Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost

One hand crumples like a broken wing
And the mouth’s left corner folds words to a slur,
Imprisoning an old man
Within a half-crippled body.

Left inarticulate, only memory keeps him company.

While his wife putters about, he sits and waits,
Recalling his children, and the grand-children
Who visit occasionally to pin another photo
Amid the collage which papers the wall.

Once they leave again,
He reflects on fifty-eight years of service
Rendered and not paid, for sheer love.

It is strange to dwell with these recollections
Since the stroke cut him off from common life;
He hobbles from table to chair to bed
Hearing a changeless voice.

For charity’s sake, those he helped for six decades
Send strangers to sit with him at times.

He speaks to them slowly and politely,
Offering thanks, over and over, relieved
not to be alone
With the past which can no longer be.

It was Memorial Day when the children came
To sing. Fleeter than angels they descended
Upon the house, opened their mouths for a moment
To emit the praises of God.

Then they were gone again, though the echo
Resounded in the man’s quiet brain,
Stirring round and round the solitude of age
And illness, when a soul is trapped with itself.

Sobs rise, suddenly, and he is humbled
To be seen in weakness.

No shame, though: a man’s prerogative
Is to grow into emotion with age, to feel
The richness of his humanity recalled.

Tears flow to baptize his memories,
Washed and arrayed about him
Like clean white robes of grace.

***

I've joined a local youth group, and we visited an old community benefactor for Memorial Day. It was bittersweet to see his joy and sorrow at the tiny service we did for him.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Things We Inherit

In the backyard of my new apartment, I have a clump of irises growing luxuriantly against the fence. It’s been a warm spring here in Idaho, so already they are thrusting up their buds in long spears. I imagine they’ll bloom within the fortnight.

At this point, the buds are still tightly furled and secretive, so it’s impossible to tell what color the final product will produce. I feel like I inherited a surprise from whatever renter in the past decided to toss some rhizomes in the ground and hope for the best. Irises are actually my favorite flower – I love the extravagance of their enormous blooms, not to mention their incredible shades of blue – so the surprise will be especially exciting for that reason.

In the mornings, I can stand in my kitchen while I drink coffee and watch the flowers, wondering what color they will be.

I was doing this the other day, thinking about Mothers’ Day coming up, and also reflecting on my own personality, which has lately been thrown into stronger relief in my mind, thanks to suddenly living on my own. It occurred to me that I would have never guessed at twelve or thirteen, on the cusp of adolescence, what I’d be like now, fifteen years later. Granted, definitive traits were beginning to make themselves known, but at the time I mostly focused on the anxiety of being the youngest in my class and wondering how to make friends with girls one or two years older than me.

Time passed, of course, and I discovered my real friends (Vasnefy, the Fashionista, Mrs. L., and, most recently, the Phoenix Girl). In relation to them my personality settled and took shape. My various romantic relationships have had their effect, too. The result seems to be a combination of confidence, enthusiasm and determination, although when confronted with other people, a wave of diffidence mutes all of these attributes. I’ve become strangely afraid of crushing others with my admittedly strong personality, so I hold back and guard myself around them, both for fear of hurting them and for fear of being hurt should they dislike my natural self.

When I was younger I often thought that I had only inherited my father’s characteristics.

Recently, however, my brother said to me in passing that of us three children, I especially seemed to have received the best and worst of both parents. So I’ve been reflecting on what has come to me from my mother. The confidence and enthusiasm and determination listed above all are obvious traits from my father, and everyone who is familiar with us both will point out that I resemble him in behavior almost exactly, even while looking far more like my mom.

There are plenty of jokes about middle aged women looking in the mirror one day and realizing they’ve become exactly like their mothers (perhaps to their chagrin). For quite a while I thought that would never happen to me, and perhaps indeed I shall not have that exact experience. However, I have realized that my sympathy for others comes from Mom more than from Dad.

She has an almost infinite capacity for interest in others – both their joys and their sorrows.

Sometimes (because I’m an ungrateful daughter, as all children are a little ungrateful!), I feel wearied by her indefatigable interest. Mom wants the news concerning everyone and their births and deaths and marriages and friendships and babies. We joke about the debriefing everyone in the family must undergo when coming home from an event, since she is so curious about all the attendees and their stories.

However, it’s not just idle curiosity. She remembers everything and next time she sees one of these people about whom she knows a few facts, she’ll run to greet them and discuss their news, whether happy or sad, offering congratulations or condolences as needed. Granted, my interest in others is not so wide-spread or so generous (due perhaps to the diffidence I mentioned above), but I find the same pattern on a smaller scale in myself. Moreover, it has its effect on my writing, too. All writing requires the ability to put yourself into another’s shoes and feel their joys and sorrows in yourself.

I inherited that ability from my mother, and on this Mothers’ Day, I’d like to thank her for that. This tendency in myself has been slowly developing through my young adulthood, and it has surprised me, much like my inherited irises are set to surprise me when they bloom in a few days. No doubt over the next fifteen years, I’ll discover other elements of myself that she passed to me and be surprised and delighted by them as well. I look forward to the process, and I hope my mom will be with me during those years to guide me with her example.

Happy Mothers’ Day to every mother who stops by my blog to read this post!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Finding Normal

I’ve discovered all sorts of things since moving into my own place. With no one around to offer distraction or influence my schedule, there is a lot of new time to occupy. This was actually one of the effects for which I was hoping when I started the search for an apartment, but I’ve been amazed at how dramatic the difference is.

For example, when I was sharing a house, if we were planning to go out together, I’d wrap up whatever I was doing maybe fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure. Then I’d chat with the other people involved until the time to go. Now, on the other hand, I just leave when I want to leave, without worrying about inconveniencing anyone, or having to wait for them.

I’m a little concerned that I’ll become hopelessly spoiled by the total control over my own schedule! At the same time, though, I still have to get to events on time. It’s just been interesting to notice that the effect of going out to a party or a concert or a movie with friends has less overall impact on my time, because I can keep working on projects until the last minute, then grab my purse and leave to get there perfectly on time.

The real question has been how to fill up all those randomly multiplied fifteen minute increments. The first week I was in my apartment, I managed to get an entire story rewritten (it was old and needed to be approached from a new angle altogether), just by pulling out my computer every time I had a few minutes before bed, or before leaving for work, or before an event. It was kind of amazing. I realized how much can be done if one is able to use all one’s time efficiently.

However, that first week, I was still settling in and getting used to being all on my own. Now that I’m comfortable, I’m working on deep-cleaning the apartment. The carpets were cleaned before my move and the guy who had the place before did a reasonable job in surface cleaning before his departure. Man-clean is different from woman-clean, though. I’ve cleaned an amazing amount of grease and grime out of unlikely corners and surfaces that he apparently just didn’t think of (the ceiling above the shower, for example – a surprisingly gross place).

I’m also working on curtains and some other projects, just to get the place feeling more like home. It’s amazing what a difference window treatments and wall decorations make. Until all those are hung, there’s always a lingering feeling of being an itinerant – not quite settled in the place and ready to move on at any point.

I’ve actually been making amazing progress – black-out bedroom curtains and all my kitchen curtains last week – but even so, the cleaning and sewing makes it busy enough that I’ve not been able to fit any new writing into the days. I was feeling a little antsy about this, but then I realized that all those projects will be basically done by the middle of May, at the very latest, and then I’ll really have lots of time to fill. I can write to my heart’s content until the next round of projects rises (I have some furniture refurbishing plans in mind…).

The final thing I’ve realized is that when you don’t have friends built into your home life, you suddenly become much more interested in other people. I’ve joined a choral group, met with old friends, gone to a party, and had several friends over since my move, just two weeks ago. The pleasant thing, though, is that since I do in fact find so much extra time in my schedule, I can enjoy socializing, without feeling that my chance for writing or getting projects done is being eaten up. Just today I went for an hour walk around town, and I’m still managing to get household chores done, a blog post written, and some sewing preparations set up.

It’s interesting watching one’s own life adjust and settle after a big change. Luckily this has been a good change, so I’m enjoying the process and finding almost all the effects enjoyable and exhilarating. Life is busy but good – and very productive, which is something I value!

I realize one can’t live alone forever, so this new abundance of time is a temporary luxury. Even so, I’ll probably be here for at least a year (my lease term!) so I might as well enjoy what I’ve got, while I’ve got it! So far that process is going very well. I’d be curious to know, though: do you find that you are more productive alone or when living with others? Leave a comment to share your experience!