Saturday, 8 April 2017

A story about a story

Through all cultures, cloth has long been used as a vehicle to tell stories. For instance, the grave cloths in Ghana were stamped with symbols that told the mourners about the character of the deceased. In Chile, women embroidered small wall hangings as a protest against police brutality and the oppressive dictatorship they lived in. And the Hmong hill people in Laos embroidered story cloths depicting aspects of their life. Those cloths accompanied them to a new land as they fled a repressive regime so they could remember and tell their children about their stories.

I bought this "priceless" piece at a thrift store (where else?). It has some mildew stains on it--but beautiful, nevertheless.

Every quilt tells a story, say quilters. Some quilts tell stories of the maker’s delight in colour and design. Others praise nature. Some quilts, by using scraps of fabrics from old clothes, may tell the stories of a family’s history.

I don’t think every quiltmaker sets out to tell a story. But that’s what happens as they work. And that’s what happened to me, too.

It started with a challenge posed by a member of our Small Worx group: create a piece using a technique that is not part of your culture. The original image in my mind of a clothesline hung with articles of clothing from around the world morphed as I noodled with that idea and it became something else altogether.

What if...? Those two words are a universal kickstarter for creative thinking. What if the clothesline held quilts or blankets from around the world? Like, a Hudson’s Bay blanket, a Haida button blanket,  an Indian coverlet stitched with Kantha embroidery, a cloth of African batiks? What if the clothesline extended across Canada? Over the centuries Canada has welcomed many immigrants, and our population consists not only of many aboriginal cultures, but also of more than 190 people groups that “came from away”, each with their distinctive cultures and crafts. What if...what if I titled this quilt The Great Canadian Clothesline: Canada Airs Its Quilts? What if...what if I let this be my own quiet little political statement about what’s important to me, a thumb of the nose to #45 down south? Ah! Now we’re talking turkey. This was the beginning of a story.

I began. I sorted through my ethnic fabrics, and cut little blankets from them, embroidering and beading them in the evenings while I watched TV. I created a background. What had originally been intended to be a 12 x 12" piece had grown into 10" x 40" so I could accommodate Canada from ocean to ocean, from coast to coast. The green ground, consisting mainly of sari silk remnants, had to be redone several times so it would lay flat. I had to go on a major hunt for a blue sky that wasn’t too distracting. And then, there it hung. Now what? Just add poles and a clothesline, and hang the quilts?

Have you ever noticed that storytellers often embellish their stories? The story evolves from its simple bare-bones plot outline, and with each telling more details are added. That’s what happened to my story quilt, too. What if I added a background of silhouettes in the distance, showing features of the Canadian skyline? This was scary business. “What if?” may kickstart creativity, but “I doubt I’m able” can nip it in the bud. I wasn’t at all sure I had the technical skills to pull it off. What if, when I hung it for display, people said with a tight little smile, “Oh, isn’t that cute?” or even worse, “Interesting!” Who did I think I was, after all? Grandma Moses?

Fortunately, the resident sweetie knows how to give me a kick in the pants when I need it. “Just try it,” he said. So I did. I put a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean, stitched some Snowbirds in the sky, and created the Coastal range of mountains. Next came the totem pole, with one wing shorter than the other. Oh well. Keep moving, you can fix it up later. That was day one. My assessment: maybe. Just maybe it might work. The RS smiled.

Day two: some lower mountains in the interior of BC. The Rockies. Calgary. Hmmm. Okay! Keep moving! It took me all week to finish Canada: an oil well, a wind turbine, a train, grain elevators and many more features, all the way over to a lighthouse on the East coast.

Each day, I looked at the piece with anxiety and dread – was this the day I would mess it up? Was it really any good or was I deluding myself? -- but I did it anyway. I told my story.  These features live in my heart and in my memory. I too was an immigrant once upon a time, albeit a very little one, and grew to love these features. They are probably part of most Canadians’ collective memory, and they will become part of our immigrant newcomers’ story, too. I love that story.

It’s not done yet. I need to put up poles and string a clothesline, to which I will clip my tiny quilts with the cutest little clothespins I found at Michael’s craft store.

I will make many more tiny quilts than will fit on the line, and store them in a tiny laundry basket so I can change the picture from time to time. At any step in the process, I may still find the piece is not going to work, after all. That will be hard. But it will not be the end of the story. I will continue to keep plugging away at it until the story I want to tell is there for all to see. Because it is the viewers' story, too. Since this is Canada’s 150th birthday year, I will put it on display at our Guild’s Quilt Show, and also at the Valley’s Fall Fair.

It’s not perfect, not breathtakingly beautiful, maybe just cute and interesting. I doubt that it will win any ribbons, but that’s not what this was about. This is a story, our story, and we have much to celebrate.

As I worked on this story, I realized that I have left out a big piece of the story. I have not acknowledged that immigrants have a story to tell because they moved onto land that originally belonged to our First Nations. There's another story waiting to be told, if I have it in me. Time, and the design wall will tell.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Designing Ideas

This piece, “Morning Has Broken”, has been sitting on my design wall since mid-January, but this week I took it down and finished it...I think!

I wrote about this piece, my response to grief, in my January 14 post. It's still on my design wall because I'm not sure whether I should add some more sun rays stretching out into the black border. Hmmm.

Since then, the term “design wall”  has been rattling around in my head.In quilter’s terms, design walls are like giant bulletin boards where quilters mount quilt pieces temporarily and move them around till they like what they see. “Just right!” they say, and then proceed to sew them together into a lovely, delightful whole.

The design wall in my studio is totally essential to how I work. I put unfinished pieces up there, and they sometimes stay up for weeks, months, and even years until I figure out what I need to do next. Here's what's on my design wall right now:

This one has already been pulled apart once, and may not have enough life in it to get completed. Time, and the design wall, will tell me.
The idea of a design wall expanded in my head, and I was thinking it was perfect for this week’s blog post. The design wall which is my brain held all the pieces of my blog post, and I thought I could just stitch them together when I sat down to write. Not so. The pieces didn’t mesh, they didn’t look good together, and I had to pull them back and wait. This is when art imitates life. Or is the saying Life imitates art? Whatever. There just seemed to be a synchronicity between what I’d planned to write and what actually happened.

Sometimes ideas are not ready to be born and need more time to gestate; sometimes, our creative thoughts just need to mellow and gel before we put them out there for the world to see. Perhaps we should consider that our life has a design wall, too. Sometimes elements of our life are just not ready to move forward and need more time before we can put them into practice, before we can make decisions about the future. Perhaps we shouldn't be in such a hurry to get through stuff so we can get on with the next big thing. What do you think?

This idea obviously needs fleshing out, a little more depth of thought, some more noodling -- that's why I'm posting it on your brain's design wall today.  If it seems to you there's something here that bears further exploration, you can fiddle around with it till it feels right to you!

I don’t know how my friend Joy does it, getting into my head space and stealing my ideas ... I opened her blog post this morning, and there was the blog I was supposed to write, all done for me. Thanks, Joy! You can read her post by clicking on the link to Life by the Swake to the right of this.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

BLOB's Book Club

As I was thinking about writing another blog post, it occurred to me that I am a BLOB – Blogger to Lovers of Books. So welcome to the first meeting of the BLOB book club, with me doing all the talking. (There’s often someone like that in every book club, isn’t there? Today I get the honour. But please talk back in the comments section.)

Until recently, I didn’t have a lot of interest in book clubs – tried it once, but it didn’t work for me.

But now I’ve just joined a book club with a difference: only two members, hence the name: TWITS: Two Women Investigating TextS. We meet once a month over supper in a cozy restaurant with very tolerant owners (the meetings have lasted more than 2 hours, and the waiter keeps saying, “Take your time, take your time!”) We do not have assigned reading – instead, we just talk about what we’ve read this month. And talk. And talk.

Would you believe the title of this picture refers to these women as OLD women? Not us!
A book club with only two members? But it works. At our first “meeting” (and I use the term loosely), my fellow TWIT handed me The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe and his mom, a two-member club, met in the hospital periodically and shared books and ideas  as she was undergoing chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. This heart-tugging memoir  is like a fruitcake studded with goodies, each chapter full of ideas for further pursuit. I’ve been gobbling up the goodies full tilt lately.

One of them features another two-member book club. In The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Queen Elizabeth (yes, THAT queen Elizabeth) discovers a bookmobile by the back door of Windsor Castle when she is out walking her Corgis. She pokes her head inside and discovers one of her kitchen staff browsing the shelves on his lunch break.

This gets the queen thinking. “She’d never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did (throughout this short book, the Q refers to herself as “one”), but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby, and it was in the nature of her job that she didn’t  have hobbies...And besides, reading wasn’t doing. She was a doer.”  Doing involved  reading briefing notes, reports, speeches from the throne. However, as a polite gesture,  she asks the library technician, “Is one allowed to borrow a book? One doesn’t have a ticket.” Although, she adds, “one is a pensioner”, not sure that would make a difference. That simple act changes her life.

“Briefing is not reading,” she tells her secretary. “In fact, it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual, and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject; reading opens it up.”

Nicely put, old girl.

Her Majesty promotes her eager-reader kitchen helper to become her personal book assistant, and they have a wonderful time sharing ideas and following rabbit trails from one author to the other, until the rest of the staff gets their knickers in a knot...ah, but you need to read it for yourself to enjoy the surprise ending.

Her Majesty is right: reading opens up your world. Reading has been opening up my world for as long as I can remember, and even before that. As a toddler,  I used to pull all the adult books off the bookshelf and look inside each one, over and over again in spite of being disciplined for it. It was an act of exploration, I think. Somewhere in those books, I sensed, were other worlds to experience.

I became a besotted reader. Saturday mornings were library mornings. Bedtime was reading time. So was almost any other time. I alienated a lot of would-be friends because I wouldn’t get my nose out of a book when they visited. Finally, I found a friend who loved reading and read at the same pace as I did. We would sit side by side on the sofa, reading the same book, nodding when we were ready to turn the page. It was another two-person book club. Ah, bliss. And so my reading habit has continued right up to now – just ask the resident sweetie. “Did you finish it?” he mumbles sleepily when I stumble to bed way after midnight. Of course. But he’s back to sleep already, before I can tell him all the gory details.

The RS and I might also be called a two-person book club, although it’s a little lopsided. He’s a good listener, but an indifferent reader. I read the best parts of my discoveries to him, which we discuss as we sit side by side in our easy chairs, a la Dagwood and Blondie.
Couldn't find an appropriate Dagwood and Blondie cartoon on the net, but this works, too!

Occasionally he decides he’ll try reading too. His interest was twigged by my reading excerpts from Post Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley. Riley was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and church, and she has the scars to show for it. Actually, most of us have scars to show from growing up, no matter what religion or no religion we were raised in, and no matter how idyllic our childhood. But Riley is brave enough to undergo a quest to heal these scars by visiting thirty different worshiping communities that range from Native vision quests to Buddhist and Hindu temples, and everything in between. In the end she finds...ah, but that would spoil the ending. Read it for yourself – it’s a good one. And, as Her Majesty says, it opens up your world.

It’s always a grand day when I discover a new novelist that makes my heart sing. My latest discovery, recommended by my TWIT pal, is Kaya McLaren.  I read On the Divinity of Second Chances, about a polarized family that eventually transforms itself into a strong and healthy unit. Their individual journeys prove that there is a God of second chances who smiles when we get it right. “I know time can never go back,” says Phil, the dad. “The past can never be revisited. At best, I can take elements I enjoyed in the past and re-create them in the present. I am no longer in a state of retirement; I am in a state of reinvention.”

Oh, gee, where has the time gone? Look at that, we’re the last ones left in the restaurant. Reluctantly, we pack up our books and set a date for our next meeting.

Reflecting on TWITS, the associate TWIT says, “I've loved being able to talk about whatever I'm reading and am doubly delighted when we both enjoy something. I also pay closer attention to what I'm reading so I can talk about it somewhat intelligently. And that's a good thing.”

Nicely put, old girl!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Listening to my Gut

In these troubling times, with #45 in charge south of the border and snow, lots and lots of it, north of the border, it is very tempting to hide away. I want to pull the blankets over my head and say, “I’m staying here until things improve. Wake me up when the world is a warmer, kinder, gentler place.”

Turtling lite, I call it, retracting into my shell from time to time, trying to avoid the nasties. I try to ignore the worst news stories, the ones that predict gloom and doom. I refuse, mostly, to click on Facebook links to heavily partisan sites, whether leaning to the right or to the left. But once in a while, something gets by me, and once in a while, I feel a churning in my gut. When my gut speaks to me, I sit up and pay attention.

I imagine we all have a little warning signal built into us, a vestigal remnant reaching back to pre-history. Those bodily reactions warning of danger kept people safe, and they still do. For some, the signal is literally seeing red; for others, a headache or shortness of breath or an accelerated heartbeat. This is wrong, we say to ourselves. For me, it’s a feeling in the center of my gut, a clenching, turbulent feeling. Danger! Danger! Danger! these signals tell us. Do something.

Running further away, or pretending this isn’t happening, is one option, or pummeling the signal into submission. In the long run, these don’t work. The poison is still out there, and won’t go away. Lashing out takes you in another direction, spewing your raw emotions all over– onto FB, letters to the editor,  or into your social conversations, or taking it out on innocent bystanders. I have been guilty of all of these reactions and more, and I have lived to pay the price. Avoidance produces a long slow simmer of angry stew which eventually boils over. Lashing out means that when the venom is vented, you are left with a mess on your hands to clean up: apologies, corrections, shame, guilt.

Another gut warning just came across my FB feed the other day. It was a video of a TV channel, on which a  perky young woman with a head of blonde curls was given the opportunity to editorialize on  “A Day Without A Woman”, a day of protest that had just been held. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds of listening to realize she thought it was a crock. “Look at me!” she said in effect. “See how well I’ve done? And I didn’t get any help from anyone, I did it on my own merits.” Among other things she pointed out that if women made poor choices, they only had themselves to blame for the mess they were in. They could protest all they wanted, but it wouldn’t get them anywhere. And even if she had said something positive, her derisive tone of voice said, “You folks are fools!”

I’ll admit that I had not paid much attention to this protest, so didn’t have strong feelings about it. And yet, I heard the alarm bells: Danger! Danger! Danger! My gut was tied up in knots immediately. The problem was, there were just enough smidgens of truth in her rant to make her followers give her the high five. Right on, tell it like it is, sister! And there were just enough clever, high-sounding sentiments to silence the undecided, or cast doubts in the hearts of feminist supporters. Danger, indeed. The devil knows all about clever sentiments and half-truths. (S)he can smooth-talk you into believing night is day and day is night.

I’m not saying this woman is the devil. Far from it. She has opinions, and she wants to voice them. But just because she is passionate about her cause doesn’t mean she’s got a corner on the truth. Her rant left no room for thoughtful dissection of the issues, the pros and cons of A Day Without A Woman. Worse, she was so good at what she did, and so attractive, that many listeners didn’t feel the issue deserved a second look. I watched and wondered: if she wasn’t so young and attractive, would she have had this opportunity to sneer so publicly at feminists? Was there any room in her heart for the woman who was abused as a child and is so broken that her choices are poor? Is this derisive sneering going to lead to a kinder, gentler world? I knew I had to do something.

I created this piece several years ago, as a reminder to myself that I should not be silent if there is something important to say.
So what should we do when the alarm bells begin to chime in our bodies, when we see injustice happening, or one-sided reporting, or downright cheating and lying in public, with lies disguised as the truth? It’s happening more and more, and hiding under the blankets will not make it go away.

Here’s my thoughts: first, we listen. We listen to our bodies. Usually, your gut (or your head, or your breath) has got it right.

Then we breathe, deeply, slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately to clear the anxiety and anger, and to examine our own motives. That may take a while, but time lends perspective. Sometimes the problem is not what is outside us; the danger signals may alert us to something within our own lives that needs attention. Better to take care of that before we try to fix the world.

We open our hearts, our spirits and our minds to a higher power, listening and trying to discern what the right action is.

And then we do what we feel called to do. Some of us may do some housekeeping of our own souls. Some of us might write a letter to the editor – a thoughtful, careful letter. Some of us might post an antidote on social media – an inspiring quote, a humorous meme, an informative, unbiased story. Some of us might call a friend who has been hurt by the injustice. We might give money or volunteer time to an organization that stands for what we believe in. Each of us is different, and we are called in different ways to do something good to restore the balance of the universe. Even just a smidgen -- every little bit is important.

As for me? I blog.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Confessions of a Thriftaholic

Disclaimer: This blog may not be suitable for some folks. You may find it tasteless and inane. You’ve been warned.

This is the third time I’m starting this week’s blog. The other versions are in the trash bin. And I’m not sure this one is going to survive to see the light of day. Nevertheless, I persist.

The other blogs were about a very serious(with a capital S) topic: how to set priorities.

But something weird is going on in my brain. I know setting priorities is a very important task, but what I really want to write about is, “Why I go shopping at Thrift Stores.”  Apparently, this is a priority for me, because I can’t pass up the opportunity when it arises – both the shopping and the writing about it.

See, I just had an unexpected score this week on Senior Tuesday at the local Sally Ann, and I really want to share that with someone. What’s a good deal if you can’t gloat about it and have someone pump their fist for you and say, “Good one!” ? I was just cruising the aisles when I saw this:

The painted pattern on this clock (which works perfectly, by the way) is called “Boerenbont,” a china pattern quite popular in Holland. Loosely translated, it means farmer’s colourful dishware. In other words, peasant pottery for the common folk who can’t afford Royal Doulton, or the Dutch equivalent thereof. In fact this pattern was developed in the 1800s by women who handpainted their chinaware, and is still in production today.

The latest version of boerenbont is all up-to-date for the modern home.
The common folk: that was us. We did have some lovely china mom and dad had received as a wedding gift, which we hardly ever used because it was too precious, but most of the time we ate off an assortment of unmatched plates and bowls picked up here and there – gas station giveaways, supermarket coupons, etc. Boerenbont china was only something mom talked about occasionally, with a dreamy look in her eyes.

So when I saw a piece of Boerenbont, a lonely teacup on a thrift store shelf many years ago, I bought it for the nostalgia factor. Over the years I’ve picked up a few other pieces at garage sales and flea markets.

And then this clock showed up: $4.49 minus 30% because it was Senior’s Tuesday. (This is your cue to pump your fist and say, “Good one!”) It joined my collection displayed on a shelf in the front hall. Thrift store chic!

I believe that “shopping thrifty” is a genetically determined trait. I inherited it from my parents. In one of the letters my mother wrote back to her family in Holland shortly after they had immigrated to Canada, she writes that she had visited a Salvation Army store and she was amazed at all the wonderful clothes they had there. Since post-war Holland had a shortage of almost everything, she bought dresses for her younger sisters and sent them across the ocean!

And I have a memory, too, of Dad coming home from a farm auction with dressers, beds, and boxes of odds and sods to augment our furniture and knick-knacks. We slept on those beds and stored clothing in the dressers for decades. The green depression glassware that was in the random-lot box now has pride of place in my sister’s display cabinet.

Speaking of sisters, the three of us can’t let a sister-week get-together pass without at least an afternoon of thrift-storing. What can I say: it’s a bonding experience. And while I won’t name them by name, I know I have relatives who enjoy this past-time, too. Sometimes we even get notes and photos showing the latest “score”: an old quilt top, a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, a designer handbag, all for a song. You just can beat the rush you get when you know you’re wearing or using something that others have paid top dollar for.

The big question is: really, why do people pay $150 for a pair of NAOT shoes if you can get them for $12.99 (good as new, no less) at VV – and if you shop on Tuesdays, you’ll get another 30% off because you’re a senior. Okay, I know: you’d prefer them in black, but you have no choice, they’re dark brown. Big deal, in a dimly lit room, nobody will know the difference. Or, you could just cruise the aisles and find yourself a pair of dark brown dress pants, and oh, what the heck, why not a jacket too? Live life to the fullest, eh?

As I write this, I realize that some of you are rolling your eyes. I do understand that this kind of shopping is not everyone’s cup of tea (even if it is served in a Boerenbont tea cup). But if you’re eager to hear about some of my other goodies, well then, come into my boudoir, my dears. Have I got something to show you!
This collection of salt-glazed pottery, most of which came off thrift store shelves, was started when I was gifted a jug by my mother-in-law. Lucky me!   

Mom used to drink from a tea cup like this. She probably picked it up at a yard sale. I missed seeing my mom's tea cup after she was gone, so years later jumped at the opportunity to buy this one at a thrift shop. Score!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

How to deal with *@!#

“Move to the Island,” they said. “Vancouver Island is Canada’s tropics," they said. "Sure, it rains a lot, but at least you don’t have to shovel the rain.”

Oh, really? Fake news. Alternative facts. That’s what those encouraging words were. 

The truth – and this is the best, the very best truth, you can count on it –  almost every winter we get at least one snowstorm that turns us into the wimpy drivers that everyone else in Canada sniggers at, the ones slip-sliding around on the streets, spinning our wheels.
And yes, we do have a little red car, as a matter of fact.
Fortunately, usually the snow disappears after a few days. Not this year, however. As I write, it has been snowing steadily for 6 days; trees are coated, roofs are buried, cars drive down the street with a foot of snow on the roof.

This amount of snow is so unusual, I have come up with a theory about it. The beginning of our very bad – the worst, in fact, you’d better believe it – very bad winter began roughly about the time that a certain man was elected – #45, I believe his name is. This White House Wizard, like the White Queen of Narnia, has cast a spell upon our land; we will have 4 years of winter, with no Christmas, if this keeps up. 

So how do you deal with something you just don’t like at all -- like snow, for instance? And make no mistake: we don’t like it. You too may be struggling with something that makes you feel mad or sad, and may be wondering how to handle it. Well, good news: today I read a post on Bernice King’s Facebook page. She’s the daughter of Martin Luther King, and she has advice for dealing with a difficult situation. In her case, it’s #45. But I think it also applies to the snow situation we are in right now. Perhaps lumping #45 and snow into the same category belittles and insults one of them, but it's good advice, so I wanted to share.

First, she advises us, don’t repeat the name of the thing you dislike over and over again. It only distracts you from the issues that underlie it. (Henceforth, the unwelcome thing will be known as *@!#).  *@!# is a fact, a true fact. No lie. The issue is the crappy situation we find ourselves in, and the bad feelings the situation arouse. If we keep bemoaning  *@!#, we will neglect the work that could make our deplorable conditions better. Thus, the RS and I cleared away as much *@!# as we could – and we feel good about that. We discovered that the energy we put into that is much more enjoyable than the energy we put into whining and complaining.

Also, remember that it’s not just  *@!#  that’s causing our discomfort and distress. There’s a whole complex of issues behind that: climate change (literal and metaphorical), for instance. If there’s something we can do to address those issues, we may change our lives for the better.

Don’t argue with people who love *@!# . Accept that some people get excited by all the ways  *@!# might possibly benefit us. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” they say. “Now it’s our turn.” There is no way you can convince them otherwise. So save your breath to ... shovel.

Sometimes,  *@!#-lovers like to get us all riled up by saying outrageous things that make us mad. Getting all worked up creates a bad atmosphere – clouds up the sky, you could say. And cloudy conditions just lead to more  *@!#. So stay positive – after all  *@!# is not the only thing in your life. Think about sunshine. Family. Love. Create beautiful things – beautiful things are an antidote to  *@!#-sickness. Surround yourself with people who make beautiful things so you’ll be inspired and encouraged.

No more hopeless and helpless talk, either. Give it up.  *@!# won’t last forever. After winter, spring will come. We need to believe that.

Sometimes,  *@!#-lovers will make outrageous claims – “ *@!#, and only  *@!#, will make this world great again. We really need it. ” Sometimes we’re tempted to believe what we hear, and we might even pass it on to others. That’s called fake news. Check it out. Don’t pass it on.

Here's an example of fake news: the original photo, taken at Roger's Pass, didn't have the goats on the train. Nice job of photoshopping. Too bad it isn't true, but it is making its way around FB anyway!
We may be tempted to think that  *@!# has the upper hand – it’s such a powerful force, moving into our streets and towns, creating turmoil and chaos by its unexpected appearances. But  *@!# is powerless against humour. It is powerless against a smile and laughter. It cannot dampen our spirits. So indulge in these often.

When it comes to  *@!#, knuckling under is not an option. Holing up in your house and hiding your head under the blankets won’t, in the long run, solve the problem of *@!#.  It  may seem insurmountable; nevertheless, persist.

You’ll be glad – really, really glad, I guarantee it – that you did.

You can find  Bernice King’s Facebook page, with a compilation of advice re the political situation at:

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Ups and Downs

The other day, I put some things down on the landing of our staircase. It’s a handy holding place if I don’t feel like running up and down the stairs every few minutes. When there’s enough stuff collected, or when I next go up, I fill my arms with the things I’ve left there and put those items in their proper storage space. (True confession: sometimes I step over those piles for a long time until I can no longer ignore them.)

It got me to noodling about stairs.

This lovely staircase leads to the booksellers at Rouen Cathedral in France. Worth a trip there just so I could peek in at the little door at the top of the stairs!

 I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life; some homes had an “upstairs” and some had a “downstairs” –  basement – and some had no stairs at all. One of the things I loved about the home we live in now when I first saw it, was that it had no basement, but it did have a lovely open staircase that led to two rooms and a bathroom above our living space. It’s where my studio is now, and almost every time I go up, I anticipate good things happening. It’s where I sew and write, and where I can get away from everything and everyone to do so.

On the other hand, I have mixed feeling about basement stairs. Perhaps it’s because my first memory of a basement is a scary one.

In the old farmhouse we called home in the 50s, our indoor pit toilet was hidden in the back corner of a dirt-floor cellar behind a curtain. There was another curtain behind the “throne” (a one-holer), obscuring the stairs that led to a little-used trap-door opening  to the outside.  Sure, we didn’t have to traipse out to the outhouse in the cold and dark,  but for a five-year old, it was another kind of cold and dark down there altogether. A cool draft from behind discouraged lingering if we might be so inclined, and I sure wasn’t. How could I be sure there was nobody lurking behind that curtain when I went down there by myself? And what if I fell into the hole? I did not like that shadowy, cobwebby staircase to the cellar at all, even though, obviously, I had to use it regularly.

During my teen years I slept in a basement bedroom. It was my private hideaway, where I did homework while listening to the radio, where I read books till late, late at night without my folks knowing about it, where I journaled and wondered and began my noodling habit, and realized that I needed my alone time. Later, after marriage, when the kids started coming,  we converted a room in the basement to an office, and I had a room of my own, far from the noisome crowd. Although I still didn’t like going down the stairs into the basement, I was willing to think of these steps as a necessary way of getting to a good space.

I’ve been told that stairways serve as symbols in our inner life. If you dream of stairways, pay attention. It means that you are in the middle of change. An ever-narrowing ascending staircase means that the change is hard. A beautiful staircase means you are excited about the change. A dark and gloomy stairs leading down (often, by the way, a great device in movies to build tension) means you’re afraid of what might be down there.  Makes sense to me.

It makes sense because, after all, life is about change. If you are not changing, you are not growing. So, whether we like it or not, up and down those stairways we must go as we travel through life. It’s not much fun going down – down, down to the depths of your inner self to do the work that needs to be done to change – to face hard truths about yourself, to confess faults, to find it in your heart to forgive someone. We go down to the depths when we experience grief, and anger. We may try to push it away, but eventually we have no choice but to go down. It’s a necessity if we want to get to a better place. Either we go down, or we make a mess, just as I sometimes discovered when I resisted going down to my cellar toilet as a child.

Going up is much more exciting – sometimes difficult, but the journey has its own rewards. We learn something, we achieve a goal, we’re on top of the world. Of course it takes energy, and we may linger on the main floor occasionally, just being couch potatoes. But life is so much more interesting if we make the effort to get up off the couch, to do what we need to do to grow.

This stairway has built in rewards all the way up! No reason to stay on the couch when you have something like this!

And sometimes, if we’re tired, or our hearts are hurting, we end up leaving “stuff” on the landing – a resting place –  until we’re ready to pick up that psychic baggage and put it where it belongs, either “upstairs” or “downstairs.” It may accumulate for a while, but we can’t navigate around the junk pile forever.

So, that’s the end result of my noodling. Not profound, but in this time of political uncertainty, fear and anxiety, maybe we’re just tired of heavy talk. I know I am. Maybe we need to turn our eyes away from politics and do a little self-care, a little gentle noodling to understand where we’re at in our personal journeys.

I wonder where you are on your own staircase – going up, or going down, or resting on the landing for a bit. Wherever you are, don't quit.  Via con dios, and may the journey reward you.