Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Lambsquarters, Christmas Tree, Feline Birdwatching

With the Christmas tree in the patio door, Wildfire and I can watch the birds in the yard without being seen. Normally, they see me through the door and scatter. Today I got a good long look at four juncos (Junco hyemalis) and a sparrow, which I think was most likely an American tree sparrow, Spizella arborea.

Somewhere on the internet, I once saw a story about an old farmer who lamented the fact that his son, in taking over the farm, had hired someone to spray all the lambsquarters (Chenopodium album). The old man said that there had been bad years when the crops failed, so lambsquarters were all they had to eat. But they survived because of it. (In another reading of this story, we can imagine why the son, in the brash way of youth taking over from the older generation, would be inclined to destroy all lambsquarters in a violent and toxic manner.)

With this story in mind, I’ve let lambsquarters grow in my back yard. The first year or two, it was because they’re such a terrific source of nutrition. They’re really only tasty in the early spring, though I could still steam a few leaves with spinach through the summer; but we don’t actually get much overall from this so-called weed. Maybe I should be like the sensible gardeners, who take out even nutritious weeds to make space for the more desirable cultivated vegetables. But then, in winter, I saw the black-capped chickadee return day after day to munch on lambsquarters seeds, while perching on stems that poked up above the deep snow. The fantastic source of nutrition for humans is also a lifesaver for birds.

That was all the impetus I needed. I let lambsquarters have part of the vegetable patch. When I took them out in the fall, instead of tossing them into the compost, I bundled them up and tied the bundle to the leg of the treehouse. Naturally, this year I had a nice patch of lambsquarters under the treehouse, and at this very moment, four juncos and an American tree sparrow are having their way with it. Why buy birdseed when you can just let the weeds take over?

Sure, it’s a bit chilly lying here on the floor under the Christmas tree, but true birders put up with way worse conditions than this.

Happy winter, dear friends.

Disintegrating. Flash Fiction

I’m supposed to go somewhere, but they took the suitcase. I tried to make one out of calendars and feathers, but nobody took the garbage out. I don’t know how she can live down there with all that. The drawer is stuck. Someone stole it from me. No, not the scissors, I can’t reach it. It’s time to go, but I don’t have enough light. Where did they put it? There used to be a house, but it’s gone now. Where did she go, the one with light around her head? She had a beautiful door. There was something important, I need to remember.

Thanks to Julia’s Place for the 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups, and the prompt, “. . . I need to remember . . .” Go to the blog to see how other people have interpreted the prompt.

Interpreting Dreams, Life, and the Big Story

When I was at a point in writing my novel,  Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, that I had more behind me than in front, I had a dream that I was sort of a motherly person to a band of runaway kids. They had no one else to look after them; I did what I could. We had a bond of loyalty and mutual trust that comes of surviving difficulty together. There was a teenage boy who I felt particularly close to. He had maybe had some trouble in the past, maybe not all that serious. He had yet to demonstrate any outstanding talents or gifts. But he was a good kid, attentive, quiet, sensitive in ways that you would only notice if you were paying attention, which no one ever had, to this kid. What kind of chance did he have in life? I was going to do everything I could to help him, not just to survive, but to establish a life for himself, to create opportunities for himself to realize whatever potentials he had yet to discover, whatever dreams he might one day allow to blossom in his spirit.

Conflict arose when his abusive father re-entered his life. The father was a surly, bitter man, whose sole way of getting his needs met was to extract them from the people around him, by any means that he could. He located his son and demanded that he come home with him, because it was the son’s responsibility to provide for his father, regardless of any future sacrifices he might have to make in order to take up menial labor and start bringing in paychecks immediately. Wielding the power that only parents have, he took his son home.

I was infuriated. What a shameful twist of logic, to require the son to support the father, instead of the father nurturing and supporting the son. What an ugly, hateful way to raise a child, to thwart any potential before it had been discovered, to extract whatever monetary profit could be gleaned from the relationship. Parenting ought always to be managed with an eye to the day when the child will stretch his wings and leave the nest, to start his own life, to make a way that he owns, free to become what he will become.

But there was nothing I could do for this boy. He had chosen, uncomplaining, to follow his father, and really, what did I have to offer but some kindness and undreamed dreams? He really was a good kid. That was the end of the dream.

There’s a method of interpreting dreams in which everyone and everything in a dream is understood to be a part of the dreamer. It’s not an original idea, but I have no idea what famous psychologist or psychoanalyst presented it. I think I got it from Rosalyn Bruyere, but last time I quoted her, I made a huge gaffe, so don’t go blaming her for anything I say. In this dream, I am the mother, of course; I am the boy; but do I have to claim the father? That hateful, petty man, whose only goal in life was to get his due from other people? Oh, it makes me shiver to think that he is part of me.

Here’s how I interpret this dream. The boy was my novel in progress. I was both mother and father, encouraging, discovering, nurturing; but also wanting to make this creation of mine work for me, to bring me money. Was I willing to thwart its potential to that end? I’m not sure, but I can say that to date, it hasn’t provided any profit, and I don’t hold that against the book. If anything, it’s my fault for not nurturing it adequately, not helping it to find its wings. Don’t ask me what that would mean in practical terms; I honestly have no idea.

I read the Hunger Games trilogy this week, and I was so impressed, much more than I expected. There’s a Big Story in it, not just a dystopian teenage love triangle or a heroic warrior girl leading an army. Like life and dreams, the Big Story can be interpreted by the “I am everything and everyone” method. I haven’t untangled it all yet, but for some reason this dream inserted itself into my musings. So here it is, and tomorrow I’ll write about Hunger Games.

Wildfire dozes in the inbox while I write.

Wildfire dozes in the inbox while I write.

The Mom Who Read Too Much, flash fiction

The movie was stupid, but her kid had the book from the library. Silly YA, but why not take a look before returning it. Turned out the book was good, well-written. Three hours later she checked the page count. 400 pages, oh. Next morning she read with breakfast, after the kids left. Noon, best thing would be to finish it as quickly as possible so she could get on with things. Late at night, her last thought was, what time does the library open? She could return it, and get the next book in the series. And so it begins.

It really was well-written. Either that, or I'm reading too many self-published books these days . . .

It really was well-written. Either that, or I’m reading too many self-published books these days . . .

Thanks to Julia’s Place for the prompt, “. . . and so it begins . . .” See her blog for links to other interpretations of the prompt, and to see her ongoing 100 Word Challenges.

Dragging the Unspeakable Up From the Subconscious

I was at Knox College in the late 80s and there was an art show that I loved, by an alum whose name eludes me now. He sometimes went by the name Tao Jones, but other people are using that name these days. I remember the tagline, “Drop the bomb, we can’t stand the suspense!” and 6-foot tall pieces of glass (probably salvaged windows) spray-painted with fluorescent images of x-ray skeletons. No one piece stands out, but the message so struck me that I regretted for years that I hadn’t bought one, any one, to display in my home, wherever it would be, to show the world that this is the reality of my existence: it could end at any moment. End it already, please, can’t we just get on with it?

I was particularly chagrined when a couple stoner dudes ended up with one of those pieces as a “coffee” table in their dorm room. I heard they’d bought it for $5 when the show closed. I’d hang out in their black-lit room with my friends, drinking beer and feeling jealous of their table.

I’m not sure that artist was particularly well respected among the art department. The show was kind of gimmicky and probably thrown together in a hurry. It didn’t demonstrate any particular skill at painting, or even spray painting, for that matter. But a recent conversation about apocalyptic thinking has reminded me of that show. I am grateful to have seen it. It has stuck with me all these years, because of the urgency of its shocking message: let us out of this limbo, by any way possible.

I’m not an art critic, so probably no one wants to read my thoughts about art and politics and postmodernity in the 1980s. Just let me say: Some truths are unspeakable, and it is the job of artists of every medium to speak them. Some thoughts are unthinkable, and it is our job to drag those up from the basement of the subconscious, so we can see them, examine them rationally, and choose to believe or not, and how and if we will act in their presence. The shaman does not visit the underworld for the party; s/he goes there to bring back gifts and tools for the people, for their healing and survival. Artists, if you delve into the deep unconscious netherworld, do come back, we need you and your messages. A people without artist/shaman/healers is in big trouble.

We did not get our nuclear apocalypse. We lived to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union. We lived through Y2K. We lived through 2012. Bring your fears to light, and see the apocalyptic fetish for the sickness that it is. The president is not trying to incite a race war. The UN is not trying to depopulate the world by making everyone sick. We may be in the throes of environmental apocalypse as I write, but the outcome is yet to be determined. It is not time to beg for a merciful end. It is time to be, and stay, connected to everyone and the earth. Time to live out, and live into, oneness with all, peace, and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Here’s an old, apocalyptic Flaming Lips song. I used to listen to it on my Walkman.

Ursula K. Le Guin at the National Book Awards

Rachel Creager Ireland:

Ursula LeGuin was a favorite of mine way back. I can’t even think of words to describe what she means to me, so watch this speech and think your own thoughts.

Originally posted on Ekostories:

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality…

…Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable.

So did the divine right of kings.

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

View original 3 more words

Diamond Rain

One shouldn’t choose favorites, but my favorite planet might be Neptune. WordPress informs us that lots of people are reading about Neptune these days; I don’t know why. Maybe their attention was arrested by the thought of 1300 mph winds; or by its mysteries: the unknown source of Neptune’s intense heat (5000º C near the solid core), or its pure, piercing blue hue, much bluer than would be explained by the small amounts of methane near the surface. Maybe it’s the diamond hailstones falling into a liquid diamond ocean.

Ah Neptune, you invite us to dream, whether of the day or night sort makes no difference. Still, Mars and Saturn are calling us to activity on this sunny day, so we will leave off dreaming until night.

Reader, what is your favorite planet?

Ego and Identity

There must be some poetic significance in what I found today, while looking for certain documents that I need for proving my identity (because we need to prove beyond all doubt who we are, before we are allowed to cross a border to a different place). In a recent post, I mentioned having read years ago about ego, from an excerpt given to me by a yoga teacher. I didn’t remember the name or author of the book, but I remembered some of the ideas in the excerpt.

Well, looky here, the very paper I wanted that day, when what I thought I wanted today was something else altogether. I now have an opportunity to make good on a dubious promise I made to the blogosphere, to return, when I found the excerpt, and tell you, dear readers, the name of the book and the identity of its author. It turns out that the book is Inner Quest, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. Here are some interesting quotes. They don’t necessarily support the ideas I expounded in my previous post; but I don’t think there needs to be one truth, expressed one way. Read and find whatever meaning is useful to you.

You don’t need a strong ego to live successfully in the world. What you need is a strong will and the determination to direct all your energies toward your desired goal. Western psychology has not clearly distinguished between the power of ego and the power of will and determination. In a sense, the power of the ego is blind, but the power of will has vision, because its source is in the pure self. Ego springs from a false sense of identification (avidya) and usually focuses on preserving self-image and self-identity. Ego is accompanied by stubbornness, selfishness, and an unwillingness to compromise . . . . In order to be successful in the world, you need a strong will, but that strong will needs to be properly guided. Then you will be able to develop a strong personality and cultivate a powerful self-image, rather than developing a trivial, egotistical personality.

Do I need to let go of my self-image and identity, so I can be successful in proving my identity?

On following a spiritual path: The stronger your ego, the bigger the hurdle it will create. However, if you kill your ego, you might kill what motivates you to embark on the spiritual path and stay on it. Therefore, do not attempt to kill your ego or even to weaken it. What your ego needs is purification, transformation, and guidance.

By meditating, contemplating, praying, studying the scriptures, and seeking the company of the wise, you make your ego purer and less confined. This inspires you to move one step ahead. From here, the purified ego, accompanied by a sharpened intellect, gets a glimpse of the next level of expanded awareness and naturally aspires to reach it. Thus, the ego becomes the tool for purifying and expanding itself. In this way, the small ego begins its journey toward an expanded, more purified ego.

After more searching, I still haven’t located the papers I need. I don’t suppose a few words about the relationship between self and ego would get me across any international borders . . .

Who Is This Person?

Decoding Negative Advertising, Kansas Style

Today let’s veer a bit from literary pursuits and philosophical pondering and talk about some of the fascinating subtext of electoral politics, specifically, the political ads that are inundating my mailbox these days. I’ll start out by telling you right now that Chase County is heavily conservative, so Democrats don’t waste their money on us. Everything I’m critiquing today is Republican, or anti-not-Republican.

One of the more prominent not-Republicans is Greg Orman, who is not a Democrat. He is running for Senate as an Independent against conservative old guy Pat Roberts. The Kansas Republican Party sent me this flyer, which brilliantly repurposes the country road motif of Orman’s own website. (Kudos to the Kansas Republican Party for getting good people to design their negative ads.) But instead of a peaceful Kansas country road, we see a road flanked by cameras on one side, and a wall on the other, presumably a border road between Texas and Mexico. Immigration is a hugely important issue to Kansans, because . . . because . . . maybe some of us have relatives who own property on the Texas border. Or maybe our children aspire to move to a distant city and compete for lucrative jobs washing dishes in restaurants. Maybe immigration is such an important issue because it’s something no one has done anything about yet, so the extreme right who have been in charge the last few years can’t be blamed for wrecking this particular train. Immigration is also important because rural Kansans are xenophobic, and fear is the first and biggest tool in the toolbox of negative advertising.

Next is another flyer from the Kansas Republican Party, this one about gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis. The most important fact to know about Davis is that he was born in California. (The flyer doesn’t tell us that he’s also a Cancer, which makes him diplomatic and emotional, while his opponent, Gov. Sam Brownback, is an analytical, organized Virgo.) In case you’ve forgotten, California is the home of the baseball team the Giants, who beat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series last week. The KRP is happy to remind us voters of this important fact by showing us a picture of the state of California with a baseball and the word GIANTS superimposed on it. There’s also a picture of California’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi, with strange black spots on her skin, and a much more attractive picture of Kansas’s own Bob Dole, who currently does not hold any office, nor is he running for one. He’s just there to remind us never to trust a person not born in Kansas. Because xenophobia.

Oh, look at the time. So many flyers, so little time. We’ll have to stop here, and save for another day the little girl gazing contemplatively through the chain-link fence at the strip club, the Voter’s Guide thoughtfully gifted us by the American Comeback Committee, who appear to be connected to the Republican Governors Association, who are allegedly funded mostly by Koch Industries. I’ll just leave you with one thought: Take a look at the images on these flyers and note how closely allied these candidates are with powerful people in government. Imagine if all the Kansas Independents and Democrats were good friends with Pres. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid. Just think of all the benefits Kansas could potentially reap from smarmy politicking. Ooh, it makes me feel greasy just to think about it. I think I’ll vote for every one of ‘em.

WordPress gave us this cool voter information tool, but it can’t find info for my address, so who knows how well it works. See for yourself.

Why Intentional Parenting Is So Much Harder

What happens when you don’t let the kids have screen time:
There Is A Couch Underneath All This

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