Procrastination

I have a funny habit of putting my thoughts to music; usually old musical tunes. So as I mowed the lawns yesterday (I have three distinctively different regions of lawn on my property) I was kicking myself for not mowing them earlier when they were more manageable. And I began singing “Procrastination…Procrastination is makin’ me late..it’s keeping me ra-a-a-a-akin’.” to the old Carly Simon song “Anticipation”.

You see, I own a mulching mower. I’ve owned battery operated mulching mowers for about fifteen years now, since my Seattle neighbor Chip Parker and I decided to share the cost and ownership of a mulching mower in that city’s promotional event.

When I moved from my small, flat property in Seattle to my bigger, hilly lot in Southwest Washington, though, I didn’t realize the difference the terrain would have on my enjoyment of mowing a lawn with a mulching mower. It’s a fairly sized lawn, so I figured I should get a fairly sized mower.  I moved on Labor Day weekend and the next week had some pretty good sales on mowers, so I decided to just GO FOR IT in the world of lawn maintenance and get a big, mulch-anything HOG of a mulching mower.

See, I really like mulching while I mow. I like a nice, green lawn that rarely if ever needs watering. I like mowing without raking. I like mowing and being DONE rather than having a series of steps to go through before finishing. I like the environmental benefits of mulching mowers such as no yard waste for the dump, no gas fumes (it’s battery operated!) and the lessened need for water to keep it green.

BUT nothing’s perfect and I don’t like the grass clippings that come with me into my house on the bottom of my shoes (and have prompted me to become a no-shoes house) or the inherent weight of the mower as I lug it up and down that hilly lawn portion at the bottom of my driveway. Nor do I like the fact that a mulching mower will pick up any and all existing weeds and spread little weed babies all over the next few feet of lawn as it goes about its task. And living in the Pacific Northwest where lawns are often wet and/or dewy I often have to wait for the lawn to be really dry if I don’t want to end up with a long expanse of lumpy, brown gobs of grass scattered amongst the rich, green mole hill terrain.

But when a rare stretch of sunny days arrives I often choose to go do something fun away from home and the lawn grows to twice its length while I’m out procrastinating. The next rain squall inspires more growth. And when the sun returns I’m faced with a two-day project of mowing the lawn because the battery in the mower won’t take me from beginning to end of the project in one day because I have to repeat the process on the especially long and damp segments of grass! So I procrastinate more.

Well, two days ago I began mowing the hip-high lawn. And then I finished mowing it yesterday by getting the tall, uncut sections I’d passed up the day before. I went around the mole hills, vowing to call the mole-killer today and admit defeat in my efforts to repel the two moles who’d begun the yearly assault on my fantasies of a smooth, green, turf-like scene of serenity.

But a funny thing began to happen as I looped my way through the job: I began to sing that song of Carly Simon’s and recall an earlier time in my life when I’d been young and carefree and pretty optimistic about where I was headed in my adult life. So as I steadily worked my way through that dramatic “before” and “after” transformation we mowers know so well, it was fun to hear the singing voice inside my head move from “Anticipation” to “Procrastination” and my growth from the idealism and fantasy of my college youth to the ownership and reality of having to mow my own lawn.

As I mowed, I looked at what I’m procrastinating about in my life right now and if it’s because I’m anticipating a fantasy ending that isn’t comfortable. So I decided I didn’t know, but I could find out by mowing down the obstacles I was imagining and instead go forth into the landscape of me which now exists and…

Ergo, here I am at my new blog, pushing myself to see if daily postings will truly take me to where I want to be as a woman writer while avoiding turning this process into a self-therapy session in text form! I have begun, and now I’m going to go perform the profound task of vacuuming the grass clippings off of my living room rug.

Amen.

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THE Flag

          I love flags. All sorts of flags. Parade flags, garden flags, banners flying from posts and car antennas and barn roofs. But as Americans, we speak and refer differently to “the” flag. THE flag symbolizes many things to many people.

          It’s a symbol of freedom and liberty to most. But it symbolizes exclusion and domination to others. For some of us it’s a rallying cry to battle, but for others it’s a memory of solitary exclusion while awaiting relief from the confines of a refugee camp in the middle of a desert.

My first memories of THE flag are of my father going into the basement, rummaging around in the back of a deep, high shelf and bringing out the musty-but-bright American flag of our family which he always hoisted from the front of our home on Memorial Day and the 4th of July and Flag Day. The appearance of that flag was a sign of summer and heralded the arrival of vacations and pickle and camp and mosquitoes. Games at Wrigley Field with a picnic lunch didn’t TRULY begin until THE flag came out borne by a smartly tailored group of soldiers or scouts for the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. We stood straight (or else!) until the formal salute was finished and the crowd erupted in a joyful cheer of excitement.

In college THE flag was diminished by the claim of others that patriotism meant an undeclared war for the sake of an undefined and unjustifiable end. I watched as THE flag went from a symbol of quietly powerful and noble principles to one of ridicule, rage and jingoism. I marched against what I felt the flag had become and it was almost thirty years before the flag and I fully reconciled and began to heal that relationship.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was in bed asleep when my teenage daughter Emily called to me in a startled voice telling me that as she’d begun her three hour preparation for school she’d heard on the radio that a plane had hit a building in New York and it was awful…I mumbled “ok” and figured it wasn’t a big deal until she called out more urgently telling me it had been aJETplane and another one had hit another building, too.

That confusing vision combined with the urgency in her voice made me leap out of bed and call to her to turn on the TV. As we stood there and watched the smoke billow up from those iconic buildings in that faraway city which always seemed so big and invincible to us my brain began to change. I watched in horror and disbelief as people, OUR PEOPLE began jumping to their death on live television. NO! THIS WAS WRONG! STOP THIS TIME! And I could almost feel the world changing as I struggled to grasp the dimensions of the scene. The obvious “planning” was what shocked me the most.

This wasn’t something that had been cooked up impulsively by some guys in a garage. This was bigger than I’d ever imagined “small people” in one of those small countries to be. And yes, I am admitting that I had dismissedMiddle Eastterrorists as not being big enough to hurt “us”. Not US! Europeans, yes. Israelis, yes. Africans, yes. Middle Easterners, yes. But not US. Not HERE! We were too big, too strong and too smart to let that happen.

We mustered our senses and Emily and I agreed that she should go to school as planned and I would drive her there. Watching the towers collapse had been breathtaking. Hearing that two more commercial airliners had been hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon and a sad and lonely field inPennsylvaniastunned us. We couldn’t imagine what would come next. And that was the most difficult thing to deal with: the heightened awareness of our limited imaginations. As we were driving in the car the radio reported that all planes had been grounded. All planes. As a homeowner under one of the major flight paths toSeattle’sSeaTacAirportI was shocked that anyone had the power and ability to do that. All planes?!

Emily’s school was a short drive up the freeway from our home and as I merged into traffic I remember watching the sky for planes that looked like they might be aiming for us. It was obvious which drivers were listening to the news on the radio and which ones weren’t. Shocked, deer-in-the-headlight expressions easily identified those of us in the know. I remember kissing my daughter goodbye as she got out of the car and wondering if that would be the last time I saw her…

The intense quiet of that day as the air traffic was halted was all the more dramatic when compared to the noise in our country on the airwaves, on the phone lines and over the neighboring fences and alleys. No one knew how many people, OUR PEOPLE had died when those buildings collapsed and those planes had disintegrated. Thousands? Tens of thousands?

The city ofNew Yorkwent into crisis mode and the rest of the country watched from a safe-but-horrified distance. Faces covered with tear-stained-dust stumbled and floated past the cameras supported by rescuers in all shapes and sizes who reached out to help and comfort and grieve. Me, I couldn’t stop watching. I. COULD. NOT. STOP. WATCHING. I was waiting for answers. Waiting for rescue. Waiting for someone to wake me up and tell me it hadn’t happened.

But no one did and the clock proceeded through the day as if nothing had happened. Emily and I had agreed that I would pick her up after school and I dropped into my super-mom mode of “What can I do?” in times of crisis. What would Emily need…?

So I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Honest-to-God.

Then I took the load of laundry out of the dryer and put our clothes in order.

But I needed something more unusual…I needed something more reassuring…something that would remind her and me that we aren’t alone right now…

And yes, that’s when I remembered the flag. THE flag.

It didn’t come to mind as something that represented PRIDE. Or POWER. Or OUR COUNTRY: DO OR DIE. Or “USA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!” Or “WE CAN OUTKILL YOU!”

THE flag came to mind as a representation of our commitment to a relationship; our pledge as citizens of a very unusual and bizarre country to find our common goals and work together to achieve them. THE flag spoke very visibly of a history that isn’t always about DOMINANCE or WINNING, but sometimes it’s about admitting we’re in a battle for our lives and we need to stick together if we want to remain as noble and honorable as those original dreams of our founding parents were.

So that afternoon, before I went to pick up my daughter at school, I got out our family’s American flag and put it into its sleeve on our front porch post.  I needed that flag as much as I thought she might need it that day. I knew I might be misunderstood as to the nature of my intentions in putting up that flag; that I might be perceived as a person who wanted to use that flag to incite adrenalin and war rather than the peace and reconciliation I’d worked to promote in my life. But I really didn’t care. And it’s ironic that the flag which represents to me a coming together in a spirited peace for a common shared goal is often used now to represent a war-like unity through conflict and fighting.

But I’ve pledged myself to be united. Not divided. I’ve pledged my intention to be united and indivisible in baseball parks and basketball games, in school rooms and community meetings. I will not walk away from the work needed to maintain that unity and I will not focus on destroying another person’s liberty because it makes me uncomfortable. The honor and glory for me which is contained in THAT flag is the fact that it is not about me or you, but about us together. And in that well-worn pledge which we use to open and close any number of civic and athletic events, let us remember that it does not begin with the word “me” and end with “you”, or “us” and end with “them”. No, our pledge to THAT flag and the principles it represents begins with “I” and ends with “ALL”.

We do not honor it by huddling and plotting against each other. We do not honor it by reducing our democracy to a sporting event which is to be won or lost. We honor it by sitting and listening and respectingALLthe voices of this great nation and the values of tolerance and freedom and respect upon which it was founded.

So hoist those flags in times of pride and grief, knowing that it more truly represents a commitment to hear the voices to which we are not listening rather than the voices to which we are.

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That Damned Collar

It’s the VOW that catches

In the throat of those who were taught

That a barred white collar

Covers a neck

Of holiness and devout Christian commitment…

Father.

A protective presence in the face of

Adolescent self-awareness and fears.

The Vow, his vow:

 “Will you do your best to pattern..

Your life..so that

You may be

A wholesome example to your people..?”

I will

I will

I will

He said before slowly and slyly

Grooming the girl

The quiet tall girl with the dark hair

The daughter of

A devout

Sacred

Trusting

Church widow

Who spent her days scrubbing

The altar linens

To remove

The dark, lip stains left behind

From numerous big gulps

Of Sunday God he displayed for us all.

 

I will

He said before he

Singled her out

That Girl, that bright, promising girl

He sought out

With reverence and seductively intense

Priestly vision as he plotted

To get her

Get her

Alone

Confused

Excited

And tell her

Of love?

Of devotion?

Of adoration?

Whichever words he used

He found her sweet

Spot of innocence

And in between

Gulps of Sunday God

He finally

Finally

Finally

Became the Creator

He’d always envied.

 

“What a shock!” the town cried in secret

When word got out that

J

Sweet, quiet J

Hadn’t been so “quiet OR sweet”

After all and had suddenly

Gone “away” to

The nuns

The away place where girls

Like

That

Went

Until

You know…

 

And then the Monk arrived!

The monk who

BOOMED his laugh

Out over our heads in the

School yard before teasing

Us about our everythings..

Our silliness, flirtiness,

Our written-in-stone assuredness

That comes only when one

Reaches the all-knowing

Age of twelve.

 

The monk arrived

With a sense

Of inner power

Which only a long brown ROBE

And open toed sandals in a

Chicago winter could convey…

 

He had that ROBE. A

ROBE which billowed

Out with grace and power

As the bases were run or

The game of freeze-tag suddenly became

Very

Very

SERIOUS!

 

Two men

One with collar,

One with ROBE

Sizing each other up

As we played out our small-town

Innocence protected by

A

Loving

God.

 

The music of my days and nights

Slowly  

Became filled with romantic

Waltzes from canned organ recordings

As our class

Entered the magical world of

Roller skating in a touching style.

We launched into the coveted world of

School skating parties

And “boys and girls” suddenly became

A little bit different….

 

The Father

Our Father

The collared father

Was a graceful skater.

He’d skate around the rink alone

Passing the stumbling souls without a pause

Always looking mysterious

As his eyes scanned

The rink as if it were a baseball diamond

And he was the confident slugger

Stepping up to bat in the bottom of the ninth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a few turns around the rink

To show off his grace and style

(And humble any boy hoping to compete)

His powerful, cryptic face would turn and eye

The row of fresh-faced girls seated against the wall

Waiting

Hoping

He’d reach out to THEM

PICK ME! PICK ME!

And carry them off to slide magically

Across the rink and into the sunset.

 

 

We all

ALL the girls on that bench

Wanted to be the chosen…

Wanted to be swept away in his skilled

And confident arm and

I confess I began to succumb

To an exciting and exhilarating secret

Universe found only in the crook of that

MAN’s arm.

No clumsy, sweaty boy here!

This was a man

An intimate, quiet-voiced man

When that voice was

Next to my ear on that

Romantic, rink floor.

No words of friendship or

Priestly encouragement

Only secret words like;

“Go left…”

or

“Relax…relax…”

barely audible but oh-so-potent…

And at first

I’d laugh

Giddy and shy

In my self-awareness

But with his help

With his voice

With those well-honed

Pastoral skills of his

I began to relax

In the shelter of that arm. 

 

 

 

 

Even with words it was

ALWAYS THE SILENCE

Which caught at my spine

While he guided me with

That secret firm GRIP of his right hand

Around my young waist as we

Silently…always silently

Skated our secret little story

While the music swirled around us

And my girlfriends looked on

Enviously from the sidelines…

 

But the ROBE

Arrived and the magic skating

Ended  

And we

Were cheated out of any more

RUSHING

Slides with the collared one

Through that wonder land

Of hissing skates

On smoothly-waxed wooden boards!

Not fair! We cried.

But to no avail.

The music ended and

The Midwest winter bore down with ruthless ice.

 

His death was a shock.

Epiphany

A joyful celebration of God’s gift

In sweet Baby Jesus was

Marred when

Solitary sleep in the desert…

The desert…

His annual collared vacation

Took on an odor of

Rotten eggs as the

Beloved Pastor

Sought out the face of his God

In solitude.  

 

“What??” we children cried…

“How could he not know

The pilot light

Had gone out?

Wasn’t there a smell?

We always had a smell!!”

And for weeks

My mother looked like she’d been hit by a truck.

Our home was covered

With sacred linens she’d agreed

To launder

When J’s mother suddenly

Disappeared  

From Altar Guild and everywhere else.

 

We girls shed soft tears with nuns who wouldn’t

Or couldn’t

Shed theirs.

We went on in innocence

Not knowing until decades later that

J

Dear, sacred young

J

Had born her burden

And her child in a beautiful, stark and brutal

Loneliness which

Only church can deliver.

 

The ROBE went away for awhile

But returned a bit quieter…

And remained for years afterward

Encouraging us to grow in the adventuresome

World of the sixties.

And in his silly and joyous faith

We found guidance and

A healthy, strong, undying love.

But our

CHURCH

The body of Christ

A body without breasts

Or womb

Never really bloomed again

For me.

 

The story goes that

Decades later the priestly house,

The house which sheltered the collar

And all its sins

Had hidden more dirt

Within its walls.

Had become a hoarding haven

To the damaged mind and heart

Of yet another collared man with secrets.

Can a lifeless object “know”

And nurse wounds of betrayal

We humans are too afraid to voice?

Has that home

In all its silence

Finally said enough, enough,

As power holds its tongue in

Shame and disgrace?

Yes, please.

Let us give thanks and find hope in the chance

That at least some thing

Some quietly inanimate, sheltering thing

Like a brick and mortar structure

Seems brave enough to

Rise up and remember it all…all

Rather than cower in fear

And slip secretly away in silence

Like the men it has sheltered and protected.

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Dirty Dan

Dirty Dan

Summer mornings on Nondorf Street were often filled with action. In the fifties, our small town of Dyer, Indiana was mostly made up of families-with­-children and my sister and I were two of those children. Ann was four years older than me and, despite her pleadings, she was often pressured by our mother to take me with her when she went off to play with friends. On most days, though, I connected with the boy next door, Grant, who was my best buddy and partner in crime for some sort of “high adventure”. We were fearlessly inquisitive children when we were together and when we weren’t playing tag ball in the gravel driveway we were often playing somewhere out in the surrounding countryside.

Through the early years of my childhood there was a wetland near our home. The marshy environment provided us with unexplored country in the early, damp season of spring. Fast-growing milkweeds totally covered the low land and provided us with an ongoing source of schemes and tools to go with them. We’d begin stomping down the green stalks in the late spring as the waters drained, working with determined diligence to create a hidden world of trails that widened and deepened as the heat of the summer descended around us.

Reaching a height of six feet by July, the system then supplied us with a great expanse of “weed forest” for ongoing adventures like hide and seek, spear wars and steal the flag.

Twelve-year-olds would spy on seven-year-olds. Seven-year-olds would raid the forts of the twelve-year-olds while they were out spying. Shouts of success and surrender erupted dramatically from far-off locations out of sight. The land was usually dried up and worn out by August and although that meant the mosquitoes were lessened, it also meant we were becoming bored and worn out with the summer routine, too.

Back at home, our supply of baseballs had slowly diminished in number as one after another disappeared into the mass of daylilies that Grant’s mother had planted years before on the edge of the driveway. That foul line was omnivorous. Every winter we’d retrieve baseballs, golf balls and varying action figures as they slowly emerged from the graying winter mass of diminishing greens.

But in the August heat much was still unseen and our monotonous existence was often gratefully punctuated on Saturday mornings when my mother baked chocolate chip cookies and Dirty Dan the Garbage Man came by.

You see, we were cruel children by August. The good manners that had been instilled in us all our lives began to wane as the heat stretched on. Our mothers weren’t as nice in August as they’d been in June and we felt justified in answering their less-than-friendly moods with our own efforts to disrupt and sabotage any lingering family peace. We fought. We nagged. We whined. We teased.

We grew tired of the vegetables from the family garden behind the house and made no effort to hide our displeasures. We were sent to our rooms, sent outside, sent into corners and, in some cases, sent to camp.

It was into that environment that Dirty Dan arrived every Saturday morning. I don’t know if we ever had the meanness to call out that awful title to his face, but I do remember taking fresh-baked cookies out to him in a paper towel once in awhile and snickering later with Grant at how REALLY BAD he smelled! He STUNK. He smelled just like garbage!

“Hi Dan!” we’d call out sweetly (no one ever told us his full name), but our outward demeanor didn’t truly reflect the revulsion we’d reenact later. We were so glad we didn’t have to do that every week! And neither did our fathers!!

We plied my mother with questions; “Where does he live? Does he have a family?”

Our dirty, stinking class prejudices were slowly nurtured with Dirty Dan.

We were better. Even though we were stupid little kids (we didn’t know it, but we were), we still felt we held a higher niche in society than Dirty Dan the Garbage Man. My mother let us know early on that there would be no tolerance of such an attitude, but I confess, in my secret kid-hidden head, I believed I was better than that quiet, hardworking man.

I’m an adult now, but I still feel guilty about my superior perspective towards Dan.

We all know that place, though, don’t we? “Those people” we unconsciously lump into a pile of our own filth…

In well-meaning sympathy laced with relief, we often tack on the phrase; “There but for the grace of God, go I…” after talking about them… 

As if God’s grace isn’t with them..?   

I am an older and humbler adult because of my childhood memories of Dan. I now stop myself from cluck-clucking in a superior way when hearing news stories of child-led brutality because I remember how I danced around the mouth of that volcano once with a friend.

I remember the hot days of an Indiana August, too….

That imbedded memory causes me to wave to sanitation workers now, and smile, too! They may think I’m a bit strange, but I don’t care. I leave Christmas envelopes of cash taped to the top of our garbage bins every year and work hard to put the cans in a VERY neat row at the bottom of our driveway on “trash day”.

And I remember Dan and how hot and tired he looked on those August mornings and I ask for forgiveness on a routine basis…usually around 1:00 every Wednesday afternoon.

 

 

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