Of building, bonfire and all that is bricked beautiful.

Of building, bonfire and all that is bricked beautiful.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How dare we think of January only as a month to last through, as if the unfolding days are not worth their time.  I was a Christmas snob cloaked in my sentimentality of  holiday songs, warm passionate holiday colors and evergreen trees and boughs which adorned my home. Or perhaps I just really really like Christmas. (I am still brushing up piles of pine needles as I sweep carpets, floors and heat vents.)

Oh I know I lamented, refused even, to give into the crisp blues and sparkles of January, but I did.  (I did paint my nails the frostiest blue I could find).  It was time.  With ridiculous stubbornness, I unplugged the building light displays.

But subzero temperatures had delayed family Christmas season outings until Epiphany Saturday.  And while the meal, conversations and football games were more than enough, a true new tradition was born when everyone had left.  Everyone that is, except for my eighty-two year old mother and I.

With a fresh pot of coffee, the two of us packaged and organized Christmas village decorations back in red Christmas storage boxes.  She dusted tree ornaments, most of which had been given to me from her.  We both smiled.  I rewrapped.  Ornaments were retucked in their green plastic storage container.  In an epiphany of epiphanies, I saw spread out before me an organized color-coding of history, memories and a bit of the rights of womanhood.  From my mom.  From me.  From years ago.  Hmm. My excuse of not having the capacity for creativity, high intelligence and organization was becoming very flimsy (yes, please laugh and roll your eyes).

My mother and I packaged and talked until two in the morning.  We also managed to eat half a fruitcake.

Shhh.  I am recycling red and white.  Turns out, I will be early for Valentines Day.  Shhh….

Technically the days are again growing longer.  Every three days or so, almost by instinct or habit or both, I find myself measuring the sunset shadows from trees to snow, partnering with the hands on the clock.  A bit further.  A bit longer the day.  A bit brighter.  Unfortunately the day’s length has little impact upon the temperature; an inviting sparkling hand which tempts a person, “come nearer,” with the bitterest of freeze-dried soul.

I have found a peculiar new passion for January in Wisconsin in grilling experiments and bonfires.    There is something magical about both, in the subzero temperatures.  The night blackens so quickly with the sun disappearing to a mild glow through the wooded horizon.  And then the sky is black.  With a moonless night, the stars are diamond studs lain across black velvet.  There would be no other way to display the universe’s finest.  In the woods, all around you is blackness except the soft blue-white snow and the lights of the house.

And of a bonfire crispy licking at the eight degrees below zero air which surrounds its flames.

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Graduation Clock. When I was young, I enjoyed tinkering with clocks to the point of reading about their mechanics.  This repair was only the scratching of those battery points and their replacement, but I have to admit to a reawakening of the joy…..of timekeeping.

He said, “I’m sorry.” Words I had never heard from him about anything deeper than a forgotten orange juice.  And that even might be giving him credit where none is due.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

I looked at him, stunned.  He had continued to explain he knew exactly when ‘it’ became clear.  I am not sure when he figured ‘it’ out but it had not been during months of marriage counseling.  During the thick of our battles, he had never been sorry.  Now you could be wondering about what type of shrew I would be, to not admit my faults.  Oh, I have plenty of ‘fault’.  I have plenty of sin and blame to place upon my shoulders.  I have no problem admitting it.

“I remember the night we went out to eat, for a Friday night fish fry.  It was just the two of us.  I messed up.  I’m sorry.”  Now, of course, the survival of a twenty year marriage does not depend upon one night out.  The spark is not lost on one incident.  Through the wretched last years of marriage, through the counseling and battles and attempts, it was an evening to which I kept referring.  We had gone to eat at a favorite country tavern.  It was one of those perfect ‘date like’ couple moments in which your top notch clothes and top-notch preparations are not demanded (because in reality, although a person loves Friday night, you have worked.  Best jeans, please.  Nice outfit.  Smell good.  Look smashing. Yes.  Black tie / pantyhose? Nope, save it.)  In Wisconsin the Friday night fish fry is a cultural staple.  Religious, not religious.  It does not matter.  Fridays are fish night.  A person may wonder at the quality but I assure you that this particular pub has the best baked scallops (and a wonderful whiskey, wink. ) and always the resounding echos of a week’s earned laughter.

It had been our chance at a romantic Friday evening so many years ago.  What happened I really wish not to write.  But it was not romantic and it was not salvageable.

We both began to cry, separated by the comfort of the distance of the kitchen island, a stove top width between us.  In a sappy romantic movie, the moment could have been a rush into each others arms.  A reconciliation.  It was reconciliation for us too, but it was a reconciling of one of the too many moments in our marriage which had been infliction rather than affection.

I let myself cry with him for the first time in three years, the distance he and I have traveled since the divorce. I did not rush into his arms. Nor did I run away.  I physically moved away from the kitchen island to the other side of the room in order to cry, still in the same room yet at a distance.  It was a space of a sorrowful kindness and tears of gratitude.  Healing in the first days of the new year.

Eventually our tears dried.  Managing the details of the business of raising our son replaced the scattering sentiments of our broken bond.  Our marriage was broken but not our family.  We have truly figured out how to be friends.

The beautiful blue white drama of Wisconsin’s January

“I’m sorry” had rung in my head.  For hours I was not really sure of neither how I felt nor of how I should feel.  I was stunned as if hit by bad news but I could not figure out why.  Was this not good news?

It took hours into the following day to realize the recognition of reality.  For the first time he had  admitted to what he had done.  Like a rope flung to another side of time, back to that time in my life, his apology secured a piece of my soul, bridging what I had written about to another perspective.  He had been a participant and a witness to the time when my whole world changed.  I had written journals during those days, trying to clear my own disbelief at the extreme nature of hatred I had felt from people who had called themselves my friends.  I had wrestled with understanding all of them, coupling their actions with justifications. I still held a smidgen of my own disbelief.

What happened to me professionally at that time was the literal icing on the cake.  I worked in a field, in a segment of society, which prides itself by the vows of its own doctrine, to lend a hand to those who had been downed.  I had been through years of a marriage in turmoil and during the last months of my marriage, my professional life and the life I had fell apart.  There had been no one to help me.  There was no hand, not to me, not to my husband, not to our marriage and especially not to our son.  In the months prior I reached for help to only find mockery and no one to help. Not from that part of my life.  Lately a new question popped in my head.

Why did not my friend, my boss, why did she not stand for me?  Why did she not reach out either to those above to assist me or to others around me? Another curiosity to which I no longer need an answer.

But I did find friends. I did. And I did hear an “I’m sorry” that seemed to be one of those blanketed apologies like an all-encompassing blanket property insurance policy.

It covered all damages.

 

His voiced words were like the painting of golden brushstrokes.  It was a moment of kintsugi. My wounds, my scars. I was sorry too.

Kintsugi.

My building, Matthias. Here, in the 1940’s, owned by a local national fox furrier company.  Rumor has it that Ms. Jayne Mansfield selected her furs here.
Me, the brick dandelion

 

Blessings to you.  May my life, to you,….well just know that anything is possible. Healing is possible. Have faith, work hard, believe, love.

Love you. Lots of love.

Stephanie

PS.  Oh! I almost forgot – the January vegetable grilling recipe.  Two red peppers for sweetness and color.  A large container of fresh baby bella mushrooms and a good sized head of broccoli.  Szechuan sauce and a bit of olive oil. Grill in aluminum or in a grilling vegetable basket alongside the meat.

Why do I feel like the adventure is just beginning? Hmm. Stay tuned. X

2018.

2018.

January 1, 2018

 

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Number 46. The Key Secret.

Of Buildings.

I found a key numbered ’46’ at Matthias.  Upstairs, among the demolished interior walls which now lie in chunks like ice flows upon the concrete floor, I had been staring at my future office studio when I saw the rusted backing of a coat hook still anchored to cinderblock, just as it had for the past seven decades.  I thought to myself about how I had clutched to different people, things and times in my life.  Clutching never works well in the long run.  Everyone wishes to say that are above such behavior but this is such a lie.  We are conditioned for it.  There are times in ones life that all you can do is grasp on tight to weather the storm, no matter if it a storm of bad circumstance or the weathering of ones own personal growth.

The clutching, although embarrassing is meant for just that, the weathering through it all.  It has taken me a life time to realize our conditioning or even the threat upon such behavior.  As a woman there is always the unstated threat that if you are genuine and if in that genuineness you find yourself at odds with mainstream expectations, well then you are wrong.  If you do not change, if you do not clutch or cling then you will find yourself – gasp – alone.  You will end up alone.

I am hoping I have finally learned that to make the choice is making the choice.  (From years ago, I do have a tendency for Yogi Berra-isms).  Like marriage in reverse,  I do not give up my choice.  It is an unconditional vow to the peace of my soul.

Perhaps the vibrations of the jackhammering or the blunt force when the interior walls fell loosened the screws, but between the rusted hook’s plate and the painted plastered cinderblock stuck a rounded piece of steel, relatively untouched by the years.  With a screwdriver and my fingernail tips, I picked hopefully until the object started to slide.  I had imagined it was someone’s secret spot for a locker key.

It was.  Number 46.

 

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Robustly, amorously Christmas

On my seasons.

My world blued in a matter of days.  Not with sadness but with a reluctant vibrancy in imitation.  I had forgotten how quickly the rest of the world changes from celebrating Christmas with heated reds upon plaids and golds and silvers.  No matter what your favorite colors of Christmas, there is a warmth.  Maybe it is the hope of evergreens.

But within a day of the holiday, the world seems to turn icy blue.  Lights get dimmed and decorations get tucked.  Every year I fight it but I am happy to discover there are in existence, others who hang onto the reds and greens, that warmth and celebration despite a return to work and other daily activities, who return home after a day to a Christmas house.  At least until the twelve days of Christmas have passed.

……………..

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My studio office. I’m a bit too proud, but I’m running with it….

It was two days until the new year when I decided to set my goals for the coming year.  Within fifteen minutes – bam, done.  I had been rather cocky about it all, spouting to the cross on the wall in my combination kitchen/dining/living room which,  in the home design philosophy of the 1990’s was called a ‘great room’.  (This same layout may or may not now be called ‘open concept’).  It is open and I think it is great but the main feature when I plan and hold meetings with myself is that I can spout to the cross on the wall while pacing a bit.  I have enough room to get it all out.

So I spouted for fifteen minutes.  Tongue in cheek, inspired by the magnificent bravado of Christmas, I laid out, aloud, a list of goals I had for the coming year.  Stopped me right in my tracks when I heard the slight echo of ‘my plan’.  Doggone if I had not done it.  Fifteen minutes.

……………………..

Es.

“Es,” I asked in a softer tone than usual, a bit breathless from our brisk pace. She turned to me in a somewhat startled mode as we had walked for hours without saying a word.  “Es what is that mark on your back?”

We had been walking side by side until the path narrowed.  We quickened our speed in a delight of the ease of the path.  There was nothing to do or ponder.  The path just needed to be walked.  As I took my place behind her, she had turned, absentmindedly checking on me.  As her torso turned, the shirt covering her back untucked, catching the wind.  There, in a jagged line parallel to her spine, it looked like a scar from a decades old kidney operation.  I had never seen it before.  The scar furrowed her softened skin into a shiny pink ridge.  

It looks worse than it is or was”, she said, of course adding her smile.  I had not seen the scar before.  

“Years ago a watch dog attacked me,” she explained.  “I had gotten in between it and its master.  An innocent mistake of just being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  The dog had almost been looking for a reason to attack.  That was decades ago.”

She continued.  “When I dove between the two beasts, the shadow beast, the beast of many had lunged at me.  I was lying face first in the mud, protecting my head and my heart, but its tooth, while aiming for my spine, caught on the ridge of the scar.  I could feel the immediate heat from blood rushing into the trench.  I did not know how deeply the beast had dug into my flesh.  I did not know if they got my spine or not. 

“But I never saw blood…” but my words drifted as she turned to face me.  Es had this peculiar fashion notion to wear shirts backwards.  There, on the front of her shirt were the smudges of chocolate reminiscent of the bloodied wound.

She smiled and I had wished briefly that she would not.  But in her smile I saw something new and remembered something else new.  She had not cried.  Not now in the retelling nor for the last hours we had been walking.  She had stopped crying.

I remembered the voice, the cries of the beasts.  As I lay in the mud I waited for kindness.  I had hoped at least one of them would show the others how to help.  I had been lying there, bloodied, and even though they showed no remorse nor any indication that they should feel remorse, still I had hoped.  I knew one of them would call out to the others, to instruct them to be kind, to demand that they halt their attack.

Instead the voice of the beast mocked me.  The one voice I had waited for, was no longer.  The beast knew I would never retaliate – I would have never believed its duplicity.  I do not think the beast knew I heard it, but I had.  I had heard his words.”

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Not sure why, but my favorite self photo. At Matthias, twenty below outside. 12/31/17.

 

On Epiphany.

To be fair, Mother Nature urges me along.  I know it.  Steph, the rest of the world is going on to January aka “White Sales / Inventory / and pre-Valentine (don’t even get me started on the ‘Love Holiday.’)

I decided – well, that is not true – I am letting my project lists dictate an elimination of the past.  My Epiphany is once again, ‘my epiphany.’

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Epiphany cookies.

For New Years Eve, I grilled and baked star shaped sugar cookies in honor of Epiphany.  At my age I am rather ashamed of myself to admit that I ate so many of them that when I awoke in the new year, I smelled like a rather giant, albeit delicious vanilla-like, cookie dough woman.  Frightening.

In Wisconsin, the first extended cold snap wrings out any color other than the chilliest crispest blue.  The moon is no longer white but a blue gray as its light filters through sky-born particles of ice.  The bark of trees stand solemnly with the grey of dormancy.    Ah, just a few more days of the robust reds.

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……………………

Months and years it has taken me to come to this point.  That retaliation is not my suit.  Neither is tribulation.  And, to wit, neither is justification.  I

Secretly I have looked forward to this time of year and particularly, this time of year for this year.  As I correct myself, clean my home, make small improvements (aka replace the toilet seat),  I think I am going to roll around – amore – at home in my gumdrop red, vanilla white and evergreen home – knowing that temporarily I am dreadfully passe with the rest of the world who is fashionably into the whites and cool blues of January whether in ice storms or waters of tropical escapes.  And, for a few days I might be privately at my own height of fashionista with earthy geometric print leggings, christmas socks, olive green button sweater and a spring floral blouse..

(I have a lot of deep freeze work to do).

Hmmm.. Maybe I could paint a few fingernails glittery icy blue….hmmm…

Happy New Year. 

May your new year be happy – yep, happiness.  Peaceful, sustainable happiness and wild personal growth.

May your 2018 be icy blue moons and sultry blue waters.  May you know the robust red of life love and the soothe of evergreen.

And everything in between.  

Love. Lots and loads of love.

stephanie

 

 

 

The Thirty-Second, Red Light Vow

The Thirty-Second, Red Light Vow

December 25, 2017

 

Within two blocks I drove myself from a self-proclaimed twelve year old to a seventeen year old.  No, I am not desperately clutching youth.  (For the record, if I would be aiming for recapturing my younger experiences, seventeen would not be my year of choice).  Recovering from years of personal trauma and numbing self-doubt has been a harvesting of bits and pieces of psyche, flung and scattered through a woodchipper.  I am not fooling myself.  I will never be a tree again.

With Christmas carols blaring, my off-key singing and admitted split attention between road conditions and holiday decorations – I remembered holidays past.  I remembered the winter of 2014, the November in which I slept in the camper until the weather got below zero.  It was the Advent which I now like to refer to as my advent, my beginning, a gift of light in which I saw people’s behavior as I had never seen before.  Out of that turmoil I now realized, three years later, came a gift for which I will always be grateful: a bed, for now I know what it is like to not have a safe bed to sleep upon and the gift of true friendship for now I know more of human behavior.

In this past month I stayed away from anything which reminded me of that time.  I no longer needed to destroy myself nor did I need to allow anyone in my life who did or who would like to hold that knife.  Nope. I still wrestle at times, with the notion that somehow life grows people who do actually breed upon the misfortune of others. A confusing odd and what I find, a waste of energy.

I felt joy.  I remembered what it was like to feel happiness, that twelve year old happiness in which fresh bubbly soda tickles your nose and fresh apples crunch between your teeth and you cry at movies you have seen at least half a dozen times.  You forget to be embarrassed about any of it in an irreverence to your own limitations.

In those two blocks I began to remember it was Advent and sort of an anniversary of when it all happened.  I imagined what it must have been like for them to choose what they did to me and to choose to do it during the holiest of seasons.  As I braked at the intersection, the seventeen year old me looked at the vibrancy of purple red neon lights against the blackness of night.

I did not cry.  Without choking back tears I remembered the events and I remembered the feelings.  I remembered celebrating with them at a local bar, with my friend, my boss, who had held meetings just the night before.   I remembered not knowing what they did until years later.  In half a minute at these red lights, I thanked G~d for my ignorance.  For the first time I realized what a gift it had been.  I had no clue what they were doing.  At the time they met, for some reason, G~d and events kept me swimming with their children during the Christmas party as they met to fire me.

Thank you, G~d.  Surpasses all understanding, indeed.

…………………………………….

Part of my vow at the red lit thirty seconds, I decided to give myself Christmas.  Beside the Advent of 2014, I have, in my years, known a disproportionate number of people who are monsters at Christmas.  Nope, I was going to give myself Christmas.

I have worked to manifest the vow itself in quite a few different ways.  One is at my renovation project.  During one of my daily checks at the building, I stopped at these southern exposure second floor windows.  Early in the process when I was not quite sure where my life was headed I imagined living spaces in that upper floor.  I had chuckled to myself with the memory but as I did so, I flung my leg on the concrete sill.  It was a perfect height for a ballet barre. And I stretched.

I decided to change my studio office space.  I had planned on the first floor southern space because it has been the spot for my first work area.  But the first floor is commercial / retail – every square foot must ‘price out’.  I had imagined my office to be in the second floor space above main street, where an office should be.  But where I really want my office is here, looking south, by just one of those windows which catch the morning and had caught me so long ago.  I had imagined artist studios there but what I really wanted was my studio.  Such an odd way to make a decision, in the stretch of ones leg upon the concrete sill.

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 My studio office space

In that pink red magenta Christmas magic all its own, an equally dangerous thought came to mind, a radical idea of release from the convenient bondage of suffering, from a self-imposed desire to remain within that prison.  I decided to embrace that seventeen year old spirit.

Funny thing though, that seventeen to me never meant wildness or irresponsible behavior.  Very few times in my life have I ever been irresponsible and those times never really coincided with the norms of female development.  I was a tad bit irresponsible in my late twenties.  And a bit rash in 2015.  But as a seventeen year old?  No.

I smiled at the thought of seventeen year old me – focused, smart and with no clue exactly how powerful she was and was supposed to be.  And, the blessed fun she could choose.  Yep, in thirty seconds of not crying I returned my smile.  Some of seventeen year old me are gone but there are no rules to what I choose to try.  Not now.  And why not?

img_9900 And I decided I wanted my office, I wanted my building, I wanted my life.  It was a gift to me – pieces of my experience for my lifetime.  And I jumped in, ready to fail, ready to try, ready to study and wanting to learn.

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Ventilation systems, machinery, the guts ~ the history of the building I love.  
Christmas and Hanukkah.

I found,however, that I cannot stop the tears whenever I lit the Hanukkah candles.  I really did not attend to the candles as I had other years, missing some evenings due to weather.  At home we only lit one night of the menorah.  Still, the nine candles were lit to mark the conclusion.  My mother could see them as she drove by each evening to visit my father’s grave.  She will never admit it, but I know she checks.  I cried each evening as I added a candle.  Through the holiday season I began to feel my old, obnoxious self, the over the top Christmas / winter / snow / lights / decorations spirit.  I felt happy.  Even when I remembered the Advent of years ago, I became happier at the passage of time and the distance my life has traveled.

But when I lit those candles I remembered my own sin.  I should have stood up for myself and my heritage as they made fun, mocking.  I should have stood up.  But I did not.  I sat there holding my Star of David charm in my fingers.  I thought of the secrets of generations before me.  A grandmother not ever telling me of our heritage until she was dying.

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I half expected Es to tell me she needed to walk the rest of her path alone but she did not.  Brushing the dirt off herself – halfheartedly – she smiled and kept walking.  I’m not sure why she even bothered dusting herself.  I knew she could care less about how dirty she was and there would be no one else on this path, this we both knew.  She never asked if I would be going along.  We both just knew.

As we began again, the stones seemed to rise up to guide our feet along.  Easily and steadily.  

Es smiled again.  I could not tell her she had dirt on her face and in her hair- she had missed cleaning off the dust.

She smiled, stepping, wearing the dust of her path as the wind again kissed her cheeks and brushed the hair from her eyes. 

…………………..

I had not sawed at the building for years.  I grabbed the saber saw I used in 2015 to cut lat boards when I was building wood blocks for window openings before that winter.  I had left lots of my tools lying there.  Again, as I had vowed in that thirty second red light stop, I gave myself Christmas.

I grabbed my saw.  I cut a board.  I cut a board!

Merry Christmas!  Give yourself Christmas.  Make a thirty second red light vow.  To you.

And, given the chance, kiss the Wind.

Love.  Lots and Loads of Love,

Stephanie

(I apologize.  Not my best writing, but another piece of my vow. Write it.  I’ll never be a Hemingway without doing the work.)

#writing #christmas #red light #thirtysecond

 

The Reality of Pies, A Year Later and….Toilet Seat Repair

The Reality of Pies, A Year Later and….Toilet Seat Repair

December 10, 2017

When I am really lucky, I get to write while my son writes.  He, his homework.  Me, writing or accounting.  Today for me, it is writing. I have recovered from my Thanksgiving overdose in which I ate the entire bowl of leftover stuffing and an equal overdose of pie baking which lasted for an entire week.

Some of the best work I can do for my business is really in the taking care of myself.  And oh my have I been learning!  So, in the lessons of my extreme pie baking marathon from Thanksgiving to Advent, I also came face to face with reality.

It was the painful realization that what had mattered to me a year ago had only been important to me.  I have had a few of those experiences – when the day, the hour of an ‘anniversary’ comes along.  I had waited for a sign of a moment to share in the reverie  of both the experience of a year ago and for the time which had passed since in an awareness as the aging of that epic harvest of wine.

My answer came in the painful silence of baking pies and a year’s passing which makes no sense to anyone else.  To me, both held…well, held me.  But is that not life?

I do realize that I draw the last drops of meaning out of these nothing moments and I know I am overly sensitive but these events caused me to remember the vow to myself about how I wanted to live.  In the baking of pies and in the once hopeful memory of a year ago, I remembered my lessons of “twenty-five thousand times”.

 

In ten days I baked two pumpkin pies, two pecan pies, two cherry pies, one blueberry pies, one peach pie, and the finale dutch apple pie with the finest homemade pie crust you have ever tasted.  I was in baking nirvana.

My mother’s recipe, touched up by me:

PIECRUST

2/3 cup lard

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons sparkling water, ice cold.

Enough for two pie crusts. Combine flour and salt. Cut mixture with the lard until you get a pebble looking mixture.  Add tablespoons of water one at a time (that is the official wording…it always ends up being four tablespoons.)  I think the crust is better with the sparkling water.

…………………………………………..

We had walked past the beginning excitement of new direction with its energy barely being contained, yet we had not arrived at that point of tiring, a soreness of the mind in which one numbs all senses in order to make progress, one simple step after another.  Our journey had felt as though the path, once obscured, now reached up to our feet to guide us.  We never hurried, we never stopped.  We kept walking.  I had been unsure if I had ever experienced quite a journey.

The path had been simple with stones flattened by time, laid in perfect succession for us, the travelers. Es had remained focused on the path ahead of her.  I had seen her, rarely looking  to the horizon either left or right of us.  I had never seen her alarmed nor her gaze to catch anything to steer her interest away from the stones which lie directly in her feet’s course. 

“This isn’t right,” she had turned to me.  “This isn’t right.”  For the first time we had stopped.  My heart had started to sink.  I had felt a heaviness in my limbs that I had not felt since we escaped the Shadow Beast attack.  But I had known she would not hide what she meant nor would she sugarcoat it. 

I had braced myself and the heaviness of what I was about to hear; my mind locking down its own protection to what I already knew was coming.

“We need to go back.  I was wrong.  I need to go back to the beast, to the shadows.”

“No, Es, no. What would you hope to accomplish? Why do you need to go back?”  And I had to add with all superiority and with equal amounts of silly, phony authoritarianism, “Don’t you remember what they did to you?  Don’t you remember?”

“Going back is the mistake.  Going back is wrong.”

There. I had given my vote and opinion in declaration to the winds.  Es would consider my words but I had known nothing would counter her intuition.

“Why would you go back?” I asked with expectation of an answer of philosophy.

Es turned to me with total comfort and conclusion, “I don’t know. All I know is that this, this is wrong and I need to go back.”

I had not meant to groan –  at least aloud – and if she had heard it, Es had made no mention.

………………………………..

We had begun, to climb, the retracing, the agonizing reversal of our path.  Where the path’s stones had risen to hold our feet, they now teetered as our feet had landed upon them. Where the path once had sloped indistinctly with unnoticeable tips and slants, it had then seemed tiring and wearing upon our legs and our spirits.  Our energy had dipped.  Es had checked on me.  This reverse journey had shown to be difficult for us both.

All the distance, all the positive energy of the path since we had left the Shadow Beast in the field of flowers, we had returned it as an insult to the energy it had given us.  By returning, we had destroyed this relationship with our path.  We had not realized, but we destroyed our energy. 

The beast had been recognizable from the hill.  Among the flowers of the field, its dark body stumbled, turning and twisting just as we had left it.  Es was committed to her dream, to an image held in her mind, to the promise of the dream and a mission only she could feel.

“What now?”

“I don’t really know.”

“Please, Es. Please, Es. No.” But even before I could finish those five short words, she had descended to the hill’s foot.  I had followed her to the edge.  Es shook in fear as she took her first step in the field of flowers.  I would not go any further into the field with her, but stood again on the edge as I had when she had escaped the first time.

“Es, please.”

Her mission emboldened her with a resolute happiness of responsibility and duty, in a way I would have never understood.  I had watched.  Her presence had become apparent to the beast.  Its movements stopped.  The air was void of bird songs, but had held the wind which brushed the flowers in announcement of Es’s arrival.

Es had paused.  She was close to the beast, standing less than an automobile length away.  She had known that the beast acknowledged her.

Es had stretched out her hand to the beast.  I had imagined being by her side.  I had imagined what it would have been like, to feel bravery while shaking uncontrollably.  I had imagined what it must be like to have been that stubborn.  Her expectation of the beast had been clear.  And although she, with the naivety of simple right and wrong and her own blind egotism, had seen no alternate outcome, she stood.

And the wind kept brushing the flowers.

The beast had moved almost to what had looked like an assessment of Es.  She had smiled at it, then had held out both her hands. Later she would tell me that she had seen the beast moving closer to her under the brushing of the flowers.  She had noticed the darkness now camouflaged under the soft petals of field flowers.  She had stood, waiting.  The beast, she would recall, had twisted among and back toward itself, folding inward.  It had reached out to her, under those petals, but her feet did not move.  By this time, the beginning, the head of the shadow beast, was only the point in which darkness overlapped the sky.  It had folded back again, among and into itself.

I had watched with mild alarm, an orange level alert if you will, as the shadows had folded over and over upon themselves in a beast of beasts and a shadow of shadows.  At the time I never had thought that perhaps Es would have joined the beast.  She backed away from the shadows, it caught up in itself.  It began to move again, shifting, sliding and folding its large body bending the flowers as it rearranged the shadows under the petals.  It never really moved any distance.  It never traveled further although that fact took us a long time of observation to realize.  The beast itself had been an ominous companion of ours.

Es had stepped with me up the hill.  “Can we just sit for a bit to watch them? she asked me sadly.

My agreement had come in our shared silence.  “It was at that moment I had known once again, how wrong I was.”

 

 

“As I had stood with my hands outstretched, as I saw my hands outlined with the dark body of shadows, my skin, I wondered what I was doing.  And then I realized I was wrong.  Again.  Again I was wrong.”

“I did not feel gentle.  I had stood there, holding my hand out.  I had thought of retracing our steps.  I destroyed a path that had risen up for our feet.  The trip to return had not been gentle.   And that is a contradiction.  As I stood watching the shadows fold back among  itself I realized I had made a mistake.  Either of egotism or self-righteousness, I made a mistake.  I was wrong to return.”

“I had felt….like a trespasser to both the shadow beast and the field of flowers.”

“I had had a dream.  I had dreamed that someone called to me for an adventure, for fun.  I dreamed of the perfect fun.”  Es smiling as though the dream’s memory were a reality only meant for her mind to play with and distant enough for her to never experience.  Her skin may never wear that adventure, but her soul would.  Her spirit recognized it.

“I had dreamed of the perfect fun, of someone reaching out to me to pull me up.   Instead of taking the hand of adventure, I had turned.  With the permission and invitation of adventure, I had turned to pull them.  I had scooped them, the smallest ones.  I had been strong enough to grab their hands to share my adventure.”

Es smiled.

“I had then turned to the shadow beast. And in my dream I had found a strength I did not know I had.  I turned to the shadow beast and held out my hand.  I had helped them.  They had only needed my hand.”

After all she had been through and after she had wished for so long to have the hand of adventure, to have the hand of fun and life extend to her, a reciprocation of her life’s karma, as she had her whole life without any extension back to her, she chose not to take the hand of life but to pass the others to it.

“In the dream I made sure they were all safe.  And adventure..” Es grew silent, her voice breaking a bit.  “Adventure pulled me too.  Adventure’s hand extended to me, had rejoiced in me, and held me fast.”

“I had watched the others, the small ones and the beast.  I watched them smile.  I saw the beast smile.  In the dream, I had fallen asleep in the arms of adventure.”

………………………

Ah, but such is the life of a dream and its dreamer.

………………..

Sometime ago I estimated it took me two years worth of forty times per day or twenty five thousand times before I became proficient.  That is what my work now has taught me.  Twenty five thousand times it taught me.

I love creating my life.  I love the challenges of entrepreneurship, motherhood and womanhood – of life!  Some of the best lessons I have ever had have come from my current job.  I remember starting again in the insurance field after an almost two decade absence and in a role I have never had, in an environment I have never known.  I always hear how a person should never give up on their dreams.  Then the motivational speaker swipes ahead to the examples of Walt Disney, Edison and Oprah – all memorable, all geniuses, and all – well, huge!

No doubt they are inspiring but sometimes those examples leap too far.  I’m no Edison.  I’m no Oprah or Disney.  I’m just me.

But I did have inspiration.  I have worked at my current job for a hair longer than two years.  In that time, I have grown due to my job.  I had figured along the way that my progress was due to doing the same exact function every work day, for at least forty times per day for two years.

That, my lovelies, calculates to twenty five thousand.

These past weeks I began to apply the lesson for myself.  Why just be staggered by a large number?  Why not do something for myself with it?  I began to apply my “twenty five thousand” standard to my business, to everything.  Writers block?  Write five hundred words and I would bet you will want to write a thousand.

Have a huge mess to clean up? Um, do something about it every day. Might take two times two years, but you will never know unless you try.

Feel like giving up?  Ok.  After twenty five thousand times.  Then you can.

The only task I have not found which fits this model is fixing a toilet seat.  I finally replaced the toilet seat.  It is not a hard job but there was something symbolic about it which interfered with getting it done.  But its done now.  It may be one toilet seat, but how many times have I worked through a building problem only to realize the answer was there all along.

And, it may be one toilet seat but I believe I have worked through thousands of screws, thousands of toy assemblies and countless little projects. (Including a birdfeeder that my feathered friends still dislike. Hmm…..)

Es looked at me.  “I realized I no longer need to destroy myself.  I had realized I do not need to violate my own gentleness and my own vow.  I remembered that I did not need to trespass my own life of peace and my own vows.”

For the first time Es reached out to me.  

“Please, would you help me get up?”

Love and Blessings! Happy Advent!

Lots and Loads of Love and a kiss to boot,

Stephanie

 

 

The Leavening of Gratitude. (132 Shades of Truth).

The Leavening of Gratitude. (132 Shades of Truth).

November 24, 2017

“I know why it happened,” Es said as she raised her head slightly as if the smell of truth had caught her senses.  “The truth needed this particular wind, this particular time.  And now I know the truth.”

For the first time since we sat talking on the rocks, she now looked at me directly.  Her eyes were filled with a depth of sparkling clarity that I had not seen in a long time.  Normally I would have been suspicious of anyone not wishing to look me straight, square on, but I could see, as we had walked along, that hers was a practiced walk.  She had grown used to hanging her head, lowering her gaze in the years that had passed.  She had been judged over and over by unspoken words which betrayed the silence she wore as her protection.  Her body, it had seemed, grew accustomed to the familiarity of that yoke.

IMG_9433
Leavening. I finally made bread.

The baking of bread is a personal victory, one which reminds me of my ex-mother-in-law, rest her soul.  Not a perfect woman, by any means, but she and I did share adventures and I believe she liked to show off a bit to me.  I was the perfect daughter-in-law as I could not hide both my admiration and my irritation.  Today, for Thanksgiving, in her honor, I baked bread.

“All this time.” she added with a note of sadness and resolve.  “There is only one reason they did what they did.”  I looked at her, her words not of the declaration of grand discovery;  her eyes, not of the sudden clearing of fogginess.  No, she had been a student studying finally grasping the significance of a basic theorem.  We both half-grinned at even the moment’s truth.  It needed no bravado except only the greatest celebration – that moment of understanding.

“And now I know the truth.”

Up to that time when her voice echoed those words into the wind, we sat upon the rocks.  I watched the shadow beast crawling in the flowery field below us.  It was easily distinguished from where we sat, its dark body stumbling through the swaying dance of colors which surrounded its every movement.  It could not move undetected among the battlements of flowers and grasses, a shifting outline guarded continuously.

Her eyes had never looked at me directly.  You would have thought that she would have had that far-away gaze people sometimes get when recalling troublesome memories, their gaze somehow flinging those recollections as far away a place as possible.  But no, she never once wished those hauntings further from her nor did she wish to hand them directly to my own eyes.  She kept them and her eyes, downward, and just within her arm’s reach.

The memories of that year tumbled from her mouth in a voice normally not accustomed to telling much of her own story.  At least not more than a few carefully analyzed words.  But the pace of the stories slowed and eventually even her jaw seemed to tire.  She rested her chin upon her crossed arms, themselves propped by her folded knees.

As we sat, the wind regained its power, switching now from the south.  Warmth.  She sat a while longer, now mixing the memories of children, her students, with the stories of the betrayals she had faced.  And then the memories she recounted grew older.  The sufferings of her soul dribbled into the warmth of the wind.  I felt no sorrow for her as I watched her now nor did she expect it.  I felt no confusion from her even though she told me about how confusing that time in her life had been.  I felt no pity for her today, but even I now, wished I could reach back to those times which had grown root in her soul.

Her memories made her eerily calm.  Not much time had passed since the beast which sang to her and mocked her had itself been attacked by another beast.  Es had escaped the clutches of both.  She sat here now with the repose of her own battlefields.  Winning, losing, she never thought in those terms as they had almost become equated with forgiveness and sin.  Which quality partners with which other quality depends upon the owners choice;   she wore the face of one who knew both.   Sometimes to lose is forgivable and not sins are so easily defined.

She would have welcomed my own stories – in fact she would have preferred them – but I wished to listen to hers.  Her voice trembled a bit at the beginning of each as though one needed to wiggle the key.  Her doors had never been opened.  Not once.

I noticed the irony of her, almost as if the moments here on the rocks, had, with intention and with the sharpest of pains made her softer.

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Level first. Victory.

I do not really know if it was the bear of months ago, but I had lost track of how exactly my old birdfeeder was damaged.  For twenty years it had weathered extremes of weather, countless chickadees and cardinals and a few random bear attacks.  There is only so much a simple spring can handle.  

My home is a clear spot among the woods, on the edge of semi-wooded neighboring properties, cradled by the towering of older maples and guarded – I like to imagine – by the encampment of my proud sentinel pine trees.  There is a line of them which grace the skyline with continual green.  I am fortunate to have the responsibility to keep feeding the dazzling variety of birds which visit my spot.  

I finally bought a replacement bird feeder.  Months ago.  Months.  I did not hang it up.  I needed to remove the old damaged feeder.  I could not bring myself to do it.  I dismantled the tray portion.  I maneuvered with psychological strategies to bring myself to fix it.  I moved the new feeder, with all its parts, to the front stoop.  I spent weeks walking over the new feeder.

And then, one day last week, I grabbed a crowbar to pry off the old feeder.  Its mounting screws had rusted to the frame and their heads had stripped.  The next day I grabbed the level to mark the post.  The feeder was hung later that same day.  The birds are back at the other feeders.  (It helps, now that I am maintaining them.)  Such a small personal victory.  I smile every day looking at it.  Oh, the birds still hate the new one, but eventually a hungry chickadee will brave it.

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It was time to walk on.

Es stood up, stretching her legs, rubbing her knees to awaken them.  She turned not to the path, not into the winds which called, carving through the stilled air where we stood.  “Es?  Es, the path is that way. That is the path down the hill.”

Es looked in the field at the shadow beast.  We would never know if it simply stopped wanting to track us or if it had given up, yielding to the hillside upon which we stood.

“You know I never could help, I never could help them.  I was not supposed to.”  She looked at what would be her last glance at the beast.

“All I was meant to do was to bring the shadow beast to the field of flowers.”

With a tear and a smile she pointed to a line of rocks.  I saw nothing except rocks and told her so.

She laughed, still with a tear which made her eyes sparkle even more as if the darkest truth had sharpened the twinkle of her soul.

It was time to walk on.

Thank you. Many Blessings and lots of love,

Stephanie

 

It was Reformation, Batman. 

It was Reformation, Batman. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reformation
Hallowed Wings of Reformation

“Slow down,”  He would say.  “Just slow down, Missy,” He would repeat to me, with the most gentle motion of a hand slicing air which seemed to stop the currents of time if even for a breath in ones mind.

I remember, Father.  I remember.

This past weekend I heard a prayer which I had loved from the moment I first heard it not many years ago.  I decided to not forget it again.

“I thank you, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger;  and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You.  For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.  Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.”

The understated mum
The Understated Mum

From the date of my father’s birthday through Halloween to my son’s birthday always feels like a cornerstone of time, a marker of the changing seasons.  In Wisconsin it is dramatic shift of necessity.  A person has to release summer.  A person has to open ones coat a bit to feel the chill in the magnificent ability of the earth to decorate itself with white.

Or, you could grump about it.

Halloween was always one of his favorites, my fathers, and his students’, even his students’ children too.  Giving out candy?  Children in costumes?  My father’s bliss.

The mum plant by his grave, once jammed with beautiful dusky rose pink blooms, now stands naked, its green and brown exposed since the pastel frivolity has been nipped by morning frosts.  I missed that dash of light color as I walked toward his stone.  “Seems like everything goes too quickly, huh, Pop?”

There is a funny thing about mums though.  Underneath, in the green and brown nakedness, were buds.  Buds.  I could feel my cheeks burn with shame that I could have ever grumbled at the missing blooms.  It was the most beautiful and uneventful sight.  Ever.  On a Sunday.

 

Lights
Lighting the Darkness, the Truth

About Es.

“Es! Stop! You don’t need to scream. I can hear you.”  But the wind kept howling around us and she kept screaming in response, hoping to out blast its fury.  

We had made our way for quite some distance, steadily and without event on the path which seemed to rise up to her feet while the beast of shadows labored with its darkness just far enough away yet near enough.    Just when the path might have become monotonous, the grade started to slope upwards.  Not steep enough for us to need to use our hands, but it was steep enough to feel that semi-pleasant burn of a hill climb in our thighs.  It was the first time the beast did not flank us.  We watched for a bit as it headed in our similar direction but it would not climb the hill.  I could have wondered more about the beast but the slope of the hill and my unused muscles demanded more of my attention.  Watching and wondering the beast for Es would have to wait.  I was not sure I could make it up the hill.

We kept hiking.  The path never got steeper and seemed to never hint at leveling off at a pinnacle.  With determination Es stepped.  The path had changed from the softness of green covered earthiness to the harsh crumbles of stone-pummeled stone, yet the way cleared with each step she took.

When the wind began to whistle through the rocks above our head we realized there were no more rocks above us, only along side.  We had reached the pinnacle as the wind now howled, enveloping us.  Es shouted about the beast.  

“No,” I nodded back.

Es shouted again to me. “I have to tell them.  I have to tell them what happened.  I have to tell the truth.”

“Es,” I grabbed her shoulder.  “Es, you do not need to.  They already know.”

We looked at each other with disbelief.  I, saying words which I did not necessarily believe and she, with a gaze of shock.  The wind howled again, switching direction as quickly as it seemed it could.  Before either of us could respond to the other’s gaze we began the descent.  There below us, further out and further away from us , the beast’s darkened slithering body crept through the flower field.  We watched it as we moved to a rock perched beside the path.  There we sat, blanketed by stones, watching the dark shadow.

“People already know?”

“Of course, Es.”

“They already know what happened to me?”

“Maybe not specifically, but you are not the only one who has been hurt like this and anyone who has been hurt recognizes pain in another.”

“People already know I was fired?”

“No, but they do know that what happened is not what it seemed to be.  People know you.”

“People will know how it happened?  Will they know how cruel it all was and I never knew it was happening?  Will they know that I had not had an evaluation in six, maybe seven years because I was ‘that good’ and I was friends with everyone?”

I stared at her.  I watched her eyes.  I had told her beforehand, I had warned her, but she had wanted to teach so intensely and she loved children so much and…she was smart.  But she had not been wise.

“Do people know how it was done to me?  Do they know that I was caring for the children of the same people who were going to fire me, at a staff Christmas party, swimming with their children, while they were meeting to fire me? Do they know that ten days prior to being fired I was publicly praised by my friend, my boss, about what a great asset I was to the school? Do they know we, and other female teachers, went out for drinks to celebrate that same evening? Do they know that upon request from my friend, my boss, I wrote the Common Core curriculum for mathematics, language arts, art, and computer science?  And then I was fired?”

“Do they know about the months of intensifying, bullying behavior as I was going through a heartbreaking divorce?  Do they know how I reported the bullying behavior of one teacher with students?”

“Do they know about required staff meetings, study sessions,  in which my Jewish heritage was made fun of?  Do they know how they laughed at Judaism?”

With this proclamation, her tears began.  She continued with the next nail.

“Do they know how I told my friend, I kept telling her about what was going on.  She was my friend.  Do people know she continually called me ‘weird’?”

“Do they know how my life was shattering, that my nineteen year marriage was disintegrating?”

“Do people know I was sexually assaulted in the same year? Do they know I told my friend, my boss?”

“Do people know, that when I was fired, I thought of my father? Do they know that  I said nothing during the meeting.  I had nothing to say.  Do people know that I had already told everything to my friend who was my boss? Do people know I ‘took the fall’ for the lack of student skill development from other years?  Do people know that I was blamed, that within three months, I was the blame for skills that should have been taught two years prior? Do people know that I took the fall for a mother not knowing her child had failed a mathematics placement exam?  Do people know this mother was a part of the same group who decided to fire me? “

“Do people know that I was never asked, not once, by any of the group who did fire me or any official, any leader, about any events?  Do people know that no one, not once, wanted to talk to me, ask me directly?  Do people know I was never warned?  Do people know about,” and her voice broke, “that a fellow teacher – in front of children – hummed the Bridal March to me?  Do people know she laughed as I began to cry?”

“Do people know?  Do people know how I was threatened?”

“Es.” I said to her flatly, as flatly as I could.  “Es, people know it never quite added up.  You don’t need to justify.”

“I have justified my whole path. All of these years.”

Then she tore at another “nail”.

“Do people know how….”

But she stopped. We were looking downhill when the blackened outline of the shadow figure caught our eyes.  Its movements had always been, if not beautiful or graceful, at least steady.  Now it seemed rather confused, as if a shadow can possess such a quality.  The more we watched, the further we seemed to be away from it, as if our attachment was a stone to be thrown or the know of a safety rope.

 

Facepainting
A Garden Variety Mask.

Me. Lady. Now.

I had this brainy idea to paint my face for Halloween or Hallowed Eve or Reformation – whichever you decide to celebrate, if you should choose to do so.  I am rather fond of celebrations, personally.

After writing about my Saint Paul trip, I must admit to being hit rather hard with a realization.  Along that trip I had visited a Catholic church, having been raised Catholic.  I had visited the synagogue out of reverence and a continued curiosity at a piece of my heritage.  My faith was still poking me, wondering if this is me or this is me.  I had treated my faith like a Goldilocks quest.  The significance of these habits played with me in the days to follow my return home.  How long have I sought to justify not only who I was but who I am?  Everything I write, everything I do, my life I have bent for that sole purpose.

I have been rather confused by that realization.  How undeniably spoiled I must be, to trivialize life and yet how dishonest I have been to call that justification, itself, to be of any meaning, any significance?

Stephanie.  You are better than that.  Stephanie!  Your path is not and should not and you better not, be one of that type of justification.  Because that… is just an excuse.

(Insert moment of pout).

But I had not put the pieces together until today (technically, yesterday).  I had been stopping my own growth with the reference point of not what they had done to me or what I have experienced in my life, but really I had been stopping my own growth by justification.  I am not justified.  Those experiences do not entitle me.  Those experiences do not pardon me from development.

“Do people know, that I believe they made up things about me? Yet, some of those same people had called me the kindest person they ever knew?”

“Es, I am pretty certain people know, even if they do not know.”

“Do people know that despite my marriage counselor, my soon to be ex-husband and my attorney’s advise to file a lawsuit, I chose to forgive?”

“Do people know that I packed my whole computer lab and all my teacher supplies in one night, through the night because I was so scared?  Do people know how I cried?  Do they know…how I drew comfort, through hours of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Amazing Grace and Hebrew chants?”

Es sniffed a bit, wiping the tears from her eyes.  We watched again, wordlessly, the shadow beast in the flower field.  It stumbled, slowing, uncertain of its own direction now not being able to see ours.

Es turned to me with the warmth of a slow grin and the eyes now of a gently justified soul.

“Do people know how I had driven three youngsters in my Jeep every morning to school?  They were young, very young, from preschool to kindergarten.  The teachers from the primary grades had gathered three car seats so that I might legally transport them.  Each morning I would swoop in and each morning they would hop, backpacks and all, from house to Jeep.  Every morning, for ten minutes, we were transported, pretending that as we arrived at drop off in back of school, along with all the other students, we were landing safely in our jet airplane….if only for ten minutes…”

Sometimes, we would even pretend it was the Batmobile.

Thank you and Happy Saints Day!

Love.  Lots and loads of love,

Stephanie.

#reformation #love #thesaints

The Silhouette of Closed Doors

The Silhouette of Closed Doors

winged

Thursday, October 26, 2017

“Just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”

Try.

Almost every inch of my essence, all that I was, screamed “I cannot.”  Happened a lot.  I cannot survive, I cannot live, I cannot live well enough, I cannot be happy, I cannot work my own business, I cannot….  But over and over, all those times I started to take care of whatever seemed to be needing to be taken care of or all those times when I faced a problem or situation which needed to be handled;  well, I found out I could.

Seems to be the opposite of the age-old positivity “if you can, then you should.”  But what if you are so low that ‘can’ seems like the impossible mountain?  What if almost every inch of your sense says “I cannot?”  The key is “almost”.  That is why, I learned to start with the state of “cannot”.

“Just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”

The Ladyship

I was heading out of town, toward my concert of my dreams and toward a city I knew nothing about.  Before I married my ex-husband, I had vowed to myself that I would have left my hometown to move to Red Wing Minnesota, a city known for noteworthy leather work shoes and for its beautiful crocks.  I picked Red Wing because I could never, at that time, imagine myself surviving in Minneapolis, much less Saint Paul.  And how many times did I overlook Saint Paul totally?

Nope I was going to Saint Paul.

I told a friend of my adventure.  “Who are you going with?  A group of friends?”  “No, just me.”  Her face relaxed as she saw that my solo trip was by choice rather than a fallback.  “Shopping, working, museum wandering and the concert!”  Strange how those closest to me are as accustomed to the solo me as I am.

I started the trip in my usual fashion, with too many pieces of luggage and backpacks (yes, plural on the backpack) yet I did not panic.  There was no need to rush.  Inside my Jeep were all those pieces with my blankets, way too many shoes, the rest of my bedding from home, two laptops, and my Snoopy.

Tickets! (Yes, I did eventually find them when I calmed my mind down.)

I followed a familiar route on a major thoroughfare that slices the state in half, north to south.  It’s a major artery.  Forty five minutes or ten songs worth into the trip, I celebrated a ‘crossing of the bar’ moment as I drove under that last well-known underpass. I kept driving. Hour. Hour number two.

I had settled into a drivers nirvana;  the point when the vibrating engine and tires upon pavement lull ones body enough to relax yet so fresh into the trip ones nerve endings perk with every bump.  My mind hummed with music and sights of trees, farms and construction equipment.

I wondered the last time I had been this way.  Was it a school trip in which I was one of two chaperones? I remembered.  The male teacher drove the two female students, and I drove my son and his three male classmates.  What I remember was the irreverent fun of four young men.  And I let them.  We left at an ungodly early hour with the typical teenage field trip contraband of spicy nachos and heavy caffeinated citrus soda.   My son, I am sure, guaranteed them their loot would be acceptable in our truck. I savored every bit of the recollection as I did then, as the field trip was happening.  I drove slower at the irritation of my counterpart, hoping that he would never find out we played every rap song as loudly as possible and screamed under the jets which were landing and taking off over the highway.  Oh, to give them a moment of the wild innocence of youth.

I laughed at the memory, especially at the memory of laughter.  They talked and laughed the entire drive.  As a teacher my goal was to tire students out.  I would like to say I am sorry, but I am not.  I always tried to engage them, especially their minds. A successful field trip meant that students slept the entire way home. That they did.

But that was not the last time I had traveled west.  “Pack one suitcase” I had told my son in the summer of 2014.  I had never spontaneously road-tripped.  For years my husband and I had promised him we would drive west.  Every year we broke that promise.  In a year in which either I broke everything or everything broke around me, I told my son “Pack one suitcase.”   In our old 1995 Jeep my son and I drove past all familiar points to the Badlands of South Dakota.

But I had never been west by myself.  I am unsure why that is even important but it became more so the further along in my trip I drove.  I celebrated each mile resting back a bit more in the drivers seat with my snoopy by my side.  By the time I reached the Mississippi River it felt like a new threshold.

The Adventure

 

I had an eighth floor room with a wonderful view which I insisted to myself must face east.  (Um,no). I was in the midst of concert halls and museums and shops and buildings.  Finding the concert would be a cinch;  a fact confirmed by my phone maps and doubly verified the hotel front desk.

I quickly discovered a theme which would last my whole stay in Saint Paul.  I got lost. I began walking.  I asked directions again.  Then I proceeded to not follow those directions.  Over and over again, I had no sense of direction.  None.  I walked  I looped around the Xcel Energy Center until a kindly doorman at the Civic Arts Center asked if I was arriving for jazz. His soft, kind voice, like steeping tea, filtered warmly in the evening breeze.  He pointed me down the block, to the giant glass doors.

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I approached the next day peculiarly, in almost a ‘death walk’ or last meal.  I could not figure out why and more so, I could not understand why I craved the feeling so badly.  Only if I went against every ounce of gut instinct would I have not followed that sense.

After three changes I decided upon the Saturday look:  an old black suit jacket, blue jeans, black cami, sparkly sandals with a bit of a heel and an autumn printed scarf of muted orange and mauve flowers.  My first stop along my ‘deathwalk’ was breakfast in a downtown Irish pub restaurant.  Any apology for my macabre thoughts would sacrifice their sincerity.  I am following doctors orders, I reasoned as I drenched blueberry pancakes with the heavy soup of perfect syrup and softened butter.  I am following doctors orders, I reminded myself as I feasted on foods I hadn’t allowed for myself and will not again.

So I ate blueberry pancakes.  Doctors orders.

The Silhouettes of Closed Doors.

The modern art museum reminded, even scolded me to always remember what art is – the truth of experience and expression with equal abilities to both comfort and unsettle.  What one takes from art is proportional to what one brings to it, no matter if you are artist or spectator.

Two exhibits caught me.  One was a Jenga-ish stack of breast-looking pieces entitled “Something for Everyone” which powered the space in front of a large window.

The other piece looked like a creation of charcoal drawing.  A large, traditionally framed and of impeccable portraiture, the focus was a man, a beautiful man wrapped in tulle wearing rubber gloves.  His gaze was an unnerving, yet saddened pride.  I wondered at the lack of our society’s vigilance upon its own worth.  Do we not remember the solid promise of that unnerving pride, in its beautiful, loud silence?

Can you tell I was feeling inspired?  I would shortly wish that my driving would have been equally so, as I continued to not follow street signs and any other modern convenient navigation tool.  I had never driven worse, assuming, of course that I ever had driven correctly to begin with.  I had never miscalculated so many directions and distances.  Ugh.

I really had wanted to see the design museum.  Plenty of time.  I began west only to miss an exit, bound into a land of refurbishment and renovation which grabbed me first with awe and inspiration until I realized I had misread my phone maps.  (The swearing had begun.)  Fifteen minutes at the design museum would be worth it.

As I re-entered where I had mistakenly exited, I merged – um, cut-off would be more accurate – in front of a lovely white, large truck whose driver urged his vehicle to curse at me through insistent, rhythmic honking in what I could only imagine be a Morse code of expletives.

The list of traffic violations continued with my turn into a the wrong way on a one way street.  Have I mentioned the U-turn I proudly performed behind a Minnesota-proud purple and gold city bus which was backing up at that very moment?  I could not even bear to look at the driver.

By the time I found the design museum, any sense I once had of navigation prowess was gone.  It was closed.  It was closed.  I stood there.  Tears.  Tears which surprised tears.  The best gift I have had in a long time was a museum with its doors closed.  I had not known how much it had mattered.  I had begun the search for the design museum as almost a thoughtless itinerary checkmark.  I had not known my heart until I stood there, in front of the Goldstein Building, the Museum of Design.  It had mattered to me.  And I had thanked G~d for an answer to a question about which I had not known.

 

 

………………

I had found Saint Agnes.  Too late for my confessional but a short self assessment and comparison study, comforted me that although I was not dressed for mass, I reasoned that I could probably fit in.  I was on time.  I walked to the door.  I did not go in.  The chapel door was open.  I peaked, then walked in, down the stairs to a good sized basement chapel.  I was too late to confess my sins as I had planned but I dipped my fingers in the holy water, walked to the altar to kneel.  I could still be on time to mass.

Instead I left, patting the beautiful side of the building as though saying good bye to an old friend I never had known. Good bye.   I wondered at these times I have searched, in distress or in the joyful torture of curiosity? I wondered at the necessity I continually felt to exhume my soul’s rest.  Nevertheless I continued.  As I have always done to each trip to Two Rivers, I did the same thing in Saint Paul.  I tapped ‘synagogue’ into my phone map.

Only four minutes away.  I again circled.  I drove in opposite directions.  I found a boulevard of historically reverent homes edged in an outline of churches and houses of prayer.  I saw the poses of a new bride and groom who may have had one too many photos and poses;  he with a molded youthful grin and she with determined gaze of the achievement of bridal couture.  They, in white and black, were beautifully back-dropped with golden maple leaves and the soft lights of early evening.  It was the wrong day for the synagogue to be open, I knew.  My only intention had been to drive by, but I stopped.  As I walked to the door, I once again began to cry.  In the safety of silhouettes and closed doors I had allowed myself one last time to mourn the fact I had not stood up to people who had laughed at my heritage.  One last time to cry.  I held the imagery of the burning bush statue and the metal symbolism of the tablets.  I cried to realize how much it had meant.

 

We are always taught about open doors.  When all is aligned with G~d and the universe, then the doors of ones path will be opened.  A person needs to knock at life’s doors to determine your direction while stopping one from repeatedly banging on doors that don’t belong to you or are not meant for you.   But perhaps I needed the deathwalk to the closed doors.  Perhaps I needed to complete those silhouettes.

The Silhouette of Es.

“I’m not sure either, Es.”  In the grey light of evening I could clearly see the sharpness of her look to me.  The beast, that shadow of entities, could be anywhere.  And that was the only guarantee.  That type of hatred could be anywhere.  We could sing-song our way, pretending to not see in stubborn refusal to acknowledge.  But that would be the ultimate lie.   

“I’m not sure,” she answered to me with eyes that lied in a comforting dishonesty.  Es seemed innocently horrified but her voice was absent of any fear.  Her steps were even more a lie.  With each step she seemed more sure, more stable as if the strange path came up from below to mark her way. 

I followed Es a bit, mimicking her as we walked side by side.  She never looked again for the shadow beast.  I kept looking, maneuvering my glances over, around and behind her.  I did not want her to know that while I trusted her, I could not stop looking for the Shadow.

The same soil which released a path to Es now weighted the Shadow beast.  Es kept walking with steps lightened by the guidance of her part of the earth.

“I will let its darkness swallow itself.” 

…………..

As a lady, I had walked what might have been a bit too far than I should have at night.  I guess that is not true or I am just lucky because I had found the perfect Italian restaurant.   Forgetting that it was a Saturday night – the official date night or night out – I walked into the restaurant alone.  I never intend my presence as a test but my solo adventures seem to be a curiosity…for two minutes.  I think I just surprise people.  I have learned to not appear to either be a lost sheep in search of anyone nor to appear as a harsh testimony to the world.  I feel neither.  I am just alone. I have found that I seem to be a curiosity here as well.  I do not intend my presence as a test.  (I have learned to tip hostesses who sit me at a table or a window booth.  I have also learned to occupy myself with thoughts and observations rather than the automatic tapping on my phone, unless I am truly uncomfortable.)

I had not realized I needed those closed doors.

 

Much love.  Lots and loads of love, plus one good kiss.

Stephanie

PS.  You might be wondering.  The concert?  I might have shimmied a bit….