Saturday, October 15, 2016

Four Hours Off - not such a great start

October 15, 2016

So I decided to try out the Four Hours Off project my English Comp students will do in a few weeks, in which they have to go four hours without any screen interaction: no phone, no computer, no tablet.  Shouldn’t be too hard, I figure: after all, I spent at least 40 years without a computer in the house, and almost 50 without a pocket-phone to check so obsessively.  I figured I would begin this morning (sleeping hours don't count in this project, haha), deliberately not setting the alarm on my phone so I wouldn't reach for it to start the day. But I failed almost immediately, reflexively grabbing my phone when it pinged with a text about my bank balance a few minutes after I woke up. A good thing really when I read the text, but I realize I’ve come to rely on these alerts to manage my account. A simple deposit yesterday would have avoided this situation and the need to respond, as I quickly wrote a check and photo-deposited it. The result: I’m solvent again.  But I have to start over on my Four Hour Phone Fast.

I do pretty good after that – breakfast, dressing, plotting out my exercise in light of the dour, damp gray skies and promised rain, a few maintenance chores I would probably have put off to play WWF or  to check FB to see what debacle the Orange Haired One has created. Those Dr Suess Trumpisms on Twitter were pretty hilarious last night, but they don’t assuage the anxiety I feel about Trump’s calls for violence to his base. Something bad is going to happen. Last night, on Dailey KOS, (HuffPost?) I did see that the FBI had foiled one home-grown terrorist bombing plot already, arresting three men with plans to bomb a mosque in NYC the day after the election. Such a sickness. He refuses to obey the rule of law. He should be arrested and thrown in jail. 

I do want to find out what has happened since then. But FB and social media is such an amplifier, increasing anxiety and angst; it is so thick with emotional reactions, so thin with reasoning and rational though. I counsel myself to have patiences: all that rage and vitriol will still be there this afternoon. Meanwhile, I continue with my knitting, completing another two inches on my arm-warmers. I fiddle with an earlier, failed attempt at a fingerless glove; I could just throw it out, though some catnip and fringes could turn it into a cat toy, I think. Hmmmm. 

I’m sailing along pretty well, until I go into my workroom to shelve some books (see, I’ve been tidying up instead of gnawing my fingernails over FB or WWF or Pinterest) and instantly I’m drawn to the quiescent computer screen to check if X replied to my message about Tuesday, which he hadn’t. Shoot and shenanigans.  But then I congratulate a friend on her new position aaannnnd --- I  realize I haven’t even lasted three hours without a screen, two and three-quarters to be exact. Will this workroom have to be off limits, too? I am shocked at how quickly I forgot my vow and got sucked into the need to check, the need to communicate. 

Oh, well, I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe a Sunday, a day of theoretical rest, will be easier. I could try again today, but there’s grades to enter (online, natch) and I want to text or call the kids, see how they are doing on this rainy weekend. It’s the kind of day that calls for hot chocolate around the fireplace with a good novel. Though we don’t have a fireplace, I can’t eat chocolate anymore and --- I have essays to grade.

Until the morrow.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Fall Creep Is On

Monday morning, the screen door on the back porch opened with a soft scritch to thick, moist air; the wooden back steps were black and lustrous with moisture; the whole back yard was dripping. Not quite rain, but mist, mist so thick there wasn't much difference.The dropped shoulders of the world.

Tuesday, actual rain. Enough to speckle the windshield, then spread out in feathers along the side-windows as  I raced up the boulevard, anxious to get to campus in time to make copies before my first class starts.  Enough to know that the lounge cushions would be soaked and there was nothing much to be done about it - I would have to rely on the afternoon's heat to cook them out. 

On my way out to the second campus in Napa later that afternoon, small children dwarfed by back packs, thick with no longer needed jackets and sweaters from morning, walked away from the elementary school in threes and fours. Driving home from my evening class, a spectral silver glow fanned along a ridge line: night work in the vineyards. And then rounding a corner, I was startled by workers near the road, backlit by this same halogen-glow coming from three pairs of lights stacked high, ladder-like, on the front end of a yellow four-wheeled tractor, resembling nothing so much as a mechanical, headless, yet six-eyed, centaur.  

One small sprig of red leaves amongst the vines as I drove by, lickety-clip.

And this morning, on a walk around Shollenberger Park, the muted fragrance of alkaline dust and brittle oat grass. The marsh is completely dry, the bottom cracked and white; the grasses whorled and matted, cowlicks on some tawny-beast's hide. The touch of rain from the beginning of the week, the dripping morning fog has done little but freshen up the creeping bushes. The little sparrows hop about, busy with seeds and insects but most likely no longer under the non-stop grind of feeding nestlings. This is the small trough between seasons; the full melancholy of fall has not descended, but the onerous demands, the tenacious grip of summer is lessening.  

School has started but the big papers have not been assigned. 

We all breathe deep, grateful for space. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

One Word To Bind Them

The tradition of selecting a word for the New Year has not been forgotten – simply delayed. 

Well, actually, it has had me buffaloed for many weeks, vacillating among several tempting choices – compassion, forgiveness (myself and others), transitions, focus, create, hygga. That last word is not a typo, btw  – it’s Danish and the spelling is easier than the pronunciation, which uses that particularly Scandinavian “ooya” sound that bollixes up my tongue. “Hooyga” is only a written approximation; the best is to listen to native speakers say it over and over again as they explain this concept. Try this link, to start: .

The concept bears deep explanation for there is no exact English equivalent. Hygga, as I understand it, is a state of cozy comfort and ease that engenders contentment for a person and community. It’s an atmosphere and a state of mind: its coziness and warmth and contained spaces; it’s good books and a long afternoon to enjoy them; it’s tea and crumpets, or coffee and bagels; it’s a warm nook in solitude or shared with a beloved companion. It's creating comfort and enjoyment during a season of no light and extreme cold that can break a person's spirit. It’s companionship of the right, comfortable kind to get those denizens of the North Countries through the Long Dark of a Scandinavian winter. Heck, I'm hoping hygga will take me though the brief rainy season of Northern California.  

You would think my fascination with hygga would guarantee that it would be the word for 2016. But, sorry to say, you would be wrong.

I have declined the nouns, English or Danish, and I’m going with the verb: create.  Primarily because any of those other states (compassion, forgiveness, transitions, focus) can be created within myself; hygga is created in a home, a pub, a cafĂ©, a mind, a soul. I can create tidiness, journals, work spaces, writing times; I'm planning to create stories, blog posts, essays, a bestiary. The word “create” is a vehicle that can take me to all those places. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

December, 2014: Melting

(I have been challenging myself to write a short essay each week and posting it, even if not finished. This is not quite finished, but it gets posted anyway.)

All across the long wall ran two rows of square windows, each perhaps half the size of those old-fashioned sash & casing windows, but the wall was long, the length of the medical building and two stories tall. From across the lobby/waiting room the sixteen windows offered a punctuated view of the hillside that defined the horizon, softened now by a blue-grey fine mizzle that occasionally bloomed into rain, the undulating lines of the ridgeline lost and swallowed in the cloaking mists as the velvety-green, just-quickened fields flowed down the slopes and across the fields towards us. Each window offered its own square composition of hillside and mizzle, some with sections of soft-focus white farm buildings, others with the orange-leafed trees of fall.

The windows say take what you can, make what you will of this lopsided, melting world. Look how these square frames set things to rights, how they sequence the landscape dissolving in the essence of time. These pushed-up tectonic wrinkles were once the bottom of an ancient sea; now they are slip-sliding under the green-mantled fields that even just yesterday were cracked and blistered, with dusty, baked-brittle grass cropped short by cattle, stunted by drought.  These squares stop the motion of time for this instant; we watch the skies bless the land with water,  we witness the grass, the hills take what they need, make what they will, the moment opportunity strikes. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014, A Brief Reflection

The word for 2014 had been comfort but from from day one, comfort was elusive. The loss of my mother-in-law on New Year's Day set the tone and agenda for months to come - and in some ways, still does.  I was also in the middle of my first full year of teaching at the community college level and really not comfortable in this new skin, for the learning curve is steep, rocky and full of treacherous missteps.

I will not overload you with all the ways comfort was mis-read into the year, for they were many; they were various; they were both niggling and overwhelming in turn.

Of course, the universal solution to all discomfort is a new kitten.


And even as this half-grown creature, Oscar WildeBeest, terrorized the 17-year-old, who was, shall we say, NOT impressed, there was much joy watching his aerobatic twists and turns chasing toy mice, leaping for the flicking insect on the end of the wand (aka kitty-fishing).  It was all fun and games until the night before Halloween, when Oscar tripped me racing for the bait; I stepped on his tail and in the ensuing commotion fell  straight  down on my wrist, fracturing the knobby end of it. No, not exactly comfortable.
The cast and the critter who created it. 

It was Halloween Day, just after the SF Giants won their third World Series when I went in for x-rays, so orange and black are doing double duty on the cast.

For the tail end of the semester, I alternated awkwardly between rudimentary hunt-and-peck techniques on the keyboard and voice-recognition software, which worked pretty well, I thought, until I found this sentence in my journal: "I often find changing my closer gains my jammies that I have to take my shirt off I try to take my cast-off reach over Iceland get this thing off."

No, I can offer no real translation.

Am I ready for a new year?  You betcha.