Listen

animal animal photography barbaric big

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

 

Listen.

When the scalp prickles.

When the child speaks.

When the gut tightens.

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

To the hiss, the words, the warning,

Of the wrong step, person, choice.

When the lonely days make you desperate,

When you long for a caress,

When the body shouts loud,

Listen to the heart’s whisper.

 

Listen.

It’s so easy to get caught,

Trapped by legal fishnets,

By a house, by a promise.

Listen to that whisper,

the soft, the soul,

the voice that knows.

 

And follow.

 

 

7-31-20

The Saga of the Noisy Recliner Chair

recliner1

My husband has arthritic knees. The right knee was the first to become painful. He got a series of Euflexa shots, which seemed to help. Then a couple of weeks ago, the left knee started hurting. Confined to the apartment because of COVID-19, he was sitting for long periods on the couch with his feet propped up on the cobbler’s bench that serves as our coffee table. Having his legs in that position put pressure on his knees and offered no support.

I had a brilliant idea: get him a recliner so he can be more comfortable.

This I did, buying a granite gray leather chair with a swivel base that fit in with the living room décor. It arrived earlier than expected, on a rainy day. The truck driver left the box in the entryway outside our door.

The chair came in two pieces. The back weighed about thirty pounds, but the base weighed one hundred pounds, give or take. We looked at each other. How to get this up the stairs?

I carried the smaller piece by myself. The big, heavy base was an awkward shape with some potentially sharp parts underneath. We decided to roll it up the staircase.

We wrapped the chair in its plastic and trundled the thing upward, a few steps at a time, like two dung beetles moving their prize. Of course, this did my husband’s knees no good.

Once upstairs, we easily fit the back into place, but there was a problem. The chair squeaked. Not a little mousy squeak, but an ear-ringing shriek. Every time my husband shifted his weight, the chair screeched.

We turned it over and squirted WD 40 on all possible junctures. No change.

I looked up the manufacturer online and emailed for help. The reply came quickly: The recliner has a 12-month warranty. Contact the vendor.

Well, the vendor was Amazon, so I didn’t think I’d get much help from that quarter. But I searched the site until I was able to send a request. Someone with a strong accent called me back. All he could do was repeat: “Do you want a refund or a replacement?”

My next effort was to call a furniture store that sells similar recliners. “Did you buy the chair from our store? If so, we’ll send out a tech to assist you.” No, I didn’t qualify.

Before I gave up and called a handyman friend, I examined the chair more carefully. First I noticed that the front was crooked on the base. Something underneath was off kilter. We turned the chair over and I studied the workings, pushing the base in and out to make it squeak.

Two wooden crescent-shaped rockers were not in the same place on each side. The edge of one rocker rested on a metal support bar. The other side’s rocker was totally off the bar. AHA! This was the source of the squeaking.

We used two hefty screwdrivers to pry the rockers upward and reset them on the bars.

My husband sat in the chair.

Silence.

Days later, we’re still congratulating ourselves.

 

 

The Real Mary Poppins

 

mary poppins

 

My sister’s and my copy of Mary Poppins had a battered blue leather cover. It sat on a shelf with our other valued stories. However, it’s been years since I actually read the book.

Yesterday we had a longish drive ahead, so I borrowed the Mary Poppins audiobook from Libby (a useful app where I’ve done most of my reading since COVID March). And as I listened, I began to remember what a strange and somewhat frightening character she was.

Mary Poppins—the real Mary Poppins—is a severe, vain and mysterious personality who shows up at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. When she takes Jane and Michael on an outing, she denies their entire experience afterward, and acts insulted that they would ever suggest such goings on.

The real Mary Poppins seems to have superpowers and holds a lofty position in the book’s world. The animals at the zoo honor her birthday on the full moon. The reigning creature at the zoo is not the lion, but the hamadryad (king cobra) who tells the children that the trees, the animals, and the people “are all one.” Throughout the book there are similar echoes of P.L. Travers’ spiritual ideas.

Mary Poppins takes the children to a bakery where the creepy Mrs. Corey breaks off her fingers for the infant twins to suck like peppermint candy. Along with Mrs. Cory and her giantess daughters, Mary Poppins glues stars onto the sky. She translates Andrew’s dog talk to his owner, Mrs. Lark. She elevates the tea table and the landlady at Uncle Albert’s house. When the children dare to ask her questions about the afternoon’s events, Mary Poppins becomes quite irritated and insists that her uncle is a decent man who would never go bouncing around on the ceiling.

The imagined world of Mary Poppins is not sweet and musical like the Disney movies. In fact, P.L. Travers, the author, claimed she was not a children’s author. Travers sounds like she was similar to her famous character, opinionated and ornery and maybe a bit delusional.

As I listen to Mary Poppins, I hear it both as the child I was and the adult I am now. Like my childhood self, I find the magic of the book delightful and surprising. But I remember that, as a child, I found Mary Poppins’s actions and responses to be unpredictable and therefore somewhat frightening.

For those younger than I who have grown up with the Disney version, I encourage you to read the original.

What I’m Reading: The Weight of Love

weight of love

It’s rare that I choose to read poetry.  Even more rare that I buy a book of poems and read it all the way through.  These poems by Pat Schneider spoke to me on many levels and touched my heart.  I connect with her as a writer, a mother, a seeker and a caregiver for a spouse with dementia.

Adult Children,

how they visit

from the far-off island nations

of their lives

How they bring us shiny notions

from the future we can’t possibly surmise

How the foreign languages they speak

surprise, delight and frighten us

until we remember how we pushed them

in the swing, how they shouted, laughing,

higher! Higher!

–p. 20

About Pat Schneider (from the back cover):

Pat Schneider was born in the Ozark mountains of Missouri where she became intimate with fossils, creek bed grasshoppers and box turtles. After a search for work took her single mother to St. Louis, from age ten Pat lived in tenements and in an orphanage until she was given a scholarship to college. Those early experiences deeply influenced her writing, and fueled her passion for those who have been denied voice through poverty and other 
misfortunes.

Pat’s books, poetry, plays, and libretti have been praised by the most prestigious publications and authors in America:  The New York Times, the Library Journal, the Atlanta Journal, Small Press Magazine, St. Louis Dispatch, the North Dakota Review, Oprah Magazine, Vanity Fair, the North Dakota Quarterly, the Kentucky Monthly, the Bellingham Review, the Louisville Times, and many others.

Peter Elbow said that Pat Schneider is “the wisest teacher of writing I know.”  Julia Cameron, author of The Right to Write and The Artist’s Way, noted that Pat is “a fuse lighter. Her work is gentle, playful, brilliant, and revolutionary” and Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction, notes that Pat’s work is “heartening and practical, a rich variety . . . that celebrates both difference and difficulty as the gifts they are.  

I have a personal connection with Pat Schneider, as she developed the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of leading writing workshops.  Schneider’s type of  writing workshop provided a safe space for me to try out my pen in a local group. Led by Kate Hymes, herself an accomplished writer and teacher, the workshop confirmed that I was a writer.  Ultimately I saw my own novels published by Handersen Publishing. (www.handersenpublishing.com     www.amazon.com/author/ellisk

Schneider’s AWA method offers all people–those who consider themselves writers and those afraid to own the title–a safe, supportive workshop in which to explore.  In an AWA session, the writer hears what s/he has done well, what language was strong and memorable, what stayed with the listeners.  Rather than providing criticism, the AWA workshop provides encouragement.  I, among many, am proof of the success of Schneider’s approach.

So I thank Pat Schneider for her teaching, and for this gem of a book in which I found many deep and elegant expressions of our common experience.

Hush

Hush. Slow down. Say the names of those

for whom your candle burns.

Say them into the attentive ear

of memory, or of God.

Oddly, now, either one will do.

You are no longer required to believe.

Receive the gift of listening.  Belief

is as hard as a hickory nut

that cracked, holds many mansions.

The faces that you love are chalices.

Hush.  Slow down.  Tip the chalice,

sip the wine, and say it:

all whom I remember are now mine.

 

p. 3

Seeds

 

person holding a green plant

Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

– a tribute to John Lewis and teachers who lead

 

The blessing is in the seed.

 

I have known the planting of seeds—

seeds of song, seeds of poems, seeds of the work of words.

 

The blessing is let me show you.

The seed is now you do it.

 

The blessing is you have learned.

The seed is now teach another.

 

I have known the planting of seeds—

seeds of love, seeds of kindness, seeds of the comfort of words.

 

The blessing is let me hold you.

The seed is now hold another.

 

The blessing is I see you.

The seed is to listen.

 

The blessing is in the truth.

The seed is yours to tell.

 

 

7-30-20

*first line from Elegy in Joy by Muriel Rukeyser

The Sweetness of Chanting

chant 1

59. Sakala-buvana-srstih

kalpitasesapustir,

Nikhila-nigama-drstih

sampadam vyarthadrstih;

Avaguna-parimarstis

tat-padarthaika-drstir,

Bhava-guna-paramestir

moksa-margaika-drstih.                       (missing the diacritical marks)

(May the divine glance of the Guru ever dwell upon me.  It creates all worlds.  It brings all nourishment.  It has the viewpoint of all holy scriptures.  It regards wealth as useless.  It removes faults.  It remains focused on the Ultimate.  It is the highest ruler of the three gunas,  which constitute the world.  Its only goal is (to lead others on) the path of liberation.)

If you’ve ever read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, you might remember her ranting on and on about the early morning chant called the Guru Gita.  It’s one of my favorite parts of her book, because I, too, have felt the weight of those 182 verses.  And yet, I’ve been chanting those verses on and off for more than thirty years.

Only last week, on another quiet COVID-19 Sunday morning, we finished our regular meditation and decided we might as well chant the Guru Gita.  

What a fortunate decision!  With nowhere to go, and nobody around to distract me, I sank into the familiar chant as if sinking into a warm, fragrant bath.  The Sanskrit tasted good in my mouth, like ripe, juicy fruit.  It felt like coming home. Why had it taken me four months of social isolation to start chanting? I wondered.

chant2

Later, I recalled something that (I think) was said by  Swami Muktananda. If your mind is too agitated for meditation, chant instead.

Chanting was what brought me into Siddha Yoga.  I still choose to listen to kirtan with Alexa or Spotify.  If the chant sticks in my head (I’m susceptible to ear worms), I don’t mind because the continuous repetition of names of the Divine is preferable to pop lyrics.

In Gilbert’s memoir, she solves her battle with the Guru Gita by dedicating it to her nephew.  The corona virus seems to have reopened a path for me.

chant 3

 

Mushrooms at the Edge of Dread

 

closeup photo of white mushrooms

Photo by Ashish Raj on Pexels.com

(inspired by What Kind of Times Are These —Adrienne Rich)

 

At times like these

new fears emerge in the night,

like mushrooms.

 

At times like these

we wake in the contagious morning

to discover pale, sinister growths.

 

At times like these,

truth is a buried treasure

hidden under sand on an uncharted island.

 

At times like these,

we guess and guess and guess again.

What is safe? What is holy?

 

At times like these

we hide and wait for the cure,

but will all be required to take it?

 

At times like these

touch is precious medicine.

Everyone should have a hand to hold.

 

At times like these,

living at the edge of dread,

only burnt offerings can please the gods.

 

Kim Ellis   7-23-20

Natural Pleasures

k9yR5E29T9mXIjafHKkZRA

Our walks often take us past this meadow behind the apartment complex.  It is possibly a wetland preserve.  I don’t know.  For whatever reason, it is undisturbed.  Today we paused to listen to the bird chorus.

Further along, we came upon this tree in bloom.  I’ve always called them “feather duster trees,” lacking the proper name.  Some have tan, dirty-looking flowers, but this one was glorious pink.

IMG_0011

The wild grape vines are flourishing this summer.  One vine was waving in the air, seeking to grab hold of something, only there was no purchase nearby.

IMG_0017

We were delighted to find some ripe wild black cap berries.  There’s nothing like the sweet-tart taste of a berry right off the bush.

IMG_0021

The last pleasurable surprise was a baby mantis, rescued from a basin with slick sides.

6oSSFBhwRESxrrX%jUgboA

Before COVID-19, we would never be out walking on a weekday morning. Thus are the strange yet lovely joys emerging from social isolation.

Note: apologies to readers–some posts are missing photos.  I mistakenly thought I was cleaning up my media library and later realized my good intentions removed the same photos from the posts as well.  I don’t know how to reinstate them.  Sorry.

Escaping Verizon Wireless

person in black jacket holding smartphone

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

For several years now, we’ve been paying an exorbitant phone bill. Verizon enjoyed charging us $185 per month for two phones and unlimited data. When I’d ask the assistants in the Verizon store in town, “Can’t you lower this bill?” their answer was, “Oh, sure! When you’ve paid off your phones, it will go down $20 a month.”

Wow.

A friend said she and her husband used the new Spectrum Mobile carrier and were only paying $28.50. They had no complaints. That sounded good to me, so I called Spectrum. I got a pleasant young woman in South Carolina. “Oh, you don’t need unlimited data based on your usage,” she told me. “You’ll be fine with the $28 plan, and if you use more data, it’s only $14 a gig.”

I signed us up.

A few days later, the new Spectrum SIM cards came in the mail, and my trials began. First, I had to figure out how to get our phones out of their cases and open the iPhones. I mastered those tasks. Then I was supposed to go online to Spectrum and follow the directions to activate the phones. Easy, right? No way.

oneplus smartphone black and white sim

Photo by Silvie Lindemann on Pexels.com

Before we could activate our phones, we had to have them unlocked. In order to unlock the phones, we had to pay them off. That made sense. But no, we couldn’t pay them off on the phone, we had to go to the store.

At the Verizon store, a youngish guy with an ineffective mask took my money and announced we were paid and clear to go. However, I didn’t escape the store without a dire warning from the manager that I would be sorry sorry sorry to leave Verizon, because Spectrum had lousy service. And those fools who had left Verizon had come slinking back.

Back online to Spectrum I went, and discovered that my husband’s phone was unlocked, but mine wasn’t. I was told to contact Verizon.

Have you tried to contact Verizon? It is not easy. I spent about four hours that afternoon, first chatting with two different Verizon chat people. Finally, one said, “Oh, no, we can’t unlock your phone from here. You have to call the tech support guy.”

Well, the tech support guy messed around for a while and finally said that something that sounded like “FIMA” wasn’t unlocking so I should call the super-tech. I spent about another hour with the super-tech (who happens to live in Arkansas and has two grown girls and came from New Zealand—we had a lot of wait time). He eventually had me erase everything and start over. Unlocked?

Nope.

I went online later that night and Spectrum advised me to call my carrier because I needed a “number transfer pin.” I was borderline hysterical by now, so I waited til the next morning.

First thing, I called the number Spectrum messaged me, and got the information that, as of three weeks ago, Verizon was requiring these number transfer pins. If you call Verizon to get one, the recording just tells you to go online. That’s when I discovered that we’d been messing around with my phone so much that I couldn’t access my Verizon account.

I called the Verizon tech support, waited on hold for another long while, and finally got Amy. I burst into tears while explaining my problem. She put me through a long list of steps, downloading the Verizon app, resetting passwords and account owners and on and on. Finally that was straightened out. But could she give me the precious PIN? No. I had to get it online.

At this point, I was terrified. I’d had two new passwords and reset things and I was afraid to push a key and get locked out of my account again (back to square one). But, blessings upon us, I managed to navigate to the right place and click on the right icon, and LO! Verizon messaged me my PIN.

What a nightmare! I do suspect that Verizon makes exiting difficult so that customers will just give up and keep paying. However, we appear to be free for now. Whew.

Fear and Longing

60798422710__BA8A25AE-DEE1-4DB4-9C25-111A89A00362

My granddaughters live three states away. I haven’t seen them since January. The enforced separation is causing tears and heartache—on both sides. For me, though, as the aging adult, the longing is confused and aggravated by fear.

I’m close to seventy years old. What if I die before we can be together again? This strange and virulent disease could be the end of me. Other younger folk are often less anxious. Today we ventured out to a D.IY. store to get some needed house supplies. Although most of the customers had on masks, there was an atmosphere of laxity that I found alarming.

I hurried through the store, flinging air filters and bug spray into our cart. On the checkout line, the man in front of us had no mask. I commented on this and pulled back further. My husband, whose dementia blanks out the crisis daily, made a joke about the fellow being a tough guy.

“It’s not funny!” I shouted. I moved our cart to the self-checkout lane and rushed out of the store.

I don’t know if we’ll attempt another shopping trip. I truly felt unsafe, and also angry that others’ cavalier attitudes force me to take risks.

When I asked my doctor about the advisability of visiting the family, he said, “Sure, you can walk with them outdoors.”

“Oh, no, but they live five hours away,” I said.

“Nope.”

If this social isolation lasts months longer, I may reassess the risks versus the emptiness. For now, though, we’re back in the apartment, too far away.

1lMrcOolQbC9MVmPJKqlrw