Sunday, October 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #40: Words that opened a new door

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)  

 "One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreaming.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance...I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck."

  -- Annie Dillard, A Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek

I think I had just turned 30 when I bought Annie Dillard’s book and read the passage about the tree with lights in it. It threw me into a tailspin. What was she talking about? I read and re-read that passage; copied it into my journal; turned it upside down and backward. Still I was mystified.

Years passed and I kept looking at trees, trying to find the one with lights in it. And, then, there it was in Yosemite. Long-needled Jeffrey pines catching morning sunlight as if plugged into their own solar panels. I rejoiced in my new awareness and spent (and continue to spend) endless attempts to capture those lights with my camera. 

One Christmas as we headed to June Lake for skiing, I was telling the girls about Annie Dillard and her tree when we turned a corner and there it was again. A huge pine completely wrapped in twinkling lights. It made me laugh, but also made me realize that what Annie was talking about wasn’t strings of Christmas lights and wasn’t sunlit needles. 

It was Annie having an enlightened moment, a moment of seeing with new eyes. I was never going to see that particular amazement because it was Annie’s. 

I admit glowing pines still stop me in my tracks; I still yearn for that moment when the world shimmers all my cells into a connected network of wonder and delight.

This yearning feels like the pain of unrequited love, a tightening in my chest, salt-water brimming my eyes, knowing I may never experience that particular grace. I wonder if it would have been better to not know about the trees with lights, to not feel the emptiness of not being able to glimpse that miraculous world shown to others?

And then I think of my life without even the possibility of seeing those light-filled trees and all I can do is be grateful for having a new door cracked opened. That brilliant passage changed me, made me a seeker, lured me into new realms of wonder, opened me up to the beauty that surrounded me.

So, this is my long neglected, but heartfelt thank you to Annie Dillard, a remarkable seer who gave me a gift I’ve spent decades unwrapping. Even if I never have that stunning enlightened moment Annie describes, her words are part of who I am and my life is richer because of her.


Wikipedia on Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:


This is a 1974 nonfiction narrative book by American author Annie Dillard. Told from a first-person point of view, the book details an unnamed narrator's explorations near her home, and various contemplations on nature and life. The title refers to Tinker Creek, which is outside Roanoke in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Dillard began writing Pilgrim in the spring of 1973, using her personal journals as inspiration. Separated into four sections that signify each of the seasons, the narrative takes place over the period of one year.

The book records the narrator's thoughts on solitude, writing, and religion, as well as scientific observations on the flora and fauna she encounters. Touching upon themes of faith, nature, and awareness, Pilgrim is also noted for its study of theodicy and the inherent cruelty of the natural world. The author has described it as a "book of theology", and she rejects the label of nature writer. Dillard considers the story a "single sustained nonfiction narrative", although several chapters have been anthologized separately in magazines and other publications. The book is analogous in design and genre to Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854), the subject of Dillard's master's thesis at Hollins College. Critics often compare Dillard to authors from the Transcendentalist  movement; Edward Abbey in particular deemed her Thoreau's "true heir".

Friday, October 15, 2021

Been There Voices: Susan Larson - Longing for one more visit with my mother

 My mother, Evelyn Jean Irvin Bagwell, was born in Arkansas in 1924 and died in MS in 1978. She lived a relatively short fifty-four painful years. She was the last of five children and she was born at home, delivered by a country doctor who was, apparently not very skilled with the use of forceps. This left her with damage that affected her left ear and eye. And a fatal cerebral aneurysm that was silently growing throughout her life.

Her three brothers were all sent to university but she and her sister were expected to marry well. Her bothers and sisters did all marry well but my mother had a “lazy eye” from her forceps delivery and that probably impacted her suitors.


It isn’t so much “what my mother told me” but the strength she showed me living through unspeakable adversity. It is one of life’s tragedies that so many of us don’t fully appreciate our mothers until it is too late. Since I was the eldest of five, Mama often called on me ,“Sister Sue”, for help with something and anyone who is the oldest might recognize the feelings of being called on too often.


Oddly enough, my mother and I had much the same personalities and pushed the boundaries of acceptable behavior for the times we were growing up.  Hence, we were often yelling and screaming at each other as I entered my teens. I still cringe at my behavior.


She met my father in Seattle and they married in 1948, from that point on she was constantly pregnant, bearing five unruly children, one a set of twins, and several miscarriages. Not only was he an alcoholic, but he worked in a shipping company and they went on strike several times that I remember and her tiny diamond engagement ring was pawned and returned after each strike was over. In addition to his alcoholism, he was a severe asthmatic and went to a dusty baseball game, came home drunk and died on the couch just before my tenth birthday.


This led to our move to MS to be close to my father’s family because her family was all over the US and she got so little with Social Security, she couldn’t afford to live in a big city. And with five children under the age of ten, she couldn’t work.


Not long after we moved to a tiny town in MS, she began to experience severe headaches and my grandfather came and took her to the University Medical Center where they discovered the inoperable aneurism. It was located on the right side of her skull near the temple area and every time her heart beat, blood would pulse through the vein, sticking her skull, and it finally wore away her skull, then pressing directly on her brain. This left her increasingly paralyzed and within four years her windpipe would not close when she ate, leading to horrific coughing and gagging at meals. Imagine, five little kids terrified and running to get neighbors to help. She went into a nursing home at age fifty, confined to a wheelchair she could push with her one good hand and the only thing she could eat was yogurt. She literally wasted away.


Through all of this, each of her children, except Herbie who committed suicide in 1977, each grew into strong successful people. She never drove or owned a car and my cousin come and picked her up for family gatherings and he told me once, “Aunt Jean always had funny stories to share” as he drove her to and from different things. I never heard her say a mean word about my father and she would often joke “whenever he hung his pants up, I got pregnant.”


I learned from her the value of small gifts. One time she told me a neighbor lady, Ruth Grimes, came in her car and took her around to see the dogwoods in bloom. She talked on and on about how beautiful they were.


By that time I was living in Jackson and each month I would drive up to the nursing home and take her to visit relatives or just drive around the little town where we had lived. She would try to eat something and end up almost choking to death. She always wanted to stop for a beer and managed to drink most of it. I was working for Blue Cross at the time and traveled to hospitals for problem cases and in-services. Whenever I was near the nursing home, I would stop by, all dressed up in my suit and she would just beam while we visited as she would tell everyone we passed “This is my daughter, Susan.” Never mind they all knew who I was.


It was a tradition that she would come to my house for Christmas and spend the night. This was the highlight of her year. On Christmas Eve, 1978, my brother was driving to pick her up and bring her to my house. The attendant got her up to the bathroom and washed her face, getting her back into bed to wait for breakfast. When they went back, she was dead. The doctors had told me that when it burst, it would be like turning off a light. And it was. She was only fifty-four. It is still heartbreaking to me but I know she died happy.


As children we all called her a hypochondriac and thought she was addicted to drugs. We were all sent to live with family members for extended periods of time because she was so frail and could barely feed us. But I remember how cold it was in the winter and we only had a space heater in the dining room. Every morning she would get up and warm our socks, underwear and clothes in front of the space heater before we put them on. She fed us oatmeal before we walked to school because it would “stick to our bones.” We never understood the physical and psychological pain she endured every minute of her adult life ... until it was too late.


Now at seventy-one, I long for one more visit with my mother.


-- ** Susan Larson, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX, explorer of the edges

Click here for more about Susan and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Been There Voices: Dolores Forsythe - My Mother

My Mother, Opal, was the youngest of eleven children, her father died when she was a toddler and her mother was left on a remote farm in the country to raise her children with no income. Opal and her sister’s dresses and her brother’s shirts were handmade from flour sack material. The manual sewing machine with the foot treadle was a valued possession. There were no “store bought” clothes and the holes in the soles of their shoes were patched with newspaper. During her childhood my mother’s paper dolls were cutouts from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. She told me she would pour over the beautiful dresses in the catalogue and dream of someday having a “real” dress.

At eighteen, when I was two years old, she married my factory assembly line stepfather who already had three daughters. So, as her mother her now electric sewing machine was her salvation. Not only did she make all the clothes for the five of us but she constantly altered hand-me-downs from cousins and even her own dresses for our school clothes. I guess in all those years of studying the Sears catalogue she picked up a few fashion tips and tried to make our dresses more than just functional.

I remember in the ninth grade I was going to a school dance and she made me a pink gingham dress she altered by adding a huge matching fabric bow that draped over one shoulder. She was so proud of it. I was too until I got to the dance and all the other girls had beautiful dresses which were, of course, store bought. Not one boy asked me dance the entire night. I felt like the ugly duckling. I blamed it on the homemade dress.

When I got home, she asked me “Did you look as good as the other girls?” I told her I did. But from then on, I hated hand me downs and homemade dresses.

Happy birthday, Dolores!

-- ** Dolores Forsythe, Coronado, CA, jewelry designer

Click here for more about Dolores and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Been There Voices: It's too late for ...

 One of the prompts for the Been There Voices group was to think of activities or dreams which you think it’s too late for and then find a piece of one of them that’s still within your reach. We were just getting organized so there are only a few responses, however, they are thought provoking. How would you respond?

Susan Larson: We all probably remember the bright yellow boxes of Crayolas and coloring books. Boy, how I yearned for one of those new 64 packs of colors;  I was lucky to get the eight pack. But try as I might, I never could stay in the lines and I would look over at someone else’s work and became totally discouraged. I felt like Pigpen from Charlie Brown comics as I hid my work.

It wasn’t until I was in my 50’s and I became friends with various art teachers in the schools where I taught that I began to understand a tiny bit about art. This became one of the top things on my bucket list for retirement.

During this period I went to a nonspeaking vegan yoga retreat in an isolated part of Cambodia. It was a huge, lush compound, and way off in the back was an art room filled with all kinds of paints, brushes, and paper. There was no one else in that room so I felt free to just try and not have someone next to me working on a masterpiece. The first color I put on the paper created a burst of joy inside of me…a new door sprang open. I began illustrating the journals that I kept, bringing my feelings to a new perspective.

I was teaching in China at the time and when I returned to school I found someone to teach me drawing. I still have my sketchbook and look back at my first drawings and the progression over time amazes me.

Now that I am retired I have taken oil classes for a year and while I love working with that medium, the clean-up turns me off.  A few weeks ago I found a woman with a soft gentle soul and I am trying watercolor lessons with great hopes.

   Becky Ripley: Here are a few ideas about what it's too late for:

  • It’s too late to be the next Oprah Winfrey, but not too late to interview people I love to capture their essence in stories.
  • It’s too late to be a museum-quality artist, but not too late to paint whatever inspires me and photograph paintings for cards that brighten friends’ and family members’ days.
  • It’s too late to be a world-renowned coach, but not too late to help my clients live into their purpose-filled potential.
  • It’s too late to be a mother, but not too late to nurture and support people in my life.

Joyce Wycoff: It’s too late for me to be an opera singer, but it’s not too late to sing. (BTW, the dream of being an opera singer passed swiftly when I discovered folk music and rock and roll.)


It’s too late for me to build a great business, but it’s not too late to invest in business or help others build their businesses. 


It's too late for Is it really too late to write a best selling book ... or is it? Are any of these too late or do I just no longer have the motivation for them? What one piece of these dreams can I hold onto?


We would love to hear your comments and thoughts about your dreams you may have packed away thinking it's too late.



Click here for more about  Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Been There Voices: Susan Larson - the power of support groups

Anne Morrow Lindberg’s quote, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” along with the idea of surviving extreme trauma reminded me of my son’s suicide at age twenty-four.

Someone suggested a support group called Compassionate Friends which is a non denominational group for people who have lost children. After a while, people don’t know what to say to the parent who has lost a child but these monthly meetings provided an outlet to speak openly about our memories, regrets, and never ending pain. They had a monthly newsletter that listed our child’s birthday and death day as they occurred. We could write letters to them and I wrote several poems. Everything was published.

The stories were often tragic. One mother’s son was working on an ocean freighter and he was washed overboard; his body was never recovered. One mother’s daughter was Kidnapped and murdered as she was refilling vending machines and the next year her other daughter committed suicide. One time a couple came to the meeting who had lost all four children of their children. One to a rare childhood cancer and six months later, two more died in a car crash with a drunk driver, Their one other child grew to adulthood but died in a car accident. This couple made the choice to live and share their story with as many groups as possible; as an example of turning such horrific tragedy into a personal testament of survival rather than retreating into anger and bitterness.

As I reach this age, I have witnessed too many people defeated by death, loss, pain and suffering. The loss of a child is unimaginable and destroys people and marriages. We can overcome this devastation by reaching out and joining support groups so that we don’t feel so alone.

-- ** Susan Larson, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX, explorer of the edges

Click here for more about Susan and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #39 - Do I still need a migratory life?

Acorns with acorn weevil grub

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

Pinezanita Cycles
the poplars are turning yellow;
one red leaf glows on my favorite maple;
ravens are soaring, always watching;
woodpeckers fill their granaries while
acorn larvae wriggle free and fall
to the ground from a perfectly round hole 
then burrow into the soil for two years 
before re-emerging as adult acorn weevils
in order to begin the cycle anew.
###

Climate change shifted my own cycle of migration, bringing me back early to what is supposed to be my winter residence. Dixie, a monster wildfire, largest in California history and covering almost a million acres, raged through my summer place, consuming homes, towns, landmarks, and businesses. Fortunately for me, it left my lakeside trailer unblemished, other than a refrigerator that went rancid while the power was off.


While the debate ranges about who or what to blame for the devastation, one fact stands out for me: the moisture content for processed lumber averages 15%. Northern California’s forests average about 5%. We are in the midst of a mega drought which is drying up the state’s key reservoirs and turning forests into standing kindling. Climate change experts say this could be just the beginning.



Choke cherries - I got to watch the cycle from bloom to berry.

Last week I logged 1400 miles, driving to Lake Almanor for what I expected to be two or three weeks of enjoying the lake after almost a month of being evacuated because of the fires. I awoke my first morning there to a power outage and no information about cause or duration.


On the second morning, my patience had thinned and I wanted information so I headed for a Chester coffee shop where I found that all of the small downtown area was running on emergency generators and the expectation for return of power was 20 days. The local power station had been destroyed by the fire and apparently the back-up substation had just been knocked out.


Even after a monster fire, the lake is still stunning

With that information, I decided to shut down the trailer for the season and return to Julian, grateful that I had a place to return to. On the return trip, a friend texted that the power had been restored. Who knows where the 20 day estimate had come from? However, I was already packed up and decided to continue toward Julian.


Driving through the heart-stopping beauty of the Eastern Sierra

Something happens to my head when I’m on a long trip. Having nothing better to do, it builds castles in the air and I, thinking they are real, move in and start rearranging the furniture. As always, this trip ended and the castle poofed. 


It was a fun ride though and now I get to sort out the grains of reality from the toppling pile of fantasy.


One jewel of reality is being back in Julian in the oak woodlands of Pinezanita RV Park in my cozy RV where the woodpeckers screech through the clean mountain air. They remind me that they build granary trees so they don’t have to migrate. And, I wonder: do I need to keep wandering south to north; north to south? What would nourish me enough to stay put in this embracing land all year round?

Maybe this is the beginning of my wisdom years ... 


Fall begins in Pinezanita


Been There Voices: Ruth Ann Hattori - Reflections on Japanese Internment


When I think of “been there,” I automatically think of the end of the clichĂ©, “done that.” In the Done That category…

Marriage: I’m happily married to my 4th and final husband. Regardless of what happens in the future, there will be no more weddings.


Kids: My two wonderful kids are finally married off – to absolutely spectacular spouses. True to form, they are entrepreneurs, so not expecting any little ones soon. Our local family unit has grown recently as my stepdaughter and family have moved nearby. The three grandkids are really nice, respectful people (20, 18, 17)…it’s no wonder they worry about our influence on them! They will fit into Texas well, as “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” are in their vocab.


Jobs and careers: After running my own company, multiple Marketing Director, Product Development Director, Training Director positions, it’s hard to believe that I’m in the non-profit world. It’s eye-opening and thankfully fun as the team I’m with is mostly young, energetic and full of ideas. The marketing part is second nature, it’s the challenge of helping the Museum to reach the next level that’s exciting. Of course, there’s that thing about not really being “the boss” that is a bit of a rub every so often.


It’s the most recent Been There that has made me stop and think. Just one year ago, I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, so my 2020/21 has been quite a roller coaster. I kept working – and boy, I have to say, that my work really got me up every morning and to my computer to keep my mind off of dark thoughts. But, because of my work, I probably didn’t spend as much time reflecting as one should.

Prior to cancer, we lost Mom to Covid in April 2020. I guess she was one of the early deaths in our country’s many. She was 96, suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and was actually fairly healthy and “with it” except for her short-term memory until the end. Fortunately, she did not suffer for many days with Covid. Even before her death, and thanks to the National Museum of the Pacific War and our Day of Remembrance program, I had been thinking about her internment during WWII. More on that later.


I am truly thankful for the ups and downs of the last year. They do give me some focus on what to reflect upon and what to pursue. One thing I want to pursue is ensuring that all Americans do have a good sense of what happened during WWII – about internment, our initial awakening about racial bias in our culture and the stories of all of those millions of people who fought, supported and lived through that time. It is really true that WWII has shaped us as a country, and as time passes, we are losing both the stories and the lessons that we should have learned.


My mother was 18 in 1942, (shown in photo above) when after the attack on Pearl Harbor, both the US and Canada interned people of Japanese heritage on their west coasts, whether citizens of their countries or not. I always admired that Mom reflected upon her experience as positive. She told me that she would have never been a teacher, and certainly not a school principal had it not been for her internment. She was one of numerous young, Japanese Canadians who became teachers in their camps. Many years later, a book titled “Teaching in Canadian Exile” was published which were, essentially, oral histories written by many of the women who taught, including one of my mother’s sisters. As I have read the passages, my mother’s recollection that her internment experience was probably not nearly as terrible as most Americans’ internment experience is probably true. However, the fact remains that they lost their family home and property, and left with nothing post war, like their American counterparts.


The Museum has over 5000 oral histories in its collection. As our population of WWII veterans dwindles, soon we will only have these oral histories to hear the stories in their own words. 


One of my goals for the Museum is that we find a way for these stories to be shared widely. 


-- Ruth Ann Hattori, Fredericksburg, TX, ideas unlimited entrepreneur

Click here for more about Ruth Ann and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.