a very real winding down

my creeks down below

I’ve never lived in a place like this — a wilderness, a solitude, a mountain valley, a quiet aloneness. And I’ve never had the luxury of a daily witnessing of the world closing up shop, shutting down, pulling inward, retracting. I’ve never had the joy of watching all of my visible nature shifting and changing from the abundance of summer to the quiet inwardness of autumn, heading inexorably toward the iron of winter.

It’s kind of astonishing to look back at my daily 1-second videos over the last few months, to see them mashed together into a 90-second video of time, of change, of seasonal shifting. Seeing it happen before my eyes in the video, seeing the mountain suddenly appear through the trees, seeing the leaves finally all fall away, seeing the bare branches presenting themselves, is a source of real wonder. I’m waiting to see the landscape buried in snow, and the brilliance of animal tracks, and being able to spot owls in the trees, and I hope the surprise of seeing porcupines in the trees, too.

Without a doubt, I’m in one of my right places in the world. I’m a person with a lot of “right” places in the world, because New York City is also a right place in the world for me — the noise of it, the closeness of it, the loud life of it. Hanoi is a right place in the world for me, so like NYC except in size. Paris is a right place in the world for me. And more like Heaventree, Laos is a right place in the world for me. I’m at home in noisy, crowded bustle and I’m at home in pure solitude. In both places, you can just be completely alone. I think that’s what I need.

my house up above, shot from the middle of the closeby creek with Marc’s beautiful steps placed in the creek for me
my chairside table — books and knitting needles and coffee, the stacks growing and growing until I have to sweep them clean and start anew

I wear this hat I knit every waking minute. 🙂 Isn’t it cute? It’s not my design — I just followed a pattern — but how I love it.

What’ve I been doing? I’ve been knitting a lot. Learning how to build good fires. Learning about the birds on my property — the black capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the nuthatches, and now all joined by the dark-eyed juncos — learning about how they arrive, how they feed, how they share space, the rhythms of their days. Learning about the creeks, how they ebb and flow. Learning about the landscape of the Big Indian Wilderness that surrounds me, and how the end of my private road turns into this glorious path.

If I go to the end of the private road I’m on, and hike around a little jog, it turns into this — which is also the road I’m on, according to the map. WOW.

Almost every day, I walk down to my creek. If the weather is icy, or if there are hunters in my valley, I don’t — but on those days I feel a real loss. I love going down to my creek even before I’ve had my coffee, even before I’ve built a fire. I record a little video of greeting to my friends, I share the wonder of my surroundings, and then I go back up the hill to my home. Every single day, I pinch myself in wonder that this is my life, now.

Every single day I read poetry. Every single day, in this season, I build a roaring fire. Every single day I watch the birds and learn more about them. Every single day I watch the sun enter the valley behind my house, and every single afternoon I watch the long shadows as it leaves. As the weeks pass, I watch the moon wax and wane, appear and disappear. On cloudless nights, I watch the sky in big-eyed wonder — all those stars, cold and bright, shining into my eyes. All those stars, waking me up on cloudless nights. In the hard cold nights, I imagine I hear them ringing — not like bells, but like chords.

Over the weekend I put up my Christmas tree and thought about my poetry group friends in Austin, because for the last four years, I put up the tree specifically for them. Marc and I would come back home from SEAsia, I’d get back to Austin and quickly put up my tree and make a bunch of food for the Christmas get-together we shared. And so they were with me as I put up the tree, and I miss them very much. But aside from that communion with them, and aside from regular time with my daughter Katie and her kids, I don’t feel alone, here. I don’t feel lonely, here. I’m grateful for my years in Austin, where I learned that I love my own company, where I learned how to be alone, how to sleep alone in a silent house and understand the various sounds. Marc is here Friday nights through Monday afternoons, and my time with him satisfies my need to be in the physical presence of someone.

I’m happy, friends. I sit in my sunny, large, happy space and feel like it’s all come together in some way. All the roads I’ve walked, all the heres and theres, all the losses and gains, they’ve all brought me right here, to this chair, in this valley, in a place I never could’ve imagined. I know it’s not yet New Year’s Eve, but this song just so perfectly fit my mood today so I share it and hope you can hear it too.

I’m happy. I’m hidden away from the terrible world, here, but connected to friends and beautiful people all over the world. My life is so good. <3 <3

I’m 59. Fifty-nine years old.

No matter how old I get — or maybe it’s just true the older I get — I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people are unwilling to say their real age. (Or why they dye their hair to hide grays, for that matter, though dyeing your hair for a cool color really is loads of fun.) FOR ME, every day that I get to keep living is a wonder.

I’m 59 today: thirteen years older than my dad ever got to be; decades older than I ever imagined I’d see, since I never thought I would make it out of my teens alive; decades of life I got to live despite a couple of suicide attempts (thank God for guns that misfire and for other saviors); and today celebrating in a place I never could have imagined even if I’d tried.

Last year on my birthday, I thought we’d have our first female president a couple of days later so I was filled with excitement and hope for that. And then two days later — while I was still celebrating my birthday fortnight — the world crashed and burned around me and this past year has been its own kind of hell, that all of us around the world know, and we in this country are suffering through. It ruined my birthday joy last year, although that was certainly the least significant aspect of it that one could possibly imagine. It has been a brutal year. I’ve gained 22 pounds from stress eating, even though I’ve been essentially hiding in the mountains for the last few months and I have not watched anything on television since the election because there doesn’t seem to be any program that doesn’t include clips of him speaking.

SO, to happier perspectives. I’m 59 today. I have three glorious, glorious grandchildren, and my daughters are the light of my life. My son is still hiding from us all, and it hurts as much today as it did from the beginning, but he is alive and so there remains hope. My husband and I are enjoying our lives together, in this way we’ve fashioned that works so well for us both. I live in this glorious place — never would’ve imagined such a thing! — with my beloved creeks and bench, and mountains and forests all around, and beautiful solitude. I can also live in Manhattan whenever I wish or need, with my beloved Riverside Park just right over there, and people and buildings all around, and beautiful noise.

My mind still works, and as long as this sleep remedy works, my mind is working a little better every day, I feel the sharpness starting to be visible in the distance, at least. My body still works, and if I can just re-establish my yoga practice it will return to its strength and flexibility that it had before the election. My health is fantastic, not just in terms of the absence of illness, but in the robustness of life. I’m extremely lucky, and I thank whatever combination of genes and good fortune for it, and promise to try to help keep that going. I want to be around a very long time, until I’m just a dusty little bag of bones that hardly makes an indentation in the bed, where I hope to die peacefully in my sleep….decades from now. (I’m now only 5’8″!!!! I was 5’11” so this is startling, but I guess I’m on the path to the dusty little bag of bones. 😉 )

The state of my inner life is perhaps the best it has ever been. Getting older really does do wonders for you — at least, it has for me. It’s kind of hard to parse this, since the trauma of this Republican nightmare is an ongoing source of stress and awfulness for me, but if I pause and let that sit off to the side (as if you can do such a thing), I am more at peace with myself than I’ve been yet in my life. I’m at peace with my dad, I got to ‘thank’ my darling Big Daddy for what he gave me, I’m comfortable with my physical self, I can accept the good things I recognize about myself, and the bad things about me feel less stabby and hateful. Maybe this is an aging kind of laziness; when I become aware of my weaknesses and my flaws, I just kind of shrug — ah, well, maybe next time. And it’s hard to figure out why I’ve spent my life trying to act like I’m not an intelligent and serious person, but I have and I don’t feel the need to do that any more.

In my last year of life, we traveled to Indonesia, and we bought this house. We drove the 16′ truck from Austin to Heaventree, and I started an entirely new way of living. I visited my wonderful Marnie-family in Chicago three times (once in March, once in July en route to Heaventree with my car, and once in October), and I went back to Austin to see my marvelous Katie-family once in October. I had countless drinks and dinners with friends who keep my life filled with laughter and connection and our shared hearts. Lynn came to Heaventree, our very first visitor. I read a bunch of great books (the best being Her Body and Other Parts, by Carmen Maria Machado; Antigonick, by Anne Carson, Human Acts, by Han Kang; and House of Names, by Colm Toibin). For the very first time in our lives together, Marc and I didn’t take a fall vacation and I grieve that a little bit, but we bought the house and sank a lot of money into it so that’s the balance.

Here is my year in people-pictures, and seeing each one makes my heart swell to nine times its size. I’m not even going to try to put them in chronological order, and they don’t represent everyone I was lucky enough to see, but scanning through them shows me how very lucky I’ve been. (hover over a photo to see its caption, or you can click to see them as a slideshow if you’re interested.)

I also started doing my little daily “creekside chats” on Facebook and that has been an unexpected joy and growth experience for me. I’ve become so much easier with myself, as a result. I feel differently about my mouth, as a result, and those decades of shame seem to have crumbled and fallen away into dust. I have the deep feeling of having started my day with people I love, seeing your faces and saying good morning, and sharing my view of the world around me.

Thank you for your friendship, your comments, your presence here and in my larger life. Thank you for your well wishes, and for your care. Thank you for the various kinds of help you’ve given me over the last year, and most especially for the way you share your lives with me, however that may be. You definitely help make my life the full joy that it is.

So here’s to 59! May I gather myself together and lose the dreaded T-weight that signifies my trauma. May I continue to have good health, and may my children and grandchildren do the same. May you stay healthy and happy, and in my life. May I read good books. May I relish my solitude at Heaventree, and my noisy happiness in Manhattan. Happy birthday to me.

(And looking ahead to my next birthday, I put in my gift wish list now, so you can prepare. I turn 60 ON ELECTION DAY, the mid-term elections. I just want one thing, and for once I’ll ask everyone for a gift. Just vote blue. Just vote blue and that’s all the gift I need.) (Think about it, I’ll ask again a couple of days before the date.) <3

the Just World Hypothesis

I’m here to offer yet another plug for aging. Getting older can be so marvelous, because you start to see with clarity. (Not everyone; I’ve known some bitter, small, mean old people who became concentrated nuggets of ignorance.) But if you’re lucky — or whatever, however this works — you understand more and more. And the funniest thing is that your understanding gets simpler and simpler:

 

  • It’s all one thing.
  • You are who you are.
  • Life happens to everyone, and we all die.

I think it all boils down to that. Just because it’s so simple, however, doesn’t mean it’s simple to talk about. And just because it’s so simple, that doesn’t mean you can just tell other people, younger people, what you have learned and suddenly they have the same complexity of understanding. For me, anyway, it has taken living my years to be able finally to see this.

Simple complexity, impossible to say clearly, but I’ll try, and I’ll start with a social psych principle called the Just World Hypothesis. It’s a more elaborated idea than this thumbnail, but basically it’s a deep belief that we get what we deserve. That if we’re good, good things will come to us. Bad people get what they deserve. Etc. It unfolds into a whole ethical landscape of implications, but at the center that’s what it is. Like me, I’m sure you’ve frequently heard people wail, “Why me???” And then they provide the list of explanations for why X shouldn’t have happened to them. If it’s a health thing, the list includes their health-related behaviors. If it’s an accident, the list includes the ways they are always so careful. If it’s about their child, the list includes the ways their child was innocent and they were watchful parents.

Undoubtedly because of my childhood, the fact that I was born to a couple who wanted to destroy everyone and everything, I was disabused of the belief in the just world. And one freezing night, in an alley on the wrong side of town in Wichita Falls, I thought through it very carefully and solidified my understanding: shit just happens. Life happens to everyone. In a larger way, it’s all random.

And it’s all one thing: Life happens to everyone. Why would we ever think, even for a second, that only “good” things will happen to us? (And yet we do: Shelley Taylor’s work showed that people don’t believe things like house fires, bad car wrecks, serious illness, etc., will happen to them in their futures; that we all believe we’re above average (leading another psychologist to dub this ‘the Lake Wobegone effect,’ when the law of averages alone proves that we cannot ALL be above average.)) We must believe that because of some deep, unexamined reliance on this just world hypothesis.

And so once again I have to leave space for the possibility that I was luckier than most people to have the childhood I had. That’s not Monday morning quarterbacking, or brave, chin-quivering denial, it’s an understanding of the way it’s all one thing. My life is a whole, the experiences I’ve had all along the way are so woven into the cloth of who I am that it’s impossible to pull out a warp thread, a weft thread. It’s impossible to sit here, in my chair at Heaventree, and even begin to entertain some fantasy of what it would’ve been like to have had a loving mother, a father who didn’t try to kill me. A safe home. Security. It’s impossible to do that, the entire cloth of me disintegrates and there could be no “me” sitting here to ponder that question.

Whenever I hear someone ask, “Why me?” my only thought is, “Why not you?” Of course I never ever say that, because at that moment the person asking the question needs compassion and help, and this fact of “why not you” is completely irrelevant. There may come a time in their process when it makes sense to gently talk about it, if it helps them realize that they aren’t being punished, or whatever they are thinking, but never at that first wailing.

But really. Why not you? Why not me? Life is just happening, and often we are just in the wrong place. A knot forms in an umbilical cord. A car veers into the oncoming lane. Cells take a left turn and start dividing wildly. Myelin disappears, plaques form, bones honeycomb. Unexamined parts of ourselves commit an act of sabotage or treason and we won’t recognize it for years. And as impossible as it is to grasp in the thick of it, it’s all of a piece and the landscape of your life, and yourself, are bigger and more vast and complex, and this is one warp or weft thread in your tapestry. When I was a child, of course I had no perspective to understand this, and I mean that literally: those experiences did not have the context of life that followed them, they were my endpoints at that time, and they represented the bulk of my life. Assuming we survive the terrible thing that happens, and have the good luck of living to put it in perspective, there are good things to be drawn from it; we are changed by it, and to some degree it’s up to us how we are changed by it (emotionally and psychologically, at least) (and I mean to some degree it’s up to us).

When my life fell apart at the end of 2012, I was coincidentally reading a book about trauma survivors (one of my favorite topics) called When You’re Falling, DiveI really recommend the book to everyone, because if you are a magical unicorn and nothing bad ever happens to you, then at least you are going to know all the rest of us to whom bad things will happen because we are not magical unicorns — so you can learn a few things to be present with us. I highlighted dozens of passages in the book, but I share these two with this post, and encourage you to click that link and get the book:

“Survival doesn’t really mean anything without acceptance,” John explains. “That’s the paradoxical part. You have to take the thing that’s wrong and own it. Make it into something that has meaning for you. If you try to hide or negate it, it will just eat you up,” he says. “If you’re hoping for things to be other than they are—constantly wondering how or why something happened, or how to fix it—you’re lost. You’ll completely miss out on the graceful time you have.

“When people are in need, you must be present. When people suffer, you must let them know you’re suffering with them.” “The good side of bad acts?” I say. “I would not say that from horror comes goodness. That would be giving horror too much credit. But goodness prevails in spite of horror.

I’m not in the midst of trials in my own life, at the moment, so I acknowledge that it can feel like “easy for her to say.” But if you’ve known me long, you know that I say this even when trials do come my way, and this is part of the clarity of understanding I’ve gained as I’ve gotten older. It’s all one thing — the “good” and the “bad,” who we are, how we live, and that we are who we are with that entire context in place. We came into the world exactly who we are and we live the life we live and it’s all one thing.

It’s fascinating to me how utterly complex simplicity is, but that it can still be simple. Something to ponder on a beautiful Friday, the first day of autumn. xoxoxoxo

short and quick

Just a note of re-entry to mark the end of my two-day retreat offline.

My kneejerk note would be something like, “It was tremendous.” And in moments, it was! In other moments it was boring. In fewer moments than I expected, it was anxious. In many fewer moments than I expected, it was insightful. Mostly, it just was.

When you go out to watch stars at night, you have to watch for at least half an hour before light leaves your eyes and they become accommodated to the dark and you can see the fainter stars. In a way, my experience was like this: it took almost a whole day before the cacophony left my mind and I could find any silence, at all. I spent the first day in complete silence, but my mind was full of sound — songs (mainly LP), something that almost sounded and felt like radio static, and the voices of people I know. For the first day, my mind was also full of my own narration, of my telling the story of what I was doing as if I were telling you, or writing it. My mind was full of my noticing things to photograph to share. It took a very long time for that to stop happening, and in fact it never really stopped all the way. Implied other, present and accounted for!

And I realized that I had approached my retreat with a specific expectation of enlightenment, that some huge insight was going to happen for me and from then on I would be ever-changed. How silly, and how glad I am to have had the inner space to spot that one lurking in the subterranean churn. Ironically, that was my big enlightenment insight. 🙂 I do this all the time. I initiate these projects with this expectation, and impose the specific insight on myself right from the outset. “I’m going to get it and then I’ll be chill / whatever.” I laughed out loud when I realized this.

Every time I undertake one of these projects, whether it has to do with retreating from noise or watching more closely or going deep in some way, my searching always circles around the same issues, and I gain and lose them, gain and lose them, gain and lose them. I’ve always felt ashamed when I’d lose them again, as if I were a small person, unable to hold big and deep things . . . but I realized that this is the human endeavor. If we just sought and then gained enlightenment (whatever that means, as a word and for us as individuals) in one grab, then the world would work very differently than it actually does. This is the human endeavor.

So on the second day, I didn’t search for anything at all. I didn’t wait for chill / whatever. I just was. I just read. I just drank coffee. I just looked at the trees. I walked a lot, regular four-mile walks over my two days offline. I drank a beer. I actually did finish The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and ended up appreciating it, a lot. I rambled along my creeks. I stopped taking photographs. My experiences were just and only for myself. And I finally stopped narrating myself, and was able to be still in the silence of Heaventree. This felt less like a marvelous transformation, less like an a-ha! insight, and more like just that moment, nothing more.

I’m very glad I did it, and I’m so surprised that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to stay offline. My sense had been that I go online to manage any and all discomfort, as a distraction, but maybe being online produces discomfort. Well, it does. Obviously. It doesn’t just do that, it also allows for connection and happiness, but it does also produce discomfort, especially in this nightmarish Republican world we are trapped in. I’m glad to learn that it wasn’t so hard, and I’m thinking about having regular periods of staying offline. I missed people, I missed knowing how my friends around the world are doing, seeing their pictures, but I didn’t miss the noise, at all. Since I did not feel anxious, I’m left wondering why I go online to manage discomfort. My discomfort was never uncomfortable.

A couple of great things happened while I was away: I learned that our couches will be delivered this Saturday, and I got my NYPL library card, and I don’t know which one I’m more excited about. So Saturday we’ll have furniture and I can arrange an actual living room, and we’ll start painting, and then next Tuesday the new refrigerator will be delivered. The immediate big stuff will all be in place then, and done. And I belong to the NYPL again. SO HAPPY.

Who Would You Be Without Rules?

You know that meme deal, you see it going around Facebook now and then — how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? (37, that’s my answer.) I have a different question, the answer to which is so clear to me, and always has been clear:

Who would you be if there were no rules? And by ‘rules’ I really mean gender rules more than anything else. I hope younger woman don’t feel them as strongly as I always have, but at 58 (born in 1958) I have grown up with the rules that define what I can be — even when the rules are pretending to relax and change! Even when those changes are “ladies can even be astronauts!”, things like that, because that kind of rule still contains the idea that ladies aren’t really astronauts. It needs to be stated, and so it’s not inherent in my possibility.

The older I get, the heavier are those rules, the weightier my recognition of them dragging behind me my whole life. When I was very young, a newly married 21-year-old girl, they were completely invisible to me, and so therefore weightless. I think I had too much to do just trying to figure out the whole breathing thing, the ‘what was all that stuff that happened to me’ thing, so imagining who I might be was completely beyond my ken. As Nancy wisely told me once, I have a lack of imagination for myself. And of course now that my country is descending into the clutches of the American Christian Taliban, which defines itself so much on the backs of women (as religion tends to do), and now that I’m older and at the invisible stage of life, I am so keenly aware of the gender-defined strictures that I often feel like screaming.

SCREW THAT. I will never dye my hair. Younger women need to see women who look like women my age. They need to know it’s great. And beautiful. This has become a seriously political issue for me.

I should dye my hair (I am one of the very few older women I know who doesn’t dye her hair). I should have long hair. I should be appealing, even though I am all but invisible. I should not have strong opinions (that one is regulated hard by other women, in my experience — a couple of women in Austin came to dislike me a lot because I had opinions, and they let me know that quite pointedly . . . one in a furious email, and the other by ghosting me after a meeting where she was so angry with me because I asked about times we have all been angry it was palpable, and fuck her to be honest.).

I should smile, be nice. I should be interesting at all times. I should like womanly things and interests. I should be gracious and hospitable. If wronged, I should make the best of it, be the bigger person, let it go Lori. I should always and only be kind.

I should not be filled with rage. I should not hate men for the destruction they wreak upon us all — after all, it’s “not all men.” I should not be loud and demanding. I should not make waves, unless it’s within a defined space. I should not want too much, and certainly not want a life that doesn’t fit the lives of those within my personal sphere, those who want me to be who they expect me to be.

But you know what life I would want if there were no gender rules? If I had had ungendered freedom from an early age? I have one answer for me now, and one for me back then.

The answer for me now is a rambler. I’d just leave. I’d do whatever I needed to do to earn enough money to keep rambling. I’d drive, and sleep, and work, and write, and sit, and watch, and drink coffee, and talk to people, and move on. I can’t even begin to imagine that freedom — in part because there is now a second generation beyond me, and I care about those little ones so much. But if I were free, oh how I would ramble. I’d be a modern boxcar gypsy. I’d hit hard spots, lonesome times, dark nights, I’d be sick and alone sometimes, I’d have glorious days, wondrous nights, scary times, and who knows how it would end up for me, but that would be my problem to solve. I’d have my banjo and guitar, and a notebook, and just as I did when I was a homeless girl, I’d lie awake in a lonely night and play music to keep myself company when I was scared.

The answer for me back then, assuming “back then” is when I was ~18, the age most kids are looking at their futures and either falling into what’s expected or making their own paths, is that I’d have gone to college and then graduate school to become a paleontologist. I’d have gone to Mongolia, or Africa, or Indonesia, for field work. I’d have been dusty and scared and exhilarated, and maybe I would’ve succeeded or maybe I’d have failed, but the path would’ve been mine, and it would’ve definitely been scientific, and academic. I wouldn’t have married. My life would’ve been just mine, and the inevitable suffering I’d face might crush me, but every day would be decided just by me.

I’ve never really been a girly girl, wanting a wedding and little fenced-in houses and neatly dressed children who grew up and married well and had weddings and little fenced-in houses and neatly dressed children. I remember being a very young girl, maybe 7 years old, wondering what was the point: so I’d get married and have babies, and they would get married and have babies, and they would get married and have babies, and that’s it? That would be my life, to get the next round going? But what about ME? I never played with dolls, didn’t understand how or why that would ever be fun, and always imagined for myself a life as a scientist. It was more than gender rules that kept me from pursuing that, for sure — it was a lot of stuff, primarily including the damage done by my severe childhood and the need to dismantle all that — but gender rules absolutely played a part in my imagined life.

Me and my darling Lucy

And I say all this from an expensive leather chair in a living room of a second home in the mountains, with a first home on the Upper West Side of New York City — the luxurious imaginings of a settled older woman with three grandchildren carrying my light blue eyes into the future. At this point only one is a girl, and for Lucy I hope with all my heart that her future days are hers to shape. That the rules she lives within are the ones she decides are OK to keep. That the future she sees for herself is the one she’d choose even if there were no rules. Those options are more easily available for my grandsons Oliver and Ilan — they’re more a given, really. Maybe by the time Lucy is arranging her own life, things will be different. Maybe as my grandchildren carry my light blue eyes into the future, they will have very different options, and their lives will be so dazzling to their Pete. I imagine that will be true, whatever happens.

Performing a Life

I read a great article about Aziz Ansari and his recent abandoning of all things social media. The main reason I read the article is that I am thinking about something similar, about stepping off of that platform, that host of platforms, because I’ve begun to think about how we perform our lives instead of living our lives.

Well, instead of saying we, let me say I. And instead of just throwing out the phrase “performing my life” let me speak with a little more complexity about it, because I do think with complexity about this, all the time. I’m always bewildered by people who apparently think that the lives they see on social media represent real life — that other people always have it together, always have Pinterest-ready food, and magazine-worthy interiors, and happy-memory-prepped experiences. Really? And yet people do seem to think that, despite how mysterious that is to me. And I try hard to be as honest in my representation as I can be, without (a) being gross, (b) betraying the lives and privacy of others, and (c) committing unnecessary self-flagellation. Still, even with those cautions in mind all the time, I recognize the way later presentation has infiltrated my in-the-moment experience of things. When we were hiking around Belleayre Mountain last weekend, scouting a place to watch the Perseid shower in a few days, as I looked at the flowers I wasn’t really seeing the flowers. I was seeing whether they would make a good picture. To share.

These plants become more than yellow flowers and white fluff, they become evidence of the summer coming to an end.

And the complexity is this: by taking photographs, I have become a keener observer. I see more things than I did before I started taking pictures. By writing so often, I observe more closely. I take in material through a storytelling lens — that hike isn’t just walking over rocks and crossing creeks, it’s an adventure, the shape of which will be determined by how it ends, which will become a part of the story’s beginning lines in some way. By observing as a storyteller, the experience gets a kind of form it might not otherwise have. I love the way taking pictures and writing has made me a better observer, a better watcher, a better listener.

But it’s that add-on that makes a difference — not just “would that make a good picture” but “would that make a good picture to share.” And that shift takes me to performing a life in some different way. I do love to share things I see, and especially since I am alone so much at Heaventree, having a place to say, “Look! Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?” is a nice counter to my solitude, while still allowing me the solitude. And frankly, it’s a different experience now that I am in an entirely new place, in an entirely rural, lonely place, and without real people [yet] to spend time with. Withdrawing from social media in my Austin life would’ve been very different than doing it now, where it might be filling an important need in my transition away from such a social life.

Needing to withdraw from the political discourse has also shifted my experience of social platforms, moving me a little more towards Instagram than Facebook. I notice a shift in my state when I have to read more than a couple posts about the Republican nightmare we are trapped in, but by the time I feel that and close FB or IG, I already feel terrible. It’s too late by the time I feel that first punch. So I’ve pulled away from the same kind of participation in Facebook that I used to have, already. This month I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2017 Instagram project, which is dedicated to paying close visual attention to the world via a daily prompt — yesterday it was “my eyes” — and that’s fun but not deeply meaningful to me.

And so I am thinking hard about how to do this so I still get the parts I need, which are (a) local news and events, and (b) the maintenance of connection with friends all over the world. I don’t know how I’ll do that; perhaps with a FB list of local news pages and the people I really count as friends, and a quick once-a-day jump on and jump off? Or maybe I simply need to pull the bandage off with a quick, hard rip. Another possibility is to take a hiatus, maybe start with one week and then take a month. Whatever I do, I will continue to write here, I know that. That presents a lopsided dilemma: I share myself with you, but don’t have the same opportunity to learn how you are doing, and that’s very important to me too. I always invite a conversation on my posts, and welcome whatever you have to say, to share, but it’s not your platform and you don’t know the other readers, the way I do.

Hmmm. Seeking.

Gentle on My Mind

I remember him like this.

Why am I sobbing? Like, hard, ugly sobbing? Like, can’t catch my breath sobbing? Like, my heart is resting on the pulse of the fragility of what it is to be a human on this earth, our very short moments of doing whatever it is we came to do, to be, to shout, to cry, to struggle, to sing, to wail? It’s not like I was a huge Glen Campbell fan, although I did love some of his music a very long time ago. I watch the old video of him and John Hartford on the Smothers Brothers so very long ago, and I peer at his young, innocent face, and I know the way his story turned out — alcoholism, and marriages, and children, and then the scouring horror of Alzheimer’s — and I see that young face filled with the happiness of making his music and my heart just breaks for us all and I don’t honestly even know why.

If you haven’t watched the documentary about Glen Campbell’s long, hard fight with Alzheimer’s, on Netflix (I’ll Be Me), I recommend it. If you have loved someone who fought that demon, it might be too familiar to you, but it was a moving documentary; Marc and I both cried while we watched it. I think I was more of a Glen Campbell fan than Marc was (and it’s not like I knew much of his music), but we both cried while we watched it, and when I texted him to let him know that Glen Campbell died today, he was very upset, too. (You might also enjoy another documentary on Netflix called The Wrecking Crew, about studio musicians in the 1960s — Campbell was part of that group too, and it’s an astonishing movie.)

For some superficial reason, both young Glen Campbell and Gentle On My Mind remind me of another song I love so much, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy — that great opening song by Harry Nilsson, Everybody’s Talking At Me.

Campbell and Voigt both had the same kind of open, earnest face when they were young men, and the two songs share some kind of forward-moving beat, and general sensibility. Everybody’s Talking always makes me think of my dad, and as I cry so uncontrollably for Glen Campbell’s death, I wonder if in some way I’m crying for my dad. Who knows . . . but I do know that I can’t stop crying.

We are just brief thoughts on this earth. We appear and flash like fireflies, and it all seems so important, so big, so true, and we fight so hard and we get sick and addicted and we fail and we try and we lose and we love and are loved and we make and we create and then it’s gone. And it matters so very much, and it doesn’t matter at all, and still an older woman sits alone in her empty living room in the mountains crying so hard because a complete stranger has died, and he touched her life.

Here’s a YouTube mix of his songs, if you want to just stroll through his more popular songs. I hope he finally rests in peace, and I hope his family finds the peace they need after that horrible fight. Thanks for everything, Mr. Campbell. <3