Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ring Out!

In Memoriam
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, 
The flying cloud, the frosty light: 
The year is dying in the night; 
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die. 

Ring out the old, ring in the new, 
Ring, happy bells, across the snow: 
The year is going, let him go; 
Ring out the false, ring in the true. 

Ring out the grief that saps the mind 
For those that here we see no more; 
Ring out the feud of rich and poor, 
Ring in redress to all mankind. 

 Ring out a slowly dying cause, 
And ancient forms of party strife; 
Ring in the nobler modes of life, 
With sweeter manners, purer laws. 

Ring out the want, the care, the sin, 
The faithless coldness of the times; 
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes 
But ring the fuller minstrel in. 

 Ring out false pride in place and blood, 
The civic slander and the spite; 
Ring in the love of truth and right, 
Ring in the common love of good. 

Ring out old shapes of foul disease; 
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; 
Ring out the thousand wars of old, 
Ring in the thousand years of peace. 

Ring in the valiant man and free, 
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land, 
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Star Fork

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but it bears repeating: I am a child of the working class. My family didn’t live in abject poverty, but we lived right next door. When I was very young, my father worked as a construction laborer, hustling from one project to the next. When a project was complete, the paychecks stopped until he hustled up another job.  My mother worked outside the home, still atypical in the 1960s, not because she was a feminist but because we needed the money.  Over the years, my dad climbed the ladder from laborer to supervisor to project manager. He traded in his hard hat and pickup truck for a sharp suit and a company car. My mom worked at a drug store lunch counter while taking night courses at the community college until she landed her first office job.

California was a foreign country to the Okies and Arkies escaping the poverty-stricken south. Like other refugees before and since, my parents were aspirational dreamers who reserved their biggest dreams for their children There’s a cliché that newly arrived immigrants work in manual labor so their kids can go to college and become professionals and their grandchildren can become artists and philosophers.  My family tried compress that progression into two generations with mixed success. As a teenager I was certain I was going to be find fame and fortune as an actor and musician, but I was disabused of that notion pretty quickly.  I credit my early entry into parenthood for a much-needed reality check.  When you come from the working class, there’s no safety net. Your parents cannot bail you out when you fail. Artists must fail repeatedly, it's an integral part of the artistic process, but failure was a luxury I could not afford. I needed a regular paycheck, health insurance, some semblance of stability for my daughters. So, I found work in arts administration. At times, it's hard to be near the art but not of the art, but  I’m not complaining. I've had the luxury of working in close proximity to the art I love while reaping the benefits of a standard schedule, regular paycheck and health insurance.  It may not have been the “best” of both worlds, but it was both worlds and that’s a blessing.

My brother Bryan never made the transition from wannabe artist to family-wage career.  He didn’t have both worlds, he had neither. Is that why he committed suicide a year ago today?

In the years leading up to her death, my mother and I spoke frequently about Bryan. It was my privilege and honor to provide her with a place to offload some of the pain he caused. She told me about his scenes, his rages, his constant need for financial support. He was intensely volatile, physically aggressive, combative, manipulative, paranoid, defensive. He picked fights with my father that devolved into physical shoving matches. He constantly fought with his wife and, when she would kick him out of their house, he would drive to my parents’ house and scream at her on their phone. He was in constant conflict with his family, his community, the police. He was even involved in some kind of incident on the day my mother died. The only reason I know this is because he babbled something about it as we sat by her deathbed. The details were garbled and he never referred to it again after she died, so the whole story is lost, but it doesn't matter. The plain fact is, he caused my mother years of stress, breaking her heart over and over again until she died of an aneurysm.  

I never spoke a word of blame to him, but I admit, there was blame in my heart. 

My parents' deaths are still etched in my soul like a scar, the most painfully traumatic events of my life. In the midst of this suffering, my mentally ill brother plunged a knife into the wound and kept twisting, indulging in rages, tantrums, public scenes. I don’t know why. There is no answer, other than he was mentally ill, a fact made all too obvious by his suicide. I repeatedly urged him to seek treatment, but I couldn’t help him and I wouldn't allow him drag me down like he did my parents. I had to save myself.  I do not feel guilty for cutting Bryan out of my life; I did what I had to do for my own emotional health. But, I wish it could have been different. I wish we could have found our way to forgiveness and reconciliation.

When I was a child, we had no “family silver” or anything like it. Our kitchen drawer was full of mismatched metal flatware, including two forks with stylized starbursts on the handle, known as the “star forks.”  When I would set the table, I would very consciously give myself one of the star forks and Bryan the other. My brother Greg was the oldest son and closest to me in age; he was my serious rival for family supremacy. Bryan was never a threat; he was my baby brother and I doted on him.  We all doted on him. He was charming, funny, smart, cherished. He never had to prove himself to our father the way Greg and I did. He could be his smart-ass, shit-bird self and make everyone in the family laugh. 

And so it was, until it wasn't any more. 

What happened?  I’ll never know. All I know is, one year ago today, Bryan's mental illness reached its apogee and he took his own life. I pray he found peace .  May this pain mark the starting point in a journey towards forgiveness: forgiveness for him, forgiveness for myself.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cold Snap, Hard Freeze

-14° campers.  Yes, minus fourteen degrees, 14 below zero. That's what the thermometer outside the kitchen window said on Sunday morning. It was undoubtedly the coldest temperature we have ever experienced in the Colestin since we bought our place in 1995. Sequoia and I were reminiscing today about the two years we lived in Bend Oregon where 20 below is not unusual, but here on the west side of the Cascades, subzero temps are not the norm. Monday was slightly warmer, a balmy zero at dawn, but it was down in the low teens again by sunset. Sequoia got a blazing fire going in the hot tub and I scurried up steps in my robe and rubber clogs, breathing clouds of steam. The trick is to kick one shoe off, put that foot in the tub, pull the robe up around my ass while straddling, kick the other shoe off, put my second foot into the tub and then pull the robe off over my head while simultaneously lowering myself into the hot water.  It takes balance to make that transition from one foot in the tub to two feet in the tub, and it takes concentration not to drop my robe in the water, but anything worth having is worth working for, right?  The hot tub was 108° which, in most cases, melts the flesh right off my bones. But I was already up on the deck with one foot in the tub and my ass hanging, out; what was I going to do, back out?  Stepping out of the bitter cold into the blazing hot was a new kind of tingle, I'll say that.  After about 5-6 minutes, the heat became unbearable and I stood up.  The cold felt delicious for the first 30 seconds or so; after that it was back into the water. I bobbed up and down like a cork for about 20 minutes and then dunked one more time to get myself good and hot for the walk back down the stairs.  When I got to the house, I realized that the damp at the nape of my neck was frozen; I had ice in my hair. 

Of course the pipes froze at the Oak Street house.  For the last six weeks, Sequoia and I have been working on that house as hard as we've worked on anything in years. Think sore muscles and torn up hands. We managed to finish the rental unit by December 1, just in time for our lovely new tenant Alissa to move in.  Our side of the house is still a construction zone mess, not at all set up for sleeping, so we've been driving back and forth to the Colestin during the ice storm.  I stayed out in the Colestin all weekend, hunkered down and warm; it was bliss. Then Alissa called on Sunday to say that the pipes in the rental unit had frozen. It took some doing, but Sequoia got everything flowing again. My hero.  Welcome to the life of a landlord.

Even though this transition has been harder, longer and more expensive than we had hoped, I am convinced that buying this house in Ashland was the right choice.  It is time to change my life, campers.  I love my life in the Colestin, but I've got another 10 years in the working world, one way or another. I can't face driving over that pass for another 10 years.  I'm dense, but even I can see the handwriting on that wall.  

The phrase "hard freeze" very accurately sums up the last week.  It has been a hard, frozen week in more ways than one. Breathe deep the frosty air and move forward, campers. Move forward. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Do You Allow?

There's a new meme floating around the ol' interweb today:

"What you allow is what will continue."

That one hit me right in the gut. Every once in awhile, a single sentence sums it all up.

I've been struggling with a sad fact: there are people whom I value and cherish but who do not value or cherish me in return. As much as I want to be loved by everyone, I'm not; shocking I know.

There's no shame and no blame here. They are entitled to their opinion. They have a right to feel their own feelings. The problem is, I keep hanging around, hoping to somehow change their minds and hearts. I allow them to treat me with indifference, avoidance, coldness, disrespect and keep coming back for more. In my sick, twisted head, I refuse to acknowledge the plain truth: the friendship is over.

And then I wonder why I walk away from every interaction feeling like shit. 

Oh my god,  I just realized that I'm acting like Helena in Midsummer:

"I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius, the more you beat me, I will fawn on you. Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, unworthy as I am, to follow you. What worser place can I beg in your love,— and yet a place of high respect with me,— than to be used as you use your dog?"

I've always despised Helena.

This one is one me, kids. It's pathetic. I'm pathetic. Am I that desperate for approval? For affection? Why can't I just walk away let these relationships die a natural death?

Time to let it go. As George Harrison said, all things must pass.

All things must pass.  It's past time for me to put my energy into the people who last. I'm lucky to have them and I take them for granted.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Brer Rabbit

Words of wisdom from Laney today:  How long can the machine run on an idea that isn't true?

Good question, which led me to another good question: How long do I cling to that idea when all of the evidence clearly indicates that it's not true?

I'm like Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby; the harder I fight, the more attached I become.

I had forgotten how that story ends.  Brer Fox set up the Tar Baby as a trap for Brer Rabbit. True to form, Brer Rabbit swung on the Tar Baby and got stuck.  The more he swung, the deeper he went. But, Brer Rabbit had the last laugh; he begged Brer Fox to do anything, anything at all, except throw him in the briar patch.  So, of course Brer Fox threw him in the briar patch and Brer Rabbit was free. "Born and bred in the briar patch, Brer Fox. Born and bred in the briar patch."

If I beg the machine to throw me in the briar patch, do you think they will do it?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keep Your Powder Dry for the Battles Ahead

The atmosphere: The Empress, reversed. Stifling matriarchal influence. Unhappiness, selfishness, poverty and disruption of the home or family. Indecision, paranoia, and jealous rage. Sterility

The obstacle: Temperance, reversed. Lack of restraint and self-control. Losing one's cool. Energies dispersed through conflicts in personal, business, and spiritual matters.

The goal: The Queen of Cups. The essence of water, such as a deep and placid lake: Spirituality, maturity, and grace. A natural counselor and healer, One whose relaxed presence seems to embody deep love and spirituality. A tranquil poet who reflects the nature of the observer. The embrace of all things dreamlike and receptive, such as perfect and unconditional love.

Approaching influence: The Hanged Man. Pausing to reflect. Surrendering to an experience. Adjusting to new ideas through sacrifice. Opening oneself to intuition and enhanced awareness. Letting go of past patterns and growing beyond them. Inner peace, faith, and serenity.

The ultimate outcome: Ace of Swords. The seed of victory - perhaps as yet unseen. A challenge to be met and solved through the invocation of force. An opportunity to bring reason and intelligence to bear in the pursuit of justice and truth. An excessive power that must not be abused.

There was more of course, but not a single wand in the spread. Some major arcana and my old friend the Queen of Cups, but no fire, no light.

Time to cool my jets and gird my loin. The fight is coming.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Hag

hag (n). Early 13th century. “Ugly old woman,” probably a shortening of haegtesse “witch fury” from the proto-German. First element is probably a cognate of the Old English “haga,” or enclosure of a portion of the woodland, i.e. “hedge.”

In ancient England, vast tracts of the countryside were common property, open and accessible to all. The commons did not “belong” to anyone. Everyone in the community grazed their animals on the commons, mowed the meadows cooperatively and shared the harvest. The process of enclosing the commons began during the medieval period. For all intents and purposes, enclosure was a land grab. The wealthy and powerful claimed ownership of the commons, kicked everyone else off the newly private land and planted hedges to mark their boundaries.

It is no coincidence that the enclosure of the commons and the early European witch hunts started and accelerated at roughly the same time.   The following is extracted from a Case Study of the European Witch-Hunts by Adam Hunt:

“Many scholars argue that women who were most independent from patriarchal norms - especially elderly ones living outside the parameters of the patriarchal family - were most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft. 'The limited data we have regarding the age of witches ... shows a solid majority of witches were older than 50, which in the early modern period was considered to be a much more advanced age than today. 'The reason for this strong correlation seems clear: these women, particularly older women who had never given birth and now were beyond giving birth, comprised the female group most difficult to assimilate, to comprehend, within the regulative late medieval social matrix, organized, as it was, around the family unit.”

A childless widow lacking the protection of husband or family is declared a witch. Any property she had inherited from her husband, including unenclosed land, reverted to the local lord or the church. Powerful incentives, no?

The hag  escaped burning by relinquishing her property, walking away from society and  retreating to the forest. She made her home in, and foraged her living from, the ever-shrinking wild-lands. She learned how to build and how to hunt, which plants were edible, which medicinal. She might occasionally trade on her knowledge with civilians. She "straddled the hedge," thus "hag." But she lived her life beyond the boundaries of law, family, civilization. She was suspect. She was wild. She was dangerous.

Just as I crossed the boundary from maiden to mother, I’m now crossing the boundary from mother to crone. The word “crone” conveys a sense of dignity to my ear, but for some reason the hateful word “hag” feels much more apt. I don’t know why; maybe it’s the hair that grows out of the mole on my chin. How did “hag” acquire pejorative connotations such as “ugly” and “fury?" Why does a search of "hag" in Google Images return the hideous harridan pictured above (another aging, childless woman.)  Maybe it is because the end of fertility marks the end of a woman's need for the patriarchal society's approval. The aging woman lays down the burden of physical beauty. She no longer hungers for the male gaze. She doesn't care as much about being seen, but, goddammit, she demands to be heard. 

I don't need to apologize, explain or accommodate. I don't need to please. This hag is powerful. This hag is dangerous. This hag is a force to be reckoned with.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Tower (reversed): Unexpected upheaval leading to a positive change in life. Catastrophe survived or narrowly avoided. A new lifestyle or enlightenment.

Here's hoping...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lucky Rocketship Underpants

"The only sure thing about luck is that it will change." - Bret Harte

You've read it here before: I'm remarkably lucky, unusually blessed. (Which raises the question: which is it, lucky or blessed?  Random or metaphysical? That's a subject for a blog post all its own.)

For today, let's call it lucky because, by all objective measurements, that's exactly what I am. To begin with, I'm a white woman living in the United States of America.  Those of us  in the first world must acknowledge the sheer luck of our birth. Even the poor here are rich by other countries' standards. 

For another thing, I'm married to Sequoia. How the hell do I rate?  I dunno, but don't get any ideas ladies. You'll have to pry him out of my cold, dead hands.

I have two sweet, smart, beautiful daughters who are both healthy, happy and productive members of society.  Every parent knows this prayer: "Lord, if something bad has to happen, spare my children and let it happen to me."  Thus far, the good lord has spared me and my kids and that feels like very good luck. (Ssshhh - don't say that too loud, I don't want to attract the attention of the gods.)

A friend of a friend attended the camp out this year.  I told him he was welcome back any time. He said he'd like to come back because, "you guys are cool and you know some really interesting people."  "Yes," I said, "I am lucky in my friends." You can't get much more lucky than that.

Like Joni Mitchell's "Song for Sharon," I have my music and my family and my farm. I have my health. I have the most interesting friends on the planet.  I am a lucky woman in all of the most important ways. But, luck takes many forms.  Sometimes I have to change my perception in order to see something as lucky.

"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from." - Cormac McCarthy

The last few months, hell the last few years, have been increasingly difficult at work. Recent events raised the difficulty to a new level.  There's no point in going into details; I'm not interested in sowing discord.  Suffice it to say, it has been painful.  But, there is a silver lining to my heartache, a bit of luck embedded in my pain:  it created clarity.  I finally know that it is time to make a change. I don't know how that change will manifest, but I am finally motivated to take concrete steps to make change happen. I'm no longer debating and I'm no longer stuck. I know it's time to go.  That feels like luck; maybe left-handed luck, but luck all the same.

"Now there's a way, and I know that I have to go away. I know I have to go." - Cat Stevens

There have been times when my luck has been readily apparent and ridiculously abundant.  Other times, my luck is disguised as something that looks distinctly unlucky.  It's hard to see luck in pain and injustice, but if they serve to clear my mind and strengthen my resolve, then I am very, very lucky.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What We Learned In Tiller this Year

Sometimes you walk the duck. Sometimes the duck walks you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Yam Who I Yam

Tennyson said, "That which we are, we are." Locke said, "Whatsoever is, is." Or, in the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man, "I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam."

And yet,  we are capable of change. Change happens every day.  Change is inevitable, unstoppable, the only constant.

Ah, the good ol' yin and yang of existence. I've bumped my head into this ceiling so many times before: immutable nature vs. constant change.  Like light, I function both as a particle and a wave.  I am both matter, subatomic bonds that form, deteriorate, and reform, and energy that cannot be created or destroyed, just changed from one form to another.

If I want to change my life, change is right here, available for the taking. But, change must be reconciled with the essential nature of my being, my immutable self.  So many times I have tried to be something I am not. It never works.

I continually strive to be a better person, but I don't want to be someone I am not.  People give and people take, people come and people go. Through it all, I'll be OK as long as I am who I am. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Colestine Camp Out 2013

What a warm, wonderful camp out we had this year!  Sequoia has been digging at me by saying the camp out was “efficient,” a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one.  I think he is nostalgic for the raucous, chaotic blow outs of our youth, but I couldn't have been happier with how everything turned out.  Our gathering was sweet and easy, warm and loving, welcoming and open-hearted. It felt like family. It was everything I could possibly hope for.

The kids and the dogs certainly had a loud, raucous, chaotic camp out. They had a blast.  So, if we want a wilder party, I say it’s time for the next generation to take over and kick out the jams.  I’m talking about you, Colestin kids. I mean, damn, many of you started visiting while you were still in utero.  This place belongs to you.

Here's the truth: we're getting old. There’s a limit to Sequoia’s superhuman strength. He and I searched for a place like this all through our twenties. Can you imagine what the land would look like now if we had arrived when Sequoia was still in his first flower? Epic.

 As the candles melt into the morning

And the disc golfers young and old fling

The beauties keep getting more beautiful

And the trash just gets more interesting

The artist perfects her eye

Three, count 'em, three barbecues

 Dude, that's sweet!

 Big mama Shasta in the distance

Dutch on the carboy as Junebug listens

 Deep in conversation

 Slip n slide!

 The John Conniff Dead Show, featuring fingers of the 'fist

Danny whuppped Daddy

 A proud moment for young Tyler

Dogboy Disc Golfs!


 Young Love

Some of the Fam-Damily