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Month: November 2011

They Say Things Don’t Matter

Bigmama was there, because I used the dessert plates she gave me. Washing up afterwards, I turned them over and there on the tape on the back was her cursive: “Ellen.”
Hers, too, were the ice cream dishes that held cranberry sauce, pickles, and jam; we had jam because Bigmama always had jelly or jam for any formal meal.
My younger sister was there, because I made Avola’s Brown Rice casserole, the recipe for which was written in Elli’s hand. The pig-in-a-pen I used to clean up, that was from my older sister. My newest female relative—my daughter-in-law—was there: the pine cone turkey she gave me sat proud as the centerpiece.
My mother was there, in the maple table she bought on time in 1953 in North Dakota. Tom’s mom was there, too, in the chairs pulled up to the table. Mamo was there, in the careful, prideful way I cut the cake: it’s not a pie, don’t cut it like one.
None of them were seated around my table, separated as we are by time and space, but they were all there, for which I give thanks.

I was upset, because my friend had been admitted—not his idea—to a mental health facility for evaluation. I was nervous because I’d never been to a mental hospital before. (Yes, I’d painted the lobby at Whitfield for the Junior League, but this was a whole different ballgame.) Finally, I was frightened because it was two days after Halloween and I’d just walked down a long, dark, deserted nighttime street by myself into a mental hospital lit up like every scary movie you’ve ever seen.

And the guards were so nice.

The two at the security desk made excuses to keep the conversation flowing. Talking, it seemed to me, to calm me down like a trainer to a jittery horse. The woman behind the glass who gave me the security badge, she could have been your grandmother. The man who walked me to the elevator was patient when I pushed the wrong button (“It’s the silver one, now.”) Afterwards, when I had to pace to regain my composure, the woman chaperoning our visit said one of those inconsequential things you say just to reassure.

During the course of the visit, I was handed from guard to guard and each one said, “He’s sick. He’ll get help.” He wasn’t sick—at least not before he was admitted—but I understood what they were trying to do. They wanted to make me feel better about someone they knew I cared for. The other woman they’d led in with me, her patient wouldn’t come out to see her. The guards suddenly knew my friend better than I did.

Today, I pray that, like all things in the world, God can turn this experience into something wonderful for my friend. I pray that the guards—those enforcing the system that has clamped its hand on my friend—will treat him with as much compassion as they showed me.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Anyone who thinks loving the earth is beautiful has never kept a compost bucket.

Squishy pumpkin guts. Black coffee grounds. Gobs of gooey matter whose origin as food is no longer discernible.

We load the bucket into the back of the pickup truck and ride to Binghampton where we lift the lid of this paint bucket that we’ve fancied-up by calling it a compost bucket. Eyes averted, we empty the contents into the compost bin that warns, “No dairy!”

Back home I take the hose, and with water blasting, loosen the grip of whatever has chosen to remain behind. Then soapy water in the sink, then drying on the rack. Clean, the bucket is ready to being again: the orange peel thumps into its empty bottom.

What happens in that compost bin I don’t want to even think about.

But there, in the garden that grows between the cement blocks, peppers hang, tomatoes ripen, marigolds offer their lemony happiness. All made possible by that disgusting compost bucket.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

I went for the mummies hanging in the trees. What I found were the ginkgos.

The yard had won “Best Overall” for its eerie bodies wrapped in spidery cocoons swaying from tree branches. I wanted my husband to see it, simply because it was spectacular. I’m more a fool for Halloween than he is, but those upside-down bodies!

When we turned and left the house, the sun at the end of the street lit up the ginkgos, those trees that trigger for me Dylan Thomas’s admonition: Rage, rage against the dying of the light! My mother’s motto, she who would roam our neighborhood in the fall, searching for the stunning leaves of the ginkgo trees. Miraculously, she could identify the ginkgo even when it wasn’t in golden mode. The spellbinding mastery of adults.

On the mummy street, the ginkgos had been planted to create a row of show. They are my favorite. For while all the other trees give into the fiery blaze of gold and red, the ginkgo insists on butter.

Soft, creamy, smooth-as-churned-butter waving in the wind.

Its yellow could pass for springtime.

We all get to decide how to die.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Someone I care for dearly is caught in an unjust situation. Yesterday, I railed at “the system” that threatens to open its gaping maw and swallow him whole. Today, I am overwhelmed by our lack of forgiveness.

We excoriate each other over perceived injustices which often are, in fact, injustices. If we knew that fact so firmly and strongly – this is an injustice – would it give us the flexibility to say, “And I forgive it”?

I spend so much of my daily energy figuring out what is right and what is wrong. Where do I stand on this issue or that development? How do I feel about this behavior, that opinion?

What if, instead, I used that energy for radical, creative love? What if I said, you know what? I don’t care. From here forward, railing against injustice will be someone else’s job. Mine is to love.

This isn’t an entirely new thought for me, and whenever I go there, I feel so Pollyanish. Irrelevant. Tiny.

I have spent months and months writing a novel about love, and I’m afraid that its theme has seeped into my being, infecting my thought process, skewing my perspective, corrupting my desire to castigate.

Can one have not just a keen but a keening sense of injustice and also an overwhelming desire to forgive?

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

i.e., What would a Writer Do?

I am now doing an exercise I can’t spell.

Pilates, I think, which sounds so exotic (another word I can’t spell). No big deal, except, as a writer, I’d like to know the word for what I’m doing.

“As a writer”—same reason it galls me when I end up pawing through my pocketbook searching for the nonexistent pen. As a writer, I shouldn’t leave home without a writing tool!!

“As a writer” is the reason I had different concerns than most about “The Help”: does she really think that African Americans spoke exaggerated dialect and Southern whites spoke the King’s English? If so, she’s not listening.

I’m not sure when I began to think of myself “as a writer” but it’s part of me now. I’ve woven this creativity into every aspect of my life. I’ve synthesized it, if you will. i.e., What would a writer do?

I’ve also given myself standards because I’m a writer. One of them is spelling correctly, a hopeless task when the medium in question doesn’t have spell check. I can spell cat but not calasthenics.

Pilates. It may be the spelling that undoes me. Or it may be that pulse thingy you do with your toe pointed.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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