GloPoWriMo – Song 10

Keep These Close

These things will keep you alive:
The sharp blade of your mace,
the long span of your staff,
your shield, your gloves,
your shirt woven with bone.

These things will restore your health:
Pork parmesan, stuffed with melon,
Witchmothers’ potent brew,
infused with nightshade rum,
a glyph of health, a ring of triune,
a bag full of mountain flower and columbine.

These things will bolster your spirit:
The shine of sunlight,
the whisper of moons,
the swirl of cherry blossoms,
the silence when anchors lift,
the tune of a forgotten flute,
the warmth of friends on either side.

These things will keep you alive.
These will keep you strong.
These will keep you hearty.
Keep them close.

Daily Prompt: “write your own Sei Shonagon-style list of “things.” What things? Well, that’s for you to decide!” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

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NaPoWriMo 2019

12 Epiphanies

x. Sofia’s Story

“I was the kid who always kept her presents,” said Sofia when the neighbors were swapping stories at Kate’s Christmas feast.

“What do you mean?” the raccoon asked.

“I didn’t open them on Christmas morning.”

“And your parents let you get away with that?” he asked.

“We had a big family. No one noticed, or if they noticed, they didn’t care. We all had to open our stockings, but after that, it was a free-for-all.”

“You didn’t, like, each take turns?” Kate asked.

“Nope,” replied Sofia. “So I took them up to my room and stored them in my closet. They were my… what-do-you-say… security. My coping strategy. My lifeline.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said the raccoon. “It’s not like I need a coping strategy. It’s not like this big furry suit is the only thing that gets me through the anxiety of being in a room with actual people, actual people I don’t yet know or might have to actually talk to. Oh, no. Coping strategy? What’s that?”

“And it’s working really well for you, I see!” said Stefan. “Every Christmas party needs a furry! Am I right?”

“Did you ever open them?” Kate asked.

“I did,” replied Sofia. “I kept them for the really bad days, and then, when I felt like I couldn’t stand anymore, I’d open one of them. It got me through the bad days.”

“But what if you had more bad days than presents?” the fashionable guest asked.

“That’s where the strategy came in, you see,” replied Sofia. “You see, I had to allot the number of really bad days I had to the number of presents I received. So, for example, if I got twelve presents one year, that meant that I could have twelve bad days, one per month, maybe.”

“How would you know if it was bad enough to warrant a present?” Ishaan asked.

“I would ask, ‘Is this bad enough for a present?’ And if I thought I could get through the day without one, then I would. But if the day was so sad or so hard or so stomach-twisting that I just couldn’t get through it, then it was present-worthy.”

“But what if you had more really bad days than presents?” Ishaan asked.

“Oh, that would never happen, would it, Sofia?” Bertha said. “These things have ways of evening out.”

“Bertha’s right!” replied Sofia. “One year, we were so poor that I got only one present. I was so worried. How would I get through the year? But you know what? That was my best year ever! Each day that was hard, I told myself, ‘It’s hard. But it’s not so hard that I need to open my gift.’ So I got through. It was like… I don’t know. It was like hard days were just part of being alive, right? Part of being a kid. So I would just say, ‘It’s not present-worthy. I can get through it.’ And I did. Christmas Eve rolled around, and I still hadn’t opened my gift, so I did. I opened it.”

“What was it?” Ishaan asked.

“It was a bar of soap!” Sofia laughed. “I told you we were so poor that year! A bar of soap! It’s a good thing I hadn’t opened it on the bad days or I might have been so disappointed!”

“Was it nice soap?” asked the fashionable guest.

“Oh, yes!” replied Sofia. “Lavender! I’d never had scented soap before. So I took a Christmas Eve bath, and I smelled so good all night!”

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Summer House: Ch. 7

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My anachronisms were at loose ends. Turtle raced along the fence, Dixie dug holes, and Crystal leaned against my legs and sighed.

“They need a purpose,” Shingo suggested.

He had a point. A dalmatian, a water spaniel, and a bloodhound–a coach breed, a hunting-retriever, and a scent hound: These dogs were bred for tasks. When they roamed the beaches as strays, survival kept them focused. But once health and strength were restored by the basic care I provided, their need for activity surfaced. I could walk them all day, and they’d still long for challenge.

“I don’t need a purpose,” I told Shingo.

He poked me. “That’s because you’re in Shangri-La.”

A few days later, he pulled up in a borrowed pickup truck, the bed loaded with shiny odd-shaped things.

“It’s an agility course,” he said. “The county fairgrounds had an auction. They’re getting a new set.”

We hauled out the aluminum and plastic poles, hoops, tunnels, and platforms and set them up in the back meadow.

“It’s solar-powered,” Shingo said.

“What do we need it solar-powered for?” I asked.

“The lights?” Shingo replied. “You’d like a plain wooden one better, wouldn’t you? We can get some old fencing and porch floors and make one. Use this in the interim.”

“I like it fine,” I said. I would have liked wood better, but it wasn’t for me. And it was a kind gesture.

Crystal sniffed each pole as we snapped it in place.

Dixie trotted around every structure, and Turtle ran the circumference.

“Do you know how to do agility-course training?” Shingo asked.

I didn’t. Neither did he.

He wandered off to paint, leaving me and the anachronisms in the meadow.

“All right,” I said.  “Who’s first?”

Crystal crawled under the platform, stretched out, and napped.

Dixie sat, cocking her head at the tallest hoop.

I called Turtle, who was still racing the perimeter.

I gestured with my hands, weaving them in between the poles. “Like that, Turtle!”

She balked at the lights.

“I wish I could turn these things off,” I said. Solar-powered. No on-off switches.

“OK. Watch.”

I ran through the course, between the poles, up and over the A-frame, across the dog walk, over the hurdles, through the tunnel. The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to do was the hoop, but it didn’t matter, for Turtle was there, jumping and pouncing when I emerged from the tunnel.

“Your turn!” I said.

Off we ran together. I snapped my fingers, she jumped. I gestured to weave, she ran between the poles. Up the see-saw, off the jump, onto the platform.

“Now stand!”

She took a bold pose, as if she were on the back of a fire truck.

“You’re very noble,” I said. “And a very good dog.”

Dixie had watched it all. She was trying the weave poles.

“Good dog!” I walked with her. That was all she wanted to try the first day.

Crystal ventured out from under the platform and leapt on top of it.

“Good dog!” I said. That was our first day’s training.

We train every day now. Turtle has taken to it almost naturally. She jumps so gracefully, and with the training, she’s become sleek and muscular.

Dixie loves the tunnel. I can usually get her to run the complete course, but sometimes she refuses one or more obstacle, more out of principle than ability or inclination. She likes to assert her independence.

Crystal loves to be with us when we train. She thumps her tail while watching the other two. When it’s her turn, she skips at least half of the obstacles and often turns back around to repeat the one that’s her particular favorite for that day. But what she lacks in ability, she makes up for in attitude. She practically grins the entire time we train together.

This morning, Shingo and I sat with our coffee and conversation on the back porch while the dogs played in the meadow.

“What are they doing?” Shingo asked. “This isn’t random.”

It wasn’t, not random nor unstructured. They have invented a game that they play on the course for hours at a time. One of them sits on the platform–usually Crystal, but they take turns. The other two chase each other through the course until the dog on the platform barks, and then they switch directions. When they get tired, they all jump on the platform and lie down in a heap until one of them gets up and they begin again.

“Did you teach them this?” Shingo asked.

I didn’t. They developed it themselves. They build onto it, adding variety, taking away steps, adding new ones. The transformation in them has been incredible. I see them thinking sometimes, Turtle, especially, who will often sit gazing at the course.

“They’re a little bit obsessed,” I admitted.

“But it’s a healthy obsession, right?” Shingo asked.

“Sure.” And I was sure that it was, like any obsession that develops body, mind, imagination, and teamwork. I kind of miss that feeling. Maybe I need my own agility course.

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Summer House: Ch. 6

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Shingo has been hanging out at the Summer House lately. We paint. We sit on the porch in the morning sunlight. We talk art, artifice, and verisimilitude.

I might Shingo a few weeks ago at the art gallery when I went to see if they might be interested in my paintings. Shingo was delivering some of his own canvases, oils painted with bold palettes, heavy, textured brush strokes, and off-balance compositions. I liked his work. I like his personal style, too, which seems another aspect of his artistic expression.

He dyes his hair–eyebrows and mustache, included–bright copper-penny red. He waxes his mustache, so he can curl it like Hercule Poirot.  He dresses in a cross between a left-bank artist and a K-pop idol: striped long-sleeve t’s under a blazer, baggy stone-washed jeans, and flamboyant, impractical shoes.

The contrast between his seemingly simple work and his careful appearance is opposite  my own personal contrast. My current paintings are carefully rendered and delicate, with flamboyant splashes of detail. And my appearance is natural and easy: no make-up on my face, my clothes all natural fibers and line-dried in the sun, my hair an honest gray.

But maybe that’s why we’ve become such fast friends–whether seemingly carefree or carefully tended, we put equal thought and intention into our styles.

I enjoy spending time with someone who, like me, notices beauty everywhere: the sable feather curls of fur on Dixie’s long tail; the hatched shadows traced by the railings on the porch floor when the butter sun shines; the slices of blue ocean, startling, no matter how often we see it; a dart of indigo as a Steller’s jay darts through pines.  We will be talking, and one of us will gasp–Ah! The other will look. We fall silent. We fall into the beauty, then we catch each other’s eye, and we laugh, and pick up where we left off.

“See? This is what I was trying to capture! Did I succeed? No!”

“But it’s a beautiful painting,” I assure him. We look again at his canvas on the easel.

“It is, isn’t it?” he says. A cloud passes over the sun, and we gasp again, for the sudden coolness descends just at the exact moment that the light shifts. “How would you paint this?” he asks.

“I tried to paint cold,” I tell him. “I’m so helpless as a painter.”

“Ah! No! But your work is lovely!”

“I could write it,” I say. “In my poems. I could have this moment when the breeze, and cloud, and sudden shadow stop a person’s thoughts. But in painting?”

He takes me downstairs where I have a coffee table book of Monet’s works.  He thumbs through until he finds The Woman With a Parasol. We both gasp.

“So this is why I have been doing the brush strokes I have been,” he says. “But I see now my composition is all off. What was I thinking, so off-center? It’s Fibonacci–perfectly balanced! But I wanted to catch you off-guard.”

“How does he do that?” I ask. “I am caught off-guard, but it is all balanced, like you say.”

We walk back out to the meadow, Turtle racing before us, Dixie trotting at our side, looking up at Shingo, as if she expects him to rub her ears, Crystal plodding behind.

We stand on the bluff and look at the ocean.

“It is the form that allows it,” he says. “The perfection of the form.”

“It’s the resonance,” I say, thinking of the prelude from Bach’s first cello suite.

We lie on our backs, Turtle leaping over us, Crystal lying against me, Dixie with her chin on Shingo’s thigh. We watch the clouds pass.

“In poetry, the perfect form provides a container,”  I say.

“But what of free form?”

“There is no such thing. There is form in everything.”

I turn to look at him as he studies the clouds. The symmetry of his hands, his face, his limbs.

“What makes us gasp, then?” he asks again.

I close my eyes as the breeze flows over the long grass, carrying the scent of green oats and cattails. Beneath me the earth, above me the sky, beside me my friends. The gasp carries the memory of what we might be, of what we are, of what inhabits the perfection of form.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 11

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Kaitlin–what? Newt is Newt? Norm’s Newt? How can that be?

I guess it figures–never doubt one’s first intuition, right?

But really. You must have been so blown away. Was it freaky? Or creepy?

I want you to know that I never told Norm anything about you: He knows I have pen pals, but he doesn’t know any of your names or anything about any of you–no personal details. Nothing!

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It’s such a mind-blower.

Are you feeling OK?

You sound really great in your letter, actually. You sound happy, optimistic and strong. I’m so glad to hear that you aren’t denying the love you have for Newt. That’s such an important part of healing. Of course you’re not excusing what he did–nothing excuses that. At the same time, you recognize what you share together–your children and grandchildren–and you recognize the validity of your feelings for him.

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I’m also glad that you’re letting yourself grieve, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy that you’re experiencing grief. What I mean is that it’s so important to let yourself, and your kids, grieve. So many of the women I’ve met keep their hearts hard. They tell themselves that their lives were always awful with their abuser, ignoring the moments of closeness or fun. They try to push away any idea of loss. But there is so much loss: Loss of a dream for what the relationship “could have been”; loss of the reality of a life together; loss of material items–houses, clothing, even dishes and furniture; loss of friends and family. So much loss for everyone involved.

The women I’ve known who’ve let themselves grieve, like Ira and Micah, they’re the ones who are able to move into their new lives. They’re the ones who are genuinely happy.

You sound happy, too–even around the sadness and worry, you sound really happy and strong.

I’m glad you and Ben had a chance to talk and reconnect. He’s going through grief, too. I’ve seen grief tear families apart, when each one suffers it in isolation, and I’ve seen it bring families together, when family members turn towards each other and don’t try to hide their pain.

Life is so tricky. If we can live it together, it’s so much better!

I’m glad you are OK with me telling Norm about Newt. After I read your letter, I felt I had to.

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I really didn’t know what to say.

Norm and Ira dropped by after school one day, when Jena had over a lot of her friends from the afterschool club. It was right after I got your letter.

I knew I had to tell him, but I couldn’t figure out how.

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He looks up to Newt so much, almost as if Newt were a hero to him. I guess Newt has a big personality.

I considered not saying anything, letting him continue to admire Newt and to think of Newt’s abusiveness in the abstract, as something “not quite real.”

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But if there’s one thing that they drum into us in my graduate program, as evidenced in every study, every practice, every therapy approach, it’s that secrets are what allow abuse to continue.

When we face hard truths, it stretches us. But sometimes, through stretching, we grow in ways we never thought possible. Look at you and how you’ve grown in strength and love. We develop capacity by facing the hard truths and loving anyway.

Eventually, I just mustered up my courage and told him.

I’m not sure how he took it. I think he’s going to need to process it for a while.

I need to process it, too.

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Mizuki Suzuki saw me looking concerned and extra thoughtful while we were watching a movie with Jena. When the movie was over, and Jena was tucked in, Mizuki asked me what was wrong.

I told her that a close friend of mine had been hurt by a close friend of Norm’s. She asked if Norm’s friend was still hurting my friend.

“No,” I was able to answer, “though there’s still a lot of residual pain.”

“I imagine there’s pain on both sides, right?” Mizuki Suzuki asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “I know so.”

“In that case,” said Mizuki Suzuki, “they are both very lucky to have the two of you as friends.”

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I took a long run after she said that, so I could think through her words. One of the things we’ve learned in our trauma studies at grad school is that emotional pain is amplified by social rejection and isolation. This is especially important in trauma therapy. One of my more radical professors holds that it’s true in working with the abuser, too: Social rejection and isolation get in the way of healing and recovery, rather than promote it.

I guess I’m glad, at the end of the day, that Norm was Newt’s pen pal. He stayed with him, didn’t he? I just hope that now he knows of Newt’s connection to someone dear to me he’ll continue to stay. He seemed pretty upset when he left, and I recognized that “big brother protector mode” that he switches into sometimes, whenever he sniffs a bully around me.

Maybe I’ll ask Jasper to have a word with him.

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Oh, I’m sorry to share all these troubled thoughts with you! We will be OK. We just need processing time.

And before I go, I have so many congratulations to share with you! Congratulations on Reid getting cleared! Congratulations on being so brave with Newt. Congratulations on reaching out to Ben–I know that must have been hard to break through that wall he put up. Congratulations on Reese and Brooke’s graduation and on their upcoming wedding! You must be so very proud.

And thank you, more than you can ever know, for being my friend. Sometimes, I think of how much I’ve changed through knowing you! I was such a solipsistic scholar before we began writing! It’s through you I learned the importance of putting others first (namely Jena!), and the value of opening my home to another (specifically Mizuki Suzuki), and it’s because of you that I’m now a doctoral candidate in Therapy Studies! That’s right! I’m getting my Ph.D.! I always wanted to be Dr. McCumber! And in eight years (or maybe seven-and-a-half if I work at a brilliant pace) I will be!

Thank you so much for everything!

Your friend forever, too,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 9

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

moremeadow204

Dear Kaitlin,

Thank you so much for writing! I’ve been wondering how therapy has been going, how you are, and how the kids are.

You know me by now: I always have to get to the tough parts first. It might be silly, but I always think that if you only read the first part of the letter–you know, if you get interrupted or if something important comes up–I want to make sure that I’ve written the part that needs saying.

I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy reading that your therapist has a long and close history with your fiancé. In my coursework, the professors have been emphasizing the importance of professional distance as an element of ethical therapeutic practice.

If you feel comfortable with Dr. Bailey, and if you notice continued improvement, then all is well and good. Just remember that you have options. Every city has many qualified therapists, including ones who specialize in trauma and PTSD and who didn’t grow up with the man you plan to marry. You have options.

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PTSD has the reputation in some professional circles of being “untreatable.” The program I’m studying takes the opposite view: people can heal their trauma and PTSD. The approach we use is called Somatic Experiencing, and, through allowing the body to complete the movements that were interrupted during the traumatic event, the brain is able to resolve and renegotiate the trauma, resulting in health. That’s a bit of an over-simplification, and we include many other steps in the total approach (including the art therapy that I’m involved with at present), but that’s the essence of the approach.

It works. I’ve seen it, and I’ve met people who’ve been through this course of treatment–and they’re healed. My friend Micah is one, and Ira is another.

Ira worked with an SE therapist before I met her. I always wondered how, experiencing what she did, she has managed to be so confident, funny, happy, and able to love.

I interviewed her for a paper I wrote on SE, focusing on the experience of those going through the therapy. She told me, “We get stronger. When we crack and then we heal, we touch life. We become more alive.”

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Knowing Ira, I believe this is true.

I can hear that energy coming through your letter, too, when you write about the property and all your dreams for the future. We’re resilient, Kaitlin! All us humans are resilient and full of goodness at our core.

Speaking of the resilient, little Jena is doing great! She is not so little any more. She just turned four! Can you believe it? She loves pink and jewelry and little bows and frilly, twirly dresses!

And she is quite a mischief! Sometimes I catch her with a certain expression, and I just know she is planning something. It usually involves Uncle Jasper–either as partner-in-crime or butt-of-the-joke!

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Jasper doesn’t mind. He is so proud of Jena. Can you believe it? He’s already teaching her how to use the computer to play reading and math games!

I’ve been encouraging them to wait. Jena starts preschool next week, and that’s plenty soon for her to begin formal learning. But Jasper says that Norm and I were both reading, writing, and solving simple math equations by the time we entered kindergarten. And Jena begs to get on the computer and whines when I suggest she shut it down. When I think of how much I love to learn, I guess it’s all right if she enjoys learning, too.

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We got to meet a famous poet the other day, Bucky Duckson. Have you heard of him? I was so thrilled! He’s one of my favorite poets! He’s been traveling and my uncle is putting him up for a while.

Jasper asked him to write a poem for me–a birthday present. I’m embarrassed by the poem. It’s beautiful and so well-written, and if it were written for anyone else, I know I’d love it. But that it was written for me makes me feel shy ten-times over. Fortunately, when I met Bucky, he hadn’t even written the poem yet, so I wasn’t self-conscious and we had a wonderful conversation.

Jena enjoyed meeting him, too.  They had a bit of a discussion about poetry.

“I don’t think poems do have to rhyme,” Jena said.

“No,” Bucky answered. “You’re right. Of course. But just because they don’t have to, that doesn’t mean that they can’t. Some of the best poems employ rhyming couplets.”

“I like them when they go ‘splat,'” Jena said.

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Youssef is still our nanny. I can’t imagine life without him! Even after Jena graduates from high school and enters college, I think I will still have Youssef as our nanny. He just makes life better.

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And I hope that Mizuki Suzuki will live with us forever, too. She’s been a huge help while I’ve been busy with school. She’s a student, too, but she always seems to find time to pitch in with the chores. She calls it a good study break. But I think she’s just got so much energy that she can’t sit behind the books for more than twenty minutes at a time!

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I hope Reid’s trial isn’t too stressful for you and your family, Ben, especially. I’ve been surprised at the ways that children seem to be able to make sense of adults’ complicated lives–they sometimes seem to look past the complications and right into the person. I think that sometimes children can handle a lot more than we think they might be able to. At least that’s what Mizuki tells me, and she’s studying childhood education.

I’ve been so slow in answering your letter that I’m sure that many things have changed already! I hope that each change brings you closer to your dream of your home for you and your family on your beautiful property!

Take care, Kaitlin! And tell all your children and grandbabies “Hi” from me!

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With lots of love,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 6

A reply to: A letter from Seth

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Dear Seth,

I reread your letter again. I have read it at least five times. It’s a sacred text.

I enjoy the Spice Festival, too. I live near the plaza, close enough that it’s an extension of my living room, and I visit often, sometimes even during the festival.

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I’m not a spice hound, though I love saffron.

You asked about how I became friends with Bjorn and Raj. I met Bjorn at the meadows one afternoon when we were both young–he was a student; I was a young professor. We started talking about Bach, and the conversation continues to this day. We don’t talk about much else besides Bach, his life and his music, and maybe that is why we are such fast friends.

I met Raj… how did I meet Raj? He’s a neighbor. I see him in the plaza. We take morning coffee together. We don’t talk much, and maybe that’s the secret of our friendship.

I don’t have a good understanding of how I become friends with others. I seem to find myself in friendships with nearly everyone I meet. My wife told me that it was because I have no expectations of my friends: I don’t expect them to agree with me or do things with or for me or to meet specific conditions. I simply know that I like nearly everyone I meet–and those I don’t like, I learn to like. Somehow, that leads me into friendship with them. I don’t know if they like me, but then I don’t expect them to.

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Perhaps I know what you mean when you write, “There is meaning and notmeaning, and I always have too much of both,” and  also, “The hell of it is that the notenough is just as beautiful and infinite and painful as the toomuch, and I cannot contain either one.”

Yes. This brings to mind your question about how many Jaspers there are. My answer is connected with the experience of meaning/notmeaning, notenough/toomuch.

In the lifetime before Bess passed, there were many Jaspers: Professor Jasper, Scholar Jasper, Rebel Jasper, Iconoclast Jasper, Barefoot Jasper, Bess’s Jasper, Bearded Jasper, Bard Jasper, Uncle Jasper, Brother Jasper, Jasper with an awl in his hand, Jasper with a book in his hand, and Jasper with a beer in his hand. I didn’t even attempt to integrate them.

When Bess became ill and through the years after her passing, there was no Jasper. It was as you write, and I became lost in the infinity of both notenough and toomuch, sometimes bouncing from one to the other, sometimes stuck in the delta of both. In the pressure at the center of meaning and nomeaning, I dissolved.

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I surfed the oceanic oneness. I thought I was experiencing attainment, enlightenment in this anatta that devastated me.

Now, I am finding bridges back to myself: doors don’t work, but bridges do.

What was that that John Lilly wrote in Center of the Cyclone?

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I am a single point of consciousness, of feeling, of knowledge. I know that I am. That is all.

Lilly found this single point when he was out-of-body: I find it when I am fully in-body, embodied.

I agree with your definition of freedom: “an escape from this finite universe.” The only escape I know of comes through the finite universe: through the bridge to the infinite that is created when we are fully embodied. When the attention of conscious awareness sparks the consciousness within each cell inside of us, we light up. A light-bridge joins inside and outside, and we are both. Yet we are also fully and completely here, aware, and in our bodies. That’s freedom. That’s the bridge I traveled to become One Jasper.

Feel for a moment that one of your cells gains awareness. Imagine they all do. Each cell, aware, conscious, individual, and yet part of the body that makes up the existence of you.

Now feel that you are conscious. Imagine that each of us is. Each one of us, aware, conscious, individual, and yet part of a cosmos that makes up the existence of all-that-is.

When I realize that this single point exists within each of us, just as it exists within each of our cells, then this brings me to individuality within unity.

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Yes… it’s the space between the toomuch and notenough where I strive to dwell. I’m not there always. Sometimes, I’m in the toomuch. Sometimes, especially when I wake, I’m in the notenough. But when I can feel the spaces in my body vibrating with that hum of electricity that is life energy, then I’m here, in the in-between.

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When I am with my friends, I see that same unity of being–both individual and universal bridged within them–and maybe that is how I am able to become their friend.

My editor friend is actually a collector of doors. He loves old handmade Spanish colonial doors, preferably carved in mesquite. He is a very linear person, my editor friend. And he has a good many selves. I am fortunate enough to know at least six of them.

My editor friend takes his press very seriously. He says, “Printing is a holy act. And rebellious. It’s holy and rebellious.”

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He prints books designed to restore people, to help them find and recover the broken up bits or, even better, to develop flexibility and resiliency so that those pieces never break in the first place. He’s a good man, my editor friend.

You say you’re wondering about the differences between bridges and doors. A door lets you cross between space that has been divided. A bridge connects a gap.

It takes, generally, one step to pass through the door. To cross a bridge takes many more.

I asked my editor friend what he would do if he were on a trestle and it began to hum. He says he would hum along with it, in a resonating key.

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You asked, “How do you know when you’re bound to someone else in the same time and space?” Ah, but I am not bound to them: We are both bound, individually, to the same time and space–but we are not bound to each other. We are able, in that moment, to connect with each other, because our individual binding, for that moment, to the same time-space/space-time forms the bridge which allows us to exist, at that moment, in shared reality.

I was speaking of music as having that bridging power. But any shared experience can do it.

You ask if my self works the same way I say music works. I have never considered this before. I am tempted to say that the vibrational energy of music and the vibrational energy within my cells operate on the same principles, but I will need to give this more thought.

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I think there’s something to your speculation that “perhaps all the different Seths are different notes, and if [you] could find the relation they have to each other then [you] would make sense to [your]self.”

As for me, the answer to your question regarding the “relation all the Jaspers have to each other,” the answer is not profound. All the Jaspers were various suits of clothes for various occasions , that’s all. Simply the dressing over this changing form that is me.

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I once asked a friend who is a yogi, “How do I know what is me when I don’t know who I am anymore?”

He replied, “Breathe. Just breathe. Is that enough?”

It wasn’t, not then, when I had lost myself entirely. But it is now. In fact now, to breathe is enough.

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Wishing you peace and space, my dear friend.

–Jasper

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Aimless: Take a Breath!

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One year ago, I was put in charge of a big project at work that would take this entire year to complete. On the one hand, I felt inspired: It was a project we’d been wanting to do for over fifteen years, and we finally were able to! On the other hand, I felt some dread: This project would demand most of my organizational and creative energy.

My mixed feelings stemmed from realizing that to give the project what it needed to succeed, I’d have to scale back my creative activities with SimLit. It wasn’t a matter of time so much as energy. Before embarking on this project, my work days were filled with detail-oriented work that asked for a tiny portion of my brain power–so while I coded and posted and proofread and resized and optimized, most of my mind was free to wander, and that wandering is how I create my SimLit stories.

In addition to the excitement of the project, I felt a bit of grief: How much of my writing would I have to let go of?

I reached out to my friends on the EA Forums who frequent the Kindness Bench.

The advice and suggestions I received from them filled me with hope, enthusiasm, and faith that I’d be able to make it through this, keep up with my writing as much as I could, and return when the project allowed.

I probably read more SimLit this past year than previously because reading was something that kept me going and fueled me before I headed into the office for the busy, stressful afternoon.

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And I made it through it! Often during this past year, when I was feeling frustrated by the stories inside me that wanted expression–but which I didn’t have the right energy to express–and even by those seed that were waiting to be watered, I remembered my friends and their advice.

If a busy high school student can balance her academic, creative, personal, and interscholastic activities with her writing, I could, too. If some of my friends gained energy and enthusiasm when they had to take forced breaks, maybe I would, too! If one friend is able to take advantage of the little moments that appear for writing each day, maybe that would work for me. If another friend assures me that readers will still be here if I need to take a break, I’ll trust her.  If yet another friend can manage to balance grad school with her creative SimLit activities, then surely I can handle this! And if my virtual sister is there to offer support and step in to help with our forum activities, then I knew I could get through it.

It was a tough year–especially the last few months.

But we made it. I kept writing. I found projects that worked with the quality and quantity of energy I had and that didn’t demand the energy I lacked.

And now, here I am on the other side!

For a year, I’ve been looking forward to this particular weekend! And here I am!

The project is a success overall–still tons more to do with it, and a million-and-one details to attend to, but it will work out, and I will likely not be fired, and the support from a handful of coworkers comes close to making up for the lack of support from the administration. And it makes a lot of people’s lives a lot nicer and it helps families and our organization, too. So, a success overall.

And that leaves me… here. I don’t yet know what I’ll focus on with my writing. My plan is to continue with Forgotten Art (which is part of the Pen Pal Project) and Vampire Code, while circling back and finishing a few projects that are close to completion, like Drifter. I’ve also begun a Murkland Starter Challenge, Through a Glass Murkly, which is hosted on its own blog.

I can feel that my creative well has been pretty well drained, but I can also feel vernal springs bubbling to fill it up again.

What a time for thanks! For gratitude for friends, and creativity, and life, and opportunities.

What a time to pause and breathe!

Vadish!  I look forward to whatever is next, and I hope you’re here to read with me!

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 4

A reply to: A letter from Mel

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Dear Mel,

I’ve boxed up a treat for Gari and Zee and sent it in the mail. No need to wait for the birthday, though! These little guys will want to get out as soon as they arrive! I selected four: two ducks, one Bubba bear, and one cat. All but the cat are made of soft rubber. The cat’s made of vulcanized rubber. The ears feel good to bite on–not that I’ve ever bitten vulcanized rubber ears, I’m just saying.

They’re all from that organic, fair-trade toy company, so the rubber is natural, and even the dye is organic and biodegradable. Everything’s eco-this, eco-that. Get ready for fun.

I want to thank you for writing me back so quickly. Your timing was perfect.

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I got your letter right around the time I had a really tough letter to write. I mean, maybe the toughest letter I’ve ever written.

Before I wrote back, I talked with Ira. I sat with Aari. I talked with my uncle Jasper. I did some research, and I thought a lot. Then I got your letter, and I knew I could write my reply. I knew I could level up, take the high road, and write the letter that had to be written.

Now that I’ve sent it, I feel relieved. I don’t know if I said the right words, and I don’t know if my letter will help. But I stepped up as a friend to a guy who’s in a tough spot after doing some bad things.

Ira says she would’ve understood either way: writing him back or not writing him back.  Then she said some things about what it’s like to have me as a friend that made me feel pretty good. I’ve never thought of myself as anybody who had anything to offer anyone. I’ve got to admit: It feels good knowing at least one person is happy to have me in her life. And it feels even better knowing it’s the person who makes me happiest of all. That would be Ira.

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You mentioned you’re curious about her, her daughter Aaradhya, my sister Meadow, and my uncle Jasper. I will love to tell you about them! Of course it’s not crossing a line.

I think of you as something bright and positive in my life–you make everything better, like a new dishwasher. That sounds… not so exciting. But for me, an engineer who’s always looking for eco-this, eco-that, my new water-saving, low-electricity-usage dishwasher is the best thing next to my popcorn maker!

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Point is: You’re this bright spot in my life that makes everything better. Of course I’ll love to tell you about the people in my life. I just hope I don’t bore you to sleep doing so! I know I’ll go on and on.

Aari is something wonderful. She is very smart. She loves doing math equations. I’ve started showing her simple algebra, and she takes to it naturally. She’s got a logical mind.

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I wish you could see her smile. I swear: the room gets brighter.

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She gets a little sad sometimes. She had a rough few years before her mom took her and left her dad. Ira told me that Aari’s dad never hit Aari. But Ira has scars from what he did to her. I imagine that things like that scar a kid on the inside.

Sometimes when she’s sad, she likes to sit with me. We don’t say much. We just sit until she feels better.

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Now and then, she has a tough time at school, when the noise and other kids’ yelling gets to be too much for her. She lashes out sometimes. We’re working on it.

The main thing, from what I’m learning at this support group I go to for partners of people who’ve experienced domestic violence, is to hang in there with the person. Don’t take their words or actions personally when they’re triggered. Just be there. Don’t give up on them.

It comes easy to me so far. I’d do anything for Ira and Aari. I’ve decided that even if it gets tough, I’ll level up, best I can. They’re worth it. I’m lucky I’ve got this group, my uncle, and my sister. And I’m so lucky I’ve got them.

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My sister Meadow, by the way, has just decided to go back to grad school. She’s already got a PhD, but she wants a practical degree. Her other one’s in folklore. I think I mentioned that. Anyway, my sister started volunteering at the transition home that Ira and Aari used to live at. It was Ira’s suggestion. So, Meadow’s been leading art classes. And now, she wants to be become an art therapist, combining art and folklore.

My sister has always been about helping other people make their lives better. That’s why she adopted Jena. My niece Jena is smart, and she loves to talk about super heroes. Huh. I just realized that Aari is Jena’s cousin, in a way. Maybe we’ll make it official sometime.

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My uncle Jasper is a character. He’s an old hippie, beatnik, retired college professor. He’s read just about everything and synthesized it all into his own version of the meaning of life. I don’t mind. I listen. It’s the questions he asks that’ll get you.

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I saved the best for last: Ira.

What’s there to say about her? She’s everything. She listens. She questions. She encourages.

She worked as a barista when I first met her. But she stopped that job. She’s thinking about becoming a teacher. She’d make a great one.

She’s got the gift of making you feel like you matter. It’s not just with me: She does this for everyone.

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The best thing is she makes me happy. She seems pretty happy herself, too.

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So how’s it all going in your life? Zee and Gari doing OK? Have you tried anymore painting? Ira and I both love to paint.

And how about your neighbors? Are they acting more neighborly?

Anybody who knows you is lucky to know you.

And I’m grateful to be your pen pal.

Take care–and let me know what the kids think of their package!

–Norm

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Dove 11

 A reply to: A letter from Dove

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Dear INWk,

Thank you for agreeing to be part of my support system! It means so much to me.

I hope that I can reciprocate. I’m not always sure that I have the skills that make a good support person. I’m discovering that I tend to approach life through analysis, analogy, metaphor, synthesis, and pattern-discovery, rather than necessarily feeling my way through life.

I guess I’m a thinker. I never actually realized that! I always feel so deeply on the inside that I assumed I was an emotional person. But the more I work with and interact with others, the more I discover that I am a thinking person. If someone who thinks her way through life can be a useful member of your support team, then I’d love to be on it!

I do think that I might be developing new skills, though–skills with feelings and emotions!

You see–this is so exciting that I get chills as I write this–I’m going back to school! I’m going to get my master’s in art therapy. Actually, my specific focus will be integrating folklore, art therapy, counseling, and trauma studies so that I can work more effectively with those who have experienced domestic violence and with refugees.

At first, I felt it was just being indulgent to even consider going back to school: I mean, I already have a PhD in folklore. But the PhD was entirely for me: it was my passion, and I knew all along that, since I’m not required financially to get a job, I’d work as a freelance scholar in folklore. And I tried telling myself that this was enough–it was misusing my privilege to get more education, especially now that I’m a mom.

But I kept thinking about trauma, resilience, and healing. I find this path of study fascinating–it seems to touch everything: everyone I know, everything I’ve experienced and witnessed, all of human life, especially in these challenging times.

Then, Micah–she’s my uncle’s organ teacher. I think I mentioned her to you in my last letter, and I was saying how, since she was in the group I led through HoH, she couldn’t be on my support team, but guess what? She and I are now leading a workshop together through HoH, which means we can be friends and on each other’s support teams! I’m so excited! Anyway, Micah told me she was going back to school.

“I want to study music therapy,” she said. “There’s all this exciting work being done on the spikes in the Schumann resonance, music, and the promotion of the brain’s capacity to heal from trauma!”

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She said I should look into the program, and when I did, I found the art therapy path, which seems like it is tailor-made. In a way it is, because University of Windenburg is set up to allow students and professors to create their own paths of study.

Anyway, HoH received a grant to incorporate music, art, and folklore therapy, and so now that Micah and I will be enrolled in degree programs, we can receive grant-funding for the work we do. I’ve talked with the refugee program coordinator, too, to see if they might apply for the same grant so we can also do work there.

It’s such a good thing that my support system is growing! I’ve been reading that counselors really should get their support in place first, before diving into the work.

Do you remember me writing about the repair person who came to fix my stereo? Mizuki Suzuki has become a great friend. She drops by often. We always wind up talking for hours before we even realize that we haven’t even moved out of the foyer!

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My brother likes her, too. Of course my brother is in a place right now where he likes everyone and everything. Things are going so well for him and Ira and Ira’s daughter, Aaradhya, that he can’t stop smiling. It’s like a lifetime of smiles are finding their expression on his face.

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With school starting up for me next month, I decided it was time to add another person to our support system: A nanny.

The nanny referral group sent Youssef over to meet us. At first, Jena wasn’t sure what to think. He has a big gray Afro, and I think he reminded her of a scary clown we’d seen in the city.

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He suggested that I give them a trial run for half-an-hour, and then we could talk about how it went and decide if we felt we would be good matches for each other.

I headed off to the library to pick up a few journals that I’d ordered, leaving him and Jena at home together.

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When I returned, Youssef and Jena were playing, and she looked delighted! He’s her new best friend.

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We decided we’re a perfect match! He’s starting right away, and he’ll come by on the same days that I’ll be having my classes. Sometimes, I’ll stay home while he’s here, and sometimes, I’ll head out to do errands or lead my groups at HoH or visit with Mizuki and Micah.

He says that by having Jena get used to the schedule of his visits now, it will make the transition smoother when I return to school. And we’ve agreed that once I’m in school, he’ll come by every day, so that even when I don’t have class, he’ll be here when I need to study.

Oh, dear. This whole letter’s been about me again. See what I mean about my not having the skills yet to be a good support person?

I think I can learn them, though.

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I’m so fascinated by the thought forums you mentioned in your letter. Tell me more!

I’m also really interested in the exchange of emotions that you experience. I’ve read that this is part of Buddhist psychotherapy, also, and it’s something I hope to learn more about. I’m interested in everything you have to share!

Your girls sound so wonderful! Imagine the resilience and creativity they’re able to develop through having the city neighborhoods as their playgrounds!

Thank you for the advice on picking up Taste of Diet! I was wondering why my skirts were starting to feel a little tight after eating Weight of the World.

I hope that your current research projects are also bringing a sense of discovery and accomplishment, and I’d love to hear anything you can share!

My brother is making big changes to the family business, but that’s something I’ll have to save for another letter. It’s getting late already, and I’ve got the house to clean and laundry to fold before heading off to bed!

Jena wanted to eat a picnic supper in her bed, so I’m expecting to have some crumbs to clean off her blankets before tucking her in.

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I feel like we’re both so lucky, INWk. You, me–and our families, too! And look at all the good things you’re doing with your good fortune. I want to use mine to help others, too.

All the best to you and yours! Thank you more than you can know for letting me share my enthusiasms with you!

Lots of love,

Meadow

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