Posted in A Day In the Life

The Great Texas Freeze of 2021

Snowed in. Now there’s a phrase I never expected to use again. Not when hubby said to me, just prior to our move here, “we’re going to love those warm and mild Texas winters.” It’s true that we’ve had more than several days these past few months where I could walk in shorts, or in leggings and a light jacket. Sometimes it was kind of a fashion thrill to wear a knit cap on a chilly day. But I never expected THIS!

What THIS is, is a deep, prolonged freeze, the kind you might expect in a northern state or somewhere on the east coast. And I’ve lived in this kind of weather before, but I was also equipped for it – as was the infrastructure around me. In my Sunshine Canyon days in Boulder, Colorado, if we got a foot of snow, the roads were plowed and sanded by 5:30 the next morning. I don’t think we have many snowplows in central Texas.

There was a time when my husband and I were thrilled for a snow day, the kind of day when the 9th street park became a cross-country ski track; when driving down the mountain at 8:00 AM to the park was filled with exhilarating anticipation. Since arriving in Austin a couple of years ago, my blood has thinned. In the “I used to” category is a sense of hardiness brought about by early morning winter hikes, where the only other being on the trail was the otherworldly silver crane meditating in the creek bed. But then, I had the luxury of playing in snow. In the area where I live now, snow and ice for a long period of time is uncommon, and without good infrastructure creates misery, not joy.

We’ve kept our outside faucets trickling for the past few days in an attempt to stave off broken pipes. Now we’re hearing that this is contributing to a water shortage. Hubby and

I have bundled up and cuddled up feeling like hibernation would be the best recourse. Someone just wake us up when this is over.

And we’ve been incredibly lucky. All around us are millions of people who lost power and therefore heat, people who lost water and had to deal with broken pipes. Ice has forced road closures, and worse, grocery store closures because they lack power.

Everyone is a little on edge. People worry about their families, worry about a lack of heat or broken pipes. And we all hope and cling to the promise of the coming thaw. Dark and harsh events tend to shine a light. This light is an interrogating one, illuminating what cannot be escaped when circumstances are not of your own doing. I’ve gotten a real education the past few days, reading about how the unique, private, electrical power grid was created to enrich its owners, but not to function for its citizens. The grid has never been winterized—even when Texas had a bad winter event similar to this one in 2011 and winterization was recommended. That winterization of power plants would have kept the heat on for millions of people.

Sunday is the turn around day. We’ll finally get out of freezing temps. It will be 45 degrees here. The ice and snow will melt and the roads will be drivable. Then we’ll settle back into dealing with things like when and where to get a COVID vaccine. We’ll dream about meeting up with family someplace other than on Zoom. And maybe we’ll get inspired to replace the greedy politicians in our state with those who understand the notion that governing is made up of the wise logistical choices of keeping its citizens safe.

The world continues to change at a rate that leaves me breathless. In viewing the damage, I try to hold onto to possibility that will push its way up like a young, green shoot. So much hope, hung upon a small green shoot, reaching upward from the cold ground.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Swimming with the Dolphins

The road is straight, marsh water on either side. A lot of the Keys are like this; a solid piece of highway, that banks down to the shallow waters leading out to the sea. Dean and I have been quiet for the last half hour of our drive. We’re lost in our own thoughts, taking in the foreign land of Florida, a place that when we see it on a map, always makes us giggle. “It looks like the penis of the America,” I tell him.

“It looks like it needs Viagra,” he replies. It’s a silly joke that never gets old.

We’ve come to Florida to visit Dean’s mother, but we’ve filled the time with so many other things, because my husband feels like he needs more time and a larger buffer between himself and the complicated woman who we’re never sure will be mean or welcoming. She’s tiring. I’m relieved that our visit to her house has been shortened by the creative itinerary that Dean has made up for us.

We’re headed to someplace called The Dolphin Research Center. We’re going to swim with the dolphins, but I am told that the dolphins get to choose whether or not they want to swim with us. I like the fairness of how that arrangement sounds, and I’m hoping that they will want to swim with me.

Tall reeds and skeletons of old trees flash by the window as we drive. My memory is caught by the lines from a T.S. Eliot poem: “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.” The strip of asphalt grows wider, the ocean receding further out from the reaches of the soft banks that flank it. Two lanes become four and soon we’re in the town that houses The Dolphin Research Center.

We’ve packed swimsuits, towels and a bag of snacks. There’s a hotel nearby where we’ll spend the night. Standing in the warm and humid air, I get a rush of excitement about swimming with the dolphins. I’ve never swum with anything other than a person. The family story is that I learned to swim before I could walk. My older brother would tell me to crawl to my sister, and then put me in the water. I always found my way to her and back again to him. Learning to swim at such an early age made me fearless in the water. How the sun and water feel on my body is always a sensuous experience for me. I am a perpetual child of summer who loves the water.

I spent youthful years on the California coast, body surfing and swimming every day. Beginning at ten o’clock and exhausting myself by noon, these were dreamy days. I had few responsibilities or obligations and my rookie life as a legal adult was simple. Body surfing with my friend Bernie on Topanga Beach, drinking Welches grape juice in the hot sun and working nights slinging drinks to businessmen in the Marina who tipped well. No ambition was dogging my heels, just the joy of sun and water.

Dean and I have gone to Maui for vacations, where we spend hours a day in the ocean, getting salty and tan, relaxed beyond what normal life can imagine. Returning to the water is always a rebirth experience for me. Now I’m going swim in a different part of the world and maybe the dolphins will sing to me. The water affirms a life in me that is free from sorrow. Swimming with the dolphins, I think, will be a pure kind of pleasure, with no agenda attached.

We check in at our appointed time, sign the waivers and change into our bathing suits. We’re introduced to the people who will be swimming with us today, a nice couple from somewhere, USA. Maybe they’re on vacation. Maybe they have their own family avoidance going on, but my interest in them is passing. I wish it were just Dean and I swimming with the dolphins. I’m selfish in moments like these. There’s magic afoot and I don’t want to share.

We’re given a tour of the facility and told that our fees will go toward research. Here, they study the psychology of dolphins, their ability to communicate and commune with humans and each other. We hear the stories of how dolphins have rescued swimmers and led lost boats back to port. Maybe by studying how dolphins communicate, it will help us humans to communicate better.

I feel a rush of anticipation when we are finally given instructions about the swim: “Don’t grab at the dolphins. Your arms are where their dorsal fins would be, and your arms are so much longer than their fins that it must look intrusive, even threatening. Let them come to you,” the facilitator tells us. “Dolphins are playful and they are sometimes amorous with humans. They have a great deal in common with 16-year-old boys.” We all laugh.

I really hope that a dolphin doesn’t try to hump my leg like some horny little dog. Surely the facilitator intervenes if that happens. I push the thought away. Instead I think about what I’ve heard: don’t grab at the dolphins and they like to play. I’ve been close enough to animals that I know interactive play with them is like being in another realm. It’s a way of communicating joy and delight. I want to play with the dolphins.

Our group is led to a large swimming area with a deep pool that backs up to a series of other pools and swimming areas. A floating platform juts out into the water. An underwater gate is opened for the dolphins and we stand on the platform and watch three of them come in. They break the surface of the water with their snouts, curiously checking us out. And they wear what looks like a permanent smile. They don’t have to be with you if they don’t want to, I remind myself.

I will probably never have this opportunity again, so I’m going to go for it. Before any of the other swimmers move, I ease myself from the platform into the water. The dolphins are circling the bottom of the pool now. They’re a lot bigger than I’d imagined. I already know what I what to do. Once in the water, I dive to the bottom where the dolphins are circling. I turn somersaults. First forward, and then back ward, before I swim back to the top for air. I dive again. More somersaults, but this time when I swim to the top for air, I have company. As I take a big breath, I feel the dolphin’s sharp little teeth on my thighs. She’s holding me by my thighs and pushing me around the pool and I feel another dolphin push her snout into my breastbone, and that holds me straight, like I’m floating on my belly, but able to hold my head out of the water as they push me around. They are playing with me. I’m making involuntary squeaking sounds, joyful sounds of play. I grin at my husband who is applauding from the platform.

The facilitator shouts out to me: “They like you. Just relax and go with it.” My reaction is part excitement and part terror. This huge sea-beast has my thighs in her jaws, while another dolphin pushes on my sternum. A third dolphin is now swimming next to me. I have usurped the dolphins in the pool.

After a few minutes, I feel excited and exhausted, a little overwhelmed to be playing with such large animals, so I take a stroke toward the platform. The dolphin releases me from her mouth and I get out of the water. But the dolphins don’t go away. They wait for me at the surface, bobbing their dolphin heads and watching me intently. My husband is on the platform with me. He hasn’t even been into the water yet. Go back and play with them,” he says.

Back into the water, I go. Back into the mouth of the dolphin. Back to being pushed around the pool by two dolphins just as before. Their bodies are smooth and sleek. I let my hand reach back and touch the one that has me in her mouth. She feels warm. I take a deep breath and try to relax into the experience, though there’s no relaxing to be had. It’s too exciting to be interacting with them in this way. I’m not just swimming with the dolphins; I’m playing with them.

We’ve done a few circles in the pool, when the facilitator asks me if I will get out of the water and allow for some of the other “guests” to swim. I know that I got the best of what we came to experience, so I say goodbye to each of dolphins. “We had a good time, didn’t we?” I say to them. Then I get out of the water. My husband and the other couple are swimming now. And the dolphins swim close beside them. They don’t try to take anyone else into their mouth like they did with me, but they are swimming and circling in a way that’s welcoming. I see my husbands face and it’s filled with a sense of wonder.

When the session ends, the dolphins swim back through the gate to a larger area. I’m standing on the platform shaking from the cool breeze. I wrap myself into a towel and sit down staring at the pool, trying to remember each detail about this time. My heart is beating fast. Dean pulls up a chair next to me and places his arm around my shoulders, pulling me toward him. “That was really a magic moment,” he said.

I nod my head. Some part of my heart quivers at the recognition of being connected to all beings and it fills me with appreciation. Dean’s strong arm pulls me closer and he kisses the top of my head. There are pink marks on my thighs from the dolphin’s teeth. I touch them, savoring the images and feelings of the day.

For a brief moment I can see the truth that we all hide from ourselves: the universe is only love.

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Brief History of a Screen Filled Life

I remember my first business website. So new was the idea, that the local newspaper called and asked if they could do a story on my husband and I, posing the questions of whether or not this online advertising and promotion of our business was really going to work. The website was small and clunky and at the moment I had no idea what it could do. We declined the interview. Within a year or two every small business, every large business had their own website. And shortly after that, lots of people who weren’t in business, but who had an axe to grind or a message to impart built websites too.

An episode of the television show Californication addressed blogging, the new venue for published works, albeit smaller, easier to read works than what you would find in print. And thanks to Word Press, blogging began to nibble away at magazines and newspapers who now turned their efforts online, as advertisers fled to what was becoming a larger audience. The greatest loss for me during that time was that my Sundays, which had once been all about lying around with The New York Times and Then Denver Post for hours while I drank tea, began to dwindle. Without realizing that it was happening, I began to read less and less. Eventually I cancelled the newspapers.

Then social media, the double edged sword that swung wildly unabated by any sort of regulation, making me giddy that I could keep up with so many people online. At the same time, Facebook was giving a platform to dark and anonymous voices that had once been relegated to the shadows. What now came to light was foreboding, but I told myself it was just a fringe element. No one is really that mean, ugly-hearted or misinformed.

Like everyone else, my brain chemicals lit up with likes and comments,.so I barely noticed that social media, just like websites and blogging became one more place to advertise, one more place to promote. It wasn’t just businesses advertising, it was individuals advertising themselves. In the business of writing, every agent, publisher and editor wanted to make sure that you had a website and that you were promoting yourself on social media. In the beginning, it wasn’t that hard, but after a short time, I realized that I was competing with virtual assistants or companies that were posting for individuals. No longer a matter of likes and comments, social media was now a matter of whether or not you were an influencer, whether or not you were a brand.

I think about my Catholic upbringing in which the nuns instructed me not to call attention to myself; told me that it was better to give to others selflessly. Is selflessly a word we even use anymore? The whole self-promotion thing has gotten out of hand. I keep track of my social media accounts, a website, a blog, a newsletter, email lists and up until recently, a podcast. I am a full-blown self-promoting business and with that, I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet.

The digital world has overtaken us. Recent reporting tells me that my social media accounts are valuable for the data they collect, plugging me into an algorithm that will assure I see posts and advertising in my feeds that will validate my perception of the world. What could go wrong?

An yet . . . I still enjoy my Facebook interactions with friends and family. Truth is, I like people and I enjoy meeting new friends online. I smile when people I don’t even know proudly post pictures of their grandchildren. It makes me feel like I am part of one big family. Worlds within worlds spin round the day-to-day lives of human beings and that picture of a grand baby connects us to a sweet place that loves babies and the promise of new beginnings. The other side of that double edged sword, however, is the incessant noise about branding and messaging, about influencing and trending.

If I left all of social media behind, I would wonder about those other writers I’ve come to know. I’d wonder if they’d finished writing the novel that they were so passionate about. I’d wonder about friend’s kids and dogs and cats and whether or not Esther’s garden would be bigger this year. I’d miss writing something for my blog or newsletter, and miss seeing pictures of Donna’s dog, Bella, or my great, great niece playing with a doll that I’d sent her. I’d miss sharing my own successes and wins, the sorrow of large and little losses. Still, and I know that it’s somewhat a function of this pandemic, I long for face to face meetings. To look into someone’s eyes and feel the energy of their being is different than seeing a picture on a screen. I miss talking walks with my husband and my friends where one’s attention isn’t pulled away by an email that you can now read on your wristwatch.

So, I do the self-promotion dance, like every other writer I know. I try to put out a message that I hope will inspire, uplift or help in some way. I try to keep it emotionally honest. I write blogs like these and marvel that in certain ways we connect more with the written word than ever before. This is probably the greatest time of literacy that the world has ever experienced and a lot of it is due to technology. That is an amazing thing and one that has the potential for great goodness. But there are those days when I wish there weren’t any screens. In what is now known as “the old days,” friends would stop by unexpectedly just to say hello and visit, to hang out, to figure out what it meant to be human, and the only interruption was the possibility of a solitary, ringing phone somewhere down the hall.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Making Art While the World Appears to Fall Apart

As World War II came to an end, a young soldier stationed in Germany, took photos of what was left of the city streets he patrolled in Berlin. Small black and white images, framed in white borders with scalloped edges show piles of rubble and people wandering. In one picture, a man carries a chair, a single stick of furniture with which to begin anew. Another shows a woman digging in the debris for something that used to be, but no longer is. An entire country, the one time great destroyer, now destroyed, was the subject of the young man’s photographs. The aftermath of that war and all its horrific suffering must have been grief and bewilderment as to how the world would ever again know good. The soldier documenting the story with his camera was my father and the year was 1945.

The pictures of life beginning to rise up from the burnt out shell of survival were not the only things that the young soldier brought back from the war. Among his belongings, he had wrapped in blankets and carefully tucked away a cocoon of memory, sliding it under the bed to collect dust until his death. Within that walled off slice of his life, were a series of drawings done in pencil and charcoal — beautiful, serene scenes of deer grazing in the shelter of the forest. I had seen the drawings when I was a little girl and I knew that they were my father’s treasures. He told me how they represented a brief relationship with an artist that led to the purchase of the drawings, which he paid for with packs of cigarettes and chocolate bars.

He loved them so much, he told me, that he carried them back over an ocean and into his life. But they were never framed or displayed. He hid them under the bed, along with other things from the war that I would never see, or understand. When he died in 1980 I pulled the wrapped drawings from their unclean tomb and brought them home with me, framing them and finally giving them the display that they deserved. I know that in spite of the art being hidden, he looked at the drawings from time to time, remembering a friend whose fate was unknown.

Each time I walk by the framed drawings now, I wonder how it is that an artist living in the face of such horror could create such beauty? In these unrelenting days of pandemic and blood sport politics, the drawings reach out to me from another terrible time, whispering that I should not forget that there is always something left in the ashes of loss.

That’s what art does. It keeps good alive in the worst of times. That’s what Amanda Gorman did when she stood on the steps of the Capitol building and recited her poem – she was a light, enlivening inspiration in the human heart, broken by so much ugliness, pain and death. What she gave to us was one long, deep breath that exhaled the healing imagining of new possibility.

The works of an unknown German artist who preserved the beauty of his heart, and the well-praised poet who will surely experience fame for her work, did the exact same thing. They did what artists are called to do in atrocious times. They affirmed life with their creations. They provided nourishment for the dried up well of deep goodness for which we are now longing.

Divisiveness and lies, death and destruction can threaten to strangle our efforts to keep creating. How can creativity be meaningful or significant in these challenging times? How could that German artist even think of drawing when he took in the magnitude of horror around him? How could Amanda Gorman create such a profound moment from the steps of the capital where darkness had been unleashed only days before? These artists created boldly out of grief and the mud of chaos, the cramping labor of what it means to birth love.

The emerging archetype of midlife women is the Creatrix, a word that means a woman who makes things. There has never been a greater calling in our lifetime, to make things as a life affirming action, because that’s what lets in the light. The great poet Jonas Mekas said, “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” I take his words as a warning to not be daunted by the power hungry, to find a way to share what is both painful and beautiful in the human condition.

There are piles of rubble everywhere in our collective heartbreak. To write, to sing, to dance, to be playful and silly, to make things, to gather things and arrange them, to praise, to pay homage to grief upon an alter in the corner of our garden, to plant the seeds of gratitude — this is the beginning of how we contribute to the clean up and the rebuilding of our nation’s soul. This is our time to make things.

Posted in A Day In the Life

Wrapping Up The Year

I’d promised myself that I’d relax the last couple weeks of the year, that I’d reflect upon, and immerse myself in, the quiet and the beauty around me.  I did not disappoint.  For the past few mornings, I’ve managed to sleep in to 7:00 or 7:30, a time that seems early to some, but for this 5:00AM riser, is a delicious reprieve from the norm.  From Christmas day onward, I’ve managed to ease into the day with no demands or obligations, save for the weekly grocery store outing. I’ve gotten to books in my stack that have waited patiently for me, binge watched Netflix shows with my husband in the evening and pretty much mastered the art of doing nothing and doing it well.

This morning I took my cup of tea to the back porch and sat, watching the rain recede into a changing sky. Grey clouds, white clouds, moments of teasing blue, then back to dark grey again.  This year the Texas winter is warm enough to be outside on many mornings, and I find a great soothing of my soul in watching the sky and tuning into the life that resides in the back drop of woods that edges up to the parameters of my yard.  Small yellow birds flit from tree to tree chirping, while the sound of other winged creatures respond in different calls.  This is the stage of life’s play, entertaining a heart open to learn from what the cycles, symbols and seasons have to show me. While self-knowledge is revealing, the knowledge of nature is even more so.

Tomorrow I’ll close out the 2020 ledgers for the bookkeeper and make new files for 2021. Then I’ll take a look around my office and feel appreciation for the shelves of books, the baskets of spiral notebooks, the cups of pens and my computer – all of the tools that serve me daily.  I’ll say a prayer of thanks for all that was given this year, and a prayer of grief and blessing for all that was taken away. My spirt is lifted by the symbol of this new year more than ever before, and in that I know that I am not alone.

Happy New Year everyone.  Onward.