Posts Tagged ‘Time’

a mother’s unmanifesto

November 10th, 2015    -    27 Comments

window1Do not be me.
Do not act like me, look like me, talk like me, live like me or remember me.
If you should, in some late season, see me in yourself, realize that I am long gone and happy to live forever in the deep well of your forgetting.
Forget my voice.
Absolutely, I mean it this time.
Even this voice!
Allow yourself the quiet I disturbed.
Remember instead what you said and what you did.
The things I overlooked.
The things I tried to change.
Your silliness.
Your friends.
Your fascinations.
Your refusal to listen to my worry and fear.
I was trying to turn you into me!
Find your heart.
Free your mind.
Use your feet.
Love your life and hate it, sometimes, too.
Everything is permitted.
Give yourself totally to your world.
Overrule me.
Remove my hands.
Escape my grip.
Kick me out of the house.
I will fly in on the starlight
between the cracks
through the gaps
in the empty veil of time
and watch you.
Silently watch you.
It’s all I ever wanted to do.
Love, Mom.

For my daughter, in tribute to my mother, with apologies all around.

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almost living

September 3rd, 2015    -    2 Comments

1-1

You may suppose that time is only passing away, and not understand that time never arrives. — Dogen Zenji

The time is near
It’s almost done
What seemed forever
left awhile ago
I’m almost sixty
She’s almost driving
One more month
and the day will come
There was that time
you won’t remember
I don’t remember
even yesterday
Memory is a memory
Time tells lies
Words come too little and late
There is no first or last
no then, if or how
no near or far
almost, an impossibility
If you can see
a moment of Zen
the only when
is now

shoveling gutters

February 22nd, 2015    -    11 Comments

18335467I’m biding my time today until the sun is higher in the sky, the air warms a bit, and I can get out and clean the rain gutters. This is a chore that stands in for all the snow shoveling that might go on where you live. It is a solitary job. No one but me notices that it is time to do it. No one but me will do it. It does not diminish me. On the contrary, cleaning the gutters will give me power and purpose, direction and rhythm: spiritual guidance that doesn’t come when I spend the day merely thinking about what I could be doing, say, tomorrow.

My dear and sensitive friend Katrina Kenison recently sent me a marvelous book, out of the blue, which is what makes something a gift, descending like a bird into your hand from who-knows-where, a memoir by Mary Rose O’Reilley, a poet and author hitherto unknown to me, who once apprenticed herself to a sheep farm. Going to work every day in a barn made no sense in a literal way, her lofty mind knowing nothing about sheep or lambing or castration or shearing or sudden virulent sickness and death, any of the activities that make up the muddy substance of a sheep farm. Perhaps she had an inkling that the experience would spiritually ground her, rescue her from the reaches of her poetic inclinations, and it did. The farm rescued her, and reading about it rescued me too.

I haul the ladder from the garage and put on oversized gloves. I always start by using a trowel to dig out the gutters but before long I’ll pitch the gloves and tool because they don’t quite get at the depth of the matter, the sweet oozing muck, the marriage of last summer’s dust, wind-brittled leaves and December’s forgotten rain. You have to use your hands.

Sometimes, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel greatly alone and sad. Especially these days, I have to remind myself that I keep company with the earth and sky, and that I alone mother the myriad things in-between. That I am a farmer and a friend, and still an apprentice at both. I have to come back to this wholesome earth and shepherd myself in the best way I can. That’s about the time a gift arrives, and I am saved.

The ladder is shaky because at no spot around this house, which sits on a mountain, is the ground level. I’m not afraid. This old path is muddy, but my aim is straight, and maybe I’ll see a bird.

Going out now.

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fresh start

January 1st, 2015    -    7 Comments

new-years-day

For old times and a new year, here is an excerpt from Momma Zen, now fresher than ever as an audiobook.

“Again, again, again!”

There is a saying about life: you don’t get a second chance. Children are here to tell us otherwise. You get a lot of second chances. You get a lot of third chances. You get many fourth chances. Before all is said and done, you get about a gazillion chances to do things that you never wanted to do even once. You will do many things again, so many times again: knocking down the same old blocks, pushing the same old swing, reading the same old story, singing the same old song, winding the same old wind-up to its predictable ending. Predictable to you, that is, same old, same old you.

Children learn by repetition. And by their repetition we can learn too. We can learn how cynical we are; how busy and easily bored; how impatient and restless. Those are the things we can see in ourselves many times a day. It can take far longer — a lifetime — for us to realize what they, with their brilliantly open minds, still see quite plainly: nothing, absolutely nothing repeats. Every moment of this life is altogether new. They do things again and again because they haven’t yet calculated the probabilities; they haven’t yet anticipated the ending. They are still doing what we have ceased to do: see the infinite possibilities. They are not yet cutting life short by their jaded cleverness. “Been there, done that,” we say, as we dispose of our unrealized potential.

It is impossible to conceive of the true, dynamic nature of life. It is ever-flowing, never arriving at the same place twice; indeed, never even pausing to arrive. And yet we think we’ve seen it all. read more

a tiny bit useful

November 9th, 2014    -    9 Comments

IMG_0728_2“I’m so over that cup!” my daughter said as I was about to pour a drink for her to take on the morning drive to school.

The cup was a spill-proof plastic cup with a hole in the lid for a straw. When she objected, I realized it was a child’s souvenir cup from an amusement park. The kind of park where you take your little ones for their first coin-operated horsey rides, first bumper cars, first roller coaster, and the first of dozens of cheap, ugly, oversized stuffed animals that will litter their rooms for years. It was still a perfectly usable cup, one you graduate to after you outgrow the sippy cup, but the drink I was pouring for her was coffee, and the commute was to high school.

My days are like this now.

This week I sold a good number of her once-very-special American Girl dolls, taking a baby step toward her urgent desire for a teenager’s room, Mom, a teenager’s room like everyone else. For a day and a half, my office was a doll salon, where I cleaned their faces, eyelashes and hair with baby wipes and coaxed the tangles from their ratty curls. I sorted a trunkload of doll clothing, hats, coats, socks, shoes and underwear. In short, I had a blast. Deep in the mound I found this teeny tiny duct tape purse. This craftwork dated from an age when my daughter was obsessed with enterprise. First came the dog training, dog washing, and dog walking schemes, then the yarn potholders and duct-tape wallets and purses. She was forever wondering how she could offer something people would want and use. Her ambition crested around age 12 with the YMCA babysitting classes and personal business cards, a campaign producing the pitiful yield of one actual babysitting job. Then she gave up childish things.

I kept the duct tape purse, because I remembered a little girl’s attempt to be a tiny bit useful in this big world. Usefulness gives us dignity. It gives us life. Everyone and everything wants to be useful, until their usefulness is used up.

I pitched the cup and a few more like it. I shipped the dolls. Now I pound this into my laptop waiting for the text that will tell me it’s time to pick up a girl who needs a ride home in the cold and dark from school. My tiny bit of usefulness is not yet used up, and for that I am completely grateful.

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58 years a mountain

September 26th, 2014    -    12 Comments

butterfly_on_rock_posters-r8a57b5d2bea84c47a456fcc8f0f91324_zqj_8byvr_324_2

There is a mountain sixteen miles high.
Every hundred years a butterfly brushes its wings across the granite face.
When the mountain is ground to dust, that’s how long time is.
Multiplied by ten billion.

An hour after midnight on the twenty-sixth
a crown of light
a blear of tears
my father climbed a fire escape
to the third floor rear
no, wait
that wasn’t me
years have smeared
the muddy lines of memory
my mother wept
our bodies two
one snip and from the roof I flew
down the Santa Monica Mountains
into the valley dim
not really, really
thus, pitched from the rim
unseated from the peak
I made slow time across a billion-year cheek
Now stopped in place
an eon nigh
the invisible kiss
of a butterfly.

On the anniversary of my birth.

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a long life

August 5th, 2014    -    10 Comments

Day after day, day after still day,
The summer has begun to pass away.

When my husband walked past me on the way to work this morning, he asked what I was going to do today.

I did not say what I was really going to do, such as “Wash a week’s worth of towels” or “Iron that clean white shirt of Georgia’s that ended up in the laundry just because it got wrinkled in her suitcase,” or “Make Katrina Kenison’s favorite recipe for gazpacho.” No, I didn’t say any of those things because they seemed trivial compared to the daily march of important activities in which I am no longer employed.

Instead what I said was, “Clean out a few closets.” And I saw the shadow of terror briefly crease my husband’s face, the shadow that crosses whenever I throw out what to him is safely out of sight. By my thinking, closets are where things go to die, and by die I mean lose vitality and disappear from use. Such is my ambition in this eighth month of every year as summer slows and autumn knocks. I become a teeny bit preoccupied with cleaning off the shelves. It’s my thing.

A failing light, no longer numinous,

Now frames the long and solemn afternoons

Where butterflies regret their closed cocoons.

I have just a few closets in my small house and they are in awful shape because I have now lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. As long, and soon longer, than I lived with my parents. Longer than the time spent with my grandparents, whose undying devotion gave me an eternity of perfect memories. Longer than any home I fled or wrecked. A very long time, and the closets show the count.

When I was packing week before last for a family vacation I went hunting for umbrellas, having seen the forecast, and found our “new” umbrellas encased in grime from layers of daily dust creeping through a slender crack in the closet door. Where in the world do closeted umbrellas get dirty through lack of use? My house, that’s where, in the closet I’m aiming for.

But that’s not what this post is about. I will get to the closets, or someone will. This post is about time. I’m feeling it, aren’t you?

Time, time, time. Next week my precious rosebud of a daughter turns 15. Next month I’ll be 58. We are so blessed.

A few years ago I was giving a talk in Boston at which, without shame, I called myself “an old lady.” A lovely woman wearing a look of discomfort raised her hand.

“Why do you keep calling yourself old?” she asked.

“Because I am.”

“But look at you,” she said, as a compliment.

“I feel as though I’ve lived a thousand years,” I said, “and I am satisfied.”

What’s wrong with being old? More to the point, when did age become an insult? It is liberating to open the doors, sweep the shelves and discard what is no longer enlivened by use. To face the present day and the plain, pure facts in front of us.

We reach the place unripe, and made to know

As with a sudden knowledge that we go

Away forever, all hope of return

Cut off, hearing the crackle of the burn-
ing blade behind us, and the terminal sound

Of apples dropping on the dry ground.

I watched a beautiful film on the plane last Sunday, and then commenced a quasi-obsession with Coco Chanel. She was a captivating ingénue, a force of nature, a cultural legend, and she lived until she was a very old lady of 87. She died not sick, but working — and hers was the work of scissors and straight pins. She made a full, long life of doing the simplest things again and again until she was satisfied.

After a week’s trek through some of the great monuments of Western civilization, I came home from vacation to a dry, needy yard and three full laundry hampers. Four loads and three hours of weeding and I was sated. Not done, not by far, but feeling utterly content and alive. Summer nearly gone, and I’m living well past it. To the closets I come.

Excerpts from the poem “Summer’s Elegy” by Howard Nemerov
Photo: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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the end of us

March 14th, 2014    -    4 Comments

The eighth-grade girls cried after last night’s spring musical. They are onto something.

I wrote the following on a notecard, on a plane, about eight years ago, flying east to my father’s deathbed. I’ve carried it with me ever since, suspecting I would one day put it somewhere. And so I’ll put it here, yesterday’s bouquet.

“This is the end of us,” Georgia says, pointing to the airport out the window. She means this is the end of our ride to the airport or this is the end of our time together before I get on the plane. Or what does she mean? It could be anything. It could be everything. It is so completely true. It is always the end of us.

“You be sure to go to the toy store and buy Georgia a Barbie today — a wedding Barbie!” I wag my finger in mock lecture to my husband. A wedding Barbie is proof of heaven to this six-year-old. Georgia brightens in the midst of the abyss. I need her to. She is onto something that I dare not face.

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a new day on the old place

December 23rd, 2013    -    4 Comments

It’s a new day
on the old place.
With every good wish for peace and plenty
and a very
Happy New Year!
From our home to yours,
The Millers

On the left: The garden circa 1916
On the right: December 2013

if you want, give

December 5th, 2013    -    8 Comments

51wgzXg3BgL._SY300_If you want time, give away your preoccupations.
If you want faith, give away your reasons.
If you want peace, give away your ideas.
If you want love, give away your fear.
If you want rest, give away your worry.
If you want a better future, give away your past.
If you want a home, give away your walls.
If you want fame, give away your contentment.
If you want money, give away your happiness.
If you want more, give yourself less.
If you want fulfillment, give everything away. (You’ll never run out.)

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write the letter

November 17th, 2013    -    12 Comments

mary-cassatt-letterA few months ago I received a packet of letters in the mail. They were the last letters sent by my mother to a friend who, cleaning out her drawers 14 years later, decided to send them to me. They trace the first months of my daughter’s life, which were also the last months of my mother’s life, for she had just begun a course of treatment for advanced cancer. Reading the letters, I saw what she had written about me and her new grandbaby, the commonplace detail that had given her something uplifting to share. I could see what we have lost in the abandoned art and ritual of correspondence; how by our modest connections we extend our life and love. These remnants of my mother’s simple, selfless friendship remind me to do what I urge you here: write the letter. Write the letter today.

 Aug. 16, 1999

I’m feeling stronger today. I guess time is the best healer. It was so nice of you to take the time and the effort to encourage me and show me your love and friendship.

Karen went home last night from the hospital. Little Georgia will stay on. It will be decided on a day to day basis how long she stays.

Aug. 28, 1999

Georgia now weighs 4 lbs. and 10 oz. The baby came home from the hospital last Tuesday afternoon. We talked to Ed & Karen today. They both sound tired.

Sept. 5, 1999

I talked to Karen this morning. Georgia now weighs 5 lbs. 4 oz. Tricia was with Karen & Ed from Tuesday night to Friday evening. She was a big help. Karen seemed to feel so much better.

I went to a Cancer Support meeting last Wednesday. Met so many nice people with lots of helpful hints & advice. Got a free wig also. It’s got some gray in it, so I’ll finally have more gray hair.

Sept. 12, 1999

Talked to Karen yesterday. Georgia goes for a check-up on Monday. Her dad told me she might weight 6 lbs. She eats all the time. Some friends of mine are going to give me a Grandma shower on Sept. 25th. It’ll be a brunch. Isn’t that nice of them!

My hair is falling out daily.

Sept. 19, 1999

Right now, I have a strange hair-do. I usually wear a hat when I go outside. Don’t want to shock an unsuspecting person.

Sept. 27, 1999

Georgia weighs about 7 lbs. now. She’s had either colic or some stomach distress lately. Karen calls me every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times. She is still very stressed out & worries about everything.

Sept. 29, 1999

Karen sent me directions how to meditate while sitting in a chair. I do it twice a day. Each time about 10 minutes. I hope I’m doing it correctly.

Oct. 14, 1999

We are not going to Calif. this weekend. I had a hard time making up my mind. Karen said since I couldn’t decide, let outside influences determine. The nurse called to tell me about my blood test. My white cells were down. Then on Monday Dr. Bell, the internist, put on a 24 hr. heart monitor on me to see if anything unusual showed up. That’s when I decided home was the best place for me. read more

unfolded, a gift

September 26th, 2013    -    11 Comments

Martin_Creed,_Work_No._340_A_Sheet_of_paper_folded“There is something in me maybe someday 
to be written; now it is folded, and folded, 
and folded, like a note in school.”
― Sharon Olds

Unfolded
by Jena Strong

Every line on my face is a place I unfolded,
no longer compressed, no longer needing
to contain mystery after mystery,
no longer a matryoshka doll holding itself
in and in and in, kaleidoscopically hidden.
No, life has unfolded my careful origami,
like a middle or third name
too beautiful for the world not to hear,
each deep crevice a hint of healing
and heartache and hero’s journey.
It’s old-school, to remain folded up
like that, or to collapse like a mountain
unto itself, or to get so lost
in the folds of what happened
that you can no longer make out
the writing on the wall of your life,
which is to say how blue the sky is
in September, how kindly she caresses
the deep grooves between your eyes,
folded notes to be passed to a friend
between classes, perhaps—or birds
or buildings or an architecture
defying smooth textures. Let me be
creased, then, unfolded as a piece
of paper you’ve tucked inside
the pages of a heavy hardcover for years,
stumbled upon, blank, and fluently speaking
in a language you didn’t even know you knew.
***
A gift on the first day of my fifty-eighth year.

Art by Martin Creed, “Work No. 340: A sheet of paper folded up and unfolded,” 2004.

value of time

September 17th, 2013    -    11 Comments

1376345328e69d8ff06a72cen“I think I have the sixty cents.”

This is what you’re likely to hear if you’re standing behind me at the post office. Or at Starbucks, tapping your feet, waiting to order and get back on the road.

Sure enough, I do have the sixty cents to go with the five dollars’ postage for my priority mail envelope, and as I dig in my wallet to bring it forth and count it out, I realize how it looks. Two quarters and two nickels.

“Money is so old-fashioned, isn’t it?” I say to the postal worker, who sees a veritable parade of the out-of-date at her counter every day. The post office today is like a mecca of yesterday.

Here’s what I like about exact change. It takes time. Counting change slows me down.

I’m not in such a hurry anymore. I don’t know why anyone would be. I can see what we lose by our rush, but I cannot see what we gain.

It was back-to-school night last Thursday. The school year is now one month gone. The 8th grade math teacher let us in on a plan they have to roll back the math curriculum to the way it used to be. Awhile ago when everyone decided we were falling too far behind in this country, losing the future and forfeiting our superpower, they commenced a reign of terror in our middle school math program. Good math students were funneled into accelerated classes, learning math two years ahead of schedule, crammed and tested until they crapped out of the cull. It was a mystery to me why they thought this was good for our kids, what they hoped to gain by the pressure to duke it out with each other, let alone compete with the kids in Bangalore or Chengdu.

Tell kids to hurry up and you’ll stop their love of learning. Steal their confidence and pride. Dull their excitement and delight. Given time, they might yet recover. I hope somewhere along the line someone will give them back the time they’ve lost.

You can find time waiting in line behind me at the post office but those lazy days are numbered too.

This weekend I posted a prayer list and invited folks to add to it. The list grew and grew. Someone wondered how long it would take me to recite all those prayers. It takes several minutes a day. Maybe that’s why I’m doing it. Doing things that take time is the way to find time. Find time, and you’re not in such a hurry anymore.

Find time for yourself at the Plunge Retreat in Boise on Saturday, Oct. 5.

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