A Mother’s Intuition and 9/11

9/11 and mother's intuition

A happier vacation moment.

Like everyone else on September 11, 2001, where we were and what we were doing is locked into our memories. My family’s experience that day served to remind me that a mother’s intuition can be more powerful than the electronic devices we normally use to stay in touch.

My husband’s brother enjoyed taking our kids on short educational vacations. It was his way of contributing to their homeschool experiences while also indulging in his own love of history. For a few days that week in September he took two of our sons, then ages eight and eleven, on a learning-intensive trip from our Ohio home to Washington, D.C. He enjoyed fully documenting these trips. He took lots of photos and videos, bought commemorative items, collected every possible brochure, and had the kids call home at least twice each day to report on all they were doing. He always left a left a clear itinerary for us to follow.

On September 11th their agenda included the Pentagon and the White House.

At home with our other two children, I rhapsodized about the blue skies and lovely weather, calling it a “perfect day.” No intuition there. I wasn’t aware of the terrorist attacks until a friend called, telling me to turn on the television. I had no idea what he was talking about and asked what channel. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s on every channel.”

The moment I saw footage of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers I felt sure that there would be more devastation in more places. I phoned my brother-in-law immediately. I wanted to tell him two things. First, abort the trip, but drive home away from major population centers (I felt sure other cities would be under attack). And second, listen to the radio infrequently as possible so my boys wouldn’t be alarmed by the media coverage.

As I dialed, reports flooded in that a second plane had hit the towers. My call didn’t go through. I reached my husband at work but still couldn’t get through to my brother-in-law. My mother-in-law, who also had a copy of their itinerary, was frantic. She became even more frantic when the Pentagon was attacked. My husband left work and spent the day with her, trying to calm her fears and, like me, trying to reach his brother.

By now Flight 93 had turned over our area of Ohio. It was heading for a collision course with the White House until passengers seized control of the plane and it went down in a remote area of Pennsylvania. Three places hit. The media kept speculating about other cities under potential attack. Our phone kept ringing.

Every time a friend or family member called to discuss the unfolding horrors, I told them I needed to get off the phone in hopes my brother-in-law might get through. And each time they reacted with a great deal more alarm than I felt. Suddenly they knew two little boys who very well might have been at the Pentagon when it was attacked and who were still unaccounted for on this tragic day.

Their reactions, which should have increased my anxiety, didn’t. Although I was as overwhelmed as anyone by what felt like a day out of time, I was completely sure that my sons and their uncle were fine. I knew my brother-in-law would rise to the crisis. This wasn’t in keeping with my worry-prone personality but something, maybe a mother’s intuition, told me they were safe and would be home. Each time I talked to my husband we assured each other that our boys would be fine. I tried to talk to my mother-in-law but she could only cry on the phone. Even before I heard from my missing family members, I began to fear that my country might retaliate and more lives would be lost.

Hours dragged by. Each time we tried to call my brother-in-law we got the same recorded message: “all circuits are busy.”

It wasn’t until late that afternoon, more than six hours after the first attack of 9/11, that we finally heard from my brother-in-law. He’d found a pay phone and managed to get a call through, landline to landline. The connection wasn’t good but it was clear they were safe, on the road, and would be driving until they made it back.

 When they got home we heard our children’s experience of 9/11. The boy’s first choice of the day had been the White House. They emerged from the metro and started walking as a full evacuation seemed to be underway. People in business clothes were running full tilt from office buildings. Officers with squawking radios were everywhere. So they turned around, got back on the now jammed metro, and made their way very slowly back to the hotel before setting off for the long trip home. The boys tried unsuccessfully to talk their uncle into letting them swim first.
~~~

It wasn’t until they were much older that my boys understood the tragic magnitude of 9/11. Their memories have more to do with a trip cut short, a crowded metro, and very serious grown-ups. Their uncle never gave them videos or pictures from that trip either. If only we could unmake a day that easily.

Summer Day at Huntington Beach

poem, Lake Erie shore

Summer Day at Huntington Beach

 

I tick with alarm clock worry.

My sister is afraid of nothing.

Not the dark or death or

Jay Preslan down the street

who pushes kids in front of cars.

 

Look at her run into the water

while I stand squinting.

She doesn’t pinch her nose

to dive under. Doesn’t pause

before splashing back

strange splashing kids. Doesn’t heed

the lifeguard’s megaphoned warning

to stay away from the ropes.

 

Lake Erie grabs at the shore,

slurps it greedily in foaming waves.

I picture monstrous goggly-eyed fish

lurking under the pier,

ships skudded in the depths,

lost sailors forever unburied.

I inhale the curved scent

of suntan lotion, clench my toes

in the sand, stand still. Far out,

bobbing in foil-bright waves,

my sister is another being entirely,

straining at the boundary ropes

trying to see all the way to Canada.

 

Originally published by Silver Birch Press.  Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

Playground Insurrection, National Divisiveness

National divisiveness like a playground rebellion.

Image by taffmeister

I was a good elementary school student. I wrote neatly and did my work on time. Year after year, teachers seated me next to badly behaving students to be an insufferably good example (although one of them then and still today inspires me). I went to school with kids very much like myself — safe, nurtured, suburban kids who had every reason to believe “work hard and you can be anything” was true.  We were also, as schoolkids tend to be, crazily bored and itching to play.

One day, something erupted as recess ended. Although disenchanted with our oh-so-tedious blacktop playground, no one wanted to go back inside when the playground monitor’s whistle blew. Somehow an insurrection was stirring.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I’d been waiting in line for a turn on the swings with my equally bored friends. As we reluctantly gave up to go inside, we saw some kids closest to the building  milling around instead of lining up. More and more kids began to do the same thing. A strange muttering seemed to rise in the air with dangerously enticing energy. Just breathing made it spread. I worked my way slightly closer to the front to see the teacher, whose yelling could barely be heard, abruptly turn and go inside.

This was unheard of. We’d never been left alone on the playground, not ever. The strange energy around us gained force. It felt like power, the sort of power kids never get. Then the principal, Mr. Page, stepped out. He was new to our school and didn’t know our names. He issued a stern command. I couldn’t make it out. He tried again. I still didn’t hear him, but even to a rule-follower like me it didn’t matter. A sense of our own power had fermented into intoxication.

Someone behind me pushed. Someone next to me pushed. Soon everyone, at least near me, started to push. It might be argued that kids were pushing each other to line up as we’d surely been ordered to do. But oh, oh my oh my, it was heady. And yes, I pushed too. It felt ancient and tidal, this pushing, as if we were caught up in something larger than ourselves. I got a glimpse of Mr. Page backed up to the brick wall, kids in front pushed against him by kids in back. His expression was one of utter surprise.

I usually write about moments of aliveness in an entirely positive sense, but this was aliveness too. The playground insurrection lasted no more than a few minutes. Everyone ended up marching indoors in abject chagrin. Every single child was punished by no recess for at least a week.  I’ve forgotten if the revolt’s instigators were identified and got more serious punishments. What I remember is utterly abandoning myself to the sheer thrill of pushing. Stuck in routines, little control over what was expected of us, we may have been expressing  a  form of play that’s been called ilinx.

Sociologist Roger Caillois defined it as a category of games

“…based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.”

Melissa Dahl explains in the New York Magazine that ilinx is a “French word for ‘the ‘strange excitement’ of wanton destruction.'”  She likens it to the way cats seem drawn to knock things over. Ilinx can be the mild thrill of intentionally slapping an empty water bottle off your desk or the rapturous state brought on by whirling, as mystics do in the Sema ritual (inspired by the poet Rumi).

Our playground insurrection might also have been a taste of mob mentality. Psychologist Tamara Avant defines it this way.

“When people are part of a group, they often experience deindividuation, or a loss of self-awareness. When people deindividuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.”

Mob mentality doesn’t have to be a negative thing. People participate in it when they stand up and yell at a sporting event. It’s also found in peace rallies and sit-ins, and has quite a bit to do with what’s called wisdom of the crowd.

Whether ilinx or mob mentality, on that long-ago playground my fellow students and I were just tired of being told we had to stop playing. We didn’t hate our teachers. We didn’t hate art class or gym or each other. We just wanted to express our frustration. We were, for the moment, having fun with opposition.

This may not be the best analogy, but I’m coming to think that the nomination of a man completely unsuited to become president of the United States is evidence of something similar.  I’m not for a moment dismissing how dangerous a Trump presidency would be to the peaceful functioning of our still young, still not always morally upstanding democracy.  Nor am I dismissing the obvious frustration of his supporters. I’m simply saying we need to stop pushing each other. We’re got more in common than we think we do.

A University of Maryland study compared Republican and Democratic congressional districts. In ten separate polls, people were asked 388 questions on what are considered highly partisan topics including abortion, gun control, and taxation. No statistical differences were found between red and blue areas.

For example, the Democratic party staunchly opposes cuts to the safety net and the GOP staunchly opposes revenue increases. However, the study reports, “when respondents were asked to make up their own federal budget, there were only slight differences between respondents in red and blue districts.”

There was also no polarization found in topics such as immigration, climate change, health care reform, marijuana laws, and globalized trade. In an article titled, “Hopelessly Divided? Think Again,”  Bill Moyers points out major areas of agreement found in the study.

  • Climate change. Americans’ concern about global warming is at an eight-year high, with a record 65 percent of us now blaming human activity for rising temperatures.
  • Gun control. Eighty-five percent of Americans — including large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats — favor closing gun-sale loopholes by enforcing background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows.
  • Our federal tax system. Six in 10 of us believe that upper-income Americans do not pay enough in taxes, while 82 percent are bothered — either “some” or “a lot” — that corporations are not paying their fair tax share.
  • The influence of big business. More than three-quarters of Americans believe that large corporations and a few rich people wield excessive and unfair power in this country. A whopping 71 percent of Americans across the political spectrum believe that the economy is rigged in favor of a few special interests.
  • Special interests’ influence in our political institutions. Eighty-four percent of Americans think that money has too much influence in elections. Nearly 8 in 10 favor limits on both raising and spending money in congressional campaigns. Meanwhile, 78 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, want to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that further opened the floodgates to corporate campaign spending, including spending from undisclosed sources.

Yes there are real divides on pivotal issues but let’s not forget we are in this together. Enough with the pushing already.

 

 

 

Remind Me To Enunciate

speak clearly lest you be misunderstood

I don’t normally chat about my movie preferences without being asked, but recently a neighbor walked over with our Netflix envelope in hand.  It had mistaken arrived in his mailbox. I thanked him cheerfully, saying we still get DVDs mailed because my husband and I watch a lot of foreign films that are otherwise unavailable.

That innocuous sentence instantly wrought some sort of reaction. He turned his head ever so slightly to the right, his eyes looking up as if confused. I’m pretty sure his nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. Then the charming older gentleman said carefully, “I didn’t know those were available on Netflix.”

Something was indefinably weird about our conversation but I had no idea what it might be. I assured him, in a far more cheery voice than usual, that we’re particularly fond of films from France, Denmark, and Sweden.

There was a long pause. I’d uttered two sentences about our fondness for foreign films and he was reacting as if I’d revealed a highly personal secret.  He looked at the plain red envelope and said nothing. His discomfort must have been downright contagious because I tossed in one more sentence, hoping to find some closure to the topic so I could say goodbye and retreat. I said, “Some people really hate subtitles but it’s totally worth it.”

Understanding broke out on his face like a rash. A red rash. He said, “Oh, foreign films.”

Then my face turned red. I speak with what we in upper Ohio consider to be no accent at all and it didn’t occur to me that he’d misunderstood. But he had. He thought I’d said my husband and I watch a lot of porn films.

The moral of the story? Enunciate!

(If you’re feeling kind enough to ease my embarrassment, please share a tale about a misunderstanding you’ve reacted to or caused…)

Spinning Straw Into Gold

laughing at adversity, it's all good,

Anne Anderson Wikimedia Commons

Annoyances seem to come with lessons built in, at least around here.

I trundle down the basement steps clutching piles of wet jeans so I can hang them close to our wood burning furnace, saving a bit of propane our clothes dryer might have used.  That seems like a farce when we discover a fitting on the propane tank has been leaking, letting hundreds of dollars worth of gas drift away in an ecologically irresponsible manner.

We have fresh milk, butter, and cheese thanks to our cow Isabelle. We avoid calculating if we’re actually saving money this way, but it’s obvious when it costs us. Like now, when we couldn’t harvest a single bale of hay last summer due to flooded fields. These days we have to buy each mouthful of hay she eats in exchange for the food she provides us.

What I can’t grow and preserve myself, I like to get in bulk from a natural foods co-op. It helps us afford organic food. But not when I find grain moths in my 25 pound container of buckwheat groats. Guess the chickens get buckwheat added to their diets and my kids won’t have to complain about pancakes the color of wet cardboard.

Sometimes I’m tempted to indulge in a Rumpelstiltskin-like tantrum. I don’t want to hear about the money we need to fix a tractor. I don’t want to clean a pile of dog puke or stay up late to meet another deadline or deal with unspeakably stinky laundry. I’d like the straw of everyday annoyances to turn into gold.

But then I pay attention.

Right now two of my sons are sitting by the fireplace talking and laughing with their father. My daughter is coming in from the barn, snow melting on her hair and on the bucket of eggs she’s carrying. The small dogs are wrestling at my feet while our old German shepherd rolls over to avoid watching such unruliness. It’s all perfect — exactly as it is. My socks still have holes, the window molding is unfinished, there are muddy footprints by the door. But none of that matters.

This is golden.

A 2012 throwback post from our farm site

Making Whole

reconnecting,

The garment is worn out. There are only a few stalwart threads stretched across, warp without woof, and its fibers are surely too frazzled to hold up.

A reasonable person would have tossed it out or torn it into rags. But here I am, strangely peaceful as I thread the needle hoping to weave these strands back into a whole fabric.

Before drawing my stitches across the expanse I realize its boundaries must be reinforced. I sew a merry line around the edge, reinforce it with another line of stitching and then another. The jagged edge looks a bit like the borders around a state or map of a continent. Sewing is a contemplative endeavor and this small task gets me thinking.

I’ve never been great at establishing boundaries. By the time I was nine years old I read every newspaper and magazine that entered our house. My parents cancelled news magazine subscriptions because my childish reaction to what I saw on those pages was too raw. I still read about suffering in the morning newspaper. I still asked questions about  war, poverty, prejudice, cruelty, and greed — unsatisfied with answers like “God’s ways are mysterious.” I wanted to understand how grown-ups could let these things happen, how they couldn’t see. I wanted to understand all the way down to the mystery itself.

As a much smaller child I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was too large to describe, but I’ll try. In it could see life on Earth from a vantage point far above. Cars hurried along on roads, people lived in closed-off rectangles, everyone urged onward by a desperation that — from my dream vantage point — was tragic and absurd. They couldn’t hear me but I wanted to shout “It’s not real!” I’d wake up nearly gasping with horror.

Slowly I’d muster up the courage to run through the dark hallway to my parent’s room. My mother slept through any disturbance. Only my father would wake. He’d get up quietly, take me to the bathroom, and tuck me back into bed. On the nights when my misery wouldn’t go away, I’d brave that dark hallway again and my dad would let me sleep between them. Their bodies, heavy with sleep, helped to calm me.

Sometimes my father would try to parse the dream by asking me about it. I’d cry, “Everybody thinks it’s real, but it’s not.” And he’d try to explain it away, the way he did with my zoo dream, where animals burst from their cages to live behind garages and in back yards —- sadly unable to get back to their real homes. “Their cages are strong,” he’d say. “And they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” His words didn’t help. His presence did.

I’ve been a grown-up for a long time now. I spend too much time rushing around in my car and busy in my own rectangle as if this is what’s important, no greater  perspective in sight.

But my task right now is to stitch across the threads. Draw what’s pulled apart back together. Appreciate the needle’s strength and the thread’s purpose. Imagine it can be made a whole fabric. In a larger sense, there’s no other choice.

beyond boundaries

I Live in Dichotomy House

bull steer

I’m standing at the kitchen counter rolling out crust to make an entrée my son wants for his birthday. Beef pies. They won’t be filled with just any beef, but the tender flesh of a two-year-old steer named Clovis who spent his whole life on our little farm. It’s hard to reconcile my feelings with the facts. Right now I’m dicing the brisket, a place where Clovis liked to be scratched.

Years ago my daughter made an excellent case for raising a dairy cow as a learning experience for her and homegrown way for us to procure healthy grassfed milk we could turn into yogurt, kefir, and cheese. On her birthday we gave her a red halter and soon after we got a lovely Guernsey. Isabelle changed her life. All our lives

The spring that Isabelle gave birth to her first bull calf was another game-changer. Initially I tried to delude myself that little Dobby  could be trained to work as an ox or that we could find him a place in some farm animal sanctuary. Delusions they were indeed. Our only option was to raise him for a year or two, knowing all our hand-fed carrots and apples couldn’t forestall his eventual fate.

When he was small my daughter halter-trained him, leading him out the pasture gate to fresh grass. Even later, at 1,600 pounds, he followed her just as future steers would do. Long before they had to leave, she wisely insured they’d be calm and unafraid for the day they’d be led to the truck taking them away.

It’s a hard truth indeed to realize that calves who love to be brushed, calves who cavort in exultation when the gate to a fresh pasture is opened, calves who are clearly attached to the mother who birthed them and continues to care for them, cannot live out their natural lifespans. We consoled ourselves knowing that at least here our steers lived every day of their lives with their mother, grazing and nursing in peace until the last day they breathed. And that Isabelle could live out her natural lifespan, more than three times longer than dairy cows are typically permitted in the U.S. This is rare, almost unheard of, on today’s farms.

But I veer from my point. (This veering is a chronic problem of mine.)

My scruples once ruled. My children were raised on vegetarian food made from scratch. I used to be pretty darn strident about this. Heck, I used to be pretty strident about all sorts of things, from education to politics. My scruples haven’t changed, at least I think they haven’t, but my ability to live with dichotomy has.

Maybe it was precipitated by that not-so-great dinner of bean patties with buckwheat groats and mushroom gravy, but at this point three out of four of my offspring now include meat in their diets. (Yes friends, it’s true, our dictates don’t inform our kids’ choices. ) My husband once ate meat only at restaurants and other people’s houses because I couldn’t bear to have the flesh of once-living creatures in our home. Then he became a hunter. People dear to me quite happily flourish on the opposite end of the political spectrum and I do my (sometimes faltering) best to establish common ground, because really, every one of us wants the same things —-among them the freedom to live in safety, do what enhances our lives, and find meaning in our everyday activities. People dear to me also raise their children very differently than I’ve chosen, from sleep training to stringently academic schooling to tough love.

Every year I’ve learned more about accepting, even embracing, differing viewpoints. It’s not easy. There’s plenty of kvetching, from me and surely from the people who do their best to put up with me. This is a very big deal. It’s the foundation of peace, the only possible way forward for our species.

I slice up the very flesh I once lavished with rubs and scratches,  then I roll out dough (yes, with whole grain flour) because my son hopes I’ll try the Cornish Pasty recipe he showed me. (For vegetarian family members, I make spinach pies that are refreshingly free of contradictions.)

I have no philosophy that fully explains this contradiction. But I try to stay awake and aware as I make food for someone I love out of the flesh of an animal I once loved. I reflect sorrowfully that, since last spring, we have no cattle at all on our back pasture. I’m sure I miss those mindful beings far less than my daughter must.

I wash the wooden cutting board, wipe the counters, and consider how complicated and paradoxical life is. We live on life, pass from life, and life goes on. I don’t know what to make of it except to rationalize a second glass of wine.

Toes Making A Fist

Toddler shoes so classic they're now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

Toddler shoes so classic they’re now on eBay. (image: JuneeMoonVintage)

There was an era when stiff white baby shoes were de rigur. Parents were assured their children’s feet wouldn’t develop properly without them. This was before the Internet, so it wasn’t easy to disprove industry lobbyists’ advertising campaigns, women’s magazine articles, and mainstream doctors repeating all the same falsehoods.

But my husband and I, being freethinkers, believed barefoot must surely be nature’s perfect design, so we didn’t get our first child shoes until he was nearly two. Grandparents on both sides muttered about our poor unshod child wearing hand-knit socks in the winter. When we finally broke down, we broke down completely, and ended up buying those same little white shoes.  (Freethinkers? Not so much.)

We knew we’d made a mistake. The shoes cost approximately the same as our weekly grocery budget. They seemed to cause our child to fall more often and made his gait somewhat awkward, so we put them on him infrequently.  The sound of those shoes clumping on the floor brought back memories, I swear, of wearing similar shoes when I was small except that mine had maddening little bells attached. <shakes fist on behalf of toddler selfhood>

We were determined to get more flexible footwear when we took our child to get his second pair a few months later. We eased his little feet out of the white baby shoes and the shoe salesman checked sizing on one of those metal measurers unique to shoe stores. (The term is Brannock Device, I looked it up.)

This time, we insisted on a soft pair of sneakers. The salesman knelt, put the shoes on, laced them up, and asked our little boy to walk in them. Our sweetie did as he was told. I don’t know if he he’d been wearing shoes he’d outgrown or if the new shoes finally fit his wide feet, but he took a few tentative steps and a big smile slid across his face. He said clearly, with the wonder of the newly liberated, “My toes don’t have to make a fist any more!”

The phrase has remained a family joke even though that toddler is now a young man (still with feet so wide they’re hard to fit). Each time I hear it I cringe to think of the pain his poor crunched up toes must have been in. And it continues to remind me that children, especially young children, can’t always tell us something is wrong. They accommodate as best they can to a tight fit, to falls, to an awkward gait, even to !#*! bells that jingle at every step.

Children accommodate to all sorts of things. That’s why we’re not aware they’re suffering from chronic headaches (as my daughter did) or meekly compliant around a babysitter who hits (as my friend’s son was) or have to battle rats that get in their bedrooms at night (as a child in our neighborhood did). We have no idea why it seems they’ve become clingy, whiny, or unreasonable.  Sometimes we can’t see any change in their behavior at all.

It’s a blessed relief when we’re finally able to figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we make it better.

Let’s remember to be on the lookout out for anything in our children’s lives that forces them to accommodate  to misery.  Let’s keep a look out for constriction and pain in our own lives too.

kids can't tell us what's wrong

I’d love to hear your own “toes making a fist” stories.

 

Sideways Procrastination

Procrastinating by accomplishing other things.

Tipping over in 1, 2, 3.   vintag.es/2015/02/a-list-of-donts-for-women-on-bicycles.html

Several very large deadlines lurk on my horizon. Instead of clicking into high gear to get going I’m barely pedaling fast enough to keep from tipping over. The more I excoriate myself for falling behind, the farther I fall behind. I could easily blame this on chronic insomnia or existential angst or a nasty case of what-the-hell-did-I-get-myself-into. Blame, however, is useless for motivation purposes.

I was raised with the Puritan ethic: work hard, be polite at all costs, and avoid the unspeakably vile sin of laziness. Yet I’ve come to believe it’s in our do-nothing moments, like lying in the grass watching the clouds stroll by, that we most truly inhabit our lives. This probably explains why two tigers, named Full Tilt and Full Stop, tend to snarl at each other in my mind. I compromise to keep those tigers at bay.

I do this by letting myself be lured by the call of other things I want to do, things that suddenly seem delightful in comparison to the things I have to do. Here are a few examples.

  1. When I agreed to help a non-profit streamline their mission statement, I stalled by reorganizing kitchen cupboards.
  2. When I committed to editing a dissertation on organizational differences in international companies, I put it off by planting a few dozen strawberry plants and weeding the asparagus bed.
  3. Heck,  a few years ago when I was supposed to be editing an anthology, I dawdled by writing poetry. That turned into a whole poetry collection!

This, my friends, is what I call Sideways Procrastination.

The practice is weirdly energizing. For rationalization purposes, I tell myself that by doing something amusingly unrelated I’ll return to the task I’m avoiding with a fresh outlook and enhanced enthusiasm. I’m not sure it works that way, but it’s my operating excuse.

Here are three of my recent Sideways Procrastination endeavors.

 

One

My dear friend and filmmaker Susan took me along on her latest adventure, filming Artocade in Trinidad Colorado.

Artocade art car festival 2015, Trinidad Colorago

Here are a few of the amazing entries in Artocade 2015.

To send her a small token of my thanks, I turned a toy truck into a toy art truck. Gluing baubles and beads was play to me,  and play, as we all know, rejuvenates the spirit 

tiny art car, er, truck

 

Two

I dug around in the sewing supplies left to me by my mother and grandmother for a project. I turned an unused piece of red satin,  an old white sheet, and lots of vintage notions into a Red Riding Hood costume for Liv.  It was challenging (especially turning a tiny scrap of quilted fabric into a vest) and it was fun.

vintage notions, Red Riding Hood costume

 

 

Three

My daughter and I invited a few arty friends over for a Day of the Dead art party complete with skull painting, Barbie head alterations, finger cookies, and shrunken head punch. Preparations were a blast, the event was even blastier. ((I know “blastier isn’t a word but it should be.)

dead of the dead art party

 

Many people seem to be great at focusing, but I’m not. I’ve got to sidle up to a task, peek around, and then break in burglar-style.  Sometimes that approach works and the marvelous state of flow settles over me. Often it doesn’t and I find myself escaping into more Sideways Procrastination.

Chances are good that right now I’m in the kitchen concocting something fussy for dinner, or outside hauling something around in our old blue wheelbarrow, or curled on the couch reading a book I promised to review. I’m doing this even though I should be at my desk clattering away on the keyboard. What can I say? It’s just what Sideways Procrastinators do.

Everyone Is A Poet

everyone is a poet

When people tell me their largest stories I am helpless as a page under pen.

A woman told me how, as a child of 11, she struck out when her grandparents were ignored rather than served at a restaurant in the deep South. Her anger was so heated that she used the restaurant’s complementary matches to start the place on fire.

It wasn’t entirely the content of the memory or the force in her voice. It was the way she strung words together; spare yet detailed. She talked about her grandmother’s arthritic hands picking up and putting down a salt shaker. She described her grandmother’s dark green dress and sensible heels, the patient smile she wore even though no one came to take their order. Before this raised-up-North granddaughter could utter a word of complaint she was shushed by her grandmother’s stern look. As her grandparents stood to go the girl ducked into the cloakroom and in seconds set to smoldering the hair oil soaked fedoras left there by white gentlemen. Of the fire she said little, except that the restaurant was forced to turn everyone away that day.

A teen described how, when he was a small child, his mother got so strung out that she’d leave him alone for days at a time.

He ended most sentences with “you hear me” and “wasn’t nothing” as he talked about licking his fingers before running them along the insides of drawers and cupboards to find crumbs. He said his mother got angry if she caught him sleeping curled next to the apartment door. She’d yell “I didn’t raise no dog.” When his story ended a refrain continued. He said “wasn’t nothing” four times, each repetition softer until his moving lips made no sound at all.

An elderly woman recounted the story of union busters coming by their cabin at supper time to beat up her father, who’d been organizing his fellow coal miners.

She didn’t recognize her own family any longer but vividly remembered this tale from her earliest years. Her words were impressions. I saw her mother standing fearfully at the door insisting her husband wasn’t home, children clustered behind her wide-mouthed with alarm. I envisioned this little girl with the presence of mind to hide her father’s dinner dishes. “Just laid em in the stove with a cloth over,” she said. When the men barged in they found only enough place settings for mother and children on the table. They left, never looking under the porch where her father hid. She had no other stories left to tell. This one was large enough for a lifetime.

Not only do I feel what they’re saying, I’m awestruck by how they say it.

When people talk about extremes they’ve experienced they speak as poets do. They rely on verbal shorthand made up of sensory description and metaphor. They drift from past to present, change viewpoints, dip into myth and scripture. Often they end abruptly, as if what they’re trying to say can’t truly be said. Their stories, powerful already, gain a sort of beauty that sends ordinary language aloft. It’s truth that trembles. To me, it’s poetry.

 

This essay first published in Poet’s Quarterly.