Veronica's Garden

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

When the Turkey Vultures Come In to Roost

It would seem that I’m not to be trusted to pump my own gas, and nobody can remember the last time I showed up anywhere on time. My house is a shambles, an insult to civilized humanity. In 47 years, I’ve yet to get through a single year without financial assistance from one or another relative. I’m pretty useless.

But I’m also a person you could call on if you wanted to know where and when to go to see dozens of turkey vultures circling down to roost for the night, or where you might have a chance of spotting an indigo bunting or a blue heron. I could tell you just when to step outside in the rain because there might be a rainbow, when the white heath blooms (some just started today in my back yard, as a matter of fact), and when a flock of migrating Franklin’s gulls are passing right over your head.

None of this information is of any particular use to anyone, and not really interesting to anyone other than myself, or occasionally one of my daughters.

So you see, there are trade-offs -pretty substantial ones -to being me, or being around me. Some days I don’t think it’s a good trade. I’d give anything to be someone else, someone capable and effective. Someone who gets things done, who carries her own weight. I wish desperately that I could be someone who doesn’t have to spend half her life apologizing for her failures and the other half scrambling to catch up to the starting line, someone who gets to the end of a day and doesn’t wonder what she did with it.

But when you see the turkey vultures in the slanting light, circling low over the trees, it’s really something. One of these days they’ll rise up in the mid-morning sun, head out over the hills, and keep going, until they reach some distant southerly perch. But for tonight they’re coming back to that stand of trees in Strong City, near the Cottonwood River, and it feels like a privilege to witness them. It feels like being in on a secret, but a secret that’s right out in the open where anyone can see.

I point them out to whoever is around. Sometimes they look at me blankly, as one would a child who isn’t yet able to speak intelligibly. More often, they don’t notice I’m talking at all.

Ego and Ego’s Job

Excuse me in advance for mangling Freud, but let’s talk about ego today. Ego gets a bad rap. We can all probably appreciate an occasional id moment, when we just want what we want, for no good reason; and we think we should put the superego in charge most of the time, but ego? Who needs it?

I think it was Stephanie Thomas (back when she was a yoga teacher) who first introduced me to the idea that the ego isn’t bad. She gave me a couple pages from a book, which I still have somewhere around here, and when I find it I’ll come back and tell you the name of it and who wrote it. For now I’ll just say it really struck me by saying that we don’t need to destroy or starve the ego, but purify it. There was a list of ways to purify the ego, but, more to the point, the reason for doing so is that the ego has a purpose and we need it.

At the same time, I was reading A Course In Miracles, which is not so kind to ego. But I did learn to recognize when ego is in action, which is, surprisingly, most of the times I’m unhappy, especially when I’m unhappy with another person. Somebody getting away with something unfairly? It’s ego that cares. Somebody slights me? Ego. I’m not living up to a vague expectation that somebody laid on me so long ago I don’t remember who did it or when? Ego is the part of me that tortures me mercilessly for my failures. In ACIM, ego is an illusion that will disappear when we recognize the truth, which is that we are one with the Divine, which is defined as Love, and that any belief in the possibility of separation or harm of any kind is an error.

Later, Caryn Robson gave me Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, and Tolle echoes ACIM on ego. He teaches that all we have to do is notice, with full attention, and those egoic thoughts dissipate.

But that idea of ego as neutral, even useful at times, stuck with me over the years, and I’ve come to see ego as essential, when it is working toward its purpose. When deprived of the opportunity to do its job, ego goes looking for something else to do, and that is when problems pop up.

What is Ego’s job? Well, I do believe that we are essentially one. But we are present in three-dimensional space, living within limitation and linear time. We have reason to believe this is an illusion, but it’s pervasive and seems to be built into the structure of this particular neighborhood of the universe. Why would we choose to come here? (Did I forget to mention that we choose to come here? I’ll have to explain that another time, I have a massage this afternoon and I need to get some housework done before I go, so I don’t have a lot of time to write right now.)

Suppose we come to this quirky neighborhood, dressed up in a funny costume in which we look like a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute imitation of a stereotype older than history. I’ve got a part to play in this charade, and the Director suddenly jumps up with a megaphone and says, “Hey you! Get up on the stage! This show is depending on YOU!”

What? I don’t even know my lines! Then I remember, the script is written in my heart. My body knows the blocking if I don’t think about it too much. It’s all here, in me. It’s in you, too, in all of us, but we’re all in different costumes, with different parts to play, and nobody but me is right here, ready to make an entrance onto this very stage at the perfect moment, which is now.

And the one who knew all that, who never forgot, who used every trick -berating, cajoling, lying, kicking me in the ass, whatever it takes- to get me up on that stage, no matter how anxious I am, how determined to know every line, entrance, and exit of every character by memory before I even peek out from behind the curtain, how certain I am that the understudy could do a far better job: the Director is the Ego.

What if I don’t do it? What if I I’m too busy? This costume is poking me and I can’t hear the cardio-teleprompter when I’m this uncomfortable. And there’s so much backstage work to be done, I’ll get up on the stage tomorrow, or next month, or next year. After a while, Ego gets tired of waiting, and goes looking for something else to do. Ego’s gift is this: Ego knows that I am important, that I have a unique contribution to make to the world. Ego insists that I share my talents. If I won’t be in the show, I can instead correct everybody’s grammar. I can satisfy myself by going over other peoples’ mistakes in my mind, and how I would do things differently if I were in their place. If I won’t acknowledge my importance as in individual, Ego will show me all the ways that I have failed others, hurt them, disappointed them, and therefore deserve all my lack of success.

Oh dear Ego, tireless friend, I’ve been hearing your message. We don’t have to say whose habitual mispronunciations have been grating on my nerves, or which crotchety old biddy’s lectures have been testing my patience. These people, whom I love, are not the problem, and there is one solution: I have to get up on the stage.

Time to start writing again.

Here's my writing studio. There's a bit of work to be done.

Here’s my writing studio. There’s a bit of work to be done.

Beautiful Morning

Maybe it was because the heat had lifted, making way for a cool front and just enough water coming down to call it rain.

Maybe it was the quality of the light filtering through the clouds, so the hot colors settled down for a nap, while the cool greens and grays woke up vividly.

It was a kind of day when you step outside and say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” before you realize you’re living a show tune.

The girls have been biking to school this year, but I drove them today due to the rain. The doves in the street were so at peace, it was hard to rouse them out of the path of the car. “Car, doves!” I told them, and the girls behind me joined in, “Car! Car!” Then, “Caw, caw!” which would possibly alarm doves more effectively.

Humming a pretty tune, I waved at other parents coming back from the school in their vehicles. A white-haired man sat on his stoop watching the traffic. It was an ordinary moment, perfect and beautiful.

It occurred to me that maybe for old people, watching kids go to school in the morning isn’t just something they do when they don’t have anything else to do. Maybe it’s meaningful in itself to watch these rituals of coming together and parting, the hurrying and dawdling, the putting on and removing of outerwear as the seasons revolve, children growing day by day and year by year.

It used to be that when I came upon these moments of heightened awareness, I’d wish desperately and wistfully that they could last forever. Now I know that the secret is to be that present in every moment, to be in perfection and beauty, even through everything changing.

How do we get there? I suppose they say meditation and mindfulness practices can help, though it seems to me largely a function of grace, which is to say, the Divine bleeding through our consciousness, unasked, undeserved, unwarranted.

Or maybe it was simply that the heat had lifted.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant's eye.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant’s eye.

What Lives In Your Neighborhood?

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to notice nature. Admittedly, sometimes it involves sitting for a while, seemingly doing nothing. Type A people can’t do it. But other times, you see things just because you’re willing to.

I spent about an hour today clearing some weeds, cutting tree shoots, watering the few cultivars I have this year. The weeds have become so overgrown that I’ve learned new things about them. One vine I’d always thought was some kind of bindweed turned out to have a flower completely different from the morning-glory trumpet shape of Convulvulus arvensis. It really doesn’t look that much like bindweed, so I’m not sure why I thought it was related, now that I think of it. Today I discovered it is honeyvine milkweed, Cynanchum laeve. This one is truly a vining milkweed, and, as such, it is a food for monarch butterflies. So it turns out I do have at least one monarch food on the property.

Watering Rowan’s pot of zinnias, I saw a little moth I didn’t know, and it was kind enough to let me get a good shot. Then, while ripping up some weeds to expose a beleaguered rose, I inadvertently destroyed the web of a striking black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Sorry, ma’am.

By that time, it was too hot to work outside, and I was hungry, so Wildfire the kitten and I came back in for lunch.

When you go outside, even if it’s just from your door to the car, look to see what’s out there. What lives in your neighborhood?

Cultivating the Dreaming

I dreamt our family was set to go on a trip, but when the time came to get on the bus, I wasn’t packed. I couldn’t even get to my room against the crowds of people all going someplace. There were lots of stairs, there was a hotel room with piles of clothes and other junk that I had to clear out. The bus left without us.

I woke up pretty glum and related my dream in a post on facebook. My friend Kay Shandler replied, “You have the neatest dreams. I rarely dream!” This surprised me because Kay is a skilled energy healer, and I would assume that intuitive healing would require substantial capacity for imagination. Imagination, intuition, and dreaming are all related, and maybe sometime I’ll write a detailed post about that.

But it led me to think about my dream history, because it isn’t an accident that I dream vividly and remember my dreams. I’ve cultivated my dreaming intentionally over many years.

As a child, I never remembered dreams. My sister sometimes talked about her exciting, vivid dreams, and I think everyone in my family related dreams upon occasion, but I never remembered them. It felt like a wonderful and mysterious experience that I was missing out on.

Eventually I learned techniques for enhancing dream recall. I read books about dream interpretation. I kept a journal by my bed, ready to receive any dream that might come. I though about dreaming before I went to sleep. It took time because I had chronic insomnia, but by high school I was recording dreams frequently, sometimes three or four times in a night. I still have my dream journals from that period, and they are filled with page after page of terrible nightmares. Someone tried to kill me, someone chased me, someone shot me point blank in the face and I died. Or I was the aggressor, on a shooting spree in a shopping mall, before that was a trendy thing for crazy people to do. Or there was a nuclear holocaust or an alien invasion and everyone was lost in the dark.

I somehow knew that these nightmares had some kind of message in them, but I had no tools for interpreting them. All I knew to do was diligently record every dream, so that’s what I did, like an illiterate person painstakingly copying letters line by line, messages for an unknown person who might find a way to decipher them in the future.

In college I learned a little about reading symbolism and understanding archetypes. I continued to journal my dreams, and used them as source material for surrealist poetry, which seemed kind of like cheating. But the dream images were more compelling than the ones that arose from my conscious mind.

In my twenties, I learned to dream lucidly. If a series of unbelievably improbable, terrifying events happened, I could recognize that I was having a nightmare. It didn’t necessarily end it, but I knew it wasn’t real. Then I discovered flying. I’m dreaming? Great, that means I can fly!

I was in my thirties when I took a class in past-life regression, which included basic training in hypnosis. I adapted self-hypnosis techniques to return to my dreams in a waking trance state, so that I could dialog with the aggressors in my nightmares. I’ve written about this technique previously.

Also at the past-life regression class, I met Henry Reed, a pioneer dreamwork researcher. One practice Henry uses is conscious dreaming for a person or problem. One way I use dreamwork is to ask for a dream about a question that is on my mind. I write it in my journal, think about the question as I fall asleep, and record what I remember when I wake up. This can be a tool to access information which the conscious mind doesn’t know exists.

When I look at all this history, I’m surprised to realize how constantly important dreaming has been for me, for as long as I can remember. Fortunately, I rarely have violent dreams anymore, and even the unhappy ones don’t have the nightmarish intensity they used to. My dreams are rich and varied. Where will my dreaming go next? I have no idea.

What about you? What do you dream, and what relationship do you have with your dreams?


What the Heck Is World Cat Day?

Sounds like a shameless attempt to garner page views. Just what I need, though technically, since it’s past midnight, I’ve missed it. Oh well, it’s still World Cat Day somewhere. See more cat pictures here and here.

While I was typing this, kitten Wildfire pawed the screen to add “nh” as a tag.

Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips Cover Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds

He said, Miley Cyrus and the Flaming Lips,
it’s so weird, I don’t get it.
He said, is it just the drug thing?
She said, yeah.

She said, I’m having a flashback right now.
She sat back to enjoy the ride.
Any moment, there would be an
explosion of sound, even as
the surface of the pond was still,
smooth as glass, as a mirror.
The sun was setting in front
of the windshield, like watching
a show on a screen. Through
a screen, through the windscreen.
He said he’d played this song
for her before. She didn’t remember it.
It was familiar and new at the same time.
Deer foraging at the edge of the woods.
Behind her, voices, children singing.

When they got out of the car,
they all danced.

Driving Into Sunset

Jane Eyre, and the Lengthy, Passionate, Descriptive Sentence

While I was writing Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, I often thought of Jane Eyre. I’d read Charlotte Bronte’s classic while I was in college, many years ago, in Robin Behn‘s Women’s Literature class at Knox College. I remembered enjoying Jane Eyre in spite of the nineteenth-century language and morality. I loved the descriptions of nature, and the passionate romance. I flat out didn’t get why she couldn’t be with Mr. Rochester while he was still married, even as I wondered about the fact that he kept a crazy wife locked up in the attic.

Post Rock has been out for over a year now, and recently I picked up Jane Eyre and read it again. I had many thoughts about the difference between reading this book as a 19-year-old versus a 47-year old; but for today let’s just talk about long, descriptive sentences. Early on I noticed that those sentences were pretty much as I remembered them; I’d copied that style more than I’d even realized. It’s very different from the standard modern clipped prose, stripped of as much description as possible. It may well be that I loved the book not in spite of the nineteenth-century language, but because of it.

I discovered, too, that a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only bounded, lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden: this pleasure consisted in prospect of noble summits girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow: in a bright beck, full of dark stones and sparkling eddies. How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow!–when mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down “ing” and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck! That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless: it tore asunder the wood, and sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet; and for the forest in its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.

Just for fun, let’s contrast that to a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, published in 2006.

They left the cart in a gully covered with the tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing trees to where he’d seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the woods.

Oh look, both the passages I just chose begin with sentences of 53 words. Nonetheless, you can easily see how different they are. It’s the difference between comparing a dormant tree to a skeleton, versus a pole. It’s the difference between being moved by intense passion, versus being beyond feeling any emotion whatsoever, the soul huddling under a blanket. Bronte lovingly describes a living landscape that sparkles, shrouds, wanders, and tears asunder; McCarthy writes a bleak, dead, wasteland, which simply exists.

Since it’s my blog, I can be so audacious as to take a passage from my own book for further comparison.

There were grass-covered hills in all directions, as far as she could see, not like CGI vermilion grass, but a whole palette of beiges and rusty reds, with only hints of yellowy green at the roots, as if it were hiding. Sable-black and deeply evergreen trees huddled in lines between the hills, but up high, there was nothing to break the horizon, the sky meeting the gentle slopes of the hills, coming all the way down to the human-littered valley behind her, laying over the land like a giant, dark, cloud-heavy dome. It appeared solid and impenetrable, and Maeve noted with irony that she felt almost claustrophobic, or was it the opposite, wasn’t she feeling a faint impulse to curl up and hide in the tall grass?

I didn’t quite make it to 53; the longest sentence is 51 words. It is long, still. But the Flint Hills roll on, layer after layer, and it takes a long sentence to speak them. I’m not Charlotte Bronte, it’s clear; but I do intend to keep writing and getting better, and I will write sentences as long or as short, as descriptive and adjective-laden, as passionate and emotionally intense as my subjects require.

What do you think?


Which, And Which?

Since we closed the motel, we have this constant question: what are we going to do? Will we ever re-open? Will we sell? Are there other choices?

We probably can’t afford the place if it’s not producing income. Unless we could produce more some other way. Kevin has a 9-5, and I’m still massaging, but all I really want to do is write. I say that, but from day to day, my choices indicate that what I really want to do is be a mom, and a Girl Scout leader, and work on a farm (but only one day each week), and anyway, writing has yet to pay off financially.

The new age people tell us to visualize what we want in order to manifest it into our physical world. If we didn’t own a motel, would we buy a house? I like to look at houses. I read the auction notices posted around town, or look at the pictures in the window of the local real estate office. Would I like that house? What changes would I make? Would that one be big enough?

Usually not. We live in about 1700 square feet now, and it doesn’t have space for all the ideas I have about what I want to do. I want a study for writing and crafts, I want my elder daughter to have her own room, I want space for massage therapy, which I’d have to rent elsewhere if I didn’t have a room in my home.

If it’s more rooms I want, I have them right now. I have plenty, if I jump in and transform them to my purposes, like I did for this room for Kevin. I have all kinds of ideas for alternative uses of the space. The office could be a nice sitting room and library; two adjoining motel rooms might become one large, open room for yoga or Girl Scout meetings. But how would that impact the salability of the property?

The indecision is uncomfortable.

Yesterday I took a walk in Strong City. I saw a couple cozy gabled houses nestled in the shade of lots of trees. They looked cool and inviting, though perhaps not big enough. They probably have rooms with different shapes and sizes, laid out in ways no other house is laid out. The younger daughter wants to live in a house with stairs. But that shady yard couldn’t support a vegetable garden, and those cozy rooms probably lack natural light.

On the other side of the street were some houses I hadn’t noticed before, ranch style (yuck!) with wide open yards and an incredible view of the town, the Cottonwood valley, and fifty miles beyond. Wouldn’t it be grand to live right up under the sky, inspired by that expansive space that fully invites you to breathe?

Not for the first time, I find that knowing what I want may well be the better part of achieving it.

If you could live in any kind of house, what would it be like?


Fair Warning

It’s a good time of year to tell everyone: I brake for butterflies. I slow down for wildflowers, and I skid to a stop for a turtle in the road.

Unknown butterfly


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