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.

Reversal of Fortune and the Wonder Wheel of Life: Everyday Magic, Day 1065

In mid-July, everything fell apart from air-conditioners to phones to cars and more. A growing river of money and time surged out to sea. I pulled out the credit card, tried to get some sleep, shrugged, and made dinner. I also took extra headache meds when needed and freaked out in tiny bouts in between reminding myself that this happens sometimes. As someone without a steady paycheck or a salary for that matter, I know well the hamster wheel of feast and famine that suddenly doesn’t just stop, but flies off and hits the hamster in the head.

We brought to the car to the shop, installed the new a.c., buy a phone, and went on our long-awaited vacation where our credit card continued to get an extreme sports workout. When we returned home, reversal of fortune! All the checks I was waiting on slowly landed while my phone made that delightful cash register ringing sound it does when people enroll in classes or pay for more coaching. Meanwhile, the prodigal car returned home from weeks in the shop finally fixed, I finished setting up the new phone, Ken replaced a bunch of light bulbs, and we did lots of mundane household tasks because before, during, and after reversals of fortune, there’s the laundry (and dishes).

Daniel & Ken show grace in going upside-down

The world is made of metaphors. On our vacation, when we got to Coney Island, Ken — to my surprise — said, “Let’s ride the Wonder Wheel.” I thought it was an ordinary ferris wheel, but no. Half the cars that hold riders are the love children of roller coasters and ferris wheels, suddenly rushing and tilting wildly at high speed before calming the $^%#& down again.

Not knowing any better, when we were asked if we wanted a tilting or stationary car, I chose the tilting one, thinking it would rock gently as we ascended and circled back now. Quite obviously I’ve chosen a life with roller coaster cars, but then again, it’s not a matter of choosing. This is what life does. While I have miles and lifetimes to go before I take life with greater equanimity, there’s a lot to be said for reminding ourselves that sometimes life goes upside down. Sometimes it rights itself, but be calm, anxious heart when it flips or surges again. It’s just another tilt of the ride.

We’re Positively (or Negatively) Electrical: Everyday Magic, Day 1063

Yesterday my phone blew a microchip hissy fit and lost it ability to dial out or answer calls a few hours before the air-conditioning in the living room — a big-ass window unit that cools much of the house — died and shortly after a lightbulb in the dining room fixture exploded. It’s not just me: the a.c. in Ken’s car whimpered out, and when he was driving the big red 1950s tractor into the field to clear brush, some wires blew up so he had to stop in a hurry.

We are made of energy like everything living. I remember how, when one of my kids went through a bundle of years having seizures, he would later say to me, “I just have too much electricity in my brain.” We can turn electricity into energy, and obviously, the reverse is also true.

For the last month, I’ve been tunnelling through a this-is-your-life excursion to put together my papers for an archive being set up on my life and work at Pittsburg State University. There’s nothing like reading decades of old letters and journals to turn up the energy running through a human psyche. “So it’s no wonder you’re short-circuiting things around you,” my therapist told me.

But what’s exploded or broken or otherwise put out of commission must, especially in the case of an air-conditioner on a 101 degree day in Kansas, be fixed and fixed quick. This visceral reality came home to me as I sat on my living room couch with sweat running down my face. I couldn’t drive to the store easily in the heat (all I had was Ken’s no-a.c. car) to buy a new a.c. because Ken had my much-cooler-cooling car for his work driving some hours west and east for work. I couldn’t call for a ride because my phone and I were awaiting a new SIM card. But I could text, and so I asked Karen, my sister-in-law, to take me to Menard’s, and then we both asked our friend Stephen to help us haul and install a 66-pound new a.c. It turned out Stephen is a whiz at this, and Karen’s also great at making sure we seal and set the a.c. just right. Within two hours, the new loud machine was plugged in and diminishing the tropic conditions in the living room.

Meanwhile, there’s light bulb to replace, a phone to fix, a car repair shop to visit, and a tractor to rewire (at the kitchen table late last night, Ken made all the new wiring to add). Luckily, we have enough electricity around and within us to get this done while journeying through another crazy-hot day abuzz with the electrical hum of a million cicadas in the energetic breeze.

What’s Wrong With Humans (and Some Birds): Everyday Magic, Day 1052

An hour ago, a mourning dove crashed so hard against our living room window that Ken and I both jumped. The dove attacked his reflection so vehemently, it was hard to believe he survived. For a long time afterwards, he sat on the snow-covered deck and stared at the birds on the deck railing for their morning buffet of birdseed. Occasionally, he swiveled his head to look back at me on the other side of the window. I couldn’t tell if he was mortally injured or doing that total-repair-in-stillness thing that birds do.

For close to two weeks, I’ve been alternating between despair and heartbreak when I take in the news from Ukraine. Three women in the back of a truck heading into battle, one of them with tears running down her shining face as all three clutched their weapons. Two nieces and their children rushing into the arms of their Polish aunt as soon as they crossed the border. A family of four dead on the ground when they were supposed to be safely leaving the city. The deep state evil of how vastly news has been censored, twisted, and spit back out in pure decit in Russia. The great-grandmother lying belly-down on the ground, aiming her gun and still wearing her long gold coat. A little girl singing “Let it Go” in Ukrainian to a crowd of children and their parents hunkered down in a Kyiv subway.

“The birds are incredibly impulsive. It’s a survival mechanism. They fly first, ask questions later,” Ken just told me when I lamented the obviously hurt dove still on the snow. Obviously, this isn’t just birds. As we, who are outside Ukraine, watch and wait, donate money, even to Airbnbs for refugees to have a warm place to sleep, we also have no idea, as my friend Judy reminded me the other day, how this will end. Nor can we say what the right thing to do is that would lessen the shelling and missile attacks, the hunger and freezing, the war between cousins, without triggering Putin to go nuclear. Even if any one of us did know exactly what to do, we have little to no power to enact what we know.

I think of all the people being traumatized exponentially by the hour right now. I think of nations, cities, regions where trauma has reigned for generations, particularly in both Russia and Ukraine. Because of greed, fear, anguish, insecurity, and god-knows-what-else, there is Putin with all this power to destroy in minutes what it takes lifetimes to create.

Despite all the family ties crossing the border between these countries and the long entwined history, despite all the brutality and the wounds it threads through families and communities for decades, and especially despite what history has taught all of us humans in such a visceral and devastating way about war, here we are in an unfathomable place. A time when it seems only miracles could do any good, but I still believe that as humans prone to charge our reflections, we can do something other than charge our reflections. We also have an instinct to alleviate suffering and the capacity to sit with not knowing and enormous pain.

It’s not lost on me that this is an injured dove, and a mourning dove at that. He eventually lifted to the deck railing, stayed there for ten minutes watching all the other birds, and then, against the odds, lifted off and up to join the cardinals in the cedar tree and watch the rest of us. I want him to live. I want us all to live.

The Changing of the Light: Everyday Magic, Day 1059

Beyond the lower temperatures and chigger count, there’s something else that truly distinguishes this time of year: the changing of the light. The blues get bluer, the pinks and oranges get more silvery, and the hazy summer air dries out to clearer edges and hues all around.

Summer in Kansas often feels endless, and not in a romantic, please-summer-never-end kind of way. It gets hot and stays hot. The hummingbirds fight-zip into each other, the cicadas’ walls of humming roars pour through us in waves of insanity, and sometimes, like this summer, it’s crazy-humid whenever the temperature fall below 90 degrees. It can be downright dangerous to walk in fields or even mowed lawns because of chiggers, ticks, and around the farm, occasional snakes. Depending on the day, stepping outside feels either like being in the middle of a sauna or, or on windy days, being inside a dryer tumbling us around.

May starts to get hot. June is definitely hot. July is hotter. August seems even hotter, but it could be that we’ve lost our minds by then. Even September acts like summer for much of its windy parade through, but then something happens. A switch is thrown, and suddenly, we’re in days in the 70s, nights in the 50s, and refreshing rains and cleansing winds return.

Then there’s the light: softer and more forgiving and, at the same time, more brilliant. Like this morning when, although I’m not a morning person, I got up at 6 a.m., and without even putting on my glasses, stepped outside to snap this photo before going back to bed, grateful for this generous sky.