~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Sunday, March 29, 2015

With Kindly Eyes

Look back on Time, with kindly eyes — 
He doubtless did his best — 
How softly sinks that trembling sun
In Human Nature’s West — 

~ Emily Dickinson (#1478)

We need a more compassionate view of all humans; where the focus is upon small gestures and we see with Kindly Eyes. We need compassion for ourselves, too. 
And yet, I judge myself as harshly as I do others, never putting myself aside from what “we” have done to the world, recognizing my part in the actions of my species: war, violence, projection. We keep repeating in spite of reflection and philosophy and waking up to our responsibilities. This huge unwieldy machine of the over-culture taints my every effort until all I want to do is disappear into folds of paper where possibility emerges. 
I get further behind with every step I take and Time is always cutting me off at the pass, making sure I don’t cross into the other realm. Maybe in my next life will be Peace? That’s something hopeful to consider. On the other hand, if I cannot help us shift our trajectory, if I cannot be part of the solution, will I find my next life a horror? Am I doing my best or hiding? Is solitude equal to my best effort? Am I enough? Am I doing enough? How do I lift up my Self toward a kinder life? Has my writing helped or hindered me or someone else? So many questions. I know nothing. That is my new beginning each time I collapse inward. Ask and open, listen.

Sit right here rest your bones. No one's ever so alone. 
You can take the world down off your shoulders.
I don't know why and how. All I know is here and now.
You can take the world down off your shoulders.

Out of the midst of my confusion, a warm little fellow curls up on my lap and my heart fills with love. This. This response of love is what keeps me going. When I feel my heart swell with love, it’s okay. I can get through another day. I say grace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fading Flowers

photo courtesy Kerry N Barlow,
all rights reserved
I hide myself within my flower, 
That fading from your Vase, 
You, unsuspecting, feel for me — 
Almost a loneliness.
~ Emily Dickinson

When we absent our insights from the people and world around us, what is left is the ghost of a fading flower that was briefly seen. Perhaps I’ve been plucked from my nourishing garden to die more quickly in your vase as an object of curiosity, a thing to glance at even as I fade away and you wonder in a hidden corner of your mind where I went to. This is mere reflection of how we feel but don’t suspect when people die who haven’t left their stories behind except in snippets of someone else’s distorted memory. 
When I do not offer my story, and my body grows frail toward a fast-approaching death (relative to the vast expanse of time), you wonder where this vague uneasiness and loneliness comes from as a part of you remains forever curious about my life, my thoughts and feelings. “What?” you ask. “What was your life inside the walls around your heart?” As my soul pulls away from our relationship and the material world, my fading energy is unrecognized, obscured, fleeting.
Even if we don’t have the whole picture, we can immortalize particular moments. In my novels, there are parts of people I’ve known; I’m less lonely for them and others will see them, too, see glimpses of a life that made a difference … as we all do. However, I imagine how marvelous it would be if every person wrote at least one memoir of a pivotal transition or transformation in their life. This flower would be fresh forever, unfading.
A photograph doesn’t reveal soul or share story; after a generation or two passes, the photos tossed loose in the aging maple chest lined with cedar strips mean nothing. But dig through and pull up from below a sheaf of letters, a journal, a slim volume of preserved memory and the person is fresh, telling a tale of insight, of passage through the past.
Unless and until the reciting of oral history returns, books are best, paper is tried-and-true in its longevity. The books survive hundreds of years, maybe even longer now — they provide an opportunity to speak to an unknown great-great-grandchild or stranger who would be unsuspectingly lonely without having met your legacy. Maybe the paper will fade like the flower, though more slowly, your story rooted in the pages-once-living … like you were. Your body decays in the earth or your ashes are scattered, but your story means someone is less lonely for having known you beyond your death. Your descendants don’t have to access you through an archive or require electricity to read you digitally. All they need to do is open the cover, turn a page, and there you are — speaking to them, showing instead of hiding yourself, revealing the flower of your life in what may be a single petal through which they can, hopefully, hear your voice and know the essence of who you were.
And the world is a little less lonely.

More programs are being developed every day that preserve personal stories for generations to come. From StoryCorps to hospice programs to personal historians, writers and storytellers are attempting to make more voices heard; a particularly good article is “The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities” by Pat McNees

Side Note: I often use the poems of Emily Dickinson as a portal into reflection and/or writing. Because I’m not trying to understand her meaning when writing it, the poem can become something unique to what is already simmering in my mind (whether conscious or subconscious) — kind of like dreamwork. There’s a lovely, and different, interpretation of this poem at The Prowling Bee.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Little Altars

I'm a stranger here
I'm only passing through
But everyplace I go leaves its own tattoo.
That's how it is laying stone on stone,
Building little altars by the side of the road.

~ lyrics by Carrie Newcomer, from "Writing You a Letter" on the album A Permeable Life

This music - the mystery and metaphor softly embedded within each song - continues to support me as I edge closer to finishing my latest book, which is a reflection upon my relationship with the Sonoran Desert.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


A train — each car a fragment, a piece of the whole — took me away and brought me home, with fresh
insight and renewed love. A peculiar sort of journey that allowed extended periods of focus upon thought and idea, upon reality and our place within those spaces.
I’d never ridden the train before, and Amtrak was the perfect option for this particular trip because I didn’t want to drive up north during January. As the train pulled out of the Tucson station, I was pleasantly shocked at how smooth and quiet it was. While the side-to-side rocking motion was an adjustment, after a few hours I barely noticed it except for the occasional rough bit of track. Although, sleeping on the top bunk took a little more time to get used to. The 48 hours of travel between Tucson and St. Louis was peaceful and mostly solitary; I had reserved what is called a roomette in the sleeping car, and ended up spending most of my time in that little room reading, relaxing, reflecting, and writing. 
The train took me to visit my mom. Originally planned so that I could be with her during and after kidney surgery, which was cancelled a few days prior to my scheduled departure, I decided to go up to northeastern Missouri anyway. Mom, my brother, and my nieces were expecting me so we simply turned it into a social visit. I carefully selected two books for the trip; one for going and the other for returning home. I had my Kindle with me as well, but far prefer reading paper books.
Because of the initial circumstances behind the trip, my book selection for the journey up was A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves by Jane Gross. The time had not yet arrived for my brothers and me to step into a position of elder-care, but, since my dad died a few years ago and my mom was turning 77 this month, I felt compelled to do a little research on the subject. The author’s book is well-written, part memoir and part expose, but provides a bitter pill to swallow: the plight of the elderly in our medicalized, fragmented, and what I consider inhumane, approach to “sick care.” Much of what I thought I knew was wrong, and I was nearly overwhelmed by what I didn’t know.
One benefit, though, was that while I was visiting my mom and staying in her house with her, I was much more aware of the varied aspects of her current lifestyle and how quickly it could potentially change. Too many of us live in denial and I would advocate waking up sooner rather than later when it comes to this topic.
The book I chose for the return trip was Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams, another
profoundly moving and deeply disturbing book. I confess that I almost turned to my Kindle for refuge in some lighthearted fiction, but the unique quality of traveling by train with its gift of relative isolation kept me glued to these subjects of depth. There are often so many distractions at home that making steady and rapid progress through difficult subject matter can be challenging.
At first glance, the blend of topics chosen by Williams — the art of mosaic, vanishing prairie dog towns, and African genocide — seemed bizarre. But since I’m a fan of this author’s work, I was determined to read the book. I found myself quickly falling under her spell, though my heart ached throughout the process of reading; I often needed to close the book and take some deep relaxing breaths before continuing. Even the style of writing is fragmented, a fitting example of how the author is trying to make sense of the world we have developed -- and damaged.

As I rode the train home to Tucson, I could feel myself to be fragmented — an angry witness to a broken medical system, a shard of pottery in rubble, a bleached bone. And yet, I choose to allow the anger to melt, I choose to soften into love. I choose to continue finding my own way to create a beautiful, healing mosaic out of my own life and the world around me, knowing that I am also a fragment in someone else's mosaic. 
My Nieces
P.S. There's something funky going on with the text in this post -- my apologies! 
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