Archive for December, 2019

Feeling Good

What’s the best feeling you ever had—the absolute most glorious thing you ever experienced?  Is that a satisfactory gravatar of what it is to be “the you?”  What was happening to engender such a feeling?  Where were you?  Who was with you?  Slip into your memory of that posture—that place—that time.  Is it an actual experience or a fantastic one, allowing you to flow into the full spectrum of your mentality?

Sometimes it is useful to pose such a question to your vision of another, a person you love and want more fully to apprehend.  If I query my understanding of my son, Kurt, for instance, what comes up is always the new father, still in the delivery room, accepting a tiny bundle from a smiling midwife.  For him in that defining moment, everything inverts.  It’s all made new.  Burton snowboards, with their endless egoic expression of primal urge, instantly evaporate, to be replaced with making all things possible for this nascent confabulation of endowment.  Kurt is a dad!  This vision never fails to make me happy.  Kurt is my youngest.  He follows in some big footprints left by Dale and Lane, his big brothers who showed him how to be the best of men.  My favorite memory of the three of them is in Lee Vining, the Sierra village where we ran an architectural design firm.  Hard at work at my drafting table, a knock on the office door heralds the arrival of the two big guys. They have stopped at Lee Vining market, picked up a pound of ground beef, hamburger buns, and fixin’s.  They are off to Lee Vining canyon, the eastern gateway to Yosemite.  They want to jump in Lane’s pickup and go make lunch at the Tarns.  “Let’s go! they say.  Kurt too!  Even Larry, if he’s around.  I throw down my drawing instruments, grab a sweater, roust Kurt from his favorite spot under my table, and we’re off!  It’s hard to find a braver memory or a better feeling—well-nigh impossible.

As a parent, such feelings abound, and can be summoned to joyful effect with respect to their offspring.  All too soon they define what it means to become a grandparent, and since others are in sync with the whole mechanism, small wonder that social groups disallow endless ecstatic diatribes describing the genius propensities of offspring.  They understand, but would rather go on and on about the attributes of their own progeny.

When I first became a tool designer at Texas Instruments, most all of my time was spent at my drafting table.  That’s the way it was, before computer aided design.  I was new to office politics, and thought it was something I myself had somehow created out of my penchant for dreaming up wacky widgets.  All the small-minded grousing, theirs and mine, hurt.  I wanted to feel something different when I worked at my table.  So I would rummage up some beautiful nature photo, typically from a calendar that displayed quiet gentle elements of the natural world, fading away to an infinite distance.  If I taped such an image to the back edge of my drawing table lamp, the picture would appear to glow.  As I perched on my stool and worked away, I could gradually enter that image and become that peace.  It took me a while to separate office strife from something that truly mattered, and such attitude adjustments helped a great deal to get me through trying times.

That was a visual, but it works with auditory input as well.  I have a thing going with the movie, Sound of Music.  Maria Von Trapp and I must have been soulmates.  Maria, finding love in all the right places, is every bit Dorothy Jeanette—might-as-well-be orphan, tom-boy, wanna-be-religious, not sure about all those children, but finally delighting in them, dreaming of and winning her own true loves, matrimonial then maternal.  Julie Andrews only acted the part.  I lived it, pirouetting on a West Virginia hilltop, singing my heart out to the wind that blew through the trees and the birds who shared that glory with me.  Bluebirds and skylarks took flight—swooping again and again across swales of verdant green.  They rode that ocean of floral fecundity as life bloomed!  I was part of it!  Julie could only playact and sing.  I made real babies and figured out how they worked, or tried to.  I didn’t always do it right, but I did it with fervor.  It has become apparent that if I am in a sour mood, I have but to load the Sound of Music onto any available auditory output device, and my attitude improves.  That is not unlike hanging a visual image from a drawing lamp to get through a mean workday.

Place is a potent factor in titrating what we want to feel.  We all have places catalogued in our psyche that are sure to adjust how we perceive the world and ourselves.  I have but to remember the green hills of West Virginia, the gentle flow of Hughes River past the old swinging bridge, around the rectangle of the Peck field, past our cabin where we started three beautiful children and my whole presence feels like a long deep breath.  Going there for a visit would be great, but I hear the bridge has washed away and most of the trees have been harvested by loggers.  Sometimes reality fails, and remembrance of things past serves quite well, thank you.

For a long while I hated being in my little apartment, bitter that it didn’t accommodate all the things that once made me feel like a power player.  They had all fallen away, as well they should.  I have only recently learned to appreciate the quiet peace it provides, and to savor the soft power of where things go, what gets thrown away or saved, and when the lights go out at night.  It’s my place.  My hand holds the clicker.  That’s a good thing.

When I want to feel the nearness of God, I look into my heart, but when I want to experience his love at work in the world, I go to church.  It is there that I practice making friends—saying things that cause them to stay and chat, rather than flee to talk to somebody with more social skills.  It is there that I study what I can’t make up, but must learn from other people.  It’s a place to practice the habit of appreciating others and, scariest of all, of allowing them to appreciate me.  Church is my most important place to be, especially at this deconstructing time of life.  There I find people who are also learning the things they probably should have learned long ago, but like me were sure they knew, if not everything, at least enough it to affect a degree of hauteur.

My favorite feeling is the one I call the Titanic Moment.  It’s the one most likely to achieve successful orgasm.  In fantasy mode I scale the prow of the great ship, climb outside the guardrail, and face the wind, greeting it with purposeful abandon, looking toward whatever comes and daring it to be more powerful than my own vision.  Feet set apart as a sturdy base, I spread my arms—a welcome to whatever dares to come.  Don’t hold on!  Have faith that the wind will hold you hard against that railing.  It’s the thing that MLK calls a mountaintop experience.  We all have them.  The important thing is to not forget them.  Unlike seagulls, we can’t maintain that lofty perch every day, but when the time is right, we want to go there and sing into the wind—maybe even cry if it’s just too wonderful.

What good feelings do I miss the most?  Adopting a new puppy, promise of total unconditional love—the only sass a bark.  It’ll never quip “whatever” as a saucy parting shot.  I live in a pet-unfriendly apartment, so the happiness of a warm puppy has to be only a memory.  Then there’s the sweet satisfaction of snuggling with a mate, promises made and kept, facing what’s to come as a team.  That’s not likely to be again encountered in this lifetime, but who knows about the next?

And last, what feeling am I most happy, in spite of the vicissitudes of age, to still enjoy?  Being heard!  That’s a satisfaction courted for a lifetime, seldom achieved, but giddily celebrated when it occurs.  I experience it as a quotidian gift on the morning of every Monday among my dear writers.  Yes, it must be earned, but when our words take to the air, it’s a gift of sense to sense, one that must be given with humility, accepted with grace, and reciprocated with joy.  I am still giggling from this past Thanksgiving, when my three sons and I shared our own literary encounter.  It reminded me that love is listening—the purest validation there is.

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Of course it was my fault.  These things are always my fault.  In my universe, if I love something it dies.  Dick Hellman was a most ardent fan, especially when I wrote of things that might raise eyebrows.  He actually liked them.  His favorite was Massage, a piece that recounted a top to toe titillation that somehow led to a rip-roaring release of absolutely everything.  I managed to tell the tale with honesty, yet hold on to a degree of decorum.  Dick loved it and made a point of telling me so.  He liked my stories about inventions created in service to military aero-space, engaging his own memory of personal engineering triumphs.  We shared a similar work history.  He, ever the gentleman, hesitated to veer into what might be viewed as braggadocio but, spurred by the group’s acceptance of my own chest-beating, felt inspired to write some of his own at-a-boys.  It was good to be one of the guys along with the likes of Dick Hellman, but now he’s dead. 

I just this month wrote an exposé concerning our string-theory strung-together universes postulating that we humans each create our own.  Mine is the one wherein my one-of-a-kind only daughter is terminated by a vehicle—and now there’s Dick getting harvested by a car that seemed not to give a damn.  Jesus famously said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”  It follows as the night the day: “So is the kingdom of hell.” 

My fateful day in 1963 Pennsboro, West Virginia, April eleventh to be precise, was the first lovely day of spring following yet another ravaging winter of frozen.  Everybody was outside enjoying that first morning when even sweaters could be tossed aside.  Not I however.  I had to write.  Completing my baccalaureate at a local teachers college, I had to finish a term paper or bust.  I was up and down, first writing, then up patrolling the windows to check on the kids.  Dale was trustworthy, and Melanie was way too smart to get into trouble.  Of that I was sure.  All would be well.  When a motorcycle broke down and pulled off the road at the far end of our property, the kids came and asked permission to watch the effort to get it up and running.  I agreed, reaffirming my instruction to stay off the road.  They promised, and I returned to work.  Then…

Dorothy sat at her typewriter fingering the keys, not choosing any to strike.  She looked out the window, past the ancient oak tree and saw an old car coming round the bend, emerging slowly from beyond the fringe of willows where a two-lane bridge spanned the creek.  It was a sedan, faded green, dust from the road etching a soft haze on the window glass.  The old man inside wore thick bottle glasses, a concession no doubt to cataract surgery.  In 1963, intraocular lenses had yet to be invented.  He strained, stretching and squinting, to see over and beyond the steering wheel.  An oncoming car had stopped for a chat with the across-the-street neighbor, pulling over onto the wrong side of the road.  Confused, the driver’s decision wavered as he veered to the right, off the asphalt and onto roadside gravel.  He didn’t see Melanie who had spied a pretty pink stone and decided to harvest it.  Time slowed, then inched forward, like the old car.

Dorothy looked out the window, unseeing.  Instead, she huddled, now only a slash of thought in a crook of the oak tree, where lowermost branch joined trunk.  It was a good place to be, the breeze sorting through new green leaves.  It reminded her of her tree at grandpa’s house, where she could swing higher and higher, flying with the wind right into blue bowl of sky.  Her mind reached for the dense center of grandfather oak.  She whispered, “Tree, I am here.”

“I see you,” breathed the oak tree, rattling his branches.  “I know you and your children.  You love them more than life, but now you aren’t seeing them.  Look!  The car comes closer.  It’s going to impact your little girl.  Don’t be afraid to see what is real.  You think you should stop it from coming, but there is nothing you can do.  Nothing.  Humans are strange and wonderful creatures.  I have always known them since first I split that acorn husk.  They are good, for the most part.  But they don’t know themselves, don’t have the courage to be who they really are.  Maybe it’s because they aren’t firmly planted like me.  See my roots?  You can see how strong they are even before they dig deep—deep into the earth. 

Well now!  Humans have to move about.  With no roots they must have a hard time knowing they belong anywhere at all.  Isn’t that true?”  The old oak sighed, leaves rustling gently.  He sensed the young woman standing by the window, her eyes first wide with terror, then dead with denial.  A firm understanding with the earth was for him a source of substantial pride.  But in some ways he envied the woman her ability to freely walk upon the earth, to move and act and yes—to accomplish.  “No wonder she toils at her pitiful little typing machine.  I wish I could create a poem, or a story.  God knows what a tale I could tell.  I’ve seen so much, felt so much, remembered so much.”  My heart shelters hers, he thought, arching his branches over the spot where her soul huddled, a refugee from terror.  “Dorothy,” he spoke firmly, the north wind gusting through his topmost branches.  It sent chills rippling down his bark, “You know what is happening to Melanie.  You do know.  If you keep that from yourself you will be slashed from top to bottom like a tree split in a lightning strike.”  Dorothy shuddered, her center of knowing dancing a phosphorescent jig on the tree limb.

“I know,” she said and dived off the branch, tumbling over and over, finally steadying into a glide.  She veered to the right, banked a degree to the left, willed herself up and up, just clearing a roof’s ridge, and thudded down onto an eaves-trough.  She clung to the metal edge, reeling from what she had let herself know.  She could see her oak tree, now far across the yard standing quiet and still, and she missed his solid center.  As she visualized the strength of the oak, she became that strength and was thankful.

“If indeed you are strong and brave, and have good eyes, you can see everything from here,” a crisp voice beside her announced.  Startled, she jumped and turned to face the corner-most clapboard shingle that was pointing urgently toward the road where the green sedan approached, crunching roadside gravel.  The shingle gathered up his importance and nodded.  He inspected this fragment of a human, feeling strange to address a consciousness so foreign, albeit just a disarticulated thought.  He brushed the edge of empathy, but skirted it with care.  “She wants to see,” he mused.  “Needs to, if I am correct.  But won’t let herself, if I am equally correct.”  He gazed past the disambiguated thought and watched as the car rolled forward, the bumper nudging the girl’s shoulder, spilling her onto the roadway.  The right front tire caught her shoulder and slowly rolled over her head, crushing her skull like a hairy melon.  “You saw,” he said.

“I saw,” Dorothy gasped, and pitched forward, tumbling from the eave and dropping to the walk below.  The spirit that was her knowing spiraled and coiled tighter, spinning into itself until it was a ball and rolled slowly down the walk, bounce-bounce-bouncing gently down-down-down the steps, out to where the child lay sprawled beside the road.  It nudged a still small hand and stopped.

The road rumbled to the ball, “Why are you here?”  She waited for an answer, and hearing none, stretched herself from east to west, and from west to east, on around the bend and across the bridge.  It felt good to stretch, since it was what she did best, extending in her mighty concrete and asphalt web from sea to shining sea.  The road was a well-grounded entity, more in contact with the earth than even the oak tree with his venerable roots.  The road rolled over the land seemingly forever.  She perceived more than any human could ever hope to see or know.  And she did even more.  She understood.  She knew why that living sphere of anguish hid beneath the child’s pale hand.  In that moment she pitied the woman, still standing by the window, having sent her soul alone to acknowledge what she herself could not.  The road smoothed her mighty lap and accepted the child as she lay ruined, her blood slowly pooling about her head while the siren from the approaching ambulance grew louder and louder.  The road groaned, touching the pain of the woman and of the child, one of body, one of mind.  And in the touching was born an understanding shared by the woman and by the road.  Dorothy turned from the window and walked slowly back to her desk.  She sank to her chair and began—began to type…

Did I see what happened?  I must have, but now fifty-six years later I have absolutely no real memory of it.  Blocked?  I hope so.  I have tried to tell that story, tried to write it down, but have always failed.  I got close with this silly fiction told in the voices of inanimate beings and objects.  Maybe leaning on Dick’s Hellmann’s strength I can do better:

Much later in Ritchie County’s main courthouse, Judge Max DeBerry personally             questioned witnesses to the accident.  It was my first time to hear the information:

Gale Hammet, retired Pennsboro High School Principal explained how he made ice cream that first day of good weather and wanted to share it with the neighbors.  His expansive nature came through in his testimony:

“I made some peach ice cream in my old hand crank mixer with what was left of last year’s canning.  It was super good, and I wanted to share it.  I hailed a couple of ol’ boys headed into town and they crossed over to my side of the road.  We were catching up while they ate, and then everything happened.”

Judge DeBerry asked, “Did they come into your house?”

“No, they stayed in their truck and ate while we talked.”

“Who else shared your ice cream?” the Judge queried.

Hammet gulped and cleared his throat.  “A boy whose motorcycle had broken down, and the Taylor children, Dale and Melanie.  They all came over and had some.”

“Did the children have permission to cross the road?”

“I told them it was alright if they were careful.  Then after they got their ice cream, I made sure they were back on their side safe and sound.”

“Where was their mother?”

“In her house.”

“Did you see the accident?”

 “I saw it all.  When the old man came around the bend he slowed down and looked confused.  My buddies were parked on my side but were heading the wrong way to match his understanding of things.  The old man pulled off the asphalt onto the Taylor side, to go around the wrong-way truck, and ran over the girl.  It was horrible.  I picked her up and carried her to the Taylor’s front porch.  I called out.  Mrs. Taylor came to the door and       asked what had happened.  I explained that Melanie was gone.  Mrs. Taylor didn’t seem to miss a beat and said that moving her might make it hard to heal her injuries.  She said to put her back carefully just like she was, so I wouldn’t get into any trouble.  Worried about me, she was.  She went back inside then and closed the door.  She must have called the ambulance, ‘cause in just a couple of minutes I heard it while I was watching over the     child’s body.”

 The Judge, pale in spite of his long experience with such matters, told Mr. Hammond to provide personal identifying information about the men in the truck to the Clerk of the Court, and to step down for now.

  I heard one of my attorneys whisper to the other, “Let’s sue the whole kit and caboodle!”

Later I told him to forget that.  I didn’t want to make any money out of what had happened.  My daughter was not for sale.  The old man took the accident especially hard and swore to never drive again.  That, I agreed, was for the best, but I felt bad for him.  I remembered how my grandfather, a retired preacher and Watkins Products salesman felt when returning to his Model T after a sales call at a private home.  He drove off, crushing
one of the children who had crawled under his car to enjoy the shade.  One evening as the sun was setting, I gathered my thirteen month old, Lane, snug for the night in his footie pajamas, and walked down the road with Dale, my five-year-old, to call on the old man. He cried when he saw us, but I comforted him.  “Don’t worry,” I made my mouth smile and crinkled my eyes, dry with what felt like a fixed stare.

“See, I have two more babies.  We’ll do ok.  I know you didn’t mean to do it.”  I left then before I might intrude into his personal grief.

 Judge DeBerry came through for me, granting me custody of the remaining minor  children, but in keeping with West Virginia jurisprudence, I had to wait for seven years before I might be granted dissolution of matrimony…

All this came boiling to the surface last week with the killing of yet another loved person.  Dick Hellmann liked my writing; I liked his.  That’s what we do at the Monday Morning Writers Group.  He was definitely part of my universe of constructed reality.  Since 2010 when I first joined the group, I have been making a place for myself at the writer’s table.  I come early every week and make sure the furniture is arranged to accommodate the group’s needs.  I like to make sure any extra chairs are rendered inaccessible to those who would camp on our periphery, engage their smart phones, and spoil our time reading and listening and socializing.

It’s been a time for me to try and understand myself, even though I thought it was about getting them to understand me.  They are still wondering what I am about.  There are some things yet to be explained—like why I wouldn’t accept that Melanie couldn’t be fixed and needed to be given a soft berth in the house rather than being carefully fit into some crime scene configuration along the extended berm of Mountain Drive.  Why was I the only one who couldn’t cry?  Why did I run around consoling everybody else when I was surely dying inside?  My thought process doesn’t yet arrange itself around that part of the story, but it will.  If I keep attending MMWG, and singing in the choir at Church of the Redeemer, and showing up for the camaraderie of bible study, and if I keep on writing and writing and writing, maybe I’ll get it figured out.

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Nothing just happens.  Is it some kind of cosmic happenstance that caused you and me to be living at this precise time in the construct of universal reality?  How was it that we came to be living beings at this exact juncture of what is?  If we could have chosen the most important century to inhabit, in the most influential political entity on earth, given the most fascinating technological amazements ever to be achieved in the history of history, how could we have chosen better than here and now?

Things keep happening to remind me of this serendipitous truthiness.  Last week my phone went bad like it always does when I venture into West Virginia.  When I returned to Ohio it did its best but couldn’t engage its GPS, so I chose to duck into my son’s house and borrow his WIFI to urge my iPhone back into sentient service.  It worked.  Then I left and stupidly abandoned my purse on his living room couch.  My phone is so much smarter than I.

That senior moment required that I meet Lane and his sweetie the next day and retrieve the purse that contained all my credit cards, cash, and personal ID.  Lane set a time and place to meet: The Starbucks close to Northgate Mall.  When I got close, I asked SIRI to find it for me, but all she would do was search, and search, and search…  The intersection of Colerain and US Route 275 is interesting enough, but how many times can you negotiate it before you begin to feel more than a bit foolish?

Finally I just gave up.  I rolled into an available parking lot and meandered about, turning the steering wheel wherever inspiration dictated.  I kept an eye out for the little green Starbucks Siren, but it was nowhere.  Finally, one set of turns put me into a parking area close to Colerain Avenue.  I hesitated, looked straight ahead, and there at eye level in six foot high green letters was STARBUCKS.  Not only that, but my Highlander was lined up with the premiere parking space right at the front door.  It was empty and beckoning.  “Come hither,” it said.  “Park.”

Was that the serendipity that I love to blather about?  It keeps happening, assuring everything stays on track, toward what I don’t know.  But I’m glad it does.  Like deja vu, whenever it happens I assume I must be on my right path.  I pulled in to the space, locked the car, entered the coffee store, and ordered a decaf tall cappuccino.  No sooner had I sat down to wait than a dearly familiar male voice behind me said, “Mom?”

What I’m daring to suggest is that we, all of us, create our own realities out of where we find ourselves as physical manifestations.  There is considerable physics to support this wild possibility.  String theory talks about multiple universes that overlay and interlace each other.  Maybe they are created by you and me as we swim in special realities, yours and mine and ours.

I continue to marvel at the somewhat agreed-upon stories shared among family members.  Everyone, it seems, has a slightly different remembrance of things past.  Trial lawyers and accident investigators speak of how differently various witnesses attest to what happened.  According to them, that is just an aspect of human nature.  What if it isn’t just faulty memory, but different lived experience?  What if in my universe things play out just a wee bit differently from what they do in yours?

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Literary Society

Last year our Thanksgiving gathering met for gustatory celebration in Richmond with Kurt and Company.  This year it was in West By-God Virginia at Dales five bedroom log cabin in the back of beyond.  Last year was when I finally got the courage to read one of my writings to the gathered assemblage.  They liked ‘Aunt Margaret’ well enough that I was enticed into thinking they might like to try again.  So this year when I crept down the stairs on the big day and found only Dale at the long table swilling coffee, I clutched my folder of reading possibilities even more hopefully. 

Last year Dale wasn’t present for the first ever meeting of the Martin-Taylor Literary Society.  He had to deliver mail to Ritchie County, something to do with ‘sleet, snow, and gloom of night,’  This year I had them all three under one roof, and the house was yet asleep.  The screeching, shrieking, and yowling of as yet uncivilized genetic arrangements had yet to commence.  Peace reigned.

I poured my once-a-year cup of real coffee, mellowed it with authentic Half & Half, and settled down to make the most of it.  Soon Lane slid into the big kitchen/dining area and followed my lead, determined to coffee-up and socialize.  Dale, with his Grizzly Adams physiognomy, owned his end of the great table that had benefited from its inserted leaves.  Lane sought balance claiming his end from where he and Dale could exchange meaningful glances and reminisce about but not reenact childhood altercations.  When Kurt followed suit I knew the gods were smiling.  Kurt, ever sensitive to artistic balance, helped Lane hold down his end of the table.

I had claimed the middle ground, where I could enjoy the progenitous surround to best advantage, and try to mediate sibling ribaldry, as well as rivalry.  Having serendipitously assembled my entire first generation of living children, I was on a roll.  There was only one piece that was sure to please this particular group—’Isetta.’  I pulled it out and announced, “I’m going to read a story about your dad and me that happened back in the day right here in Ritchie County.  Listen up!”

The bright blue picture on the first page grabbed their attention and we were off!  Lane’s and Kurt’s ears were pricked, remembering last year’s ‘Aunt Margaret’ and laughing ‘til they cried, but Dale had already met this tale since he has the morethanenoughtruth.com app on his desktop.  His face said, ‘Been there; done that.’  He picked up a pen and addressed his crossword puzzle.  I stopped mid-sentence and slid ‘Isetta’ back into its glassine folder.  “Wha….?”  They bawled in unison.

“I’m not going to compete with the New York Times,” I growled.  “I read; you listen.”

Dale, in a rare moment of acquiescence, agreed to set aside his puzzle and bend an ear.  I retrieved ‘Isetta’ and proceeded from literary interruptus.  It held their rapt attention all the way from driving the spunky little vehicle through town without benefit of headlights, to nearly  dispatching the town drunk along the byway.  Even the liquored-up words of Obadiah Johnson came to life as never before, to the hoots and merriment of Dale, Lane, and Kurt.  Never have the words tripped so satisfyingly from my tongue as on that Thanksgiving morning, lubricated by the emolument of genuine Half & Half in my coffee, and falling on the fairly negotiated attending ears of my three sons.  By the time the following generations descended and began to incite the standard day-long riot, the second annual meeting of the Martin-Taylor Literary Society was a fait accompli.  It was good.  It was very, very good.

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