Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Dialogue with Harry

Harry Houdini, a famous magician, was born as Ehrich Weisz in Budapest, Hungary on March 24, 1874. His father, Mayer Samuel Weisz, was a religious scholar and teacher, who moved his family to Appleton, Wisconsin when Houdini was two years old. Harry enjoyed magic, especially “escape” stunts. He married Bess in July 1894 and she joined him in his act. He was a skeptic on the subject of spirits returning from the dead to speak to the living and spent time
debunking “spiritual mediums / tricks”. Houdini died from peritonitis on October 31, 1926. He told Bess that if it were possible, he would send a message to her “from beyond” in a code they had worked out. After his death, she held séances for 10 years never receiving their coded message. Each Halloween, members of the magic fraternity still hold séances in locations around the world.
Here’s my conversation with Harry:
Me: Hi Harry. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for your time. Is now a good time to talk?

Harry: Yes, of course. I remember the concept of time, even though it’s no longer applicable where I am now.

Me: Can you explain that?

Harry: I will try, but it’s something you lack the words for, so it will be difficult for you to understand. Where you are now, to understand, you need words and can’t visualize or grasp without the words. Time here is just a color, it’s just another part of what we see and feel here. You know about points and lines and solid objects? Time is just another aspect and not at all important. Here you flow from path to path, like a ball of yarn. Where the points touch, you can move to a different point. So there really is no “forward and backwards”, just change. And there are many other components that I can’t explain because I can’t break it down into something as simple as words.

Me: I’d like to understand that. Can you help explain?

Harry: No. I’m sorry, I can’t. It’s not a matter of trying harder to find the right words to help. There are no words. Here we have moved beyond seeing the world in words and pictures, so there’s nothing I can give you so you can see and understand what I understand. The only way you could is to come where I am, and it’s not time for you to do that yet.

Me: OK. I don’t understand, but I’ll accept. Let’s talk about contacting the living from where you are. You said that you would contact Bess if it was possible, but she didn’t hear from you. Can you tell me something about that?

Harry: I remember that vow, but it turns out that once I moved from the place you are now to the place I am now, that “coming back from the beyond” is silly. I now understand that it would serve no purpose and could cause harm.

Me: Maybe she would have just liked to hear that you were OK and happy.

Harry: I understand what you are saying. However coming back from where I am to where you are, even just in a greeting, would cause imbalance and chaos that you couldn’t understand. I am now in a state that would cause rifts and confusion in the basic foundation that is how you see and cope with the world as you know it. We couldn’t really communicate. It would be like a tree and a crystal trying to understand each other. There’s no common thread that allows for communication or mutual understanding or even mutual awareness. It just can’t be done. The only reason you and I are able to communicate is it’s a class assignment and you are using your imagination. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to explain this better.

Me: If you were going to give me one insight you now understand that is applicable to where I am, what would it be?

Harry: Understand that you are not isolated, you are not an individual. You cannot do anything that doesn’t impact the rest of the world as you know it. The world you are in is a web, where everything you see and smell and touch is connected. Each person, animal, insect is connected. When you make a choice, that choice vibrated through-out the rest of the web, like a hitting a key on a piano string. The vibration is felt and impacts other choices and decisions that are indirect to you but impacted by your decisions. It’s like the analogy “when a butterfly flaps its wings in Ohio, it rains in the Amazon”. That’s too simple, but that’s a picture for you to see.


Me: Everything? I can’t handle that. It’s too much.

Harry: I don’t mean for you to be frozen into inaction. Even that decision of inaction causes waves. What I mean is all your actions impact others. And you have an infinite set of choices before you. Sometimes even with an infinite set of choices, they all lead to the same “next step”. You have some things you need to experience or learn, you have some things that you need to do in order to set the needed vibration into motion. You are given the same thing over and over until you touch the right domino and it falls in the right direction.

Me: You mean there’s some higher power and master plan?

Harry:
Sort of. I can see where you would need to understand it that way. For where you are now, yes, there’s a “Force” that guides the options that appear before you and bring before you what you need to learn. It’s not cruel or bad or good. There is just a series of concepts you need to understand and sometimes the only way to gain understanding is to experience it. And sometimes you need to be the one to understand so that you can help those you touch also become aware and gain new understanding. You are all part of a web and it’s important that you live your life fully and with the purpose as intended.

Me: What’s my purpose?

Harry: I’ve just explained that. To live fully with the purpose as intended.

Me: But what is that purpose?

Harry: I can’t explain that. If I did, I would be exerting my views and my experiences onto you. It can’t be that way. It would result in an incomplete journey, an incomplete next step for you. You would hear my words, interpret them as you understand your world now, and go down unintended paths and not complete the journey that only you can complete. You, as you are, as you travel, are the only one who can fill that part of the universe. If you were to deviate, there would be a void in the pattern of where you are and where I am and it would cause the texture and pattern to be wrong.


Me: But…

Harry: Live your life. Try the unknowns. Work to communicate and understand all those around you and help them understand you. You do not have to write like Shakespeare or draw and understand like Leonardo De Vinci. You need to be you. That’s what’s needed. You need to help those around you be them. It doesn’t mean you sit and watch TV and become absent in life. It also doesn’t mean that you have to cause a revolution in your time as you would understand that. You are causing change as long as you live your life and fulfill your purpose.


Me: How do I know if I’m on the right track?

Harry: Listen to the quiet. Live your life. Live in the here and now. Pay attention to where you are, not where you were or where you are going. Now. There is only now. If you are checking things off lists or building lists of lists, you are not “now”. This will be difficult for you. It is one of your biggest learnings. But it’s vital to fulfilling your purpose.

Me: Thank you, Harry.

Harry: Enjoy your journey.

What is integrity?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary there are 3 definitions:
1. Rigid adherence to a code or standard of values; probity;
2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness; and
3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.
These are not “mutually exclusive”, but are added together to create a multi-faceted view on integrity. Like a gem, it might take on different hues and reflections when moved and held differently, but it’s still the same core.

Integrity, to me, is defined as “no conflict between thoughts, words, and actions”. This is consistent with the dictionary definition. Conflict in word and action would result in being divided against oneself, resulting in inconsistency in values. It’s difficult to determine “thoughts” so I must rely on “actions and words”. If those are consistent over time, I assume that they reflect thoughts as well. “Walk the talk”; if a manager at work tells me to work 8 hours a day and then he consistently leaves early, their actions and words don’t align and therefore integrity is lacking.

“Value” is an important aspect of integrity. It’s not just consistency over time and in “words and actions”. There is also a component of “ethics” in the realm of “value”, as in “standard of code or value”. According to Buddhist beliefs, this is reflected in compassion, represented by love, charity, kindness, and tolerance. Right Speech,, Right Action, Right Livelihood. I see this as “treating others as I want to be treated” as a vital part of ethics. This supports “consistency in thoughts, words, and actions”. I believe that offering up help is an important behavior and I try to do that consistently. From small actions like rearranging chairs, picking up trash, and making copies to larger actions, like donating a portion of my salary to environment education and turning my backyard into a “certified wildlife habitat”.

No conflict between thoughts, words, and actions consists of behaving the same way regardless if “anyone is watching or not”. It is difficult to judge what one is thinking, so the external “words and actions” is how consistency is seen from the outside. There is also an aspect of “consistency” that is a foundation to “adherence to code of values”; adherence can only be judged over times. If there’s an exception, if I keep extra money given to me during a purchase for example, it was an unethical behavior. However it doesn’t make me immediately an unethical person, therefore to be label , lacking in integrity forever. There are always exceptions and we human beings are full of mistakes and course correction as the mistake is realized.

We all wear “different frameworks” that cause “integrity” to change in scope, but not in definition. We belong to different groups (immediate family, work group, university).

Then as a citizen of the United States, we as a population also have integrity” and should behave as such. This means the values and adherence to those values must be part of the decisions and behaviors that we display. I don’t believe we act with Integrity since I no longer understand the values that we hold true. I don’t believe we have consistency in thought, words, and actions. We as a nation push our beliefs and government onto others and when they are unaccepting, we push harder, all the while declaring “we are a peace-loving people” and “in God we trust”. I feel the conflict and see the reaction from other people who aren’t being treated with care, as we want.

We as a population on Earth also have a framework of integrity. However, I believe the larger puzzle pieces of nations and religious differences, puts these into conflict so we don’t live fully with integrity. I don’t personally believe that we treat others as we want to be treated. There are wars which are not person against person, but nation against nation. We don’t live in a state of being unimpaired. As we think short-sightedly about the environment and peace, the whole of the human race is acting without integrity. We kill animals, burn rain forests for farming, push out to get more space for ourselves, including Native Americans and other indigenous populations. We are not looking for balance between what we perceive our needs to be and nature. I believe we have a huge disconnect between thoughts, words, and actions and therefore are not acting with integrity.

I’m unsure as to “what’s out there”, beyond Earth and this galaxy. I imagine there are other life forms and other beings; I find it hard to believe “we’re it”. And I would look to them to behave consistently with thoughts, words, and actions (in whatever form that might take) and adhere to their standards and values. I believe all beings regardless of location in the universe have a desire and goal to live with integrity.

Observations at Westin Hotel

The dark haired woman studies the red glass vase, holding it up to the light, turning it this way and that. She polishes it with a white cloth and holds it up again. She sets the vase down and picks up her bottle of water, tipping it back and draining it into her mouth. She adjusts her black eyeglasses and picks up the vase, putting it on the shelf behind her.

A man in a dark suit walks in. The clerk comes around the counter and walks over to stand by the man, both of them facing the glass on display. “Welcome sir, how are you?” She has a high voice. “We have work from about 70 glass artists, all from the Northwest, from Portland to Vancouver. If you need any help, let me know”.

She walks back to behind the counter and sits on the stool, which is short enough so her head looks like it sits on the counter. The man casually strolls by the displays, making the loop, pausing no where and walks out of the shop. The clerk gets up from behind the glass case, where there are jewelry boxes, the left side white boxes and the right side black. She paces back and forth behind the counter, ties the long red scarf around her neck and sits back on the stool.

The shop has bright white lights in the ceiling and along the wall. Blown glass, round discs and draped vases in bright oranges and blues, some with red rims or yellow lines. There are glass circles hanging from the ceiling on long clear threads. Bright and color everywhere. Moore than a dozen smaller pieces in all shapes, balls and wavy circles are held up to the ceiling by a clear plastic panel. Lights above the glass shine through, so some of the glass has brighter colors and the lines from other colors there are very visible.

The clerk gets up from her stool. A blonde woman in a maroon jacket walks in. She has a large white cloth and polishes the top of the glass counter top. She walks around to the back of the counter and both women sit on stools almost at the same time. They talk quietly to each other, the dark haired woman looking around and the blonde haired woman looking at papers on her lap.

A woman in a green sweater, with a large beige bag over her shoulder walks into the shop. The black haired clerk comes from behind the counter “Hi. We have glass from about 70 artists, all from the Northwest, from Portland to Vancouver. The glass that’s in this case is Mount Saint Helen’s glass. The green. And the pink is new. It’s been available for about four months.” The green sweatered woman walks over to the other wooden shelves with glass paperweights, browses for a minute and wanders out of the store.

The black haired woman walks over to the large stuffed bear sitting at the shop entry. It sits on a tall stool and has a long bright red patterned scarf tied in a bow around its neck. She straightens the bow, says something to the blonde woman still sitting behind the counter, and walks away from the shop and down the hall towards the lobby.

Eavesdropping / Time with Shirley (rewrite)

I’m sitting here at Starbucks with my iced mocha wondering what was I thinking when I said yes to Shirley’s invitation. I will claim temporary insanity or at least amnesia. Her phone call was from out of the blue and I let my guard down and agreed to this. It’s too late now. I can always hope for some big riot or car wreck that prevents her from getting here on time. I’ll give her the “10 minute professional courtesy” and escape out the back door. We’ll have missed each other and I will escape this un-wise calendar moment. Oh, damn, there she is at the counter. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe she’ll have changed… Maybe she’ll actually be happy and maybe she’ll want to here what I have to say. Yep, and maybe gravity will change or we’ll all get hit by meteor….

I might as well start this ball rolling. The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and I’ll be free. “Shirley, how are you? It’s been a long time! What’s new?” We do the “casual acquaintance hug thing” that seems to be required, even by people who don’t like each other that much. She pulls up her chair and bangs down her coffee. “Geez, it took forever to get here. That idiot cut me off when I tried to get off I5. Him and his big rig. Geez. What a gas hog. Did you see the price of parking? Where did you park? I ended up about two blocks from here. There was still time left on the meter so that was cool. Good thing. Every time I get coffee, the size is smaller and the price goes up. Geez this coffee’s hot. Did you know there’s hardly any difference between low fat and non-fat milk? Why bother? But I always order non-fat.” I wonder if the cringing feeling in my chest reflects in my eyes.

How am I doing? Amazing! Well, maybe I was wrong. Hope springs eternal. Maybe this will be a two-way conversation. I start off with my art classes and my latest creative endeavor. Part way through my third sentence, it finally filters through. She’s not listening. She’s not paying attention. She’s starting to spin up her thoughts on what she’s going to say as soon as I take a breath. I used to struggle so hard to make sure the “scales were balanced” and I got to talk and complain as much as Shirley. This is now actually funny. I can see her impatience start to spill over. I’ve played with her focus long enough. I stop mid-sentence. Go for it, Shirley. It’s like someone starts to play a recording mid-speech. I pause and she immediately launches….

“I was so upset when Gerald left. I took all the photos that he was in and threw them away. All of them. He broke my heart and I never wanted to see the bastard again. I took all his stuff and boxed it up and gave it to the Goodwill. Even his favorite shirt. That was the most God awful shirt. Ugly yellow, like it came from the 60s. Like the color of the stove. Harvest gold or some crap like that. Right up there with avocado. Geez. He loved that shirt. I hope it ended up as a oil rag in a garage. All the old photos. There isn’t a single one left. Remember Anthony? I loved that guy. He was such a great listener. I wished I hadn’t thrown that picture away. It was a picture of Anthony. I wonder where he is now. Gerald is such a prick. It’s his fault the picture of Anthony is gone.”

I realize, somewhere in the midst of Shirley’s dramatic colloquy that I don’t actually have to listen. I can shake my head, or give a comforting “humph” and that’s all that’s necessary. She’s happy and keeps on without needing any other feedback or response.

A dad and son, clearly headed for the Mariner game, catch my attention. The 5 year old proudly wears his Moyer shirt and complains he wanted the chocolate cookie, it is bigger. Dad says something reassuring, but it’s not bought by son. Dad asked if he was going to finish his cookie. Finally, after he asks four times, it must translate to “no” and he wraps up it up and sticks it in his backpack pocket. They both got up together and head towards the back of the store.

I watch another Dad and child outing. This time a six year old girl is wired for sound, bouncing and laughing and clearly glad to be. Dad sits back, relaxed, arm over the seat back, smiling at her antics. They clearly spend a lot of time together, very comfortable with each other. “Go up there, girl and get your drink”. He hands over some money and she bounces up to the counter. She gets her fruit smoothie and heads back to Dad. She leans over, gets a hug and bounces off to get a straw. I haven’t seen so much happy energy in a long time. It was contagious.
Oh, I’ve not been paying a lot of attention here. It’s probably way past time for a response, so I both shake my head and grunt, just to make sure. I have no idea where we are in the history, but Shirley’s clearly starting to wind down. There are pauses in her dialogue. It’s been relaxing to listen to “The Shirley Monologue” wash over me, like some radio talk show in the background.

I see Shirley check her watch and start to gather her coat and belongings. “We’ll have to get together again real soon. It was great to hear all about what’s happening and we would do this more often”. I nod my head and finally let a bit of a wise smirk hit the corner of my mouth. Yep, it was fun. I have no idea what she said, and she hasn’t even figured out I didn’t say much of anything. I’ll let the answering machine screen the calls and hope to remember that hanging out with Shirley is a bit like visiting the dentist – it happens every so often, not a lot of fun during, but feels good when it’s done. I hope that life treats you well, what ever that means to you. Bye Shirley. And we head our separate ways out of Starbucks and into the city.

A Walk to the Park (rewrite #2)

The air is still, but every now and then a small breeze flutters the leaf tips and then all is still again. Not enough wind to move the dried brown maple leaf on the ground near the bench. The grey blotchy clouds above are still. They block the sun and there are no sharp, severe shadows. All is muted and blend to dark under the larger trees and bushes. It’s such a quiet place, even when the car horn honks, it sounds way off in the distance. A bus clanks by, and a plane drones overhead. No harsh immediate sounds.

A man, sleeping with his arms crossed, lies on a bench near the garden, his jeans are dirty and a bright blue jacket covers his forehead and eyes. An English sparrow flutters down, with small heart-beat sound of wings, and lands nearby. It picks at the bread crumb specks on the ground. Looking up, surprised, it quickly flutters away.

The center garden is sun-baked dirt and a few weeds. There are dusty rocks and nondescript bushes surrounded by grey cement curbs, cracked and broken. Sunshine yellow marigolds. The orange trumpets of nasturtiums. Purple pansies and red poppies. The colors that should be here are long gone, missing the signs of life and youth.

Once this was a place for laughing children, who played hide-and-seek and tossed their bright balls, soft blankets spread on the grass for sandwiches and naps. Laughter and birds floated among the leaves. There were fewer trees then, still tall, but with wide open green and long soft grass. And when there was sunshine, it was bright and cast long deep shadows in the afternoon. This was a destination for families, and couples would walk along the path, intent on each other. The air felt light and sometimes someone would lean up against one of the old evergreens and nap in the sunshine.

With time, the buildings grew tall around the park and shadowed even the trees. It was still a destination, but now for business men, to escape their dry black-and-white worlds for a spell, and rest among the green leaves and colorful flowers. A place where women met and talked about their day. Children still played there and couples still walked the path, close, intent on only each other. The life of the city grew up around the park, but still the green and space felt good.

Now cars, traffic, and rush to get from one place to the next have replaced the stroll, wanderings and restful quiet. The shadows from giant buildings have leave marks on the park. It has become shades of grey green, the brightness evaporated. A place to go through, no longer a place to relax. No bright spots of colors. A place of green that doesn’t bring with it a feeling of calm and rest. Buses and cars wait for their turn at the light, before lurching forward. A sea-plane hums overhead. The paths now littered with brown dead weeds stuck in the sidewalk cracks.

Now and then there’s a pleasant surprise for those who look up from the sidewalk. A group of tall hydrangea bushes, with colors of the sky, light blues, bright blues, and violet. But it’s easy to miss these and to just quickly walk on by, intent on getting through the park and to somewhere else. No longer a place to wander and rest, it’s an “unsettled place” with people pushing on, heads down, hoping to never catch any one else’s eye.

Eavesdropping / Time with Shirley

I haven’t seen Shirley in a really long time. I’m sitting here at Starbucks with my iced mocha wondering what was I thinking when I said yes to Shirley’s invitation to “catch up”. I think I will have to claim temporary insanity or at least amnesia. Her phone call was from out of the blue and I let my guard down and agreed to this. It’s too late now. I can always hope for some big riot or car wreck that prevents her from getting here on time. I’ll give her the “10 minute professional courtesy” and escape out the back door. We’ll have missed each other and I will have escaped this un-wise calendar event. Oh, damn, there she is at the counter. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe she’ll have changed… Maybe she’ll actually be happy and maybe she’ll want to here what I have to say. Yep, and maybe gravity will change or we’ll all get hit by meteor… not very likely….

“Shirley, how are you? It’s been a long time! What’s new?” I might as well start this ball rolling. The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and I’ll be free. We do the “casual acquaintance hug thing” that seems to be required, even by people who don’t like each other that much. She pulls up her chair, bangs down her coffee, proceeds to complain about the drive, parking, cost of coffee, and the calorie difference between non-fat and low-fat milk. Oh, man, I hope the cringing feeling in my chest doesn’t actually reflect in my eyes.

She asks how I’m doing. Well, cool, maybe I was wrong. Hope springs eternal. Maybe this will be a two-way conversation. That would be great. I start off with my art classes and my latest creative endeavor. Then I start to talk about my up coming trip to the coast. Nothing big or flashy, just lots of walking on the beach and I’m actually hoping for rain so less people will be there. I’m enjoying my life and still am amazed with the satisfaction of small events. I used to be a Shirley “twin”, where life was meant to be suffered and dramatized. And there was actually nothing worse in the world than the focus of our current complaint or imagined transgression to be addressed and corrected. We didn’t want the thing fixed, God no, then we’d have to find fault with the fix or find another target. I remember those days and those feelings. And I don’t miss them a bit.

Somewhere during my fourth sentence and my hope that maybe things were different, it finally filters through. She’s not listening. She’s not paying attention. She’s starting to spin up her thoughts on what she’s going to say as soon as I take a breath. I used to struggle so hard to make sure the “scales were balanced” and that I got to talk and complain as much as Shirley. It used to make me angry that there was such an unjust level of sharing. I really do like who I’ve become. This is actually funny and it’s like conversing with a small child. Let her have her moment and audience. Somewhere mid-sentence, I stop. I can see her impatience start to spill over and I’ve played with her focus long enough. So for it, Shirley. It’s like someone starts to play a recording mid-speech. I pause and she launches….

“I was so upset when Gerald left. I took all the photos that he was in and threw them away. All of them. He broke my heart and I never wanted to see the bastard again. I took all his stuff and boxed it up and gave it to the Goodwill. Even his favorite shirt. That was the most God awful shirt. Ugly yellow, like it came from the 60s. Like the color of the stove. Harvest gold or some crap like that. Right up there with avocado. Geez. He loved that shirt. I hope it ended up as a oil rag in a garage. All the old photos. There isn’t a single one left. Remember Anthony? I loved that guy. He was such a great listener. I wished I hadn’t thrown that picture away. It was a picture of Anthony. I wonder where he is now. Gerald is such a prick. It’s his fault the picture of Anthony is gone.”

I realized, somewhere in the midst of Shirley’s dramatic colloquy that I didn’t actually have to listen. As she continued, I’d shake my head or give a comforting “humph”, that’s all she really wanted. She was happy and kept on without needing any other feedback or response.

I watched a dad and son, clearly headed for the Mariner game, 6 year old boy proudly wearing his Moyer shirt. Son was complaining that he wanted the chocolate cookie, it was bigger. They start young, I guess. Dad reassured son that it wasn’t bigger, but clearly son wasn’t buying that one. Then Dad asked if he was going to finish his cookie. Dad asked the same question: “are you going to finish that” four times. Same tone, same tempo, same words, four times. Son didn’t really have to listen. Dad knew son wasn’t listening, so they worked out their conversation dance, repeating and changing places as needed. Finally Dad decided four times translated to “no” and wrapped up son’s cookie for later and stuck it in his backpack pocket. “Go wash your face and hands and then we’ll go”. They both got up together and headed towards the back of the store for their chores before continuing their big night out.

I watched another Dad and child outing. This six year old girl was wired for sound, bouncing and laughing and clearly glad to be. Dad was sitting back, relaxed, arm over the seat back, smiling at her antics. They clearly spend a lot of time together, very comfortable with each other. Somewhere Dad knew it was time to prompt her into a new direction. “Go up there, girl and get your drink”. He handed over some money and she went bouncing up to the counter. She was outgoing, clearly she’d done this before, and placed her order with confidence. Dad had shifted in his chair ever so slightly, so he could see her clearly but let her feel independent and in charge. She bounced back to Dad, with her iced fruit smoothie in one hand and the change in the other. She leaned over, got a hug and bounced off to get a straw. I haven’t seen so much happy energy in a long time. It was contagious.

Oh, I’ve not been paying a lot of attention here. It’s probably way past time for a response, so I both shake my head and grunt. I have no idea where we are in the history, but Shirley’s clearly starting to wind down. There are pauses in her dialogue and if I was so inclined, I could actually interject something about me. Nah, I’ve actually enjoyed this get together, why spoil it. It’s been relaxing and fun to listen to “The Shirley Monologue” wash over me, like some radio talk show in the background. It was fun to watch people with their own stories and adventures. It’s been OK to not measure and weigh to ensure even sharing, it’s not worth the energy. I think I’ve spent my time well, but even saying that, I’m not inclined to sign up again anytime soon.

I watch Shirley check her watch and start to gather her coat and belongings. “We’ll have to get together again real soon. It was great to hear all about what’s happening and we would do this more often”. I nod my head and finally let a bit of a wise smirk hit the corner of my mouth. Yep, it was fun. I have no idea what she said, and she hasn’t even figured out that I didn’t say much of anything. It was great to see the humor and irony and know I’m in a pretty good place right now. But I’ll let the answering machine screen the calls and hope to remember that hanging out with Shirley is a bit like visiting the dentist – it happens every so often, not a lot of fun during, but feels good when it’s done. I hope that life treats well, what ever that means to you. Bye Shirley. And we head our separate ways out of Starbucks and into the city.

A Walk to the Park (rewrite)

The air is still, but every now and then a small breeze flutters the leaf tips and then all is still again, not enough wind to move the dried brown maple leaf on the ground near the bench. The grey blotchy clouds above are still. They block the sun and there are no sharp, severe shadows. All is muted and blend to dark under the larger trees and bushes. It’s such a quiet place, even when the car horn honks, it sounds way off in the distance. And a bus clanks by, and a plane drones overhead. But there are no harsh immediate sounds; the park feels isolated, encased in heavy oppressing blankets.

A man, sleeping with his arms crossed, lying on a bench near the garden, jeans dirty and a bright blue jacket covering his forehead and eyes to block out the muted sun. An English sparrow flutters down, with small heart-beat sound of wings, and lands. It picks at the bread crumb specks on the ground. Looking up, surprised, it quickly flutters away.

The center garden is sun-baked dirt and a few weeds. There are dusty rocks and nondescript bushes surrounded by grey cement curbs, cracked and broken. The dirty plants that are here haven’t had water since the last rain several days ago. The colors that should have been there are long gone. The memory of sunshine yellow marigolds. The orange trumpets of nasturtiums. Purple pansies and red poppies. All should be there, a sign of life and youth.

Once this was a place for laughing children, who played hide-and-seek and tossed their bright balls, soft blankets spread on the grass for sandwiches and naps. Laughter and birds floated among the leaves. There were fewer trees, still tall, but with wide open green and long soft grass. And when there was sunshine, it was bright and cast long deep shadows in the afternoon. This was a destination for families and couples would walk along the path, intent on each other. The air felt light and sometimes someone would lean up against one of the old evergreens and nap in the sunshine.

Around the park, the buildings grew tall and shadowed even the trees. It was still a destination, but now it was for business men, to escape their dry black-and-white worlds for a spell, and rest among the green leaves and colorful flowers. Women met and talked about their day. Children still played there and couples still walked the path, close, intent on only each other. The life of the city grew up around the park, but still the green and space felt good.

Now cars and traffic, the rush to get from one place to the next have replaced the strolls and wanderings and restful quiet. The growing shadows from the now giant buildings have left marks on the park, and it has become shades of grey green, the brightness slowly evaporated. It’s become a place to go through, and no longer a place to go to and relax. It’s muted, with no bright spots of colors. This place of green in the city doesn’t bring with it the feeling of calm and rest expected of tall evergreen trees and grass. Buses and cars wait for their turn at the light, before lurching forward. A sea-plane hums overhead. The paths are littered with brown dead weeds stuck in the sidewalk cracks.

Now and then there’s a pleasant surprise for those who look up from the sidewalk. There are a group of tall hydrangea bushes, with colors of the sky, light blues, bright blues, and violet. But it’s easy to miss these and to just quickly walk on by, intent on getting through the park and to somewhere else downtown. It’s no longer a place to wander and rest; it’s somehow a unsettled place and people push on, with their heads down, hoping to never catch any one else’s eye. More people now walk along the path near the cars rather than walk through the park. They’d rather listen to the noise and watch the black smoke from the buses than to take the chance to walk through the park.

Across the street, the pink neon sign slowly turns, flashing “car wash”. The white car is pushed out the end of the tunnel. It’s headlights flick on and the blowers starts up to dry the away the remaining wet. Pacing the sidewalk is a well dressed man, in his white shirt and professional suit, talking on his cell phone. He paces outside the car wash, waiting to once again be on his way to solve the urgent problem of the hour. He pulls open the door, slides in gracefully, and pulls away. He goes up the wrong way on the one way street, intent on his conversation, never noticing.

The sleeping man awakes and sits up, shaking off the sleep. He carefully packs up his gear and slings his coat over his am. It’s still too warm to put his coat on, so he’ll need to carry it for now. He gathers his small pack and rises to his feet. He slowly passes the poor dirt mound without noticing. The English sparrow has been replaced by a pigeon, head bobbing picking over the same bits left by the sparrow. Darkness is coming and the already blurred shadows just continue to get darker gradually. The clouds overhead become greyer and the shadows now become indistinct from the rest of the ground. The only bright spots are now the cars, waiting for permission from the traffic light so they can continue on their journey.

Drama of a Change Agent (rewrite)

You have no idea how important my job is. I am a “change agent” of major progress and growth in Seattle. It’s an amazingly complex and significant responsibility. It’s awe-inspiring (and a bit over-whelming at times) when I realize change couldn’t happen without me. The burden I feel is incredible, but I’m proud to bear this enormous and vital role. I stand straight and tall, without waiver and without any of the stress I carry showing on my face. Everyday, I am here, never missing a beat, sturdy, the bearer of good news. I am the “Proposed Land Use Action” sign.

I am done just right, in classic white background with clear bold black letters. Did you know that there’s going to be two (count them – TWO) 32 story buildings going in right behind me? “640 residential units. 34,200 square feet of retail. parking for 1,063 vehicles. Existing structure to be demolished.” Everything you need to know is right here, clearly displayed on me. “Comment period ends 7/26/06, but may be extended to 8/9/06. Master Use Project #3004231. Applicant Terry McCain, phone #425-462-6400”. It’s all here, addresses, diagrams, the whole works, very tasteful and understated, as it should be. I am a classic sign and I wear that label proudly.

Not like those pink signs across the way. My goodness, the bright colors and flashing neon just wears on the senses. Elephants no less! Advertising something as trivial as a car wash! With the colors and shapes – neither of the signs are even rectangles. The smaller pink elephant always stays facing the same way, which at least shows some small amount of good taste, even though it’s always flashing, blue and white and pink, day and night. The larger elephant! Well, it’s just a tasteless wonder. It doesn’t even have the good sense to stay still. No, it rotates and shows me all sides of itself. Constantly moving, sometimes I see the narrow ends, like it almost disappears. Then I see the other side, like this is important. Tell me something that I don’t already know.

Backs of signs are not meant to be seen. My goodness, my back side is very classic. No paint, no frou-frou, just plain wooden back, with a stripe of black letters – CANADA and LTD. It still has the bar-coded sticker giving my size. I’m still a 4’ x 7’ and don’t I look fine? It takes effort and self-control to remain in this good of shape at my age, you know.
There are several One Way signs, classic black and white, with arrows pointing all different directions. One small One Way sign has been jostled and bumped out of place and now the arrow points slightly to the ground. How sad. How sad to be uncared for and left to have your pointer a bit off.

I watch other schizophrenic signs and I’m a little concerned. Are they dangerous? Are they well? They are always changing color, back and forth, between white and orange. And the orange sometimes blinks and sometimes is steady. Then they swap again and become white creatures. The creatures sort of remind me of the human beings that go by, but the shape isn’t right. In the sign, the creatures have both arms down. All the human beings I see have one arm up to their ear and they are always talking. It seems odd, but they all do it.

There’s a parking lot behind me, the Tetro ZinZanni place. It’s been empty for the longest while. There’s red-haired lady with bright pink hat and dress nearby, her words stating “Tetro ZinZanni Dinner and Dreams”. She and I have become acquaintances over time. She’s too intense on her color choices, but one can’t choose one’s neighbors. I don’t know if she realizes “the existing structure to be demolished” means her. I’m sure she can’t see the front of me to read her fate, and I’m certainly not going to tell her. Life is hard enough when you are buffeted in the wind and rain, baked in the sun, and alone in the dark, which us signs always are.

I’ve been here quite a while, and lately the parking lot behind me has picked up activity level. Now trucks are coming and going. Wires and boards and chain-link fence pieces are arriving. Tractors and bull-dozers sit on trailers, big wheels just sitting. Once the trucks and such started showing up, a few more human beings were dropping by and studying the diagrams I hold, ever dependable and ready with information.

Hmm, this is odd. I don’t understand. There are a couple of human beings coming up behind me, with large hammers and crow bars. I wonder what they’re for? Human beings are such an odd species, always going somewhere, doing something, carrying stuff. Never standing still and taking in all that’s around them. I can’t imagine a life so full of movement and action. They’re headed my way. I wonderful if they’ll stop by and admire my shape and words. I’ll stretch and stand up a bit extra straight just in case…. What? They stopped behind me. Very rarely does any one stop behind me and I find it unsettling when they do. I remember once, this curly headed human being stood there with her tablet, writing down notes like crazy, but that was a long time ago, until these two showed up now. What are they doing? They are swinging their hammers and pounding on me! What the heck!? I don’t understand! Hey, wait! What’s going on!? Don’t you want t…..

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Drama of a Change Agent

You have no idea how important my job is. I am a “change agent” of major progress and growth in Seattle. It’s an amazingly complex and significant responsibility; it’s awe-inspiring (and a bit over-whelming at times) when I realize that change couldn’t happen without me. The burden I feel is incredible, but I’m proud to bear this enormous and vital role. I stand straight and tall, without waiver and without any of the stress I carry showing on my face. Everyday, I am here, never missing a beat, sturdy, the bearer of good news. I am the “Proposed Land Use Action” sign.

I am done just right, in classic white background with clear bold black letters. Did you know that there’s going to be two (count them – TWO) 32 story buildings going in right behind me? “640 residential units. 34,200 square feet of retail. parking for 1,063 vehicles. Existing structure to be demolished.” You would know this if you paid attention and read the words I hold. This is important. Everything you need to know is right here, so clearly displayed. “Comment period ends 7/26/06, but may be extended to 8/9/06. Email PRC@SEATTLE.GOV.” Master Use Project #3004231. Applicant Terry McCain, phone #425-462-6400”. It’s all here, addresses, diagrams, the whole works, very tasteful and understated, as it should be. Nothing about me is blaring and obnoxious; I am a classic sign and I wear that label proudly.

Not like those pink signs across the way. My goodness, the bright colors and flashing neon just wears on the senses. The smaller pink elephant always stays facing the same way, which at least shows some small amount of good taste, even though it’s always flashing, blue and white and pink, day and night. Don’t they know that there should be darkness some of the time? I don’t have harsh and bright lights shining on me at all hours of the day and nights. So much color and brightness, it’s just too much…. If only I could look away, but, hey, I’m a sign and there are certain limits to what I can and cannot do….

The other pink elephant sign, well, that’s just a tasteless wonder. With the colors and shapes – neither of the Sign are even rectangles; what where they thinking? But the larger one, it doesn’t even have the good sense to stay still. No, it rotates and shows me all sides of itself. Constantly moving, sometimes I see the narrow ends, like it almost disappears. Then I see the other side, like this is important. Tell me something that I don’t already know. Backs of signs are not meant to be seen. My goodness, my back side is very classic. No paint, no frou-frou, just plain wooden back, with a stripe of black letters – CANADA and LTD, what ever that means. It still has the bar-coded sticker giving my size. I’m still a 4’ x 7’ and don’t I look fine? It takes effort and self-control to remain in this good of shape at my age, you know.

Across the way is a round sign, “Antioch – Founded 1852”. It lights up, which is less than tactful, but at least it doesn’t spin! Some the signs near by, like the Antioch sign have buildings attached. The Group Health sign across the other street is backed by a brown and tan building. But by and large, the majority of the signs in my sight hang off of poles of green, grey, and silver, an appropriate support for a Sign. Buildings are acceptable, but only when they blend and recede, leaving the Sign to stand out in importance, as it should.

There’s a Sign between the Antioch Sign and the Group Health Sign that’s Monthly Parking. Now this is a fine Sign. It still lights up and I try hard not to shudder at that, but everyone has a flaw or two, I suppose. But it classically done – white background, black letters (which only a touch of red); just a few letters “Monday Parking Available Call 381-1789”. Very simple. Not as much information as I contain, but, well, we can’t all be as detailed and thorough as I am, you know.
There are several One Way Signs, classic black and white, with arrows pointing all different directions. Clearly these human beings in their infernal noise-and-stink machines don’t actually pay attention to the importance and vital information we proudly display, because they’ll come out of the silly pink spinning sign building and go the opposite way of the arrow. Pay attention, people! One small One Way Sign has been jostled and bumped out of place and now the arrow points slightly to the ground. How sad. How sad to be uncared for and left to have your pointer a bit off.

I watch these other schizophrenic signs and I’m a little concerned. Are they dangerous? Are they well? They are always changing color, back and forth, between white and orange. And the orange sometimes blinks and sometimes is steady. Then it swaps again and becomes this white creature. It sort of reminds me of the human beings that go by, but the shape isn’t exactly right. In the Sign, the creature has both arms down. All the human beings I see have one arm up to their ear and they are always talking. I guess it’s comforting or something to hold your ear and talk to yourself if you’re a human being. It seems odd to me, but they all do it; it must be a ritual or how they are created or something.

There’s a parking lot behind me and it’s been pretty empty for the longest while. It’s the Tetro ZinZanni place. It’s sad to know that these “Tetro ZinZanni Dinner and Dreams” signs will eventually be gone. The red-haired lady with bright pink hat and dress and I have become close friends over the time we’ve hung out together. I don’t know if she fully realizes “the existing structure to be demolished” means her. I’m pretty sure she can’t see the front of me to read her fate, and I’m certainly not going to tell her. Life is hard enough when you are a sign, buffeted in the wind and rain, baked in the sun, and alone in the dark. Always here, steadfast and sure, a steady reminder of where you are and what to do.

I’ve been here quite a while, and lately the parking lot behind me has picked up activity level. As I mentioned, it was pretty empty for a long time, but now trucks are coming and going. Wires and boards and chain-link fence pieces are starting to arrive. Tractors and bull-dozers sit on trailers, big wheels just sitting. I don’t get many visitors who come and admire me and take in all I have to offer. But once the trucks and such started showing up, a few more human beings where dropping by and studying the diagrams I hold, ever dependable and ready with information.

Hmm, it’s so odd; I just don’t understand. There are a couple of human beings coming up behind me, with large hammers and crow bars. I wonder what they’re for? These human beings are such an odd species, always going somewhere, doing something, carrying stuff. Never standing still and taking in all that’s around them; I can’t imagine a life so full of movement and action. They’re headed my way; I wonderful if they’ll stop by and admire my shape and words. I’ll stretch and stand up a bit extra straight just in case…. What? They stopped behind me; very rarely does any one stop behind me and I find it unsettling when they do. I remember once, this curly headed human being stood there with her tablet, writing down notes like crazy, but that was a long time ago, until these two showed up now. What are they doing? They are swinging their hammers and pounding on me! What the heck!? I don’t understand! Hey, wait! What’s going on!? Don’t you want t…

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Introduction to Mary

Mary starts every day with exactly the same pattern. She has long moved past needing an alarm clock; she wakes every day when the sun touches through her window and shines on her face and pillow. She wakes easily, rested, and ready to handle another day. She doesn’t understand those who want to “stay cozy in bed and make sleep last a bit longer”. As soon as she wakes up, she flips off the blankets and puts her feet on the floor. She looks about her small, sparse room, and finds her robe on the hook, where it always is. She’s very methodical and organized; everything in her room has a place and she puts it there without fail. She heads off to shower and dress for the day, braiding her hair that hangs long down her back.

Today for Mary will be like every other day has been for the past 8 years. She doesn’t spend time thinking and missing the moments from then. She and her husband had come to the US from Japan so many years ago. It was hard to remember that time, it feels like another life and the feelings and sights have fogged and become blurred from then. John and she were so much younger, ready to face the adventure of this new world, together. They left their parents and friends to come to America, where John’s skills with small mechanics and electronics could be well used. They took American names, feeling that their Japanese names would be a burden to their American friends and they never wanted to be a burden to anyone. So they became John and Mary.

They each worked hard, each with their talents and contributions and just knew they were together making a good life for themselves. Without discussion or debate or measuring on the scales, they both expected each to contribute, fully and to the best of their abilities. They never measured or weighed what each was bringing. They accepted what each brought, and enjoyed what was there. They didn’t look for what was missing, it was a concept that never crossed their sights. As a result, they were very content and comfortable with what they had.

He worked at Boeing, making airplane parts. She worked at home, in their garden, making meals, and keeping their small home fiercely clean. She sometimes gathered with the other neighborhood ladies and they sewed blankets or quilts for whoever needed them. Neither John nor Mary was extremely outgoing and social; they enjoyed their quiet and uncomplicated home. John learned some basic English more quickly than Mary, just because he was out in the world of America business and had regular interaction and practice with English. Mary’s English abilities could have been further developed – she was extremely intelligent and loved to learn, but it’s not what happened. And they didn’t spend time dwelling on things that didn’t happen, just those that did.

Mary and John had settled into an area that was comfortable because it was filled with other Japanese families who had also moved over to this new country. Mary’s social life was working with the other Japanese ladies who were also at home, working together to help each other. Sometimes a family had a sickness or an emergency and it was just a part of their fabric of mutual support, that the whole neighborhood picked up things that needed to be done and contributed, fully and to the best of their abilities. It was a good life and Mary and John grew old together, happy and satisfied.

A little over eight years ago, things changed. One day and her world was turned side-ways and never returned to the same way. John wasn’t feeling well, but rarely did he miss a day of work. He expected to contribute, to do his job to the fullest and best of his ability, so the only times he stayed home was when he was very ill. That day wasn’t the best, but he didn’t complain. He got dressed, Mary packed his lunch as she did every day, and he headed off to work. Mary didn’t see John again. There were people from work and the police and it was all very confused. The neighbors came over to help and it was just a flurry of chaos and unrest. The only thing that Mary fully remembers from that day is that John wouldn’t be coming home, giving her a kiss and squeezing her hand, as he had done every single day since they’d arrived all those years ago. Her partner, her balance was gone and she was silent in her grief.

After some time, the days settled back down into a pattern, a pattern that was different than hers and John’s, but still a predictable and reliable routine that made her feel somewhat more comfortable again. Neighbors expected to be part of Mary’s day and things shook out and draped again, with different faces and routines. Mary moved out of her and John’s home that she’d known and cared for for so many years and moved in with another family, a younger family where both parents worked outside the neighborhood. Mary helped with meals and cleaning, and she still got together with the older neighbor ladies to sew the blankets and quilts that had become tradition for milestones – birthdays and anniversaries and new neighbors.

The new family also had children – energized and fast moving children who fit with their American friends, who brought in noise and excitement, which was so different for Mary. Children weren’t something that she and John shared. They were never sure why, but since they always looked to what they had and not what they didn’t, the lack of children didn’t consume their time or energy. The children made Mary smile, even though she didn’t always understand what they were saying or what they were interested in. When they slowed down, late in the evening, they’d share their day, speaking Japanese, so Mary would hear about their adventures, triumphs and tragedies that are a child’s day. Mary enjoyed those stories and times.

As time went by and the children grew older, the family Mary lived with struggled with money and things weren’t easy. Older children need so many things that just cost money and the home ended up stressful. Mary knew she needed to find a way to contribute, fully and to the best of her ability. She found out that aluminum cans could actually be gathered up and sold, not bringing in a lot of money, but every bit helped and the family appreciated it. So this become a new adventure for Mary.

It was something Mary could do, so she began to search for aluminum – cans were everywhere and even though it took a lot of time, she was a hard worker and knew that helping in whatever part she could. She experimented and listened; she found that the trash cans around Pike Place Market were filled with aluminum. Tourists would walk by and drop off soda cans; the cans were not always empty, but they got tired of carrying them, so they threw them away. A man in the neighborhood made her a tool – a wooden pole with pinchers on the end, to make pulling out cans out of the trash cans easier and less messy.

She now has this down to a fine art and it’s part of her day for the past eight years. She showers and braids her hair; it’s still long, the way John liked it, and sticks out the back of her pink, wide-brimmed hat. She carefully ties the hat, making a small, perfect bow under her chin. She puts on her long sleeved shirt, and then another short-sleeved shirt over the top. She walks to the backdoor and puts on her boots that are standing where she left them from yesterday evening. She picks up her “tools of the trade” – her gloves, pole, and empty plastic garbage bags and starts to make her rounds. She takes the cover off of each of the trash cans, pokes around, pulling out the cans with her pole. She shakes out the remaining soda and drops the cans on the ground next to her feet. After she double-checks that the trash can has no more soda cans, she replaces the top. Then she stomps on the cans by her feet and puts the flattened cans into her bag and moves to the next trash can. She doesn’t notice people watching her, perhaps feeling sorry for her and whispering behind her back.. Mary is a hard worker and just keeps after her goal – to fill the bags and contribute to the family.

After she makes her round and fills up the bags she brought with her, she heads home, cleans up and starts to make dinner for the family. A very nice lady from the neighborhood, a younger independent woman, takes Mary’s trash bags full of cans to the recycling center once a week and gives Mary the few dollars earned and Mary gives that to the family, now her family.

Now winter time is when she sews with the neighbor ladies, since there aren’t so many tourists then so aluminum cans are hard to come by. And during the summer, sometimes Mary has to make more than one trip to drop off her full bags and pick up more empty ones for her continued search. She’s satisfied – she’s making her contribution, to the fullest and best of her ability. And her heart and world expects nothing more and nothing less.

A Walk to the Park

Sixteen or so of us adult students (don’t you just love that term, like it’s important to indicate we aren’t teenagers) are given the assignment to “go to the park”. The instructor has a philosophy to use whatever comes your way and that class trips give us a common experience we can use to share our views of the world; we’ll have 16 sets of senses and come away with at least 16 sets of different views, different levels (from world to grain of sand), and different stories captured that reflect who we were when we made this trip to the park. So we gather up our notebooks and pens, coats and backpacks and dutifully head to our first outing.

My walk starts off with a lot of “background” processing in my head: What does the teacher expect? Will I be good enough? Will I be embarrassed? Will people roll their eyes when they hear what I’ve written? Can I get kicked out of class just from not being observant enough? How the heck could I get kicked back to “Observance 101”? Is there such a class? And where is this park and how do I get there? True embarrassment would be to get lost in the first class getting to the park across the street; so much for common experience although it could be a funny story. Maybe. Ah, I feel better. I at least see other classmates and can follow their lead, as long as I keep them in sight. One crisis down….

I push through the glass doors of the school and start my adventure. I walk past the Pink Elephant car wash. I love this place and I smile every time I see it; it’s so commercial and urban and sixties. It’s my landmark and I know I’m at school when I see the Pink Elephant car wash sign. I wonder why they named it that – the sense of humor or personal experience that launched the Pink Elephant car wash business. There’s a story there, I’m sure. The huge pink sign should spin, but doesn’t, and probably hasn’t for years. The neon all lights up and the blue water blinks to show water flowing, it’s tricky to show flowing water in neon, but they’ve tried and I know what it is. A white conservative car rolls to the end of the car wash tunnel. The headlights flick on and the car wash blower starts up to blow the water off, erasing any other noise I might have heard. Pacing the sidewalk, there is a well dressed man, in his white shirt and professional suit, talking on his cell phone. Business doesn’t stop and he takes every advantage to conduct business or maybe he’s making evening plans, pacing outside the car wash, while other people work to make his car acceptable and ready for the business world.

I arrive at the corner, where I hope to heaven someone has pushed the walk button, trying not to show that I’m out of shape and so I stand a bit taller. Another student arrives and they just mash the button. We wait. The walk light blinks on; I look both ways and then walk between the crosswalk lines. At last, I arrive at an entrance to the park. The hydrangeas are beautiful, shade of blues: bright, power, country, and some with touches of pinks and violets. One is shorter than its seven foot brethren and it’s a cross between burgundy and country rose. They are all shaded by the tall evergreens.

I head for the bench across the center. The benches are all rough grey wood, clearly sitting the in the sun, wind, and rain for time. The first bench I chose had a very happy bird there fairly recently and I don’t necessarily want to experience bird poo on my pants, so I go to the next bench. No happy bird has been here and I sit, pulling out my notebook and pen and start to take notes.

There’s a man, sleeping with his arms crossed, lying on the bench across from me. He has dirty jeans, a dark plaid shirt, and a bright blue jacket covering his forehead and eyes to block out the muted sun. Class mates have positioned themselves at various benches around the center or down the sidewalk spokes a bit. I look at them and they are either writing feverishly, observing, or staring into space. Of course, we all look the same and they could say the same thing about me. I feel a small laugh inside. I’m sure the “park usuals” have stories to tell and laugh at us being so serious, with notebooks balanced on our laps. We’ll be a mention at the dinner table or cell phone call later. “I saw the weirdest thing coming home; a bunch of people sitting in the park writing” before they move on to more important topics like work or after dinner plans or gossip.

I pause to listen for sounds. Now that I’m away from the car wash, I can hear the whine of an airplane in the background. A car horn honks, faintly, so it’s clearly a distance away. One bird chips over behind me on the right and then several start up, over on my left. Some cart squeals behind the bushes away from me; I turn around to try to see what is causes the “nails on blackboard” screech but it’s too far behind the bushes and I can’t see it. Whew, at last, that stops. Truck gears engage and clank and I can see in my head a puff of grey smoke coming out of the tailpipe. I’m studying my notebook and don’t look up to see who belongs to the steady and regular sound of flip-flops walking past, other than they belong to someone with a white skirt. An old bike rattles by.

Friends (or at least fellow-smokers) from class greet each other and move over to the same bench, next to the sleeping on the bench. They each light up a cigarette. The man on the bench is now sitting up. He looks around and gathers up his blue coat and walks along the sidewalk spoke near the next of my bench. I wonder what he thinks of all these notebooks and looks and people writing. I think if I were him, I would have moved too, for fear of being studied and documented and part of some “urban survey”. I watch the “regulars” walking home, every night they go through this park; what a sight the group of us must be. I’m sure they are making up their own stories about why we’re there and what we see.

The air is still, but every now and then a small breeze flutters the leaf tips and then all is still again. There’s not enough wind to move the dried brown maple leaf on the ground near my bench. The grey blotchy clouds are still above. The block the sun and there are no sharp, severe shadows. All is muted and blend to dark under the larger trees and bushes.

A bird flutters down, I could hear his wings as he fluttered past, and lands at my feet. He looks up, surprised to see me, and quickly flutters away. A class mate walks by, looking at the dried flowers that were struggling in the garden next to my bench. She sits down, wriggle her feet, and picks up her notebook, reviewing what she’s written so far. There’s a small tickle in her throat and she coughs, and then clicks her pen. She writes a word or two and flips her book shut and moves on.

The cars are all lined up the street, waiting for the light to change to let them move forward. They roll slowly up the slight incline and go out of sight behind the bushes and trees, to be replaced with a similar set of cars, now waiting their turn to move. The greys and blacks and tans, all still, until they too are released, to be replaced again.

The garden mount in the center is lined by a cement curb. The one plant has three foot stalks with pink flowers on the tips. There are a couple of “wider than tall” bushes and a rusted five foot pole in the center that had some purpose at one time, but has been forgotten and now just stands in the dust. There are a few low grey rocks, and clover and grasses, clearly there by willpower and not planning, covering some of the grey-brown dry dirt. It wouldn’t take much, a few hours and $30 in plants to make this a colorful, inviting spot to just sit and soak up the sun and nature. Now, it’s just a place to pass on your way to someplace else, except for us writers.

A float plane flies over, loud enough to make me look up away from my notebook and watch. A tiny white piece of what I like to think is a speak of lint floats down and lands on my black pants. A couple of class mates chat and laugh, clearly sharing a common moment and they are getting restless. They have had enough of the “Observe the Park” adventure and are ready to move to someplace else. The cars waiting for the light have been replaced by a green and yellow bus with amber letters. And the English sparrow that was picking up pits of brown has been replaced by a pigeon, head bobbing picking over the same bits left by the sparrow.

It’s time to head back to the class room, to compare and share what we’ve seen. We’ve gathered up our belongings and troop back across the street, past the five tan plastic chairs outside the car wash. No cars there now, and no suited man pacing the sidewalk. The pink sign still doesn’t spin and it’s a lonely place without people and cars. I’ve done my observing and am pretty convinced that I won’t get kicked back to “Introduction to Observation”. Now, will what I see actually be interesting? And how would I tell some profound story from my walk? It’s always going to be something, some concern, some “oh, what about this?” line of thought that brings out the critic. That’s another story for another time; for now, my notes are captured and my senses are aware. That’s good enough for this adventure and I can close my notebook with a bit sense of satisfaction.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sitting Still / Yoda Lesson

How simple. Just pull up a chair and sit in the back yard. How simple is that?
So I sit here, with pad on lap and pen in hand. And flit from thought to thought.
It's not a "wandering stream" sort of a meandering of ideas, flowing seamlessly from one to another. It's a sprinkling of water in a hot skillet - jumping and bubbling, and eventually disappearing without memory and without the satisfaction of finish.

Pick up the lemonade and take a sip, noticing the straw is soft and disquieting.

We really need to mow the lawn.
Be in the "here and now", oh, yes, the Yoda lesson.
"Never his mind on where he was". It's not as easy as you would think.
I'm here. I am listening to the baby birds chirp with animation when parent birds come back with food.
See, I'm here - here and now. What?
Oh, yes, the breeze through the bamboo and shadows of the leaves making patterns on the gravel path.

Another gulp of lemonade.

Need to trim the grass along the path. Humph. And need to move the rocks from under the tree.
Oh, yea. And replant the lavender so it's in a mound, and we might as well move the grass that's there over by the vegetable garden. I wonder if the vegetables need more fertilizer. I should have planted the sunflowers sooner - they'll never be fully up and ready by fall.

Another swig of lemonade.

How do I learn to quiet the planner, the one who sees "what needs to be done" and let the one who sees "what is"? "Always looking to the future was he. Never his mind on where he was or what he was doing."
Planning has worked for me. It's actually been rewarded and I've been promoted because of that skill.
But I keep having this longing, for as long as I've felt like me, to pay attention to my world.
And my world is not "the globe".
Some folks want to travel and see sights and be active, doing daring things and have amazing stories to tell.
I want to become intimate with my world, which is home and heart.
I want to learn to be able to see what's here, to listen and to appreciate.
To be able to see the subtle changes between a week ago and today, between now and a minute ago.
Without letting the "and now, what shall we do about this" leap in. No good, no bad, just is, to be seen in as much detail as I can absorb. Not the scientific microscope, but the ability to see the grass with the limitless shades of varying greens and watch the one blade that sways in the breeze. The rest are so still, but the one moves just a bit,
back and forth, making the color change and shadows the blade underneath, so it too becomes evergreen and then lime green as the one blade circles above.
Oh, look, a tiny red spider travels along the top of my notebook, clearly with a purpose as he scurries along the edge. One puff of my cheeks and he's now lost in the grass below. Ah, the grass. Look there is clover. Need to figure out how to get that out of here; otherwise it will just take over the yard.

Another gulp of lemonade and I'm back in the future, planning and changing.

The blade of grass and its brothers are too long and I need to mow the grass.
And the reel mower I bought doesn't work all that well, so I need to take it some place where they can sharpen the blades and align so I can cut the grass easier. They are way up in Redmond, that's not very convenient.

Whoa.
Breath.

Can I at least come back to the backyard?
And can I at least come back to today?
The breeze has picked up and now the chimes on the back deck ring with a song, a soothing rhythm that feels cool and restful just to hear. And the rock fountain trickles and sparkles as the water flows from one pocket in the rock to the next. If my hearing was better, I'll bet the grass makes a sound as it shakes and flutters in the breeze.
But for now I hear the chimes and the baby birds chirping out a loud greeting as food is brought to the bird house door.
A small plane goes by in the distance, a quiet rumble.

Another lemonade sip.

A white butterfly comes in, flittering from the pond to the flower, changes direction six times before bouncing in the air over the hedge and lost out of sight. Much like my thoughts today, flit, land, flit, change course, flirt, gone.
See the spider thread glow in the sun then disappear as the breeze moves the cattail leaf. Today now is in me. I just have to sit still and listen.
And then listen again when today is lost in the noise of yesterday and tomorrow.

Another sip of lemonade, cool in my mouth, as it flows down the sides of my tongue.

Another deep breath and another breeze comes in and shakes the top of the grass.
It's a good day.

Monday, June 27, 2005

And with watering can in hand.............

"If only I had more time", "if only I wasn't working so many hours", "if only I wasn't so drained".... I'd have energy and time to be creative. I'm in a job where no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn't stay even, much less get ahead. And that means I'm doing the "6 to 6 shift": leave home at 6 in the morning, return home 6 in the evening. Dinner. A bit of time to relax. And off to bed to start the cycle all over again the next day. I'm actually trying to lose some weight (give that a try if your big weakness is eating when you are stressed and have the job I have!!) and exercise on a regular basis. That REALLY takes care of the day.

It's time to take a job that takes less of me, and then not immediately fill it back up so I'm back in the same boat. I look at paintings and crafts and gardens and think "if only". OK, I've done the "if only". It's time to "walk the talk" and stop thinking about watering the plants and actually get out there and water! Thinking about watering the plants just leaves you with a bunch of brown sticks in pots. You actually can't "think" your way to having green, healthy plants. You have to get up and perform the act of watering. To have creative time, you have to take the "Nike approach" -- "Just Do It".

You ever see the Spielberg/Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie "Joe Vs. the Volcano"? There's a line spoken by Meg Ryan: "Take the leap and we'll see. That's life." I've done the "leap", new job in the wings, but I'm standing here waiting for some sort of miracle and it still leaves me waiting. Although what I'm waiting for is unclear, other than maybe fear (blog fodder for another time)... I'm tired of waiting. I love home. I love my partner. I love my life. Well, then, damn it!, LIVE IT! I don't want to look back, even to yesterday, and say "look at the time I lost, waiting". I'm tired of being "on hold", sitting here blinking and the only one who has me on hold is me. I'm changing my job "to be selfish" - to be happy, home, and creative. I don't want to live my life with regret. It's time to do something. Don't think about watering the plants. Get up and WATER!! Grow little plants, grow!!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

First step in a journey

So here I am, entering into the world of "blogging".... Perhaps this will help motivate me to start writing on a regular basis instead of just thinking about it.... Thanks Rich, for the motivation, the path-finding, and the support.