Sunday, November 28, 2010

11/28/10: Nothing new on the Free Bench...

...though some things did come and go, a plastic juice pitcher, several unopened filters for Brita water pitchers, a couple reusable Whole Foods bags.

I have been thinking about the idea of aging also being fading.  It's not an original idea, but I find myself wanting to think of it symbolically.  If we do indeed fade as we age, what might the purpose for this be?  Does fading suggest an inner process that is vital and appropriate?  I have a sense of relief about the idea of some youthful things fading.  I am grateful that my feelings are less epic than they used to be, for example, that the intensity of them has faded.  I still have big feelings, but not so much on the order of several different ones daily.
Also, the concept of fading implies a see-er, someone who takes note of one having been more distinct or vibrant-looking previously (the see-er can even be oneself looking in a mirror).  Does fading, then, imply an appropriate turning more inward: I am no longer projecting my vitality outward as much, I am keeping more of the energy of it for myself?  Our popular culture tells us that much of life is about being seen.  So how do we make peace with this fading when our culture suggests that it is literally our worthiness of attention fading away? 

How do we continue toward being our own inner seer, validating the rightness of making less of a stir out there and more of one in here?

Hmm.  I started thinking about all the people I know who are older than I, in their 50's, 60's, 70's, and they haven't faded at all.  Maybe it's all a ploy to sell make-up and hair dye...

11/25/10: Black to-the-knee women's boots...

...flimsy pink women's tank top, another tank top, filmy green baby doll nightgown, filmy blue baby doll nightgown.

K--- snagged the boots and looks rather swashbuckling in them.  I like that she is discovering boots.  I have already mentioned how transforming boots have been in my life, how boots with the right amount of heft in the sole have enabled me to walk with confidence - or even cockiness - at times and that that has felt good.  It is the sort of experience I wish for my children.

It is still dark out this morning.  It has been bitterly cold.  The kind of cold that makes me think of when I lived in Sisters.  There were two-week-long stretches where it didn't get above 0.  I once forgot about not setting my emergency brake in weather like that and set it just long enough to go into the post office to check for mail.  When I came out, it had frozen that way. 

I loved living in Sisters.  At those kind of temperatures in the high desert, snow was around but it didn't stick especially.  Wind would pick up the snow and swirl it in small white twisters.  The land always looked as if a light dusting of snow had just fallen, even if it had been days or weeks since that had happened.  It was the sort of place where the Native American prayer came spontaneously to mind:

In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty,
It is finished in beauty.

11/21/10: Small ceramic Halloween "basket"...

...a cute smiley Halloween witch doll, a Fisher Price postal box, a child-sized waste basket shaped like a trash can, a plastic bath toy boat, classroom-type A-B-C posters, more running shoes.

I really like the witch doll.  She is friendly-looking, though I realize this runs counter to Halloween, which is meant to be scary.  I probably always had some issues with Halloween's scary element, but they were exacerbated when I was in 5th grade (forgive me, those of you who have heard this story).  My teacher, Mrs. Cooper, sat the class down the day of Halloween and cautioned us: people were putting LSD and other drugs in Halloween candy, thinking it was funny.  We all knew it was possible to overdose on drugs - look at Janis, look at Jimi.  So we were to scrutinize every piece of candy for tampering and not eat any that were questionable.  Mark Cass raised his hand and said lots of drugs were used with a syringe, and who could be expected to notice a pin-prick-sized mark on a candy wrapper?  I think he meant it as, There's no chance we could detect it so we may as well eat whatever we want.  To me it meant that we could be as careful as could be and still be drugged.

Thus I had my first anxiety-ridden Halloween, expecting at any moment for my sisters or brother to drop in a writhing mass at my feet under the influence of some mind-altering substance.  I had respite the next year when we were in Scotland.  Guy Fawkes Day was their Halloween, and the Scots weren't prone to generating urban legends about people hurting children in this manner.  They preferred ghost stories about women in veils with disfigured faces.  But that's another story. 

Back in the States for seventh grade, I was so tied in knots about Halloween that I didn't go.  I couldn't bear the drawn out anxiety of my younger sisters walking up to first one house and then another, over and over, wondering each time if they'd come back the same.  I believe I told my mom that I didn't want to ruin their fun by warning them and perpetrating the same misery on them as had been perpetrated on me, but would she please check their candy? 

I don't suspect Halloween candy foul play anymore, but that feeling associated with Halloween has remained with me in a slightly different form.  I tense up, wait for it to be over, and am somehow extra relieved when we survive intact.  (My therapist friends are thinking, Sounds like a job for EMDR.  They're probably right.)  So, I appreciate happy witches and ghosts that remind me Halloween can be fun, benign even.

11/18/10: A pair of chunky black women's shoes...

...pair of women's running shoes, pair of black shoes that are shaped like the kind Mr. Rogers used to change into, only without laces - and this pair has pink hippos all over it.

I don't know why, but those hippo shoes made me very happy.  I love the idea of some adult buying them and wearing them because they like them, because the shoes and the hippos make them happy, too.  Anyway, this got me thinking about other things about the Free Bench that delight me.  A friend emailed about the bird cage and asked us to snag it because it might be just the thing to put her daughter's Christmas gift - a bird - in.  Somehow in my mind this transaction is now connected to Mrs. Ferguson (that was her name, not Mrs. Cameron), and perhaps my friend's daughter might love her bird as much as Mrs. Ferguson loved Petey.

Experiences like this also make me wonder about what magical qualities the Bench might have.  Here appeared this bird cage, which someone could use, needed, in fact, for a gift to be fully realized.  So I go to the next step in my mind: could I place an order with the Bench?   Not for something outlandish, like a million dollars, but for something that could actually appear there?  I may do such a thing.  I may go whisper to the Bench tonight and see what comes of it.

11/15/10: A large sack of fabric scraps...

...a bird cage complete with food and bird toys.       

This type of cage is for parakeets, or budgerigars.  I first heard the word budgerigar (budgie for short) when we moved to Scotland.  The elderly woman a couple doors down had a budgie - named Petey, I think.  Her name was Mrs. Cameron (actually, it wasn't Cameron, but it was a good Scottish name, like Stewart or MacDonald or Gordon - once this email goes out, I will hear from my parents what her last name really was, and likely it will be a good English name).  She figures in our life in Scotland in a couple ways.  First of all, every Saturday, early, we'd hear the mail slot squeak open and then crash shut as four Cadbury chocolate bars descended to our entryway floor.  These offerings came every week that we lived in Scotland, courtesy of Mrs. Cameron.  They came simply because she was delighted that children had moved in (practically) next door, and probably because my parents were good about chatting with her.

One day in the spring after we moved to Scotland, I was playing tennis against the side of the house next door.  It had been vacant the whole time we lived there.  We were expressly forbidden to play tennis against the wall because we might break a window.  So naturally I broke a window.  Eventually, it was decided that I needed to go ask Mrs. Cameron how to get in touch with the owners of house.  I had hoped to avoid this sort of ritual during my childhood, and going to Mrs. Cameron's was quite anxiety-producing.  I shouldn't have worried.  What sort of response did I expect from a woman who put chocolate through the mail slot for children she wasn't related to and barely knew?  She said she wasn't sure how to get ahold of them, and that I wasn't to worry about it.  Then she offered me a cookie.  My dad had a little trouble integrating this, but that was all we were going to get out of Mrs. Cameron.

It is the magic of memory that, to me, she is still in that toasty house of hers, chatting up Petey and feeding him seeds - even though this was 38 years ago.

11/13/10: A pair of men's running shoes...

...pair of black women's boots, a Christmas garland with greenery interspersed with moose heads - no kidding.

I really want to say something about the garland.  I have never seen such a thing.  It is goofy and whimsical.  I suppose it might be part of a past ad campaign for Moosehead beer (which a friend and I used to call "moose-piss" beer) but there is nothing obviously advertising-esque about it.  We may need to liberate it and encircle our entranceway with it.  This does make me think of weird holiday decorations.  When I first knew Garth, he was decorating his Christmas trees with things like plastic godzillas and rubber frogs. 

There's been some talk in our neighborhood of hanging holiday lights with small Japanese lanterns on every home we can convince to go along with this plan, maybe become the block known for its Japanese lantern lights.  That's not especially weird, I realize.  Also, in Portland, some people decorate their outside trees - like, with ornaments and silvery garlands.  I love that.  Maybe we should rescue the moosehead garland and decorate one of our aspen with it... 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

11/23/10: Nothing new on the Free Bench... lots of white pellets that I hesitate to call snow, but which are indeed
frozen white precipitation.  The kids don't have school today anyway, but even
so, being around Luken this morning was like living with Calvin from Calvin and
when he wants snow and it doesn't come.  Luken was way disappointed.  He wanted to sled down our tiny hill and have a snowball fight with his friend, Max.

The hippo shoes are still there.  Maybe they're for me after all.

Friday, November 12, 2010

11/12/10: Nothing new on the Free Bench

Yesterday, I was out on my bike, starting my day at 7:30 a.m.  It was a brisk day with early morning sunshine and mistiness both.  It invigorated all my senses.  I passed many other cyclists on my way, and the first handful were friendly, passing by with acknowledging smiles or "good mornings."  I was reminded of a short piece I wrote over five years ago when I ran regularly.  Over the months, I had developed a theory that runners were either grumpy/intense or introverted/self-involved or both - because they rarely smiled as we ran past each other, whereas cyclists often did. 

Now, once again, I noticed the cyclists going by.  My theory held true for awhile.  Even the guy balancing his coffee while cycling managed a brilliant smile.  Eventually, it started to break down, though.  The woman who looked to be about my age, who I was sure would smile (in approaching-50 sisterhood, I guess) didn't, the guy riding with no hands while texting also didn't, and assorted others added themselves to this group.

I share these observations for two reasons: one, it makes me think about how much we humans love to find patterns in things - even where they don't exist - and two, it reminds me how much I appreciate friendly human connection.  It makes a difference to me, helps me feel connected and uplifted.  It's a good reminder to offer that to others as well.  And if they don't smile back, there are so many possible reasons for that, it's not even worth lingering on it; it's just time then to move on to the next connection.

11/9/10: A bright green plastic water bottle...

...Edwin Newman's Strictly Speaking, a box of foam hair rollers.

When I was 15, I realized that I was only willing to go so far for fashion and beauty.  I lived with the Pitsker family the last four months of my sophomore year of high school, and Peter, who was a senior, had a lovely girlfriend, Carol.  Carol was petite, had creamy skin, and straight ash blond hair that moved in a watery way.  I washed my hair every morning and, when possible, used one of the blow driers in the house.  I had perfectly decent hair, not terrible, but nothing amazing either. 

I once asked Carol if she did anything special to get her hair to fall in such a cascade.  She said she did.  Every morning, she woke up at 5:30, plugged in a set of hot rollers and washed her hair while they heated up.  She then mostly dried her hair, then put in the hot rollers.  Then apparently she sat for up to an hour as the rollers did whatever they needed to to get the cascade effect

Carol had lost me at the "I wake up at 5:30" part.  There was no way I was waking up at 5:30, no matter how fabulous it would make my hair look.  Looking good is all well and good.  But getting enough sleeping is better.

11/8/10: A large swatch of royal purple material...

...several thin rectangles of marble, a navy blue fleece pullover, The Complete Poems of Leonard Cohen, the Songwriter's Market, the Narcotics Anonymous Handbook, a large box full of cassette tapes, two pairs of black high heels, a pair of gold moccasins, a wooden case for poker chips and cards, two ties, a pair of large chinos, an old projector case, a sack full of burlap-like material, a memory foam pillow, numerous creams and shampoos, a salt and pepper shaker that have a stand to hold them because they taper into a point from the shaker top down.  (This arrangement reminds me of Kwak beer, about which Wikipedia says, "As with other Belgian beers, Kwak has a branded glass with its own distinctive shape. The Kwak glass has attracted attention because it is a round-bottomed, hour-glass shaped glass that resembles a stirrup cup[2] or 'yard of ale', which is held upright in a wooden stand—rather like a piece of old scientific apparatus.")

I believe these things to be more items from the neighbor who moved this weekend, and it makes me think about how little we know about many of the people we encounter in our daily lives.  From the leavings on the Bench, I can paint a picture of a person who had dreams of being a songwriter, artist or poet.  I say "who had dreams" because these items are now on the Free Bench, implying she no longer needs the books that will help her to follow her dreams.  I remember this young woman as being sort of a downer, sighing and letting me know about the ways her life was hard whenever I asked how she was.  Of course, it likely was hard.  Had I known she had the longings of a poet, something in me would have softened.

The couples therapist John Gottman notes how important it is to know the dreams of our partners and to do what we can to help those dreams come true.  I think his idea reflects the importance of our dreams.  They are imbued with our essence.  They say something about the person we can sometimes see ourselves as; and it is so amazing to be seen as that by someone else.  Instead of thinking of my former neighbor as an Eeyore, thinking of her as a songwriter would have tapped into the part of me that could see her as more than what she seemed.  Of course, we are all more than what we seem.  I could use remembering that more.

P.S.  Of course, maybe she doesn't need the books anymore because she has succeeded, she has arrived.  That is possible.  One former resident in this same apartment house was working on a memoir when she lived there.  It was very well received, and she was able to move to a nicer place with the proceeds.  So there you go!

11/6/10: An all-in-one stereo with CD player and tape players and amp...

...two small speakers, a navy blue cat dish, a small black frame with no glass, a number of Fern Michael type books, several programming books, a polka-dotted ceramic plant pot, a glass-topped box that I associate with displaying butterflies, a large frame with a collage of sorts in it.

We owe this bounty to a neighbor, who is moving out.  I am 99% sure she is moving in with her boyfriend, who we started to see early in the summer as they walked down the sidewalk, his arm hooked behind her neck.  So, no need for the stereo, his is better.  No need for the cat dish because-?  Not sure there.
The butterfly display case is intriguing, as is the collage.  I think the collage frame actually houses a mirror, but this has been painted over in matte black.  In the upper left corner, there is part of a woman's face that looks cut out of a magazine - a rather Marlene Dietrich-looking face, glamorous and European.  The face peeks out of what first looks like a space suit because it's sort of white and puffy.  Closer examination reveals it to be a sketch of an outfit of the sort I think of British nannies putting on their charges: a long heavy coat with large buttons, leggings and boots, and a head-fitting cap tied under the chin.  Three pieces of yarn issue from this woman and attach to three squares that float below her: one is a topographical map, the next is a photo of four brick structures with different bricks missing, the third looks almost like an ultrasound picture, dark and murky.  To the right of the women is the word "Age."

If I were to impose an interpretation on this collage, I'd think about age and what age means.  the poet, W.S. Merwin, was quoted as saying this year when he turned 80 that he felt 27 inside.  Here is this woman, older and glamorous of face, in her winter toddler outfit, still tied to places from her past. 

11/5/10: Nothing new on the Free Bench

Halloween this year demonstrated that we have arrived at a new phase with our kids.  Luken was a part of a gaggle of boys (seven or so of them) who worked like a surgical strike team, pelting from one house to another, their thank-you's training behind them because staying to say it might slow a person down.  They got through an unprecedented twenty blocks in under an hour. 

Kami trailed behind with her friend, Izzy.  This was her first Halloween with a peer along, and I hope she was savoring the experience.  I don't know if she was because I felt the need to keep track of the boys more, they were so fleet of foot.

In years past, there was a smaller group of us.  We meandered more.  The adults got to chat a little.  We got to stop at the house made of stone that reminds me of old Scottish houses I've seen and sip their apple cider.  The couple who lives there is right around 70, and they would dress up in elaborate costumes.  I don't even know if they were dressed up this year because we whizzed by so.

The scariest costume I can imagine these days: a Mitch McConnell costume where he's saying that the single most important piece of business for Republicans now is seeing that Obama isn't re-elected.  (Thank goodness there aren't more pressing issues for the Senate to address, like foreclosures, joblessness, and the like.)

11/3/10: A plastic jack-o-lantern-shaped bag...

...two blindingly white lacy bras.

Garth's theory when items like this (the bras) show up is that a guy has brought them.  No, said guy hasn't decided to give up cross dressing.  Garth's theory is that there has been a break-up.  Some woman spent enough nights and mornings with some guy that she had left a few of her under-things at his place.  And then he decided - or she decided - he was done.  No more contact, a clean break.  What to do with the under-things?  Bring them to the Free Bench, of course. 

Garth always suggests these theories with sadness, as if he knew the people and liked them as a couple and is sad they couldn't make a go of it.  I like this about Garth, though I rib him about it, too.  I am more cynical about relationships, or just less romantic.  Or maybe practical.  Those bras represent a bit of an investment - probably 35 or 40 bucks apiece easily.  Who'd casually leave something like that at some guy's place to be cast off onto our Bench? 

But I haven't found another theory that I like especially.  Garth's probably right.  It's all about relationships, isn't it?

11/2/10: A long strand of metallic blue Mardi Gras beads...

...a small houseplant in a blue ceramic planter, four books of the Jacqueline Susann ilk, a paper sack full of chewy dog or cat toys, a portable sandwich griller.
The sack full of animal toys makes me think of the Steve Martin sketch that has stood the test of time - the one where he talks about how his cat has been staying up watching late-night TV and ordering mountains of cat toys: "Hundreds of dollars worth!  And I can't return them because they have spit all over them..."

I am of mixed minds about the sandwich griller.  On the one hand, it's the sort of thing I'd have to find more surface area for - something that is in short supply in our household.  On the other hand, there is something spiffy about specialized kitchen items.  I remember when my friend, Chris, got the Cadillac of nutmeg graters for his birthday.  We spent many moments cooing about its perfection and specificity.  First, it was smallish and curved in a particular way so as to make it less likely that the person doing the grating would grate their knuckles in addition to the nutmeg.  Secondly, it was fitted into a container with a shaker top, the better to catch the grated nutmeg and shake it into your warm milk.  It was the first time I'd seen what a whole nutmeg looked like.

11/1/10: Nothing new on the Bench

...unless you count the manager of the apartments next door.  She is a rather rectangular woman with brittle-y dark hair.  I only ever see her when she's smoking, but that's because the apartments are non-smoking housing and so to smoke she must come outside.  She is at our Bench because it is pouring out, likely hard enough to put out a lit cigarette (you recall the Bench has an awning).

The food from yesterday remains.  I expect it will be a hard sell, being partially used amounts of not very interesting foods.  Maybe I'll grab the vinegar, throw it in with some laundry.  Is it possible for vinegar to be rendered unusable?

I am unhappy that our election day bespoils Day of the Dead.  We will not take a picnic lunch to any cemetarys, but we will think of what we might bring if we did.  This makes me think of my grandmothers in particular: my maternal grandmother, for whom I'd bring one egg over easy, buttered toast and a cup of coffee; my paternal grandmother, who was so good at making food that others loved that I'm not even sure what her favorites were.

"until we die we will remember every/ single thing, recall every word, love every/ loss."  -A.R. Ammons

10/31/10: A container of salt...

...half bottle of apple cider vinegar, box of whole wheat bread crumbs, small pair of chunky saddle shoes.

The shoes are great.  Kami loves them so much they might not come off of her feet for a few days.  They are a welcome addition to her Halloween costume, which is something like "black and white with big hair."

The food implies a recipe, food purchased for a specific purpose, useless once the item was made.  It makes me think of mock apple pie, made from Ritz crackers.  I always wanted to try that, but was simultaneously afraid of trying it.  It would have seemed wrong somehow if it had actually tasted like an apple pie.  It would have made me think harder about what exactly is in Ritz crackers.  This, of course, says something about me - that I think there are things it is better for me not to know.

10/28/10: A pair of grey sweats...

...a small opened box of C & H Pure Cane Sugar, a pair of flip-flops, a pair of canvas sneakers, an old (circa 1950's if I had to guess) Mr. Vibrator in its original box.

(Not going near that last item.)

The last day I was home sick, I had the energy to putter around the house and bring a few things of ours out to the Bench (all of them are gone today except the flip-flops - an old pair of Kami's which I think came off the Bench a year or more ago).  As I was laying things out, a young woman walking her dog stopped next to me.  "Do you live here?" 

I said, yes, that usually the items on the Bench weren't from us, contrary to what she was seeing at this precise moment.  She said, "I know.  I got a new jacket here last week.  I was trying it on - it was in great shape - and this guy came up and said, 'Hey, I just left that here.  Does it fit?'  It did, and I got to thank him for it.  I come by every other week or so."

I asked her name - Erin - and her dog's name - Leroy.  Her dog was black Labrador-ish: the Platonic ideal of a dog.  I liked how glad she was that she could actually thank the person responsible for her new jacket.


Many thanks to all the healing thoughts and well-wishes sent my way.  They worked; I am healed.

10/19/10: A tomato red women's long-sleeved t-shirt...

The shirt is a bit odd.  The v-neck on it is so low it's practically belly-button-exposing (makes me think of the sort of 70's pantsuits favored by Elvis and James Brown - who ever thought those were hot?).  Obviously it's meant to be worn over a tank top or something like that, but I've never seen anything quite like it.

Those 70's pant suits made me think of watching Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, which was something I only watched during the wee hours of baby sitting the year I was fourteen.  (Come to think of it, I once saw Aretha Franklin wearing one of those pantsuits on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.  Not her best look.)  We lived in New York on a cul-de-sac, and every house besides ours was occupied by small children and their parents.  My sister, Gretchen, and I had as much babysitting as we wanted.  And these folks paid well.  They were all about having their swinging 70's parties, which meant someone else had to watch their kids.  And they stayed out late.  I don't know how they did it.  I remember on New Year's Eve watching Jerry Lewis' Muscular Dystrophy Telethon until 3:30 a.m. before the parents returned and I could go home and sleep.  There was nothing else on TV but Jerry Lewis.  Torturous.  Thank god I was getting paid $3 an hour.

That house, the Telethon house, was done all in white and gold.  It had a white and gold princess phone.  There were plastic coverings on the white and gold living room furniture, and a vinyl walkway throughout the house atop their white shag carpet.  It was not an especially relaxing babysitting gig.  Then there was the (scandalous!) divorced mom who left for me a lighter and a pack of cigarettes, and bowls and bowls of assorted candies to snack on.  There was a toddler who had the most out-y belly button I'd ever seen.  His parents were nice, though it was in doing yard work for them that my brother got the most horrific case of poison sumac ever

Then there was the baby who was only a week or so old.  His mom was the recently divorced sister of one of the cul-de-sac moms.  That was my first solo experience around a baby so small.  I'd been told to leave the baby in the crib, but he cried and seemed so lonely.  Eventually, I snuggled him up next to me on top of the covers of the king-sized bed in the master bedroom - where the TV was.  There was something so grounding about just letting my body soothe this little guy.  His mom - a long-haired, skinny woman probably in her late 20's - looked shell shocked, looked more like she could use several days' sleep rather than the crazy, drunken party she attended. 

That baby is probably out there somewhere now, a 35-year-old man.  I hope he found his way okay.  He made a pretty good start, able to get an inexperienced teenager to offer him the comfort he needed.

10/17/10: A large chartreuse plant pot...

...several brightly-colored many-layered tissue paper flowers.

These tissue paper flowers link two particular memories for me.  Ever since our mothers met when my mother was the Den Mother for my brother's and Jeff Blank's Weblos (pre-Boy Scout) troop, the Blank family had us over each year for one night of Chanukah, and for Passover.  The Chanukah when I was ten, I received a kit for making tissue paper flowers.  I was captivated by the process as well as the end product, and I made nearly every flower in the kit that night, and then enjoyed finding people to give my flowers to.

The following year, we lived in Scotland.  My mom took the modern dance scene in St. Andrews by storm, and one of her devotees was a British-educated woman named Zorina.  That spring, Zorina was going to some street fair-type thing in another town, and somehow it was agreed that I'd go with her.  I was encouraged to figure out something to sell, and I hit upon the idea of making tissue paper flowers.

I wish I could finish off this memory in story-like fashion, like, I took the tissue paper flower scene by storm, or, it rained and all my flowers disintegrated.  But all I remember was sitting at Zorina's table beside cobblestone streets.  It was a long day, rather uneventful, but the sun shone all day.  The air was crisp and clear.  Sitting with this new family friend and my flowers brought back a dark December night with the Blanks - two worlds brought together in me.

10/16/10: Many things have come and gone today...

...a skirt sweater set, a striped shirt, a TV with built-in VCR, a pair of black pants, a lovely navy blue shirt.  They came, they went.

I am struck by the fact that it is a Saturday night, and here I sit, musing.  (Garth has taken the kids - with my brother-in-law as stand-in for me (thank you, Banks!) - to their school's Harvest Festival.  I begged off, having had an "off" day all day.)  I have never been plagued by Saturday nights, for which I am grateful.  I have known people for whom the dateless Saturday night was interpreted as a judgment from on high about their loveability.  Do not be mistaken: I have had my share of anguished concerns about my loveability - I think the 20's are all about that.  Those times have just not been especially tied to Saturday nights.

I'm not sure how I escaped.  When I was still quite young and impressionable (11), I found these books at the Sharon Public Library by a woman named Rosamund du Jardin (a nom de plume, do you think?).  She wrote 17 young adult novels (The Tobey & Midge Heydon series, and The Pam & Penny Howard series: The lovely twins! So different - and so alike! What boy gets which twin?) which seemed to largely be about navigating the treacherous water of going steady, which meant you'd always have a Saturday night date, but it implied you were "serious" about someone.  Reading these books in 1972, it was clear that Midge, Penny and the gang lived in a different world than I did, and mine had some flexibility that theirs might have benefited from. 

So, instead of celebrating the harvest (unless it counts that I'm here making apple butter) and instead of seeing the haunted house that Kami helped work on (she assured me it wasn't very scary), I am sitting by an open window with the cool fall air wafting in, hearing bikers and walkers talking quietly with each other as they pass by - and enjoying my Saturday night.


10/15/10: A worn pair of black clogs... equally worn, patched pair of Carhardt jeans.

The jeans made me think about the different things I did to jeans as a teen-ager, since brand new jeans weren't quite the way I wanted them to be.  First, it was embroidery: flowers, butterflies and peace symbols on the back pockets.  Later, I'd ball the jeans up in a bucket of diluted bleach to get a mottled look and a softer material.  Later still, I'd tear out the side seam and put in a panel from a pair of old jeans to widen the leg from the hip down.  I was thinking of these adjustments - some of them rather involved - as one example of how teens try to make something their own.  And that got me to thinking about teens in general and that time of life.

When I tell people that Kami is 12, I invariably get some reaction like, "Oh, you'll be in for it soon."  These ominous warnings are about Kami as representative of a soon-to-be emerging teen, not Kami the person she is right now; but I wonder how it might be different to have a teen-ager in the house if one feels interested in this time of life and feels it holds something valuable - rather than that it's a time to dread?  How might I be with it differently if I think of adolescence as a treasure map where there will be clues, and it's my job to figure those out on behalf of my kid because that's what I signed up for by having one?

There is undeniably something about adolescence where we can see more easily into the inconsistencies of the world, where we can more readily recognize our own passions.  Think back for yourself.  What did you Know then?  Is there a way to see the outrage, the moodiness, the anger, the sorrow, the joy as a sign pointing a teen toward themselves, and that it's the adult's job to notice this for them when they can't think of it themselves? 

Of course, parents do this intuitively all the time.  I think of my mom, recognizing my outrage at a clogged stream and reminding me that I could organize a clean-up, and a couple years later taking me to the Yorktown Museum so I could make soap and dip candles.  I think of my dad, handing me books: "You might find this interesting."  Books on writing and feminism.  There were those times where I'd feel like I was going to just jump out of my skin, and then my mom and I would drive to Albany to see a movie, or my dad would suggest I take the car around the Reservoir.

I want to stay awake for this, alert to the signposts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

10/13/10: A nondescript blue knit hat that someone has cut a hole in at the crown - for a ponytail?

33 Chilean miners, trapped in a mine since August 5, now being brought back to the surface.  I heard the story as I biked to work today.  The young reporter who described the scene this morning was hoarse and energetic.  I imagined her along with everyone else cheering as each miner came into view, witnessing rebirths throughout the night. 

I biked along in this sunny, snappy fall morning, and I thought about the final miner, the person who has to wait alone while his last co-workers goes up and the transport comes back down for him.  Now that, I thought, is a story someone should write.

Here I sit.  I have just sent Jaime up, have heard the last sounds of him and the machine that carries him.  He is looking up, up toward the light.  I am looking, too, but he will see it before I do.  I have imagined this moment, and it is both worse and better than I have imagined.  Something in my belly loosens, as if I am trying to fill the space with myself - just myself.  The darkness - and beyond it, the stone - presses back upon me.  Who will win, I wonder?  But stone moves slowly, whereas I move quickly.  I will be above this stony warren in less time than it took me to sit and eat dinner each night at home, less time than it took me to bathe my children when they were young. 
The older I have gotten, the less tolerant I have become of being undergroundI will likely never willingly enter a cave again.  To be a miner would be kind of torture, like Winston in 1984 being set upon by rats when he felt he could have endured anything but rats.  Yet somehow these men - through necessity - have found a way to be underground every day.  We endure a great many things out of necessity.  I am happy for them, for their families.  And still I wonder about that one who will be last.  Someone has to be last.


10/11/12: A cross-stitch pattern...

...several large templates for making your own crossword puzzles, a stuffed elephant.

The elephant is a very cartoon-like stuffed animal, with poochy jowls and tiny tusks.  Maybe a little like the elephants in Disney's The Jungle Book.

I saw that movie when it first came out.  I was eight years old (which would make the year 1969), and it was maybe the third or fourth movie I'd seen in my life.  We went because my mother had flown back to Oregon from Massachusetts to help her mother care for her stepfather, who'd just had heart by-pass surgery.  She was gone for two weeks, which felt like an eternity to all of us.  I don't think she'd been away from me for so long except when my two younger siblings had been born.  (Come to think of it, a movie was involved with one of those mother-absences, too.  We lived in Sweden when my sister, Kjerstin, was born.  It was 1966, and my dad took us kids to see The Sound of Music in Stockholm.  That was my first ever movie.)  My dad, I think, felt badly for all of us when we were bereft of my mother, and he was prone to do especially nice things when she was absent - to help us all feel better.  I hope it helped him.  It certainly was an interesting distraction for me.

And then there's elephants.  I have a Thing about them.  I can't think of an animal less suited to being made into a goofy stuffed animal.  They symbolize for me the Wild Otherness of creatures.  When I was nine, we went with our beloved friends, Tom and Kathy, and saw the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus in Madison Square Garden.  The drill in those days was to first go behind the big top and see all the animals that would later dazzle us with their feats and costumes.  Seeing elephants in shackles had a wrong-ness to it that leveled me. 

I want to pay more attention to those moments when they happen.  There is something good about knowing what strikes us deeply.

Monday, October 11, 2010

10/11/10: Today, I put out several things

Yesterday, our friend, Karen, asked how it was that we could keep ourselves from taking a bunch of stuff from the Bench for ourselves. First, I gestured to our overly-packed house, implying something like, "Where would we put more stuff?" I also said something about how, when I take an item for myself, I try and put something else out on the Bench. This is true, but Garth's answer was also true: "Katrina is a better person than I am." Oops! I meant his other answer: "We do take stuff off the bench." Remember that ivory-colored tablecloth from awhile back? Well, it hung around for days, and then finally I realized it would be perfect for a curtain Luken wants in his room. I'll just cut it above the rip and hang it up.

There is another answer to Karen's question, too: most of this stuff is not especially desirable - and thus, not hard to resist. In fact, I have thought a number of times that most of the things sound better when I write about them than they are in reality. This is a curious phenomenon. I generally describe what seems relevant about a Bench item, and sometimes that means not describing other qualities, like dinginess, or cracks.

I also think something happens when my attention is focused on an item. When someone takes the time to focus on something by writing about it or taking a picture of it or telling a story about it, it implies some worth. There is a dark side to this. Popular culture is all about turning our attention toward things that aren't necessarily of worth; the attention is there simply because someone wants you to buy something.

But, at its best, I think art uses this focus phenomenon in an illuminating way. It invites us into the artist's way of seeing, it says, "I find this beautiful," and asks us to find beauty in, too - though we might not have been inclined to do so previously. I like exercising my mind that way. There's something spiritual about it - like having someone speak compassionately about a person we're irritated with, and so inviting us to create a more complete, tender picture of that person.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10/10/10: Tibetan prayer flags

My Buddhist monk brother, Reverend Hugh, spent a number of years up in the forests of northern California at a place called the Hermitage.  It was affiliated with the Abbey where he became a monk. He is visiting right now from England and brought some items for the Free Bench, including the Tibetan prayer flags - which used to hang at the Hermitage.  I decided they should festoon the Free Bench itself.  I like the color they have added.  I like that they are connected to his time at the Hermitage.  I like the idea of them sending out prayers each time they are caught by the air and set to waving.  It makes me want to give more thought to the prayers so I'll know what prayers we're sending out into the world.

A couple years ago, I got some prayer flags to give to our whole family for the Winter Solstice.  They were bright, beautiful flags with images of dancing children from around the world on each panel. Someone else liked the flags, too.  On two different occasions, they came up our front steps and cut away the panels they liked the most.  Five of the eight in total.  They brought scissors with them, intending to bring the dancing children they coveted back to their space.  

I have wanted things that much in my day, have even taken some of them when I was much younger.  It is a complicated sort of wanting, and it is never really satisfied.  

Having those five panels taken was a bit demoralizing.  Not just for the obvious reasons, but also because it somehow underscored the fact that no one else in my family had been particularly captivated by the prayer flags.  Reflecting on that now, it indicates the way that I can want something, but only allow myself to see it if I believe it's "for the family."  It is still difficult for me to recognize the things that I want just for myself, and to have it be enough that I want it, even when others might not.  To get more clear on my wants would be cleaner than convincing myself that others will like this, too(even when there's been no indication they will), and then feeling disappointed when they don't especially.  And then I spare them and myself - my disappointment as well. 

10/09/10: A small, long-sleeved blue women's shirt...

...a salmon-colored women's tank top, a very large green men's golf shirt, a handful of Concord grapes.

A few days back, three smallish silver-plated dishes with lids appeared - the sort that come out for black olives and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving tables.  Shortly thereafter, all but one disappeared, though the lid went missing for the one that remained.  Yesterday morning, there were the grapes.  My brain does not generally expect food to appear on the Bench (though it does occasionally), and so my mind kept trying to make the grapes into something else: large marbles, weird eyeball gag gifts.  Finally, I realized what they were.

Food on the Bench is a tricky thing.  Last week, a bag of bagels appeared, as did an opened and partially used gallon of water.  I like that people want to feed others.  As I've said, we have our share of neighborhood living-on-the-edge folk who likely don't get enough to eat.  It seems to me that, these days, only the most desperate would take a risk on food found on the Bench, though.  I am not conversant in that kind of hunger, where I am driven to consume something of unknown origin, perhaps wondering if it will make me sick, all the while eating it anyway.

10/07/10: More large pants keep showing up... one's and two's.  Some of them are quite nice: tweedy.  My friend, Tom W., thought the initial appearance of many large pants last week suggested a death.  Which actually I had thought of, too.  But I'd spent the day before talking to a young woman whose husband had died of leukemia two weeks earlier about how she thought she should give his clothes away but couldn't quite bring herself to do it.  So I didn't write about the death explanation for the pants.  I think I was feeling tired of death.

What a privilege: to be tired of death, and so able to choose to set thought of it aside for awhile.

Tom was right.  That appearance of a pile of clothes at once could be due to a death.  So how to explain this slow trickle?  My earlier idea - weight loss - doesn't expalin the slow trickle very well either.  Clothing can be so imbued with who we are.  How would it come about that we would discard them, streadily over time?

K--- and S----- are in the living room listening to Joan Jett's version of the Doors' "Love Me Two Times."  G---- and L---- are doing the dishes together, listening to David Bowie's "Space Oddity."  L---- just asked, "Who's Judy Garland?"  I am between it all, hearing both songs, my brain tuning in to one and then the other.  This is a privilege, too.

10/06/10: A little girl's dress, black velvet top, flowered skirt...

...a white ceramic bowl with a cobalt blue stripe around the brim, something that I think is a piece of exercise equipment: a circle of black, flat metal with two cushioned parts opposite each other that are perhaps hand grips?  Now that thing I could make art out of.

One of the themes I deeply appreciated in the workshop I attended last Saturday was the idea that we each live with a foot in daily life and a foot in the life of our deep self.  That is, there are the things we need to attend to to move the life we've chosen along: getting the kids to school, paying the bills, getting the car serviced, what have you.  Then there are the things that serve our deeper life, the parts of ourselves that we feel called to express, our abiding passions.  If we accept that this is so, then we forever try to attend to both because both are happening all the time.  Sometimes we achieve a sort of balance.  More times, we favor one over the other given the demands of the moment.  

This morning, I was rather cranky.  I think it's how I feel when I am yanked out of the world of deep self (where I have been enjoying myself) and plunked firmly into mundane life.  We at the Goulash (as we refer to ourselves) household are smack in the middle of one more bedroom switcheroo.  As G---- put it, everyone moved one space counter-clockwise.  There is something about moving that is so very basic.  It involves lifting and putting down, sorting and packing, setting up and making right.

At this moment, I appreciate that my crankiness simply came from feeling the absence of the deep self in doing the basic work that was in front of me.  But I think that's a mistake in my perception.  When I talk about being plunked into the mundane, I was using the word with its negative connotation, using it in the sense of "ordinary" with ordinary not being especially attractive or vital.  But mundane also means "of the earth," and I can't imagine a more soothing balm for my deep self (while it does the deeds of daily life) than things of the earth.

10/04/10: One Dell computer monitor..

...with a note attached that says, "I may not work, but take me and make art out of me."

Hmm. I want to say - without resentment - that this is someone's trash dressed up as a silk purse.  Or maybe they were hopeful, "This is broken but surely this expensive thing that uses enormous resources could still be used for something."  That is our dilemma these days, isn't it - because we make too many disposable things that have nowhere to be disposed of?  Still, I'm pretty sure I don't want art to be what happens with things that we can't figure out what else to do with.  Badly put, but you get my meaning.  

If I take pictures of the Free Bench, does that make it art?  
Do I first have to arrange the offerings to make it art?  
Is that what I am doing here: arranging the offerings of the Free Bench?  
Is it only art if I have an MFA?  
Is art what something needs to be to be readable, to be read?


10/03/10: A torn ivory white tablecloth...

...a lace-edged navy blue tank top, a brown furry vest, and brown and tan diagonally striped windbreaker.

I drove up to Vashon Island, WA on Friday to attend a Saturday workshop.  I have this habit when I drive the freeway to look over whenever someone is passing me, just to acknowledge them.  Sometimes, I smile.

Not long into the drive up, I looked over at someone passing me, and he flipped me off.  I hadn't cut him off or slowed him down.  The only thing I can figure is that he didn't like some of our bumper stickers: maybe Darth W. Bush or Impeach Bush or the like.

For several miles, I wrestled with what to do with this occurrence.  When it happened, a sort of shock went through me.  I am the sort of person who first wonders what I did to draw this sort of reaction; then I find some outrage in me, though I also feel somewhat fearful of a person who would do such a thing.  None of these reactions felt right or comfortable.

About ten minutes later, I pulled into a rest area.  On my way to the restroom, I noticed two men in their early 60's who'd clearly stopped for a cigarette and to stretch their legs.  They had close-cropped hair and were dressed in clean jeans and wind breakers.  As I came back to my car, the two men approached me.  "Those are quite the stickers," the bespectacled one said.  "There's no question who you are for"  (here, I think he referred to the no less than four bumper stickers we have for Steve Novick, a good college friend of mine who ran for the Senate a couple years back).  I explained to them about Novick.  Turns out they were from Canada, were a couple, were driving back up to Canada from Palm Springs (who comes from Canada to Palm Springs in early October?!), thought Americans were a little wacky, especially about the health care situation.

All of this happened as I drove to Vashon Island and listened to Eckhart Tolle's The New Earth on CD in the car.  So here is what I think: when the guy flipped me off, he was treating me like the Other.  My discomfort came from feeling invited to polarize the two of us.  In his view, he was right and I was offensively wrong.  In such a dynamic, to make myself feel better, I had to make him outrageous and wrong for behaving the way he did and make myself wronged and, thus, right.  Yet I wanted us both to belong.  Those two men reminded me I did belong.  We see you and we're okay with what we see.  Somehow, this reminder that was not cast out settled me enough to see that I just didn't like the dynamic the other guy set up by flipping me off.  It felt better to feel badly that he saw the world that way, but to realize it had nothing really to do with me.

The workshop was about becoming more of who we are.  I am someone who can get derailed by worrying how others see me.  When I'm on my tracks, I love people; I want us all to belong.  I want to remember that more.

10/01/10: About thirty skirt and trouser hangers...

...many assorted button-down and turtle-neck shirts, black women's pumps, two baskets, a leopard print fleece blanket with sleeves in it.

When I saw this pile of stuff, I decided to hang the shirts up on the hangers because I have this idea that that is more appealing to people.  As I sorted, our neighbor, S----, came over to sit in the sun on the bench with his morning coffee and cigarette.  He lives in the apartments and so doesn't have his own place to sun himself from.  He is a great person, a minister's kid (except he's a grownup now), and works for BARK, our fabulous grassroots organization whose mission is to save Mt. Hood.  Anyway, ----t helped me sort and hang a little, which meant that then there was actually space for him to set himself down with his stimulants.

As soon as I send this, I am traveling three and a half hours northeast to Vashon Island in Washington state to attend a workshop tomorrow.  I am not taking my laptop, so will not be Musing for a couple days.  I am taking my journals, a couple books, and some stationery.  The thought of being able to hang out in my own brain for this length of time is delicious to me.  I am renewed by it already, just out of anticipation.

9/30/10: Coma by Robin Cook... women's t-shirt with a skull and a rose on it, large swatch of yellow cloth, a top that looks like it used to be a sundress only the owner didn't like the sleeves or the dress part and took her scissors to it.

Didn't Coma come out around the same time as Carrie by Steven King?  I was fourteen when Carrie came out, and my best friend at the time, Julie L., had just read it and loved it.  I generally did judge these sorts of books by their covers and would not have ever picked it up if someone I liked hadn't recommended it to me.  But recommend it she did.  Those were the days when I also felt honor bound to finish any book I started.  So there I sat, reading a book I never would have chosen right through to the end.  Carrie exceeded my expectations.  I was in a cold sweat by page five, and that never let up.  

I had been gripped by a book before. I remember reading Oliver Twist at age 11, sitting in our house in Scotland, and at the part where Bill Sykes jumps off the roof and hangs himself, I realized it had grown dark outside and in the room I was in, and that I couldn't see into the corners anymore.  It was a chilling moment.  But I happily opened books by Dickens thereafter.  

 finished Steven King off for me.  Was it the relentless teen-aged tormenting?  Was it the idea that people could be so cruel that they'd save up a bunch of pig's blood to dump on some misfit's head?  Was it the savage revenge that took hold of Carrie herself?  Or was it the idea that some guy actually enjoyed filling his own brain with this stuff enough that he wanted to write a book about it?

And since I'm on a rant, what's with skulls and roses?