Surfaces

I am by nature a person who likes order, everything in its place even if that place requires some reordering from time to time. Case in point: I have a thing for scarves. Just when I fear I have too many, I reorganize. Voilà—no more digging into a drawer to stumble on one I almost forgot I had. Abundance, something I do not take for granted, often becomes a nudge to divest.

There’s no having too many books, on the other hand.  The conundrum here is organizing them in a way that makes sense:  certain shelves devoted to poetry, others to art, novels grouped in ways even I sometimes puzzle over. I have my own logic (not alphabetical), which makes it all the more frustrating when I can’t locate a particular book that somehow is not on the very shelf in the very room where I was so sure I had put it.

Then there’s my kitchen. I certainly managed well enough before we reconfigured storage for plates, cookware, utensils, pantry staples. But a well-thought-out upgrade makes for a more efficient entertaining and cooking space. The pièce de resistance has to be a drawer devoted to spices 😉

Hard to say whether my affinity for order has a genetic component or is an acquired predisposition that comes from years of living in small apartments where the slightest disarray would seem magnified. And it hardly matters. I have a theory about space: the less you have, the more efficiently you use it.  Move from the small apartment to the large house on the hill and, for some reason, you have trouble finding room for everything.

All of which makes it amusing to me when I walk around my house to see things placed on surfaces everywhere. The bed in the room that was my daughter’s seems to have become my laundry sorting and folding surface.  I take my time, let freshly laundered clothes and towels sit there, until I’m ready to fold. Which could still be days before I put things away,

Issues of the New Yorker sit here and there, a visual point of pickup reminding me of articles I haven’t finished reading, new issues I haven’t even skimmed.

Whatever it is that brings some semblance of order to our lives is a good thing. Being a slave to order is not a good thing. Then again, order is one step removed from ritual, which is nothing if not a way of ordering our lives.  There’s no creating stories without sitting down regularly to write. There’s no quieting the mind in a meditation practice without sitting, paying attention to the in and out of breath, acknowledging the spin of thoughts and feelings that keep us from truly settling into the here and now, which brings us back to the in and out of breath. Open to any page in any of the books by the always enlightening Pema Chodron and something is bound to resonate. Here’s a Zen story I love from Comfortable with Uncertainty. It goes something like this: a man is by himself in a boat on the river in a boat at dusk. When he sees another boat coming toward him, it makes him happy at first to think someone else is enjoying the river on a summer night. The boat approaches faster and faster. The man stands up, screaming now for the boat to turn aside. The boat smashes into him. It’s an empty boat.

The mind is a knotty entity, sometimes leading us to perceive things not there.  As I keep trying to fathom the wisdom of Buddhism, I do my best to let that bigger thing called Mind remind me that everything really does change. Impermanence is the real order of our lives.  Barely a week ago, in this wintry Northeast landscape, the surface of the lake I walk around when weather permits was frozen solid. A bombogenesis that left me with a new word to play with and lots of snow gave way to much milder weather and a lawn I can see again. Today the lake is once again frozen. Think of all the shapes water takes and the metaphors it embodies. Even when surface water freezes, something is going on below.

 

As I sit writing, I get word of the death of someone once married to a cousin of mine. I have not seen her in years. What her death brings to the surface are feelings about the distance—in miles as much as mind—that loosens family ties once so tightly bound.  Expectation surrounding rituals (birth, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings, funerals) once a given, gives way to less absolute assumptions. Death brings a pause to any order in our day, not to mention our lives. Memories close to the surface, colored by time, may make us long for something long gone. Deeper memories paint a truer picture of the home we left, the one we can never really go back to.

 

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Empty nest

This morning I woke to an unfamiliar sound, the gentle beep of a new alarm clock. I’d finally replaced the bulky digital one on my night table. The shop owner promised the mechanism was quiet, no ticking.

I almost always wake around the same time every morning, no alarm necessary. It’s a funny thing about body clocks. More to the point, I was in the middle of a dream that had something do with a combination lock I couldn’t open. It took a few dream minutes to realize the lock I was trying to open really looked unfamiliar and had numbers rounded off in fives so that finding the precise combination was tricky indeed. That was my key to realizing I was trying to open the wrong lock. So I pulled out a different one from my bag.

Voila! Mystery solved although the greater mystery might be why I carried more than one lock in my gym bag. Isn’t there something so satisfying about the right-left-right of a combination lock, and the way it lets you know, by a certain feel, when you’ve hit the final digit?

I could analyze, connect the dots of the dream to aspects of my life, the distress of not being able to open a lock, the search for the right (winning?) combination as obvious a metaphor as it gets. The Zen master Bassui says, “It doesn’t matter how much you search for something in a dream, you will never find it.” I say: Don’t we all know when something isn’t quite right, if we’re truly listening?

Case in point: I originally planned a piece that begins like this:

‘These days I’m thinking a lot about curses. Mostly the superstitious kind though it’s no surprise to learn that the word itself is rooted in anger: Cursian (Old English, to swear profanely). A character in a story I’m working on becomes a little obsessed with the notion when a great-aunt from Italy comes to America to live with her family. Once this great-aunt (sister of the girl’s grandmother) enters the picture, there’s no explaining anything except in terms of a curse. If a girl is too tall, a boy too short, it’s a curse. The very arrival of the great-aunt herself years after her sister came to America is readily explained by a love affair, cursed from the start.’

That beginning would have taken me to the closest thing to a rant on what promises to be the ugliest presidential election ever, which (no glibness intended) has all the markings of a curse. The presumptive Republican candidate (I can’t say his name without feeling physically ill) riles people with the most undignified words anyone, running for president or not, should say. The presumptive Democratic candidate does her best to keep the conversation dignified. The rest of us watch, believe we’re listening even if what we hear is only what we wanted to hear in the first place.

What was wrong with that piece was the rant direction it took me on, not really my blogging style. Everyone has an opinion, yes, and everyone thinks that whomever he/she supports is going to save the day (never mind the planet).

No one is perfect. All politicians stretch the truth.

In the best of all possible mindsets, I’d ask for reason (and heart) to rule. In the reality-TV-driven mindset that threatens all sense and sensibility, it takes a village to stomp the anger (never mind the tears).

In the early days of the blogging bandwagon, there was an implicit sense of immediacy, giving voice to what’s going on in the world, shaping a personal vision. Favorite blogs of mine have spurred interesting conversations re: books/writing/spirit/politics/feminist issues. Some are on hiatus, others posting with less frequency at a time when, alas, we need those voices more than ever.

We need to reverse the curse. BIlogging overload, election burnout, a flimflam man emerging in ways that echo the actor who fooled everyone in the Eighties somehow combine to have me recalling (ironic as it seems) a cult book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, that promised a paradigm shift in consciousness, one that would make the world a better place. We all do our part, one by one, most often without fanfare. Here’s what I do: Any magazine, literary or otherwise, with a cover blurb/story about the presumptive Republican candidate gets tossed into the trash. Immediately. If I can’t fight the media forces that lifted the candidate no one thought would ever get this far but has gained strength from the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity wave, I can make a statement of my own.
nest1

The nest in the joists under my kitchen deck has toppled over. Hard to know if a predator, or the wind and rain, got to it. There are no eggs anywhere around, though I have noticed a bird swooping under the deck. I like to think the eggs were not yet laid, even if it means all the building has to begin again.