Retirement is tricky. When people ask me what I “do,” I always hesitate. If I say that I’m retired, that sounds as though I am sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair. Maybe I’m wearing black, lace-up shoes and shelling peas. Back and forth I go (ooh… that reminds me of Samuel Beckett‘s one-woman play, Rockabye. The woman does not speak; rather, we hear her unvoiced, interior monologue over a sound system. She rocks to a poetic beat: “when she said… to herself… whom else…” The play is short – definitely worth watching. Judge for yourself at httpsearch.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcsaoffblock&type=A001US0&p=Beckett’s play – Rockabye.)
Oops! I’m off target. To continue, when asked what I “do,” sometimes I say that I write, but writing… especially a blog, sounds so self-absorbed. Better to say that I garden and read. But last night I had another thought. (When you crash at 7:30 in the evening, you tend to have any number of thoughts around 2:00 a.m.)
And my thought was that I am not a writer. Instead, I am a weaver. All day long I come across these threads… bits I’ve heard on NPR… pieces I’ve read… fragments of conversations… street signs… bumper stickers… the list is endless. I use them all. Sorting through this heap of tangled threads, I try to align the weft and warp – to weave the odd bits into an essay of sorts.
I’m feeling better. I AM A WEAVER.
WIDE AWAKE AT 2:00 A.M., I replayed that night’s free performance sponsored by The Friends of the West Custer County Library and hosted by Westcliffe’s Historic Jones Theater. Dave Ehlert of Branson Missouri was the featured performer. First he inhabited the persona of Abraham Lincoln. After a short intermission, Ehlert returned to the stage and played Mark Twain. (As an aside, Ehlert can also impersonate Elvis, Norman Rockwell, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Dean Martin, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Tom Jones, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond, and Hank Williams, Sr. If you contacted Ehlert today, you would probably interrupt his working on an impersonation of ______ fill in the blank.)
Short and a bit stout, Ehlert’s excellent performance was marred only by his black, patent leather, platform shoes that gleamed in the spotlight. The five or six inches he gained in stature was a distraction to an otherwise excellent performance. During his portrayal of Lincoln he quoted Lincoln’s November 7, 1864 Inaugural Address:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
I love that phrase, “by the better angels of our nature.” As I try to rise above my baser self, I hum that old gospel song, “Rise Above it… leave your earthly cares behind.” I should try to memorize Lincoln’s thoughts. My other mantra (one I chose to apply prior to last year’s Fourth of July Parade when the Second Amendment folks decided to march armed with weapons) was “We are all wounded… we are all wounded… we are all…” The repetition is soothing, and it is useful to remember that once, prior to indoctrination, we were all sweet babies – innocent and full of wonder. I keep the mantra handy in my pocket. I have to stroke it from time to time to keep my passions in control. I am wounded; you are too.
WIDE AWAKE AT 2:00 A.M., I set aside thinking about Lincoln and I rolled over to read an April, 2011 issue of Sy Safransky‘s magazine, The Sun. Given the deteriorating political scene in the Middle East and the success of ISIS, the extremist Sunni militants, I was immediately taken with Leslee Goodman‘s interview with Paul Chappell. The title of the article was “Fighting With Another Purpose: Veteran Paul Chappell on the Need to End War.”
You might exclaim, how naïve is that! We have always had war. If it isn’t one war, it’s another. But Chappell’s thoughtful/measured response takes us above and beyond. His background (a West Point graduate and a former Army captain in Iraq) gives Chappell credibility. Today he trains peace activists. Quoting from the interview, “Activists must learn to be persuasive, control their emotions, and empathize with their opponents. Finally they must take their calling seriously – as seriously as soldiers going into battle.” And then Chappell quotes civil-rights activist Bernard Lafayette: “Nonviolence means fighting back, but you are fighting back with another purpose and other weapons. Number one, your fight is to win that person over.“
Not to get bogged down in quotes, (my reading left the article littered as in leaf litter after a big storm with underlining and margin notes) I will stop here, but please, if you have any thoughts about putting boots-on-the-ground in the Middle East, read this article. Chappell may not convince you to become a pacifist, but you won’t leave the article without questioning whether or not you are being manipulated by sophisticated propaganda. See: http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/years/2011
At one point, Chappell says, “Wars are now fought on CNN Fox News, Al Jazeera, and the Internet as much as they’re fought on the battlefield. When you invade countries, you make the problem worse because you kill civilians and create more resentment, more hatred, more enemies.” I believe this: we sow resentment, and then we reap reprisals. Our removal distances us from war. I am thinking that we should reinstate the draft and only draft men and women over the age of 35. If all nations would embrace this idea, war would be a thing of the past.
WIDE AWAKE AT 2:00 A.M., I think of how we distance ourselves to reclaim our sanity. One reason I’m awake is my husband Mark is down below (far from the talking heads at CNN, Fox, and Al Jazerra) irrigating at the Penrose house. After a three-year drought, he is a happy camper with his second irrigation. The horses are gone. The feeder calves are gone. We have no need for alfalfa hay, but as Mark likes to say, there is a bit of a peasant in him and he needs to reconnect with a more primal life. Our hay field is less of an agricultural enterprise than a celebration of water and the possibility of renewal. It is such a treat to be close to the land – to plant and watch the water do its magic.
A vision of Mark scything the hay and then raking it into haystacks flits by. I think of The Gleaners. A copy of the painting hung above the blackboard and a copy of the cursive alphabet in my fourth grade classroom. At nine-years-old, I thought the painting to be an odd choice. But now I have reconsidered.
Another thread works its way into the fabric. My teacher may have known Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote: Actions have consequences. Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.
A perfect quote for the perfect teacher.