The stories we tell.

It was a book I’d brought home with me from clearing out my parents’ house ages ago, but I’d never read it.  It was one of many books I’d confiscated from their shelves, one of the older ones.  

The book jacket was long gone, of course, and the imprinted title was worn nearly bare from the hardcover cloth itself.  But when I opened the front cover, I discovered a small square folded gift tag that was still pasted securely onto the middle of the first page, just before the title page.  The tag was delightfully dated in its design, with Christmas bells and poinsettia blossoms and the words “Seasons Greetings” printed against a background of silver and blue.  Opening the tiny card, I found my mother’s familiar cramped handwriting:  To Byron (my father); From Helen (my mother).  

The book had been published in 1938, the year before my parents married, so I assume this had been a gift early in their 70-plus years together – perhaps their first Christmas as husband and wife.  It was, in fact, written about a young newlywed couple on a first trip to Europe.  The wife had written it entirely as journal entries documenting that year-long experience as they lived it – mostly in rural England during the husband’s employment there as a visiting professor.

The story was filled with often surprising and insightful reflections of place and time – told with humor and intelligence and keen observation.  It was a story that went beyond the experiences themselves, and spoke of society and culture, of political atmosphere (pre-World War II) and physical climate (a lot about the weather), of fashions and food, modes of transportation and living conditions, even insight into the equality (or lack thereof) between the sexes and races and “classes” of people.

It didn’t strike me as being an “historical” account particularly because it was written by a contemporary of my own parents.  Although it was published some 85 years ago,  it touched my heart and my mind as if it had been written just now, just for me, just as my mother might have told it to me.  My parents travelled a great deal during their time together, as well – perhaps inspired in part by this book that was shared between them at the start of their marriage.  And they, too, told stories of peace and of war, stories of startling differences and of surprising similarities, stories of welcome as well as mistrust, stories of unspeakable poverty and of equally unfathomable opulence.

I suspect that right now I may be especially aware of the stories we tell because I have just completed the writing of a new one myself – a novel.  And it has reminded me of the significance of storytelling, of how compelled we are to do it, even the responsibility of it.  Storytelling is such a purely human way of connecting with one another.  A way of reaching out and sharing ourselves with each other.

My conviction about authentic human storytelling was also thoroughly underscored these past couple of weeks as I was privileged to attend several performances of the “Joye in Aiken” series.  Here, the stories were told not through the written word, but in a vast and diverse array of astounding “voices” of sound and movement.  From vocals to instrumentation to dance – from individuals as well as collaborations – the stories were profound.  They were stories told for the most part by youth – yet many had their roots in generations of long ago, while others reached forward and introduced us to generations of what is to come.  

All of these stories were brimming with human energy and enthusiasm, talent and excellence.  And they were overflowing with grace and beauty and love.  But more especially, I suspect they were expressions of hope.  Hope for humanity and each other and a future for all the stories yet to be told.

The gift.

I don’t remember when I started wrapping gifts in scarves.  But, for a very long time now, instead of using gift bags or wrapping paper, I much prefer to find interesting or pretty scarves in which to wrap and deliver my gifts.  

Sometimes I choose a particular scarf because it reflects something about the gift; sometimes it reminds me of the recipient.  Typically, I buy the wrapping scarves from little corner resale stores or charity shops, yard sales and church bazaars.  They’re fun to find and they add just a bit of extra presentation and value to the gift itself. more “The gift.”

One’s tall, one’s short, both freelance.

I think they must be freelance dogs.  The two that live with me, I mean.  Liam, the tall one, came along about 15 months ago.  Daphne, the short one, arrived just last October.  Neither one of them is what you’d call a “normal” dog, not a typical pet, nor a traditional companion.  Both are of unknown heritage and rather large gene pools.

They’re quite fond of me, I think.  Well, Liam is.  Daphne is still rather sassy and standoffish.  But neither of them appreciates other people at all – so I suppose I should feel special in that regard.  They both prefer freeform lives that are highly solitary, borderline isolated.

more “One’s tall, one’s short, both freelance.”

The shoes left behind

The shoes were cheap and worn.  They were light beige and scuffed, strappy and open, with very tall heels.  They were the kind of shoes that a woman would wear to make her legs look extra long and noticeable.  The kind of shoes that a woman would wear to attract attention, usually men, often for money.  But there was no woman. Only the shoes, left lying there, discarded in a heap, in a corner behind an ice machine, in an outdoor strip mall. They looked terribly cold and painful and woefully abandoned. more “The shoes left behind”

A season of fog and change.

I suspect if I had been walking through it, I would have found it rather beautiful.  Perhaps if I had stopped and stood quite still out in the midst of it, I could have seen its veiled shapes and outlines, watched it move about, heard its secrets, smelled the scent of things hidden in its pockets.  I might even have seen others seeking their way as well.  But I was driving a car, and it was not quite dawn, and so the fog that was enveloping me just felt thick and ominous, unnerving and unending, and terribly lonely. more “A season of fog and change.”

A thousand fibers and sympathetic threads

We were walking as we often do in the early morning sun and shadows, down narrow roads that wind.  We were physically separate from each other.  I was carrying the leash, and dog Liam was walking close by but pausing occasionally for a deeper sniff, a longer view, a more nuanced listening into the quiet.

But then, rather suddenly, we came to a corner where a lawn was being mowed and manicured, edged and trimmed, loudly blown free of left behinds.  And, just as abruptly, on the opposite side of the road, a car engine was started and the vehicle was backing out into the road, into our space.  And further down the way ahead of us there was a dog, barking.  Behind us, two runners appeared, and they were coming nearer.   more “A thousand fibers and sympathetic threads”

If you put it in your life.

“There will be no meditation in your life unless you put it there.”

For one who came late to the practice of meditation – and who is still woefully inconsistent about it – I understand that statement.  I believe in its truth:  “There will be no meditation in your life unless you put it there.”

It’s odd that I don’t remember where I read that or who wrote it, because it has definitely stopped to stay awhile in my head.  It has walked around up there quite a bit lately.  And then it began to move some of the furniture around.

In the attic of my thoughts and beliefs, this particular way of looking at life started rearranging things … like the old vintage footstool where I’ve rested my feet after walking around in the world until I’m absolutely worn out … or like the chest of drawers where I’ve stored my truths and beliefs and customized conclusions for so long they have dust bunnies … and like the shelves where my pictures of reality sit in neat, carefully aligned, albeit crusty, rows.  This one idea sort of kicked them all askew.  And I began to stub my toes on them.

To be honest, it wasn’t that phrase itself so much as what happened when I looked at it the other way around – changing it from: “There will be no meditation in your life unless you put it there;” to: “There will be meditation in your life, if you put it there.”

I liked that slight shift in meaning … that subtle slip in its reality and perspective.  And from there the idea began to take hold of other states of being, like:  “There will be joy in your life, if you put it there.”  And “there will be kindness in your life, if you put it there.”  And “there will be compassion in your life, if you put it there.”

I looked for other things that were obvious – stacked up, if you will, right there in the corners of my mind’s attic and hanging from the rafters – and I found this trick of phrase worked well with such things as:  joy and hope and generosity, integrity and understanding, faith and forgiveness, mercy and acceptance, humility and patience, happiness and beauty.  All would be in my life … if I put them there.  (Even the idea that “there will always be dogs and cats in my life, if I put them there” fit in nicely.)

But then some other things began to crawl out of the shadows and from under the rugs of that mind-room where they were being stored – and they were also true and evident and undeniable:  “There will be fear in your life, if you put it there.”  “There will be ugliness in your life, if you put it there.”  “There will be anger in your life … and hate … and loneliness … and jealousy … and isolation … and indecency … if you put it there.”

I suspect a great deal of ourselves and our memories, our experiences and expectations, do get stored away in the hidden places of our hearts and minds – in metaphorical scrapbooks and locked-tight suitcases.  And it’s up to us to decide what we keep fresh and useful and living today; and what gets forgotten, left to fade in the dark or dry up with time.  And, sometimes, a new idea – or an old idea simply seen in a mirror-image – helps us shift it all around and move it from there to here.  

“There will be no meditation in your life unless you put it there.” “There will be meditation in your life, if you put it there.”  A change in reflection that makes all the difference.

As for me, I want to hold more pure hope and blind kindness in my life … to seek more beauty and greater peace.  And, for me, there will have to be all manner of dogs and cats, and perhaps a small flower or two.  And there must be friendships to share in it.  And proper meditation to appreciate every bit of it.  

And now I suspect it is simply up to me to put it there.

A liminal time and place.

I’ve cut them down to the ground.  But I can’t convince myself to pull up their roots.  They were leggy and black spotted, chewed on and curled up.  But at one time they had been so beautiful.  Now they were nothing more than brown sticks with thorns.  They were no longer blossoming deep red and heady with fragrance.  They were no longer my lovely roses.

I had not planted these roses.  They didn’t just come with the house, either.  In fact, they hadn’t poked their heads above ground until I’d lived here for almost six years.  They had simply shown up – wonderfully unexpected and graciously timed, the very spring after my mother died.  That was almost fourteen years ago now. more “A liminal time and place.”

Be more piano

“But see how the strings of the piano attach to the hitch pins on the frame at the far end, and then they’re stretched – with great tension – across the bridges to the tuning pins at this end.  There is tremendous compression between those points.  So much so that it creates and holds a sort of bulge in the soundboard, which is called the crown.  I love that image of a crown.  Because it really is the crowning glory of the sound itself.  It gives the music incredible beauty because of that strength – because it bears the tension, the compression, the stress of it all, with such integrity.  Beauty has a lot of sources, Quinn.  Not all of them are easy or pleasant.  Some are almost unbearable.  But the beauty that comes out of it can be exceptional because of it.”

I’ve been studying the piano lately.  Not how to play it.  But studying the instrument itself (more specifically, the grand piano) – its design and makeup, its pieces and parts, its materials and internal workings.  It’s for a new book I’m writing (the paragraph above is from one of the chapters).  And for reasons of plot development, I’ve had to learn about the functionality of all the hidden bits of the piano – how they interact with each other, how they build on each other for a greater purpose.  It’s turning into a rather remarkable life metaphor I’m finding. more “Be more piano”

It’s June: The trees are breathing.

The massage therapist placed a small cotton ball that was dabbed with eucalyptus oil into my hand and said, “Here, breathe this … it will refresh you, it will open up your breathing.”  And I held it under my nose, and I did feel refreshed and my breathing was renewed.  And I considered how compelling it would be if I could place myself softly under a eucalyptus tree and have it feel refreshed and renewed because of my human scent.

I suspect that I was reacting to having recently read that June is the month when trees begin to breathe.  It has to do with the seasonal reawakening of the carbon dioxide/oxygen exchange that trees and other green plant lives do with us and for us on earth.  And I loved the imagery of it:  trees breathing in June.   more “It’s June: The trees are breathing.”