#72 Observations: Winter Edition

 

Observations: Winter Edition.

I’ve been musing about oddities tucked into daily life. I’d like to add yours to my somewhat wacky list:

*The old  and humorous adage “You can’t get there from here” is often actually true on the Internet.

*My friend Sue pointed out a vexing problem with bedding. Why aren’t sheets and blankets clearly size labeled so you can tell a Queen size from a Full size easily without struggling to make the bed only to discover that it’s the wrong size for the mattress.

*Why would any clothing company offer a sweater for sale with 3/4 sleeves? Aren’t sweaters for keeping you warm and doesn’t that include your lower arms?

*Why do suppliers located in northern climates (think L.L. Bean or Land’s End) no longer carry wool sweaters? It isn’t that “Climate Change” means that snow, ice, and frigid cold are no longer issues in those geographies. Cheaper polyester or acrylic fabrics do not breathe, holding in heat that forms moisture which chills, not ideal conditions for body temperature control. But the polyester exercise clothing that is designed to keep you warm only does so because it wicks away that moisture. Try sitting in a cold room in even dry exercise clothing and see how warm you stay.

Corollary: What happened to wool? What happened to sheep?

Corollary: Why have 100% cotton nightgowns and PJ’s  disappeared from local (affordable) stores? Now they only show up in speciality catalogs priced into the stratosphere. A short nightgown for $79.95? For sleeping in a rumpled bed?

Corollary: Why are local affordable stores disappearing? Do you really want to order a replacement screw or a burned out lightbulb from amazon.com where shipping costs and packaging excesses exceeds every tolerable range?

*Why are current men’s suits made so that every man who wears them resembles a little kid who grew out of his clothes but can’t afford to buy new ones that fit?  Too tight shoulders, sleeves not quite long enough to cover  wrists, pants barely making it to the ankles, a jacket button that can’t hold if a man sits down? Men’s bodies sitting on talk show furniture fidget in ways that suggest they are being constrained by what they are wearing. Shouldn’t clothes have sufficient fabric to let bodies move?

*Have you seen recent versions of flannel shirts? Old time flannel, thick and warmly inviting, is now so thin as to be suitable for summer afternoons when the tide rolls in. What happened to the “toasty” factor that made them so inviting to wear under one of those disappeared wool sweaters?

*Why do garments that used to be called “tunics” now end just below the waist? Didn’t tunics used to reach far enough to cover one’s behind? Current versions are now shorter than an old-fashioned sweatshirt.

*Am I the only one who thinks the current fashion designs are ways for suppliers to make more money by scrimping on materials? “Fashion Forward”? Yeah, right.

*Corollary: current home heating costs have not made warm, affordable winter garments unnecessary.

*Corollary: When did genetic coding switch to producing humans who no longer get cold? In Portland Maine on any 32 degree (or above) winter day shorts are THE clothing choice for males. And even some sensible  (?) females.

Please write back with your observations. They will joyfully be added to this list.

#53 Paths

 

Paths.

There are so many ways to age. I had no idea of course, when waking hours were filled with occupation and everything else was crammed into living and getting through.  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”*

And then, when I knew I was tiring, the gears got switched and I was into something else, this territory of Eldering. By this time I had noticed the creaky limbs and sometimes nodding off at the oddest of times and that my energy level from the gogogo years had somehow gonegonegone.  I started to worry about the occasional blank word or name that couldn’t be found in my memory bank and in the morning mirror I saw a face that only vaguely resembled the one I expected to be looking back at me.

There was the painful first use of a “senior discount”.  More painful still was (is) being talked down to as my grey head acts as a beacon yelling “Old person here!” despite my internal views to the contrary. Physicians, grocery checkout clerks, waitpersons have all had previously negative experiences with the likes of me, even if it wasn’t actually ME.

I have begun to understand old age “cranky”: the joints that zing unexpectedly, the-way-too-inconvenient searches for a bathroom away from the house, and impatience with the lack of being heard or seen, but those are trifles next to the loss of friends and companions.

What I didn’t suspect was the treasure that lay in the midst of these challenges. A great opening, an expansive freeing spirit from so many things I  believed were “me”. Kindness, compassion, patience suddenly began to appear at the oddest times, filling the moments. Conscious awareness found room to show up occasionally and the picture began getting bigger, a panoramic effect allowing a deeper, longer breath. While I cannot move as fast as I once did, slow movement allows opportunities for taking in what lies around me. 

We won’t all age the same way and a number of us won’t get to age at all but tucked under a slew of stereotypes are ways of seeing and knowing I hadn’t imagined. Just wait, you’ll see.

 

*John Lennon. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”.

#52 Just Life: Variations on a Theme

Just Life:  Variations on a Theme.

For a long time I have been troubled by what I perceived as a divide between my neighbors or friends who live lives that I relate to and respect. It was when we “talked politics” that what seemed like insurmountable divides arose and we ceased talking with one another or ceased seriously talking about matters dear to us because it was simply too painful. I always knew however that if an emergency arose, if there were reasons that we needed to pull together in a time of trouble, those friends and neighbors would be there pitching in.

There are divisions, they just aren’t distributed along the lines we are told they are. Red/Blue. Conservative/Liberal: the divisions reported so often in the media fall into those categories because the media covers those who have much to gain identifying with those labels. Media seems primarily interested in those with power and money or those striving for them.  Many of the rest of us are not particularly interested in living that kind of life.

“Family Values” used to be a slogan for conservative political beliefs but even way back then I found myself annoyed that a political group had seemed to usurp a term that I related to even though I would never describe my political beliefs as leaning to the right. Right. Left. Yet another set of divisional boundaries. To me “values” meant caring, meant having a set of internal beliefs and purpose, an internal compass guiding action. “Values” was often in slogans used by religious individuals or groups, but to me religion did not have much to do with it. I felt my life had been lived by my sense of internal values not connected to “religion” which I did not have. Now it seems as if the groups have changed, the slogans have changed, and the term “Family Values” has been flipped on its ear.

Recently I viewed this video which popped up online. It is not political or religious but it gets to the heart of what I am trying to express.

Jay Shetty Video

“It’s about who they are and how they treat you.” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi080mSDX6Q

 

 

#51 Quilting

 

Quilting.

I cannot sew. Even when I learned to be adept with needles they were the large ones used for knitting. 

Now, when arthritis has made all needles impossible, I find I am needing to make a quilt. This is psychological work not handcraft. The pieces of my life have felt fractured; disjointed; not part of a whole but disparate pieces scattered, my history, my adaptations over time, myself as constructed in moves made necessary by circumstances. These scattered pieces involve geographies and personal relationships. Quilt blocks: urban, small town, rural—each had a part. Marriage, motherhood, single woman—each had a part. Weaver, gardener, cook, photographer, writer—each had a part. These blocks occupy my memory floating as distinct pieces but what I am now recognizing is eldering is a time to patchwork these pieces into a life quilt which requires connector work, a way of restructuring the pieces of my past and present by gathering them in patterns, making beauty, pain, and purpose into a whole.

#48 Energy

Energy.

I went to a place where I’d not been before. It was out farther on the edge and since then I’ve been different. Changed somehow.

A friend says “It’s all energy” and I am coming to an organic, intuitive, understanding of this. Energy is both in us and surrounding us and is as responsible for our lives as breath. After I paid a visit to that edge space I brought back with me an enlivened sense, an awareness, of it.

This energy is related to the periodic surges we feel when we tap into its flow. “I feel energized” we say as it courses through our bodies or our minds but perhaps rather than it entering us, we have stepped into its flow which surrounds us every moment, the  “us” or “I” dropping away as we blend into energy’s constantly moving presence.

Best of all is when our energies merge with others. A recent phone conversation with a far distant friend soared. I felt the expansion of my being, my alignment changing as our words flowed, the conversation becoming a mode of transportation. Of being.

The language of water describes this energy. A river, a stream, the ocean each having currents. Electricity is a current. Is our own human energy not a current as well? And in our finest moments don’t we merge with the currents of others?  A day spent exploring with friends, the moments flowing together, spontaneity governing movement with ease and grace. Why do we struggle for language to describe such an incredible, yet ordinary, experience?

Isn’t the image of sunlight dancing on sparkling water a perfect description of such energetic joy? Aren’t the vocabularies we use for water and air also those which describe our beings and our lives:? Such words as Erosion, Flood, Groundwater, Infiltration, Meander, Rapids, Riparian, Ripple, Surface Tension, Watershed can straightforwardly describe scientific, specific, conditions involving water yet when used to describe our lives their meanings acquire added depth. A “watershed” moment describes visiting new psychological territory brought on by illness which took me past an edge I’d not known was there.

See:  New Hampshire Volunteer River Assessment Program. River Glossary.
https://www.des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/publications/wd/documents/vrap_glossary.pdf

 

#47 Context

Context.

A family member contacted me and asked me if I’d consider writing a blog on what I had learned years ago, in the 70’s and 80’s, about the “ back-to-the-land” experience we (my husband, daughter, and I) had in Northern Vermont.

The move of two small-town people to hardscrabble Northeast Kingdom came after four years of military life during the Vietnam war, followed by low pay work then additional education and a search for where to settle “after”. Opposed to the war while being in the midst (and a part of) what supported that war had been a sobering reality. We had aligned our hearts with those fighting the horror from the inside and it took its toll. We were done with the helpless/hopeless feelings of those times and sought escape via self-sufficient living as close to the Canadian border as we could get. The optimism of the 60’s was dying and Nuclear Winter seemed not only possible but eminent.

After a dozen or so years full of uphill learning curves, the other scourge of our times unfolded: the baby boomer quest of dumping what you had for the promise of an immediate something better —drugs, lifestyle, partners— that was occurring in our cohort happened to us. When I stopped sobbing, I looked up and realized the house with two barns, a garage, and a pond along with the vegetable gardens, the woodpile, the pigs and chickens, and not-enough-salary job potentials within drivable miles required a partner—a family. Going it alone was not possible. I bailed. 

This is not what I was asked to write. In thinking about the mostly self-taught skills I gathered during those back-to-the land years I can only see it in context. Those who are living the current version of such lifestyles actually may have a related origin story as these times, so fraught with the have/have not discord, are not so far away from our flight from a right-wrong, war-divided culture. The skills needed to provide for oneself are still learnable but now perhaps without the instructional conversations we had been able to have with our Vermont farm neighbors back then. And the cost of sufficient acreage has gone through the roof. 

Do I still remember how to do all of those things I learned back then? There are so many other skills that had to come in finding and learning a profession and the years of negotiations needed for living life as a single, self-supporting woman in a partnered culture. So much hard won knowledge–weaving, horticulture, food preservation, and more–went to the back of my mind as grad school demands and city living required immediate attention. I have no idea if any of that knowledge is still present.

My current focus is facing the challenges of aging. As asked, I look back on those hard earned skill sets and consider my now broken arthritic self. Was slinging the fifty pound sacks of chicken feed or the hours spent rotor-tilling those gardens what so damaged this body? Something did. I don’t know if those homesteading skills still hang out in unused portions of my brain and, if so, I don’t know how to access the links

I am relearning one important piece: community is essential. Going “it” alone is not possible. Our strength, our survival, is only possible by working together. City or country, young and strong or old and getting by, insufficient or self-sufficient, as surely now as then, divisiveness fractures our strength and dilutes what is possible. 

Survival skills last just so long just as the bodies that house them. Is it possible for those of us who went back-to-the-land back then to transmit what we knew to those wanting such a lifestyle now? Everything changes. I suspect what I learned then, or what my memory might  recall, would not be current enough to help. We are all in this together which means we need to do the work that needs to be done–together. Despite all our efforts however, no  one here gets out alive.

# 40 Windshield

Windshield.

When I shut off the wipers the windshield began beading heavily, forming a view of the parking lot as if through a lovely curtain. The heavy rain was from a March coastal nor’easter. I had turned the radio to the classical station, while traveling a short distance through city streets. I was amazed to hear familiar notes, Vivaldi, lulling me into the loveliness I thought was one of the Four Seasons, Spring, I thought as the equinox was two days before.

I sat in the parking lot watching the muted outlines of people walking in and out of the store in time with the music they could not hear. The cars moved about in similar rhythms astonishingly in synch with the strings of the orchestra. Time ceased. There was only the music and the blend of perfect rhythmic movement, a spectacular sense of both being outside of time or place, so perfect and perfectly simple, moments of reverence from within a stormy, ordinary day.