in playing and don't engage in endless rules discussions.  Enjoy the game, be considerate of the others at the table, and don't let your actions keep them from having a good time.  In short, DON'T BE A JERK."  Later I kissed him and apologized for calling him a jerk and he said, "That's okay, I know you really care about me." 

I do, but not enough to fight about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Her hair was grey with red streaks, pulled back into a short messy ponytail, the shorter front hair framing her face and flopping forward occasionally.  She was bending over boxes, piling things on the too-narrow conference room table, digging into satchels, and generally presenting a frazzled, disorganized front.  But her smile was puckish, and I liked her scattered style.  I was there for free because I volunteer for NMLA, so I stepped in to help pass out materials, photocopy handouts, and generally make myself useful.  This meant I missed some of the introductory material, but it was mainly stuff I already knew:  her name and credentials, the way a book is put together, the terminology.  I have been working in libraries since 1981, and along the way you pick up some things.  Text block, check; gutter, check; leaf, check.  However, there were a lot of terms that I found very bizarre.  I would never think to call paste and tape adhesives, for example, and she had a tendency to refer to the complete book as an artifact (as in: "this artifact is poorly constructed.")  Terms like "fail" and "loss," fluttered from her like so many moths (which could be the source of the said "fail.")

To me a loss is not a hole in a page (er, "leaf"). 

But, there is a certain pleasure in the technical vocabulary.  I want to talk like that.  It's almost poetic:  find your adhesives, your cutting tools, your internally plasticized protective pouches.  Conserve those artifacts.  Hinge in those pages or tip them in, using the brush that has just the right amount of adhesive.  You swirl the brush in the glue, (er, adhesive), and you lightly strike against the edge of the page, (er, leaf), leaving beads of adhesive all down the edge.  Bop, bop, bop, I write in my notes, watching her demo this process.  It's a miniscule amount of glue, but after break she picks up the book and dangles it by the tipped-in page.  I am gobsmacked.

Each job is both unique and the same.  You look at your book and you decide:  is it worth the time and precision of the task to repair it?  CAN it be repaired?  What should I do first?  We learn that ten is the magic number for tipping in:  any more and you risk a total fail.  A TOTAL FAIL!  Complete and utter failure! You step the pages, 3 or 4 at a time, a millimeter of edge showing for each leaf, and you cover that edge in a thin layer of adhesive.  After that, you line the leaves up and pinch them together, sheathing them in wax paper and weighting them down.  In twenty minutes, you pick up the set of leaves and prepare to tip them in:  bop, bop, bop with the adhesive-filled brush, leaving a thin line of glue beads.

Before you tip in a leaf, you need to prepare its edge.  It should be a little "toothy" (aka, feathered), so you don't use the scalpel or scissors for your cutting tool.  You figure out how much paper you need to remove, because the tipped in page will stick out if you don't trim at the gutter but you don't want to trim too much.  You set a straight edge at the edge of the table.  You line the leaf along the straight edge, with the millimeter of excess hanging over the straight edge.  You pick up your abrasive (aka, sand paper file) and, in a brisk sweeping motion down and across the straight edge, you file off the edge of the leaf.  It's magic.

As I played with my new dangerous poetic tools, I thought about what I was doing.  I was mending, I was evaluating, I was repairing.  I was not curing anything though.  The goal was to be good enough, to give a little more life to the damaged artifact, let it circulate a little more.  In the end, there would be more failures, which I would be unable to repair.  And the book would be weeded, its life at an end.

So, it's a stop-gap, as so many activities are.  You decide it's worth doing, and you do it to the best of your ability, with the best of your focus.  Our conservator/teacher says she repairs the library books that she checks out, and she wonders if anyone notices.  But, that's not really the point.  She sees suffering, and she heals where she can.  It's a choice, and in the end, the choosing and the doing are what are important.

After 30 years
Of working with abused books,
I've learned how to heal.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"I pronounce you healed"

A few weeks ago, I was attending the 4th Annual Spider Reunion.  I missed the first one, the 30th Homecoming Reunion for Class of 1981, but several of us had agreed to meet annually after that.  The 2nd one was at my home in Albuquerque, the 3rd at G's family riverside home in Kentucky. This year was based in C's South Forks, Colorado, family cabin. 

It was another excellent visit, from both a vacation and a reunion point of view.  The aspen were at their peak, and the rocks at La Garita's Penitente Canyon and Creede's Bachelor Loop were awesome.  B drove her 4 wheel drive truck rental, so we were fairly intrepid until we reached the sign halfway to Wheeler Geologic region:  "Boggy road: 4 wheel drive not recommended."  That would be another way of saying, "Don't even bother."  At any rate, that was our interpretation.  Our other option was an 8-mile hike, which the literature claimed to be quicker than the road, anyway.  Not being in shape for a 16-mile slog at altitude, we turned back.

Anyway, this is not going to be a travelogue.  The road to Slumgullion Pass, with the bark beetle devastation and golden hillsides, Summitville ghost town with the tumbling grey houses and SuperFund sludge ponds, and the sandy beaches of Great Sand Dunes National Park: all are sufficiently documented elsewhere.  So is the Bloody Moon eclipse that C and I watched, along with the brilliant Milky Way, as we talked quietly of past, present, and future.  (B and her husband were still making their way down from Denver:  that night they were in Ouray, where the clouds obscured the event for them.)

For me, the main point of the trip was the farewell hug with B, who looked at me and said, "I pronounce you healed." 

It's good to hear, good to know that my friends have stopped worrying about me. But I still wonder.  Last week I was walking back from Cid's Supermarket with G.  We had been buying the fixings for salsa:  a man at the farmer's market had given me a small bag, full of overripe tomatoes, but I still needed cilantro and jalapenos. As we walked and talked, enjoying the crisp autumn weather, I found myself slipping on the gravel in a driveway that slanted across the sidewalk, landing on my left knee, hip, and elbow. 

It's at least 3 months
Since I last publicly fell down.
'Twas a graceful slide.

I tend to fall in G's company, but not exclusively.  I fell down the spiral stairs at G's during the last Spider reunion, when he was nowhere to be seen.  And the month before that I had fallen on the ferry deck, riding from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and thence to Sequim, WA.  Most recently, I had tripped on the sidewalk during the late June trip to Portland.

There is nothing physically causing these accidents, if accidents they be. I'm not dizzy;  there is no inner ear problem, no diabetes, no stroke, no broken hip.  I'm just not paying attention, distracted by anything and everything.  In each case, I've been talking to someone, excited and happy to be where I am, doing what I'm doing.  So, while I've been living in one moment, I've been ignoring other moments:  my body has been going on automatic pilot while my brain and attention have been focused on people, scenery, weather.  And apparently my body's pilot needs some watching.

But it's not just klutziness that ails me.  I find myself regularly closing down. Last month, I got queasy twice:  cold sweats, dizziness, and nausea.  Today I have flu-like symptoms.  I seem to need an inordinate amount of sleep.  I wake up grumpy.  What is going on? 

As I sit in my house robe, I ponder. Am I really healed?  Is anyone ever truly healed from the blows that life deals, from the viruses and attacks and bacteria and sorrows?  Does emotional healing lead to physical healing, or vice versa?  If I have healed emotionally, why am I still a grumpy, sleepy, queasy klutz?

Perhaps that's my basic personality, and I just have to get over myself.  Or perhaps I just need to stop berating myself for having a whiny mind in an imperfect body, because that's not all that I am. A few weeks ago I was struck dumb by the beauty of aspen on a Colorado mountain side.  I was joyful to be sharing that beauty with old friends.  And that's the flip side of my coin: a joyful mind in a sensory body.

I look out my window and watch the cottonwood, with its ancient, creased grey trunk and falling golden leaves.  I don't even have to drive up to Colorado to see beauty.  It's right in my backyard, and I don't need the ruby slippers to take me there.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I had a great time
Learning I am not good at
Making mosaics.
Mounting hardware
Last weekend I met S's Seattle girlfriend. She was visiting him and teaching a workshop in the barn: she's a mosaic artist and teacher, vibrant and talented. She has been pursuing her passion for 10 years, after 20+ years of working as an administrator at UW. I am impressed by her, but I don't think we like each other. There is some sort of constraint, and I find myself wondering why S prefers her. Perhaps because she doesn't seem to need him? He still thinks I'm lonely and seeking, and he does not like being a port in the storm. But, he does like being surrounded by talented, extroverted and attractive women, and we do have that in common.

Because I could not afford the workshop fee, S asked her if I could audit the class. She very kindly agreed, and eventually I was tapped to be the minion-assistant. That suits me: I like being in on the ground floor of any activity, knowing what goes into it, acting, not just receiving. It was not much work, and made me feel like less of a mooch, which I suspect was the purpose.

I arrived the night before, driving in through an incredible lightning storm and gully washer around Cerrillos. Ditches and arroyos that had never been damp in my experience were filled with muddy roiling waters, and the sky was filled with jagged vertical bolts and cloud-defining flashes of light. I stopped by WEC to pick up some mail and watched the show with C before going into it. We talked of M's condition and E's new home, but I could not focus on anything but the skies. That alone was worth the trip south. I reached S's home safely and curled up on the porch, listening to the muttering of thunder in the distance and the crackling of crickets in the garden. I thought about the past few years, and wondered how I had arrived at this place: a welcome guest everywhere, but at home nowhere. I'm not lonely, per se, but I am restless and unproductive. I like exploring activities and places, and I like learning, but I don't connect with any of it.

The mosaic workshop is a case in point. This was a class in using thinset as substrate, set, and design element. We learned how to mix and color the thinset, and we learned how to set various kinds of tesserae: small polished basalt pebbles, acid-washed glass gems, broken pieces of travertine, crushed pyrite. We weren't making art, but creating a techniques board. However, most of the students are experienced in mosaic, so they did create art.

I did not. I discovered that I am too slapdash for that sort of art. It's fun to play with beautiful found and prepared objects, but I don't think I'll ever be able to put them together in a coherent fashion. And, I prefer art with a more instant gratification: taking a photo, playing with it in photoshop, printing it up. Mosaic requires a vision, and if you make a mistake, you chip the whole thing out and start again. The thinset has a memory, so you can't just pull out a tessera and place something else once the tessera and thinset have bonded.

It's a very easy life metaphor, of course. You build your mosaic, piece by piece. Some pieces don't fit the pattern, and you can't just replace them, you have to replace the whole darn adhesive as well as the tessera. You break things to create your tesserae. You cure your adhesive, and your adhesive has a pot life, so you throw it away when it can no longer bond properly. The whole process is detailed and precise, and mistakes cannot be covered over. They have to be recognized in the effect they have on the pattern, and they have to be dealt with. Sometimes the whole pattern is a mess, ill-conceived and ugly. Sometimes it's just not what you wanted. K once chipped out an entire section because it was perceived as representational, and she is trying to solve some other visual problem.

And this is why mosaic art is not for me, and it's probably why I'm in this restless place. I've broken so many things, and I've picked up those pieces and set them in place, but the adhesive is not bonding because I didn't do the prep work, or the design is flawed because I didn't think about it, and I just want to walk away from the mess. I don't want to chip away and start over: that is too painful a process, and it will further destroy the pieces I've tried to rescue. Besides, I don't know what pattern I want. I recognize the beauty in the individual pieces, and I like watching the way they interact, but when I try to put them together, I am not happy with the result.

So, I'm restless.