Thursday, December 10, 2009

Location Envy

"10 Knots," originally uploaded by G a r r y on
No, I did not take this photograph--and it typifies an extreme instance of a chronic, low-grade malady I usually battle with better than fair results: "Location Envy," otherwise known as "I don't have a car and there are only so many places I can get to in my power wheelchair."

I know the areas around my apartment building, my church, my HMO, my therapist's office, to and from our little downtown. I'll swear there's nothing left to see or photograph--but I take my camera anyway and sometimes, not always, I'm proven wrong and there's the stuff of magic there in front of me. But winter is settling in here in Northern California, which means more rain and generally cooler temperatures. I'll be staying inside more and won't be outside wandering around so much, a prospect I don't welcome with glee.

I can--and will--set about honing my skills inside, working on macros and interior abstracts, trying as William Blake would put it "to see Heaven in a grain of sand," but damn, I'd like to be able to take my camera to the wide vistas, both metaphoric and actual, that call my heart.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Birthday Eve

On the eve of my birthday I think about my family and remember the past, particularly my parents. I am older now than they were on the nights that comprise this memory and this image.

The City of Childhood: I

in the summer we lay at night
on blankets in my grandmother's yard
in the dark night filled
with stars stars and fireflies
night sounds of breezes and passing cars
long shadows on the lawn

we lay there
my mother my father and I
with my grandmother
and some of the men
who rented rooms

we lay there on the grass
on blankets and old quilts
resting there between the earth
and the night sky
the sky dark and solemn
bejeweled with stars

caught and held then as now
by the slow silent spin
of time and love

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Anybody Home?

I keep coming back to this picture, and I don't get any where with it. I've finally figured out that I don't know if I'm on the outside trying to get an answer or inside deciding whether or not to respond. Am I the resident or the guest, the owner or the interloper in my own life?

I feel like the gestalt drawing: looked at one way it's a beautiful young girl, looked at another way it's a wizened old crone.

Increasingly, I'm noticing where change is sneaking up on me.

In a week I turn 65, which brings in its wake a life review and a preview of the life I'm likely to have in the time I have left. I have to accept that the life I have is the life I have and that "I'll live single all the days of my life." The dream that someday I would be someone's beloved has been hard to let go of. Now mostly it's a dull mute ache, and I truly do value the genuine affection of the people I know and who cherish me. As I realize, somewhat to my surprise, that I have even deeper yearnings--to speak forth what I see and know and am shown--"It's not the same" is a whispered truth I have no will to deny.

I've become vegetarian. The decision not to eat beef, pork, or poultry was almost effortless once I learned something about the factory farming of aminals; I'm having more difficulty fine-tuning what's right for me in terms of fish, dairy, and eggs. My instinct is to give up fish and eggs because how they are made available to us in this society still depends on creature suffering. We'll see.

I'm watching two special friends deal with the effects of aging on their health and mobility. My favorite (and only living) aunt is in very poor health, and I realize how much I'll miss her when she goes. I realize how much I'll miss my friends as their mobility becomes more circumscribed--and know that it's also myself I'll miss as the yet-unknown effects of aging take their toll on my already difficult (not necessarily "bad," mind you, but difficult) circumstances.

"Knock-knock." "Who's there?" "Change." "Change who?" "That's up to you."

Whether it is or it isn't up to me, I'm home and I'm going to answer the door.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Coming Home

My spiritual life lately has been about as well balanced and as substantial as the reflection of this house in the car window. I've been not exactly depressed but disheartened and at loose ends. I've tried to meditate, do mindfulness practices and notice sensation, but this only went so far--and that far was not far enough.

Next month I turn 65--and have heard myself saying things like "but 65 is in an intimate relationship to 70." I'd belabor the point that I am too young to be that close to 70, too vital, too unfinished (sometimes I feel as if I've barely gotten started living), too whatever. The issue was never 65 itself; it was always 70.

Tuesday, as I was going over this yet again at my therapist's office, I heard myself say, "And Daddy was 69 when he died." Pow!! I got it. There's no way I want to live in a world without my father, and it feels that to outlive him would be to do exactly that. Knowing this, I've felt lighter about the whole birthday thing and more sanguine about "the future," whatever it is. The sense of being disaffected begins to lift; I sense movement within myself that is gift.

This passage from The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava just came to mind. Padmasambhava, otherwise known as Guru Rinpoche, is the Indian scholar-saint who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. I'm quoting from memory.

When Padmasambhava goes to the palace of beatitude,
do not seek to follow. Do not go with him.
Having known me, you will see me in the future.
This union is indissoluble.

And again, "Ah. . . ." The love I have for my father, the connection I feel to him--a connection I have fought for and earned and been blessed with--can survive 70, if it comes to that.

As I was lying down last night, I realized that the meditation that wasn't working was too rational, too determined, too forced. In my need I had bypassed my heart. But for years I chanted, something I haven't done in a long time, something it feels right to return to with all the love and yearning of my heart, with no apology.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Questions and Answers

St. Petersburg Painting, originally uploaded by Lynn Park.

This morning I spent two hours figuring out how to send pictures directly from to, because I can't figure out how to pick up my most recent photos with the Browse function, something that would be a piece of cake for any self-respecting autodidact, who would of course have a systematic overview of the field under consideration.

No, I'm more like a terrier--nothing as massive as a pit bull--something smaller that can get down low, dig frantically through the underbrush and dirt, till I get a grip on what I'm looking for. Then again, it's nothing systematic, but more a worrying the problem to death, shaking it back and forth in my "jaws" the way a small terrier dog will till it wrests its prey to submission.

And it occurs to me that in many ways I am worrying something larger than the answer to a discrete technical question. Aging, fragile health, acceptance of solitude only interrupted, plaguing economies when it comes to means--these pose a question I have not yet answered in my heart and in my bones. A purely rational approach, lists of pros and cons, good reasons and bad, even stating the inevitable leave me unsatisfied and afraid of the inevitable and the difficult. And my mind jumps from "jaws" to this quotation from writer Annie Dillard: "I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you," which occurs in the context of an essay on weasels and the fierce purity of their tiny jaws that will not let go.

Sometimes obedience and purity are their own reward and the only near-certain answer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Making Space

A month ago I woke up without my gall bladder. This morning I woke up to a significantly more serene apartment. As well as letting go of a seriously inflamed internal organ, I've let go of 15 bags of books, 7 large bags of yarn, 8 years of back issues of knitting magazines, 1 garbage bag from each of my 2 desks, 1 small table in the living room, and assorted trivia. I'm not done yet. I still have to go through clothes, costume jewelry, kitchen drawers, the catch-all area around the computer, 1 giant stack of old magazines, 1 filing cabinet, the bins where I store old photographs and collage supplies.

The apartment "looks" pretty good right now--and if I could keep my living space at this level of neatness, it would be an accomplishment. But I want to go below the surface, into drawers and minutiae, so knitting needles are all in one drawer and I'm not keeping any old batteries. I want the same feeling of pleasure when I open other drawers and cabinets that I get when I open my underwear drawer and take out a perfectly folded slip. I want blank note cards all in one place and a modicum of order to old family snapshots.

Years ago, when I lived in Washington, D.C., I read a book about an American woman's experience in Japan with Zen: Sun Buddhas, Moon Buddhas by Elsie Mitchell. Her teacher told her something along the lines of, "You Americans think you care about people and don't care about things. But not possible. Can't care about people until you care about things."

Even then despite my self-image as an aesthete and a bohemian living in a verdant clutter, I felt the call of spaciousness. Taking on my entire apartment felt like too much, so I tackled the bathroom. I made sure to fold each towel and washcloth, to align my bedroom slippers just so, to put the soap in the soap dish so the edges were even--things I would have before criticized as anal and railed against as taking too much time. But contrary to my expectation, just the opposite was true. I felt a sense of lightness whenever I entered that room and found myself taking an easeful pleasure in keeping it orderly.

I don't know what happened. The bathroom got messy again, along with everything else. I was young, and maybe it was too much to ask for a taste of spaciousness to "take," but I think I'm after something of the same thing now, though on a larger scale.

And it does not seem unrelated that the traditional associations for the gall bladder have to do with anger. Certainly I still get angry, but I don't think I'm making it up to say I feel less inflamed, more open inside to the calm I am trying to create around me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gall Bladder Tsunami

By the psyche's own arcane schedule of markers and indicia, "it"--this recent journey into the netherworld of death and rebirth occasioned by my successful gall bladder surgery--began two weeks ago today.

During the day my inner Imperious Queen, far more a tyrant than the Queen who so intimidated poor Alice, had been forced to accept, with mewling good manners and a semblance of calm, a situation that called for hysterics and upheaval on a continental scale. Later, in the night, in Dream Time, my inner Dutiful Daughter, a timid creature who makes much of keeping secrets from herself, took quite a charming step toward self-recognition and frightened herself into a panic of equilibrium-altering proportions. What can I do?, I then asked myself, feeling both beset by Queen and betrayed by Daughter. I can EAT! and proceeded to consume the grain foodstuffs of three small duchies and later the meat leftovers from several municipal feasts. Ah, sweet satiation, as I drifted off to sleep.

NOT, as I awoke to burning pain lodged somewhere in my right chest near the elbow. And NOT during two days of increasing discomfort, as breath becomes increasingly difficult and speech almost impossible. But the pain is on the right side; I can't be having a heart attack, can I? By Friday I am scared and call the Kaiser Advice Nurse. "We think you should come in. It could be a pulmonary embolism, and we can't rule out something with your heart even if the pain is on the right."

But I don't have transportation today; I can make it tomorrow. Then I begin to dilly-dally. Should I, shouldn't I? I mean, after all, how serious can it be? But what if I wait and something Really Bad happens? Maybe I can find someone to take me, but that's such a hassle. Then I call 911. "I'm having difficulty breathing."

Emergency medical technicians here in minutes. Ambulance. IV. Emergency Room. Tests, more tests. Foley catheter. Nothing by mouth "just in case." Hurry up and wait. Ten p.m. Inflamed gall bladder, surgery tomorrow. Ten p.m. Saturday night. Into surgery, finally.

I wake up in my room, can't find any bandages, wonder if they've done the surgery, go back to sleep.

The surgery went well. Five small bandages, easy for benumbed fingers to miss in the dark. Liquid diet for breakfast, normal diet after that. Sunday in the hospital, home Monday.

"Your gall bladder was so inflamed it disintegrated every time I touched it with my surgical implements. You would have died if we hadn't operated when we did." This, from the surgeon Friday when he removes the drainage tube.

I think about my Imperious Queen and my Dutiful Daughter, the day before the first attack. My therapist tells me that thoughts just happen, that dreams just happen, that I didn't "cause" the gall bladder attack, that it also just happened. I'm not so sure. I think about the reports of altered behavior of wild creatures before earthquakes and tsunamis, and cannot but wonder if the melodrama, imperial and diffident alike, that prompted my own inept response wasn't somehow a good thing. The Imperious Queen seems less fearsome than she did. The Dutiful Daughter's devotion seems a finer, stronger thing than I had thought. And I go forward into what will surely be the latter years of my life newly pregnant with possibilities I had not known before, possibilities that reach to join the inner and the outer worlds in a way that seems both to anchor me here and to call me home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Wanna Play Now

My church is setting up an online social networking group for members only modeled loosely along the lines of Facebook. There are application and approval procedures, and it's not yet clear how things are going to work. There's no reason it should be clear yet as the new site has been up less than two days. And I'm amazed at how much feeling this change is stirring up in me.

I applied yesterday, at which point the screen greeted me by name and informed me that administrative approval would take a day or two. Now them's fightin' words. I know intellectually that "administrative approval" is a gate-keeping function, the cyber equivalent of paperwork--and bells go off in my head are about inclusion and exclusion, and power that someone else has, and being on the outside wanting in.

This morning I go to the site, where I am again greeted by name but discover that I cannot make a blog entry, so I must not have been approved yet. I see that Joe Blow left a note for Jane Doe. "Interesting," I think, "I can at least keep up till I'm able to post." Not. Jane Doe's site is private because I don't have administrative approval. I know it's "yet," but it still stung and the kid in me thinks, "How come they get to play and I don't?"

Yesterday the emails had begun flying back and forth through our regular channels, the pros and cons of the new site and what risks the changes it entails might be. I felt myself get caught up in the not knowing and how it reverberated with less successful incidents in the past, incidents both personal and corporate, and started to fire off my own impassioned, editorially slanted plea for information.

Then I did something radical. I picked up the telephone and called someone who would know what was going on and found out directly what was involved--the history of the new site, why we were changing some long-standing approaches, the potential it offered for the life of our community. Everything made sense. I could and did sign on. I wanted to play, and I didn't want to wait.

And maybe I can have a little bit more bemused affection for the part of myself who so quickly feels left out, who is so certain that the "other kids" are going to get the good stuff first, and there'll never be a place for me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Every Single Thing

every single thing is both:
ended and begun

possibility rises like a camel's hump:
which side will you ride?

all is lost:
begin again

all is begun:
this is the end

every single thing is both

Friday, July 17, 2009

Snowball, This One's for You

I've been trying to learn Nikon's Capture NX2 photo editing program, which I have installed on my computer on a 60-day trial, a week of which remains to be used. Before I shelled out the more than $140 to buy it, I wanted to have a sense of whether I'd be able to use it, whether it would be too much or two little for my needs.
At first I felt as if I'd been dropped into Advanced Potion-Making at Hogwarts with no preparation.
I either got no result or a result that wasn't what I was looking for. The online help was definitely inadequate, so I picked up a trade paperback and went through that, which helped. I know now that competence, the kind that can move without pondering first, is a matter of months, not of weeks, and that I'm liable to get discouraged during the process. But already I've been able to achieve effects that please me, and I will purchase the full package eventually.
I'm pondering the similarity between photo post-processing and active processing, as it were, of experience, a processing that goes beyond memory into an emotional, visceral, intellectual engagement with something that happened before. "Oh, I remember that." We've all said it--and the memory returns to the shelf unchanged. And we all have the themes and situations from our past to which we return over and over again, as if we have not yet gotten them into focus, as if we cannot yet see them clearly enough to lay them to rest with other accomplished recognitions.
So we hold these experiences this way and that, consider possibilities of blame and expiation, and cannot let them go, unsatisfactory as they are, till something shifts and we have a new way of seeing the situation whole, entire.
When I was a little girl, my most beloved dog ran into the wheels of a truck, he was so glad to see us. The truck driver was upset but there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Obviously Snowball was injured. My mother carried him home, put him in his bed to see if he would get better. Three days later, when he hadn't, she took him to the vet, who said his hip was badly broken and put Snowball to sleep.
All these years I have held anger in my heart toward Mama, that she didn't take Snowball immediately to the doctor, that he had to suffer any moment longer than necessary. And I know that things were different 50-some-odd years ago in the South, that even loving people didn't necessarily take the same kind of care of their animals. But this didn't ease my heart, till a dear, trusted friend said, "Lynn, have you ever thought that perhaps she could not face giving him up?" I don't know. Tears still come to my eyes, but now they are more complicated tears and even the past has been somehow affected.
Today's picture was quite drab when I started to work on it. Somehow it seems this version says more about what was "really" there.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Blow Up the TV

I just left in my wake a small swath of discomfiture at a major American corporation that will remain nameless to protect the guilty. You see, after my final bill for cell phone service, said corporation said I still owed them $1.99. I thought about not paying it, but I did.

So today I receive an adjusted final bill that showed said corporation owing me a credit of $1.77. I call to request a refund and am told variously, by four different employees moving higher up the organizational chart, that $1.77 is not enough to warrant a refund, writing the check would cost the corporation more than it was worth, and they only issue refunds for $4.50 or more.

My blood boiled. I announced, quite clearly, that I was not angry with the person on the phone but the corporation. . . . Well, let's say that's a different matter and that my conversation was sprinkled with "petty larceny on a corporate scale" and "class-action lawsuits" and "who gave you the right to decide how much of my money you get to keep?" Each time I was told no, I said, "I want to speak to your supervisor."

Finally I got a young woman who as much as intimated she was breaking the rules by authorizing a refund for such a little amount, "but because you're so upset," she would do it. When I cash the check, I'm planning on sending back a note of thanks and saying that while I appreciate the corporation's belated sensitivity to my upset feelings, refunding the money because it wasn't theirs to keep in the first place would have been a much more satisfactory solution.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Roses in the Distance

Lucinda Williams is singing on the radio: "Don't buy a fancy funeral--it's not worth it in the end." I took this picture of my parents in front of Dulles Airport in September 1974, nearly thirty-five years ago, more than half my life ago, a full broken heart ago, a heart broken both because of wounds it received and because of distances it enforced.

They had come from East Tennessee to Washington to visit me for the weekend, one of the few times they ever came together. With what hopes and fears, anticipations and regrets they made the trip I do not know. I cannot remember how I felt but I remember that I tried: tried to show them a good time, tried to make everything okay, took them to brunch at the Watergate, where the fine service was too formal for them, I realized too late.

We weren't entirely easy together, even during the good times, even during the best of times. The years of his drinking and their fighting had taken something out of me, something I did not know was gone, something I did not know how to replace. And on Sunday afternoon, or maybe it was Saturday because we went to brunch on Sunday, "Why don't we take a drive?" we wound up at Dulles Airport.

Where I took their picture, where I put them in their place, where the distance in my own wounded heart spread out onto the asphalt parking lot. I didn't know till the slide came back, after they had gone home, what I had done. When I saw how tiny they were, how innocent and hopeful, there for my taking, there for my loving. But then all I could do was fix them at a distance too far for touching.

This picture has stood all these years as silent accusation for what I've taken to be my hard-heartedness--but now I see something more. I see them together. They had each other and they understood, and in that they could begin to forgive themselves and were able to forgive me. I see an innocence that had not been lost in what could be the hell of our life together. It had been hell before. It would be again, yet that afternoon the broad light was both just and merciful. I could not see that till just now, through my tears.

When I first determined to write about my Mama and my Daddy in front of Dulles and wondered about a title, I considered, "What you can't forgive your own heart--may it grow love like roses on a bush." For a title it's a bit wordy, but something has grown these sad years. And its aroma is sweet.

That Wide Risky Reaching

in that wide risky reaching
we sometimes lose our footing
and find ourselves in graceless arabesques
of fear and doubt

yet discover there a dance
that is truer to the music
that calls us still
than would be a more certain stance

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Not This Time

Being disabled is damnably inconvenient. Let me explain. I use a power wheelchair, and I wear a protective brace on my left lower leg, which has a significant curvature and has already broken twice in the same place, to protect it against further damage. Before the brace, when I had to go to the toilet, I would simply pull my chair up close and slide across. No problem.

Now, however, two broken hips and the brace later it's not so simple. In fact it's not. Period. The brace rubs against the toilet in an awkward place, and after the broken hips I haven't been able to maneuver the slight difference in height between my chair and even a raised toilet. An ordinary toilet is out of the question; my shoulders aren't strong enough.

What I am able to do is use a free-standing bedside commode I keep in my bedroom. So I'm very careful to have my daily bowel movement before I leave the house, even if it means getting up two or three hours early and ingesting what I hope will be enough caffeine to get things going. I also try to balance fiber, liquid, and the occasional laxative.

For two years the Force was with me. But today my luck changed. I had planned to take a 7 a.m. Paratransit bus to San Francisco to St. Gregory's for a five-hour Chapter meeting. The meeting doesn't start till 9 a.m. but that was the pick-up time Paratransit gave me. Usually I allow myself three hours, but somehow I just couldn't see getting up at 4 a.m. so I set the clock for 4:45 and started drinking Diet Pepsi. Diet Pepsi? you say. Yes, the caffeine and the cold fizzle usually do the trick, though these days it's taking more than it used to, to get the same effect.

It was 7 a.m. and the bus arrived. Nothing had happened on the alimentary front. I wanted to go to Chapter (a twice-yearly members-only event), but even more I did't want to get myself in a situation that could well have been messy, embarrassing, and malodorous. I told the driver to leave without me.

If I'd gone and made it through without necessity striking while I was on the bus, St. Gregory's has a portable toilet raiser, which is currently on top of a cabinet. If I needed to use the bathroom there, someone would have had to lift it down for me--and I would have felt a lot safer if that person spotted my transfer (the first in a very long time) from the chair to the toilet. All this with a growing sense of urgency--nope. It didn't seem like a good idea.

I'm sorry I'll miss Chapter; it's a special day of discernment and sharing, but I'm not distraught or overly disappointed. It helps that today is San Leandro's annual Cherry Festival, which I had regretted the prospect of missing. One good thing gone, another good thing in its place.

And much of what comes with being disabled is still harder than it looks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back

Or, "How To Make Up Increasing State Deficits by Cutting Programs for Poor People Who Didn't Cause the Deficits in the First Place."

If you had told me twenty years ago that I would spend the latter years of my life severely "financially challenged," as they say, I wouldn't have wanted to believe it. "Oh, I'll never be rich," I would have said, "but I'll make it fine. I'm clever, I'll be all right." I am clever, and in strange ways I'm more fine than ever, but for me "making it" has come to mean SSI and Medical and In-Home Supportive Services and weekly therapy paid for by the State of California through Medical, therapy that's authorized in six-month increments.

And now it's likely that my In-Home Supportive Services will be cut because they're "only" for domestic tasks and I'm not needy enough. Which would mean no more Anita, who has increasingly become "my beloved Anita," to clean, make the bed, cook, wash clothes, do all the necessary but seemingly insignificant chores of daily living that I either can't do at all or that would sap my energy if I had to do them on a regular basis. No more warm, familiar presence every morning to puncture the debilitating pall of isolation that drapes too many of my days.

And Don, whom I see once a week, whom I have finally begun to trust is there for me, will be there for me. We've developed a relationship that gives me structure, that helps me redress lingering deficits from the past, that helps me keep going when otherwise it might all just be too much. What would I do, what will I do, if I can't see him any more? I've heard that there are going to be deep cuts in Medical-funded mental health programs.

Now, mind you, these budget cuts have not been enacted yet. The muckety-mucks in Sacramento, who haven't to my knowledge either been asked or volunteered to reduce their perks or their pay, still have some motions to go through. And it will take some time at least to dismantle established programs. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't a few lawsuits along the way, though I doubt they'll accomplish anything. Anita, bless her heart, has said she won't leave me bereft, will always find a way to give me some help. Don and I talk tomorrow. Maybe we can work something out.

I've been fond of saying, "Worry is interest paid on a loan you haven't even taken out yet." And I'm still worried. I'm a good enough Buddhist to that change is inherent in how things are, I remember my father declaiming, "This, too, shall pass," and I can quote St. Paul to the effect that "nothing in creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus." And I'm still scared.

Note: This photo can be found on my photostream.

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Moment


the green light under the trees is aslant with holiness:
holiness raining down and blooming on the young man
the young man there with his infant on his knees
his hands holding the world and hope

the child is stable as a buddha: quiet and full
resting surely in all containment
in all being contained and held

the man's white shirt (open at the neck)
calls to mind nothing so much
as the light of a Dutch interior
the summer Panama shades a face
sweet as any madonna's

the man was found whole in this moment
in the dappled light of the summer afternoon
when he held his child on his knee:
this moment that shimmers as a sepia memory

in the yard under the trees
when the summer light was awash with joy:
this moment that stops the sun with a steady hand
and holds the man and the child as gently
as the man then held the child

and the woman is there too:
it is she who is holding the camera
it is her eye and heart
that held and framed
this moment

it is hers forever
and the man's and the child's:
that moment when the green light under the trees
was aslant with holiness
Note: With the acquisition of a new scanner, I'm able to broaden my range here. This photo, from my infancy, is veritably an image of heart's best hold for me, which I hope you'll see from the poem I wrote some years ago.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Boot Liquor Blessings

Seven-thirty, Boot Liquor country blasting through the headphones. "They ought to make a brand-new whiskey, and give it a woman's name." I'll take Diet Pepsi for my postprandial libation, forego Bailey's for now.

"Oh, I'll pawn you my gold watch and chain, love." Been in all day, was starting to slide, feel out of sorts, unanchored and aimless by midday. Tired of Flickr, tired of checking SiteMeter, tired of sorting through pictures on Picasa, tired of reading about other people's lives on Facebook.

And I knew Becca was coming over from the City; I'd invited her Sunday. A little concerned that silence might lie heavy, that I might talk too much. "I hollered, 'Lordy, Lordy, have mercy on me.'"

We started slow, I felt jerky and out of gear. "On the road to Bakersfield." Stories came, food, weight, computer talk, Andy's good heart, Anita's pushing my mother button, my hard time during Lent, her having felt buoyed up, two seminary graduates and her ordained, how sometimes what doesn't "fit" is the best and most healing truth.

"Ain't going back there, ain't going back no more." My fear, still, that being Christian will take something away from me--and the only part of Christianity I can always take without struggling is the Resurrection. But at church I'm home. When I came back to the church, I wanted where I came from, what I was, to be good enough.

"I won't wear the chains that sadness made." Daddy, how he came to me at the trial of the man who shot him and again the day of Mama's funeral. How I used to say, "He loved me so much he battled through time and space, life and death," and now I know he had no cosmic opposition, just God saying, "Well, Franklin, get going."

"We're doing fine--me, myself, and the wine." And through the afternoon, my heart opens from the stripped branch I had known earlier to the fullness that makes what is, good and enough, even this body and not having had the relationship I always wanted, even the loneliness that aches.

Becca hears my words into knowledge; I receive her relatively greater silence as gift. The slight meal we share is feast enough. Eight-thirty and I'm not just caffeine mellow. Boot Liquor still flows deep and bright. "Send dead flowers to my wedding and I won't forget to put roses on your grave."
Note: "Freeway Sky" appears on my photostream at

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Way of Putting It

is to say that God is good.

This time I had my eyes open and caught the "giveth/taketh" sleight of hand, which probably happens rather more often than I'm willing to give it credit for.

Yesterday the boo-hoo-hoo with stern injunctions to myself not to procrastinate, not to give beauties on the wing a chance to get away.

And today, going back through my photo archive, I find from last July an unremembered gift from Hot Lips (what else to call the itinerant, anonymous artist) from a neighborhood all the way across Oakland from my recent sightings.

Delight, and even gratitude, rises.

Note: "Hot Lips in Splendor" can be found on my photostream at

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Gather Ye Rosebuds"

Rectilinear Lip Leaves
Originally uploaded by Lynn Park

In the 17th century Robert Herrick advised virgins to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may," because the missed opportunities that accompanied the passing of time could not be regained. I say, "Take that picture now."

People are of two minds when it comes to graffiti/wall art. Some people say, "No, no, no. Not ever. Ugly. Defacement of property. Bad, bad, bad." I can see their point though I don't have to like it.

And I often say, though I can't always defend it, "Hmm," and even "Hot damn!" I confess a particular weakness for good tagging (applying one's name in a distinctive, even decorative manner) and stencil art like these fuschia lips, for example. I love them and took two shots near my doctor's office. I had also seen, in the other direction, just a little out of my way, two more examples I intended to photograph, when I had time. This morning the bus passed by and my unsung, unloved, unappreciated, unphotographed osculatory icon had been neatly and thoroughly painted over.

That will teach me to wait. Or, in Herrick's words to virgins who've lollygagged and missed their chance to marry, "For having lost but once your prime, you may for ever tarry." As my mother would say, affecting a downhome accent, "That'll larn you." Indeed it did. Here's to going a few blocks out of the way for beauty, especially outre' beauty. I mean, what's not to love about flaming rosebud lips?

Note: "Rectilinear Lip Leaves" can be found on my photostream at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I don't have a job, i.e., I don't go to work and get paid, but I do work, and some of the time it feels as though I work all the time. Should. Got to. Necessity. Important. Major consequences. If I don't. . . .
Time. I don't have "enough" of it, and I have fewer blocked-out obligations than most people I know. In fact, the days I have to be somewhere I usually worry less about time than when I have the whole day to myself. Like today: it's already one o'clock and I haven't "had time" to wash my face or brush my teeth. And sometimes I don't even have time to go to the bathroom!

Things to do. So far today I've called IRS, and Social Security, and left a message with my Dell sales rep, and e-mailed pictures of Paul's installation to Sherri at the SGN office. But I haven't taken care of hygiene, physical or spiritual, and I haven't started gathering the year's worth of checking account statements I need to come up with a monthly balance for my yearly housing renewal. And I've got to find my savings account number. I need to e-mail the customer service reps who've written to ask if my computer problems have been resolved. I still haven't retrieved my Word files from the old computer. There's always housework. And I haven't even thought about anything as sensible as having lunch.

I remember, when I worked in Washington, D.C., at the National Education Association, how on the weekend I'd bring home what I was sure was five or six hours of work--and steadfastly not work on it all weekend, feeling worse and more desperate all the while, constructing scenarios of doom if I didn't, till about nine o'clock Sunday night, when I would decide that it was too late even to start or try. And I'd be free, deliciously free. Monday morning I usually got everything done in about an hour. Somehow I never seemed to learn not to bring it home with me in the first place.

This is the first time I've thought about that pattern in relation to the feeling of being overwhelmed I have so often now, in the leisure of my enforced retirement.

I remember, too, procrastinating before exams in college, the misery of that, and how studying was usually positively pleasant compared with avoiding studying. When I get to doing the things I put off or am afraid of doing, usually I feel much better than I did.

What if I DID take care of everything as it came up, got dressed and washed my face and brushed my teeth first thing, instead of spending half (or more) of the day in my nightgown? What if I did handle the proverbial piece of paper only once and attended to e-mails promptly? What if I wrote phone numbers in my address book instead of on little pieces of paper that I lose usually more than once?

Then I'd have the blocks of time I say I want, to read, to paint, to make collages, to knit, to meditate, to be. And my photography wouldn't be a stolen, nine o'clock on Sunday night pleasure the way it sometimes (not usually, thank God) is. That would be good, or so I say--but I might have to face the loneliness that I'm afraid would do me in if I didn't defend against it. I've realized, in the writing of this blog piece, that when I'm overwhelmed with undone tasks and obligations, the "loneliness" feels worse, so I have even less motivation to accomplish the tasks and obligations that I could do in a Monday morning hour. But when I do that "hour's work," I can be with, if not necessarily fix, the emotions and issues--what I call the loneliness--I've been avoiding. "Being with" is a lot like studying for an exam: a lot less painful than the alternative, dreadful as that may seem in prospect. Maybe I'd better get to work. I can assemble the bank statements tonight; if I want to, I can do the math tomorrow.

Note: "Death and Taxes" can be found on my photostream at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No More, Never Again

I never thought I'd say it, but . . . no more, never again, nada, I've had it. You might think such vehemence signals turmoil in a intimate relationship. It does: a woman and her computer.

I used to watch the Mac vs. PC ads on TV, where the Mac guy is cool and the PC guy is a geek, and PC person that I am/was, I'd think, "It's not that bad. I haven't had any real problems. I like being loyal to Dell--and besides, I have a credit account with them." Well, I beg to differ with my former self. If and when I get another computer, I'm going the Mac route (oh, how those words grate) even if it does cost gazillion dollars more for basically the same thing.

I've had the new Dell Studio XPS since Friday night and despite flashes of being in love, especially with the 23" monitor, I'm not a happy camper. First, a long service call to Dell so my browser would work. Next, a series of live-time email chats to to try to install Mozy, a file back-up service, on the new computer so I can transfer the files it took days to save on the old computer in the first place--chats that didn't work. And a real-time phone call yesterday with Jai, who had a smile in his voice and never lost patience and who eventually said he'd have one of the senior technicians get in touch with me. And this morning an e-mail proposing yet another unsuccessful but logical approach. I wrote back to thank them and said the ball was still in their court. What next?

Earlier I compared this new computer system to a sleek black car. That's what it looks like but with all the sputtering I don't know if I got a vehicle or a sour yellow fruit in a big black box.

The rub is that if I were careless and not concerned about backing up my 7000 photographs, I wouldn't even know I was still in trouble. One thing for sure: the old computer isn't going anywhere till all this gets resolved. It was a clunker, but it was my clunker--and it's still got all my original photos on the hard drive.

Several years and a couple of thousand dollars from now I'll find out for myself if Mac really is plug-and-play!
Note: "Never" appears in my photostream at

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Picture for "New Toys"

Tongue-in-cheek proof positive that I don't know my way around the new system yet.
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Picture for "New Toys"

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New Toys

I don't believe the adage that "he who dies with the most toys wins." Far from it--but there is certainly something energizing about new toys. Verily, I sit here at 8 a.m. on Saturday, after not enough sleep, Diet Pepsi in hand, playing with my brand-new, sleek black Dell Studio XPS with 23" monitor. I swear this thing is as long as a classic car with fins.

My friend Andy unpacked and installed it last night, in record time. I'd been thinking it would be a marathon hassle getting cables and cords matched up, and he had everything necessary done by supper and was out of here by 8:30. Myself, I was up till midnight, exploring. Now I've installed a version of Word I like better than the preinstalled word processing program and am preparing to spend the day transferring data (mostly photographs) from five flash drives, repopulating Picasa (sounds like science fiction), and trying to navigate my way through the unfamiliar twists and turns of Windows Vista, after cruising along with XP for years. Right now "I wanna go home" because I can't find any of my familiar landmarks. But. . . .

This baby is gorgeous and I look forward to taking her out for a ride, many long rides. It's the first time I've ever had a black car.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Worry In, Blue Sky Out

I am still holding in my heart and mind a friend’s admitted great fear from last week, and today I saw an article about the suffering of the beleaguered orangutans of Indonesia, who are being slaughtered as their rain forest home is cleared at the rate of six football fields a minute to make way for palm oil plantations, orangutans who if they are not shot are burned, mutilated, or tortured.

I read the words and physically turned my head and said, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. . . . I can’t face, can’t take into myself that kind of suffering on the part of the innocents.”

I suffer, you suffer, we all suffer. Sure, we’d rather not admit it, and rightly we take action, good action, to reduce our suffering, but for me at least suffering remains. And though I was not raised Catholic, I had a thought that seemed to me to be “Catholic”: how to use that irreducible suffering instead of simply fearing and feeling it.

I didn’t feel so bereft, in my conceiving that somehow my offered suffering might become a moment’s relief from pain for a tormented creature. Then I thought about the Tibetan tradition of doing elaborate sand paintings to appease the hungry devils that are always crying out in us. According to that tradition, hours, even days of the most detailed, scrupulous work is worth it if a devil spirit knows a moment’s freedom from hunger.

Somehow my friend’s worry, my own pain, and the suffering of the orangutans coalesced around the idea that we can afford allow the pain in. I think I’m feeling my way toward something like the Tibetan practice of Tonglen, in which case one breathes in, for example, someone else’s anger or fear and breathes out blessing. Somehow a kind of holy anodyne is released. It may not be “enough,” but it is good.
Note: The photo "Skylight" appears on my photostream at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Courage Is Being Scared To Death But Saddling Up Anyway

This is the first time I've ever featured someone else's picture here but this one is too rich not to take into myself in some real way. And since for me words and pictures are about as real as it easily gets, I'm putting it in my blog.

It's a rich picture, lots going on: John Wayne, a pristine coiled hose, Ellison Street Interiors, and a sidewalk empty of everything except a disabled "Reserved Parking" sign. I can imagine a gunfighter--this time a disabled gunfighter being scared to death but standing his ground anyway against some unseen villain 40 paces down the street, the hot sun baking down on them both, as they wait for the town clock to hit 12.

For myself, I don't know so much about being scared to death of what I have to do, the life I live, as I do about being scared to death of not being able to do, not being able to live the life I live on my own. As long as I can keep saddling up anyway, that will keep one set of fears at bay.

And I'm somehow cheered by the image of a parking sign standing guard at the end of the street in the small Western town. Heck, John Wayne is just back-up.

Note: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway" comes from the photostream of Texas Finn on Please check out his other wonderful photographs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gifts That Give

Reflected Garden

There’s a story, possibly apocyrphal, about a luxury hotel in New York that started off its Christmas decorations with a giant tree made of poinsettia plants. Later in the season, when plans called for a live tree with traditional decorations, one of the executives involved with the project asked, “Why don’t we give the poinsettias to a homeless shelter? The residents could sell the plants at Grand Central Station and make a little money for the holidays that way.”

Phone calls were made, arrangements decided, and the next day hundreds of poinsettias were delivered to the shelter, where the director graciously accepted the donation on behalf of the men who lived there, one of whom was asked to say a few words on behalf of his fellow residents. Instead of smiling, he looked nervous as he began. “We appreciate what you’ve done—but would it be okay if we didn’t sell them? We got together, you see, and realized we don’t get much opportunity to give to other people. What we’d like to do is give the poinsettias to the commuters.”

I liked this story the first time I heard it, years ago—and now I’m getting to live it out. One of the pains for me of reduced circumstances is always having to watch what I spend—and this includes what I can give. I’m curtailed in my ability to make extravagant—or even moderate—gestures. But since my photography show, which was funded by friends, has been up, I’ve been newly “rich” in a variety of ways—some sales, exceedingly generous acclaim, personal affection, and photographs worth something. Now I have something valuable I can give—and that has been a gift.

Note: "Reflected Garden" appears in my photostream at

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19: Intimations of Glory

Escape Is Possible

I’ve spent the day grinning—at the TV, which I have set on MSNBC. I can’t get enough of the smiling faces, the crowds already gathering and it’s not even Inauguration Day yet. I can’t get enough of people from near and far voicing their pride and their hopes. I can’t get enough of Luke Russert telling about high school students who have cut school to be in D.C. this week. I can’t get enough of Pat Buchanan quoting Martin Luther King. I can’t get enough of Chris Matthews saying, “I’ve lived in Washington a long time, and I’ve never seen so many radiant faces.” And all I can do is grin (like an idiot, some might say) and know that I have seen glimpses of the glory of God.

Iranaeus, an early church father, got it exactly right when he said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Today I’ve been seeing people more fully alive than perhaps ever before. I’ve been seeing people both risking hope in the future and joy in the moment. I’ve seen diversity as people together, not just next to each other. And something important about the glory of God: it can’t be contained—not on a mall, not to an Inauguration—and we can be mirrors to show it to each other. By the hundreds, by the thousands, by the hundred thousands, by the millions. Yes we can.

Note: The photo "Escape Is Possible" can be seen on my photostream at

Friday, January 9, 2009

"It's My Party, and I'll--

Ooh . . . goodie!

“It’s my party, and I’ll— if I want to.” When my photo show opens Sunday, it definitely will be my party—and I don’t know what I’ll feel, what will happen. I don’t think I’ll cry, but anything is possible.

When I got to St. Gregory’s this morning, Paul, my curator and friend, already had the framed photographs stacked along the wall. The signature that had seemed so large and garish last week was just right. The matting, in tones of blue and gray and tan, was perfect. I didn’t tear up, but I was stunned: I had done this.

For reasons of space, we decided not to hang three pictures. They’ll be available, just not on the walls. As we kept at it, deciding which photograph went where, a larger pattern started to emerge and small groupings revealed their own internal logic.

While we were working, the controlled chaos of St. Gregory’s Food Pantry, which serves free food to more than four hundred families a week, swirled around us. Occasionally a volunteer would stop and say, “Oh, I like that,” or ask a question. A couple, who like many of the other volunteers were originally recipient beneficiaries, were delighted when I invited them to come to the Sunday opening. “Of course you’re welcome.”

All in all, it was a grand preview of what looks to be a grand day—and I came home and very consciously overdosed on Diet Pepsi (caffeine) and Oreos (sugar), just enough to bring me down. The poet T. S. Eliot wrote that ”human beings cannot bear very much reality.” It’s not knowing what to do with happiness that I think threw me a curve ball.

My job now is to get my eating back on the straight and narrow. One day of being mindful and careful can turn around the slippery slope that I ran the risk of courting when I consumed two-thirds of a box of Oreos. As I satisfy myself with wise choices and precision in terms of what and how much, I can be here now—and there Sunday, and quite possibly surprise myself with how much reality I can bear.

Note: The photograph "Ooh, Goodie" appears on my photostream at