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.

Gulf Fritillary

I haven’t done a lot of lep watching here in Texas, but lately I work in a parking lot pretty regularly and there’s a lovely shrub that grows there, which it turns out is called red bird of paradise, or pride of Barbados. The butterflies apparently find it equally lovely, or at least, delicious, so every once in a while I get a shot of one. I never hesitate to pull out my phone and take pictures of butterflies when I’m working. If anyone has a problem with that, well, I don’t care.

This one I’m 95% sure is a gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. There were two. The first preferred not to be photographed, but after it snubbed me, a second stepped in to pose.

New Release Coming Soon!

I’ve probably promised a print book before, but this time I am really really going to do it. It’s a book of poems entitled The Would-Be Lightworker. Whether I can get it out in time for Christmas remains to be seen, but it will be available through Ingram, which means that any bookstore can order it. I’ll let you know when pre-orders are open.

Meantime, here’s a little poem you will find in The Would-Be Lightworker.

The Would-Be Lightworker

The energy healers see us all as beings of light
temporarily inconvenienced by the body.
From light we came, to light we shall return
and the body nothing more than slimy residue
accreted from slumming it here in 3D, faint
clumsy echo of the true, eternal light,
balky mule that would as soon kick you in the gut
as carry your baggage.

And here am I, touch healer, would-be lightworker,
but always distracted by the body.
So perfectly adapted to life in three dimensions.
Bag of chemical reactions and tiny
electrical storms. The mechanics of movement
as intricate as a pocket watch, the puppet dance
of muscle and bone. And fascia. Oh, the fascia,
fabled tissue which envelops, lubricates,
supports and infuses, and alchemically changes form.
The words of the body, and the way they feel
in the mouth: Thixotropy. Integument. Telomerase.
Sacrum
. And the way the body hearkens to touch.
The valves with their endless opening, and closing,
opening, and closing, the taking in, the letting out.
And the body itself accountant and bard of it all,
every movement, every restriction,
every choice, trauma, and joy recorded
in muscle, fascia, bone, and cell. It’s not so bad,
the body, it won’t be too long before
we abandon this delicate chalice of separation
and suffering and sex, loose the limitations
and go weightless, formless, free, into the void
for our final reunion with the light.

Friends Old and New

We can drive from Kansas to Texas in a day, but the climate and the accompanying fauna and flora are different. I don’t recognize the common weeds in the yard. Even familiar friends like blue jays sing with a Texas accent, and I am slow to learn how to approximate their sounds closely enough that they can understand me.

After three years, we moved to a different house in another neighborhood. It’s a starter ranch style in the suburbs, built in the year I was born. It has a shady patio and a sunny front yard. If I owned the property, I would flip the yard over to xeriscape, but the lease requires us to maintain the lawn. I’ve been troubleshooting the irrigation system, and I’ve learned to manage the cord on an electric mower. But when I went to mow that little stretch between the sidewalk and the street, there was a sprawling creeper that I didn’t recognize, and I just didn’t want to cut it before I figure out what it is. At the very least I should wait until some of the buds opened so I could see what that flower would look like. I did pull some bindweed intermingled with it.

Then we went through a couple months of extreme heat and drought, so there was no need for mowing. The dryness was compounded by the failure of the sprinklers in that section. They only dribble a little water in the immediate few inches around the sprinkler head. Eventually there were green mounds around each head, and I was going to finally mow those down, but when I got there, I saw some pretty little blue flowers. Ah! An old friend! These were spiderwort, a native prairie wildflower that I knew in Kansas. I couldn’t mow them.

We’ve had some blessed rain now, and high temperatures have come down into the mid eighties, some days. The yard is shaggier than ever. My husband finally got out the mower again. He was kind enough to hold off on until I had a chance to take a couple of the sweet spiderworts and transplant them safely. Tangled into the spiderworts I met another old friend, some cat’s-claw mimosa. Some luscious violet-colored trumpets turned out to be not bindweed, but its slightly less-annoying cousin, wild morning glory. All in all, we have a stellar collection of prairie wildflowers.

Most of them did get mowed today, but they were established well enough that I’m confident they’ll come back. Meantime, I might think about ways to protect them. Now that I know their names, I have a vocabulary for justifying their presence in the neighborhood.

But what is that sprawling creeper with the big buds? I still don’t know. Help me.

Dress Glows Up

Back in the 80s, one of my hobbies was buying bits and scraps of fabric remnants for practically nothing, and wearing them. Because my sewing skills were essentially nonexistent and I was technologically averse, I kept the designs ultra-simple and stitched everything by hand. A bit of blue knit turned into a tube became a mini skirt that I tied up with a shoestring. Boxy tops were trendy, and I had two or three that I made from two squares of fabric. I eyeballed everything and adjusted the size and design as needed as I went along.

One remnant I bought was quite narrow, and it was hard to figure out a way to make it into a dress. But I loved the rainbow of candy colors, so I made a dress that was basically a tube, gathered up at the hips. I hadn’t the faintest idea how to shape the top, so I didn’t bother. My weight tended to fluctuate, so I could only wear the dress in thinner times, through college and into my twenties.

Through various moves, I probably should have gotten rid of the dress I hadn’t worn in over a decade, but I still loved the fabric. Eventually I gave it to my teen, who in turn outgrew it.

Some time in July, she came to me while planning for Austin’s Pride parade, which oddly takes place in August. I guess because she was so excited about it, she was planning her outfit a month in advance. The most rainbow-y piece she had was that dress, but it really didn’t fit. I thought about it for a bit and got an idea for a way to remake it into a new dress. If I made a backless top, I could reclaim enough fabric for a flouncy skirt.

By this time, I had learned to use a sewing machine (sort of), and had some successes with hacking fabric together into Halloween costumes, and, more recently, face masks. I don’t know how to draw, so I still do all the design in my head, and adjust as I go. After I made the skirt, it occurred to me that I could make a 2-piece skirt and top outfit, rather than a dress.

The project required a lot more time than I had anticipated, as well as the obligatory moment of cussing and wondering why I persist in punishing myself trying to do things I don’t have the skills for. I had the presence of mind not to throw the sewing machine onto the curb and leave it for dead. I finished the project the day before the parade, and we were both very pleased with the result.

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.
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