Friday, June 22, 2012

The Journey Versus the Destination

How Far We Must Go
Versus Where We’ve Been
No black dogs of depression, these guys.
They help me in the good fight against it.
Rosie, Deek, and I walk every day. They are dogs. I walk them because they’re fat and need the exercise. I walk myself because I have a tiny problem with depression (maybe not so tiny), and exercise gets the serotonin moving in my brain and keeps it there. At first, I dreaded the walks, the dogs were rambunctious and I constantly had to keep them on a tight leash, literally. Two months after daily walks, they behave, and I, too, am behaving.
Increasing the distance each day, we’re now up to 1.6 miles. We walk to the end of the paved road and back home. Today, as I reached the end of the pavement, turned around, and looked in the distance, it seemed so far to my street, which I couldn’t even see. I got tired thinking how far I had to go, so I decided to just step along—one foot after another. I wanted to look back when I reached our street and see how far I’d been.
Reaching our street, in moments I was home, and realized I forgot to look back. Isn’t that just like life? I get so caught up in where I’m going, reaching my destination, that I forget just where I’ve been. In walking, depression, and life, I have a long way to go, but I’ve also come a long way, and it’s important to note the journey as well as the destination.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Beyond My Control . . .

Acts of Valor Mean the SEALs, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors Are in Control

SEALS demonstrate maneuvers at the SEAL
Veteran's Day Muster at the Navy SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Florida

Act of Valor is a movie I didn’t want to watch, like Blackhawk Down, Battle Los Angeles, and others I’ve pushed from my memory banks. A Room with a View, Pride and Prejudice, and the like are my choices for entertainment. Act of Valor and its kin put me in a state of fear—fear of things over which I have little control.
Act of Valor is a movie about SEALs. Navy SEALs. It’s about acts of valor. SEALs have been more in the news the past few years after Marcus Luttrell’s book, Lone Survivor, was published. The news also brought us the daring (is that redundant in reference to SEALs?) rescue of MV Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips, whom Somali pirates had taken hostage. Osama bin Laden’s rightful end at the hands of SEALs is their most-published endeavor.
Why watch, then? I watch because my son, the aspiring Marine, wants to share what he loves with me. Those things over which I have no control—villains like bin Laden, Somali pirates, warlords in Somalia and Afghanistan—such incidents are far removed from the fiction of Fitzwilliam Darcy and the lovely Elizabeth Bennett professing their love (finally!) in a heather-abundant meadow. The bombing of the USS Cole and the stoning and poisoning of women and female children who want to read and walk free from their burka-cages also are beyond my control—and a far cry from the orchid- and flower-filled gardens that get my attention.
Beyond my control, yes, but not beyond control. That’s where the SEALs, the Marines, the Navy, the Army, its Rangers and Green Berets, and the Air Force come in. All those things beyond my control are the daily business of the United States military.
Once a peace-loving pacifist (and even still in some respects), I have been educated by terrorists to realize our military is necessary.
Acts of valor never seen on the big screen or the published page (Web and paper alike) take place far more often than I—or probably most Americans—want to know.
I want to feel secure on our soil; and my aspiring Marine wants to serve that security to me and the rest of our nation. I try to understand what he wants to do, and often it scares me, so it’s easier to pick up a Victorian novel or watch a tepid drama on the screen rather than sit, eyes covered half the time, and watch movies like Act of Valor.
Watch, I do, though, when he asks me to, and I push aside my fear. And I get an education about real things going on in the world—real threats to freedom. I never want to nurse a female child back to health who was poisoned because she wanted to learn to read. I never want to have to stumble through life burka-clad head to toe. I never again want to see planes fly into towers. Because I don’t want those things for me or for anyone, regardless of which continent or country they call home, I watch those movies and replace my fear with gratitude that my son and thousands of others are prepared to participate in acts of valor—for me, and for you, too.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grammar Woman Walking

Grammar Woman Walks in the Rain

Rain fell on me, never on I.

“A gentle, refreshing rain fell on the dogs and I . . .” No, that’s wrong. It’s not “the rain fell on . . . I, it’s the rain fell on . . . me.” Try again, Grammar Woman, I said to myself. “A gentle, refreshing rain fell on the dogs and me as we took our early morning walk.

Summer heat and humidity mean earlier and earlier walks, but even at 7:45, it was getting steamy. When the rain started falling, my first instinct was to bolt. But to where? I was at least a half-mile from home and had a 50+-pound dog on a leash at the end of each wrist. There would be no bolting, unless one of them spied a rabbit.
It seems almost hokey zen to write these words, but they’re true: I decided to simply embrace the rain and continue our walk, rather than sprint the rest of the way.
Cool raindrops dotted my shoulders and arms as we continued toward home.
Why are we humans so reluctant to walk in the rain? Why do we feel the need to dash to the nearest shelter? I considered just walking, walking in the rain.
It was then that today’s story began forming: “A gentle, refreshing rain . . .” It was then that I changed into Grammar Woman Walking as I corrected pronouns with the red pen in my brain. The rain falling on “I” became the rain falling on “me,” and the words I now write formed before I arrived home to put them on the page.

Grammar Woman writing, after walking.

As I sit on the porch, coffee at my elbow, I look outside my covered space and see that once again, a cooling rain is falling, but not on me, and certainly not on “I.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seeds of Joy--Finding Beauty in the Buds and Blooms

Seeking Beauty—A Conscious Choice

Seeds of Joy—Sunflowers Reflect the
Face of Beauty on Earth

Sprouts. Sunflowers germinating. What can be more beautiful than the possibility contained in a single seed?
The Burpee seed package noted: Packed for 2006. Sell by 8/06. Origin Germany. Aged six years, I doubted the seeds would do anything, but I didn’t properly dry the seed heads from my recent sunflower blooms, so they molded and festered. The outdated package and another (more-outdated) were all the sunflower seeds I have. Yet, I wanted a continuous bloom of sunflowers in the garden this summer. I also didn’t want to purchase more seeds because I have admitted to having a problem with buying seeds. Far too many visions of gardens dancing in my head have pushed me to the checkout line, little envelopes of promise in my hands. Then, I suffer the guilt when I must compost those dead, dried vessels once they’d passed the point of germinating—ever.
Admitting the problem was a beginning toward doing something about it. Sowing the sunflower seeds I have (aged, outdated though they may be) was a step in doing something about that little problem.
Sow, indeed, it was with some trepidation that I poked those aged pods into seed-starter mix and waited.

Germination still fascinates me...

This group is ready to go into the garden.

A few days later, a pair of them poked tiny leaves above the soil surface. Ah . . . the miracle of growth. It surprises me with joy every time. I feel like a gestating mom as I watch the seeds progress until its time to plant them. Like a mother hen, I cluck, cluck, cluck over them, watering and fertilizing until they present me with the ultimate gift—blooms!
Mr. Bee ensures we will have future blooms.

Seeing and experiencing the emerging seed to sprout to flower is one of the great beauties and joys of our Earth.

Thursday, June 7, 2012: I am focusing on seeking beauty each day and at the day’s end, deciding what experience, thought, or view awakened beauty most in my psyche. I hope this focus on beauty will enrich me and awaken the idea of beauty in others.

Let It All Fade Away and Beauty Remains

Seeking Beauty—A Conscious Choice
Beauty Begins When the World Slips Away

Why do I want to be wowed by beauty? Can’t I focus on simple things and just increase my awareness? I don’t have to create a contest of each day’s beauty being more resplendent than the previous day's.

On Wednesday, I again wanted to be wowed by something, to have a chord struck deep within me. It didn’t happen. The most abundant beauty I found was within and without. And I didn’t even realize it until after the experience had ended.
I started working before 7 a.m. Wednesday—to meet some deadlines. At 3 p.m., I was done for the day, but unlike many days, rather than leave my desk only to take on something from the never-ending list of chores and obligations, I remained seated and wrote for three hours.
During that time, the clock slipped from my awareness. The passage of time was beyond my radar. No obsessive e-mail checking, or Internet browsing, or Facebook updates occupied me. The exterior world fell away. All I had were words. Words to the page, words to the computer, words written, expressed, and then shared.
There is beauty in becoming lost in what you love. Everything else recedes and you’re left with the purity of being. That is the type of beauty I want to experience more often: Being lost in something I love to the point that nothing else exists.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012: I am focusing on seeking beauty each day and at the day’s end, deciding what experience, thought, or view awakened beauty most in my psyche. I hope this focus on beauty will enrich me and awaken the idea of beauty in others.

Writing Because "I Love the World"

Like Natalie, Like Julia,
Writing Because I "Love the World"

Seeking Beauty—A Conscious Choice

 “The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.”
~ Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down the Bones

“Real life is persistent in its capacity to bring happiness.”
~ Julia Cameron, from The Right to Write

Visual beauty is most often associated with the idea of beauty, with the quest for beauty. In that quest on Tuesday, I viewed my world—the rain, the flowers, the trees. I wanted to look into the petals of the desert rose and the coneflower and say, “Yes, this is beauty; this is my beauty for the day.” I wanted the precious remaining gardenia blooms to delight me in such a way that I could say, “Yes, this is beauty.” I wanted to see a bird soar or have its song descend from the trees to my ears and say, “Yes, this is beauty.” Yes, each is beauty, the desert rose and coneflower petals, the gardenia, the birdsong. Visual and aural.
No lightning bolts or grand trumpets heralded any of those, however. “How can it be so difficult to focus on one thing?” I asked myself in frustration. Beauty is abundant. It’s everywhere.
Later in the day, when I least expected its arrival, beauty came to me from the pages of The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. In the chapter titled “Happiness,” Julia quotes Natalie Goldberg:

“The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is
that we are writing because we love the world.”

My heart cracked open when I read those words. In them, I found that which touched me most with beauty. I do write because I love the world. I love it in all its grittiness and dark and light, and sorrow and joy. I love it when I’m present, and being here—being present—happens most often when I write, and when I write about life. That love for the world happens when I write about the mundane as well as the magnificent because, as Julia Cameron says:

“Real life is persistent in its capacity to bring happiness.”

Real life reflects beauty. Words that I’ve read and written bring and reflect beauty. The pen to the page is all I need to tap into that beauty, to express it, to reflect it, to share it. Like Natalie, I write because I love the world. Like Julia, I know that real life does have an unending capacity for happiness, and happiness is found in writing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012: I am focusing on seeking beauty each day and at the day’s end, deciding what experience, thought, or view awakened beauty most in my psyche. I hope this focus on beauty will enrich me and awaken the idea of beauty in others.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Love That Transcends and Never Ends

Seeking Beauty—A Conscious Choice

This week, I decided to seek beauty each day and at the day’s end, decide what experience, thought, or view awakened beauty most in my psyche. I hope this focus on beauty will enrich me and I can share that beauty.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beauty in Sorrow—Love That
Transcends and Never Ends

“When you are sorrowful
look again in your own heart,
and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that
which has been your delight.[1]

Beauty called out to me when I saw the last photo taken of infant Scarlette Adora, the child of my daughter’s friend. Two days after the photo was taken, on June 6, 2011, when Scarlette was only five months old, she died of SIDS.
One might wonder why, of all the flowers and birds and beautiful words and the spectacular pink sunset Monday evening, I know Scarlette’s photo is the most beautiful thing I saw, the most beautiful thing I experienced in the fifteen or so hours I was awake and alert to beauty on Monday.
Love is why. Scarlette’s mother writes of her love on Facebook on more days that I can count. I met her via my daughter and I’ve watched her step through a year of unimaginable grief, suffering, searing pain. I admire her grace. I admire her grit.
Through all her heart-wrenching words, through every tear, through every bit of anger and confusion and question and the realization that there are no answers to “Why?” and that there never will be, one thing about Scarlette’s mother has been most prominent. Love. I have witnessed such abounding, abiding love for Scarlette.
Like the first ray of sun after a week of rain, that love has shone. Love in all its perplexities. Love in all its questions without answers. Love. Beyond the tears, beyond the gut-stabbing grief, the love exists. It is a beacon to me when my own path seems uncertain. It is a beacon to everyone fortunate enough to have the honor of being a part of her year of grief. It is the exquisite color — Scarlette — red, for the heavy hearts. But beyond the heavy hearts and the tears, the love remains.
And it’s true, that such a love does transcend space and time and sorrow. Nothing was more beautiful to me on Monday than once again seeing and sensing that love for Scarlette Adora, who was a delight.

[1] Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet, from “Joy and Sorrow.” Aldred A. Knopf, Inc.: New York. 105th Printing. November 1980. © 1923, Renewed 1951.

Having a (Some) Gas at Starbucks

Having a (Some) Gas at Starbucks

I know, I know, everybody has gas. We know everybody has gas, we know we have gas, we just don’t want anyone else to know, especially if those anybodies include perfect strangers in a public place. Unfortunately, that aspect of our shared humanity can sometimes manifest itself at the most inopportune times.
Like yesterday. There I was sitting in Starbucks, being all writerly á la Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron. I sat in a large overstuffed chair, feet propped on a coffee table (of course, it was a coffee table, it’s in Starbucks), notebook and pen in hand, and scribbled to my heart’s content. I paused from time to time to sip from my grande iced café mocha, half-decaf, with whipped cream and then returned to the page.
Motown artists sang from the speakers above my head, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, The Platters, but little distracted me once I started putting words to the page. A group of young men sat at the two tables to my left, but they didn’t make much noise because they were intent on their smart phones. After an hour, I checked my watch, and it was time to leave. I eyed the urn of bagged coffee grounds by the door and made a mental note to take some home for the garden.
I leaned over, gathered my purse, and put my notebook, pen, and book into my Barnes and Noble bag printed with The Grapes of Wrath cover. I remembered that my pink jeans tend to slide down while I’m sitting, so after I stood, I did a little discreet hiking up, and stepped forward to leave Starbucks. It was then that I stumbled, regained my balance right away, and the most inopportune time happened—to me, in Starbucks! I blanched, probably turned as white as whipped cream, put my face forward, and walked in a straight line to the door. No longer intent on their smart phones, those young men were laughing their heads off in the background. Anxious as I was to get the heck out of there, I decided no way was I leaving without the coffee grounds. I snatched up a bag of them, opened the door, and, head still forward, walked to my car, looking neither left nor right.
Mortified! Did I note that I was mortified? I was. I tried to explain it away to myself, as I did in the first lines of this blog . . . everybody has gas . . . blah, blah, blah. It didn’t help my sense of human frailty a bit.
I initially decided I would never, ever, ever go to that Starbucks again. What if someone happens to be there who was also there on that fateful day? Will they say, “Better not sit near her”? Will they step aside and wave their napkins in the air as I pass? Will they say, “That’s the old lady I was telling you about” and snicker and laugh and whisper as I saunter past them?
It’s possible all of the above could happen. Or it’s possible it might not. I likely will return to Starbucks, maybe even that Starbucks, but I’ll focus on being lighter on my feet, and because I do live in Central Florida, I will sit outside.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Let It Grow Its Own Way—Jade

Letting It Be in the Plant Kingdom
Hands Off! Water Off!

Near dead, rotting at the base, my jade plant was soon for the compost pile. I moved it to the covered patio with most of the houseplants before I left to travel north for what I thought would be a few weeks. There, it would be easier for my daughter to water by giving everything a quick dousing with the hose. I tucked the jade plant into a corner between two large pots so it wouldn’t get too much sun.
A few weeks morphed into two-plus months, and when I returned, it was obvious that the quick spray with the hose hadn’t happened often enough. Some plants were dead; others were shriveled and begging for a drink. I hoped saturating them with water would revive them.
Several were near enough the edge of the patio that summer rains angled into the edges and kept them hydrated. Not so the ones that were on a shelf away from any encroaching moisture. The jade plant was still tucked between the two larger pots, each of which contained desert-dry soil and wilting foliage. I was shocked at the jade plant’s appearance. It was thriving. It had tripled in size; the leaves were plump and green and nowhere were any signs of plant funk. I had read that jade plants didn’t need much moisture and here was my proof.
I’m conscientious about watering, so after I had my dry epiphany, I knew the jade had to be moved away from anything I watered regularly. I placed it on a table by itself and am now conscientious about not watering it. Every week or two, I give it a good drink and some fertilizer to keep it well fed. It’s growing so well that I had to repot it.
Jade has been difficult for me to grow because for the most part, it doesn’t need me, and it doesn’t need my good intentions. It’s hard wired in me that everything—especially growing things, plants, people—must have water and have quite a bit of it. I’ve been wrong. Jade does need water, but in precious small amounts. To keep it healthy, when I’m fertilizing and watering other plants, I must leave the jade alone. The jade plant does not need me for much, so I often must step aside and simply watch it grow.
Jade brings me up short every time I have to step aside. It reminds me that not everything or everyone to which I’m connected—people, my kids, my sisters, my friends—need me and my constant efforts in their lives to water, fertilize, trim, or repot. At times, yes, I can offer a drink or a bite of food or my perspective—if I’m asked—regarding a new or different pot or placement nearer or farther from the sun.
Just as with the jade plant, I must step aside and let people be, let them grow and function on their own. When I’m needed for that drink or food or philosophy, I can sense if it’s the right time because most often I will be asked. The rest of the time, I have to let jade and people grow their own way.