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Always a New Crossroad

This photo is from Ocean City. I like the crossroad of land and sky and water. There’s an old couple who struggled together up the dune to look. They, too, are at a crossroad. I like to imagine they have come to the ocean for years on vacation and played in the surf. Now they stand and remember.

I’ve often stood at a crossroad. My crossroads usually read STOP on the side I can see, but the destination is written on the reverse side in ink fated to remain invisible for an unknown span of time. I stop, reconfigure, and head off somewhere, not knowing where or why I’m going, but trusting I’ll eventually understand.

You’ll see a page for Workshops. My college teaching ended, but I like teaching, so I’m glad it’s evolved.

The Services page offers us as presiders at weddings and memorial services. I’ve been a Spiritual Mentor/Counselor for more than twenty years, in person and through online consultations.

Feel free to wander with me.

You don’t even want to know…..

And yes, there’s been another death. You must be tired of reading this same topic. I’m tired of writing it. This death, like the old television, and the water line, and and and, (if you really want to know, simply scroll back through the last few blog posts because this whole year has been about fixing) came with a rebirth. Most deaths do, I suppose, in one way or another. This one was much more costly abet likely life-saving.

A month ago, yes, it’s been a lengthy rebirth, on a late Friday afternoon, September 7th to be exact, we heard a loud boom from the stairway wall that sounded as if a very large book had fallen on the floor. The sound was more a k-whomp, actually, than a boom.

Immediately, the house died. Well, not entirely, we had electricity in the kitchen, which was rehabbed before we bought the house, half the dining room, one socket beside the back door, and half the basement. Nothing on the second floor.

We are the proud owners of a 1924 built house, two main floors, a full basement, full attic. It has its charms. It also, as it turned out, had mostly 1924 wire, bare in some places where the old insulation had worn off, especially in the attic, most likely from years of mice chewing on them. And in fact, the electricians discovered the new kitchen sockets showed new wire at the outlet, but new wire wired below the socket to the 1924 wire.

The night after the first k-whomp, we attached a heavy duty extension cord to the one working socket by the back door and snaked it up the stairs to give electrical power to Cliff’s C-Pap at night and the PC’s surge protector during the day. Each night, we maneuvered up the stairs and into the bathroom with flashlights and an electrical lantern. Cliff had to shave in early morning dimness with the same lantern. Monday morning, we called our favorite fix-it company, the same company which had installed the new furnace in January, and while waiting, I cleaned the basement and did laundry.

I won’t detail the following days of electrical testing and paperwork and figuring things out and whether to go with a partial rewiring or a complete, but it was harrowing. Given that most of the wiring in the house is really old and doing a partial re-wiring left us open to more problems, and the company lowered the price by over $3,000, we went with a full house rewire.

Their top electrician and his partner arrived to rewire the house. It was a noisy process with much banging and sawing of one sort or another. They went in all sorts of directions at first; I remained confused.

After a few days, or maybe a week, I don’t know (although part of that time I baked cookies for the crew since they hadn’t started on the kitchen) the two electrical wizards managed to get everything working in my writing room and I hid out there. Not that I could do any writing. But it was moderately protected from banging and sawing.

At the same time, a huge hurricane was crashing into the Carolinas and gas explosions north of Boston were making the news. I think there was also an explosion in western Pennsylvania, but as you might guess, I lost track. However, those catastrophes gave us food for positive thinking: i.e. we weren’t in a hurricane and by acting, we’d likely prevented a looming fire that would have destroyed the house — a house that contains not just all of our individual lives, but the lives of our parents and grandparents: photos, dishes, paintings, furniture, etc.  There’s a lot to be said about downsizing, but we haven’t. My sister-in-law, also at this time, fell on front steps of their house, broke one foot, badly sprained an ankle, and bruised her knees. We were all functioning in this house. And upright.

I won’t go into the fear and despair at another costly job on this house, but that only lasted a couple of days. Mostly we were grateful.

Today, the house passed its final inspection. We have yet to admit KC Power and Light into the back yard to string a new electric wire from the back corner transformer or whatever it’s called, to the new box on the outside of the house, but that’s in the works.

The good news, other than the fact we’re not going to burn up in a house fire, is the cleaning we did behind pulled out chests of drawers and bureau and china closet and bookcases, etc etc etc, that had managed to evade cleaning for too long. You probably don’t need to know the size of the dust bunnies.

Now. Perhaps. I can get back to work, or what passes for work in my life. This is the first writing I’ve done since this whole project began so perhaps there’s hope there, too.

 

 

Stopping

And then I’ve always had a day dream of being a light-house keeper, absolutely alone, with no one to interrupt my reading or just sitting… Elizabeth Bishop

You may have read a recent post where I reprinted a recently published essay, The Solitary Watcher. If you did, you no doubt understand why the above quote from Elizabeth Bishop rings true to me. Regardless of the solitary moments reflected in the essay, there’s not been a lot of quiet solitary this year.

You may also have read the past couple of essays of the death of my old television and the death of an old writer friend. After my twelve-year-old PC died a week ago, I considered writing another death post, but I was so consumed with setting up the new PC, writing about the task seemed just one more thing to do, lost as I was between a 1T hard drive (1T? insane) where I’d downloaded all files from our backup service and the new cloud drive which wanted me to buy more space. Thankfully, our 30-year-old associate pastor and his husband came for dinner Monday evening and Josh sorted it out in no time by deleting the cloud drive. Oh. Thank you. Didn’t know one could do that. So anyway. PC is up and running again.

I’m sitting still, looking out at a rainy day and looking back at a rather chaotic year.

It began on a frigid cold weekend in January when our furnace died. With one thing and another it took two days to get new furnace installed and working. Thankfully, we have a gas stove and I’m a farmer, so I turned on the oven and set big pots of water on the top burners to simmer some warm humidity into the house.  We also had a couple of space heaters. And we received a new NEST magic thermometer which somehow knows when we aren’t home.

In late winter/early spring more or less, a water main burst in the street in front of our house and the city came, twice, to dig up defective spot and replace it. Along the way, they also dug up parts of our front sidewalk, which was in pretty bad shape, and by the time it was all done, we had a completely new sidewalk. There’s a post about that, too, if you care to search for it.

In the midst of spring downpours, we discovered there was a leak in our screened-in back porch and water was dripping through the ceiling light. Not a good omen for safety. So on a dry day, my son and I re-tarred the flat roof and it still dripped. We discovered the foam gutter pieces, which we’d installed to block leaves from filling up our second story gutters, were blocking the flow of water down the intended gutters, and, instead, overflowing down the wall and running into the porch ceiling. A relatively easy fix. We took them out. My son and I also replaced torn screens and repainted the porch.

In early June, we flew to Las Vegas for grandson’s graduation from nursing school and in early July we drove to Colorado Springs for a huge family reunion. When we returned, we found the toilet in the big bathroom had a leak and we, meaning my son and I, replaced the innards of the toilet. Thankfully, regardless of what it seems from this paragraph, it only started leaking after we were home. And then an electrical outlet in the kitchen went bad, and once again, son, who at one time was an electrician, replaced it.

In case you were wondering where my husband was in all of this, he’s a city boy and does the cooking and the laundry and most of the house cleaning. Steve and I do the fixing. Cliff did help me on the farm, where we went to stop for a week, but there’s no just stopping on the farm, regardless, and we pulled and chopped the weeds that had grown up around the little house.

And then the PC, which neither Steve or I could figure out, ergo, bribing young friends with dinner in exchange for setting it up.

Other than saying I spent some time today cleaning the floor in my writing room, I can’t even begin to describe the chaos and piles of papers and books. I stopped querying agents for the first memoir sometime in June because…well, I’ve already detailed the “because,” more or less, and both the book of essays and the book about Mexico are waiting with copious amounts of research to do. Steve also, today, rehung a painting that had fallen from the wall, and which had waited a couple of weeks for re-hanging.

And why did I have to write all this today? I’ve no idea, except fresh ideas are not exactly bursting into my consciousness at the moment and I needed to feel my fingers on a keyboard.

I also needed to sit quietly at my second story window looking out on the world. Thankfully, the laptop did not succumb to the year’s craziness and has continued to do what it does. Rain has splashed onto the window and it’s possible to pretend I’m looking out the top lighthouse windows, spray from the ocean dusting the glass.

Cliff and Stephen are back in school and the NEST thermostat thinks no one is home. That’s fine. I’m also aware that much of the world is in chaos, and so, grateful for the fact that we’re all still alive and well and back at what we like doing, I’ll sign off hoping you are doing reasonably well, too.

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Goodbye to Another Old Friend

V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad-born Nobel laureate whose celebrated writing and brittle, provocative personality drew admiration and revulsion in equal measures, died Saturday at his London home, his family said. He was 85.

With those few words, images and memories flooded my mind. It’s about 1980 and I attended my first writers’ conference, AAPP, in San Antonio with another writer friend, Bill. He knew many of the men there and our table crowded with them, telling alcohol-induced stories, one over the other, laughter rolling through the air with whorls of cigarette smoke. V.S. Naipaul one of them. A slew of well-known writers, one particularly, whose name I can’t recall, but a great bear of a man whom I coaxed onto the dance floor. He danced like a bear, but a laughing bear.

Naipaul was quieter. At one point, I found myself sitting beside him, and he told me stories of Trinidad in a quiet voice, almost as if they were painful to recall. What I remember most was his beautiful accent, an island patois varnished and overlaid by proper British English. Perhaps only patois could bring back the island stories, complete and whole again. I never heard brittleness in his voice. Sadness, yes, it showed up in his writing, too. Perhaps the brittleness was reserved for his battles with the world.

Some months later, maybe close to a year later, I saw him again at a conference in Connecticut. We walked the grounds and talked. I suppose if I dug through my journals of that time, I could find details of what we talked about. Mostly writing, I expect, and the demands of that life.

The Connecticut trip was the impetus for my move to New York City later that year. Naipaul and I kept in touch by mail for a few years, but then he moved or I moved or maybe both, and we lost touch. That was about the time I went to Mexico to live. As I’m a letter-saver, somewhere in my cavernous files there may yet lie one of his.

I suppose this is now the part of life I’ve come to–the part where old friends and acquaintances die, and unless he or she is famous or a family member, often I don’t know. They lie in my past, still alive, still telling me stories when I run across a letter or an old piece of writing, or even, on those few occasions, when I see a newspaper story.

And for that I am grateful. It brings a patch of my own life back in focus, and I smile as I tell a story for someone else to remember.

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Goodbye Old Friend

I said goodbye to an old friend, today. A loyal friend for nearly thirty years, through moves and changes and chaos. Old Friend has just kept being there for me and kept working. This is its story.

In 1990, after three years of living in Mexico, I returned to the United States and moved to Washington D.C. My son, Stephen, was living there, too, which made the move easier.

After renting a studio apartment off DuPont Circle, I retrieved my life in storage and set up a home. While I had a lot of books, I did not have a bookcase, so Stephen, being a tool man, build a sturdy one, 3 1/2′ x 6′, with copious room for my copious books, and with a gap in the middle of about 20″, which he filled with the Orion television for my birthday.

When I moved to Santa Fe three years later, I moved both television and bookcase and set up housekeeping in a 600 sq. foot adobe in Seton Village outside the city. Miraculously, the bookcase fit between the front door and the steps down to the kitchen. I stayed in Santa Fe for five years. A record from my usual three years here and then move pattern.

After Santa Fe, I came to Kansas City, Cliff and I bought a house, and the Orion went on the same bookshelf in the large bedroom which also serves as my workout room. A year later, Stephen moved here. By that time, we’d dispensed with the rabbit ears, hooked up cable, and attached a video player for the years of saved workout videos I own…which, as a matter of convenience, are also stored on the bookcase. We have, in fact, years of movie and workout videos. A VCR, even in this day and age, is valuable.

And now we come to this summer’s birthday. I came home from some errand or another and went to the bedroom to change clothes, only to discover a new 19″ flat screen sitting where the old Orion used to sit. Stephen had once more bought a television for my birthday. The new flat screen came with a new remote, which I also had to learn, but that’s another story.

It has taken a month for me to release the old television, however. It sat in my writing room, until today, we finally carried it to Best Buy for recycling.

You see, that Orion held stories–Stephen and me watching t.v. as we ate a meal together at my little studio apartment in D.C.; watching “Nothing Sacred” with Cliff in the adobe, a favorite television show, alas no longer with us, either, as we snatched a quick dinner before evening services. Me sitting in front of the television one year, crocheting stars for Christmas ornaments, fire in the fireplace, which ornaments I sent out to family and to my best friend, Cynthia, who is no longer with us. The Orion was part of that history.

………

We moved the Orion out to the back seat of the car. I kept trying to give it away; although it still worked, no one wanted it. I could not just trash it.

And so my dear husband, who understands my connection to memories, said, “Why don’t you take a picture? Then you can keep it.”

So we drove to Best Buy, turned the Orion to face me, and I took our picture. Together, one last time.

 

..

 

A reprint for The Solitary Watcher

Since some were unable to read from the electronic version of Still Point, here’s the essay. You might, however, want to go in and look at the visuals. The editor, Christine Cote, does a remarkable job.

The Solitary Watcher

Solitary and lonely are not the same although often confused. It is possible to be lonely when one is solitary, but it’s also possible to be un-lonely, in other words, content. A loner, perhaps one could say.

I grew up in an old and solitary farmhouse on the Great Plains of Kansas with five siblings, two parents, and a grandfather. That’s hardly a lonely life. And yet, as I look back at my childhood, I see myself solitary, wandering pastures, or out on a tractor, alone, plowing a field. Being left-handed and a dreamer, my solitary times often included falling over or off, in one way or another, and once tangling a plow in the fence and tipping both plow and tractor. Those sorts of tasks rarely meshed well with solitary dreamer.

Sitting by a window, staring at our backyard’s willow, the small fountain, the grass, or up on the farm, which we yet own, and staring out over the tallgrass prairie, works well for me. I’m reminded of the joy Thomas Merton took in his solitude: But my chief joy is to escape to the attic of the garden house and the little broken window that looks out over the valley. There in the silence I love the green grass.

Of all the things Merton knew and taught and wrote, solitude was the breath in his life.

Some of the earliest stories about me, from when we lived on a farm in Arkansas before we moved to the Kansas farm, tell of my wandering spirit, especially when I’d go visit Miz McNeil who lived on the farm next to ours. We left Arkansas sometime around my fourth birthday, so my wandering habit began early.

Miz McNeil grew peanuts. I loved peanuts—for that matter, still do—and Miz McNeil fed me peanuts when I visited. Peanuts roasted or boiled in the shell. One day, she decided to send me home with a supply, so she levered peanuts into my pockets; however, I had holes in my pockets, and do to this day from jamming my hands in too fast too often. The peanuts went into my pockets and out the holes and down my legs to shower around my feet.

Miz McNeil, clever woman, tied strings around the bottom of my pants legs and kept filling my pockets with peanuts until both pant legs were filled. Probably laughing as she did so. I waddled home. These were roasted in the shell peanuts, if you’re wondering, as boiled peanuts can get soggy.

On the Kansas farm, across the field west from the house, I’d wander down to the spring where Dad’s Uncle August and Uncle Louie once built a still. Three stone walls were all that remained. But the spring was there, and a pipe, pushed by an unknown hand into the bank at water’s edge, poured cold fresh water into my cupped hands. Matted pads of watercress grew in the pools between rocks. I carried a plastic bag in my pants pocket for those trips. If I brought home fresh watercress for Dad, he forgave my absence from whatever work was going on.

I learned to watch the sky from those wanderings, and the way light shifts and slides over a wheat field ruffled by wind. Annie Dillard says it best: There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind. When thunderheads piled at the horizon and the light turned thick and coarse, it was time to head up the hill to shelter in the safety of family and house as the energy could turn wicked and threaten in the space of moments.

Solitude becomes more pricey in a city, but it’s possible. When I lived in New York, I had a small apartment on the second floor of a brownstone on West 85th Street. With windows. I’d sit with my first coffee as early sunlight tipped over the edge of the women’s residence across the street. The building, while long, was no more than three stories, and I’d watch from my solitary perch as women left in summer dresses, unencumbered, or in fall’s blustery wind, umbrellas tucked under arms.

One morning, a fierce storm tossed the branches of a small tree growing in a small patch of earth at the sidewalk’s edge. The tree survived the storm, but trashcans were tossed into the street. Trashcans in New York lead perilous lives.

Poets know solitude and weather: The four elements doze and wake./Who knows, behind the dark cloud/a small star may be playing. Adam Zagajewski. I met him once, at a reading, in a press of people and space. No time for anything but a thank you. He was kind. He signed his book for me. But I have his wanderings and his words for company.

Zagajewski liked walking in cities, too. I lived a half-block from West End park so could walk solitary among trees, but walking the sidewalks, pausing to look up at glowering gargoyles perched on ledges as people-streams sloshed around me, was just as alone. It’s easy to feel alone in a city. The iconic painting, Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper shows it. A couple sits at the coffee bar, not looking at each other, a single man sits apart, his back to us, and the barista bends over an invisible sink.

But I prefer walking country roads. The only thing to watch for is a blacksnake, its head lifted on a twig, sunning. Blacksnakes, our dad taught us, are a farmer’s friend. They eat rats. On a country road, I can allow my thoughts to wander in time to my steps. I watch for the red-winged blackbirds crossing my path, for the meadowlarks skittering away in the prairie, for the white-faced cows, lifting their heads from grazing to look at me, curious.

I watch the sky and the light to know when it’s time to turn back.

The End