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The View From Here

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I love winter. I love the low angle light, the short days, and frost beading every branch. Cabin fever.. not so much.

It feels these days like the house is shrinking, and that chaos lurks in every drawer. The Christmas tree and all the decorations are down, and the living room looks bigger as a result. Still, I am restless and irritable.

Downstairs Sparky the cockatiel has been shrieking since daybreak. Scott yells at the bird. Deer are fighting in the yard. A buck just curled his lip at a fawn and kicked at it with his front hooves. Friends complain over rankling remarks..we compare notes. “What did she mean by that?” “He said WHAT?”

Then this morning, the sobering news about the shootings in Tucson. Morning Edition was full of details, and pundits weighing in. Is it because of the political diatribe in the media? Fiery rhetoric inflaming deranged minds? People whose anger takes an exponential leap into violence?

One of my favorite songwriters Cheryl Wheeler wrote a song  based on this question  that ends “If it were up to me, I’d take away the guns”. Ironically, when she played a concert in Alaska this fall, there was a shooting in the bar adjacent to the club she was playing in. Why did it happen? No one really knows much besides the fact  a crazy person had a gun. And something sparked into violence.

Bottom line, it is the guns. But words are weapons too, and I get so mad sometimes hearing news, I can’t listen. Not easy, since I am the local host for Morning Edition, responsible for broadcasting the news. But the divisiveness, self-righteousness and mean-spirited comments never end, and it feels like the whole country has a bad case of cabin fever.

So at 7 o’clock this morning, 11 am Eastern time,  I made  KFSK join with President Obama and members of Congress and people all across this country in a minute of silence. In radio, that is an eternity called “dead air”.Generally we strive to avoid this, but this morning in the dark hour before sunrise, nothing else made any sense. Silence as cold and pure as a winter night.

As the seconds clicked by, I thought about the dead and the wounded. I thought about the grandmother who reached over and took the clip out of the shooter’s hand, and I thought about the shooter.

Words have power. So does silence. I have been weaving my way between these forces over the last months, weighing the value of both.

After a minute, I read the weather and the tides. Reminded people to watch for the sparkling hoarfrost crystals and black ice on the highway. This is my job every morning, waking the town up to the beauty and dangers of the day. I feel confident about commenting on the tiny snow globe world we live in.

I have lost the taste for larger opinions. My own, and those of most people. That is why I quit writing.

So I am finding my way back. Somewhere between a barrage of words and icy silence I might be able to salvage some kind of personal truth. At any rate, if you check this blog, you will get the view from here.

So how am I doing? Just fine. Or did you really want to know?

Actually, I have been thinking my head might blow up for the last 24 hours.

It started last night, when it appeared that the computer had swallowed seven hours of work, by copying blank files over text. I was stunned. We were down at the cabin, it was twilight, and I stormed off across the tide flats for a little “time out”. Stalking among the icebergs helped put things in perspective. I have been rattled by the details and choices in my life.

The  job I have been waiting for came open this week, but it is only has short-term  status right now. . Do I quit four jobs to grab a better one even though it is only temporary? If the temporary job turns into a permanent job, I would be set for the rest of my 50’s. If not, I will be unemployed for the winter and known in town for quitting with two days notice. Such an American story. Juggling part-time jobs, no health benefits, watching retirement savings drain away like the tide. I realize I am not alone though. Lots of people in the same situation right now. But what to do? I have 24 hours to decide. On and on,  racking my brain. Then I look around and realize I am surrounded by ice that fell as snow maybe 700 years ago. It is hard to stay angry in the face of such beauty.

Still, I slept badly until three a.m. when it was time to go out and reposition the logs that form our dock. Standing in the dark on the  slippery, bobbing logs  with a peavey in one hand, I realized bats were circling my head. I didn’t know there were bats around here. They appeared though, attracted to my headlamp perhaps. And maybe my wild hair which might pose a nesting opportunity.

We managed to get the logs in position at high tide. It was impossible to sleep after that. So around 7:30, I decided we should probably try to go to town before the tide went out too far and stranded the skiff. Except the tide was moving much faster than I realized, as it does when it runs out 20 feet.

By the time Scott was awake,  I had gear down to the beach, and realized I had to hold the heavy skiff in the deep part of the channel. Unfortunately, I did not have my hip waders on, and the water was just high enough to cover my boot tops. So I stripped off my boots, socks, and Carhartts, and waded out into the channel with the skiff and held it there until Scott arrived. In this country, if you are naked and wet, you can dry off. If you get your clothes wet, you risk hypothermia.

That water is cold. It was full of crabs too, but I was reassured to know that if they clipped off a toe, my feet were far too numb to feel it. We got out of there, with barely enough water to float over the sand. Me standing on the bow bare legged ready to jump back in the water and push the skiff off the mud if needed.

I got to town. No bats in my hair, but a little kid somberly said to me on the street, “It looks like you are wearing a wig”. What the hell? I didn’t ask him. I imagine my hair does look crazy though, if it reflects my state of mind. That made me laugh.

At least I got to the library and found out that my files could be retrieved. A victory. I still face the quandary of what to do about my jobs. Do I stay or do I go?  At this point, I am willing to pole dance for health benefits. Luckily, that is not one of my choices. As Scott says, “your knees couldn’t take it”.

I will keep you posted.

The real reason I have not been blogging. Because computers are WRECKING MY SANITY!!!

I just wrote a detailed post, the first in a long time, and then in the act of saving , it was eaten by WordPress. Not even a burp remains.

Now, it was not the writing that cannot be reproduced. It is the reflective MOOD which has completely vanished in a thicket of curses and thinly veiled threats to both the computer and my mate who sits in the other room saying, “Well, didn’t you save it?”

Which brings me to another question. I have been thinking long and hard about  inventing a word to describe the intense pain that computers cause us both through frustration and loss. I watch people in the library throw “cybertantrums” over the fact they cannot connect to their email, or print out a job application from the federal government. All I can do is look them in the eyes and gently say, “I understand  your pain”. Which, if someone said to me now would make me knock them to the ground. Didn’t know I was living so dangerously.

So what was this little jewel of a post about? It was about how working at the speed of cyberspace has turned me into a less than pleasant person. One who has variously been described past week as “Frenetic”, “hurried” and panicked”.  My reaction to this was to run off to Camp Island to embrace a quieter, calmer self if I could find it. And to avoid being around human beings and computers, both of which were making me crazy.

Part of the problem is trying to balance three jobs, working 10-13 hours a day. Then trying to fit in some kind of a life around that with a little socializing and  exercise..maybe a bit of community service.  I could not understand why it combined to make me so owly. Or why people felt compelled to point out that I seemed “harried”. The poet Rumi said it so well:

 “What I want is to leap out of this personality
And then sit apart from that leaping
I’ve lived too long where I can be reached.”

I spent time in the sun on the porch at Camp Island, reading a book by my friend Kurt Hoelting. He recently wrote “The Circumference of Home” about spending a year living within the area 100 miles of his house without a car. What resonated  most with me was that by slowing down to the speed of walking, and moving deliberately around the landscape, he felt much more connected to his home.  He also talked about how living at the speed of cell phones and cars and computers created a sort of hypervigilance in people.  That struck a chord.

Facebook, email, cell phones, are all instant forms of communication, and we get used to the quick response times. Kurt talks about how images shift constantly on television, and it solicits a certain reactivity. I have noticed how magazines and television and now even books shatter large pictures and ideas into smaller images, with shorter bytes of information, as though people cannot be expected to have longer attention spans, or  time to reflect. I know I have tried to respond immediately to every request and perceived need at work and it has been making me crazy.

Kurt talks about “Long Wave Modalities” to describe the natural phenomena like tides and seasons, that span much longer amounts of time, and involve subtle change. Exposing our minds to such longer waves leaves room for contemplation and reflection. Slower reaction times might lead to less irritability and frustration.

So that is what I did on Camp Island. I set out to have Long Wave Walks around the island. Stopping to lay in the warm moss and look up at crows’ nests, or sitting in the sand and waiting until I observed  three things I had not noticed at first.  Like the sound of wind through the beach grass, or the smell of seaweed drying in the sun,and the call of baby seals on the ice flows.

I followed the long, loping footprints that a wolf left in the sand not an hour before, imagining the strength and grace of this unseen visitor.  I managed to sit quietly on the porch until hummingbirds landed on my hands. All that was the peace and grace of Camp Island.

Then I came back to town, and the computer ate my thoughts. Thank God for cold beer. And Kurt’s Book. “the Circumference of Home”. In fine bookstores and libraries everywhere. Or it should be. It is one of the few books lately that I plan to buy and underline.

Now, hit “Save” and hope for the best.

Big Surf

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The last few weeks feel like I have been tumbling in wild surf. Living on the edge of what I know. Constantly bobbing above the waves looking for the horizon.

Robert Davis Hoffman came to town a few weeks ago. He is a poet who was raised in Kake, a nearby Tlinget village. His words evoke this country, framing and illuminating it as the best poetry does. He also speaks to the challenges of being human, fighting the tides of time, and doubt and loss.

Robert also is a woodcarver, and someone asked him after his poetry reading if his carving “took him away from his writing”. His thoughtful response turned into a lifeline for me this month. He replied that it “was all part of the same play”. He described dancing as a way to carve the air, and carving as a form of poetry. He made me see that I do not have to feel as though I am neglecting my creative soul just because my life is overfilled..

I have been frustrated that my work schedule and flagging energies seem to conspire to keep me from writing. I have three jobs that I love, and then life happens around them. A death of a beloved neighbor, the needs of close friends. Writing a eulogy can be poetry, dressing the dead is a kind of prayer. These long busy days do not need to separate me from writing. It is just that I am living inside my poems these days. I am carving the air around me into poetry. Standing in the late afternoon light, watching the spirit leave a body, shadowed like a painting stretching across 93 years of history.

Listening to children playing in the yard next door, like small wild birds, just like their parents did, and their parents before them. These moments are music.

So although I don’t slow down long enough to hear an entire song, or read a book, or write a post..there is a transcendent beauty in these days when I remember to look.

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Early Monday morning at the radio station, and I am listening to someone on the phone describe a trailer hitch they found on the road as blood runs down my arm. ” Yeah, I found it around 6th and Kiseno streets, and so then I put it on a tree stump, in case they come back for it..” The caller proceeds to describe the tree stump, and I wonder how the person who lost the hitch would ever know to look for it there, but mostly wondering why the hell in 53 years I have not been able to learn NOT to run for a ringing phone.

“How did you manage to hurt yourself during Morning Edition?” my coworkers laugh. Well, it was an unexpected encounter with a large pile of metal debris in the hall at full speed, slicing open the knuckles of my right hand.

It was not just any pile of metal junk. This equipment represents the first Board I learned to use back in 1982, now heading for the dump. I have been reading the weather and news on KFSK for a long time. Making coffee in the back kitchen as the sun rises over the Coast Range since I was in my twenties. Now I am in my fifties and I hold the weight of the intervening years in my mind.

Shouldn’t I be calmer after all these years? More measured in my approach? I am still running around like my hair is on fire, although now it is more like smouldering instead of flaming. Still rushing to complete my lists of tasks, racing to respond to any  request.

One of the phone calls this week came from my friend Chris, who used to be the Morning Edition Host here before me. She called from the Sitka station, where she is once again being the Morning Host. As usual, I had just run for the phone, from an interview in progress, on my way to a newscast in two minutes..answered her question tersely and then hung up. The I recognized her voice, remembered she had moved back to Sitka, and called her back. We had not spoken in probably 20 years..

“Yeah, I thought I recognized your frantic voice” she said. That comment unsettled me. It made me think long and hard about what it means to live in relationship to my work, and what I think of as my responsibilities. It made me think of the weight of years, and all that had happened since she and I had seen each other. We still are waiting for six minutes past the hour to break into national programming with the local weather forecast.

It is the juxtaposition of sameness and change that boggles my mind.

I left my knuckles uncovered as a reminder this week. They are a foolish stigmata, representing a self-destructive impulse to drive myself too hard, to move too fast. To react with unthinking speed to every request, every task on the list with no regard to my own needs.

This is not my singular fault though. I know  many other women who find no place for themselves on their personal “TO DO” list. Maybe you do this too, and find yourself wrung out by the demands of your life or your family. It calls for a measure of self-regard. this week my goal is to try and live at a more sane pace, and see where that leads me.

CIMG7663 I admit that I am grateful that this is what war looks like in my neighborhood. Every morning as I listen to the news, I know it could be otherwise.

The assault of the poisoned tulips started last week. Look closely, and you will see this is not just a spring flower. In fact, it is not even real. It is a plastic tulip filled with a small bar of deer repellent, stuck through the protective netting that covers the last of the nibbled crocuses.

My neighbor has been gardening for most of her 80 plus years, and she is not giving up easily, although she and I agree it is hardly worth the heartbreak.

Last week, I chased the deer around in my bathrobe, throwing my slippers at them as they sauntered away. I was  howling in anguish after discovering they had broken through the five foot high fencing and ate all my exotic tulips. A few days later I noticed that the netting around my neighbor’s flowers was pawed away, and the deer had been chewing up her crocuses.

Winters are long and dark in Southeast Alaska. Gardening is not easy in a cold and wet climate. When spring comes, WE WANT TO SEE SOME GODDAMN FLOWERS!!!!What we get is piles of deer droppings, and pregnant deer waiting to drop new lilac eaters in the back yard.

It makes me crazy. One year, I found a deer leg alongside the road, and planted it hoof up, and crooked like a hitchhiker among the crocuses. No matter. They ate the flowers anyway.

So I was amused to see the crafty solution my neighbor came up with. Until I saw that  the deer had bitten off the plastic petals, and there were tooth marks on the deer repellent. CIMG7664

As I said, I am glad we do not have bombs blowing up in the streets. There are not explosives falling from the sky. But I am thinking about looking into the technique of mind control used by Special Forces that makes goats faint. Just to even the score a little bit.

Yellow petals

This story starts with some bare sticks. Wrapped in wet paper towels and mailed from an island in New England to an assisted living facility in Florida. Some forsythia, picked to remind an old woman of spring time in her childhood home.

It seems like so many of the stories I want to tell are not mine to share. I am torn, as a writer, between respect for the people that shyly share their lives with me and the desire to tell these beautiful and amazing and poignant tales.

Why tell this story? Because so many of us go the same place, and find it lonely. We watch the aging of our beloved relatives. We watch them start to fail. We end up inside the nursing home, where time stands still and wonder how this could possibly be the end of the story.

What happened to the dinners and the laughter, the memories collected over many years? How can it be the old house is empty now of all pictures and familiar objects, as the painters prepare it for sale? Are we so easily erased?

Back at the nursing home, an old woman curls up into herself. Fades in and out of consciousness. Now awake and telling a story, now fading into a slumber too deep to be roused.

This is the natural pattern. We get so much time and no more. Still, when you are losing someone you love, there is never enough time. Grief rips a ragged hole in our hearts. Even though the rest of the world is saying, “They were old, they had a good life, their suffering is over, they are in a better place” and generally nattering on like parrots, you  are at the precipice of loss, saying, “no one knows what she meant to me..”

Just when it seems like the smells and the loneliness and the pathos of the day are crushing the air out of your chest, that is when the mailman comes. Drops off a cardboard box from New England, not full of sticks , but overflowing with bright yellow blossoms.


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