Hormoanal Hell

Many of my friends are too well aware of my rather dry humour. Or my wild and inappropriate humour. Or – sometimes – my descent into unadulterated madness.

Today,  these qualities will combine. And I shall also be adulting – specifically directed at women of a certain age and those who care about them.  Care sexually, in addition to other forms of interaction. The topic calls for a bottom-line discussion here. You have been warned.  The non-latex gloves are off.

So I’m relaxing in the tub, content with my usual foaming indulgence,  assured that I won’t be interrupted by anyone. Living alone has its perks. Nobody pounds at the closed door or hollers at me to hurry up. I bathe in blissful silence. Through the steam, I can hear Bach and Handel. Bach appeals to me because, well, he’s Bach. Paterfamilias of multiple offspring, cornerstone of a musical dynasty, and rather attractive with his enigmatic half-smile, as if he’s hiding an especially fun idea that he will never share.

I know how that feels. I’ve been doing it quite a bit lately. With or without the “fun” part.

Handel I just … like. Confirmed bachelor, beautiful soul,  man who dances to the same winds that play through my own trees. Like me, he has left the world no copy. No biological child to pass along his genes. His music is his bequest. We can’t always procreate. Some of us, however, create in other ways.

So I contemplate this small body sprawled below my chin. Explore its slippery contours, scrub them kindly. Decide that I’m in better shape than I’ve been for twenty years.  I am, in fact, younger than my former self, in most of the ways that matter. The calendar is useful for recording to-do notes but not otherwise.

I’ve been solo for a long stretch now, either in the midst of plenty or at the mercy of circumstance. I tell myself it’s a preferable state for anyone past her prime – if I’m there yet. No fuss, no inconvenient adjustment to someone else’s choices. Just … easier. I say this quite often. I have almost come to believe it, but not quite. The woman in the foam sloshes water over her breasts and thighs. She wonders whether they will be of the slightest damn interest to another living human being, ever again. Anyone who might have appreciated them is either nonexistent or dead.  So she believes.

The ego-centered “I” darts like a hummingbird from thought to thought. Droplets bead on her skin. They reflect light and perhaps her eyes. My eyes. They have sadness in them, and hope too. They are the windows to a soul not completely rubbed clean by time or chance. Rubbed raw, however. I have not bled from my flesh since age 52 but I bleed every day from parts that no one sees.

And thereby hangs a tale, which too many women know. We’ve memorized every word of it. We’re the ex-lovers who don’t dare look ahead to the next chance, the people whose cells feel uninterested in every new experience. The ladies who long for reassurance that we’re still attractive, still desirable, perhaps still destined to walk again in a couples’ world. Everyone is partnered, it seems. We’re clumsy that way. We fear to attract attention, lest we disappoint.  We might run from it – the quirky smiles, the curious appraisals, the extended hands that want to meet ours. We step around men standing at our bus stops, because we can’t ride with them. Maybe they won’t enjoy our company once they realize it comes with a certain deficit.  That’s how we think.

The medical community steps around us, too.  Once our reproductive cycles have ended, few of us ask our doctors any questions relating to sex. It’s like a slamming barn door. The horse leaves with such frantic speed we’re coated with dust, standing dry in the road. Stinging with the kicked sand.  Only 22% of women past the age of 50 ever raise sexual  concerns with their physicians. 38% of men, however, ask such questions. Still not enough – but more than we do.  (Mayo Clinic, Sexuality in the Aging Female, Carol L. Kuhle, 2016)

Why don’t we speak? Why can we not snip the silken threads that bind our mouths?

But it’s damned hard to go there. Vaginal atrophy affects up to half of all post-menopausal women. Suddenly, things aren’t so great “down below”.  Parts of us shrink. They hurt. It’s like sandpaper on gravel. The spirit is willing but the proverbial flesh is not only weak, it’s screaming. Nature’s programming ensures that we will be reproductively sound as long as this is needed and then the gyne-goddess decrees that it’s time to stop that sort of nonsense.  Like she has a say, right? We know what we want and a stop sign isn’t the sort of erection we have in mind at this point. Still … there are undeniable conditions.

For those women lucky enough to be sexually active when menopause swings its club at them, the impact of age can be diminished or at least made less awful. “Use it or lose it.” Still, we can’t predict which of us will end up falling off the veggie truck. Make that vaggie truck. Our partners call us by unflattering names. Cold. Frigid. Indifferent. They take it personally. We just take it. And when they abandon us for warmer beds, we sometimes find their forgotten packets of little blue pills in our medicine cabinets. The seesaw is unbalanced from the get-go. We fall on our asses. The thud is jarring, the consequences lasting.  Ouch.

So we fear to try again. We are afraid to love. We’re scared to disappoint. But  there’s really no set route to the finish line here. There are many other options besides the planted flagpole. We grew up with some pretty ground-breaking books to guide us. We’re not our grandmothers. Women are adept at adapting. We can express our physical interests and desires in several different ways – rather pleasurable, at that. For both parties.

But ours is very clearly a penetrative society. Viagra has made it even more so. And we cannot always be penetrated. Not by choice, merely by biology’s punches over time.  We are (we’re led to believe) lessened if we don’t engage in the whole nine yards. Or six inches. Or whatever fits.

As I write this, “I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly” soars through the room. I used to sing it, many years ago; this was one I learned when I was studying voice, because I asked to learn it. I would give much to sing that lovely, anguished piece again. The last person to play for me is gone now;  I have no love from which to fly or even limp. And a natural process is hardly sickness.

So here it is: I want to raise a window, lean outside, breathe the same joy I used to feel every single morning of the world. Shout to the sun. Become once again the woman I am inside – the woman who has never walked away. The burning self within the shell. Venus rising from the sea, or a tepid bath, or just a small bed where cats stretch with the daylight.

Yet that woman is anxious and discouraged. My current doctor has been forthright. “If you are ever in a position to consider a new relationship, there are treatments.”  She’s a young woman, and I think she gets it more than most. Over-the-counter supplies can help, I suppose. They have cutesy names like Replens and Satin. Or maybe it’s Satan? We – the already-defeated – hesitate to go there. We don’t want to speak to a pharmacist. We study the packaging, squint at the instructions. Sounds messy. Sounds a bit futile. And rather paradoxical, since we won’t need this stuff until we have a use for it, or use it until we need it. I guess a crystal ball goes with the potions and lotions and creams.

The doctor’s more potent arsenal includes estrogen products. These can be effective but their content casts a long shadow. Female cancers. Breasts, ovaries, uterus. Deadly consequences of our craving for wholeness.  Back in the day, when I believed myself less vulnerable and perhaps more obligated to act, a prescription was handed to me. With a warning – “I don’t want you on this for more than three months.” Great, right? Make the beast with two backs and then die before my time, if I’m unlucky. And trust me, I am unlucky more than I care to admit. I’m the woman who sprained her ankle once, driving to Halifax. Guess I pressed too hard on the gas pedal.  You haven’t truly encountered embarrassment until you’re on crutches because you’ve got a heavy foot.

Then there are the sources of these creams. Premarin is a big zero for me; it comes from pregnant-mare urine. I know way too much about the PMU farms to ever consider that particular treatment. Estrace – estradiol cream –  is made from plant-based estrogen, which makes it much more appealing. Still, if we’re contemplating either of these products, it’s advisable to read the monographs and chat with the medical pros.  Then we’ll be aware and informed. These substances  aren’t what our bodies ask for – only our minds.  So there can be tricky side effects.

Meanwhile, I’m not sharing this piece on social media. We’re immersed in silence when attempting to discuss such topics. We can post messages of hate, or truly horrendous jokes, or graphic images of wounded creatures. But this health information might be deemed a bit “much” by some folks.  And since I do want it to be read, I’ll use discretion – for now. I’m not exactly a model of discreet behaviour.

But I’m a woman; I hurt like so many of us. The sadness never leaves my eyes.  I’ll do what I can to help it leave yours – or hers – or the quiet lady’s, as she’s browsing the pharmacy shelves. The one who simply won’t ask, won’t speak. Won’t admit to her own grief.

Information for Further Reading:

The Globe and MailTaking the stigma out of vaginal atrophy – without a little blue pill

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/treatments-let-women-prolong-sex-lives/article21368960/

The Guardian – When it comes to menopausal hormone therapy, women are left guessing at the risks

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/30/menopausal-hormone-therapy-treatment-women-risks-breast-cancer

Livestrong – The Types of Estrogen Cream
https://www.livestrong.com/article/70133-types-estrogen-cream/

Mayo Clinic – Sexuality in the Aging Female
https://ce.mayo.edu/sites/ce.mayo.edu/files/S_4-Kuhle-Sexuality%20in%20the%20Aging%20Female.ppt.pdf

Medscape – Vaginal Atrophy: The 21st Century Health Issue Affecting Quality of Life

https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/561934

Not-So-Auld-Lang-Syne

I am thinking today of my friends who have said good-bye to loved ones in 2015, and are about to enter a year that their lost companions will never experience. For those gone to their sleep, 2015 was the conclusion of their road – a way station to somewhere else. We all have that final year waiting to be inscribed on our own memorials. But unless we are very unlucky today, 2015 will not be it.

My husband was a newshound. Almost as long as I knew him, at 7:30 the NBC Nightly News was his focus for half an hour. Nothing else intruded. He watched other news media as well, but for some reason that was his favourite as he grew older. He also enjoyed CNN. If a breaking story caught his attention, he’d turn to various sources for updates. At the supper hour, Canadian channels predominated – CTV or ATV, CBC, Global. The daily paper then supplied more in-depth coverage of stories already known. We were a well-informed family.

When he was hospitalized at the end, I arranged for TV rental. However, he hardly glanced at the news broadcasts, and I realized then how very ill he was. He had detached himself from the world around him. Letting go of ongoing events seemed so uncharacteristic of the man. Now, looking back, I understand that he had no further need to follow these situations. He knew it wouldn’t matter and that time, for him, was about to stop. I would have to pursue the developing stories on my own. I have not watched NBC Nightly News since then.

How he would have loved the Justin Trudeau groundswell, the election, the excitement of transition! How he would have relished the endless debates about everything from Syrian refugees to the faltering Yarmouth ferry service to the plans for Mother Canada! He would have wept for Paris and Ankara and San Bernardino. He would have recalled his own arrival through Pier 21 as the Syrian newcomers were welcomed to Halifax. He’d now be tracing the rise of Donald Trump. shaking his head in disbelief, and poring over TIME magazine for each election installment. But for him, “now” only goes as far as April 21, 2015. Whatever has come next, I cannot know.

So what is time, anyway? Is it linear? I don’t think so, nor do the great temporal physicists like Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, but we have to make it that way so our human brains can comprehend its passage. We assign numbers to the line and mark our progress by referring to them. But the whole idea of time is inherently a comparison between various states of existence that constantly change. If the universe were static – motionless – would we still measure time or even think about it? Would it matter? New Year’s Eve would become rather irrelevant, I should imagine. We’d be buying our champagne and sparklers just for the heck of it.

“People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between the past, the present and the future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” – Albert Einstein

Indeed. We choose our illusions, then, and live with them because to do otherwise would be too much for our minds to handle. Plato’s theory of forms suggests that ideas existed in perfection, separate from their reflections in our own world. In their “place beyond heaven” (Phaedrus), these forms pattern the universe, and we imitate them but can never quite achieve their purity. All, then, is imitative and – while intelligible to our senses – not quite truthful. And what we perceive isn’t always real. Colours change with the light. What looks blue to me might look purple to you. Think of “the dress” that took Facebook by storm a few months ago. What colour was it, really? And who gets to decide?

Time and Illusion. Or are they the same thing? Time AS illusion? I’m just a poet. I can’t begin to go there.

But the year turns tonight and the last people to die in 2015 will have done so. The gravestone-carvers will inscribe that final “5” and move on to a “6”. Those whom time is leaving behind will see neither peace nor war to come; neither celebration nor grief. They remain eternally in the span to which they have been assigned. We have to walk away and if we turn to look back, there is only silence. Snow, perhaps. An odd salt taste on our lips.

We – not being dead – confront whatever waits for us. We ride in an open carriage, ancient and unfamiliar, while all around us the engines roar by, or above, or under. Space stations orbit, jets trail across the horizon, race cars circle a child’s playroom track. But we’re huddled in an Emily Dickinson poem, almost 130 years after she set down her pen forever. We see only the back of our driver, who handles the reins with ease and confidence. Clearly, there’s only one direction to be taken. The horses clatter on stones that spark fire from their heels. We can look toward the very edge of the universe if we keep going. There’s Polaris beaming us north, and Orion swinging his sword arm in his solitary hunt. The blurred galaxies swim like flecks on velvet. Somewhere, angels are caroling, or maybe that’s just the solar wind heading toward its own fate. It has a low voice not everyone can hear.

I shrug off my worn overcoat of mourning, and put on hope like a lap robe for the journey, to warm my feet. In the crowded darkness, a watchmaker adjusts the minute and second hands to mark this midnight hour. I do not believe he is blind, as some might call him. He simply has no need for optics. He can feel the rightness of things.

Then come the Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels. Someone across the river sets off a string of explosions. I raise my glass to the window, seeing only my own face reflected in its pane. The reality of myself – or just the idea of me? The wine glints in starlight. A Parisian baby opens her eyes for her first astonished look at life. A very old man in Corner Brook smiles and wishes “Happy New Year” to his fragile wife. A shopkeeper in New Delhi kisses his new bride and listens to a ghazal singer from the street. Slowly, with great precision, the planet moves through her own dance.

High over my roof, wild geese vee across a skein of clouds, heading for somewhere else. No map required. They know the way.

Life Lessons from Academia

They say that no matter what you study – regardless of how irrelevant it might seem at the time – someday you’ll find a use for that stored-up knowledge. I’m not just talking about university, but about all kinds of other options for learning. The banquet table is groaning with wide and spectacular choices.
     When I decided to take a degree in Sociology, back in the mid-‘Sixties, it was locally considered a fledgling and rather wishy-washy field. The “real academics” took majors in History, English (I did that too), various languages and so on – and the heavy hitters went for the hard sciences, Maths, Engineering, whatever else had clout. Or they did a Business Administration degree, which was called “Commerce” back then. We also had Computer Science departments – without the internet. Imagine.
      Soc majors, and Political Science types as well, were kind of a fringe element. Our courses included research methodology and other assorted topics that were just as tough as anyone else’s courses. Still, who really cared, except us? We didn’t fit so well.
      I even have a university medal somewhere, which I received for highest standing in my major field. I put it away, which means I misplaced it, and ended up becoming a teacher. I taught everything from English Lit to Phsyical Geography to History to Drama. Anything but Soc! Eventually, when that discipline was added to the high school curriculum, I wasn’t the one assigned to teach the course. This seemed kind of strange: I think I was the only one on staff with a Soc degree. Then again, I didn’t even ask if I could have that course. I kept quiet; I was used to those I already knew. Inertia is a dangerous position. My minor was Psych and that was also considered “soft” so I ignored it, too. Now there’s even a Psych course in high school. I view this as a most positive step.
      So today I look around me, and I realize that a Sociology background can finally be made relevant. Social scientists work with human beings, not lab rats or chemical formulae. And it is human beings, at the moment, who are providing Mother Earth with some very awkward parenting moments. Who better to assess certain situations – including the volatility of the Middle East, the refugee crisis, and the challenges presented by disaffected recruits to gangs (military, ideological and/or street), than someone trained in this area? Who better to study the range of societal variables than people trained to look at populations as a whole, and how individuals relate to these populations? We do understand a bit about demographics, migration trends, ethnic and regional complexities, gender roles, educational and occupational distributions, social and cultural expectations and stratification. We’re no longer soft-core. We “know stuff”. We can even “do stuff”.
      My bucket list includes a return to university, because I love learning, and I thrive in that setting. I’d want to revisit Sociology first of all. This is probably a pipe dream; it’s expensive and demands a certain level of mobility. My degree was long ago and life has intervened since then. Would I get credit for any of my experiences in the interim? I might be a tad lazy these days as well. Call it “age”, I suppose. Other than more letters after my name, I wouldn’t gain anything except more knowledge. And then there’s the interaction with others of different ages. THAT is something I’d truly enjoy!

      Still, I can draw on those long-ago years and courses, at last. I feel rather good about that. They weren’t a waste of my time after all. And there’s the thing: nothing learned is ever wasted. The older I get, the more I believe this.                                                                                                                If you’re taking any particular program or school course or workplace training and someone asks, “Why on earth would you want to do THAT?” – just smile and say, “Someday, I might need it.” You might be surprised when this happens.

 

Be Not Afraid

The merchants of fear are busy on social media in the wake of the Paris tragedy. ISIL has cast suspicion on every innocent refugee trying to flee its cruel regime. People are assuming that every one of them is a potential agent of terror. I feel sickened and saddened  – not only by the carnage in the City of Light, but also by the vicious campaign being waged against innocent people in a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable impact. Are there any quick solutions to this situation? No. It is a logistical minefield. However, the response to catastrophe should not include intolerance toward those caught up in it. Anti-refugee bigotry is being promoted all over social media. It touches people I know; it strikes locally and it strikes internationally.

We have opened the gates of our hearts – to let out compassion; to let in hate. And thus the terrorists win. Hatred is their currency. It is cheap to mint and readily-accepted by far too many of us. But the faces stamped on these coins are quite often our own.

A number of these refugees – Syrians, at any rate – are professionals in various fields. Contrary to popular belief, there IS an education system in Syria. These folks read, write, study, have hopes of a better life. They’re not warriors of any sort. They lack access to arms – unlike the forces to whom certain more powerful nations are quite willing to sell weapons. Since 2011, as of this past September, American munitions makers have sold $7.7 BILLION dollars’ worth of arms to Syrian forces! Sadly, the US has accepted only 1434 refugees from that country. Canada has provided $718 million worth of weaponry. We’ve accepted 2300 refugees. So-called “military aid” doesn’t always fall into the hands of freedom fighters. And a considerable stockpile of US-made weapons constitutes a legacy of the Iraq war. “Many of these same countries fueling the slaughter have also been some of the least willing to grant amnesty to Syria’s refugees.” (US Uncut, Sept. 4, 2015)

I read a poignant interview a couple days ago by a pharmacist who wanted to come to Canada. He’s not unusual. He just wants to be safe, with his family, and work toward a decent future. The majority of Syrian refugees are women and children of both genders, despite what some would have us believe. 50% are under the age of 17! Not even old enough to graduate from our Canadian high schools. 24% are women aged 18-39, and 22% are men in that age range. So to those who try to spread the disinformation that most refugees are males of “fighting age” – you are WRONG. Refer to the UN Refugee Agency. Updated statistics are always available. Here’s the link to their figures. Don’t take my word for this; check for yourselves. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

These refugees, contrary to popular misconception, are mainly families – and they’re powerless to stand against the kind of weaponry that ISIL has at its disposal (often provided by Western countries, as noted above). They cannot simply rise up and fight back. They would be slaughtered – creating a nation of widows and orphans, worse than it is now. There’s bravery and there’s futility. Big difference. Yet I keep reading posts that the men ought to “go back home and fight.” With WHAT? Sticks? They’d be facing assault rifles and explosives and whatever else ISIL has managed to acquire. Purchased, captured or stolen, these weapons can easily fall into merciless hands.

“Ah,” you might say, “But ISIL has infiltrated the refugee camps and planted their agents among these people.” Probably true – as far as it goes. However, those agents would most likely constitute a small percentage. One Syrian passport found near a suicide bomber’s corpse does not equal four million terrorists. Two, or five, or a dozen passports still don’t signify that most refugees mean to do harm. But people bent on inflicting devastation are very good at disguising their intentions. They learn to blend in. Otherwise, it would be too easy to spot their presence. They surround themselves with innocents, knowing full well that when they do act, those innocents will be instantly burdened with their wrongdoings. Suspicion is terror’s constant – and in some ways, far more insidious – companion.

I did some fact-checking and discovered that right here in Canada, 10% of us have criminal records. While some of those crimes may have been minor, I’d guess that maybe 3 out of 10 – at least – were not. Canada is the home of Clifford Olsen, Robert Pickton, Paul Bernardo, Marc Lepine, Alan Legere and a whole collection of other brutes. We’ve spawned the FLQ. We failed to prevent Babbar Khalsa from planting a bomb on Air India Flight 182 out of Toronto/Montreal and killing 329 people – 268 of whom were Canadian citizens.

Our collective Canadian hands are NOT clean! If we believe otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. And for every hateful word or deed, for every hopeful human being denied a chance to realize that hope, the stains spread and darken. We cannot distance ourselves from the bleeding. We cannot close our borders and turn away the victims of brutality and repression. This isn’t who we are as Canadians … is it?

We – together with the US and Cuba – denied SS St Louis entry to a safe port in 1939. We sent hundreds of Jewish passengers back to Europe, where many of them died in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Surely we’ve grown more civilized since that terrible time? Surely we have …

Reading Facebook this weekend, I’m no longer convinced of our Canadian cohesion in the face of fear. But I can’t generalize. That would be unfair. I’d be guilty of the same narrow-mindedness as those who try to generalize about Syrian refugees. I think most of us are still kind, altruistic, reasonable, humane. I just wish those of us who lack these qualities weren’t quite so loud about it. But in the end, we must inevitably reveal our true character, for good or ill. May the good assume the upper hand. And may we not be afraid, because this is what terror networks aim to do – make us afraid. And then will come other emotions. Fear makes us turn on each other. It fractures our unified stance against a common enemy. No wonder ISIL is pressuring us to do this. “Divide and conquer” is an approach as old as humanity.

But division can never bring peace. That has to start from within. We can’t let go of each other. We can’t break our own civil society into fragments. There will always be someone waiting to take advantage, poised and ready to hide in the spaces between. We must not allow this. Not ever.

Beware the Honest Photographer …

Today, I stopped by one of the Facebook photo groups to which I belong. I stayed to enjoy some of the recent shots there. Then I came upon a beautiful photo, and the note with it said “unedited”. Someone had posted a comment to the effect that “unedited photos are best” – and I moved on. It saddens me when groups erect barriers between members. Divisiveness is heartbreaking. Right away, all the other photographers – the ones who might pop the saturation a bit, or adjust lighting, or refine sharpness, or crop their shots to remove an unattractive detail, or reduce noise in the shadows, straighten a horizon line that’s tilted, remove a stray insect that has left a spot on the sky – are dismissed as being inferior somehow. Only those who create “unedited” shots and proudly declare this fact are to be applauded? Really?! What’s wrong with this picture?

Every photo is edited. As soon as it comes out of a camera and is converted to a JPEG file for printing or sharing, it’s changed from the way the camera initially saw it. It’s compressed and there is an automatic loss of detail. For many photographers, shooting in JPEG to begin with, their cameras have already applied editing of one kind or another. We can store the original RAW shots as TIFF files to avoid detail loss (as I often do) but few sites allow TIFF uploads. They are enormous files. But there is no unprocessed, raw shot ever posted on Facebook or anywhere else online that I know of. Not ONE. Even a cellphone shot – especially a cellphone shot! – has been processed by the phone’s own program. In many cases, heavily processed.

Therefore, I’m mulling over the implications of being party to a lie. And it IS a lie, no matter the motivations. People feel pressured to make claims that are simply untrue. I find this terribly discouraging. Why not just look at an image and enjoy it for whatever reasons it’s been shared? Or pass it by and go on to another? Why judge its merits on a false premise?

I don’t mind seeing people share their camera settings by way of information. This choosing of settings, too, is an editorial process but knowing the specifics can be helpful to others who are trying for similar effects. And all cameras have settings. One can see them by viewing them in whatever photo program is being used. Time, date, shutter speed, exposure time, ISO – all are there. Very useful details they are, indeed. And then there’s Image Stabilization. It eliminates a fair bit of camera shake; some of us have none-too-steady hands. So isn’t this an artifice as well? It’s certainly a form of assistance!

Still, there’s this implicit disdain for those who avail themselves of photographic tools and refuse to state otherwise. I wish I knew why this is happening. Ansel Adams manipulated his photos, decades ago. Nobody found them lacking or unworthy of praise. Why is it that now – with the remarkable technology that has been created for our use – it’s apparently wrong to take advantage of it?

Would we want to undergo abdominal surgery by kitchen knife as opposed to laser? Or refuse to refrigerate seafood and chicken because it’s not natural? Or entirely avoid our vehicles in order to travel on foot? Or paint only with our fingers because, well, brushes are artificial? Or write a book but reject the idea of proofreading for errors? I could go on but I’m sure that’s unnecessary.

Call me confused. And somewhat downcast as well. But at least I’m upfront. I edit my shots, period. I won’t try to fudge the issue by stating otherwise.

Here, by the way, is a photo I took this morning – overcast, calm, a tad dull. It was RAW to begin with and got converted to JPEG. I’ve post-processed it, of course, to share it here. How I did that, and what I chose to adjust, I won’t divulge because it shouldn’t matter. In any art form, the means to the end makes little difference. The end ought to be all that counts.

FB IMG_7194eds_edited-1

Looking for a Road to Follow

It’s been quite a year. And sometimes I sit and wonder which direction to take next. I’ve been mulling over the idea of not writing poetry any more; of setting aside my cameras; of moving into some new territory where I might find acceptance and peace – from myself as well as from others.

Life has become a competition: Who can write the best poem and win the top prize? Who can create the most amazing photos with the most public applause or “likes” on Facebook? Who can garner the highest level of support for his or her position/views/candidacy/social status? And increasingly, I wonder why some of us even bother to enter that gushing stream. I wonder why I, in particular, bother. It’s rocky and the water can knock us over. In the end, what’s left but to fall and get thoroughly wet?

If I define myself by “success” – whether it’s placing in a poetry competition or getting a ribbon for a photography prize or being named to some committee or other – that seems like a narrow sort of frame. Maybe it’s time to walk outside the canvas and head into unknown lands. My view is shifting. Success doesn’t mean what it once did. Maybe I’m just too old to be taken in by veneer. I want the real wood underneath, even if it’s rough and grainy.

I have many sins to count and correct – or at least to cancel somehow. Regrets. Atonement. Stubbed toes and twisted ankles. I’m not the person I was in my younger years; none of us can remain as we were. For me, this is a good thing. We can never go back again; we can change not a single blip of time past. We can only live in the moment and hope it will matter to someone.

A poem – like a photograph – is an in-the-moment sort of creation, which is probably why I’ve enjoyed writing this form or wandering around with a camera in hand. But still, I sit back and reflect on whether or not my own moments are worth recording. It seems egocentric. Writers in general are an egocentric lot, I think. We have to be in order to push out and tame those ideas and memories, like having too many babies and not quite knowing how to afford them. There’s an uneasy line between too much of self and not enough of it; between embracing the reader and retreating behind a barbed fence. More than any other genre, poetry bares us to everyone else. We pull out our still-beating hearts and lay them bloody on the ground at our feet. We’re either mad or out-of-touch or stuffily outdated. We draw in the trampling crowds and we also drive them away.

I’m a solitary soul these days. This, too, might be part of aging. Gradually, the companions of my way have fallen behind or wandered off the road and gone somewhere else. I still hear footsteps around me; I still watch tiny figures in the distance. Whether or not I join them, or they wait for me to catch up, I can’t say. Robert Frost spoke of stopping by woods on a snowy evening – alone except for his little horse – and he seemed okay with that. Some people make camp in those woods, sit in circles around cheerful fires, talk into the late hours, with mugs of hot chocolate or beer. I’m the one stopping to gaze among the trees but going no further than that.

Meanwhile, it’s cold outside and my house hasn’t yet acquired its morning coziness. I’m sitting here in stocking feet without so much as a fire in the stove. This, friends, is what being alone can do to a person. We simply forget to worry about things, even basics like striking a match or putting on slippers. And then younger folks call us senile. 

This ramble hasn’t taken me anywhere. My camera still sits at my elbow. The words still gestate in my head. A blue jay in the hedge reminds me of birds and baseball. Flight and defeat; hope and resignation. My empty coffee cup begs for attention. It’s unfilled – like me, I guess. I need to pour into it the steaming brew of bone-toasting joy. One gesture at a time, right? Then the fire, and the footwear. All is well with me; may it also be well with you.

Thanksgiving Monday

After yesterday’s wind-tousled afternoon, it’s hushed here. Gulls have assembled out on the river, perching atop the exposed rocks and drifting like ghosts in an endless stream. Perhaps some fish are returning to the sea, and these birds have come to try their luck. The eaglets are whistling in high voices, sitting on power poles where the view must be unparalleled. Trees have begun to shrug into their fall wraps – a touch of orange here, a kiss of crimson there. Clouds descend to silver the mirror, then quietly depart. The sky arches above me like an upturned cup, filled with the wine of life and celebration.

My Facebook news feed speaks of politics, prejudice, accident and evil intent. It also shares personal posts. A friend mourns the loss of his brother today. Another friend recalls her father with love and sorrow, as he’s been gone for many years. Still another battles a disease whose very name can terrify the bravest heart. My husband’s ashes rest in a plastic case, awaiting release to the air and elements. All is not “happy” here on earth. Not everyone is entirely thankful for what this day has brought to their doorsteps. I will temper my own optimism, which is seldom loud in any event, and acknowledge that for too many of us, this day is simply one more round of struggle and disappointment. It seems almost cruel to flaunt my bounty and my blessings while they have so little.

Yet I would be less than honest if I overlooked the vireo flocks trilling among the maples; my bright-eyed dog keeping watch in the yard; the sheen of water moving forever to a dance of rain and gravity. I can hardly ignore my little family, with a daughter whose strength awes me and a son-in-law whose kindness and patience are gifts to the soul – not to mention a grandson whose whole being is full of laughter and promise. I can never omit a step-granddaughter whose presence lends so much joy. They’re with me every hour, whether or not we see each other in the flesh.

And it would be a shame to dismiss my helianthus, with their gold spires that flare against impossibly blue monkshood. The former – also known as Jerusalem artichokes – are edible and nourishing at their root; the latter are toxic and would kill me if I tried to eat them. So it is, I think, with the barrage of information that runs down my pages and disappears. I have to find the nourishment – the simple, humane touches – among so many less compassionate stories. I want the sunchokes, not the poison. I want to draw down the light if I can. These brief blooms do it, with no thought but survival. With no care but to fulfill their appointed places at the time chosen just for them.

May I fill my own place as well as I can manage, and graciously accept this span that has been granted for my use. May I leave peace, birdsong and sunflowers in my wake.

FB morning mists IMG_6253_edited-1