Yummy scrummy


Enough about me. I’m going to write about somebody else writing about me.

About a month ago I happened upon this essay by Dan Barden entitled “No More Aching to be an Artist” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers magazine. I’m not qualified for either of those job descriptions so I’d never read the magazine before, but I found it on the rack at Borders. I flipped through the first pages until I found . . . ME. This guy, a real writer, a real writing teacher, wrote about ME.

Well, enough about him.

All ye who twizzle yourselves between parenting and some “other” creative endeavor, read Dan’s story as a treat. And know that sometime, without the slightest wish or warning, out of the wild blue goodness, somebody can come forward and hand you a yummy scrummy.

Leaking away


The sound you hear is the sound of my level head drip, drip, dripping away. It has puddled in a spreading pool on the patio. It is seeping up from underneath the parquet floor. It has muddled into the unmistakable morass of a household catastrophe. It shouts SLAB LEAK.

Two little words, and with it, walls crumble.

For those of you with the incredible good fortune to have a life other than mine, this means that when the house was built, they put galvanized steel plumbing pipes into the concrete foundation. A good recipe for ruining my day sixty years later.

I am staring into the undernethers of a total household re-plumbing job, and I am doing it alone.

It started months ago as an inch-wide water stain in the corner of the dining room. No big deal. I moved the furniture to cover it up. No big deal. Then it spread into a creeping shape the size of Afghanistan. No big deal. Then it started to seep out from the foundation and lounge all day and night in a wet spot on the patio. No big deal. Then the plumber came and told me to sell my firstborn. No big deal. Then he said it would take five days to fix and wouldn’t include repairing the gashes in the walls or bathroom tile. No big deal. Then I remembered relatives are coming to visit next week.

No big deal, my husband says. It can wait. He says this from a secured, undisclosed, undisturbed location out of town. The relatives coming are his.

The sound you hear is the sound of my dying hope of rescue, my fleeting wish for a different ending, my sweet dream of salvation, leaking away. I’m calling the plumber and getting started today.

Enough already


My life is one continuous mistake – Dogen Zenji

This is a picture of the season’s first water lily from my backyard pond. It seems ubiquitous, doesn’t it? A pond and a water lily? You never see one without the other. In truth, a water lily blooms only in the full sun of summer. Specifically, it only blooms under the shadowless midday, high-heat summer sun. That means it blooms for way less than half a day during way less than half a year. Its bloom is so rare, as a matter of fact, that I had to hold up this post until I could actually get a photograph of any one of our two dozen water lilies in bloom.

Now, would you call that bloom rate a success or a failure as far as flowers go? Would you call it a mistake? A half-measure? A near-miss? A critical success but a marketing failure?

If it were anything other than a water lily, say if it was your life’s work, or your life, you probably would judge it. I know I would, and I do. By output, uptake, download, click through, sales rate, tally mark; by any weight or number, my life is one continuous mistake. This is the burden I bear as I write this; this is the atlas unshrugged.

My life is one continuous.

Several weeks ago I started this blog, just as several years ago I started to write. I started both of these things as I know all writers do: for themselves, or more precisely, for itself. We, most of us writers, write for its own sake. We write because we must, because it is what we do. The words come from someplace else. We are merely the conveyers. We don’t quite manufacture, but rather more accurately, supply our product, like the ice cream man, or the Tupperware lady. The ideas, the inventories, build up, and then we take them to the streets and sound a tinkling tune; we put on a little word party and invite readers into our own home. Of course, there are hardly any ice cream men or Tupperware ladies left anymore. More failing propositions.

I started writing this for myself, and now I am chased once more by the numbers. I look around and see other writers, other bloggers, more skilled, I daresay even expert at the tags and the rankings, the rings and the pings, the views, the ticket-taking, and the turnstile. And then I catch myself. This post is my way of catching myself from falling that way again. Falling into my judging, measuring and weighing mind, my discursive, ego-screaming mind where nothing ever blooms enough.

My life is one.

Look at the water lily!

Hand wash cold

I recently ordered a set of samue. Samue is a style of street clothing for Zen monks. This tiny piece of printed rice paper came tucked into the garment. I have no idea what it says, and for that very reason, I find it quite charming.

I imagine it could be laundry instructions. Maybe it says “Inspected by No. 12.”

It reminds me that, with only a change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty.

Sit down


You might have to sit down for this. I’m going to take up the question I’m asked most.

How do I teach my child to meditate?

You might have to sit down because of the question I’m asked least.

How do I meditate?

Everywhere I look I see people – well-meaning, helpful, good-hearted people – trying to get kids to be still, be quiet, slow down and pay attention. What a noble and mostly, lost cause. Still, it’s got to be worth the effort, particularly in light of how far we’ve let things get out of hand. Another day of TV, another night of TV, another video game, another trip to the electronics superstore, another this, another that. Our kids are disordered, addicted, adrift. We turn our backs for what seems like a minute and a whole generation is lost.

So I have to wonder. When people ask how to teach their children to meditate, are they really asking, “How do I get my child to stop bothering me?” If so, then it’s easy. We already know how to do it, and we do it far too much already.

If the question really is, “How do I teach my child to meditate?” then the answer is easier still.

Sit down for this. Just sit down.

What’s not there


Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there – Miles Davis

Today is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 74.

Yesterday I was sorting stacks of Georgia’s drawings and cards from the very beginning, settling on a new round of keepers, and I found some letters Mom sent in her last year.

We received Karen’s letter today, so I thought I would send a quick reply.

She was a letter writer, a dutiful letter writer. She did this with the diligence of stenography, the now archaic art, which was one of her perfected disciplines. She documented things unarguably well.

Dad and I went out and ate Mexican food on Wednesday night.

Sometimes my sisters and I giggled about the chronography of her letters: the litany of meals and miles, temperatures and rainfalls.

On Thursday, the 11th, I have another chemotherapy. I can expect aftereffects.

She did not adorn; she did not dwell. She did not linger over the things that can never be expressed.

I include some pictures.

They were snapshots of the baby shower her friends had hosted after Georgia’s birth, a treat to sweeten her numbered days.

They aren’t very clear. I thought I would include them so you can share the experience with me.

Oh how I do. How I still do!

She remains my first and last teacher. Everything she never said grows clearer all the time.

Dog days


It is summer now. Will I ever stop crying?

Not for the reasons you think. Sure, summer demands an adjustment of time, energy and expectations. It has its own rhythm; it has its own pace; it has its own flavor. It is immensely full. And although there is an illusion that time stands still in the summer, it’s just not so. Everything goes and grows, leaps and falls and my job is simply to . . . weep.

Saturday was Doggie Day here in our small town. Georgia went to the park with her dad and our dog Molly to run a few loops through the canine obstacle course. So impressed was Georgia with her own masterful handling that she came straightaway home and conceived her own summer enterprise: Doggie Daycare Training, her own dog school, offered every Saturday in our front yard on a training track concocted out of a laundry rack and empty boxes. She drew a flyer, she set the price, she meticulously realized a scheme out of nothing but innocence and self-confidence. And then her dad, motivated by love, stammered a word of caution, dealt the mortal wound of a well-meant doubt, and she fell all apart.

When I came home after all of this had happened, she approached only slowly to show me the poster of her abandoned proposition. Without thinking, I nodded. “Looks good,” I said. Her look of incredulity riveted me as she double checked:

“You think this is a good idea?”

And then it all came back, every moment of trembling dread, watching her wobble toward the stairs, teeter toward the slide, totter on two wheels while I had nothing but my breaking heart to clutch and hold, watching and trusting, letting her go, letting her fall, and dusting her off when all was said and done.

We copied the flyers. Her daddy took her around the block to put them on telephone poles.

“Listen up for the phone!” she called back to me as she headed out. She was twelve feet tall.

These are the dog days of our summer. The risks are greater, the flights are farther, the falling is as hard as ever. I weep even before they’ve begun.

And as instructed, I listen for the phone.

Way station


I have an unusual backyard full of old and unusual things. Sometimes when I find out that people need help, that they are struggling with fear or illness, anxiety or worse, I say, “I’ll go into the backyard right now and say a service.” And I just open the door, step into the garden and say a chant, which is a prayer.

It’s the least I can do; it’s the most I can do; it’s the only thing I can truly do.

Then I come back in and empty the dishwasher.

Lately it seems I hear those kinds of things a lot. I hear about women, my friends and sisters, strangers and soulmates, waiting for their children, waiting for the news, waiting for arrival, waiting for a turn, waiting for health and optimism, waiting for benevolence, waiting for a safe haven, waiting to start again.

This is who hears all of that. This is Jizo, a kind of Buddhist guardian of women and children and travelers (because aren’t we travelers all?). She is in my backyard, she stands watch and hears prayers. She does this for you, because who else could there ever be?

Take comfort today. Take comfort always.

Wheels


We’ve had an ambulation revelation. Georgia can ride a scooter. Georgia can ride a scooter to school. It’s not that hard; all she has to do is this:

Puhlease, pooleeze, pleese, pleez, puleeease, Mommy, pppoooleisze, pouleise, pleeease?

She leaves me no edgewise as she straps on her helmet and pops atop the hot pink ride. We set off down the slope with me at a galloping stride just to keep her in sight.

The car! The driveway! The curb! The crosswalk! The bump! The thistle! The nub! The wisp!

I squawk nonstop warnings as her wheels squeek on ahead. And I smile, glad to see that the farther she goes, the smaller she looks in her baby bicycle helmet, Princess backpack and Hello Kitty anklets. In truth, she’s already outgrown all those things, but I’m glad that I get one more private viewing, one more one-man-show.

Her school won’t allow the scooters to stay for the day, so I take the wheels and wobble my way back up the hill. I’m pumping up the homestretch when I see my husband’s car approach. He slows his pristine, all-electric, pride-and-joy to a stop and rolls down the window.

“There’s nothing I won’t stoop to,” I say by way of explanation. He thinks I’m complaining, but I’m not.

Life story

Thank you for your blah blah submission. It isn’t a blah blah fit at this blah blah time.

(In case you think some of us have it any other way. Have it any easier. Have another chapter and verse.)

Blah.

Mercy me


Oh my goodness. We had the most remarkable visitor here at our house this weekend. A peacock.

She was a peahen, actually, and you could skeptically discount her appearance as less than miraculous. We do live a mile or so from the Los Angeles County Arboretum where the birds have their run of the place. Occasionally you see a posse of them strutting around town. But we’re a bit farther above and beyond the typical range.

It was one, alone, flitting amid the bamboo, nibbling beneath the wisteria.

“It’s an auspicious sign,” I said, as I am wont to say about most things, mainly because I love the word “auspicious” and especially love the way it sounds, so round and full in the mouth, so deliciously sibilant. I find it easy to love words, far easier, for example, than loving anything else. “Maybe she’s roosting,” I said, as she squatted atop the garden gate.

And so, later on, after she’d left for the day, I googled to find the meaning. “Chinese symbol peacock” I typed in, and there she was, in plain sight. Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, of mercy, of love, she who hears the cries of the world, and responds eternally, effortlessly with her thousand arms and eyes. Kuan Yin, the essence of what we are: pure love, and not just a word for it. I’m like her number one fan!

Sometimes, only rarely, I can see so plainly that the dharma–the true teaching–is not something that I have to find elsewhere. It is not something to study or acquire. It is not something to do. It is not a metaphor for something else. It is all there is! Yes, like all signs we encounter in our life, the peacock is auspicious. “Enter here,” she reminds me. “This means you.”

Roost here, old girl, roost here.

Turnabout

It was, for all of us, a peculiar night. Something about this last gasp of spring: a bit restless, a tad eager, a wee hurried to reach the full stretch of summer. I woke and stayed awake in the deep darkness of the small hours, then submerged into underwater slumber through the 6:30 a.m. alarm. Finally up and walking past Georgia’s door, I see a square of paper on the floor. She’s made a sign in red ballpoint to intercept my morning bee-line to the coffeemaker:

Mommy, Please
come in
I’ve beed
wh waiting
for you all
night!

Is this how suddenly it passes? After only 7 years, hardly 7 years, barely 7 years, she is now the vigilant one? The one to wait and watch for the night to lift? For the sleepers to stir? For the ticks to tock toward morning’s reunion? Later, walking the dog, I found a tiny bird’s nest. It was empty; the baby had flown.

Lucky Penny

luckypennyI’m in the middle of my own meltdown, a tantrum, a typhoon in the kitchen. Cabinet doors slam; the walls shake. Georgia looks up. She’s paralyzed; the storm leaves her no safe ground. She fingers Daddy’s loose change on the counter. Then, with only magic at her disposal, she asks.

“Mommy, do you want a lucky penny?”

Why yes, I do, my love, my saving grace. I will put it right here.

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