Confession: I slept in this morning, slept until nearly 7:30, a full 40 minutes after sunrise. Although the sleep was wonderful and I have no idea why I needed it -- I am not complaining about sleep. Being able to sleep in occasionally, or take a nap, is one of the joys of retirement (or vacation).
But otherwise, Yuck. Although the temperature only read 74 when I went out for my morning walk, the air was thick with humidity and high fog and the air felt like it must be at least 80 or higher -- to high for 7:40 AM, in my humble, I-don't-really-love-hot-weather, opinion. Oh well. I am here, and life is, generally, good.
This week in the garden the daylilies are continuing to bloom, and the greenery is looking more vigorous too, as if they are finally settled in and comfy. The lily bulbs I planted are also doing well, despite my initial doubts. A couple are blooming now, and the others all have buds, so there will be more lily blooms in the future. This is particularly exciting as I never saw a lily blossom in my Hyde Park garden. Just-about-to-open lily buds were quite a delicacy to the resident deer population, and living next to a national historic site, it was a battle I never won, despite heavy investment in deer repellents of every known variety.
I have rabbits and foxes, and crows or ravens although I've never paid enough attention to tell which.
Again, I'm not complaining.
I did climb up the hill behind the house this morning to take a photo looking down at the house and the back yard. The large stones on the left side of the walk in the photo above were just uncovered yesterday, and although I am not as happy about the way that part of the walk looks, I continue to have hopes of getting it right. I think I will be sitting in the gravel shifting stones come cooler weather and fall.. There are also still plenty of areas to plant. The beds at the base of the hill stay pretty wet, so choosing plants for that area has been a little tricky, but I think I have a rough plan now. More on that later.
This is the hydrangea on the far right in the picture above, at the back of the house, I love the remnant of foxglove peeking out under the hydrangea blossoms. Another bit of excitement is that the Angel's Trumpet on the patio is about to bloom. You can (barely) see a small patch of yellow next to the house in the pile of greenery beyond the table and the tilted chairs. A little yellow beacon of promise. The thrill and excitement, the pure potential, the risk, the sheer audacity even, of gardening always makes me catch my breath with unbounded joy and anticipation. It is an anticipation tinged with a hint of fear, but anticipation nonetheless, and the uncertainty of it only serves to make the pleasure all the greater.
In the past week I read Helen MacDonald's H is for Hawk. It is a hauntingly beautiful book that is also deeply painful, often mesmerizingly so, in its exploration of the depths of grief and the accompanying loss of self. By the writing the book as an interleaving of three stories, the loss of her father, the training of a hawk, and a thread about TH White's life and similar book on training a goshawk she manages to touch on the darker side of grief, the part we don't really want to talk about: the wild, feral aspects of our own emotions and the foundations of our own sense of self. Yes, the book can be read on several levels, and at times the connections between the different threads seem disjointed and almost jarring, but then so is the experience of grief, so is the process of redefining oneself in terms of a newly perceived reality, and in this book that swirling maelstrom of loss and despair is never far beneath the surface. Nor is it neatly resolved at the end of the book, and this may indeed be discomfiting for some readers.
There were so many things that struck me as "true" about this book: the way the loss of a defining person in one's life takes one back to the very essence of how one became one's own self; the wonderful details of environmental, natural, and social history and how they combine to create the background in which we all live; the itemization and details of hawking which remind me of the Medieval penchant for list-making and the way these lists both jar the reader as they seem out of context while at the same time their very existence points to the fractured nature of existence and the way we piece our perceptions together; the exploration of the author's own conversation with TH White's book and how the process of reading closely changes with age and life experiences but how deep reading can alter and enhance our own understandings of both ourselves and the world. But there were also portions of the book where I wished I could just shake the author and knock some sense into her, even as I realize that of course this is not possible, not because I am reading a book, but because no one can knock anyone else to their senses. It is not only fruitless, but ultimately more damaging, to try.
I like the way the book ends, just ends. Simply and bluntly without apology. Well, that is not completely true. There is a postscript. The author seeks out more information about White, and she goes to his cottage. The book ends with the author watching, as she often does, but with a sense of acceptance. The closing paragraph, in many ways less beautiful and meaningful than so many things I underlined and commented upon in my own personal notes while reading this book, continues to resonate, as it points to, and almost shimmers with, a sense of acceptance, and the appreciation of one's solitary walk through this life, that comes on the far side of clawing one's way out of the pits of grief. The closing paragraph is in fact a closure of sorts, an acknowledgement of the solitude and acceptance, and yes, concern, of the process of becoming more than just a person, of becoming more fully human.
But then I put that thought aside. I put it down, and the relief was immense, as if I had dragged a half-tone weight from myself and cast it by the grassy road. White is gone. The hawk has flown. Respect the living, honor the dead. Leave them be. I saluted the man, though he could not see me. It was a silly, wobbly salute, and even as I did it I felt foolish. And then I turned and walked away. I left the man who was not a ghost, and I walked south. Over the bright horizon the sky swam like water.
I have been sitting at my desk in the early morning, actually until this very moment, the moment I begin writing, pre-dawn light. There is enough light behind me that I can see my computer, see my coffee cup, and items on my desk. This has been a calming and reflective time.
I've been struggling with the day ahead and the blog post I haven't written, struggling with the frustration of not writing. Yesterday was supposed to be a day to write, but it didn't turn out that way. Instead yesterday was a day of phone calls and interruptions, and periods of mental stress and turmoil but also periods of insight and restoration, so not at all a bad day. It was simply a day that was too scattered to give birth to the words I was seeking.
And yet, yesterday was exactly as it should be. And today? I don't know about today. There are things I am looking forward to today, and things I most definitely am not, but at least the good things are timed well, as a reward. And I suspect that it too will end up being exactly the day it should have been, if I am willing to accept its flow.
I looked up from my desk, the light behind me, the hall with its rather mundane view of laundry room and small print made by a friend and artist from our former home, and this snapshot was born. I looked up and this post was born. How apropos of today's mood. Did I anticipate this when I arranged my desk, when I hung this print? Every new day is like looking through a doorway in the half-light. Every day there are choices to be made, obligations to be met, the world looming large. And yet there is also time for art, for reflection, for whatever it is that nourishes us. Perhaps some days the obligations seem to dominate, perhaps to overwhelm. But even then we don't lose the spirit, even when it slides into half-light and shadow. It is all in the angle of perception. Its time will come as long as the door is open.
I cleaned out the garage a few weeks ago and at that time I brought the box labeled "speakers and stereo cables" inside and put it on the living room sofa, where I could not ignore it. There were two reasons for this, the first being that it is well past time that I get the stereo system up and running, and the second being that I needed to get everything that doesn't belong in the garage out in order to move to stage 2 of the garage storage plan, namely organization. Don't hold your breath, I have a remarkable capacity for sitting on projects, especially big projects with no externally regulated end-date.
Thursday the box got moved to the floor so I could sit on the sofa. Saturday morning I thought the situation was ridiculous. The simple truth was that I had attempted to set up the stereo when we first moved in only to find that the CD player didn't work. I made some attempt at replacing it locally but found nothing that was musically up to the standards of my existing unit, and the entire process of researching equipment and procuring it online was more than I could bear, as was, apparently, the thought of packing it up and sending it to the manufacturer for repair. So I shoved the cd player back on the shelf and piled entire process back into a box, labeled it speakers and wires, and stuck it in the garage. Out of sight, out of mind.
But it was time. I told myself I could at least open up the cd player and see if the problem was something simple and obvious, like a fuse. I can replace a fuse. But when I opened the box it wasn't as simple as I had hoped. It actually took me a few minutes, in my disappointed haze, to make the connection between what I saw, and what I know, or knew. I don't really know what I expected; what I found was a computer. In retrospect this is not really surprising.
Eventually it dawned on me that I might, in fact, be able to do something here. I still have my multimeter, I still have a few tools. Although it has been years since I have repaired or built computers and circuit-boards, and I have no knowledge of stereo technology, this looked fairly simple, and I thought I might be able to diagnose a simple power issue. In the end it was simple. The components in question were visibly damaged and it was a simple case of replacing a few wires and connectors, and then using the meter to check the power flows.
The most remarkable thing, really, was the way this connected me to a younger version of myself, my younger Jack-Jill-of-all-trades self, the young woman who worked for a computer time-sharing company back when PCs were new, the young woman who could make our mainframe talk to any pc program on the market; the young woman who could build a pc, fix a motherboard, design a database, reconnect a broken satellite link, the young woman who thought APL was fun. Even though I had long since realized I didn't want to design computers and didn't have the patience for programming, realized that since I didn't dream computing I had no future in a field where living and breathing your work were de rigueur, I have to admit I had missed that young woman's attitude -- her deep conviction that there were no problems without solutions. It was a pleasure to meet that girl again and to realize she had been with me all along: older yes, hopefully wiser, but still filled with hope and determination. Determination seems to have been dormant lately; I'm glad to have her back.
So I set up the stereo, connected the speakers, and listened to Olivier Latry playing the music of César Frank. Admittedly the sound will be even better when I get the bookcase speakers up off the floor and actually in the bookcase, but that requires moving books, and snaking wires through cabinetry, and I wasn't really up for that task this weekend. Just hearing music throughout the house, good full rich sound in all its glory, not just the limited sound of an MP3 through headphones was joy enough.
That was Saturday. Sunday I finished setting up the sewing room. Or mostly finished any way.
I'd been unpacking for weeks, and most every thing was put away. All that was left was unpacking and setting up the sewing machines. You would think that would be the easiest part, but it ended up being the hardest. Sunday I pulled the machines out of their cases, unwound yard upon yard of bubble wrap, and inspected each machine. I noticed that there were a few, hopefully minor, mishaps: a broken bobbin attachment; a few cracks in incidental pieces; a door to a compartment that would not close completely; mostly all cosmetic rather than functional. Then I started setting machines on tables: two sewing machines, my old Elna and newer Bernina; the serger; an embellisher.
I had hoped that I would get everything up and running, that I could take a photo, and I could begin actually doing some test stitching. But that didn't happen. Disorganization ruled. I laid out the machines in the positions I thought I liked for ease of use, pulled out their cords, and started crawling under the tables to plug things in, only to find that some of the cords didn't reach, only to rearrange everything and start over. And over, And over.
Of course, I should have just attached all the cords to the machines and lined them up on the center table to begin with. I should have assessed cord length, space requirements, ease of use, suitability of extension cord placement if necessary before I started positioning machines and crawling under tables. But I didn't. It was Sunday afternoon. I was tired. I let my excitement get in the way of my common sense. It happens sometimes.
Now all the machines are lined up, all their cords are attached. They stand at the ready, waiting. Soon I. too will be ready. But this time I will measure and plan, I will make sure that I have everything I need, I will be methodical. Who knows, perhaps once I'm done with this I will be prepared to climb on ladders and snake speaker wires through cabinets. Perhaps not. Perhaps I will simply sew.
The month since my mom returned to Texas has not been my best knitting month. I made progress on the lovely lilac shawl while she was here, but I seem to have lost the ability to concentrate the past few weeks. Although the pattern is simple, the repeat a short 8 rows, I kept flubbing up and having to rip. I did this a few times before I just admitted that my hands were telling me something, that my mind wasn't really able to concentrate, and something simpler was needed. I had a ball of sock yarn wound and at the ready. The simple action of needles and yarn in hand sets a soothing rhythm that calms the spirits and allows the mind to rest. I wonder sometimes, as I knit, purring cat on my lap, if knitting, at least for those of us who enjoy it, something like a human approximation of purring, a self-soothing technique, allowing us to settle into comfort.
Simple. Toe-up. Mindless knitting at its finest. Except that this photo was taken a couple of days ago and I am now ready to turn the heel. Thank goodness I do believe I am ready for a little more intention in my knitting.
Sometimes you have to allow yourself to get a little lost. Just like you have to open yourself up and be vulnerable to truly connect with others, you also sometimes have to lose a bit of that worldly shell you've spent your lifetime building up in order to find some piece of your true self that has been there all along.
And that's the easy part.
Once you've found that piece of your true self, you have to nurture it and give it room to flourish. You have to give yourself permission to be your true self even if doing so makes you vulnerable. And vulnerability is exactly what we spend the first half of our lives trying to avoid.
I protect myself by throwing myself into projects. But projects end, and I am still here. Although lately it has seemed like a little less of me was here. I used to lose myself in knitting, or sewing, or writing, or cooking. But I have managed to ignore all those things. Oh I write here occasionally. I'm sure you've noticed that I write, then I stop, then I pick at it again. I've been playing the role of the dilettante with my own heart, indulging my impulses a little bit, and then, just when I start to really put in any effort, pulling back.
Because I am afraid.
What, exactly, am I afraid of? Am I afraid of losing myself in something? Perhaps. Am I afraid of doing the work to master new skills? No not really, anything worth doing is worth taking time and effort to master. I'm getting closer though, perhaps the critical phrase is "worth doing". Am I afraid that my impulses, my hopes and dreams and inner longings aren't worth indulging? Am I afraid that if I indulge my intimations and dreams, if I admit and honor the things that really drive me, that are important to me, that I will only learn how much of an incompetent failure I really am? Uh oh. That is a little too uncomfortably close to the truth.
I realize, although how I found myself through this maze of confusing thoughts and experiences is beyond me, that it is not about internal vs external, doing vs being, introverted vs extroverted, helping others vs helping yourself. All of these things are but mirrors deflecting my awareness from some greater, far more uncomfortable truth. I can't honor the external, the world, without honoring the internal. I can't honor my social, world-caring impulses, without honoring the private, internal, creative impulses. I can't help others unless I help myself. I can't love others unless I love myself.
Oops. I've said it. I can't love others unless I love myself. When things get too close, too vulnerable, when I get too close to falling into that pit of love, I pull back. I don't want to pull back, but I do. And I only pay lip service to loving myself, to truly loving myself, to loving myself enough that I give myself permission to be myself fully, not just the parts I think the world wants me to be, but the parts I want myself to be, all the creative impulses, all the insecurities and fears.
Baby steps. I have to take baby steps. Occasionally I am sure I will make a misstep; I will fall and stumble, but I will try not to fall back into the void.
And so I give myself permission to lose myself in creative pursuits. I give myself permission to follow a dream even if the end point or benefit is not immediately obvious. I give myself permission to put myself first when I need to put myself first. I give myself permission to make mistakes, and sometimes make wrong decisions, and to ask for forgiveness when I do so. Mostly I give myself permission to learn to love all of myself, even the secret vulnerable bits.
I've been remiss in my early morning gardening of late. It seems that by the time I return from my morning walk with Tikka, the heat and humidity are rising and we are both ready to settle down for a rest, Tikka with a dental treat and me with a second cup of coffee. I do however often take that coffee on the back porch where I can admire the garden.
Yesterday morning the fog was heavy in the valleys of my neighborhood, and the weeds were thick as well, so I decided to forgo the walk and spend the early morning hours communing with the dirt and greenery. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as I was in no rush, really, and there is a certain meditative quality to mindful repetition. During that first hour, when even in the close space of the backyard, occasional wisps of fog lingered the morning air seemed magical, even mystical and I would lose myself in whatever small piece of earth and greenery was in front of me, occasionally pulled out of my reverie by the soft snuffling of Tikka sniffing in the grass, her soft ears brushing against my face or hands.
The two foxglove plants that had been crushed under large rocks by absent-minded workers are recovering nicely, and even blooming. The Echinacea are blooming nicely, and even a few bits of new green leaves are coming up from the former stands of Siberian and Louisiana Iris that were scalped by an over-eager member of the maintenance crew for the neighborhood association. He was not supposed to cut anything in marked beds, but I am sure he meant well, and couldn't tell the difference between the long fine iris leaves and grass. It is too late now anyway, and I am thrilled to see a few tiny new shoots of growth in the otherwise bare ground. Those two beds have been a bit of a failure from the get-go, plants left too long before planting, repeatedly trampled, and generally never really getting a good start, so perhaps the weed-whacking was just the final straw before I committed to re-digging and starting over. In retrospect I think this bed is a good reminder of the bad habits I did not want to repeat in this new garden: buying plants before I had ground ready so that they could be planted and buying more plants than I could reasonably plant in a couple of days.
Anyway, there are other successes and surprises. The daylilies are thriving and blooming and the lily bulbs I planted have buds so I should have flowers before long. The blueberries have fruit, and every evening Tikka and I romp in the grass and I finish of the day with a small handful of berries. And the beautiful hydrangea in the front yard, the one that started out icy cool and refreshing, is fading into the most interesting soft soothing shades of pink.
As for the pots, they seem to thrive in the heat and humidity and have suddenly become full and lush and vibrant. The ferns that languished when it was cool and damp, and again when it was hot and dry, are now thriving. The front planters too, seem to be bursting with exuberant color. Mid summer is here and I can sit back and just enjoy the verdant lushness of it all.
New sun hat for working in the garden.
It is actually the same as the previous sun-hat, which I had for over 10 years, before it got so disreputable I really couldn't wear it. I love the blue under-brim, which enhances that feeling of carrying my shade around with me.
Because I am the kind of person who got a sunburn when I was out watering the garden between 4:30 and 4:45 PM (no I wasn't wearing sunscreen), I also got a couple of loose shirts out of the same Solumbra fabric. I've worn these before as well, and they are exactly the kind of loose airy clothes that don't creep up when I'm crawling around that I prefer for working in the garden.
Geesh, it seems like all acquisitions all the time around here, which really isn't the case. I'm just too tired to write anything else this morning, and I do love my hat, perhaps unreasonably so for such a simple thing.