Veronica's Garden

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

Category: life is a train wreck

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.

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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?

Flight of Unknown Birds

For Lent I gave up writing, and being a writer, and talking and writing about writing. A friend asked why, and I told her I couldn’t tell her until Easter. Truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure myself. But it turns out I’m not that good at keeping a Lenten vow, so here’s my answer.

The Flight of Unknown Birds

Coming over the ridge in the winter-golden hills
light angling toward the endless horizon
as it only does in late winter in Kansas.
How is it I have come to love this place
so deep in my viscera, rooted in me
in a place before words. Bald eagle lifting
into flight. Blood splattered on the road.

I should hit the brakes, grab my camera,
shoot, but I’ve done that before at this very spot,
more than once. No photo ever satisfies.
Only this moment itself can express
this moment. All beauty is unspeakable;
truth, inexpressible. In the back seat
my daughter bends her head to a book,
oblivious.

I have tried to quit writing for the spite of it.
Even walking away from certain failure,
I know I’ll come back. The light in winter,
the flight of unknown birds: all existence
is poetry. There can be no being apart from it.
I’ll write long after I’m dead, until my bones
disintegrate into the earth.

Winter Prairie 3

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, and my just-released monster erotica story is going nowhere.

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.

Why Intentional Parenting Is So Much Harder

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

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. At those times, sometimes, people 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.

Divine Comedy

“I believe that reality is a sublime comedy staged for my education and amusement, and that there is a benevolent conspiracy to liberate me from my ignorance and help transform me into the unique masterpiece I was born to be.”

My favorite astrologer, Rob Brezsny, posted these words on facebook recently, with an invitation to say them out loud. I loved it so much I wrote it on a piece of paper and taped it where I would be sure to see it frequently, on the window above the kitchen sink. While washing dishes I would read it aloud, practicing different inflections, two or three times a day.

I made a small change, from “was born” to “am born,” which, in my opinion, didn’t change the substance, simply the location (past vs present). But I kept wondering about the comedy part, which seemed too important to change. Of course I am free to change anything I want, but if I wanted to learn from the statement, I thought I’d best work with it as it was written. Thing is, I’m not so much of a comedy kind of person. I enjoy good humor and laughter, but generally if I were picking a movie to watch, I’d be more likely to choose a drama, something serious and thoughtful, or something spacey and beautiful with lots to think about, like the last movie I saw in a theater, Gravity. I’ll go to a comedy when the family wants to see something together, or with the kids. Why does my life need to be a comedy?

Then again, people often tell me I take things too seriously. Maybe the comedy part was precisely what attracted me to this particular quote in the first place. Maybe that’s what I need to learn from it, which I won’t, if I change it.

I stuck with it for a few weeks, until I hit a patch in which I was overcommitted and not really washing dishes all that much anyway, and didn’t feel much like laughing at the serious pursuits at which I was working so hard. What’s funny about washing motel linens and cleaning rooms, then doing housework? Ho hum. Not necessarily unenjoyable, -I wasn’t unhappy- just not particularly comedic.

Not surprisingly, I got sick, and tried to deny it longer than usual, because there was so much going on that I wanted to do. At the end of a full week, I had signed up to go to a leadership conference in Salina, hosted by Girls Scouts. It’s one of the good things they do that are paid for by all those cookies and merch. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I didn’t want to skate through leading a troop by doing the easiest activities, and whatever is entertaining. I wanted, through leading Girls Scouts, to present experiences and tools that will help the girls as they go through their lives, facing difficult choices and challenges when no one is there to guide them.

So, naturally, this is where the comedy set in. The night before, I was coughing too much to sleep well. I rose early to make time for a long drive. I took a long shower, trying to clear my lungs, then dressed in the dark, to avoid disturbing Kevin. I couldn’t find any of the clothes I’d thought I might wear. It occurred to me that I’d had an image of myself as a professional, but the first outfit I could put together consisted of some threadbare leggings and an oversized sweatshirt, with a scarf added for the sake of accessorizing. It seemed like a theme perfect for a sitcom. We’ll imagine, perhaps, a mash-up of Dharma and Mary Tyler Moore, who wants desperately to present herself as a competent professional, but barely manages to show up in a ragged, casual get-up she might have worn two decades ago, in college.

Running late, but thinking she can probably still slip into the keynote speech without missing much, she arrives at the gas station and notices a nail in one of the tires of her vehicle. She’s able to drive to the tire shop, but ends up replacing two tires (it was a really good price, not to be passed up), and enjoys the fine young lads at the tire shop, who are contagiously cheerful and tell her about the many ways to use old tires in the garden and compost. She hits the road over an hour late, finding the light on the prairie on this lovely autumn morning is stunning. She misses the keynote speech altogether, and slides into one of the last seats in the first conference session, right behind a smartly-dressed lady in an expensive brocade jacket and trefoil earrings, whom she will not realize until later is the CEO of Girl Scouts in most of Kansas.

And a good time was had by all. Tune in next week for more rollicking hijinks when Dharma Mary scares customers away by answering the door in her nightgown, and through the haze of her gooey eyes, she momentarily thinks someone has sneaked into the house in the night and cleaned the bathroom sink.

I’ll admit some of the details above are exaggerated for effect. Some are not. Care to guess which are which?

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