reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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she-birds. [merely-a-thought monday]

“old birds have stronger wings.” (aarp magazine)

“but grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.” (anne lamott)

resilience. strength. sisu.

we have flown through many storms, we have weathered many droughts and much deluge. we have built nests from scratch and we have re-built them again. we have given birth through birth canals and through love choices. we have sought security and food for our young when security and food were scarce. we have attached wings to ideas and rube-goldberg solutions; we have made do. we have made piss-poor decisions and grandiose ones that have changed everything. we have broken treasures and fixed stuff; we have learned reverse threading. we have been emotional and we have necessarily let go. we have withstood fires of damaging words and we have recuperated from physical blows to our body, our sexuality, our hearts. we have tried to understand, we have been seekers of closure in times of strife. yet, even without understanding or closure, we have kept on keeping on. we are soon old birds and we have stronger wings.

because life, as life, presents gain and loss, winning and losing, achievement and failure, rich and poor, rising and falling, young and old, crepey and supple elasticity, as juxtapositions, as two sides of a pendulum ever-swinging, we have been measured in these competing narratives.

but we are aging birds with wings who have felt the sun of more than twenty-thousand mornings, the moon’s gravitational pull of decades, the grace of time and gardens through fallow and fruit. we are aging birds who have both soared and plummeted. we are aging birds who do not need the measure of others for our definition, for defining ourselves, continuing to learn, takes enough time and is complex enough.

we imagine unicorns in clouds, names in the stars of the galaxy. we catch the scent of sunshine on a wafting breeze and listen to the calls of mourning doves, wondering. we have come a long way. the path we have taken has not been straight. we have been courageous and we have been tenacious. we have flapped our way to here. we proudly wing our way forward, ever-forward. we are ever-stronger.

*****

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a little bitta chalk. [merely-a-thought monday]

sidewalk chalk is pretty cheap. we have several little buckets of it, all different colors, chunky and at the ready.

one day last week some good parent brought out the sidewalk chalk and some delightful children wrote on the sidewalks on 7th avenue. walking our ‘hood, we were two of the recipients of their light-blue messaging.

“i just wanted to say you look awesome,” the sidewalk said to us. it was a hot day and i had on old multi-colored patchwork shorts and a sleeveless top seemingly older than the hills, thinning flipflops from old navy, humidity-messy-curly hair and a hot-flash-aided-shall-we-say-glistening-face. i felt anything but awesome. but this message made me smile. it reminded me of heidi’s sweet momma who said, “you will never be any more beautiful than you are right now.” wise words.

positive messages are free. it doesn’t cost any one any thing to say something positive. it doesn’t detract from any serious issue at hand; it doesn’t lessen the issuer’s importance. instead, it sets up concentric ripples of goodness, of kindness, of value to each person it touches.

“there are a hundred ways they could have said that,” david would say. indeed, a hundred ways to go about doing each moment in life. probably way more than a hundred. and yet, so often, people passing, people in relationship, people in power choose a way that is toxic, that demeans others, oppresses others, suffocates others, debilitates others. so often they choose aggression, argumentative, antagonistic words or actions.

someone in power once said to me, “i’m sick and tired of you.” it was the moment he jerked the heart-string i had to the organization, the moment i realized that all his negativity was intentional; it was toxic, demeaning, oppressive, suffocating and debilitating, not to mention shocking. i wonder what other 99 things he could have said, the other 99 ways he could have acted. i wonder what message he would have chalked on the sidewalk.

appreciation of each other, our beloveds, our friends, our colleagues, our community, this world, is contagious. its goodness is seed for growth, for collaboration, for mutually existing on this good earth in actual harmony.

simple words, spoken gently, simple acts of valuing, can make the difference in a person’s day. whether or not we intimately know that person seems irrelevant. to believe that we have made someone smile, have made someone breathe easier, have made someone’s day better, have inspired someone to pass it on, is irrefutably virtuous. to be optimistic, recognize others in their success, to stand in even-keeled integrity, to bring tender and honest concern, are traits of wisdom. to believe that we have softened a circumstance, diffused a conflict, dispersed anger is actual power.

and goodness begets goodness, in the long run.

for power does not come from negativity and control. instead, it comes from positivity and generosity, from empowering others rather than pushing them down. it comes from not thinking one is righteous, but instead recognizing one’s fallibility, one’s flaws. it comes with recognizing we all have much to learn. it comes when simplicity and kindness come together, in both random and intentional acts.

ask the little kids with the light-blue sidewalk chalk. they seem to really know that.

*****

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levels of color. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we were the only ones. the only customers in the grocery store with masks on. there was one employee we saw wearing one, but we didn’t see any other shoppers with one on. the other day, at a different grocery store, we were the recipients of a few dirty looks. but heck, we have tougher skin than that. mostly.

we sat outside while the light waned, before the mosquitoes had rsvp’d they’d be there. torches on, flame dancing from the fire column, we had a few hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine and talked about these times. there is a wistful dividing line between before and now. the pandemic has shot a chalkline in our calendars and even now, not quite after, we can see the difference.

the books arrived in the mail. it was one of those rare days when you open up the front door and see a surprise gift parcel on the doorstep. the books, memoirs of raynor and moth. the salt path, the first, a viewmaster of days during which, through the necessity of impossible challenges, raynor and moth were hiking the south west coast path in the united kingdom. “i think they are your people,” she wrote about this couple.

we opened the first paperback. i am reading it aloud and we have a voracious appetite to keep going in between all else. i read and we digest, this tale of backpacking without the reassuring fallback of retreat or going home in the end. it’s breathtaking and stunningly candid.

monday night i read aloud the sentence, “being separate from people for large chunks of time had reduced our tolerance levels.” it was not a statement of pandemic; it was a statement of wilderness camping. yet, it hit us – it was a statement of pandemic. so relevant.

if we are all honest with ourselves, we find now that the pandemic has most definitely divided our circles into before and now . . . and hopefully, one day, after. people who are absolute, people we have stayed in touch with or who have stayed in touch with us, even spottily, people who have fallen away. people who have shown true colors, people who have been generous and compassionate. people who have jumped at the chance to help others, to abide by recommendations to ease this pandemic, people who have chosen to be cavalier, go-their-own-way, to scoff and ignore, to not be any other’s keeper.

the season/reason mantra applies, we pondered aloud at the table, talking about past friendships and working relationships. some people, there with us at some point, are just not to be dragged into now. we appreciate their presence at the time they were present and we learn we must let go. they have become woven into who we have become and those threads remain somewhere in the interior of the quilt. but, in the way that time moves on, so do attachments. and even beyond the natural attrition of relationships – just like raynor and moth, though not on a wild trail – the simplicity of who we have become, what we have seen or done, where we have gone or not gone, how we have lived through these times, of pandemic, of loss, of challenge, of grief – this simplicity has changed us and, it seems, has changed our tolerance levels. as if they were on a cmyk or rgb profile – empathy, compassion, masks, vaccines, distancing, research, critical thinking, kindness, questioning, learning, truth, transparency, loyalty, generosity, inclusivity, gentleness, agenda-ridden-less, fairness, decency, basic dedication to not being mean…a wide spectrum of color levels in humans that surround us.

we were quiet as we sat and thought about people in our lives, what has changed, what has remained the same, people we yearn to see, people we, frankly, perhaps sadly or resignedly, don’t care to see again.

we gratefully looked around at flames in torches, food on our table, the dog on the deck, the old screen door to a comfortable beloved house merely steps away. the simplest pleasures have been, are, the pleasures. we cannot think of a reason that this is not a good thing. though we shed a few tears, we held hands as we spoke, together not separate.

the mosquitoes found their way to the deck. we blew out the torches, snuffed the fire column and carried our plates inside.

*****

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the wisdom of the white trout lily. [merely-a-thought monday]

when my big brother died, i was lost in a maelstrom of emotion. it was hard for me to wrap my head around how the world would go on at a point he could no longer feel it. it wasn’t like i hadn’t experienced loss before. at that point in my life, i no longer had any of my grandparents present on this earth with me. that just felt like a more natural thing – to lose those we love who are elderly, who have lived long and full lives. my beloved brother, on the other hand, was merely 41 and there were so many hopes and dreams he still had for himself and his family. i am still struck by the fact that the world does, indeed, go on. the sun rises and sets; the moon lingers in the night sky. and my question, both existential and somewhat obvious, remains unanswered: how it can go on if he can’t feel it anymore. how it will go on – someday – if i can’t feel it anymore.

at some point a few years ago, i played for a memorial service at a synagogue. one of the meditations before kaddish made me weep. penned by merrit malloy, it reads: “when i die give what’s left of me away to children and old men that wait to die. and if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you. and when you need me, put your arms around anyone and give them what you need to give me. i want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds. look for me in the people i’ve known or loved, and if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not in your mind. you can love me best by letting hands touch hands and by letting go of children that need to be free. love doesn’t die, people do. so when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.”

the white trout lily humbly bows on the forest floor. much like people, though on a different scale, their presence is ephemeral, fleeting. on sunny days, their petals will curl back, up, towards the sun; on shady days these small flowers may not even open. their simple beauty a mystery to the passerby, their faces shyly downward, they fill the underbrush on the side of the trail, dotting the landscape with fragile white blooms. i trust they are not concerned with the impact they make on the world nor do they wonder about their footprints once they are gone. they are simply there – love – dressed in white floral.

as we have moved through the pandemic and the devastating myriad of even just this past year, it is inevitable to think of all the loss, the loved ones who have died, the families and concentric circles left behind in grief, questioning. it is also – yes – a reminder that we are still here.

my dear friend sent me a link to a new york times op ed by charles blow. she drew my attention to the last line, words of perfection: “when i am gone, and people remember my name, i want some of them to smile.”

yes.

that.

smile. and give me away.

*****

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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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snowcake and lemonade. [d.r. thursday]

david, wearing his birthday tiara, waiting to have birthday cake

he said that he stood at the back door and thought, “i’m going to like this time of life best.” out the door, surfing through piles and piles of snow, dogdog ran the yard, bowing to the snow and snacking on it, his chin and face covered. a snowglobe day, david stood and watched our dog in his glee while the coffee brewed. moments later, he brought a steaming mug of strong black coffee to me, lounging in my flannel pjs in bed, sleepy eyes and a warm cat by my side. we clinked mugs and sipped while we talked of birthdays and time.

our day was simple. we ate, we wrote, we ate again. dogdog and babycat were by our sides, not eager to be anywhere else on this frigid day. negative temperatures in the minus-twenties weren’t at all encouraging for hikes outside, or even walks, and i made a mental note to start asking around about a treadmill. we unwrapped a winter-scene jigsaw that had been in the hall closet for years, called people, answered texts, opened a surprise gift that arrived on our frozen doorstep and puzzled at the dining room table. a late dinner and a couple of glasses of red and dogdog was begging to go sleepynightnight. he led the way to the end of the day, a valentine’s-day-birthday, a day of marveling at how dear people are, how fast time goes, how vested we are in adjectives like ‘peaceful’ and ‘promising’ and ‘content’ to describe our next. ‘euphoric’ and ‘carefree’ would be lovely too; so many adjectives, so little time.

on the deck right out the sunroom window, the wrought iron table and chairs were laden with the accumulation of days of snow. i could not help but see the round snowpile on the table as a giant birthday cake; i could not help but see the snow-shape in the chair as a little alien snowman, waiting patiently for a piece of cake. it was just too tempting and david was out front shoveling. with a couple silver christmas balls, a tiara found upstairs in my girl’s room, a tall white taper and some vintage pink-plastic-cake-numbers-that-hold-tiny-birthday-candles, i made myself laugh. sinking well over my knees in snow as i inadvertently stepped off the side of the deck into a drift, i collapsed into the snow, cracking up, just too excited for david to come around the corner of the house, shovel in hand. lemonade, i thought. this is lemonade.

and that, i believe, is what he meant by, “i’m going to like this time best.” a time when you know that lemonade – and the making of it with or without lemons – is most rewarding.

*****

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my momma and chicken soup. [two artists tuesday]

i wish i could sit with my mom right now. i wish i could be at her kitchen table with a giant bowl of her homemade chicken soup and a big glass of red wine. i wish i could be talking with her, really talking, not merely chit-chatting, but sharing all the stuff that we – very-human human-beings – go through. i wish i could feel that kind of comfort, that kind of never-ending fierce support, that kind of unconditional love, that kind of mothering right now. i wish she were here.

making my own homemade chicken soup will have to suffice. pouring a glass of wine and turning on the happy lights in the sunroom will have to do. sitting with david and pouring out my heart, tears and laughter intermingling, will have to satiate me. looking out over the backyard, staring at the lights strewn up between the trees, will have to be enough.

adulthood has its challenges. we race through our younger years at seemingly warp speed, our ever-widening circles further and further away from home. so much presses us. too much sentimentality is rejected; this world does not run on threadiness and success is not deemed reached with a collection of rocks, feathers, branches collected to remember times with beloveds. we are encouraged to push back against emotions that are confusing, that are overwhelming; this world does not reward our angst, our fear, our grief. instead it suggests that teflon hearts, insular, tough, impervious to the outside, will forward us down the road. we give less and less time to nurturing relationships; we are immersed in making a living, in getting by, in our own self-actualization.

and then suddenly, we screech to a stop. and we are there. we are adults. and, despite all the trappings, we are a little bit lost. we look around, we look back, down the disjointed path, and we realize it’s all fleeting and we, struggling, our hearts quivering, the gift of retrospect bright and shining, pine for simple. we wish we could sit and have chicken soup with our mom, or with our children, and listen and share. we wish we could say that we have learned, in all our human-imperfection, that most important of all, just as we might have suspected, are those rocks and feathers and branches. most important of all are those moments spent with beloveds. most important of all is the honest exchange of ideas and thoughts, choices good and bad, learnings and re-learnings. most important of all is the sharing of our emotions, the visceral, the belly laughs, the sobs, the mistakes and the forgiveness of our flawedness, our common denominator. and hopefully, if the world is as full of grace as we are told, most important of all is the giving and receiving of unconditional love.

i wish i could sit with my sweet momma right now and ask her…how did she make it to almost-94 without a broken-heart-from-life-stuff time and again. i wish she could, once again, reassure me that “this too shall pass” and remind me that moments in time are just that – moments in time. i wish she could tell me her coping strategies, the way she found her zen in this big old damaged perfect world.

i’m guessing chicken soup played a big part.

*****

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one does not have to look like a snowman. [flawed wednesday]

“so, what do you really do?”

were that question to be paid by frequency, i wouldn’t have to answer it ever again. i’d be a rich chick with a h-o-b-b-y of music. or a h-o-b-b-y of writing. but alas, it is not frequency-paid and so i have to just lightheartedly laugh and, with a touch of demure-yet-playful, explain that this artist thing IS what i do. here i am, a pile of snow with stick-arms, a soul of magical-frosty can-do attitude and someone wants to know what i really do? i may not look like a snowman, but i am a snowman.

“don’t judge a book by its cover,” my sweet momma would admonish anyone who would listen. one day, at 93, she texted out, “don’t underestimate me. i know more than i say, think more than i speak, notice more than you realize.” and she meant it. her spirit – to the end – was strong and she was a five foot powerhouse. whether she looked like a snowman or not, she was a snowman.

we live in a culture that is beleaguered with judgement based on appearances. it’s in no one’s best interest. but it is pervasive and the injustice that stems from quick assumptions is rampant. we have pre-formed opinions for most everything; we have images in our mind’s eye before we do any research, ask any questions, have any conversation. we assume. we presume. we surmise. all before we actually take a second look at the snowman.

it is ‘interesting’ (please note this is tongue-in-cheek) to be looking for new positions. at just-shy-of-62 and just-shy-of-60, it is more age-typical to be celebrating an upcoming or recent retirement than to be passing out resumes. the wrinkles around our eyes, the few grey hairs sprinkled on our heads belie who we are inside. experience and education and boots-on-the-ground knowledge come with a price – and that price is age. in real life, that doesn’t have to be a detriment for an employer. it is a quieter wisdom, a less-intense slower-striding competition with others, a recognition of the collective embrace of gleaning from each other. but the looking-a-tad-bit-older-thing, in person or on paper, rears its head and, too often, the what-we-could-bring is tossed off the table.

here we are, two sedulous snowmen, measured simply by whether we have three round balls stacked on each other, a carrot nose, two button eyes and a scarf wrapped around an undefined neck. we may not look like judge-a-book-only-by-its-cover-snowmen, but snowmen we are.

perseverance picks it all up off the floor and tries again.

goodness. i reckon my sweet momma would have loved the t-shirt i recently saw, “underestimate me. that’ll be fun.”

*****

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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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cicadas and people. [k.s. friday]

the cicada was silent, attached to the deck. it was late spring/early summer of 2015 and this insect had chosen our deck as its place of transition. we watched the shell, cautious to not disturb it, waiting for something to happen. until one day it began to emerge, looking much like an extra-terrestrial, wings of flight opening and drying in the sun of the warm day. it was a stunning process from nymph to adult, all silent, with no fanfare for this remarkable transformation. suddenly, this little being was present on the earth, ready to make some noise.

silence to noise – a transition from nymph to mature adult. a lesson, perhaps, for humanity.

our progression from without-words nymph-baby to with-a-voice mature adult, a transformation of growth, of learning, of critical thinking, of fortitude. as cicadas raise their voices to the sky, buzzing and clicking, choosing their song, their chorus wisely, they answer an intuitive call, they align in truth to their purpose, their place on earth. much the same perhaps should be mature adults – answering an intuitive call, choosing their song or chorus wisely, aligning in truth.

there are times we find ourselves in hush. stunned into silence by the words or actions of others, we sit, ensconced in the shell of our exoskeleton. we wait and we watch. and then, as we rise as winged and responsible people, we have the opportunity, the obligation, to speak – to speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, speak to truth.

perhaps there are adults who have skipped their instar stages, those phases of development that insects pass through on their way to maturity. perhaps they should have lived underground like cicadas, feeding on roots, a bit longer before they emerged, before they walked on an earth where they felt they could use their words to hurt or harm others. perhaps then, after a slow transition into maturation and with no fanfare, they would choose their buzzing and ticking with more forethought, with more compassion, with more honesty, with more wisdom.

*****

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