Monthly Archives: January 2019

As long as we both shall live

I’m watching my body a lot, a habit of may my age, since ones fifties are, on average, when the changes start to accelerate, or seem to. In reality for most of us it’s gradual, but the sudden realizations of the gradual changes are punctuations in the gradualism. Like, suddenly I have three gray hairs, five inches long–where did they come from? Or, how long have my eyebrow hairs been so coarse, my bunions so pronounced, my eyelids this drooping?

I’m pleased, actually. I feel fit and healthy, strong and wiser, and for some reason have less cellulite now than a decade ago. My hair doesn’t fall out as much as it did a few years ago, and I kind of like the veins in my hands. Also, I’m having a resurgence of interest in, and time for, connecting with friends and making new ones, in going out and having fun, and even dating. Not that I get out much, certainly not on dates. I still feel that’s premature, as I am only five months a widow. But as I admitted to a friend and colleague a few weeks ago, I’ve been interested in dating for years, since before my husband got sick. When times were hard between us, and I wondered what the future would bring, whether our paths would stay aligned, I imagined what it would be like if I became single again. I thought I’d enjoy it very much–I’ve always got on well with men, found them easier, in many ways, less intimidating, more accepting and more open to in my style of communication than women.

Not that I ever cheated on my husband, or flirted, even. It was all in my mind. Nor was he unfaithful even through the hardest times, though he would flirt too, in an innocent way–more like being a good listener and making women feel important and worth conversing with. Once we were very secure in our relationship, after the first few years, I never had a problem with that, though I’d tease him at the way he’d get waitresses, church ladies, salespeople, older and younger women, listening to his every word. We talked about the temptations we began to have later, although I kept my confessions at a theoretical level. I had learned how tender and fearful he could be, how insecure, once by a strange circumstance, which I’ll describe below.

I was extremely careful with my attentions, assuming any man could, if I was not very careful, get the wrong idea. Even married men, even churchgoers, younger or older. Because of what my husband had shared about how most men think, and because so many times in the past I had naively pursued and nourished friendships with fellows I had no romantic interest in (but being more comfortable with guys), be my relaxed self, and end up receiving their amorous attentions and having to drop the friendship, not really knowing how to recover from that embarrassment. Though I learned to give hints that I was not interested in that way, which helped. Also, if in a relationship with someone, I was always very careful to be loyal to that person until we parted, and spend little time on other friendships with guys. Just so it was all very clear, because that’s what I would want.

Except that time, after holding out for months against the attentions of an extremely attractive grad student whose passions were, I think, further fired by my attempts to keep my distance and be faithful to my nice Christian boyfriend and my faith. Meanwhile, my secret passions  for him were fired by his respect for me, his self control, and deep, intellectual conversations over coffee in the graduate student bar. He’d found the surest way to win my heart, which he did fully and completely, and I apologized to my Christian boyfriend, confessed my weakness and decision, and soon brought the new fellow to my college Christian fellowship. He was only intellectually curious as wasn’t willing to take on the yoke, however, despite my explaining that I couldn’t get serious with a non-Christian. I refused to let the relationship proceed past the sex before marriage point, for example.

He was unphased, and would not give me up. I was conflicted (he wrote a poem about that, which I later destroyed, but still of which remember the final line). I’d bought tickets to Bruce Cockburn, and we argued about this during the show, with touches and kisses in the dark.

It didn’t help that the wife of the staff worker in our student fellowship, when I brought the fellow for the Friday night worship, sidled by me and said in a low voice, “Now that’s the kind of guy I used to go for!” I had given my ultimatum about the conditions of the continuance of our intimacy. He refused. We spent a glorious spring and summer traveling around Nova Scotia, sleeping at my insistence, in separate tents, surveying fields for drainage, and writing for various environmental projects. The separation didn’t last, as I couldn’t hold out any longer, and, whatever–he was worth it, I thought. Then he went to Dominica, and after being invited there and me paying for my ticket, he called me at work to read the breakup letter. I remember pain in my gut, clenched teeth, and curling up outside in a snow storm almost wanting to freeze to death. Whenever I thought of him for the next fifteen years, I pictured myself punching him in the gut. He probably would have taken it as his due. Apparently I was some kind of project or experiment, to see if he could get me to love him, and if he could love me. Always the gentleman, he confessed that he did, but also didn’t. Something about his heart having been broken previously.

For years, I didn’t know what I would do if I saw him again–would I punch him in the gut? II felt his presence everywhere, as if he was watching me. I imagined running into him on the bus, in a pub, even across the country when I moved there.

That was a relationship I had to talk about with my fiance (a committed Christian, intellectual, multitalented, and tall, dark, and handsome) as we worked through our pasts. Had I bonded with the gur? Was I over him? The fact that I still wanted to but punch him favored a no answer. Does one ever get over that kind of young love and heartbreak?

The other relationship of note–one realizes this after reflecting all these years–was a purer, chaster love, with a sweeter, more friendly attraction. That was the fellow I still call my first love. Had I not gone away on a six month cultural exchange and as a consequence been emotionally exhausted by the experience, we might still be together today. He was sad when I said I just couldn’t be with anyone, and he went in another direction, married a woman I didn’t know well, but liked and respected, and is a happy father of three boys, a teacher and basketball coach.

In some ways, I think I was too much for him–I’m too stubborn, maybe too sarcastic, too many ups and downs, him being sweet tempered and kind, very outgoing and social, but tender–I might have hurt him. The man I married was made of stronger stuff (as a mentor once told me American men are in comparison with Canadians; he said I should marry one, which I thought funny, as well as highly unlikely). So I think it’s just as well. But I still feel tenderness toward him, and always will. I finally let myself look him up online, and there he was, handsome and smiling as ever, and I was sorely tempted to send a friend request! Didn’t seem like a good idea., though I wish I hadn’t sent back the mementos I had from him (which I did when I got engaged). I fancy that he can’t trust himself to friend request me either, for I’m easy to find and he may have checked. We had that kind of parting.

My husband wasn’t as concerned about that fellow, it not having been a consummated relationship. He had the wrong idea about that, but oh well. I’m glad he didn’t worry.

It was strange for me finding out what did worry him. When I caught a ride to my daughter’s fifth grade multi-day trip to the mountains with a divorced dad of her classmate, I didn’t think anything of it. We chatted there and back, and that was that. But when I casually mentioned the drive to my husband, I found out about the tender insecurities in the heart of my otherwise extremely confident, unselfconscious mate. I had to reassure him over and over that there had been nothing, nothing! of any concern, and make sure he believed it. So when I actually did feel attractions, my thoughts remained my thoughts, and I would never hurt him with them, and certainly would never betray him with actions. Over the years of our marriage I’ve had at least as many crushes as the next woman. As my mother, for example, who was fond of mentioning hers, for example.

I feel like my secret attractions helped, in a way, as they had a way of spicing things up in our bedroom, without his even knowing why. And if it was the same for him, I forgive him–whatever! Some might say those are emotional affairs, and just as harmful, but I disagree. Iit’s not as if any were based on an actual relationships, only thoughts, never communicated to the men in question. I was always relieved when an attraction, fizzled, anyway–it’s not as if I wanted to be attracted to anyone but my husband, especially anyone I’d see regularly. And although our marital passions were mellower after over twenty years of marriage, they were still there for both of us, along with all the familiarity and companionship, such as it was, and never perfect. One can never appreciate enough the miracle of another mortal, let alone one’s chosen mate, one realizes after losing one.

Mark, I feel your kindliness toward me, your understanding and releasing me into my new life. It’s not you who’s holding me back. Our children seem okay with the idea of me dating too. I’m just really enjoying my independence, honey, and you know that about me. I love making decisions without consulting anyone, love having all this margin in my days to go out and do whatever I have time and energy for. And also, I want to honor you to your family and not minimize the significance of your presence in my life, to honor your memory. They’re in a different position in relation to you than I, they have different personalities, and their bereavement is different than mine. But they also don’t want me to be lonely, and might think I “need” someone, which I don’t think I do,or not specifically a man. I need people, co-workers, friends, and close friends, as well as people to serve and care for. I’m of two minds, yes–I want to flirt, date, party, be pursued, but I also want to stay free. Freedom and opportunity–two of my most important values, as I told you, when you asked.


December Dreams

I dreamed I was above a river full of dolphins, and one came up to me and let me touch it. I felt its rough tongue and saw its smile up close. It squirted water toward me to keep me from drying out.

I dreamed I was driving in blackest night along a highway, my left headlight out, my right flickering. I resolved to get there by tailing the car ahead closely, and going off the road when any other cars came up behind but could not see me, as my tail lights were out too. But then another car came along with special lights that provided safe travel.

I dreamed there was a religious rally back on a farm off the road, and as I passed there was a crowd waiting to see the holy sights. I asked the person farthest away if they wanted to know what was there, since I had got close and seen it. It was ordinary enough–something good happening, as things sometimes do, that was called a miracle. But no one cared–seeing was believing.

I dreamed I was going to go through a town, one way or another, with my bike. I looked at the digital image of the town, and there were two bodies of water. I asked a middle aged woman with bleach blonde curls which way to go, and she said straight over the hill (rather than around the shoreline). So I went with everyone else. It was a busy day with lots out walking. It was steep, so I carried my bike up the various sections, then there was a six-foot high fence. People were lined up trying to clamber over. I found a gap and instead of trying to haul my bike up after me, I heaved the front tire over so the bike was draped over the top of the fence. The fence was stained cedar with horizontal metal portions and plenty of hand and footholds, but still, a fence. As the front tire fell onto the other side, it hit a man on the nose–a middle manager with dark curly hair and glasses. I apologized, then started pulling myself up and over, with surprising strength.

I dreamed I got on a bus, and the driver was polite, but when I walked down the aisle, people had pleasant faces but no one would give me a seat. I realized I should get off, so I needed to get a transfer slip, and hoped the driver wouldn’t be annoyed. I walked back to the front, and the driver was cheerful enough, but there were lots of straps hanging from the roof of the bus around the entry, which kept twisting and tangling around her hands as she tried to get the transfer for me. They were like the straps of seat belts.

Then I was at a bus stop, and had to throw something in the trash, but by mistake I threw away something else I had in my hand too, but I wasn’t sure what. So I had to dig in the trash to find it (there was only a little in there). A receipt? An earring? A credit card? Others were thinking it strange, but I persisted.

I dreamed that there was my husband walking in the door, arrived home from work or errands, large as life and and completely healthy. I was shocked, and when he saw me, he was just as shocked. I suddenly realized from his reaction that someone had perpetrated an elaborate hoax on both of us, creating simultaneous illusions that the other had died, so each of us had gone through the whole process of bereavement, grief, and recovery. He looked at me as if he could hardly believe it was me, and when I reached out my hands, he was reluctant to take them. But he did, and I held his hands and wept deeply. But when I woke, there was no one there, and no weeping.

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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Places & Experiences


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It’s not that I’m walking out to make a point, but I may as well wander off and look at the night sky instead of this malarkey

Hocus pocus is hocus pocus
Even if it is a Mayan chant

I wonder if this poet, with her dark, mournful face,
intoning in language none of us can comprehend
and her accompanist, tapping on his rawhide drum, tipping his rain-stick,
making sounds like wind howling down the canyon walls,
are playing us gringos for fools
as we sit straight in our chairs, all hushed and reverent.

It must be good stuff,
since we can’t understand it, and
ought to listen now, at last.

Are they laughing up their sleeves
like the Indians in Freddy the Detective
who squat at the side of the road in buckskin
selling baskets for wampum, speaking with hand-signals
for many moons
then going home to white wine, Chopin
and a book discussion?


East, INTP, Beaver, Enneagram Type 5 speaks out

I am a pretty detached person. Not easily toppled, not easily shaken, somewhat aloof. I am independent, self-reliant, need my space. I cherish my colleagues, friends, and relatives, but mostly from a distance, unless they seem sad or lonely, or may be misunderstanding my aloofness as judgment of some kind. I do not assume I am needed, or wanted at any particular moment, I do not like to interrupt, disturb, or take others’ time. I try to keep my talk to a minimum, am always conscious of the need to finish what I have to say, and to be a better listener. I need a lot of clues and subtle assurances that someone wants to hear more, to know or spend time with me, that someone values my thoughts or feels close to me. I never assume, I do not need many friends, do not need much time with the friends I have, and so sometimes my friends may feel neglected by me. I sometimes lose interest in people who show too much uncritical interest in me, though I have learned to accept compliments and appreciation, neither blushing nor rejecting, but as a kindness we all need and is a blessing to give.

I have a rich interior life, an active intellect, an inquiring mind. I am continually reflecting, analyzing, looking at things from various angles, questioning, wondering. I am an observer, a reader, a copious note-taker. I want to get at the details, roots, befores and afters, causes and effects, determine reasons, extrapolate effects, weigh implications. I feel periodic urges to learn everything there is to know about a given topic, to become an expert, but not by doing as much as reading, listening, talking and debating it out. I am stimulated by controversy, paradox, argument, debate.

I have ideas, lots of them, creative, alternative, various. I delight in imagining, projecting, envisioning, sketching out, listing, ordering, designing, mapping. I sew, draw, have quilted, designed some minor remodels, written some songs and poems, and a lot of letters and essays.

Gardening is my favorite pastime– I find it fully engaging, a truly multi-dimensional, creative, sensual, practical, experience, deeply satisfying at a primal level, and intellectually and physically challenging. I can learn and learn, and experience the fruit of this, but not be complacent or presumptuous. There is always something new happening in a garden, but even continuity may be surprising.

When I was a girl, I was bored with the arrangement of the furniture in my bedroom. So I drew a top view map to scale, marked off inches, measured and located all windowsills, electrical outlets, heating vents, and doorways. I measured each furniture piece, created movable cardboard pieces representing each, and laid them out in one formation after another until I was satisfied, and then moved my furniture accordingly.

My first garden was the same. I planned the shape, researched the methods, mapped out the four year rotations, ordered seeds, formulated amendments, layered compost, scheduled seedings, pottings, plantings, and prunings. I learned discipline of the body as I worked in four dimensions to produce food for several households and run a business.

At work, I am a slow planner. While many days, I am throwing down tomorrow’s lesson plans by the seat of my britches due to lack of time and teaching a new course for the first time, when I have lots of time I use every bit of it as I back up to the big picture view of scope and sequence, to laying out, layer my layer, and in increasing detail, a plan that includes key concepts, learning targets, vocabulary, at least two or three separate resources to support the main curriculum, ties to other subjects and previous and future courses, integrated projects, rubrics, collaborative protocols, note taking scaffolds, and ideas for enrichment and community or career connections. I work on the first of many units until the night before I need to teach, then, having run out of time, whip out a seat-of-my-britches plan on all subsequent days until I have a teacher work day. I forget where my original detailed opus is, so I start it all over again, though it’s somewhat in my mind in the rough. I am learning to be more realistic, though, more practical. Good enough can be good enough, especially when one is  a little worn out.

On a team with the task of getting something done, I want to dig into the information, talk it out, get everyone’s ideas, get all the facts, variables, forward and backward considerations before I lay anything down. After this initial phase, during which I take lots of notes, I want to go off and be by myself, preferably for several hours or overnight with no other duties, to think it all through and come back with an intelligent, well thought-out plan, backed up by a well developed vision, purpose, and justification. Vision is key–I don’t want to go with the flow until I know what the source and the destination are, and whether they are worthy. It’s not enough for me to keep up with a trend, to stay up to date. I want to maintain a direction that is sustainable and leads in a positive evolutionary direction. But I defer happily, once I have said my piece, to the movers and the shakers, as long as they are guided by a decent vision, even if they more too fast at times. I do like to keep an eye out for anyone feeling bulldozed, not that I’m one of those Feelers, but I believe in true collaboration of diverse players, as any biologist should.

I am aloof, as I said, but also very curious about people. I want to know how they think, what interests them, how they approach life, problems, their work, relationships. I want to understand their strengths, gifts, talents, and ways of viewing the world, and why. I believe in the value of diversity for the resilience of a community, and want to be connected with many kinds of people, not with just people I “get” or who get me. I enjoy introducing friends from different circles to one another, assuming each will enrich the lives of the other as they have mine. I am not a jealous friend. Nor do I even understand that sort of thing, drama and such. Though I do find it amusing, and sympathize with those disturbed by this or that perceived slight.

I live so much in my mind, even a little information may occupy me, and I may forget to pay attention to those around me, to inquire into a person’s life, to ask good questions, to show sustained interest. I am startled into the realization periodically that I have not been a very good friend, while at other times I am given ample opportunity to love those around me in practical ways. I feel I am rather stingy of my time, energy, attention, protective of my space, but also, I know a need for relationships and fear their possible loss, at least of those very few I find sufficient.

I am trying to understand how I grieve. The way I explained to others who asked how I was doing was that I mostly live in the moment. There are some many fine moments in which to rest, and with people who care for me nearby, and my pleasures in weather, work, and words, I am never completely without resources, even when I am alone. At least, so far.




Posted by on January 11, 2019 in Uncategorized


The unexamined life is still worth living, say the trees

Sometimes I wake up feeling something afraid. Not even the routine of setting out breakfast for anyone, or putting in another load of laundry to draw me into a sense of purpose. Not even dark-eyed juncos blown about the yard, or a newspaper in the yellow box to read.

It’s after the holidays, before back to work, and I am trying to pull myself together after a night of dreaming class was about to start and I had no lesson plan, the wrong text, and expectations were high. And an understanding that I am on my own, the main architect of how I use the rest of my time here on Earth.

My response to these feelings in the winter dark has been to sleep in until my head aches, then suit up, slip a coffee card in my zip pocket and my notebook in my backpack, and run out the door. The rhythm is good for the brain or something. Duh–using the body to move, work, and build makes one feel better. How could something that should be so obvious, as it is basic animal instinct, have to be chosen, even scheduled as part of one’s day?

I jog up the hill between swishing evergreens, backpack catching the rhythm and swinging side to side. I slow at the top to a walk. I realize I have not been attentive to my surroundings, and so look into the shrubs and trees of front landscaping as I pass downhill.

The thought comes from a grove of firs: “I produce, I reproduce, I die. This is the sum of existence.”

The birds say, “I consume, I reproduce, I die.”

In theory, if a person is in somehow rhythm with those aims, one will be happy. Yes, I mean it. For some species, without consciousness, culture, or conscience, the pinnacle of success is to do that well, given a certain amount of chance and randomness of environment, luck and unluckiness. Consciousness, culture, and conscience are all just layers that can support such aims, and any apparent contradictions are illusory. If existential anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior are also part of our culture, these too are part of the big picture of a successful..if not species, but, say, set of genes replicating over evolutionary time.

Yes, this is woman searching for meaning, although I have not yet read the book. I was okay with it being salvation from sin and communion with the Creator, but I’d like to go more basic now, to a creature, grounded meaning for existence. If I am frustrated in this, that’s okay, and I’ll fall back on creaturely, humanist  basics–eat, work, love, as I know these are fundamentally healthy and satisfying and will push me toward the more socially and morally acceptable contributions to the propagation of this set of genes. Some of which are shared by the house sparrows and goldeneye ducks outside the coffee shop window, and the evergreens. So there is a backup plan.


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