REAP

It is still when it comes,
soundlessness pressing upon ears
and bones, while in the distance
tires pummel asphalt, birdsong dims
as it thrums and it drums metal rooftops,
delusive shelter from the storm
when it hits, as will happen, none
are spared its conclusion;

Who can grant a better world?
What must happen to the lockdown
of mind, victim to life’s daily terms;
eke survival, laude achievement,
whatever seems imperative
at the time, careening off the rails
of collusion, winnings won,
then lost when she knocks
her tender fury, as she does,
no more forward, only slack
to reclaim what now is missing
sad arrangement, this hack
termed renewal, mixed up blessing
plowing under, growing back.

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Cast

Desirous of returning, perhaps,
furtive glances at the young couple, hands
never far from one another, stroking gently
and they know, these manatee women,
how it changes, that touch,
first a small betrayal, feelings far out
of proportion to events peculiar
to youth they would gladly recapture,
if only wisdom would imbue it;

Then follow the children contemplated
even now, his building a sand belly
and photographing, sending to envious friends
because they say so, faking is funny, oh,
the irony, biological urges blurring senses,
morning passion play marking faces,
masks one sees through, if attentive;

Elder gestures now revealing,
impressing far more than the telling,
(youth’s perception terms it envy,
oversimplifying complexities developing,
years left in the making);

Still, the mind casts to and fro,
fly fisher’s line not quite settling on the waters
of imagination, back and forth encores,
brains sharp as once they were,
bodies standing stock still,
melting candle legs supporting
burgeoned bellies, gravity drawing them inexorably
back to point of origin;
bargain made, body borrowed,
innocence hearkening to a time
they, too, were blissfully unafraid.
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Observations from the Deck

My generation is getting old. Janis Ian has white hair and Carrie Fisher is having menopausal weight gain issues and Paul Simon looks ancient and beaten down by life’s vicissitudes. Mick Jagger is a creepy mess. Oh how popular culture brings it all home, and I’m not at all sure, from day to day, just how to mentally catalog these observations. Aging gracefully is possible, but only when we engage our passion for life and ditch society’s expectations and fantasy images we are conditioned to aspire to.

I actually think life is much easier now, post-sixty. I don’t let everything slide, but I also don’t worry inordinately about fixing my hair or slapping on makeup to go out and pick up the mail. What I can’t improve through good diet and exercise and plenty of fresh air and sunshine is beyond recovery anyway.

It wasn’t until fairly recently in the scheme of time that childbearing women lived much beyond fifty. Remember this, my sisters, as you soar into your eighties and beyond. Be gentle with yourself and others. Men, be kind to yourself and your aging partners. In return, you will grow in dignity and wisdom and further plumb the depths of reciprocal, unconditional love.

 

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The Real Thing

How is it that a visceral memory of thirty years ago sustains itself so vividly in both the body and mind? Such is my experience of whitewater rafting – a rolling, jaunting, thrilling escapade down some of the wildest water that still exists in North America, albeit dam-controlled. Thirty years ago, it was the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. Today it is the Deschutes River in Oregon, and I could hardly wait to get to the mainland from our home in Hawaii in order to experience this kind of water, once again. I love the ocean’s waves, but there is something about whitewater that captivates the imagination.

We don’t have to be on the river until a reasonable hour of the morning. Still, there’s frost on the ground as we don wetsuits and neoprene booties. Teeth chattering, I throw on my long sleeved rashguard for extra warmth. This in no way prepares me for the shock, however, as, on the second rapid, I am jettisoned from the boat, along with two others, into the icy drink. My god, I think, it’s early September! How is it even possible for water to get this cold, this quickly? The guide remarks that we are the only ones on the river, and even a week before, there were dozens of rafts with hundreds of occupants, waiting in the eddies for a turn in the roiling current.

Forgetting how flexible a twenty year-old body can be – certainly compared to an almost-sixty year-old physique – I lurch forward and knock my two front teeth into the back of my daughter’s head. No harm done, save for a fat lip for a few days – but I become wary, a feeling that is asynchronous to the memory I spoke of earlier. I wiggle and tug at the good front tooth that remains, after having an implant replace the other I lost to Hawaii’s unpredictable surf twenty years ago. My arm still aches and is oddly dysfunctional after being torqued out of alignment during my surprise tumble. I shift to the other side of the craft; paddle with the opposite arm. Still, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to strip out the pain with my other skilled hand. Eventually I am successful, but again I am uncharacteristically cautious, as I turn to the guide and whisper, Hey – I don’t want to bum the others out, but if there’s any way to keep me in this boat for the duration, I would really appreciate it.

The remainder of the ride is enjoyable, mostly because those I love are having the time of their lives. Vicarious pleasure settles in, and it’s okay. I have discovered balance, once again. My delts and biceps hurt less, but I remain chilled to the bone. I launched into this journey with a nagging cough, and cannot imagine how shivering all day is going to make it better. Still, the view from the river is extraordinary, and the water itself possesses a magic that is impossible to describe.

 

Conscious Femininity

I hardly know life at this phase of the game, but I strive to remain open as it unfolds. This becomes easier when I’m not fighting what is and expecting it to morph into something more familiar with a zippier buzz to the palate.

A good friend and I were reflecting recently about how, at this juncture, we each and both need to rediscover what it is to simply be a woman. We are both highly creative people who have spent the better part of our lives caretaking others from husbands to children, and feel as though there is something inherently flawed in holding onto that line, once it has snapped. The downside is we’re still in free-fall, not entirely sure where feet will land once the earth zooms up to meet us. The upside is we have been practicing all our lives for this very moment.

As women in Western culture, we have spent a virtual lifetime defining ourselves according to the standards of others. Are we still attempting to measure our worth by the yardstick of physical desirability? For as we age into and beyond our sixties, attention once effortlessly magnetized by youthful beauty fades, though we remain pleasant enough to look at. Still as creatures of nature, we no longer flaunt the brightest plumage nor exude the pheromones of those most suited to breeding. We live in a society that measures women’s worth by the suppleness of skin, the shape of breasts and butt and thighs. My friend and I are in great physical condition for our age (and my husband always tells me how beautiful he finds me), but we no longer draw drop-dead stares. And though part of this elicits relief on the one hand, it leaves us to wonder where our value lies, on the other.

My friend and I are spillovers from a generation where women only began asserting themselves enough to demand the world take them seriously. No longer the hysteria-prone fainters of bygone days; no more the obedient servants of the patriarchy who, like my own mother, downed drugs rather than confront the welled-up fountain of anger any human being would harbor when summarily marginalized. Still, we are older now; tired of fighting. Leave that to the women who are coming of age. What we want now is to somehow put down the armor and the shield and allow ourselves to feel soft and vulnerable and able to tap into that wellspring of flowing feminine creativity. This we attempt to undertake with hearts and spirits open, as we summon an unknown entity from the wings of life’s current stage.

 

 

Post script: This is one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen, speaking to the birth of a woman’s creativity. And if you’re especially prudish, just get past the woman on the toilet and you’re home free 😉 I can see why she left this segment in, however – and if you reflect upon the film as a whole, you might appreciate it as well. If you enjoy Asparagus half as much as I did, please support Suzan Pitt’s work by purchasing the film or several of her other works. I couldn’t believe I found this on YouTube as I only have it in my video library.

PPS: I derived my title from the late Marion Woodman’s book of the same name. Blessing her work in bringing the focus of Jungian psychology further into the realm of the divine feminine.

observation


Athena, as she appeared to me in 1974

I am aware of the things which grind a person down with age. And while none of us will live forever in these bodies, aging gracefully is possible and, to me at least, desirable. I think most would say stress is a killer, but I suspect there’s a bit more, as I discover a body over fifty becomes increasingly intolerant of the insult of ignorance. By that I mean what I choose to ignore, whether it be:

The blessing of movement through regular exercise that is nourishing and fun.

 

husband Chris and Chudleigh the yoga dog

 

A good night’s sleep (and this certainly cannot be minimized, I am clear and present this morning to attest).

 

If we could all sleep like dogs, I'm pretty sure we'd have it made ...

 

A good diet, meaning a deep and more profound listening to the body and less overriding of its warning signals. Whole foods are best accepted and digested, naturally, and cooking to enhance freshness and flavor is part of that, for me. (The stuff I did in my twenties would likely kill me now. If I only knew then ...)

 

 

our Hawaii kitchen


The deep need to love and be loved. At this point in my life, I find myself insisting that relationships be reciprocal, as I am much more cognizant of the amount of energy required to maintain them.

 

friend Rebecca and me, looking like street urchins on our last day before leaving Maui

 

Boundaries: it is helpful for me to gauge interaction with a yardstick of respect: both respect for others as well as my own self respect. Pushing my boundaries invariably results in feeling drained. I don’t say yes when I mean no (see my post on this), and parcel out my time in order to be as fully present to others and to myself as possible. And though I’m not always successful, more often than not is good enough.

 

volunteering dog massage at the Kohala Country Fair with vet Jody Bearman

 

I am sure there are many more aspects I could enumerate, but these jump out as the most obvious. Oh, spending time in nature every single day is the best cure for any blues or illness I know. Since I came of age at eighteen, I’ve always chosen to live in the countryside, close to the earth, starry heavens at night, and the sounds and smells of species other than human. And while I love people, some can be unintentionally inconsiderate in their drive to discover distractions to the urging of life’s unfoldment. Allowing myself balance between downtime and social interaction is perhaps the greatest gift of all. 

 

On the road into town - clears a person's mind, wouldn't you say? (Mauna Loa looms opposite the west end beaches of Hawaii Island.)

 


Fast Forward

Short and stodgy with badly bowed legs, the old Filipino woman on the sidewalk smiles up and into the liquid black eyes of a tawny-faced man and his pale companion. A half turn and a step back is all it takes as, smiling broadly, he cranks open the heavy door. The young woman seems eager to engender feelings of goodwill as well, nicely jump-starting the day. “Thank you, young man!” the elder offers with brazen humility. “Thank you very much!”

The placated couple then strolls down bleached concrete stairs arm in arm as if gliding on air, enraptured of the moment. Random acts of kindness clearly lift the givers as much if not more than those on the receiving end.

Magnanimity is contagious, and I reflexively break into a grin. Pulling my bicycle aside from the walkway, I enter the bank. A gust of cold air conditioning meets sweaty flesh, and, breathing deeply, I sidestep into the small queue. The old woman now totters before me, grey shoulder-length hair streaked with oil, combed but lacking style. Natty navy sleeveless dress resurrected from another era hangs on her decrepit form. Engorged veins bulge from compression stockings, rolled unevenly just below the knees. Laughter, pleasantries exchange between her and the teller. A smattering of Pidgin flows like heated honey from the old woman’s lips, and I notice vexation spread across the younger woman’s features, though clearly she is familiar with the dialect.

As I glimpse the matron in profile, it becomes apparent that she is lacking several teeth. Deep grooves etch her wizened countenance. Her body is bent and stooped, suggesting a lifetime of hard toil and heavy heart, perhaps at the mercy of heavy hands.

My mind casts back to the days of a spent youth when many clambered to open doors on my behalf. With a dishy body and inflated sense of self worth, I would stroll disgustedly by and through, mammoth inferiority complex well hidden under preened exterior. I dismissed most of these eager helpers as blithering fools.

Now pushing well into my fifties, no one stumbles over anything to offer me such pleasantries, and I appreciate the gesture when it comes – gently now, as befitting the tenor of time. The awkwardness of acceptance has faded into history.

Regaining the present, my brain fast forwards to a time only too imminent – a future where I too shall fail to exude anything physically compelling to the opposite gender.  And likely it will not matter. The best I can hope for is to hold onto a sort of dignity when some sweet youth, oblivious to the fleeting road unraveling before them, once again stumbles over themselves to break trail for a crone. And deeply touched at the sentiment, I will stutter on into some oblique errand in the withering days of my dotage.