Saturday, November 29, 2008

One Single Impression -- Welcoming

My first thought at this week's prompt is a book by Kate Wilhelm Welcome, Chaos which I highly recommend. Sometimes we need, desire, welcome, "bad" things, because they are a gateway to something better.


she will not speak its name,
cannot ask directly, or say aloud
her fearful hope,
but she murmurs occasionally
of ‘a way,’ ‘a means,’
to choose the end,
control that final moment,
say 'when' and ‘welcome.’

November 29, 2008

Today's photo "Last Light in Autumn" was taken by me, early November 2008.

For more excellent poems on the theme of "welcoming" see One Single Impression Sunday November 30, 2008.

more random thoughts

Let's get this straight -- I am not complaining. Wanted to be clear about that up front. Because I consider myself extraordinarily lucky; always have been lucky. Bad things almost never happen to me, and on the rare occasion that they do happen, they turn out in the best possible way, or put me on a new and much better road.

For example, when I got cancer (melanoma on my arm) twenty-six years ago, it was completely self contained, and removed completely in the excision, with no radiation, no chemotherapy. Plus, the experience made me so grateful just to be alive, that when I went on an interview the week after the surgery, I couldn't possibly be nervous about something so trivial as a job. My calm and poise so impressed them that they hired me immediately.

Or there was the time that a piston in my VW beetle exploded, cracking the engine block bring the car to a faltering halt on a really empty looking stretch of I-77 in rural West Virginia. But I was extraordinarily lucky, because I was in Braxton County, where the woman who was sheriff required all her deputies to be on the look out for stranded motorists, and it was departmental policy to offer whatever assistance was necessary. The engine was destroyed, and I had not money, but it turned out that the officer who rescued me, needed a VW body for a dune buggy he wanted to build, he paid me cash (more than it was worth) and took care of all the towing costs, found me a motel to stay at, and the bus schedule that would get me back home to Pennsylvania. Plus, during the month I was between cars, it created an opportunity for the man who would be come my first husband to give me rides and get up the nerve to ask me on a date.

The problem is, that I became to comfortable with the idea that I was lucky. As a result I've not taken care of myself the way I should have. I've been overweight my entire life, sometimes by just a little, and for the past twenty years by quite a lot. The term "morbidly obese" applies to at least the last 10 years of my life. But I paid little attention, because I was 'lucky.' I had 'good genes' (almost everyone on both sides of the family live into their late 80's and 90's) -- another form of luck. And I was healthy, I didn't have high blood pressure, I didn't have diabetes. Every time I got a new doctor, they always assumed I had those things, and was surprised when I didn't. So I ate whatever I wanted and was cavalier about exercise. The few times I felt it was necessary to lose weight (like for job interviews) I never had any trouble dropping 40 or 50 pounds in a few months through diet and exercise. But I never kept the weight off for more than a year or so.

The first chink in the armor was my blood pressure. I started having trouble with it after I married 14 years ago. But I rationalized that it was only because of the birth control pills. It had nothing to do (in my mind) with my diet or weight. Then beginning at age 54, everything began to unravel. My blood pressure did not go back to normal when I went off birth control pills. Being morbidly obese made recuperation from a hysterectomy more difficult, made it harder to deal with osteoarthritis and then rheumatoid arthritis, contributed to plantar fasciitis. Suddenly I needed to lose weight to feel better, but my primary tactic for losing weight -- lots of walking and exercise -- was made problematic by the very conditions that the obesity was exacerbating. I found myself virtually immobilized by pain in my feet, in all my joints, for several months, and the weight went up even more.

The Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis brought me the right kind of medicine and some physical therapy, and my mobility improved, but my weight didn't. I was stuck in this cycle of destructive eating. I knew something was wrong with me. I was always out of sorts, cross and crabby all the time. I knew I had a good life, a good job, and good husband, but I didn't feel happy any more.

Then Nino the cat was diagnosed with diabetes. Suddenly I saw the parallel between his symptoms and my symptoms. I went to my doctor and got tested. I am still lucky, I don't have diabetes -- yet -- but I am "pre-diabetic" and if I want to continue to be lucky, if I want to avoid ending up a diabetic, then I'm going to have to take action: major changes in diet and eating habits, much more exercise. I've only been living with this for four weeks. It's not easy to change all the bad habits of a lifetime.

So understand, this is not a complaint, it's a warning, a cautionary tale, if you will. If you are in your thirties or forties, and your health is good, it is easy to think that you don't really need to make changes, or that you can always make them when the time comes. The problem is, that when the time comes, you may find that you face a lot of obstacles, pain and disabilities, that make changes a whole lot harder. I don't know if I would have listened at age 45, but I wish that someone had told me this. Sure lots of people warned me about diabetes and high blood pressure and arthritis, but no one ever really explained it this way -- that your body can start to gang up on you when you pass a certain age (it's different for everyone). Just because you can easily drop 50 pounds at age 45 just by walking a few miles each day, doesn't mean that you will always be able to do that. The day may come when walking even a half a mile is painful and difficult, and yet you'll still need to lose weight.

Friday, November 28, 2008

random thoughts on a November afternoon

It has been sunny today, with the kind of brilliant blue sky you only see in late autumn. The bare white branches of the sycamore make a dramatic statement against the sky.

While it was warm in the direct sunlight, the air was cold, even at noon when I took Rosie dog for a short walk. Both she and I need more, longer walks. We both need to lose weight, and get more exercise. Dogs, unlike cats, seem to sense their human companions moods and share in them. Both John and I have been in something of a funk lately, and poor Rosie has gotten droopy too. No real personal reasons for our "funkiness," although the general economic gloom of the nation is contagious.

We may be doing less discretionary spending this fall, but only because we have been hit with large veterinary and human medical bills. I am very lucky in having relative economic security of a tenured academic position.

A more personal source of funkiness, is the nearness of semester end, but not the end yet. Everyone, students and teacher alike want it to be over. Motivation flags.

For reasons that seemed logical and rational at the beginning of the semester, my college decided to combine a few vacation days normally scattered through the semester with the three days allotted at Thanksgiving, to give us the entire week off. Unfortunately, my mind has taken the notion of vacation (vacating) all too literally. Not a good thing when I still have a pile of papers to grade, and the last week of classes (next week) still to prepare for, and on-line classes that did not pause for the holidays.

I wonder what kind of attendance there will be in my SOC 101 class next week. With only one week left of the term before finals, how many of my students will stretch the Thanksgiving week off, into Christmas break? This has been a semester of poor attendance and disappearing students. I began the term with 26 students, at this point there are only 16 left, and of those, about 10 to 12 actually show up on any given day.

Can anyone explain why, when there are only 10 students in a room large enough for thirty, they decide to sit in two clumps in the opposite far corners of the room? They seem to be trying to get as far away from me as possible.

The spare open landscapes of late autumn and winter, are linked in my mind to how the cold, hard times in human lives and societies strip away the soft coverings -- as the leaves are stripped away -- and we are left with a starker hard-edged social landscape, that has its own beauty. The beauty of some trees, such as the sycamore, are only revealed when all the leaves are gone. The beauty of some people shines most strongly in the cold times.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

the end of autumn

First snow illumines
rusty red oak sentinels
--rear guard of autumn.

November 25, 2008

One Single Impression -- Childhood Memories

Some how I confused the prompt for September 21, with the prompt for November 23...and put my energy into writing a haiku for "Autumn." Then got distracted with preparing for a colonoscopy on Monday -- the test itself is nothing at all, but the preparation -- UGH!!! Nuff said. So I'm going to do two off beat things instead of write a new poem at this point in the week.

In the summer of 1965 I was 14 and visiting my grandfather in tidewater Virginia; my 16 year old cousin Lucy introduced me to the idea that any one could write poetry. I loved poetry, read tons of it, memorized my favorites. But it had never occurred to me that any one, even 14 year old girls, could write poetry.

I immediately sat down and over the next few days wrote two poems. Here they are my first poems from 1965:

Alone, all alone I sit by the sea,
Alone yet not lonely, here by the sea.
The wind sweeps by tousling my hair
It whips the waves, splashes the sea lions lair,
Then all is still, nothing stirs
Till behind from a tree a locust whirs,
For I am alone down by the sea.


Remember those sweet days that have passed away,
The grasses of soft green in the wind would sway,
The trees by the river, those old weeping willows,
Children swinging in hammocks or old men with pillows.
Long summer days of childish laughter,
Days to remember long every after.

Recently in an e-mail I reminded Lucy of how she introduced me to poetry a quarter of a century ago, and she replied with the following poem, that came to her as a result of my e-mail. Here is Lucy Bickley's poem about childhood memories -- because I remember it exactly this way!

Where Is Youth?

I remember Grandad's swing that creaked and groaned
As we swung up to the roof of the porch
Chatting and eating penny candy we bought
Out of the bins at the corner store.

Watermelon at the well, fresh from the field
throwing off seeds, sprinkling on salt
laughing, enjoying, gorged to the point
We could eat no more.

Sunshine, barefeet, cantaloupe, Tomato, fresh milk,
Eggs and toast, breakfast at the cottage
While waves lapped at the shore,
No first meal was ever so great.

Swing on the rope swing, the seat worn from weather and wear.
Swinging high up in the clouds when I closed my eyes
And dreamed eternal dreams until Mom called
"Come on or we'll be late".

Standing tall in the back of the truck
To see over the cab and wave at who was passing.
Dust rising from the back wheels as we bounced over the
Dirt roads on our way to there.

I can't help but want to go back over the dusty roads
Through the years to find the timeless
Innocent dreams we once had
When we had youth to spare.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Single Impression -- Courage

In our culture we normally think of courage as related to action, as overcoming fear to do something. As society we value individualism, or as it is frequently called "rugged individualism." The two things -- courage and individualism -- are frequently linked in our cultural mythology, so that courage is often mythologized as actions by individuals often struggling against the flow of society or their own social group. This emphasis on individualism and action, means that most Americans come to fear the inactive reliance on others. Acting to help others is good, while being helped by others is bad and shameful. Thus, often our greatest fear is of becoming helpless, by illness, circumstance or age, and having to take a passive role dependent upon the help of other.

Over the past year, I have observed (through daily phone conversations) the struggles with fear of my 85 year old mother, as she has to let go of doing things and accept (reluctantly and with much rebellion) the assistance of others in caring for my 96 year old father. If courage involves overcoming fear, than sometimes the most courageous path is inaction and acknowledging dependence.

winter courage

learning to let go,
accepting help from others,
work-worn hands at rest.

November 15, 2008

For other poems on the theme of "courage" see One Single Impression Sunday November 16, 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

evening sky and science myths

I love the change to standard time in the fall, because it means that I end up making my trip home from work or running errands right about sunset, and I get to observe the sky.

Right now we have two brilliant evening "stars" or actually planets, Venus and Jupiter, that are brilliant gems in the west/south/west in the early evening sky. These are not always visible from my home, deep in a holler with hills surrounding us, but at this time of year I can get wonderful glimpses of brilliant Venus and Jupiter on the trip home.

The past two days, I've been taking a (long) detour from work to home, over the mountain to Virginia to the Pound Veterinary Hospital where Nino the newly diagnosed diabetic cat has been staying. The one major plus of the trip is the spectacular views from both the Kentucky and the Virginia side of Pine Mountain, and at sunset the view is particularly stunning.

Yesterday, on my way to the vet, in the late afternoon light, the moon waxing towards full (but not quite there) hung low in the sky just above the edge of the mountains and seemed huge (I think the old saying is "as large as a dinner plate"). Later on the trip home after the sunset, the moon seemed so much smaller. I have often observed this phenomenon, and always assumed that it had something to do with the "magnifying" qualities of the atmosphere. But, lo I was wrong.

I googled "why moon looks bigger" and learned that the atmosphere has nothing to do with it. Moreover, I learned that if one were to use some objective measuring device, the visible surface of the moon is identical is size at the horizon and higher in the sky. It is only to the human eye and human brain that it appears larger. Our brain believes that things on the horizon are further away than things straight over head. For example, a cloud over our heads is nearer to us, than a cloud on the horizon (which could be as much as hundreds of miles further away). So our mind plays a trick on us, it says, hey, that moon low on the horizon just above the trees is further away than the moon straight over our head, and so our mind mentally adjusts the size of the image so that we think the moon is larger. When it is overhead we think it is nearer so our mind adjusts the image smaller. But of course, the moon is the same distance from us, whether it is above us or at the horizon.

This explains, finally, for me, why I will see the moon just above the tree tops and think "wow! how huge that is" and rush in to get the camera. But when I see the photograph, suddenly the moon seems so much smaller. That's because the lens of the camera is not fooled like our brain is.

Two neat websites that explain this with diagrams are:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One Single Impression -- Paradox


precious life
intense sensation revealed
--in mortality.

crave security
raise barriers, stock weapons
--feel anxiety grow.

What an interesting prompt this week. I was astounded to realize that I didn't really know what the word "paradox" meant. I could think of examples, like that old chestnut about the man who travels back in time and kills his grandfather before his own father is born. So it was time to do some research. I was astounded to discover that there are several definitions of paradox, and hundreds if not thousands of examples of paradoxes from the sciences, philosophy, and even literature. I was most astounded to discover that the original meaning of the word from its Greek and Hebrew roots -- something that is contrary (para) to the received wisdom or orthodoxy of the day -- is the least common usage of the word today.

It was fun to try to list all the things that seemed like paradoxes to me.

For more poems on this theme go to One Single Impression.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dona Nobis Pacem

Grant us Peace.

In the spirit of the day I offer up a poem I wrote forty-two years ago, because despite being "adolescent" in tone, it is just as relevant today:
Man has built to rival God's mountains,
spires of concrete and steel,
reaching higher, higher toward the sky
man has built to out fly the birds,
always reaching upward toward the stars.

But below the skies the earth is troubled,
man against man, brother against brother,
for under God all are brothers.

Need you fight one another?
There is so much to be had--
Let us fight ignorance, poverty, disease,
not one another.

O my brothers stop your useless strife.
Shoulder to shoulder, heart with heart,
let us fight together
for the world that could be.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can

"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can."

--Barack Obama, 44th President-elect of the United States of America

If you missed it the full transcript of the acceptance speech is available on Yahoo News along with video footage.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)

Monday, November 3, 2008

peace on earth

I saw the most wonderful bumpersticker today in the grocery parking lot in Wise. It said

"God bless the entire world without exception."

Elsewhere on the car was a small mandala made up of symbols from all the world's religions.

Check out the link to the Blogblast for Peace to the right, and consider participating! Give peace a chance.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Single Impression -- Disguise

There is something about November that stirs me to commit poetry. Something clean, crisp, bleak and real about November. I have been trying to write the perfect November poem since 1967. This is certainly is not it, but it is I hope a worthy effort.


nature drops her disguises,
forest opens to the sky,
rock cliffs are bared,
sheltering leaves fall away,
wind whistles through
tenuously touching twigs.

walking the forest floor
ones sees further, more clearly,
steps more surely
among rocks and fissures.

Sunday 2 November 2008

This weeks photo of the Pine Mountain Trail in November was taken by my husband, John E. Pitt.

For more poems on the theme of "disguise" see One Single Impression.