Thursday, January 31, 2013

Breakdown Boxes

 I had been photographing blue sky and water and a bee that had landed on a flower and driftwood on the beach.  I was walking back to my place along the houses on Officer’s Row at Fort Worden in Port Townsend,  when I noticed the trash cans of various kinds, labeled for glass and plastic and non-recyclables.  My eye was drawn to what I took to be a misuse of a direction to break down the boxes and put them in this place.  I chuckled at the bending of the English language when two words become uncomfortable as one, snapped a photograph, and felt smug in catching an unintended joke.  When I noticed the boxes that had been stuffed into that container, I understood  differently.  Yes, in fact, some people do use beer as a breakdown box.  Some people use drugs,  Some people use escape and  addiction, we’ll just put it at that.
     But we all have our different breakdown boxes because we all, at one time or another, no matter our age or status or education or background or region or sex or ethnicity or any of the labels that separate us, come together in person-ness, because we all eventually have some sort of ritual of breakdown.  When the blip comes, we instinctively reach for something or someone who can balance our beam, who can teeter our totter, who can homeo our stasis.  Off kilter and off balance is the land we often inhabit before growth. Sometimes it’s a scary land and to contain it we need a box. A breakdown box.  A container that holds us  as we slowly climb out and make our way back to blossom, to be the opening flower, face to the smiling sun, the comforting moon. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pier Eye

      Friday I took a drive with my daughter to Santa Barbara to visit my son, her brother.  She had to be home early in the evening because friends were visiting.  He assured us he wouldn’t be able to spend too much time because he was working on his music.  We all knew it would be an up and back trip.  A bit over three hours in the car for a three hour visit.
      Driving up in the bright sunshine of the January day, talking about not much and everything, we arrived on the coast to see the ocean flat, like a lake.  The Channel Islands were visible in the distance, not as vague shapes, but as clearly defined peaks and valleys, separated across the waveless sea.  My focus on them,  I didn’t notice the oil rigs that dotted the channel between the coast and the islands. 
      We decided to spend the first part of the visit eating at a Japanese restaurant.  We talked about nothing and everything.  Next stop was the Goleta beach where we walked onto the very long pier to its end.  I snapped pictures of the seaweed in the water, the gulls along the pier, the river entering the ocean, a flock of pelicans, and my son and daughter delightfully hugging, posing for a picture at the end of the pier.  On the way back I snapped pictures of the shore, a shipwreck in the distance.  I looked down on the wooden planks of the pier and noticed the knothole.  I  bent to take a picture through the hole, then noticed the eye shape.  Even on macro the camera would not click.  I was too close.  I called my 6 foot plus son to come and take the picture.  I told him he was further away and I wanted the picture.  I love to find human presence in unexpected places. I especially like to find it in wood.  He took three pictures.
      As we walked away I wondered about creative license.  Who held it? I found the shot, he pulled the shutter.  I decided I’d give us both credit. After all, my original intent was to take it minus shadow.
     As I look at the eye, I don’t now see it as human.  I think the skin around it distracts me.  An elephant perhaps?  I do know the knothole reminds me of something living. Something alive. Like the day.
     We left the pier and went to the Monarch Butterfly preserve.  The butterflies mesmerized us as we sat on the logs and looked up in the glen. I could have sat for hours. But, she had to get back for her friends, and he had to get back to his music.  Reluctantly, each of us left, commenting about the connection to the experience.  A quick trip to his music space, a quick meeting and hug with my daughter-in-law, then back to the freeway and to home.
     The restaurant, the beach, the pier,  the preserve, the day. Memorable.  Connecting.  Freeing. Floating. Like the monarchs on their yearly path. Like the watchful eye. Waiting for discovery. Patient. Peaceful.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Circumstantial Friends

      Serendipitious. Wondrous. Glad I had time to get the camera-ous. Parked on a side rail waiting for a freight.  Some rule of the rails that freights have the right of way to passenger trains, which are apparently not carrying precious enough cargo.  When you ride the train you are on rail time which is a very different time than real time.  Rail time means delays. Rail time means you musn’t be in a hurry.  Rail time means taking time to look out the window as much as possible, especially when the train is stopped.
      At this most wonderful place to take a side rail, I met two circumstantial friends from more than halfway around the world.  Circumstantial friends is a concept I’ve coined to define those people who enter your lives when you don’t expect them to, affect you in some way with a deeper connection you can’t fathom, then, just as quickly as they’ve entered and shared, they’re gone.  You can meet these people anywhere, from a quick meeting in line at a store or in a doctor’s office where you share some kind of meaningful talk, not banter, not chatter, but talk that is real communication, to shared places on vacations, or conventions even. Airplanes, trains, ships are common places to meet circumstantial friends as well.  You may even exchange phone numbers or addresses or e-mails, but most likely no one will use them to maintain contact.  Somehow you know that the friendship you share in that moment is precious and specific to that moment.  A circumstantial kind of thing. It comes along when you both need it and then it is gone, except for the smiles of reminiscences when the meetings come to mind.
    My circumstantial friends were from South Africa and I first encountered them at the window in the lobby of the train when it had stopped on the siding.  I was standing there enjoying the happy coincidence of stopping at this beautiful spot,  and he (these people often don’t have names) came out of his room.  I mentioned that this was not such a bad place to stop.  He looked out the window and uttered a sigh.  He called for his wife who made her way to the small platform in front of the window.  Feeling like I’d soaked up the scene I moved back and motioned for her to stand next to her husband.  At this point we exchanged some banter about the incredible scene, I took some pictures, I enjoined them in the very American way to have a nice day.  As I walked up the stairs to my room I wondered what part of Britain they were from and if they were here on vacation or if they’d immigrated here.  I found out when another chance occurrence cemented our circumstantial friendship.
    Reservations are necessary to eat on the train.  I chose one o’clock for lunch.  As a single I was guaranteed to meet new people at the four-seat table.  I was placed at a table with Jerry, a real estate appraiser from California who sat opposite me and spoke so loudly I thought he was deaf or hard of hearing. As we were chattering, well, as Jerry was shouting at me, the silver haired couple that I’d shared the beautiful reflection scene with were seated at our table.  After some changing around in chairs owing to his actual deafness and the fact that he wanted his hearing ear to be towards the center of the table, he asked Jerry his name.  He said their names, but for some reason I don’t remember them. What I do remember is what a wonderful and intelligent conversation ensued at that table over lunch.  We stayed seated for over an hour after we’d finished, avoiding the glares of the waiters and steward who for some reason would not chance asking us to leave.  We talked about the economy,  and about the state of education in the United States and  apartheid in South Africa which, I now knew, was where my friends were from.  He had just retired as a Professor of Education.  She was a former teacher.  They had just come from visiting their daughter and grandchild in Australia and were now on their way to visit another daughter and another grandchild in Seattle.  They decided to take the train from San Francisco. Their daughter had paid their way.  As I was learning this, Jerry kept shouting and attempting to monopolize the conversation.  Jerry was very opinionated.  Something about Jerry did not cement him for me as a circumstantial friend.
     He, the professor, casually asked me how much it would be to take the train. He quickly followed with the fact that his daughter had paid their way and he wanted to reimburse her.  I told him I wouldn’t tell him.  I told him to accept the generosity of his daughter.  Sometimes, I said, our children want to do things for us to thank us and just don’t know how to do so.  Let her do this, I told him.  But I also assured him it was not too much.  Reluctantly, our conversation ended when we reached Eugene, Oregon.  I wanted to go and get some fresh air and to avoid waving to the prisoners. We said goodbye and godspeed.
     I never saw Jerry again but I saw the professor and his wife when I got off the train in Portland. I am known by my children and by friends who pick me up or take me to train stations, as not being one to pack lightly.  And, I did not this time either.  I had four bags.  But, I had a system.  Two suitcases rolled with four wheels and I could put the to smaller duffel bags on top of them.  I was proud of my system.  I got all the bags off the train and there stood the professor and his wife. He offered, no, insisted, that he would help me with my bags.  His wife concurred.  I followed him, she followed me, into the station.  I went to thank him and he kissed and hugged me.  I turned to her and we also kissed and hugged.  We wished each other a good trip.  As I rolled my luggage to find a cab, I thought about my friends.  I’d wished I’d exchanged e-mails, addresses, something to maintain the false promise that we’d get in touch again.  But, we wouldn’t.  My friends from around the globe definitely belong to my circle of circumstantial friends.  They will always be alive in my stories. I have the picture to prove it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Yosemite, Dream within a Dream

       Up above the terra firma a band of effervescent bubblish dots enmeshed in a transluscent band---the Milky Way.  I stand on powdery dirt in the midst of cars  parked civilized and orderly even without lines to contain them,  and gaze upward to the blackness of the star salted sky.  On this night, in this place, away from city lights, with only the glow of campfires for illumination, I see what I often cannot see and yet, by faith, believe is always above me in the night
     I hear languages I do not understand as I pass by campfire after campfire on the way to my lodging.  The universal sound of laughter captures me as it wafts past.  I smile.  A rustle and a scream and a dust cloud as an animal breaks the line of my peripheral vision.  What?  The man in the next campsite says, “’Coon.  Big ass ‘coon.”  Southern, I think, in California we say ‘raccoon’. 
     After the last log turns to embers and the chill in the air overrides my need to sit in the open air, I trek to the bathroom, return to my campsite and hunker into my sleeping bag leaving only my head exposed.  The decibels of the noise of play and banter give way around me to the sounds of the night.  I think about the Milky Way.  I think about the stars I do not see in such depth in my citified existence.  I think about the absence of the moon that permitted the stars to emerge. I wonder--is it learned behavior that caused the stars to march in the band of the Milky Way or random behavior that caused the cars to be parked in order as if within lines? Is order in itself innate, neither random nor learned?
       On other nights beyond this, I sit in the courtyard of my home and see, peeking through the leaves of the four-trunked olive tree, the sliver of the crooked-smile moon, or the flashlight-orb of the full moon.  On those nights the stars are masked by glow of city lights and moon light.  I wonder about what I cannot see, what I do not know. What is on the backside of the moon, kept politely hidden in its veil of mystery? Beyond there, does a sentient being dwell within a courtyard and is the being capable of pondering the night, wondering about the unknown on the other side of the dark disk framed against a lighted background of our planet in the glow of its sun? Is the embrace of the dark and the light a connection between us?
      In my campsite the chill of the moonless night encourages me to burrow deeper into the mummy bag and pull the string until only my nose is visible.  I linger in the twilight before sleep where coherent thoughts give way to random images and the feeling of being covered by the night begins.  A clang so close startles me.  I pull myself from the pit of sleep. “Big ass ‘coon’” I hear through the still air. My nose disallows and sends to my brain, “Big ass skunk.”   As I once again float down into the unknown, into the depth of the night’s slumber, the raccoon leaps across the Milky Way, the skunk meanders through the stars.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Train Ripples

    Sitting on the train waiting for another train to come.  The siding is crooked and the train is leaning.  I’m in the Pacific Parlor car on the Coast Starlight and there’s an elegant fake candle on the table.  When I sat down the candle took off, sliding towards the lower end, the aisle.  I used my baseball snag to catch it and sat it on the folded tablecloth, next to the salt and pepper and the real flowers.  Nice ambience.

     We started out on time when I got on the train this morning.   We made it to the Central Coast pretty much on time.  Then a malfunctioning signal made us adhere to safety rules of no more than 30 miles per hour.  We limped into Salinas. My anticipation of actually getting into Portland on time is waning.  I’ll have to reassess in the morning.
      I’ve been passing the time by reading mostly.  Crime and Punishment.  I wanted to read Anna Karenina on the train since train stations were so involved in that story but when I was reading Anna Karenina in February  a huge landslide grounded the train and I needed to fly to my destination.  I do not particularly like to fly, but, I did.  It wasn’t so bad and I’m thinking about doing it again next February.  I finished Anna Karenina when I got home. I did not read it while I was flying.  I was too busy staring at the wings of the plane, willing them to stay attached.
     The landslide and my need to get to Washington coincided to create a ripple effect.  If I never had to fly, I would not have.  But, I am now looking at that as a viable alternative to go to Washington. It’s only a two hour trip, and that’s about one hour and fifty minutes longer than I’d like to be on a plane.
  Besides a train staying on the ground and carrying me to my destination, it is a place I meet interesting people.  At lunch today I met a couple who’d come from Texas and are on their way to Spokane, Washington. They’d driven from Austin to Albuquerque then got on the Southwest Chief.  They arrived in the morning and then got on the Coast Starlight. They’ll get off this train tomorrow and get on the Empire Builder to go to Spokane.  At dinner I met another couple who were on their way to Seattle to attend a convention for a ‘product’.  It’s an energy kind of drink.  I listened to the add pitch that they thought they were veiling but was very definitely an add pitch.  Not only did it make them feel younger, it made them look younger.  I heard about a man who was in some sort of inversely correlated aging process wherein his age grew while his look got younger.  I figure in a few years, at the rate they were telling it, he’ll be looking like a ten year old.  After they stopped talking, when the silence hung over us like the smoke from the California fires, I said, “I’m skeptical.” To which he replied, “oh I’ll give you some to try.”  I told him I wouldn’t try it. I used the no offense, I’m glad it works for you aproach and still felt like I was calling them charlatans.  I’m hoping my veil was a bit less transparent.  They reminded me of born again religious zealots, but with the aging process.  I told them I was proud of every wrinkle and every grey hair, I worked for them!
    I don’t know what kind of ripple effect the people I meet on the train will have on me nor what ripple effect I’ll have on the people I meet on the train.  I do know that tomorrow I’ll meet a few more people and listen to their stories and give them a hint about mine.  This definitely doesn’t happen on airplanes.  On airplanes we’re all too busy holding on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unexpected Tenaciousness

   The bus ride to Slide Rock from the town of Sedona was a study in the contrasts of that area.  We’d left the carved beauty of the red rock and ended in a Nature’s wonderland where snow still clung to the ground in patches, and the warmth of the sun on this Winter’s day cajoled the snow to drip off the roof of the deserted buildings in bulbous and softly pointed icicles.  I photographed the contrasts and the light and the obvious and not so obvious beauty.  I chatted with an 86 year old new friend who lived, surprisingly, only ten minutes from my home.  Chance had acquainted us, photography and talk of it had united us.  She  steathily took my picture as I sat and rested in the sun lost in the views around me, filled with questions at what I should photograph next.  Her photograph captured my intensity.

       Reluctantly I climbed aboard the bus, having been envigorated by the crispness of the air and energized by the story I’d photographed.  The drive down the canyon to the next spot, by a river, I’d heard, found me deep in meditation.  A speed bump gently shook me back to reality and I looked out the window.  I noticed the barren trees and brown grass of what looked like a small park.  There were large dirt trails on level ground that lead through a kind of brush.  When I heard the guide explain we would be here to photograph for two hours I wondered if I’d brought a book.  What could I photograph here for two hours? What could I learn in this place that seemed so barren?
      When I walked down one of the trails to the river I knew two hours would be too little.  So many colors, so many textures, so many angles, so many kinds of lights and shadows.  So many possible pictures, each has a story.  What they have in common is that they came unexpectedly in a spot that required me to stop and observe and listen to what spoke to me.  I would think about what it said another time, even though I did not know at the time that is what I was going to do.  I just follow myself, unless I am leading myself, or unless I am on the same page with myself, even if I’m not in the same paragraph. 
      Along the river I found the unexpected.  A clump of grass bent over by the river that obviously had been much higher up the bank than it was on the day I visited.  It was the splotch of green amidst all of the brown that attracted me.  It was the bending of the blades, bowing to some unseen force, that spoke to me.  This was the place for the grass and the grass was tenacious.  The grass would bow, but  the grass would not yield its place.  Older pieces clung to the sand forming a platform so the chlorophyll could touch the sky and provide nourishment.  New shoots triumphantly pointing skyward  rose phoenix-like  from folded blades that had lasted through the river’s rush and roar, holding firmly to place.
    Tenacity. A life’s lesson from grass by the river.  Hold tight, it speaks. Be the unexpected firmly anchored where you want to be.  Use where you’ve been as a platform to reach triumphantly upward.  Let the flood pass. You will survive.  You will thrive.  Life is obvious and not so obvious beauty. Live.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Writing Process

      Every time, I look for a picture, try to figure out a topic, and begin to write.  What kind of writer am I anyway?  An inconsistent writer in many ways, I’m certain.  But even when I’m not actively writing a story or a book or this blog,  I’m doing some sort of prewriting.  My argument is that everything I do when I’m not writing is prewriting.  All of the avoiding, whether hanging out on social network sites, or wandering over the internet, or connecting and reconnecting with friends, or visiting or avoiding my children, or writing in my journal, or watching television, or taking a walk, or going to the movies, or meditating, or doing chores, or avoiding chores, or just plain thinking, or thinking wrapped in colors and nuances of language; all of this is prewriting.  For when I sit down to write in this blog, I look for a picture I took, try to figure out a topic, and then I begin to write.  Where will this writing take me when I begin?  Where will it end?
        Undulating hills, painted in drollops of green, folds of brown, peppered crevasses, two houses hidden in where’s Waldo fashion, a finger pointed, but not in accusation, at the white flowers that sway on the wind.  You go, she said.  Write poetry and prose and don’t stop, she said. I found the note where I did not expect the note and when I found it a smile crossed my lips, a smile settled in my heart.  I’ll write, I answered in my mind.  I’ll write poetry.  I’ll write prose.  I’ll write fiction and non fiction, essay and opinion.  I’ll write all the time when I am not in prewrite mode.  I will not stop.  Like the undulating hills and the crevasses and the where’s Waldo houses.  I will live with the mystery.  I am a writer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On A Whim

      Whimsical. Whimsy. On a Whim.  Mirthful. Mirth. Laugh. Laughter. Smile. Two scarecrows hang on the front of the lattice fence in the front of my courtyard from Fall until I take them down in Winter.  A stick that hangs from a burlap string is on each one’s back and I use that stick as an anchor in the lattice to hold them standing straight.  When the Santa Ana winds blow is when they begin to lean to the right and remain at that angle until I take them down and march them into the garage just before the Christmas decorations take their places.  I leave them leaning to the right because they look so whimsical hanging there with their happy-face smiles and their Keene eyes.  More than once I’ve pulled the car into the driveway in a less than happy mood, seen the scarecrows leaning in their crazy dance, and smiled. 
      I don’t know why they never made it into the garage this winter.  Instead, I stood them before the newly trimmed olive tree.  They stood as a source of guilt for me when the rains came, until she fell down.  She rested for the duration of the winter, her green jacket muddied with the dirt and rain, her straw legs dangling from her denims.  He stood sentinel over her  by the tree.  Guilt triggered in two directions whenever I saw them and reminded myself that I should take them inside.  But Winter became more mild, a side effect of Global Warming or the Jet Stream, or La Nina or whatever current theory bathed Southern California in way below normal rainfall, and I didn’t sense the urgency to move them inside. They were comfortable.  They didn’t complain.  Besides, they were on vacation, the cawing of the crows that often sat on my rooftop, hopped down my driveway and lead a cawcaphony in the trees near my home, evidence of the out of work scarecrows.  They were inside the courtyard facing the fountain, feeling the breeze, watching me walk in and out of the house, watching me sitting, reading, watching me with painted smiles. Guilt turned to mirth.
     How does time pass? Like the fog on little cat’s feet? The passing of time and the vigilance of scarecrows  must have intertwined in some fast forward and one day it is Spring, and I notice the olive tree has begun to sprout new leaves here and there and here and there and I see the new leaves have framed the scarecrow’s face in absurdity.  And still he smiles, behind the leaves he peeks, wondering, I project, what will be next.  When can he go back to work.  When can she come stand with him again in equality. I’ll make sure they’re back on the fence in the Fall so they can dance to the Santa Ana winds and spread their quirky selves to my neighborhood and to the crows.
    Until then I’ll keep them in the courtyard all to myself, or to my special invited courtyard visitors, and smile at their patience and how they are taking what comes with a stiff upper; a stiff upper lip? Nope. Scarecrows don’t have no lips! They just have smiles.  Smiles of patience. Smiles of Kindness.  Smiles of genuine scarecrowedness. Smiles that remind me of their whimsy, and to be whimsical.  And even, to remember often to do something on a whim. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013


     I go through bursts of creativity.  I write and this takes some of the creative edge.  But there are other ideas that I have in the visual arts as well.  I took a class in watercolors and realized I liked to paint in watercolors, even though what I painted did not often look like the subject.  Abstract, I called it, although it wasn’t really so.  It was just that I couldn’t capture the subject exactly as the subject looked using that medium.  Not my forte, even though I loved doing it.  I still will paint from time and time. I often like what I create, but I just know it doesn't look like the inspiration for the painting. That’s okay.  It’s taking something and changing it, my idea of creativity.   I like photography, too, and I’ve finally got a camera that is able to help me capture what my eye sees.  I try to capture the play of light in my compositions.  I also like patterns and textures.  All of the photos in this blog are mine, with that camera that works.
      I’ve done paint by numbers and plaster craft. I’ve painted lamps and figurines and many other things.  I’ve made needlepoint and rugs.  I just thought of a clown I made so many years ago and now, nostalgic, wonder what became of the clown.  My latest burst took me in a new direction.  I wondered how I could recompose the pictures I’d taken by using pieces of them to create a new picture.  The composition on this page is my first try.  I had pictures of roses and pictures of leaves, all taken in the same place, all taken individually.  I cut out the individual roses, I cut out the indivdual leaves and I recombined them to make a bouquet. 
     Life, after all, is recombination, a bouquet to be offered.   A bit of my childhood, through the working years, add the pensive, the reflective, the what I know now with what I knew then.  And sprinkled throughout is this urge to be creative, to tap the wellspring, the font, the bubbler that connects me to the past, to the present, to people, to times.  In all of this and more is the notion of an active fulfilling, fulfilled life.  Anchored in faith and hope.  Filled with love.  Bursts of creativity taken in a myriad of directions.  What will be next?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Birds of Paradise

Birds of paradise are some of my favorite flowers.  They are filled with kinetic energy, I think.  Mouths agape, wearing a fancy headdress, they are almost never seen alone.  Except when they wait for others to unfurl.  And when they do, the whole group stands in prayerful respect facing in the same direction, towards the altar of the sun’s welcoming rays .  Alone and yet together in their worship, in their gratitude.  I wonder, with their heads back, plumage resplendent, if they sing silent hymns of praise.

     These flowers lose magnificence to me, when plucked from their natural place in the world and interwoven in floral arrangements, usually standing sentry in tall wicker baskets as reverent background in funeral parlors.  There, mouths open but not agape, they seem not to worship but to stand sorrowfully in grief. I have witnessed these flowers in that state too many times.  I much prefer to see them in their natural habitat where they remind me of being alone and yet bonded to others as I sing hymns of praise and offer gratitude for my place in the sun facing the altar of my future. I am filled with the kinetic energy of hope.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Water and Writing

     Water.  Flowing water.  Cleanses and carries more than two H’s and an O as it moves along seeking a path.  Sometimes it dredges, sometimes it drops detritus as it churns or trickles onward.  When water ceases to flow it collects in a place, contained.  In a large enough place the appearance of the body of water seems constant.  In a small enough place water changes, it disappears.  Water is not always what it seems.  In the air, under the land, on the land, many forms.  Water symbolizes change.  Rebirth, cleansing, rituals.  Necessary to sustain life. 

           My writing.  Flowing writing.  Stagnant writing.  Ritual writing.  Writing to learn, to know, to find out, to seek.  Writing for me is my constant, whether appearing or disappearing.  Writing is my water.   Necessary to my life.