The Green Study on Spring Break

I started writing a blog post called “What’s Keeping Me Awake, Pt. 2” to follow on the heels of a post about a sleepless night. Last night (since it’s 3 am already), I tossed and turned listening for our sick kitty. The vet is coming today to end our tortoiseshell’s long battle with kidney disease. It’s the first time we’ve been able to say good-bye to a pet at home, but the time between scheduling the appointment and the actual appointment is a vast space. It’s been such a long, sad winter in our home and I’ve had enough of it.

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2019.

canstockphoto1508295Instead of writing what would be a continuing narrative of unhappy posts about dead relatives, dying kitties, and a middle-aged lady’s health anxieties, I’m going to take a break, let things settle a bit, get through today, get through medical testing in the next couple of weeks, get through the last dregs of winter. There is so much immediacy in my life that I’m writing without circumspection and that feels like showing first drafts to my mother. I adore the editor within, but right now she’s too busy googling medical scenarios, feline and human alike, to be of much use.

Since this post will be up for a couple of weeks, I don’t want to leave on such a melancholy note. My aching gratitude for the humans and pets with whom I’ve shared a life is in the form of grief right now, but like the spring that reveals bright green shoots on the trees, it will give way to hopefulness and warm memories. And perhaps writing which will honor those lost during this long-enduring winter.

Until then, I leave behind a smattering of unrelated thoughts.

Media Diet

I’ve been off Twitter for a couple of weeks now and ended some video streaming services. The math of doing fewer enervating activities adds up. I feel better and I’m more focused. I hit a couple of main news sources in the morning and at night and leave the punditry and digital sophistry to others. You never know what you don’t need until you stop using it like you need it. That should be profound, but it just sounds like a bad sentence. My editor is completely checked out.

On the Reading Docket

78223I’m nearly through a 900 page lit course called The Art of the Short Story. To sum it up, with Flaubert everyone dies, Flannery O’Connor hates humans (not a single likable character), Poe likes convoluted sentences, and the 1800s killed writers at a young age. I learned more than that, while also becoming suspicious of the idea that good literature has to be realistic and miserable. After I get through the stories by Welty, Wharton, and Woolf, I’m going to read some lighter fare – Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warnings and Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas. Well, lighter than Faulkner and Oates, anyway.

This week I revisited W.S. Merwin’s work The Shadow of Sirius. Merwin, an American poet, passed away a few days ago. There is something striking about the passing of what I call the “gentle poets”. Mary Oliver died earlier this year. It takes a moment to adjust to the quiet pace and the light maneuvering of language. We have become so battered against the rocks of cruel and incurious public discourse that first reactions to gentle poetry is a snickering cynicism – as if nothing matters over 280 characters or 20 second sound bites. To read poetry is a deliberate return to tenderness, a rebuke to the world too enamored of its own edginess.

To the New Year

By W. S. Merwin

With what stillness at last

you appear in the valley

your first sunlight reaching down

to touch the tips of a few

high leaves that do not stir

as though they had not noticed

and did not know you at all

then the voice of a dove calls

from far away in itself

to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you

here and now whether or not

anyone hears it this is

where we have come with our age

our knowledge such as it is

and our hopes such as they are

invisible before us

untouched and still possible

               *****
The New New Year

canstockphoto9109848.jpgConsidering how the year started and how it is currently proceeding, I’m all for resetting the holiday to align with spring. What did that old Roman god Janus know about the long Minnesota winter, when looking forward and back is just more snow? Spring is when energy rebounds, optimism in the form of daffodils and tulips arise and large rabbits deliver chicken eggs. Humans are weird. This particular human needs a reset on the year. Until that happens, I’m off to get myself sorted.

See You in the New Year!

 

A Last Summer’s Retreat at The Green Study

The Green Study will return on September 4th, 2018.

canstockphoto6437374It has become obvious from my last few posts that I’m in a bit of a mental muddle. I turn 51 shortly, which is neither here nor there, but makes me think I could do for a birthday break. The dog days of summer are now here. The cicadas drone on all day and the mornings roar with the croaking of toads and the chirping of crickets until the oppressive heat slows all living creatures to a crawl.

I’ve hit my social interaction saturation point, where the sound of my voice is like that old Volkswagen commercial, except the lyrics are: blah, blah, blah. This week I went to a garden party, which sounds more posh than it was – a fundraiser for a state representative. The governor was there. Being a political junkie and writer, I like to go to these sorts of things and observe politicians in their natural habitats of glad-handing and smiling relentlessly. I hung about the edges of the lawn just watching people and slipped away at the hour mark. I’m toast.

In the midst of civic engagement (how I’ve begun to loathe that phrase), I went to the funeral of a man whose 100th birthday party I attended a few months ago. At the time, he was smiling and laughing and talking to all of his friends and family. It was hard to see the funeral in a tragic light, when he left the world on the heels of feeling surrounded by love after a century of life. We should all be so lucky.

canstockphoto12816020Yesterday, my daughter and I worked at a food shelf distribution center, sorting and packaging 10lb bags of potatoes. One in ten people experience food insecurity in Minnesota. As a child of government cheese and butter lines and food stamps, it feels like a good way to spend a morning, but I am tired. I think about this social media idea of virtue signaling and how I’ve exploited it in my writing, talking about civic values and volunteering. I’ve become cynical about my attempts to be a good person, which is a signal in its own right – it’s time for a break.

The field of candidates when I filed for a vacant seat on city council expanded in the last few days from 1 to 12, so I’m bracing for failure. Bracing for Failure is the title of my unwritten autobiography. There is a certain panache to losing well. I always find the lesson, sometimes even before failure has been ascertained. I’ll know in the next couple of weeks where I stand and I’m sure I’ll be back writing about it then.

Ucanstockphoto8858462ntil then, I’m withdrawing into my shell with a pile of books, a list of house projects, and a penchant for belting out blues songs without provocation. We’re replacing our deck which has become a regular haunt for woodpeckers, due to the rotting wood and the bug buffet it hosts. Another DIY project that will involve arguments and injury and will be a relief when it’s over.

I hope to return in a couple of weeks recovered from burnout and with a better sense of direction. My energy is going all over the place these days. It’s not anything particularly interesting – just life coming at me from all directions and I need to retreat, rally my mental troops, and prepare for the next charge, wherever that may lead.

Wishing you the happy last dregs of summer!

Pie Hole Shutting Time at The Green Study

The Green Study will return on July 1, 2018.

I’ve been writing my ass off the last few weeks, both here and offline. It’s time to take a breather from everything. I have a stack of books, my bird-watching binoculars, and a false sense of limitless time. Perfect for a vacation of sorts.

canstockphoto24883850This is when I go off the rails. And wow, is it exciting. I drink caffeinated drinks, eat a lot of cheese, stay up past 8, and think about how I should probably move in order to get rid of the numbness in my lower limbs. And then don’t, because I want to read one more chapter.

I’ve been writing pretty intensely about civic participation, the current state of politics, and mental health issues. Which means I’ve been writing whichever way the news blows. And boy, does it blow.

The volunteer gigs seem to be pausing for a bit. The Minnesota legislative session ended with a whimper, with anything progressive shot down when they tried to shove everything into a last minute omnibus bill. Honestly, they seem like writers sometimes, or at least this writer, waiting until the last minute to get work done.

canstockphoto19562I sat last night in a coffee shop listening to a live string quartet and felt my eyes well up when they played Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. For all my stalwart conversation, a part of me feels like having a good blubber a lot of the time. It’s usually an indicator that I need to take a break, re-group, and get back to my personal mission. Which is not, I hope, to turn into a humorless git.

It’s easy to do – to forget how to laugh. To forget that there is love and joy and justice in the world. To forget those who took nonviolent action and succeeded. It’s easy to lose that full spectrum way of seeing the world, because you’re so focused on fixing what’s wrong.

As an introvert, with an out-sized, narcissistic sense of firstborn responsibility, I have to force myself to sit down, shut up, and to stop raising my hand every time someone asks for help. I’ll schlep into a meeting, find a seat near the exit, and hope I can stay awake. An hour later I’m heading a committee, writing a newsletter, adopting children, and rescuing house pets with social anxiety disorders. If I stay long enough, I’ll have donated a kidney – both of them. This would be some lovely virtue signalling if it weren’t so pathological.

Eventually, I feel hollowed out and detached from my life and start disappearing, making excuses, oh, I must have missed that email, sorry, my phone died (as if my phone is a metaphor for ambition), because it feels like I cannot breathe. I’m trying to learn to sit on my hands, stay quiet, and pace myself.

Sometimes taking a break means shutting up. When my internal monologue starts snapping back at me, shut up already. Criminy. Give it a rest, I know it’s time to go dark, stick my nose in a book, and let things marinate. Right now, my brain is shouting shut yer pie hole!

In the interest of pie holes and maybe pie, I’m going to take a break and leave you with some unwanted thoughts.

Earworms

Havana, sung by Camilo Cabello, is plaguing my brain. The video is even goofier. Try saying “banana” after listening to this song – it will likely have several extra syllables.

I caught the song Chainsmoking by Jacob Banks being piped in somewhere and desperately tried to remember phrases to Google later. He’s got one of those voices that reaches down into your soul and sets off a dirge of melancholy.

I want to read all the books

32508266I h36479876ave three ridiculously high stacks of books that I’m working through. For my break, though, I’m indulging myself with The Virago Book of Women Gardeners edited by Deborah Kellaway and Betwixt and Between: Essays on the Writing Life by Jenny Boully.

Lately I’ve been doing so much reading for research and knowledge, that I’d just like to sink into something that doesn’t require a lot of me, except to turn the page.

The voice of the rising tide

When your mind is liberated your heart floods with compassion: compassion for yourself, for having undergone countless sufferings because you were not yet able to relieve yourself of false views, hatred, ignorance, and anger; and compassion for others because they do not yet see and so are still imprisoned by false views, hatred, and ignorance and continue to create suffering for themselves and others.

The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

And I leave you with a song for the weary:

Have a lovely week!

The Space Between

An interval of silence

when your arm no longer bows

music at rest

time to breathe

canstockphoto7479668An interval of rest

between reps and sweat

your muscle regroups

lives to fight another set

An interval of breath

dozy conscientiousness

before sleep carries you

into the shadows

An interval of quiet

before the kids wake up

and after the dog has been walked

coffee steam swirls up your nose

An interval of observation

standing in lines

watching the cashier

have a good or bad day

An interval of thought

Mouth closed mind open

walking about

in the shoes of someone else

An interval of grace

for that momentary glance

that says I’ve got your back

for the child still snoring on a school holiday

An interval of peace

a cup of a tea

the list that doesn’t need

to be started right now