I never found my niche

I enjoy reading mystery novels. Even more if the main character is a female. Even more if the plot involves some kind of “headology” — that intriguing mish-mash of psychology and shamanism, magic and wishing. (Granny Weatherwax is what I consider to be the model for practicing headology, but I’ve posted about her before and that’s off the topic of this post.)

I am thinking about niches and headology (two rarely connected topics) because I just finished the novel Night Angel, which applies various kinds of headologies to the process solving a murder mystery that involves a group of former 1960 Haight-Ashbury roommates.

I never lived that hippie life except in occasional free-flowing fantasies that I knew would probably not be as satisfying if played out in reality. But that didn’t stop me from fantasizing.

In the 1960s, I was married with children and living in a rural suburbia; I believed that had I not been living the responsible life, I might have been on some Magical Mystery Tour of my own, taking the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. But I never even had a puff of pot back then. (Oh wait, yes, once, when a cousin who was married to a prison guard gave me a joint to try. Never having even learned how to smoke a cigarette, it was a failed secret experiment for me.)

If housewifery was not my niche, neither was hippiedom. Decades went by without the feeling that I had finally found where I was supposed to be in the world. I simply made the best of wherever I found myself. I guess that I am still doing that.

I look back and see myself as sort of a wife, sort of a mother, sort of a poet, sort of an activist, sort of a bureaucrat, sort of a dancer …. so many sorts, but no real niche, no place of grounding.

Maybe I found this Night Angel novel intriguing because each character seemed to have his or her own consistent niche.

My late once-husband had a very definite niche: He was a writer. He once said to me that everything else was just sawdust. He lived to write. He had found his niche.

Alongside my new La-Z-boy recliner is a box with 700+ pages of a typewritten novel of his that our son is self-publishing for him posthumously. It will be available soon to the public.

I want to read it because he often wrote with a strong sense of the power of headology, and his female characters were always forces of nature. But at the moment there is something in me that is envious of his niche — resentful, even. His niche has manifested into legacies that will go on without him.

You need a niche to leave a legacy.

I never found my niche.

Unless it’s late night blogging.

footloose (or not)

swing0001Almost twenty years ago, I was a pretty decent intermediate ballroom dancer. When the New York State Museum, where I worked in administration, was holding a fund raiser centered around a 1940’s exhibit, they asked if Dan Molloy (a museum scientist and ballroom dancer) and I would do a swing dance performance. This is a rehearsal shot; somewhere, I have videos of our performance and of a television promo that we did for the event. That’s “videos” as in “you need a VCR to play them”. Who has a VCR any more?? Not me.

I put a lot of miles on my feet in those days. By the time this photo was taken, the heels on my dance shoes had gotten considerably lower than they had been during my disco days, when I danced in heels so high that I now marvel at how I ever managed those intricate Latin Hustle steps. (No, I’m not in that video.)

That was then. This is now.

chairMy brand new La-Z-boy glider recliner arrived yesterday. I’m in love. And so are my feet — especially my left knee, which hurts all of the time. I do have an appointment at an orthopedist, but I couldn’t get in for another couple of weeks.

I really haven’t had a comfortable chair in which to relax since I moved here several years ago. It’s a small space, and I had to do some saving and thinking and shopping. I couldn’t have found a more comfortable relaxing place.shoes

Crazy as it is, I still have one brand new pair of ballroom dance shoes that I can’t bear to give up, even though I’ll never wear them again. They have these really sexy ankle straps and a medium high heel. I’m thinking I’ll wear them to my some-day cremation. It seems like a good way to dance my way along to Star Stuff.

lost books that need to be found

I know that at my age I could easily be misremembering, but I don’t think so.

Back in the early 1980s, I found two books that I gave to my pre-pubescent son to read.

Girls: A Book for Boys and Boys: A Book for Girls

They were the best two books for kids that I ever saw analyzing gender/sex and the physical and psychological changes of puberty in a way that supported respect for both your own and your opposite gender. Both the explanations and the illustrations were clear, honest, and age-appropriate. Together, they provided an approach to sex education that also placed a high value on each gender, encouraging understanding of the differences and appreciation of the human similarities. I eventually I gave them away to another mother, and now neither Amazon nor Google has any mention of them.

I think of these books now because of all of the discussions around the rape of the 16 year old girl by the high school football players.

My son says that he doesn’t remember reading those books, but I sure do remember sitting there and watching him read them, ready for any questions he might ask. Even though he doesn’t remember those books, the reality is that his strong respect for females can be traced, in part, back to the concepts in those books that became embedded in his subconscious.

Next month he’s participating in this, offered by Ball State University:
Gender Through Comics: A Super MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that examines how comic books can be used to explore questions of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles. This highly engaging learning experience is designed for college-age and lifelong learners. I guess that there are some things I did right as a single mom bringing up a son.

I keep thinking that kids today need those two books more than ever. But all traces of them seem to have disappeared from both the real and virtual face of this earth.

If you know any feminist parents who were raising young kids back in the 80s, please ask if they remember those books. They were published about the same time as the original Our Bodies, Ourselves.

where did my neck go

I know that I used to have one, although it certainly was no rival to Audrey Hepburn’s. But I do remember, as a 50s teenager, knotting a small scarf around my neck, western-style, as was the fashion in those days. The fashion these days is those long, wide scarves, wrapped twice around the neck. I love the look, but you need a neck to make it work. On me, that kind of scarf covers me from clavicle to mouth. Maybe OK for chill winter weather, but as a fashion statement? Uh uh.

And whatever happened to my chin? Where did all that extra skin come from?

Getting old is neither for sissies nor the vain.

Funk and Folly

Funk and folly. That’s sort of been the theme of my life over the past several months. Funk gets in the way of lively living, so I’m trying to add a “y” and move toward “funky” — a place where I’d much rather be.

Last month, I had to put my 17 year old cat down for the count; I’m never getting another pet, but the family has added an adorable kitten, Kasza, to the two other big male cats who already live here. The spunky little female now rules the kingdom. Spunky. Rhymes with Funky. So far so good.

I ran out of energy volunteering several times a week at the geriatric center. Part of it is that it’s winter, and I just want to hibernate; part of it is that I really took on too much responsibility there, and they need to be more organized. I’ll probably go back, but with a much lighter schedule.

I will be 73 next month, and I am reminded that my father passed away at age 73. Of course, my mother lasted until 94, so who knows which way I’ll go. In the meanwhile, however, I need to have some fun.

I always feel better when I’m engaged in a hands-on creative outlet, and I love playing with fabric and yarn. I had made some funky walker bags and gave them to a few of the women at the geriatric center; they really like them and I loved making my own designs and playing with the materials. I think I want to try to sell them. Thinking about an Etsy store. How about “Kalilily’s Funk and Folly” for a name? “Funk and Folly.” I think I’ll make that my official trade mark right now.

My living space is filling up with funky creations in wild colors and combinations of materials — hats, wristlets, leg warmers, boot socks. I might try a variation on a kind of overhead shawl I designed and made years ago. It might all be folly, but it’s fun folly. Fun, funky, folly.

By next winter, I should have enough stuff to do a holiday craft fair. Just for fun. I need something fun toward which to look forward.

Funk and Folly — fun stuff to wear and share.

end of her days

She spends most of her time in a cocoon she makes of my quilt. Sometimes she buries her head; sometimes she stares into space.

I don’t know if it’s her 9th life that she’s nearing the end of; over the past 17 years she certainly has gone through several, including last February, when I (and the vet) thought it might well be her last.

They were are able to diagnose and treat her then for pancreatitis, and she rebounded. But not this time.

The blood and other tests the vet did the other day indicate she’s healthy. Except she’s not. Her x-ray showed some weird pockets of fat where there usually aren’t any. More tests might figure out what that’s all about. But I have decided that there will be no more tests. She’s 17 and has had a good life.

She’s been coming to sit (or get into her “begging” position) at my feet and make strange staccato meows as though she’s trying to tell me something. If I pick her up and put her in my lap, she makes a whining sound low in her throat. If I pet her, she sometimes hisses.

Obviously, something is wrong.

She eats a little. Uses the litter box a little. Sometimes she stops whatever she’s doing and just sits, silent and glassy-eyed, as though introspecting.

So, I’m just giving her “comfort care” until the next stage of whatever is going on inside her. When she becomes “uncomfortable,” I will take the next step and end her days.

She has been my one close and constant companion, has been with me through the deaths of relationships, the deaths of family members. I will do for her what I tried to do for them — the best I can to make the end of her days easier.

Her name is Calli.

I dream

I dream every night, double feature sagas that roam places I’ve never been. Except that I have. People plague the landscape — people I’ve never known. Except that I have. I fight the mornings, waking out of time. Someday, I will sleep in endless oblivion. But now, I dream dystopias.

ashes to dust

I used to walk around with it on my forehead on this annual ashy Wednesday. Rituals are important, I still believe. It’s just that these days I believe in different kinds of rituals, ones that are created to empower, not depress.

Today, though, as I walk around attached to a heart monitor, I am confronted by coincidentally timed reminders of the fragility of my mortality.

It’s Ash Wednesday and my mortal coil seems to be “sproinging.”

I have a theory about where these symptoms are coming from, and I don’t believe they start in my heart, although that is where they wind up. I wish there were a Dr. House in the house who would sleuth his way through the electrical impulses of my body to shine his light on the first cause.

But this little picture works the same way as the big picture: we might never know the first cause, so we just keep examining each clue, each symptom, eliminating possibilities, one by one, until we get to the point of it all.

And, all in all, the only point might be that we are, after all, only the beginnings of ashes and dust.

Legacies: Burdens or Bequests

On Facebook today, my daughter writes:

Having difficulty — dad died in 2008. I have a basement of things — mostly writing…must be THOUSANDS of poems, started collections, forgotten beginnings, things left undone. Bits and pieces of him, his heart, his spirit, that no one in the world will see. Here they sit. For what? He would tell me to let them go, they are just things, gone as he is. But it seems a betrayal. He’d laugh at that, I know. But still. All his work, his passion. For what? To be tossed in recycling. Doesn’t seem right.

The other day, my blogger friend Tamara posted this:

Yesterday I pitched my idea for a new book. I had been excited about it for days – felt alive and alert and looking forward to the writing of it. But, oh well – someone had just recently done a book very similar to what I was proposing. These things happen, and of course I can still write it – perhaps for a different publisher. Because, write it I will – write it I must. It feels like a legacy sort of thing and something I want to do for teachers of young children out there. And as I write this piece now, I realize that at some level I struggle with the feeling that I am entitled to leave a legacy. I mean, who am I after all? Just some teacher educator somewhere. So, where do I get off thinking my legacy is worth anything.

Over at “Time Goes By,” Ronni Bennett links to “Legacy Matters,” and offers this quote from there:

“…what you leave behind is the evidence of the life you lived,” says Jill. “I want people to live fuller, richer lives and the way to do that is to realize that we all hang by a slender thread that could be cut at any time. I believe that we all should have a legacy plan so that we leave behind the gift of good records, the gift of good directions, the gift of family stories and the gift of ourselves. This is different from your traditional estate plan or your financial plan, but, in the end, may prove far more valuable to your family.”

If you are a widely published and/or read writer, your legacy of words is an obvious one. That’s the advantage of blogging — your words and thoughts and values are out there to share with the world even after you are no longer a part of it. As long as someone pays for your domain name, of course.

Apart from this blog, which will disappear when my consciousness does, what is my legacy? My bins of yarn and fabric? My shelves of books? My box of poems, finished and unfinished? Certainly it’s not my money, because I have none left to leave.

In truth, I believe what I left as a comment to my daughter’s Facebook thoughts about her father’s legacy:

You’ve got me thinking about legacies, and what they really are. Your dad’s most important legacies are the differences he made in the lives he touched as a teacher, mentor, father, friend. Those things live on and are paid forward. The stuff that turns to dust and ashes is really not that important in the long run. Pick a few things at random to save when Lex becomes interested. Let the rest go. The best of his legacy is inside you.

And perhaps the best legacies that we can leave our families are our examples of living with passion and purpose — the behaviors and values we model each day as we “Enjoy Every Sandwich.”

woodchuck meditation

Groundhog medicine urges us to clear away destructive thought patterns and habits, so that we may be able to delve into the deepest mysteries of life and the Universe. Groundhog energy is about as deep as you can go without actually dying.

A chubby woodchuck
in the middle of an empty parking lot
stops to watch me walk in circles
around a June afternoon
awash in dandelion seeds
and gently dappled sky.

He twitches his nose,
ambles a few more steps
sits on his haunches,
rests his paws on his full belly –
a curious and patient and satisfied
Buddha.

“The soul needs its burrow,”
the woodchuck says,
“a warren to wend a way
through the solitary earth,
some private ground to hog,
a place safe to spend
that deep season of wonder.”

And, with a fanciful last twitch,
Buddha leaves the spotlight,
his coat a slow and sensuous shimmer
along the grave pavement.
Without looking back,
he disappears into the grasses
between the shadowy sumac,
leaving me to wander
toward my own way
in.

c elf 2003