Monthly Archives: September 2016

Driftwood

The Oregon coast is my place of soul-restoration. I haven’t been there in a while but I’m going soon — in the middle of winter. But the time of year doesn’t matter. I don’t need sun or heat or long days or pristine beaches or picture-perfect anything. I need rocks and rugged coastline and crashing waves and mountains that go straight into the sea — or perhaps they rise out of the sea. Who knows.

What matters is the power of that ocean and the rocks that stand, in spite of the currents and tides and storms. And the sea lions that create their life on the cliffs beyond our footsteps. And the whales that cruise in the deep and spout on the edge of our vision.

dsc00479266I’m fascinated with the driftwood that piles along the rugged beaches — humongous logs and small pieces as well. My dad collected a piece decades ago, stained it a rich brown, making it resemble a turtle’s shell. The piece sits in the weather on my patio.

Four years ago, on my epic 8,000-mile drive around the country, I stopped at Cannon Beach, Oregon — a familiar place since childhood. This time was different because I was beginning a new time in my life. I had retired a year earlier and my mother had recently died. In fact, the purpose of my trip was to return her ashes to Oregon for burial and to deliver some of her personal effects to friends and relatives along the way. The trip proved to be a long farewell to her and a long beginning to the rest of my life.

193But at Cannon Beach I had time to walk among the rocks and driftwood, to feel the wind in my hair, and to comprehend the changeless and every-changing ocean. This place was the farthest west I would travel on this trip — from there on I was heading south and east toward home, though by a new route.

In a small gift shop there I bought a memory — a hanging made of driftwood, connected with heavy brown string. Nothing added to it to make it colorful or fancy. Just unique pieces of grey driftwood plucked from the coastal accumulation.

For a while it hung inside my home — it seemed like the best place at the time.  For the last three years it’s hung outside in the weather. After all, it’s the weather and the ocean that made it into driftwood in the first place. No need to protect it now.

Two weeks ago, the string broke (after four years) and the hanging was in a heap on the concrete. Nothing was damaged. Just the string at the top had frayed.

So this weekend my son and I put it back together. This time we used fishing line to make it more weather resistant. We created our own knots with the heavy plastic twine (the Boy Scouts would definitely not approve) and finished them off with hot glue to guarantee they didn’t loosen.

dsc00477The hanging is back outside, twisting and turning in the breeze more easily than before.

Maybe that’s how it is with our memories. They come apart, fall to the ground, and we restring them so they move more easily. Perhaps its the same with our souls. Sometimes, they come apart, nearly to the breaking point, but we put them back together, to give them more freedom, more movement.

I look at my driftwood every day and remember the ocean. It’s enough to restore my soul.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Word Games

Recently I spent a few days at the beach with my long-time women friends.  Our shared history spans more than forty years. Most evenings we play games: Five Crowns, Mexican Train, Sequence, Catch Phrase, Codenames and Quixx.

A favorite of ours is Five Crowns, a card game of 11 rounds, with trump cards changing every round.  It’s fun; it’s fast. The most competitive of us always play to win. The others play for fun. But win or lose, we love the game.

I was the scorekeeper this particular evening. In midgame, the recap went something like this: “Pat is ahead, Susan is next, Debby and Esther are neckish, and I am losing — big time.”

“Neckish?” someone asked. “Neckish? What’s neckish?”

“Is it like peckish?” someone else asked.

“No, no,” I replied. “It means the score is close. They’re neck and neck.”

Neckish is efficiency in language — one word takes the place of three. Isn’t that what we learned in creative writing class? Choose your words carefully. Say exactly what you mean. Spare writing is often admired.

And then there was another literary moment, though I can’t recall the exact circumstances. How does “hoisted by your own petard” even get into a regular conversation? But strange things happen when we’re together. I’d never heard the phrase; others knew it but weren’t sure of the meaning. Our game came to a complete halt as we consulted Google. My paraphrase of Wikipedia is:

The pétard, a rather primitive and exceedingly dangerous explosive device, was deployed during sieges of castles or fortified cities. It’s a bell-shaped device filled with gunpowder and attached to a wall or gate using hooks and rings. When the fuse was lit the resulting explosive force, concentrated at the target point, would blow a hole in the obstruction, allowing assault troops to enter.

In Hamlet (Act III, Scene IV) Shakespeare uses the phrase “hoist with his own petard.” The idiom means “to be harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else” or “to fall into one’s own trap”, implying that one could be lifted (blown) upward by one’s own bomb, or in other words, be foiled by one’s own plan.

Like neckish, petard became part of our beach vacation language. The next day, while playing Codenames, I had to give a one word clue to get my partner, Pat, to say “Shakespeare.” She had one try to get it right. Saying “Hamlet” or “MacBeth” didn’t cross my mind. I had a better idea — I would use our new word “petard.” The word rolled off my tongue so easily; I knew it was a sure win for us. I was feeling smug. Pat looked confused; “Shakespeare” was not forming on the tip of her tongue. In fact, no word was forthcoming. “Picard. Picard,” I repeated, looking her straight in the eye, hoping she would get the connection.

Finally, finally, after much thought she came up with Shakespeare. I was relieved and we were victorious.

Only in the post mortem discussion did my friends tell me I had used the wrong word. “Petard” is Hamlet’s explosive device. “Picard” is a fictional character in Star Trek.

Oh well. I was close.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

In Pursuit of Perfection

I am content with my life. I’ve worked hard over several decades to create this life, this existence, that I have. My goal has always been that you — my friends, family, and acquaintances — see me as I am. I gave up pretenses and pretending a long time ago.

At the same time I’m always engaged in some kind of self-improvement project. Though I’m content — and realistic — I have a few things on my improvement list: get up earlier in the morning, show up at the gym more often, read more books, engage in better piano practice routines. It’s always something like this with me.

Perhaps you live with the same paradox: Content in general, unsatisfied in the particulars. Or, your life might be the reverse: Discontented in general, but satisfied with the details.

Contentedness, for me, is my core. It’s there, no matter the circumstances. I know I am o.k. and believe that things will work out, perhaps in ways I have yet to discover.

Lest you think I live an idyllic existence, I can assure you there are trip hazards in my life. In everyone’s life. No matter how things look from the outside.

My life-long trip hazard is the pursuit of perfection. As a young child I was always trying to do things that were beyond my abilities — and nothing less would satisfy me. The tears were many and the frustration was high — especially for my mother as she tried to adjust my expectations, generally to no avail.

The pursuit of perfection. A noble goal but an unrealistic destination.

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train,  wrote a poignant sentence:

She made a mistake. It happens. We are none of us perfect.

That’s the truth — for all of us. Yet, somehow, I want it to be different. I think if I work hard enough and long enough my efforts will create perfection.

But it cannot be. We humans are mistake-makers. We’re born with that ability. And it’s counter-productive to believe we can be otherwise.

So what’s a person to do — given that mistakes are inevitable and perfection is unattainable?

As I see it, we have two choices:

  1. We can throw up our hands, throw in the towel, give up and declare, “It’s not worth the effort” since perfection is impossible.
  2. We can relax into our journey, our process, knowing that mistakes will occur, and declare, “I have an opportunity for additional work.”

Sometimes, after I’ve disappointed myself at my piano lesson, I confess that I’m tempted to throw in the towel. “As hard as I’ve practiced, I still can’t play the notes! I’ll never get it.” That’s my self-talk on a bad day. But when I remember other musical impossibilities I’ve conquered, I am able to resume my journey, by mustering patience for myself, and knowing my mistakes are merely an attention-getting device to direct my work.

Show up. Embrace your mistakes. Do the work.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

Bread Baking

DSC00466

I don’t usually bake bread in the summer — too hot.  But fall is here so I’m about to begin baking again: rye, wheat, cheddar, cinnamon raisin, white. A plan is forming to add bread baking to my weekly schedule.

Recently I read In Buddha’s Kitchen: Cooking, Being Cooked, and Other Adventures in a Meditation Center by Kimberly Snow. I know a lot about kitchens and cooking, and I know a little about Buddha. I was intrigued how they would come together.

Here’s the opening paragraph of Chapter 17: Bread:

There’s something quite wonderful about making bread. You can’t bully it, for one thing; you just have to cooperate with the process. Turn, press, fold. Add a little more flour. Turn, press, fold. I don’t think bread worries about its own performance, doesn’t ask the cook, “Am I doing this the right way? Does the rye bread know more that I do?” It just gives itself over to whatever process has taken it in hand. Trusts it to continue.

There’s enough in that paragraph to set me pondering for a very long time.

  • You have to cooperate with the process. How often do we try to short-cut the process? How often do we look for an easier, quicker way to our dream? How often do we complain, force, cajole, threaten, bully, blame — just to get things to go our way? What if, instead, we backed off, examined the process, then with an attitude of cooperation we did our work?  What if we cooperated with the process instead of fighting it?

 

  • Don’t worry about your own performance. Instead of always measuring ourselves against someone else’s standard, what if we quit worrying about our performance and just did our work? What if we relaxed with ourselves, were faithful to our work, and let time take care of the performance? What if we kept track of our presence in our work instead of the result?

 

  • Trust it {the process} to continue. Why is it so difficult to trust the process? Why do we think we always know a better way? Why are we always in such a rush to get to the finish line? We are not in a race. There is no end point. Life is all process. It’s all journey, not destination. Savor the process. The best bread is the one that has been treated gently with attention to detail, carefully handled and kneaded, waited on while it rose in it’s own time (perhaps more than once), and finally baked. Then it has to cool before it can be sliced and eaten. It’s worth the effort, the time, and the patience.

Show up. Do your work.

No rushing. No shortcuts.

Relax into the process.

 

Until next Tuesday . . .