Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

NaPoWriMo 2022, The Watcher

Like a bad relationship I keep coming back to, April rolls around and I am joining again in the NaPoWriMo fray. (That’s National Poetry Writing Month.) This time I do it with absolutely no pretension or intention of writing anything of any value, to which a certain friend said with deep approval, “Good.” Then it irks me that others are so ready encourage me to jettison my aspirations to write well and say meaningful things. It makes me wonder if they don’t think I do that when I’m trying, either. But nonetheless here I am. I’m writing a poem (most) every day because it was my resolution for the year to write five hours a week but then I basically quit altogether, and maybe this will get me going again. And everything I’ve written so far sucks so there is no chance I’ll submit it anywhere without at least making substantial changes, so I might as well post something here.

Interestingly, the themes and style are different than when I left off. Surprise, surprise.

The Watcher

fifty-one dollars isn’t a lot of groceries these days.
and not many write checks, but on Saturday night
she’s there, a handsome if casually dressed woman
with steel-gray hair and when the algorithm
rejects it and I’ve tried it twice and I call the manager,
it takes me back to a truck stop on a narrow highway
in mountains. Canada. Ugly clearing in the big trees
that some call medicine, I call watchers. They watched
as I tried to leave that man. You know the one,
I’ve told you about him, the gaslighter. The manager says
there’s nothing she can do and hands the handsome
and bewildered woman a form with a number she can call
and she pulls out her phone to call right there
and the manager takes her groceries someplace else
while she sorts it out but she says her girlfriend is
meeting her here then gives up and follows the manager.
I remember the desperation when my only credit card
was declined and I was abandoned to that man
in a dirt parking lot in the mountains hear the shrillness
in my voice yelling into the pay phone I made the payment
but it didn’t matter. I check out the next customer.
Everything is fine. She is okay. Fifty-one dollars
isn’t a lot of groceries. A little while later
I see her leaving with the cart, behind her another
woman with steel-gray hair, spikier, shoulders broader,
and I am grateful she has someone. She is not abandoned.
This is not mountain country, and I am the only watcher.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Do I Hear A Bell Tolling Somewhere?

I have (at least) two friends on social media who are in cancer treatment right now, one of whom who has explicitly and publicly stated that she does not expect to recover from this illness. Both have recently called to task their friends who have given them unsolicited advice and suggestions for how to manage the disease.

I am happy to say that I wasn’t one of the people they were calling out. However, while I don’t recall specific occasions, I can’t honestly say that I’ve never made this blunder. Because I have made it my business over many years to expose myself to models of wellness that are outside of mainstream thought, and I have put a lot of thought and study into understanding sickness and healing. I’ve immersed myself in a culture of wellness. So I actually do know more than the average person about healing practices, diets, supplements, philosophies, and modalities that may well be supportive of optimum health, even if they haven’t been proven using scientific methodology. If my own life were at stake, why would I need scientific confirmation before trying a treatment that might help, and wouldn’t hurt?

I’ve known many alternative healers over the last two to three decades, and too often, I’ve seen people (including MDs) speak to clients/patients in ways that did more harm than good. Giving unsolicited advice to a person with a terminal illness is usually a perfect example of such. Why do we do it, then? Sometimes, I confess, we may be hopeful of confirmation of ideas that we haven’t personally had the opportunity to test yet. Or, we are uncomfortable with other people’s suffering, because it reminds us of our own unhealed wounds; and we want them fixed so that we ourselves can feel better. Part of the job of being a healer is to know the difference between what we want for ourselves, and what we want for the client. Where the boundaries get muddy, the Shadow steps through and makes itself known. The Shadow’s demands for attention are pushed onto a person who is already tasked with managing illness and grief.

Health care choices are not only very personal, but complicated. And I may not understand or agree with someone’s choices, but my opinion is irrelevant. And everyone I know has access now to all the information in the world. If they don’t have it, it’s because they don’t want it. Not everyone wants to be part of an experiment, and if they do, it’s up to them, not me, to choose which one(s) they participate in.

So this is where I am. I have met my Shadow. I have witnessed miraculous cures as well as miracles that were not accompanied by the restoration of the body to vitality, and I accept that I cannot determine which kind of miracle is in front of me in this moment. I’ve released my attachment to outcome and redefined my understanding of “good” and “bad.” I’ve learned all these things, and today I’m learning a new one: If I were to offer advice today to my friend who does not expect to recover from cancer, the reason would be simply because I don’t want to watch her die. Even if she were mad at me and never forgave me, I could accept the loss of the friendship if there were a chance she could get some more time to be with her family, to live the life she’s always wanted, that she worked so long to get to.

I wish I did have some kind of advice to offer, some idea of something that might save her life. Maybe I would tell her, at least give her the option. But I don’t have anything. So I must resign myself to simply being present (from two states away), to listening to what she has to say, telling her I love her. I resign myself to accepting that I am helpless to fix or heal or prolong her life, any more than I can fix my own weaknesses. I resign myself to living in a world where life is fleeting, unpredictable, and out of my control.

And the last lesson is this: all the people I know who are dying today have said repeatedly, take time for the people you love. Be with them. Tell them you love them. That’s all there is to say.

Pointed Objects Are Not Allowed

Two of the more interesting young people at my new job were talking to each other in the break room. I chose to ignore the vibe of two people only interested in each other, because, hey, it’s the break room of a store that employs five hundred people. If you want to get intimate, go on a date. Besides, they were talking about poetry, so I sat myself down in a nearby chair and asked what poet he was telling her about. He said a name quietly so I couldn’t quite make it out, even the second time, so I just nodded while he told her about certain amazing poems in this book he had, and he texted her pictures of the pages for her to read.

Then I saw the front of the book, and realized he was talking about Anna Akhmatova. “Oh, Akhmatova!” He looked mortified and asked me if he had pronounced it wrong. Most likely I was the one who had mispronounced, but I didn’t actually know that, so I just shrugged. I thought about the Russian man who had introduced me to Akhmatova back in the 90s, and tried to remember how it sounded when he said her name, but I couldn’t recall it.

The person he was talking to said she has difficulty with poetry. He said she should read that one he had told her about, and he took a picture and texted it to her. Since he had the book in his hand, I said, “Let’s hear it.”

“What?”

“Read us the poem.”

She agreed that reading aloud is helpful to her with poetry.

“Well, I’m not going to read the poem right here,” he said, more embarrassed than ever. As if poetry doesn’t belong in the break room. As if poetry doesn’t belong everywhere people are, everywhere that there is human emotion, as if it isn’t already present everywhere that a person has ever existed, in every molecule of air that a person has ever breathed.

I would have offered to read it myself, but I wanted to eat my muffin before my break ended, so I quit with the conversation and looked out the window.

He went on to say that Akhmatova’s son and partner had both been imprisoned by the Soviet Union. I was sure she had been in prison herself. I remembered one poem in particular about how the prison officials were flummoxed by her getting a new tooth.

I kept thinking about the conversation all night. The next day I hunted down the book the Russian man had given me, because if I want to be able to hold an intelligent conversation on a poet, I should take a look at their book more than once every couple decades. It took a while to find, but I was sure I wouldn’t have given that one away in the great moving purge of 2019. The Russian guy, and all that. Finally I found it and as I pulled it off the shelf I realized I had been thinking of Irina Ratushinskaya. I never had an Akhmatova book, and though I’m sure the Russian man mentioned her name, it was Ratushinskaya he loved, and I could clearly hear in my mind his voice speaking her name thirty years after he said it, when he gave me the book. So Russian, with crisp vowels and consonants you could cut your tongue on. Irina Ratushinskaya.

I opened the book and it fell right to the poem about the tooth.

Of course, no one who knows their head from their butt when it comes to Russian poetry would confuse Ratushinskaya for Akhmatova. And I don’t work with that kid very often, but next time I do, I’ll make a point to tell him. Hey, guess what I did! You were talking about Akhmatova, and silly me, I was thinking about Ratushinskaya the whole time! Haha!

I amuse myself.

Also it has occurred to me that we need more poetry in the break room. It ought to be shared everywhere with glee and passion and urgency. If they can invite us to wear ugly Christmas sweaters, why not encourage everyone to read a poem whenever they’re on break, to anyone in the room? I’ll volunteer to go first.

Procrastination, My Superpower

Skipping some details, on Sunday I got a nasty cat bite on my hand. It’s distressing because I thought this cat and I had an understanding, and it could potentially interfere with both my work as a massage therapist and my new job bagging groceries. I had one appointment I had to put off, but fortunately the rest of the week was open, but it would be important to be able to work by the weekend. I was dismayed when my hand showed all the classic signs of inflammation. (Five points if you can name them!)

I knew the medical people would start with antibiotics and likely finish with tetanus and rabies shots. Didn’t want the former and didn’t think I needed the latter. I put off doing anything on day 2, and on day 3 I headed to urgent care, but on the way I stopped at the health food store to see if they had any monolaurin, which I had used with good result in the past for potential infections. They’d never heard of the stuff, but they had colloidal silver, so I bought it, took a dose in the parking lot, and went home to wait and see if it worked.

Today is Wednesday, day 4. It still looks red and swollen, and I struggled almost as much to type and wash dishes, so I figured any improvement in pain level was probably due to the NSAIDs I’ve been taking. I did a card reading for antibiotics, and all I got was some encouragement to use this time for writing. When a reading clearly answers a different question than the one asked, I take it to mean that there is a more relevant issue at hand (yeah, I said that) and whatever the querent is focusing on isn’t the point. So antibiotics or not, but they are probably faster than the not. I took some more colloidal silver and messed around the house, had some coffee, got an early start on prep for dinner, using my superpower of procrastination to avoid the inevitable.

Finally at 4:00 I brushed my teeth, checked my wallet for my insurance card, locked up the house, went to the car, got in and closed the door with my left hand. It did not hurt. I tested by pulling on the door handle again, a little harder, no pain. My hand is still red and puffy and I can’t get my wedding ring off, but the pain is noticeably better. I sat there for a minute or two thinking about it, looking at my puffy hand with just a little texture coming back into the skin. Then I got out of the car and came back into the house. Took another dose of silver. Sat down at the computer. I don’t have time to sit in a waiting room and go pick up a prescription. I have writing I need to do.

The culprit.

Thoughts About Sickness, Healing, and A Course In Miracles

Since this will be about healing, it might belong in my professional blog, but this is where I ramble and muse and, perhaps, say things that may or may not be thoroughly professional. So here goes.

A person receiving a massage recently asked me my thoughts about the concept of the body that is espoused in A Course In Miracles. (My exercise for today is I am not a body. I am free.) I didn’t have a good answer ready, though I’ve thought about the question at great length in the twenty-some years since I was first introduced to the Course. And the essential idea, that the body follows the mind, and that all illness or injury arises from thoughts held in the mind, wasn’t new to me even then.

It’s obviously a controversial assertion. The concept has been greatly abused by many, often as an excuse not to offer assistance to sick people. People who don’t know how to help a person frequently blame their problems on the one who is suffering, because it lets everyone else off the hook. Many people don’t see a way to accept that people have the power to heal themselves without placing blame and judgement on any person who remains ill. Further, when a person doesn’t recover, it is a grave disservice to tell them that if they would only stop harboring whatever bad thoughts they supposedly are thinking, if they really wanted it, if they would only pray harder or believe better, they would be instantly cured of their terminal illness. Or worse, to tell their survivors they died for lack of faith.

There is nothing in the Course that encourages any kind of blame or judgement, nothing that would suggest that a person who is suffering should be treated with anything other than compassion, kindness, and love. It does, however, invite those who are suffering to change their thinking.

One way that I have chosen to look at this question in the past was to think of healing not as a cure that “fixes” every problem or discomfort, but as a metaphysical shift that brings one into closer alignment with higher purpose. Sometimes this purpose is best served by recovering from an illness, to go on to do whatever the person is called to do in their life. Other times, their higher purposes might be served by going through a difficult illness. Or, it might be fulfilled by leaving the body altogether.

In all of these cases, it is not given to us to know or understand, but to be present in compassion and love, and to see every person we encounter as whole, holy, and one with the Divine.

What I’m getting from the Course is that, from there, the content of our actions—what we do with the body—is insignificant. Eat healthy foods, or don’t. Take the chemo, or don’t. Take the vaccine, or don’t. (I chose to take it, for those who feel a need to know.)

I first encountered the Course over twenty years ago, and the changes in my thinking that began at that time altered the path of my life. I will never be the person I was before I met this book. But it was only this year that I have followed the Course systematically, reading every day in order, start to finish. I can’t even imagine where I will be at the end of this year, when I complete the Course. But there is a passage that stood out to me regarding the body:

Sickness is a way of demonstrating that you can be hurt. It is a witness to your frailty, your vulnerability, and your extreme need to depend on external guidance…. It dictates endless prescriptions for avoiding catastrophic outcomes….The Holy Spirit teaches you to use your body only to reach your brothers, so He can teach His message through you. This will heal them and therefore heal you…. do not allow the body to be a mirror of a split mind. Do not let it be an image of your own perception of littleness…. Health is the result of relinquishing all attempts to use the body lovelessly.

I think the Course is promising an end to illness. If all illness arises from the belief in the possibility of separation from the Divine, then what higher purpose could be served by it? I’m not sure my earlier interpretation is accurate.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, or where it is going, or how to apply this thinking into my own life and practices. I only know that I will continue to study and explore, and I remain committed to seeing us all as one with the Divine, and to sharing that view at every opportunity.

As always, I welcome your responses to these ideas.

Since I have a new exercise every day, writing it on my arm helps me remember.

Grace

It started as a marketing strategy, to keep a list of clients who might want a massage but got hung up on scheduling. I would simply text them when I had openings, asking them if they wanted an appointment. If they didn’t reply, I would drop them from the list. It worked pretty well, but one of the drawbacks I noticed was that the number of late cancellations and no-shows went up. It turned out that some people want massage, but they have difficulty keeping appointments, for a variety of reasons that may or may not be under their control. I was, nonetheless, getting more business and making more money, so it was in my interest to forgive the inconsistencies.

What I learned was that, for some people, this is a profound grace that I can offer. Some people who aren’t good at remembering appointments feel deep regret every time they miss one, and it’s happened a lot over the years. They will forgo self-care to avoid showing other people the disrespect of their inadequacy. When they learned that I accepted and forgave them completely, they became very loyal, grateful clients.

(Note that forgiveness, as I learned from A Course In Miracles, is the recognition that as a part of the Divine, I—and you—can never be harmed in any way, therefore I don’t actually have anything to forgive anyone else. This is challenging, but much more liberating for everyone than thinking something like, You hurt me, but I forgive you.)

It’s commonly held among massage therapists that missing appointments is a violation of boundaries, and if we don’t hold clients accountable for it, they will lose respect for us and take advantage of our willingness to accommodate them. Maybe that is true for some people.

But for me now, I find that, sometimes, as much as people need work with their bodies, they need grace. They need redemption. They may have abused their bodies, they may not eat well, they may not exercise or do the stretches their other massage therapist prescribed, they may perceive that they are failing their bodies and their bodies are failing them in a million ways, but we can help them to make the most of what they have to work with right now. We can help them to come to better balance. We can help them to find peace in and with their bodies, and in and with the world. If we can forgive their failures, maybe they can forgive themselves.

This may be the most important thing any of us can do for anyone. What a wonderful privilege it is, so simple, so powerful, to be able to offer this grace.

We think these birds are pelicans. They fly over Austin occasionally.

You Like Me!

Woo hoo! A poem I wrote has been accepted into the We’Moon date book for 2022! I’ve been submitting to various publications for years now, and this is my first success.

Sadly for you, you’ll have to wait until next year to read it. For now I will give you a little something, a wee poem that the fine womyn of We’Moon did not choose for their publication.

The New Healer

She comes in the night like a dream,
unexpected but welcome.
I hold them out to her, my aching arms
like a box of broken toys.
But what is your name?
Roses, she says,
and I smell roses.

Covid Times

In covid times, we’ve been okay. We’ve been safe. We made masks and wore them. We avoid places where other people are. We’ve had precious few times when we’ve seen friends, at a park or in a back yard. We baked Christmas cookies, and delivered them to the neighbors, we learned new songs and new instruments, learned new software, and decorated our interior spaces. We’ve read lots of books and enjoyed sleeping in.

She doesn’t go to school anymore, she goes to her room and closes the door. But occasionally there are materials she needs to pick up, so yesterday we put on masks and warmed up the car and drove carefully through the treacherous weather, avoiding that one really bad intersection by taking a new route that we figured out as we went.

I pulled into the circle in front of the building. She was supposed to meet someone by the makeshift outdoor stage they built so they can still have plays. Of course, when they closed down the school, they cancelled all the shows, but it’s a performing arts school, so they haven’t been willing to let go of performance opportunities altogether. The stage was a simple plywood platform with not very much space in front of it, and we wondered where the audience would sit, how they would be adequately distanced. It would be a long way from the lavish productions they used to put on, with elaborate costumes and sets and choruses of dozens of dancers.

But as we pulled up, I was startled to see a marquee advertising a show, not the one they were rehearsing, but the one we saw there, almost exactly a year ago. It was an eerie anniversary, of that time we crowded into a theater and sat down close to hundreds of other people, unmasked and all breathing each other’s breath, and we were immersed in the play without a thought of contagion or death rates or ventilation systems. That was the last play before everything was shut down, and the sign had never been updated.

Now it turned out that rehearsal for the current show had been cancelled because of the weather. The campus was deserted. I stared at the sign as she wandered in the rain, looking for an open door. The sign hung right above the spot she used to sit after school, when she stayed after to hang out with her friends. Now she plays online games with some of them, but others don’t talk to her anymore, and she doesn’t know why. I wondered if things would ever be like they used to be, or would that sign hang there forever, advertising a show that had long played out?

She gave up on her errand and got back in the car. As we drove away, she was quiet. After a while, she told me she missed her school, more than she ever would have expected. I didn’t have any words of comfort.

grand hotel sign

Watching the Planets Shine

On New Year’s Eve I decided to make a vision board to facilitate the manifestation of what I wish to bring into my world in 2021. Right away I realized that I don’t feel I am lacking much, materially, in my life. I have a nice home, if a bit small for a family of four who used to live in a bigger space. I had enough money to pay all the bills in 2020, and we all ate every day. I have a family whom I enjoy being around, for which I am deeply grateful in these times when we can’t go many places or see other people. As I leafed through my collage morgue, I found myself drawn to some images that had nothing to do with material objects. Maybe I want to go caving, or look at the stars a lot, or gaze thoughtfully into space.

I don’t own the rights to any of these images. If you do, feel free to tell me if you’d like me to remove it or credit you.

I saw an ad with the text, “Dreamers Wanted.” Ooh, sounds like something for me. I don’t remember what the ad was trying to sell now, but the fact that it caught my attention alerted me that this was exactly what I myself want: to be wanted. I want my dreaminess to be something that can be of use, that can be valued by the world. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it’s how unmarketable I am. The one thing that I thought I was good at was massage, and I was already starting to question that when we locked down; now I don’t think it’s even safe for me or clients. Without that, I have no skills that are listed as requirements for any job. My resume could read, “Knows when vultures come and go in the Flint Hills of Kansas, can name five plant-based substitutes for eggs in baking, knows the lyrics to every song on the Flaming Lips album In A Priest Driven Ambulance . . .” How does it feel to be breaking apart?

Dreamers wanted.

So when I saw a vision board workshop offered by Colette Baron-Reid, I thought it would be a good opportunity to dial in that desire a little more specifically, tell the Universe in what way I would like to be wanted. I like that Colette’s approach is more spiritual and less materialistic than the vision board is often presented as. She gives daily journaling exercises. When I was assigned to choose two areas of life to focus on, it was easy for me to choose Career/Calling, and Passion/Creativity. I was supposed to think about how my creativity (which would be writing, for me) connects with other people, or ask, who am I sharing with? And that question stumped me. I submitted poetry throughout last year, and it never made the cut. I can probably count on one hand the number of people who read anything I wrote in the last year, and they were all friends. (It’s not a bad thing for friends to be my readers, it just means that I’m not reaching anyone through writing that I’m not otherwise connected with already.) Who needs what I have to offer? The question stumped me, and I ended up scrawling in my journal, “FACE IT, NOBODY BENEFITS FROM THE SHIT I WRITE.”

Should I manifest people who love my writing? Should I manifest myself into a person who is good at writing ad copy? Or should I just quit?

But I came back the next day for another try, this time journaling about commitment. And I wrote this:

Thing is, I love writing so much it makes me want to cry. Maybe all I need is just to do it, screw whether anyone else gives a shit. Screw sales, income, readers. I commit to doing it, and if The Universe wants anything more, it can make it happen. If somebody has so much to gain from what I write, they can trouble themselves to read it. I can be open to whatever comes, if it’s nothing, then I got the joy of writing it and my joy is as much as I have to give to the world. The rest is byproduct. I surrender all expectation of result from what I write.

Wow, that is liberating.

So, in 2021, I commit to dreaming. I commit to writing and being in the moment. I commit to blogging for all five of you, and to reading an oracle or Tarot card for the handful of you who watch my weekly videos. I commit to continuing to watch lizards and birds, and to editing my totally unmarketable novel about Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the matricide of the Divine Feminine by patriarchs, and to sprinkling it all liberally with obscure references no one will get. I bless the world with my existence, whether you like it or not.

This is my present to the world.

Massage In the Time of Covid

Almost ten months in, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. Some of my friends from the last job are working again, but as new cases and positivity rates continue to climb, it just looks reckless to seek out people to spend an hour with in a small, closed room. I wonder what will be the future of my profession, massage therapy.

On the advice of everybody on the freaken planet, I looked into the proverbial pivot. God, how I’ve come to hate that word. I investigated no fewer than three alternative businesses, and decided in turn that none was a good gamble. In August I did invest in new massage equipment and updated my holistic blog, with an eye to starting a house call business, but, you know, rising new cases and positivity rates.

Maybe it’s time for me to leave massage. Before the last job closed, I was starting to get the distinct feeling that several of my colleagues didn’t have a particularly high opinion of the work I was doing there. My retention rates were low, at best. I often felt a vague sense that the deep connection I used to feel frequently with clients just wasn’t happening. Perhaps I wasn’t the exceptional therapist I had come to think I was.

It seemed like part of the issue centered around the pain relief paradigm. Studio promotion in Austin focuses almost exclusively on pain relief. That makes sense, because pain is what brings people in the door. But what I find much more interesting at this time in my career is more esoteric; I always want to know where the energy is going, and what is the client’s relationship with their pain, and where they are and where they want to be in their lives. I never figured out how to address these kinds of questions in the context of fixing a pain and sending the client on their way with a couple stretches and some CBD product.

Today, for the first time in a couple months, I massaged a person who had been suffering joint pain for several months. I wasn’t sure I could fix it, but I knew there were other phenomena in the body that were likely related to the pain, that I could probably change for the better. As I got going, I noticed that my own energy was flowing, that massaging other people affects me in a powerful and healing way. Perhaps I need it in my life.

There was a part of the body that was locked up, and as it released, suddenly the client had a surge of pain. As it subsided, he told me that he could see how some of the patterns he was manifesting in his posture were reactions to the pain, habits that held the injury immobile and suppressed the pain. Releasing the patterns opened him to feeling the pain intensely.

This is a great observation, but the obvious strategy for a massage therapist would have been to fix the pain problem first, then let the rest take care of itself, perhaps with a little nudging. So once again I was left wondering if my blundersome approach is even consistent with calling myself a healer. I make so many mistakes. So many mistakes. Maybe all those people at the studio were right.

So goes the covid roller coaster. One moment I think I’m handling the uncertainty and limitations better than most, the next I’m staring into the gaping maw of my bottomless insecurities. I told my client that—when it’s time again—maybe instead of advertising that I can relieve people’s pain, I’ll advertise that I can bring them right smack back into feeling it. He though maybe in Austin that would sell.

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