A trip on a train…

A trip on a train with a group from my Spanish class.  I sit on a big chair that glides.  Someone I don’t know sits across the aisle.  She is asking me questions about what I’m going to see.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she asks.

Her inconsequential questions flood the air between us.  I can barely hear her over the clatter of the train and other chatter.

I don’t have adequate answers to her questions.

“I’m just taking a train ride with my classmates,” I answer.

She’s not happy with my answer.  The conversation lags.

****
At some point, I’m in a car.  Cecelia is driving and two people are in the back seat.  I am talking, she is listening.  At times, she looks directly at me with with great interest.  She holds her intent gaze for a long moment.  She’s taken her eyes off of the road which makes me nervous.  Sometimes the road narrows, men are at work and we funnel down to one lane.  She seems oblivious to the road condition.  I am not oblivious.

The next thing that I know, I’m back on the train again wondering if Cecelia’s car is being transported by rail or if she continued to drive and if we’re going to meet at the next juncture.

Afterthought:  This all seems like a trip without a particular destination.  And it seems okay to just be traveling without having a terminus.

****
For a period of time, I kept a dream journal.  Sometimes, I noted a question in the journal before bed.  When I woke in the morning, while the dream was fresh, I wrote it down and then looked within the surreal images and narrative to see if there was an answer.

Have you ever kept a dream journal?

Dreams can be a launching point for your writing.

The Gold in Your Journals

You witness your daily life experiences on the pages of your journal.  You share your reflections, fears, hopes and dreams.  Your feelings of the moment.  Your encounters, reactions and more.  This journal is not only a confidante, it is the keeper of your records.  As a journalist, you follow yourself around with pen and pad writing down the details of your experience(s) firsthand!  You describe place, person, thing, incident, occasion, a vista, your own feelings, reactions, goofiness.  You write down dialogue and phrases caught on the wind in a cafe.  You really don’t skimp on writing down these details.  They could be useful in your blog, a book, an essay, a poem, whatever.

Your powers of recall are amazing.  But what you recall is typically a feeling or an image, sometimes a smell.  You don’t remember the specific details, the exact feeling, the precise colors, your immediate reaction or the words of a conversation or your thought process.  As was noted in an earlier blog, it is through the image details that your writing rises out of the ordinary into the authentic and believable.  Writers paint word pictures.  Therein lies the gold in your well-kept journals.

Excerpt from an earlier journal…

“Once you lose the ability to speak, you really appreciate it,” my father slurred following a stroke.     (Having been a girl and woman without a voice for most of my life, I thought but didn’t say–tell me about it)

He tried to recite a poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard.  I couldn’t understand a single word of it!

My mother wore his yellow bathrobe, his watch on her wrist.  His wallet was in the bathrobe pocket with two medications that he was taking.  Like a high-schooler wearing her boyfriend’s lettered sweater.

When the doctor mentioned the question of life supports, her face screwed up as she tried not to cry.

****
I wouldn’t have remembered these details had I not written them in my journal.  As a writer, have you mined the gold in your journals?

 

 

Sitting at a Counter

Sitting at a counter
© by Christine O’Brien

“Here you go…
I’ll bring your soup out…
Do you need a fork…”
A muttered thank you.
Hum of the refrigerator case…
“Would you like butter for your bread?”
No…thank you.
So polite and not wanting to be.
Why did I get French onion soup
with cubed bread
with bread and butter on the side
and hot tea (with soup)
and a turkey berry sandwich with more bread?
Feeling sad
and lonely
because I can’t call and tell you
I broke up with my boyfriend
who was like my best friend
who felt like me at times
as if we shared the same skin
that housed a kindred soul.

For months,
we were one another’s universe.
It’s spring and everyone I see
belongs to someone.
Sadness holds me softly
and life goes on.
There is a busyness here
that makes me forget loneliness
briefly.
It works that way in big cities.
Passers-by like ocean waves–continuous.
All that motion,
a part of the stream.
Uniqueness blends into the many
and I’m oddly comforted.

In a small town, loneliness erupts–a sore thumb.
Everywhere I turn, there are reminders of us.
We laughed too hard in the video store
mimicking all our old favorite films.
Danced down the aisles,
in the bookstore,
snuck a kiss and a feel
in our cafe.
The trails we hiked together
through a snowy winter…

I’m glad there’s one trail
I haven’t shared with you.

****
Think about how poetry helped you through a tough time…

Conscious Ceremony

In our workaday world, it isn’t often possible to slow things down.  Depending on the demands of your life, your stage of life, where you live, etc., it may seem to be infeasible.  However, years ago, in the midst of a growing family and work outside the home, I began to claim time apart.  I converted a space in the roughly finished garage as my art, craft and sewing studio.  Giving myself this physical place, A Room of One’s Own, facilitated both my creative and contemplative process.

Back to the idea of Conscious Ceremony…Did I mention that I love the morning?  Especially on a day when I don’t have to rush out the door.  I’m working at minimizing adrenaline rushes.  This morning, before I get caught up in the momentum of the day, I’m going to harvest cherries from the cherry tree in my backyard.  This fleeting seasonal gift from the earth–if I don’t pick them soon, they’re going to be overripe or for the birds.  Then I’m going to blend the best cherry smoothie.  Sip it slowly, now, as I greet this day.

When I move into the day, sloooowly, I am able to bring a feeling of ceremony to my activities throughout the day.  Surprisingly, when I start the day in this way, I seem to “get more things done” if that is the goal.

As poets, writers and artists, we deepen into another level when we take such time apart.  Not something crammed into an already jammed schedule.  But truly A TIME APART.  There is a leisure to this  non-ordinary time, as if we had all the time in the world and could actually savor the moment.  This is how we deepen and evolve as creative beings.

This morning offers time enough to write my blog, to write in my journal, to practice drawing, to make my list for the day.  And, to be a witness to the determined sun rising over Quail Ridge.  All of this is ceremony!

Expressing the gratitude I feel for the beauty and appreciating the many wonders is ceremony.  Sipping this amazing smoothie, reveling in the generosity of a tree that shares its gifts with me–this nourishment to my body, mind and spirit.  Such a pure gift.  Deep awareness brought to the morning activities–this is ceremony.

cherries.2.2019.jpg

Taking Time Apart, Conscious Ceremony, can take five minutes or as long as you choose for your busy life.  It’s really the pause that you invite in as you move into your day.  Awareness, gratitude and presence do seem to be the key ingredients of this pause.

Reflections

Reflections
© by Christine O’Brien

A whole forest has tumbled over
and lies, bottom side up
in the water!
A horizontal duck skims
the surface of the forest
and its twin follows upside down.
The crags promenade
above and below
snow sifted on their high points.
Ripples distort the reflections.
A bird call sounding like
a squeaky wheel
although no bird is in sight.
I promised to sit here
for one hour today
witnessing
what I see and hear.
An invisible dog’s bark.
One noisy motor boat passes
not at high speed.
The surface of the lake responds,
disturbed,
waves, the wake, plowing hard to the shore;
silt at the bottom by the shore
rises to the surface.
everything is affected
including me
It takes awhile for it all to
settle down.

Castle Lake.1a.jpg

****
When was the last time you took an hour (or half an hour) to witness your surroundings?  Something shifts when I take the time to do this.

Unfinished Business

When my friend, Carolyn, died in 2003, it was for me a generous (on her part) initiation into grief and loss.

In the final months of her life, Carolyn pondered the questions:  “What have I contributed?”  and “Did I do what I came here to do?”

My reply at the time was something like “Look at the people you’ve gathered around you.  Look at how they love you.  Isn’t that an amazing achievement?”

We tend to measure our success by the standards of a world that has defined success in terms of “how many toys you have when you die” and how much money you’ve accrued.

One’s life story is not so neat as a Hollywood ending or a well-scripted novel.  It’s a messy business with threads left dangling, unresolved issues, an apartment, room or house full of incomplete projects, and furniture, laundry, unreplied-to-letters, dishes in the sink, dreaded clutter.  There’s the ending that comes too soon before things are properly resolved or healed, put in order or even accepted.

In the small picture, everyone is not a hero.  And probably, it’s an unfair standard of measurement–heroic or not heroic.  One doesn’t often or always come out looking “good,” their life having been resolved by their dying.  Do you think that the works in progress that we are continue beyond this lifetime?  We can’t, though we might want to, make heroes of all of our dead.  They are the ancestors, but not necessarily of heroic stature.  I’ve been to  funerals where superstitiously or sentimentally or desirously, relatives and others search their memories to say something kind, albeit false regarding the dear departed.  Although tainted by loss, grief and fear these words don’t ring true.  Truth is a partial tale told under these sad circumstances.

When my mother-in-law died in 2007, for me there was a confusion of feelings.  I wondered why my feelings were so congested, constricted, why I couldn’t cry as forcefully as I thought that I should.  Was it because I was ignoring a large part of my experience with her?  So much had gone unspoken between us…she rivalled me for her son’s affection.  Finally, after our divorce, he was all hers.

What’s up to me is my part in the story.  A backwards look, a retrospective from the vantage point of a completion of sorts that occurs when someone dies.  And yes, let’s add a dose of compassion for this human condition.

A Few Patterns of Communication

I wonder about this…when you engage in a conversation, do you look for ways to confirm what you already believe to be true or are you truly open to learning something different?  Even while listening to a lecture, I sometimes find within myself a resistance to new information.  Oh no, I might have to shift my hard won beliefs!

Seeking confirmation for what I already consider to be the truth, closes the door to discovering something else.  And if I am confirmed in what I already believe, is there sometimes an air of “evangelism” about me–if I believe that I know the truth, then do I think I have the right or responsibility to force my dogma on someone else?

When I’m in conversation with someone, am I really listening?  Or am I already planning what I’m going to say in response?  Often, our patterns of listening and conversing are so programmed that it’s hard to step out of the box of our behaviors to allow something or someone else in.

Or, have you noticed that sometimes, a conversation is more of a monologue than a dialogue?  I look into my own patterns and see if I’m guilty of stealing the stage and not allowing the other person to get in a word.  Or when a certain friend gives a soliloquy while we’re taking a walk in nature, I sometimes strategically interrupt and request “quiet time.”  This can help to bring awareness to the lopsided nature of the conversation.  And, it allows us to appreciate the beautiful surroundings.

In observing conversational patterns between men and women, I’ve noticed that some men take the role of “I’m the teacher,” while a woman may allow and even encourage that role.  Other times, she tries to contribute her own different but real wisdom, only to find herself disproved by the “dominant male’s absolute surety” about whatever it is they are discussing.  He might raise his voice or show some sign of physical prowess (body language) to emphasize his correctness.  It takes an aware male to help to create a safe atmosphere where true sharing can occur.  Is he able to inquire into her thoughts and ways of being and seeing without overpowering her?   It takes a super conscious male to understand that he may actually learn something from her!