Monday, May 30, 2016

Love Darts

I've been trying to tell myself I'll feel better if I visit my blog. I will feel better, right? What makes you feel better?


Okay, I'll keep up my end of this conversation. I feel better when I walk and I look for small things. Today, I looked at rain drops on sweet pea tendrils. They were beautiful doodles, all curls and light.

I looked at a snail. Her shell rocked back and forth as she made her way across the path. Her shell was battered, as if she'd struggled with it. I told her she was beautiful and she let her antenna come back out after hiding her face for a while.

I know how she feels.

She really was beautiful, a black spiral showing deep windings. She might be a Pacific Sideband snail. I wondered if the spiral tells told how old she was. I wondered at the little bumps on her tender flesh, a pattern that looked like spikes but were probably only ridges like the lines on a European slug.

I found out that calling my visitor 'she' might be misleading. One website said she was a hermaphrodite. I'm reluctant to look that up on my computer because I might get all kinds of strange photos that I don't want to see. You know how bad it can get online. So, I'll take their word for it. Sex is strange, especially when love darts are involved. Did you know that land snails shoot out love darts?

Watch this and my work is done. Now, you're educated and you can say you have voyeuristic tendencies too. Don't those snails deserve a little privacy?

I didn't think so either. I admit. I watched the whole video, but it was a little icky there for a while.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seven Weeks In

The dryer's humming. In the bedroom, another load of whites and one of colors is only half folded. The guys are in bed, surely not asleep yet, but in bed. Mike called to say he was okay at camp, that he cleaned toilets again in preparation for the training he'll do tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. No one else wanted to do the toilets, he said. I've cleaned those toilets. I can imagine the quiet work he did today. There would be spiders, the smell of Ajax, worn sponges, and rubber gloves.

That was the only peaceful part of my day, imagining Mike cleaning toilets. Humbling, I texted him. Meditative.

I'm not managing meditative actions on my own. Nicki told me she could tell I was agitated today, distracted, chattering on and on. I heard myself, barely pausing for a breath, not quite staying connected to our conversation, switching from one subject to another. I felt like a discarded grocery bag being blown in circles in the wind, only hoping for a chain link fence at the back of the parking lot to hold me still for a moment.

Four or five times, I've felt a fluttering under my ribs as if I were about to give a speech or walk a crowded aisle in very high heels and a very short skirt. Do you remember those days? I do. I was not an easy girl. Being pretty was a mortification all its own. I was not clumsy, but I never carried it off, the heels and short skirts. It was all about confidence, my friends told me. Own it, they told me. I did not own the heels and short skirts or any eyes that followed me then. Heels and short skirts made my heart flutter.

That fluttering came back into me as I sat still and on my own in my house today. It came yesterday afternoon when the house was still empty for just a few minutes longer in the afternoon. It came this morning like that spring the poor male robin thrashed against the window over and over until he was exhausted. I haven't washed my windows since. The rival mirroring his aggressive movements in that clean window never quite made contact he could smell but battered him still. The fluttering is there now, inside my ribs, battering itself in its own reflection.

I could blame my busy schedule, Mike's absence, Nick's mild virus. But I have to add my lack of privacy in my own home, the way my nephew walks silently into a room in an attempt to be quiet. He ends up unnerving me further. Who walks through a house without turning on the lights? Someone who feels bad about existing in my space, someone who's trying to be as invisible as he can. The unwanted child trying not to be a bother.

Oh, he's only a kid. He's a big kid, but he's a kid, not ready to move away from the ones he knows, not quite happy staying put. Our house is a waypoint for him, a lake in the middle of his migration, a thousand miles from home, but not completely unfamiliar. I see it now the way I didn't see it before.

It won't help. It won't keep me from startling when I walk into the living room and find him already sitting there. It won't make me stop wondering where he is when I go into the shower knowing full well that the cat can so easily open the bathroom door and often does. I imagine that quiet boy walking past then and how we would both be so mortified.

It doesn't stop me from being embarrassed when something inappropriate comes on the television when we two are the last ones watching at night. All of this is an exercise in shame.

I remember when my nephew was a boy, bigger than his older brother but two years younger. He was five. One day during a visit, we walked under wisteria growing over an awning over my brother's deck. His mother, my sister, was still in the house, no doubt wrangling a toddler and a seven year old. As I stepped down onto my brother's stone steps, my nephew yelled, "Tie my shoes!" I'm not sure he even remembered my name then. He'd put his shoes on, but the laces dangled from either sides of his feet. "Tie my shoes now!" I remember the way I tucked my chin and looked at him over the top of my glasses.

"Tie your own shoes," I'd replied and I walked away. I didn't have kids then. I had expected that a small boy would use the word please because I'd heard his mother use it often. I had expected that a five year old would be practicing with his laces, trying, at least.

He looked at me then, so lost, so angry, and confused at the same time. I wasn't, in fact, as easy as his mother. I looked like her. Shouldn't I act like her too, all soft and comforting and compliant? My sister doesn't like confrontation. My sister is the nurturing one.

I seemed to have been given all the fight and none of the mothering when DNA was handed out.

And I am still that same aunt, not as nurturing, not anticipating my nephew's needs. I didn't see that he was an adult who wasn't quite ready to be on his own. I was supposed to give him the backup nest, the home away from home for when he was really ready to move into his own place and wash his own dishes and make his own meals. At five, he didn't want to be old enough to tie his own shoes. Didn't I understand that? Don't I understand it now?

The fluttering in my chest says I do. I do. I do.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Needing to Hear the Truth

This morning, the water was out. I paid $162.90 for a well-digging and -repairing guy to show me how to flip a switch when the cistern happens to empty and its circuit throws that switch to protect the water pump. No one yelled at me for wasting their money. People actually thanked me for trying to do something. I felt rather miserable about it. I really did.

When the water came on, I ran a load of dishes and laid down on the couch to see if I could get more than five hours of sleep all added up together. Then I watched TV instead of getting up and getting any yard work done. The weeds are knee high. No one yelled at me. Yet, I felt pretty miserable about it.

I also skipped going to school to volunteer this afternoon. I usually try to help students with their writing on Tuesdays. Sometimes I don't help them the right way and I don't manage to follow the teacher's directions. I try to keep up. I really do, but sometimes I goof up. No one gets mad about it. In fact, they thank me for trying. Today, when I told the teacher I couldn't come because I didn't feel well, she didn't yell at me. She thanked me for all the other times I've come. Still, I felt bad I skipped school. I wasn't really that sick. I just didn't feel well from not sleeping. Miserable.

On my back deck, the hummingbird was irritated at how hard I tried to take her picture. I got out the camera with the big telephoto eye. It clicked and clacked. She dodged and ran whenever I raised the big eye and it clicked and clacked at her. Eventually, she sat on an ugly branch among some dead leaves and tick-tick-tick-ticked at me for my impudence. Couldn't I just go away so she could drink her nectar in peace?

I'm sure she was yelling at me. I got up out of my deck chair, collected my camera and things, and came inside. Then, I felt a little less miserable.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In Her Shoes

I want to tell you about cannabis girl, but I shouldn't. I want to tell you about how a father might circumvent a difficult requirement for a Scout, but I shouldn't. I want to tell you about how I'd probably get fired if I were paid to work at the high school since I'm just alongside an edge that the staff wants me to run, teaching their way when my way seems to be working. Seems to be. Oh, I hope my way is working. I give my students snacks. I'm not certain I'm allowed to give them snacks. A girl ate a bunch of fruit today and told me she would get hives if she ate very much. Crap! I get students out of their seats to stretch when they yawn and admit they're sleepy. Sometimes we laugh too loudly about what we're doing.

I am not a teacher. I'm not trained to teach writing the way the teachers were trained to teach writing. I teach commas by asking students to notice their breath when they read a sentence aloud. I teach grammar that way too. "Does it sound right to your ear?" I ask them. If they weren't raised saying 'I hain't got none' or 'This needs done' or 'He done it,' their ears should tell them if the grammar is right.

Only, it doesn't work when it comes to the girl who's native language is not English. She's come a long way in speaking and writing since October when I met her. I tell her to imagine about how I would word something, or how her teachers would. She's getting there.

Today, I asked her to wrap my scarf around my head. It was an interesting moment that I'm ashamed I didn't linger within. What would it feel like to be a Muslim woman in America?

I wouldn't like being required to wear a head covering, but the women I've asked say they feel comfortable wearing a hijab. Did early Native Americans chafe under restrictive women's clothing, the corsets, the long skirts covering ankles?

I pulled the scarf down off my head too quickly, before she and I had a chance to sit in our scarves together to feel the communal nature of what we'd done. I felt uncomfortable. I'm not sure if it was because I wouldn't want to be forced to cover my hair or if I didn't want anyone to confuse me for a Muslim woman. Isn't that an awful thing to admit? Even though we sat in an empty classroom, I was a little afraid. Have I ever told you that I don't have a lot of courage when it comes to standing up for what I think is right? I wanted to ask if anyone had ever been cruel to her. I wanted to sit and listen to her story of being a Muslim woman in America. Yet, I was afraid to commit to experiencing that cruelty by keeping the scarf on my own head for any longer. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings.

We didn't have time, I like to tell myself. We were working on a time crunch for a paper she had to write by Thursday morning.

But there was this important moment between us, more important than the paper this girl had to write, more important than learning to listen for commas and word choices, more important than her entire education in this school this year. It was about a cultural clash that you hear about in the news, that is most likely a bit frightening for her. It was frightening for me. And I could have made it something significant between us, something strong.

I'm pretty sure I flubbed it.

Thanks for listening, jb

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Closer If Only for a Moment More

Last night, I slept under a canopy of stars, in the middle of a field, far away from the crowd of Scouts. Since most of the Scouts thought that was such a great idea and moved into my field, Nick and his cozy hammock were left on his own under the Western red cedars. He actually asked me to move from my spot to be closer to him. What else could I possibly want from my teenager for this Mother's Day weekend? 

So many times, he's independent and separate from me, but for a moment longer, he's still my boy, more comfortable near me than far away. 

I'll take it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Car Camping

Last night, I camped for the first time in years. I had almost thought I was done with it, being old and tired as I am. This is car camping too, not a real trek into the wilderness. But Mike asked and since it was Mother's Day weekend, I said yes. 

And just now, as I sat up, Nick came running over to tell me to hurry up and get up. I needed to see something. So I reluctantly crawled out of my cozy bed and went to see what he wanted to show me at 6:13 in the morning before I'd gotten the gum out of my eyes.  

They were so casual, flipping their tails and ears and looking up at us now and then. Nick kept chatting away and they still didn't run. He said one of them sniffed him in his hammock. He said it woke him up. How funny, to be sniffed by a deer in your sleep. It was beautiful to see. 

And all I'd had to tell you was how I watched the stars before I fell asleep. I watched the whole universe move slowly around the Earth, I could see the Milky Way for the first time in a decade. Much later, I woke for a moment and an owl hooted just once in the night and fell silent again. 

Now, in the morning air, with gnats swarming us, Nick and I sit around a cold fire pit. He has fallen asleep and is gently snoring. 

Thank you for listening, jb 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Put Down the iPhone and Listen

When I let Teddy out for his last pee of the day, I heard a conversation between two owls. I don't have any idea what they were saying, but I had to go and mess it up. I slid open the screen and stepped out onto the deck in my socks. That didn't bother these two. They kept calling back and forth. Then, I tried a couple of times to record them on my iPhone. When the light for the video camera came on, the near owl was quieter. When I accidentally played a video back, the near one stopped calling entirely. I didn't realize I shouldn't have. He had sounded like he was on the gutter over my head. He could still be standing there, silently wishing I would go away with my light and intrusive machinations.

He might have been a she. The far one might have been a young owl, a mate, a neighbor. It had been a comfortable conversation, a connection through the dark night. It was a calm call back and forth, now and then a few trills added for emphasis to the classic whooo-who-who-who-whoooooo. I wanted to hear more, but in the usual style of these times, I got caught up in which way I should hold my iCamera so the sound could best be captured, which video would be the clearest for my friends to hear. I played it back, deleting some lousy ones here and there. And then the two owls were both silent.

I should have stood on my deck in my socks in the dark night and listened to the magic. I should have put down my iPhone and felt gentle rain on my face and listened to a night conversation of another species, one that sounded much like conversations I remember between my grandparents in their porch swing in the evenings so many decades ago. I remember horses in the field across the road that came near, swished their tails, flicked their ears, and nibbled grass, as they also listened to my grandparents' voices telling quiet stories.

These owls knew better than I how to end a busy day. I should have simply listened.

Thank you for listening, jb