Category Archives: If a thousand monkeys…writing attempts

Bunga, Bunga, Cowabunga


(Sophie watching me update the blog.)

Not much motivates me to write these days; I’m continuing to bounce around in day-to-day mode, living in the moment. But, while in the shower this morning, just thinking about writing something trailed off into considering my communication skills in general.

Abby has just dropped off of Facebook and I suspect it’s not in small part because she has reached a point in her academic and professional development where she doesn’t want a lot of silliness on such a public forum- and face it, many of us have a lot of silliness hanging there on that page. It may also be that she is simply more mature and productively busy than, say, her mother and doesn’t want to bother with the distraction of idle one liners. Whatever it is, she’s off FB, along with all of her cute photos of her in dreads when she was fourteen and so forth. So I wrote her an e-mail last night and said I missed her presence there (and being able to communicate with idle silly one-liners) and that I had only signed up for FB in the first place, all those years ago, so I could keep track of her life as she moved away from me. Hover, intrude, that sort of thing. She answered my e-mail promptly with, “Too bad you can’t talk on the phone.” Well, she’s correct about that. I really dislike talking on the phone and now I fear that there are people who think I just don’t care enough about our relationship to have a decent telephone conversation with them. If I answer the phone at all I usually, in short order, concoct some ridiculous lame ass excuse when they are mid-sentence (“whoa! call you back! someone just drove up on the lawn!” click.) or worse yet, I interrupt them as they are telling me about a life-changing experience with, “Okay then. Talk soon. Bye! Love you!” Recently, to compensate for my inability to stay on the phone I’ve developed the habit of adding, “Love you!” at the end of all together too many calls. I did that the other day with a total stranger who found my number and wanted to talk to me about whether she could felt her cat’s fur. I do care about my friends and family and I think about them a lot; I guess I just don’t care enough to work through my telephone issues. However, you should all believe me when I suggest you come see me, on the mountain or here in Florida in the cold months. Those offers are sincere and I really would like to see you and cook for you and look at you, possibly hug you.

Another thing that really annoys my children and husband is my habit of stopping mid-sentence when I’m speaking with them. I would be concerned that this is some sort of dementia setting in except that I’ve done this for years. Abby says things like, “yes, and then?” to jump start the completion of a thought; Rich just says, “finish.” Perhaps it comes from spending 30+ years as a therapist, trying to make sense of the words and thoughts of others while simultaneously rooting around for some sage advice or resolution to their problem. This process involved organizing lots of jumbled ideas combined with the need to offer an enlightening response in fairly short order.

Working as a psychotherapist means spending a lot of time sitting in a chair, lost in the world of stream of consciousness- theirs, yours. It also, for me, involved a lot of time on the telephone- taking and returning calls that could go on for a bit. For years I functioned very well with high level communication skills, very successfully. Many therapists take the easy way out by narrowing their vocabulary to “ah” and “um-mmm” but I did not. I’m not being immodest here when I say I was quite competent and much sought after as a psychotherapist.

As a lot of you know, when I was through with that part of my life I moved on to the Lincoln Park Zoo. That was a great transition for me. I desperately missed my profession and the people I cared for, but the zoo provided an opportunity to talk with hundreds, no, thousands of people on subjects I was passionate about without having to worry lest someone jump off a bridge.  I’d get so wrapped up in talking about the mating rituals of Piping plovers or the niche occupied by the Sichuan takin that eyes would glaze over and people would wander off to the sea lions. Seriously, I was good at that job, too. If I’d stayed at it for decades I most likely would have become like one of the other docents who no longer spoke to the visitors and, in fact, detested them; she just wanted to hold the blue-tongued skink and shoo the children away. But then we moved from the Windy City to the mountain house.

So now I teach felt-making. Apparently, I’m pretty good at this too but much of the communication evolves around demonstrating with my hands. I still have to talk and I’m sometimes concerned that a lot of what I’m saying is coming out as gibberish, especially when I start comparing wool fleece to human hair (some is good for dreads, some is not, etc.).


(Sophie is rolling her eyes. What is she telling me here?)

Okay. Now I’m sitting here wondering where the hell I was going with this post. When I was in the shower, in a mere 6 minutes, I covered my communication skills, my relationships with Rich and the children, the roll of stream of conscious thought in my life, Virginia Woolf and her position on the plotless novel, the insane gibberish of certain presidential wannabes, the slippery slope of verbal promises impossible to keep, and plans for making a felted moon jelly. And, I was going to discuss the origins of “bunga, bunga, cowabunga” which, contrary to popular thought, were not from Chief Thunderthud on the Howdy Doody Show of my childhood but were really tied to Virginia Woolf and the Dreadnaught hoax. And I had all of that worked into a cohesive blog post. Now I’ve wasted an hour plonking away and have come to the conclusion that when your mind works like this it’s best to say nothing. Nothing at all.

Whoa! The mailman just knocked the box off the house! Love you!

Tabula Rosa

Slightly less than three years ago I wrote this post about the death of my laptop. It came close on the heels of some of my best writing which was, unfortunately, about the death of my mother. Well, I’m not sure what it is about MacBooks but they seem to have a life span- with hard use, lots of airplane travel, cat fur all down in the keyboard and a couple of slip/drops- of just under three years. Hurrah for the three year extended warranty program. 

The monitor on mine went black and then it started making ominous noises that clearly fell under the heading of computer death rattle so I called up my trusty customer support person and held up the phone and he promptly mailed out a pre-paid box. He was quite certain it was the logic board so he wrote a note in the service record DO NOT ERASE THE HARD DRIVE. Cuz, you know, unlike you, I don’t think to back up my life until everything goes dark and then it’s too late. Well, those service people did not erase my hard drive. Nosiree. They just took it out and threw it in a dumpster in Niagara, Ontario, along with my logic board and the fan that takes care of hot flashes. So, that was it. I was disappeared. Gone. No identity, no pictures of my beautiful home in Asheville and of course, no memory of any user name/password combination ( and we’ve discussed previously how  3 user names and 3 passwords equals 4867 possibilities.) No investment accounts, no ongoing scrabble games (which I was winning, for a change) and no BLOG. 

Further exploration led to the discovery that I also had no software to speak of, other than that little puzzle where you move around the  pieces trying to make an Apple. I called customer support again and asked them what I was supposed to do for say, writing documents, and a woman on the other side of the world asked me, “You are veddy sure you had a process worder already in you former computer?” New fan or no, I started getting hot and it took considerable restraint to not get sassy, as in, “No bitch, all I did was play the Apple puzzle for the past three years. Yes, I’m veddy sure.”

But I didn’t, because it’s a clean slate around here. I’m going to be an all new person: kind, patient, faithful and loving. Beautiful, too, with skin that tans nicely and a slim, trim youthful figure. Not like some middle aged person who weighs three pounds less than when she gave birth to a nine pound baby, with stitches sticking out the side of her neck, ala Frankenstein’s mistress.

(A little aside on the neck: all is well because it almost always is with basal cell cancer. It merely maims rather than kills. And I have complete confidence in my wonderful dermatologist who sews like a dream. He told me that the stitches would dissolve of their own accord but I could come back in a week and have them taken out for comfort’s sake. What? Spend 30.00 co-pay for the sake of comfort when nature could take it’s course for free? Nonsense! Anyway, I must of missed the part where he said they decompose at the same rate as bituminous coal because now they are just sort of a random frayed mess snagging against every shirt, sweater and towel. Wheezer, the screech owl, is eyeballing them in a way that makes me nervous.)

So, back on the phone with Ms. Pakistan, I was polite and asked to please speak with her supervisor and there was some clicking and muzak and then Michael in Austin, Texas came on the line, asked me my address and said he would send out iLife and iWorks pronto, no charge. So it pays to be polite.

Other than practicing my manners for my new persona and trying to remember the name of my kindergarten teacher or the maiden name of my first pet, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in wool. And loving it. I’ve been helping to tend the BOP (Birds of Prey, for the one of you who is not a bird person) down at the nature preserve and I also started up a Saturday morning “Creature Feature” at the education center there. I get out the lovely red rat snake or the giant king snake and a turtle or two and entertain educate the visitors, much as I do at Animal of the Hour back at the zoo in Chicago. This Saturday I’ll have Wheezer out on the glove for a while unless she’s too intent on her cage mate, Stretch. It’s that season and I noticed she’s shredding up the twine on her perch in her nesting box.

I’ve been missing you, so I’ll come by now and see what’s new.

photo-3(You know that knitting has taken over your life when you look at your cat and think about all of that perfectly good fiber going to waste…)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I wrote a really good post yesterday morning, on the slings and arrows of Mother’s Day around here, and then bam! Some gray furry thing stepped on the keyboard and that was that. I was so frustrated I decided to quit blogging forever and didn’t change my mind on that until last evening.

The point of that post was that, oh, dear, it was a great post. I just can’t rehash the whole thing. Whatever. I had been thinking about good mothers and Boppys and from there I got to wondering how Mother’s Day ends up as such a mucked up holiday over here.

I started by saying that I was just going to get my Mother’s Day post up now and be done with it so I could come by on the weekend and hear all about your Mother’s Day. The one where your beautiful and sticky bundles of joy leap upon the bed Sunday morning with homemade waffles drowning in maple syrup. The one where the doting and endlessly grateful father of those treacly tots slips a curved link of diamonds about your sylph like neck and shoos the children off to watch cartoons while you model your jewels.

And I wasn’t writing in jest, either, because I think Mother’s Day is the holiday to end all holidays and forget about Jared’s; only Tiffany’s will do. Christmas? All we had to do was fall from Grace to get presents on that holiday. Ditto Easter. Sin and get forgiveness and Cadbury eggs. But Mother’s Day? This is a day that celebrates the literal blood, sweat and tears of our labors (or c-sections, as the case might be.) Only a Commie would fail to recognize this as the mother of all holidays.

Around here, you might say Mother’s Day sucks. First of all, my mother is dead and that’s still relatively new. Plus, she was not exactly June Cleaver. Frankly, she had little aptitude for motherhood. She didn’t cook, she didn’t sit on the floor and play and she had no truck with Dr. Spock. She failed to see the charm of drool, pee and poop. Plus she believed people when they said babies don’t smile, they just have gas. Amelia Earhart or Margaret Mead were more likely matches for her aspirations. Also, she didn’t have much truck with my father either, since he was a Republican farm boy and she was a liberal Connecticut college girl. After a while they threw in the towel on family life and my mother moved us to a slum and let ME be the mother while she went back to school, wrote poetry and…joined the Communist party (briefly).

After a while, love found a way and Bud came on the scene- along with my baby sister. You have no idea how cranky my mother was to find herself pregnant past the age of 40. Back then, most women were done having babies by the time they were in their mid-twenties. But Bud, being the No Choice kind of opportunist he was, saw his one chance for a child and so sweet Laurel joined the brood. And I became a teenage mother in earnest. A clear memory from this period was my mother blowing up at me because I had signed up to take the SATs on a morning when she needed me to watch Laurel. Soon, I left home and had little contact with my family for well over a decade.

One fine May, after I had graduate degrees and a professional life under my belt, Daniel was born. He was slated to arrive towards the end of April but Mother’s Day came and went that year and I remained hot and bovine. Always resistant to change, he never would have come of his own accord; after some thirty hours of labor I went under the knife and came home with a 10 # healthy brown eyed boy and an insane case of postpartum depression. How crazy with despair was I? I called my mother for help.

She came, bearing a handmade quilt with sailboats and puppies and a little school house, all of the squares designed by her and “made with love, from Grandma” stitched on the back. As though she had been lurking in the wings for a few years, just waiting for her entrance. But still, she seemed uncomfortable when it came time to snuggle the baby or do diapers; instead, she cooked and did laundry and tidied up and left me to find my way with him. She only once suggested that he must be crying all the time because he wasn’t getting enough breast milk but she frequently suggested that my mood would improve- she knew from her own experience. One day, the cloud layer lifted a bit and I looked at my mother and we agreed it was time for her to go home.

A short decade later I was happily thriving as a busy mother of two when their father announced he didn’t really want to be married any more. I’m sure he had his reasons for wanting out, but I will never know why he chose Mother’s Day to break the news. You don’t read here tales of resentment and self-pity related to that divorce; now we both look at our lives and say, wow, if not that then we wouldn’t have this and it’s all fine. We both enjoy close and loving relationships with the children. But he certainly did put the icing on the fucked up Mother’s Day cake.

Because young children need a father to aid and assist with the celebration of Mother’s Day, we didn’t much celebrate the day during those early difficult and tiring years of single motherhood. One Mother’s Day, when Daniel was in that dark and sullen middle school phase, he gave me a tee shirt that reads, “It’s Mrs. Bitch to you.” That smart aleck attempt at humor still makes me smile every time I open the dresser drawer and see it.

From Abigail I have my other all time favorite Mother’s Day gift, a fat little handmade book of crayoned coupons that bestows the oddest gifts:

“This coupon is good for cleaning one poop out of the litter box.”

“This coupon is good for the mirdur of six slugs.”

“This coupon is good for folding two towels.”

And so forth. She’s always had a mind for numbers.

This year is one of the “special Mother’s Day years” when Daniel’s birthday falls on Sunday. He will be in Europe with his cellist sweetheart. Abigail will be winging her way to the Dark Continent, land of endless starry nights and plagues. Because they are not yet parents, they can’t really appreciate how a mother feels about her children and her role in their life, on this day of days. They are busy living life.

So there you have it, a brief history of Mother’s Day in my world.

What will I be doing, come Sunday? Maybe I’ll wander up to the zoo and see all the new babies and their mums. Spend a little time puttering in the courtyard. I’ll definitely be counting my blessings. They include a mother who left me a legacy of open and fair minded thinking, good stewardship to Mother Earth and the understanding that children can grow up and love and appreciate mothers who might not fit the usual jello mold. When we were growing up she let us have any animal we wanted as pets and before she died she saw thousands of acres of pristine Lake Superior shoreline protected and preserved, thanks to her efforts. In the end, those things count for almost everything. I miss her mightily.

I’ll consider my grandmother and feel gratitude. Gratitude that when my mother was overwhelmed by her children, she had the good sense to turn us over to the care of her mother, who nursed me through eye surgeries, hard measles, chicken pox and taught me to garden. She also told me that if you are lucky you will always have people who love you in your life but you must still learn to be okay all alone.

Then, armed with some kleenex and a glass of good bubbly I’ve been saving, I’ll consider those two nearly perfect children and give myself a pat on the back. Through my efforts and their father’s and the wonders of our peculiar DNA, I am blessed with a finely tuned and gifted musician son and a smart and sunny daughter who has every chance of becoming a current day Amelia Earhart or Margaret Mead.

Finally, I’ll think about the twists and turns and good fortune that brought me to here, to Rich and his two lovely daughters. All four of these children will definitely call, from long distances, with good wishes and love.

So, you might say Mother’s Day sucks around here, but it doesn’t really. I just have to think outside the box a bit- and go buy myself a present. And I’m NOT cooking dinner. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!

(today’s pictures come from the Lincoln Park Zoo page; these are of the baby Takin born late this past winter. We are expecting another any moment- maybe for Mother’s Day?)

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need…”

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Lift Up Your Eyes

There’s fine stuff up there that I see and I wish I could snap with my Canon EOS, but it’s all moving so fast. I try to get a focus and blink! Gone. Maybe in my next life I’ll get to be a photographer and figure out how to capture an image of perfect form and function, on the move.

Hannibal and the missus have at least one juvenile out of the nest today, learning to do those things that hawks do. This morning it was aerial acrobatics. Straight high speed streaks from tree to tree, landing on the very best branches for preening, resting, scoping out the next meal. Diving and soaring from one level to the next, offspring close on the tail of parent. Loop de loops that look for all the world like just plain joie de vivre. Seriously,it does make my heart beat faster to see the grace and compact beauty of these raptors. Then, after a midday rest, they were back out and Hannibal demonstrated the fine art of snatching a finch in mid-flight while his heir apparent watched from a high branch just beyond the nest.

These Coopers Hawks remind me of a poem by James Dickey, The Heaven of Animals.* Not that Hannibal and his family appear to be headed for Heaven any time soon, although you never know. It’s just that the poem explains heaven to me in a way that make sense and defines the very essence of these birds. In the poem, these creatures of the earth are simple, not confounded by things like souls in need of salvation. And they get to go to a heaven where they are more purely and simply what they are, in a most perfect way. There’s joy for them in that heaven.
Then there’s all that stuff up there I can’t see, forget about taking a picture.

My dearest friend just buried her 13 month old grandson after he died from complications of a congenital heart defect. He left behind two young sisters who would like to know exactly what and where this Heaven is all about. They are 5 and 3 and I think the 5 year old is just old enough to be suspect of something that sounds both like a fairy tale and incomprehensible to a lot of the grown-ups around her.

At what age are you the right age to make a giant leap of faith? Because that’s what this bit about Heaven takes, right? A huge step. Bigger than a man on the moon step. I guess it’s pretty individual and some people make that leap without much question while others wrestle with it for years and years. I know there are lots of times I’m thinking hmmm, this makes no rational sense whatsoever. Which is, I suspect, the whole point of believing. Right now, I’m thinking this tiny boy, who went through so much to live and gave joy to so many, is in the Heaven of Babies, which must also be a place that is simple
and pure and uncomplicated. You get to be a perfect baby with a whole
heart, held in loving arms forever.
I’m sad for my friend and her family, more than I can say. I wish I was back in Michigan right now for two reasons: to be close to her in the days and weeks to come and also, I’m missing the best season. The season where you can witness miracles, whether you are a birder, a botanist, a biologist, even a goofy and/or serious Lutheran. You can see these miracles unfold overnight and your heart leaps about with Spring fever as you hum, “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome, please don’t take my Kodachrome awaaay!” There’s a reason all these days of magic and bloom and resurrection and rebirth are crammed into Springtime, you know. It’s the Leap of Faith season, when it’s easier to take that one giant step. Mother, may I? Yes, you may!
No pictures for you today, despite the beautiful things I’ve seen. There are lots of little miracles pictured about the blog neighborhood right now; the place is awash with the most amazing images. Laura had a photo of a star magnolia bud that defies description, except that she managed to do that as well. Lots of avian friends, both in and out of nests, a blush of pansies, an out of focus bunny come to visit, a bumble bee bum that made me laugh out loud. In April, I will be hosting Good Planets on two Saturdays so my mailbox will be full of beauty in addition to hoodia and junk stock offers. Lucky me. Lucky us. Just Lift Up Your Eyes.

*Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains it is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these, it could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

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