Taking a Risk

“Risk nothing and you risk everything.”

Erica Jong

I came upon this piece of writing from a Creative Writing class that I took a few years ago. It posed the question, “What are you risking?”
“What would life be like if you risked doing those things you have put off doing, but deeply desire to experience?”

With the advent of Covid 19, so much has changed. These days, we risk by going into a market to buy our groceries. This was written in 2009 when my parents were in a care home together.

The word “risk” has been at the forefront of my mind of late. I watch my parents at their present stage of life–ages 89 and 92. What’s done is done for them with little chance of autonomous change. The next risk they will take is their leap into the hereafter. I’m here now and I’ve felt overly cautious, limited and stuck for awhile. I feel a dissatisfaction which ranges from vague to imperative. I’m not sure what the risk is that I need to take. I do know that it’s time for a shift. Is it a stronger commitment to writing and getting published? Perhaps–why not devote one year to that effort and see where it goes?

I think that if I began taking risks, I might feel more self-fulfilled. Happier, less frustrated. Risk involves a certain daring. I’m a Leo, a fire sign, and this has been somewhat dormant in me. It’d be nice to allow the part of me that loves center stage, fun, playfulness to express herself. I’d travel some and try myself out in new situations. I’d speak my mind more. Be ridiculous at times. Ask the questions that I’m curious about of my diminishing parents. Not hold back affection.

****
As life goes, I didn’t publish a book or devote a year to writing. My parents continued to decline over the next two years and they required a lot of attention from the family. They died six months apart. Their departure was followed by a period of grief. I documented their final years. I rarely ever stop writing. Most of the time, writing is within my comfort zone. Except that I did initiate writing this blog about three years ago and that has felt risky at times. I took a big risk when I interviewed a man, over a period of three months, about the male perspective in relation to women. Formerly, he had been an abusive male. I also signed up for a theater group and wrote several scripts which they performed. That was definitely outside of my comfort zone. In 2014, I started drawing and painting. This was something I never believed I could do! So I guess I could call that a risk. Since then, I’ve had two art exhibits and yes, I risked and leapt on both occasions. With the first one, I was so nervous that I got laryngitis and couldn’t speak to the visitors to the exhibit (yet, I showed up!).

Today, I have redefined what risk means to me personally and how it applies to what I desire. If my desire is to be a whole person and live from that wholeness, then what is the risk involved to live this way? I think it involves confronting fears and stuck places as they arise. I also think it’s about recognizing that I have taken many risks over the course of my life and I only recognize them as such in retrospect. Should I chart them on a piece of paper to remind myself, to honor that I don’t always hide under a rock? Covid time hasn’t supported some of the things I’d like to explore.

Recently, I was listening to an interview on Sounds True with author, James Hollis. He was ninety years old at the time of this interview and he passed away shortly thereafter. The thing he said that struck me was that each stage of life has its task. That’s up to you and me to figure out–what is the task for me at this stage and within the circumstances of my life? And once you have named it, take the risk and pursue it. I think that’s good advice.

In Covid time and at the stage of life you are in, what does taking a risk look like to you?

If I really wanted you to know me…

Somewhere in my writing career, I came across this phrase. It’s one of those great opening lines to get you started writing. And, it begs that you be totally honest. So I’ll start.

If I really wanted you to know me, I would tell you the story about my shopping list. When I go south to Redding or north to Ashland from Mt. Shasta, I design a detailed shopping list. It’s almost like a map. There is an order to the places I’m going to shop and where they are in relationship to each other so I don’t double-back. No wasted time, energy or fuel. Today, it’s Interstate 5 South to Redding. I exit at Lake Boulevard and the first stop is Michael’s, off of Hilltop . I purchase a paint brush and fluid white acrylic paint. Check! Then the next stop is Bed n’Bath to return the shower curtain–it was too white and perfect and easily soiled. Check! I walk down a few aisles to see what’s new.
Today’s list is long so I best be going.

Back to the car, buckle up. Then, “OH NO!, where’s my list?!?!”
Two stops and somehow I’ve lost my list! I sit in my car a few minutes to regroup. I check all of my pockets, the floor of the car, my purse, outside of the car. Nada. I try to mentally refabricate my list. I go back into Bed n’Bath and ask the cashier if anyone had turned in a shopping list. No, they haven’t. I wander up and down the aisles that I had traversed–nothing. I return to the car, depressed, demolished (drama queen style).
“I should have stayed home today and dealt with this stifling grief.”
“Yes, I’m in Grief!” I remind the steering wheel.

I pull the car out of the space and then suddenly pull into another parking place. There is something that is propelling me to go back into the store. I rifle through the garbage behind the checkout counter, trying to be inconspicuous. I had made a return earlier, maybe my list was in the bag with the return. No.

I see a tall, thin man, an employee. I get the sense that I’m supposed to ask him about my list. I was running on raw intuition at this point. As I approach, he’s intercepted by a grandmother and her teenage granddaughter. They need his help to retrieve a carpet off of a high shelf. I follow them across the store, a respectful distance behind. After he’s helped them, I approach him. “I’ve lost my shopping list, I tell him. I’m wondering if anyone turned it in to you.”

“No,” he says almost apologetically.

Then, miraculously, the grandmother turns to me. “I found your list,” she said. “It looked too precious to throw away. I gave it to a tall saleswoman.”

“That would be Shoshana,” the tall thin salesman says.

He pages her. She comes out saying “I put it down somewhere. I’m not sure where I put it.”

Despondently, I walk towards the exit. Less than a minute later, the tall thin salesman is flagging me down with my list in his hand.

****
So now you know a few things about me from this little story.
****
If you really wanted me to know you, what story would you tell?

Put the Kettle On

This snowy morning, I rise and one of the first things that I do is to put the kettle on. I had the fleeting thought that people throughout time and in present time likely do the same thing. Whether it’s placed on an electric or gas burner, on a campfire, on a woodstove or whichever, I’m sharing a tradition that people have done ever since the discovery of fire!

“Honey, put the kettle on.” Sometimes that translates to a coffee maker or an electric teapot. However, it signifies a ritual that we share and understand cross-culturally and around the globe. It’s a unifying ritual.

In the morning, this morning, I take my cup of tea and return to bed, placing the teacup on the nightstand beside the bed. I place my notepad on the pillow on my lap. I take a smooth writing gel pen and I write. I write to clear a space. I write freely anything that comes to mind, the pen to the page. Expressing something in this way moves stuck energy. It doesn’t involve a thought process. This and my morning cup of tea are helpful and healthy morning rituals.

Any feelings that rise, I give them recognition as Rumi suggests in one of his poems, The Guest House.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
****
This morning, I feel a low-grade anger and wonder if anyone else wakes up with this feeling. I don’t want to analyze it, only recognize that it’s there. Gently. With my pen, I catch the thread of feelings, the inner unrest and pen them to this paper. The paper has become the container over the years for that which puzzles, troubles or tantalizes me. The paper–the scads of journals collected over the years, my personal texts–the sacred texts that chronicle this woman’s inner and outer pilgrimage. There is a certain irony…I want to write a book. These cumbersome and unwieldy journals tell my story. It has been harrowing, wending, winding, convoluted, gone forwards, backwards and sideways, inward, outward and upside down.

My confidantes, these journals when none others can be so present and non-judging. Gratitude for writing, for the journal and for today.
So, that is sometimes the way I begin my day. I do love beginnings.

I wished the mailman a Happy New Year yesterday.
He said “We’ll see.”
I said “I guess that we will.”
He answered: “Let’s see what unfolds.”
I agreed…”and then flow with it.”

So happy new year to my readers. May your new year unfold in a loving way. May you find the rituals that support your being. And may we discover more unifying rituals across the earth.

Those Difficult Topics

Poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers, you and I, if we keep a journal or a log, we sometimes document not only our personal journey, but significant events in human history. We note how we are affected by them. We note how the world is affected by them. We bring light to things that many people have trouble discussing. For when do you talk about such occurrences? At the dinner table when everyone is trying to enjoy a meal? In an evening conversation before bed? At the club where you work out? At lunchbreak? There are things that we continually sweep under the rug. There are difficult topics about which we might have an opinion, but don’t have a clue as to what to do.

This piece was written in 2011 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

1) At my age,
I do not want to
keep house
for a man
to see to his care and feeding
I’ve completed the season of breeding
done with the years of childrearing
It seems that the men on match.com
have the same old requirements
of a woman…

and she is no longer me!

2) The violence of birth
an entry point
we are all players here
what capsule did I take
that made me forget
my origin?
Are these words a tunnel
I follow towards that illusive speck of light?
When I reach the end, I might…
dissolve in a fizz or spark.
Some say a star is flung into the night
“Find your place in the order of things”
says one of the true gods
or is chaos our real plight
and are we destined to try to carve
sense out of nonsense?
or not?
Can I then practice being myself
stop seeking truth long enough to see it
dazzling everywhere?
Can I be satisfied with this?

3) Cleaning the cat’s litter box,
I wonder if nuclear fallout
understands that it must hug
the shores of Japan?!?
I might think I live in a bubble
but then how do I explain this stray germ
that’s taken over my sinuses?
What’s so important today
that I must speak it?
Sometimes words are inadequate
constructed of mere letters
then grouped into sentences,
thoughts, extracted from…air?
The mind is always grasping
for something else
to grapple with.
What does this little woman
with the sinus cold
have to say
that hasn’t been said
a million times over?
As the jet streaks the sky
with a contrail tail
the memory of kids
screaming skyward
shouting with all their might
“don’t crash.”
Did they foresee then
this fragile ecosystem?
A man hiking in the mountains
above Chernobyl
commented on how
“pure” the air
looked from up there
after the explosion.
Mountain climbers breathe deeply
what invisible warfare was  he
unwittingly subjected to?
Are we subjected to?

The Big Bad Wuss

This really happened a few years ago–although I took poetic license at times. I wrote this from the biker’s perspective. Enjoy.

The Big Bad Wuss
by
Chris O’Brien

I’m the big bad wolf to  her.  I glide my left leg over my Harley, unzip my black leather jacket and pull a pack of cigarettes out of the jacket sleeve all in one well-practiced move. 

Her car window is rolled down, her arm resting on the window frame.  She pretends not to notice me, but I’m watching her watching me as I go through the motions.  She looks like one of those prissy girls.  And I happen to know that Miss Priss’s have fantasies about bad boys.

I saunter over to her car.

“Looks like it’s going to be a long wait.  You might as well get out and stretch.”

“So you think it’s going to be a while?” she says her voice enticingly shaky.

“Could be up to thirty minutes,”  I said slowly exhaling cigarette smoke, squinting my eyes, taking her in.

As she got out of the car, she tugged at the bottom of her red tee shirt.

Cute, I thought.  She’s wearing her blue jeans and a little red tee, but my guess is that she’s a girly girl, more comfortable in a frilly dress and high heels.

The wind caught her long hair and wrapped it around her face.  She pulled a scrunchie out of her jeans pocket.  Bunching her hair in one hand, she wrapped the scrunchie around it with the other.

“Where you heading?” I growled.

She hesitated, “um, Reno.”

“What do you know, me too!  I’m staying at the Nugget.”

She looked up abruptly and blurted out “So am I!”

‘My name is Michael and you’re…” I prompted.

“I’m Michelle.”

“Michael-Michelle,” I said turning the coincidence over in my mind.

Let’s meet for a drink later, I nearly commanded.

“Well, I’m meeting my sister in Reno. It’s actually my Grandma’s 85th birthday.”

“Yeah, well if it works,” I said suddenly casual, not wanting to scare her off.  “The last name is Dalton.  You can call the front desk and get my room number.”

Then, “Say, what’s that puddle under your car?” I asked.

She raised both hands to her face and squealed “A puddle!  Is that coming from my car?”

“Step aside,” I said stoutly.

I squatted.  She squatted close beside me, trembling.  I dipped my fingers into the puddle and rubbed the fluid between my fingers. 

“It feels like oil and water.  Could be the water pump.”

“Maybe I should turn around and go back home.  I’d forget the whole trip but I’ve baked my Grandma’s birthday cake,” she nearly cried. 

It was then and there that I transformed into the valiant prince.

“Don’t you worry, Michelle, I won’t abandon you.  I’ll make sure that you get to your Grandma’s birthday party.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” she said haltingly.  “I don’t want to slow

you down.” 

“I’ve got nowhere to be in a hurry.  That’s it.  I’ve made up my mind, Michelle, I’m getting you to Reno.”

A blend of relief and fear seemed to fix on her transparent face.

Then, I blew it.

Squatting as we were beside Michelle’s car, this amazing intoxicating scent floated on the soft summer breeze.  Leaning in closer to her, unable to help myself, I spoke in a whisper, “Michelle, the better to smell you.” 

She stood up abruptly.

“What are you talking about?  What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I’ve been in the hospital for over a month.  I had heart surgery.  My heart has lost thirty percent of its function the doctors said.  Your smell, your perfume was so lovely.”

I felt like a fool, everything came blurting out.  I knew that I was out of control.

“I nearly died on the table!  Now, I notice things that I never noticed before.  It’s like I have this extra sensory awareness.  Like, fuck, even the butterflies on that pile of bear shit over there.  Pardon my language.  I used to only notice the shit on the road, now I notice the butterflies, their colors, the way they waver in the air with a delicate uncertainty.  Their fragility.  Life’s fragility.  Your transient beauty!  That fragrance!”

Michelle looked around, seemingly embarrassed by my passionate rush of emotion.

I looked down the road at the long line of cars.  All of them were waiting for the road to be cleared so that they could continue on their way.  Michelle and I were the only ones who ventured out and made a connection.  Everyone else was so damn isolated.  I felt the need to apologize but at the same time, I felt I was being the most sincere that I’d ever been.

Michelle looked at me disdainfully. 

“You’re, you’re an impostor,” she said.  “You’re not a bad boy at all, are you?”

“I never said that I was a bad boy, Michelle.”

“You were playing the part.”

“At first, I admit it.  Michelle, meet me in Reno for a drink, please.” 

“I just want to swing my car around and go home,” she said.

Then she looked into my eyes and kissed me hard on the lips.