Tag Archives: metaphor

The rose trellis

It takes time to rebuild what one tempest brings down.  (Tempest in literal hours or metaphor as months or years, pick your perspective.)  First, you’ve got to cut back the wreckage of roses, years’ worth of beautiful growth, heirlooms and hybrids, all tangled and thorny and a veritable reminder of what you’ve left lying dormant too long, then let it lie until the blooms have died back and you’ve filled all the vases all over the house with the beauty that still (still) is there, no matter the mess of it all.

And then, when it’s all been cut back, runners and canes gone to ground and all of the pruned bits are bundled and bagged and then (inspiration!) why don’t you have stackable trashcans for this (the old dog has tricks in her yet, because you may be a bitch but that term doesn’t mean anything here in the yard) it’s all set aside and you’ve even remembered the date for yard waste pickup (it feels good to be organized, like a real adult, yes it does) you’ve got to pull down the wreck of the wood you put up with some kind of “help” decades ago.  Now, power and hand tools and pry bars and sledgehammers at hand, your shoulders and arms ache in different ways than they did when the trellis went up the first time, when much shouting and swearing about levels and measures and the “right” way occurred, when really, roses don’t care as long as there’s some kind of solid support. Eight-five degrees versus ninety won’t kill a wild thing as long as the inches and feet all add up and the ends meet, more or less.  (Now your eyes sting with sweat and sawdust and your arms shake with effort, but you shoulder the support beams yourself as you pry them away where the masonry anchors are rusted fast to the wall, and that rip-crack feels good, in a way, saying something final the tempest did not.  Destruction can be good for the soul.)

And then it’s time to rebuild.  There’s the handheld masonry bit, your grandpa’s whom you never knew except through his tools and this house with its ancient wiring that holds, that and the set of your father’s chin, just like his dad’s in the photographs on top of the silent piano.  The chink of old iron against stone is satisfaction itself, the reverberation through your body from the bit/hammer/swing of your arm placing new anchors (ones that you bought without interference from dudes who may well have wanted to help, but you’ve got Storey’s Wisdom and the internet, too, not to mention a basement full of a dead master contractor’s bits, bolts and bobs and why not put history to your own use, this time?).  There’s a feel not just of power but of placement, creation, in the whir-grind-hot burr of the old (as old as you) Skil power drill, extended from the garage thanks to the trench you dug through the yard two years ago and the line you had laid out from the house (sometimes it’s okay to accept you have your limits) as the special concrete bits dig in and bite, take anchor and pull you forward as you push, cast your anchors in stone and then set your planks, two by four by eight hardwood cut to fit the wonky dimensions of mortar and stone.

Vertical struts go on first, drilled and anchored and screwed as the sun crosses the sky and hits your neck and shoulders around the crabapple tree (and today you don’t look up for Icarus, no, today you’re not flying too close or falling, not trying and failing, glorious in momentary success, today you’re just a gardener, because catching a fish feeds you one day, but fixing your garden feeds you for months in more than just the physical way), and then once they’re done, the horizontal slatwork, easy, compared, but un-anchored and needing more verticals to hold the whole rigging in place.  It’s a sailboat of sorts, though it’s a ship that sails with the seasons and sun, and not with the wind– at least, you hope not for a while, not like the last blow that brought the last bout of hard work cracking down.

And then last but not least, the oil stain, rubbed on by hand as the ladder teeters a bit underfoot– but it’s not far to the ground, and you’re not wearing wax wings, nor will you be hurt by more than some thorns (would that thorns were all that could hurt us), because you’ve been careful in your construction to pick up the nails, screws and bolts as you go, to be tidy and not leave too much scrap because as you’ve worked, the roses have already budded green, inches and feet gained back from the retraining you gave them at the start of this all.   There’s a moment of silence for the dragonfly who flew too close and was wing-splattered with stain.  He is still, stiff by the time you see him, resting on top of a thatch of Lillian Gibson’s regrowth, a fingernail’s worth of driftwood-colored weatherproofing forever stilling his flight.  It’s an unworthy thought, to think that some flies must die so that things bigger than them can live, but still, there’s something else, if not worthy, than worthwhile of acceptance:  even when you’re rebuilding a rose trellis with as much care as you can, you can’t look everywhere all the time, and there are bound to be splits in the wood, spots that you’ve missed, and tempests that you cannot predict, somewhere, off, outside the yard.

Too, it’s a comfort to know (grounding, it is) that just you, Storey’s Wisdom, a well-planned trip to Lowe’s, and the contents of your dad’s and grandfather’s basement built you something your roses, crabapples, and other things to be fruitful and counted-upon in the future, built this all by yourself, give or take five degrees.  You’ve taken a measure, and somehow, it fits.

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Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

Schoolyard reminders

I was walking by a schoolyard last Thursday on my way to visit a friend, and was struck by all these life’s little reminders, right there in their schoolyard.

Kindness:

Let your reach exceed your grasp:

Be present-minded:

Play nicely with others:

Smile.  You could be someone’s– maybe even your own– rainbow.

Don’t forget it has to start someplace, so be brave:

You’re only as alone as you let yourself be.

And the most important of all, because without it, you can’t do the rest full-heartedly:

 

La Lupa

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I am frequently asked if I have children– I don’t ask people why they ask me that question.  Is it because I am a woman of a certain age and it’s a “natural” assumption to believe that women over 25 should have children?  Is it because I’m not obviously a hyper-masculine bull-dyke and I wear Mary-Janes with quirky socks that coordinate with my clothes that are straight out of an L.L. Bean catalogue?  Is it because my behavior codes as maternal, in my brusque & busybody kind of way?  Is it because I work in a “helping” job and am usually the one with the common sense and resources/information to untangle people’s messes for them?  How do these qualities come to be associated with maternal/”do you have kids?” rather than just “oh my God, you people are idiots, step aside and let me fix this,” which is sometimes what my inner narrator feels like a lot of the time?  I try not to let that uncharitable & condescending sentiment show outside my head if I can.  Is it just that we live in a society where asking about children is part of trying to get to know who someone is?  (Why is that?) Continue reading

Ways of measuring progress

I saw an old friend I haven’t seen in almost a decade this weekend, and in between all the catching up, etc., she was remarking how good I looked– weight, demeanor, etc.  She, too, looked better– despite us both being older and having some smile lines a little extra padding around the middle, both of us were lighter than we had been when we were younger.  Lighter in heart, lighter in body, lighter in significant others (or lack of)– all around, lighter.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself yesterday after a health screening we had at work because my BMI was a little higher than our strict BMI range to get an extra discount over our usual employee discount.  Granted, I knew my weight was 15-20lbs more than I wanted it to be– it’s been a stressful winter and I stress-eat– but seeing it confirmed made me bummed anyway. I’d resolved to treat the results as a benchmark to work from in terms of cutting back on starches, on increasing all those good things I should eat, etc., to decrease my at-work snacking and do better about bringing my lunch in, and I’m still going to do that.

But I was reading something this morning on tumblr– one of those semi-joke, semi-serious memes about how it sucks to be an adult and any small victory should be celebrated (I am a dragon, I am an adult, I have my 401(k), I breathe fire, I regulate my fiber intake!)– and it made me rethink my disappointment in myself as I drank my 8 oz. of water, ate my yogurt, and drank my plain, un-sweetened, un-be-creamed coffee, since I’ve decided that lactose may be one of my problems.

Right NOW, I happen to be 20 lbs heavier than I want to be– but my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol all would have gotten me the next-to-highest discount.  And I still fit my pants, albeit a little bit tight.  There are ups and downs in my mood & my introversion & ability to socialize, sure.  But– measured in the larger scope of things, I am 80 lbs lighter than the last time I saw my friend 7 years ago, have kicked a legal career that was eating my soul, have found a job where I am truly happy, have eliminated some unhelpful or toxic folks from my life, and am exploring ways to enjoy my own company pretty well, thanks– all things I didn’t do, then.

In a larger, more geological sense of my life, that’s huge.  (Unlike my waistline, which is still a size 10.)

So, yeah, I’m not going to be hard on myself.  Instead, I’m going to think of a more not-now way of measuring progress.

I am an adult.  I am a glacier.  I carve rivers and mountains, and leaved uncovered layers of life no one knew about before in my wake .  Sometimes I make more risotto and eat more cookies than really I should.  But I keep moving forward, and I’m pretty damn cool.

Number 173

I had a lot of thoughts while I was on vacation about places and reasons, opportunities, thresholds, and whether and how to keep various doors open or closed.  I had a couple of conversations around some of those topics this week with a couple of different people– with different takes but all with constructively critical feedback– but I’m still trying to sort out some of the things I’ve realized (or gotten out of denial about) in a few giant gulps, and am now still digesting.

Doorways & thresholds– there’s lots of potential, even the ones in the farther corners of the world, like this one, if you just reach out and take hold of the handle.  (Even when you sometimes can’t see through the window to what’s behind the door, you just know you need to cross.)

Therapy homework (1)

I started to see a new therapist just last week and while of course these things take time, it seemed to go well in that he listened and re-framed what I’d said and was actually kind of quickly & scarily perceptive about my main issues– though I had actually put together a list of things I knew were issues and had made a point to talk about them and my concerns about being stuck in particular ruts or being afraid about where certain things in my life right now were leading me toward.

Without boring you with a ton of the details here, one of the things I brought up was the problems I’ve been having with my dad, both long-term and of late, and how he’s really been getting under my skin and how I’ve been so wound up about him and about everything else that the temptation to be awful to him in retaliation for real thoughtlessness & inattention & old-dog-new-tricks stubborness & his self-destructiveness around his own health when his November hospitalization led to the diagnosis, in no uncertain terms, that he could change the way that he ate or he could be dead in a year.

All my responsibility & need for appreciation & guilt at not paying my way (which is bs but still) quirks and all my inner child crap that rebels every time he never says thanks or interrupts or tells me how to do a job he knows nothing about or… everything else– it’s a bad, toxic combination right now.  And I don’t want to kick him while he’s down.  But I do want to stand up for myself, and I always anticipate all the ways it will explode because he’s an unmedicated bipolar & so completely unpredictable (and sometimes just viciously mean or just a flat-out-screamer) that I often just don’t. I don’t want to continue to silence myself, though, or what the hell was the point in leaving the husband?

My therapist gave me homework to do while I’ve been on vacation:  to try to think of positive things about my dad.

It’s been hard, because every time I try to think of something nice there’s a counterpoint that says “except when he uses X characteristic to bludgeon you into compliance.”  His desire to share knowledge is also a desire to be a know it all and show off and he never lets you get a word in that yes, he’s told you before or yes, you actually read the review of the show before you attended it, thanks.  His desire to tell me how to behave at work has more to do with all the times he’s gotten himself fired from a job for being outspoken, but his outspoken = drunk & unmedicated, and mine = medicated and in a legitimate open door corporate culture.  The lectures just raise my hackles and make me feel stupid.  And I cannot get out of his way, or more accurately, he is always underfoot, and then he gets mad at me when he’s wandering around the kitchen like a zombie while I’m cooking supper and trying to use the small space to feed us & do something creative.

I am still feeling really conflicted and angry, I guess. But here we go:  some good things:

He remembered that I like W.S. Merwin & got me the Library of America for Christmas this year. And a collection of Mary Oliver’s prose, the only book of hers I didn’t own.

He’s mostly stopped questioning if I’m going to finish everything on my plate, and mostly stopped huffing when I pull my plate away from him when we’re out to eat and I leave half for lunch the next day.

He can every once in a while be counted upon to cook steak tips for supper, which are pretty much one of my favorite food groups.

He tries, tries again.  He sometimes succeeds.  He was trying harder to be less grumpy last week.  It wasn’t perfect, and he didn’t apologized when he did snap at me, but he did at least get the hell over himself PDQ.

… And… that’s it right now, which is sad, that those are only things I can think of that don’t come wih some flip side when he’s being an ass.  But I’ll work on it some more.