Archive for July, 2018


The truth is I am an aggregation of lovely bones cunningly festooned with living meat intent on remaining motile to some glorious end .  I could make a final resolution to this puzzlement of being me, but think what I would miss.  There are so many anthems to sing, books to read, so many writing prompts to coax into magnificent bloom.  How could I just stop?  My grandmother Minnie Mae used to moan, “I wish I had ever-thin’ done.”  She said this, rubbing her old hurting hands, like a blessing or maybe a curse on all the things she intended to do, wanted to do, must surely do before this day’s sun set over the calf pasture.  Then she would heave herself up from her wobbly wired-together rocker and head out to the woodpile for an armful of kindling.  Mornings were for serious chopping, splitting the rough oak logs into pieces that stood a chance of fitting into her cookstove.  Men, once here, now gone, men with hard muscle that could man either end of a crosscut, had cut logs into stove length rounds, stacked to wait for splitting, then stacked again to wait for carrying to hearth and stove.  As day followed day, the logs, rounds, splits, and even kindling disappeared, ferried into the house to cook and comfort.  Minnie Mae could never declare ever-thin’ done as long as there was still wood waiting for her.  Her wood.  The coin of her existence.


I only knew Minnie Mae Reynolds Martin as a grouchy old woman who was glad to see me arrive and probably glad to see me go, though she cried every time, saying that she would surely not live to see me another summer.  It had never occurred to my child mind that she had once been young like me, much less a beauty.  Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Margaret,  disabused me of that silly notion one day.  She pulled a book off her shelf, flipped it open to a hidden for safekeeping photogravure, a tiny image of Minnie Mae in her glory.  I didn’t believe her.  Couldn’t.  How could that alluring visage be my old wrinkled, sun-bonneted, feed sack adorned, foot-scuffing, slouching along Grandma?  Margaret explained that Grandpa, Harry Allen Densmore Martin, was besotted with her, always called her “the best.”


There was a kernel of wisdom lurking among her words that I didn’t want to see.  If Grandma was once young and beautiful, then I too might someday become old and grisly.  But time was on my side.  Eons would pass before such a thing could happen.  I need only nestle into being my supple lush-braided dozen-year-old self and forget about the remote possibility of becoming old.


But old is time relative and relentless.  Tomorrow I’ll be eighty.  After these many years of trying not to be like Grandma, it’s time to get busy reading and writing.  I still have some good years left.  Grandma didn’t kick the proverbial bucket until she was eighty-nine.  That morning she had chopped the morning’s stove wood, baked buttermilk biscuits from scratch, made ham and eggs with red-eye gravy, and only then lay down for a rest before starting lunch.  When the ischemic attack kicked her in the chest, she reached for Margaret, who was sitting beside her watching the newfangled television box.  She could only jerk a bit of Margaret’s hair, so great was the pain in her chest and arm.  Margaret, zoned into the new wonder, ignored her, but gave her a good pinch to settle her down.


Since I haven’t ever touched red-eye gravy and am adhering to the paleo diet, I will surely have another nine years to read and write and learn.  But lacking a woodpile out back to keep me mean and fit, who knows?

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The concept of spirit permeates our culture.  Language paints feeling with a veritable palate of emotions.  We are blue today.  We are green with envy.  We see red with rage.   We are in a brown study.  The products of distillation are called “spirits” and purportedly elevate our mood.  Recreational drugs give us a “high”, as does sexual arousal.  Poets call on the muse to speak but wait in vain if given mood stabilizing pharmaceuticals.  Feelings of camaraderie, experienced when a group of people cooperate to support a competitive endeavor, are called “team spirit.”  Attempts to describe our systems of feeling and belief are riddled with metaphors of spirit.  Every culture and mythos includes a Holy Ghost of some spiritual stripe.  I wonder when in our evolution the inner voice actually began to speak.  The catalogue of psychological diagnoses is no more, no less, than a way to parse the riddle of spirit.

Modern psychiatry must be somewhat embarrassed by its history of misrepresenting the flow of human emotion.  How many healthy uteri were removed to “correct” hysteria?

“Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women,    which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the Victorian Era. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and ‘a tendency to cause trouble.’  Since ancient times women considered to be suffering from hysteria would sometimes undergo “pelvic massage” — manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).
(Lifted from Wikipedia)

Was this the basis for perceiving women as less than?  Probably so.  Ladies are the more emotional gender, although it seems that testosterone competes quite successfully with the estrogens when it comes to inciting wacky behavior.

It’s fun to pick up a physics book and trace the ideation of hysteresis.  A clear description quickly clabbers into eye-glazing jargon, as alternating current raises and lowers “flux” density within a magnetic material.  The lag thus depicted on a graph describes a “hysteresis” loop, but even the mathematically challenged of us can see this as another instance of how language evolves in the conceptualizations of our species.  Spirit, as light, energy, flow, color, glee, emotion, life, love, pops up at every turn.

Ancient mythologies incarnated emotional states as heroic persona and created whole pantheons of deities.  We have tried since the beginning to understand the “inner presence” and imbue it with meaning that integrates rather than confounds our own personal and empirical observations.  Religion in human society was inevitable as a response to the reality of spirit that underlies all of existence.  I doubt that anyone with a functioning human brain can truly be an atheist.  Even Richard Dawkins speaks with “en-theo-siasm” about his atheistic conceptualizations.  Is it all just semantics?

Einstein wrote, “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.  He who knows it not, and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.  It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion.”

There is something amazing and mysterious that accompanies living as a discrete form of life in our universe.  Much as electromagnetism is generated about an electric wire as electricity flows through it, a spirit flux must be engendered about every living nerve cell that conducts electro-biologic stimuli throughout a living biome.  The totality of that flux might well be identified as the spirit of that life form.  As life on planet Earth evolves, perhaps it is co-creating spirit in the very image of God.  To what better purpose?

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I opened my front door and moaned, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize, but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my genius inventor father when, during one joint endeavor, I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.

“I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy household.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then he proceeded with what must be done, but he always gave it his own unique twist.

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin, fly-tracker beyond compare, donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Porta-Vac, with its’ extra-long extension tube and set out on the hunt of the nasty critters.  He delighted in this creative ploy, experiencing the thrill of the chase, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every protesting winged trophy swishing down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner, and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; Our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to put legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on pants two legs at a time.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, folding knees to chest, he leaned far, far back, thrusting both feet into their proper pantlegs as pants sailed aloft.  When he rolled forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under drawers or panties.  Leaning forward while articulating first one leg, then the other, can strain the back.  Not good!”

I got it. During the ensuing sixty-five years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks two legs at a time.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent, how taking a mindful approach to life and living can be the birthright of even a lost- and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over again day after day after day—a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded the diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not in the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and the cleanup was easier and faster with help.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be restructured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house, including furniture, and then superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I also copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, opaque vase, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: eat three M&M’s; take a 20 minute nap; mop the kitchen floor; sing a song; run around the house twice; have a spot of tea; count three of your many blessings.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed,  a slip of paper from the dark interior of the vase.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch candy or do push-ups.  More likely you will get a numbered grid square.   This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You must not do any work extrinsic to your chosen square.  Like an observant Jew savoring the Sabbath, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of my bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must in the benevolent order of things await their turn.

Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.


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