Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Walk Away Renee

One of my favorite songs. A friend at work, who is also sort of obsessed with the song, told me today that if you get it stuck in your head, you could get it out by singing [I actually cannot remember the name of the song but it was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, and also by Rod Stewart]. I am not trying to remember the name of the song he suggested, because, really, why would anyone want to get "Walk Away Renee" out of one's head?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Insomniac Lite Utopia

I am an insomniac, lite. I sleep at least 5 hours most nights, more than 6 many nights, and usually am not awake when the alarm goes off the first time. I get up one, two, or sometimes more times per night, and frequently don't fall back to sleep for a while.

I know this is "lite" because I deal with insomniacs all the time who tell me that don't fall asleep for two hours, or they sleep two hours a night or even, "not at all". I don't believe anyone who tells me he, or usually she, sleeps not at all, but I think some do believe it themselves, and believing you don't sleep at all would have to be almost as bad as really not sleeping at all.

For us lite-weights in the insomnia department, the seeming uselessness of time spent trying to do something you can't do by trying is the worst of it, that and the wondering if you'll make some awful mistake the next day because of the shortage of REM or Stage Four or whatever it is you're missing. Unlike saints and artists, I cannot seem to use the opportunity to let my mind travel the mystic spaces, pray, or create with my mentally free bed time. So I've wondered why I don't follow the advice I give to my patients about getting up if they're not asleep in 30 to 60 minutes and doing something with that time.

I think it is this: Getting up is cold and uncomfortable and I think that maybe waiting another five minutes will put me where I want to be, that is, unconscious.

So I have a little project in mind. It goes like this. Instead of just a bed in the next room, I put an armchair and a floor lamp. I put a blanket or a fat robe next to it, and a stack of books of poems or essays or ancient saints' writings so I can't get caught up in any plot. And a basket of yarn and a crochet hook or two. And a legal pad with two or three colors of pens, so that anything I want to remember or think about later, I write down. The things it shouldn't have would be food, or medical literature, or a computer (in any form). I haven't decided about my faux-pod or music; might need to experiment with that. My hope is that, if I do this, I won't feel the time I spend awake is such a waste of time. Maybe I'll even wake up disappointed occasionally that I got such a good night's rest that I didn't get any reading or crocheting or writing done.

Nah, probably not.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Writer's Block and the Pedestrian

This evening on the way home from our Christmas busyness, I heard a songwriter say that writer's block is a bourgeois luxury. He said if you have nothing to write about it's because you aren't paying attention. Every object in the world is singular and important and a worthy source of inspiration, he said. I'm pretty sure I'm mangling what he so eloquently said, but I took it as a reasonable challenge. The next object I looked at was one of those wordless yellow diamond signs, the one with a generic human being walking, that lets you know that pedestrians might be about. That guy is leaning into it, walking with purpose, maybe about to break into a run. And I realize I've been thinking about walking a lot in the past 24 hours.

This is mostly because of the Christmas Day ER trip we made last night, when my mom fell down on my sister's front walk after merely going out to the sidewalk to look the lit-up Christmas house. Walking outdoors is for my mom, beginning her 9th decade, a challenge, a risk, and although I obviously wouldn't want her to give it up, potentially life-threatening. I've been thinking about why it has become so, how to make it less so, what are the elements in walking that seem automatic but that have to be taken down and analyzed and fixed when they get broken. I want to figure out how to see her walk again with some of the boldness and dynamism that guy on the Pedestrian Xing sign displays.

Then there was the comment my son made when I (sounding pompous, surely) described a certain novelist's writing as "what critics might call 'pedestrian'". He wondered if that was fair to pedestrians. He's right. Pedestrians are good guys, responsible planet-savers, in touch with the air around them. Walking is good, at all times, except when the situation calls for running, or stopping still to listen or look. It is the opposite of what tired writing is. It is a huge piece of what makes humans human. I'm not going to use that term for lousy writing anymore.

I say it again: Walking is good. It is immense among our blessings, not to be taken for granted, an aid to thought, prayer, and friendship. And probably to writing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry Night

My church dinner group (used to be called Bible study group, but when the person who actually liked to lead Bible studies moved away, so did studying the Bible, so we try to be honest about it and call ourselves "dinner group") meets for potluck supper one or two Saturday nights a month. I think some of our most memorable get-togethers have had a theme, so I suggested last time that we each bring a poem. My recollection is that they treated the suggestion less than seriously, so I was surprised when two members of the group, the newest two, brought poems. Dave brought a sort of rap he had written about a wilderness camping trip, really impressive for a 40-something white dad. (Really.) And Marj brought a politically corrected version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that was funny and scanned beautifully. It drives me crazy when a rhythm-and-rhyme poem is careless about the meter, unless of course it is Ogden Nash, who butchered meter and would make one line ten syllables long and the next forty-five syllables long and got away with it by virtue of wit.

Realizing they had taken me seriously, I ran to the car and pulled out my William Stafford collection and read "The Way It Is", and "Easter". And some other anti-war poem whose title I forget. I get excited about this stuff, but I don't expect anyone else to. And except when I read something in church and people ask me how they can get a copy of it, I can't tell if anyone else gets excited about this particular way of playing with words (Bill Moyers' phrase, I think, not mine). I love reading a few lines or a long trail of lines that make me go, "Mm," and read it again. And I love sharing it. But I'm not sure which of you are going, "Wow, yeah," and which of you are just thinking "Well, yes, isn't that nice, dear?"

I'm giving up my subscription to Rolling Stone this year, and I'd love to replace it with something more edifyng. If I knew someone who would like it, I'd be sorely tempted to take Poetry magazine up on its two-subscriptions-for-the-price-of-one offer.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Oh, Christmas Tree...

After actually considering not getting a tree this year, we went up in the near freezing drizzle today to the usual place in the hills near town, slogged through the red mud, cut down a Grand fir, paid the poor guy whose only customers we were at that hour $20, and took it home and dragged the messy beast into the house. We planted it in our heavy-duty tree stand made from the top of an old milk can welded onto a base that is forever threatening to leak. It went easier than usual from my perspective, although I am not the one wielding the hacksaw, nor twisting the socket wrench while lying on the hard tile under the tree. I picked a nine-footer because I once again forgot that we were putting it in the dining room which has an eight-foot ceiling instead of the living room which has a nine-foot-plus ceiling. This tree is big, as have been all our trees for the 23 Christmases we have lived in this little bungalow. One year we bought an eight-foot tree for the nine-foot-plus room and one of our children, who will remain unnamed, cried. It just wasn't enough tree.

Not having a tree didn't seem right, despite the possibility that the kids would not be home while it's up this year (we are planning to spend Christmas in Seattle, and didn't want them to drive in the opposite direction for just Christmas Eve), and despite the fact that we seldom have company in at Christmas (a fact of which I am considerably ashamed, but a fact still). I realized that something I loved is gone for me if we go completely green and spiritual at Christmas, giving only to charities in the names of those we love, and pondering only the true meaning of Christmas, narrowly construed, to the exclusion of all the things that I looked forward to as a child, and as the mother of small children.

Make no mistake: I don't like the rush, and I do love the mystery of God's descent to us, best expressed for me in the song "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." But I also do like the tree decorated with all those old ornaments and a few new ones I pick up each year at One Fair World and its ilk. And I do like giving and receiving presents, especially when they show each other that we've been listening and hearing something someone else might have missed. And I really like finding something in a store for someone I wasn't necessarily planning on giving a gift to at all, and getting it for them. And the cherry walnut bars and the M&M cookies. And flashy, flashing sweaters--on others--and the absurd 17-billion watt yard lights in that one house down on Fir Villa Road. If I get none of that, I feel sad. Too much, and I feel frantic.

Here's to a perfect mix for all of you. Oh, and here's that song:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank, the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way
As the Light of lights descendeth
From the realms of endless day
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, Alleleluia,
Alleluia, Lord most high.

Monday, December 7, 2009

If you only read one book this Advent...

I am reading a book that I will not wait until I finish to recommend to you. I read about it in the Oregonian a few weeks back, where the reviewer sort of guaranteed you would not finish it without wanting to do something about it. After reading a hundred pages, I would be worried about anyone who does not want to do something about it.

Half the Sky is by husband and wife journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, and is about the varied plights of millions and millions of the world's women, and the horrors they face simply because they are women, and the greater horror that much of what they suffer is not even considered worthy of the notice of their communities and the wider world...because they are women. I suppose I should not tell you this, because it will probably put you off from reading it, and I really don't want anyone not to read it.

Extremely well-written, and never boring, it has lots of heroic stories about women overcoming victimhood as trafficked sexual slaves and rape survivors (rape is a systematic form of terrorism/war weapon in many places, and a way of acquiring a wife you can't afford in other places, and a way of punishing a man or a boy in a girl's family for something the man is thought to have done in other places). But it also deals with other issues, and is just now getting into the problem of maternal mortality.

Their main thesis seems to be, of course, that the world needs to act as a matter of morality, but also that the world's economic and terrorism problems will not be solved without elevating the situations specifically of women and girls in the world. But they also have loads of information on what works to do this. Please get hold of this book and let me know what you decide to do with it. I'll let you know what I decide, too.

One interesting aside in the book is the fact that research shows that people will give more readily and generously to something that they are told will help just one child than to something they are told will help eight, or millions. Generosity is personal, apparently. Generous friends, all--check out this book.