Friday, April 30, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shine Your Light

Day #3 of subbing for Mrs. P, who as it turns out, has pneumonia. The poor woman had come in today and realized that she was terribly sick and went home. It might be sheer exhaustion after eight months with kids who never stop talking that's driven her to bed. Or, all the testing and workbooks...or kids blowing their noses and coughing and putting their fingers everywhere.

It occurred to me that it could be the classroom that's making her sick. How do I say this? It's a cluttered room; piles of papers everywhere, the walls plastered with grammar posters and weather charts, windows covered with kids' work, blocking the natural light. Congested is the word that came to mind this morning when I walked in. I crawled over some piles and cracked a few windows.

As for me, this subbing thing feels like I'm running a 5K with my workouts consisting of very short walks to the end of my driveway and back. I am really out of shape when it comes to the institutional insanity of public education. When I passed the hall mirror earlier, I had that deer in the headlights look. You all know what I'm talking about.

I need my bed and a book; the perfect marriage. So, let me finish this piece with how my day started...

As I was heading out this morning, Dad hugged me and said," Just go and shine your light, kid. That's all you have to do."

(ps. I hope Mrs. P turns off her phone, and allows herself to rest, and then rest some more.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

NOT A Bumper Sticker

No, it wasn't a bumper sticker this time. I was heading home with Claire in the car, after day #2 of subbing and my Wednesday yoga class with teachers in Stroudsburg. I was tired and hungry, so when something shiny and silvery caught my eye on the truck in front of me I thought, I cannot be seeing what I think I'm seeing. But I was.

I called my daughter, Jess, to confirm my latest sighting.

Hi Jess.
Hi Mom, how are you?
Tired, fine. How's Elizabeth?
That's good, long day right? So honey, I've got a question.
What's that, Mom?
On my way home today, I was behind a very large white Dodge Ram truck. I mean, I knew it was that kind of truck because of the ram sticker in the back window and...
Anyway, there was this thing hanging from the trailer hitch, honey. It was silver and looked...
Oh yea, balls. I've seen them...
Balls? Men are hanging replicas of balls on the back of their trucks now?
Yep. Some guys have blue ones, I think maybe they come in white too.

I think at this point Claire came into the room as I choked on my Tension Tamer tea. "What's on the back of a truck, Mom?" she asked. Claire has ears like a bat. Or some creature that can hear really, really well.

"Nothing honey," I said, "your sister was just telling me about a *bumper sticker."

*read First Amendment Blues & Another Part of the Weirdness

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The School Thing

Last fall, I submitted paperwork to be a substitute teacher, but never followed through with the last piece of it. Except for my occasional writer-residencies, I wasn't sure I wanted to do the school thing anymore.

Yesterday I got a phone call to see if I would sub for a second grade classroom at a nearby elementary school. I wasn't expecting the call, at all. I didn't even know my name was on the list.

I said yes.

Oh my, it was just like old times: Ms. Jackson can I show the class this stone I found? (It looked like a pinto bean.) Mrs. Jacobs? (It's Jackson, sweetie. Ms. Jackson.) Ms. Jackson, Ryan is using two pieces of paper and we're only allowed to use one and... (What the hell, kid, live a little! Use three!) Ms. Jackson, can I go to the nurse? My elbow hurts and...(Buck up, Billy.) Can I sit by you, Ms. Jackson? Sure.

Looking back on my years as a second grade classroom teacher I can't help but think of Little House on the Prairie. My students and I would sit in circle time, dreaming up names to give our paper white bulbs that were coming into bloom; Bear claw, Mike, Three Flowers. We'd measure how many inches they'd grown, get out our crayons, make a bar graph, then hit the playground for a half hour. Not anymore.

Okay, patriotic moment: God Bless Teachers. These days, their schedules are so jammed tight, I'm pretty sure circle time has been banned. There's very little breathing room to do all the creative stuff they want to do. An average day at an elementary school is more like basic training; Come on, people, let's move it move it MOVE IT! Does that strike anyone else as odd? I mean, to be pacing your day like that? Especially when you're seven years old? And our recess was like, eight minutes.

It's nuts.

But it still felt good to be back, even for a day, hanging with people under the age of ten. And all the people at the school were very friendly and helpful. Before I left at 3:30, they asked me if I'd come back tomorrow. Seems that Mrs. P is still under the weather so...

I said yes.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Meditation

“Wherever our attention is, that is where we are. Our attention, our awareness, breathes life into that which it rests upon. Place your attention on something, and it grows in your life. Take your attention away from something, and it fades away....Work, money, worry, shopping, exercise, lip balm, Twinkies - the list is endless. None of these items have power in themselves; their power is derived from the power of our attention.”

~ from Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Sunday Gift

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally come home with small gifts for me and my brothers; a bottle of blowing bubbles, a kazoo, or maybe one of those balsa airplanes that would always nose-dive into the bushes. The giving of the gift was always prefaced with a reference to the day of the week, so if it was a Tuesday, Dad would say, "Here's a small Tuesday gift." And so on. We never tired of it and over the years, the saying has stuck.

Since I began this blog, I've asked my readers to put their beautiful, smiling faces on the follower page and that's exactly what I saw this morning when I turned on my computer; A big yellow smiley face!

So, thanks so much, *follower #29, for your Sunday gift.

It's the simple things that get me through, especially when I'm all twisted up about the cat throwing up on the good rug. Simple, lovely things like bubbles, a kazoo, & knowing that somewhere there's a reader checking into This Being Alive.

*I know there are more of you out there. You've told me so.

With gratitude,
Bets xo

Saturday, April 24, 2010

If Only I May Grow

If only I may grow:
firmer, simpler-
quieter, warmer.

- Dag Hammarskjold

This morning some kids in the neighborhood came by on their bikes to see if Claire wanted to play. She didn't. What she wanted was to stay home, and hang. But she went for a short while because they'd stopped by the day before and she didn't want to hurt their feelings.

I didn't know any of this until she got back and joined me in the garden. A first. Claire pushed the blue kerchief off of her brow and began filling the yellow bucket with mulch. Then she started talking about feeling responsible for other people and how she finds herself worrying about what they think. I said,"I know how that is, Claire. This stuff takes practice."

We mulched around the irises and tiger lilies, chatting about ways to stop feeling like we need to explain everything all the time, and how to be more comfortable with ourselves. Claire leaned on her shovel and said, " Dad says don't worry yourself about it, Claire. But maybe we can talk about this some more, Mom, because I just need to."

"Me too," I said.

It was a good day spent in the yard; weeding, mulching, raking, clearing branches, moving stones, talking some. There's not much more to say.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Haven't Changed A Bit

*Chick, n.
1. a young chicken
2. a young bird
3. a child: an endearing term

4. A camel-smoking, vegetarian who doesn't like vegetables, gets his heart rate up with a good pot of coffee, has a weakness for baked goods, baseball buff, Civil War historian, person who cannot wrap his mind around Sarah Palin and president being together in the same sentence.
Big guy with a full head of hair.
Great story teller.

Chick is my husband's friend from back in the day.

Trumpet player extraordinaire, whose Dad played third chair (trumpet) for the Chicago Symphony his whole life, yet never came to see Chick play professionally until they ran into each other in Munich while Chick was touring Europe with Rod Stewart.

Thirty-five years later, Chick arrives in his white Mustang with navy blue racing stripes and says to my husband, Michael, "Hey man, you haven't changed a bit."

* Read "Two Chicks"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two Chicks

Today, after my yoga class with teachers, Claire and I were invited to Tina's 4th grade classroom to watch a chick peck its way out of a smooth white shell. There we were: four adults and three kids, faces pressed over the glass incubator watching this wet, yellow chick birth itself, one peck at a time. Classical music was playing in the background. "It helped me relax when I was in labor," Tina said, grinning.

The baby would peck, sink down, catch its breath, begin again. Two other chicks were already flopping around, fluffing themselves up under the heat lamp. Breathe. Peck. Push. Like any good doula, Claire kept saying, shhhh! when people started talking too loud. Finally the little guy flopped out of the shell, eyes closed, completely spent. Claire and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go home." We were wrung out.

My husband's friend, Mike Chickowitz (sp?) is coming to visit us tomorrow. They were musicians in Los Angeles years ago. Mike's nickname is Chick.

Two chicks in one week. Sweet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Next Thing You Know

Birthing a baby has nothing to do

with the Titanic except you’re as large

as a luxury liner, there’s no air because

the baby’s feet are up to your neck.

Your knees feel weak, that sinking feeling,

water breaks down your legs,

things begin to drop and slide,

like a boat listing to one side.

Tables and glasses come crashing to the floor,

linens all wet and messy with red wine.

And dying has nothing to do with flying,

except, well, there’s that lift-off, the moment

when the wing flaps flatten and the wheels pull in. The plane is racing down the runway, you’re braced, head pressed into the seat, you’re holding your breath, maybe praying, who the hell knows. There’s that funny feeling in your stomach. You close your eyes. Next thing you know, you’re up in the air.

~ Betsy Jackson/2004

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another Part of the Weirdness

Dad and I were waiting for the light to turn green when a glossy black Suburban slid in front of us with the bumper sticker, Bitch on Board.

"I don't get that, Dad. I mean, why would you put that on your bumper?"

Dad said, "I don't know. I guess it's just another part of the weirdness."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Full Human Being

Today we hosted a baby shower for Aubrey, a dear friend to my daughter, Jesse. The day started early; coffee on, quiches in the oven, tie balloons to chairs, pull out Mom's good china, load table down with baked goods. Bagel, anyone?

Jesse did an incredible job pulling this thing off. Her organizational skills are so finely tuned, occasionally I wonder if she's really my kid. But I remember pushing her out, August 2, 1981.

Claire was the scribe, writing down all the gifts and names of the gift-givers.Three whole pages, Mom! She was loopy by the end. Baby showers will do that.

After dinner, Claire confessed to having felt some discomfort being surrounded by so many women at the shower. "It felt like school, she said, "so many people crowding around, talking about stress, husbands, the china." Is that what they talk about in 4th grade? When Michael said, "They were talking about the plight of China?" we cut ourselves off from sucking helium and singing Wizard of Oz songs. We represent the lollipop kids, the lollipop kids...

Earlier in the day, I peeked at this note Claire had written to Aubrey. It struck me as the best advice any new mother-to-be could hope for...

Dear Aubrey,

You are going to be a great Mom! I just know it. And remember, you’re the one passing a full human being through your body so don’t be afraid to relax.

Your friend,


Friday, April 16, 2010

Being Here On Earth

Back in January, I spent four days as artist-in-residence at a small, rural elementary school across the river in New Jersey. I met with every class in the school, over two hundred kids, grades K - 6. During our time together we worked on creating a school-wide community poem using the opening line, What matters to me...

Here are some gems from the Frelinghuysen Elementary School Community Poem:

What matters to me...
Fascinating things like family, reptiles and amphibians
My alive and dead chickens ( oh my! )
My family
No more global warming (1st grader)
My enormously gigantic dog, Tonto
Peace in the world
My horses, and Phil and Eric
My favorite animal, a zebra
Watching my dog lay on top of me
My Dad's wicked car
WII Fit Plus
My great teachers and friends
My godfather who lives in Washington, DC.

And this from a sweet 5th grader...

Being here on earth.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sky Is Not Falling

My horoscope reads: Don't let a complicated development intimidate you today. Once you begin your deductions, you'll realize how well equipped you are to easily be able to sort things out.

Did somebody say deductions? That's what my husband, Michael, is working on right now, sitting across from me at the kitchen table. Oh! April 15th, the day that causes headaches and upset stomachs for so many Americans. I get it. But this year I'm letting go of my award winning role as Henny Penny. The sky is not falling.

When I was a single mom, living on a teacher's salary, I didn't worry about the IRS; my first year teaching I made a whopping eighteen thousand dollars. What were they going to take? Taxes were pretty straight forward; here's my little nest, here's what you take out, and here's a little something back for being such a good worker bee.

Ever since I re-married, it's felt way more complicated. In 1999, I left my teaching job for the joyful uncertainty of mid-life motherhood and a free-lance work life. Ten years later, I'm still figuring out the money thing. Or more to the point, part of me just doesn't want to deal with it. I can hear Suze Orman right now, come on girlfriend, take responsibility for your financial well-being. Get in touch with your bottom line for once in your life!

I'm trying, Suze. I'm writing things down, like my mileage, on little slips of paper and stuffing them in an envelope marked 2010. But I should've been doing this last year, which I why I was weepy at breakfast. Michael, understanding guy that he is, hugged me and said, "Honey, this is what everyone goes through who's trying to create their own business. Believe me, I didn't wake up worrying about your mileage." That was a relief.

If you're having dry heaves about tax day, here's a tip. Read the AP snippets on the U.S. World & News page and see if that changes things for you. Here are a few of today's tantalizing headlines: Holder: U.S. still hopes to take bin Laden alive. Anesthesia allergy may complicate execution. That sucks. And today's winner, out of Rock Hill, South Carolina: Police say motel guest hit man with a python.

Now sit back and ask yourself, Did I get hit by a python today?

This might be the best tax day ever. For once, I am not angry at my husband for waiting until the last minute to do our taxes.We're laughing at the kitchen table, talking numbers, scanning bank statements. 2009 was a down year; we don't owe a whole lot. There's that silver lining.

I put the kettle on for tea and we eat dark chocolate kisses (two each) from the glass jar in the cupboard. Michael is whispering sweet nothings to me...

If line 38 is 125, 100 dollars or less, and you did not provide housing to a midwestern displaced individual, multiply $3,650 by the number on line 6d. If not, turn to page 37.

The sky is not falling.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blunders and Absurdities

I wasn't going to write about my Wednesday after-school yoga class for teachers. The one where the teachers come in quietly, spread their mats out, and breathe. Or pass out, depending on how their week is going. Except today we had a small hitch in the git-along; auditions were being held for the 4th grade talent show in our usual room.

Like good yogis, we didn't make a fuss. We simply moved into the music teacher's room, shuffled some chairs around, and brought our attention to the breath. We were doing okay, inhale up, fending off the voices on the other side of the door, exhale fold forward, until some kid starting banging on a drum. Not sure whether to laugh, cry, or scream, we opted for laughter. Bringing hands to heart center. I may have muttered something about kicking somebody's butt, as we pushed up into downward facing dog. But that doesn't sound like me, does it?

Miraculously, things quieted down when we came to the final resting pose of the class, savasana. (Unlike the afternoon we had to use the gym and the industrial fan roared like planes flying over head the whole time. But this group didn't care; I'm pretty sure they'd do yoga in the parking lot, if they had to.)

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about any of this. I thought I was too tired. But the fingers start tapping and the stories want some air time, so here we are. This was the quote I shared with the class today. Seems like a good fit.

Finish every day and be done with it. You
have done what you could. Some blunders
and absurdities crept in. Forget them as
soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day;
you should begin it serenely and with too
high a spirit to be encumbered with your
old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So Call Me A Flip-Flopper

Okay, so call me a flip-flopper. Yesterday I ended my post with Now, push. But two days before, I wrote that I'd finally decided to stop pushing the damn *boulder up the mountain and let my hands hang freely by my side. Just walking, no pushing.

Today a friend emailed sounding fairly exhausted for a Tuesday. I responded with a quick note and one of my favorite mantras: trust. relax. do not push.

Different days, hours, moments, call for different energies. And as we say in my family, good on you, if you can tune into yourself long enough to figure out what you're needing.

Push, don't push, relax; relax while pushing?


Read "In This Moment"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pieces of Evelyn

After my mother died I thought, this is all way too sad and then, what the hell are you waiting for, Betsy? Do your thing. So, I sat down and wrote a play called Pieces of Evelyn. I'd never written a play before. I didn't have an MFA, and not much experience in the theatre. But I felt knocked-up with voices, particularly Evelyn's, along with a host of loud characters, and a story line I knew I could sew together. Anyway, I had no choice; Evelyn wouldn't leave me alone.

It reminds me of when my daughter, Jesse, was in the middle of birthing my grandaughter, Elizabeth. Jesse was red-faced, sweaty, utterly exhausted when she said, "I can't do this anymore, Mom", and leaned her head back on the pillow. I held my girl's hand, looked her in the eye and said, "Sure you can. Besides, sweetheart, you've got no choice. Now, push." And slippery, wet Elizabeth was born with that crazy head of hair.

Pieces of Evelyn arrived kinda like that. The labor took a few months, and wasn't nearly as painful; it was a rush of spilling myself onto the page, setting loose all those voices that had been living in my head for years. Some days I couldn't write fast enough, but I got it done. I birthed Evelyn. And like any mother with a new baby, my first play felt beautiful to me. When I held the finished manuscript in my hands, I was so happy, so tired, so proud; I'd written a play. Who knew?

Pieces of Evelyn went on to be done as a staged reading in 2004. Then, last January, it had a run at the Shawnee Playhouse as the first winner of their Original Playwright Series.

This past Saturday, Pieces of Evelyn won the annual *NEPTA award for best original play. Who knew? I tell you this because, although sometimes I walk around not believing a word I say, this much I do know: it's never too late to become a playwright, or a farmer, or whatever it is that you have a hankering to do. The bottom line is: do your thing.

Now, push.

*Northeastern Pennsylvania Theatrical Alliance

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Wind in the Willows

I was randomly pulling books off the shelf in my writing room yesterday when The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame landed in my hand. I have the fondest memories of reading a chapter out loud to Mom and Dad every night when I was a little girl. My brothers and I would take turns reading about Rat and Moley and the eccentric Toad. It's a classic; one of those books that can be read multiple times, at any age.

Chapter One is called The River Bank, which has become a running theme in my life: sit on it, jump in and swim, climb back out, sun on a rock, jump back in, float downstream...go with the flow.

Turning to the title page, my heart broke open as it always does when I see my mother's handwriting. She had given this book to Claire on the occasion of her birth and this is what she wrote:

October 29, 1999
To my darling grandaughter
Claire Elizabeth Collins
May you share my love of reading.
With my love,
Grandma Jackson

I brought it downstairs and showed it to Claire. She said, "Hey Mom, this is mine," and has been reading about Rat and Mole and their adventures on the river bank ever since. Claire, in her old soul wisdom, said the most profoundly healing thing to me, about two years after Mom had died. She was around four years old. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "Mama, don't be sad. Don't you know that she's right here, now? Actually she's right next to you." And she nodded to the space on my right. Four year olds can be very convincing.

In the story, Mole is often overcome by all the newness and beauty of the world above ground, exclaiming, " O my! O my! O my!"

I completely get it.

On that note, I'm going to curl up with a good book and read.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In This Moment

This afternoon I hosted a Scratching on Paper writing workshop at my house. It was an intimate gathering of nine people, plus myself, nestled in my living room in front of the fireplace. Today was one of those spring days, just cool enough for a fire, daffodils in full bloom be damned.

I tell people; all you need is a notebook and pen, no experience necessary. So, everyone arrived with notebooks and pens. And a willingness to *lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center. And we did just that. The new writing that was birthed by the group was a wild mix of funny, tender, strong, heartbreaking; all of it humming with life.

Of course there's always one apron wringer in the group who says they don't know how to write and then blows us all away when they read to us. Writing with others creates a connection between people that's way different from say, your run of the mill cocktail party. It's a mystery that I never tire of. And though I have no scientific proof, I'm certain this kind of gathering raises the vibrational frequency of the planet. So, here's a shout-out to John, Susan, Sharon, Ann, Michele, Sarah, Gail, Gillian, & Scotty!

After a few simple introductions around the circle, we jumped in with this writing prompt: In this moment...

In this moment I feel completely happy that this small group of people decided that three hours on a Saturday afternoon spent writing in my home was a worthy thing for them to do. I know that this happiness is directly connected to the little card beside my bedside lamp that says, do what you love.

All my gnashing of teeth about trying to fit into some kind of conventional way of working in this world is finally waning. Is it any wonder that the muscles in my shoulders and back have pained me for so long? - I've been foolishly pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain and getting pummeled by it every time. I think I'm finally ready to leave the boulder to its own life, at the bottom of the mountain, and start walking up with my hands free, hanging by my side.

Can I get an amen?

* Read "Disarm Yourself"

Friday, April 9, 2010

Disarm Yourself

We cannot change the world by a new plan,

project, or idea. We cannot even change

other people by our convictions, stories,

advice and proposals, but we can offer a

space where people are encouraged to

disarm themselves, lay aside their

occupations and preoccupations and listen

with attention and care to the voices

speaking in their own center.

- Henri Nouwen

Peace and blessings on this chilly Friday night.

xoxo Bets

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Upside Down Frogs

I've been staying up way too late this past week so I'm writing this smack in the middle of the day. And since I'm of the Contemplative Tribe, we contemplate like nobody's business, I'm pondering all the things we humans think and talk how exactly does one fold a fitted sheet?

In this moment, I'm contemplating talking/not talking/quiet and what happens when we stop talking, even for a short while. The mind is like a swirling pond, all stirred up after a spring storm. It gets muddied; full of upside down frogs and other stuff. When we get quiet, all the stirred up stuff slowly drops to the bottom and settles down. Even those crazy frogs.

Take a moment. Get quiet. Sit somewhere, or better yet, lie down. Close your eyes. And watch the breath rise and fall in your body. Allow whatever rises in your mind to rise, then let it fall away; all the chatter, any worries, frustrations, even the joys. Sink into yourself, into the bottom of your own pond. And breathe.

Everything in life is pointing us back to our true nature. ~ Stephen Cope

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Morning Glory

It's only when people begin to shake loose from their preconceptions, from the ideas that have dominated them, that we begin to receive a sense of opening, a sense of vision.

~ Barbara Ward

I could wax eloquently about how thoughtful it was that she took the time to email me a thank you note for coming to speak to her class. How her initial reaction was, who is this lady and did she say we're gonna write? And how when I said we'd be writing, she thought she might throw up. Okay, she didn't say that, but think mega roller coaster ride and how your stomach does that weird thing. How it just so happened, that once we got going on that cold *Sunday afternoon, she began to feel differently. About the writing. And herself. It was still a roller coaster ride for her, but now it had shifted into the good kind. Anyway, there will be no waxing. After I read her beautiful email, I promptly burst into tears; cracked open by this person's reaching out, and by her writing.

It was a happy sob-fest; a heart-opening, moving stuff around inside me, kind of thing. I believe it's good to cry outside, so I sat on the back porch steps and listened to the birds. It was a Wednesday gift; a moment of gratitude for the way people come together, [often in the oddest moments, and least likely locations,] and connect.

The good news is, I let myself have it, instead of tapping the tears down and getting up to empty the dishwasher. I sat on the paint-worn porch steps and put my head in my hands. And like any good crier, I spread my fingers out so I could see what was going on around me. And then I noticed the shoots popping up out of the ground in my garden. Which led me to get my trowel and shovel and ball of twine. I weeded and shoveled. I moved things around. I brought the clematis up front and dug up the big purple flower and moved it to the back. I tucked some morning glory seeds into the ground and climbed up on Mom's rickety old ladder, attaching twine to the house for the vines to travel up.

I never know when I'm going to receive this sense of opening, sense of vision. But I know enough to trust that it's going to keep showing up, if I just spread my fingers out wide enough to see.

* read "Two by Four-ness"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Filling in the Gaps

When Paula drove up in her little blue car with North Carolina plates, it was like, well, like twenty years hadn't passed. But I'm pretty sure that's how long it had been since we'd last seen each other. Maybe longer.

We carried our mugs of tea out to the lounge chairs and started...Talking. We didn't waste any time filling in the gaps. We covered a lot of territory for one afternoon; marriage, divorce, mothers, fathers, lovers, children, friends from college, work, love, loss.

We damn near choked on our tea remembering the American History class, Wisconsin Death Trip, where the entire class was stoned 99.9% of the semester. Okay, it was 100%. Our professor, Jerry, had the cowboy boots, the handle bar mustache, a vest with a pocket watch. He was the real McCoy. But that's a whole other chapter. The class couldn't have been called Wisconsin Death Trip, could it?

Anyway, I'm feeling a little tongue-tied right now, and a lot sentimental. There's something about having people in your life who knew you back then:

I'm the one with the long straight hair parted down the middle, often spotted skinny dipping in ponds, quarries, puddles. Paula's got the camera slung around her neck. Nobody had crow's feet.

But here's the thing: we've earned our crow's feet. And our stories too. I'm thinking old friends have a way of handing a piece of you, back to yourself.

That's priceless.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Becoming Rosa

I sweep, a lot. And when I sweep, I think of Rosa. Rosa Higuera...

Montpelier, Vermont. Summer/1980

I am living in the upstairs apartment of a little house. The kitchen walls are yellow. There are spider plant cuttings in jelly jars on the window sill. I've just graduated from college. I've moved in with my not yet first husband, Charles. The house belongs to Rosa. Rosa is an eighty-seven year old Hispanic woman. Rosa lives alone downstairs. The stairs to our place go right past her front door; it's nearly impossible to come in and out without running into Rosa. She always seems to be out front, with her broom.

Rosa is short and stout. She has a very thick accent. I practice my poquito Spanish on her. We chat, standing on the sidewalk out front. We laugh. But I remember once when Rosa got very upset:

My brother, Pete and Dad, had driven over from Maine for a visit. We were watching the World Series. I can't remember who was playing but we were laughing and screaming at the television. I'm certain there was beer involved. At some point during the game I heard Rosa shouting from the foot of the stairs. I went down and she had her hand on her chest. She was in such a state, worried that something terrible was happening to me, that I was being beaten. So much yelling, she said. I said, No need to worry. We're watching a baseball game. It's okay.

In October, we moved to Burlington to live in a friend's attic bedroom. We married that winter. I was twenty-two. I had my first daughter, Jesse, just shy of my twenty-third birthday. Later, there was so much yelling, and other scary things; we fell to pieces. It all feels very vivid and yet blurry, like so much of life. I never saw Rosa again.

Tonight, as the yellow evening light came across the yard, I picked up my broom and started sweeping the blanket of red buds on the brick patio. The first swish of the broom and there she was, Rosa. Thirty years later and I can see her in my mind's eye, hold her in my hands. Some days I feel like I'm becoming Rosa, the way I love my broom; the way it makes space all around me, clearing a path at my feet.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

March Madness?

Saturday night and I'm watching NCAA basketball with Dad, my brother Rob, and Claire, who's snuggled under a blanket wearing her bunny ears. Michael is upstairs playing his saxophone. I rarely watch basketball, or any other sport on tv, but there's something about watching a championship game that's feels exactly like a cardio workout. The Butler Bulldogs just won a very close game against Michigan State. Heart pumping.

Now, we're into game two; Duke vs. West Virginia. I know it sounds like I know my teams but I haven't got a clue. My usual rule is: root for the underdog. So, West Virginia it is.

But the best part is sitting between Dad and Rob; elbow to elbow. Clapping and shouting, and just carrying on.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tumble Any Second

At around nine o'clock tonight, Dad and I took a short stroll down my street. His idea. There aren't any streetlights in my neighborhood so it's very dark. I thought, a river of ink. At times it was hard to distinguish between the road and bushes in my neighbor's yard.

Dad and I walked to the cul-de-sac, passed the Doolittle's house, and circled back. We chatted about the stars, the darkness, how his legs seem weak. At one point I grabbed his hand because he was so wobbly. Lately it seems he might fall right over, tumble, especially if a gust of wind kicks up. Thankfully no wind tonight, just soft, still air.

Walking with my father, I found myself alternating between my nine year old girl-self and my all grown up woman-self. My chest is full up with joy, tears, mystery, this being alive.

This is the last stanza of a beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. I probably should give you the whole poem because it's so good. I'll do that another time. But for now, I love this last part.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.

Know you could tumble any second.

Then decide what to do with your time.

..from The Art of Disappearing

[a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye]