Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Thinking Porch

One of the hardest things for me to do is to just sit and think, to let my mind wander where it may. Maybe because that sounds kind of dangerous. Who knows what crazy ideas might come out of taking the leash off my brain? Still, it does get tired of kicking into action for all the practical day-to-day stuff, for work or in a crisis. But there never seems to be the right time or place to go beyond the energy of immediate thinking.

For the past few months, I've had a deep need to get away from practical thoughts. Yes, to just sit and think. To dream, explore, wonder. To not think about the everyday or the have-to stuff.

So why can't I do that any time, any place? I'm guessing it's my appalling lack of self-control in responding to technology, petty household chores, and the need for mani/pedis, unnecessary trips to Publix, and naps. I own my lack of self-control in these areas and more, but my brain was in need of a good spring cleaning, so I decided to do something about it. Last week, I took a little vacation time, found what looked like the perfect getaway location, and headed for the hills.

My room was the only one at the hotel with a private porch. Granted, the (very unbusy) parking lot ran along one side of it, but the porch faced the lake, hills, and lots of azaleas, wild honeysuckle, and evergreen trees and made a nice little nest - wooden chair with several cushions, a little table to prop up my feet, side tables for the stacks of things I'd planned to do to unwind. Read. Write. Draw. Drink tea. Yes, big plans.

But once I settled into my little outdoor nook, I found myself not energized to read or what have you; rather, I was constantly being called out of my books and journals by wind in the trees, chattering birds, and the wet-on-wet sound of water in the garden fountain. After wasting some time trying to stick with the program I'd set for myself, it dawned on me that I should take advantage of the sights and sounds around me, lay aside the books, and just see where my mind would take me.  Fortunately, where it called me wasn't work or money or other routine things that usually demand brain-time. I was called to let my head go wherever it wanted (yes, perhaps a little dangerous), to indulge in the luxury of deep thinking with no real purpose, no endgame thought-goal. And it was divine.

I won't bore you with what I thought about or what life questions and answers I worked out. The point is that spending early mornings, afternoons just before suppertime, and late into the nights on that thinking porch was exactly the spring cleaning my fuzzy old brain needed. Cups and cups of tea helped, too, by the way. As I let the mountain sounds sink in and blow through, really listening to the birds, frogs, insects, wind, and rain, I realized the reading and writing could wait. The thinking couldn't.

I didn't miss TV or my laptop. I didn't miss being in a fancy-schmancy hotel, though I had every necessary comfort in this small mountain inn. I didn't miss sticking to a plan. I let it all go. Just to sit. Just to listen. Just to notice. Just to think.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Now I'm 64

Yes, the day has come. The day that seemed so far off to a 16-year-old in 1967 when she first heard a catchy little Beatles ditty. I am 64.

Unless something suddenly changes today, there are folks who need me and feed me (well, I can still do that myself). I have grandchildren on my knee or with arms around my neck, though it's Liam and Charlotte, not Vera, Chuck, and Dave. I can let my own self in if I come home at quarter to three (very rare, that), go for a ride on Sunday morning (or any other day of the week), do some damage to a bottle of wine, and can mend my own fuses (though I can't knit, by the fireside or any other side).

It's hard to imagine what 64 is like to a 16-year-old, or to a young songwriter, for that matter. Knock wood for continued good health, I look beyond today to continue putting my heart and soul into my family, my friends, my vocation, and whatever God leads me to do. I hope to write more. I hope to pay more attention and take time to reflect on the small stuff that makes up life. I want to give in more to joy and give in less to stress.

The great thing about getting older is that I just don't give a damn what you think about my clothes, my weight, the wrinkles on my face/hands/etc., my religion, my political views, my choice of reading material, or the color of the rug in my living room. In short, I'm here to be true to myself and be the best mother/grandmother/sister/aunt/friend I can be in my doddering elderdom.

So, 64, I embrace you! Pass the wine!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Everything Points to the First Rhubarb Pie

Nothing pleases my poor little would-be writer's heart more than discovering the work of a real, true writer. Someone who absolutely nails descriptions, ideas, and life-stuff to such a degree that I slow down just so I can savor the words. Such is the case with Verlyn Klinkenborg's book, The Rural Life, based on his New York Times column about life on his small farm in upstate New York.

The book sat on my shelf for a year or two, one of those situations where I read a good review of it and ordered right away (damn you, Amazon, for so easily indulging my biblio-cravings!) but never quite got to it. I mean, really, The Rural Life. What was I thinking? I am all city-girl. The rural life appeals to me not one iota, though I can stand 3-4 days at a time without bright lights, traffic, sirens, and people, people, people. Much beyond that and I start to wither a little (damn you, extrovert/A-type personality!). So, no, not a rural girl in the least. But what drew me to the book originally was the idea of getting more in touch with the seasons and changes of nature, plus having read many of Klinkenborg's columns in the Times. 

Somehow, winter seemed a good time to pick up The Rural Life and see what I might be missing in my brightly-lit world. The book is organized by months, and it was January, so, yeah. A good time to start. January. It's now April. I'm still reading. Here's the kicker: It's only 212 pages, and I'm only halfway through (July, if you're interested). But I find myself  re-reading chunks of chapters and whole chapters, just so I won't miss some glorious bit of prose. A yellow highlighter sits handy to underline phrases, sentences - yea, verily, even paragraphs - that must be mulled over and remembered.

A few, a very few, of my too-good-to-forget images from The Rural Life:
  • "Other seasons come abruptly but ask so little when they do. Winter is the only one that has to be relearned."
  • "A garden is just a way of mapping the strengths and limitations of your personality onto the soil."
  • "In this part of the world each day seems to bring a different, contradictory season. But everything points to the first rhubarb pie." 
  • "Everyone reaches for fullness in summer, but the fullness that most of us know best belongs to the memory of childhood. What was it that made summer days so long back then and made the future seem so distant? What was the thing we knew or didn't know?"
  • "The root of the New England character is incredulity, a state of chronic, weather-induced heartbreak .  . ."
The language speaks to me. The order of the words speaks to me. The soul-grabbing images speak to me. I want to remember all of this. I want that hope of the rhubarb pie, or trying to discover what I knew or didn't know all those summers ago. The writing demands deep reflection, something I'm not very good at. I'm working on it.

There is a slight downside to all of this, though. While I purely love exceptional writing, it does hit home that I will never achieve this level of expression. Oh, I can tell a pretty good story - and storytelling is so, so important, I get it - but I'll never write anything that demands yellow-highlighter proximity, phrases that must be remembered. Nothing that will ever point to the first rhubarb pie. But I can surely appreciate the ones to whom the gift has been given.