Category Archives: Magic

Pet World and the Real Magic of Animals: Everyday Magic, Day 886

IMG_0912The little girls each pressed a velvet-like bunny into their chests, the girls’ chins nuzzling the sleep bunnys’ heads. A little boy let a large yellow snake wrap around his torso, the snake’s head balancing on the boy’s elbow. A woman rocked a ferret to sleep in her arms. A toddler stood amazed as the turquoise parakeet stepped onto his fingers.

This was the Pet World re-opening eight months after a devastating fire killed many a reptile, all the fish, a kitten, and many other manner of those with claws, fins, and paws last May. Within a few days, our community — composed of many like me who had spent hours in Pet World with their kids or when they were just having a bad day and needed to hold something furry — wrapped around the store that had wrapped around our animal selves. We held a vigil full of concerned children hugging the owners, employees holding each other and weeping, and lots of strollers, wheelchairs and walkers holding candles and making more noise than you’d expect at a vigil. But that’s just it: this was a vigil for a place not just of animals but of our own animal selves. I just read over my post from that time, and I repeat here a quote from Sherry Emerson, co-owner of Pet World with her husband Tim:IMG_0910

Tim can never forget how he felt as a child when he and his young friends were refused entry to their local pet store and not allowed to hold the animals. He knows that the total separation of humans and animals will ultimately lead to the disconnection of humans and nature. We truly believe in our mission.

That mission is a healing balm in action, bringing us back together with the more-than-human species we’re part of, even if it’s happening in a store that sells dog food, crickets to take home and feed your pet tree frogs, and fish tanks. When I brought Shay the dog to Pet World on Saturday for the opening, I was so happy by what I saw — dozens of human animals and other animals getting to know each otheIMG_0908r in laughter, delight, even bliss — that I went back on Sunday, this time taking Ken with me. Unlike Shay (who was respectful and extremely interested in everything and everyone in the store), Ken got to hold a bunny and a dove, and also pet a gecko and snake in between watching the new younger tortoises and the giant, ancient ones adored with arms that looked like medieval body armor.

The children filling the stores, along with their parents, grandparents, friends, and occasionally big or little dogs were experiencing more than an indoor petting zoo. I saw many Pet World employees showing kids of all ages how to let a bird come onto their fingers, where to put their IMG_0923hands when holding a guinea pig, or how to properly pet a tired lizard. One woman who worked there got on her knees to show a bunny to a newborn, both rabbit and kids having the same sized face.

I’m all for watching and being with animals in the wild without disturbing them too much, but there’s something also essential in touching animals, and through touching, finding who we are as humans and as animals. Feeling the pads of the gecko’s feet on our palms, the claws of parakeet wrapped around our fingers, the beating heart of a rabbit or kitten or hamster against our own hearts connects us to the real magic in this world.

Four Funerals and a Wedding: Everyday Magic, Day 885

IMG_0896I used to have more of a “Four weddings and a funeral” life, but get old enough, and things start to shift. In the last month, I’ve attended four funerals and a wedding: celebrations of life, memorial services and the like for a friend’s mom, one of Ken’s uncles, and two local artists who gave so much to our community. Then there was the wedding, one I officiated for some very intelligent, charming and beautiful 20-somethings. The funny thing is that the wedding and the funerals were quilted out of the same crazy collection of colors, shapes, and textures.

At all these events, we told of how the newly or dearly beloved met his or her mate, mused on their quirks and surprising tendencies, NS listened to short speeches about what made this person exceptionally gifted in sharing kindness, attention, inspiration, friendship, and creative pizzazz. I learned how Uncle Murle joined Aunt Edna’s choir to get to see her on a regular basis, and when they were apart for 18 months, how he wrote her a letter every single day. Turns out newlyweds Apollonia and Gabriel wrote a lot of emails back and forth when they were half a continent apart. George catalyzed  a whole community to not just embrace their impossible dreams of what to build or sell or create, but dove right into the necessary details, even if they included hauling (or trying to haul) giant stones home from Italy. Sally collaborated with other artists and writers throughout her final months, and entertained us all by instructing us not to post prayers on her Facebook page but truly fun and 10155789_10152318025726840_3221947869372601182_n1amazing things, such as cats dressed up as turkeys, squirrels performing interpretative dance, mice cuddling up with miniature teddy bears, and even a man wearing nothing but pumpkins. Alice’s mom loved Klondike bars, playing a mean game of bridge, and she even got to fulfill her dream to lunch in the Russian Tea Room. In all of these celebrations, there were photographs and videos, images of the newly-departed in a smart 1940s suit, complete with pillbox hat, or sitting on the patio in the sun, covered in his grandchildren, or the bouquet flying backwards over the bride’s shoulder down the stairs to land in the arms of a woman recently engaged.

What makes a poem a poem are the images: the specific details that connect to our senses and give us a specific door to enter into, walking on the feet of our own specifics. The same is true of a life, and although the abstract words (generous, kind, committed, loving) trying to sum up a life also speak to us, the take home for me are the small moments we share or make: how Murle measured the height of his tomato vines, or when Apollonia and Gabriel had everyone at the wedding, one by one, plant a succulent in a square of soil so they could bring home a miniature cactus farm of their wedding. We toss out and catch stories from one another, and in those stories, we see what love and living well really look like up close and ultimately personal.

886887_2629304770423_817875570794742639_oWe also dance to the Crumpletons, singing along while leaning into old and older friends. We marvel over a giant box of fried chicken from Chicken Annie’s (yes, that Chicken Annie’s of Pittsburg, Kansas fame). We giggle over tiny glasses of chocolate mousse and baby photos of the dearly departed learning to walk in black and white. The pain of loss — with the reality of what Theodore Roethke says – “What falls away is always/ and is near” — is acute as well as the lingering goodbyes to people soon to leave us to travel across the country. What’s also and always real is what we make and enter into when coming together, at a wedding or funeral, to  dwell in the house of love.

Generations: Everyday Magic, Day 884

IMG_0823“In 40 years, I’ll take my kids to Amherst, and walk them around with my old friends and their kids like we’re doing today,” Adin said after we did just that in Columbia, MO.

Columbia was where we met in college, or more to the point, because of what we did in our many non-college hours: potlucks with too much carob (what were we thinking?), romantic romps deep in the fields of experimentation, and protests calling for divestment in South Africa by yelling “The People! United! Will never be defeated” until we retired to another carob-warped potluck to sing Holly Near’s “It Could Have Been Me.” There was a lot of loud Rolling Stones or Supertramp music in between analyzing the socio-economic biases in Mary Popins’ “Let Go Fly a Kite,” and passionate debates about anarchism, social democracy, feminism, how we could save the labor movement, and why poetry, drumming, and organic zucchini could redeem the world.

IMG_0833Sometime in the early 1980s, some of us left. I headed west to start as a reporter for a Kansas City labor newspaper before making my way to Lawrence to marry and have a litter of kids, Suzanne went to Vermont to work for Goddard College and raise a good son, and others scattered to Africa or Boulder, Minneapolis or Kingdom City, MO. Our friend John stayed, worked, raised two beautiful sons. Add in 30 years, and here we are – John, Suzanne and me — with some of our offspring, hitting the streets of Columbia to visit and revisit our old romping grounds with the new generation.

We lunched in a place new to some of us, passing around bites of potato knishes and thai ceasar salad. We tore up the stairs to KOPN commnunity radio, the station where all of us oldsters produced various radio shows back in the day (mine was “Saturday’s Child…..Must Work for a Living,” a Democratic Socialist show), and where we could now thrill in how NOTHING had actually changed (except for piles of CDS along with all the thousands of albums). We introduced our kids to the six columns from the old University of Missouri main building, all that was left after an ancient fire, and said to correlate to the number of virgins left on campus.IMG_0847

Mostly, we talked, catching up on old friends and watching our sons talk — all of whom have vivid and cross-pollinating interests in everything from ecological restoration to Buddhism to cultural concepts of the mind to what kind of revolution or evolution it would take to fix our broken politics. The boys, well, actually men, ranging from 18-26, were the same ages we were when we met, danced all night or rode our bikes in the rain. But they generated same kind of spirit, questions, and sparks we did at this age and still do, I hope.

There’s a lot to consider in terms of what actually has changed in 30+ plus years, most notably the climate, and much else that has gone to the big dogs, such as the corporatism we deconstructed over late-night explorations of new herbal tea blends 36 years ago. If anyone in our crowd even mentioned gay marriage, we would have been sure they were on drugs, but then again, reality isn’t always a strong suit for people eating ice cream at 3 a.m. on the lawn of the local V.A. hospital or asleep all day when they should be in classes (okay, so I speak for myself here). IMG_0843

What is real was this day when we got to walk across and wander along the edges of the bridge between generations, springing up in this place where we watched our kids exchange emails and cell phone numbers, promising to continue their conversations in their present or future places. I love the vision of them leading their kids past old bars, new eateries and well-worn paths where they met their oldest friends.

A Year of Reunions: Everyday Magic, Day 882

In the arms and lap an old friend
In the arms and lap of Suzanne, one of my oldest friends

Stay around long enough, and you’ll meet yourself and everyone else you love coming and going, sometimes even more so, like all of 2015 for me. People and places seemingly long gone and far away rolled through my life, or I rolled through them all year long, from friends I haven’t seen in over a decade to landscapes imprinted in my imagination a very long time ago. Oh, reunions, how I love thee, especially when guided by serendipity, surprise and the awesome magic of picking up just when we left over 4 or 40 years ago.

IMG_2694
Ken in the Davis Mountains

Some of the reunions were well- engineered, such as a long-planned trip to Big Bend National Park in extreme (and I mean “extreme” in every way you can imagine) West Texas, where Ken and I honeymooned 30 years earlier. It was the first time I experienced desert, and let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camping (I do mean camping, which was on the side of a mountain surrounded by javelinas). This time, we stayed in a lodge in the Davis Mountains, a place we discovered in ’85 when we only had an afternoon in this savannah, a lush and dry at once landscape mixing prairie and forest with big expanses of mountain behind mountain. “Let’s go back here and spend more time,” my 25-year-old self told my 30-year-old husband. Turns out, we just needed three decades to make that happen, and upon returning, it was all brand new anIMG_3999d deja vu at once. We marveled at the land and sky, I didn’t complain about how stark the landscape was (I’ve grown to love desert), and while we didn’t hike 17 miles in day (oh, our strong younger selves!), we walked ourselves silly and even waded in the Rio Grande.

Other places I threw my happy arms around included a  usual reunion hangout — my often-annual trip to New York and Brooklyn, this time walking across the Brooklyn Bridge my parents crossed regularly with my siblings and me back in the 60s (in the back of a wood-paneled station wagon) when we lived in Brooklyn, and our dad worked in lower Manhattan. Of course, I also visited the old subway arcade, closed since 9/11, where my dad’s store was long ago.

Catherine and Ken near Madison
Catherine and Ken near Madison

Some re-meetings were more far-flung, like going back to Madison, WI a mere 27 years after we trekked up there in a baby blue VW van with friends for the wedding of Catherine and Peter. Amazingly enough, Daniel (our oldest son), upon settling in Madison for graduate school, at a barn dance ferreted out Catherine, who he had never met, because something about her seemed familiar. Reunion ensued with great joy, amazing food, and a vengeance!

The big tree near Columbia with old friend John
The big tree near Columbia with old friend John

I found a town I lost by mistake — Columbia, Missouri, where I lived for some extremely formative college years when I was teetering between daily infactuations with all the least-likely candidates, too many part-time jobs (from making popcorn to shaking newspapers together), occasional schoolwork, and a whole lot of roaming all hours of the night through the town I claimed as mine. Nothing like brunch with three old friends to open my heart and remind me why it’s never a good idea to remind them about the time I said, “Anarchists, Socialists! What’s the difference?” It also wasn’t a good idea to lose a town less than three hours away, and in January, we have another mini reunion there with pals John and Suzanne.

Stephanie with the late and great CJ
Stephanie with the late and great CJ

Other reunions came swiftly by surprise, like when our old friend David called to say that, surprise!, he was coming to town in two days. We were able, although we were about to leave town ourselves early the next morning, squeeze in a beautiful visit complete with lingering dinner and catching up on everything from the nuances of our children to climate change. Our pal Stephanie was able to stop in on her way across the country for deep conversation and a lovely walk both in the country and downtown. In all cases, we talked, as the old cliche tells us, like no time had passed although we were sharing many vivid moments about what exactly happened (as much as we can conjure it) in some of that passing time.

With old friends at the poetry therapy conference in Black Mountain, N.C.
With old friends at the poetry therapy conference in Black Mountain, N.C.

Getting on the road sparked all kinds of reunions. I loved seeing old friends from Lawrence in Minneapolis, and also reuniting several times with siblings of my friend, Jerry, who died over a year ago, but left us one another. Various conferences threw me in the arms of it’s-been-too-long-since-we-talked friends in Black Mountain, NC, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. I got to hang out with my sisters and mom, niece and nephew, and new brother-in-law in Orlando, and a bevy of Ken’s family we hadn’t seen in a while.

My cousin (front, left) I reunited with after 43 years (I'm behind my brother, and my cousin in front of his).
My cousin (front, left) I reunited with after 43 years (I’m behind my brother, and my cousin in front of his).

Back home around Thanksgiving, I reconnected with one of my cousins who I grew up with but lost to family distance (both the geographic and emotional kinds) for 43 years. While we’ve talked some on the phone and have emailed in recent years, there’s nothing like getting back together in person after over four decades. It was hard to stop talking, and I look forward to meet talking to make up for lost time.

Andrew and family with Daniel and me on the back deck
Andrew and family with Daniel and me on the back deck

And just last week, my old pal and office mate Andrew visited from Macau (near Hong Kong) with his wife and 17-year-old daughter who was a toddler last time we saw her.

Everything circles, spirals, vanishes in the swamp of life, and then pops back up. This year, that included even the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series for the first time in 30 years, reuniting us all with the Royals’ slogan, “keep the line moving,” which means just to get a hit, any hit, keep moving, and if everyone works hard, plays smart, and gets the right pitch, you’ll get to run back home. The line, it turns out, never was a line to begin with, and if wait at home long enough or wander far enough away, you’ll likely find out just how curvy and hilly time is. I couldn’t be more grateful for each homecoming.

Counting Stars, Time, and Remembering Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 880

10801514_10152411963826315_5462935666005367948_nLast night, I stood on the wet back deck of our house in my leopard-print fleece bathrobe late at night, head tilted back, counting the seconds between falling stars. It was late, the sheer clouds dissipating after a day of enormous rain. Inside, the clean house hummed its happy song after the warmth and light of the Hanukkah party, the air still enhanced by what frying potatoes and onions can do for a home.

All day, I had been thinking about a year ago when our dear friend Jerry died after either a short or long illness, depending on how you count. I heard the news in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s in Kansas City, just after leading a writing workshop at Turning Point for people living with serious illness. Hanging up my phone, I was shocked although the doctor in Jerry’s intensive care unit told us it would be a roller coaster when it came to knowing if he would survive. I remember walking into Trader Joe’s and putting various things in a shopping cart, but not whether I actually checked out or just wandered out of the store.

At our Hanukkah party a year ago, another way to count the time from there to here, still in shock about Jerry’s death, we sang two of his favorite songs–James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes” and Chet Powers’ “Get Together.” This year, right before we lit the candles, we had a moment of silence to remember Jerry and/or whoever we loved who was gone or far away.

Yesterday, the Turning Point writers gave a public reading where they shared startling images and enduring stories of what it means to find courage, meaning, even joy in the web of mortality. The reading, held on a Saturday, resonated with Jerry dying on the Saturday I was with these writers, another way to count time. Like the Turning Point writers, Jerry struggled with serious illness. Unlike them, he didn’t go on to share his story of coming back from this brink.
Considering Jerry in the year in between his death and now has brought me surprising joys, such as finding friendship with Jerry’s sisters and brothers (he had six!) after we bonded in a hospital waiting room, telling stories of him as a boy and10858644_10152644832843208_4356927544652366850_n man around a fake fire while drinking mediocre cups of coffee. I’ve seen them at his moving memorial (“Jerry on the prairie!“), and for meals and even some music several times in Minneapolis. I tell them that we’re each other’s Jerrys now.

At the same time, it hurts when someone you love dies, especially in a scenario that, had any of us known all the pieces of the crazy-quilt puzzle, we might have prevented. I’ve ferried my guilt through many layers of rationalization, disappointment in myself, and big-picture framing, understanding both that he chose this, and I still wish I had intervened more. I’m beyond grateful for the days we had during his last week, especially the night I played James Taylor and other songs I knew he loved from my phone, held his hand, told him I loved him, and chided him, despite and because he was on a vent at the time, for not holding up his end of the conversation.

Yet the conversation doesn’t end. Shivering but determined to see more falling stars, I scanned the sky, wondering where best to aim my eyes, and how to better open my peripheral vision to catch the ride of a particle of dust from the stars to the earth. “You didn’t fail me,” I dreamed Jerry said after his death. The Geminid meteor shower didn’t either although there was a long stretch between the first two falling stars and the next. Just as I was about to give up, a large white meteor flew east to west, dissolving in the dark. I wrapped my robe tighter and went back into the warm house where sleep and the rest of my life awaited me.

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.