Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Pre-Christmas Dialogue in Monosyllables

Royalty Free Stock Photo: Dry land. Image: 15445855
A poem in short words?

Why not give it a try?

Why should I?

What do you want to say?

In truth, I don't know.
The sky is blue. There is no snow.
There should be snow.

A drought, you think?

This land is like a thing used up,
Royalty Free Stock Image: Deadwood and desert. Image: 19680296
all  dust and dry curled leaf,
thin bare bones of trees
and not a cloud to be seen.

No clouds?

Not a one.

Well, take heart, the snow will come.

Will it?

It's bound to, don't you think?

I don't know. The earth has changed.

Change can be good.

Not this change, I think.
Stock Photo: Nativity Mary and Baby Jesus Woodcut. Image: 16916550
Don't yield to grief, just think...

Of what?

Of joy -- the joy that was,
The joy that is to come.
A star will blaze;
A child will be born.
 Hope will be born. Hope can't help being born.

Hope should be white and moist
A slow melt down to the roots of plants;
This blue sky mocks, I think.
But, yes, I will hope -- for snow, for peace,
For the flow of streams,
for new green growth and the end of fear and want.
Royalty Free Stock Photography: Pandora. Image: 12274277

You know the myth?
Hope is what stayed in the box
When the bad things got out.

Yet, hope with no cause is a sad, doomed thing.

Hope is what it is.
It will not stay lost.
It is the first, faint light in the dark,
The last of the lights to go out.
It is the gaze that looks up,
Hope is what binds us to this world.

Then let's drink to hope.

Royalty Free Stock Images: Girl enjoying the winter. Image: 22217489

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Gratitude, Loss, and the Afterlife

Stock Photo: Thanksgiving set 2. Image: 16850710

Thanksgiving Day, 2012.

Throughout this month people have openly (and sometimes ostentatiously) published their gratitude on Facebook and I am sure their motives for doing so are pure.

I'm thinking, though, about my friend, Ellie.  Ellie just lost a daughter who was also my friend -- one of my best friends actually. Knowing Ellie, I'm sure there are many things for which she is still grateful. She is not one to nurse her wounds however cruelly inflicted. Even so, I wonder if she experiences the holiday bustle and ebullience all around her as something like a chasm surrounded by glitter, sequins sewn along the edges of a wound.

To lose one's child. To me, that is unimaginable grief. Leigh, or McEwan as I called her, was my very good friend and I loved her dearly. For me, her death is not quite real partly because I live so far away from where she lived and am able to grasp only in brief powerful shocks the fact that I won't see her in this world again.

Does Death sit silently in the shadows, smirking, as we gush out gratitude for our successes, comforts, safety nets?  We all die, that is true -- many of us while still young, many from circumstances that could have been rectified if others had paid more attention, been more generous.

The death of a loved one hurts like nothing else does. It is an aching hollowness, and, at the same time, a heaviness that pulls down on you so hard you can scarcely breathe or stand.

Royalty Free Stock Image: Mexican Coyote Wolf Illustration. Image: 22895046I don't pretend to know whether souls exist and, if they do, where they travel to after death. What I do believe is that each afterlife story should fit each unique soul. Thus, I imagine that Coyote, a trickster god, took custody of the soul of my friend, Sherryl. In at least one native American myth, Coyote is the one who brings death to humankind. He does it because otherwise the earth will soon be overcrowded with no  room on it for newborn souls.  Sherryl was always delighted by people she deemed to be "brand, spanking  new souls." She loved practical jokes and was willing to take the chance of finding herself in ridiculous situations.  Pretty much like Coyote.

For McEwan, though, I imagine a more elegant transition. What comes to mind is the novel, The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle. In that story, all but one of the unicorn population had been imprisoned in the sea by an evil wizard. What I am proposing is that, after the unicorns were liberated, a few of them chose to remain as free denizens of the ocean. One of these, perhaps, was the magnificent Unicorn King, a numinous creature, white as surf all over, with eyes as blue as the bluest imaginable skies.

I believe that just before McEwan took her very last breath, she saw him, suffused with sunlight, immense and dazzling, his great head bending over her, almost reverently, perhaps touching her on the lips with his spiral horn. I believe that, seeing him, she let go, let the last bit of her life slip away, that she mounted  the Unicorn King and lay her exhausted body against his back, her face buried in his  foaming mane. I believe the two of them took off across the sea, across many seas, until they reached...whatever it is we reach when our time comes due.

Stock Image: Unicorn collage. Image: 19035321

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections of Numbers

Royalty Free Stock Photography: Think Numbers. Image: 15091837

Numbers. I never cared for them unless (rarely) they represented an unexpected, and substantial, addition to my bank account.

In terms of numbers, I am poor.

In terms of numbers, I am old.

In terms of numbers, the world's population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.

Numbers in history mark the times when conquerors celebrated and the defeated suffered:  1066, 1492...

Numbers, I am told, have given us our technology without which we would still be naked nomads struggling for survival in a numberless world. This makes me a hypocrite, I suppose, because I'm fond of warm houses and automobiles. Not to mention that here I am blogging away, taking access to the Internet for granted.

In truth, I am not good at numbers. Without the slightest twinge of conscience I cheated in math all through school -- except college.  I wrote essays for people who did my math homework. They got As and I passed -- a fair trade, all in all.

Numbers define us and there's no sense in fretting about it. Our age, our height, our weight, our IQ,  our GPA, the year our car was purchased, the number of friends we have on Facebook, the number of page views our blog pieces receive...

Call me Ebeneezer, but I feel as if Christmas is more about numbers these days than it is about the winter solstice or or the birth of Christ.  Even when I was a child, back in the fifties, my friends used to count the number of presents they received. I remember one friend telling me, "You didn't get very much." These days it's all about what is affordable and what is not, who will pay for it and how. There is an unpleasant, monetary-infused air of tension that hovers about the holiday. Adults must sacrifice; children must get what they want. I admit, I can't think of any way to rectify this situation other than robbing a bank.
Royalty Free Stock Photography: Christmas numbers. Image: 16885747

The best Christmases I ever celebrated weren't even on Christmas Day. They took place some days afterward when my friend, Sherryl, and I would gather with Zoe and Erik (our two charges) to open a few presents and cook up Bird's custard which we poured lavishly over apple strudel. Because of the custard, we called this "our English Christmas." Erik, being autistic, enjoyed shaking strings of bells and twirling ribbons. Zoe, who had different challenges, loved Christmas for its magic:  the lighted tree, the carols, the scented candles.  Especially the candles. After dinner and present opening, Sherryl and I played Scrabble and Zoe drilled Erik on identifying letters of the alphabet using flash cards. At some point Erik's tolerance for this game would end and he'd stand up abruptly, scattering cards in all directions. This (highly predictable) event signaled  time to enjoy a second helping of dessert.

So, what is the point of my saying all this? That numbers get in the way of having a good time? Or is it expectations of the unrealistic variety that do that?

Most of the time, numbers have had a negative influence on my life:  too many pounds, not enough money, etc.

As for Christmas...well, love drowned in numbers is still love, I suppose.

Stock Images: Christmas candle. Image: 17340804

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Vortex, Eddy Or Whirlpool With Foam

My beginning was just a continuation, a new twig caught in a whirlpool. The whirlpool was my family. My presence in it didn't change anything, didn't slow down the maniacal, swirling  waters. Maybe it sped them up a little. Some would claim that it did.

The whirlpool became a waterspout -- a small pillar of water wreaking private havoc in a private lake. Most people who observed it pretended they hadn't. Some mistook it for a specter or a miracle. Eventually it decayed and those who had been swept up in it drifted apart.

My true beginning happened when I left the East coast for California. I chose the sensual golden hills, the manzanita, the madrone, the live oaks, the creeping fogs, the appalling vastness of the Pacific Ocean. I married,  settled down and soon created my own whirlpool into which my daughter was born. Eventually she broke free, swimming off on her own.

For much of our lives, I think, we are captives of a circular momentum -- a senseless chaotic repetition of  actions (our own and other people's) we aren't quite strong enough to escape.

The beginning is when we finally break free of the whirlpools and the waterspouts, when we experience that wonderful sensation of swimming alone toward a chosen destination.

I am (as you can see) quite fond of metaphors and so my metaphor for this sense of breaking free is taken from last summer's visit to the coast of Maine. There I plunged, quite on impulse and fully clothed, into the chilly waters of Grimes Cove and swam, buoyed by ocean swells, toward the float (at high tide, a good distance from the shore) that had been there ever since my childhood. I pulled myself up onto the float and lay on my back. I was breathless, tingly and euphoric.

I was an old woman beginning anew.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I have the reputation for getting angry too easily.

From my perspective, what I'm prone to do is tell what I believe to be the truth even if it hurts people's feelings and ruins the cocktail party or the family gathering. I'm not defending this and, over the years, I have learned to take deep breaths and bite my tongue even to the point where I feel like a hypocrite.

My daughter just published a rant on her blog about how our education system has failed her children and I can't restrain myself from jumping on the band wagon.

 I've worked in several of California's public schools in various capacities since 1981. Here are some things I've learned, solely by experience, and I have no doubt they can be applied to New Mexico or any other state in the USA.

Catering to each child's individual learning style is not easy in a class of twenty or more students and it is certainly incompatible with a one-size-fits-all curriculum, not to mention standardized testing.

Most teachers think bad behaviors are the result of bad parenting while parents think bad behaviors are the result of bad teaching.

Only a few teachers consider "misfit" students challenging and interesting; most prefer students who can follow directions the first time they're given, students who can  quietly and accurately complete a worksheet without drumming on the desk, squirming, whistling or talking.  

Elementary school teachers are shockingly deficient in areas such as Social Studies -- i.e., their knowledge does not extend beyond the text books they use, most of which are glib, inaccurate and supremely boring.

Teachers tend to resent other teachers who go the extra mile or are singled out for being innovative and inspiring.

On the other hand, being named "teacher of the year" means precisely nothing when it comes to broad-mindedness, compassionate teaching, impartial grading, etc. What it probably means is the administration is pleased with you.

In affluent school districts, parents can, and do, intimidate teachers, turning them into sycophants and lackeys.

Many education courses appear to consist of filigreed structures of meaningless jargon which have no relevance whatsoever to what actually goes on in a classroom.

"Experts" on education tend to be overpaid masters of newly-minted cliches.

Most parents could not do a better job than their child's teacher, though some undoubtedly could.

Is  our educational system broken? Certainly it is and here's why...

Enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, one's subject combined with an innate ability to teach and a capacity for empathy and compassion is RARE, RARE, RARE. It cannot be procured by offering mediocre salaries, politically-generated goals based on rote learning, and intimidating consequences for failure to reach such goals.