Tastes Like Moral Superiority

Toldja not to drink that “raw” water.

You Are What You… Ah, Californians. We are known for our obsessive obeisance to our bodies. The derisive label of ‘fruits and nuts’ expanded to ‘crunchy granola’ as we became known for vegetarianism, macrobiotics, yoga, gluten-free everything, veganism… and alkaline, “live” and raw water, which appears to be the latest (completely made-up for marketing to the giardia unwary) thing. Our state has become synonymous with free range, grass-fed, organic everything, and the gospel of California Wellville dovetails beautifully with the pinched ideals of traditional American Puritanism, that of perfection, rigidity, guilt, and blame: if you’re sick, it’s really your own failings. You should have done better; you could have saved yourself. After all, I TOLD YOU HOW. Don’t you know, you are what you eat???

If you feel this is gross exaggeration, just talk to anyone who has had cancer, or has a child who struggles with attention deficits or hyperactivity or, worse, falls anywhere along the autism spectrum. Each of them will have a story of some earnest and well-meaning soul who suggested alfalfa pills, acupuncture, or Atkins, chided them for not adhering to a plant-based diet, or insisted that it was all of the dyes / carbs / caffeine/ vaccinations which was to blame. Those folk generally leave the people they mean to help feeling defensive, defeated, battered, and dismayed. Truth is, we all just want to feel better, to help each other feel better. Too often, though, we attach a moral price tag to our health choices, and we embrace our beliefs like they are a true religion.

Myokinetic soft tissue massage, Dr. Louie

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth… We’re less susceptible to the lure of the quick cure, as we do make a huge effort to read up on research and keep current with medical stuff, as we’re required to do by the doctor we’ve seen for the last five years. Since December, we’ve been seeing a myo-kinesthesiologist twice a month, and going through some (fairly brutal) body corrective exercises, stretches, and adjustments to help T deal with the diminished mobility due to her autoimmune disorder, and with issues surrounding D’s degenerated disc – two things which are annoying, but just a feature of our lives. In consequence, some months ago had a conversation with an acquaintance on topics of health wherein she insisted that diabetes could be cured with exercise and a vegan diet, and that we could be pharmaceutical-free if we’d only change our diet. When D pushed back, she reminded him that his body was a temple, that he was what he ate, and that, in essence, if he failed to follow her prescribed way of living, subsequent illness was his own fault. It’s always awkward when someone asking how you’re doing is a pit trap lined with sharpened sticks, isn’t it? Predictably (as those who know him will agree) the next day D said, “Let’s visit a cannabis dispensary!” This suggestion was also, equally predictably, followed by a “WHAT!?” and a very long wrangling discussion indeed.

Take It With A Pinch Of… Despite both of us having the knowledge that a prescription opiate drug user is morally no better than a cannabinoid user, and that both drugs have legal medical uses (though only one is quite as open to fatal abuse and overdose), the idea of cannabis was still hard for T. to get her head around. The moral price tag placed on drug use in this society is real, especially for those of us raised in conservative faiths, or in those faiths which observe dietary strictures. (It’s double-jeopardy for Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, and some Orthodox Christians.) Then, there remains the historic stigma surrounding people of color and cannabis use, to the extent that when T mentioned D’s desire to an acquaintance, their first response was to ask if she’d next be knitting Rastafarian caps… not moving to Haight Street with the hippies or attending the Coachella festival, both places typically known for their majority white cannabis users, but knitting Rastafarians caps, referencing black Jamaicans who use cannabis as part of a poorly regarded sociopolitical/religious movement. It wasn’t any wonder that once the decision was made, T. still elected to stay in the car.

For those now alarmed about our ethics, it may be important to note that first, the human body actually has an endocannabinoid system, through which it produces its own cannabinoids (which is responsible for chocolate euphoria, natch), and, second, that cannabis derived cannabidiol (CBD) is similar to the THC found in marijuana, except it’s non-psychoactive, and does not produce a euphoric high, containing, as it does, insufficient THC to do so. (Though cannabis is highly cultivated and hybridized, of the three main types, only one has that euphoric ingredient; the other is used to make industrial-use hemp rope and contains the pain-relieving CBD, while the third simply makes a mediocre ground cover, apparently.) Animal studies of cannabinoid topicals show reduced pain in animals with inflammation or neuropathic pain. Topical creams containing CBD have been proven effective pain-relievers in humans, too (though the joint 2017 study by The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine doesn’t have as much information on how and why and for how long as one might want). Finally, history reveals that the criminalization of cannabis use, and the sweeping generalizations about its effects on certain populations were purposeful — a targeted, deliberate second step extending the incarceral state of African Americans begun with the Atlantic slave trade… all this to say, some of our reflexive prejudices surrounding cannabis use have been highly manipulated, but for now, we’ll put our sociologist’s hats aside and get on with the story.

It’s a Piece of Cake…Despite the current legality of cannabis for medical and recreational use, and despite the hundreds of apparently legal products on the market for the last several years, it was clear that many of the people sidling up to the nondescript metal door just past the corner of Apple Street still also viewed their visit as a wildly transgressive act. T observed with wry amusement that there were quite a few car-sitters with her, with several other people standing across the street and surveying the other customers, or waiting outside for a friend to arrive before going in. Some scuttled in, guiltily, while the bros swaggered and wink-nudged one another like ninnies. The range of humanity from 21 – 80+ was vast, though the majority was older middle and college-aged. Affluently dressed, or in tracksuits, there was a steady stream of business. Inside, the set-up was like an old fashioned pharmacy, with a long, high counter from behind which the workers stood to help customers individually. Items pointed to and described were brought from behind the counter, while customers lingered to ask anxious questions (How much should I take? What will happen?); some eyeing the guards (who were checking ID at the door and loitering with intent, every five feet) nervously.

Tacos 1

As we pulled away with our purchase (a topical cream), T. read the ingredients, which proudly claimed to be “all natural.” (Yes, well.) With the exception of CBD, the ingredients could have been found in any high-end massage cream – sweet almond oil, plant and nut extracts, emu oil(!), menthol, Vitamin E, aloe, Shea butter, arnica, and essential oils were hardly surprising. The label listed the preparation as good for back pain, and so, after showering in preparation for bed, we applied the cream to a limited area on D’s back, and on T’s neck, with the expectation that we would wait an hour to try another spot, or see if we needed to reapply.

In A Nutshell… CBD works by increasing the body’s natural endocannabinoids, decreasing its inflammatory response, and desensitizing its pain receptors. We didn’t know what to expect, having read very mixed reviews for the myriad creams on the market (we used the Sacramento lab affiliated, and more expensive Carter’s Aromatherapy Cream). For D’s back, the pain relief was jaw-droppingly near-instantaneous. Because T had massaged it in, he hadn’t been sure (when you’re putting pressure on a painful area, it’s hard to notice when it quits hurting) of this, so he simply dabbed, then smoothed the cream into T’s neck. Within minutes, the pain there was also simply erased. We experimented on other areas, and found that for use in smaller joints (fingers, wrists) the topical cream was very responsive. For larger joints (hips) there was minimal pain interruption (we didn’t have knee pain, so depending on joint size and issue, that may vary). CBD only penetrates to work within the first centimeter of skin – if the inflicted area is close to surface, all well and good, but if it’s surrounded by bone or many ligaments, an Advil might better do the trick.

The faintest indication of pain returned almost five hours later in D’s back, and roughly about the same time for T’s neck, though both experienced a much more reduced intensity of pain, an effect which lasted over twelve hours before the pain ramped up to resume to its normal pitch.


So now for the first time since being born here, T feels very Californian, having used her first cannabis-derived, wholistic, all-natural, yadda, yadda, yadda. We entered into this… excursion, mainly as an exercise in opposition (not gonna lie, some of us are still defiant adolescents at heart sometimes), but were made hopeful for the applications of science to use these compounds to alleviate die-ease – not just in terms of neuromuscular pain, but there are applications for cystic acne and widespread eczema (apparently CBD is an antioxidant), chemotherapy-related nausea and digestive issues, as well as anxiety disorders, too. As our particular issues continue to be a part of our lives, we’re grateful for treatment that doesn’t unduly disrupt the body more than necessary. For now, “You are what you eat” is true enough that it can be extended to a necessary caution toward what we take, too. Right now, we’d rather throw in our hand with CBD than heavier painkillers, and avoid joining the statistics of those succumbing to opiate addiction.

Here’s to doing all we can, in the land of crunchy granola folk, to continue to be well.

Challenge Accepted!

We’ve been challenged by a friend, based on a blog post she ran across,” to blog more and “FaceTwitterGram less,” which for us is easily “challenge accepted!” We appreciate Chris O’Donnell’s insights, especially his comment on how social media is an algorithm-run machine which targets you with specific things to provoke you to react (clickbait!) or engage or respond in a particular way. We believe that what the rest of the world is focused on (the color of that blue dress? Or is it gold?!) isn’t necessarily… um… germane, and that if we interrogate our own thinking more deeply — in actual essay form with longer sentences than just 40+ characters or an image – we’ll be talking about what we’ve decided is important to us, making that our focus. Finding our own food for thought seems a better option than simply eating from the common trough, as it were.

Balloch 47


Wildlife Notes: We’ve enjoyed living so close to the Bay these last six months, and have loads of little brown birds of indeterminate species scratching through the composting leaves beneath our fruit trees. Our Phoebe friends looked at the millet spray we tied in the leafless skeleton of the fig tree on New Year’s Day with patient disinterest… and we eventually remembered that Phoebes are flycatchers, and will even sometimes eat tiny frogs and fish. Oh. Not vegetarians, then. Duh.

The long drought really decimated the frog population, and with last season and this month’s recent days of rain, it’s been a treat to hear, walking in the evening, the small trilling, croaky voices of competing amphibians… and having one leap over one’s foot whilst one is on a morning walk, while catastrophic to one’s upright mobility, is also a treat. Really. It seems more of a treat when you’ve caught your balance, though… We’ve been enjoying the wildlife enjoying the rain, although the two GINORMOUS possums were a little… terrifying, especially the one we misidentified as a bird, in the gloom, which subsequently froze and gave us a pretty wicked side-eye. Why was one following us, walking along the top of a wall in step with us? WHAT DID IT WANT????? Inquiring minds…


And Now for Something Completely Different:

Happy Monday.

I Was Glad, and Other Inquiries

nb: This post references being part of a faith community, and may not appeal to everyone.


I was glad, when… the day was done, the shoes were off, the bra removed; an itchy mosquito bite was medicated. A sense of relief, a heaved sigh, a sense of rest. Indeed, I was glad. The famous 1902 English hymn by Hubert Parry reflects the words of Psalm 122, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord. Ironically, that’s the “glad” that is hardest to be, and perhaps, by personality, a glad that many of us introverts have never really been. When we were small, we were glad to see many of our friends, despite having seen them exactly twelve hours previously, at school. As teens, we were perhaps glad to be able to go for some retreat weekend or outing (again, not so much this introvert, unless there were places to disappear once we’d arrived). For adults, church is meant to be a gathering of like-minded individuals, but more and more, it is difficult to find, in this society, a group of people who is like-minded about …anything. (The color of the sky is still up for debate.) Where the word “Christian” once meant some basic Christ-ian beliefs, it is now being forcibly stretched to include politicians whose lip-service to even basic decency is dubious, and, far, far on the other end of the spectrum, survivalists whose fervent weapons stockpiling mingles politically influenced ethnocentricism with eschatology.

To be clear, this is not going to be a diatribe on “whatever happened to the good old days of old-time religion, X, Y, and Z” (seeing as the alleged “good” days always include on-the-books legal racism, common sexism and xenophobia which is still not behind us), nor is this about how we suddenly hate church or something or have outgrown God (that will never happen). It will not be taken from Ann Landers, or quoting insufferably smug church signs note that score cards are provided so people can tally the number of hypocrites in attendance. — whatever, we’re all hypocrites and annoying people, and our problem isn’t the faith community in that respect. That’s not the point. The point is the basic, real question: what did the old-school Psalmist have that we don’t? Why was he so glad to go into the house of the Lord – and why aren’t we?

Edinburgh T 12

We all know that we’re hyper-shopppers in our society, and always read up on brands and research “content” in order to get the best for our buck, or for our attention-value. We realize you don’t treat church that way, it’s not a TV channel you change, it’s a community. But, especially for those of us who are introverted or independent, it’s often hard to relax into the rhythm of a community which values external focuses on service and discipleship. Service and proselytizing have their place – especially service – but the problem seems to be the proselytizing, especially. It creates communities focused on “y’all come join us!” and mostly ignore issues of practical application of meaning when the “y’all” has come and joined. It also ignores the struggles of identity for the “y’all,” seeing the singular individual and various diversities as less important than the whole identifiable denominational body, and for those who have been part of the “y’all” for years, and are struggling with identity, there seems to be no thought given at all.

The struggle, as they say, is real. The pollution of politics, for many, is largely responsible for feelings of uneasiness and disconnection. For some, it was problematic from-the-pulpit politics within the last election cycle; for others, little to no acknowledgement by religious groups, whose baseline ethos is meant to be love, of racial and ethic communities being hated, being hurt both systematically, legally, and physically, and the LGBTQ community being outright ignored, or silenced. We hear from so many friends in all denominations about being at a crossroads with their church attendance and with their faith. Everyone, from our Jehovah’s Witness to our Episcopal to our United Church of Christ friends are trying to find their feet in murky water. While in many ways that’s simply reflecting the time we live in, the reality is that it is really hard, and painful.

For ourselves, we’ve decided to start simply in answering our questions, and trying to turn our focus to what has made us glad – truly glad – to be part of our faith communities in the past. Sometimes we realize that we default to the thing which brings the least amount of annoyance… and that’s not really living. What makes us glad? For us, it’s always been music, and we’ve been exploring strategies for incorporating that more into our lives throughout the new year.

What is it for you? What gives you joy? What has made you glad? We wish you a rediscovery of that gladness as you launch into a new year.

Midweek

Caspar 41

SPARROWS

I never learned to tell one from another—
swamp, field, song, vesper—all scraps
of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted,
some not. We hear the flutter of wings, look up,
then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush
for binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us.
Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail,
switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seedhead
burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are
the only angels we get in this life. But the very hairs
on our head are numbered, and the father knows them all
by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—no flashy
cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay’s ironic
squawk, no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us,
the unnoticed, gleaning what others have left behind,
and singing for all we’re worth, teetering on a bit
of bracken at the edge of a wild field.

~Barbara Crooker

A fable. A parable. Or, a true story

Oakland Museum of California 23

It was the Mozart solo she’d had her heart set on. A simple kyrie, appropriate for ten-year-olds, but the rising descant over the chorus made her feel unnameable things, and she wanted to sing it with all her heart.

In parochial schools in those days, there wasn’t much else to do but participate in the arts. There was no prom king or queen, no dances, no competitive sports. Instead, the boys took piano, and the girls played the flute – or, at least it seemed like everyone in her grade did. Twenty-some girls on flutes, and not a one of them with the courage to do something original, like learn the French horn. But, it was what it was – middle school in the 80’s.

The Kyrie was the first real classical music they’d ever done, so out of the mundane realm of kids’ songs they’d done before. Everyone was aware that they were in the presence of Grown-up Music, and acted accordingly. Desire to show themselves as grown up – and sing that descant – was intense. Her choir teacher knew she wanted that solo, knew she was a soprano who could consistently hit the right notes, but, weighing his choice by scales she could not read said, “Well, sweetie, we’ll give this solo to X. We’ll save a nice, juicy Spiritual for you.”

But, she didn’t want the Spiritual. She wanted the Mozart.

♦ ♦ ♦

In college, she was to remember this moment when visiting home on a weekend to sing with an ensemble. The rehearsal was early – the music was lackluster, and the director was getting desperate as the singers’ yawns increased.

“Sing it more black,” the director urged her, finally finding both scapegoat and fix.

She stopped singing altogether, bewildered. “What? What does that even mean?”

“Well… you know,” the director gestured vaguely. “More black.”

She vanished behind a brittle smile. “You mean, with more of a swing? With more of a backbeat? With more syncopation? What?”

She kept her voice even, because she had learned it did no good to scream.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward to a progressive party in San Francisco, where, armed with cameras, teams of teens and twentysomethings were on a scavenger hunt. One of the requirements was for participants to take a picture of themselves on or near a stage. Half the group pressed to simply go to Max’s Opera Cafe and take a group shot with a singing waiter. Another vocal male found a jazz bar on one of the piers, and insisted she go inside, take the mic, and ‘scat.’

“Scat?” she echoed, for a moment setting aside the breath-stealing idiocy and horror of making an unsolicited performance in a private club.

“Yeah, scat,” he said, “Like Ella Fitzgerald. You know…scat!”

This time, embarrassment came mingled with shame, as the entire group began to wheedle. “No, you guys. Really…no.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward even further, to singing with a quartet, in which two of the members – white males – donned sunglasses and capered to the spiritual style hymn in the style of the Blues Brothers. Fleeing during a break, she called her sisters, asking them what to do, how to act. They stood and listened while she laughed, tears streaming, face so hot they evaporated. “But, why am I embarrassed?” she kept asking. “They’re behaving like jackasses, and I’m embarrassed? I feel like they’re making fun of me, and it’s humiliating, but why am I the one who is feeling …stupid?

Oakland Museum of California 118

The shame didn’t make sense, but by then she had learned that few things did, when casual racism was added to the mix did. Musically, it meant that people assumed she wanted – always – to sing gospel music, even though she did other music well. It meant that people assumed she could break into Janet Jackson improvised choreography, that she could imitate the vocal rhythms of Bobby McFerrin on a whim. It meant that instead of who was in front of them, someone whose eclectic tastes ran from the weird to the classical with many stops in between, all they saw was myriad aspects of Other combined into a single person, on whom they could glue myriad of labels, none of which were hers.

It was sometimes exhausting.

♦ ♦ ♦

We fast forward one last time, but our time machine is about out of steam. Now see it has limped to a stop at chamber rehearsal, where a gleeful last-minute addition means another entry into the program, another song to be learned. “Oh, it’ll be quick,” the director encourages the panicky singers. “It’s just two parts, in Swahili. Uh, just read the pronunciation as is — I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be fine.” A startling phrase, after the lengthy lectures about pronouncing German as to not “sound like hillbillies.” Unexpected, after the long-winded arguments about “church Latin” vs. classical Latin pronunciations. Shocking, that an entire language is mischaracterized (the people are Swahili; the language, Kiswahili) and shrugged off as “nothing to worry about.” As the translation was cooed over, in ways the translations of European languages were not (“Ooh, how sweet!”), she found herself, once again… conflicted.

The composer’s name was American, and a thorough search uncovered no African translator. Deeper research revealed that the composer’s translation didn’t match a word-for-word translation of Kiswahili words, that the tune was from a Nigerian harvest song. There was no citation as to where the words came from, no African educator or musician listed. She feared that they were singing an imaginary lullaby, with imaginary text, the rocking 6/4 tempo convenient but false. This was music selected by an intentional community made up of good people, people whose stated goals were to bring parity, inclusiveness, and justice to the world – yet they easily diminuitized the importance of a tribal people and its language as “cute,” but ultimately too insignificant to merit concern or further study.

Perhaps, as was implied, it wasn’t that important, in a world where wrongs of greater significance loomed large. Perhaps it was merely good enough for an American winter festival – not exactly religious, Christmas, not exactly non-religious, Solstice. Not exactly meaningless… and not exactly meaningful.

Or, perhaps it was as infuriating and confusing as everything else she had ever encountered.


Edited to Add: Readers will be gratified to know that speaking up helps. The director phoned a friend in Kenya, determined that the text is maybe Nigerian and not at all Kiswahili, and promised to do due diligence to find out what he could, and add his findings – or lack of such – to the program notes. Intentional communities such as choirs and churches must be intersectional in their inclusivity, and must think through the many ways we as people can belong to various communities, and do our best to respect them all. It’s tricky sometimes, but if we draw each other back to the road when we wander off, it can be done.

Gum Wrappers & Silver Linings

Cambusbarron 030 HDR

There are banks of giant Maxfield Parrish clouds blowing up just now, while we have a pause in the rain. Like most Californians, we are doubly grateful for the precipitation which clear away the last of the smoke. The fires were ghastly and not just for those who lost loved ones and property. For those of us breathing the smoke hours away, it produced some of the same anxious restlessness as the oppressive heat wave; trapped indoors, we checked the news upon waking each morning, hoping for some change, and for news from dear friends in the North Bay. (Everyone is well – even those for whom the fire damage stopped seventy-five feet away from their front door, which is miraculous when so many lost so much.)

To make an anxious situation more fraught, T was diagnosed that week with multiple overlapping autoimmune disorders. What was thought to be a wildly early onset of osteoarthritis turned out to be something we’d never even heard of – too many consonants, most of them with the same -myositis suffixes. The symptoms list was long and horrible. For a while, the smoke in the sky seemed to match the smoke in our minds, as we struggled to see past the moment. But, smoke clears, as it always does.

The premise of the fairly stupid but beautifully named Silver Linings Playbook (it was a novel, and then a film, and apologies if it’s your adored favorite) was that a man who had come away from a stint in a mental institution was going to focus himself on the positives in the world, in order to avoid a relapse. Adjacent to the secondary and tertiary plotline nonsense, this seems like a reasonable goal – to accentuate the positive. It actually becomes easier when one does this on purpose. T remembers working as program co-director for a Youth Director at summer camp, and always having on hand during campfire programs wads of the horrible Bazooka Joe bubble gum, so she could handily unwrap a piece and insert the cement-hard, sugary sweetness between his teeth, to remind him inaudibly to keep his jaws clenched if he couldn’t say anything nice. The bad jokes and cartoons in the wrappers are still a favorite of hers to this day.

Deliberate, mindful silver-lining seeking.

The stairs in this new house are a bit steep, with risers a crucial three-quarters-inch higher than the US standard 7 inches vertical. Both T and D remarked on how dire that extra lift could be, when one is tired or in a hurry, but both quickly became accustomed to the extra lift, and even fond of the clatter of uncarpeted stairs. While racing isn’t possible every day, it is now an automatic mindfulness to be thankful on the trips when it doesn’t hurt.

Newark 86

Sometimes it takes a lot to remember to be grateful for everything.

While there is nothing to cure autoimmune disorders, there is management. Several of the drugs under consideration are immune suppressants – possibly some of the same ones T’s sister is on after her kidney transplant at eighteen. Some of the drugs have mind-boggling side effects, and we are struck with extra compassion for our little sister, who is making the best of a bad lot of medications. We have more options than she does – including the option to delay medication altogether until there’s proof of irreparable harm – and so see our increased empathy as a silver lining, too. The girl is a trooper.

And finally, probably the funniest silver lining is that with these various autoimmune diseases, the body produces copious amounts of …collagen, that building-block protein of connective tissue which is prominent in skin and bones. It’s also what gives us hair and nails… and right now, T, whose horrible nails have always split and peeled, and which she has kept short her entire life – right now, she has the longest, hardest nails she’s ever had. Mind you, she can’t pick things up reliably – she’s as graceful with them as an 8th grader wearing ’80’s era Lee Press-On nails, but she’s delighting in buying ridiculous nail polish and tarting herself up each week like a dance hall floozy. Polka dots! Stripes! Questionable color combinations! She’s looking forward to amazing hair next – of course, Prednisone, one of the drug options, also makes it fall out… but we’ll enjoy it while we can.

Silver linings, friends. Silver linings edging the clouds in these dark days. Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, was timely this week. May we all remember light triumphs over darkness, every time.

Happy Weekend!

Dickinson, 236

San Francisco 243

Most of us studied, if only briefly, the poetry of Emily Dickinson of Amherst, Massachusetts. Born 1830, we know she wrote poetry in the imported-from-England-and-Isaac-Watts hymn meter; we know that any of her poems can be sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas or the theme to Gilligan’s Island, because hymn meter is a constant, rhythmic form. We know Emily Dickinson was sent to Mt. Holyoke Seminary, a very respectable, very religious ladies college. We know that Mt. Holyoke was all the organized education she ever received.

What we aren’t told in school is that, despite the Dickinson’s Puritan background and Emily’s lifelong habit of writing poetry that was spiritual in nature, her time at Mt. Holyoke didn’t “take.” She was categorized as a “no-hoper” at the school. At Mt. Holyoke, during the Second Great Awakening religious revival in American history, when Emily attended, the women were counseled,then categorized. They were divided up into three categories: those who were “established Christians,” those who “expressed hope,” of becoming so, and those who were “without hope.” They were met with continually for counsel, and Emily could find no objection — nor any interest, either, in joining a church. Emily Dickinson worried about this a great deal, but finished her first year in the “without hope” category, and never went back to school.

Our society is never very kind to those whose decisions take them out of step with the majority. Emily Dickinson chose not to marry, so she was isolated. She could not believe as others did, so chose not to join a church, limiting the already narrow circle of 19th century women’s interactions within her community to her parent’s home, where she helped her father after her mother’s nervous breakdown. And yet, she wrote:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

There is a sort of ease to her words, even as she sat out Sunday mornings, alone in the woods, while miles away, her brothers, sister, and father sat in the family pew, seeing and being seen. She’s not in step with the world, but she’s finding what she needs where she is. Being raised in faith, and attending church frequently, and having our community be largely church-y, possibly as church-y as the Dickinson’s lives in the 19th century, I can imagine that taking a step… away from all of that made Emily a different, different person. And yet, she was no rogue godless rebel, but a person who found her spirit fed by other means.

Our poetry group played with hymn meter this past week, and I won’t bore everyone with iambic tetrameter discussions (if you’re actually interested, they’re on the project post), but just for fun, I’m sharing a tribute to Emily’s 236:

Keeping Emily’s Sabbath

cathedral light abounds
through old growth canopy
as crows produce a raucous sound, as fog’s damp surges all around
and we breathe Autumn’s ease, in redwood panoply.

(no sermon, no sexton. birdsong, from every direction
the quail’s quiet sageness is truth for the ages, and never is service too long)

leaf-fall means death. Rejoice
in every dying tree
for Autumn leads to Winter’s choice. Then, ending, Winter gives Spring voice
and brings the honeybee, renewal’s guarantee.

(no chalice, no cantor: listen to the blue jay’s banter
the woodpecker’s rapping, its beats overlapping, and never is service too long)

scythe down, like Autumn’s weeds
what binds you to the pew
no dome nor chorister a need, that “all are loved,” be that the creed
which Sabbath-hearts pursue; may Light be found in you.

No vestments, no hymn book. Take to the woods. Change your outlook.
Your body will thank you – the dogma will keep – and the sermon won’t put you to sleep.

Bonus fact: you can sing this to the tune of one of Isaac Watts’ (I shan’t tell you which – guess) hymns, too. Because it’s a modified short meter, however, with an added refrain, it doesn’t work with The Yellow Rose of Texas OR that other earworm song which shall not be mentioned.
This, I count a victory.

May you find yourself, if not in the woods, by an estuary, near a reservoir, around a stand of willows — somewhere that there’s no internet connection, you can turn off the news, and try to recenter. There is good in the world, kind hearts and truth… but you won’t find it via newscasters and talking heads on TV. Get out.

San Francisco 257

Muir Woods, unidentified pink wildflower

tired

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

– Langston Hughes

Ugly Food, Autumn Days, &tc.

Fremont 16

Oh, yes, turkeys. On a trip into town the other day, we saw these loudmouthed beasties. Along with the mobs of Canadian geese which are strutting through the elementary school field, we’re inundated with huge birds. We’re pretty sure they’re following us.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“We miss your food blogging,” people say from time to time, and we give them that patient, blank smile that has beneath it Many Thoughts.

Thing is, one, our lives have refocused from food and our slower lifestyle, which gave us time to do more cooking, has changed. We do assembly line types of things on the weekends, like so many people do. We’re both trying to shove more work into the days — D is burning his candle possibly at three points, for three different companies, all while covering three positions in his main, non-consultant job, while T is trying to finish a novel in ten weeks (a self-determined deadline she might actually make), before the madness of another Cybils Book Award cycle begins. Life has gotten busy — and while it’s not that we’re not looking or photographing food – because somehow we have that ridiculous tendency, despite not being Actual Millenials (TM), sometimes, we don’t post those pictures anywhere in particular, or share the recipes… because the food is… ugly.

Yes, okay. We’re not supposed to say that, we’re told. If we didn’t point it out, no one would notice, we’re told. Um… yeah. Right.

Quinoa Lentil Salad

A couple weeks ago we made an amazing salad of quinoa, brown lentils, fresh-from-the-cob white corn and juicy cherry tomatoes. We added chopped cilanto and a dressing made of …leftover guacamole, blended together with a little oil and vinegar. It was delicious; unctuous and rich and spicy — and if you’re looking for a non-dairy base for a salad dressing, you won’t do worse than mashed ‘cado. That aside, comfort foods, such as brown lentils, and the little squiggly tails of quinoa do not photograph well. Add to that a dressing that oxidizes into the color of things one would rather not discuss when found on or near an infant? So not pretty. To the point: T took a picture of it, and D deleted it from Flickr, saying it looked “like ugly mush.” She was most amused. “But, I took it that way on purpose,” she protested. “That’s what it looks like.” He claimed he’d return the photograph to the line up. He finally did, but not without Much Furrowing Of Brows.

Ugly food. Ugly words. Ugly actions. Ugly world. Nothing that would make the Instagram cut. Life lately has more than its share of things which do not bear scrutiny, and we are, these days, scraped raw and bruised. The things we need to do – and to eat – to keep body and soul together, to keep spirits nourished – often don’t photograph attractively. But we do them anyway. We walk and rage and donate and weep. We try not to eat our feelings. To fail to do so is to fail to thrive in this love-grown-cold world, and we all need to do the best we can to be ready when it’s time for us to play the parts we’re called to play. And we do have a part to play. Walk together, children. Don’t you get weary.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Peachtree 50

Nighttime temps dropping abruptly into the forties after another bump into the nineties during the daytime has left our fig tree confused. It is still heavily laden with fruit, so much so that we have daily discussions with Sid, the 5 o’clock Squirrel and the sweet little black phoebe which has taken up residence nearby. Sid is not convinced that he should stay out of the figs, but he’s made it his life’s work lately to keep other squirrels out. And so The Wars Continue.

The geese continue to warn sharply of autumn’s arrival — sometimes it seems like they’re following us. The other night, on the way in to chamber rehearsal, a flight of them arrowed over our heads, flying low enough for us to see the sunset glinting off of belly feathers. We really are enjoying the variety of wildlife here; everyone has Canadian geese, but we never have lived in close enough proximity to egrets to know that they, too, make sounds… mainly a harsh croaking noise that just echoes up and down the tidal marsh corridor, when they’re het up about something (one wonders what — an especially good frog? An annoying egret landing nearby? A boyfriend? WE WILL NEVER KNOW). Sleeping with the windows open isn’t working out anymore, which has its good and bad points – we’re not being wakened at the crack-of-smack anymore by the avian world, and the wind isn’t rattling down the hallway, either — but the smell of green swamp is not nearly as much fun as the smell of closed up house. Ah, well.

Peachtree 42

Another funny little autumn thing is happening — in our old house, we often noticed ladybugs in our bedroom throughout the fall and winter. We thought that was over, when we moved miles away… um, not so much. The Ashy Gray Lady Beetle – ladybug 2.0, in other words – has found us again, and is trying to overwinter in our master bedroom… again. The more things change, the more they remain the same, etc. etc.

With so much busyness taking over, we haven’t had time to do much roaming, but are batting around the idea of visiting the Dark Sky Park in Death Valley – when it gets a bit more bearable there, temperature-wise. We haven’t had much chance to photograph really good stars since Iceland, and Death Valley is much, much closer. We’re still hoping to make it to the UK again someday, but our trip to Oaxaca is going to be put on hold for a long while, we’re afraid. We are still very much enjoying our Chamber group — more information to come on that — and had forgotten the little ins-and-outs of belonging to an organization which requires evening wear and fundraising, on top of memorizing tricky German vowel sounds for the Abendlied, but we are keeping heads above water there (though it’s a challenge – a good one, but still!).

Life moves on, and it’s lovely to hear that you are living, surviving, thriving. It’s been nice to hear from many of you. And to the rest – Hello! Be well! We miss you.

Fremont 6

The Drum Roll of Autumn

Peachtree 32Last Monday evening, we had a foretaste of autumn that whetted our appetites and encouraged us through the relentlessly sticky humidity here. Though it was nearly five, it was still 81°F with humidity in the 80% range, and the sky was all Heart of Darkness. We had to run errands after work hours, so dodged the odd sprinkle, and watched cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes on the way home. As we prepped dinner, the flurry of sprinkles turned on and off, and we heard grumbles of thunder that got closer and closer. Still didn’t think anything of it, though as a precaution brought our canvas chairs in from the yard. And then suddenly, while relaxing after supper – reading in front of a fan, with all the windows opened – we were blinded by a flash and the hair on our arms lifted. The supersonic BOOM chased a gust of cold wind through the house, and then the rain came just sluicing down. We stared at each other for a brief moment – T attempting to film the scene on her camera (which cheerfully began filming after she set it down) then said, “WINDOWS!” Yes. In a house without air conditioning, all of the windows in the house are generally open to catch any errant breeze… which wasn’t a problem on the front of the house, as the wind was coming form the other direction, but the back of the house gets the wind off the bay, and so we had water running through very dirty screens, bringing muddy spatters to light-colored wood flooring and white tile.

And may we just say that damp wool rugs smell a great deal like wet dog?

The rain, which lasted on and off for a couple of hours, with massive cloudbursts, finally broke the worst of the heat. Though the humidity lingered briefly, cooler winds prevailed, and ungainly egrets darted and flapped over the slough in seeming celebration (joining the REALLY LOUD GEESE, whose favorite time of day to practice flying in formation is the predawn hours, for some reason. The neighborhoods here are so, so quiet… and then there are the ducks. And the geese. And the rock doves. At least the egrets and herons, so far, are quiet. SO FAR). The National Weather Service reported Tuesday morning that 1,200 cloud-to-ground strikes and 5,800 in-cloud strikes hit the Bay Area Monday night, so that was a bit of excitement, as we got to see LOTS of them. We do wish our video had turned out, but T has since gotten a brief tutorial so subsequent videos should actually show scenes one wants to see, instead of a close-up of bedspreads and the floor. Le sigh.

Another harbinger of fall is the return of the chorale, and the vigorous humming of carols while showering, well before their time (but not, sadly, before some wrong-headed little drugstore has a Christmas tree display up in a back corner. People: can we get through school starting first? K, thanks). Last summer, T was invited to join a group of professional singers as their ringer soprano, but she declined – mostly because the chorus was made up of professionals – actors, singers, music professors, theater people – and she felt she’d be in over her head. After hearing of a chamber group holding auditions three miles from the house, she looked up the director… and discovered that he was one of the tenors in the group she’d been invited to join. She is much happier to meet him as an anonymous choir member, though the three-week audition period (!!!) is a bit nerve-wracking. Several chamber members sweetly refer to it as “letting us get comfortable before he turns the screws.”

Peachtree 33

As the summer wanes, things are still unsettled at D’s job, but as audits come and their reverberations trickle down through the company, he soldiers on, getting fingerprinted and checked out so the CDC can decide he’s an asset to lab/manufacturing areas, hiring contractors, and enjoying getting to know folks with the weekly free lunch-and-socialize times. T is past the halfway point on a summer book project that started out as “just an idea,” which took on a life of its own, and is bracing herself for the onslaught of reading to come as a book award judge. Things in the house are nearly settled now, with the screens finally in place, rugs and towels coordinating, and – soon! – the last pictures hung or stored. The challenge of living with constant humidity is reminding us, oddly, of Glasgow, where we required a dehumidifier for the closet. The linen closet has wire racks, so there’s sufficient air circulation; however, the clothes closet is its own little walk-in room, and depending on how the rains go this year, we may find we have a little problem. Still, it will never be as exciting as finding all of our clothes mildewed together in the closet like they did in Glasgow …At least we hope it’ll not get that exciting…!

Enjoy the last sweet summer fruit – the times, they are a-changing at long last, to the favorite season of all. Bring out those decorative gourds, people.

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting.

– Rainier Maria Rilke, translated by E. Snow,

Newark 77