Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is Anybody Out There...?

It seems as if the well may be low for all of us writers.  Even Lin hasn't posted a story for a couple of days now.  And that's unusual.  No comments, no new posts, no nothin' ...hmm... what's happening here?  Well, I take that back. I say "no nothin'" but that's not true.  Happily, Frank had a new piece yesterday and has been playing around with the booklet cover.  And Lin always takes the time to comment on whatever she reads.  But writing?  I don't know. Maybe it's just late August blahs.  Or maybe the thought of starting class again next week justifies our taking a creativity vacation.  Then again, the busy-ness of daily life may be getting in the way. Face it, I just don't know.

For me, I think I feel empty because my writing doesn't seem to be going anywhere.  Or should I say that my writing doesn't seem to be taking me anywhere.  I was hoping to plan for retirement from my full time job and be able to do some writing, art and just hanging out with my grandkids.  Maybe I would enter a couple of writing contests or draft a query about submitting an article.  I would be free!  Free to dream and write and explore!

 But now, faced with yet another loan for the never-ending upkeep of our own "This Old House,"  I realize that it is going to be several more years before I can quit my day job.  And that is a really depressing thought because I'm ready for something different--new and exciting people, places and ideas.   I feel and urgency, a real need, to do this and do it soon.  Waiting becomes hard and makes me feel less energized and creative.  And more empty.
Anyway, that's me...what's up with the rest of you?  I miss seeing your stories and reflections and I miss hearing from you.  I hope that the beginning of class gets us all up and writing once again.  I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I have to admit that I haven't felt like writing lately.  Overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgia and underwhelmed with fresh ideas, it seems like there's nothing new to say.  Life hasn't changed much lately.  True, school is back in session and now the empty, haunted halls are filled with sounds of  life and excitement.   

Usually August offers the promise of new beginnings, but I don't feel that way this year.  It seems as if my stories rehash all of the old themes, and I'm getting tired of  that.  I  just don't feel that I have anything new to say. The well is dry, thoroughly empty.  Parched.  No answers, only questions.

Maybe the start of the writing class at the Center will inspire me anew.  Or, maybe it's just today, the mood I'm in at the moment.  Whatever it is, sometimes I feel as if my writing just doesn't matter any more.  But if that's the case, what does matter? What makes a difference and gives me life?  Food for thought?  Or, something to write about...?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Now is the Time

Today is one of those "blah" days when I have to be at work in order to put my hours in, but I don't have enough to keep me busy. The days get long; I end up creating work just to keep busy. In truth, I have more to do at home and I am well aware that my time would be better spent if I were there.

School begins next week and there will be more here to keep me busy--meetings to attend, events to plan and organize. The hallways will be filled with life once again: young voices chattering noisily. It will take a while for the day to become routine. In the meantime, the excitement is contagious and anticipation is palpable.

But those are not the feelings today. Oh, yes, we are ready: the school is scrubbed clean from top to bottom; bulletin boards have once again transformed into colorful galleries and new books and supplies lie in wait on the desks for their owners' arrival. All the "things" that mean school have been prepared. But there is little excitement here, only an eerie silence that pervades the classrooms and hallways. My secretary and I are the only ones in the building and we today we long for dismissal as much as any student who has passed through these halls.

As I walk through the halls and reflect upon all of this I realize anew that terms like "school," "church" and "community" have less to do with buildings or locations as they do with people. The school is the variety of people that come and go through the doors of the building. "School" is who we are and what we do. "School" is an action, a verb. The word is both full of life and life-giving.

As much as I enjoy summer, I suppose that I am ready for this organized chaos to begin once more. I may feel differently if my own children were still at home. Much as mother's long for the end of summer when kids get bored and whiny, it also brings a certain sadness to see one's children head off on their own. The start of each school year marks another year toward their eventual graduation into adulthood and independence.

The start of school is a bittersweet time as it marks the inevitable turning of the seasons. With this comes the reminder: time is fleeting and life is fragile. "There is a time for everything under the sun. Turn, turn, turn..." so Ecclesiastes tells us. I find myself humming that old Byrds' melody in the hallways. And so another school year is set to begin, with all of its joys, sorrows, successes and failures yet to be realized. Life goes on. Now is the time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In Reclusion

As the August days wind down and the cooler nights give hints of the turning of the page from summer into fall, the temptation to contemplate all that's happens strikes again. Perhaps because of the start of school, September is forever connected to new beginnings. But how can things begin anew if one does not give credence to what has gone before? Appreciation for the former days becomes ritualized in the keeping of journals and the writing of history. The new season will be celebrated at the equinox. Perhaps this is as it should be. Each season is to be celebrated; each day is a blank slate upon which we discover ourselves and our destiny.

And so, there is a certain sadness when summer, or any season for that matter, fades away, even in spite of the promises yet to be. Taking time to sit with this sadness becomes important. A hermitage would be nice, but circumstances don't always allow for one to be away from the obligations of daily life. During those times, one must create a sort of hermitage of his or her own, shutting out the distractions of time and place in order to just be. It is that time for me now. I will continue to work and to write, but time with and for myself in a chosen secluded place is what my soul searches for at this moment.

I need to revise my sense of purpose and direction and make decisions about how I will proceed. Writing, I know, will help with this: it is one of the windows to the soul. This I firmly believe. But thought and meditation are also avenues to understanding of self. Lost? No Mapquest, good or bad, can help with this. I must clear my own path and hope to stay on the road that I will build.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Abyss Mal

It's a good thing that the world is round, otherwise I'm sure I would be one of those to drive right over its edge. Known for my poor sense of direction, I tell people that I can get lost going around the block. I don't know if they believe me, but it's true. It's actually happened. No matter that the block was one that contained both an angled and a one-way street, two man-made inventions sure to confuse the innocent driver.

One time, in the midst of driving home from Oak Forest to Midlothian, I ended up in Indiana, no small feat even for me. True, I wasn't really lost, I knew my way home perfectly. I just got caught up in the beauty of the day and began daydreaming about God knows what. I was surprised when I came to. "Is this the beginning of early stage Alzheimer's or just a dalliance of the mind?" I wondered. It was disconcerting to be so far off course.

No less disconcerting is my uncanny disability when it comes to navigating my way around. No world traveler I; it is enough for me to get lost in my own backyard, the south suburbs of Chicago. Even driving to Champaign requires the following of the one worn and inefficient way that I know well. Sure, there are easier routes, but who knows where I might end up? Even now I ask for directions when I visit my daughter and we venture out for shopping and a lunch date. It's only been 8 years, after all, that I've been driving in and around the area.

It's funny, I meditate and read books like "Awareness" by Anthony de Mello to open my mind to my surroundings and yet I can be completely unaware of how to get some place. I have heard that Einstein had similar problems with simple and mundane tasks. If true, there might be hope for me yet!

I suppose I could invest in one of the many GPS systems available now, but I would never really learn how to use them. Technology is another of my shortcomings. It took me years to agree to either a microwave or a cell phone. I never learned to program my VCR or set up my voice mail. Owners manuals leave me cold and so I resist the newest gimmicks and gadgets with every fiber of my being. In part, it's the "green-ness" in me, I think. I long for the simple life! Besides that, everyone I know who has had a dashboard GPS (everyone being three friends of mine) has had the unit stolen out of their cars. Yes, GPS systems are the new, hot items for thieves, the radios and tape players and I-passes of the new generation. They call out "steal me." There is no way I am willing to bring that upon myself. Instead I might rely on the partially inaccurate Mapquest to get me where I want to go. I read and follow its directions religiously while trying to keep at least one eye on the road. I find it works well enough; I eventually get to where I want to go and get back home again. Maybe a little late and shook up, but in the end no worse off.

So I'll continue to take my chances, I suppose, venturing out into the world. I sympathize with early explorers who traveled more or less blindly all the while believing the world to be a flat place in which sailing into the abyss seemed a likely reality. At least I have the benefits of the awareness of the horizon and the verification of earth's roundness by astronomers and astronauts. I try to use the sun and moon as my natural tools of navigation. And if I drive too far and reach an ocean or border, I can always turn around and drive back the other way. As long as I stay on the road, I'll be all right. Sphere's, in their never ending-ness are great that way. No edges from which to fall--just keep circling around.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Eastern Market Experience

Because my son lives in Washington, DC, we have visited there several times and sometimes forgo the usual tourist attractions to see some of the neighborhood haunts. This summer was no different. One of the most interesting places was the Eastern Market, one of the oldest, if not the oldest farmer's market in the country is located in the Capital Hill area, not too far from where my son lives. Washington living is expensive and we decided to cook a couple of meals rather than eat out every night. "Why do the local grocery store when you can head down to Eastern Market?" was my son's thinking and he was right! The food was only one part of the experience.

Eastern Market is a gathering spot par excellence--busy and crowded with persons of every nationality and ethnicity. On summer weekends, a flea market fills the empty lot. Artisans of every stripe display their creations, including beautiful paintings, prints and photographs. One photographer has especially compelling photos that captured the buildings and culture of Washington beautifully. If only we had more money! If only we had not decided to just do "carry on!" If only he shipped!

Jewelry proves popular as women of all shapes, sizes and ages crowded those tents. Hand made apparel, antiques, pottery and even bikes had their spot in the market filled with people searching for just that one special thing that jumped out and said "buy me!" Or maybe a couple of things. Our packages paid for and wrapped, it was time to shop for that for which we came: the food.

The indoor market is filled with more permanent stands displaying all varieties of foodstuffs: fresh tuna and shrimp on one side and cheese and bakery goods on the other. There are a couple of meat stands; one carried fresh cuts of butchered meats while the other offered more in the way of smoked and processed meats. The bakery booth caught my eye with their enormous pies but, at $15 each we settled for brownies. If you were especially hungry and not planning to cook, you could buy a hot sandwich with fries and either sit at the lunch counter or carry it out.

Produce was represented only sparsely inside the building. The best selections came by visiting the street vendors where plentiful samples of fresh fruits, vegetables, sauces and dips were served. The weather was perfect and we browsed through at our leisure, stopping to sample many of the fruits of the farmers' labor. The greens, oranges and yellows of the peppers! The sweetness of the peaches and cantaloupe! The spiciness of the humus and fresh salsa! The musical sound of people speaking Spanish and the Chinese that sounds so unusual to the Western ear... So much for the sense to take in: each color, aroma, sight and sound all added to the adventure. Choosing just what to purchase for our repast proved difficult. In spite of our efforts at frugality, we ended up buying more than we really needed.

While we sat and enjoyed our meal, we visited the market again as we bantered about the vendors, the visitors and the variety of foods. We had little doubt: this was shopping at its finest and freshest. As well as it's most interesting. Historic in it's origin, location and longevity, I hope the story that is the Eastern Market goes on and on. It wasn't a grocery store. It was an experience to remember.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Marathon Madness

My son Jeff runs marathons. I don't know why. I will never understand why anyone would voluntarily run 26.2 miles. But he does it. Don't get me wrong; he's not one of those people whose goal is to run a marathon in every state or anything like that. He just likes doing it once in awhile.

I could understand it more easily when he was in school and running with a group of friends. The camaraderie of the cross country team lent itself to doing something like that. Encouragement came from several sources--teammates, coaches and the imaginative, playful pranks that they played on each other. A bond formed among the members, and no one was left out. Good runners and bad were all included in this all for one and one for all atmosphere of training.

Now, though, Jeff lives in Washington, DC and of the support systems of his youth have changed. Friends live in various states from coast to coast. Some still run, but it is known as a burn-out sport for even the most determined. Add to that the changes that life brings--jobs, commitments, marriage--and for many running falls into the realm of past experiences. But not for Jeff; he has consistently run long distances for the past 8 years. Occasionally another friend will train and Jeff will meet them in the city of choice and they will run together. But, more often than not, he runs alone.

Training for a marathon is intentional and systematic. It commences months in advance, beginning with three or four miles of running and building up to several, actually many, miles at a time. In good weather or bad, Jeff heads out, running through the streets and up and down the hills that make up the part of the city in which he lives. It takes strength, both physical and mental strength, determination and heart in order to train, especially as a lone runner. There is a running club to which Jeff belongs, but often their schedule doesn't jive with his other commitments. And so, alone, he starts off, free to determine his own route and establish his own pace. At the end of the training, he feels confident that he will be able to finish the race with the simple hope that he improves upon his previous time.

I am in awe of the commitment Jeff has made as well as the strength of his mental core. The discipline it takes is tremendous. For me, just being a spectator on race day is strenuous enough. My husband and I move quickly from place to place, trying to catch a brief glimpse of our son as he passes by the queue of spectators along the route. At the Chicago Marathon last year the weather was unseasonably warm and even spectators were overheated due to a combination of relocating, sun exposure and crowding. Stopping for a Jamba Juice was what saved us from certain dehydration. Hearing continuously wailing sirens and seeing speeding ambulances gave me pause and I began to worry as time passed and we had yet to receive the latest update on Jeff's progress. Certainly he was far behind his hoped-for pace, but was he healthy? Or would we eventually hear from a paramedic or hospital that he was one of the heat exhausted racers that had been anonymously admitted? These are the thoughts that go through a mother's mind.

We stayed put in our chosen spot and eventually saw him round the bend and begin the uphill struggle that was the beginning of end of the route. Relieved and proud of his accomplishment, our cheers and applause served as encouragement. They had already stopped the race at that point, and he was one of the last couple of hundred runners to finish the entire 26.2 miles. We were happy to see him finish. While his time was far from his best, it in no way detracted from what he had accomplished.

Running is only one small part of Jeff's amazing life, but it has contributed in significant ways to his outstanding character. He has learned discipline: to challenge himself and overcome adversity even while in the midst of tremendous obstacles. He has learned to revel in his success humbly and to accept defeat graciously, without whining or blaming. No doubt other decisions and accomplishments have contributed to his character as well. Each piece of the puzzle contributes to the entire picture. Running is just one piece, albeit a colorful one. While I still can't understand his commitment to it, I am proud that he has learned to set a goal and work towards its completion.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On My Way Again

Hello friends! I'm back in town and back on the blog. Unfortunately, I'm on my way out yet again, this time for a two day staff workshop in Monticello, Indiana. I hope to have new stories posted beginning on Friday, August 15th. Wow! Mid-August already. I can't believe how quickly time passes. Before you know it, our class will begin again. I can't wait to see you all. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer and keep writing!