July 21, 2016

Interstellar Echoes

This month, NASA released more amazing photos taken by the Hubble Telescope and highlighted the Crab Nebula which Earth astronomers discovered about a thousand years ago. Try to wrap your head around the size of this exploding star that has a ragged, rectangular shape, a width of 8 light years, a length of 11 light years and exists about 6,500 light years from Earth. For the curious, one light year is about 6 trillion miles. Before our skies got so full of clutter and light reflected from Earth, scientists could see far into space with the naked eye. One scientist thought this cloud of dust and gases resembled a crab when he viewed it with the naked eye.

Google this for a view of the Crab nebula. The link is not always active. 

Wow! Seemingly unreal statistics and photos are hard to "wrap our heads around," as the saying goes. A lot of what finally gets to the blog is hard to wrap my head around, to understand, to process and to integrate. Surprisingly, the Crab Nebula isn't one of them. Deep inside this massive (ha, ha -- that's an understatement!) formation is a pulsar sending short bursts of radioactive energy into space. It's a part of our universe behaving, be-ing what it is -- matter changing to something else. Because I'm not Brian Greene or any other astrophysicist, this post isn't really about interstellar activities. The matter that brings this matter to the blog is the sharp contrast between the natural flow of interstellar matter and the flow of behavior of mankind. 

Just imagine (we can't integrate it any other way) that when this huge star explodes and spreads its matter out, isn't it remarkable that from the deepest residue, a signal transmits across light years and reaches Earth?

When I was a young girl, a huge radio telescope facility was built in my home state of West Virginia to listen: Simply to listen to space. Over time, the huge radio telescopes were damaged, rebuilt and upgraded. They still listen for signals from space -- like the pulsar from this collapsed star, like other kinds of energy, hoping for repeated patterns, hoping for signals from other life forms, listening, hoping, opening our civilization to possibilities that listening brings.  

And here on Earth, do we hear ourselves? What we transmit? Are we sending out more than ignorance, fear, naivete, empty rhetoric, twisted viewpoints, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, or the smallness of mankind's confusing world view? 

We continue to build radio telescopes all around the world to listen for sounds from space but do we really listen to what we as a civilization transmit? As Willie's little play says, do we merely transmit "sound and fury, signifying nothing"? 

We listen for other civilizations but here on Earth, do we only hear the sound of our own voices? I have to hope that some of what we transmit, some of what we send out into the vast universe is like the pulsars deep inside exploded stars. The pulsars transmit the essence of the star into the universe, into the lens of the Hubble, and into the radio telescopes around our planet. I hope that the essence of our civilization that goes out beyond our atmosphere is worthwhile, isn't it?

June 29, 2016

New Latch Key Kids

Finally, Babies, we are here -- deep in the Georgia countryside as planned -- at home. Outside, the rustic screened porch with huge pots of Angel-wing Begonias offers a quiet place to read and to think, just as I'd hoped. Yellow finches dart, cardinals sing and hummingbirds flit in the crepe myrtle and pine trees of summer outside my big westward windows. 

Inside, three stories of east- and west-wing apartments stretch past the lobby's bubbling fountain and end at the surrounding pine forest's edges. The apartments are spacious and individualized with flowered wreaths or other decorations on the hallway doors. My own space has come together and like "a latch key kid of the fifties" again, I wear my house key -- now a computerized card key -- around my neck on a spiffy lanyard like the other hundred or so other tenants here who are genuinely friendly. Single women, men or couples greet each other in the hallways on their way to meals, laundry, movies, the computer lab, book or discussion groups, bridge games or whatever plans they made. The general atmosphere here reminds me of a college dorm without the stress of classes and much, much better food. People have plans and purpose. 

Since I wrote a week long series on myths about older people some time ago, you wouldn't be happy unless I shared a few fun things about living here, would you, Babies? 

  • A benign version of teasing and flirting of the college years shows up here too. 
  • I am thrilled that people here are mostly comfortable in their own skin, as the saying goes, and prize their own individually. 
  • They still gossip and the men are the ring leaders--who knew? 
  • We have quaintly termed "friendships" between certain residents who do everything together -- but not laundry.
  • Women are more likely to over-explain their "friendships."
  • Unless a couple is married, going through the salad bar is 'a woman's job.' 
  • Who carries the lady's purse to the car usually explains the balance of power. 
  • The "power-table" is the one furthest from the door. 
  • Everyone eats dessert - even if it is only Jell-o. 
  • Everyone hopes to appear younger than their years but they won't say that.
  • Everyone wants to know your age. 
  • Most people here have given up their pretensions in favor of a gentle dignity. 
Over the past year, my blog posts were intentionally positive while my life was not. I have often said and written that it's easy to leave something, or someone, when we don't feel connected. At my former residence, attempts to make circles of inclusion were truncated by what a young friend called "hyper-pretentiousness" which seemed to be a local but seriously contagious disease. So with no regrets, I moved on down the road. It's good to be here with all the other latch key kids. 

May 30, 2016

Last Sunday at the Park...

Right now, my life is balanced someplace between here and there. This week, I'm moving to the country. Unlike some past moves (more than twenty!), I'm not wistful about moving; I'm grateful for the next chapter of life to unfold in a new place. It's been almost two months since I wrote a post -- many changes came my way and honestly, my perspective needed honing before I could write. As always, your loyal visits mean much. Oh, I've come here many times but had no words.

Outside, the diminutive athletes came to the park today but ever-blowing trees hid their tiny games. Inside, my apartment is warehouse-like with chaos lurking and hoping to prevail. Boxes and plastic storage containers compete with me in this small space. Only two closets are not packed. In a few days, packers will box breakables and movers will transport my remaining worldly goods west on a state route, to a hidden driveway, to a clearing in the trees with a residence that I hope will be the "perfect country-mouse-writer setting." I'll have a sunny office again and a huge screened porch for reading and thinking. Maintenance man George has finished a long to-do list in my apartment including curtain rods and extra shelves. Soon, I will be there, at home. 

March 25, 2016

"Front Window"

Another Sunday afternoon in the park. Tiny soccer players and their thirty-something parents bloom in today's sunshine. When I watch them, I feel a bit like I'm in a benign version of Hitchcock's "Rear Window." There's no real continuity to this afternoon but there are sights. No sounds of course, so this is a bit like a silent film, a tableau of Sunday afternoons all across America. 
  • Japanese cherry trees, redbud and tulip Magnolias bloom and their petals fly about in the sustained twenty-mile an hour wind. The trees move a little too. Large pink azalea blooms twitter and little bands of daffodils stand straighter in the wind. 
  • Orange, twist-spring goals wait on the sides of the small field and wind gusts move the stockpile of different-colored balls around. 
  • The teams come down the field. Boys and girls contain their extreme "tininess" inside miniature soccer uniforms. One crew wears red and the other's colors are black and yellow. Their uniforms are more like pods or stuffed-squash blossoms -- too big and all encompassing. Their little shapes seem to move in slow motion while their over-sized clothes don't really move. These kids are maybe five or six years old. 
  • Their parent "coaches" are studies unto themselves. One stocky man only walks backwards on the field and keeps bending the bill on his ball cap. One younger man passes time balancing or spinning balls on his fingers and occasionally dropping a ball onto his foot to bounce in a dazzling display of "coaches' credentials." 
  • Parents set up their own sites - Dick's must have had a huge stock of folding camp chairs in all colors. You know, the kind with attached cargo pockets and a case for the folded-up chair? 
  • So after "Run, Stop, "Goal!!" for about 30 minutes, the kids' attention wanes in the cold wind. 
  • A few kids who were too old for this session play a strange game of volley/dodge ball nearby. 
  • Two women in sweatsuits circle the whole park with large signs either protesting or promoting something. They continue their animated conversation behind their signs, unnoticed. 
  • A few moms show up late with plates of cookies. 
  • Both teams line up to "slap hands" in a very formal line down center field. 
  • Then it's cookie time while parents clean up. 
  • Those chairs go back inside the storage containers and fathers sling them over their shoulders like arrow quivers. 
  • Mothers grab hands of the mini-athletes. 
  • The procession leaves as it came. 
  • Rinse, repeat every Sunday until time for the next ritual in the lives of these families. 
Do these rituals mean anything in the larger picture of our culture? Of course, they do. This little event is a rite of passage where the whole grows so much larger than the parts. All these little rituals create a mosaic of meaning in the pliable development of the kids. What it all means won't show up on the evening news shows because this is the antidote for those things that will.  

I write this a few days later from memory. The trees are in full leaf now and I'm a bit sad that Sunday afternoons in the park will be invisible from my front window.  

March 7, 2016

Fables for Grownups: The Fox and the Swan

Once upon a time, in a land covered with miracles of rye grass and abundant butter-hued flowers: daffodils in spring, rhododendrons in summer, chrysanthemums in fall and pansies in winter, a Fox lived in a woodland. Fox ruled his woods. When he approached, other animals stepped aside for him to pass and when he selected one of them as his dinner, the other animals merely said, “Well, he is the Fox.”

Fox slept all day in a shaded glen or beneath a rock ledge. At dusk, he would awaken, shake his thick gray fur and stretch his well-muscled legs. His tail was magnificent – bushy, strong and extra long with a delicate patterned black ring around the end. His personal favorite features were his long ears with their well-defined black fur ringing the perimeter. He was a fine fox and life was good.

One day, he awoke in late afternoon when the sun was just beginning to fall behind the tree line. He stopped to sip at a quiet lake and, of course, to admire himself in the mirrored surface. He saw a gorgeous mature Swan gliding on the far side of the water. He called to her, “Creature, who are you? Swim here so that you may see me better.”

The Swan glided on the smooth lake.

The Fox was furious at this insolent creature that did not answer him. He called out, “Creature, are you hungry? Swim here so that you may eat what I give you.”

The Swan curled her slender neck tighter and unfurled it under the water’s surface. She pulled out a small trout and held it in her teeth-like beak. Quickly, she ate it. In fact, she caught as many fish as she wished and ate them all. She paid no attention to Fox.

Her audacity incensed Fox. How dare this creature glide on his lake, see herself instead of his reflection on the silvered water and ignore him?

As night fell, Swan floated to the center of the cool lake, tucked her long graceful neck under a wing and went to sleep. Fox was restless and tried to sleep near the lake. He curled up in the roots of a Sweet Gum tree and the wind kicked up. All night, with each wind gust, a shower of prickly Sweet Gum pods fell on Fox and he neither rested nor caught any other animal for dinner. He wanted this elusive creature and he planned to have her for breakfast.

In the morning, Fox paced the shore of the lake and thought of wading in, jumping in, or even diving in to possess the Swan who was still asleep in the center of the lake. Her reflection glimmered in the morning sunlight and Fox grew angrier. When he put his beautiful foot into the water, his reflection scattered and he would go no further. He was happy to see his likeness gather into wholeness again.

Swan awakened and simply flew away. Fox sat by the water’s edge a long time and by evening, he was his old self again. He captured two rabbits and a ground hog.

At the next skulk of foxes, he told the sad story of the mute and blind Swan who could neither hear his offer to feed her nor enjoy his beauty. Life was good.

March 4, 2016

Keepers of the Meaning

Last week, I finished teaching the Winter term of enrichment classes for seniors in this county. We spent January and February taking a walk with many famous American poets. Dickinson, Frost, Stafford, Collins, St. Vincent Millay were a few of the poets whose work we read. And a fine time was had by all!! 

Tomorrow, my class continues on graceful aging with mostly super-senior students. This week our topic is Keepers of the Meaning. I expect that most of them will say the next generation needs to learn about respecting their elders, honoring family culture, practicing religion, avoiding politics and saving money. Big ideas for important times. 

While our generation was busy chasing those Big Truths, much like today's younger generations, the little truths got away. The real meaning in life exists in the small things, in the little truths that accumulate into larger Truth.

This short poem by Veronica Shoffstall holds fundamental truths that my life experience revealed. How much better life may have been if a "Keeper of the Meaning" had shared these with me along the way. Shoffstall was a keeper of meaning and like any good writer, she shared her truth in her work. I hope today's keepers of meaning will share these lessons with the next generation. 

                               After A While

After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
And you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn that even sunshine burns
if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and that you really do have worth
And you learn and you learn
with every goodbye you learn...

----   Veronica Shoffstall

February 16, 2016

Fables for Grownups: In the Meadow

       In the Meadow...

“Ah, here's another springtime,” said Rabbit and danced around Chipmunk. 

Now and again, Rabbit stood on his hind legs, stuck his nose into the center of a vibrant bloom and inhaled, deeply.

“I wanted to share this meadow with you,” he said. "The beauty of Spring! It's the best time of the year,” Rabbit said. “Would you like me to pick a tall cornflower so you may smell it? We might taste it, too.”

In a fit of anger, Chipmunk bit Rabbit on the leg.  Shocked and bleeding, Rabbit dropped the blue flower he had chewed off as a gift to Chipmunk. 

“What's wrong with you?” said Rabbit.

“How dare you insult me!!” said Chipmunk. “I am not short.”

February 15, 2016

Class is in Session

Today’s external weather threatens to turn into a miasmic blend of nastiness. My interior climate is nostalgic but also poignant and free and happy in an intermingling that appears when one is at a crossroads. Oh, I've been here many times before but these crossroads of change are still surprising, aren't they, Babies? We're moving along like the elephant parade in William Stafford's "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" on our way to the next show, holding on and following the elephants in front of us until we come to that unanticipated crossroads. Do we decide to let go and follow our own instinct? Which way is town anyway, the circus tent or just tomorrow? 

Only two more sessions of my American Poetry class at ELM, this county's dominant enrichment program for seniors, remain. Next term, I will teach the evolved version of "Ethics and Graceful Aging" which I think I've finally gotten "just right." But, for now, American poet William Stafford and his brand of ethics have center stage. Stafford is an insightful poet and his later work is probably my favorite American poetry. No American Poetry class would be complete without his work and only respect for his copyright keeps me from reproducing this particular poem. The best I can do is share a link: A Ritual to Read to Each Other.

Teaching to other seniors is always a fulfilling, challenging privilege. Again, poetry has been a learning experience for me. That’s the magic of real poetry; a good poem waits for you, no matter how long you neglect it, and always has something new to say to your spirit.

Babies, I encourage you to read “A Ritual to Read to Each Other.” Stafford speaks to the bond readers and writers share and offers a reason why I write here and why you come back.