Back on the Bike: Everyday Magic, Day 811

photo 2A few days ago, I got on a bike, and took off down the trail alongside Lake Champlain. The water flashed on one side, the woods or houses eeked by on the other. I pumped hard or glided, stopped slow or sped by, loving the way the wind rushed by my face as the path meandered through woodlands and housing, the wind or sun taking center stage at various intervals.

As a kid, I lived on my bike, a daily ritual of pouring down the hill where I lived or trudging back up when it was time to go home. My bike was my horse, and I rode her from the time the snow and ice receded enough for clear streets until the first fierce rains of late November. My bike was an extension of my body, my vehicle for wind-making, my vessel of small journeys and big dreams. Rounding corners and coasting down stretches, I soared past my problems at home, home and beyond, and imagined great love, abundant community, brilliant work. Biking was a way of dreaming and praying at once.

photo 4-1As a 20-year-old interning for a labor newspaper in St. Louis the summer of 1980 (when the temperature, and subsequently, death toll, rose), I knew no one outside of my highly-dysfunctional workplace, and my only transportation was bike or bus. All summer, I rode that bike at twilight along grimy highways, skirting traffic, aiming for shade. It was one of the loneliest summers of my life, but while on the bike, I had traction and motion. I sweated myself into some sense of peace.

In the years since, I’ve had bouts of bike-love, but living in the country for the last 20 years, time on the bike diminished although occasionally, I do load the bike into the car, drive to the river, and hit the trail.

Hugging Lake Champlain, the trail couldn’t have been more scenic. The temperature rose or fell depending on shade or proximity to the water. By the time I found the Causeway — a three or four mile stretch of the trail surrounded by water on both sides of this crescent of thin land in the big lake. The way back was harder than I expected, and I wondered if I would have enough energy to get myself back, and get back in time for my ride to Goddard. The miles back photo 3-1stretched out before me.

Then I was there. Red-faced and covered in sweat, I turned my bike in. 19 or so miles in 2.5 hours — a leisurely ride according to most standards. The first glass of ice water was heaven. My legs wobbled, my butt ached, and my thighs were a tad numb. But happiness swept over me just like the wind that welcomed me back as I biked slow or fast through the bright air.

Ellis Island, Where Past Generations of Us Came First: Everyday Magic, Day 810

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Forest, about to enter the building his great-grandparents passed through to make a life here.

Yesterday, Forest and I went, for the first time, to Ellis Island after a suitably long but fast-moving line for tickets, then security, then the ferry brought us there. Here is the place where my grandmother Molly, fresh from Poland and alone at age nine, landed in the early 1900s, and where my grandpa Dave landed as a young kid, although he had parents and grandparents in tow. All of them fled pogroms and other waves of discrimination against Jews to take their chances on America.

IMG_1074The first floor displays highlighted various waves of discrimination that rained through our history. The second floor was another story (literally). Standing in the great hall, the large registry area, I was blown away by the beauty, vastness, and history of the place. From the basket-weave design of the ceiling to the ornate but functional columns, the place just exhaled a million stories, both of those who passed through here, and those who created this place.

My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island

My hair saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island

I thought about what it must have been like in the first decade of the last century for my maternal grandparents (from Poland and Lithuania), and about 20 years earlier, for my paternal great-grandparents (from Russia and Romania), especially my grandmother. Considering our current news stories on all the kids arriving alone to America, it’s no surprise to find, at Ellis Island, that flinging yourself (or being flung) hundreds or thousands of miles from home to land here is an old American story. This article from Mother Jones that came my way when I got back from Ellis Island affirms such a tradition, most of the children leaving everything and everyone they loved to escape pogroms and other threats, just as we have so many children over the border today, sent here to escape drug-trafficking, enslaved prostitution, and other kinds of deaths.  As the Mother Jones article concludes:

And of course, many of those kids grew up to work tough jobs, start new businesses and create new jobs, and pass significant amounts of wealth down to some of the very folks clamoring to “send ‘em back” today.

Meanwhile, yesterday still reaches us with its hunger and pain, loss and risk, and all else that brought so many of us here today, privileged to live with freedom and opportunity.

When An Evangelical Christian Makes a Jewish Poet Pump Iron: Everyday Magic, Day 809

IMG_0959For the last two years, I’ve met with Kevin almost every week at the gym so he could kick my ass. He was my trainer, pushing me to lift more weight than I thought my arms could support, do more repetitions of leg lifts or the dreaded split squats, and push the prowler (a heavy iron sled loaded with weights) further than my legs, back and arms knew was possible. There’s been all manner of dumbbells and rubber bands, bending and standing, pushing and pulling. Most days, I would walk in thinking, “What have I got myself into?” only to walk out telling myself, “I’m a total badass” (maybe an effect of the refreshing protein shake I was rewarded with at the end of a session).

Kevin and I have, at least on the surface, little in common. He’s an evangelical Christian, and I’m a practicing Jew. He’s less than half my age, never lived through the era of the Monkees or without computers around all the time. I lived through the 60 and 70s, danced with Sufis, chanted with Hare Krishnas, and don’t even get us started on our differences when it comes to the more polarizing social issues of the day.

Under the surface, we’ve found all manner of alignment in our concern for community, belief in a just world, urgency in acting for what we see as bringing about change, and love for being alive. During arm lifts, while he tapped the muscles in my upper back to remind me to get out of my shoulders, we discussed, debated, found and lost common ground in theological issues. In the endless 30-40 seconds I would be holding still in a plank pose, I would beg him to tell me his wedding plans to distract me from the overwhelming urge to collapse. Occasionally, I would joke with him, when he gave me something especially impossible to do, “Is this because I’m not a follower of Jesus?” We laughed almost as much as we talked. Interfaith weight-lifting, anyone?

Last week, we did our last — at least for a while — session together. The need for a new roof on our house, and my urge to explore a far less expensive group training sessions, pull me away from one-on-one training. Hugging Kevin to say goodbye, I was grateful not just for how much stronger my arms, legs, core and gluts are, but my heart too. We are meant to lift difficult issues together with grace and humor, acknowledging the hard work, talking deeply and lightly with people very different from us, and, at times (as I once told Kevin), accepting the quandary of irreconcilables.

Sneak Preview: Marching with Zombies (from POEM ON THE RANGE): Everyday Magic, Day 808

IMG_0806At 7 p.m., Tues., July 29, we’re launching my new book, Poem on the Range: A Poet Laureate’s Love Song To Kansas through a reading at The Raven Bookstore. I’m honored to be co-launching with Roy Beckemeyer and his fine collection of poetry, Music I Could Once Dance To (both Coal City Press publications). Please join us  for some reading, some stories, some poems, a bit of wine and some cookies, and a whole lot of celebration! In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview from my book.

Undead Poet Laureate of Kansas,” I had Ken magic-marker onto a white shirt, and then, with a purse full of bookmarks to commemorate the occasion, I waved goodbye to my live husband and went with my eldest son to march with the undead. The Lawrence Zombie Parade brought together well over 500 of the living dead, including the undead Santa, undead Harry Potter, undead Batman accompanied by undead cowgirl, and many undead brides sporting rubber intestines spilling out of their satin and lace gowns.

The organizers in the gazebo at South Park gave everyone a lesson on how to shamble — drag one leg while leading with the other — and appropriate roars and groans worthy of a zombie. Then we were off, heading toward Massachusetts Street.

A woman holding the leash of an invisible zombie dog worked hard to keep her invisible pooch from attacking live dogs. Zombie parents pushed zombie babies. A toddler with perfect red horns growing out of his tow head giggled loud while someone said, “What an adorable little devil baby!” Drunken college kids brushed fake blood stained arms against old-time zombies. Outside the Toy Store, a team of employees, equipped with Nerf guns, kept the zombies at bay while a dignified zombie couple carried their live (and quite beautiful) chickens past the tattoo parlor.

My favorite was the entire undead cast of Gilligan’s Island. A zombie dad dragged his zombie daughter while everyone laughed. A hip couple walked by with a zombie ferret (make up was particularly impressive). Zombie 1950s dads walked by reading zombie newspapers.

Meanwhile, whoever read my shirt or bookmark, connecting what “undead” had to do with the state of the arts in Kansas, laughed and occasionally applauded. On this night, it was okay to be in a program that’s undead, particularly because I believe it will cross over from this hazy hemisphere into pure life. Besides, on nights like this one, I’ve got a lot of vivid company.

Praying for the Peace That Surpasses All Understanding: Everyday Magic, Day 807

On Facebook, at the grocery store, and even in my own kitchen, discussions heat up about the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and the Hamas missiles into Israel. Some friends and family remind me how much Hamas started it, firing the missiles, some homemade and some with longer-than-usual range capacity, sent to the Gaza by Iran. Some friends and family point out how Israel started it long ago or baited Hamas recently, and is now killing civilians — children and adults — in mosques, disability institutions, and homes. So many of those posting or speaking their responses present strong evidence for how Hamas is actually encouraging civilians to shield bombs and other weaponry, or how Israel needs to shut down the attacks for once and for all. There are also reports on how there are no safe places for people living in the Gaza, and no support for a cease-fire.

My heart goes out to those in the Gaza, facing big losses already, and waiting for what Israel’s Haaretz’s news called “the slaughterhouse.” My heart also goes out to all who faced ongoing fear, trauma, and danger, summed up (from Israel’s point of view) in Haaretz here:

During the years of Hamas rule in Gaza, the same sickening cycle of violence has repeated itself endlessly. Rockets are fired into Israel by Hamas or its proxies, Israel’s army responds, a ceasefire is reached, quiet prevails for a limited time, and then Hamas begins the cycle all over again. In the meantime, the world becomes accustomed to a higher level of violence, Israeli civilians in the south continue to be terrorized, and Israeli children continue to be traumatized. And the reach of the rockets continues to expand, to the point where more than a third of Israel’s population is now in range.

I would add to this that often, the fight is more than lopsided, with Palestinians suffering enormous losses, such as right now with over 160 killed.

I believe in the necessity of a secure and sustainable Jewish homeland, something my study of the Holocaust reinforced tenfold. I also believe in the need for a Palestinian homeland, although I’m certainly no expert on the details to make and keep each in peace and respect for all. My beliefs, as well as most of the beliefs I encounter lately, are controversial or obvious, depending on who you’re talking to; at the same time, this is a tender time for anyone with an open heart and/or whose tribe (like mine) is involved in this.

Given that there’s no clear, feasible (at least, according to what we see in many news sources), and long-term answer to such extensive pain, loss and trauma, I don’t have an answer except to listen to each other with respect and as open a mind (and heart) as possible, read widely from diverse sources (from Haaretz to Al Jezeera to the BBC to other sources — at least, that’s what works for me), and to seek, work for, and imagine the peace that passes all understanding.

I’ll also be praying for our daughter, who is flying to Israel tonight on a Birthright trip — an educational, historic and cultural trip for Jewish youth — as she sets foot in the holy land to see for herself some of what life is like in Israel right now. And praying for all the sons and daughters who don’t have the privilege of travel and exploration.

P.S. If you share comments, please do so respectfully. I know this is a charged issue for many of us.

To All the Young Adults I Love: Everyday Magic, Day 806

IMG_0833Now that all three of our children are young adults, I realize how difficult it is to be moseying around on not-completely-fully-formed adult legs.

To refresh my memory about my own young adultness, I reread some journals lately, and was horrified at what I found. At age 22, for example, I was throwing myself at a guy who routinely left in the middle of a date at a restaurant, bar or party to “run a little errand,” only to return three hours later. I thought he was just unorganized. Turns out he was actually seeing another woman, something I didn’t discover for months as I berated myself for not getting him to love me. Ah, those woes of chase-your-own-tail love affairs gone wrong, but add to that the crazy tizzy of finding a decent job (What? All the funding is cut again? Well, off I go….), and place to live (I moved seven times in the two years when I lived in Kansas City which, in retrospect, was a good way to learn about the city and various bus routes).

As I chat with my kids — one still living here, one back in the nest after college and some jobs away, and one propelled 485 miles north of here — I realized that they, like their friends, are navigating a 2o-ish world far more complex and screwed up than the complex and screwed-up world I badly navigated. While that makes me somewhat blind to what it means to become an adult in a reality of Instagram, sexting (kids, if you’re doing that, please don’t ever tell me), and all kinds of virtual careers, friendships and meetings, I wanted to offer this humble list of what I would tell myself at that age:

  • What you fear so much in your 20s usually doesn’t amount to hill of lentils. Afraid no one will ever love you deeply? You just haven’t met the right one yet. Scared you’ll never find the right job or best cobbled-together collage of work for yourself? Hang tight — you’re just getting started. Fear that you’ll never feel grown up? Welcome to my world, and enjoy the ride!
  • Stability is over-rated, but it’s good to feather your nest to make for softer landings. There’s no “there” there. Seriously. As a writer, I have learned all-too-well that there’s no destination, only unfurling territory, like a three-dimensional map that envelops you. At the same time, it truly is a good idea to have some extra untouched money in the bank for the unexpected doctor visit, the work that suddenly falls through, and even (although hopefully not) bail money. Likewise, it’s good to have a place that feels somewhat beautiful, refreshing and orderly — whatever that means to you. Speaking of which….
  • Make your bed. Now. Every morning. Five years ago, Anne told me about a guru who told her, “Clean bed, clear head,” and it got me to make my bed every morning. I would shout this advice from mountain-tops to my 20-something self because at those moments that you’re hanging on by a thread, it truly makes a difference to walk into your bedroom and see a lovely place to collapse and sob…..or just sleep your way to the next morning. You can tell yourself, “Life may be falling apart, but I’ve got a beautiful bed.”
  • We get more sensitive and vulnerable as we get older. Ironic, isn’t it? I used to be sure it was the opposite, but the older I get, the more I burn through illusions of vulnerability (“I will just die if Mr. X stands me up again”) and hit on the real thing. We humans are delicate as hell, and the more we strengthen our hearts, the more we soften our hearts too. Which means that the older you get, the more deeply you can feel what’s real. In other words….
  • Ask for Help, but Give Up the Trauma-Drama. Life is dramatic enough. Take tonight, for instance: towering pink and orange clouds soaring upward. Big wind. And now, cats stretched all over the hardwood floor with great pizzazz. Yes, there will be pain and suffering, but escalating it and giving it center stage booking will only enlarge the pain and suffering and obscure your resilience. You’re stronger than you think, you can ask for help when you need it, and you can trust yourself, or at least, act like you do enough to let yourself feel what you truly feel without pyrotechnics.
  • Exercise. All three of my kids do this regularly with yoga, weight-lifting, running and more. I, on the other hand, lounged on couches, obsessing with friends for hours as we enmeshed all our problems into one big heap of intensity. If I could do it all again, I would have started doing then what I love so much now: move this body. Swim. Walk. Dance. Run. Stretch. Walk some more. Nothing helps us see the drama-queen nature of our moods as much as having to sweat and strain and breathe our ways into the physical world.
  • Trust that life will give you all you need. Especially whatever you need to learn. What you yearn for most is already happening within and around you. What qualities you want to foster most in yourself are already blossoming before your very eyes. Or as they say in “Almost Famous,” a movie that is like a biblical fount of life wisdom in our family, “It’s all happening!”

Lawrence, Kansas: Center of the Universe: Everyday Magic, Day 805

A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.

A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.

As I always say, there are two rules to Lawrence: 1) Don’t leave; and 2) If you leave, come back. The last 24 hours echoed the value of those rules, starting and ending with the pistachio.

It began for me at 5:30 p.m. at Limestone Pizza, one of the best, where-have-you-been-all-my-life new restaurants in town. Waiting for a table, the generous Anne Patterson, finishing her dessert nearby, offered me a spoonful of pistachio gelato. How good is life and how true is pure pleasure? Very! Dinner included dear and old friends, husband and grown child; the cure-all-ails Kansas-style pizza (thanks to a big limestone oven named, for our sweet and departed friend, Maggie); astonishing salad with

Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery

Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery

micro-whatevers; slivered of fried zucchini; and dessert: I have just discovered something called a budino, a thick Italian custard obviously created to end wars.

Then it was off to the blurred joys of Final Fridays (our monthly arts extravaganza) and the Free State Arts Festival. One gallery featured cut-up old books, the pages folded and fanned to evoke spinning tops. Just outside, a bunch of high school kids playing wicked wood guitar. The Phoenix gallery included one of our town’s musical gems: Darrell Lea, and a bunch of us belting out “Strawberry Fields Forever” as we perused crayons shaped like features. More walking, and we found ourselves sipping Free State beer, chatting with friends or strangers, and wandering into an East Lawrence lawn concert before crossing small parking lots

Stan Herd, I love this painting!

Stan Herd, I love this painting!

or pocket parks loaded with singing and listening. We went into Cider Gallery, where I was dazzled by Stan Herd’s paintings, and Ken by Clare Doveton’s, before an attack fly drove us outside again.

Exhausted, we collapsed into a small red couch at Marty Olson’s Do’s Deluxe, which sported a tattoo show. The Argentinean tattoo artist, Martin del Camino, inspired by traditional and contemporary Japanese designs (lots of spiraling ocean waves) was kind enough to give us a world tour of his arms and legs, featuring tattoos from famous and upcoming artists from his travels (he even tattooed part of his calf himself).

Rejuvenated, we stepped outside to find Nicholas Ward’s inspired short film

Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired

Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired

about East Lawrence, threaded with the music of Ardys Ramberg and other locals, being projected on the side of a building while a small crowd filled folding chairs. It turns out most of the crowd was also i the film, so we had occasion to meet and greet the stars.

Across the street to the east, we were beckoned to the St. Luke’s AME Church by friends who said there was about to be improv art in concert with a gospel choir and jazz band. We ran up the steps to get our seat, and soon it began: Michael Arthur, a live visual artist, did spectacularly moving and surprising pen and ink drawings to the jubilant uplift of the church’s righteous gospel choir, and then to the Matt Otto quartet.

The photo doesn't do this artist justice, but you get the idea.We were mesmerized, but more mesmerization was yet to come: stepping outside and walking back to Mass. St., we passed amazingly-blue-lit windows in the huge Turnhall building. Then we realized what filled the windows was a backlit cityscape of many layers of streets that quickly morphed into seven flowing rivers from around the world, piled up in strips of blue, brown and gray flowing water. A man on the street explained to us that he had just met the artist, Tiffany Carbonneau, who travels the world, filming what he encounters, and then projects the images from inside buildings, such as this one. We marveled at the rushing rivers, including the Yangtze from China.

Back out this morning, I found myself sitting next to Denise Skeeba from Homestead Ranch at the Farmer’s Market, delighting in the breezy shade, and eating a pistachio creme brulee, torched a minute beforehand by the vendor next to her stand, which all goes to show that you would be nuts to leave the center of the universe.