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.

Category: life is a train wreck

Fixing the Broken

I knew it would be our last Christmas here, so I pared down the decorations and mementos so that I wouldn’t have to go through them all again before we move. I dug up boxes of ornaments and lights from various disused motel rooms where they’d been put away. I tested strings of lights and donated the ones that worked, I carefully chose which decorations were meaningful to one or more of us in the family, and ruthlessly got rid of the rest. What I saved, I packed as compactly as I could, so we won’t have to move more than one bin.

Every year I make a point of storing all the Christmas things together, but somehow there are always other boxes—even some empty ones— in different places, that I find years later when I’m looking for something else. Some of my favorite ornaments I haven’t seen in so long, I wonder if I dreamed their existence. But moving time is getting closer than ever, so this week I forced myself to go into a room full of junk and take out some boxes for sorting. And there it was, underneath a couple boxes of decorations I didn’t remember we’d ever had, the lost box of tree ornaments. It was labeled, “Christmas ornaments ’06/ Don’t lose.”

box of ornaments

There was also a bundle of tissue. Whatever was inside was surely highly fragile, as it was wrapped in layer after layer which I had to unwind one at a time. It turned out to be a primitive ceramic nativity. My mother-in-law must have given it to us, as she has one like it, from one of those non-profit organizations that employ impoverished people making crafty stuff for the relatively wealthy. I’m always a bit hesitant to get too religious about Christmas, and this thing had been packed away so long that surely it has no particular meaning or sentimental value to any of us. It would be easy to get rid of.

Nestled in the hollow was another tissue bundle. When I finally got it unwrapped, it turned out it was protecting the chunks that broke off the main piece, when, presumably, somebody dropped it. It appeared fixable. Someone had wrapped all the pieces together with great care, and stored them for a day when they could be repaired.

The obvious question is, why not just glue it, instead of making all that effort to save it for later? And the reason is that I was incapable of fixing things then. Much more vividly than these objects, I remember the utter despair I felt as I dragged myself up out of postpartum depression. In winter of 2006 I had a two-year-old, and was newly pregnant and terrified that I would have to recover from a surgical birth with a newborn and a toddler to care for. I was afraid the depression would win this time around. I had no money or insurance and, outside of my immediate family, all my friends were impossibly distant. The unexpected surgical birth had shaken my confidence, and I was unable to make decisions or take on even minor responsibilities. I felt too fragile and broken to fix myself, much less anything else.

But I did fix myself. Very slowly I made connections, I found tools, I found my voice. I started doing things I knew I couldn’t, and succeeded at some of them. I learned to manage my mental state. I rebuilt my shattered self-confidence, stronger than ever. I survived.

Now the two-year-old is fourteen, and the shrimp that was floating in my belly in 2006 is taller than I am. She will soon be twelve. As we prepare to move on to our next stage, I have found and repaired other things, and made new ones out of old things. I fixed this one in about three minutes.

It was almost as if I had some tiny bit of hope, twelve years ago, in my depression: that some day I would be better. Like a letter to my future self, I saved this broken item as best I could, for the time when I would be a person who could fix it. And now I am, so I think I will keep this one as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ll find space in the bin for one more item.

Ceramic nativity-2

Crying in Church

I cry in church. Not necessarily every week, but I’m an easy cryer in general and the setting is conducive to introspection. I don’t see it as anything bad, and I don’t need anything from anyone else. It’s more a sign of a place in me that needs my attention.

Today I was there in the pew and a couple rows ahead there was a little baby waving a toy and telling everyone about it, and her dad was watching and smiling. Right then the preacher was talking about the prodigal son, and how his dad was so filled with love and joy and pride to have his son back. And the way these parents were with their baby seemed like a beautiful illustration of such love and pride. I know it well, as a parent myself. There is probably nothing my children could do that would make me not love them. When they do things I don’t like, I don’t hesitate to tell them what I think about what they do, but even so, they are beautiful and brilliant and I am proud of them every minute.

So there’s no reason for what the preacher said next to be a surprise. I kind of saw it coming myself, but it got me anyway: Naturally, the way we feel about our children is the way God feels about us. Oh my. I’m used to being forgiven, I count on it; and I’m not surprised when I feel Divine love in and around me; but God is proud of me? Really? I’d been feeling more wretched than usual this week for reasons that, in retrospect, don’t  seem to be that big of a deal, but my petty failings, my unremarkable life, my squandered potentials, all add up to something to be proud of? Impossible but undeniably true, because love is the best part of us, and when we are in a state of love is when we are closest to the Divine. That which comes of love must be of God.

That was what made me tear up, and it surprised me how hard it hit me. It took the rest of the sermon, two hymns, and the offertory before my eyes stopped leaking.

So God is proud of me. I don’t know why, I don’t understand it, but I will do some more examination of this concept and my feelings about it, and see what I come up with.

Do you cry in church?

adult adventure baby child

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Oracle cards, Wolves, the Work In Front of Me

animal cold color fog

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Somebody gave me a deck of Earth Magic oracle cards, and I only kept them because I liked the art a lot. It was created by an assortment of artists, expressing a healthy variety of cultures and styles. Later I saw that Hay House was offering a free class in card reading, so I started watching that, and playing with the cards a bit more.

Thursday I did a lot of running around doing errands and things, and I got really down about how difficult they were. There were some things that went well, or without difficulty, but others just couldn’t happen, and they seemed to throw the whole day off. Later I was at home looking at Facebook and saw a picture of an emaciated polar bear struggling to stand. I’d seen the photo before, but this day it felt like a punch to the gut. I didn’t let it go.

I respectfully request that if you’re going to put distressing pictures in my feed, you give me (at least) one solid action I can take to change the situation.

Otherwise, you’re just asking me to suffer to no end, I replied.

Did I tell you I was lobbing this complaint at one of my favorite astrologers, Rob Brezsny? I’ve been reading his astrology reports since the 90s, and he has 116,000 followers. I may have slightly annoyed him, and he actually posted several replies. One of his replies included a quote from Julia Butterfly Hill: So often activism is based on what we are against, what we don’t like, what we don’t want. And yet we manifest what we focus on. And so we are manifesting yet ever more of what we don’t want, what we don’t like, what we want to change.

“So for me, activism is about a spiritual practice as a way of life. And I realized I didn’t climb the tree because I was angry at the corporations and the government; I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. So it is my feeling of ‘connection’ that drives me, instead of my anger and feelings of being disconnected.

Wonderful idea, but, I thought, my hikes on the prairie and nature poetry are apparently doing fuckall for the polar bears.

Later he came back with this: How can we influence people to stop their extermination of nature? How can we motivate people to stop committing genocide against animal species?

Express smart love for the interconnected web of life.

Celebrate the fact that there are other forms of consciousness and intelligence besides just the human kind.

Embody the hypothesis that spending time in wild places enhances one’s mental hygiene and physical health.

Value the feminine as much as the masculine.

Cultivate the art of empathy, and demonstrate how to make it work in everything you do.

Show what it means to think with your heart and feel with your head.

Stay in close touch with the Mysterium, the other real world that is the root of the material world.

Vow to bring the I-Thou dynamic to bear on all your relationships.

Be as curious about intimacy as you are about power.

I’d been working on my attitude in the meantime, trying to remember how I deal with these kinds of things. It was something about supporting wholeness among the people and community around me, and having faith that the Divine is in control of the rest . . . and I heard a similar message in Brezsny’s advice. But still, if that makes a difference, why are bears still dying?

Finally it occurred to me to pull a card from the Earth Magic deck. What to do, how to live in this world. The card that came up was Wolf, keyword Instinct. When I looked at the card, I immediately thought of a story I’d seen in the news a couple days ago, about red wolves.

Some scientists were studying the DNA of coyotes in the southeast, and they found, to their astonishment, that the coyotes were carrying red wolf DNA, some forty years after the species had been declared extinct in the wild. We thought they were gone, but they were still here, in an unexpected way, transformed into a different kind of animal.

The second story I thought of when I saw the card was about how wolves had been reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. They were exterminated in the 1930s and brought back some sixty years later. With their presence, the elk began behaving differently, not hanging around the water and meadows all the time, but moving around more, going into the forest for cover. Then the trees by the water grew back, which attracted beavers, which created habitat for fish. The trees also provided habitat for birds. The wolves reined in the coyote population, which made more space for rabbits, rodents, and foxes. Twenty years after wolves returned to Yellowstone, the park had greater diversity of plants, animals, and insects than it had seen in decades.

What I saw in the card, for me this day, was that the wolves didn’t do anything special to bring about this change. They didn’t see a problem and set out to fix it. They didn’t fly up to the North Pole with a thousand pounds of meat to feed the bears. They didn’t organize all the other species and try to get them to change. They didn’t write letters or protest or install solar panels. They didn’t fret over the fact that they left Oregon two years too early to sit in that tree with Julia Butterfly Hill. All they did was be wolves, following their instincts, behaving in the ways that wolves do. Their presence changed everything.

So this is my task, then: to be what I am, to be as honest and present as I am able. To follow my instincts in doing the work that is here for me to do now. To participate in my community. To hold faith that this is enough, that my presence is changing the world in ways that I will probably never know.

Mind vs. Body

Dang, but my poetry is messy these days. It’s why I haven’t been posting much, though I’m still writing. I feel like everything needs major work before it’ll make any sense whatsoever. This one is a perfect example, but I think it’s kind of about the messiness while demonstrating it, so I’m posting right away, and you can take it or leave it.

Mind vs. Body

What does the body mean,
when it changes or moves
or doesn’t move? This
conglomeration of tissues, organs,
fluids, that somehow manages
to be one animal, presided over
by a mind which thinks itself
separate. Godammit, listen to me,
the body says. Things are changing
and we need time to adjust. You
off floating around in outer space,
pondering unimaginable enormities
while we are down here performing chemistry,
digesting molecules, identifying that which
needs to be gotten rid of, constantly breathing,
pumping, organizing, keeping house.
Give us a freakin break.
Okay, says mind, but there’s
a little thing called a checkbook.
It’s just a thing to you, but to me
it represents abstractions that,
long story short, are relevant
to stuff you care about, like food,
and a comfortable bed to sleep in.
Don’t get me started on geopolitics and
petrochemicals—
Oh for heaven’s sake, shut it.
Balance your goddam checkbook
instead of yoga, we get it.

It goes on like that all day,
mind and body struggling
to get their needs met,
both knowing they need each other,
but not sure exactly why,
or what they’re even talking about.

Black Tangle

Pinwheel

It could take a year to get this place in order,
but I have to sell quickly. And I have to give
it over to the next owner with my whole heart,
with love and joy. So today I’ll plant this stone
flower box, with mums, because it’s late
in the summer, past the season for annuals.
The box is overgrown with perennials that
no longer flower, and volunteer white heath
that flowers too late. Oddly for August,
there’s new green growth under the black tangle
of last year’s moldy stems. I grab handfuls
of dead stuff, roly-polies scatter. Oh roly-polies,
cute dry-land crustaceans, I remember now
why I hate you. How many times have I
planted mums here, how many times
did you kill them? How many gallons
of water did I carry and pour out
for that which was doomed? I remember now
the full heart I put into this place, the
hope I held. How bitterly I gave up. How
intimate I’ve become with the word failure.
Why am I doing this? Love and whole heart,
oh yes. These blooms will be bright and pretty,
if only for a short while: that’s all I need.
Give me a week to show the place, then
let it be someone else’s job. I leave
a chunk of gangly mystery flower, move
the native late-bloomer a few inches
to make space for today’s fresh batch.
No normal person would find beauty
in these weeds, but I am a master of rescuing
the unwanted, of seeing beauty where others
see trash. The beer-can pinwheel isn’t a loss,
yet. I turn it to the slight breeze, watch it jiggle.
Every time I think it’s slowing to stillness,
another whisper wakes it. It never quite dies,
never really spins.

Solstice Dream

“. . . the Cancer Solstice pulls us within to explore the deepest desires of our heart, while also calling us to express our feelings and visions in our wider community, finding appropriate forms and mediums through which to communicate our message.”Gray Crawford, astrologer

I was going back to school, my alma mater, Knox College. But I was going into a graduate level program in some kind of health field, something that would lead to a professional career that would build on the healing work I’ve done as a massage therapist for the last twenty years.

I met another student with whom I would be working frequently. She was young, just out of undergraduate study, and she was enthusiastic and energetic and made friends with me immediately. “So, what number would you call me?” she asked. I didn’t understand. She explained to me that it had always been her fond wish that someone would give her a numerical nickname. “So what number am I?”

How on earth could I give somebody a number? Numbers are so impersonal. “Well, what’s your favorite number?” I asked, but she was gone, leaving me puzzled and amused at the idea that somebody would actually want to be known as a number.

Looking over the curriculum, I read that some students in this program still had their Hematology textbooks, which would come in handy. Hematology? I know nothing about that. I knew many of the students in this program had come from the nursing field, but I hadn’t thought it was a requirement. I must be in way over my head. Maybe I should drop the whole thing now, before it went any farther.

But, the school had accepted me to the program. They knew my history, and clearly believed I could succeed. If they believed in me, why shouldn’t I? It would certainly be a big challenge, but I could tackle it, with determination and my natural ability to learn. I could get through this education, and graduate, and go into a serious professional job, with responsibilities and a salary, more money than I’d ever made. I could support my family.

And it would be a full time job, and I would not have time to write anymore. I would never write again. The pain was visceral, wrenching my gut, the realization that I would never be a writer again. How could I possibly have chosen this? How could I live with this choice?

Journal 2

Bad Friend

Writing is like a needy, bad friend who comes
uninvited and never leaves. She plants
herself on the couch, turns on the tv,
lights up a cigarette. “What’s for dinner?”
I try to remember all the good times
we’ve had together, the light that
would radiate from the space between us
when we were deep in conversation, the
magic tricks she used to entertain me with,
but I can never get anything done
when she’s in my life. She eats all the food
and sighs when I ask her to move her feet
so I can bissel up the crumbs. Day after day
she’s on the couch, chain smoking,
channel surfing, demanding my attention.
It wouldn’t be so bad
if she’d kick in a hundred now and then,
but ask her for money and she just
sticks her hand in her pocket and pulls out
a couple crumpled singles and some change.

Kick her to the curb. “Get out of my house,
bad friend, Writing. You’ve driven away my
true friends and put me in debt.” But
she’ll never leave, nightmare witch girl
who keeps coming back,
no matter how brutally I beat her.

She’s gone, now, but not far. A hint of smoke
drifts in the window from the trees behind the back yard.
I hear her cough, lurking there, waiting.

Saturn Square Neptune

Everything at odds with everything else.
The refrigerator heats up the kitchen.
The air conditioner gives the kids nosebleeds
and the washer backs up the kitchen sink
and leaks water somewhere under the floor.
The clothesline runs through a gauntlet
of chiggers. Bug juice and sweat and
I shower and change into clean clothes.
Mud oozing up between the tiles.
And health insurance. Whole days lost
to the phone and the clock and the
checkbook. The premiums are
so high I can’t afford the deductible.
Maybe some yoga will detangle things
so I can write. I focus on my breath until
it’s too late to write. Do you see what I mean?
Sometimes everything hinges on
everything else, but sometimes everything
is a dog fight to the death
of everything else. And this blue-white light
through my core: is it lighting me
from within? Or splitting me apart?

Fifth Disease

A bit early, I did a semi-annual review of my goals for the year, and was pleased to see that I had made good progress. But there was still so much I wanted to do. I bought a planner so that I could visualize how it was all going to fit into the rest of the year.

It wasn’t even the solstice yet before I hit a wall. I couldn’t get a thing done. If it could conceivably be put off, it was put off. I’d made exciting plans to do some renovations in the spa, which would concur with raising my prices; but suddenly nothing felt worth the effort. Instead of pushing myself to do just a bit more every day, I was doing a lot less. I was antsy to write (how long has it been since I last blogged?), but it wasn’t in the planner till July, and I wanted to be making more money for massages I’d be doing along the way. On top of that, working out the summer schedule of gymnastics and camp and swimming lessons made me feel like a personal assistant to my two children, and I’d always known I’d be a terrible personal assistant. I can’t even do that stuff for myself.

The I got a rash all over my body, and I put together a veritable list of disparate symptoms which had affected me or my younger daughter or both of us, she a week ahead of me. Headache, low-grade fever, malaise; which disappeared, followed by a red rash all over the body. It sounded like fifth disease. It’s not a very serious disease, and probably half of adults have had it, but most don’t even remember, or didn’t have noticeable symptoms at all. She’s already forgotten about it, but I got one symptom she didn’t: aching joints all over.

Now, I’m only on day three of the aching joints, but it is a little disconcerting. Is this what it feels like to be old, or to have rheumatoid arthritis? Taking epsom salt baths and doing slow yoga before even attempting to make breakfast? It was worse today than yesterday, but I could work through it; when a client didn’t show, I went back in the house to lie down and meditate upon this condition. Failing that utterly, I went to the internet. RA Warrior discusses the similarity between the joint pain that often accompanies fifth disease—particularly in adults, particularly in women—and rheumatoid arthritis. So I looked up the symbolism of rheumatoid arthritis, and found this from Misa Hopkins:

“Rheumatoid arthritis is about being angry with yourself for what you did not do or accomplish that you think you should have done. It includes a deep criticism of authority and a feeling of being very put upon.”

Well, that hit a nerve, even as I thought, I forgive myself so much. I really do, I’ve worked hard at it. It’s just that I want to write, without my family having to make sacrifices to support me in it.

Perhaps 90% of people who get joint pain from fifth disease recover completely, usually within two weeks. I intend to do whatever is necessary to make sure I am one of them. See me writing, right now?

Made for me by dear friend Amy Carlson (yes THE Amy Carlson!)

Made for me by dear friend Amy Carlson (yes THE Amy Carlson!)

Vulture Gifts, and Crying at the Laundromat

The turkey vultures were late this year. I’ve recorded their spring arrival on March 18, or as late as the spring equinox, but it was the 30th and I’d only seen three solitary birds yet. The weather was favorable for them, and prairie burning had begun. Where were the vultures?

I was beginning to worry. Had something happened to them? On other continents, vultures have been greatly stressed due human-introduced toxins. I hadn’t heard of such difficulties in the Americas, but turkey vulture’s range is so extensive, who knows what could happen that I wouldn’t hear about. Did inclement weather delay them?

Maybe because of Saturn retrograde, I’ve been having difficulty moving forward these past couple weeks. We finally got the sewer fixed (blessings on those who work on sewer lines), but it’s still a struggle to move the crap out of the house. I was going to clean things up while Kevin was on a business trip, but . . . I did other things instead, I guess. Still have to take the laundry to Emporia, and I left a big bag at home inadvertently. Clearing, cleansing, completing, the hardest part of life for us, I don’t know why. And it impacts the beginning stages of the next project.

For all these reasons, I was getting pretty worked up about the vultures. What if they were disappearing, like honeybees and monarchs? I need their gifts, desperately: the force of transporting that which has expired to its next incarnation, making room for new life. I got teary at the laundromat, thinking, I don’t know if I can get by without them.

(It didn’t help that, while folding laundry, I stumbled onto this sad Amanda Palmer song.)

I looked for them whenever I went by their roosting spot in Strong City. Yesterday the sun was setting as I took the kids home from Girl Scouts and soccer. It was just the time in the evening when they should be settling down. Where were they? I told the girls they were missing. Rowan said, “Are those vultures?” They were on her side of the car, though, and I couldn’t see them while driving. But they went right over us, low, and yes. “Yes! Two! Three!” And they glided into a nearby tree to join three dozen others already perched, as if they’d been there forever.

The turkey vultures have returned, and the cycle of life expanding, contracting, and rebirthing itself can roll on. Thank you, friends, for coming back.

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