Sunday, July 8, 2018

Next steps

I've been at Ghost Ranch for a little over 2 months now.  As per usual, I am flagellating myself for not being more creative and productive, and now that the forests are closed to hiking, I'm upset with myself for not getting out on those trails while I still could.  There's always something to regret.  And yet, I am so happy here.  Every morning I wake to a view of Pedernal.

 Every day I walk to work with a view of the mighty sandstone cliffs that surround this canyon.  Every evening I walk home with my face to the sunset clouds.  In between, there are beauties and books and people.  Almost everyone is so happy to be here.  So, perhaps it's okay that I'm just hanging out.  For 9 months, though?  I need another project.

My book went to press this week, and I started thinking about another one.  Yes, I have my own books (the haiku book and the family history and the NaNoWriMo novel), but I would like to be paid for something a little less personal.  Here's the pitch I sent to my editor (that sounds so official!)

The Treasures of Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch,  now an educational retreat center in the isolated Piedre Lumbre badlands of northern New Mexico, is famous for two things:  a dinosaur and an artist.  The burgundy hills with grey stripes are fascinating to paleontologists because their ancient stream-beds hold a treasure trove of Triassic dinosaur bones, from the "blueprint" dino Coelophysis to the 20-ft long crocodilian phytosaur (perhaps the source of the local legend of Vivaran, the huge carnivorous snake that would slither out at dusk to consume the unwary.)  Those same hills would ensnare the 20th century artist Georgia O'Keeffe:  after one visit in 1934, she knew this was her creative home, and she lived and painted here for the next 50 years.  Twenty-eight of those paintings would feature the flat-topped Cerro Pedernal, source of the ancient Puebloan's chert.  A mere 10 miles away, it dominates the southeast horizon, and O'Keeffe appropriated it, asserting that "God said if I painted it enough I could have it."

But the story of Ghost Ranch is so much more.  From cattle rustling in the 1880s to movie making in the 1980s and beyond, from a close connection to the scientists at Los Alamos, to visits from Charles Lindbergh (who shot aerial photographs for local archaeologists), from conservationist efforts to  impromptu piano recitals  by Leopold Stokowski and Ansel Adams, the wild geology of this remote sanctuary, has enchanted and summoned people from all walks of life.  For 30 years a dude ranch for the elite, this magical place is now home to artists, poets, scientists, environmentalists, hikers from the Continental Divide Trail, campers, and people who want to escape the stresses of modern living.  Is the treasure of Ghost Ranch it's dinosaur skeletons, the olla of gold buried and lost by the cattle rustling Archuleta brothers, the hundreds of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, or the shining mica of its mesas, shimmering in the moonlight?
On the other hand, that may be all I have to say about it.  It's a mishmash of the stories I tell people, questioning and awestruck, who arrive at the welcome desk or the library. While there does not seem to be a kid's book about Ghost Ranch, do I really have much to add to the literature?  Probably not.
It's enough to just be here, another enchanted wanderer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Orchestral haiku

In June, 2012, my husband and I moved from Portland, OR to Albuquerque NM.  Our marriage was in trouble, and so were our finances.  The two facts were not coincidental. ABQ was our fresh start. In September 2012, I joined the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra.  Within two months, I had left my husband.  During the next few years, the orchestra probably saved my sanity.  It gave me a community and a focus, both of which I desperately missed and needed. 

I've played in orchestras since I was in fourth grade, in semi-professional ones since I was 16.  In the latter, I've always been the worst player in the group, hiding in the back of the 2nd violin section, usually in front of the timpani or french horns, all of which serves as concealment.  I am lazy about practising and I lack confidence, but I am a pretty decent sight-reader.  And, while I feel guilty about my errors fuzzing the sound and dragging down the quality of the group, I care more about my own needs.  I love playing in an orchestra, surrounded by the music.  There's something deeply satisfying about the rehearsal process, learning how the other parts fit with mine, watching the conductor, watching the first stand for bowings.  I am part of a wonderful whole; I am part of the growth and unfolding of musical moments.  When I open the case and rosin the bow, and then find my chair and set out the music, I feel the comfort of a routine that cradles me, comfortable and right and mine. I am home.

A large part of the experience is determined by the conductor, naturally. Conductors vary in temperament and ability, but they are always interesting in some way.  One conducted rehearsals in snippets, and we didn't play the entire piece until the dress rehearsal. He  used to slick back his hair with water, and by the end of the concert, it would have dried into a frenzied mop like Beethoven's.  Another would say "Uff da!" when we messed up, delighting my Norwegian soul. Some would tell interesting anecdotes, and most would sing, scatwise, to emphasize a point about sound.  In Norway, the conductor began speaking English for my benefit, but soon he was back to Norwegian, telling long stories which my stand partner did not  bother to translate. 

In Albuquerque, I discovered two unique aspects to our conductor.  First, as a professional violinist, he could tell us how to produce the sound he wanted.  It reminded me of the teacher (who had also taught my Mom), who could describe the physical aspects to bowing and vibrato in a way that I could easily translate to my own motions.  It's a joy to work with someone who can succinctly explain the mechanics as well as the interpretation and emotion.  In May, 2013, I sent the APO conductor a link, alluding to his dual nature:
 "I saw this in a new book (pg. 42 in Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian) and thought of you. 
(I'm the APO 2nd violinist who always comes flying in late and who works in a library.) "
The second unique thing about the APO conductor was allied to the first: his manner of giving directions was bright, snappy, funny and....haiku.
A revelation:
Our conductor communicates
In haiku format.

For years I've used haiku for my Facebook posts.  The idea was to take my mundane day and transform it into poetry.  At the very least, I would keep it brief.  Orchestra  rehearsals had already received the haiku treatment, but now I began to jot down the conductor's actual words, and then form them into haiku.  Today I have gathered up the observations from 2012-6, and I am posting them here.

About rehearsing, performing, and listening:
Sept 11, 2012:  and so it begins
I so much prefer
To just play, sans audition.
But, I'm in. Feels good.

Dec 2012
Waiting for the cue,
Listening to the solo,
I watch his baton.

At New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra concert
Luscious, sweet, intense:
Mendelssohn played by the great
Rachel Barton Pine.

Once upon a time
Rehearsal breaks were a bond,
Bit mow we just text.

Recently saw a
Muted tuba. Awesome, but
Somewhat phallic, no?

The sweet notes trilled while
Melody soared and tears dropped:
The lark ascended.

March 2013
The engineer eyes
The violin fingering:
"It's inefficient."

That feeling you get
When you're performing music
You don't recognize.

We're playing a piece
Commissioned by "Q"'s father
(Cue Star Trek geeks' gasps.)

All dressed up at home.
Concert went well and I'm wired.
Firebird will do that.
 
August 23 2013
All I did was think
About skipping rehearsal.
Now i have a flat.

He plays the Barber
1. Precise yet fluid,
The music made visible.
Our guest conductor.
2.  Eyes closed, eyebrows raised
(The notes go by like the wind)
He's a vehicle.
3. Albuquerque folk
Please! You owe it to your selves
Come listen to this

On an evening spent with Bruckner...
1. After three hours of
Tremolo, my arm feels like
Overcooked pasta.
2. My stand partner wrote
"Terror!" at the beginning
Of the last movement.

3. At least there's only
One key per movement. But it's
Three flats. Sometimes five.

Observations....w/ Santa Fe Orchestra Chorus, Spring 2014
1. Before going out
To start the concert rolling,
He checks his zipper.
2. The French Horns emptied
Spit in perfect unison
And played the next bit.
3. Enthusiastic
Singing makes the risers bounce.
I'm told they will hold.

Sept 13, 2016
The same note repeated...
I get lost. Where are we now?
Yes, it does matter.

At dress rehearsal,
At last, NAILED the saltandos!
Cue triumphant grin.

She said, he is like
A border collie. We're sheep.
He was not amused. 

We walk in out groups.
The students are skateboarding
On the parking ramps.

I love to listen
To the Gorecki III, but
It's deadly to play.


She sings in Polish
But it needs no translation.
Somebody must cry.


Sept 27, 2016
On rehearsal break;
Checking posts and rejoicing:
I'm missing debates.
#notthatidwatchthemanyway

 Oct 2016
I just have one job
As second chair: turn pages.
Tonight I blew it.
**************************************************************
Oct 4, 2016, my confession
For four years, I say,
I've quoted you in haiku.
He is quite amused.A conductor's words

"Listen to the brass--
They will not be hearing you.
I must follow them."


He adds, "That's the best
Deceptive cadence EVER!"
Now I like Bruckner.

On an evening spent with Bruckner...
"There are not many
Rhythms in this piece. We can
Really learn them." Right.
Humane conducting:
"Strings, adapt....they need to breathe."
Sounds reasonable.


Play pizzicato
With joy. (If you can,
he adds.)
We nod agreement.

Haiku for the APO spring concert
(Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini)

We play the 18th
Variation. He recalls
An awful movie.

(Bruckner 8, trio of Satz Scherzo.)
The trio's a search
For a lost dream melody.
He never finds it.
He says, I don't want
To conduct. But I'll be here
If you need me.
(Thanks.)

This concert's riddled
With transitions and also
With dotted rhythms.

He says, I won't stop
Unless I have to. Promise!

We stop seven times.


Thoughts on Schumann...
He was bipolar.
"And we need to reflect that."
Time to be manic.

"A sigh has two sides."
Crescendo is easy. Now
Diminuendo.

In the SFP,
P is the important one.
(But it's not as fun.)

Rehearsing the Barber
1,  It's a jig, he says
Let's try it at full tempo
And see what happens

2. A haiku to understatement.....
"It's going to be
An adrenalin rush if
We don't know it cold."
3. (Rehearsed the Barber
Third movement at half tempo.
It is still scary.)
 4. Ferocious triplets:
"See, it's what the people want."
If they only knew.
 We play the trio...
"It's a mid afternoon sound."
Um, that's naptime, right?


He tells us we should
Glue those eighth notes together.
It puts me to sleep

He says, "it's sul G,
All the way. It's not that high..."
Glad I don't play first.
A friend's response:  I pictured myself at the symphony, and all of the violinists were in g strings. Quite a sight!

Post-rehearsal....
A mild suggestion
To the strings: "Play together.
It'll be more fun."

I am quite puzzled
When I read "aargh" for "arco."
I need new glasses.

Notes from rehearsal...
1. Re: Dvorak
The maestro thinks its
Much more interesting when
We play together.
 2. Re: Adams
He places each note
Precisely where he wants it.
It's an adventure.
 3. Los peregrinos
Sing loudly nearby as we
Try to rehearse Grieg.
#interesting.blends
On the Brahms violin concerto in D...
This start is gorgeous.
By the time the soloist
Comes in.....who will care?

On playing Ives.....
1. He says, "You can strive
For rhythmic accuracy,
But..." and we all laugh.
2. Shadow notes can be
Left out. When he puts it in,
It's not optional.
3. When it's chaotic,
It is intentional, so
Don't try to listen.
4. You look so gloomy!
You're taking this melody
Seriously? Hmmmm.

Breathe, breathe, BREATHE, he said.
Breathe every two measures.
I breathe all the time.

You're rushing the eighths,
He said: no coffee for six
Hours before we play.

"It should be between 147 and 152. Yes, shoot for 152 in practice. It's easier. Except for the triplets."
A violinist
Conductor is NORMALLY
A very good thing.

To produce a continuous tone:
Try with half bowing
The opposite direction.
(It's disconcerting.)

He gives up nuance...
"Okay, I have to say it:
Just make it shorter."

 
 It looks so hard, yet
"It's not as important as
You might think," he says.

"Play it like clockwork:
There'll be time enough later
To get all Stretchy."
#ravel #maingauche

"Oh I remember:
You just flew in from England....
That shouldn't matter."
#torturingthesoloist

"Is it 2 or 4?
Does anyone really care?"
Not I: it's one note.

 
He says it's best when
We're controlling the bow. "Don't
Let it control you."
#yesitsobvious 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

politics on the road

I wrote a post on Herding Cats about the trauma I am experiencing from a distance, but I only touched loosely on the political scene.  I don't know if that is a Nomad post or a Therapy post.  Maybe it's a little of both.  Being on the road, I find myself talking about American politics with a lot of people, and I usually revert to their own politics. That would be a Nomad post.  Libraries are shutting down in England and Ireland, Brexit is a mess from both sides, Spain has put Catalonia in a military lockdown, etc.

But American politics...gawd it's awful.  I receive daily emails from the Democratic party and from environmental groups.  They talk about elections, about the gutting of the EPA, about the other daily and hourly attacks on all I hold dear.  Sometimes I go through and remove myself from the mailing lists, but I am sending monthly contributions, so it's a temporary fix.  Despite the contributions, I still get messages:  WE NEED YOUR HELP, WHERE ARE YOU?!  I push the trashcan icon without reading, but meanwhile it's another assault.  Trump and his minions are at war with me, and I'm doing nothing to fight back.

This traumatic situation is not a function of being on the road: since I moved to NM,  I've been doing most of my activism from long distance, so this is just a continuation.. In fact being on the road is little different from being in Taos.  My social and personal life has mainly been online, where I share bits and pieces of my mostly-solitary daily routine.  I also got get my news online, and that's where the trauma comes in, and the need for a Therapy post.

But, as I said in my other blog, what can I do, how can I respond?  Only through words, it seems.  So, words were my response when Puerto Rico and Santa Rosa were both devastated by natural disasters, and Trump not only did nothing, he displayed his total unfitness.  He ignored the fires, and didn't know that Puerto Rico was an U.S. territory, filled with U.S. citizens deserving of aid.  And, he cared more about the personal criticism than the huge amount of suffering.  Don't even get me started on the climate change issue.

In tragedy's wake,
Why expect empathy from
A sociopath?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fascinations

I was talking with R about a possible writing project. She asked me what I feel passionate about, and I realized that I don't feel passionate. I am fascinated by many things, but passions are beyond me. That's actually an ongoing angst/regret. It's part of my Jack of all Trades personality to be interested in many things, but unable to produce an excellent product. Still, as I age and I begin to become a little expert in various areas of fascination, I find that there is a product of sorts. I have songs and origami patterns and fudge recipes at my immediate disposal, for example. And I know a bit about wines, enough to buy or order something that I'll like. To my surprise, I realize it no longer bothers me that I remain a dilettante in all areas. I think I like it that way. In fact, I know I do. It's so much less work.

M thinks we fuss too much about things like passion and purpose. In her opinion, the activity of the moment is the passion. Looking at today, my passions have been eating toast and coffee, throwing a ball for Pekoe, cuddling the dogs, knitting, tutoring, listening to music, doing laundry, watching bad TV, and writing. Hmmm.

Facetiousness aside. I do get what she means. It's like the old adage: if you want to be a writer, write. Or, to be more psychological, your choices indicate who you are, what is important to you. The energy you put into a person or project is what gives it the meaning. "It is the time you waste on your rose..." in fact. I could take that silly list of activity/passions and say that my purposes are living a comfortable life, learning, creating, teaching, sharing and caring. It's a more generic list than the list of passions, but it's more encompassing. And the purposes can remain steady, while the passions change.

So, I make lists of my passions, or rather fascinations. I can choose to waste time on them, or I can be chosen by them. I deliberately don't say that I can be obsessed by them, because, again, obsessing is not what I do. Repetition, maybe. Many show up in blogs or Facebook posts: they have not been researched or developed, because that would be work. But if one can write about sheer observations and sound bites, here's the current list, which I shared with R.
  • Details in art: feet, patterns, fashions
  • Clouds and the desert SW Sky
  • Pterodactyls and other fossils
  • Ra Paulette: Cave digger
  • Waterfalls.
  • Columbia River Gorge.
  • Wild fires. Climate change.
  • Zozobra festival and burning Man and other traditions of burning
  • Dia de Los Muertos, marigold parade, etc in New Mexico
  • The tradition of the luminarias /farolitos: making them, setting them out, walking the paths.
  • Chimayo and other pilgrimage destinations
  • Stone circles
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Beauty and the beast, variations
  • Jane Austen
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Diana Wynne Jones
  • Strong girls in science fiction
It reminds me a little of Tim's 20-something to-do list: esoteric and eccentric. His included math problems and learning to speak with dolphins, so he had a creative product in mind. He was ambitious. I am not. There is so much to observe and experience, and I think that I am at the place where I'm interested in learning for learning's sake. And, it's difficult to focus on one thing. That's why I say I have no passions: what I really mean is that I have no obsessions.

That being the said, it's clear that I am, in fact, passionate about writing. In some way, shape, or form, I write every day. The question is, can I take that passion and actually create something coherent for R's imprint? I'm excited and confused by the prospect. Excited because it's new to me and has the possibility of actually being a remunerative activitiy. Confused, because I don't really know what's involved.

I'm thinking, though, that instead of writing about famous people or that earlier list of fascinations, I'd like to write about extraordinary ordinary people, people in my family, for example. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the closest model: she strung her family stories into a series of books which, while not completely factual, caught the spirit and experience of that pioneer lifestyle. All families are a product of their culture, and they all have stories that fit into the civilization's big picture. For example: women's roles changed with the advent of new careers and innovations. One result was my aunt, who, as The Flying Secretary, raced an airplane across the U.S. in the Powderpuff Derby in 1965. Women's roles were circumscribed after the War, but many had to work to supplement family incomes as the children grew older and needed more support in starting their own careers. And many wanted something meaningful to do. My Mom went back to school after we kids grew up and later took her teaching experience and love of music to start a community orchestra in a small town in IL.

There were other historical events that informed family trajectories. The Great Depression and World War II left their marks on everyone, of course. Esther, whose first husband worked at Los Alamos, left him for a woman and then temporarily left her to have a child. She lived to be over a 100; in that time frame she worked as a censor during WWII and did a similar job for 3 years in Germany after the war. Her mother supported the family during the Depression as a seamstress and a Christian Science healer. In my family, the Depression was responsible for much roaming. My grandpa played in a jazz band in Chicago during the Capone years and remembered being present for a gangster confrontation. "Keep playing," one of the gangsters growled. Dad, who as a radioman listened to Tokyo Rose, was at Guadalcanal after the Sullivan brothers got killed, and was on a troop transport that took wounded from Okinawa back to the West Coast. Mom lived through the Vanport flood. Dad went to college on the GI bill.

Then, there is the entire immigrant experience. So many stories, so many people. I remember hearing of a woman in Colorado who went crazy with the loneliness and hard work, holed up in the homestead, and held off her entire family with a shotgun. While insanity may not have been the only response, my great aunt told us that Grandma married at a very late age, mid-thirties, just to escape all the hard work of the eldest daughter on a farm.

I think I'd like to research family stories, for my family at the very least. It would be an interesting way to combine my interest in history and my attempts to find meaning in the lives that are lived around me. People have endless ways of being and creating and just living: how do we grow as a people and as individuals? How do we tell our stories, to ourselves and to others? My aunt's story is particularly tragic, of course, but it's also inspiring in its way. Her tragedy is one of mental illness within (or created by?) a stultifying society. What leads one to paranoia? What series of frustrations and attacks and sorrows brought her from the bright adventurous pilot to the ranting schizophrenic? And yet, she managed to break the mold that had been set for her, at least for awhile. She was a fighter, and it was unknown women like her who set the stage for later battles, who provided the background for the Amelia Earhearts. Not everyone can succeed, but everyone can fight.

No, I wouldn't write this for R's kids' nonfiction list. And, it's probably not possible to find all the facts of these half-heard stories. But it is possible to set that scene, that history. It's possible to find the arc of the family story. Maybe someone will want to hear it. Maybe it has meaning, in the big picture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Relationship with Myself

I just re-read one of my private blogs, the blogs where I talk critically of people whom I love, where I question relationships, where I whine even more unbearably than I do in the public blogs.  I call my public posts my therapy blog, but these private posts are my uber therapy blogs.  And who wants to visit another person's therapy?

But, there is a point to making my musings public.  People want to know how I'm doing, and what I'm thinking, and it's a quick way to keep people posted on the more intimate thoughts, without the immediacy of the letter.  If they take the time to find the blog and read it, that's their choice.  They can ignore this blog altogether:  another choice.  It's harder to ignore a letter, so the choice there is less free.

All of this is a preface to saying that I want to revisit some of the ideas in those earlier, private posts.  They are about relationships.  I summarized the relationships of the last 5 years and questioned the validity of my current romantic pursuit.  Mainly, I was noting that I am not the primary relationship for anyone, or, more pertinently, no one is a primary relationship for me.  There is always something that doesn't quite work.  In D's case, I was too sensitive.  In T's case, I wasn't kinky.  In S's case, I was too needy.  In G's case....I just am not the one.  But that puts the onus on me, saying that my personality is at fault.  It goes both ways.  In D's case, he was too angry.  In T's case, he was secretive and confrontation averse.  In S's case, he was afraid to let me into his introvert bubble.  In G's case, he can't talk deeply with me and doesn't seem to enjoy my stories.  I realize I'm leaving out M, because that relationship seems to work as a secondary relationship.  It's always been long-distance, and he's truly poly, so the secondary relationships get a lot of commitment from him.  He doesn't use the lack of primacy as a tactic to keep me at arm's length.

Now that I am embarked on a 2-year journey away from everyone, I wonder about the urge that has led me into these failed and flawed relationships.  I was happily single for many years, and I still am very happy with my own company.  Post D, I probably needed to prove that I was desirable to someone other than him. T thought I was looking for another husband, which is completely a function of his own worldview.  I wanted to feel loved, but I didn't want to be in love or work on the difficult marital bond.  I would not be averse to finding a soulmate, but I don't see it happening, and I don't want to be without male companionship and intimacy while I wait for the long shot.

Still, that doesn't explain the wistfulness I feel at finding that G is in love.  It's confusing, actually.  It's what I want and wanted for him. We do not have that sort of relationship, so jealousy shouldn't come into play.  We were both glad the other "chose to be in my life," but it was clear that I, while an important friend, was not The One for G.  And it was equally clear that he, although a loyal, helpful and beloved friend, was not a soulmate for me.  I guess I mainly am sad to not be of real importance to him.  And even that isn't quite right.  I would have been uncomplicatedly happy if he and P had resumed their intimacy, and I had no jealousy of his commitment to her.  I felt that he would still care for me.  Why don't I feel that way now?  Is it because it's a new relationship that has displaced me?  Or because I'm not sure that she is a better option than me?  They are adorable together, and he is adorable in his obsession with her, so what is the problem?

I'm not worried about his commitment to being my backup on my adventure:  he has said that he has no problem with keeping my stuff and being my pied a terre in Albuquerque, and I believe him.  Besides, I do have other options if that changes.  And he is not like S and T, who were hurtful in their rejection of me.  He never pretended that our relationship was anything but a friendship with benefits, and I never wanted it to be anything more. While I'm comfortable with his companionship and I enjoy his quirky and inquiring mind, I don't feel completely connected to him, and I don't like his home.  I don't want to move in on him, and it would be the ultimate in selfishness to resent that he doesn't want me either.

Also, part of the reason for this nomadic existence is to reclaim my relationship with myself.  I want to be happy with who I am and what I do, in that order.  I need to be lovable to myself.  All of this obsession with traditional relationships is waste emotion.  While I remain concerned about G's new choice, the wistfulness is an emotion I need to move past. As Octavia Butler would say, "So be it.  See to it!"

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where's the confusion?

Five days ago, hundred of  white nationalists, neo-Nazis and their ilk descended upon Charlottesville, VA, population 49K,  to protest the removal of a civic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Another group came in to protest the protest.  A neo-Nazi drove into the crowd of anti-protesters, killing one, injuring 19.  A helicopter holding 2 policemen crashed. These are the facts as I read them, and I'm at a loss to understand why there is any controversy over it.  Violence was perpetrated by a person who belongs to a group that espouses racism. Violence was perpetrated in the name of that hatred.  That's what happened.

And yet, there is controversy.

People talk about free speech:  okay I get it, the neo-Nazis have the right to protest. But why do they have the right to protest in someone else's back yard?  Is the statue federal property?  Is it art? Does it belong to anyone but the people of Charlottesville, VA?  Did the protestors actually attend City Council discussions and raise protests then?  Did they even have the right to do so? I don't know, and the people defending these haters don't say.   Because, the reality is, the reason for the rally was not to protest the proposed removal the the statue.  The reason was hatred, hatred that the Confederacy does not exist, that there are people who do not want to glorify that ugliness,  that people of color have rights, however those rights are abused and denied in this culture.  The rally was not about free speech, it was about muscle flexing. 

Still, let's say it was about free speech.  Next, we have the free speech of the counter-protestors.  Did they attack the neo-Nazis? Did they run a car into them?  Did they kill anyone?  Not that I've heard. Did they have a right to come in and protest?  As much right as the white supremacists had to hold their rally, I'd guess. 

It seems to me that the basic tragedy is that people are taking their battles into innocent people's homes.  Charlottesville, VA, did not ask for this confrontation. The other tragedy is that people are not listening to each other, but instead are actively ripping into each other.  That being said, I not-so-respectively disagree with Not-My-President, who says the violence came from Many Sides.  Who started it?  The white supremacists who held their rally in a space where they were not needed, wanted, or invited, from what I can tell.  Who killed and injured people?  A white supremacist.  Who defended that action?  White supremacists. 

And....old friends, neighbors, and people I care about.  And that is the reason for this post.  I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that people I care about could hold views so diametrically opposed to mine, and that they could argue so speciously for those views.  One person actually claimed that neo-Nazis and liberals hold the same core values.  (I'm still waiting for an explanation of that statement.  Bigotry and racism were never core values of any liberal I met.) Others go back into history and say the United States was founded on racism and has a long and not-so-proud history of that.  Granted.  But, the  United States has also a very proud history of fighting for people's rights (not to mention the climate, but that's a rant for another post).  And, while one can claim that all wars are economically based, I will always believe that one reason WWII was fought was that Nazism as espoused by Hitler and his thugs is evil.  Lord knows, victims of the Holocaust paid that price, and the United States would never had said, as Not-My-President says, that there were faults on both sides.  To find that evil resurfacing in my country is...I don't have the words. Unconscionable, frightening, heartbreaking.  Wrong.

But okay, let's say that those apologists are right.  Hell, they ARE right.  Our history is tainted.  People have a right to free speech.  People have a right to defend themselves.  I get it.  BUT...Where does that make it okay for someone to drive into a crowd of people who hold different ideas?  When planes were diverted into the Twin Towers, we called it terrorism.  And it was.  When a neo-Nazi drives into people protesting against white supremacists, what do we call it?  I'm not sure.  The apologists for that action are not sure.  Domestic terrorism, I'd say, in a normal place.  But my country is not normal. 

There, I said it.  Our lives under Not-My-President and his white supremacist supporters and his climate-denying cabinet and his Republican Congress are NOT NORMAL.  We are spending our energy fighting battles that are precipitated by insanity, On Many Sides, as 45 would say.  The many sides of the insanity include the science deniers, the bigots, the greedy haters.  Their insane Many Sides are driving the national debate, are turning us away from factual issues like Russia's involvement in the election hacks, like 45's conflicts of interest, like his treasonable use of social media to share confidential information.  And in this climate, we have the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the violence and fear caused by anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiment.  It's too complicated to say that this has happened because of this president or that president.  But, it's clear that 45 is not the man to unify this country:  he built his platform on hate and disunity, and there is no reason to believe that he does not hold with those opinions still. 

I should be angry.  I should be fighting the good fight.  But I'm not. As I was in November, I am heartsick.  I'm heartsick when people I used to like say "gee, if you're gonna criticize me, I don't want you to be my friend."  I'm heartsick when people whom I respected for researching their opinions are now using that research to obfuscate and attack and divide....and hate.  I'm heartsick when I visit the national parks and realize that heritage is under siege, that the property owned by the people will likely belong to the 1%, and the resources the lands hold will be squandered while their uniqueness is destroyed, the rest of the world following.

And all I can do right now is to stand, as much as possible, with those who, in their flawed and beautiful ways, are fighting the good fight.  If ever there was a good fight, the fight against bigotry is that.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Walking

Years ago I read a book by Rebecca Solnit about walking.  There is a lot in that book to delight, inform, and enlighten, but the main take away for me came in the first chapter.  According to Solnit, the brain works best at 4 miles an hour, which is the average walking pace.  Since I read that book, I often find myself coming back to that thought as I hike and walk and ponder. 

For years, my walking was utilitarian: growing up in small town Illinois, I walked to school and to friends' homes, when I didn't bicycle or bring my violin to before-school rehearsal. It wasn't until my brother came home from Reed College in Portland, OR, that I walked for pleasure.  He took my sisters and me on a hike through Starved Rock State Park.  It was a revelation in more ways than one.  I still recall his boiling potatoes in their skins and packing the cooled potatoes for our snack on the trail.  I was appalled at the idea of eating a cold potato; potatoes were supposed to be eaten hot with lots of butter and sour cream.  He said, "You'll be very glad of these when the time comes," and he was right.  It was one of the most delicious snacks I'd ever had.  But the real revelation was what it was like, being in the woods and walking the trails.  I still remember inching down a dry water-carved stream bed and looking over the edge of an ancient falls site.  The rock was smooth and sculpted, and I'd never seen anything like it. Since then I've hiked through splendid mountain scenery in Oregon, through Welsh fields to Offa's Dike, up the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, through the amazing Bryce, Kodachrome, and Zion park canyons in Utah, around Ayers Rock, and on and on,  But I still can see that dry fall in tree-dappled sunlight, close by the Mississippi, still taste that firm cool potato liberally sprinkled with salt.

Despite that experience, though, I did not yet become a hiker.  During college, my walking was limited to going between campus buildings and to the local bars.  On my 19th summer, I was working on Macinnac Island, MI, and I used to walk the 4 miles to the opposite side of the island to watch the sun set.  In Portland, I walked to the store and to the bus stop and to work. I didn't have a car for a few years, and even when I did, I preferred to walk and use public transportation.  I remember being appalled when I came back to IL and witnessed my sister driving the mere half mile between her house and Mom's and the even shorter distance to the local coffee shop.  What had happened to her? Didn't she remember the mile-plus we used to walk to school?  In Portland I walked that far just to get from my parking place to my destination! (And, how did she stay so skinny?)

Those were the years when I learned to hike.  My first mountain hike, Saddle Mountain, near the coast, was incredibly arduous.  I had slippery shoes, with light brown leather uppers and spongy soles, not real walking shoes or hiking boots. There was a washout early on and it took 3 people to get me across:  one standing below the skinny slippery trail, one standing on the other side of the washout, and the third standing behind me.  They passed me from person to person.  Later, as we crossed the saddle, with the sheer drops on either side, I stopped regularly to get my breath and my nerve.  The last bit of trail was a switchback up a steep cliff.  At each switch an iron rod was hammered into the rock, and chains hung from the rods, showing the path.  I pulled myself up by the chains and then I was at the top, a level, loosely rectangular scree-covered space the size of my studio apartment.  I was looking west down the Columbia River towards Astoria and east and south towards the Cascades.  It was such a clear day I could see all the way to Mt. Jefferson to the southeast, and Mt Rainier to the northeast.  The peaks were like stepping stones between those points. 

The exhilaration of that moment is what got me back down the mountain. A lung bursting ascent was followed by a toe-bashing descent, blisters, and a pulled groin muscle.  But it didn't matter.  I was hooked.  I never became a backpacker, nor did I climb to the snow-capped peaks, but from that moment on I was a hiker.  Even asthma and vertigo didn't keep me away from it.  But other life events did.  As I write this, I start to wonder if the lack of regular hikes did not lead to my depression in the years since I connected with D.  He had bad knees, and he didn't like me to go with other people on my days off:  he wanted me to himself.  So, although I still did go hiking, it was not nearly as regularly.   When I switched jobs to Portland State, I started walking to work in the morning and busing home at night.  Eventually Carbon came into my life, and I started walking with her twice a day. Moving to Albuquerque, I discovered the Sandias and the open spaces there and in the Rio Grande.  But that wasn't until I left D and acquired G and others as hiking partners.And, I rarely hiked alone.

Before that, D and I walked through the nearby Arroyo del Oso, often fighting.  I had learned in counseling sessions that the worst place to fight was at a table:  you were faced off against each other, in a confrontational position.  Walking, you were moving towards the same goal, together.  Well, the theory is good, and it's true that it helped keep me on an even keel to put my energy into moving my feet instead of into the adrenaline rush of rage or the heart-hurting sorrow.  But, it didn't solve the problems.  Eventually, it was in the course of a walk with a friend that I realized my life with D was in serious trouble.  And, it was through a walk that I told D that I was leaving.  At that point, we were no longer moving together towards the same goal.

 So, through the years I've hiked and walked, and it usually is an excellent way to communicate with another person or travel short distances. It's my default for both activities.  However, what walking does for me alone is another matter altogether. Back in Portland, I had begun taking walks on my work breaks. It started out as a practical measure:  if I was walking in the neighborhood, no one could interrupt my break with a work issue.  But it also had the side benefit of helping me think through barriers and emotions.  That's when I remembered Rebecca Solnit and the brain's ability to work better at 4 miles an hour.  There is indeed something about walking that helps one think.  The scenery changes, but slowly, and while noticing things like the raccoon family walking across the street in the hot summer sun, or the cherry blossoms whirling down in the spring wind, my mind also is working away at the latest issue, without my being aware of it.  It's like a waking dream, a walking dream, in fact.  I write haiku in my head, I photograph scenes with my eyes, I breathe in the scent of daphne, I listen to the sounds of wind chimes and bird calls.  And, while I'm absorbing the world through my senses, my body is stretching and the oxygen is filling my lungs, and that too is benefiting my brain. 

It's so obvious that walking nurtures the soul as well as the brain.  For years, I used labyrinths for a walking meditation. For years, I would go out for a walk to calm the fidgets out of my muscles.  I would think a mantra of numbers (1 and 2 and 3 and 4...), in rhythm with my steps.  And then, I would start thinking coherent thoughts:  things to write, things to say, things to do. Or I would take pictures of an amazing tree or some fabulous clouds.  Walking jump-started most of my creativity, in fact.

But it also was necessary from a physical perspective.  While I was taking care of E, I would go out for a half hour walk up the mountain, never going too far, just getting a break and some exercise.  She and I would go for another walk before dinner, about 10 minutes up or down Vista del Oro. Later, when I moved to Taos, I would take walks on the trail by campus during my lunch break, or I would walk around the neighborhood and watch the sunset.  Then, for no good reason, I stopped walking.  I was sick for months on end, I was exhausted, I needed to do school work on my breaks, the Sandias were closed due to fire danger, it was too hot, it was too windy.   Those were just of few of the bad reasons I had for not walking.  When I saw the psychic in February, one of the things she told me was that I needed to get outside, to walk.  It was one of the many things she said that resonated with me and one of the reasons I thought of pet-sitting as a way to spend my time.  It would force me to walk every day.  I would no longer be able to plead exhaustion or being too busy with other things.  Walking would be part of my job. 

So, today, as I walked the two dogs that are my current charge, I found myself thinking, yet again, about Solnit's words.  I thought, even though she wrote a whole book about walking, in her luminous prose, I'm going to write a blog about it. And maybe I'll find that book and read it again.