Friday, August 29, 2008

Angled Mettle

Sigh. What a great birthday I had. :) I'm a proponent of celebrating birthday week. Why limit yourself to a mere day? Birthday week brings with it veto power on television programming, dinner selections and numerous moments of fun "instead of productive" activities. I recommend it.

For those of you who hear from me sporadically...I'm good! Working too much, taking care of myself, reading too little and writing only in smidges...but I am well. Also - Cameron-the-Counselor is forgiven. Put away your tiny voodoo dolls, and your spell-casting gear, and your novena cards and candles. He misspoke, or I overreacted, or somewhere in the middle. Group hug.

This year my birthday week officially started on Wednesday, THE day. I had singing wishes, cards, email, e-cards, poems...the gamut of good wishes. I loved it. We spent the evening at the outdoor Shakespeare theater here watching this season's production of Macbeth. It was....lovely. We brought a potluck picnic that had perfect components - two lovely salads, grilled prawns, amazing cheese and bread, much great wine. And then cake. Yay. The performance was memorable, too. This is the theater: - though this picture is taken in the daytime, and as dusk falls it is more lovely and intimate. All in all....lovely.

I love fall. Some people feel their pulse and "get organized" impulses on January 1, some feel them when spring's warmth begins to seep into the gray chill of late winter. But for me - it's the new school year feeling, the one where anything is possible, and summer's long days make life feel limitless. Also, frankly, I live in a desert climate but I am genetically predisposed to misty cool moors, and green spaces - so the brown, sharp, HOT summers of southwestern Idaho are sometimes a joy to leave behind. My bike goes faster in the cooling days of late summer and fall, and my feet are easier to hurry on my walks. I love it. Time for cookouts and friends on the deck, now that the heat is easing.

This is a quick picture I took last night while on an evening bike ride. It was taken from the bikepath's converted railroad bridge over the Boise River near downtown. It is the place where a spur on the bike path crosses the river and heads into the city, out of downtown. What you can't see in the picture is that there were divers in the river last night, practicing, and I saw an eagle while riding. Had I taken the picture looking downstream, you'd have seen the overpass just a few hundred feet away, arcing over the river. All these interesting intersections of....everything. Angled metal meeting concrete bridge decking, water meeting shorelines, sky meeting mountain ridges, nature meeting city.

In January I posted about my annoyance at the naysayers who were raining on the big dreams (also known as resolutions) we make. Fall has always been my New Year. I've always loved the return to classes and the cooling, shortening days. I'm making lists and setting goals and buying a daily calendar to write things in. I'm cleaning and organizing email, cleaning cabinets and tossing clothes that are too big into bins to donate. I'm trying to decide whether I want to try backpacking or kayaking this year. And while I do all that, I have been thinking about dreams, how difficult it is to hold them when we know how much it will cost, in effort and sacrifice and sometimes conflict with those we love, to chase them. And still. And still it is impossible for me to say 'ease up, and let go.' I can't, or I won't, and the difference in those two words doesn't much matter. Hang on, and make them a priority, and remember that you'll probably regret those decisions and choices you make in service to fear, and not those you make chasing joy.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Clear-eyed Gaze

I'm writing this from the deck of our rental house on the Oregon Coast, just south of Newport. The sound of the surf is everywhere, a sweet rushing backdrop to the sun and the wind. It is, easily, 30 degrees cooler here than in Boise - and the cool air makes me want to walk for miles, or ride my bike until I tip over.

We got here late on Friday night. I arrived home from work Thursday fully aware that the list of tasks I had assigned the vacation-fairy on Wednesday (that's me, I just like to pretend I have minions) remained undone. Some laundry, banking, all the packing, load the car, shop for essentials and a few treats for our fabulous housesitter....choose vacation books! I also added roasting a chicken (Road Picnic!!!!) and trying to fix the "broke-at-the-last-minute-Weber-grill"....

I make fewer lists than I used to. I am less well prepared than I once was. I am clear, crystal clear, that preparation has limits and that it can replace joyous improvisation, or provide a false sense of security about the world and our ability to knot up a safety net. I only make lists now when it is to capture a detail that is important (roast chicken Thursday night for picnic!), not because I think a trip will be ruined if I forget my copy of "Oregon for the Curious" or my nail care gear. Here is how I pack now: I have a travel bag of toiletries that I just toss in, and then I just walk around my closet and pick up clothes. It takes me literally 15 minutes, 8 of them spent wrestling the suitcase down and choosing shoes. Whatever you choose, you'll wish for some one other item. Whatever you do to prepare, the world will toss some unprepare-able action your way. Some will read that statement as cynical, or negative - and some will see that it is merely true, and that the acknowledgement of it, the acceptance of it, is a path to joy.

So we're here, and I've walked and walked, ridden my bike to the top of the Yaquina Bay Bridge (SO glad I brought my bike), read two books and several magazines....napped a LOT.

The sound of surf calms me, as I think it does many people. It makes me think clearly. Here is what I'm thinking clearly about this evening. My last conversation with Cameron-the-Counselor was, to me, unhelpful. He is pressing me to accept my life, to limit my dreams, or to "accept my limits." I know why. I look at me as he would and think "give yourself a break, already - in fact, give everyone around you a break and let UP." And I appreciate, sort of, that thought. Thank you, I'm sure your heart is in the right place. But since I'm me...I've an opinion. It is one thing to be sure that a person sees the limits, knows the odds, is aware of what they are up against. But whether to take them on is an achingly person decision. So, say to me "you know the challenges, right?" but not "accept your limits." From...well, forever, I've been refusing to accept limits. Why on earth would I start now? Because it's easier? Pfft. It's easier to limit our dreams. It is easier to stay home. It is easier to drift through your career, numb yourself with TV and purchases and investments. It's easier to grow fat and unfit and "accept your over-40 limits." Yeah, this advice hit a nerve. It's maybe smarter, certainly it is less turbulent. But I want to say to him "did you forget your give-a-crap tie today?" I'm not interested in advice to limit my dreams - until it is proven to be impossible, get the hell out of my way. I'm not an idiot, so I know that I have to keep making make small, necessary adjustments. But I'm a long way from accepting my frigging limits. Maybe this is what he intended, to kickstart my "kissmybuttkusCameron" motor - if so, it worked.

One of the books I brought, and am reading slowly in small sips, is Tony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. To read Tony's books is to know something of him, of the smart, generous, funny, careful person that I watched lead one of my fiction workshops. His work continues to delight me, and to be a distinctive and lovely mixture, a marvel of craft and heart and science, truths of the kind that can be researched and the kind that can only be felt. One of the lines in this book caught me, though, both in the offhand delivery and in the truth of it: "We came to Rome because we'd always regret it if we didn't, because every timidity eventually turns into regret."

It is true, I think, that when we pull out the moments we regret, and turn them over honestly, that they are often entangled in moments of timidity, in snarls of self-doubt and fears of unnamed origins. But I suppose it is something of my Scottish roots, or maybe my life experiences, that makes me achingly aware of how much the expression of fear, of timidity, is rooted not in some weakness of character but in the bruising and "lessons learned" from the world's blows. More, I wonder at those who are able to keep it at bay, who get knocked down, stand up, and somehow keep the fear at arm's length. I've long said that I admire most those who are knocked down but get up again. That, for me, is the test. Will you get up, and will you do so with your hope somehow still intact? It's what we hope for in our heroes, and in our secret hearts it is what we hope for in ourselves, and fear we will not do.

So, yes. You can't write something like that sentence, or read of Tony and Shauna and their babies in Rome, or think of the sacrifices my friends are making to make the space to create their art without being humbled, and without grinning. Okay, Ms. Patti. From the top, this time with feeling...give it a little something and make it sweet.

Be well, wherever this finds you!