Poem for Uncertain Times

We are into March — hard to believe the year has gone so fast. It’s strange days many ways. For reference in the future — there is a virus, CoVID 19 (Coronavirus) that is going around, and is starting to make people fearful of a pandemic. Paul and I flew to California for our spring break from our semester in Florida, and in the week we have been here, large events have been cancelled, the shelves at stores that contained hand sanitizer or toilet paper are bare. We are entering uncertain times.

In the midst of this, I had a week of pitch meetings– almost a dozen– for a television show I’ve conceived. It felt good, after almost a year of no meetings. Even knowing it marks the beginning of a period of uncertainty, waiting for people to say yes or no, or nothing, to be followed — if I am lucky– by a year of notes, more uncertainty, and probably no money, it still feels good.

Today is our last day home before flying back — so I am at last taking down the Christmas tree– one of the things that didn’t get done in the hectic days before our departure in December.

I may have told this story before: When I lived in Australia, I was diagnosed with cancer. I traveled to Melbourne for a surgery, and when the tumor analysis came back, my prognosis was very much up in the air. It was not cheery. It was uncertain at best. After I had recovered enough to travel, Paul and I returned to our home in Alice Springs — and our friend Genevieve had organized all of our friends and acquaintances to decorate a small tree — each person offering an ornament. The ornaments bore their names, and little thoughts and prayers. As a child, I used to resist the “ugly” ornaments that my parents wanted to put on the tree — I only liked the shiny round ones that “matched.” Now, of course, I treasure each of these ornaments, and every card, though they are becoming crumpled by the years.

Today as I was packing it up, I paused to read a hanging card from my friends Jane and Craig. They had taped this poem on the inside:

Beannacht / Blessing

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green
and azure blue,
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


John O’Donohue

from Echoes of Memory (Transworld Publishing, 2010) reproduced by permission of the author’s Estate

Thanks, Part 2

2019 has been a year. Such a year that I haven’t even thought much about how it’s the end of a decade — another thing to process at another time.

Parents of dear friends have been ill this year. Parents of dear friends have died. Spouses of friends were ill this year. Spouses of friends have died. A beloved teacher died this year. My mother had hips replaced, my father-in-law lost much of his sight, My mother-in-law’s unflagging energy has begun to flag.

Predictions about the environment became more dire this year, people became more clear about what divides them and less interested in bridging those divides.

My career aspirations took beatings surrounded by the kind of circumstances  that make me question not just if I’ll ever be able to achieve them, but if they are really worth achieving.

What I find myself thinking about, as much as lack of money or milestones (perhaps I am processing the decade after all) is how, at an age by which I’d expected to be “reaching back” to assist others, I instead find myself continuing to wait for my own air-mask to drop from the airplane ceiling as we fly through increasing turbulence.

It is hard to know what kind of movie I’m in — Is it a movie where the hero experiences a crisis of faith, but stays steadfast to the goal and it makes her success ultimately sweeter? Or is it a movie where the hero realizes her goals have been false, and finally notices the more authentic life that has been there all along, just waiting — in girl-next-door-like fashion —  to be loved?

Why did I name this post Thanks, Part 2? Truthfully, I started writing it the other day, and now I can’t remember! But rather than change the title, I’ll rise to the occasion: 2019 has been a year — the kind of year where when people ask, all you think to say is “I survived.” And, if you are me, you might say that with a dry tone deprecating tone.

But, actually — that’s huge. The gift of survival. To arrive at the end a year in one piece; to have another year to try to figure it all out (or not)?

I’ll take it.

Thanks.

Another Poem

I must be feeling poetic this morning.

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

According to this bio from Maggie Smith’s website, everyone else read this poem back in 2016. Also, the article answers my immediate question about whether Maggie Smith the poet is also Maggie Smith the actress (spoiler: she is not).

Thanks, Part 1

In exchange for all the sacrificed minutes, the Twitter occasionally offers a gift.

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is
W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin.  Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc..
Source: Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
(Don’t know W.S. Merwin? Neither did I. Here’s a Wikipedia link, and better, a New Yorker article written after Merwin’s death in March of this year.

Random Questions About AOC’s Haircut

It’s been a few days since this Washington Times article about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spending $300 on her hair came out. Most of the furor has died down, but I find myself still plagued by questions. 

First, what is this “government-subsidized Capitol Hill barbershop” the article speaks of? Are taxpayer dollars subsidizing Jeff Session’s haircuts? Does he also get food stamps? (And who else goes to this barbershop? Did Obama go? What about Trump? I think I’d like paparazzi pics please!) 

Second, to say the cost is $20 for something “government subsidized” is like saying your co-pay is the total cost for your healthcare. How much is the subsidy? Does Sessions tip on the $20, or on what the full amount would be? Enquiring minds want to know!

Is Session’s barber an employee or a small business owner? How much time and money did said barber invest in acquiring the accreditation hours required (2000 it looks like?) to be licensed in Washington, DC?

And how many $20 dollar haircuts will it take to reach a return on that investment? Because education and jumping through hoops isn’t free!   

AOC got lowlights and a cut for her long hair, which takes hours longer and more chemistry knowledge than a ten-minute clipper cut. Chime in, what is a fair hourly rate for a craftsperson? 

By implying that the cut and lowlights are a frivolous expense, is it also being implied that a woman in AOCs position could rock Jeff Sessions hair with no color augmentation and operate just as effectively in our world? (Could she also forego SMILING?)

Or are we just saying that AOC needs to do everything she does now but less obviously, because women have an obligation to perpetuate the myth that we “just wake up like this” and that living up to society’s attractiveness standards is not expensive and time consuming?

Speaking of which, the article says she could have “save $100” by using the Capitol Hill barbershop. From which I can calculate that services at the morally-superior subsidized barbershop would still have cost her $200 — or TEN TIMES the amount that Jeff Sessions has to spend on a haircut. Can we agree there’s a female tax?

(I wonder what it would cost JS if he wanted to cover the gray. I’m NOT suggesting he should try to cover the gray.)

AOC used part of her salary to support the local economy. That wealth is “trickling down,” is it not? Isn’t that the ideal?

Finally — a little about my life. For years, I’ve been doing my own color and getting my hair cut in K-Town, where my stylist, who I love, gradually increased her prices from $25 to $50. Then she got her own chair in Pasadena and raised her price for a cut to $75… I started reeaalllly stretching out the time between haircuts.

When I decided that going blonde was probably beyond my skill set, I found that my stylists base price for color is $180 (exactly the amount of AOC’s lowlights, by the way.)

As an aspiring writer whose hourly wage is compliments, I couldn’t afford to be loyal. In lieu of a government-sponsored option, I decided to go to a hair school.

Going to a hair school is a real experience!

All said and done, they took about 20 hours to do what I think my stylist would have done in four or five. Because I had to arrange an unforeseen second day (to “fix it”) around work, I spent about three weeks with apricot-colored hair. This wasn’t that bad since I wasn’t getting ANY meetings for work (see the silver-lining there) and also,

I’M NOT A CONGRESSWOMAN.

If you’re my congressperson, I don’t want you distracted by a clogged toilet because you were trying to save $15 bucks on a plumber, or waiting in line at the the grocery store during rush hour to save a delivery charge for dinner.

You have my full support to use service-providers who can do the job in a good amount of time, and hopefully do it right the first time, because your time and energy should be spent running the country.  Thank you for your service.