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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pre-Dawn Bliss

"Have you called yourself Boundless Bliss today?" The words shot out unexpectedly from Dr. Merriman, our teacher.He was pointing his finger at me and the other twenty-nine pupils of this class  of adults were staring at me, wondering what I'd say. "Ummmm..." I stalled. "Well, no,..."

"Well then, do it!" he said with a smile as wide as his seasoned face.

I've thought about that a lot lately. Not especially because my beloved teacher said so, but because it's become a part of my nature to feel boundlessly blissful, especially in my first waking hour of any given day. I'll be snugly wrapped in my robe, just finished with breakfast, gazing at the candles I've lit on the table across the room. It's still dark outside so the curtains are closed. All is silent and serene except for the steady tick of the grandfather clock beside me, the brook's music outside my door, and the faint murmur of humanity far beyond the perimeters of our city oasis called Quail Creek.

I haven't taken in the paper yet. The world that far outside of mine can wait. Here in my comfy chair I feel snug and happy. No pains. No angst. No worry. As far as I'm concerned, this is the sweetest kind of freedom I know. I'm satisfied, not because things are perfect, but because somewhere there's a young mother holding her babe in a similar setting. I don't mean just one. Many. I was once like them. There's a father off to work, glad to have a job he's happy with. And there must be other grandmothers and great-grandmothers who look benignly on, knowing that without them the family they know and love would not have been quite the same.

After a life has been lived, what does one do? Get up to be cranky? Get up to sulk or sorrow? Get up to worry? Get up to be angry and ugly? I laugh as these options roll off my pen. People may call me Pollyanna if they will, but if they're within earshot I'll smile and set them straight.

A dear grandson-in-law told his wife, my granddaughter, "I would give anything to have the faith that your grandmother has, but I don't." Since he hasn't said it to me, I'll wait. I'll wait for all who love me enough to listen and then I'll say, "Never mind, my dears. You will have such faith and more. As you live and learn, you'll see through a more spiritual lens. You'll see that you've lived your lives as best you could. You've made mistakes. Sometimes serious ones. But then you'll know better for the next go-around. You'll wake up to each new day and find how easy it is to drop despair when life comes into a better focus, when the dark gives way to dawn.

How do I know this for sure? Because it's happened to me. Knowing what could have been better in my life is a sign, not that it will automatically become better, but that I can make it better. I'll have another chance, another go-around in the cycles of Life.

Everything I've seen in this life points to this. There is an undeniable continuity of existence. Look up at the stars, for instance. You may see, through the eyes of space telescopes, a dead star, but then again you'll come upon a glowing cradle of warm golden light where newly born stars shoot out into space. They are glad, expectant, joyous! How can we help but see that? There are countless signs of living, moving, working, loving, laughing right here on earth. I choose to watch these and leave the darker sides of the scene until they come into a clearer light, where all will be revealed in the lens of truth,  transformed and understood.

So, here I sit in grandmotherly glory and I know now that I can answer my teacher honestly. "Yes, Dr. Merriman,  I'm getting older, true, but I'm getting better too, and I have called myself Boundless Bliss today!"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Say Yes!

I'm sitting here at my desk in a new leather swivel chair. Padded arms and body, adjustable height, easy rolling casters, comfy and elegant. Made for me. But I didn't ask for it. I didn't look for it this morning. Just went into Staples to get some Christmas letter paper.

I always allow myself time to look around in stores like that, even after I've found the one or two things on my list. I didn't really need the chair, but my old one had never been comfortable, no matter how many pads I put on it. My daughter had often said, "Mom, you need a new chair," but I hadn't given it much thought. Then along came "Black Friday," the day people lined up outside the big stores, standing in the cold wee hours of the morning to rush in first and grab the bargains. Nothing could have enticed me to do that! Anyway, there was nothing I needed.

So now it is the following Monday. The sales are over, but I've found my paper at Staples and out of the corner of my eye I spot this little chair. It stands out as if it had a sign with my name on it. But no, surely I couldn't afford that gem! I look at the tag. $100. Not a bad price. I look at another plainer one with no arms. I sit in it. Not anything special. So I try the little gem. It's a Goldilocks "just right" thing. I think, Gee, it costs no more than a couple of dinners out with the family, even less. I see a clerk and say, "I'll take it." When I get ready to pay the cashier the register rings up $50. plus cost of warranty, construction and tax.  I'm afraid the cashier has made a mistake. She's on the phone double checking on the price. "It's on sale?" I ask, holding my breath. She puts down the phone. "Yes, half price," she says smiling. "Still on sale."

The salesman hadn't told me that. Maybe he didn't know. He's still beside me though, waiting to carry it out to my car. We walk out together, he tucks it in neatly, I thank him, and drive home with the wheels of my car a foot off the ground. When I get home and try it out I think to myself, If Barnes & Noble had carried the kind of writing paper I wanted (they didn't) and the clerk there had not suggested Staples, I'd have been sitting in my old uncomfortable chair right now writing about something else.

I shouldn't be surprised. Things like that happen to me often. Why? I'm not sure, but I think it's my ability to say yes. Also, I don't want many things but they come to me often before I even look for them. And when they do I almost never say, "I think I'll go home and think it over." When I see something I know is right for me I just buy it as long as I can afford it. No shopping around, comparing prices. And never needing to take anything back.

I could tell about many a purchase I've made that way, but the principle can be illustrated with larger decisions too. Wally G, my husband, used to tease me in later years about his proposal to me. "I was scared you might say no, or something like, 'Can you wait for me to finish my last two years of college?' If you had, I think I'd have let you go. I wanted to come before anything. It's my darn pride. But you, - I no more than got the words out, 'Will you marry...' and you said, 'Yes!'"

I wonder now if I ever told him that my answer wasn't as spontaneous as he supposed. I had decided he would be mine long before he got the question out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Retirement

"The hedge out front is beginning to look shaggy." I break the silence of our bedroom where Wally G. sits, still in his robe and slippers at eleven a.m. He's been there since nine, apparently stuck and dozing off. It's been like this for weeks, ever since he brought home his belongings from the office where they gave him the obligatory pen and pencil set, an afterthought. That final act was worse than nothing. He'd sent off other guys to retirement by giving them parties and speeches and accolades. His own C.O. had taken him for granted in his last two years of twenty-three on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, delegating all the work to Wally G. and getting all the credit for himself. It was not a sunny beginning to his retirement.

When I saw he had awakened enough to know I was there I gave it another try. "Honey, wouldn't it do you good to get out and get some fresh air? The hedge looks like..."

"Look," He jumped up then, heading for the closet. "You are not my commanding officer!"

I'm taken a-back, but I'd been told that retirement is not easy for a man who's given his all to his profession. I'd tried to make his stay-at-home life pleasant, but he was tired of my suggestions.  I must not be hurt, I thought. I'll just give him time.

Wally G. enlisted first as a Naval cadet back in 1941. Then he'd been given the option to try out for flight school as a Marine fighter pilot. Soon his squadron was sent to Guadalcanal in the thick of the Western Front. He'd made it through all the ranks up to Lt. Colonel and hadn't really planned to go further than full bird colonel. Then he'd retire and figure out what to do with the rest of his life. But those last promotion boards had paid more attention to the men whom they knew from all the buttering up, social drinking, and golf games they'd had together. Not a single one of them knew Wally G. personally and his sterling record went overlooked for the few openings of higher rank that peacetime presented. That, plus his ignominious farewell from the career that had given him much pleasure and pride. He needed to do something, but what could measure up to being a WWII ace pilot flying alone in a sleek jet propelled beast called the F8 off carriers and in places all over the world? Or those moments when night flying took him up so high he swore he could hear music when there was none? It was, no doubt, a come-down to be at home all day and not know what to do with himself.

As for me, I'd never really aspired to anything but having a husband, a home, and children. I left college after my sophomore year to get married at the age of nineteen when he was 26 and a Marine captain. It was a storybook wedding in the Flyers' Chapel at The Mission Inn in Riverside, California.  Although I missed school when fall rolled around, by then I was glad to be a military wife and friend of other wives like me. We soon started a family and frequently had to find living quarters off base in towns where there was no readiness for the influx of military families. I was so busy keeping house, caring for the children, three of them, I had little time to take more than a class or two in nearby colleges now and then, much less hold down a full time job. Homemaking was my job and I liked it a lot, even the frequent moves. When Wally G. had to go overseas in the Korean War and again on a fourteen month tour in Japan, I was in charge on the homefront.

By the time Wally G. retired our kids had left the nest and I had enough spare time to pursue hobbies, read and simply enjoy a retirement of my own, so far as any homemaker gets to do that. But how could I help my struggling husband make the transition to retirement? He was still young, in his fifties, not ready financially or otherwise to be staying at home. He needed another line of work.

As it turned out a civilian job presented itself to him and he was soon as absorbed in that as he'd been in his first career. We built a new house, lived in it for eight years, and then moved onto a ranch in Oregon. There we pursued country life for another eight years and finally sold the ranch for a plump profit in order to retire for good near Seattle. We enjoyed season tickets to the symphony, went to movies, ate out a lot, and took frequent trips. Our home had enough room for the kids to spend holidays with us, bringing along the little ones. We were on easy street.

But that retirement only lasted three and a half years. Even then he couldn't get over the idea that life was not meaningful unless you were promoted in some visible manner and getting old was not his idea of a promotion. He finally found an inner journey to a more spiritually oriented life. I think he saw beyond the grave a better world, one where wars would be no more, in which glory would not be found in wearing shrapnel in his shoulder from getting shot at in air, earning the title of Ace for shooting down enemy planes or bombing the enemy on the ground.

If it hadn't been for the war and the threat of being drafted he might well have pursued a career in music as a tympani player in a symphony orchestra. Music was his joy and that had been his initial ambition.

For the twenty-five years since Wally G left, I still keep house . I'll never retire from that, even though I live alone now. I often wonder what Wally G found to do when his earthly tour of duty ended. I hear a plane above and think maybe he's flying again because he did love flying, especially when he heard music up there alone on those night training missions. And often when I go to symphony concerts, I look through my glasses at the tympani player beating his heart out and I think, Could that be what Wally G is doing at last? Then I think, Wow! Look at that fellow hit those kettle drums!  Maybe Wally G is living out his old age after all and loving it! Now that would be a promotion! Come to think of it, his last words to me were, "I hope you know, girl, there's more going on here than meets the eye!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hoarders

My daughter-in-law gave me a compliment. She said to my son, "I think the thing your mother has that seems to work for her is the art of letting go." She was only half right. I also have the "art" (a euphemism here) of collecting things. What I seem never to have too many of are books, pictures, lamps, candles, mirrors, pillows and clocks. Mix these with un-numbered and eclectic other mostly small art objects and you would not walk into my house and think I had ever let anything go! I do pride myself, however, in arranging things in a pleasing way so that my house has a cozy feeling, sort of like the "Olde Curiosity Shoppe." These are the things that have survived the rather frequent purge of moving. Some of the cast-offs have gone to relatives and friends and children. When I see one of my old possessions in one of these places I smile. "Oh, I remember this!" and I'll gaze at a miniature replica of a screen door I bought at a craft fair in my home town on Fathers' Day, 1993. It reminded me of summers in my childhood home and the sound of our kitchen's screen door with its squeaky coiled spring and subsequent slam announcing the presence of someone coming in or going out. This same daughter-in-law, Nancy, has it hanging on her kitchen wall.

Each piece that graces my home has a story. Even if it was bought in a thrift shop it has an unknown story and that in itself is intriguing to me. I came along and rescued it from the half-way house to belong again, to feel loved again. And I do love it as if it were mine from the beginning when someone thought it up and crafted it into life, even though I'll never know its secret past. Sometimes I tell myself to get busy and write the history of each of my possessions, so far back as I know it. That could, indeed, fill a book and maybe save these precious things and their memories from another half-way house, unless the book goes to the dumpster first.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. Backtrack: It's 1:37 a.m. this morning. I'm awakened by the sound of voices. Oh, Katie has gone to sleep and left the TV in our bedroom turned on. Then the program begins to sink in. It's one I've never dared look at before. "Hoarders." My eyes open to slits and I see a short woman with tousled white hair and cotton print dress being scolded. She bows her head in shame as those Others invade her home. But is it a home, or is it a very untidy store room? People crawl through boxes and garbage bags full of junky stuff. Odd collections of old curtain rods, quilts, glassware, hangers, shoes with furry anklets, piled half way up to the ceiling! Yes, it is her home, the stuff she has accumulated which she could not part with. The Others are saying, "This is despicable! We've got to clear it out! All of it! Now!"

"No!" she cries. I mean she's really crying. "Not that! No! Please, not that!"

This is too much for me to lie here and take. I'm too sleepy to wake up and hunt for  the remote. It's probably hidden under Katie's blanket and she's sound asleep. She'll surely wake up and turn it off before long. I'll just drift back to sleep. But the show goes on, and on, and on. Another peek, another appalling scene, another pitiful little creature in the midst of the suffocating chaotic mess of relics swiped from dumpsters and cheap shop bargains, now invaded by that same band of Others who say they're there to help!

I pull the pillow over my head and try for sleep again. It's no use. Finally, I get up, recover the remote right where I thought it was and click the power button off. Whew!

Then, in the blissful quiet of the room I settle back between the covers and sigh. But sleep? Where hast thou gone? Why can't I sleep? It's the awful invasion of "Hoarders" houses still reverberating in my mind. I can't shake it. I think of my house and all its things. But that's not me! No, I'm not a hoarder! Well, I do have a lot, and I mean a lot of things in my little house. I didn't even mention the numerous little side tables I've bought to put those things on. The place is not bulging though. I can still walk through without dodging crates and cartons.

I get up, don my robe and slippers and go out to the living room. I turn on a few lamps and look around. The place could definitely stand a bit of picking up here and there, but no, it is not the ugly haphazard scene on the TV. Still, what can I do to undo a lot of this? What can I let go of? How can I make my home look plain and simple and uncluttered? I'm in a quandary. I force myself to pick up a book to read in order to think of something else. But no, the feeling of horror keeps coming back. I ask myself honestly, Do my children, family and friends think I'm a borderline case and see me as "poor Mom," or "poor Joyce?" Worse, will I never be able to go into another thrift shop and experience the joy of adopting some orphaned thing that has caught my heart strings?

I glance at my watch. 3:32 now. I turn back to the book. It's already tomorrow, the day that I so often promise myself to get at things. I can't start now though. I'd wake up the birds sleeping over in the kitchen if I tried to brew my morning cup of coffee. I go back to bed and snuggle in. I remember reading, (where was it, in the Bible?) "Tomorrow will take care of the things of itself." Well, it's not fully tomorrow yet, and it is quiet here in the dark. This time I'm able to slip into dreamland.

So, tomorrow is today now. I still have to do the things I have to do to erase that horrible show from my mind, but after breakfast I'm feeling better. I'll get dressed and tackle the essentials so that if someone comes into my house for the first time she will say, as so many others have said before, "Oh, what a lovely home you have!" Then I'll feel like myself again and not like one of those pitiful old women on TV they call the "Hoarders." The only thing I might have in common with them is white hair but mine is combed and fastened neatly. Also, I don't wear cotton dresses. I'll be careful to avoid that channel on TV in the future and I'll harden my heart a little bit more when I go to the next thrift shop. And when I move next time I'll exercise that other art of mine, the one that let's go without a whimper.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Flexibility and Experience

Mr. Dickson was a good teacher. I remember when I was in a high school debate class he gave me a position to argue that I didn't agree with. I complained, "But Mr. Dickson, I can't argue for this. I don't agree with it!"

"Well," he said in his droll manner, "all the better if you don't. You'll be forced to look at the other side and try to understand it. You could even change your mind!" As it turned out I won the debate and even though it did not change my mind I could see the other side clearly and not be so adamantly sure of myself.

All of life seems at times to be a debate, a tug of war, between one's own sense of right and another's. I'm thinking in particular now of modern morality. Today's standards for many young people are much looser than in my generation. I ask myself, Can I maintain that mine were better? Must I be flexible in all cases? I think so, for at this time of my life I'm willing to admit I am not omniscient, especially when I have a strong opinion. I'm finding that my standards and opinions might well be superseded by another greater standard. That standard is love and the willingness to let go of personal opinion in the surety that time and experience will resolve all issues.

"Times have changed since your day, Grandma," my beautiful granddaughter said when the subject of premarital sex came up. "Yes, but not for the better," I thought. My answer, "Yes, dear, I can see that." It was not an argument, just an observation and it went no farther. Although I was sure of my sense of morality and knew I had the opportunity, if not the duty, to voice it, I let myself willingly be silent and take up an inner debate on the other side, as Mr. Dickson had taught.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since I was a Puritan teenager, chaste, but married at nineteen.   I've seen my own virtues and previous beliefs challenged. So where do I stand today?

Flexibility seems now to be the answer. How can one be flexible and still be true to oneself?  Is there a case for arguing an issue out verbally with another, or is there a greater virtue in arguing silently with oneself? Might there be another greater law, a higher law, the law of love? Does love allow one to let her loved ones go another direction that seems wrong, or stake a battleground for sure defeat? I may be right, I thought, but I could win the argument to myself and lose it to someone I love. So, I'm willing to admit  that I may be wrong and when I've argued the other side I'm better able to understand. Frankly, I'm not so sure of a number of really solid positions to call my own right now.

My children and grandchildren and I understand where we're each coming from and can be flexible. We may be honestly open about differences, but there's no tug of war with them, not even in fun. No one gains by bashing out differences that we're not likely to resolve amicably. Still we are all on one page when it comes to the highest law of all, the law of Love. I think the younger generations probably know more about this law than mine. While the old religious approach drew a circle to shut any other views out, the present generation draws a circle to include a wider range of standards and the freedom to make their own choices.

Time and experience tend to resolve issues and I find it quite interesting to see how political pundits today punish the looser attitudes in public servants that they may overlook in themselves. Only a generation or so back the the political norm was to hide moral indiscretions of leaders, cloaking them in discreet silence and even honor. Hypocrisy is the one thing that seems to stay in style.

If the world can outlive the nastier kinds of war, the tug of war today, seen best in democracy and it's noisy debates, will not be waged with a sturdy inflexible rope. Rather, it seems the rope is as flexible as a strong rubber band. We pull and get snapped back. It's muddy and messy, but somehow I think, in personal as well as public affairs, that the law of Love is on the field quietly overseeing the whole shebang and waiting patiently for things to turn out perfectly in the end. Experience and flexibility make a pretty good team no matter what side you're on, and Love will be cheering for all sides with a big smile at the end of the game.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To Be A Senior Citizen

Wally G, my first husband of 40+ years, used to scorn the word "senior," especially when it pertained to himself. He wouldn't even claim it to get a cheaper ticket at the movies. He also refused to be called Grandpa. "It's bad enough to be married to Grandma!" he'd say with a wink at me. So, he was known as "Wally G." by his grandkids.

I never let myself be bothered by becoming a senior citizen because I still felt young inside and didn't look too bad on the outside. At eighty I began to take added years as benefits, not as footsteps to the grave. These years give opportunities to retrieve some of the interests that had seemed lost. I bought myself a new piano and began playing it for my own pleasure. I renewed my interest in clay sculpting and took a class in slipcasting. I signed up for a writing class and joined a bridge group at the senior center nearby. I've never had the ambition to excel in any one thing so I decided not to aim for a huge footprint on the landscape by pressing for great achievements. I'd just go on dabbling in a number of things. Who wants to be another Grandma Moses anyway? You give yourself too much to live up to. My only goal is to do what pleases me most and listen to that inner guide that shows me what is really most pleasing. I'd call it neither selfish nor selfless but something in between.

 Recently my daughter set up this blog for me. "What shall we name it, Mom?" she asked. The name popped right into my mind. Getting Older Is Getting Better, I said. I would pitch my blogs to my own generation. Then I came across a book about seniors that gave me pause. After reading a few pages I realized for the first time that baby boomers are becoming seniors, and I am a mother of baby boomers! That puts a different light on the subject. Here I am writing a blog about being senior and the average senior who might read my blog will be a generation younger! Should I go on? Well, try to stop me! My blogs will be like messages in bottles thrown out to sea. The chance they might be found and read could be that much of a long shot too, but we'll see.

Once when Wally G and I were talking about what we might do if the other one died first. He said, "I'd go to live with Wally K and Nancy." (our first son and his wife) I said,"Oh no! You wouldn't want to be a burden on them,"

"Burden?" he replied. "Why I'd be an asset to their home!" I had to hand it to him. By golly, if he didn't think of himself as a senior citizen and that gave him a healthy sense of self worth, more power to him!

Wally G. got off the train of longevity about a quarter of a century ago. But me? Well, I'm still here and hoping to stay aboard the ship of life a good while longer, thank you. As I write maybe I'll look overboard and see if I can spot any other senior seniors' blogging bottles. Now that would be something! I'm not holding my breath though.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Robot

They say the age of home helper robots is not far off. I would like to put in for one right now. In the meantime it's occurred to me that I already have a robot that is far more sophisticated than any engineer ever dreamed of. It is that mechanical-software thing, aka body-brain device that I was given at birth. When she doesn’t complain, or balk, my robot behaves quite well. The trouble is she wants to be so identified with me that she makes me feel like I am her. And she does complain, especially about the piling up of newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements, bills, correspondence, etc. My mechanical robot will not complain. It won't have any argument such as, "I don't feel like doing this or that." She will do the job I ask her to do when I tell her to and she'll do it well, consulting me only to inform me of some new and better organizational option and then say, "Would my mistress like to make the change, or not?"

But I can't sit around waiting for the experts to get those robots on the market, so I decided to make the best of this flesh, blood and bone one I already have. I'll call her Robata. When and if the future purely  mechanical robot comes along Robata can retire into the good life. So, I had a talk with Robata this morning. I said, “Robata, you and I could have done far more than we have in the years behind us, but if we have not become a virtuoso pianist or a world famous artist or a shipbuilder or multimillionaire, it’s not entirely your fault. Our only limitations are the ones imposed by faulty engineers on your part and the lack of vision and ambition to use you up to your potential on my part. Since we can’t do anything about the these past deficiencies, maybe we can do better from now on.”

“Do you really think it’s worth the effort at this late date?” Robata said wistfully. 

“My good old friend, don’t despair. I know you’re nearing a statistical numbers hurdle, but look, I read in one of those magazines that longevity is increasing and soon 150 will not be an unusual life expectancy."  She looked at me in the mirror and sighed as if to say,  "When a new robot comes along will you be keeping me or will I go the way of all flesh?" 

"Oh, I'd hope to have you stick around for several years, my dear! I can't get along without you now, but the time will come, no doubt, when you and I will need to go our separate ways. You're going to a lovely place in the National Cemetery near Riverside to rest beside my late husband's robot.  Where I'll be or in what state I'll be, even I don't know, but I'm expecting my change to be a kind of promotion. Still, like I said before, we may have a good many years left if we can keep on doing as well as we are now." 

Robata smiled back at me in the mirror again and I said, "Let's sing a duet! Remember that old song that goes, 'You may not be an angel, 'cause angels are so few, but until the day when one comes along, I'll string along with you?'" Then we sang and even danced together.

Robota always reacts well to song and dance, so afterwards I glanced at her and saw she was resting on the sofa and smiling in a knowing way. And you know what?  She kept on smiling all the rest of the day!  


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Information Surfeit

The world of information is getting too big for me. It always has been. Except when I was in elementary school. I was like a sponge there and felt particular pleasure in being able to read. All through school I was in my element untiI after my second year of college when I got married. Looking back, I have thought at times I might have become a perpetual full time student instead, but I'd have missed too much. Since my husband's military career kept us moving around we didn't settle down long enough for me to further my formal education. So, I just took up reading helter-skelter.

Now-a-days I find it interesting to keep up with the news. I read two good newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. I also get the Sunday edition of a local paper. I watch a cross-section of news broadcasts on TV as well as the Opinion segments of all. But I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism, knowing as I discovered long ago, you can't believe everything you read or hear.

I haven't taken a word of advice I once heard, "When picking up a newspaper, read only the comics. They're the only pages that make any sense." I do read the comics, but if I don't read the rest from first to last pages, I try to catch what seems most important. Also, I try to read books by some of the best authors, past and present. But I simply can't keep up with all the reading I plan to do or want to do. I either get distracted in the daytime or save my reading for bedtime. You can guess how that goes.

Being well informed, well read, is a noble ambition, I think. It can spur noble actions and prayer. But sometimes I feel like I did when, as a second-grader on the school bus, I asked Esther, a senior in high school, if I could look at her books. Opening a thick book with no pictures, I was stunned. Do you mean I'll have to read all this when I get to high school?"  She laughed and answered, "Yes, and Joycie, it won't be easy!" She was right, and even she didn't know the half of it!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How Not To Become Invisible

I remember when Robby, my second husband, and I came to his family dinner parties we would be given a place to sit, and then the next generation down would get busy in the kitchen, jabbering away with each other. The next next generation down, the grandkids, would acknowledge us as they came in, give us a kiss on the cheek, and then launch into conversation with each other. At the dinner table verbal and intensive crossfire communication would continue amidst laughter and lively banter while we'd sit at the head of the table in quiet wonder. It was fun at first to see and hear them but most of it gave us little opportunity to insert intelligent remarks. We'd go home and Robby would say. "You know, at these get-togethers I feel invisible, almost irrelevant. No one asks me questions or talks to me. I might as well be part of the furniture." I had to agree, but I'd say, "Maybe you could call them to order like you used to call your students to order in your classroom when you taught geology. Then ask a question or two."

"Heck, I shouldn't have to do that!" he'd say. They're my grandkids. I have so much to offer, so much experience. After all, I earned a fellowship at MIT, got my PhD at Washington University, helped discover bauxite in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic during WWII. I have great stories to tell about those days. When I got married (and that's a story too,) we often lived in foreign countries, even took the whole family on a round the world cruise for a year. I once rode a donkey up into the hills of Afghanistan. I've been to Kenya, even lived and taught in Australia and Brasil. Wouldn't that be interesting to them?"

"Well, it should be," I'd counter, "but they are so wound up in their own lives. I suppose we could get a word in about them to catch their attention." He'd say, "I've tried that, but I know so little about their lives. Even listening to them, I get lost. I think computers have done that."

Robby's grandchildren did love their "Granddad." It was simply that generational gap most of us find ourselves in when they're beyond the lap-sitting, "Read-to-me" stage. I myself didn't ask my grandparents enough questions. Now I'm thinking of writing about them in a book to pass down to future generations and frankly, it's slim pickin's. Still, whatever tidbits I can offer would flesh out the statistical facts like dates of birth, death, marriage, children, etc. that show up on census records when a person starts looking up their ancestors.

After we're gone, there will no doubt be many times the kids will say, "I wish I'd asked Grandma (or Grandpa) about that." I've said it myself. I probably have a few more stories about generations past because I lived with my grandmother for over two years when I went to college. Unless we and our forebears were famous and others found us worthy to write books about, most of our stories will be lost. That's sad, but it's a fact. We need to get busy and write. Not in the "I did this and we did that" style, however. We should write in a captivating way that will snag their interest. Can't do that? Then learn how. Classes in writing memoir are popular these days and you meet many people in them who have fascinating stories. Some could even make the best sellers' list. These fellow writers will encourage you while you do the same for them.

When I go to antique shops or thrift stores and see family pictures, no doubt torn from somebody's precious album, I nearly weep. Here is a little girl all dressed up in her Sunday best with hat and gloves,  long stockings and polished shoes, standing erect for the camera with a sweet smile on her face. Who was she? How did her picture get out of the family? Didn't anyone care? It could have been included in a book of memoir. At least someone would know her name and something about her.

Our memories are a treasure trove, meant to be shared in some compelling manner. We don't have to bore our kids. We can record our story in some beguiling way that might even gain the attention of some one or two of our descendants far down the line. It's surprising how much that was hidden in the mind's attic comes to light when you begin to write. So, you out there! Why not start a blog? Better yet, make it a book. Improvise a little, even a lot. Use some writers' license, have fun! At least you won't become invisible.



Saturday, November 5, 2011

Keep'n Up

The title of this blog is one I used on a car license plate for a new 1998 Pontiac Firebird I bought. It looked like a deep dark sea green surf board. In it I felt about fifty years younger than I was. I'd see people glance my way and do a double-take. They probably wondered why a white-haired granny would be driving such a car. Then they'd read the license plate: KEEPNUP.

Yes, I'd like to think I'm keeping up in many ways although with people like the late Steve Jobs spilling out new devices all the time I'm not doing such a good job of it these days. I do own a Mac, however, and with the help of the younger generation I can use it for a few things. What a far cry it is to write this blog on it compared to the old Underwood typewriter in my dad's office that I played with as a kid! Or the ones I struggled with in typing class when making a correction took forever. Then White-Out was a leap forward. I'm still getting used to this blogging business. Writing the first draft, giving it a once-over,  publishing it minutes afterwards, going back in to edit and correct the typos after publication, if necessary. When I wrote my book, Claudia's Home, I had a PC and it took me two years to get it published! But that was about fifteen years ago.

It's been less than two weeks since someone in our writing class suggested I do a blog. I had not even read a blog then. I'd heard about blogging but it was just one more thing I couldn't take time to wonder about. Now it's still such a new world to me that I can't explain it to myself. All I know is that I'm having a ball doing it. I'll have to confer with Robin, my daughter, who set this thing up for me, however, because I can see very little sign of anyone reading it. Isn't that what a blog is all about? I don't wonder though. The modern world is so full of reading these days that they say hand held books and magazines are apt to go completely out. How would anyone find my blog in the oceans of stuff on the Internet?

Now, much as I enjoy reading and holding a book or newspaper or magazine in my hands, I could really appreciate not having to dig my way out of all the printed stuff I find in my mailbox. When credit cards offer free magazine subscriptions I can't help myself. And I get the Wall Street Journal (though I'm way over my head in that!). Still, I love to see it there on my doorstep mornings. I scan it with my morning cup of coffee and feel so smug! I can't count the number of books I've put markers in that are waiting to be finished. And I own more books than any single grandma should. I love going to the library, but have had to curtail that too because I feel lost amidst the shelves and can't decide what to choose. Often I go out with nothing because the books I have at home that I want to read haunt my conscience.

You wouldn't believe all the neat boxes and baskets I've bought to handle the excess reading materials I've accumulated. Trouble is, once they get stored I forget what's in them and I wonder when the day will come that I will get to their contents. Frankly, I'm ashamed at this moment to see lying around the house the number of papers, magazines, books, mail items, catalogues, etc. that need to be filed away in those wicker baskets and handsome boxes I've bought at Pier One and World Market and TJMax. I've run out of room for them all. Under the desk, under tables, in night stands, in the hall closet, oh my! I can't even remember what's in them. I'm not "Keep'n up" at all!

You see, by the time I've tidied the house, walked the dog, watched the news on TV, and maybe a movie in the evening, besides going out to shop, to my writing class, the Friday afternoon bridge game, checking my e-mail and Facebook page, playing the piano, doing a little sculpting, tending the patio garden, going to church on Sundays, having an occasional lunch out, a movie now and then, and all the other things I do, I marvel that I ever was able to run a household, raise three kids, hold down a job, and read?.....whew! The bottom line is, I love to read but daytimes I'm too active so I look forward to bedtime when I can settle down under the covers with a good book. You can guess how that goes. The next thing I know it's time to get up and take in the morning paper!

Keep'n up is not a thing I've mastered, but these days I've managed to take time to write a blog and I'm rather proud of myself for even trying.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Talents

In my family we, the parents, did not set goals for our children, but once they had found their own interests and talents we encouraged them along those lines. Our elder son, Wally, loved music so we saw that he had lessons with good teachers on the piano and flute. In college he majored and got his degree in music. He organized a group of fellow musicians and conducted a symphony concert for his senior project and it was a rousing success. Were it not for the draft into military service during the Vietnam war, he might have become a professional musician. Instead he became an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force, a career that lasted for 28 years. He loved that too but music is still his avocation.

David, our second son, showed an aptitude for fixing things and inventing other things. At a very young age he always had to know how things work, even if he had to take them apart to find out. Since he was able to get them back together properly we encouraged him. He also loved the theater and dancing. Today his inventive talents are serving well  in Silicon Valley but he's also going to ballroom dancing classes.

Robin, our daughter, was an artist from early childhood. She has made art her career and is doing very well with the promise of becoming highly successful. We never told her that an art career would mean starvation in a highly competitive world. She found that out on her own and learned how to market her work. She isn't starving and she's making a name for herself. Several patrons even collect her work. 

To those of  us who have not discovered our talents or, having discovered them, don’t know how to improve them, I say, it’s never too late. As for myself, I’m just now getting serious about clay sculpture. I make faces that look like real people and as for writing, I have one published book under my belt.  and continue to write in my journal nearly every day. I play the piano for my own pleasure, content to leave that as my goal. If fame and fortune come my way I’ll be most surprised and, I suspect, not too happy about that. Posthumously would be all right. I’d be glad to have my children capitalize on what I've done if it's good, but there's not much likelihood of that either. I'm not apt to lose my best talent of all, which is simply fiddling around with the things I like to do and progressing an inch at a time. Being driven is not one of them. 

I can admire those who go far in the pursuit of their talents, or any distance at all. The point is to keep going. Life must be dull without the recognition of some talent in oneself, even if it’s only a penchant for tidiness. Which reminds me of a favorite aunt of mine. Auntie Dorris was a beautiful woman whose main talent, if you could call it that, was reading. She could read a book a day. She used to tell of the time her mother had a group of women over for afternoon tea. Dorris was in the kitchen helping out. The guests were bragging about the talents of their offspring. Dorris slowed down a bit and cocked her ear. It was Grandmother’s turn. “Viola sings beautifully. She could be an opera singer someday. Kenneth is graduating with honors from  engineering college and he plans to build bridges in China. Faith is a fine pianist. What a joy it is to hear her play!" Here Grandmother paused. ..."and Dorris...well, ummm, (pause)"  Then her voice brightened, "No one can clean up a kitchen like my Dorris!" Thank goodness Auntie Dorris thought that was funny!  Being neat is a talent too. Besides she was beautiful.

“Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for and you will succeed.” (Sydney Smith, 1771-1845) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Way Stations

I have a canary who sings a lot. When I stop to really listen I marvel that such a small creature can express such virtuosity and joy. Some might not appreciate a singer such as Tommy in their homes but, to me, he captures all that is pure and perfect and distills it into song.He is caged but doesn't know it. Once I left the door open all day since some say to let your canary out now and then, but Tommy chose to stay put. He's glad for what he has without calling it small or insufficient. He is orangey red and beautiful, and seems to know it. Or does that little mirror toy in his cage look like another one of his kind? At any rate, he enjoys his reflection, his home and me.


My home, the little condo I own that sits on the lip of a warbling creek doesn't have bars, but if it did I wouldn't mind. I could still see my little neighborhood, the tall trees, the miniature waterfall, and the winding paths and footbridges nearby. And I could still watch for my daughter, Robin, when she comes over from her place because she lives in this area too. As she crosses the footbridge with the sun shining on her strawberry blonde hair I think how similar I felt when I watched her tread bravely down the street to her bus stop when she was a kindergartener.


Along the path of life I've enjoyed many homes, and they have all pleased me, large and small. Each forms a chapter in family life and beyond. They remind me of those other places dear to my heart and carry with them the kind of stories we often reminisce on. As I moved from one to another my favorite possessions have accompanied me. I have no store room here, no garage either, so I say to myself, if I might store something more than I've managed to get into drawers, cupboards, closets and under the beds, then I don't need it. If it's precious enough to keep then it should be visible and appreciated. An interior designer might be frustrated with me, but it's not so much that's packed into a house as how well-packed it is. Mine, people say, looks homey and artistically arranged, not cluttered but lived in. 


Several times I've believed I would never move again, but I always have, and each time for the better I say. I've seen enough of moving to last me a lifetime. Still, if life is eternal, as I believe, I no doubt will move again. I just don't care to think of that now because I also believe my home is my present sense of heaven and this may be all of heaven I can embrace right now!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First and Last, Obsolete

"You'll never know," he said. "Just as you don't recall the day you were born what it was like to take your first breath, you'll never know when you take your last breath." Come to think of it,  it's that way with a lot of things. "First" and "last" are what slip through the cracks in life. Especially, I think, in regard to oneself.


Shakespeare, I believe it was, called sleep "the twin sister of death." I slip into sleep every night without knowing the exact moment. I like to read in bed so I get into my night clothes, brush my teeth, clean my face, then sit up in a bank of pillows, turn on the bedside lamp, pick a book, and read. That does it every time. Before long I'm gone and when I wake up all I have to do is put aside the book, turn off the lamp, and settle down for the rest of the night. Then I wake up the next morning and take up life where I left off. Not much has changed during the night.


Since I don't dread that little procedure, but welcome it, I rather think I won't dread dying. It must be natural at this stage of the infinite span of life, like slipping in and out of a dream. It was the ones who were standing by who experienced my birth. It must have been quite real to them, but, to me, it was not a thing worth remembering. "As for death," my friend added, "only those who have the job of dealing with a dead body or the loss of your company will see it as real, not you."


I'd like to believe he was right. Probably I'll experience an afterlife of some sort. The reason I think so is that I think so. I believe we get what we expect. As for pre-existence, I can't vouch for that, but I've had inklings of indications that it, too, is real. I just think that the long sleep in embryo and infancy tended to blot it out of consciousness. If, indeed, life is eternal and we've each had, are having, and will have, our share of it eternally, then wouldn't it be cumbersome to deal with an endless past? It's much more pleasant, to me, to let it remain as unknown to me as the future. I'd get tired just thinking about it. As for the afterlife, I can't foresee it except by faith so I don't think of that much either. I'm sure the best preparation for it is to make the most of today. Maybe this is Nature's way of keeping life fresh and uncomplicated and mysterious.


Recently I addressed this subject more realistically. I said to myself, "Why not live your life as if there were to be no death? Take those words of your friend to heart, that death may come as a night's sleep and you'll awaken from it as naturally as you woke up this morning. Why not carry on as if nothing more than that will happen? So, now, suppose further that you have a hand in creating your  forever life? Then what would you be doing with it? The whole idea of approaching life as if it lies before you, not behind, and with infinite possibilities, - isn't that more appealing than thinking of age as a precursor to death? It might actually be a time to prepare for a brighter next life." 


Well, I didn't take on any burden of some high and lofty goal. I didn't say to myself I'd attempt the impossible. I just said, I'm going to make each day be a little better. I can do that, and I do. I love life and I don't have to cling to it as if it were going to leave me or I to leave it. If life is the grand reality that I think it is, then it will hang onto me, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it! Things have been going well for me since that little talk. I feel like I'm heading to a goal called Understanding. I gain a little each day and each day I make a few stops to enjoy the view. I'm sure I'll never reach the ultimate peak of Understanding's mountain summit where I'll know all there is to know, but I keep climbing and imagine what it might be like to see from there. Now that must be one fantastic sight!