Monday, May 23, 2016

Word of the Week - 116

"We've been on earth all these years and we still don't know for certain why birds sing."

Annie Dillard, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"

Word of the Week: AVIAN

Our suburban neighborhood, crowded with street traffic because of a never-completed freeway connection, is becoming more and more an open-air aviary.  This side street, with its power lines still strung overhead, is the site of regular shifts in the avian population, as though the bird chiefs got together to draw up a schedule, who perches where and sings when.

Friday morning, after years of occasional honking flyovers, we saw our first pair of geese, labeled birds for this discussion.  Just after daybreak they took up position on a roof across the street and beat the green Amazon parrots to the task of waking the neighborhood.  Throughout the night, a lone peacock on a nearby hill issues its nearly human-sounding cry, distant enough not to interrupt my sleep.  A dedicated red-beanied woodpecker returns daily to a smooth-trunked palm tree for what we hope is gourmet fare in great abundance.  His kin prefer the rough bark of a closer, shorter palm and tolerate being driven away occasionally by a crow's superior size and wingspan.

In warmer, less windy weather, hawks circle above vacant lots, parkland and the high school's playing fields.  I am no longer close enough to hear their distinctive cries as I could when we lived just below the mountains.  Mocking birds, mourning doves, the familiar crows and parrots, a pigeon or two, regular hummingbirds and myriad unidentified songbirds may visit and/or serenade our block throughout the day.  The parrots are often so raucous that we can't hear the television.  The same can sometimes be said of law enforcement helicopters.

With time and the inclination for sky hypnosis, we have come to know when there's a new bird on the block.  Without binoculars, I cannot consider myself a true bird watcher.  I may not know why they sing, I just know how happy I am that they do.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Word of the Week - 115

Word of the Week: MILD

Mild, as in gentle, patient, soft-spoken.  Unfrenzied.  A state more rare than one might suppose.  Try and be all of those simultaneously or even in succession.  Yet mild seems the true low-key antidote to rage, outrage, umbrage, any knee-jerk response to what displeases us.  Let it go.  Choose your battles.  Taking huge and noisy offense as a chronic state cannot be good for any organs.  Even as a witness and not a participant, it causes me discomfort.

Balance may be one of the virtues.  It indicates a sturdy steadiness, a skill which I picture being practiced just as any acrobatic art, over and over with numerous missteps.  Arriving at mild by way of extreme seems the natural path.  To be peaceful in the midst of escalating chaos may appear to indicate a state of being unclear on the concept.  Why aren't you shouting?  Because someone needs to find and hold the quiet center, someone needs to remember proportion, someone needs to be the water that silently and subversively wears down the rock.

Mild might be called an ideal, a desired but nearly unreachable state, an aspiration.  My experiment will be this: to see how many times I don't lose my cool in the course of a day, a normal day of TV news, Internet witlessness, ordinary things going wrong.  Mild is not a synonym for uncaring, for anaesthetized, for MIA.  At best it can help keep the roar quieted, the rhetoric more civilized.  A one-sided argument is a bullying soliloquy.  Imagine us being civilized with each other.  A girl can dream.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Word of the Week - 114

"Eat an apple every day,
Get to bed by three,
Oh, take good care of yourself
You belong to me."
From Button Up Your Overcoat by DeSylva, Brown. Henderson


It is part of my manifesto or perhaps mantra, color is a nutrient.  As is beauty, however you define it.  While certain resources may grow thin from time to time, we are kept steady and strong by that which feeds the spirit.  Added, of course, to the daily apple and the likes of vitamin D.  Sufficient sleep, laughter in excess, for there can never be too much, and ditto for kindness in all directions, make us mighty or at least above average. They help us cope, transcend the bumpy interludes, keep us in good fettle.

In "The House at Pooh Corner," Kangaroo gave Roo and Tigger malt extract as "strengthening medicine."  I have held that thought my entire life, coming to identify certain, let's call them nostrums, as my strengthening medicines.  Last week in one of those internet articles on how to make your life better was the suggestion to send a thank you note every week.  Simple, right?  Good manners, the chance to create mail art, something we would all like to receive.  My strong intention is to add it, with thanks for the idea.  The more full our bag of shoring-up tricks, the less apt we are to sag or falter.

For today and every day, let us be generous with ourselves in thoughts and acts that sustain us.  Life can feel like a daunting assignment if one is undernourished.  Do what is necessary and please, take good care of yourself.  xo

Monday, May 2, 2016

Word of the Week - 113

Hello, May.  Word(s) of the Week: IT WILL BE OKAY (forgive wonky paragraphs, please, for the iPad would only let me scroll down so far)

Recently I heard a description of core values in three words:  JOY, MINDFULNESS and COMPASSION.  That I can't remember the source goes with the territory.  I do remember this much, that I agreed with them.  Life has, and takes, every opportunity to turn our hearts hard, shrinking them to rock-like nuggets that resist chewing, chipping and melting.  This is not the right answer.

For myself, my son and all of us for whom recent circumstances appeared, however briefly, to be heading south, don't believe it.  How a thing looks or seems and what it actually is are galaxies apart.  What do we know, really?  Old fears, ancient beliefs, tell us their version of truth.  In order to prevail, we must turn away from such defeating thoughts.  Here is how I pictured it today: my mind is the hysterical quasi-friend whose hair is always on fire.

Take a moment for tears or terror, then, in the absence of an answer, let it go.  My son has said to me so many times, "It will be okay.  We'll be okay."  And we're still here.  It is not a hollow promise but a knowing.  It is trust.  Into the midst of these musings came a phone call, it has been a good season for those.  The caller and I have history spanning some 46 years, or near to it.  That often the simple sound of the other's voice makes us laugh reminds me, not that I had forgotten, what good medicine this is.  Love is the vein of gold we strike when seeking our fortunes, here on this swiftly tilting planet.  It continues to take me by surprise, which makes its worth that much greater. It may not all be exactly how or what we thought we wanted when we set out to conquer the world or at least grow a ribbon-worthy patch of giant pumpkins or towering hollyhocks, here by our feet.  Regardless, it will be okay.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Word of the Week - 112

Word of the Week: EPISTLE

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

Word of the Week - 111

Word of the Week: PREVAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Word of the Week - 110

Word of the Week: LIFE

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

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

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

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