Here it is nearly 5:30 of the p.m., sun gone for the day as temperatures drop and daylight slips away. I’ll admit, this is my least favorite time of winter days because of the increased risk of gloomy feelings that often involve beating myself up. As in, “you squandered those precious hours and what do you have to show for yourself now that it’s cold, dark, and dreary?”
Not playing those reindeer games today.
Right now I’m basking in the glow of my accomplishments: Coffee and Wordle. Exercise. Smoothing out trouble spots in my middle-grade novel, revising chapter 8, and falling in love with the manuscript all over again. A thoughtful phone conversation with Zebu. Laughter. Laundry. Email plus research for climate action meeting later this week. Finishing the excellent We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan. Healthy eating. Sharing snuggles with dog and cats (with special shout-out to Loki for lying down next to me while I did foam roller stretching).
It is true I respond best to blue skies and sunshine glinting off snow. But on this Monday evening, I’m content.
I just learned that a neighbor died. Alone. In their home. I don’t know any details beyond that. In trying to process all this, I went in search of a quotation that might speak to me and help make sense of the situation. This, from Kurt Vonnegut, caught my eye: There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look. That sentiment felt applicable because of how the neighbor had alienated others to the extent that no one could pinpoint for the police when the neighbor had last been seen. In my mind, the aloneness had been needlessly self-inflicted over the years, destroying relationships that had once thrived. Then I happened upon this quotation from Orson Welles: We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. Who was I to pity the neighbor when every one of us will make that final trip alone? Our neighbor was fiercely independent and very proud of that fact.
I recently read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory which was quite helpful, not only because it put death in perspective, but also for leading me to human composting. For years, I’d been telling Zippy that when I die I wanted him to toss my body in the forest so that the crows and whatever else could feast on my remains. He patiently and repeatedly pointed out how he’d probably get in serious trouble for disposing of his wife’s body in the woods. But now I have a plan that’s legal and suits my wishes. It’s incredibly freeing to know that when I die, my body will not only return to the soil but also enrich the earth. I hope my neighbor experienced a similar peace by having a death plan in place. I also hope their death was swift and painless, and that they maintained their sense of indomitability to the very end. When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home. ~ Tecumseh
This flower from my garden is a stand-in for the photos I took years ago of my neighbor’s iris. They were out of state that spring and sad to miss their garden in bloom, so I documented the display and sent it along. Remembering that connection eases some of today’s shock.
Death forces us to think more about life and how we’re spending our finite time here. Zippy and I are grateful to have our sons visiting now and we’ve shared even more hugs than usual today. If you’ve read this far, thank you for sharing in these musings with me. I’m grateful for our connection.
My friend spotted a large bird in a tree off in the distance as we walked around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge last month. Was it a hawk? Too big. What was it?
We slowly and quietly moved closer to the tree. This not-great quality photo was taken from quite a ways away.
My friend thought maybe a Golden Eagle, which seemed like a very good guess. We very carefully moved a bit farther on the trail until we were on the other side of the tree.
Hello there, regal raptor with the sharp beak and talons! Thank you for allowing us to gawk.
When I returned home and got the photos up on my computer screen, Zippy suggested it wasn’t a Golden Eagle, but a juvenile Bald Eagle. After a little more research, we decided he was correct.
I recently wrote a work-for-hire book about birds around the world and was limited to 100 birds. I didn’t include the Bald Eagle in the Birds of Prey section because I figured kids were already pretty familiar with them. Apparently, the editor felt differently because when my author copies arrived, there was a Bald Eagle on the cover. I checked inside and discovered the Black-thighed Falconet, which weighs 1.23 ounces and is one of the smallest birds of prey in the world, had been replaced by the mighty Bald Eagle. I admit to being disappointed by that switch.
However, I was not at all disappointed by this Bald Eagle sighting. Also? My friend could not have spotted a sparrow-sized falconet from that distance. Amateur birders such as ourselves definitely benefit when the sightings weigh in at close to 14 pounds of pure fierceness.
ONE. As Haiti is devastated by another earthquake, I think back to a blog post from 2010 in which I wrote:
Haiti has always struggled mightily
to survive on her own terms.
She’s strong, I know.
I just wish the universe would quit testing her.
And here the Haitian people are again, facing more death, destruction, and heartbreak.
TWO. As the Taliban moves closer to regaining control in Afghanistan, I think back to those days of feeling completely enraged/overwhelmed/defeated by how easily Bush/Cheney & Co fear-mongered the U.S. into invading and occupying Afghanistan. I distinctly remember sitting on my patio, drinking a beer, and laughing/crying as I read David Rees’s GET YOUR WAR ON.**
The clip-art strips were and continue to be profane, hysterical, and spot-on in the framing of how we lost our collective minds after September 11, 2001. (**Lather. Rinse. Repeat. for the invasion/occupation of Iraq, covered in GET YOUR WAR ON II)
THREE. Once again, I’m feeling enraged, overwhelmed, and defeated. There’s so much good we could be doing for one another on a massive scale and yet, people continue to think the military is the answer to every issue, despite all evidence to the contrary.
FOUR. So here I am (again) turning to nature to soothe my soul.
We woke in the middle of the night to the smell of wildfire smoke. Zippy shut off the swamp cooler and closed all windows. It’s only June and wildfire season has begun.
Since early May, I’ve run every other day and that routine has been crucial for my mental health. I haven’t yet missed a running day and when I got up this morning, I felt so many emotions about the climate crisis and the lack of political will to do anything about it. My despair mounted and, more than ever, I needed to run. The good news is we have a 20+ year-old treadmill (that’s gone through multiple running belts over the years) and I ran on that for 25 minutes. I pounded out the miles, my mind clearing as sweat slicked my skin.
This afternoon I made the mistake of going on Twitter where I came across this tweet:
And I began to spin some more, the anxiety and rage building. So, did I hop on the treadmill again? Nope. This time I began rereading one of my very favorite books:
I highly recommend any book by Cynthia Kadohata, but especially THE THING ABOUT LUCK which is funny and tender and makes my heart sing. *happy sigh*
I have to keep reminding myself that electoral politics is not going to save us. We the people must rise up as one and stand together against the rich and powerful. In the meanwhile, I’m focusing on mutual aid in my community in addition to lots and lots of running and reading.
This day’s been hard, but I’m still standing.
I gave myself the day off and spent it in bed reading adult fiction (Tana French’s THE WITCH ELM). Self-care without guilt. Write my 1,000 words? Only if it felt right. I wasn’t going to butt heads with myself and turn it into a negative situation.
I’m happy to say I’m now in the head-space to crank out my daily word count. Thank you to these adorable goats for their role in helping me get there. And now I’m off to write . . .
Here’s my happy doggo to perk up anyone in need of perking (not to be confused with twerking, although, if twerking makes you feel better, by all means do that!) The photographic quality is low and Emma’s smile is slightly blurred, but the emotions shine through.
As Charles M. Schulz famously wrote, happiness is a warm puppy.
I spent the day in bed reading a Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin detective novel. A wise choice for my physical and mental health, I think. Why? The wildfires continue to rage in Colorado and when I checked my phone at one point today, the weather alert said “91 degrees. Smoky.”
So, it’s no shock that when I dipped into Pixabay just now in search of an image that resonated, I landed on this:
Tonight I shall dream of rain.
I started the quarantine with only about eight checked-out library books that I read *sob* and then held onto for months until my library system started accepting returns again. While I did download a few ebooks this spring, I don’t enjoy that format, and instead concentrated on my bookshelves. The bad news is, I’ve already read most of what I have at home. The good news? I don’t mind rereading books.
This past week or so, I’ve reread three Raymond Chandler novels featuring Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep; The High Window; The Lady in the Lake) and two Rex Stout novels featuring Nero Wolfe (Might As Well Be Dead; Death of a Doxy).
Witty private detectives + murder = self-care.
Justice is not a natural part of the lifecycle of the United States,
nor is it a product of evolution;
it is always the outcome of struggle.
Spotted this rabbit in Nebraska. The attitude feels a bit different than Colorado bunnies. Anyone else picking up on a General Woundwort vibe?
(Full disclosure: During my time in Nebraska, I saw very few people wearing masks and sensed hostility toward me and my mask-wearing ways. Which is to say, this bunny was probably chill and a total Bigwig, and I’m just projecting.)
I chose to spend much of the day in bed, reading an adult novel (thriller/suspense) that came highly recommended. It made me grumpy for various writing-related reasons (mainly characterization), but I kept reading because I’d already invested so much time in it (I know, I know) but also because I was curious how it would wrap up.
Right after finishing that unsatisfactory book, I got an email with a Subject line that was one of my account passwords. That was disconcerting to see. The email was a threat to blackmail me with video of me pleasuring myself to a porn video unless I bought BitCoin from this Alex fellow. I wasn’t worried about the video, because, well, there isn’t one. I was, however, worried, because the blackmailer had correctly identified one of my passwords. So I then had to spend a whole bunch of time changing passwords on various accounts. I admit to feeling a bit stabby at that point.
And that’s pretty much it for this Saturday.
“If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence.” ~ George Eliot, Middlemarch
I just finished drafting the bulk of my work-for-hire project and am feeling a bit like Emma looks: noodly-tired and in need of a nap. But mostly, I’m thrilled to have reached this point in the project! Definitely something to be thankful for on this Thursday.
Here’s hoping you’ve also experienced some good stuff today!
She fearlessly wielded language, never backing down from truth. I’m grateful she graced the planet for 88 years, creating books that will keep her fierce genius alive forever.
Rest in power.
Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it.
Late this afternoon I finished reading John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation (later re-released as Invictus) and then took a walk around the neighborhood with Zippy and Emma. As we walked past the home with the enormous pickup truck parked in front, the enormous truck with a TRUMP / PENCE sticker in the window, I fought my daily urge to throw a brick through that window.
And then I remembered the magic Nelson Mandela wrought in South Africa. After being unjustly locked away in prison for twenty-seven years, Mandela’s heart and mind were still open wide. He paved the way for blacks and whites to reconcile their anger and their guilt so they could become one. One Team, One Country. He helped blacks and whites unite around the Springbok rugby team as it went on to win the World Cup in 1995. Over and over, Mandela’s instincts and generosity of spirit helped everyone, black and white, become their better selves. It’s an extraordinary story and book, and I highly recommend reading it.
It’s hard to admit that within minutes of finishing Playing the Enemy, I wanted to inflict my red-hot anger on the person who keeps that sticker on his truck. Instead, I’d like to keep in mind what Desmond Tutu’s friend said about the day South Africa united around the Springbok victory: “The great thing about everything good that has happened is that it can happen again.”
Time to cultivate my better self.
Here are two books I read and greatly enjoyed this week:
Sheila Turnage’s THREE TIMES LUCKY is a fun romp filled with twists and turns. Cece Bell’s EL DEAFO is a funny and heartfelt graphic novel about the author’s elementary school years wearing the hearing aid that gave her superpowers.
I highly recommend these gems published in 2012 and 2014. (Yes, I’m woefully behind in my reading. You know what they say: so many books, so little time.)
Today as I do research for the work-for-hire book assignment I’ve accepted, I’m trying to keep this quote in mind:
Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.
~ Rafael Sabatini
I hope ol’ Rafael was right, because I’m currently experiencing some hefty regret over taking this assignment. There’s a slight comfort in thinking the alternative may have resulted in an even worse hell.
Today I’m grateful for Mary Oliver who created accessible poems that were simultaneously simple and profound. Here’s one of my favorites from American Primitive.
Like large dark
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
resurrection. No one
knows how many
they are who daily
minister so to the grassy
miles, no one
counts how many bodies
and descend to, demonstrating
each time the earth’s
appetite, the unending
waterfalls of change.
wants to ponder it,
how it will be
to feel the blood cool,
the blaze of our own bodies
we watch them
wheeling and drifting, we
honor them and we
however wise the doctrine,
however magnificent the cycles,
however ultimately sweet
the huddle of death to fuel
those powerful wings.
Rest in beauty, Mary.