Category Archives: Life

The dogged thing

Compliments of cooee at  morguefile.com

Compliments of cooee at morguefile.com

“It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild and menacing.”* 

————-

 “Footprints.”

“A man’s or a woman’s?”
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: “Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”*

—————

*From, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

A large something has been dogging me for months. I’ve sensed it in the spaces of the trees. Glimmers, shadows, traces of things, then out of the blue, I catch a look at it: the dogged thing. I’ve looked for answers in stacks of papers, mossy rocks, old friends, long walks and in the silence of the night.

You, I’ve said as bravely as I could, I see you. I name you.

This all sounds very good. Except I no sooner name it as it changes. I name the tallness because it haunts. Shortly thereafter tallness is immaterial. There is an almost missing forearm impossible to avoid, which itself becomes irrelevant because the smell of cheese is so intense. But I cannot worry about cheese too long because I hear the sound of bagpipes not only in my head but in my bones.

It has made for strange conversations.

How is it going, a friend might ask, about the tall thing.

Tall thing? I feel terrible. The forearm is dangling precariously by a sinew. Apologetic for the confusion, I rename the dogged thing from tall to dangling.

Mine is a simple theory: naming things makes them manageable. Having to keep renaming the dogging thing has been a crisis of confidence, especially for my writing aspirations. Writers name things. That’s what they do. If I can’t adequately name the dogged thing, how can I expect to write?

We’ve been in a heat wave drugged by humidity. Thoughts beyond the immediate have not been possible. I kicked in the life skills/coping strategies almost as soon as it started. Hottest jobs for coolest times of day, hydration, hydration, shade, etc. Every afternoon I got the kids to cold water to swim or took them to the library to cool down in the air conditioning. It worked. In fact, it worked so well I decided it wasn’t needed.

Wednesday we did nothing to combat the heat. By the afternoon, sticky grumpy bodies lined the couches. Shrill voices complained loudly. Irritating acts occurred every ten seconds. Violent acts threatened. When night fell, I went outside for some air. Two lone bats flew the skies. The rest knew it was too hot even for the mosquitoes. The fans that had worked splendidly to cool the house on hotter days were pathetic and impotent against our stickiness that night. No one could sleep for hours.

Based on the weather, it could have been the fifth or sixth day of misery, but it wasn’t. Every day I’d taken the heat seriously had been just fine. Lying there, I thought about how sometimes you know more than you give yourself credit for. Then I thought about the dogged thing whose naming had so plagued me. Why had I insisted it was one name or another? That not knowing which name was the actual name was a failure? People can be named Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and much longer names than that. Cannot dogged things have many names as well?

With that I sighed relief. The dogged thing was named after all. For the rest of the summer, we shall go forth to be sensible on hot days and not. As Mr. Churchill once said:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

 

Boats, songs, and sails

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It is summer here and I have boats on the mind. We returned recently from the land of canoes, kayaks, and other water craft. Boy one spent the first day of and a half of vacation making a plug to fill the hole of an old rowboat. He cleaned it out and attached a small motor he found. The row boat’s plug was not perfect but only a little ongoing bailing seemed necessary to keep things ship shape. His triumph culminated in a solo trip with his brother to unknown places. There they discovered a waterfall, a swimming hole, and a burning desire for more adventures of the same.

On a summer evening mid July I was singing. Kids waited for the story to unfold, laughing as another woman and I sang every verse of “There’s a hole in my bucket.” Since then my head has been visited going on weeks now with the recurring choruses. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza . . . With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza.

I share Henry’s bewilderment. Buckets in need of repair are tricky. Effective possible remedies are difficult to come by.

I picture the rowboat and know that I too am a boat that requires bailing. There is a hole in the boat, I have said quietly now to a few friends.

One night we sang campfire songs in the living room around a pile of red pillows because it was too windy outside for a real fire. This is the song that never ends sang the kids again and again. For the uninitiated, there are three more lines in the song which then circle back to the beginning whereby you sing with increasing gusto, this is the song that never ends! Kids love the song inversely proportional to how much other people hate it. The quickest and most bearable way out (which is still not that quick) is to sing along and pretend to like it.

Recapping, there’s a hole in my bucket, a song that never ends, a rowboat with a homemade plug, and me the boat with a hole. Or two.

Mulling it all over on a walk at home, I remembered another very windy vacation day. With much enthusiasm two kids gathered materials: sticks, hammer, nail, duct tape, pillow case, white garbage bags. Two models of a sail emerged and out into the bay they went. With one sitting on a blow up raft and another on a blow up yellow tube, they held up sails to catch the wind. Over and over they went, changing the angle of the sail, trying new starting points, stopping to take the sails apart and revamp with new materials. Twice, for thirty seconds of so, they were able to sail side by side. The last sail began with a laborious swim to drag sail and raft as far from shore as possible. An impressively long sail followed, steered with great pride to the precise corner of the dock.

We bail our leaking boats at times with a bit of discouragement. Will the bailing never end? Can anything be done about the holes? Seemingly ignoring the questions, the wind blows lightly. Only enough to tickle our ears. We remember that unannounced and arriving on a schedule quite its own, wind also comes with a mighty will across the water. When it does, from almost nothing, sails can be made.

Today the tiniest of breezes, and it is true that for now, we bail. But not without hope of wind and sails.

 

 

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The Story of Six Hours (part two of previous post)

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In which I imagine myself doing many things I have no intention of ever doing

and begin with the moral of the story.

Moral of the Story

Imagination is good for what ails us. Our imaginations need more room to move than our feet (a guideline that benefits them both). Laughter and imagination masquerade as lightweights in the journey of life, but in their foolishness hides a wisdom that illuminates reality, rendering the unbearable a little more tolerable and the tolerable a little more pleasant.

Without further ado, the list and then the story…

An incomplete list of terrifying things  

Dancing

Asking for a hug from someone I don’t know very well

Raising up my hands up in church

Praying out loud with emotion

Wearing clothes that call attention to themselves

Going to one of those places where they hike in the nude

Asking for money

Asking for a favor from someone I can’t pay back

Having a messy house when people visit

Drinking too much

 

Six hours is tight for time. I decide to start with nude hiking and pray as I go. If it’s too crowded, I can always run headlong into the poison ivy. My real life search for hiking au natural locations is not immediately successful. I stumble onto a nude five pin bowling outing an hour away. The thought of me bowling nude is so ludicrous I begin laughing out loud but I go ahead and imagine it anyway. A hike, I realize, is child’s play. God help me! I’ll croak out at my end of the telephone as I book a lane.

I’m banking on the mitigation of terrors to see me through. Nude bowling will make asking a favor from a stranger easy. Conversely, the thought of asking a stranger for a favor while naked ought to keep me bowling with enthusiasm for at least a little while.

Excuse me, I will say – perhaps in the ladies room while changing into the garish clothing purchased for the occasion –  I hate to ask, but I need a favor. I’ve left my wallet at home. Can anyone give me a ride to the church? For added bonus, I’ll see if anyone can trade me high heels for the sneakers on my feet.

God bless you and thank you, Jesus! I’ll say as they drop me off.

Arriving intentionally late to the church, I’ll progress up the aisle wearing low cut hip hugging pants and a bright floral shirt that doesn’t quite cover my midriff. Dollar store strings of plastic jewels droop from my neck. My purple purse, sans cash, is on my shoulder. Lipstick is brilliant tangerine. I totter on high heels up to the front. From the pew, I throw up hallelujahs anywhere it feels like a bad idea and wait for a hymn or any other excuse to stand. Given the ferocious affection with which my pants cling to my behind, I’m not sure they’ll notice when my hands go up in the air.

I put them up with the opening chords of the hymn that finally comes expecting just one verse. At verse three, I begin to sway my arms for variety. By verse four, I’m swaying from my hips up to the hands above my head. I’ll have ticked five off the list by then: halfway there.

I exit on the heels of the priest in order to ask for some spare change on the church steps from the maximum number of parishioners. I pull a small sign out of my purse and tape it to an umbrella: Spare Change for Unnamed Need Gratefully Accepted.

After, I’ll take off my heels and walk barefoot to a country western bar down the street. God save us all! I’ll say as I close my eyes and begin bumping bottoms with one of the guitarists on stage.  If I don’t ask for a hug from a band member, I can ask for one from the first female bar tender, manager, owner or officer I see when they come to escort me away.

Then I’ll call my husband and ask him to come pick me up so I can come home for the evening to join the twelve friends I’ve invited over. I will have been away from the house for five hours. Dirty laundry on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, and clutter are guaranteed. Also I will have left this note for the kids:

Brush dog in kitchen. Do not sweep. Dog hair on floor measured before $5 reward.

Ten cent reward for every fly you kill. Leave fly in kill location to claim reward.

Our friends will sit with dog hair gently tickling their feet amidst speckles of dead flies and their blood on the walls and windows. It doesn’t take a lot of wine to get to me, so it’s hard to know how much to aim for. I decide to drink until forcibly compelled by my inner voice to tell everyone there that I love them. How much. Why. Anything I’ve ever worried about that might be between us and four or five things that make them special to me. However little drinking it takes, that ought to decisively qualify as too much.

—-

My imagination makes me laugh at myself. I am a bit proud to have proved it vaguely possible to fit so many ghastly things into six hours though. Strangely, despite not having done a single thing from my list of horrors, I don’t feel intimidated by Liz Hoath or Spandy Andy anymore. I decide that if I feel like doing something else as bold as my purple purse, I’ll do it. If I don’t, I won’t.

A silly bit of nonsense above perhaps, but imagining it opened my eyes to something I couldn’t see before: it’s okay not to go looking for mountains to climb.

A simple thought that is true, and for me, a little bit beautiful.

Purses, poison ivy and thinking big

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Sitting in a pew at Our Lady of the CBC, I caught a show about happiness. (Happiness by Design is worth a listen if you like radio.) One portion recapped a book, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.” Author Oliver Burkeman suggests that trying to fill our heads with happy thoughts is an ineffective strategy for happiness. Instead, he says, we should imagine the worst possible endings for situations we fear. This will lead to the realization that reality is not nearly as worrisome as we thought. Do something you’re afraid to do and see for yourself, he advises.

Burkeman’s challenge got CBC producer, Liz Hoath, to consider her fear of dancing in public and test out his theory. She contacted a man named Spandy Andy who makes people smile by dancing in unexpected places. Together, they went dancing.

I was thinking of Oliver Burkeman’s challenge as I walked into Value Village. A display of purses en route to kids’ shorts reminded me that my own purse was falling apart. My eye caught on a shiny bright yellow purse the size of my entire torso.

I think I might get this, I said to Girl one.

No you won’t, she said. You’ll get the plainest, boringest purse they have.

I almost bought the yellow purse on principle after that, but I couldn’t bring myself to purchase something big enough to fit my wallet, check book, and three or four chickens. Instead, I declared myself in the market for the wildest thing I could handle. A group search for a purple purse ensued. I  bought a red change purse for good measure.

Spandy Andy calibre I am not.  I have watched the video of the park dancing more than once and felt happy and proud for Liz Hoath. Problem # 1: she did not look stupid enough. Problem #2: that there kind of experience is just plain out of my league.

I think about Oliver Burkeman. My heart remains strangely moved by Liz . I look at my purple purse and know it’s not enough. I take more than a week to write a list of terrifying things. Every time I sit down my fingers say that thinking like this is a bad idea. To unstick myself I say it’s a list of ideas, not things I’ll actually do. I write down everything that comes into my head. Once the list exists, I try to pick one to attempt. Only I can’t. Re-watching the park dancing video doesn’t help. I leave the list another week or two not sure.

The part of my brain with a very dark sense of humor remembers poison ivy. A few years ago I got a very bad case of poison ivy. (This can occur when you decide to clean out a bed of weeds and not worry about potential poison ivy because you’re not that allergic and how bad could it really be anyways.) The only good thing about the raging case of poison ivy that ensued is that I became quite knowledgeable about poison ivy and its treatment. One of the harmless things that works to treat the itch – as opposed to the smushed banana peels that catapult the odds of infection from possible to guaranteed – is to put the itchy parts under water as hot as you can stand it.

The first sensation when you do this is more itchiness. Quickly the itch becomes so intense you can hardly stand still. Following this you are almost literally lifted off your feet with the insanity of the itching sensation tearing into you. After a minute or so (you can only take so much fun) you shut off the water and feel the miracle. Itch is gone. Relief lasts for hour or more at which point you can repeat treatment. The theory is that you overload your nervous system with so much stimulus that it rewards you by temporarily shutting down. (For poison ivy relief, I swear by this method.)

Of course you can’t do one truly terrifying thing, said the black humor part of my brain. You have to do them all. As close to at the same time as possible. Six hours, something like that. The terror will overload your circuits the same way the hot water did. You’ll be hitting that fear factor right out of the park and you’ll hardly feel a thing.

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Coming later this week . . . A story of six hours

Sharing review

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

Today I’m sharing links to some older posts (fall 2013/spring 2014) and saying a word about sharing. People ask me sometimes if it’s okay to share my posts. The answer is absolutely, yes! (and yes please!) Any help in spreading the word about the blog is much appreciated. If you like what you read on a particular day, tell your friends. If you find something dull, troubling, or unpleasant, why not send along a link to your enemies? A thought anyway. :)

Today’s sharing review has a bit of a family stories theme . . .

http://countyroad21.com/2013/10/30/tailless-as-in-without-a-tail/

http://countyroad21.com/2013/11/26/healing-and-how-the-short-people-do-it/

http://countyroad21.com/2013/11/19/uncertain-and-solid-things/

http://countyroad21.com/2013/12/12/girl-two-on-day-three/

http://countyroad21.com/2014/01/15/advice-to-my-children/

http://countyroad21.com/2014/02/24/grounded-with-wings/

 

This photo caught my eye on morguefile.com as well.

This photo caught my eye on morguefile.com as well.

The season of letting go

Engraving from a French ice skating manual, 1813. Compliments of Public Domain Review.

Engraving from a French ice skating manual, 1813.                                                   Compliments of Public Domain Review

This is the season of letting go.  The thought comes a few weeks ago. I walk around with it uncertain. Letting go is not just about loss. It can feel good to lay down heavy things.That is what I tell myself. I try many times to write before I can find words.  I promise myself I can throw it away unseen.

If this were the season of letting go, I would. . .

               Let go of all the measurements and calculations to prove that I’m okay.

               Let go of attempts to be good enough to merit love

               Let go of all the people I have tried to get to fill the holes. Really. Let them all go. Wander out                into traffic to forget me or not.

               Let go of protecting myself from failure (who defines that anyway?) 

               Let go of needing to prove something, protect something, and stand out as something.

               Let go of the worry about where I fit or what people think

 

I keep picturing Boy two and the bird. We were on our way down the driveway when I saw the cat. She had a bird in her mouth. I stopped the car. Boy two tore open the sliding door and leapt out. He pried open her jaws with his fingers and against her wishes, the cat let go. The bird flew up from her mouth into the air, across the lawn and into the sky.

I am the cat right now, but maybe I will also be the bird.

That’s how far I get. After that weeks go by and I can’t look at what I’d written or think another single thought about letting go. So much for the cat and the bird.

Over the weekend, I take Boy one to the airport to fly alone across three provinces. Upon arrival he is to find a taxi, buy a bus ticket, and use up five hours (all composed of sixty minutes) before boarding a bus. At the other end of the bus ride is two weeks of summer camp a very long way from home.  It is my idea. (A fact which I hate myself for all the way to the airport.) Boy one is a tiny bit nervous (not nearly enough) but also intoxicated with the joy of so much trust, independence and adventure. I hug him goodbye at the airport. He walks away smiling.

Back in the car, I remember the season of letting go. My boy, in the air, above me, beyond me is tearing my heart out. I see a picture of us. Me privately grieving while I smile and gently push him away. He is too happy to see my tears. He cannot stop grinning. This is great comfort indeed.  My heart hurts, but I’m doing my job if in only a whisper I can croak out the word, “Fly!” to my son.

A question knocks at the door of me. Might a season of letting go become also a season of flight? Not just for him, but for me?

Summer Hours

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I’m going to aim to post on Tuesdays for the summer, and then again on either Thursday or Friday. Quiet is a bit harder to find around here when school is out.  Although I’m getting better at maintaining a train of thought in between door slammings and Lego negotiations, it has it’s limits. I’m attempting a zen kind of peace about the whole thing by trying to go with the flow.

The kids have not yet come down off the high the comes from the end of school and summer’s arrival. They wake up eager to plan adventures and get togethers. Mention of tasks requiring physical labor produce disbelief. A sense of rising injustice follows quickly. Right on the heels of that a disorientation sets in (always against their will). This allows them to forget what they were told and divert to something more pleasant.

See you Tuesday . . .

 

Shoes

picture compliments of morguefile.com

picture compliments of morguefile.com

I have been pondering shoes. I got into a conversation with someone a little while ago about photographing shoes instead of faces. Now I keep seeing shoes.

My feet are familiar with four sets.

  1. Sneakers. Black with pink Nike check. They impressed me on my sister-in-law’s feet a few years ago. She said it was okay to buy the same pair.
  2. Black shoes. I wear these anytime it is cold and can’t wear sneakers. They have a sturdy rubber sole and could have been worn by my grandmother, ergo, their style is timeless.
  3. Brown fancy sandals (by fancy I mean not a birkentock):  1/4 flat sole. Three strands of leather. Worn when it is too hot for the black shoes
  4. Rubber boots (also black). The gold standard of farm footwear.

 

I checked and found the following buried in my closet. Writing about them may push their expiry date.

  1. Brown loafers (Too big. Fall off if I don’t walk carefully.)
  2. Blue sneakers (Too big. Kept for sentimental reasons)
  3. High tops (Too small. Kept because I don’t like the idea of not owning good basketball shoes.)
  4. Old black shoes (recently revived by shoe polish they strongly resemble current black shoes.)
  5. Ugliest pair of brown sandals ever (worn only when I can think of no other ways to punish myself.)
  6. Blue heavy duty sandals (quite ripped and discolored. worn if there is water within a mile and I can pretend they are just my water shoes)

 

I probably don’t have to spell out the fact that my life has not involved a great deal of interest in shoes. Now that I am noticing them, shoes everywhere are catching me off guard.

Take B’s shoes, for instance. Each pair I have noticed are woefully unprepared for fight or flight and surprisingly not the least bit concerned about it. They look smart – as in intelligent. Can a shoe do this or am I projecting? I would not describe B as someone who sashays across a room. Her shoes, on the other hand, well, B’s shoes are unapologetically having a good time. My shoes look at each other sideways. Are they supposed to be having fun?

RA would no more wear a shoe devoid of style than one would chop off a toe. It isn’t done. But style, I learned, is not enough. There is a running shoe for actually jogging and a different one entirely for hiking in the park. From this I infer there to be shoes made for church but not for weddings and vice versa. Could there be shoes for dinner dates and movies? Concerts and parties? My black shoes pretend not to be curious.

J’s shoes are stylish but understated. Always sharp and classy, one can imagine them being gracious, even compassionate towards the serviceable shoe. All my shoes appreciate the vote of confidence.

C loves the cute shoe. C sees particular shoes in relation to specific situations, but unlike RA (whose primary concern is the correct choice) C’s shoes are about celebration. If they could sing or dance, C’s shoes would do the cha cha.   Celebrate with me, they say. Life is good . . .  and even when it’s not, you’ll feel better looking at me!   None of my shoes know how to respond to this. What self respecting shoe would want to be looked at?

One day the sun comes up and moves across the sky just like the day before. The next day, I unwittingly discover an alternate world about five feet below my line of vision. Unbeknownst to me, it has co-existed all around me for years. My feet are asking questions. My shoes are not sure what to expect.

 

Retreat time

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I am on a writing retreat this weekend. Originally it was a retreat with a friend, but it turned out to be a retreat for just me. (I wish her a good weekend of peace and love tinged with a small amount of appropriate sadness that she is not here.) With only one retreatant to consider, plans have evolved to high levels of flexibility. The place I am staying  became available sooner at the last minute, so I started my retreat twelve hours early.

Besides full kitchen and private bath, my quarters come with access to a state of the art kayak and nearby river, accessible bike paths and a slew of bikes to choose from. Anything I could wish for is in walking distance. My picturesque room overlooks a neighbor’s black paper roof in reasonably good condition. Couches in my sitting room are clean and comfortable. I am expected to take out the paper recycling on garbage day and give a one time drink of 1/4 cup of water to a very unpromising bit of green sticks who claim to be an ailing orchid. Presumably I am to do my own dishes, although that wasn’t mentioned. Besides that, I am tasked to sit quietly, write, rest, and eat.

My inaugural retreat meal last night was red pepper humus, cherry tomatoes, extra old cheddar cheese, a fat slice of homemade bread, and some red wine. Preparation: one minute. Clean up: approximately 15 seconds. Perhaps the wine was slowing me down. First deep consideration: How can no one in my family like hummus?  First deep conclusion: There should really be more meals like this.

In keeping with good retreat etiquette, I’ll be out of commission and away from the blog until Wednesday, July 1. By that point, half of you will be celebrating Canada Day, which incidentally is much more retreat like than the bombastic chest thumping of the American 4th of July. So here’s to the written word, beauty, truth, the yearning need to create, mental health, rest, re-charging, and Canada. With a nod to them all, I am on retreat. :)

Little Baptisms

photo by TheBrassGlass, compliments of morguefile.com

photo by TheBrassGlass, compliments of morguefile.com

My head has been in knots usually reserved for hearts and stomachs. Every decision in front of me seems impossible to make. I went out for the evening with my husband unsure if I felt like going out or not. What to order at the restaurant was so difficult that I almost got up and walked out. After dinner we borrowed a canoe from a friend. Not because I wanted to canoe. More because I didn’t know anything else I wanted to do and the canoe had been offered. In fact as we drove to get it and as we loaded it on the car, I was pretty sure it was a stupid idea.

There were no apparitions on the river, or maybe there were. We watched cormorants. We passed over places where rocks lay inches below the surface and over depths far beyond what we could see. We did a little talking, but mostly we paddled. I drank the smell of the water, the feel of the wood in my hands, the movement of the river in currents here and there, the rocks of the islands. We saw an otter and came upon picnics and families. I liked especially as we rounded one island that the first sign I saw of human life was a woman’s sun hat. The shape of the island, the green of the trees and shrubs, more rocks, and then a broad brimmed hat with a woman underneath it. Even the unshapely older woman in a bikini standing with a cigarette (and music blaring much too loudly) in front of her tent helped. (I can’t explain this last one. Redemption is a mystery.)

I baptized my feet over the side of the canoe and felt that more of me than that was getting baptized. I knew in that moment that all the knots in my head would sort themselves out.  The water was clear, like glass that evening, but I mean clear on the point that sooner or later everything would come together. Everything was going somewhere, even when I lost track of knowing it.

There are ripples on the surface of the water in places. Sometimes it’s because the water is shallow, other times it’s the wind, or a current coming off the bend of an island. Just underneath there are other currents, some pulling one way, some pulling the other. Way down deep are other currents still. Not as subject to the wind and weather, these are the heart of the river. Little riffs of things near the water’s surface invite the canoe to bash itself on the rocks or change to this or that direction. Invitations require response because their threat is real. Yet they are a tiny fraction of a fraction of the driving force of water that is the powerful flow of the river.

Change is constant in the river; so is stability. I left the river with the same set of questions that I brought to it, but different than I came.