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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Salvaging Shakespeare, and Me



When something I’ve treasured has been broken it’s not in me to throw it away unless it’s broken beyond repair. Today I’m working on a sculpture of mine that looked just like Shakespeare (so I imagine.) That's it, up at the top of this page. It broke before being fired so I could have simply soaked it in water and punched it back into a lump of clay to start over, but I could never recapture that first likeness. I’ll try to put it together with some slip (wet clay) and see if it can be fired. If it comes out of the kiln the way I expect, my Shakespeare will be salvaged and I’ll treasure him all the more. Maybe I’ll call him The Salvaged Shakespeare.

The dictionary defines salvage in part as “the rescue of a property from destruction.” That’s me, all right. I pick up stuff. Like pennies in the street or pine cones in the park. And I’ve even been known to pick up something out of a dumpster. Only yesterday I found a hat box there. Looked brand new. It was in with the recycling things. One of those hat boxes with two or three other matching boxes inside. In the last box there was a collection of silk scarves, just the kind I’ve been looking for in the stores. Not the long ones so popular today but simply long enough to add a touch of color to my mostly black and white wardrobe. To think if it had gone into the truck!

I’ve given things to the dumpster area too. Like the big round plastic table with removable legs. In half an hour it was gone. It was something I didn’t need anymore and now it’s been salvaged. Now that I think of it almost everyone is in the salvage business. We’re all picking up the pieces of our lives and sometimes others,' rescuing them from destruction. Or we should be.

Remember when almost every neighborhood had a vacant lot where people would dump things? My brother, Danny, found an old broken baby carriage in one when he was a kid and used the wheels for a go-cart he’d built. My sister-in-law tells how, when she was about five or six, she came home one day all tousled and smudged with her arms full of junk. Her first words to her mom preempted a scolding. She said, with a broad smile, “Just look, Mommy, I found a nice clean dump!”

Working on Shakespeare got me to thinking. There’s something poignant and pathetic about the broken pieces of life. We’d like to salvage them, mend them, make them new again. Since we can’t turn back the clock and prevent their pain, we might be able to do that at least. Even if they seem beyond repair, our lives can be salvaged. Like unfired clay they can go back and be carved again.

Years ago when Wally and I lived near a Marine base, a friend of ours, a man whom we knew to be kind and gentle, who ministered to new recruits in the Marine Corps, told us he had lived a rugged life. He had lost one eye to show for it and had in its place a glass eye which made it hard to remember which eye to look at as we conversed. He told us how he’d been digging in his back yard garden that day.

“I still live in the house I grew up in,” he said, “and when my shovel hit something hard I reached down to pick it up and when I rubbed the dirt away what should I find but a little white ceramic lamb that I had treasured and lost in my childhood. I took it in to the kitchen sink and washed it off." At this point his one good eye misted up but he went on. "I saw that it was without blemish of any kind, just as pure and white as it was back then.” He didn’t need to spell out the rest. We knew he had found redemption. He’d salvaged his life and was helping others to salvage theirs.

I’m thinking today that all our lives are in the process of either being broken or salvaged. Probably both in any given day. Somehow we are not permitted to linger in between the two. We’re either going up or down, forward or backward. Salvaging and salvation are not just God’s business, we must at some time see them as our business too and be engaged. Nobody can say it’s easy, but the joy of finding ourselves as pure as that little white lamb is our reward if we persevere. 

I see us all as children rummaging through “a nice clean dump,” hoping to find treasures and then going home to take a bath and finding that we are the treasure we’re looking for. It’s a messy business, but one we need to do until our dump is really cleaned up. So, I’ll see you there today or tomorrow and then we’ll go have a cup of tea and share our stories. When I'm finished with Shakespeare I'll bring him too. He'd like that.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My Lost Love

His name was Harry Ericson. We went steady all through my high school days. I met Harry one night after a band concert in my home town’s courthouse grounds bandstand. On Wednesday nights in the summer the town stayed alive and the band played. Harry was the new trumpet player that night. During the concert I’d noticed him. Dark hair, dark eyes, not like the high school boys. He was older, just graduated from a neighboring town's high school. Our eyes met once between numbers in the concert. That was all. After the concert he caught up with me and offered to carry my horn case to the car.
“No thanks, I can manage,” I said. He laughed and told me afterwards he thought that was funny. He didn’t give up but followed me to the car. We talked, and from then on we’d get together after concerts. He lived in a neighboring town so I didn’t see him except on those Wednesday nights. Then when school started in the fall he became the new assistant band director and was assigned to help me in practicing my horn. I think it was while playing duets with him alone in the basement that we paused to catch our breath one time. He looked at me, leaned over and gave me a kiss. “See,” he said, “you have to pucker up like that to get the high notes.” 

It wasn’t the typical boy-girl relationship. We didn’t go to parties. We didn’t go dancing. We didn’t go to movies. I don’t even remember our going out to have sandwiches or ice cream. Harry would drive me home from concerts and rehearsals and on the way we’d park at the local lovers’ parking spot overlooking the town. He’d have the radio tuned into romantic music and steal a few kisses. Then I’d remind him of Daddy’s 11 p.m. curfew. “It’s time to take me home,” I’d say. And he’d always do it.

I didn’t date anyone else all through high school. The boys knew I was Harry’s girl. I’d see Harry nearly every day at band rehearsals. When I didn’t have a duet practice with him in the basement of our school I’d hear him from an upstairs classroom playing “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” just like Tommy Dorsey used to on his trumpet and I’d know he was thinking of me. 

I'm spending a little time just now out on the patio watching the setting sun’s last rays light up the tree tops in our neighborhood. That’s what brought Harry to mind. Another of “our songs” came with him. It goes something like this:

When day is done and shadows fall I dream of you.
I think of all the little things we used to do.
That yearning returning to hold you in my arms
Won’t go Love, I know Love,
Without you night has lost its charms...
When day is done and grass is wet with twilight’s dew
My lonely heart is sinking with the sun.
Although I miss your tender kiss the whole day through
I miss you most of all when day is done.

We adopted the song as “our song” that late afternoon when he was driving me home for the last time. It was just that time of day, you know, when the sun’s rays are especially golden. The wheat fields waved softly as we passed slowly by and the song came on the car’s radio. "Listen," Harry said and pulled over to the shoulder. We stopped talking so we could hear the words and felt they spoke for us. He'd been drafted into the Army, World War II, and was home on leave for a few days, due to go back the next day. I'd be bound for college in California in a couple of weeks. We may have felt a premonition that it was our last time together. The words of the song made us call it "our song."

It was heart-wrenching to write to Harry two years later telling him that I’d found a new love, that I’d be getting married to one Captain Wallace G. Wethe USMC, a fighter pilot. His reply was a bitter, a nearly illegible post card, probably written when he’d had too many beers. Or maybe he was making it easier on me to leave.

“Don’t marry a musician,” Daddy had said. “You’ll always be poor.” Grandmother thought I could do better than Harry too. Wally, on the other hand, had a college education, a secure place in the military. He was brought up in the same religion as I, the son of long time friends of the family, a perfect choice. I’d make that choice again, because Wally brought his own romance and husbandly love, but I still feel sad when I think of Harry. I saw his mother once a few years later. By then I had my first baby in my arms and was visiting my dad and his new wife.  Mrs. Ericson looked at me and the baby. It was the first time we'd met. She seemed to like me and said wistfully, “Harry still has your picture on his dresser.”

I lost track of Harry altogether until some twenty years ago when I visited a museum in a little town called Fountain in southern Minnesota near our old dating roads. As I perused one room I saw a display about a small town dance band called The Polka Dots and there was a picture of Harry with his trumpet! Still handsome. Still with that wide smile, the one he gave me when I said, “No thanks, I can manage.” I asked the docent about Harry. She knew him.

“Did he ever marry?” I asked.
“Yes, he married a girl in the band who played the clarinet.”

“Did he ever have children?”
“No,” she said. “He died quite young.” 

I wish I hadn’t asked how. The docent quietly answered, “Well, he had a drinking problem.”  I thanked her and walked on. I didn’t want her to see me crying.

In those days a young woman’s choice in marriage was more binding than now. I might have been Harry’s wife and played the French horn in his band. We may have had children, or not. The drinking problem? I believed in the vow "for better or for worse," but it had not been a problem to us. If he had a drinking problem then he kept it carefully concealed from me. I never saw him drink, probably because he knew I didn't. I did see him once quite unexpectedly when he was drunk. We'd had a date and when he didn't show up I went to his place in the next town. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, all dressed up but with his head in his hand, not ready to go. He didn't look at me or speak to me. I was naive enough to not recognize he was drunk. I thought he was merely sick and left when a friend of his suggested I leave him there. He'd stay until Harry recovered. 

Would he have had a drinking problem if we’d married? Could we have been happy? Some things we’ll never know. Not in this lifetime. The sad refrain of the words of "our song" I've always remembered.  If I had the chance to turn back the clock would I choose differently? No, and yet music does have a way of making one wonder about things and people once loved and now lost. If there had been no war. If there had been no grandma to send me to college in California. If, if, if...

The sun has set now. Guess I'll go in, it's getting dark. You can't see in the dark.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ten Answers for Oldsters

When you’re in your eighties no one asks when he meets you, “What do you do?” it’s assumed that you are doing not much of anything. They might ask what did you do? And you might then tell them and qualify for the “has-been” club, but here are ten answers I’d give to anyone who might ask the question, "What do you think you’re still here for?" 

I'm here:

1.)  to think constructively and positively and compassionately.

2.)  to work to maintain my health, appearance, and my home so that I can live independently. 

3.)  to be happy. It’s in my power to welcome thoughts that make me happy and not dwell on ones that make me sad or mad.

4.)  to share wisely what I can of my assets and time.

5.)  to love the way God does, by seeing the good in others and discounting the bad as temporary illusion which will be seen through with progress.

6.)  to be grateful for the good already received and for the hope and faith that I shall receive more when I can use it at the right time and in the right way.

7.)  to help others where and when it is appropriate to do so.

8.)  to avoid complaints and excuses. They are blinders to the good at hand.

9.)  to improve my talents and never leave them behind. Also to find new ones.

10.) to expect good and only good. The expectation of something bad is a denial of God.

If this all sounds like preaching, I confess it’s the preacher in me, but I’m also a member of the congregation. So now it's time to sing!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Little Bo Peep



OK, Maybe I've come down a bit from my high and lofty subjects, but I wanted to try out the new technique of putting pictures on my blog and this is the only other picture I could find on my desktop. It's a favorite of mine though Wally G., my husband, didn't like it. He thought I looked like Mother Goose.

I have another name for it, but first let me give you a little background to the story. The year was 1975, month of January. Wally G. and I were headed to a new chapter in our lives, U-Hauling all our belongings from our home in Laguna Beach to a 60 acre ranch in southern Oregon. "Forest Gate Ranch" it was called. The country life we'd promised ourselves on our honeymoon, the "Someday we'll do that" sort of thing, was coming true.

We were going to be sustenance farmers. Live off the land. Raise our own critters, get a dog, adopt the barn cat, keep the setting hens, live in a house sitting on field rocks foundation and take advantage of a water system that would not fail, a spring feeding water from the hillside into our little ranch home.

I let my hair down, started wearing long dresses before they'd become fashionable, and learned how to live without automatic dishwasher, automatic washer and dryer, automatic heating system, and automatic anything. I did manage to buy a new Maytag washer like the one my mother had. It had an agitator, rollers to feed the sudsy clothes into a rinse tub and then another and then into a basket to be hauled out to the clothes lines in our backyard. I have another favorite picture of me hanging up clothes on a windy day but haven't the faintest idea where to find it now. If I find it, I'll add it to this blog.

Back to my story. We made new friends at church. One of them told me, "I was talking about you to my friend," she said, "but she didn't know you by name and I tried to describe you. She wasn't getting it until I said, 'Would you know who I'm talking about if I said Little Bo Peep?' Her eyes lit up and she said, 'Yes!'"

I think this picture may bear me out. A middle-aged Bo Peep, but still recognizable. I found the picture in the store room when I moved back to California in 1986 after Wally G. had left for the Hereafter. It reminds me of our country life. Eight years milking a cow, gathering eggs, watching little lambs frolic in the barnyard, little calves grow up, grubbing in a huge garden, canning, sewing, washing clothes and dishes the old way, and sitting with Wally G. on the porch gazing at the beautiful Siskiyou foothills surrounding us. It was not an easy chapter in our lives but one filled with pleasures too, too many to mention. I'd not have missed it for anything. By the way, up the Upper Applegate Road a couple of miles a dam was built. Afterwards the land beneath the new Applegate Lake was gone forever. How many dreams were lost there I don't know. One of the landowners was Steve McQueen. I wondered if we'd ever see him but we never did. The dam kept the river flowing in dry seasons for us but now we've been gone 30+ years I have only memories and a few pictures to show for the eight years we spent as farmers.

My Little Bo Peep days are gone too, but I rescued the picture of her and she's made me write this blog and send it to you. Now that I'm practicing this new tech stuff you'll be getting more. Maybe.

Getting Rid of Mind-Sets



"I don't do blogs."
The words stung. Especially when my friend didn't even comment on the blog I'd copied and attached to my e-mail. Then I remembered how, back a while, she'd said, "I don't do e-mails," but now she was doing them freely. I'm even guilty myself of drawing lines in the sand when it comes to technology. I would, if I could, turn back the bells and whistles on my cell phone. "I don't do texting. I don't take pictures. I don't want to slide my fingers over the screen. I just want a plain telephone that I can punch in numbers and then talk!" Salespeople are taken a-back.

"Oh, but just look at what you can do on this phone!" And then they begin to click, click, click, slide, slide slide, and point, point, point. I'm lost! I want to scream.

It's great, however, to have a savvy young person in your life to call on when you run into road blocks. That person is Katie, my granddaughter. See this picture? She helped me put it on this blog. It's one she took with her can-do-everything cellphone, sent to me in an e-mail and got it onto this page. She'll show me, slow motion, how to do this myself and one more line in the sand will have been washed away.

For now I just want to show you the bowl of potted flowers I bought at Home Depot yesterday. It sits on my patio and thanks me. It may not last too long but its final days will be spent in paradise. And the photo, taken at its prime will last how long? As long as I want. I bought a jasmine plant yesterday too and it will provide, along with my gardenia plant, fragrance for the patio. I'm an out-door type of gal and I only wish I could be out there right now, but guess what, it's raining! Not hard. Just a gentle soft rain that doesn't even patter, patter.

For now the only sounds are the click of the keys on my keyboard, the waterfall outside on the creek, and the chirping of a wild bird. Now, if Tommy would start his solo, my moment would be complete. See you soon and from now on, I hope I can get the hang of putting pictures on the page. Where's Katie?

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Ascending Years" vs. "Declining Years"

Since the day of my birth I’ve been getting closer to the day of my death. Not a happy thought, that, but I’ve come up with another idea and here it is: My birth was something others witnessed, not me. Therefore might it not prove that the day of my death is something others, and not I, shall observe? I, the real I that existed before the conception of others, was somewhere above the event of my birth and I didn’t become drawn in until I was persuaded by my senses that I needed Earth's school. My parents were the first to teach me how to get into step on the human trip. The Bible speaks of this earthly place as the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" and charts a Way to get through it. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, ministers, teachers, classmates, relatives, friends, - all these plus books and daily life have made my trip quite easy and happy.  

I’ve been blessed to get through the sorry events of my life by the comfort of knowing that only the good is real. That is the truth but a truth not known or accepted by most and I still need to get rid of a lot of baggage, some of which has been foisted on me by common beliefs, superstitions and lies not yet uncovered by truth. I’m seeing that I need to get a higher view of Life and here in my old age I’m getting more serious about that. It's too easy to slip into the errors of the ages, especially when they are appealing. I've been often lax in standing up for what is absolutely true. I’m working on it though and seeking greater wisdom. For what it’s worth to my readers, here’s what I’m coming up with, a simple statement from The Holy Bible to start the ball rolling:
“Ye are the light of the world.” Matt. 5

I can hear someone saying, "You mean I'm not a flesh and blood bodily creature? Not in the thing that turns to dust? I am light? I’ll  have to get used to that idea!" 

Well, here's how I see it so far:

1.   We are all beams of spiritual, (not material) light coming from the "Father of lights," our divine source. 

2.   Light travels in cycles. Even in the world of material belief there is no such thing as a straight line. I was taught that in elementary school. So we are destined to come back to where we started sooner or later.

3.   Our light sees a fragile and imperfect image of ourselves and all else on Earth because mankind has not yet completely come out of the fog of ignorance, but it is making progress.  

4.   Our light reflects the image we see of ourselves and others, an image sometimes distorted by fear, hate, envy, pride, etc. This imperfect view of a perfect creation needs to be corrected, and that's why we're made of divine light. We must learn more of what and who we are and carry out our purpose in life. That's why we're here.  As we draw closer to the Light that gives us light, Truth overcomes misconceptions and grace gives us more light for the ascending path. When we reach Home, called Heaven by some, we are given a grade for our sojourn here. That determines the further work we need to do in the illumination of goodness and truth. Heaven, (that’s a state of Mind's harmony, not a physical place,) can be experienced only when we're in tune with it. Sabbath rests await us for our efforts as we grow spiritually. Then we get sent out again on other cycles to go through the "Valley of the Shadow"and do an even better job. 

5.   I don't see these cycles as having anything to do with time or space. They are purely metaphysical. Each cycle of our light is declared relatively “good,” depending on the good we bring Home, and when we come Home with lessons learned and work well done, we can stay in our heavenly Home to explore more of reality and prepare for the next cycle.

"Declining years?" I choose to call them my ascending years. Every day I pray for more light to figure out who I am, where I am, what I’m here for and what I should shine on. This enables me to help others as well as myself and I work to cross through the mythical straight lines of birth-leading-to-death and stay on the cycle of divine light. 

I think my beam is heading upward now. How many cycles have I made? I don’t know, but with each one I’m learning more and someday I expect to get Home and stay there! Then I shall hear the judgment of not just "good," but “Very good!”

I'm not alone. I'm learning how to see friends, relatives, all others, even enemies, as well as myself, the way we've always been in our Father's eyes, perfect. However more "years" it takes I'll work and pray to stay on the path of ascending light. "Declining years?" No way!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The School called Good Is...Period

Just for the fun of it I’d like to present my readers with some theological arguments today. If this doesn’t interest you, simply don’t read on, but I myself find it a fascinating subject because it relates closely to happiness. 

Now, let’s write the word God on a piece of paper. Leave a space to add another o and keep the upper case G. Now you have the word as God is understood in several other languages. Let’s call God Good today. 

Here are some questions I’ve often pondered:
  1. Does Good exist alone or is it only a word that gets its meaning from something opposite Itself called evil?
  2. Can a strict interpretation of Good include exceptions or minor discrepancies?
  3. If we accept Good as God must we be obliged to accept evil as a god too?
  4. Why do we insist on believing both good and evil?

Here are answers I’ve come up with, not entirely on my own, but with the help of those I consider most wise in the past and present:
  1. God, Good, exists alone and needs no opposite to define itself.
  2. Good cannot include or allow even the slightest discrepancy to itself for if it could it would self-destruct. (And that explains what all the “bad stuff” in the world is doing when we attempt to validate evil along with good. Not pretty.) What Good does with evil is what truth does to a lie, it obliterates even the suggestion of evil, but only when understood.
  3. No more than by accepting the principle of mathematics requires us to say that 2+2=5 or 4+4=6. If we were obliged to validate mistakes in mathematics we’d have relativity and that’s something other than what we’re talking about here, a no-man's-land. 
  4. We insist on believing in both good and evil because of the overwhelming testimony of the material senses. By cultivating spiritual sense we can begin to see and prove that good is all and evil is nothing but a negation of good, not worthy to claim our attention, much less our belief. 
Our discussion could be enlarged but let’s keep it simple. I’m a believer that Good and evil are opposites and cannot both be true. The science of mathematics does not allow it, so why do theologians preach the first Commandment requiring us to have no other than Good and then immediately argue for a devil or the power and presence of evil?

Obviously, the answer in mathematics is that only ignorance accepts mathematical mistakes as true. You can write a wrong equation on the blackboard a hundred times and in a hundred different ways but only one way is true. Not discerning the right answer, or accepting the wrong answers, theologians accept the overwhelming existence of lies about one correct equation, that Good is real and evil is not. We battle with evil’s manifestations such as theft and hatred as if they were just as true as honesty and love while we could easily destroy the evidences of these by knowing the truth, namely, that those evidences are mere lies. A lie requires a truth or it could not exist even as a lie, (can anyone declare a lie about nothing?), but a truth can stand on its own and does not require or even permit a lie to validate it.   
Most religions refute absolute conclusions such as these because they find them hard to prove. They excuse themselves for lack of demonstration in the doctrine that only a few were so privileged. The absolute statement that, Good is and evil is not, is too narrow a path to go down, so they think. Thus we’ll live with wars, thievery, murders, adulteries, and all other deviations of good or God so long as we wrestle with them as facts and not as lies that can be corrected in ourselves once we get the facts. 

Which is the easier way? You figure. I think you can guess my answer. Even though I’m a babe in the pre-kindergarten class of the Good Is, Period School, and cannot demonstrate fully the truths I believe in as well as the upperclassmen, I’m not giving up. This school is easy when you learn day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute. It permits those who wish progress to go as fast and far as they can. By the same token it permits diddlers and dabblers to go as slowly as they choose until they’re disciplined or disappointed in themselves and decide to get with it. 

Even when I’m at my best the going is often slow but I get much pleasure from every little thing I learn both in work and play. When I merit a grade A on some project, - well, that spells 
Happiness!
And that's why each day I start with the prayer that God will help me to do the right thing at the right time. I can carry with me the song and drumbeat of GOOD IS ALL; EVIL IS NAUGHT. That is the easy way. It starts with the desired end. I'm not a tiny something trying to grow into a larger something. I'm at one with the Good is everything and I am a living, practicing individual expression of Good.

All I can say is, it works for me as it's worked and is working for others. See you in School!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Friend, Pinwheel

The pinwheel I bought in Ojai came with me to my new home by the creek about four years ago. A few days ago I thought it had bit the dust. I was only going to put it in a different pot but it had been stuck where it was so long that when I pulled it out the stick broke.  "You’re too short now to stick in another pot." I told it, "and your colors are quite faded.” I came that close to tossing the little fellow in the trash bin. Then I saw a spot up near the crook of the shepherd’s staff pole that holds the hanging ivy where it could accommodate Pinwheel if I tied it there. Now I get special pleasure out of seeing Pinwheel from any of the chairs I choose to sit in. He did squeak a bit after the change but a squirt of WD40 took care of that. 

It’s always fun for me to give things I’ve enjoyed a second life when they appear to be headed for the end of their story. I like to think of things as thoughts. It gives them more dignity. Even the French do that in their language. Nearly everything is considered either male or female. I like to learn lessons from them too. That’s one of the perks of growing older. I allow myself time to sit and think, enjoy my solitude in the place I love most, my home. Should have done more of that all my life. Having a tablet and pen with me also helps. When a thing gives me a lesson I can jot it down right away. 

This morning as I sat out on the patio little Pinwheel spoke to me. “Thank you, J.D., for saving my life. (He knew I'd like his use of my artist's name, Joyce Darling. The Darling part came from my mother's maiden name.) He went on, "I know what those county dumps are like. Don’t ask me how, but I do. Now I’m really enjoying my high perch. What a view!  I suppose some people might think it would be boring to be a pinwheel but I like my lot in life. I have many secrets that you humanoids can benefit from. First, I respond to Breezes and Gusts and even high Winds. You might say that something you call Spirit is a lot like what causes the movements of air. It has its effects on everything and everyone. You can’t see it. You can only see what it does to us. It makes us move, it gives us ideas and purpose and pleasure. Sometimes we get the brunt of bad spirits like tornados or hurricanes. None of us, not even I, can explain the whys of bad winds or bad thoughts. (Who do you know can explain why 2+2=5?) But it’s something to think about, the way Spirit moves us for pleasure and good purposes, and it's up to us not to feed the baser elements of those bad winds that always get their power from ignorance and fear." Obviously Pinwheel had been doing some thinking too. 

The dawn was hinting its arrival when I had this little conversation with Pinwheel and it was time for me to do a few things like wash my face, get dressed, clean the bird cage, have breakfast and drive Katie to work. The day has gone by and I got a few things done. I ushered by the front door at church. That’s always pleasant. Reminds me of the Bible passage, “I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my Lord than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Then I patronized the pet shop by getting in supplies for Tommy, my canary. Stopped at Costco to fill the gas tank, had a little lunch, caught up on the latest news on TV, and mended a tank top for Katie. I think I can credit Spirit for moving me to do those things.

Right now I’m going to take a cool glass of water out to the patio again and enjoy the dusky side of the day. If Pinwheel starts up another conversation or gives me another lesson about Spirit, I’ll let you know, but I’m hoping he’ll just do his thing, keep spinning and let me be. One good lesson a day is enough for my mind to chew on. I’m glad for P.W.'s second life though. If his spinning round the clock were by his own efforts I'd feel sorry for him but as it is he must like it about like I like breathing. Breathing and spinning are great. They take no effort on our part but they are essential to our happiness and well-being. Pinwheel has one perk he said he enjoys quite frequently. He can be perfectly still when Wind is sleeping on the job. Spirit just never quits.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Bacon or Sausage?

My breakfast menu was different from the usual this morning. Instead of cereal, fruit and milk I had bacon, eggs and toast. I ate it out on my patio and maybe because the sky was dark and overcast my thoughts picked up the mood. As my readers know, I usually border on what some may think of as “La la Land.” I like to risk that accusation because I do subscribe to the counsel of Paul in Philippians 4:8 King James Version,  “...whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” While there may be no loveliness in what I’m about to write this morning, there might be some justice to it. 

I was only five years old when I witnessed a killing. I’ve often wondered why my grandmother, a gentle farm woman, would have allowed me to see the slaughter of pigs that day. I’d been allowed to watch Grandpa feed the hogs and enjoyed their greedy squeals and unmannerly mealtimes, but this was different. The terror, the unholy squeals of fear that those creatures uttered that day seemed aimed  directly to me. "Please help! Have mercy on me!"they called and their extremity was palpable. Grandma's hand was on my arm. I could only stand helplessly by. Then the gunshots, the last wiggling of their bodies, the knives, the blood, the absolute horror of it all left an indelible impression on my child’s mind. Maybe Grandma wanted me to carry that scene all my life to urge me into a step of higher humanity, a further rung in the ladder of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s the only thing that makes sense to me now. She was  a devout Bible loving, good woman, a practical pilgrim but with a crusader’s heart.  Maybe Grandma thought my innate child mercy would help lead humanity upward from such things as farming animals for food. A step she would not be able to take herself.

If that was her reason, I let her down. That ugly incident in my childhood did not prevent me from eating pork or any other meat. Nor did it keep Grandma from cooking and canning the meat and serving it at her dinner table. We’re caught up in a food chain and it just happens that we’re on the top. I suspect that if each one of us were required to raise the beasts we’re about to eat, kill, wash away their blood and prepare their bodies for the frying pan or oven, we might then reconsider the justice of it all. We’d be too merciful then, maybe. But our mercy is silent when we go to market and casually pick up a neatly wrapped package from the meat counter. 

Living on a ranch for eight years and caring for young animals, then sending them to their sudden sad end was enough to make a vegetarian out of me. That is, for a while. After the ranch I turned a blind eye to all of this, went back to joining the others at the table, and carefully keeping my conscience in check. I have placated myself for the time to the thought that most creatures raised for meat have, at least, a life here on earth that they’d never have had were it not for meat-eaters. Maybe they really were meant to feed us? It's easier to compromise conscience than be a pioneer. 

I don’t think of this often but perhaps the usual delight in my surroundings this morning got punctured by that old nightmare of the killing of pigs so long ago as I ate my crisp slice of bacon with relish. Was I being reminded of that childhood scene for a reason? Perhaps I should write about it in my blog. This one not quite from La la land.

I remember reading a book years ago called Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. I think I’ll stop by the library today and see if they still have it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Write for Your Own Amusement

“You should write your life story, Fanny. Even how you got your name. Tell it like you would to a good friend.” We oldsters hear that a lot. Often it comes across with subliminal implications like “You’re not long for this world and your memories will be lost to your descendants if you don’t get them down on paper.” It sounds like a horrendous job. We get it, acknowledge it, but we’d rather not think about it. Not now anyway.

Well, I’m going to put it another way. Write for fun! Writing about your favorite memories can brighten your day. Never mind how you get it down. Forget punctuation, precision, all the rules. You can talk without reminding yourself of that, so write the way you talk. If you’re writing in a journal you don’t need to edit. Publishing? That’s the time to get help if you need it. 

I’ve heard all the excuses. “I’m not a good writer.” “I haven’t time to write.” “I’ll get to it someday.” “Nobody would be interested in reading it.”

 OK, now I’m asking you this: If you could read a first hand account of a great great great grandmother of yours, how she lived before she came to this country, where she came from, what the voyage was like, where she landed, how she met your great great great grandfather, what he did for a living, how their children came along... would you consider such a thing boring? Wouldn’t you rather be glad she took the time, even got pleasure in writing it all down? 

To write your memoir can seem overwhelming to begin with but once started it can become a joy. Really. The best memories are the ones you should choose first and write about randomly. Become a story teller like the one you were when the grandchildren were left in your care and they’d always ask you at bedtime to tell about “the olden days.” 

Blogging is a great way to feel connected when you’re well into your eighties and nineties. We survivors are often alone much of the time and stepping into the past to re-live a happy time is like telling a friend about it. You’ll want to be sparing about the bad times. Readers might latch onto them like they do gossip but they’re not good for your own soul. Bad times were bad enough to experience once. They don’t need to be dragged up for rehearsal! You can tell them if you must, but it will not make you a happy writer and likely not inspire readers to open your blog. I know some will say don't whitewash your past. Tell it honestly. I agree, but again I say, start with the good stuff.

I started a blog this morning about the new room I’ve added to my house. It’s been there all along, that new room. It's my patio. Now I call it a room. It's a room with a towering ceiling and no walls! Yesterday I bought a large rug along with two smaller matching area rugs. The rugs practically cover the cement, leaving potted plants on the cement borders. Along with my Amish rocker and the other little rocker I bought at a consignment shop plus the glider that came from Lowe’s Hardware, my patio is a room. Here in Southern California we seldom, if ever, get rain in the summer season, but if rain is predicted I can easily roll up the rug. By the way, the rug looks, yes, it actually looks like a fine Oriental rug but I bought it at Big Lots for $49.00!

In the blog I started I invited you, my readers, to come and sit in the other rocker, have a cup of coffee or tea and a few of those dainty cookies I also bought yesterday. If you were here I wouldn’t be talking about myself so much. I’d be interested in hearing your stories, what you think about this and that, how your family is doing and what you’ve been up to. As it is, when I’m alone and want to write I have to write, as they say one should, about things that you’re best acquainted with. That’s myself.

Occasionally I am bound to say something of more interest. Now I must say, Bye bye!



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From a Lump of Clay an Old Soul

The year was, as I recall, 1988. I’d moved to Orange County to be near my daughter, Robin, after the passing of my husband, Wally. I was a widow, but not exactly a merry one. Not a gloomy one either. Just finding myself free to do whatever I wanted with my life. Something different, I hoped.

So, when I saw an ad for the Laguna Canyon Art Academy I called and asked about sculpting. Yes, they had a night class coming up. They named a price, I got off the phone, wrote a check and dropped it in the mail. And then the first night of class I found myself there early and sat in the car wondering. Should I be here? Facing the unknown is never easy, but it was exciting.

Inside I was directed to an empty room. Empty of people, that is. There were large bare tables, a few high stools, Shelves with strange objects drying out. And then a young man came in, laid a big pouch on a table, looked around and said, “Guess we’re early, huh?”

“Not really,” I said. “I’d expect a teacher to be here. You’re here for sculpting, right?”

“Nope, I’m doing pots.”

After a few other people came and I learned that they all were there for pots I was about to walk out, but just then a young woman came in loaded down with supplies and breathlessly greeted us with an apology. Must be the teacher, I thought. She seemed friendly. Maybe this would be fun after all. 

“Now, if you’ll give me your names I’ll check them off my list,” she said as she took a pen and pad out of her bulky purse. After each name she’d ask, “And you’re here to throw pots?” Everyone said yes but when I said, “No, I want to sculpt,” she looked surprised.

“Oh, I don’t teach that,” she said sadly. I was relieved. It was a perfect out. I picked up my purse and started for the door. “That's OK,” I said, “Sorry, I must have made a mistake when I signed up.”

“No! Don’t go!” Her face, so young and fresh, and her eyes, - “I can get you started. Please wait and if you’re not satisfied you can go.”

Well she did. She got me started. “Now see this wire? This is for cutting off a chunk of clay.” I held the wire, pulled on its small wooden handles through the big block of clay, and a chunk peeled off.   “Now,” she said, you need to work it in your hands to be sure there are no bubbles of air inside. They would heat up and blow the piece open in the kiln.”  She brought me a revolving stand, slapped the clay onto it and showed me how to use some tools. Then she laid a few sculpting books beside me, opened one to a certain page. “This will get you started. You can have this room to yourself and I’ll be in the next room with the potters but I’ll stop by now and then.”

Have you ever felt clean fresh clay in your hands? Maybe as a kid you worked with Play Dough. Not the same. There is no feel quite as good as a lump of clean clay. It yields unconditionally to your touch. When you first feel it something primal begins to happen. I felt it then as she walked away. 

As it turned out, being on my own was just the way I liked it. If the teacher had been hovering over me every minute I’d have been self-conscious. As it was it seemed like the clay was teaching me. By the end of the three hour session I had a young girl in a straw hat well on her way. I had her eyes, her turned up nose, her mouth, and even her teeth! She was smiling in just a little shy way and her long hair hung gracefully around a bare shoulder. The teacher was impressed. She called in the potters to see what I’d done. They were impressed. I, myself, was impressed. It had simply happened. I felt no pride, just delight. I wasn’t finished, of course, but by the end of the first week my "Maud Muller" (the maiden raking in a hayfield in an old poem by John Greenleaf Whittier,) was ready to be set aside to dry out for the kiln.

That’s the way it’s been ever since. The clay does it. My hands and fingers seem like things apart from me, as if I were watching someone else at work. As long as I don’t struggle, don’t get myself in the way, a face emerges. It may be young or old, male or female, beautiful or not. It may be aged and wrinkled, have a double chin or missing tooth, but none are ugly to me. 

Of course, my expertise may leave something to be desired. I may wish I’d done my face friend better, but he or she seems always glad to be out of the lump. I know because they all smile.

As my former blog explains, that’s the fun part. Now that I’m into offering them for sale I cringe. After my first attempt years ago when I had a showing at a Fathers’ Day picnic “Art in the Park” in a small Minnesota town, and no one bought a thing or even gave my faces much more than a passing glance, I was stung. When I overheard one of two women who had stopped to really look stand back and whisper, “Wow!” that alone made my day. I gathered up my faces at closing time and took them to a cousin’s house where there was a family picnic going on. As I laid the faces out on a table I said, “Now, don’t feel obligated, but if you see one, just one, that you really honestly love, you can have it for nothing. Then I saw delightful connections take place. Each one went to its rightful home. I was happy. 

Now this gallery venture I’m in may be profitable or it may be a bust. I didn’t want to go commercial, but my daughter had offered my work to a new gallery and the faces begged to get out of the house. What better place than The Cottage Gallery?  I hope they sell, not only for me, but for the owners of the gallery and for the sake of the Old Souls, as I call them. They are tired of hanging all over my house. There’s no space left but the ceiling! 

I hope my heart isn’t holding them too tight. Although I take little credit for their coming out of their lumps of clay, I am in love with them, each one. If no one else feels that way then I’d wish the Old Souls that don't get adopted could go with me into the Hereafter. Eventually we all, flesh or clay, will go wherever it is Old Souls go.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Back in Your Own Backyard

Happiness grows “Back in your own backyard,” so the old song goes. I believe it. Talents long neglected or struggling to stay alive, may spring back to freshness and vigor if we let them, right in our own backyards. I’m finding this out with the help of my daughter, Robin. 

Robin is a thriving artist. Her medium is watercolor. She finds happiness and paints it. People love it and buy it. So far she’s doing well enough financially to earn her living that way and she definitely has prospects of going big time. Whether or not there’s a big time ahead she’s finding happiness right now in her own backyard. She lives and breathes art, noticing every sign of beauty and interest and capturing the bits and pieces of it with paint.

Robin picks up the spirit of an old gnarled tree, a bird on a fence post, an old man feeding the pigeons from a park bench. The old man painting came from an art abroad vacation she had in college. He’s sitting on a bench in a London park, bent over, talking softly to the birds and feeding them seeds from a paper bag. He probably knows the feathered ones by name. It’s a public park, yes, but its also his “backyard.” His happiness grows there. It’s visible. It’s felt.

People stop to talk. Robin talked to him.  She asked if she might photograph him. And she talked to him more. Robin likes people, all people, but some she loves without hesitation and she can put it all on paper. The person, the place, the mood. That painting even turned into a large stained glass window that hung for years in the Ashland Oregon Library. Think of the children who stopped to look and felt the magic!

Nowadays Robin and I live practically in each other’s backyard. We’re both in the Quail Creek area here in Laguna Hills California. The other day Robin said, "Mom, I found just the place for your faces! It's a new gallery that hasn't quite opened yet in that old historic section of San Juan Capistrano called Los Rios. I'll be showing my paintings there and the owners said they need more sculpture so I showed them some pictures of your work and you're in!" 

We'd often talked about such a thing but all of a sudden it's done! Sculpting faces has been my hobby for years, a sort of on and off thing, but so rewarding when I get into it. I've turned globs of clay into people, had them fired, and they've covered my walls, spread out over every flat surface they could find. Only the ceiling is left! They've been begging to get out and see the world, maybe find homes of their own. Now it's got a chance of happening.

The gallery is new, (opening day is tomorrow!), but the house was built in the 1800’s and it sits among others of its vintage on a famous old street called Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano. It’s called The Cottage Gallery. Robin thought my Old Souls would like to meet the people who come in there. "They will fit right in, Mom. The whole area is vintage. 

I said yes and now it's up to the powers that be. My faces are not just pretty ones. They are character studies. They just emerged of their own volition when I took off my rings, sat down at the bench with clay and rolled up my sleeves. Some of my faces are young, even a baby or two, but a lot of them look old. I’m old too and stepping into a new world is not easy.  Robin has the savvy. She's helping. She’s full of ideas about how to show them to the best advantage. 

Dennie Hahn and Leslie Avalos own the Cottage. They are wonderful artists themselves. They were gracious enough to accept me and gave me an ideal space in the cottage, a tiny room where people have to stand up close to view the work. If they stop long enough, they may be compelled to read my faces. There’s Cozette, The Magician, Great Aunt Phoebe, The Medicine Man, and all the rest. I love them all and hate to see them go, but it’s a little like life, - we need to make room for others, or at least to offer. 

No one can know the behind the scenes angst an artist goes through. Marketing is hard work. It takes a business head as well as great talent. It takes listening and trotting around, connecting with others, and making messes in one’s own house. And it takes an emotional toll as well. With mine, there will be no copies. I'll keep them only in photographs. Which is where I am today with a few hours to bring order out of chaos here at home, getting rid of scraps, sorting out tools. The gallery room with the Old Souls is ready though. It is waiting and watching for the faces of those who come to look at them. It’s exciting. It’s scary. Maybe it will be fun. The vibes say it will be. 

Robin and I plan to take our turns sitting the gallery together on certain days. We may set up our easel and work bench out on the front porch to let people watch a painting creep onto a canvas and a face emerge from the clay. In that way we may share the really fun part. Whatever comes of it I believe that old song, happiness does grow “Back in Your Own Backyard.”

I’ve visited London and Paris, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, and even China. It was fun going there but these days I’m having too much pleasure here at home right in my own backyard!  


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Quiet Desperation"

Look up the word desperation and it sounds bad. My thesaurus says “despair abandons oneself to fate,” and it suggests to put emphasis on "Abandon." It means to cease, leave, give up.  I looked up fate also and it means final outcome or destiny. Destiny is “the seemingly inevitable succession of events.” 

The words “quiet desperation” refer to Thoreau’s famous quotation, 

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” 

Thankfully, he ends this assessment with these words: 

“...it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

So we go on living our lives as we will and leaving the outcome to the powers that be. I’m beginning to think that the “outcome” is where we are at this moment. Past and future may be obsolete because everything relevant to the present is in the present, the here and now. 

Take death. Look around and we have to say that everything dies. Even our sun will die but most scientists agree that death in the natural world is merely change. We’re stuck with life, but we can choose to be desperate in that life or to embrace hope and confidence.

When people say, “I’m depressed,” (even if I should say that at times,) I hear another voice saying, “Why do you choose to be that way?” I believe we really do choose our thoughts, our destiny, and by these choices we construct our fate. Every day of our lives, regardless of circumstance, we can find something to cheer about if we don't abandon our search. 

Mr. Thoreau, you may be right, but I suspect you are also wrong. I believe there’s a quiet majority out there who have the wisdom to make right choices and they do not do desperate things. They don’t make it into the daily news, but they’re there and they are not desperate. They have hope and faith and I think I hear their voices singing on another frequency. Can you hear them too? It sounds like, “Yea! Yay! Yes! and “Way to go, bro!!!”

Since I have this blog I'm adding my voice to the "masses" and I say,  Tune into whatever station you like. Join whatever "reality" you wish for and don't let mass thinking rob you of your choice. Be glad, be sad, but just remember, you choose!