Feline Finale

Cowboy keeps my seat warm.

Are we really doing this? Is it really our last post? I don’t know whether to applaud or groan. These mornings together have brought us closer, haven’t they? But it looks like the time has come for me to say a few words. Let me settle in…

I have been here as you raced to the keyboard and have joined you after rummaging through my food dish so conveniently placed in the corner of your desk because…the dog! After a few strolls from end-to-end of the L-shaped haven you call your office, inspecting carefully for anything out of order (I love your disorder is what I’m saying),I have curled in your lap, ready to write.

Then there have been those days when you scooped me up with your spatula-hands, abandoning me to the warm spot you were leaving, unable to find the right words. After some clattering in the kitchen, some strolls around the house, you returned, scooped me up again so we could resettle. “Now you’re ready,” I realized, as your fingers began their erratic dance upon the keyboard. (I do love to dance myself though you keep deterring me!)

Since I have been here for you throughout the Slice of Life Challenge—SOL#22 you call it—it seems only fair that I, your favorite feline fan Cowboy, am featured in the finale post.

I want to thank your faithful readers for their comments, for their attention. (I know how loved I feel when I get yours, as your hand rests on my side and your fingers move through my silky fur, even if only for a moment.) I know how happy it made you, how it kept you going through those, “What can I write about?” moments.

I especially want to thank the TwoWritingTeachers for sponsoring and cheerleading for you throughout this March madness (and I say that in the best way). I know you would’ve been sitting at your desk without the challenge while I curled in your lap, but you wouldn’t have felt as purr-sonally proud as you do today, right now.

Thanks for making March the cat’s meow!

Reading the Room

What I see in front of me:

My embosser, a gift from a student, who loved my book talks—and my extensive classroom library. She never let me forget that day in class.

You almost have to have seen my Language Arts classroom to understand. The 20-or-so desks for the eighth graders were arranged in a myriad of ways, depending on the day and what we were doing. As I told them, desks have legs for a reason—you can move them. And move them they did, but to be fair, the space was limited, bounded by our books, books on shelves, and in crates, books everywhere!

Students found the rug in the front where we’d conduct “chalk talks” a likely spot for collaboration, the rug flanked by shelves, poetry and memoir. Some of them would try to escape detection behind the wall of double-sided shelves standing on the other side of the room. But I was a roamer by nature, so books didn’t provide that kind of successful escape for long.

On this day, the kids were observing that they could really use some more space, space to spread out when I denied them hall access (seldom, but…hard to monitor the hall and classroom; they had to earn it!). It’s true, they were bounded by books.

“You know,” Jack began, “if you got rid of some of these books…” He cast the bait and waited.

You know, Jack, ” I countered, “I’d rather get rid of some of you than any one of these books! They are my babies.”

I jest, but seriously, eighth graders? There were days…Everyone laughed.

A few months later, Shannon brought me a smallish box that had surprising heft. “Ms. Emerson, I got you the perfect gift,” she said, beaming. “Open it now!”

She grabbed a book (they’re everywhere, remember?), took a gold seal, inserted it inside the round mouth and pressed. What emerged?

“It’ll look like an award-winner,” Shannon pronounced.

My embosser, with seals of gold and blue (our school colors). She was right: the perfect gift.

Something Beautiful?

Do you diigo? Is there a social bookmarking tool you use? How do you use it? Diigo has been a part of my digital life for close to a decade, yet I learn only today that, “The name “Diigo” is an acronym from “Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff”.[2]” Thanks, Wikipedia.

I’m scrutinizing it with some intent because I know I marked an article from online Smithsonian Magazine,“Colorado Composts Its First Human Remains.” As I enter my seventh decade, I think about cleaning up after myself, leaving my workspace better than I found it. I am curious about the tags I have, overall, breadcrumbs in my digital forest.

Today I am specifically looking for my end-of-life tags, a relatively new one finding itself among other “ends:” end-of-semester, end-of-class, end-of-year and reflective of where I am now—in no hurry, to be certain, but realistic. As early as 2014, the New York Times, made my diigo with “A Project to Turn Corpses into Compost.” Ever a fan of alliteration, this drew my attention.

I have been planting this seed in the fertile minds of my husband and son, hoping it will take root, and I will continue to nurture. Of course, I won’t be here to see it mature, but as diigo attests, it is not a passing fancy. With this Colorado feature and a local news broadcast of the “reintegration”ceremony, my last wishes are gaining plausibility. Oregon has legalized human composting, the third state to do so, and this is where I live—and where I’ll likely die, so…

Have you read the picture book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney? It has always stayed with me, the ending:

"When I grow up," I tell her, "I too will go to 
faraway places and come home to live by the sea." 

"That is all very well, little Alice, " says my 
aunt, "but there is a third thing you must do." 
"What is that?" I ask. 

"You must do something to make the world more 
beautiful . " 

I have gone to faraway places. I have come home to live by the sea. And that third thing? I don’t know that how I exit will do this, I would hope I’ve lived a life that, at the very least, did no harm, but I’ve signed up for Recompose. And maybe…something beautiful will grow.

Santana’s in the House

The stage is set for…Santana!

How did you spend your Sunday evening? I attended my first large concert at the Matthew Knight Arena with Carlos Santana and his astounding musicians. When my friend invited me, I didn’t even consider the venue’s 12,000 person capacity. Truthfully, the pandemic’s comprehensive hold faded.

Santana has not been a mainstay in my playlists, but I knew a bit of Carlos’ story. At 21 he emerged as a star performer on Woodstock’s stage, and the rest is history. Last night he ushered me into his fold of ardent admirers. The iconic image of Bob Marley shining from his t-shirt, underscored his commitment to the music of the people.

He dedicated this stellar performance to his mother whose birthday it was and said she told him the most important words: “Eso no es para ti.” This is not for you. She was cautioning him to eschew drugs, the high life, which had ensnared so many in the music world—and elsewhere. But the message resonated for the audience. He added, “None of that for me. I’m in this for the long haul.” At 74, and going strong, riding those sustained guitar notes as distinctly as ever, no one could disagree.

He ended his encore with his uplifting message: Love, no fear, peace, and JOY. I’m in.

A Tree in Time

Baby tree comes home to root…

What is that noise? It’s not the rain, though insistent rainfall has accompanied me throughout the day. It’s an Oregon Coast December, so nothing but cozy-familiar there.

I have been making chili, a go-to for this vegetarian, and perfect for these winter afternoons, but I’m at the simmer stage when this sound pierces my consciousness. And it does not desist. It emanates from behind our back fence, and I recognize it even if I can’t yet name it. A trip to the backyard slider door confirms it as a column of smoke rises and melds with the gray weather. It’s a chainsaw! And then I see it. No—it’s what I don’t see that strikes me first: dual pine trees whose tops had spread their needly boughs beyond our yard, blocking the proximity of our neighbors.

What I do see—all too clearly now—is those neighbors’ roofs and back porch lights. We live in a closely-packed retirement community, but those pines afforded us evergreen deception. I grabbed my coat and raced out the back fence. The damage had been done. Where the trees once stood twin fresh-cut stumps bared faces to the rain.

I pursued the trail of the tree service to the street behind us and asked them “Why?” The man gently told me that one of the trees needed to come down, was sick. “And the other one?” I countered. “She was worried it would fall over in the wind when she wasn’t here and damage her neighbor’s property.”

There was nothing I could do. The mighty trees had been fallen, leaving sawdust, raw wood, and a hole where green once stood.

I rued their passing as loud lights on house backs blared, disrupting my early morning backyard reveries. I told my son how sad I was, how true the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Yesterday he brought me a tree, a Japanese maple, and planted it in the corner. Soon, he assures me, it will rise above our fence line and spread its leafy arms. “Will I live long enough to see that?” I ask, only half in jest. “Yes, mom,” he forbears. “Next spring…you’ll see.”

Thank you, Sam, my landscape-genius son. Patience he is cultivating in me. I will wait.

Close Reading

Even though I have been a reader for a long time, I had never been a member of a book club. Yes, I had been invited to attend one or two with friends who thought I might be interested, but the fit never felt right—too much wine, not enough book; too much book, not enough life.

Last September my good friend Michele invited me to join her group—one that has ebbed and flowed here for almost 20 years. It was perhaps not the best time to initiate new members as the group was meeting virtually, but she and I have been sharing titles for years. Frankly I was flattered to be asked.

My maiden voyage was to be the October meeting when, as luck would have it, the club usually would have had their weekend retreat (Covid canceled that; Delta was its name!) to decide on the selections for the upcoming year. “No pressure,” I was assured numerous times, but I needed to submit a couple—maybe three—titles for consideration before we were to meet, with book reviews, something for the group members to read beforehand.

Michele explained how the Zoom version would work, now in its second year, and answered my questions, providing a bit of bio for the members I did not already know. Nine of us, were I to join, would comprise the “Inner Journeys” reading sisters.

To that first meeting, I brought Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. Though I love them both, my enthusiasm for Ozeki carried the day and was our selection for February. Best of all, the Inner Journeys tribe welcomed me with open hearts—and minds, readers all.

Each one of the books we’ve read and discussed is better for my having shared it with others, different perspectives and insights deepening my own understanding. I struggle to be a critical reader; I admire anyone who can craft words and publish, but I have learned that even a book I wouldn’t have chosen on my own, is richer for the opinions of others.

Monday we discuss Klara and the Sun. I can’t wait!

A Gift

Personal photo from “Friends of William Stafford” newsletter

National Poetry Month is coming, and the thought gives me chills! I love poetry. I am no expert, no learned academic. My love is visceral and plebeian; it is the love of an amateur. ( from etymonline: “one who loves, lover” [16c., restored from Old French ameour], from Latin amatorem [nominative amator] “lover, friend,” )

On a brisk spring Sunday afternoon, I enter the downstairs conference room in our public library. A small group, maybe 15 of us, meet: The Friends of William Stafford. Do you know him? It is my first time here, but the welcome is warm. We watch a film about his life, his commitment to pacifism which found him working in civilian service camps during World War II, his devotion to the soul of this world.

The first time I shared him with my son, like a moth to a flame Stafford’s words drew him…Langston Hughes and William Stafford—those two from among the many. Stafford’s collection, The Way It Is, offered itself to us both, a gift.

At my son’s bar mitzvah in December of 2001, held in the dark shadow of 9/11 in a small temple in New Jersey, I spoke when the rabbi gave parents the opportunity. I closed with the poem, “The Way It Is.” Seeing the photo above in my most recent “Friends of William Stafford” newsletter, floods me with that moment, and such love.

I did not know the quote embroidered on the bottom of the antique baby dress, “I have woven a parachute out of everything broken,” but it speaks volumes about this man whose heart and spirit lives on in his son Kim who lives and works in Oregon still.

Kim’s most recent book is Singer from Afar, and as I fan the pages of my copy, I catch glimpses of the pencil musings the child of the father evokes. In the “Afterword” Kim says, “…I am drawn to important poems…often labeled,’occasional verse’…essential exchange of thoughtful language as an inducement to deeper relationships now, to stronger communities, and a better nation in an interdependent world…And I would say all poems arise from an occasion—sometime: a moment of creative crisis, wordless struggle, defeat, or epiphany.

…Poetry is a speaking silence, a musical nudge, a glance between intimate friends.”

Today is my National Poetry Month occasion—heartfelt acknowledgement.

Just Say No

Newport Aquatic Center

I am not a poet, and not sure I agree with Billy Collins’ self-effacing comment that, when you spend most of your time writing poems, you find the poems come almost unbidden.

What I know is I just read “Say What You Want” by Sherri blogging @edifiedlistener. That is poetry, and powerful. She uses the repetitive phrase, to great effect: What I want to say.

What I want to say is no, and not have it hurt you, not to have you upset with me, who cannot be you hearing my refusal. How will it land? What I struggle to say is no.

When you asked me to teach swimming lessons with you this summer—just like in the old days when we were just fresh from college and days at the public pool with those tadpoles and sharks were followed by nights on the town—I was caught up in the enthusiasm that you bring to every new adventure. Life is an adventure, always has been for you, and that speaks to me. Your river of reasons swept me away.

Today, though, I’m standing on the shore watching, out of that current, and I’m saying no. I have yet to tell you, so I’m shivering a bit…the chill, the loss of sparkle as a cloud obscures the reflective surface.

My no comes from this truth, which is honest but maybe not complete: the water, swimming, has become something I do for me. I make time for it apart from my life as a substitute, because those laps, that ritual, is all mine. If I take up teaching once again, it becomes different. As enticing as the vision of us in tandem teaching again is, it will become work…and I do love my work. But I do not want to surrender my time in the pool to it, not now.

So what I want to say is no. And when the day beckons, wide awake, I will.

Questions Are Answers

(Thanks to Tammy B‘s post today for inspiration.)

Austin Kleon ‘s newsletter, a gem you should hoard when you discover it, takes the “10 Things Worth Sharing” structure and presents it shining. I discovered it, and him, through Tammy B, too. (This community has widened my world!)

In his March 4 edition, he shared:

  1. Clive Thompson made an online tool that lets you see only the questions in a piece of writing. So, of course, I had to feed it the text of my books. Here are the results.

I checked it out, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Today Tammy writes “Three Questions to Change My Perspective”:

What am I devoted to today? I am devoted today, and always, to maintaining a level of physical activity. If your heart stops beating, you’re dead. I will never forget this quip made by our phys ed teacher at a Back to School Night. It drew some chuckles, and some sideways looks, but it has stuck with me. Keeping my heart healthy—and beating—to the best of my ability captures my devotion. I am devoted to a reading and writing practice that draws me to my notebook and to the stack of to-be-reads on my bedside table. (My cat wishes I would make more headway; he struggles to navigate the ever-growing pile!)

What am I curious about today? I am curious about how to best present a poster session at my professional organization’s Spring Conference. I have a difficult time containing the wealth of material I want to share within the limited time I have. As soon as I begin, I can easily digress. I am wondering how I can use the best of my professional development experiences as examples for myself. Oh, I am curious about so many things. That’s my adjective: CURIOUS! (I am attending a professional development session with Brett Vogelsinger of Moving Writers this afternoon, using poetry pauses, curious about what I’ll learn and curious about how it might help me with my presentation: curiosity squared!

Brett’s page on Moving Writers

What if we/I _______? This last one, the possibility question, leads in a personal direction today. What if I choose not to be a substitute teacher in the upcoming year? What if I leave the classroom behind? I consider so many “What if…” questions on a daily basis. Don’t we all? What if I’m not asking the right questions? I’ll end with that—and keep asking.

What questions do you have?

Going with the Flow

(Book Dragon fostered this. Thanks.)

Wild Thing in-house; Floating Yoga going with the flow

I wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic as well as I did—and of course, others might question my assessment—if I hadn’t have had my yoga companions, namely Helen and her teacher-trainee-turned-teacher, Sam. These two women, like many others, made lemonade from lemons every time they practiced; they made my practice perfect.

When I returned to Oregon, and the nearer I drew to my 70th birthday, the more entrenched became my resolution to travel over the mountains to Bend to celebrate. I intended to take a class in person from Helen at the Wild Thing yoga studio there. I was gearing up to actually meet my YouTube guru!

Then the pandemic continued and my yoga remained virtual—no complaints. I’m grateful; this is a gratitude post. Helen and Sam step onto their mats, alone or together, and brighten my days. They offer the opportunity to challenge, the option to restore, the generous invitation to breathe and be.

Their classes run the gamut, for free, and because they upload new videos frequently—and each one reprises what’s good while adding new elements—I am never disappointed. Yesterday I took an intermediate “Ladder Flow” class, one I missed while on vacation, that left me breathless (in the best way) and smiling. (Helen’s right; a smile does make the difficult easier.)

With luck, I’ll have a 71st birthday and that trip to Bend, but until then: a heartfelt Namaste to them.

(license creative commons)