Thinking

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Well, mostly earlier today, save these two, which were taken last week, in the same good company, however. A new friend, Jennifer, and I, out walking. Discussing that word, friend, how often it is tricky and not quite enough, sometimes too much.

In between oohing and aahing over the scent of pine and how damn lucky we are to live in THIS place, red stone and dust, spotted towhees, flowers, and giant gorgeous mountains peering over our shoulders, we shared the shorthand of memories, distillations of of selves more than forty years in the making. How did I come to be me in this instant?

Though we did not pose the question nearly as succinctly as that, it is a good one. How did I? I married young and made it last. The hubster is my very best friend. I knew when I was eight years old that I didn’t want children, and thank goodness because my body, strong and sometimes wicked dictator that it is, occasionally renders me helpless and tired and utterly and completely infertile. My wit is sharp, save when dulled by the hammer and illogic of depression. And siblings? Three, one of whom I no longer speak to. No, it is not sad. People always say that, but it’s not. One doesn’t encourage other people to stay in abusive relationships.

Though I love religious iconography and people who hide such treasures for me to find (squee!), I am not religious. Deeply spiritual, yes. In love with humanity, yes. Willing to do good, to give, to share, to help, yes, yes, YES!!

And what else, in this getting to know me phase? I love to walk and hike and bike, mostly in that order. I am an excellent baker and cook. A decent decorator. I love flowers and art and cerebral fil-ums. I devour good books and toss the rest aside. I cuss. I am a speed demon when entering the highway, first gear loud and thrumming, then go granny goose and take in the scenery. Was that a bird of prey I just saw? Let’s smell, touch, taste that. Let’s travel there. Turn right now, I wanna see where this goes. Do you hear that? Isn’t it amazing? Oh my goodness, aren’t we sooo lucky? We are alive now in THIS place!!

All Love

When I am thirsty, I gulp down water. I do not pause for breath, no matter the size of the glass. No matter if it dribbles down my chin and leaves me gasping for air. Satisfaction, happy at the sweet taste. Water. At first I thought this was a metaphor for my life – me lustily taking it all in, senses on high alert, music, trees, words, mountains, wildness overflowing from my lips. Sometimes, yes.

But I am also the sipper. I take a single drop, and it spreads like sunrise, small then big, big, bigger. I stop and crouch, examine the leaf, the rock, the blade of grass. I pick up the feather and watch it fall, a whole minute if I am lucky and the wind is right. And it is beautiful. The gulping and the savoring. They are the same, really, all love.

Puzzle Time

Working a puzzle of the great city of Philadelphia two nights ago. It’s that time of year! Though we are delinquents who failed to keep in touch, the happy memory of puzzling with our Portland friends, Dan and Kristin, is as bright and clear as yesterday: the four of us huddled over one or the other of our dining room tables, sipping something boozy, the hi-fi whirring and punctuated by the sound of laughter and voices chatting merrily about every little thing.

It has been a wonderful few days, my melancholy about the state of the world tamped by the beauty of those nearest to me. I enjoyed a long stretch in the kitchen, making soup and my annual batch of fudge, roasting vegetables, and baking cookies for neighbors and my first ever exchange. The swap was at my friend Kelly’s, and it was a grand time, a room full of kind and generous women of all ages, each of us merry in our own way, feasting on sweet and savory treats, and glad to be together.

I have been helping clean out my neighbor’s house over the past few months, eighty plus years of trinkets, treasures, and trash. Though everyone laughs with incredulity when I say it, I rather enjoy it, the searching, the organizing, the discovering, and find myriad ways, both intentional and unexpected, to make it fun. It mostly involves me being silly and laughing loudly at the great company of my dear friend Peggy, one of the finest and most delightful women I have ever had the pleasure to know. We stumble upon treasures that remind us of our childhoods, our mothers, grandmothers, and friends. We find the weird, the wacky, the sad. It is all good.

And the weather! Eeek. Dare I say how nice it has been here? Crisp and bracing, with many sunny sky days and starry nights (I think we saw the space station whizzing above last night!), a little rain here, a little rain there, and overall quite nice. My Portland friends have been inundated with a flood of rain, all safe and dry last I heard. My Colorado friends snow came and quickly went, as it tends to do. Hoping our other weather shoe doesn’t drop with a menace but a wee tremble instead, a slow hush of giant flakes. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

 

We got up early Sunday morning, before the sun, but not because we were pressed for time. Despite walking for more than four hours on Saturday, and going to sleep late, we’d had enough rest. A luxury. To be away from the million and one needful things that mire us at home to a million and one possibilities, what to do next? As is often the case, we chose art and nature.

This is Griffis Sculpture Park, more than 250 sculptures tucked away on 450 acres of parkland. It is art, in large part, that has to be earned, via curving backroads, pathways snarled with tree roots and rocks and twigs, up grassy slopes and under tree branches, a glimpse across a pond or a massive field of goldenrod, positively alive and singing with bees, crickets, cicadas, too.

It was a fine end to the weekend, and it got me thinking, about luxury and choices and how we arrive where we are. Our airbnb was beautifully utilitarian, with chipped edges, cracked tops, and strategically placed objects hiding all the worn out places. And yet, it was perfect and ever so lovely, not only for the inventiveness of our host’s decorating choices, we need not toss the imperfect aside, but for the fact that every comfort was considered. A fan next to the bed, nicely scented toiletries, a fantastic cast iron frying pan, a sweet kettle, boxes of tea, tins of coffee, a fine coffee pot, beautiful pottery from which to sip. Then there was the thoughtfully curated collection of books and art (many painted by our host), ever so much lining the walls. We don’t need new and shiny to feel luxury. We need love and care.

When we lived in Portland and had owned our Subaru wagon for more than a decade, friends kept asking us when we were going to replace it. It’s so old! Scratched! Dinged! But, we argued, it was a great color, long paid for, ran beautifully, and got great gas mileage. And, without a car payment, we had more money to spend on what matters to us, like travel.

The hubster and I are often gently reprimanded or told “it must be nice” to travel so frequently, and, to be quite honest, it really, really is. That being said, we’ve earned it! We save like the dickens and forgo a lot of expenses that many people deem necessary. We don’t have cable (but do have Netflix); own one car; don’t get manicures, pedicures, or color our hair (never have, and it’s getting very grey up there!); have a pay for what we use phone plan; don’t eat out a lot; don’t drink a lot (but it’s still plenty); and the biggest of all, chose not to have children. None of this feels burdensome or sacrificial, either. It feels right and good and perfect, actually. But if you start tallying expenses, say just for cable, even a cheap plan can run about $600 a year. That’s two weekends of travel for us, one if were splurging. It adds up!

Maybe it’s the fact that though I grew up poor, I rarely felt it. I never had a lot, but I always had enough. I kept clean (a bath every three days, whether I needed it or not!), had dolls and stuffed animals and a near-infinite collection of library books to keep me company, a tidy room, great food, a park to play in, and friends nearby. Yet there were people in my same position and even some who were better off who were perennially sullen and angry characters, cheated by their lot. They were constantly embarrassed, by their parents, their cars, the houses they lived in, their clothes, their shoes, all they did not possess. It was a terrible poverty of mind.

It never made sense to me, and it still doesn’t because I am of the mind that I’ve got the whole world, and if I don’t embrace it, I will never have more.

Flat out. Yeah. I’m going to talk about privilege and race.

I grew up mostly poor in a family of six. My Dad worked at Coors, driving a forklift, all the days I can remember of my childhood and well into my adulthood, too, graveyard then swing shift, weekends, holidays, sometimes even Christmas, double time and a half! My Mom stayed home to take care of us kids, running a tight ship of laundry, cooking, cleaning, and assigning chores. Everything was based on economy and thrift: the house kept cold, sharing baths and bath water, owning one car, and not dining out – save a precious few occasions I can count on one hand.

We bought only what we could afford and when we could afford it, never before. A trip to the grocery store was a serious endeavor, made every two weeks, shopping on my Dad’s pay day, with us watching like hawks for the mail truck to come trundling down our street before dashing off to the bank and hoping for candy from the teller, then heading to the store with our massive list. We had coupons for everything possible, shopped the King Soopers ad, bought off-brands and generics, compared prices (per ounce, per piece!), scrimped and saved, the cart unwieldy and piled high when we arrived at the checkout.

People tried to make us feel less than, making sure to whisper loud enough that they bet we used food stamps, my Mom eyeing them proudly when she wrote a check (which never bounced) for what is still an astonishing amount of money, usually around $200. I calculate now. Two hundred dollars, divided by fourteen days, divided by our household of six: $2.39 a day for each person, plus one cat. Hear those dollars s t r e t c h.

Yet there was always enough and sometimes more, for simple pleasures, mostly, homemade cookies and dessert, picnics and drives to the mountains, swimming in streams and the local pool; for discounted movie matinees, and three family vacations, all of us crammed in the car – to Missouri, to New Mexico, and grander than grand, Arizona and California just before I entered high school. Another source of more, and to whom I owe a sincere debt of gratitude, is my dearly departed and marvelously generous Great Aunt Mary, without whom there would hardly have been gifts at Christmas.

The moment I was old enough to work, I did. First babysitting, at age twelve, then fast food, bussing tables and waitressing, answering telephones. With the money I made, I bought my own car, paid my own insurance, and bought the majority of my clothes and essentials. Somehow I managed to be an honor student, too. My goodness, the fortitude of youth.

And yet, when I think about all I personally endured, all we managed to be and have and overcome as a family, we were very privileged: my dad had a steady job with insurance (though not enough to pay for braces, forcing me to wait until I was grown), enabling us to make choices, to have a house, to disguise our poverty with new school clothes. We could have been black or Latino or fresh from Laos and motherless, like my dear friend Sengfong, and there is no hiding that, unless you are a Wayans brother in a ridiculous fil-um.

What would have happened the time I was pulled over by the police, in my own neighborhood, for driving suspiciously (bored and slow was how I described it), were I a girl of a different skin color? Or my sister, caught drunk in seventh grade? How often would I have had police question me merely for walking down the street?

It saddens and frustrates me, especially when I think about people I know. The boy at my school, bright and funny and with the most dazzling smile, a darker brown than his sister, harassed for that mere fact. Another boy, tiny and ever so kind, born in Laos, picked on in the locker room, probably by people I called friends. I never found out. My gay friend, who had to pretend to like girls. My friend and perfectly upstanding citizen, who made more money than me, shadowed every time she shopped in department stores. Another friend whose father said she could never date a black boy. It simply was not done, ever. Tragic. Frustrating. Nonsensical.

I am grateful that I was not taught by my parents to hate or judge based strictly upon race, class, or appearance. But since I am human, I cannot claim to be without bias, or as Louis CK calls it, mildly racist (before going down a weird rabbit hole). Just like him, I wish I didn’t see the black man in a hoodie and notice a mutual nervousness before our fears dissolve in a smile.

I wish the bias didn’t go the other way, too. Like when people of color say they are surprised because I actually seem to care, or find it hard to believe that my parents weren’t wealthy and didn’t buy me my first car. Or black women who HATE white women who date black men but give a “You go girl!” to black women who date white men. What?! Also cringe worthy, when my friend, upon meeting the mother of a boy she knew, got the receiving end of a tirade that included, “I hate you white people!” Barack Obama talked about being offended by white people who locked their car doors because they saw him walking down the street and the commenter on NPR who assumes white women clutch their purse and move to the other side of the elevator when he enters solely because he is black. Gentlemen (and sometimes ladies), it’s not always that simple! My dad grew up poor in a bad neighborhood, and I have watched enough television and read enough fact and fiction to fill my head with every possible scenario, including being car jacked, robbed, raped, and mutilated while alone with a stranger in a soundproof box. I don’t care about skin color, what you look like, how friendly you are, or how you are dressed. I’m looking out for my own bad self because Ted Bundy!! Just sayin’.

Oh, and one last bit, on on the word thug. You are a thug if you wilfully harm an innocent person, especially while wearing a uniform. You are a thug if you rob or loot. You are a thug if you wilfully harm peaceful protesters. You are a thug if you wilfully destroy someone else’s property in anger or protest. You are a thug if you wilfully destroy property in celebration of your favorite sports team. Please don’t be a thug.

Instead, be the change you wish to see in the world, my friends. Be the change.

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