Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Shed

I suppose you could say that phase one is completed or that it is the end of an era. The dumpster is full to the brim and only still sitting in the backyard because of a torrential downpour.

The wet driveway could not stand the weight of all those memories.   

I can still see my daughter pleading for the porcelain doll that is in that dumpster. A small supplicant, “Oh please Mommy, she is so beautiful.” Now parted from her hair, her clothes mildewed, she is a forgotten doll.  And the person who pleaded for her has a far more nuanced grasp of what is beautiful.  Still she was abandoned, wrapped in a quilt and left in a trunk that staved in, in a shed that collapsed in a long, wet winter. I left her there seven years ago in what seemed at the time a safe place.

Other forgotten and worn out things were left there in the shed.

“Don’t throw out Georgie Amy.” That is what Sarah said when I told her I had found him in relatively good condition. He is one of those cloth monkeys that you could buy anywhere for a few dollars, with long blue and yellow striped legs and arms and brown corduroy overalls. She had carried him everywhere and tended him with stitches for imagined injuries; one of his overall straps undone in what I think was the hip-hop style of the day. She must have dragged him around nearly into adolescence.  He had survived.  In my chattering mind, I wondered why. He was not specially wrapped and placed in a trunk.He simply sat on the peak of the doll house roof. He was no porcelain doll. He was made of fabric and the woes and weather could have so easily taken him down. But there he was sitting on the dollhouse tucked under the crumpled roof of the crumpled shed.

The doll house survived too. It needs considerable attention and repair, but it is in one piece.  I have dragged it from house to house.  My father made it for me.

My ex-husband, with whom I am sharing this shed emptying chore, and I see things differently.  He believes that things happen suddenly, the roof falls, the mower stops running; the computer is suddenly running slow. I think they proceed in tiny increments, the result of a million small in-attentions. 
Isn't that what neglect is, cumulative inattention.  Moments piled on moments of looking the other way, noticing something else, the mind’s magician drawing your eye away leaving a reality unseen. And so life goes on and Georgie Amy sits on the doll house under a roof that slowly, inch by inch, fails until one day in a storm it falls. 

The grape and wisteria vines have helped it along.  They have escaped into the tree tops and coiled their branches on top of the roof. The flowerbeds around the house with their loose and welcoming soil have played host to many black walnut and redbud saplings,  all too close to the house; all needing to be removed, some ten feet tall. Nature has reconstructed this small holding in the absence of my annual housekeeping and she is riotously able.

I get called into the thicket between the other two sheds on the property.  It is an unholy alliance of privet, honeysuckle and wild roses with an old picnic table rotting under it.  The vines are slippery and prickly and easily defy my efforts.  My friend reminds me that gloves would relieve me of the small wounds and frustrations the thicket so generously offers, but I usually wade in on my way to get a tool from the shed for some other task and cannot resist poking at it with my clippers, like popping bubble wrap it satisfies some ill-defined urge.  One day I will put on my gloves and clear it out entirely.

The pergola is free of its choking burden of vines.  No doubt they will return.  But for now they are small tangled foot notes and the structure is calling for paint. Time passes.

The old couch that the dogs slept on for seven years in my absence is in the dumpster.  They weren't permitted when I was here.  That was my place, where I slept through evening television after a day’s work, my family taking bets on how long I would stay awake.  The two remaining old dogs need reminding that the couch that has replaced it is mine and not theirs. A pile of books and an end table perched on it, when I go to bed are enough to make this point with them.  The books are right, it takes about a two weeks for a dog and maybe a person too, to form a new habit.   Now they are content sleeping on the sheepskins on the floor. 

Birdie, one of the dogs follows me from shed to dumpster to shed and back all day long. She is ancient. I have nicknamed her Skeletor. She has that skinny misshapen look that some dogs get near the end. If I had any courage I would help her pass over, but she is dogged in her task. She pays mightily for it, as I have cursed at her on more than one occasion when I have nearly tripped over her carrying an armload of moldy memories. But she has also given me the chance to chatter to her and to myself as I travel back and forth. I’m not sure why she is doing this, loyalty maybe, but sometimes I think that it is how she occupies her fading mind with purpose.

So it is all in disarray.  The drip, drip , drip of inattention has created a kind of fertile chaos in the natural world and a musty, moldy sludge in the shed and house. And it all goes into the big orange dumpster that sits in the driveway in the rain. 

Two tons of things we really never needed. Two tons of times gone by. Memories of sweet faces.

But here is good news.  There is a garden where the old shed used to be.  Wendell Barker came and rolled up the crumpled shed with is bob cat and put it in his truck one night.  Four yards of good compost/topsoil mixture arrived and filled the empty space.  In just two weeks, the tomato plants have doubled in size.  The climbing rose on the front porch had regained some space and sun and bloomed.

I guess it is now and always has been the axiom, the guiding principle of my small place in this vast, truly endless existence, that attention to detail, to the beauty and the chaos we all swim in, can repair neglect.  That is why in the end, I do not lose heart.  That is how I occupy my chattering mind with purpose.  This is why there are now ten jars of dill pickles waiting  in the frig. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Day of the Dead

The orb weaver left me Halloween morning.  There was no sign of him except for the small little web wall he had created in the clothespin.  It seemed fitting that he would go on this of all days.  A reminder that attachments, while they are here, buoy the spirit, but they leave in their wake a painful reminder that this is a world that spins and changes, moment by moment.

A walk around the city reminds me that, here the dead have a place at the table.  Every year it is set for them.  Their favorite food and drink on the table, a path of flower petals and candles to lights their way.
The say that it always rains around the day of the dead and that this rain brings the spirits of the departed to their seat at the table. Some say that they are here to visit for the month of November.

They are celebrated, their stories are told to the children of the family, as if to say, this is who we are, this is our family, we are strong and even in honoring the dead, we can be joyous. And when it is your time to go, you will always have a seat here, at our table. We will light your way.

But that is not the only lesson here.  Look at these faces.  They are the Katrinas.  They remind the children that this life is also an illusion.  That the material world will fade, it is a thing of momentary beauty.  Behind your smiles, the loveliness of your young face, we all look alike.  What remains of the beauty that moved through life, is the memory.   The story that lives on in the family, and endures to say to each generation, we are still here.  We set this table as a reverent and joyous reminder of who we are. And together we will remember, we will eat this food and then we will dance.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hey Sis

Remember Eddie Jakeworth.  And the hot spot.  How did we get there?  We must have paddled across the lake and met him at the store.  That’s why you let me tag along.  You needed me to paddle in the front, as one way or the other, you’d be heading into the wind. 

Remember the hot spot.  That perfectly secluded circle of dunes up the inlet to the lake.  You could only get there in a canoe. Hot, hidden, and secret, it was easy to get sunburned there. Eddie had a, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, kind of good looks, at least to me, a hooked nose and a compact boxer’s build. He was a townie with a rough charm and a hint of danger. For you, I think he was a stand-in for your big crush on Chris McClean, the Scarsdale boy from the summer camp. A handsome Holden Caulfield with a cool  irony, loafers without socks and all the rest.

I am certain you were the main attraction.  I was just along to paddle the canoe. I can’t remember if Eddie had cigarettes, but I bet he did and in my mind.s eye, they are rolled up in the sleeve of his t-shirt, just like in the movies. So I hung around; to swim, look for crayfish, get sunburned, smoking one of Eddie’s cigarettes, a fifth wheel. Trying hard not to be a pest. And then, out of the blue, Eddie kissed me…me.  I was dazzled.  I guess he figured he was man enough for the two of us or I was ready to be kissed.  Who knows.  I was past words, swooning. And he kissed me again. And there in my head it felt like a thunderclap. You were unimpressed, I think you hardly noticed.

It was a relief to paddle home, rhythmic and monotonous, almost a meditation.  Dinner went by in a haze and next I remember sitting in the upstairs window in the evening, smoking one of grandma’s long cigarette butts I had scavenged earlier in the day, hoping not to be caught at it, reclining in the window in the memory of that kiss.  I think you were out in the canoe, paddling by the boy’s camp.  The wind was gone, the lake like glass. You had moved on.

I doubt we ever talked about that day at the hot spot. To you it wasn't particularly important and not something you would talk to your little sister about.  Too me it was something so brand new, I didn't even know how to describe it to myself. And so I never said a word about it.

So here I am fifty years later, watering the roof garden, muttering my question to you, hey sis, do you remember? The sun is not quite up and I am talking to the same stars we watched  drifting on the lake in the canoe, in August; counting shooting stars. No one else remembers that day. No one knows the whole story.   You, me, and Eddie Jakeworth were the only ones there in that hot spot, that day.

Lala and Professor Laurita are not here.  No one here knows them. They are up there cruising the stars looking for you.  I would like to hear your voice now, telling me how you remember that day. Memory or imagination, I will never know. But the pictures are still vivid to me, alive in my head.

I’m guessing for you, it would be different. Maybe you wouldn't remember it at all. I wonder if you could still feel that hot sand and those kisses that tasted of cigarettes. I can. But I am the only one here 50 years later, watering my garden, tears in my eyes, talking to the stars. Looking for you.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Orb Weaver

 I can think of a million little lazy-ass things I need to do before I sit down to write, postponing involving myself in something that requires a special kind of focus and effort that in the end could leave me feeling exposed and embarrassment.

 I  find that a story that has lived in my head for too long a time, becomes stale, spoken to others in bits and pieces  it loses its zest. It doesn't care to be written down any more.  I think that writing, drafting, testing out a line of inquiry, an essay or a story, needs private daily attention, like weeding a garden or sweeping the walk.  By doing that, nudging the story forward every day, I can make it into something ordinary, easier to do, just another part of the day.

After all there is so much writing out there in the world, a little more weighs nothing. For instance, this week the internet has been full of mischief.  Random items that have captured my attention are too numerous to count.   Some days the news can be so terrible and depressing that I get drawn into odd, light-hearted stories. For example, the website “dental floss for the mind” is full of odd mildly useful details. You can chill a beer in 15 minutes, if you wrap it in a wet paper towel and put it in the freezer.  You can cut soft cheese really well with unflavored dental floss.  This and many other tips I learned, were either true or false on a video which analyzed  the effectiveness of 20 life hacks. Don’t ask how I got there, I couldn't tell you. What is a life hack anyway? I had to ask my daughter.

Then there was an article about how a  community crowd sourced security in their town. When the police force was cut and local crime began to rise, they used an internet website called Crowdtilt which helps groups raise funds. The article went on to ask, is this a good idea or is this what government should be doing? Will this funding of private community functions favor only the wealthier neighborhoods?  Good question, interesting to debate. But no time to linger, this led on in a link right there in the article to another story about how the pedestal for the statue of liberty was actually the first crowd sourced project. Undertaken by Joseph Pulitzer,  he raised the money to build the  pedestal in his NYC newspaper. He published every single 50 cent to $500  donor. Boston was trying to take the statue away, by campaigning for the funds he kept the famous statue in NY Harbor.  On and on  the internet path goes from the curious to the trivial to the downright need to know,  interesting details, trivia and worthwhile questions piled one on top of another.

This web of endless information sends me out into the garden. Out there the details are also many and layered. But slower, information is gained leisurely by looking carefully at the same thing closely and often.  Is that plant growing, does it get enough morning sun? What is that big brown spider? I named him web weaver, as that is what he weaves, it is definitely not an orb. It is a web.   I looked him up in trusty google search, something I do not think I could do without, and there he is amongst the hundreds of pictures of spiders in the huge orb weaver family. He is not the prettiest orb weaver. He is brown with long crab like legs and about the size of a quarter. During the day he sleeps collapsed into a tiny space in a clothes pin on my laundry line, but every night, sometime in the middle of the night he gets up and builds his web. It is there early in the morning, before sunrise when I first stumble in the garden. Lucky for me and I guess for him too, he has put it in a place I seldom walk through, unless I am weeding there.  His web is probably three feet square and looks exactly as you would imagine from all the Halloween drawings  you have ever seen.
After a few days he was joined by another spider, I think a female orb weaver.  She spins her web at a right angle to his.  Equally large, the two webs are joined at one edge. They use my clothes line as a place to spin out their trap lines and by 9:00 in the morning that is all that is left of their webs and he is asleep in the clothes pin, she hiding somewhere in the garden.

For those few hours in the early morning, their webs effectively trap whatever is flying through my garden. Every morning he draws his web back in, leaving only one line in place to begin tomorrow’s web.

Their webs catch the morning light from one angle, but are invisible from another.  The radial lines are paths that they can walk on, the other lateral connecting lines are sticky traps for all the unsuspecting.  He and his co-spider sit upside down in the middle of these beautiful creations waiting, and then at some point in the early morning, known only to them they devour the entire net and retreat to rest. To a human this nightly construction looks Herculean, to them a simple, edible place to be.

They can live a year or more and I am  hoping they will stay in my garden.  Apparently this is their habit, to stay in one place.  The only complication being that I cannot take down my laundry line, something I do occasionally to get an unobstructed view of the garden. But laundry is a daily chore and so I don’t mind leaving it there.  Of course I cannot use his clothes pin and I wonder if his rest is disturbed by the bouncing on the line when I hang up my wet clothes.  He seems not to mind.

 We coexist.

Now, the female partner has left the garden, he has been alone these last few mornings and it appears that on Sunday, he took the day off or maybe just took in his web before I got up to check on him. I look for him in the morning and watch him when I am weeding in the garden.  I have seen him catch a fly and roll him up in a quick culinary web taco.  I have seen him carry his fly back to the center of his web  and eat it all.

So there we are a strange little paus de deux.
It fortifies me to see him in his web every morning.  He constructs it and deconstructs it every day.  His simple rhythm makes it just a little easier for me to sit down and write.

                                       This fellow watches with casual curiosity from the roof.
                                                            He is this year's roof kitty.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I haven’t showered in days, it’s silly. I don’t want to wash the ocean from my hair yet, the specific moonlight from my skin. I want to soak in it, absorb it all. I keep asking myself: did you pay close enough attention? Are these things recorded well enough in the pages of your body? Are they true? Will they stand passing time and all its treachery? And will they matter they way you want them to always matter? At the same time I try not to think of them too often, afraid of their fragility. For something to be remembered once, twice, twenty times, it changes. The colors, the light, the way your chest and the tide rose and fell and rose. Details are left out or embellished, the spine of my memory broken, dog-eared, annotated. I think about things too hard sometimes, worry too much. I remind myself that all languages are foreign, everyone is translating. We are allowed some legends in our own life. I am allowed to sigh, to feel in my marrow the incredible coincidence of my existence, the existence of those I love, the existence of everything and I’m allowed to let it go again too. It’s ok if I’m not big enough to hold it all. It takes a universe to even come close.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Don’t go there in the dark,
Not in bright sunlight either.

Go when the light is kind
And the air is sweet.

Wander the lanes.
Find an old familiar path.
Your feet remember the curve
And feel the stones and roots,
The soft earth.

Bring back the smells, the sounds,
The taste on your tongue.
That look of surprise.
Recall the transgression,
And ask yourself why?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Can we form an accurate picture of the effect of the internet on our lives on this planet?
Or even how important it is and how we know that it is that important?  I rely on it for so many of my daily activities; my banking, my phone calls, my emails, my news, my recipes, my laughs, my shaggy dog stories, my maps, my fact checking, my when and where do we meet for lunch. It all happens there, wherever there is. I would probably feel deprived and isolated without it. And here is the truly surprising part… I have no idea how it works, or how vulnerable it is to control by evil wizards. I simply depend on it.

I think that view that the computer is essential, puts me, approximately where the younger generation was five or so years ago.  I watch them now with their phones that do everything and instantly and think that the courtly days of composing an email are over for this next generation.  They live in a constantly moving world of instagrams, tweets, and captions with their eyes on their phones verifying their existence in stream of photos and quips. They are connected in a moment by moment way.  It is fascinating.  As usual they are moving faster than we are, I know not where. The computer is as everyday to them as a refrigerator or a toaster or indoor plumbing.

I more or less understand, telephones and telegraphs and even television transmission, but my grasp of any significant detail breaks down when I try to picture the internet. Maybe that is how people felt when the first printed books arrived.  Somehow it seems much easier to grasp that process, it is tangible, it can be pictured.  It is not wireless. And still in fits of political pique, printing presses were smashed and books were burned.  People rebuilt, reprinted.  They knew how to, or enough people did.
I am hoping that is so of the internet as well.  That the hackers, the gamers, the people who understand it, for whom it is no more complicated than a printing press, can put it back together again. I think the jury is still out, but I am also guessing that great minds are on this topic as we speak.    

So there it is, my first strange finding in this quest.  It is incredibly important to many of us, for various reasons, it is incomprehensible to most of us, and for the most part we have no idea how vulnerable it is, or how vulnerable we are by using it in a world of data mining and snooping in general.

And the only comfort I take in my general ignorance of the facts of the matter of how vulnerable it is, is that the powers that currently be, need it just as much as we do, and the people who understand it best are the whip smart kids on the planet who, I think, have a moral code about it and its misuse, a Robin Hood mentality, or maybe a new paradigm.  Information should be free, it belongs to no one. 

So how has it changed us, how is it continuing to change us.  Imagine a Mayan astronomer, he has calculated many discrete and useful facts about the universe and its workings. He is fortunate he has a flat and unobstructed horizon on which to build his theories.  He knows his place among the stars.  Now teleport this gentleman forward and give him this to feast his eyes: 

And thousands more, it would be an abundance of confusing riches, a birds’ eye view of the great beyond. It is a stunning fact that this great leap only took one thousand years and instructive to recall that many scientist paid an enormous price for pointing out the falsehoods in our mythic thought, think Galileo and house arrest.
So here we are, I think in many ways about to shift our paradigm again.  And in my small and hopeful opinion, shift we must. I think the internet will help us do it. I think it will stir us up.  It already has in the Middle East. 

The Plaza in a Mexico, the central square in the cities and pueblos is a testament to the big changes in their culture. It has always been a public gathering place. First bounded by the Pyramids and the Ball courts, it gave way in a huge shift to massive Cathedrals, built with the same stones.  The revolutions came and brought the government buildings, large elegant buildings often facing the cathedrals on the opposite side of the square. The cell phone arrived and the cell towers went up in clear view of the square and now every citizen on every bus has a cell phone. Carlos Slim made his fortune.  And now all over Mexico, even in the pueblos, the plazas have WiFi.  Students sit in the plazas doing their homework on rebuilt computers. The world is at their fingertips, they can see the stars. They can read the news from around the world.  And it is wireless.