Sunday, December 21, 2008


Today is a good day to take in the quiet of the snow, forget the aching trials and numbing darkness of the past few weeks, and put it all behind. To hide out, instead, in the shimmer of the fresh snow that has set everything to sparkle, a perfect cloak of white. To dress myself in this enchantment, lose myself in this wintry world, rendered still by the storm, and fall, deep, trusting, into the soundless noise and muffling cold. Today, I am content to follow the birds from tree to feeder and back again, listen to the snow jostling elbows on the roof, the dog’s deep sleep in the corner, the fire coming to in the woodstove. The Solstice is here, the world will once again begin to open to its warming light; bit by bit the darkness that has snuffed my torch will ease, settle into something more manageable, and blaze with shooting stars. Today, that is enough for me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Self-Vetting Process Part I: Spammer!

With all the appointments that Obama has to make, this second wave of vetting has really begun to build steam, so I've decided to be pro-active and initiate my very own self-vetting process. If there’s one thing that we’ve all learned from the McCain campaign, it’s that you just never know when you might be selected for a job that is totally and absurdly out of your league, one that flies way, way above your head. I want to be ready.

A thorough vetting should include any background information that might be inflammatory, controversial, or downright off-putting. Hmmmm. I might be in trouble.

But I don't have a whole lot to hide. Not anymore. And since I've recently been tagged as a "spammer," no doubt due to all the mass e-mails I've had to send out this year in order to keep friends and family updated about my cancer treatment and new girls, I've come to realize that there really is no such thing as privacy anymore, not on the web, e-mailing or blogging or browsing, not in this little town of mine, walking or meeting a friend or hiding out behind the evergreens, not in my testosterone-filled house, taking a shower, writing, doing my nightly yoga-so-I-can-sleep-without-waking-up-with-sore-hips, not really anywhere. There are spies everywhere, it seems, reading our emails, overseeing our online searches and purchases, sending spy chips home with us in our espionaged merchandise, and making rash judgments about what's okay and what's not. And all in the name of security, to quell the paranoia and anxiety that has justifiably sunk its teeth into the way we think about our identities, whatever they may be.

When I first heard that I had been identified as a "known spammer," (and on some big important all-caps-acronym-infested database, no less), I felt really bad, as in bad-girl bad, as in "Kids, don't expect any presents from Santa this year; your mamma has landed on the naughty list, and he doesn't give presents to children of known spammers." Clearly, I had done something wrong. And I was being punished. But I was confused. I don't send out spam. Why would what I send out be considered spam? Wasn't spam bad? Was I bad? It was the witch thing all over again. Spammer tag in tow, I suddenly felt a little like I had cooties (first, it was cancer cooties, and now spammer cooties, plus I still have those other cooties left over from having impetigo when I was in grade school) and everyone was staying clear of me. Let's isolate her; that'll surely do her in. No communication, no emails out, no emails in: a death sentence for those of us living on the edge of the abyss.

E-mail for me this past year has been a real lifeline, to the bigger world out there, to the notion of possibility, and most importantly, to the friends and family that have seen me through some of the toughest days of my life. I used e-mail to tell those people closest to me that I had cancer, that I was scared, that I was being brave, that I needed their help. I used it to receive that help, encouragement and support and love and good healing juju that I could not have done without. I still need it, still need to know that people are out there, that it's not just all the environmental groups wanting me to sign another petition getting through, because, oddly enough, those emails do get through in an avalanche of obligatory charitable requests, but all those dear friends and family members, too, with a warmth and wisdom that has the capacity to diminish the distance between us, ease the ache of loneliness, and restore my sense of surety in this world. I need them to get through, and I need to get through to them. Snail mail is cool and nostalgic and certainly has its place but is slow and expensive and, let's face it, not the most environmentally friendly option there is when you want to send a message out to the masses.

Without that connection, with Comcast blocking my emails from going out and others from coming in, life has felt uncertain, and I've felt untethered, adrift. I'm isolated as it is: homeschooling leaves little time to get out and about with friends or other adults, and living in this quiet rural area, where there are no sidewalks to take you and connect you to friends and neighbors, where the wind rushing through the hollows of evergreens and rippling across the meadows of dried grasses and corn stalks are often the only outside voices you hear, and where the communities do not always intertwine inclusively, while lovely, has not always been easy. E-mailing, then, being able to easily send a greeting, receive encouragement or news from afar, or share the latest hilarious political banquet of humor, has softened the rough hewn edges by making the complex web of interpersonal networking, that rich, broad, intermingling of lives, instantly accessible. Take that away, and you've stranded me on a deserted island, lost in every sense of the word. It's no wonder that my sense of isolation has grown precipitously sharp over these past months. We all know that the ability to stay connected is directly reflected in our overall sense of well being.

I've tried to make sense of it, reading all about the process of blacklisting and talking to Comcast customer service reps for hours on end, and they've promised me that someone today will call and clear things up, but so far, no one has called. So what to make of all this? I've determined that there are several possibilities: given the fact that the first Comcast rep I spoke with last week said that he had discovered a "fake account number" where my name should have been, there's a possibility that someone is using my address to send spam, real spam, as in that nasty, fake, canned hammish stuff that you truly don't want in your inbox or on your dinner table. A second possibility is that someone no longer wanted to receive my updates, momentarily forgot that zilrendrag is actually a real person named liz gardner and not some online sex shop selling nipples and boobies, and reported me as spam. And finally, and this perhaps makes the most sense, is that all those misguided, overzealous Comcast spies saw suspicious, spammish patterns in my group emailing, to a buying club I'm trying to get off the ground, to Luke's and Dominick's soccer teams, to family members about the inherited traits survey homeschool project the boys and I have been doing, to kith and kin with updates on my treatment and reconstruction, and so shut me down without investigating it properly. Perhaps it was more than just the periodic mass e-mailing, perhaps it was the mysterious, slightly alluring subject lines like "the boobies are coming," or the tantalizing text within, akin to male enhancement claims, "painless, simple and fun: you, too, can get a nipple in less than an hour."

Whatever the reason, there it is: I've been called lots of things in my life--egg head, bone, shameless, crazy legs, iron lungs, Lady Godiva, meanest mom in the whole world, but never spammer. Until now. Your mamma is a spammer!

Ok, enough about the spamming; it's only making me frustrated, and hungry. I'll resume my self-vetting tomorrow. And since there's a potentially toxic full moon out there tonight, and I've been warned to watch my tongue, I'll post this tamale. For now, the ice storm has passed through, the sun appeared to blaze fugaciously in a partly blue sky--something we haven't seen for a long while around here--and all the little icicles that hung like sabers from the eaves of the bird houses have melted. Ever since seeing that Grey's Anatomy episode where Sandra Oh's character takes an icicle in the belly, I've worried for the little birds that flit unaware around the icicles. It's time to try to find the moon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tattoo Parlor Postponed

Today was the day I was to head into Wellesley for an hour long visit to Dr. Pitts' Tattoo Parlor, but things have worked out differently. Today, I swim in the river, float with the currents that rush downstream, and know that it is, somehow, for the best.

Given all the howlers in this morning's horoscope section, it's probably a good thing I wasn't making the long drive in the rain, and going under the, ah, just what do they use to tattoo the rosy bloom of a nipple and areola onto a freshly constructed girl? A knife? A blow pen? This was to be my first real tattoo. I've worn those little lightning bolt tattoos on my forehead for Harry Potter parties, and I even sported an Obama tattoo for awhile this fall. And about two weeks ago, I went to a henna tattoo party with a good friend; it was a fundraiser, and there were about ten women there, including the henna tattoo artist, a remarkable woman who unraveled gorgeous designs along the backs and palms of hands, arms, and the napes of necks throughout the evening, while the women talked of all the things that women talk about. I picked out a beautiful sun design for my left palm; after countless hand washings, it still shines there today, but has slowly faded, and will soon be gone. I've rescheduled my more-permanent tattoo for January 14th; it'll be a new year's present to myself. And once it's done and healed, I'd like to get my new girl henna-tattooed with something lovely and loving to properly christen her, a new year's wrapping and reveal, a coming out party.

Now that I've registered to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-day next July, I am trying to think of ways to raise enough money to cover not only my $2300 pledge but that of other walkers as well. A series of henna tattoo parties might be in order. And I'm thinking a dance marathon might be a most excellent way for me to burn off some nervous energy, if not raise some money, too. And early, early in the morning last weekend, a thought came to me in the darkness of those pre-dawn hours: that perhaps it is time to recreate and bring back the Tacky 70's Party, a mineshaft of fun and frivolity from college days that would bring together old friends with new in a frothy, bubbling vat of good times, hilarious hair-do's, and only the best in tacky 70's music.

In the meantime, I am most grateful for the donations that have been made on my behalf to the Blue Footed Boobies. It has been moving to hear from old friends, and humbling to receive their generosity. Just this past weekend, my friend Angie registered to walk with me. Thank you, Angie! We are hoping that more of you will join us; the boobie brigade needs as many supporters as it can get.

I can wait for my tattoo; I did not need it today. Things work like this for a reason. There is no point in forcing the issue. And there have been warnings coming in from all over, unpredictable shock waves and surprises, and a void lunar cycle this afternoon magnifying the uncertainty of the times and adding to the topsy-turvy of the energy field. I've already broken two things this morning in my house: the cat's dish and a little ceramic hen (well, the cat broke that when she jumped up on the counter, so we're even). Communications have been wrapped in an opaque shroud of confusion. My computer has been acting up. The weather's been whacked. It was freezing cold at the start of the week, so cold I thought there is no way in hell I'm going to survive another winter living here in the cold northeast, but then this morning broke with a soft, gentle rain that swept in warm, balmy, blustery air, a good 50 degree jump. Throughout the day, the temperature has slowly dropped, the rain now pelts hard and cold, and I've shut the windows again to keep out the chill. It's all there. Better to stay home.

Unfortunately, many of these warnings have been in place for quite a while. The last time I posted on the blog, the settings grew temperamental, and for some reason, the post I imported gave me scads of difficulties, from messing with the font and the point size to changing, temporarily, the muted colors of my blog into something electric and slightly alarming.

But I've been awash in technical difficulties as of late, trying to make sense of and declutter my ever-multi-tasking, overburdened computer and its overstretched memory. A friend (and tech pro) came over last week to help me refurbish my computer, and although it's no longer taking forever to start up, my new sentry, Spy Bot, keeps interrupting with little queries that I have no idea how to answer. Of course, the parallels to my own disorganized mind and burnt memory are too obvious not to deride: perhaps it is time to feng shui my house, open myself up to the possibilities and relax into change.

The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering. ~ Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

The computer, of course, marked its 40th birthday yesterday, this on a day when I was scrambling still to make sense of my recent (and it seems, chronic) e-mail (not to be confused with female) problems, experiencing difficulties even after changing email accounts, and feeling quite ready to ditch my whole desktop in the beaver pond, mark the splash and bubbly descent with a smile, and watch it sink to the slimy depths never to return to annoy, aggravate, or complicate my life again.
Even now, it won't let me switch out of italics. I will not try to force the issue. Swim with the river. No interference. Let it take its course. ARGH!

Since email has become so unreliable for me, I've realized just how over-reliant I have become on using email to communicate every little thing. Sure, it's easy, quick, convenient, a real time-saver, but when you aren't sure whether or not people are actually receiving your e-mail messages, or if you're actually receiving theirs, then it quickly becomes something else indeed: a nightmare. I've been grateful for some of the most recent rising stars in alternative electronic communities, like facebook, which have allowed friends to check in with me, and me to check in with them, even when e-mail was failing. As well, I've revisited some long neglected friends: land lines, snail mail, and that old-fashioned form of communication, face to face conversations. It's been nice to go back. E-mail is wonderful, for all its speed and lofty convenience, but nothing quite gets to the heart of the matter like a good face-to-face chat.

Who am I kidding? I don't think I could live here, anchored in this little sleepy town, without e-mail; after all, it is e-mail that allows me to stay connected to old friends scattered far and wide, a tether that softens the sharp, cold barbs of isolation, and infuses the constant loneliness with a warm ache and wretched, wonderful wanderlust that makes it possible for me to walk through these shadowy days. I can't imagine not being able to be in touch as frequently and easily as e-mail permits with the people who have been my light, my love, my fuel, my fire. Mitch Thrower, in his book, The Attention Deficit Workplace, says that "for many people, receiving messages still symbolizes hope." That has certainly been true for me this past year, when I relied heavily on those messages from friends and family to get me through some of the darkest days. Thrower also goes on to say that "E-mail correspondence is the Whack-the-Mole game for attention-starved times." And that, I suppose, is the flip side: the relentless ebb and flow of in-box clutter and out-box demands that take us away from the real essence of human interaction, the face-to-face, scrunch our moments into small boxes of to-do lists, and crowd out the true treasures of email, those letters, missives, billets, epistles, testimonials, and other communications that pull us in to another's realm, close the distance gap, and enjoy each other's company, regardless of how many miles apart we may be.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Boobies Are Coming: Boston 3-Day '09

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’ve finally done it: swept away my fears to mingle and swirl with the collective, elemental dust; crammed my self-doubts into a little box, to simper and writhe and suffocate under the weight of newly hammered yes-we-can armor and resolve; ceremoniously tossed over my shoulders, in bold defiance of the Spirit of Misfortune, all those creeping, pernicious oh-my-knees-are-too-old-for-this anxieties, and signed up for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, a 60-mile Walk in Boston next July 24-26 to benefit Susan G. Komen For the Cure and the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund.

The Blue Footed Boobies are coming to Boston!

It’s been a long time brewing. I met my first blue footed booby nearly three years ago, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Gal├ípagos Islands with my family—my mother, our good friend Joy, my sister and her family, and Jim and the boys. We fell in love with the boobies, who, like the other animals in the Archipelago, have never learned to fear humans, and so afforded us intimate viewing opportunities—of nesting mothers and their new, fluffy babies, of lone boobies hanging out among the mangroves, and on our last morning, zillions of air-borne boobies, zooming inches overhead, circling around, and diving furiously and gracefully into the water to catch their breakfast. Boobies of the blue-footed variety are amazingly beautiful; they are tenacious, powerful, lovely fliers, divers, and hunters, loving, protective parents (despite the fact that most older sibs do away with their younger, weaker ones as a method of ensuring their own survival), and at the time of courtship, hilarious, whimsical dancers, the males lifting one big blue foot and then the other, over and over again, in an impressive mating ritual (and forerunner of the step craze) that brings the female’s attention to—what else?—the color (not size, in a surprising shift) of their feet.

When I first heard about the 3-Day last spring, I thought immediately of the blue-footed boobies, and how it would be nice to have their spirit infuse the experience with the joy and strength and love they exhibit in their every step. With a little luck, our feet will hold up on the hot, Boston streets as well as the boobies’ feet hold up on the hot, crusty, sharp volcanic rock of the Gal├ípagos Islands. The Blue Footed Boobies will be walking for our girls, and yours, and all those girls grown and gone and those not even sprouted yet.

As much as I wanted to walk this past summer, I was still in between surgeries and trying to make sense of my gimpy left knee, and decided it just wasn’t the time to embark on such on odyssey. The sweeping wave of yes-we-can energy and activism of the Obama campaign and the knowledge that two dear friends from Exeter walked in the Atlanta 3-day this past fall inspired me to try to go the distance myself. And if there’s one thing that I’ve gleaned from this past year’s overflowing basket of lessons, it’s that there is no time like the present. Now that my new girl is nearly done (the new birthday nip-let is doing just fine, thank you, and for an early Christmas present, I’ll be giving myself my first ever tattoo—rosy color to restore some eye candy charm and match my neo-girl to my all-natural girl), I figure I need to keep putting things on my calendar that signify progress, the keep on keepin’ on of this long process of healing and self-rediscovery. The 3-day will truly be a critical piece of not only reclaiming my physical strength but also continuing to recover my soul in the ongoing fabled process of reconstruction and wellness. As well, I’ll be raising money to help women meet this diagnosis with the best possible treatment options available. There is so much I have been thankful for in my experience with breast cancer: the top-notch treatment I’ve received at the hands of caring, skilled nurses and surgeons, the loving support and encouragement I’ve gotten from friends and family, the good news at having caught my cancer early, the ability to regain my relative strength (admittedly, my basketball game is gone, gone) and good health and be able to look forward to participating in something as challenging as the 3-Day.

The current crop of breast cancer statistics are both harrowing and heartening. Breast cancer is no longer an older woman’s disease. My grandmother was in her early 50’s when she first got breast cancer nearly forty years ago. I myself was 42 at the time of my diagnosis last winter. My friend Lisa was just 40. Christina Applegate was only 36. We all know women who have battled or are battling breast cancer, lives irrevocably transformed by a disease that can hide for years under a cloak of invisibility before making itself known. With so many women being diagnosed at earlier and earlier ages, there is hope in that much progress has been made in the early detection and treatment of the many breast cancers that only ten years ago were prematurely ending the lives of many women. And yet, there is still a feeling of helplessness that forces many of us to wonder what we can do.

The 3-Day is a wonderful opportunity to reach out and really make a difference. I hope you’ll consider joining me. There are many ways you can help. You can walk. The Blue Footed Boobies need you! As team captain, I am currently recruiting team members. Each registered walker must raise $2300. The registration fee is $90. The 3-Day provides everything else: meals, lodging (in the form of a pink—what else?—tent city that travels with the walkers), encouragement, and pre-race training. And just think what fun it would be!! To register, go to or call 800.996.3DAY.

You can donate. I’m hoping to raise, as a team, at least $8000 for research and community outreach programs that might save the lives of countless women—mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, daughters. Any donation will help enormously. To donate, simply go to the 3-day web site, click on Donate Now, and enter my name (Elizabeth Gardner) or The Blue Footed Boobies and you’ll find me. OR try clicking here: Keep track of our progress, donate, join the team, or just check in: we’ll need your support.

My one regret is that Luke and Dominick cannot walk with me. I have promised each of them that when they turn 16, I will walk again, this time with them. But they are eager to do their part. Both are helping to raise money for the team by selling handmade crafts—Luke his wonderfully original sculpey creature magnets, and Dominick his special edition 3-Day fairies and sprites—at this coming Friday’s Homeschoolers Craft Fair in Brattleboro (in the River Garden, 4-8 pm). They’ll also be taking special orders; I’ll be sending an email about how to order soon.

To borrow a lovely quote from the 3-Day site, I offer this African proverb that reminds me of the spirit of Ubuntu: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I hope you’ll come with me. I can’t do this alone! 60 miles, $8000, and thousands of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each and every year: that’s a long way to go, and we all need you. Please do what you can. Give me a holler if you think you might be interested in becoming a Boobie! And thank you, thank you.

So, in the spirit of carpe diem, and in a nod to my own mortality, though I set my sights on the 3-Day, I ground myself in the ever-expanding moments that make up each day. To follow the words of the wise Siduri in the wonderful Epic of Gilgamesh:

"As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man."

I send you love and blessings for a wonderful holiday season: may you and your family enjoy good health, discover the hidden joys in each and every day, and join the widening, warming circles of community.

Best to you and yours,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Praise the bridge that carried you over. --George Colman

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep? ~George Canning

After spending the last twenty-four hours rushing about, trying to deepen my breath and quell the anxieties that have swelled amidst the sudden onslaught of holiday preparations and emotional strain, there is a certain calm, hurrah, that has found me. The cleaning ladies (myself included) have come and gone, the floors have been spit polished and shined, the bathrooms scrubbed and set to sparkle, and I, for my part, have moved about the stuff in the circuitous route that takes them, adrift and out of place, mere trifling annoyances, transients of clutter, to their proper homes, where they can gloat and gleam knowing that tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after, they’ll once again move about and knock chaos out of this short-lived order. I am so thankful to have found these two women from Moldova, so happy to have someone to help keep an eye out for the cobwebs and the ladybug infestations and the fingerprints on the woodwork that creep up on me and add to my overwhelm. There’s something about cleaning the house that allows me the space and meditative calm to clean my head, deal with those inner dust bunnies that, if left unchecked, can derail your memory and muck up your thoughts.

What a miserable thing life is: you're living in clover, only the clover isn't good enough. ~Bertolt Brecht, Jungle of Cities, 1924

We’re heading to Williamstown to make merry with my mother, who has offered up her lovely house to host tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast, and the discombobulated, slightly discomfited depths of collective soul that have risen this week to shout and spill and cry foul. Lately, there have been many reminders that motherhood is indeed a messy business, bringing about an endless cycle of joy and heartache, challenges that strip the protective layers of steely resolve to bare your deepest specks and blazes of soul. Despite her own preference for order, my mother has been often found herself amidst our mess, and I am always grateful for her generosity and willingness to take it on, offer a steadying hand, a word of comfort.

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. ~Henry Ward Beecher

There are many things that swirl about, these blessings of each and every day that rage and burn and hold such supreme importance in our lives that they surely would not fit into one small day of Thanksgiving. There are the huge, huge triumphs that emblazon the skies, there are more subtle episodes of grace and love, and there are the daily, hidden missives that arrive to slip underfoot in the hustle and bustle, or, if taken in, time slowing enough to receive the gifts that unfold in an expanding bloom, to burst forth in an eloquent, bathing light. To follow through on my gratitude has always been an intention, and often a failure, of mine. Enveloped with a sense of thankfulness for someone, in my mind I write a card of thanks or make some small notion from my heart, adding them to my crowded mental to-do-list. There they often sit, long-neglected nixies, never quite making it to the out-box or their intended recipients, and the pinch of shame and regret fills my hollows and starts to smolder within. I resolve to do better, to turn the task into a daily rumination, to reach out to you with gratitude big and small.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

Today, there are the lone geese that fly and honk overhead looking to join a formation, a flock, that remind me of my own sense of feeling adrift and disconnected; there is the way the view has opened up into the wetlands and the farmland beyond, easing the distance between these worlds, an invitation to take notice, rest here, soothe spirit and slow the pace; there was the sunshine that exploded out of the sky for a short while only to hide again behind these grey, pilfering clouds of November; there was the way my dog nestled her head into my hand and looked at me with eyes that promised love and loyalty no matter how it might take to settle my fears and crash the gates. And there’s more, there’s always more.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Soon, soon, I’ll be looking for a river to skate away on, but for now, I rejoin the flow of family life, keep an eye out for the flock and the treasures that fleece and line these chilly dark days, and welcome the festive warmth of the season into my heart. I send you love, I send you thanks, I wish you well. xx, Liz

Give Thanks

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies within yourself

~ Tecumseh

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Ebb and Flow

I hate
this wretched willow soul of mine,
patiently enduring, plaited or twisted
by other hands.

~ Karen Boyle

I’ve limped along this week with an acute awareness of my own fallibilities. I have felt vulnerable to these winds of change that have brought back the bitter cold and the sense that there is no turning back, that we’ll just have to run it out, and wait for the flip side of the cycle, for the return of summer sun, and the easy, loping pace through our days.

These days, my life often appears before me, spread out as a travelogue through time and space and prods me with queries, where are you now? how do you fit in?, and then, heavy with stipulation, find your place, it demands, wherever that may be, whether beneath the bellows of your underinflated lungs, or the soles of your calloused feet, find it, and lay claim, fill the hollows, and stay a while. I’d welcome a few incantations these days, some whirling, spiraling energy to infuse my spirit with the light that seems to have been snuffed by these revolving days and our place so far from the sun, a roving guide to take me by the hand and show me just where there might be space for me, a magical charm to right my wrongs, fix my mistakes.

This past Thursday night, Luke broke his left arm during a pick drill at basketball practice, a freak accident that left his arm looking a bit like Harry Potter’s, oddly bent and dangling, after Lockhart tried to fix it and oops! accidentally removed all his bones before heading to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey made it right with the skelegro potion. It wasn’t until Friday noontime, after a sleepless night, and a morning spent at the doctor’s and the hospital for x-rays, when we found out that Luke, too, was in need of some skelegro potion or episkey charm to mend his fractured radius. He’ll be fine, but for now, is trying to keep his devastation in check and readjust his reality to include three to four weeks of recovery time before he can fully resume full contact basketball with the NMH JV.

Before Luke’s run in with Jimmy, the gentle, earnest 6’7” 15-year old from Beijing, he’d had his interview and tour at NMH, and I was reminded of my own first forays into the realm of self-marketing and carving out my own path and following my feet, when, as a thirteen year old, I quaked and stammered and tried desperately to shake off my own self-doubts before somehow putting together a brave face, full of the promise that someone, somewhere had seen in me. Despite my own recalcitrant objections to actually putting my best self forward, I managed to eek out a performance that seeded my reeling self-confidence with some sort of acceptance, the start of my own protective patronus shield that would grow in strength and stamina and serve me well over time. I saw strong measure of Luke’s own growth and maturity on Thursday, and I was proud of him, for taking risks and putting himself out there, for trusting his own brave face, despite his apprehension, his own doubts, the residual ache from this past difficult year. And yet, there was a sadness I felt, too, witnessing this passage of time, and a sense of loss and of leaving something behind, of moving forward into something new and different and strange, even, and of once again feeling unsure as to where exactly, if anywhere, I fit in.

And then, whoosh, the broken arm, the dashed hopes, the sudden tug back into a kind of mothering that I often think is in my past: the tender pampering that I myself have needed, craved, relied on so much this past year, a gentle scrub in the tub, careful help with getting dressed, and skirting the dangerous waters that lie somewhere beyond the balance of between doing too much and doing too little. And the regeneration of intimacy that swells and fells and fills the dark forests that have sometimes grown between us with light allows us to find our way back to each other, and we are reacquainted, he with the depth of my love, no matter how my heart may ache, or how I struggle to support him in his quest for independence, and I with his quiet determination as he, too, navigates through his own ceaseless, flowing currents of change and growth, and, as I tug on his socks, with just how big his feet have become.

To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.
~Josh Billings

It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. ~Joyce Maynard

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do it for the Next Generation

Is there really anything more to say? (thanks, Angie!)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? (yes we can)

Have you felt it, too? That overwhelming sense of relief, that swell of pride, that robust feeling of accomplishment, that up-lifting buoyancy and lightness of joy that makes you want to run around and shout YAHOOO all day? It’s been two days since the election, two days since the people of the US braved long lines, last minute rabid robocalls, and other pathetic, desperate attempts to mislead them with false information about polling places and voting rights, and voted to take back our country, restore a dignified intelligence and a fresh, energetic competence to the office of the presidency, right our reputation in the world, judge a man “not on the color of his skin but on the content of his character”, and elect Barack Obama as the first American president of my generation to the White House. Two days, and I still can’t get enough of the victory, the celebrations from around the world, the vastness of the response from all corners, the flood of emotions that catch me off guard every now and then to send me into a spin cycle of weeping and dancing. Two days, and I still can’t stop crying every time I watch Obama’s speech. It feels delirious to know that this man, this rousing, intelligent, gifted, eloquent community organizer, this go-get-‘em, pro-active, make-it-happen unifier, heart-on-a-sleeve family man, and Yes-We-Can-Man will be our president. (And I really like his wife, too).

On election night, we went down to the newly opened and restyled Gill Store and Tavern, where the owner had invited some friends to watch the results on his new giant flat screen TV, enjoy some food and drinks, and swim for awhile in the flow and tug of community that has been at the heart of the Obama campaign. It felt good to settle in for the night, see some friends, and unload some of the nervous tension that had been building up all day. Our house had been reeling with a crazy anticipatory energy that rivaled the old excitement of Christmas Eve. Earlier in the day, when I took the boys with me to the fire station to vote, we had run into lots of friends and neighbors, chatted with the local newspaper reporter, and nearly, I found out later, gotten kicked out of the polling place because of our Obama-gear (Despite warnings from Luke, who is clearly much more up on the rules than I am, I allowed Dominick, wrapped in a large Obama sticker, sporting the Obama-Hope sign on his cheek, and GOBAMA, emblazoned on his forehead, to come in with me while I voted. I myself was wearing an Obama t-shirt under my jacket, which I had thrown on in case they wished me to zip it up and hide my pride). A neighbor, who also happened to be a poll-worker, had told us that there had been a discussion, presumably when we were in our little voting booth, filling in the ovals with the thick black marker, totally oblivious to the uproar behind us, that several poll-workers, those sweet little old ladies sitting behind the tables, no doubt, had insisted that we were intentionally provoking the state law that states one must not wear such things when one casts her vote, else risk intimidating other voters, that something must be done. “I was proud of you guys,” our neighbor told us, with a big smile. Despite my unintentional rabble-rousing, nothing was ever requested of us, save place our ballot in the box, and we walked out of the fire house completely unaware that underneath the steely smiles that followed us out of the room, lurked something else, perhaps, than simple warmth and good cheer, that we had unknowingly escaped the inquisitional reprimands that might have been, and injected a little excitement into the generally staid, quiet comings and goings of election day in this little town of less than 2000.

By evening, Dominick was in full face paint, courtesy of Luke, who had also painted Jim’s face in Obama colors (mostly blue but with a little bit of red lest anyone accuse him of being anything but a fiery Patriot). We might have been going to a Patriots game, but it was Obama who had captivated us, drew us in, and inspired such fanatical antics.

It was great to be with other people on election night, to cheer on the results, switch over to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for a little comic relief, release the build up of fire and brimstone, and exhale, finally. We had spent a chunk of time earlier in the day looking at the electoral maps and most recent polls, making our own predictions, creating our own maps and trying to understand just what would need to happen for Obama to take all. It felt a little like filling out our NCAA basketball tourney sheets, checking the morning paper to see how our selections had fared, crossing off the losers, circling the winners, but this was no March Madness. This was bigger, better, and far more exciting, a momentous rush that I haven’t ever felt quite so supremely, quite so far deep in my heart, my toes, in that all-over shimmer of spirit that tethers and ties us to one another. Down at the Tavern, we colored in blue states and red states as they were called for Obama and McCain, felt enormous pride when New Hampshire was called for Obama; Pennsylvania, where my mother had been working so hard; New Mexico, where it appeared at least some of the Obama signs my sister had erected must have endured, and been heard; and finally, Florida, where Obama’s volunteer ground troops outnumbered McCain’s unpaid national force in a dazzling display of grass roots, community-run campaign brilliance.

We headed home about twenty minutes before they called the race—and as we got ready for bed, heard the rising excitement in the pitch and tone of the anchors’ voices, watched the map filling in, state by state, all blue skies ahead. And then, just as Dominick crawled into bed, they announced what we had been waiting to hear for so long, that Obama had taken the election, that somehow, the majority of the American people had mustered a heroic response to combat their deep dissatisfaction, answered Obama’s call, and taken the hands of those around them and the race into their own hands, assumed responsibility for the outcome, hit the streets with a force and passion not seen in a long while, and Baracked the vote. YAHOOOOOOOO! We hooted and hollered and I cried—such relief, such joy—my tears flowing, finding some quiet in the blazing enormity of the moment.

John McCain was, by all accounts, gracious and strong in his concession speech. He silenced the haters in the crowd with a respectful and admiring tribute to his opponent, and with a poignant acknowledgement of the race’s place in history. This was the John McCain that truly deserved the 55 million votes he got, not the Palin-saddled, anger-addled fighting man we saw for most of the campaign. In his place was the subdued, deliberate, articulate, generous spirit of a man who had been beaten, and knew he had been beaten, by a better man who had run a better campaign.

Obama’s speech was beautiful, touching, for its quiet strength, for its powerful, moving nod to history through the journey of the 106-year old heroine Ann Nixon Cooper, its loving expression of gratitude to his family, and to all the people who had worked so tirelessly to get him elected, a lovely, impressive reflection of not only the man who has inspired so many to trot out their absolute best for this country but the moment as well that will inspire so many for years to come. A good friend once gave me a daily muse etched into a rectangular metal block that sits on my desk: what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? The same friend reminded me of it on Wednesday: “Well,” he wrote, “Obama knew it. And did it. And now he'll be reminding us all to do the same.”

Before Obama was elected, the sheer number of mega-issues awaiting attention and resolution seemed overwhelming, catastrophic even, as if the apocalypse was just around the corner. We all still have a lot of work to do, but somehow, the rough edges have been smoothed over, the dark demons have retreated amidst the expanding light. Everything seems much more manageable now, and with the building blocks of Hope, Change, and Unity in place, anything can happen. Is it too much to ask for a new world order, one based on a peaceable trust rooted in mutual respect, tolerance, and cooperation, on the renewable bonds of community, and the spirit of Ubuntu?

The world seems a whole lot warmer now with Obama positioned to take over the White House in January. And I’d like to think that the world will continue to respond in kind to Obama, that he will be welcomed, heard, respected, and that the chasm that has split this country will heal in time for the real work to get done. As for Sarah Palin, perhaps it would be best if she were to go by way of Dan Quayle, but only time will tell. One thing is for certain: aside from heralding the installment of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, much of the hoopla surrounding Inauguration Day will no doubt be reserved for seeing George W. Bush out of office. It’s been a long eight years, and I for one would love to have a farewell party for Bush. Perhaps the boys and I will post our “The Search for Bush’s Brain: a Collection of Bush Babies” collage project as a final salute to the meathead who offered up so many repugnant, hilarious, shocking moments, and so much incompetence to parody, lambast, skewer, and run from (especially if you were John McCain).

After the festivities, it’s back to every day. I need to catch up on sleep, schedule my tattoo with Dr. Pitts, keep on keepin’ on. I trust you’ve found something to be grateful for today; I know I have. It starts with ourselves, and expands outward in concentric circles, connecting the individual to the family, the family to the communities, close and far, the community to the global family of all inhabitants here on Earth. Thank you, Obama!

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.
~ Alan Cohen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote." ~ William E. Simon

Election Day is here. It seems like we’ve waited a long forever for this day, our impatience starting to wear a little thin, our eagerness getting the best of us. The metaphoric meanings echoed in this campaign are overwhelming, and it seems the planets and the stars are working overtime to set the stage for this battle not just between McCain and Obama but between “the past and the future, tradition versus innovation, order versus rebellion, logic versus intuition, and the status-quo versus revolutionary changes” as well. This reflects a classic show down between Saturn and Uranus, with Saturn’s push for Fear now in many ways fighting against Uranus’ (yes, yours and mine) the urge toward liberation. Sound familiar? The gods are tinkering, conniving, pushing forward change on this battleground, giving it a heroic Homer spin with divine squabbling and intervention, insisting on the shattering of old bonds and the letting go of the established ways of doing things. And because the repercussions of this election will be so utterly massive and global in scale, the resultant splintering and reshaping will no doubt be unsettling, shocking. Regardless of what happens, I hope everyone can keep his or her head. With the Moon still in void for much of the day, it’s time to swim with the river. I’ve had my stitches out, I’m healing up, and I’m feeling awfully glad that I can expand my circle and refocus on something so huge and massively important, something that taps into how connected we all are to that living, breathing, pulsating all-encompassing organism of oneness, that collective consciousness, that universal god or goddess or primal being that lives and breathes in all of us and that pulsates with the communal thump of our heart, the interwoven web of our thoughts, and the shimmering essence of our spirit. Hokey dokey, yes, but it’s something I truly believe. This election taps into who we are as a nation and where we’re going, it looms large because of the weight of importance it carries, the scope and breadth and depth of influence it will have on global tides and trends and tsunamis, and it resonates with the dread and fear of the uncertainty that swirls about our children’s future, insisting upon a better way, infusing each step forward with hope and unity and community on many levels.

My mother is in Pennsylvania stumping and canvassing, trying to bring it home for Obama. My father has been in New Hampshire, trying to counteract the possibility of this reality: My aunt and uncle have been rallying the troops in Northern New Hampshire and Maine, cousins have been fighting in battleground states, and my sister out in New Mexico has been trying to secure Obama/Biden signs in and around her neighborhood outside of Albuquerque. Every sign, she said, even the ones she had rock climbed to protect, had been taken down by the next morning. We lost our own lawn sign sometime yesterday afternoon to McCain vandals running afoul of respect for personal property. It was surprising, given how much this valley has rallied around Obama, but this has been a divisive campaign, and no ugliness has been spared. Yesterday, we caught a first-hand glimpse of the joys and horrors of this campaign.
The boys and I traveled to Keene, NH to canvass for Obama, stopping first at the makeshift Obama headquarters in downtown Keene to pick up our instructions, then spending most of our time checking in on Obama supporters in low-income elderly housing apartment buildings, making sure they had the correct polling information, and a ride if they needed one. Most everyone was kind, welcoming, warm. An 89-year old woman named Thelma practically cried when she realized that she would actually get a ride to the polls and be able to vote; she had been wondering, worrying what she would do. She invited us into her tiny apartment, and she sat, rather breathlessly, tears coming to her eyes every now and then, and talked as if she was just happy for a little company. Many lit up when they saw the boys, and happy to be able to unload some of their leftover Halloween candy, rushed off to retrieve a handful of Twix and Butterfingers. Nearly everyone wanted to talk about how important this election was to them, how in all their 85 or 78 or 92 years they had never felt so strongly about a candidate before, how it had inspired many to vote for the first time in a long while, about how it didn’t matter if Obama was black or white (and actually, we heard him described as “colored” more than once), that he was the absolute best candidate, our best chance to turn things around, our only hope. They talked to the boys about the importance of history (“study lots of history,” one woman said, “it’s the only way we can learn from our past mistakes!”), about how they should never take the right to vote for granted, and how grateful they were that someone was checking in to make sure they were able to exercise this basic human right. A few we visited were bedridden, or in wheelchairs. And each one of them had done their part despite the obvious obstacles, putting in the time to cast their absentee ballots, be counted.

In the first building we canvassed, an old man tumbled out of his doorway into the hall, where he wheezed and coughed and eyed us suspiciously as we waited to see if the woman in apt. 304 would answer our knocks. “Hello,” I called to him, “how are you today?” Cough, cough. “We’re here today giving out information about the polling places for the election.” He started to back up and slink behind the door frame, and then, “The whaaa? Polling?” “Yes,” I said, “we’re here with the Obama campaign, making sure everyone knows where to go to vote tomorrow, making sure they have a ride if they need one.” As soon as I said "Obama" I saw his eyes narrow into slits, his face darken. I walked a little closer, smelled the cigarette smoke that floated out of his apartment, saw the untamed hair that danced on his head, the scowl etched onto his face, the dark shadows of failing health under his eyes, where a dark, deep hostility had suddenly begun to blaze. He took his final steps of retreat, coughed several times before regaining his breath, and growled, “Well, you don’t want to talk to me, then, because I’m no Muslim!” Slam. The kids and I stood and stared, jaws dropping, eyes wide. I had hoped that we wouldn’t encounter any of the ugly, dark side of this campaign, but here it was, this bold-faced ignorance jumping out at us in a way that caught us all off-guard. We longed for the warmth and reason, the humanity, of Thelma’s kitchen, and were glad to be able to leave the building.

On the way home, we circled round the square in downtown Keene, where supporters from both sides carried multiple signs stacked one on top of the other in a kind of political totem pole, and waved to passing motorists, who beeped and honked, grimaced and shook their heads. Suddenly we noticed a crowd of photographers, journalists, passersby surrounding a young guy who stood inside the iron gates, shouting, gesticulating, his face full of fire as he started to burn the flags that hung above him. We couldn’t hear what he was saying, but we watched his mouth carve out a ceaseless flurry of what must have been fighting words, the emotion clearly burned on his face. A blue flag went up in flames, the eagle etched in gold disappearing, and then he grabbed an American flag, and there was a sense of urgency, as cameras were shoved into the action, people running and rushing to see, cars slowing down and people shouting their objections. As soon as the flame hit the corner of the flag, it took less than a second for it to engulf and destroy the flag. His mouth was working overtime. We rolled down our windows to hear “This flag will never represent America!” A woman screamed out her car window, “No American should ever burn an American flag. YOU SUCK!” The signs he had positioned around his display had the last word: “No gods, no masters, just liberty.”
Today, we wear our Obama t-shirts and stickers and pins. Daisy has her Obama Girl collar on. Luke and Dominick have made signs to replace the one that someone stole. Dominick has painted his face. To them, this race has taken on the mythic proportions of a Game 7 World Series Red Sox win or last season's championship run by the Celtics. (We won't compare it to last winter's Patriots' Super Bowl debacle). We’re headed down to the fire station to vote soon. The boys wish they could vote, too, but are glad for the chance to do their part. And If Thelma gets a ride to the polls today so her vote can be counted, it will all be worth it. Alice Paul would be happy.
I want to be happy, too, to bask in the glow of simple possibility, to stand tall and feel the winds of change against my face, to trust that the currents will take us where we need to go. But there’s a lingering, underlying dread that the corruption and malaise of the system will tamper with our votes, that Saturn's Fear will somehow pinch off the flow of reason and openness and tolerance and defeat the need for liberating change, and that despite the desire to believe that Thelma, and each and every one of us, will be fairly and justly counted, that something sinister will once again contaminate the process. Will it be, as Stalin once said, that “the people who cast the votes don’t decide the election; the people who count the votes do.”? Ouch. It’s hard not to let that cynicism creep in, and until the dust settles, I won’t rest. But this day holds so much promise that it is hard not to be swept up in the sheer possibility of it all. It's what we all must hold on to, and if there was ever a time to use those visualization techniques, this is it! Obamanos! The time is now for President Obama!

Above all else,
Peace out, XX


Friday, October 31, 2008

Sneaking Sally Through the Alley

We spend the late afternoon getting ready. Luke, our make up artist, transforms Dominick into a zombie just pulled from his earthly grave. We get fake blood all over the bathroom sink. It's fun, this mad scramble of creation and magic, a touch of the theatrical. We've been reading Hamlet, learning about Shakespeare, researching Elizabethan England, drooling over the beautiful British countryside and stately manor homes, and imagining ourselves in the Globe Theatre. Our recent foray into PBS's wonderful series In Search of Shakespeare has only whetted our appetite to refashion ourselves...even if just for one night. The last line of stitches drawn, the last bit of blood oozed into place, and we're ready. Ready to brave the spirits, greet the evening's mischief, lose ourselves in the pitch black of the night. But first, some photos. It's hard to see the bloody tire tracks running up the front of Dominick's Road-Kill Zombie Child costume, but they're there, and I should know, since I ran over the red paint-glue-gravel splattered outfit several times in the driveway with my car. A lone tire, still smeared with red, still bears witness to the horrible accident, which soaked blood into the driveway, coloring stones and sand a scarlet reminder of the fun we had.

Where does one go trick or treating when you live in the rural countryside? Not in our neighborhood, where the houses seem spaced miles apart, and the absence of sidewalks or any kind of safe shoulder on the road make the thought of going trick or treating in our neighborhood completely laughable, ludicrous, dangerous, even. We head to the Mount Hermon campus of NMH, where a festive gathering at the Head's House starts things off right. Through the luminarias and into the dusk we stroll along the upper edges of this recently restructured, re-routed campus made more beautiful by the evening skies settling in, casting shades of pinks and oranges atop trees and across the swaths of playing fields that ripple throughout the levels of life here. We walk in hordes, clusters, twos and threes, all happily running in packs from house to house, through short cuts in the woods, crunching through leaves, brushing shoulders, clinking candy buckets. I run with the kids, and have to remind myself on several occasions that I am not one of them. A haunted house at the dining hall brings the spooks out, and the food captures the playful creativity of the night: meatloaf disguised as rats, watermelon brains, bloody fingers. Yum.
We head over to our old neighborhood in Northfield, where area ruralites go for safer, sidewalk Trick or Treating. It's packed. Costumed throngs of all ages sweep through the leaf litter in a ceaseless tide of feet, swoosh, swoosh, crunch, crunch, swoosh. Houses have been decorated full tilt, with headstones, jack-o-lanterns, spooks and skeletons coming to life, timely shrieks and fully-formed screams, scary music, and orange glow lights. The musky stench of a fog machine fills the air; up ahead, a breath of fog covers the ground and a cluster of tiny costumed toddlers holler and proclaim their fear, "That house is scary. We're not going in there! No way!" After rushing onto one porch to dance in a strobe light (and being rewarded with candy, I might add), I have to keep reminding myself that I am not there to trick or treat; several times I forget myself and roar up the walkways to the houses with the kids, before stopping and hanging back like a good, respectable parent. It must be the Sally costume; she's filled me with her playful, restless spirit, not a bad thing, really. I quite like it. All too soon, we reach the end of the street, where a solitary house sits surrounded by neighbors who have furtively cloaked their non-participation in utter darkness. The sky lights up for a brief second, a shooting star, my second this week, appearing overhead. Perhaps the tides are changing. Dominick and his friend Oliver race to the door, and are greeted by a three-year old girl in her pajamas, holding out a bowl of candy, telling them "Happy Hawoween." Dom and Oli look around and listen for any signs of an adult, but only see two stockinged feet on the end of a couch, the unmistakable sounds of snoring drifting in from the next room.
We return home after walking what must have been ten miles. We've seen friends and neighbors and felt the warmth of familiar faces, but the cold has settled into our bones; a hot bath and a bowl of soup will feel good. After scrubbing the fake blood and face paint off Dominick's face, and washing the head injury out of his hair, a touch of black remains under his eyes, the look of eyeliner that makes him writhe in agony, "I look like a girl!! Aaahhh!!" A few deft strokes with the q-tip and it's gone: it's just stage make-up, I tell him, boys wear it too. I'm feeling awfully comfortable in my Sally costume. I just might wear it to bed...
...but first, I have to light my Samhain fire outside in the fire pit, offer my post-surgical binder compression bra to the gods, say my wishes, and bring in some protective fire to relight our own hearth fire. In lieu of animal skins and heads, I keep Sally on a little longer as I head outside to commune with the spirits. As soon as the fire reaches a good pitch, I toss the bra on top, and it catches quickly, spewing a noxious, thick smoke into the air. What do they make those things out of?! I watch, mesmerized as layer by flammable layer, all the little annoying frilly edges that made me turn red and scratch and burn, the pink flowery fabric that was somehow designed to make us feel more feminine, more pretty, the velcro that bound so tightly it was hard to breathe, burn down to an unrecognizable lump within minutes. Good night Bra. Farewell Cancer; I'm moving on. I look to the starry skies. May the Spirit of Misfortune grace us with better luck this year. I grab a fire stick and bring it inside to light the small pile of kindling I've assembled in the wood stove. After some breathy blowing, it roars, slowly illuminating the dark house with its warming, central light, sending sparkling embers and evil spirits to push past the cold and ride the airflow up and out of the long black pipe. I hang up my Sally dress, and scrub her off my face, but she'll be a part of me forever, living on in my new Sally-styled girl, in my heart, in my restless spirit. Tonight, I sleep well.

Happy Halloween!

As seems to have become the usual pattern in recent years, the week brought gusty winds and just enough rain to strip and let fly any remaining leaves off the trees, rendered bare and spindly and macabre just in time for Halloween. The bitter cold that blasted through this week lingers in the frost of the morning, and yet later today, this last day before November arrives to sink its gritty teeth into what's left of the Indian Summer harvest, the sun will sufficiently rise to warm the skies, keep the frost at bay, and cast a much welcome glow about things tonight, leaving the trick or treaters to canvas the neighborhoods without having to bury their costumes under layers of ridiculous jackets and scarves.

There's much about the over-commercialization of Halloween and other holidays that I loathe, and frankly, after doing it up for fourteen years, I must admit that I've been struggling in recent years to find the energy to bring up the Halloween (or Easter, or...) box, get the decorations out, carve the pumpkins (color the eggs, trim the tree...), and piece together the costumes (hide the eggs, fill the stockings...). I suppose that amidst the blitz of candy greed and cheap plastic costumes that have sucked all opportunities for creative joy out of the process, Halloween has quite very nearly and clearly lost its meaning, though what meaning it ever held for me I would be hard pressed to remember: getting as much candy as possible? winning the costume contest? egging the house of that boy you have a crush on?

And yet, there's still something about Halloween that I love--losing myself in the creation of a costume, filling the house with the smell of roasting pumpkin seeds, heading out on a balmy October night, stars overhead, the excitment and promise of the haunt of the evening before us. The glory years of Halloween are behind us, those years when the kids were little and we had oodles of time to spend thinking up and working on costumes; now, it seems, the busy-ness of our colliding schedules leaves little room for such frivolity, and yet, I miss it. It's another indication that we outgrow the phases of our lives, spiral back into the swirling energy of memories, and try to recapture some of the magic that used to be.
I have happy memories of Halloweens past, when I'd spend hours working with the boys on their costumes--clowns, Oompa Loompas, Harry Potter, and then the usual crop of scary monsters and super freaks, but it's been a long time since I've whipped up a costume for myself. But this year was to be different. I woke up this morning and felt this crazy desire to put one together. And not just any costume. No, it had to be Sally. I started identifying with Sally, the Tim Burton character from his wonderful flick A Nightmare Before Christmas, after my first surgery, when I gingerly removed the bandages after my surgical biopsy/lumpectomy to find that my left girl had been pummeled, the stuffing plucked out, the skin stitched up. It was to be only the first of several such life-saving, loving mutilations and reconstructions. My reconstructed girl is covered with stitches and scars and a sculptural nipple to boot, and in Sally, with her Dr. Finkelstein-created, stitch and scar-covered body, her restlessness, and longing to leave the confines of her tower room in the search for something better in her life, I found a kindred spirit. To be certain, underneath her patchwork dress is a girl or two like mine. But Sally, of course, is an expert at needlework, unlike me (this is something I happily rely on Dr. Pitts for.) When she decides to flee her overprotective creator, she must fling herself out of the high tower window, fall to the ground below, and retrieve her limbs that have, of course, torn off and tumbled away. She carries her needle and thread with her at all times, and restitches herself together with admirable speed and skill. Ah, if escape were only that easy.
With Dominick's help, I've made myself a Sally costume. We literally whipped it up in about a half an hour, slicing apart an old dress that had been banished to the local Survival Center pile, taking scissors and hot glue gun (I don't generally sew) to fabric scraps, using fabric markers to "stitch" it all together, and fashioning a Sally-esque, Dr. Finkelstein creation that would certainly not earn me a spot on Project Runway. Soon, Sally will fling herself out of this tower window, stitch and stuff herself back together, and join her Zombie-child in Halloween town.

After the sugar harvest is in, we'll head to our fire pit to celebrate Samhain (sow-in), the ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of summer and the harvest and celebrated their new year on November 1st. Amidst the dread of the coming darkness and cold of winter, which was a time often associated--for good reason--with human death, Samhain invited the ghosts of the dead to return to earth through the blurred boundary that was thought to exist between the worlds of the living and the dead on this night. The ghosts wreaked havoc, as you can imagine, but it was a welcome sort of mischief for the Celts all those 2000 years ago, since the Druids, or Celtic priests, were able to more easily prophesize about the future in the presence of these otherworldly, roguish spirits, an undertaking that often brought about much needed comfort and direction amidst the chaos and volatility of the natural world on which they so depended.

We all strive to button down the chaos of the world in our own little ways, masking the fear with a bold face, perhaps, or shunting the unpredictable into neat little boxes of tidy order. 2,000 years ago or not, there's something about finding reassurance and protection before the onset of the harshness of winter's extremes that makes sense. Back then, there was no trick or treating, no elaborate costume parties, no trick-or-drink revelry at the local colleges; but as part of the Samhain celebration, people did in fact don costumes, though not ones attainable at your local big box/buy crap store, and not ones easily made by the faint of heart. Instead, they dressed in animal skins and heads, gathered around huge bonfires built by the Druids, and made offerings to the Celtic gods by burning crops and animals in the fires. After trying to stave off winter's dread by telling each other's (good, one would imagine) fortunes, they used the sacred fire to re-light their own hearth fires at home, bringing in the protective powers and spirits of the Celtic dieties for additional comfort and reassurance.

Personally, I need all the comfort and reassurance I can get. So tonight, I'll be revisiting the old pagan traditions of Samhain, offering my old post-surgical binder bras to the dieties, and bringing in the protective fire to embolden my spirit and fortify my soul. And somewhere along the way, I'll be following the wanderlust that lurks deep in my heart, sending me spiraling over the edge, willing to sacrifice life and limb, but knowing that I'll be able to put myself back together, however many pieces there may be.

Happy Halloween! XX, L.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"What I love is near at hand, Always, in earth and air." ~ Theodore Roethke

One night not too long ago, we got out the sparklers and Dominick painted light scapes onto the pitch black canvas of the night sky. This time of year, when the dark arrives to snuff out the sun earlier and earlier each afternoon, we have to work harder to catch the sunshine before it dips below the hills in a fiery exit. The change is so dramatic and quick that you can almost feel the earth spinning and drumming through space on its autumnal orbit of shifting spheres of light and dark as the tilt pulls us farther away from the sun and leaves only traces of the endless stretch of summer days in our northern skies.

The sun, with all those plants revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do. ~ Galileo

We've been walking in the afternoons, trying to store up on colors and warmth before winter leaves the pantry bare. We take the dog, who strains on the leash until we release her into the wilds of burdock and asters and milkweed, where she can aid in the seasonal task of seed dispersal and tick-gathering. She rushes through the tall grasses to feel the tickle on her belly, bounds and bounces with tail high and ears flying to search for something, anything, could someone please throw me something?

We've been walking these roads for a long time now, but long gone are the strollers and the simultaneous naps and sweet Zephyr, who walked on a leash with much more dignity than our current 4-legged love Daisy, who was clearly born to run, catch the ticks on her belly, and sneak a swim in the old beaver pond no matter how cold the water might be.

The fields and hills of Gill are lovely this time of year, and yet, like so many other things, the familiarity of place is at once comforting and repelling, and the beauty alarmingly ephemeral in how quickly it changes from day to day. Sit out a day, and you just might miss it.

I long for the unexpected delight at discovering an unexplored back roads or wooded trail not yet taken, a chance to step off the beaten path and go a different way. And it's the promise of this in every day that keeps me going, that makes me wake with the sun and listen for the hidden discoveries waiting to be found. It's a strange kind of wanderlust, arriving every so often to lift me off the track, blow the dust out of my wheels, and put me back on going a different direction. And the wonderful thing is that I don't necessarily have to go anywhere at all to expand my sense of this moment in time; it's the process of changing pace, direction, passengers, cargo that opens up a new perspective, a broader horizon, a more interesting itinerary, even if I make it up as I go along. It's not the speed, it's the velocity, the rudderless ride, the search for serendipity.

There are unexpected delights in each and every day, and thank god for that because if there weren't, I'm not sure how I would get out of bed each day. Some days, I don't get out enough, and I feel numb and disengaged in my slumber. All it takes, sometimes, is going outside, feeling the breath of air on my cheek, the rise and fall of lungs, the thump of my own heartbeat in time with the pulse of life around me. I am reminded to take the time to simply be in this world, to take notice of the Canada geese honking and flying overhead, listen to the squirrels crashing through leaf litter, busily storing nuts, then hightailing it up the long, bowed tree limbs, bear witness to the woolly bear caterpillars' silent, patient crawl into hibernation, seek out the crush and smell of apples, taste the sweetness of the last fall raspberries, and feel the crunch of the leaves underfoot. This is my sanctuary, my respite, the food that sustains my spirit.

I walk out to the gardens, drawn in by a snapping sound that bounces off the tall stalks of decorative grass and floats out intermittently to find me on the lawn. Where is it coming from? I edge closer and the sound intensifies, snap, snap, snap. There is no real rhythm to it, though, just a random release of spontaneous sound that is positively filling my ears with wonderment. Standing on a boulder that marks the spot where our two cats Kitty and Chubby were buried long ago, I am suddenly surrounded by a flurry of snaps that sound a bit like those little white nuggets of gunpowder that provided hours of amusement when I was a kid, and I would throw them hard on the pavement to crackle and snap at my feet. Dominick joins me on the rock, and we scan the dried perennials for the source of the snap, and finally find, in the masses of phlox that surround us, the progenitor of this odd, unexpected concert. Dominick recreates the cheerful chorus, pinching the dried pods of the phlox so they burst open to send their seeds flying, the resultant snap! echoing over and over again throughout the garden.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~ Rachel Carson

We fill our shirts with pears that have fallen from our scattered trees, vowing to once again prune the long-neglected trees in the spring so that the fruit might swell and grow with more sugar and less grit. For now, the ground beneath each tree is covered with what's been an enticing breakfast for the deer that call the wetlands behind our house their home. Some mornings, if we've happened upon the quiet of dawn, the deer will be at the tree, nibbling the pears, slowly, with big dark wet eyes staying alert for that noisy black dog who loves to crash through the bramble in hot pursuit of a thrown pear, or a skittish deer.

We've enjoyed cold weather crops from our garden throughout the fall: kale, chard, green beans, eggplant, peppers, winter squash, raspberries. But the deep freeze has come to put an end to the growing season and drain the color out of the hills, and the garden sits lifeless, save for the kale that seems to thrive in this frosty air. We've put up jam, frozen berries, corn, pesto and beans, stocked up on potatoes, carrots, apples, and squash. And yet there's always more I wish I had done, could do. Most days, I'm happy that I've had the energy to simply bring in more wood for the fire. But it is these daily and seasonal rituals that sustain me: making applesauce, sweeping the porch, building a fire, putting the gardens to bed, filling our shirts with pears. I take comfort, too, in observing the work of those around me, the farmers clearing the fields of cow corn, hauling in the last of the pumpkins and squash, picking apples, pressing cider, making preparations.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church, I keep it staying at Home - With a bobolink for a Chorister, And an Orchard, for a Dome.
~ Emily Dickinson

Sometimes, when we let our hearts, rather than our habitual feet, lead us, we stumble upon unforeseen delights that bring light into our day, awaken our senses, and embolden our consciousness with something that is merely and wondrously new and different, an offering to enliven the old, the tired, the dull. Dominick and I happen upon a such a delight in Dummerston, Vermont one recent afternoon. After following Kipling Road from the School for International Training, where Luke is playing soccer, past Rudyard Kipling's Naulakha, the engaging old house where he wrote the Jungle Books and which he called a "jewel beyond price," and into colorful views of the hills and mountains beyond that pepper our journey down this meandering dirt road with stunningly gorgeous slices of fall beauty, we find Scott Farm, the 600-acre Landmark Trust-owned largest producer of heirloom apples in New England where portions of The Cider House Rules were filmed. We are treated to samples of the heirloom apple varieties that they have preserved and safeguarded from centuries ago, including Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple (the Esopus Spitzenburg), the oldest variety brought to the New World in the early 1600's, and Julia Child's favorite baking apple. With names like Ananas Reinette, Roxbury Russett, the Winesap, it's hard not to want to fill our bags with some of each, so we do. We buy some cider, too, in the largest Mason jar I've ever seen, and as soon as we are in the car, we unscrew the lid to taste the smooth, sweet cider that is easily the absolute best cider we have ever tasted. Later, we'll head to the Brattleboro Food Coop and see Scott Farm's apples for sale there, but it isn't just about having the apples and cider to enjoy, but having had the experience of going there, filling our memory with that first enchanted view of the inside of the barn, where all the different varieties are lovingly boxed and labeled according to type, in various and surprising colors and textures and sizes, some burnished red, some honey yellow brown, and one, the color of the purple Berkshire hills; some smooth, some mottled, some thick and thorny; some fat and round, others nearly fairy-sized in their diminutiveness, and one with a protuberance that earned it the name of Sheep's Nose. It's about being able to read about each variety, and learn about the history and sheer serendipity of growing apples from Ezekiel Goodband, or Zeke, as he likes to be called, the kind, long-bearded man who serves as keeper of the apple trees, who offers us slices of several different apples, talks about the ancient grafting technique he uses, and the often-haphazard results gained from the very first seeds that were planted so long ago, which he likens to "monkey might get a Hamlet, if you're lucky, or..." It's about smelling the cider being pressed, tasting the cider right out of the jar, and having the friendly (is there any other kind?) black lab gently steal my apple core out of my hand.

When we understand that man is the only animal who must create meaning, who must open a wedge into neutral nature, we already understand the essence of love. Love is the problem of an animal who must find life, create a dialogue with nature in order to experience his own being. ~ Ernest Becker

One morning last week, I stepped out into a world of silence. The night had cast an eerie white frost over everything: leaves, grass, car windows, fallen pears, sentinel pumpkins, cobwebs. The pointed limbs on the bare trees suddenly looked like a Tim Burton-esque study of frozen finger tips, milky white and admonitory. As the sun struggled to rise in the sky, the shadows moved throughout the yard, releasing patches of land to warm in the sunshine. If I listened closely enough, I could hear the quiet, subtle thaw breaking and melting the tiny ice crystals, recolorizing the world in reds and greens and oranges and yellows, and restoring life to the fields and trees and thickets for one more day, at least. But after a deep freeze, there is life that hides away unseen, remains suspended until the spring, or does not return, and today, despite the warming sun that broke my sleep with the promise of blue sky early this morning, there is, amidst the fluttering of leaves, the intermittent thudding of the pears that still fall, ripe and heavy to the ground, and the occasional splash and brush of wing on water as the geese and ducks navigate their departure for softer climes, a silence that catches my ear, a silence reflecting the absence of the constant buzz and hum and song of the crickets and bees and songbirds that offered up palpable, vibrational echoes of the life that quietly surrounds us in the warmer months. The leaves have been swept away by the bluster of the fall winds, opening up the view beyond our stone wall, and bringing in thoughts of winter. I know now that winter is coming, with its long stretches of quiet and cold and absolute stillness, and I fill with dread at the thought of spending another winter unable to take part in the unexpected festival of snow and ice, in the rush and swoosh of skiing fast, and the serenity of a mid-winter woods walk. And as I mourn the crickets and the loss of light, I must also celebrate these changes, find the stirrings of life in my own seasonal shifts and tides, and stay open to the possibilities, even as I steel myself against the phantoms that have blown in with the chill to pester me with shadows of last winter’s gloom.

I must trust that this winter will be different, that I'll be able to stay connected to the pulse of nature, listen with an open heart, deepen my healing, continue to grow and feel strong and healthy, feel the spin of earth beneath my feet, close my eyes, and enjoy the ride, wherever I go, whatever comes my way, whatever I find, whatever I learn. Perhaps the colors and warmth and jam we've stocked up on will brighten even the bleakest winter days. And perhaps Winter will surprise us, and bring about a new lustre of hope and festivity that will line our days with gold: wherever I go, here I am.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you... while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. ~ John Muir