Category Archives: Magic

30th Anniversary for the Royals and for Us: Everyday Magic, Day 871

1395194_10151778218117684_495372906_nA bit over 30 years ago, just a few days before we got married, Ken and I jumped up and down, screaming and hugging each other and a bunch of his cousins in a Kansas City basement. The  Kansas City Royals staged a wild and unlikely comeback to win the 1985 World Series. A few night ago,  when the Royals did it again, we leaped out of our chairs to kiss and jump around, this time in a small cabin in the woods where we went to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but not without buying a radio so we could hear the game. Helluva anniversary gift, and one that’s been making me think about marriage and baseball.

Of course, there’s huge differences. Marriage is not about winners and losers, unless that marriage is not really all about marriage. Marriage isn’t dependent on superstar power, one savior to rescue the game, but then again, neither are the Royals. Baseball is a sport, multi-million-dollar-paycheck business, and it won’t do your dishes or laundry or remind you to change the oil in the car. But both are institutions imbued with certain habits and values:

  • In baseball and marriage, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, everything happens.
  • Even in the nothing happens moments, there’s a lot of work to be done: throwing yourself into the wall to catch the pop-up, staying up late to resolve the stupid argument about who is more exhausted, and making contact with the ball — whatever is speeding toward us at the moment, even and especially when the pitch is tricky.
  • It almost goes without saying that working together as a team is essential in both enterprises although in marriage, it’s not so much that you’re working together against a common opposition, but for a common proposition.
  • Watching what happens with great awareness, curiosity, care, and tenderness is vital to both. If you screw up, if your partner or teammate screws up, you need to walk it off, work it off, brush it off. That requires a lot of on-the-fly forgiveness: letting go of grudges (even if they resurface later on) and aiming your attention toward what’s possible with all the strength and courage you can muster to make happen right now.
  • Celebrating the wins and mourning the losses — honoring the rituals of the life cycle as they unfold — speak at the core of marriage and baseball although I haven’t (yet) dumped a cooler full of iced Gatorade on Ken.
  • Begin again: while this is the best slogan I know for life, it’s obviously deeply inherent to baseball 12191709_10156164857440484_2573764896691263636_nand marriage. We will completely fuck up in horrendous ways sometimes. We will unwittingly hurt each other out of laziness, fear, anger, or grief. We will forget the one essential ingredient for the big meal and have to go back to town, miss the doctor’s appointment, eat the wrong thing and suffer the consequences, say the worst thing without meaning to, wear the shirt inside out when giving a public presentation, just miss the car in the lane we switched to, and give the wrong directions. Likewise, baseball players will miss the easy catch, strike out all four times at bat in an evening, get nabbed stealing a base, lose it and call the umpire a name that gets them thrown out of the game, say mean things to players on the other team or their own, and do all manner of mistakes. Each game, each day, each inning, each series, each trip into town, each night we crawl into bed exhausted — all are moments we begin again.
  • Comebacks are mysteries, but then again they’re not. My marriage, like any marriage tattered and shined up by many years, has had lows lower than I can fathom, particularly one afternoon many years ago when we were driving through desert in western Colorado, and I was sure this marriage wouldn’t survive this family vacation (then again, we’ve had a lot of lows — and outrageous highs — on family vacations).  But we found our way back to each other and through a morass made of inertia, anger, exhaustion and fear. The Royals have shown us throughout this series improbable comebacks, like the last game when, in the 9th inning, Eric Hosmer’s steal — diving into home base to score the tying run. It was composed of instinct, running fast, thinking that this was a stupid move, and sheer guts. It may not always be so dramatic with millions of fans around the world cheering when we turn back to each other for a comeback — walking into a room for marriage counseling, stopping in the middle of a fight to apologize, taking the other’s hand when we’re sure such vulnerability will break us open — but it’s a comeback all the same.

So here’s to holding it together and looking for the magic everyday in marriage, baseball, and all else that gives us the same possibilities: friendship, good work, following our passions, awakening to the beautiful earth, loving our animals, and celebrating our turns around the seasons together, alone, in community, and in our hearts.

Why Would Anyone Leave Lawrence, Kansas?: Everyday Magic, Day 869

Last night I dreamed that we had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where our oldest son now lives, because Ken got a kick-ass job directing a nature center. As soon as we arrived at some friend’s house and brought in a suitcase, I started crying uncontrollably. Ken was sad too, and eventually, a friend from Lawrence showed up for a walk that ended up at the curb outside a Walgreens, where all three of us were very sad. I woke up thinking what I often think when anyone I know leaves Lawrence, Kansas, center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t mean to put down anyone’s decisions to live elsewhere and call it their own center of the universe, but there’s something about Kansas that got a hold of me a long time ago, and there’s no place I would rather live. Yes, there’s the politics, more despicable these days that the worst most of us could imagine. There’s the weather, sporting stretches of summer where the temperature barely falls below 90 and can top 100 for days, tempered by ice storms and sub-zero winters. There’s the chiggers, public enemy #1 for many of us who step into fields in summer. There’s also far too many conservative Christian Republicans for my taste, and slim chance of finding a real bagel, let alone a bialy. There’s rattlesnakes, cougars, and too many mosquitoes.

But there’s also this: the wind right now pouring through the Osage Orange around the porch. There’s people throughout the state who would, if your house caught fire or car broke down, show up to help build you a new house and trouble-shoot your car for hours. There’s pie to die for. There’s long and curvy roads as well as endless horizon roads where your own company is the tallgrass prairie, wind, sky and an occasional coyote. There’s a panoramic view of wild weather, the thrill of lightning striking all around you, the purple flash it ignites, and the very rare tornado that wakes us all up and sends us outside to watch (close to a basement of course). There’s our Free State history along with the history of the Kaw, Osage and many other tribal peoples so resonant in this land. There’s Castle Rock, the whole town of Lucas, wonderful neighborhoods in Wichita, amazing Vietnamese food in Goodland, and the best fried chicken in the universe in a St. Francis gas station.

In Lawrence especially, there’s long brunches at the Roost while sitting outside on Mass St., the most beautiful floor tiles I’ve ever seen at Kring’s, astonishing fabric at Sarah’s, and coconut cream pie at Ladybird after a great pizza at Limestone. There’s the river and our many walks across the Kaw alone or with big groups of friends. There’s swirls of goldfinch reflecting back the light, bluebirds and eagles in winter, and indigo bunting exploding from tree to tree to summer. There’s the gorgeous Snow Hall building on campus with Snow White lettering, and thousands of iris in spring down Jayhawk Drive. Of course, there’s basketball, fireworks, the old-fashioned Christmas parade, the Final Fridays when the streets fill up with art and a building in east Lawrence is flooded with blue lights. There’s Clinton Lake in kayaks while the moon rises, and the Baldwin Woods in early spring when the Spring Beauties appear. Mostly, though, there’s a sense of community and magic made of knowing many of us are in for the long haul and eventually, we’re run into each other at Liberty Hall and dance to the music of Kelley Hunt like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also tomorrow.

While I love visiting the places my work and kids have drawn me to in my life — amazing cities like Burlington, VT., Minneapolis, and Madison — along with the city I’m from, New York — it turns out that this place, battered by history and politics and once a microburst, is my place.

Travels with Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 862

Ready for another trip with Jerry's suitcase
Ready for another trip with Jerry’s suitcase

Since my sweet and dear friend Jerry died 12/13/14, I’ve been traveling with just a bit of him. No, not his ashes — a small baggie of those are on my shelf next to his picture, to be scattered in the field near our house that he loved at right time (and after chigger season). It’s one of his suitcases, which I’ve been packing my stuff in and out for its excursions to Vermont (twice), Minnesota (twice), Iowa, Missouri, both Carolinas,  all over Kansas. and the far reaches of West Texas.

The dark green suitcase with the rainbow yarn tied on the handle has been to 13 presentations of Chasing Weather, my book of poetry with weather chaser/photographer Stephen Locke, and also the last book Jerry bought at the last place I saw him a month before his death. It’s rattled in the backseat of a rental car zooming from the Davis Mountains in West Texas over the ridge into beautiful Alpine, TX, and eventually, along the Rio Grande during one of the best wildflower seasons in decades on our way to Big Bend. It sat without complaint in the passenger seat beside me as I drove through South Carolina to North Carolina to the poetry therapy conference. It’s been checked in on planes or stuffed into overhead compartments. It’s rested on luxury hotel beds and cardboard-like motel beds while I rifled through it, looking for my toothbrush. It’s reclined happily in the backseat on the way home from Minnesota in April, leaving the snow for the lilac weather, and it’s never fussed at being overpacked or zipped too fast or accidentally knocked down a flight of stairs.

Jerry, your suitcase made it through baggage again!
Jerry, your suitcase made it through baggage again!

Every time I see that suitcase, especially the rainbow yard, I can’t help but think of Jerry, and wonder if he would enjoy the adventure of the day — climbing a long trail through the Chihuahuan desert mountains in Texas, eating a large amount of hummus and gyro meat with some of his family in Minnesota, or wandering the streets of Montpelier, Vermont to marvel at lilies in bloom.

The sad part is the obvious: it’s just a suitcase, and not Jerry himself who is who-knows-where. Sometimes, like all of us who love a lost one, I just miss him. But it feels good to touch the yarn he strung together and tied into the handle, and to think of the found places where this talisman of his has traveled, me in tow.

Ken Irby, Rest (Travel, Drink, Read and Write) in Peace: Everyday Magic, Day 861

IrbybyRobertAmoryLast night, unusually cool and refreshing for this time of year, I drove home late in the dark, remembering another such summer night over 25 years ago. My husband Ken and I were hamboing — a  Swedish couple’s dance more akin to flying than waltzing — across the Meadowbrook apartments parking lot while Ken Irby clapped his hands together, calling out, “Marvelous!” We were in the middle of one of those sublime Ken Irby evenings back then when we would go to his apartment, partake of a perfectly-prepared roast chicken, some wicked dessert, and for those who drank, too much wine and after-dinner sherry while talking of books and poets, adventures and more books. Somehow the topic of folkdancing, which Ken and I do, came up, and I said something about the miraculous hambo. Not having room between the roving stacks of books in Ken’s small apartment, we took to the parking lot.

Last night I got to join some of Ken’s closest friends, some of whom have been devoting themselves to his health and comfort over many months of illness, in a hospital intensive care room. I walked in to find Robert reading a passage from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (the 1855 edition, which surely would have mattered to Ken), on Joe’s cell phone, and I soon caught on that we were passing the phone around, each reading a passage, nine of us in a semi-circle around Ken. Whitman never sounded so strong, meaningful or relevant to me before although I’m a long-time fan. Hearing this poetry in different voices brought it thoroughly alive as we watched Ken raggedly breath, his pulse and heart rate slowly dropping on the monitor.

Ken and I met when I was assigned to his basement office in the bowels of Wescoe (before it was renovated) on the KU campus in 1986. A new teaching assistant in English, I was thrilled to know I would be sharing an office with a “famous poet” as well as another office mate. I was also told Ken could be difficult. But that difficulty wasn’t such an issue as long as I didn’t contest him using 80% of the bookshelves and file cabinets for hundreds of book he had out from the library on long-term loan based on the premise that who could possibly appreciate these books more than him?

Our third office mate changed regularly, beginning with a quiet, religious, sports-minded, weightlifter from Texas, who, upon meeting us, said, “You can tell a lot about a man by how he fills out his shirt.” Other office mates rotating through until our last, and best one, Andrew, who had a crazy enough sense of humor to match ours, and also supported me when I complained about Ken.

There was a lot to complain about: Ken was arrogant, self-absorbed, and haughty. He regularly favored men over women, sometimes humiliated women poets in public, and got belligerent when he drank too much (which he did often). As one of my friends, and a fellow women poet, and I recently agreed, he could be a fucking jerk, but he was our fucking jerk.  In ten years of rooming with him, he never read my poetry, and he was even less enthusiastic about my growing family. As he held court with his students, talking enthusiastically about Duncan or Whitman, he rolled his eyes at me when he saw me nursing an infant with one arm while grading papers with another. When I told Ken was pregnant with my third child, he raised his eyebrows, sighed dramatically, and with his deep velvet voice, yelled out, “Not again, Caryn!”

We actually had a blast together co-habitating in an 8′ by 8′ space, packed with three desks, three file cabinets, and a whole lot of shelves. We shared every ounce of English department gossip, tended to love and hate the same people, and were easily outraged on each other’s account. If someone did me wrong, Ken properly trashed them with his acute verbal speed and expansive vocabulary. We puzzled over the quandary of teaching, celebrated the students we liked best, and wondered what happened to the ones who went astray. We praised Rilke, who we both loved, and Ken made it a point to give me Rilke poetry on my birthday, because Rilke and I share the same birthday. In fact, Ken knew every famous poet’s birthday, and commemorated it. We talked Kansas up one side and down another, Ken frequently telling stories about Fort Scott, where he grew up. In readings we participated in over many years, Ken read from his poems, so strong, it seemed they always existed in some form. He also knew literature in such great and vibrant nuance and depth that he could (and did!) talk at length about most dead or living writers I mentioned, which was particularly helpful for me when I was studying for my comps. Over the years in that office, and the many more years since then, we updated each other on children — my kids, and his very beloved brother’s children — and caught up on people we knew, travels, and what he had been reading lately. Whatever Ken was, he was never boring.

Reading Whitman to Ken last night, I realized — as we all realize in those last moments with dear ones — that in the end, only love matters. Here this dear, complicated, paradoxical man, poet (read this homage to visitors from the farthest star), Kansan, teacher, and friend was dying, surrounded by poetry. Although we switched from Whitman to Rilke before we got to this passage from Leaves of Grass, I believe these lines speak perfectly to the Ken I knew. May he sound his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the next world, our affection for him trailing behind.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Why I’m a Crazy Bitch Sometimes: Everyday Magic, Day 857

I think of myself as a peaceful person occasionally booted off the stage of my life by a crazy bitch who takes everything too personally and speed-walks in circles, planning defenses of attacks by the world not yet (or ever) launched.

In those moments, what runs through my mind and, when I’m not disciplined enough, out my mouth is more than a little appalling, landing me in morasses of guilt over feeling, being, or acting like a crazy bitch while still shouldering whatever triggered the calm, happy woman of me to go to crazy bitch town in the first place. The trigger could be a phrase someone casually says, an angry offspring, an email (oh, the woes of inflammatory screen-based communication!), or a mysterious and persistent physical symptom. Whatever it is, I’m hooked, my inner brat is sure the sky is falling, and somebody ought to be made to pay for it.

“Shenpa,” a Tibetan Buddhist term popularized by Pema Chodron, speaks to that moment when we take the hook, and all hell breaks loose in our little beings. While she speaks to how human this is, and how — instead of catapulting into habitual responses, e.g. going to town on some little or big stuff that we have no control over in most cases — we can remind ourselves that this is a shenpa moment, then, with all the strength we can muster, aim toward a different response or simply not act out at all. That’s all well and good, but for me, the best I can often do (and Pema Chodron says this is a good enough start) is to yell, “shenpa!” while packing the war chest.

Last week was a seven-day crazy shenpa-fueled bitchfest. Maybe  this had to do with the ill-advised timing of buying a new computer and embarking upon what’s known as data migration (moving vast parts of your mind from many sets of file cabinets and laundry baskets) at the same time I decided to paint two-thirds of the interior of the house, Ken was out of town, my son twisted his ankle, and my sleep was constantly ruined by a pouncing cat, a small herd of lightning bugs in the bedroom, and crazy-loud buzz of the dryer at 2 a.m. Maybe all the rain, the peaches I lusted after going bad because they got refrigerator-buried, the approaching space craft to Pluto, karma, bad luck, and something someone in congress did is to blame too. Most likely, there’s no one blame but my own pacing mind, so embroiled in fixing for a fight that it forgets how most of what it’s processing is self-generated.

Throughout the week, as a counterbalance to the big show playing in my mind, I was playing in the background Pema Chodron videos on shenpa in which she discussed how what freaks out us can also free us:

…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

To be honest, I rarely want to lean into my inner (and sometimes, god help me, outer) crazy bitch. I would rather banish her to therapy camp in the Adirondacks, telling her to return when she’s realized the futility of her trauma drama ways and is now ready to take up a new craft, like making vanilla-scented candles. Yet I understand how, even when we’re at our most unlovable and even deplorable, there’s something deeply tender about scooping up our crazy bitch, and saying, “I see you and hope you feel better soon.” Then it’s time to listen for what’s really driving the bitch bus which, unlucky at the moment, and lucky for us overall, comes right on time.


Catching Mr. and Mrs. Rattlesnake Right Now: Everyday Magic, Day 856

P1080333This is a live report: at this moment, just around the corner from where I sit on the screened-in porch, our friend Hank Guarisco, who is an expert at catching snakes (although he’s more of a spider man and one of the leading spider experts in the Midwest), Ken, and Daniel are entrapping a big rattlesnake. Hank is searching through the overgrown grasses, trying to hear the rattling that keeps warning them away. Daniel says, “I am 110% sure I heard the rattlesnake.”

“I think it’s probably somewhat near that hole,” Ken says. “So let’s not grab near that hole,” Daniel says as Hank leans toward it.

Sidney Iowa the cat and I, safely encased in our screened-in porch, watch with great expressions of concern. We are wisely very afraid. This is life in the country sometime.

Now they’re plotting how to catch the snake in the thick grass. “They’re not sticking their hands in there?” I yell out to Daniel. His answer doesn’t reassure me: “They’re getting to that point.”

At this point, I left this computer, ran to where they were, and found Hank holding up a 2-foot-long male rattler. “He’s so beautiful, and I love the way they smell,” Hank told us. My heart almost beat through my chest as Daniel and I took lots of photos while I couldn’t help but scream, “Oh my god” repeatedly.

The Mrs.

After a few minutes, I returned to my safe spot on the porch, opened this computer again, and listened to Ken and Hank puzzle over what to do with the rattle snake after they put it in a cloth bag. Then I heard: “There’s TWO rattlesnakes!” It had all the urgency of a midwife yelling, “Hold the phone! There’s twins.”

Turns out that when Ken lifted up a long leftover black tube, which would make a great habitat for Mr. Snake, a second snake fell out of the tube. This one was Mrs. Rattlesnake, and boy was she pissed and big too. Hank managed to pick her up with a branchP1080338 and drop her into a plastic bin we had. He explained that because of how big and angry she was, it was best not to grab her around the neck like he did with her mate.

When I saw her, I recognized her. A little over a year ago, I saw her sunning herself a few feet from our deck one fine spring day right beside some of the copper-colored irises in bloom. Beauty and terror, and of course, at the height of spring.

Both snakes caught — one in a sack and another in a plastic bin — the guys spent a lot of time trying to figure out where a good habitat would be for the rattling pair. Turns out that it’s a tough world for rattlesnakes these days, and there’s few good and welcoming habitats for them in our area. “It makes me sad,” Ken says, “to take them away from their home at our place.”

While I want the rattlesnake tribe to thrive too, I’m not so sad about them being further away than actually just on the other side of the wall where I lay my pillow.

Tonight the snakes will hang out at Hang’s house. He assured me that snakes can lie around in bins and sacks for a few days without any problem, and I’ve got to say that each of these beings were fat and happy, at least until homeland removal commenced. In the meantime, Ken and Hank will look for the best rattlesnake refuge in the area so that the Mr. and Mrs. can unfurl and uncoil into new digs.

Five Wonders at the End of June: Everyday Magic, Day 855


Little wonders abound, and in the last week, here are five I experienced:

1. Mothra! On Sunday we found this guy just off the side of our porch, a giant moth (over six inches across) who blended beautifully with the porch siding and ceiling. Sometimes the amazing is in plain sight, life camoflaged in life. Walk softly, and carry a measuring stick.

2. Flower Power: I caught sight of these gorgeous purple coneflowers aka echinacea right outside Plymouth Congregational Church

Purple Coneflowers
Purple Coneflowers

while strolling around Lawrence with Ken and our friend Stephen Locke. Mostly, we were pausing to listen to the nighthawks dive at dizzying speed while digesting superb Indian food and our lovely time presenting Chasing Weather at the arts center. The flowers grabbed my attention, and how could they not? They were bundling fountains of pink, happy as the day is long, and given that we were just past the summer solstice, the good day was long indeed.

Bathroom Notoriety
Bathroom Notoriety

3. My Name in Lights….in a Bathroom: Nothing like some recognition, but what a surprise to find this in the classy bathroom of the Kansas City Sporting (our local soccer team) fancy and friendly conference center. I was there on Friday to give a writing workshop to about 45 advertising professionals taking part in “Gas Can,” the American Advertising Federation Kansas City chapter’s annual conference.

Sun set, moon rise
Sun set, moon  rise

4. A Merchant Ivory Moment: Hanging out with friends, especially handsome ones, and one in a particularly spiffy hat, is a little like being in one of those luscious Room with a View-like films, only with more chiggers. We paused at the end of the woods after trekking around part of the hill to watch the sky, the moon rising just a little to the south of Venus and Jupiter, so close together. Nothing like being outside with friends to talk poetry, the mysteries of life, and tyranny of ticks.

5. Dessert Nirvana: Sometimes when you order

An Astonishing Dessert
An Astonishing Dessert

something without understanding what it is, what you get is made of amazement. This dessert, at the end of our Oriental Bistro dinner and Power of Words conference committee meeting, was composed of 80% snowy ice and 20% ecstasy. My friends were as amazed as I was; in turn, I begged them to help me eat it, which