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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Comfort: Part Two

For 2014, as a  talisman, as a focus, I had chosen the word “comfort,” in the belief that I needed to become comfortable with this intense new life of teaching and grad school.  I mean, really, I had retired! And though it is often said that one is busier in retirement than ever before and that it is a happier-busy and all that was true — I loved what I was doing — still I was seeking a balance, a way of comfortably inhabiting this new life, of not running on the edge of exhaustion, dodging and  spinning between planning classes, grading coursework, conducting classes, attending classes, writing my own essays, grading student essays. I would remind myself, often, that I had chosen to do all this.

Comfort as in ease, as in gentle on myself, as in feeling good, as in equilibrium.

It’s a good word and I will stick with it, even though comfort itself has been elusive and scant, even absent, from Day One of the New Year.

New Year’s Eve itself had been comfortable. We try to avoid driving on that particular night, so we had walked the  few blocks into downtown to have dinner at Fourth and "C" Food (yep, fish and chips) , then another block or so over to the old Carnegie Library, now the Petaluma Historical Museum, for a chamber music concert of classical music, all strings.  A different sort of New Year's. Low-key. It was nippy enough to make it feel like December, offering us an excuse to wear winter coats and mufflers, albeit no snow, of course, here in Sonoma County. The musicians were excellent, on a reprieve from the San Francisco Symphony and the Big Gala in the City. It was so -- well, grown-up.  Comfortable.

Cory and her Grandmom Marilyn. 
The next day, New Year’s Day, we took a walk to visit Marilyn, my mother-in-law, at the Rehab Center barely three blocks up the hill from our house where she was recovering from heart surgery. Sunny, barely a breeze. Pleasant. I brought some knitting  (a very late Christmas present) and we hung out for almost two hours, relaxed and chatting, only leaving when she was called to her physical therapy appointment.  We walked down the hill to the local market to get fixin's for a small New Year’s Day dinner; I had thought we could make soup and bring her some later that evening or the next day, but she had brushed that offer aside. Didn't really have an appetite, she'd said.

We weren’t home from our travels but thirty minutes before we got a call from the Rehab Center; Marilyn had cut the PT session short saying she felt tired and out of sorts. They took her back to her room where she lay down to rest. When they went back in fifteen minutes later to check her vitals, she was gone. She had died in her nap.

Our shock was both stunned and loud. We knew in the abstract (as everyone knows) that death is the future for all of us. We knew that given her age and the recent episodes of heart trouble, that death was technically closer for her rather than farther.

She had been so alive. Perhaps not vibrant, but not in rapid decline. New Year's Day we had been cracking jokes; she had admonished us for working too hard, for not taking the time to enjoy living. Yes, she used a walker; yes, we were in the process of installing a stair-lift on her stairs so she could get up to her bedroom; yes, she had said several times that she didn’t think she would “end up like this.”  But the focus, at least for me, had been her continued presence in our life. She would get back to her house; there'd be more holidays and birthdays; more cake, more of her famous Cranberry Jello salad.

And so the idea of comfort – well, we needed the comfort all right; we appreciated every drop of it we received; we offered it freely to family and friends, but it wasn’t the cure we craved. 

Today, 4/14/2014,  would have been her 79th birthday.  Her good cheer, her welcoming smile will always be missed in the tangible plane; will always guide the direction of our hearts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comfort for 2014, Part One

COMFORT was the word I had chosen for 2014, a New Year’s ritual I had adopted from Molly Fisk a while back. "Comfort," as in becoming comfortable with the new roles 2013 had brought me. The word for 2013 had been TURN – and though I knew I was turning the corner into retirement from my office job, I had no clue how sharp the turn would be or where it would take me. Absolutely. No. Clue.

A year ago in March, almost to the day, I completed my retirement paperwork online and hit SEND, officially notifying CalPers of my intention to head out the door. The online system had only just been instituted and I was glad to give it a whirl; I was up for new things.

As with any retirement process, mine had been in the works for some time. Years, in fact, when you include the first glimmer of possibility and then the planning and the dreaming, the charting of vacation days and months of service days versus future income.  It’s like casting a horoscope, seeking the most auspicious day when the service credit and the start date are maximized, tilted against my own impatience to be free of the place and get on with my life. But by the end of 2012, all the ducks were lined up, waiting for send off: I’d retire on July 14th, 2013, Bastille Day (fittingly enough, right?) and my last day, with time off for good behavior and un-used vacations, would be July 3rd  - going out with a bang. Yeah. Pretty much everyone got tired of those jokes. 

I just had to wait to send in the paperwork about 90 days in advance, that is, sometime in March. 

That moment of "send." An auspicious moment. An agreement with the universe. Or so it seemed, because the next morning, the very next morning, what popped up in my email but an enquiry: would I be interested in teaching a summer course in English at Napa Valley College?  Whoo, mama! Would I? You bet your sweet bippy, yes, yes, yes!

For that had been the master plan: retire from the office and scout for jobs teaching at one of the nearby colleges. It would be a change in the course of my life, a gentle turn, I had figured, a different tack with a different set of winds, new sails, perhaps a new boat.  It would take at least a semester, maybe two, before such an opportunity would tun up: after all, the job market for teachers, and college English instructors in particular, had pretty much crashed and burned over the past few years.

But at that moment, at the end of March 2013, my life took radical 90+ degree turn: the rest of the year I’d be bursting out of the old skin of Biology Office Administrative Coordinator and learning to inhabit the skin of Instructor in English at a community college. I had managed to align myself with some fabulous stars.

There were twists, there were more turns. My mother-in-law, Marilyn Guerr, was in and out of the hospital with heart troubles. I was wrapping up my gig in the Biology Office even as the first week of my summer course started. Eager to be gardening again, in June, I had pulled that tiny little muscle in the hip that causes the greatest amount of grief and began my college career teaching leaning on a "walking stick," as if I had just hiked in from St Helena. I wrote a lot of nature essays, I told me students and tried to leave it at that.

Needless to say, I was busy enough that I neglected my blog, my writing,  my family, myself, as I created a college course for an intense 8-week summer program, ran the Fiction side of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, then taught two courses for fall semester, while taking a graduate level course at SSU in order to complete my second masters (more about that, umm, later). Yeah. More than cray cray. Wackadoodle-ding-dong.

But it turned out for the good in the long run, even if it didn't seem so in the short.