Monday, April 25, 2016

Word of the Week - 112

Word of the Week: EPISTLE

As we round the final turn of April, National Letter Writing Month,  as well as National Poetry Month, I realize that my epistolary intentions have, once again, not been matched in reality.  I have nothing to offer in my defense, other than the feeble and familiar declaration that time evaporates.  While I sleep or putter, it shrivels like a puddle under an August sun, leaving me here with plans for witty or heartfelt correspondence and a boatload of pens and paper.

I HAVE sent some notes, a few parcels, a tag or two, even a brief letter written with a fountain pen, one of my higher aspirations.  In case you have doubts on the subject, the fountain pen, in my opinion, is indication that civilization is not extinct.  I am thankful the ink cartridge was invented though I am not finished with pens that still drink from exotically-labeled bottles.  The color choices of fluid ink - and the names they carry - leave me and my kind more than a little woozy.

Reading this week's edition of Brain Pickings, ( I learned that letters written between Marie Curie and the man she loved after Pierre's sudden death were stolen and published by a reptilian press to humiliate and discredit her.  She was championed in those grim days by Albert Einstein, whom she had recently met at an invitational science conference.  Einstein, of course, sent his encouraging words via letter.

Regrets deplete us, they stunt our dreams of forward momentum, yet I wish I had saved so many more of the letters I received over a lifetime.  To see familiar handwriting, feel again the quickened pulse brought on by that hoped-for return address in the envelope's corner, would mean more than I could have imagined.

Letters mingle souls, so we've been told and so I believe.  Before April vanishes in the mist, shall we vow to write at least one, or one more, meaningful epistle to one beloved soul?  I know we will all be the better for it.  Yours sincerely.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Word of the Week - 111

Word of the Week: PREVAIL

Were it possible to reveal a cross-section of life, I know we would appear just as rings of the giant redwoods, as geological strata depicting ages of ice, of flood, of fire.

In spite of so much, many of us, perhaps most, prevail, transcending circumstances.  That we differ from the rocks, the redwoods, in remembering events that marked us may impair our ability to claim progress.  I am sure such memories, along with the times of trauma, loss, abuse and general bewilderment they preserve, have obscured my clear view of what some might call a version of radiance, of success, for surviving is success.

It is easier to see triumph over grim epochs marked by terror in others than in myself.  I could list for friends who have prevailed over impossible odds the treasures they somehow smuggled away from crippling pasts.  That we traverse multiple incarnations in one lifetime I have no doubt.  We can say that each event changes us or we can recognize those changes as essential layers upon which an authentic self is built.  How could we have gotten here if we hadn't been there?

The number of years I spent attempting to put myself back together, to be repaired or restored to a norm that never existed, surely exhausted resources which could have been put to more enjoyable use.  At the time the damage seemed so great, the need for fixing so urgent, and perhaps it was.

There are moments in which I know I've found my song, others in which it is hard not to see how I do life as falling short of my own expectations, let alone those of others.  To be enough by the only standard that really matters, our own, requires compassion, patience and unconditional love of a staggering magnitude.

Not to be the glass half-empty - or more - as the result of circumstances so far beyond our control takes industrial-strength optimism and beyond that faith, that there is invisible order in apparent chaos and distress.  We prevail where and as we do, through what brings us joy, what showcases our sometimes bizarre and freakish strengths, what seems like rare good fortune shining upon us.  In truth, this benevolence is not rare.  It is consistent and real.  We simply need to grow into it, give ourselves and it time to become what we'd been waiting for.

Musical interlude:  The Byrds, "My Back Pages."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Word of the Week - 110

Word of the Week: LIFE

It was a weekend of treats, two movies with no explosions, interstellar travel, explicit language or ass kicking.  Not that I have anything against such pictures.  Far from it.  However, there are times when storytelling in a lower key is a better match.

On my sister's recommendation, we saw BROOKLYN, which allowed the two of us to bring out our favorite moments for discussion and agreement.  Such details as the department store's pneumatic tube system recalled our childhoods.  The sweet and gentle exploration of life as some have lived it gave a needed respite from wearying, real-world harshness.  We took to heart various aspects of the immigrant experience, very much a part of almost all our histories, certainly my sister's and mine.  And I happily confess to being a fool for Irish music.

The link above, if it works, will take you to the trailer for a Chinese film, A SIMPLE LIFE, another quiet segment of the human experience, dealing with love and respect, growing old and, by my definition, managing, as best one can, to adjust to life's demands.

It seems to me that there are as many ways to be part of the human family as there are humans.  Every story ever told explores the infinite variations, unique responses, choices made.  The best stories remind me that no one, no one, has it easy.  How a thing appears from the outside is no true measure.  Hooray for the movie-makers, all those names scrolling past once the picture ends.  Hooray and thank you.  My world continues to expand.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Word of the Week - 109

Word(s) of the Week: BE HERE NOW

I may let Ram Dass, author of "Be Here Now," speak for himself through some best-known quotes:

For myself, awake on Sunday morning after an insufficient sleep, my first thought was to speak of it - complain, as it were - as though that would be a proper substitute for being awake too much of the night.  There were two choices: be here, in this moment, groggy yet sun-touched and present, or be there, in the grip of insomnia brought on by who-knows-what, fretting, wondering if I'd get to sleep before the night was gone.  I chose Door #1.

Solid ground only exists for me in this moment.  If I wander into the past as anything other than an interested visitor, I invariably manage to feel shame, remorse, guilt and sorrow for the choices I did or did not make.  Time has allowed me to become kinder to my past self but there are scenes glimpsed in the rear-view mirror that still give me the whim-whams.  The future is so unknowable that travel there is the definition of folly.  I hope, I guess, I try to will the outcome I think may put everything right, guarantee all that cannot possibly be promised.  Or I dread, I fear, I worry.  What a goose.

The art of being here, and only here, now is one I practice constantly, as an apprentice in any field would.  In my favor is the fact that I now know the different options offered by present, past and future, know that two of them are chump choices.  Mindfulness, a word for another week, helps keep me out of the swampiest places.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Word of the Week - 108

Word(s) of the Week: PLAN B

In things both great and small, one finds reprieve and deliverance by having made, in advance, a second choice.  That it was second does not proclaim it lesser.  Often it turns out to be the preferred option, which is only known when Plan A falls through or vanishes like the mirage it may have always been.  In my experience, the potential for self-delusion is without limit.

Plans B (or Plan Bs) demand invention, improvisation.  They allow us to act out our frequently under-employed talents as magicians, those clever sorts who can save a fallen souffle or fashion the missing element of a incomplete Halloween costume, moments before the curtain rises.  A classic Plan B invariably requires the replacement or circumvention of a missing essential.  Dropped the keys to the getaway car?  Plan B.  Broken zipper, power outage, balky printer, insufficient funds, etc., Plan B.  Priority Mail (flat rate) is a procrastinator's ideal fall-back.  The panache to pull off eccentric choices in hair or make-up or clothing can disguise Plan B fixes.

So many of our expectations turn out to be unrealistic fantasies, leaving two choices: withering with disappointment for an extended period, like forever, or acknowledging that we are stuck with IT, whatever IT is, and would be wise to go back into the huddle and come up with an alternative play.  The truth is that life frequently has plans that bear no resemblance to ours, though they may turn out to be ultimately preferable.

I don't recall seeing the word "flexibility" on a list of classic virtues, though it belongs there with patience, generosity and courage, as a means to overcome adversity and lack.  For us, masters of Plan B, there is a sufficiency, regardless of how it first appears.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Word of the Week - 107

Word of the Week: CONTAIN

As I look at the packet of de-stashed envelopes, bought for a song on etsy, sliding from shades of banana cream pie yellow, through sherbet hues to those of a spring garden, I think about Easter baskets, for the colors shriek spring.  I think about long-ago kits for dying eggs and the smell of vinegar.  I think about new lace-edged ankle socks for church.  I think about other times.

How is it possible for us to contain all we have known and encountered on this voyage?  What a miracle that we manage to sift and sort and store it for, we hope, retrieval as needed.  The wonder of the body remembering how it felt to crouch and bend while hunting the hidden eggs, the nests of jelly beans, the growing weight of the basket with each added find.  Do we imagine the memory because we know it happened or are we there once again?

I am a fan of boxes, bags, cabinets and drawers, places and means for the storage of goods.  To have and to hold and to carry.  I admire friends who have committed written works to memory, something for which I once had a talent.  The array of material, of subjects, for which our minds and bodies are repositories is without limit.  Every skill we've acquired, from a foreign language to knitting, remains stashed in some infrequently visited corner, possibly a diluted version of what it once was, but there even if as a more ghostly presence.

We are encyclopedic in ways we may not recognize.  Recipes, meals pleasurable or otherwise, conversations, places, scents, clothes that fit or didn't, a sibling's smile, fear or anticipation, every emotion, every sense, ideas, awarenesses, they fill us yet leave room for more.  To be is to contain.  Here's to spring and our capacity for the infinite.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Word of the Week - 106

Word(s) of the Week: LET'S DANCE

The puzzle, or one of them: how to replicate the joy, the freedom, the sense of pure abandon one finds through dance when one's legs no longer agree to participate.

The adaptive life.  Life, indeed, no mistaking it, though of need being more inventive:when the roads are washed out, how do we reach our destination?

I have not yet thrown myself fully into all possible avenues of movement available to one of less than full mobility.  I have an excellent book on chair yoga, mostly unexplored, and the wits to know one can do a lot of shoogling about without standing, certainly without what could be identified as walking.  Yet I delay, or perhaps resist is not too strong a word.  What is it in the human psyche that allows and even goads us to hold ourselves back from that which could be so freeing?  Or should I say, in MY psyche.  I have no clear answer.

If life is about adapting, and it is, even for the most able-bodied, it is also about resisting our natural default positions.  On an intellectual level I know the more I move, the more accomplished I feel; the more I move, the more alive and youthful and hopeful I feel.  Many, many years ago I was a ballet student.  My body remembers how that felt.  I know what my legs were able to do.  What is the purpose of imagination if not to elevate us beyond actual or perceived limitations?

As this serves, I hope, as pep-inducing self-talk, it may throw needed illumination into our collective shadowed corners.  Our time here is finite, of which I am too aware on a regular basis.  That there is ample peace and delight in my days is not enough, not when I am capable of creating more through simple acts.  My history contains loss and trauma, as, I'm sure, yours does, too.  For so many of us there has already been too much juiciness lost to sorrow.  Let's swear to keep reminding each other.  It will never be too late to dance.