I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day 2017

My front porch flowers today
Today is Father's Day. Since I've written about my own father in past years, I thought I'd move on from there to the more generic idea of fathers. Here's what I wrote about Daddy last year, if you want to know more about him. Anyway, looking online, I find that it's not only Father's Day, but it's also Go Fishing Day, Splurge Day, and Turkey Lover's Day.

June 18th is a big day for me, in many ways. I have three events that have occurred on that day, and when it rolls around I think about those things once again. First is the birth of my first great niece, born seven years ago today, to my niece Allison, Norma Jean's daughter. She (Allison) has two daughters, both born from sperm donation, essentially "phoning in" the father's role. Alexandra goes by the nickname Lexie and just graduated from first grade. I get to see her and her sister whenever I visit Norma Jean in Florida. I remember when I learned that Allison would become a mother and how she chose the sperm donor. I guess you actually get a catalog and learn essential information about the person whose sperm will be used before being impregnated.

Since Lexie doesn't have a father, she is close to her uncle Peter, Norma Jean's other offspring. They all live in close proximity since Allison moved to Tampa, and their lives are intertwined. When I talk to Norma Jean on FaceTime, I often get a chance to see the girls. I wonder whether they realize how different their lives are from their friends' lives, or maybe they're not so different after all. There are many families without both parents for whatever reason. In any event, I am so glad they are part of my family!

Twenty-three years ago today I became a skydiving instructor. I wrote about it here back in 2012. It was a long arduous journey from being a neophyte skydiver to become someone who could help other people learn the skill in relative safety. It's never going to be completely without risk, but what is? Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into freefall with a parachute on your back is not something I ever thought I would do even once, much less thousands of times. And it's a wonderful memory; many mornings I'll wake up and realize I've been dreaming again about being an instructor. Over the years, I taught more than a thousand students and really enjoyed teaching the First Jump Course. Skydiving was such a huge part of my life for so many years that I couldn't imagine my life without that thrill. It's how I met Smart Guy, it changed my life for both good and ill in many ways.

That's because on this day seventeen years ago, I had a very bad landing under my parachute that caused me to fracture my pelvis in six places and lose an artery down my right leg. I won't put a link to it because there's one in the sidebar on the right side of this blog. I really don't need to dwell on that memory today; I live with the side effects every single day, so I don't forget it often. I have two pins that reside in the right sacral area, and fortunately for me, they don't give me much difficulty. However, I think maybe my hip pain of recent months might be related to the accident. Who knows? But every day that I get out of bed and work out the kinks, I need to get that hip moving in the right direction.

I've had a few other scrapes while skydiving, but that was by far the worst one, and the only one that caused me to miss an entire season of skydiving. Yes, I did return to the sport, and I made at least a thousand more skydives afterwards. I never thought a day would come when I wouldn't be an active skydiver, but I began to realize that I needed to find a time to stop before I injured myself again. I made my last jump in February 2015, at the age of 72. It was time to stop, since I seemed to throw my back out each time I tried to pack my chute. It was a warning sign, I told myself. But the amazing thing is how easy it was to let it go. Everything in its season, as they say.

Daddy was long gone when I made my first skydive in 1990. Sometimes I wonder what he would have thought about my avocation. It was a year-round endeavor in Colorado, but once I moved to the Pacific Northwest, it became seasonal, since the winters here are marked by low clouds and lots and lots of rain. I did jump in the rain once in Colorado, by accident, and I remember being afraid that my parachute would collapse under the weight of the water, but it flew just fine. I sure wished I could have had windshield wipers on my goggles, though. Since both of your hands are being used to steer the parachute, there's no way to wipe the water off them. You just gotta deal with it. I remember that I packed up the wet chute and made another jump right away to dry it out.

Yes, this day holds real meaning for me. Thinking about my own father always makes me realize how much I still miss him when I allow myself to. One thing I've learned about the loss of loved ones is that it doesn't do me any good to dwell on regretful memories. Once you get far enough away in time from a major loss, the regrets begin to recede and happy memories emerge. Daddy was a happy guy, most of the time. I have many memories of first beginning to enjoy the exploration of reading different sorts of books, when Daddy introduced me to science fiction. As a teenager, I would devour Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov stories and we would discuss them. He changed my idea of literature by introducing me to speculative fiction. That's one really good memory of my dad. I still to this day enjoy science fiction, thanks to him.

I realize now, when I think about it, that reading was always a huge part of our lives. Mama was the biggest reader of all; she would go to the library and bring back a box of books, which she would read in record time. She read everything (except science fiction), including lots of nonfiction books. I think she would enjoy the books I have on my bookshelf right now: one about the life of beavers and another about the secret life of trees. I'd be sharing them with her if I could. I do miss my parents, but then again, Daddy would have been 100 years old if he had lived until today. Somehow I just cannot picture how he would have gotten to that age. Do you want to be that old? I'm not sure I do.

I think I might celebrate Splurge Day today and have something to eat that I don't usually allow myself. Right next to the coffee shop is Mallards Ice Cream shop. It is simply the best ice cream anywhere, locally made and with flavors you've never heard of before, such as pepper ice cream (I tried it once and loved it, vanilla with black pepper spice) or even rhubarb ice cream (I haven't tried it yet). Yes, I'll use the day to splurge on something good to eat, and right now ice cream sure sounds like the ticket.

Whatever you decide to do with your June 18th, I hope it's a good day surrounded with love and laughter. Now that's something it would be great to splurge on: lots of giggles and belly laughs. Plus it wouldn't be nearly as fattening as the ice cream. (Nah! Ice cream wins out.) I hope you find someone to share those three hugs with that I mentioned a few weeks ago. I've found it to be a really wonderful meditation and reminder to cherish my dear ones. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dystopian future and Wonder Woman

Front porch petunias
I took this picture to show the nice lady at the Farmers' Market who makes these delightful displays how it has begun to bloom. I bought it just before Mother's Day and there were no blooms at all. She says she plants her boxes with seeds that will bloom all summer long. There are also some purple petunias beginning to open. I've seen the woman, Pat, every Saturday for a decade now; she also brings in plenty of eggs from her chickens, which people line up to buy from her. I should get a picture of her and introduce you one of these days.

Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the Saturday market yesterday because I had made arrangements to go to the movies early in the day with my friend Judy, and I couldn't linger long after our walk with the ladies, although Lily and I had a nice breakfast afterwards. I figured I'd better eat something because the movie started at 11:30, meaning I'd miss lunch otherwise.

It all worked out just fine, and I met Judy at the theater in plenty of time to watch the interminable run of trailers from other movies before we settled in to see Wonder Woman. This link takes you to a review written by Caroline Framke of Vox and reflects my own take on the movie. Yes, it's a superhero movie and could have been really bad, but it shows a woman who knows her own worth in a world set in the early 1900s (World War I, to be exact), and she is raised on an idyllic island by Amazons without any men. I loved seeing those Amazon warrior women portrayed so well (the movie's director is a woman, Patty Jenkins) and I flashed back on all those Wonder Woman comic books I devoured when I was a young girl myself. The movie is just a bit long for my taste, and the last part could have been dialed back a little (I tire of all those CGI-driven battle scenes). Otherwise, I enjoyed it very much.

Then I came home and, after puttering in the lovely garden, I settled down to watch the last episode of The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu. What a contrast! I don't know if you're familiar with the story, so I'll give you just a little background. Margaret Atwood, a favorite author, wrote a book by that name in 1985, which I read back then and was profoundly affected by it. It portrays a dystopian future of a United States that has become the Republic of Gilead. From that link above, written by Sister Rose, a Catholic nun:
What is "The Handmaid's Tale" about? It's about personhood, identity, freedom, abuse of power and oppression. It's about the meaning of the ever-present violence, human dignity, community, family, children, the body and leadership run amok. Democracy is a thing of the past but power for the powerful is in full force. The men have the guns but they don't really win in this brave new world; their dignity is denigrated as well. The difference is — they are in charge. Or they think they are.
The series is ten episodes long, and I've seen the first nine of them; next week will be the final episode of Season 1. Elizabeth Moss plays Offred ("Of Fred") and we get to see plenty of her backstory in flashbacks. The main difference between the book and the series is that it's been reimagined to be set in current time. That makes it even more scary, thinking of how horrible it would be to suddenly lose the privileges and freedom I've taken for granted my entire life. Of course, women growing up in Saudi Arabia, for example, have always been without power, making me wonder how they might interpret the series.

So those two very different views of female power and powerlessness just happened to be combined in one day's entertainment, and it has got me thinking. Remembering that idyllic island where Diana (Wonder Woman) was raised, and the world of Giliad where anyone who does not fit into the brutal power system is hanged and left for others to see as a warning, these are both possibilities of existence that are polar opposites of one another.

I believe in the power of love to overcome many obstacles in life, but our political surroundings also make a huge difference in how we are able to express that love. I have been scarred by eight decades of being alive, and although I live in a place where I can express myself in myriad avenues, I don't stand up and take public stands that might put me at risk of being ridiculed and even bullied by others who don't believe as I do. I don't talk about politics on my blogs (well, occasionally) and that is partly to honor those who see the world differently, but it's also because I know that some people troll the internet looking for people to harass. It's hard enough being as "out there" as I am with this personal blog, and I try very hard to be honest and relevant in my writings, but it's fraught with potential risk. There are people who delight in hurting others.

* * *

My virtual friend Ronni Bennet, the woman who writes Time Goes By and has been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has written about the constraints she deals with in her blog, which is mostly about what it's like to grow old, but she has allowed those of us who follow her to care very much about her well-being. I have been pleased to see how many of her followers (I'm one) who have let her know that we want to help, and the only way we can is to support her with our thoughts and prayers as she goes through this terrible time. She will undergo surgery on June 20th to remove the cancerous tumor in order to gain a possible 25 to 30 percent chance of survival. Without the surgery, her doctors have told her she would be dead within a year.

One of the things she has written about recently is how different the world appears to her since her diagnosis. Before, she would feel the passage of time as being incredibly rapid. A day, a week would pass in record time, and I know exactly what she means. But after the diagnosis, everything has slowed to a crawl. Days are much longer and filled with meaning. Now I realize it's because nothing is taken for granted, not even sitting down to read a book. Everything takes on a different hue, because she has been reminded of her mortality in a way she can't turn away from.

We are all in the same boat, we just don't realize it in the same sense. I know that my days are numbered, but so much of the time I'm on autopilot and forget to take in the moment. Maybe a cancer diagnosis has an upside. Well, maybe. In any event, I am very much attuned to her at the moment and think of her often during my day's activities. It's still strange to me how much I get attached to people I've never met. Many of you who read my blogs fall in that category. Remember when this whole idea of virtual community felt like science fiction? And here we are, connected and hopefully enjoying the whole thing.

I just looked at the clock: I guess I've spent longer writing this post than usual, because it's getting late and I need to finish and get on with my day. It's sunny and beautiful out there again, so I'll be hopefully enjoying myself in the garden, along with other activities like meeting my friend John for our shared Sunday bagel. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will be well and will not forget to hug your loved ones.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Being of the nature to change

Ripe strawberries already at the Farmers' Market
Last week I wrote about the Five Remembrances as described by Thich Naht Hahn and have spent the last week practicing them in ways I didn't quite anticipate. It has been driven home to me that the Five Remembrances can help me to deal with impermanence and change. Yesterday I was astounded to see that the first berries of the season are already (already!) showing up at the Farmers' Market, which reminds me that the first day of summer is right around the corner, even as we are still dealing with either unseasonably hot or chilly temperatures. How quickly that seasonal change seems to happen, and here it is yet another Sunday morning with me sitting in my dimly lighted room with the light of my laptop screen gently prodding me to consider what to write about today.

My routine includes every other Wednesday afternoon spending some time talking on FaceTime with my sister Norma Jean, and this week I wanted to show her my beautiful front porch garden and how well it's coming along. So I turned the iPad camera around and showed her the pretty flowers I've cultivated this spring. While holding the iPad in my left hand, I reached forward with my right hand to point out a plant, and that simple movement caused me to pinch a nerve in my lower back, in the sciatic area. When I stood up straight, the familiar spread of pain reminded me that I'd definitely done it again, performed that movement I should avoid, and that I had once again caused myself to "throw my back out."

I haven't let it keep me from my usual activities, but I have also been reminded that there are certain movements I must avoid until the back has healed. Not knowing exactly what they might be unless I test the limits, I managed to go on my Thursday hike as well as yesterday's walk with the ladies. Even now, as I sit here on Sunday morning, there are still remnants of the pain lingering, but mostly it's gradually improved. It's that pesky Second Remembrance ("I am of the nature to have ill health") that I've thought about as I rub cream into my back. When I finish writing today and get dressed, I'll find out when I try to do my exercises whether I'll still have to modify them, as I have for the past three days.

Then, just yesterday, I received a shock when I learned that one of my favorite bloggers, Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By spent three days in the hospital and returned with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Ronni usually writes about what it's like to get old, and because she's only a couple of years older than me, I can relate to everything she experiences, as it is always relevant to my own life. She has reminded me of the Fourth Remembrance ("All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change"). As I feel the sense of grief, that all too familiar friend, I realize that she will look ahead and know that her life will never be the same. Just like that, the ground has shifted under her feet. And mine as well.

Even though it seems like there is little comparison between throwing my back out and getting a diagnosis of cancer, it's really just a matter of degree. Nothing stays the same from one day to the next, and when I snuggle into my bed at night, allowing myself to relax and let sleep come over me, I don't know what the next day will bring. I think I know, because I expect everything to stay the same, and of course it doesn't. If I allow myself to  forget that, even for a moment, I experience the pain and suffering that comes from the futile effort to cling to what was. Instead, I must leap into each day with as much joy and delight as I can muster, because there really isn't any acceptable alternative.

I think that's what getting old is really about: you go through enough of these changes and just trying to find some stable ground underfoot causes you to look elsewhere for that stability. Which brings me to the Fifth Remembrance ("My actions are my only true belongings"), which reminds me that my actions are the ground on which I stand. And I've got a lifetime of actions to contemplate. The "action item" of the moment is writing this post, pondering what's on my mind as I've done now for more than eight years, every Sunday sitting here with my laptop and pouring my heart out. Well, sometimes it's just a muddle, because for whatever reason I cannot get into the flow of it, and sometimes things come out of my fingers that surprise even me. It's truly a meditation, and anyone who's ever attempted to meditate knows that one's mental processes sometimes get in the way of serenity. You just keep on keepin' on, knowing that the effort itself will cause you to change direction, following the breath in and out.

I took a quick look at the news before I began this post, but it was so distressing that I decided not to read any more about the latest terrorist attack in London; it upsets me so much and causes me to despair. So, I look away for the time being and concentrate on my post, on my garden, and the wonderful strawberries I'll be enjoying in a week or two, thinking of my many blessings instead of the tremendous upheaval surrounding us all. And in a short while, I'll get to test out my back and see how much (or how little) better it is. If every day is different from every other day, I can choose where to focus my energy and find some "action items" that will improve the world around me.

And with that, the post is written. A fair description of my past week, and I know that my dear love, who lies next to me sleeping, will add plenty of enjoyment to this fine day, and that my dear friends at the coffee shop look forward to my arrival. And you, dear reader, my friend in the ether, you add so much to my life. I look forward to your comments, to your own blog posts, and feel our connection with gratitude and love. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to look for some action items that will please you and your loved ones.