Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam!: Everyday Magic, Day 902

Once we saw the postcard, we couldn’t un-see it. Seven buffalo coming on Tuesday — “Please make all necessary arrangements” — rung through our minds all weekend. Yup, we figured buffalo wouldn’t actually arrive, but this little message is one of those whimsical delights of a lifetime. It had no return address, and postmarked in Kansas City meant it could have come from Lawrence or from Kansas City. It was also worded so bureaucratically that whoever sent it is surely a great life artist.

While the buffalo didn’t arrive, getting to share the news on Facebook, not nearly as exciting as getting a small herd, did have it rewards. “Sadley, but not unexpectedly,” I told people, the buffalo didn’t come. “Call Amazon,” my mother wrote, Others suggested I contact Fedex or UPS, and Dan cautioned that the buffalo couldn’t stay in boxes for long in the sun. There were lots of cow patty puns, Bob posted a photo of a historic Brewster Buffalo plane, Cathy shared an image of buffalo walking down the road, and Robin wrote, “How incredibly disappointing for us all.” Laura shared Pete Seeger singing “I’m Going To Mail Myself To You,” and people wondered if we were just ill-prepared or if they showed up somewhere else. I also found several other people who received the same postcard.

My favorite comment of all was Nancy’s — “hey are there! Just very, very well camouflaged!” — because I know this is true. If time is just a human construct, and past lives are actually having simultaneously in other dimensions, then the fields around our house are likely teaming with buffalo at the same time all we detect is chiggers and ticks. Thinking of who was here before us also got me thinking about what it would take to graze buffalo here again although it would take way more than between now and Tuesday to get ready. In the meantime, I’m just a bit sad to not be in what Kathryn called “the critter of the month club,” but very happy to have enjoyed the imagined buffalo with my real community.

Calicoco, the Flying Ninja Cat, or Why You Shouldn’t Put a Feral Kitty in Your Bathroom: Everyday Magic, Day 902

There’s white fur on the bathroom mirror, bath curtain rod, and bedroom windows from Calicoco, the feral cat I stupidly thought I could catch and keep. For three months, this beautiful and seemingly tame calico kitty has been hanging out at our place: sleeping on the deck or on top of the kayaks while blinking at our indoor cats, who blink back without a fuss. She got along well with Shay the Dog, who treated her like any of the other feline-Americans of the house, and I spent a lot of time talking to her. “Calicoco,” I would call out in a high-pitched voice, “We are your forever home!” Then I would put out food and water for her, each day getting a little closer although she required an eight-foot perimeter with humans.

After a big storm the other day, when we found Calicoco outside our bedroom window cowering, Ken and I decided today we would set up the live trap, then take this supposedly sweet and pitiful kitty to the vet to get her shots and make sure she was healthy before making her our new cat. A few hours later, I set out the trap on our driveway, sat on the screened-in porch, watched and waited. Calicoco circled it continuously but she seemed too smart to actually get inside the cage with the food, surely knowing it would trap her. After a few hours, I had to leave, so I told Forest to check on her.

Of course, she got caught in the trap 10 minutes after I left, and Forest reported she immediately started ramming her pretty face against the cage to the point that she was bleeding. I told him to put the cage in the bathroom, and let her out, then close the door until she could chill. The plan was then for him to wrap her in a towel, put her in the cat carrier, and meet me at the vet.

Sitting at the Wa with Kelley while finishing our bento boxes, Forest called, and we both listened to him trying to catch her. It sounded like a Roadrunner cartoon without the beeping: lots of crashes and bangs. He took a breather, tried again, and the sounds we heard were even more outrageous (think mega squirrel on steroids). So I drove back home to help catch the kitty myself, figuring that if my over-6-foot-tall, strong, young son couldn’t get her into the carrier, surely it would be a piece of cake for me.

When I locked myself in the bathroom with sweet Calicoco, I experienced the most wild animal encounter of my life up close and personal. This cat doesn’t just jump — she flies! She could leap from the top of the bath curtain rod to the molding over the door, front paws extended, in a flash, then boomarang window to floor to sink to bathtub in about two seconds. Trying to throw a towel over a feral cat is also a very bad idea indeed, and it results in a barrage of crashing and breaking glass. Within a minute, the floor was covered with blue and pink glass, cat food, blood, and fur.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Forest and I talked earnestly about letting her back out into the wild, but with cuts on her face that could get infected, we decided to try to get her to the vet instead first. So I opened the door to the bedroom, where Forest, a box, and several towels waited, and we backed up to watch the fireworks. She repeatedly body-slammed herself into every window, trying to break out, and she might have succeeded. But then she leapt down between the bed and the wall, just her adorable feet sticking up, and this was when I did something brave and idiotic: I grabbed her feet, praying she didn’t swing around and kill me, and flung her into a towel and box. Forest and I threw ourselves on top of the box, taping the hell out of it, then carefully carried that box to the car.

Now the ethical (and financial) quandary deepened. If we took her to the vet and spent big $ to sedate and treat her, it would just be to let her out in the wild again. Then again, it was our fault she was injured. Ken and Daniel were concerned about her effect on the bird population, and given that this cat flies, so was I. If we took her to the humane society, we feared they would kill her. For the next hour, Forest and I drove around with a feral cat in a box, calling various friends, talking with Ken repeatedly, then puzzling it out with each other.

In the end, we drove to the humane society to see if they would truly send her to the wild cat rainbow bridge, and it turned out they turn wild critters like her into barn cats by way of shots, neutering, and flea treatment. We spent a lot of time talking with staff there about when and if they would kill her — they might if she’s not adopted, and it’s apparent she’s suffering too much. “It’s torture for a feral cat to be in a kennel,” one of the very wise women who worked there told us. “We have to think about what’s best for the cat, not what we want.”

Forest and I wanted Calicoco to live, but we also realized she couldn’t live with us. Turns out Denise and Courtney, who brought us an abandoned kitty years ago (Sidney Iowa Goldberg, found in a parking lot on their home from where they married in Iowa), need a barn cat. So we’re working with them to give Calicoco a real forever home, one with a heap of goats, some big-ass pigs, and humans who will know enough not to put a feral cat in the bathroom. In the meantime, I look at the top of the kayaks, so lonely now without a beautiful and fierce flying ninja cat sunning herself on top of them.

Following the Curve – a New Book of Poems About an Old Tradition: Everyday Magic, Day 901

Where have I been? My writing energy is pouring into several book projects at once, all in the works for many years but coming to fruition this year. One of those projects is Following the Curve, a collection of yoga books coming out from Spartan Press late this summer. I’m especially happy to share this gorgeous painting by Rodney Troth, a spectacular artist in our midst who is letting me use this art for the cover of Following the Curve.

 Yoga, one of the oldest maps for being a body, says so much about cultivating a life of daring vitality and compassionate alignment. I’ve been practicing yoga as well as poems about yoga for a while, and I wanted to give you a sneak peak of one of the poems, “Devotion,” which is one of the Niyamas (along with self-study, discipline, contentment, and purification) for how to live.

Devotion (Ishvara-Pranidhara)

 

Surrender to the sleep that takes this body

down the tracks, a slim wave zigzagged

through milo fields and Osage orange overgrowth,

but who’s to say what’s in or out anymore?

 

When the motion stops, climb out of the train

that isn’t a train toward a cabin:

bunk beds with the still-damp swimsuits

hanging off the bed frame.

Too many people here, all sleeping but you

while squirrels race the rafters.

 

Then a test you’re not prepared for,

multiple choice questions in dead languages

that don’t even translate into writing.

 

You go outside, pick up a stick, and try

to make a circle on the bare ground

but it’s too dry. Then you realize

you’ve always been lost.

 

Sit cross-legged, your bare shoulders cold,

and try to remember all the Great Lakes:

Erie. Superior, Ottawa. Michigan. One more

but before you ask someone, you’re back on board,

your feet dangling out the open door

as the train picks up speed.

 

Moon spins into view between blurs of trees,

the descent into the cooling valley of night,

humming, Hallelujah to the dark. Hallelujah to the waking

that will land you into one time and place,

where you have one task always: devotion.

Please Help Me Find Cover Art For Miriam’s Well, My New Novel: Everyday Magic, Day 900

I’m looking for art for the cover of my novel Miriam’s Well, coming out from Ice Cube Press when the clock strikes 2018. This 12-year-in-the-making novel is about biblical Miriam and her brothers Aaron and Moses, but it’s set in the U.S. and has Miriam wandering the spiritual, political, and cultural desert and lushness of this country for 40 years, starting her wandering in People’s Park in 1969. I describe the book as somewhat like Forrest-Gump-Meets-The-Red-Tent. I’m looking for original art to use that resonates with Miriam, her well (way of feeding people and keeping up their spirits during the long haul), wandering, seeking home, the kaleidoscope of family and life, or any related theme. Little caveat: ain’t nobody getting any advance on this book, so I don’t have a budget for art, but I can pay the artist with extensive gratitude, a big pile of books, his/her/their profile at the end of the book, and other ways to share more about this wondrous artist. Thank you for your help! Below is a longer synopsis of the novel. If you know of any art – photography, painting, pastels, sculpture, quilting, etc. — that might fit, please email me at carynmirriamgoldberg@gmail.com. Thanks for reading this far and considering what images would do the trick!

Miriam’s Well Synopsis

From a young age Miriam sees visions she can’t cope with or stop. Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn with Aaron, her boy genius brother, her black father and white mother, she finds her place in the world best through singing and feeding people, much like her biblical namesake. That sense of belonging is shattered when, as a teenager, her worst nightmares come true. After her high-strung mother gives birth to a third child, Moses, who is more Miriam’s than her mother’s, the family moves to Israel. Caught in a freak accident during the Six-Day War, Miriam’s father is killed, her mother disengages from the family, and Kansas relatives take Moses away from her. Shattered and lost, Miriam and Aaron return to their old house in Brooklyn, now owned by their aunt and uncle, to piece together their future. Miriam embarks upon an opposite journey than her career-driven brother Aaron as she takes to the open road.

For the next 40 years, Miriam wanders, yearning for home and meaning while dwelling in the edges of America. She feeds a giant house full of hippies in Berkeley, attends women’s Black Panther meetings in Oakland, and sneaks into Wounded Knee during the 1973 occupation to cook for everyone. She sings to people at soup kitchens in Denver, homeless shelters in New York City, and a San Francisco hospice during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. She even bakes the Cuban bread the leaders of Key West throw at U.S. government officials when the city tries to secede from America in 1982.

Many of the places Miriam lives, first on her own, and later with her half-Lakota, half-Italian husband Joseph, and their daughter Laura, are geographically, politically or spiritually on the edge of America, from Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine to the beaches of Key West to an extreme west Texas small town. She tries to salvage a relationship at an Idaho back-to-the-land commune, leads women’s rituals at a feminist potato farm (Mrs. Potato Head) in Utah, and runs a cafe at an Alabama ecovillage. Working with the homeless or the hungry, at-risk L.A. Teenagers or overlooked New York City elders, Miriam reaches beyond the edges of her upbringing.

Miriam is continually plagued by her visions and driven by an unquenchable desire to save people while puzzling over what do with her own family. She helps a man search hospitals for his wife after the Oklahoma City bombing, rescues a a teen who overdosed during the Whittier-Narrows earthquake, runs toward the World Trade Center during 9/11, and feeds hundreds after Hurricane Katrina–all to the fury and fear of her family. Her many visits with Moses in western Kansas teach her that she can’t rescue her autistic brother from his quiet life among evangelical Christians, but she can dwell with him there. She can’t live the life her brother Aaron wants for her, but over decades, she helps him recover his own visions. She can’t stop missing her father, but over time that deep yearning changes from overwhelming roar to dull ache. After decades of avoiding, blaming, and distancing from her mother, Miriam discovers Batty isn’t who Miriam thought she was, and her family is intact in a mosaic she never could have imaged.

Much to her own surprise, Miriam finds home in a kaleidoscope of family and friends, healing in the middle of cancer, and peace in the thin places between the world lost and the new land on the other side of her wandering.

“What It Takes”: 63rd Anniversary of Brown Vs. Board of Education: Everyday Magic, Day 899

This weekend, I had the honor of being part of the Voices of Freedom Festival, celebrating the Brown vs. Board of Education supreme court decision that ended “separate but equal” policies in public schools and beyond. It was a joy to hear the music of Kelley Hunt, Isaac Cates and the Ordained, Maria the Mexican, and Injunuity, and to read with fellow poets David Baumgardner, Tava Miller, and Ashanti Spears. Here’s the poem I wrote for the occasion, held in downtown Topeka, Kansas.

What It Takes

It takes years of waiting on polished wooden benches

outside trembling courtrooms. Thousands of meetings

in church basements or someone’s living room,

sipping lukewarm coffee on folding chairs.

Centuries of nights up late worrying, or puzzling out

how to change what’s unjust and breaking us all,

then early mornings to make the oatmeal, pour the

orange juice, and remind the children to take their homework.

It takes 16 blocks to get to the black school instead of

the white one on the corner, and hundreds of new signs

for another march, hours on the phone, and dressing up

to meet with the senator who sends his aide instead

and says, don’t push, change takes time

as if that’s not obvious as daylight after decades

of waiting in chains, standing in the back of the bus

and swimming in the smaller mildewed pool

surrounded by weeds and broken beer bottles.

It takes gumption and guts, grief churned into anger

that makes a tired man head to the newspaper office

to tell a reporter, it’s past time for justice, and just in time

to turn supposed equality into walkaday freedom.

It takes all those lawsuits before judges blinded by habit

and their own inadequate stories, and all those potlucks

to break bread with people who don’t look like you,

and tell them what it’s like for mothers to count the minutes

between the school bell and the front door,

and fathers whose hearts fall when hear

their beautiful daughters say, it’s nothing, I’m okay,

when she’s not okay. It takes piles of briefs that sway

the sidewalk leading up to the school where

a little girl walks, hand in hand in a federal agent,

ready to cross the threshold into the world we should have

inhabited all along, each step a way to sing, “Stand Up.”

Even then, it’s not over, and it’ll take all this and more

to make it safe to drive, or cross the street, or ask

for help without the risk of seeing eye bullets and

all the secret lashes that separate us into a lesser people.

It takes the patience of water to turn mountains into rivers,

then find the courage to sing while the healing waters flow.

Mothering Hacks Picked Up Along the Way: Everyday Magic, Day 898

First day home from the hospital

We were exhausted and exuberant when we brought Daniel home from the hospital intensive care following some complications in his birthing center debut. We were also wildly ignorant, especially about what we were wildly ignorant about from the complex and profound, to the ordinary and necessary. So when Joy dropped within hours of us landing at home, just in time to change his diaper, I paid close attention.

We had cloth diapers, what we carefully researched and planned, but for the last week, it was disposable ones. Now it was time. “Let me,” she said, and I studied her every move in folding the diaper and how she inserted the safety pins to avoid sticking herself or him. As soon as she left, I called out to Ken, “I just figured out how to diaper the baby!” He rushed over, “Show me before you forget,” neither one of us having had a clue before she arrived.

This is just the first of thousands of mothering hacks I picked up along the way, which was important because my usual ways of learning things by reading books didn’t work out so well when Daniel was born. My experience of being a mother who suddenly found her baby encased in a plexiglass neo-natal unit box with all manner of tubes coming out of him just didn’t match the pile of books I had read to prepare myself. Then this first child, as he grew into a speeding and singing toddler, continued to defy convention, so much so that I actually ripped up a mothering book into tiny shreds one day out of exasperation.

Instead of books and the conventional wisdom of the day, I found my answers through family and friends to questions such as:

  • “Will he ever sleep through the night?” Answer: “Eventually.”
  • “How do I sleep through the night and still nurse on demand?” Answer: “Put that baby beside you, plug him in when he wakes up, then go back to sleep.”
  • “When should I feed him solid food?” Answer: “When he grabs it off your plate.”
  • “Which daycare, school, and which teacher?” Answer: “This one, and that one.”
  • “Is this when I call the doctor?” Answer: “Not yet,” or “Yes!”
  • “Should I let her join a soccer team just because she wants the trophy?” Answer: “It can’t hurt, and she’ll get good exercise along the way and learn more about teamwork.”
  • “What is this rash?” Multiple answers involving roseola, heat rash, poison ivy, and reaction to insect bites.
  • “How can I make him be a better student?” Answer: “You have no control over what kind of student he’ll be.”
  • “What if she doesn’t want to wear clothes right now?” Answer: “As long as you’re not leaving the house, pick your battles.”
  • “Is it okay to have ice cream for dinner when it’s 100 degrees?” “That’s what I’m doing tonight.”
  • “Am I doing too much or being too controlling?” Answer: “If you have to ask, probably.”
  • “Am I screwing this whole mothering thing up?” Answer: “We all feel that way. You’re doing fine.”
  • “How will we ever get through _____ (fill in the blank)”? “This too shall pass.”
  • Most of all, “Is this normal?” Answer: “Yes,” or “Who the fuck cares!”

Since our oldest son was born close to 28 years ago, I’ve hit the wall on this mothering thing more times than Trump has tweeted. But I’ve had great role models to help me find the path through the bramble, hand me clippers to clear some of the bramble away, or console me on how it’s normal to be very lost on no notice so often. From my own mother, I learned the value of perspective and humor through hundreds of conversations when she burst out laughing, reminding me that kids doing this or that was completely part of the deal, and in time, things shift. From my mother-in-law, I’ve witnessed the power of unconditional love, a good rocking chair, and Shirley Temple videos.

Dixie taught me I could get Forest to sleep by counting backgrounds from 1,000 each night, naming each 10 numbers for one animal (999 sheep, 998 sheep….). Weedle showed me the importance of game nights, and especially the games “Taboo” and “Apples to Apples.” Kat and Nancy exemplified how sharing stories of your wild young adulthood could make your kids rebel by being less dare-devily in the all the worst ways. Kelley told me stories of how her mother gave her freedom to create. Kris reminded me on many a brunch at the Roost how the human brain isn’t fully developed until the kid is at least 25, and when I called her freaking out about my worries about my something my kids did, she shrugged and reminded me how we did crazier shit. Judy listened deeply however long it took. My sister-in-law Karen continually modeled deep generosity and engagement, especially when the child in question feels isolated or confused. My sister Lauren reminded me of the importance of making everyone feel welcome. Victoria laughed with me at the outrageous corners, and helps me tilt whatever worries I have toward greater light. Suzanne demonstrated how essential both adventure and gardening are in a life. There are surely dozens others I could name, but all these women have given me another line or page in the book I’m living on how to be a mother.

So on this Mother’s Day, I’m indebted to all this lantern holders along many a dark path full of ticks, projectile vomiting at 2 a.m., chiggers, overdue library books, sudden immersions into diseases I never knew more than the names of before, listening to the cassette tapes of The Wizard of Oz on many a road trip, late-night trips to the drug store, and a thousand drawings from adoring children who also gift-wrapped forks to show their love. Thank you, and may all of us find such help when we most need it no matter what or who we’re mothering or being mothered by in our lives.

When Self-Care Isn’t Enough: Everyday Magic, Day 897

I used to beat myself up for bad self-care. After all, it’s the common and actually excellent wisdom of the day that most of us need to practice better and more consistent ways of taking care of our precious selves, particularly in a world lit up with hand-held and hands-on screens, bringing us new things to do 24/7. But there’s far more to what ails us than just our inability at times to eat, sleep, work, exercise, socialize, and meditate right, and sometimes the popular push for self-care, all good-intentioned, can leave those of us who have chronic issues feeling like we failed once again.

Case in point: I’m sick now, nothing very serious, and after struggling against a virus or something like it for six weeks. I had to leave a yoga class yesterday, a restorative yoga class at that, because I realized in no uncertain terms it was time to get treatment and get horizontal. Like none of us, I can’t say my life is always (or often) stress-free, I do sleep 8-9 hours each night, eat healthy and often organic food, get together for loving lunches with friends, enjoy a replenishing and humorous marriage, work in the sunshined garden regularly, entertain myself with meaningful work, do yoga and take long walks, and watch my share of stupid-funny movies. We even have a new air-purifier and ionizer in our home. I’m also working with a great integrative physician on improving my health, and at times, making strides. (Note: please, no further advice at this point.)

But there’s far more to being healthy than is in our control. There’s hereditary, environmental, karmic, and everyday tendencies and exposures beyond our control. I think of the husbands of two of my closest friends: one of them is undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for a bone marrow transplant to treat late-stage lymphona. The other just had an emergency heart aneurysm surgery to repair what would have ended his life. They’re both guys who take care of themselves and practice, in many ways, what many of us would define as good self-care. I think the Turning Point writing workshops I facilitate for people living with serious illness: altogether, participants are a delightful and vivid crew who face late-stage cancer, M.S., Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes, or other illness. One of them worked as a personal trainer for years until cancer changed her life. Another leads a model lifestyle for health and well-being, but being exposed to Agent Orange while serving as a nurse in Vietnam gave her Parkinson’s disease. Some, despite the eternal presence of M & Ms in our sessions, eat whole grains and 5-7 servings of vegetables each day. Yet here they are.

I believe so much in finding our own best self-care, and constantly dialoguing with these vibrant and aching bodies of ours to discover what, in this moment, is the best way to go forth: weed a garden or watch a movie, take a nap or whip up a giant salad, call a friend or read a novel. I’m glad that among my friends and in many of the articles I read, the term “self-care” frequently makes an appearance as we grapple with how to incorporate this more deeply into the core of our lives.

What I’m trying to release, however, is the damaging message sometimes buried in how we talk about self-care that getting sick or diagnosed with something serious indicates our lack of effort or discipline. Sure, I have lots of empirical evidence that eating too many desserts is detrimental to my health, but I’ve seen plenty of people with pristine diets go through chemotherapy or radiation because cancer showed up anyway.

It’s not just the messages we might give ourselves (Caryn to self: I’m sick again; self to Caryn: What did you do wrong now?). It’s occasionally the subtle or not-so-subtle messages we convey to each other. Yes, there are very effective supplements to bolster our immune systems, anti-inflammatory ways of eating, and exercise protocols to strengthen our muscles and our spirits, but they’re not always enough. Let alone the cliche and truth that life is a terminal illness, we each have our own Achilles heels, and mysterious lesson plans to be revealed as we live them.

So when the chips are down, the body too, there’s a whole other aspect of self-care to embrace: compassion toward ourselves, and tenderness toward this life that stops us in our tracks at moments, reminding us that while there’s a lot we can do for ourselves and others, we’re not in ultimate control.