Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Seven Sisters

Henry and I are just now back from our last walkie of the night. It was a beautiful night for walking, crisp and cool, and the sky was clear and dark. Perfect for star-gazing! I found the constellation Orion, Sirius the Dog Star, and glimpsed the Seven Sisters -- the star cluster called Pleiades.

I will never again see the Seven Sisters without my mind straying up to northeast Wyoming, to Devils Tower, aka Bears Tipi, and thinking of the Kiowa legend of how Devils Tower came to be. Here is the story as told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, a Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, back in 1897:

“Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, "Rock take pity on us, rock save us!" The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

“The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group. In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears' claws, turned to stone, all around the base.

“No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it - it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears' claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock ‘Tso-aa’, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.”

Monday, November 12, 2018

Decisions, Decisions

Friends, I wrestled for some time with the notion of sharing this with you. If you're inclined to worry or pity -- please scroll on; I will be fine and I certainly am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.
Likewise, if you're inclined to be "judgy" or give me advice -- please scroll on; you know I won't take it well to be scrutinized and scolded, and I probably won't appreciate unsolicited advice.
This is just me, being honest about what's going on in my life.
I'm not really happy/satisfied. And I feel kinda guilty about saying that, because I have plenty to be happy about (and am happy about those things), and plenty to satisfy me (I want for nothing, which is more than most people on this planet can say).
But choices that Greg and I made based on a future together now no longer make sense to me as I face a future without him. It is a weird sensation to feel as I do. At times I feel a sense of guilt; at times I feel fickle. My rational mind knows that I'm neither of these things. My emotional mind -- perhaps still tied to what might have been -- plays tricks on me.
Some days, I'm paralyzed with doubt and overwhelmed. Thank God for Henry ! If it were not for Henry, I might not get out of bed every day.
Right now, I'm sitting outside, listening to cicadas and other insects buzzing busily. I hear frogs chirping, and think there'll be rain. Acorns make popping noises as they fall out of the trees. There's the hum of air conditioners to remind me that I'm still in civilization. A short time ago, strictly by chance, I had a very pleasant conversation with an older neighbor who'd grown up in Asheville -- had, in fact, attended the same high school my father had attended. We talked about Celo and Loafer's Glory and Red Hill, about the fabric and furniture mills of days gone by, and about new roads that have brought change. I live in a lovely, extremely safe community ... but I'm not entirely happy/satisfied with my situation.
I desperately miss having a music room! I miss being able to sit down and play the piano strictly on a whim. I miss being able to leave my dulcimer set up, so that I can think through a tune that’s fermenting in my brain. I miss having my music books quickly accessible on a shelf.
I miss having an "office" area that's not blended with my "living space." I miss being able to leave unfinished business in a big pile on a desk without being concerned that the pile is going to be in my way.
Once upon a time, Greg and I sold our house so that we could locate closer to the facility where he'd eventually have a liver transplant. We pared down our life to live in our Airstream, and talked about all the places we'd go in that Airstream when he was finally free to travel, post-transplant.
And now that life is gone, and little of what's left makes sense without him.
Be reassured, those of you who know me through our company Celtic Heritage, that the crossroads I seem to be reluctantly coming to are personal crossroads. I very much enjoy my professional life and am happy/satisfied in it. In truth, I feel that if I make a few personal changes, my professional life actually will be enhanced. It's worth noting that two of the major sources of dissatisfaction that I’d like to “correct” are related to my professional life. Huh.
I scrupulously avoided making major decisions after Greg's death, because I've seen too many people make too-hasty changes while they were still in shock/grief ... and then regret those changes down the road. But I'm confident that I'm past that. I'm pretty confident that whatever decisions I make will be with an eye to the future: moving forward, rather than running away.
If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering how to respond. Don't worry. You don't have to. I am writing this as a catharsis for myself, but also because some of you have expressed interest in my healing process. All I ask is that you say a few prayers, think good thoughts, dance to music, sing loudly -- and if you can't sing well, then sing even more loudly, with gusto. I'll feel all that good energy.
Thanks for "listening."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

His muzzle is grizzled by age, but he still strikes a majestic pose.

This wonderful creature came into my life as another wonderful creature was preparing to leave it. He stepped up, sometimes in demanding fashion, sometimes tenderly, to remind me that for the living, life does -- it must -- go on.

His steps are a little slower these days; his energy, once seemingly infinite, now comes in bursts. His needs are simple, and in meeting those needs I find simple pleasures: The sound of a rushing river, the raucous caw of a crow, the sweet song of a robin. Perhaps the most pleasant pastime of all is found in watching him explore and savor whatever little part of the universe he finds himself in.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is my little teacher and my fearless trail scout and my faithful companion and guardian. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a gift from God.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Aging Stinks

Aging stinks. There’s no way around it. It stinks. Out loud.
Don’t offer me the time-worn platitude that we should be grateful for getting older, as many don’t get that opportunity. I’m all too painfully aware of its truth. I am grateful for every day that I get to be one day older ...
But aging stinks.
Yesterday I was confronted full-on with this truth, as I was forced to enlist help in transferring items -- mostly furniture -- out of storage. I was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch a couple of young men handle my belongings, all the while 100% KNOWING that I had been able to handle these things myself (or with assistance from another) not all that many years ago. I KNOW, because I personally had participated in moving these items during various relocations. And it was torture to idle by, watching someone else work. I felt lazy, and useless, and maybe even a bit embarrassed ...
And today, with a jolt, I realized that this is PRECISELY the way Greg must have felt as he assumed the role of Director, more than Doer, at events we participated in. He may, in fact, have felt even worse and more helpless, as he was sick long before he started showing outward signs of being sick.
Yeah, I remember sly comments that were made to me about how I was doing more than my share of the work of Celtic Heritage, and the oblique suggestions that Greg was taking advantage of me; I heard, second-hand, observations as to how Greg was “one of those” men who sit by and watch their wives work. Knowing how much he would be hurt, I never let on to him that I was hearing these things. I do realize -- well, I do hope -- that no one was intentionally being cruel. But they were judging, and it still stings ... and I kind of hope that they feel at least a pang of regret at having judged my husband without fully understanding what was going on. Because the simple truth is that NO ONE understood, not even Greg himself, what was going on. His body was aging, though due to chronic illness rather than sheer age, and he was forced to “idle by, watching someone else work.”
Aging stinks. There’s no way around it. But with the loss of physical ability comes the opportunity for greater insight, and I can certainly be grateful for that. I’ll fight the feelings of laziness and uselessness and embarrassment, and try mightily to fight the fear of being judged by others. And I’ll pray for resistance against judging that which I do not understand.
Maybe that prayer is something we all could make, regardless of our age?

Monday, July 3, 2017

How Much Do You Love Music?

If you are a music lover, I encourage you to give this article a thoughtful read:
Donald Fagen of Steely Dan -- a band that never liked touring to begin with -- says that since album sales have plummeted in recent years, the only way for him to make a living is by touring. Now you can pick apart the motives of a man whose net worth is reportedly $30 million, and say he’s just being greedy, and he should pull back on (what you assume to be) his extravagant lifestyle ... whatever. But please don’t get distracted from what I am trying to tell you.
I can’t say it any plainer than that.
We all have our reasons for not purchasing music any more. The old wax cylinders of yore gave way to 78s, which gave way to LPs, which gave way to CDs. And on the “tape” side, the bulky reel-to-reel gave way to 8-tracks, which gave way to cassettes, and now “nobody” listens to taped music any more.
All those cylinders and tapes and records and CDs amount to clutter. And we have so much clutter in our lives. Believe me, I get it.
So here we are, in the digital age, where we can purchase downloads and store them right on our computers/tablets/phones/iPods. No clutter! But wait! There’s an even better option: streaming services like Spotify.
Spotify works great for you. For $9.99 you can access a music library that is much more vast than anything you could possibly afford to amass on your own. I get it. Believe me, I understand.
I just want to make sure that you understand how this affects the people who make the music you love.
Let’s say a “paid listen” pays a penny. (That’s about what I see on my own music, and my company gets all that a paid listen yields; an artist who’s under contract to a label therefore makes even less.) To offset $10,000 in recording costs, an artist needs a million paid listens of that recording. One million. That’s a lotta listens. If, on the other hand, a digital download of the album costs $9.99 (which is pretty standard), the artist needs “only” to sell a thousand digital albums to recoup $10,000 in recording costs. And we’re only talking about recouping costs, not actually earning any money. So you can see how the day may come when you don’t get as much new music any more, because musicians -- especially “indie” musicians -- simply can’t afford to deliver that new music to you.
I am definitely NOT whining or asking for sympathy. I am not asking you to take on the burden of supporting a bunch of musicians by buying CDs that clutter up your house, or by buying digital downloads of music that you fear you’ll listen to only occasionally. I just want to make sure you understand what’s happening. Rest assured, people who have a gift and a passion for making music will always find a way ... though right now I don’t have a clue what that way is.
But you definitely want to think about this the next time you borrow a CD from a friend and download the music to your own computer. You definitely want to think about this when you freely share MP3s on the internet. You may want to think about this when you keep scouring the internet looking for that perfect streaming service that has a million-song library and is completely free to listen to. I understand that you’re doing it because you love music. I just want you to understand that you may be killing the very thing that you love.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

To Honor Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and all week long, I’ve seen some great tributes to those teachers who’ve influenced various Facebook friends. It’s time I chimed in. My memories won’t necessarily be who taught me what academic subject; I’ll be focused a bit more on how they impressed me, or the impact they had on me as a person.
To start with, there was my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Hipps. (Hope I’m remembering her name correctly -- 2nd grade was a looong time ago!) I am still moved by her instinct to ask the little shy girl in her class to help the scared little new girl get adjusted to the class ... and "the little shy girl" and I are lifelong friends, thanks to that pairing. Oh yeah, there were the reading groups, and math lessons that I now realize were rudimentary introductions to algebra, but it’s her personal touch that I remember best of all.
I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Hays, best for the spelling competitions. She made learning fun for me.
My 4th grade teacher used to read to us. I’d always enjoyed reading, but somehow I credit her with helping to instill in me a true love of reading -- she opened up the world of Trixie Belden to me. (I’ll bet a few other classmates feel the same way.)
5th and 6th grades are somewhat of a blur, as in these grades we “changed classes” for the very first time -- in other words, we had subject area teachers. And it’s hard to remember who taught what, what year, but one really stands out: Mrs. Stone. Mrs. Stone opened my mind up to “New Math,” and I appreciated her then and I appreciate her now as teaching me HOW math works. The very next year, I became a teacher myself, tutoring one of my friends in math so that she could pass the entrance exam to an elite prep school in a neighboring city. I missed my friend when she moved -- maybe I shouldn’t have done such a bang-up job tutoring, huh? -- but I did discover that I had a talent for helping people make sense of math. (Note to former students: You can either thank Mrs. Stone or curse her. She’s the one who gets credit for my having become a math teacher.)
My 7th grade English teacher, Joy Barnard, is hands-down the best and most influential teacher I ever had. So seamlessly did she integrate the rules of grammar into my very life, that I do not even have any specific memories of lessons. Except for sentence diagramming, which I remember being enjoyable (though I might not have thought so at the time!), and which I still am able to do, at least mentally, when constructing sentences. (Like that last thing, which is impossibly convoluted and not a sentence at all, but actually a fragment. But hey! Thanks to Mrs. Barnard, I know which rules I’m breaking!)
Another influential 7th grade teacher was a person whose name almost never comes up in reminiscences with friends: Mr. MacDowell. He was our composition teacher -- yes, composition was a class apart from English! -- and we wrote all the time. All. The. Time. It was for me a very good thing.
And how could I not remember my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Reyburn? I do remember once frustrating her a little bit: We were brainstorming, coming up with a hypothesis (of course, as 7th graders we didn’t call it that!), then testing the hypothesis. I still remember other students eagerly working, then approaching her with their evidence that the hypothesis worked. Me? I sat there, trying to think up evidence that would show it didn’t work. When I found that non-example I was looking for, I showed her my work, expecting that the exercise would be over for the entire class. I don’t quite remember how she did it, but she did manage to praise me for my work and make me feel good ... while keeping me dummied up so that I didn’t ruin her lesson plan for the day! It still makes me laugh.
My 8th grade teacher, Miss Bryner, deepened my love of folk tales. I still have the “book” that I created as a class project.
My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Scott, and chemistry teacher, Mr. York, deserve high praise and my undying gratitude because, despite the fact that I did not particularly enjoy those subjects, their lessons were invaluable to me when my husband, Greg, was battling for his life. Seriously, I was able to understand, and communicate with, the endless parade of medical personnel that were an ever-present part of our life for three years. Kids, every single one of us has, at one time or another, asked the question that is the bane of a teacher’s existence: “When am I ever gonna use this stuff?” I’m here to tell you: Learn everything you can, because you just never know!
Our school system was relatively quite small, so there were teachers we saw again and again, sometimes in multiple disciplines. One such teacher was Mrs. Williams, who taught me not only 9th grade English (and made me love poetry) but 10th grade World History (and I still cherish the things that I learned in our comparative religions unit) and a 12th grade social studies class whose name I cannot quite remember but whose lessons in cherishing my freedom as an American and celebrating the diversity of America’s citizens I will never forget. She forced my mind away from my little world to Selma, Alabama, to the lettuce fields of California, and many points in between. She was the chief influence in my decision to pursue an interdisciplinary major in the Social Sciences, a somewhat challenging degree to attain because it required not only facility in research and writing, but proficiency in statistical analysis (and 30% more than the standard credit hours devoted to the major, I might add).
Despite having grown up in a very small town, in a very rural area of Florida, my peers and I all pretty much agree that we got a fantastic education. I am still stunned at the breadth of my literary knowledge, and a lot of that exposure came from Mr. Smith and Miss Anderson. There are several others, really good teachers, who I’ve not taken the time to mention, mainly because their impact on my life was mostly confined to the academic. There’s so much more to being a truly memorable teacher than the impartation of knowledge and management of young people, and it’s sad that the various state legislatures have overemphasized those two aspects of teaching.
From my teachers, I didn’t just learn a bunch of stuff. I got an education. And I am blessed

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Tale of Two Athletes

I know I'll take heat from some friends, but if I can get just one person to stop and THINK, then it'll be worth it.
At the beginning of the Olympics, there was a lot of buzz about Ryan Lochte's new hair color -- light blue, according to Ryan -- and though he took some ribbing about it looking prematurely gray, it was understood that it was all in fun. Even when his hair started to turn green -- Ryan, didn’t you know that bleached hair and pool chemicals are not a good combo? -- any commentary was of the good-natured sort.
And then came the commentary on Gabby Douglas’s hair. And the commentary was decidedly NOT of the good-natured sort. She was relentlessly mocked, by a bunch of people who apparently have never broken a sweat doing anything their entire lives, let alone sweating while earning gold for gymnastics team and country. Gabby tearfully admitted that the criticism -- of not only her ‘do, but of her standing at attention without her hand over her heart at the playing of the National Anthem and of her failure to outwardly show what others deemed the “proper” amount of enthusiasm for teammates competing in the individual events -- had hurt her deeply. I read one columnist’s appeal for folks to lighten up, saying, “She’s just a kid, after all,” and what followed was a hailstorm of comments pointing out that, at 20 years old, she was no longer a kid, and that when a person chooses to live their life in the spotlight, occasionally getting bullied just comes with the territory.
But then came the revelation that Ryan Lochte’s horrifying account of having been held up at gunpoint was a total fabrication, a lie he’d told his mother to conceal having to pay for an act of vandalism after a night of clubbing and drinking. The US Olympic Committee has issued an apology to Brazil; Ryan Lochte himself has issued something of an apology, and there’s been a lot of debate as to how we’re supposed to be thinking of the whole incident, with a whole bunch of very vocal people asserting that Lochte’s “... just a kid ...” who came “to have fun” and deserves “a break.” I’ve heard this over and over again.
Ryan Lochte just turned 32 this month.
Just mull that over for a few seconds. There are so many inconsistencies I can’t possibly name them all. A 20-year-old who’s supposed to suck it up and ignore harsh criticisms of how she looks in competition and while sitting in the stands, vs. a 32-year-old who’s supposed to be given a break for a lie that brought embarrassment to an entire nation, and then, when the lie was discovered, brought embarrassment to an entirely different nation. Just mull that over.
Is it any wonder that women complain of being subjected to a greater level of criticism and scrutiny than men?
Look at this whole thing another way: Though there was talk about Ryan Lochte’s hair, how much of it constituted criticism? What would you have said about Ryan Lochte not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem? (Would you have jumped on him for clowning around during the Anthem at the awards ceremony?) Would you have even paid any attention to the look on Ryan Lochte’s face during a teammate’s swim? And perhaps most telling of all, how would you have reacted if Gabby Douglas and a couple of her gymnastics teammates had been out clubbing and drinking until 5:30am, period? Let alone vandalizing private property afterward. Let alone telling a whopper of a lie that got police and the IOC involved! How do you feel -- truly, how do you feel -- when the contexts of these two athletes’ stories are completely reversed?
I’m not judging Ryan Lochte for lying to his mom. Heck, I lied to mine a few times! None of my lies ever had the potential to get blown up to Lochte proportions, so there’s really no telling what I would have done in his shoes. Would I have told the lie to a major network’s news anchor? Would I have doggedly stuck to my story even though it was causing an international incident? Hey, maybe; I was a little scared of my parents, too. (For the record: I’m not a very good liar, and learned this early on in my relationship with my mom, so my lies to her were indeed few. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, my parents would likely have led the parade of angry critics if I’d ever been caught in a lie of such epic proportions.)
I’m certainly not judging Gabby Douglas for any of her “transgressions,” either. I’ve gone out in public with my hair looking completely unkempt, and unlike her have absolutely no excuse except pure-out laziness. I always stand at attention, though not always with my hand over my heart, at the National Anthem; I didn’t even realize that was a big deal, until someone thought it was a big enough deal to criticize Gabby Douglas for it. And hey, Gabby: smiling is not my default facial expression, either. I’ve been criticized for that one hundreds of times, though never, ever, nevereverever to the degree to which you’ve been criticized.