“Enter when you will, take what you need, leave something of yourself when you go”
I have a friend I met over a bottle of scotch in a Brandywine Valley bed & breakfast some odd years ago who travels constantly and widely, sending me bits and pieces of the world as he goes. Each picture contains a sense of mystery, or surprising humor, and/or most likely the bicycle he rode in on.
I forget where he said he shot this wide planked shack. It is intriguing, don’t you agree? The sun and scattered leaves promise it is a bright, brisk day, yet, I wonder what musty odor fills your nose when you poke your head through the door, what scurrying varmint lives in the corners, what fingers grab your ankle once you cross the threshold and the heavy door slowly shuts out the light, the long, strong boards slide through the door handle locking you inside…
… you go first…I am right behind you…
Here’s the thing:
I have always been a writer. Poems about my family, stories about my friends. Commentary on every nit-picking thing. I have studied writing, read a ton of books about writing, met authors, worked prompts, wadded up reams and reams of paper.
Yes, I have always written. However, writing has always been my personal retreat, my head clearing, soul searching, psychoanalytical practice. I have even been published a couple-three times – letters to the Denver Post editor, church and business newsletters, an article in the local HUB about services for elderly veterans, a charitable anthology about fear, an article in an e-magazine about peonies. I have copies of all these things. I even won a poetry contest in the ninth grade at Drake Junior High – Drake Dragons Rule! My poem was about laughter. “…what is remembered long before and long after? Why, my friends, it is always the laughter.” I do not have a copy of that, but I do remember the excitement of winning.
I have written diaries, thrown the angriest and most frightful away. For a period, when I was a young mother, extremely stressed about getting a divorce from a mean, slapping drunk, and wondering how the hell I would survive, and how to ensure my daughter was safe, warm, and fed, when I had no idea how to work, or feed myself, I wrote furiously, filling every white space I could find – envelopes, match books, napkins, book margins. Obsessed. I read once about a woman who had a similar frenetic writing syndrome. She went through therapy, was given medication, and lost her inclination and ability to write. I did not want to do that, so when I went to therapy, I spoke only about the things I was willing to give up. Writing was not one of them.
So, I write. So do many. The thing is, I have never, until now, made the choice and decision to depend on my writing for income. I decided in February, after retiring from making mortgage loans after forty-two years, I would write stories for fun and profit. I collected all the books, and notes from classes, and lists of procedures about organizing, and simplifying, and becoming a published, no, not just published, a PAID writer. I was aided and inspired in this decision by reading an interview with a well known author who said with the money she made on her first novel, she purchased a ranch, with several hundred acres, where she has lived and worked for two decades. She did that in her twenties, smart girl. I want to do that. I never want to live in a corporate environment ever again. Ever.
So this morning, when I awoke on this first Monday of March, 2019, knowing full well that I must initiate my writing “career,” with no more excuses, I felt that clutch in my gut I used to get when I was a commissioned loan officer, wondering whether or not enough loans would close this month to pay me next month. That clutch in my gut when I had to not only focus on the loans submitted and waiting to close, but I had to get out and generate new business, new loans, make new contacts, fill my pipeline for the future. The loans always closed; new loans were found; the pipeline was always full as long as I worked at it.
I know I am on the right track – or should I say the write track. If this were not a serious decision, if I were just playing with the idea, I would not have felt that clutch. I would not consider it serious enough to panic about how, what, when, and where the ideas will arrive along with the income they will produce. But this is it. I am all in. Panic is good motivation, as is hunger, and keeping a roof over your head- coin in your pocket.
God, save my soul, and guide my mind and hands to write what people want to pay to read. May my writing bring joy and satisfaction to my readers, my family, and me, and may it make a positive difference in the lives of those who choose to read me. Let only good come from this endeavor. And please let the clutch be minimal. Amen.
I have no idea why, but I remember when Dag Hammarskjold died in plane crash. It was big news, I recall, though I was only nine years old, and had no reason to know who he was or what he did. I am still not quite sure. Something to do with the U.N., I think.
I probably remember it because his name was so unusual to my western ear. Very dignified sounding, yes? Especially when newscasters repeated it and repeated it for days on the evening news (no twenty four coverage back then). Newscasters were our eyes on the world then.
Yesterday, at Goodwill, when everything but pink tagged items was half off, I picked up a copy of Dag Hammarskjold’s book, Markings, published after his death, this edition being the 25th printing completed in 1970. It is a diary, or rather a collection of poems, 1925 – 1961. He was, it says on the jacket, the second Secretary General of the United Nations, from 1953 until he was killed in a plane crash on September 18, 1961, on a flight to Rhodesia to negotiate a cease-fire between U.N. and Katanga troops. No wonder it made the news, then. Most anything about the U.N. made the news, more often than today, where the drumbeat is constantly pounding on one or two individuals.
The jacket also indicates this is not a book about his accomplishments in the world, but rather reflections on his personal relationship with God, and His universe, and the need for peace. The last entry, dated August 24, 1961*, “…I awoke to an ordinary morning/with gray light…” in a country he seems to remember, but how? when? has he really been there before…but he seems to recall standing on two summits “of the same mountain country,” and he begins to get his bearings.
It must be quite something to be such a traveler, that you at first wonder just where you awoke. Godspeed, Mr. Hammarskjold! I have never forgotten you, though I am still uncertain why.
* (Note: this translation varies slightly from the translation by Leif Sjoberg & W.H.Auden, shown to be the translators of the copy of the book I just purchased. I prefer the translation in my book. I have no rights to either translation, and include this only to give you a feel for his reflections.)
August 24, 1961
Translated from the Swedish by Lennart and Gillian Nilsson
Is this a new land,
in a different reality
Or have I lived there.
before this day?
an ordinary day with grey light
reflected from the street,
woke up –
from a sombre blue night
above the tree line
moonlight on the moor
the mountain ridge in shadow.
the same mountain landscape:
twice did I climb the ridges,
I lived by the inmost lake
and followed the river
towards its source.
The seasons have passed
and the light
and the weather
and the hour.
But it is the same land.
And I am beginning to know the map
and the points of the compass.
It was not snowing when I went to bed last night, so I did not even realize it had done so until I went out in my slippers to fetch the morning paper and sunk in to my ankles. BRR! Emil Catt refused to follow me, watching from behind the front door.
Now, early afternoon, the sun is out, bright; melting all snow on the streets and sidewalks, while the wind is blowing snow from the rooves* and fields across our windshields, blinding us like a New Mexico sandstorm in hot summers, though we’re shivering now.
“Tis a lovely, bright, freezing day! I love Colorado!
Did you know *Rooves as a plural of roof is dated, but not incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “rooves” as an alternate to roofs, one of several outdated spellings used in the UK, and in New England as late as the 19th century. I’m amazed ! I was taught rooves was the plural for roof in the 1960s. ‘Course you never really knew how old the good sisters were, nor if they came from the UK…
So I resigned.
On my birthday.
Sixty seven years old.
I refused to sign the Personal Improvement Plan (PIP).
I refused to continue to be monitored and rated, to be reprimanded because my average review scores were 91%, well below (cough) the team average of 94%.
I refused to continue to be written up, reprimanded, assured they simply wanted to help me to improve…”within the next thirty days, or be subject to further discipline, up to and including termination.”
They could not confirm that if I improved from 91% to 94%, that the expectation would not then change to 96% or 98%, or, what the hell, 100%. No, they could not confirm another PIP would not be in order.
I realized I would never input information as accurately, nor as swiftly as they determined necessary. It IS all about the input, after all. I realized that if I improved, another problem would be found, another opportunity for improvement would arise, another reason for disciplinary action. Perhaps I could learn to not organize dangerous potlucks, or to work in the dark, or to not question the authority of the children they put in charge (Bitter, bitter, bitter, Roxanne).
I decided to refuse the constant pressure, and the direct threat.
And then, when they asked if we could find a time to discuss it, I said no.
I have retired.
On my birthday.
Sixty seven years old.
Life is good…
Early mornings, when it is so quiet you can hear the rumble of the train along the tracks five miles distant on Santa Fe Avenue, you can just about imagine a time before the people, and the traffic, and all the progress, when wildcats actually roamed the gulches here in Highlands Ranch. That is why they call it Wildcat Reserve, donchyaknow. Wildcats were here first, and not so very long ago.
A man I met fifteen years ago, who had built one of the earliest houses here in “The Ranch” (we know that’s a stretch), over off Springhill, told me when he moved in, he actually saw the wildcats. I wish I had been so lucky. Sitting on my porch with my cup of coffee, no plans in effect as yet, just looking out across the wash when a movement caught my eye, and my breath quickened as I realized a big, beautiful, powerful cat was looking back at me, mid stride; then, without taking his eyes from mine, almost lazily sat back to watch my every move.
Have you done that? Startled an animal, then stared them down, playing chicken, refusing to quit first? I did it once. Saw a fox snooping along the fences in the open space. He was a young one; beautiful red, intent on finding breakfast. I stopped my walk, clicked my tongue, and watched his head snap up, furtively looked around (furtively is a good word, isn’t it), then locked eyes with me, and froze, wishing he were invisible. He wasn’t, and I had time. So I stood there, staring. And he stared, too, then he twitched, darted left, then right, then ran like the furies as far out from me as he could get, down the path, into the tall grass. He didn’t last but forty five seconds. Chicken. I heard the lady who owned the yard he was just about to scout through calling her kitty. Breakfast thwarted.
Well, the sun is fully up now, the mourning doves have begun their keening, Emil Catt has found something to tease him in the yard, and my coffee, what’s left of it, is cold.
Here’s to another day and the good it will bring. Sorrow, sadness, and potential wickedness be damned, along with the threatening snow.
Who is John Galt?*
They are making big changes to I-70 and the historic area near the Denver Stock Show. Homes have been moved, RTD has put in a light rail line, shutting the entrance to Riverside Cemetery, Denver’s oldest cemetery. New buildings and streets being constructed. I-70 is being lowered and widened…it’s all great, just great… an extension of all the new construction in the RINO area. Huzzah for progress!I do have to chuckle, though, because it seems Denver assumed it would/could declare eminent domain to acquire the land on which approximately four miles of rail lines owned and used by the Denver Rock Island Railroad to create a lovely open space. The rail lines would, of course, need to be moved.Per today’s Denver Post, the railroad has filed suit, refusing to move the tracks, thereby halting construction of a portion of the one billion dollar project. It has used that 4 mile section of track for more than one hundred years. It does not feel compelled to comply.You don’t mess with railroads, anymore than you mess with the BLM. They are like their own little countries, owning, controlling, using land as deemed necessary. I am neither a city official, nor an official of any sort, but in the years I worked in mortgage banking, there were a few times when I saw whole subdivisions lose their ingress/egress to the railroad that owned the ten-twenty foot stretch of rails and land at the entrance to that subdivision. No argument. The homeowners, towns, businesses were forced to meet the railroad’s demands, or lose physical access to their properties, along with the loss of market value.
I’ll be interested to see what comes of this shooting match. Denver should have made better arrangements early on, me thinks. Now that they’re negotiating from a position of need to stay on schedule completing the project, it will likely cost the city and its citizens beaucoup in cash and concessions.
Damned if she didn’t do it.
Despite me being busy with year end work, she finally found me at home, getting out of my car in the garage, lunch in one hand, grocery bag in another struggling to get the back door open without Emil Catt escaping.
Oh! there you are! I was just knocking on your front door!
Hi, Myrtle! yeah, I’ve been out running some errands. Went up to …
Well, I’ve been calling you for days now! I have your Christmas cookies, but don’t want to just leave them on your porch. I thought we could have a good chat (I had told her earlier there might be time after the first of the year).
Well…come in, come in (she clearly was not going to leave). Pardon the mess, I was cleaning right before I decided to head up to Ski Country Antiques for their 50% off Christmas decoration sale!
I set my lunch on the coffee table, picked up the feather bed I’d shaken out and spread across the back of the couch in the sun earlier in the day, and tossed it through the door of my bedroom. Shut the door on the mess.
OH, you’re doing some real cleaning, aren’t you?
Yep, getting ready to take down the tree.
She settled comfortably into the corner of the settee, Emil Catt joining her (traitor!).
So, Roxie, How was your Christmas? I’ve been calling you, you know? Maybe you’ve not heard my messages.
I’ve heard them.
Oh, well, I thought, since your message says have a good summer, you maybe were not checking your messages.
No, I check my messages. Just was a really busy last couple weeks of the year, and I found myself working late, then focusing on getting ready for Christmas Eve.
Oh, well, then you know I’ve been calling you to bring you your cookies. I’ve put them in the freezer now, to keep them fresh, since you weren’t responding. So, how IS your work?
I grumble something. She nods knowingly.
You should sell your house, so you can retire. Move somewhere cheaper.
I have no idea what I would do if I retire. I like being around people, with something to do.
You’ll find there is plenty to do. You can volunteer.
I’ve volunteered all my adult life, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Wings Museum, Board of Directors of the Western Slope Girl Scout Council, Girl Scout troops, Association of Professional Mortgage Women, Business Women Association, Alzheimer’s Association, yadda yadda yadda. I think I’m volunteered out, Myrtle. Don’t really care all that much anymore.
But just think you would have so much more time to really make a difference!
Well, so, my daughter and her husband are planning to sell their home and move to Grand Junction to live on an acreage. They’ve asked me to go with them. She is a nurse, you know. She would know just how to care for me as I get older. But they’re thinking of doing it soon! like a year and a half from now. (soon?) They do not want to leave before Lilly graduates from high school.
Maybe they should move now, while prices are fairly low.
Certainly they would not pull Lilly out of high school in her junior year!
Well, as an old Air Force brat, I would venture to say she would survive.
Oh, No, absolutely not. She’s comfortable in her current school. She’s in the band, working on the yearbook team. It would destroy her. They would never do that.
Mmm, prob’ly not… you’ll be selling your house?
Oh, I would have to think about that…I would, uh, wah wah wah wah…
…she chatted on while my lunch grew cold, my laundry wrinkled in the dryer, and my interest in attacking the after Christmas clean up waned… Emil Catt lost interest and wandered into the front bedroom to curly into his blanket. Another neighbor waited outside for Myrtle to take a walk. Myrtle’s daughter was out of town, and had called for Myrt to pick up and take care of the pup until they were back home. She was go grateful the other neighbor would help her walk both pups, which can be a handful.
She finally brought me the cookies, along with a lovely card. The cookies were good, as always. The chat filled some time. She reminded me that I am likely losing my memory since I’m getting older, which likely explains why I remember so little of what we said.
I took a nap in front of the fire…Christmas cleanup be damned…
Lord, save us from annoyances…and sometimes, thank you for a fading memory (as determined by a forgetful old neighbor) that will nullify the need to respond to chatter… Do help me keep my temper and manners in place, please. I think I can only claim I have Tourette’s Syndrome once or twice, before people realize I actually, wholeheartedly, cussed them out for bothering me.
For these and all your gifts, I thank you.
rJo Herman 1/1/19
The last weekend of 2018
Glad to see it
Glad life moves forward whether we are aware or not
Glad to wake up each day to unpredictable events, though the routine seems the same
Glad scars heal practically impossible to see, or feel, or matter
Glad bulbs are in the garden, rose roots are deep
Glad snow and cold cover them until it is time to stretch
Glad Spring will be here, again, sooner than later.
Note: I am aware there is no rhythm, rhyme, nor real reason to this …
I shall practice on meter, and other basic poetry rules…tomorrow…
ENJOY THIS WEEKEND!
WILL SHARE AGAIN NEXT YEAR!
As my mother once did, I’ve turned on the telly just for the sound of company. I’ve seen this particular Hallmark movie enough times, I needn’t watch it; just hear it conversing in the livingroom.
I’ve put on a pot of smooth, black coffee given me by a friend at work from a shop he frequents with his wife. Corvus coffee – everything he said it would be…sweetened by the image of him and his wife reading and laughing through the groovy Pete the Cat book I left on his desk.
I ripped open the card from my oldest friends, Ditta and Lee Gillan. I waited all year for their annual picture to see if Ditta is at last the shortest person in their family. She’s pretty short. Last year’s picture showed Lee and their older grandsons towering at one end of the line, with two grandsons threatening to soon exceed their Grandma. This year’s photo proved those two had grown, but there are two more babies in the group, so Ditta will not be the shortest for a few more years. HA
The red hooded sweatshirt I bought for Everette the puppy is too small…or he is too big, already, at six months. He persistently, but politely, nudged me down, then off the couch, so he could stretch out for a nap. He is just a puppy, he needs his rest, and I usually sit on the floor, whilst Emil Catt stretches on the couch, so I let him win.
Gifts from Eric and Marla and the kids will keep me chuckling all year long, especially, I think, the domed, screen wine glass “hats,” to keep the flies and other bugs out of my elixir. Wish I’d thought of it first. Oh, and Sees candy…and the pictures with Harry from Index, I’ll frame and put on the wall.
The cookies from Ted and Paula were scrumptious, and enjoyed by all at work, even though they were not sanctioned by management. Perhaps they tasted all the better because we had to hide to eat them, HA. The threat of someone dying from an allergic reaction, of which we were seriously warned, sweetened the sneaky eats. Snowflake management worries too much, me thinks.
Ann and Bob sent me a GIANT flask, for those long, cold nights. I think I might need to keep it in a first aid kit in the car, in case of blizzard…if we ever have snow again.
A whisk, and a magic shredder, and pictures of the kids galore, and this cool, weighted blanket designed to soothe you whilst sleeping came home with me from the kids house. They could not wait to show me their treasures…and Ryan confessed she had on “natural” mascara…not too much, of course, (“Can you tell I have it on, Granma?”). And Max cooked the Christmas rice we smothered with green chili, and ate with Christmas tamales. Always a highlight. Matching Grinch jammies rounded out their night, and as soon as they put them on, they were tired and ready for Santa, even at age 11.
Emil Catt slept in until 11 today, just walked through, meowled, ate one treat, then went back to bed. He must know it’s a holiday.
And now I’ll stop tapping away here, pour the last cup of Christmas Joe in the pot, and relax into the promise of greatness in the Natasha Trethewey book, “Monument,” sent by Steve and Helen to inspire and entertain. Cannot wait to dive.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Hurrah! for a lovely, though snowless, Christmas.
Life is good.