September, just this side of the Equinox

I got outside this afternoon in a break between rain showers. It gave me a chance to read a little and see how nature’s been handling things without me the last few weeks. Just beautifully, as it turns out. She’s a little less tidy than I tend to be, but I think she knows what she’s doing.

Easing back into this space with some images from today and a current read.

Growing flowers instead of vegetables may be the best decision I’ve made all year. Look at how happy they are!

Growing flowers instead of vegetables may be the best decision I’ve made all year. Look at how happy they are!

I’ll always grow kale though,

I’ll always grow kale though,

and cherry tomatoes,

and cherry tomatoes,

and big, fat garden spiders. (Big love to my hardworking organic pest control crew!)

and big, fat garden spiders. (Big love to my hardworking organic pest control crew!)

Abby (who now, at 13, and getting weirder by the day, is known as Miss Havisham)

Abby (who now, at 13, and getting weirder by the day, is known as Miss Havisham)

Current read. Ugh. Necessary and eye-opening.

Current read. Ugh. Necessary and eye-opening.

August grace

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If I’ve learned anything this month, it’s how dependent motivation and self-discipline can be on good health. I kept imagining, all through this convalescence from pneumonia, that each next day I would regain my interests, that I’d want to know what was going on in the world, that I’d want to read or write or at least make plans for when my body was well again, but it didn’t happen for weeks. Over the month, I managed to get things done that had to be done, but oh, how I missed the feeling of purpose and focus that I’m used to.

There are so many things I take for granted in an ordinary day. I don’t want to lose this new-found tenderness, this awareness of the grace which hovers over life.

This morning, my daughter and I made big mugs of dark coffee and took them out to the back deck to talk and watch the day arrive. Already, the mornings here are cool and tinged with Fall. By the time Fall really arrives next month, my daughter will be in France, so we are stealing all the moments we can together. Every time I’m with her I’m filled with that strange mixture of pride and fear and sorrow and joy that accompanies sending a child into their adulthood. Being a mother, a parent, is a continual prying open of your hands and heart.

Looking at the calendar over my desk, I see that today is also the birthday of Tasha Tudor. That makes me smile, for I’ve been thinking of her words lately:

“I enjoy solitude. It's probably selfish, but why bother about it. Life is much too important, as Oscar Wilde said, to be taken seriously. I feel so sorry for those mothers who are devastated by loneliness when their children fly the coop and don't want to live at home anymore. They feel lost, but look what exciting things can be done. Life isn't long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!”

It’s true. Life continues to open and open and there is so much more to look forward to, so much to treasure.

Tasha always had tea and a nap in the afternoon, so I think I will do the same in her honor today. :)

Looking forward to getting back to posts and books and words. Thanks for your patience, friends.

Peace keep you,

tonia

in celebration of Wendell Berry

In honor of his birthday today, some treasures from Wendell Berry, whose words seem always timely. Every year on his birthday, I stop and give thanks for good, wise, kind, sane men. Long may they live.

From Thoughts in the Presence of Fear, written in response to September 11th:

“What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.”

From the essay, In Distrust of Movements (both of these essays are found in In the Presence of Fear):

“I have had with my friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements - even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us - when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self-betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally with effects rather than causes….Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behavior. “

One thing that makes Berry a voice to listen to is his fidelity to the ideas he espouses. His life is local, committed to community, land, and family and the good of others. His wife Tanya is a big part of making that life possible. There’s a nice essay about her in YES! Magazine:

Here’s my portrait of Tanya Berry: This white-haired 81-year-old is a fiercely independent thinker who embraces interdependence. Someone with a deep humility who gives others credit reflexively, and a self-confidence that makes her comfortable telling you what she believes she’s good at. A kind person who doesn’t hesitate to offer blunt advice. A woman who kept records of her prodigious canning in the kitchen while also serving as discerning first editor of every novel and short story written by her prolific husband.

“My mother,” daughter Mary Berry says, “is a complicated woman.”

Tanya also complicates assumptions people might make—not only about her relationship to her husband’s work, but about homemaking, farm life, small towns, and a Baptist church.

[…]

Wendell has pointed out that it’s difficult to make a public defense of one’s private life, but he asks to weigh in (the only time he does in the four days I’m there). “I want to give you a little of my testimony,” he says. Tanya’s role in his writing starts long before he reads that first draft to her, because as he writes he is thinking about her reaction. Knowing he will read it aloud to her—“to somebody I care about and am trying to impress and cause her to love me”—is especially intimidating, he says.

“I haven’t worked alone in any sense,” he says. “I’ve been by myself a lot, but I haven’t been alone. I’ve been accompanied by her, and I think our companionship has left me very willing to accept the companionship and criticism of other people.”

Wendell says his wife’s lack of interest in literary reputations also has been beneficial. He recounts a story that sounds often-told but authentic: “I brought in a review, somebody praising my work, and I said, ‘Look at that.’ Tanya said, ‘It’s not going to change a thing around here.’”

The full article can be found here.

And a link to one of his poems here.

Invisible

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I finished Akiko Busch’s “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency” while I was in San Francisco. It was good fodder for contemplation, walking around in a city where I was almost entirely anonymous. According to Busch, I am also close to invisible, who includes “women over 50” in her category of people we naturally don’t see (the list also includes service workers, people of color, and migrants and refugees, among others.)

“And then not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you.” ~ novelist Doris Lessing

We’re in an age that values Visibility, so finding yourself on the other side of that can be a depressing prospect. But traveling around San Francisco with this in mind, I was surprised to discover something else entirely. Lessing goes on to say:

“You achieve a wonderful freedom. It is a positive thing. You can move about, unnoticed and invisible.”

With the idea in mind that no one else cares about what I look like or what I do, I found myself expanding into someone freer, more generous, more aware of other people. I smiled more, talked with strangers, looked for small ways to help or encourage. I stopped other women to compliment their clothes or shoes or smiles. In short, I was friendlier and happier.

“A reduced sense of visibility does not necessarily constrain experience. Associated with greater empathy and compassion, invisibility directs us toward a more humanitarian view of the larger world. This diminished status can, in fact, sustain and inform - rather than limit - our lives. Going unrecognized, paradoxically, can help us recognize our place in the larger scheme of things.” ~ Akiko Busch

We can also make invisibility something of a discipline for ourselves. I hear my friends who are stepping away from social media talking about the same kinds of things, the power to BE without anyone’s gaze on you, to experience and love and enjoy without anyone’s approval or notice. It can be liberating!

To embrace it, Busch offers this advice from her friend, James Burns, an Episcopal minister:

“First learn to love yourself. Then forget about it and learn to love the world.”

It makes me think of Steinbeck: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Freedom.

You can read the chapter on women and aging in the Atlantic.

And I am opening the comments. By request. :) We’ll see how it goes.

Peace keep you all.