reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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“i know you can do it.” [merely-a-thought monday]

inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.

my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:

“i know you can do it.”

those words – just six – can make all the difference.

momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.

these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.

in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.

*****

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live life my sweet potato stuff


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#199 and 200. [merely-a-thought monday]

“it costs $0.00 to be a decent human being,” the meme read on my niece’s page. i took a screenshot of it, not unlike the screenshots i have taken over the last year, these times unparalleled, this era of pandemic.

scrolling through these images on my desktop just now, i am gobsmacked at the limitless spectrum, a country-full of schizophrenic views, passionate opinions, factoids and untruths. i read things like, “i pray we are not going to have any kind of required coronavirus vaccine!” and “people in countries whose leaders told them the truth about covid didn’t ‘panic’. they responded. and as a result, far fewer of them died.” i read “my face, my choice!” and “masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer.” i read “i’ll pee in my end of the pool if i want to” and “when you choose to act out of kindness, compassion, and love, you are already aligned with your true purpose.” a country divided into primary colors kaleidoscoping about the galaxy on planet earth, people-as-crayons all given a spot in the earth-crayola-box simply by being born, yet arguing with achromatic abandon.

on a frigid february day we got the call. all was frozen after the skies had dropped many inches of snow on our town. it was a friday. it was 4:35 and there were two vaccines left, about to expire. the overburdened-yet-infinitely-kind community health center asked if we could come immediately. we were on a waiting list for anytime there was a vaccine that might go to waste – something to be avoided at all measures. we dropped everything and jumped in the truck. they called us while we were on the way there, to make sure we were really coming, to make sure we would arrive in time.

the drive-through lane at the old bank was marked with cones. as directed, we pulled into the spot at cone #1. there was no time to be nervous – about having a shot, about the side effects of the vaccine, about any long-term ramifications. there was just this unbelievably fortunate opportunity to be decent human beings in a world raging with disease and dying. the windows of big red were frozen-shut, so, with masks on, we opened the driver and passenger doors to exuberant nurses dressed in layers upon layers of clothing, gratitude our common denominator. we were vaccines #199 and 200 that day. it cost us nothing. zero.

i couldn’t help but hope, as we got our second vaccine at cone #3 on a slightly warmer day, soon fully inoculated because of vast medical and scientific research, the proud new recipients of a wait-15-minutes-vaccine-flag, that maybe kindness and compassion and a sense of community responsibility, the brother’s/sister’s-keeper-thing, was an ingredient and that the immune systems of humans everywhere, in protecting against covid, would also be stimulated to push back against all things peeing-in-the-poolish.

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“orbisculate.” [merely-a-thought monday]

i read her text more than once, “imagine, over 500,000 americans who will no longer contribute to the whole.” it is unfathomable to wrap your mind around this and, yet, the devastation continues. some of this country’s governors, whipping off their masks, merrily open their state-doors to this insidious disease and more americans will lose their lives, their parents, their spouses, their sons, their daughters. for what end? so that people might visit disney on spring vacation? so that people might step out of their covid-isolated lives and ignore all that has been scientifically proven as critical aids to move the country forward? so that people might selfishly tote variants back in their carry-ons from warm hot-spots, from tourist attractions, from margaritaville, from breaks that could break us all?

i wear a small chain on my left wrist. it is literally ceiling fan chain. we found the pack of chain on my dad’s workbench in florida years ago, sometime during the period of years that both of my parents were moving to a different plane of existence. both d and i chose to wrap this chain around our wrists to mark my poppo and each time i see it, i think of him. we speak of him. we speak of my sweet momma. i keep them around – purposefully, intentionally. i want their mark on the world to be present.

a family in boston lost their father, neil, only 78 years old, to covid last april. a man who embraced life with wide open arms, his family wants to memorialize him and find a way to keep his engaged and engaging spirit in the world. their plan? to get a word he made up for a college assignment years ago – orbisculate – into the dictionary. ‘when citrus fruit squirts on you’ is the ready definition. the complete and official definition is: 1) to accidentally squirt juice and/or pulp into one’s eye, as from a grapefruit when using a spoon to scoop out a section for eating. 2) to accidentally squirt the inner content from fruits, vegetables and other foods onto one’s face, body or clothing, or onto that of a person nearby. the website has a variety of links for blogposts and goals and faq’s, ways to contribute to the important charity this lovely family has chosen to support and a petition you can sign to help move this effort forward, keep their dad around.

after her text, i spent some time thinking about the 500,000 plus beautiful souls no longer on this earth – simply because of covid, a pandemic with some preventable losses. how might we memorialize each of these people? how might we keep them present – in their own concentric circles, in their community, in the whole wide world? how might we intentionally remember?

to what end are we willing to go to not lose any more people to this virus? to what end are we each willing to sacrifice the smaller picture for the bigger picture? to what end are we willing to agree to unite in a continued compassionate endeavor to mitigate this?

and, with a nod to the brilliant idea category of this bostonian family, how will the dictionary accommodate over 500,000 new words – all of which would be worthy were each of these mortals to have their own special thingamajig-word and definition. and i hope they do.

poppochain: (noun): 1) bracelet made of inexpensive ceiling fan chain, typically worn wrapped around wrist 2) a physical reminder of enormous love 3) memorial of my sweet poppo, 1920-2012.

i touch the poppochain on my left wrist and, suddenly, i want to go peel a grapefruit.

*****

we orbisculate over to you for your haiku-turn. let them know!

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our H. [merely-a-thought monday]

the last time i had an in-depth conversation with him, H said, “i have my hope on the generation coming up…that they will be a force for the good.” i cannot imagine a bigger force for good than sweet H.

the candle is burning now. we have had it lit many times in recent days as H has struggled with the fine line between living and dying. the image of his dear face in our mind’s eye reminds us of how to grow old gracefully, how to live into aging, how to participate, how to be in the river not on the river’s edge.

we just heard that H died last night and, as i write this on saturday morning, the sun bursting outside and the birds in full song, my heart is breaking. i have adored H – now ninety-something-something – since the first day he walked into the choir room in which i used to direct choirs, ukulele bands, handbells and be a part of all the joy and community mutually created in that room. his spirit entered before he did, flowing positive energy and a will to try anything, laughter his guide. his bass voice in our choir, in our ukulele band, in our lives was grounding and the gift of angels who had gone before him. H was intrepid. rain, sleet, snow or ice did not deter him or any adventure he took on. he worked harder than most in his earlier years and he played with childlike glee in his later years. mostly, he was not afraid. he wasn’t afraid to learn new things or take on technology. he wasn’t afraid to sing solo or rap in front of others. he wasn’t afraid to travel or to just simply be who he was. he was fiercely devoted to his family, each of them. he wasn’t afraid to love or to state how he felt or what he thought. he was more genuine than many who claim authenticity as their core. a faithful human being, he was.

the refrigerator magnets cluster together from places he went; he always proudly brought me back a magnet from his travels. at the end of the year he’d give me a multitude of those calendars you get in the mail – from all different organizations he had contributed to or of which he was a part – and i’d pick one to hang in the choir room, one to hang at home and one to use for notes. the charlie brown coffee mug in our mug cabinet, that he had carefully wrapped in its suitcase-journey from the peanuts museum in california, is a favorite treasure. he loved butterfingers. he was H.

our last conversation, just a few days ago, was a little disjointed. H couldn’t hear what i was saying on the phone but was trying hard to speak. unlike all our other calls, we didn’t really talk about anything that time. but one thing was clear – shared love and respect for each other and the absolute happiness we each felt having this special friendship. he was H and, oh, his heart.

in an earlier longer call he had talked about the dynamics of our country. he was worried and said that his concern was that current circumstances were like a snowball going downhill…getting bigger and bigger, worse and worse. while i would agree that our country, in big places and small, is in desperate need of a thawing-out of mean-spirited snowballs going rapidly downhill, i would offer that there are other domino effects as well, the kind that take frosty snowflakes and build magical snowmen and the snowforts of children’s imaginings. H is such snow magic, if you will – a trillion unique flakes joined together by infinite molecules of kindness. a snowball that gains in momentum and size – in every good way – each time he was around people. brilliant snowflakes attracted to a genuine and gentle man who would dedicatedly stick with you through thick and thin, persons drawn to each other like perfect individual crystals, stars together.

H lived his hope for the future – he was a force for good. there is no reckoning about this. he will shine in the stars and in all the bass solos. he will gather angels around him, singing, and create fairy-dust-snowflakes. he will be missed and he will be remembered. he was H and his heart was gigantic.

*****

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the air of the complicit. [merely-a-thought monday]

the snow was untouched. our steps, way over our boots, made the first tracks and it’s visible in the photograph where we chose different paths, where we broke off and went different ways. across the snowy field we trod, heading north, heading south. our tracks would not cross again unless we turned, faced and walked toward each other. otherwise, they would not. a snow-simple illustration of division, an illustration of disunity, of not walking together, of estrangement.

having just passed by the second senate impeachment trial for the person who used to be the president of this country, no far-reach into the recesses is necessary to exemplify this quote or this photograph. without getting into the nitty-gritty details, and gritty they are, the insurrection at the capitol was ghastly. but the incitement of the fervor and the lack of responsibility placed upon the powerful inciters was egregious. the positioning of those grasping onto their jobs rather than their integrity was appalling yet predictable. the snowfield was divided; a chasm of incoherent morality between the tracks of those who walk in capitol halls. the evil remains, sticking to the floor, the walls, the offices, the grand rooms…in all the places that people-who-did-nothing occupy, in the air of the complicit.

momma would say, “speak up!” and speak up i did.

in the late 70s i spoke up. there was a man, a leader, who was sexually abusing young women in my town, me included. i spoke up. i spoke out. i reported it to the people-in-charge, to the parents of these young girls, to the authorities. it was a different time for victims of molestation and it is revolting that this man was never held responsible for the way he changed each life including mine, a forever arc of impact. though his hideous actions remain unpunished, and his threats on my life back then were terrifying, it would seem that at least some of the evil moved on in the rush of air that speaking up provides. impacted forever but not silent, not in dark shadows of aloneness. you simply cannot watch someone do evil and do nothing about it. even when you are in some way imperiled. even when it’s scary.

momma said, “speak up!” and speak up i do.

and i wonder. i wonder about people who don’t, who watch evil and do nothing about it, who hunker down and just mind their own business, who figure that anything that doesn’t directly affect them doesn’t really matter, who get lost somewhere in the chasm of incoherence. those not willing to ask questions, not willing to speak up, to speak out, to speak for, to speak against. or, worse yet, those who are propelling falsehoods further into the world, never pondering their actions or the actions of leadership, never measuring them against truth. i wonder what they would do were they to personally feel the assault of evil – anywhere on the spectrum of questionable to inappropriate to shockingly grievous. i wonder why they jump on unlabeled bandwagons to mystery destinations alongside people-with-authority-but-without-veracity, people-with-authority-but-without-moral-compass, people-with-authority-and-with-unchecked-personal-agenda.

i wonder why they trek through the snow, never turning to face in, never trying to come together, to challenge evil, to reconcile, to unify.

*****

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the tree-hollow-hole. [merely-a-thought monday]

i have knelt on the ground in front of this tree-hollow many times now – in spring, fall, summer, winter. peeking through the hollow-hole to the world on the other side of the tree has revealed sky and trees and the river in many moods. the river has overwhelmed its banks. the river has recessed way across the horizon. the trees and grasses are verdant. the trees and grasses are dormant, waiting. i have knelt there, in front of this little keyhole, and fussed with the depth-of-field, the focal point of my photograph. near. far. near. far.

i have knelt on the ground in front of this tree-hollow many times – my eyes focusing on the edges, my eyes focusing beyond. they look different. different views. but they are the same. it matters where i place my focus. near. far. near. far. either way is truth.

were we to be looking through a hollow-hole at life and standing in front of words we say and deeds we do, would it matter whether we examined them up-close or from a distance? what would it reveal? are they clear, do they blur, do they disclose, or do they hide, an indistinct image.

when you pull them into focus, are they the same? are the words we say consistent with the deeds we do? are we personally abdicating responsibility while at the same time sanctimoniously expecting it of others? are we conveniently focused on our words, our deeds dropping off into depth-of-field glaze? are we claiming righteousness this side of the tree and jumping with both feet into hypocrisy on the other side? where is the focal point?

i have knelt on the ground in front of myself. i have recognized that there have been words and deeds that have not resonated, that have not passed the do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do test. i have looked through the tree-hollow, seeing the trunk-bark up-close and personal; i have looked through the tree-hollow, my eyes on a distinct horizon.

i can only expect that, just as i try again the next day, that each of us tries again the next day. that our words up-close gel with our deeds. that what we say aligns with what we do. that no one sits on a pedestal with nary a view through the tree-hollow-hole, but instead, we each stay aware of the whole picture, up-close and at a distance. we owe that to each other. seems germane, in each little corner of the world. near. far. near. far.

*****

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first. [merely-a-thought monday]

it’s rare to wander into a place without footprints. a combed beach, an untouched snowfield, beckon you to step, to be first, to be the only one.

after a snowfall a few years back we went hiking out in the county. the only being there before us was a deer, its tracks evident in the snow. and then ours. the three of us in quietude together, before anyone else. it made everything feel pure and connected; it was a jewel of a day.

we went hiking on one of our favorite trails closer by. snowpants swishing and our feet breaking through the snowcrust, we were the only ones. the snow was untouched, a blank canvas, inviting both our steps and the humble retreat we considered to preserve it. it’s magical to look backwards on the trail and see only the tracks you have laid there.

yes, “there’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on.” (c.r. brunt)

in the opening notes of a new composition, many composers, artists, writers feel that they are going where no one else has trod before. we are given to the thought that in our uniqueness we will have something to say, sing, play, paint, draw that no one – ever – before has said, sung, played, painted or drawn. it is not likely that this is true.

in the way that everything cycles around us, so do the notes, the colors, the words, waiting in clouds of possibility all around us to be positioned together, partnered, brought into one. we, as artists, choose from these barely visible pots. we fuss, we nuance, we finesse, we fingerprint, we make it our own.

and yet, much later, decades even, in looking back over the trail – the song, the poem, the story, the painting – we recognize glimmers from those who have walked before. threads of connection, purity of the artist-collective-story, souls woven in the telling of the human-tale. original-first and cyclically-repeating.

because, indeed, as the snow melts on the trail, it reveals evidence of others who have been there, others who have left their words, their notes, their colors. others who have left their footprints, their tracks, back to another day when someone else was first.

*****

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“look!” [merely-a-thought monday]

ken, my producer, called it a ‘thinking note’ and he’s right. he knew i’d get to the point, but i had to get past the moment of time during which i could not think. in music, the thinking note buys that time; you are held in the shallows of suspension until released into the rest of the sentence. it slows the breathing down a little; it gives rest where there is no rest.

since the instrument of choice for politicians is spoken word, the thinking note has become “look”. i would count how often we hear it, keep hash marks to tally it all up, but that would be unnecessary and tedious. instead, i giggle every time i hear it, viscerally knowing the person who is about to speak is maybe buying a tad bit of time.

in music, the thinking note is a prelude for more, the honest line of melody, perhaps an entrance into a new theme, the slight pause of artistry, the powerful momentary suspension of new sound. it’s the “look” spoken by music. sometimes, though, for me, as ken will tell you, it is simply procrastination, when composition or improvisation falls into the moat surrounding the synapses in my brain – stopping all forward thought for the moment – as i wait for creativity to climb out of the gatehouse and make it to the next note.

in politics, i wonder…does “look” serve the same purpose? is it a prelude for more, an honest line of narrative, an entrance delving into a new topic, a suspension of speak to take a breath and gather thoughts? is it useful, preparatory, formative space between a question asked and an answer given? or is it something else? it feels a little like over-convincing when someone says “look!” to you. a snap-to-it-pay-attention admonition. perhaps an entrance into a one-way conversation. a bit aggressive.

as an artist and not a politician, i’d have to say: look…ummm…i have no idea. maybe we should ask ken.

*****

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a good old chinwag. [merely-a-thought monday]

you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. conversation. back and forth.

conversation: (noun) a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.

conversation – synonyms: discussion. gabfest. heart-to-heart. dialogue. conference. confab. exchange. chinwag.

chinwag??

probably one of the most frustrating things in human community is the willingness for people to forego hard conversations and, instead, accept things as-is, invest in misinformation and make assumptions. toxic in almost every situation, assumptions are the stuff of poison apples and they will destroy everything in their wake.

a good old chinwag would do wonders for forward movement. people – together – back and forth – who are candid and honest, forthcoming and steadfast, who ask the hard questions and demand straightforward answers, who don’t leave out pertinent details, who expect truth and speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, freely upfront.

a good old chinwag is a mature opportunity for growth, for learning, for progress. silence is the opposite – it is a wound that will fester, a mistake that will become exponential, an injustice that will become a wart, a carbuncle on the integrity of a community.

a good old chinwag is not easy. it is the stuff of bravery, the stuff of guts, of risk-taking, of fortitude and perseverance. it is the stuff of dedication to the bigger picture, to progress, to being proactive. it does not yell or scream; it is quietly respectful, using language of negotiation, of reconciliation, of courtesy, a deference to thoughtfulness.

a good old chinwag may lead to tears. it can be the stuff of renewal, of healing, re-establishing relationship, correcting wrongs. it can be the stuff of granting forgiveness and the stuff of receiving forgiveness. it can be powerful and it can be most tender. it can bring weeping into the back and forth, drowning out toxins and harvesting hope.

a good old chinwag can never be a bad thing. it can forge or strengthen mature friendships and dig deep foundations with honesty and candor. it can elicit change. it can revitalize and reinvigorate. it can rebuild.

a good old chinwag. simply caring enough to have a conversation.

you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. back and forth.

*****

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maria, tennis and tow trucks. [merely-a-thought monday]

i wanted to be maria. who wouldn’t? the lead of ‘the sound of music’ was a coveted role and every girl wanted to try out for that part.

i was cast as sister berthe. reading the sheet of paper on the wall outside the music room at harley avenue elementary i was not reassured by the fantastic job that portia nelson delivered as sister berthe in the 1965 film; i wanted to be maria and i knew in my heart that julie andrews would have agreed. sigh.

but i held a double role. i was also in the chorus. and mrs. lafayette took no prisoners. she was charming and beautiful to the eyes of all of us elementary school artiste wannabes but she was also deliberate, purposeful, and intentionally firm about making sure we understood the role of the chorus. “singing together in unison,” she’d tell us, encouraging us to listen to each other and match our timbre to that of the choral line, admonishing anyone who tried to stand out. “it is a chorus together,” she’d tell us, “and there is no ‘i’ in ‘chorus’.” it was humbling for all of us, striving to be tiny stars. and yet, it was the moment during which we understood that that we, indeed, became tiny stars.

driving hours to tennis matches was a big part of my life when my son was in college. he played singles and i would sit on the sidelines, my breathing shallow when i wasn’t utterly holding my breath altogether, my adrenaline racing, making tiny motions with my hands as if i could help move the tennis ball down the court or slice at the ball with the racket in his hand. he was a good tennis player – passionate and strategic. i was an anxious mess watching but i was often lucky to be watching with another mom and, together, betty and i forged our way through. although our sons played singles and we clearly wanted them to win their matches, i was always struck by how the team came together. instead of simply zeroing in, each on his own performance, the team cheered each other on and it was how the team did – in an overall sense – that really mattered to them. that doesn’t mean that disappointment didn’t exist for individuals, but they were encouraged time and again to remember that they were on a team and there was no ‘i’ in ‘team’.

the show ‘highway thru hell‘ is kind of a masculine show. big-rig tow truck drivers in the mountains of canada pull wrecks out of ditches, out of snowdrifts and from all kinds of precarious situations drivers find themselves in. before you roll your eyes at the thought of watching this kind of show, let me just add that it is fascinating. the mathematician in any of you will revel in the geometry and physics of it all; these tow truck operators are highly skilled and often put their lives at risk doing recovery alongside icy highways. egos are definitely rampant – each wants a little piece of stardom – but in the end they never hesitate to call each other for help, for another rig, for the rotator to show up. as kevin, one of these diligent heavy rescue workers, said, “there is no ‘i’ in ‘team’.” they are all part of the milky way on those dangerous roads in british columbia.

real life doesn’t cast us as maria each and every day. real life doesn’t grant us wins every day. real life places obstacles in front of us, calamities to sort out, heavy rescue needed. together, in chorus, as a part of a team, foregoing the ‘i’ in self-agenda, the ‘i’ in selfishness, the ‘i’ in narcissism, the ‘i’ in division, we are all stars.

*****

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happy birthday, my beloved son.