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Defining Moments in the Dark: Everyday Magic, Day 1075

I was fifteen years ago and miserable when I first went to a youth group Havdalah service one winter evening. I was living with my very difficult father in a big house, so much bigger now that my mother and siblings had moved out, and I was the loneliest I had or have ever been, having lost most of my extended family and living in the ‘burbs where even the neighbors stopped talking to us.

My deep sadness along with some suicidal thoughts had led my father to bring me to the rabbi of our synagogue, who promptly put me in the temple youth group. Now we were gathered for the short end-of-sabbath service (Sabbath begins at sundown Friday night and ends at sundown Saturday night). This eight minute or so service is all about the senses. Our bunch of awkward teens held each other in a circle and sang, first lighting the braided Havdalah candle, then passing around a spice box filled with clove and cinnamon, then taking sips from a cup of wine. At the end, someone aimed the wild twining flame of the candle into the leftover wine for a satisfying sizzle that signified the start of a new week.

I couldn’t know then it was the start of a new life for me. That youth group and especially Phil, a youth group advisor who took me under his wing, saved my life, giving me a sense of belonging, listening to what was broken in me, and believing in my ability to fix myself in time. After each Havdalah service, we sat in a circle sharing our thoughts on a topic, often writing first on a moment that changed our life, what we value most, or what was hardest for us. We cried, even and especially the guys. We hugged each other. We wrote fast and furiously in our journals. Some nights we have lock-ins, unfurling our sleeping bags on the bema (little stage where services are led from), and talking on and off long into the night. We spoke things aloud we couldn’t tell anyone else. Together, we made a kind of mosaic of all our broken pieces, then had donuts and orange juice for breakfast.

It’s no wonder that a lot of my workshops, sans sleeping together on a carpeted stage, involve the same. We write and read. We speak our truths. We learn to listen to each other, and from that, to ourselves more. We discover what we most have and need to say, and where those words and callings lead us in our work, art, service, and purpose.

How I got from sitting in the dark with my youth group to facilitating workshops, coaching people on writing and right livelihood, and collaborating with wonderful co-teachers on life-giving projects followed a long and meandering river of time, intentions, jobs, gigs, and listening to what signs and wonders pointed the way. I now make a living doing things I couldn’t have imagined as a teenager, from facilitating writing workshops for two dozen people living with serious illness over Zoom to planning an online and Zoom-based intensive class with Kathryn Lorenzen on Your Right Livelihood.

But I still write in my journal, sometimes sharing what comes with others, sometimes even crying at the release of what needs to be said and what difference saying it makes. I still love and treasure what can happen when humans put down, to paraphrase Toni Morrison in her novel Beloved, their sword and shield, and come into the courageous, vulnerable wisdom we make space for together.

These defining moments are sprinkled throughout our lives, sometimes in unlikely places or at surprisingly young or old ages. We turn a corner, see something out of the corner of our eye, wake up in the middle of a January night with a start, meet the eyes of a stranger in the produce aisle, and something clicks into place. We might not know where that something is leading us, but we know we need to follow. As W.S. Merwin writes in his poem, “The Gift”: “I must be led by what was given to me/ as streams are led by it/ and braiding flights of birds.”

This braided candle of community, creativity, and meaning was given to me when I was fifteen and its light still shines and leads me on.

Juxtapositions Make Life Interesting: Everyday Magic, Day 1074

With the Four Winds chapter of the DAR, lovely people who even came me a certificate.

Juxtapositions — putting like with non-like — add zip, surprise, sometimes anxiety, and often uncertainty to our lives. They’re also at the heart of what makes poetry poetry: images and language you don’t expect together that pop open new ways to see the world. So let’s just say it’s more a more-than-poetic weekend (or life).

Friday our small but loving Jewish community gathered in the cold wind to bury our beloved friend, Shirley. Although the temperatures were in the high 40s, we talked afterwards, at her home over dolmas and brownies, about how much colder it felt, but part of that was surely because Shirley’s bright, glittery, funny, and loving life was gone. It seemed wrong for us to be so alive in her home, looking at her photos and eating cookies without her.

Saturday, Ken and I drove south to the small town of Garnett, Kansas, where I did my first presentation for the DAR (yes, that DAR). In a beautiful library, in a room next to the astonishing Walker collection (an original John Steuart Curry! A Édouard Manet! — so much more in this town of just over 3,000 people), In doing a Humanities Kansas program on the Holocaust, especially focusing on the lives of Lou Frydman and Jarek Piekalkiewicz, I discovered that the DAR chapter was deeply attuned to history and its lessons, and also to the weight of anti-Semitism and other ways humans diminish each other.

From there, there was apple pie in a German Baptist Brethren restaurant, a late-night film with Ken about art, Norway, and some lost New Yorkers finding their way, and typing this now with blue and fuschia-stained fingers because I’m in the middle of parfait-dyeing a load of socks and shirts for my kids.

I realize, in this juxtaposition of weather (dark, cold, sharp rain yesterday, and big, bright road-trip weather today) and time, that most moments of our lives are juxtapositions. We expect one thing, do one task, read about another thing, look at the window, and the kaleidoscope of like and not-like, the expected and so much of the unexpected keeps turning its wheel through our minutes and weeks.

Trying to fall asleep late last night, I felt the weight of that wheel, especially with several people I love dying in the last month juxtaposed with the twinkle-lights of the holidays everywhere, and now here we are stepping, sleeping, and waking into another time. May we continue to find meaning in what shows up, making a new pattern out of what’s already here.

The Dark of the Dark, the Cold of the Cold: Everyday Magic, Day 1073

Miyako and Moxie check in with each other early morning

In the middle of the longest night of the year, my anxiety search dogs kept jarring me awake, running amok while looking for something to chew on. Tiny and medium-sized annoyances, worries, and sadnesses gripped me at 1:05 a.m., 3:33 a.m., and at a higher speed between 4:15-5:15 a.m. for some reason. “Chill out,” I told them. “You’re just agitated because it’s so dark and so cold.” Then I would check my phone to map for myself that the temperature indeed has lost its grip on sanity, plunging from 32 degrees at 11 p.m. to in the minuses by early morning.

I think of the solstice as a time of wonder, magic, and intention when we can see what we can’t normally glimpse in the dark of the dark, which can be beautiful in its own way. Yet the reality is that most solstice passages include me rapidly forgetting all my therapeutic tools and years of experience in walking my anxiety on a leash and getting the #$%@# back to sleep.

It didn’t help that some ice-driven polar bomb was rolling across the land at high speed although I generally find the sound of the howling wind comforting, even last night. The waves of wind came roaring in their old familiar song, reminding me of being a child in winter on a cold night, listening when I should have been sleeping (some of us were gifted for our age when it came to insomnia).

Mostly, I felt dread about what was coming and all in my life I have little to no control over, including my adult kids, work, health, organizational passions, and meandering yearnings. I know that in daylight, everything seems totally okay, and it likely is, but especially when the cold of the cold comes to roost, there’s something primal about feeling a little or a lot scared, out of control, and weary.

Then it’s daylight, and although the temperature dropped to -5 during the unfolding afternoon, I was and am so grateful to have this warm house, these layers of fleece and cotton, these people and animals living here even if they’re mostly lying around watching TV (my visiting kids) or the birds (Miyako the cat) or me (Moxie the dog). I don’t take all the gifts of this life, especially on dark and cold stretches, for granted. How fortunate I am to enjoy a bundled-up night and day well-fed and comfortable, even if a little too awake when I meant to sleep.

Big weather events and solstices, like so much of what seemingly big forces of danger we’re told to prepare for, are also so different than I imagine ahead of time. Yes, it was and is crazy-cold, but lo and behold, the sun! The actual sun after days of working remotely under cloud cover burned it way through the haze to show its face.

Now, as this next night gathers its wits around it, it gathers a minute or so less as the light returns, inch and breath by inch and breath. I am so happy to be alive now and always.

For the Love of Aunt Jill: Everyday Magic, Day 1072

Aunt Jill, my brother Barry and me in about 1965.

“I’m not going to leave a message,” my sister Lauren said when she left a message Friday. I was standing in the corner of an ebullient restaurant where Ken and I were having dinner with friends. I had slipped away from the table when I saw texts from two of my three siblings to call them immediately. Ringing up my brother, I got the news: Aunt Jill, who I just spoke with the night before, had been found dead in her home.

Sometimes life levels us with such surprise it’s hard to catch our breath. Thursday night, Aunt Jill texted me that she could use some of my energy, an unusual request from her. I called on my drive home from giving a Holocaust presentation. We had a tender conversation about the cancer surgery she had only had a month earlier and how common it was to fall in a pit of depression when we’re on the other side of such rites of survival. We chatted about how the dark and cold of winter didn’t help, why dogs were the love of her life, how sad it was that her last dog had to be put down a few days earlier, and what it would take to get a new dog.

Her voice was warm, and she brightened up when we chatted about her getting canine companionship again. By the time we finished, I was in my living room, having put the call on speaker phone for Ken to hear. I promised to call her soon. “We love you so much,” I said at the end. “I love you so much too,” she answered. I hung up and immediately told myself I needed to stay in better touch with her, call every week or so although until recently we had gone months without talking.

But we had known each other for years, my whole life obviously, and at the start of that life, my parents and I even lived with her, just twelve at the time, and her parents/ my grandparents. My father’s little sister, she was always around in my growing-up years, further down the road to some semblance of adulthood. By the time I was a kindergartener, I thought she was the coolest of the cool — an elegant teenager with teased hair, smoothed down to a perfect 1965 flip. I watched her apply mascara and pink lipstick, wear increasingly shorter skirts as the 60s marched on, and rush out the door in white go go boots boots. But sometimes she and her friends took me with them to the diner to have chocolate malts, and I was thrilled from my toes to my ice-cream-head-freeze from sipping the malt too fast.

Jill back in the day

My aunt Jill had a hard and lonely life in many ways. Growing up in a family where dysfunction was an extreme sport, and growing up as the youngest and as a girl often ignored, she ended up following one of the few paths seemingly open to her and became a second-grade teacher. I don’t remember her ever saying there was anything about it she enjoyed, especially since she taught in a school in one of Brooklyn’s most despairing and dangerous neighborhoods. “How many of your students graduated from high school and went on to good lives?” Ken once asked her when we hung out in her apartment on Ave. X. She shook her head and answered, “None.” I wonder about her answer and whether she was too burnt out to do more than get through the day.

Jill didn’t marry although she suffered through some awful-for-her relationships, but she found many furry soulmates in dogs over the years. She had a gift for giving good lives to older, traumatized and hurting dogs that no one else wanted, even if they destroyed her furniture, peed on her rugs, and woke her up all night with their whines. She also adored travel and went on trips and cruises whenever she could with friends or travel groups.

Yet many conversations with her over the years didn’t convey what she really cared about or liked to do. I remember one Thanksgiving sitting with her and my late uncle Jerry (from my mother’s side of the family), and having this exchange:

“What are you doing lately?”

“Nothing,” she answered, then high-fived Jerry.

“Where have you gone?”

“Nowhere,” she answered, high-fiving Jerry again.

“Well then who have you been hanging out with me?”

“No one,” she said, high-giving Jerry and laughing with him.

Part of why she didn’t have much to say is because she often didn’t have much time to talk in between going outside for cigarettes, then e-cigarettes, then back to cigarettes. I used to occasionally lecture her about giving up smoking, not understanding that if she could have, she would have. But she was always up for companion complaining. Like her mother before her, she was also a champion kvetcher, and pity any of us who went out to restaurants with them and watch the parade of returned food offered, especially before she mellowed out.

Some of Jill’s art, sparkly just the way I love things

Yet when she did sit a spell with me, what she mostly wanted to hear was how I was, how my work was, how the kids were, how Ken was. She was a very good aunt to my sibs and me, listening and sending cards and gifts, showing up at wedding and celebrations, reaching out on Facebook or email just to see how we were. My daughter Natalie said she was one of the people who often wrote encouraging comments on social media when Natalie was struggling.

With both my aunts — Jill and Rhoda — now both gone.

Jill was supposed to join our extended family for a wedding party in Orlando, a year after we all convened there for my mother’s birthday, but cancer surgery kept her home. Yet in the past months, I ended up talking to her on the phone more, sometimes while pacing our house past our entryway where we keep some of the art she made in the last few years, then went to the trouble to frame and mail to us. In some ways, I was just starting to really get to know more of her, which is why I was so moved when she reached out Thursday night.

Now it’s seems I’m the last person she talked to, and of course, I had no idea it was the last time I would talk with her. It hurts that she’s gone, and beyond that, I can only hope that she’s found some kind of peace and sense of belonging in a place filled with dogs.

27 Things I’m Grateful For: Everyday Magic, Day 1071

It’s almost twilight, Moxie dog is sleeping in the corner, my ears are buzzing with low-hum tinnitus, and I’m about to make dinner. Looking into my house and glancing out the windows to see our warm lights reflected over the darkening sky, I realiz the best thing to write about are some of the things I’m grateful for, and just for the heck of it (and because my mom’s birthday is on Nov. 27), I’m going with the number 27. Here goes:

  1. Abundant fresh air to breathe right now in the living room, and when I step outside, abundantly so, plus it’s about to rain, so that’s marvelous scent.
  2. A refrigerator full of leftovers and magic ingredients for many a good meal.
  3. Good health that allows me to live pain-free and illness-free most of the time, and today propelled me on a good walk along the levee with my friend Judy.
  4. Astonishing friends and family, and to have gotten to the point in our lives where we end most calls or visits with, “I love you” or “I love you so much.”
  5. The stunning photos of my late dear friend Jerry — a moon seemingly rolling down a mountain, a luminous spiderweb on a foggy morning, the clouds almost circling up — on the opposite wall talking to me as I write.
  6. Writing in all its splendor and ordinariness, and thank god I found and was found by writing, and we continue this dance together.
  7. The ability to sing with great joy if not great talent or range.
  8. Books everywhere and in every room, including lately, the poetry of Sidney Wade, Diane Seuss, and Traci Brimhall, and the novels of Louise Erdrich (I’m currently re-reading all).
  9. A particularly comfortable bed with worn-to-perfection flannel sheets and quilts I was about to make and afford to make (lots of time and $).
  10. So many favorite things: erasable gel pens, peonies, hot French bread with Irish butter, pashima scarves when it’s just a nip cold, and laughing until we cry with loved ones.
  11. All those friggin’ streaming services that make it possible to enjoy a comedy set in Ireland one night, episodes of Call the Midwife another, and Cameron Crowe movies.
  12. Speaking of which, Cameron Crowe movies — Almost Famous, Elizabethtown — and also other favorite movies, especially Wings of Desire written and directed by Wim Wenders.
  13. The cat who claims me and purrs on my chest at 2 a.m. for hours (luckily, she’s only 4.5 pounds).
  14. This comfortable chair (straight-backed and cushioned in a satisfying floral print) I found at a consignment store in North Lawrence.
  15. Socks. I really like socks.
  16. The three humans I grew inside me who are now doing most interesting and sometimes surprising things in their lives, like walk 12 miles daily listening to podcasts or record layers of singing to make new music or restore neighborhood yards into mini prairies. Speaking of generations, also my mom, living her best life — Mahjong, Trivia Night and all — in Florida.
  17. Lamps and ceiling lights emanating out that pale orange-almost-pink-white glow at different heights.
  18. The beautiful wild in just about all forms, including all the hibernating ornate painted turtles and the just-returning winter flocks at the bird feeder and beyond, speaking of which….
  19. Murmurations of starlings because: magic.
  20. My iphone because it brings me voice to voice with so many people I love and does so many other tricks (weather reports! music I can listen to at the dentist! Youtubes of border collies butting a blue balloon with their heads!).
  21. Utilities of all kinds that keep us warm, lit, and safe.
  22. Hot oatmeal and Yorkshire Gold tea most mornings.
  23. Sunshine streaming through the windows and pouring all over me outside many days.
  24. The gift of interesting dreams, particularly ones in which I discover secret rooms in the house.
  25. My husband and how much we laugh together at the kinds of things that wouldn’t necessarily make sense to others, and how often we curse together and laugh more.
  26. Sturdy if not always clean floors to pad across in winter or summer.
  27. This laptop that allows me to peer into its magic mirror and connect with you.

I could go on all day, and you probably could too. Please share some of you’re grateful for in the comments below.

Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?: Everyday Magic, Day 1070

Time continually befuddles me, so much so that my last book of poetry was called How Time Moves, and I’m still deep in the muck of figuring out what time is and how it keeps slipping through my fingers and surging backwards under my moving feet.

Being a little number-dyslexic, I also stumble mightily when it comes to scheduling things in other time zones. Since I have coaching clients in all four U.S. times as well as one in Ireland (we meet in my morning and her evening), I’m often adding and subtracting wrong directions. This last week, I met with the wonderful board members of the Transformative Language Arts Network, one of whom was in Dubai, ten hours ahead of this cushy chair where I type in Kansas, and occasionally I’m in touch with a dear friend in Macau, a full 14 hours ahead of me, and a friend in Japan, 15 hours over the cusp of the next day. It’s an amazement to Zoom and Facebook-message with people in future time or ones just waking when I’m way past a lot of strong morning tea.

But then there’s whatever we call time here (or wherever I am) and now (also relative). With the vanishing of daylight saving time last weekend, and with travels to Orlando, a time zone ahead, I was thoroughly confused when we landed back in Kansas City to drive home, arriving at 1:45 a.m., which was 2:45 a.m. ET, and 24 hours earlier, would have been 3:45 a.m. ET. Sometimes the arbitrary tricks of naming time spin my head; whenever we do a time change, I find myself thinking, “now a week ago, it was ___ time now.” None of it makes sense to my body which gets so wedded to that week-ago time that it takes a big stretch to transfer my allegiance to the so-called real time, which will be pulled out from under us come March 12.

Even as a teen, I had trouble with this, and once got into trouble with my dad because I arrived home on a time-change night (out of daylight savings time) for my 1 a.m. curfew either five minutes early, which made me 55 minutes late. He grounded me less than he had planned because he couldn’t stop laughing at how I screwed up by being a few minutes early, which made me late.

I believe in real time mapped out and punch-holed into existence all the time by the natural world. The birds start singing in the spring just past daybreak, the barred owl calls after midnight, and the noon sun is often just about overhead. There’s also the seasonal tilts. Right now, our usual happy bird feeder is lonesome, but soon enough, the winter flocks will surge and roost there. The temperature has dropped to what feels like ghastly lows for people living in too-warm days and, like my family, having traveled recently to tropical swamplands, but eventually I’ll step outside when it’s 31 degrees and think, “oh, it’s not so bad today.” The cedars tell their own time as well as the turtles, hibernating underground, who know when to emerge.

We live in time and time lives in us, but not the kind of time we can clock. Time is more an ocean, moving inland, then back out with its big waves and dangerous undertow. The only way to know what time it really is to step outside and watch, listen, smell the changes in the air from snow about to come to the garden thawing out. Still, because we work and meet and pal around in time, there’s time enough and not enough time to track while the real time tracks us.

Tuning In To Realer News: Everyday Magic, Day 1069

I’ve stopped tuning into most of what we call news until after the midterms. It isn’t because I don’t care, quite the contrary, but because I keep learning that the realer news is right out the front or back door, which is also a great remedy for tangling myself in the land of what-ifs.

Unlike previous pre-election frenzies when I wrapped myself in polls and pundits, I realize that diving into all things midterm, which dominate headlines and soundbites, too often lands me on the seafloor of speculation, littered with barbs of anxiety and anguish. Besides, I have my deeply-seeded hopes that I will hold to unless/until I’m proven wrong, and no matter what happens, there is still the living earth, spinning off snippets of news you can use every moment.

Part of what turned me away from the usual way I roll is rooted in the Kansas August 2 election when voters, despite polls and signs all over yards throughout the state saying the opposite, came out in droves for a landslide vote against extreme measures to eliminate abortion rights. But I also realize we’re in a time off the old maps when our ultra-polarized dueling news narratives puts us as a nation at a very unpredictable precipice.

At the same time, it’s important to witness what is happening right now in real time, so I read about Ukrainian families suffering and the coming cold, affirmative action, global warming realities and mitigation, and the Brazilian election. I also donate to causes I believe in, and come the day after the midterms, I will continue to care and do the little bit I can, but no matter what happens, I will also step outside of myself and a whirl of future projectors to connect with the realer news.

So often we see the news as a mirror of reality, yet we can engage reality directly, off the page and airwaves, in much more immediate and, even in a severe drought in Kansas in a time of climate disruption, satisfying ways by connecting with the air, the light, the shadows and leaf fall, the shift of wind and rush of rabbit.

Which leads me back outside for this news report: It’s 59 degrees, the psychedelic tablecloth is plummeting down from high flying on the clothesline, and Moxie the dog is sniffing falling cottonwood leaves. The sky is pale-to-mid blue, depending on where you look, with some almost-transparent stretched out clouds. Strangely, there is no bird song for a moment, but a blue jay just landed on the feeder, picked up lunch, and moved on. Underground, there are turtles in hibernation already.

More news to the south: An old 1950’s tractor, not working for about eight years, rests in the field next to what’s left of a burning bush, just a few strands, from a more robust plant years ago. Three geese honk their way overhead. My fingers are cold. A bird I cannot see is barking urgently from an Osage orange tree still in the process of leaf-dropping. The old swing set, sans its swings, continues to rust happily next to three volunteer peach trees.

From our northern gate reporter: Last evening, a friend and his daughter buried a dead python in the brome field. The unfettered wind is making a lot of noise through the dried grasses. The brilliant maple to the west is outlandish gold on the edge of dropping everything for winter to come. Two fawns just vanished into the seam of the cedars.

That’s the news at this moment. Stay tuned for updates in a second, then another second, then another….

Living As If We Know We’ll Be Okay: Everyday Magic, Day 1068

So a little dubious, plus the only person wearing a mask

In one of my favorite movies, About Time, the main character, who can time travel, hatches a great plan: he’ll live each day with all its waking up exhausted, rushing through big halls, and navigating crowded subways where some guy blasts loud music on his phone. Then he’ll live the same day again knowing what small or big annoyances await him, and now able to enjoy even the little setbacks. But after a while, he realizes he can simply live each day once, guided by the perspective that he’s going to be okay, so why not delight in the miniature of life instead of boarding the anxiety train?

I think of this movie often, especially when a free ticket to the anxiety train is placed in my hand. Yesterday, waiting for the bus at Kansas City International Airport, which was very late, then packed to sardine capacity, I started to worry, especially when the stopped at every station in my parking lot, then all the parking lots, stuffing and squeezing in more people. “Remember About Time,” I told myself, along with directing myself to take long, deep breaths. I would make my flight, I might not get an ideal seat (Southwest Airlines), but the flight to Denver was short. Besides, the sunset was glorious and people were making jokes about almost sitting in each other’s laps to accommodate more riders.

I needed to tell myself all this in triplicate when we landed in Denver, which I soon discovered was the third busiest airport in the world, plus I had no idea how to find the passenger pick-up exit where my friend would be waiting. I asked for directions, but in the rush of thousands of people walking vast distances through airport shopping malls and herding ourselves onto and off of the train to the main terminal, I kept forgetting where to go. Yet knowing there was a happy ending some time ahead, I relaxed than I would have in the past, which was helpful when I got our more times. I was also delighted to meet a United Nations of immigrants working at the airport who warmly accompanied me from one wrong place to another (although they meant well).

The thing is, that even if we take the wrong path, get off at the wrong stop, shlep our luggage to the wrong exit, or ride the wrong escalator, we almost always get where we need to be. Obviously, this isn’t just about travel.

If I regret anything besides any time I hurt anyone (knowingly or unknowingly), it’s the wasted energy, overwrought anxiety, and stupid fretting I spent on the wrong things. Even worry about the right things — impending loss of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, a car accident — isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, as almost all of you dear readers know, when the shit hits the fan and the bottom drops out, what we feel, think, discover, and go through is often beyond our imagined response. As a connoisseur of anticipatory anxiety, I’ve found tensing up and freaking out ahead of time is highly overrated and bears no fruit.

But when it comes to the here and now, I want to continue acting as if I’m living this day a second time, relaxing with all the mishegas that comes while telling myself to calm the fuck down because in the end, it’s going to be okay. To quote another movie, this time The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”

What Floatillas, Japanese Bullet Trains, Mishegoss, and Star Trek Have to Do With Writing a Memoir?: Everyday Magic, Day 1067

Also, what are these visiting writing friends working on today?

All week, I’ve been writing on the porch of one of the houses at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This is my happy place where I come regularly to immerse myself in writing up one wall and down another, or more aptly, since I spend most of my writing time outside on the porch, up one tree and down a chigger-filled mountain.

This time, I was revising The Magic Eye, a memoir about my eye cancer and the land where we live (and which we’ve been trying to save for 35 years), all wrapped around the pandemic. There’s a lot of ingredients to keep tossing together as well as a bunch of tangents to toss out in between being dive-bombed by hummingbirds. Luckily, my fellow sisters and brothers of the hollow, other writers staying here, wander by occasionally, and we get to reconvene at dinner each evening to celebrate another day working in fields of words.

Sometimes when dwelling in Revisionland, a place outside time and in rapid need of a dictionary, strong black tea, and a looser-than-usual grip on reality, I bow before the interwebs to seek answers. In between quarreling with sentences, wondering how I’ll make one swath of paragraphs actually connect with another, and fretting over how many times I use the word “scared” in the memoir, I refresh myself and the writing through on-the-hoof research. Since going down the Google wormhole can break the writing flow, I tend to save all my questions for when I’m here, aided by a small fan brought out to the porch, some chocolate, and sometimes, while curious fawns or bored squirrels stare at me.

Here’s some of the questions I asked Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Mx. Google this week:

  • Do butterflies feel pain when they fight their way out of the chrysalis? Supposedly no but what do we know?
  • What do limestone crinoid fossils have to do with the inland ocean that once inhabited Kansas and thereabouts? They’re remnants of marine life up to 490 million years ago.
  • What are the giant walking attacking machines in Star Wars called? AT-AT — All Terrain Armored Transports.
  • How do you spell joystick? One word.
  • What’s the hookiest song George Jones ever recorded? How about “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me”?
  • Where does the phrase scare the bejesus come from? A mild curse coming from Ireland of course.
  • How do you spell aneurysm? Like this.
  • Was it a teleporter or transporter the Star Trek crew used?
  • Who first said the only way out is through? Robert Frost said it in one of his poems, but poets are great at stealing good lines.
  • What is the history of hijabs? It was a sign of social status long before Muhammed and showed a woman didn’t need to work in the fields and could afford to stay veiled and indoors.
  • What date was George Floyd’s murder? May 25, 2020.
  • What’s that great quote from The Little Prince about seeing? “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
  • Why are Ritz crackers so good? You don’t want to know.
  • How fast do Japanese bullet trains go? 190 mph and some even faster.
  • Is it mishegoss or mishegosh? Mishegoss although mishegosh kind of fits the meaning more.
  • Just how many kinds of cicadas are in Kansas? I lost count.
  • What is the altitude of South Park in Colorado? Close to 10,000 feet.
  • What exactly is a phoropter? That big mosaic of dials and lenses you look through at the eye doctor’s office.
  • Is the Pad in Pad Thai capitalized? Yup.
  • How do you undo a Gordian knot? With a miracle more or less.
  • What are the lyrics of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Jericho.” Long answer, but part of the song included this line: “Seeing takes a long, long time.”
  • Can you have too much Pema Chodron in your life? Nope.
  • How fast are the winds in an F4 tornado? 207-260 mph, fellow Lawrencians who were here in 2019.
  • Is duct tape commonly used to seal a lead pad to a face that received radiation? Yes, and also a lot of Scotch tape.
  • What are people who want to be alone called? Solitudinarians
  • What is the best way to describe the half moon yoga pose? This is really a situation where a picture is worth 10,000 words.
  • Why do tiny moths sometimes fly into my ear? No one seems to know.
  • What exactly is a flotilla? A boat parade.
  • How long did the month of March, 2020 actually last? 1,251 days (but that’s an answer from my own inner Google).

Why I Love the Hard-Won: Everyday Magic, Day 1066

Walking to the edge of the deck this early morning to take this photo of the fog burning off the brome field and the prairie, I felt great tenderness for the hard-won: all that comes to us after or during great struggle.

Here is the land where Ken and I are so blessed to live, even and especially because we spent over 35 years doing all we could to save it from encroaching development and for native plants and migrating wildlife. Finally buying the land (aka buying the literal farm without buying the deadly metaphoric farm) in 2020 took far more faith, gumption, money, patience, prayer, hard thinking and deep feeling that we knew ourselves capable of, but that’s the song of the hard-won.

I think of writers from my Turning Point workshops (for people living with serious illness as patients, caregivers, or survivors), many of whom wake up in chronic pain, that is if they got much sleep at all, then go about the business of the day from making oatmeal to feeding the cat. I think of friends living with disabilities that sometimes send them for long hospital stays or experimental treatments. I think of dear ones sitting with overwhelming grief that makes any meaning illusive. I think of my grown children, trying to make sense of the world they’ve inherited, climate change and water shortages and all, and still carrying suitcases of plans and hopes into imagined futures.

Sure, there are easy wins in life. The blue morpho butterfly that lands three feet away on a falling down native sunflower, tilts toward me, and pauses. There’s occasional surprise letters in the mail or sweet calls from old friends, things that don’t require grit and effort over long stretches of time. Sometimes we meet just the right person with no extra effort on our part and find them to be a life-long friend or sweetheart. Occasionally, the shining, crazed face of fortune laughs upon us, and all good things click into their slots.

But so much of what paves or pads our dreams and sometimes even our survival is hard-won, from cancer treatments over months of mystery and fear to the work that brings our lives greater meaning, even if getting there entails plenty of time in doubt, confusion, and uncertainty. Yesterday, for instance, I went for my regular visit with my ocular oncologist, and after the technician apologized for any discomfort from rubbing an ultrasound instrument over my eyeball, I told him it was nothing (truly, it doesn’t hurt at all) compared to the painful surgeries and long recovery. Then I went home to present an Art of Facilitation session with an exuberant group of women, talking about hard-won work we do with our communities.

In most of our days, the seeds and fruit of the hard-won abound. So let us pause this glorious morning, time and clear air at a tolerable temperature an easy gift for the willing, to say how magnificent we are for all that’s hard-won in our lives, both in what we did to make it happen and in how it grows our spirit and capacity. After all, there is nothing like the hard-won to show us that we are so much more than we or anyone else thought.

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