Posts Tagged ‘Worth’

important things are close by

January 22nd, 2015    -    4 Comments

rockIn the past, I thought the important things were far away from me. I worked hard and thought hard every day in order to get to those important things. But soon I realized that these were actually close by. — Lee Kang-hyo, master potter

I’ve watched a video about this man several times this week. As in some books, the first lines are unforgettable. The simplicity is brilliant. I hope you can make the time to watch it, and if you can’t see it at the bottom of this post, you can go here to watch it. You may never get a chance to meet this man or glimpse his life, and even if you met him, you might not recognize him as a master. His shirts are stained and he smokes.

Earlier this week I spent a day with the ponds in the backyard. The leaves in Southern California have finally shaken loose and there is work. Everything I do in the garden or house I do by hand, like you. I bend low over a small stream under the sycamores and lift layers of wet leaves from the slow flowing water. They smell of earth and decay, a luscious stink. I scuff my hands and crack my fingernails without knowing. I try not to fall into the deeper water, aware that no one will come and fish me out, but I straddle the rocks without fear. After a few hours I’ve built a mound of leaves and muck at the back of the yard. My shoes and pants are wet. I need a shower. I don’t give a backward glance at what I’ve done. It will be meaningless tomorrow. I feel alive.

Do you ever experience something like this? Is it possible to live like this in an everyday way, doing everyday things? The potter in this video is a master of the Korean onggi, which means large jars. They are amazing creations, these massive jars. He says that when he began working, he saw them as sculpture. He wanted to make beautiful sculpture. Now he appreciates that the clay pots, first created to store fermenting food like kimchi, chili paste and soy sauce, are inextricable from Korea’s food culture. Food that people make for their own families and eat in their own homes every day. Large jars are even more beautiful as large jars.

Important things are close by. Let this bring you peace.

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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a dr. pepper mom

April 15th, 2012    -    13 Comments

I drank two Dr. Peppers last week. I just might have another before today is through. When I reach for one on the lower shelf of the refrigerator case of Happy’s corner convenience store, I think of my mother. My mother drank Dr. Pepper. It’s one of the things I couldn’t stand about her, so when I do it now, it’s the atonement of a fully grown daughter. It tastes pretty damn good.

I wince when people tell me they could be more forgiving if they’d had a mother like mine (or even me), a different family, a more enlightened upbringing, better genes or geography. Every mother is the mother you wish she wasn’t.

My mother drank Dr. Pepper because she was a Texas farm girl and Dr. Pepper was the state’s own peculiar brand of soda. When she still drank Dr. Pepper in the middle of the ‘60s Pepsi Generation in beachside Southern California, I was mortified. There were other things that offended me about her then. Her clothes weren’t particularly cool. She never put on much makeup. I wished she would do something about her hair. And she had big hips. She seemed considerably wider and rounder then the other moms. These other moms were the ones at home in their split-level houses when school was out, for another thing, while my mother wasn’t because she worked. She worked because she had to and because she wanted to, her work as a teacher adding both dignity and indignity to her life. She had to endure the insults of her own family for becoming the first girl-child to go to college; she had to become better educated and work longer and harder every day and night to make and save the pittance that kept my family afloat. It was less money for harder work than my father was paid, but she did it for 40 years. Only rarely did she buy herself a Dr. Pepper as a ten-ounce consolation. I can’t believe I begrudged her that.

She gave me the chance to choose a different kind of education, job and beverage, those of my own generation. Those choices weren’t much better, but they were mine. It’s taken me this long to respect her point of view on most things.

Mom, I’m buying.

What brings this to mind is the recent, ridiculous, overblown and entirely artificial discussion of mothers, (again) their work, (again) and whether we value it (of course we don’t.) When these kinds of political fabrications get conjured up, I can’t stand it. They are never about real mothers with real lives, but always about some idealized mother. We only protect and defend idealized mothers. Only imaginary mothers are served by political campaigns. Real mothers are never served by anyone, anytime. If you don’t know who the idealized mother is I’ll give you a hint. It’s not you, and it’s not your mother. It’s the one that wasn’t.

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go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

groupon nation

April 5th, 2011    -    75 Comments

Your writing will not save you. Managing to be published will not save you. Don’t be deluded. – Joyce Carol Oates

Every morning when I click on my email and see the daily offer from Groupon, I feel a little twinge. I may or may not read it. I may or may not know the business. But I definitely will not use it. I am heartsick over all the businesses that will not be saved by Groupon.

Your couponing will not save you.

This post is not about the relative merits or demerits of social couponing. Yes, I understand it is the latest big thing. It is the big thing that reminds me a lot of the last big thing. We have a remarkable capacity in this nation to make each other poor – and call it the next big thing. We have a remarkable capacity to demean and devalue each other, and degrade the decent work we all do. We might even call it progress. To want something for nothing, to take more and pay less, to come out ahead, as if we can stand taller on the cumulative loss from our cheap, daily deal making.

Don’t be deluded.

This treatise may be inspired by the bloodthirsty union-busting that passes as budget balancing in our statehouses, or the arrogant idiocy of the other side in Congress. Or it may have something to do with our income tax returns. My husband finished them last weekend, and in a sign of his unshakable goodness, he did not report that my net income last year had inched valiantly up, to the round number that is the very lowest of the low five-figures. He has, over these 16 years, made what amounts to a guaranteed, year-over-year, skyrocketing investment in my poverty.

Your writing will not save you.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some big-timer. I am not like, say, Joyce Carol Oates, the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of bestselling books too numerous to count, collector of accolades too voluminous to mention, including several rumored Nobel Prizes, whose recent memoir from the abyss of her widowhood included the remarkable passage I quote above.

Managing to get anything will not save you.

At this point in my so-called life I feel like I did about a half-second after I got married, when I had a startling realization. Someone has to be the wife! And then a half-second after I gave birth: Someone has to be the mother! And now: Someone has to be the priest! Each of these revelations occurred after I’d made an avowed commitment to do something that I had no earthly idea how to do. That’s the way vows work: forever after, or they don’t work at all. read more

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