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.”

It’s the real thing.

They said you could taste it – when it was the real thing. It was back in the 1970s. And it was the marketing theme of a soft drink competing in a jumble of other similar products all claiming to be just as good as “the real thing.” And, suddenly, I began to even hear the catchy little song that went along with it (“It’s the real thing … la de da, la de da …“).

It came back to me during church a couple of Sundays ago, when our minister, Reverend Christopher Erde, was making a significant point by using an example he had learned about counterfeit money. He said that U.S. Secret Service agents – those who are tasked with being able to discern counterfeit currency from the real thing – don’t actually study counterfeit money. Rather, they study real money. They don’t spend their time trying to memorize all the possible fake and false variations of our currency. They focus on everything they can possibly learn about our real currency: how it looks sideways and upside down, how it smells, how it feels and sounds when it’s touched and crinkled up, how it reacts to light and shadow and appears under a magnifying glass … even how it tastes. Because when we know a lot about what’s real – know it well and intimately and intentionally – we can recognize all the false and counterfeit competition intuitively. We will instinctively recognize “the real thing.” more “It’s the real thing.”

Always wear your velvet side out.

It was black velvet.  With a deep, thick, shiny nap.  The softest dress I had ever felt.  Of course, I was only about three or four years old at the time, so my experience with dresses of any material was rather limited.  And yet, out of my sense-memory, I can still feel it beneath my hands – glossy, smooth, incredibly luxurious.  I loved my black velvet dress.  I loved its sparkly buttons and its ties at the gathered neckline and its two patch pockets on either side of its skirt.

I wanted to wear my black velvet dress inside out.  I wanted the beautiful softness of it to be against my own skin, where I could feel it best.  I didn’t want to waste all its loveliness on the side facing away from me.  It made perfect sense to my three-or-four-year-old self. more “Always wear your velvet side out.”

AI won’t be hatching my eggs

“It is either thrilling or terrifying and a bit of both, I suppose.  And it is inevitable.  We have already opened that door – and irrevocably closed it behind us.”

Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote the above paragraph in a column about the advancement of AI (artificial intelligence) into the reality of our daily lives.

I suppose I am a bit surprised that it has taken less than five years for it to actually move in.  But bidden or unbidden, AI has already taken a chair in the room, vying somewhat stealthily, with questionable maturity and motivation, for an actual seat at the table.  more “AI won’t be hatching my eggs”

On the other side of the mirror.

     Once upon a time, I lived with a cat named Katie.  Katie came into my life during a freezing cold blizzard one winter in Indiana when she was around six years old; she left it on a warm summer night sleeping quietly under the stars in South Carolina when she was about 21.
     Katie was a beautiful, long-haired calico who spent those 15 years with me providing a vast amount of affection and entertainment.  She was loving, funny, loud, opinionated, and scatty as a bat.  Especially as she got older.
     In her later years, Katie used to sing at the top of her voice to music only she could hear, with a sound that could peel wallpaper.  This was typically in the middle of the night (a rather startling way to be awakened).  She would often take naps in the dogs’ food bowls.  She would only drink water outside (rain puddles, bird baths, and water hoses were her favorite sources).  She would only eat the right half of her food.  She constantly forgot that she lived with dogs and other cats and was startled (albeit pleased) whenever she noticed them.
     But her most mysterious habit was to sit for hours on top of my dressing table peering deeply into the mirror – at “the room on the other side.”  And she would try repeatedly, with great determination, to enter it.  She’d poke at it with her paws, press her nose hard against the glass, make loud vocal calls into it.  No matter how much I tried to gently show her that it wasn’t real, that is was only a reflection, she persisted.  To Katie, it was another, entirely separate, reality.  A reality she wanted rather desperately to cross into.
     Now there is new-dog Liam – a rather large brown hound mix, fresh from the orphanage.  And he has brought with him ghosted messages and memories of Katie and the mirror images.  More poignant, more complex, perhaps.  But no less reflections of reality.
     Liam suffers from a sort of PTSD.  I don’t know the cause.  But it’s connected to humans and triggered by strangers.  And it has left him with debilitating fear and anxiety.  Typically, he runs away from his discomfort.  He ducks behind bushes, or bluffs his way out of scary situations with frantic yet empty barking.  He watches faces and studies body language.  He refuses to be touched by anyone but me.  He crouches low and turns away.  He leaves the room.  He misses opportunities.  He hides from possibilities.
     I understand that kind of fear.  I see startling mirror images of my own sensibilities in him.  Different causes … different triggers.  But an undeniably shared intensity of feeling.  With frighteningly similar outcomes.
     Like images in a mirror, our fears tend to put hard edges and enclosures around each of us – woeful limitations that entrap our lives.  And it creates a unique kind of emotional claustrophobia.  I see Liam pressing his nose hard against it.  (Just as I try to press my will against it.)  Sometimes he hesitatingly takes a step forward, reaching out over the gap, and then he immediately wants to retreat back to safe ground.  (I often accept the kindness of invitations to “go with,” to “join in the dance” … but then I immediately want to change my mind, and I leave the party early.)
     Liam sees a long stick or a folded newspaper and fears he’ll be beaten again.  I feel a new lump or an unknown ache and fear it’s cancer again.  He cannot trust.  I seem to trust with my fingers crossed.  He’s quite sure that someone or something will break his heart when he isn’t looking.  I have my own shards and sharp edges lying in wait.
     Our fears and insecurities are both real and not.  Our reasons are both rational and not.  But they’re ours, our realities – perhaps just too raw or too scarred or too interwoven with the fear of what might be to allow us to be fully present for the truth of what is.
     Author Jack Canfield said:  “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  And I’m beginning to suspect that fear may be rather like a mirror – a turned-around reflection of the truth.  Perhaps Liam and I are on the wrong side of the mirror at the moment.  And we’re both trying to gather up our vulnerabilities and break free, trying to step across that claustrophobic barrier into the reality we want to know.  The selves we want to be.
     Perhaps Katie, in her quirky, infinite, animal wisdom, had it right all along.

more “On the other side of the mirror.”

A gift of sticks and epiphany.

The first time she came to my home, she brought with her – as a hostess gift – a vase of sticks.  The sticks were a wonderful mix of lengths and thicknesses and colors.  Some were frosted with grey lichen.  Some were bent and twisted from wind and weather.  Some were still green and supple with youth, others dark and aged and wizened.  Each one was its own life history.  Each one was chosen especially on its individual merits to create this unique bouquet.

I knew right then we were going to be great friends.  And so we have become.  And, for her last birthday, I gave her a basket filled with the long, ruddy-red and fawn-colored curls of bark that had fallen from my Crepe Myrtle trees, gathered one-by-one, according to shape and size, color variation and personality. more “A gift of sticks and epiphany.”

The cup doesn’t matter.

Perhaps there is a lingering scent of bird wings and honey bees and butterflies about it.  Perhaps the nutty paws of squirrels have left remnants behind.  And there might be the dusky tang of fallen leaves within it, too.  

It is an old, worn, cement-rough bird bath that stands to one side of my front yard.  And throughout the seasons I see a variety of creatures hanging out there – resting, drinking, bathing, refreshing, all sharing it with one another.

All spring and summer, I try to tip it out regularly, spilling its used contents and filling it up again from the hose or watering can.  But come autumn and into winter, I tend to neglect it woefully, letting the sun and wind and rain have their way with it.  But none of this seems to matter to its visitors.

Even cat Tuppence will often balance on its edges, drinking from it.  Dogs stand on tip toes, dipping their tongues in and out, lapping away.  They all blatantly ignore the fresh water bowls placed throughout the house and on porches and paths (where I seem to think animals ought to drink) prefering instead to indulge in the often dark, murky year-round pool of communal participation and left-behinds of the birdbath.

I supose there must be some natural wisdom for this intriguing practice.  Although it may be just the simple act of sharing that’s important.  But I’d like to believe that within its shallow pool – through the unique shared experience of it  – the visiting creatures somehow “taste” the very lives of each other.  Perhaps it even helps create a sort of belonging to one another. more “The cup doesn’t matter.”

Just like that.

Just like that my house smells like dog again.  

I brought him home from the orphanage on the first day of my last week of cancer radiation treatments.  It was an added sixth week of radiation, thrown in at the last minute.  They called it a “boost.”  But I was already right at the edge of my ability to bear it, and a boost, I thought, could quite possible become a “push” right over the precipice into a very dark hole.  And so, just like that, I decided it was time to adopt another dog.   more “Just like that.”