Tag Archives: Kansas

In the Center of Everything: Everyday Magic: Day 490

I write this post from the center of Kansas in Wilson, which is close to the center of the continental United States. I sit in the center of a handsome leather chair while watching Oliva Newton John shock John Travolta by showing up at the fair in black leather. A yippy yappy dog barks outside, and I wonder if I’m going to hate that dog by morning. Everything is happening at the center of everything which, depending on what edges you’re measuring from, could be anywhere. By this same logic, the center could easily be the edge also, which is also true.

This week has crazy quilt of centers and edges. Driving through the Flint Hills this morning, I was so exhilarated with the beauty of the bright blue sky against the rise and fall of hills that I had to wonder what was wrong with me, given that Lou died two days ago. Since then, I’ve been crying on and off, unable to concentrate, and feeling that crazy ache that comes from grief. Nothing made sense, and everything seemed inexorably scattered and tangled. Until it wasn’t.

The other day at Z’s, Stan gave me a hug and told me that when loss happens, everything is more vivid, and you can see and feel into the center of each moment. It’s true, but of course, having grieved, we now know the pathway to that rich, tender, heart-breaking and alive moment available when we’re in the center of joy or at the edges of despair. I will try to remind myself of this when, about 3 a.m. or so, I wake cursing the barking dog, and especially tomorrow night when I gather with others at the center of our community to say Kaddish for Lou.

Weather Guilt & The Weather To Come: Everyday Magic, Day 380

I’m in a dorm room in Vermont with the windows open. It’s 62 degrees. Fellow Kansans as well as inhabitants of Death Valley (although Kansas is way hotter these days), please don’t hate me. I was once, just a short time ago, one of you, sprawled out on my bed under a ceiling fan and dreaming of ice, snow, even hail.

My head + my freezer = nice

In fact, last week, before I left, I actually took photos of how I was dealing with the 100 degree days, everyday, forever and ever. I found I could survive the how-can-I-get-through-the-massive-dog-days-of-this-summer summer by simple things, like holding a handful of ice, or flinging myself on the floor in a dark room. I also experimented with sticking my head in the freezer, which helped immensely until my brain froze over.

From where I sit now, I remind myself — and maybe you too — that cool heads and days will prevail. I’m previewing Kansas weather from late September or so, and I’ve got to say that we will love it, especially after a day like this one when the temperature tipped well over 110. Imagine needing a sweater. Imagine a chill in the air. Imagine relief and ease, change and wind, and all else that will come. In the meantime, I’m wishing all my friends at home enough ice, floor space and strong a.c. as well as that cold front that’s expected to exceed all expectation.

20 Things To Do When It’s Above 100 Degrees: Everyday Magic, Day 364

In Kansas in the summer, we’ve become experts on this! Here’s some ideas:

  1. Sit in a comfortable chair, slumped down for extra comfort, in front of an air-conditioner with an overhead fan on, and read some trashy magazines.
  2. Go to a movie. Any movie. As long as it’s funny. Even if it’s stupid.
  3. Eat ice cream for dinner and fruit for dessert.
  4. Drink iced tea, water, coffee, juice…..a lot of it.
  5. Go swimming, but only in the morning before the water is the same temperature as a bathtub.
  6. Take a lovely walk wearing as little as publicly acceptable at about 10 p.m. when the temperature drops to 90.
  7. Wander through big box stores with iced beverage in hand. Don’t buy anything but allow yourself to stare at massive screens full of moving images.
  8. Go to a bookstore. Stay there for a long time (as long as it’s air-conditioned).
  9. Go back to sleep and wake up when it’s cooler….in September sometime.
  10. Go the basement and sort nuts and bolts.
  11. Get a watermelon, chill it, and then eat it as your main meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  12. Forget about dishes, laundry and anything else that requires heat.
  13. Take a lukewarm bath or shower several times each day.
  14. Sit in the path of a big fan and plan your next vacation to the Arctic.
  15. Look over old pictures from when there was four feet of snow hiding your car. Remember what a difference a season makes.
  16. Do what the animals do: lie on the cool floor, stretched out, sleeping for hours.
  17. Call a friend in Houston or Tucson for perspective. Call a friend in Vermont or the Yukon to make fun of their 70 or 80-degree “heat wave.”
  18. Don’t use the stove when it’s over 90 degrees, the burners when it’s over 100. Tell the kids that frozen peas taste good (frozen grapes especially good).
  19. Don’t make any major decisions, especially about where to move, until October.
  20. Get in the car, turn the a.c. and radio way up, and drive somewhere…..like maybe Colorado to about 13,000 feet where you’ll need a winter coat.

So Friggin’ Hot: Everyday Magic, Days 342-343

Ice water? Check. Sitting in front of air-conditioning with ceiling fan on high? Check, check. Bag of cold cherries? Happy check. Wearing as little as possible without embarrassing myself in public? Of course. One thing I’ve learned in my 32 Midwestern summers is how to get through summer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain up one side of a hot wall and down another. Summers in Kansas are hot, and this summer, the heat is blasting in a few weeks earlier than usual, making me yearn for Thursday’s forecast (high of 88!). Of course, the closer it gets to 100, the lower the humidity usually gets too.

Complicating or aiding — hard to tell yet — my first intense encounter with the heat is also my first intense encounter with fly-by-night poison ivy and chiggers. Gentle readers who don’t know what the chigger is, I won’t destroy your innocence, but suffice to say that black flies, no-see-ums and mosquitoes have nothing on the chigger. In a sense, being in Kansas is like living with the Fire Swamps of The Princess Bride but instead of ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size), quicksand and exploding fires, there’s chiggers, ticks and HOUP (Heat of Unusual Persistence). Walking out into the grass is a dangerous journey that will likely leave its mark on you for days to come.

Having been so marked, I’m now on steroids, which makes me both want to nap and run fast simultaneously, and buzzes my body in perfect tempo with the roaring cicadas (aren’t they early too?). The hotter it gets, the louder it gets: a.c., cicadas, movies we must watch to distract ourselves, and bags of ice we must hit with a hammer to break up. So I sit in the roaring echo of air and insect, my fingers wanting to type twice as fast as usual and my mind craving only cool water, and remind myself that sometime soon — maybe 4 a.m. — it will drop down to the 70s, and if I wake (likely, given the drugs I’m on), I will step outside and breathe in the moment of non-sauna living, then go back to sleep, dreaming of winter and preparing myself for the long stretch of summer.

Dreaming of Tornadoes: Everyday Magic, Day 250

Last night, I saw a dozen ropey tornadoes merge and form an enormous tornado. I wasn’t afraid, just interested, as I am most times I dream of tornadoes or, for that matter, see them when awake too. Of course, having never seen anything larger than an F2 tornado (which is large enough to peel roofs off but generally not powerful enough to fling cars around or insert blades of grass into telephone poles), my lack of fear is based on inexperience.

I lived in Kansas for more than a decade before I began dreaming of tornadoes, something I aspired to like learning to fly in my dreams (which I didn’t figure out until my 30s). Most native Kansans around me had been dreaming of tornadoes all their lives. It’s a given among most people I know: sometimes we dream of tornadoes just as pregnant women often dream of giving birth. But dreams bend the edges of what we think is possible. Ken has dreamt of tornadoes made of flowers. I dreamt of giving birth to kittens, linked together like a line of sausages.

Dreams also don’t correspond with the events of the day. Despite the sudden snowstorm (again? sheesh!) yesterday after the surprising defeat of the Jayhawks, coinciding with the end of spring break, my little sadness didn’t follow me into sleep but instead fell away so I could watch the sky do astonishing things. When I woke to see the snow coat on all the branches thinning and falling off slowly, the bright clouds of the day and the very tornado-less sky all around, I shook off the tornadoes and made some coffee. Spring is coming, and anything can happen.

For the most incredible photographs and videos of tornadoes, see Stephen Locke’s gallery.

What I Love the Obvious Made Visible In Paul Hotvedt’s Paintings: Everyday Magic, Day 95

“Treat the world as if it really exists,” writes William Stafford, and there’s nothing like looking at Paul Hotvedt paintings to see the truth and value of this statement.

For years, I’ve been enchanted with the paintings of Paul Hotvedt, a Lawrence land and sky painter who truly makes the obvious more visible without romanticizing, understating or overstating the beauty in front of us all the time. Paul’s work, such as these photos from his summer batch of paintings, show what’s right here in such a way that after looking at his work, I can look at the bushy cedar or the trembling leaves on the ash tree or the scraggly grass lining the woods in a new way: as if it really exists.

The combination of soft edges and just a tease of abstraction with the realistic light of his work helps me understand the colors and textures around me. Why is that important? Because such seeing helps me and probably many of us better connect with the true reality of the earth and sky instead of our ideas about the, and consequently, the bigger world our little lives and even little littler minds float through.

Here is the world. Let’s love it as it is, and that means, really opening our eyes and lives to what is vibrant and shimmering, aging and decaying all at once. Thank you so much, Paul!

The Dishes After the Fireworks: July Write From Your Life

Listen to a podcast of this column and of June’s Write from Your Life!

There’s the nights of fireworks, and the days of dishes, or to paraphrase Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. Yet we can find peace, insight and even joy sometimes in the mundane and ordinary, the expected tasks that compose our lives, particularly when we open our eyes to the unexpected, which is always and near.

This month’s featured poet Kevin Rabas is a Kansas writer who co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State University, co-edits Flint Hills Review, and has two books of poetry out —

Bird’s Horn and Other Poems (Coal City Review Press) and Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano (Woodley Press). He is a winner of the Langston Hughes award for poetry. Kevin’s poetry, while very musical — and that’s no surprise considering Kevin is both a musican and a jazz poet who often does readings with jazz musicians in the tradition of Langston Hughes, another Kansas writer, and Charles Mingus — he can write in ways that hold up the obvious and shake the magic out from it for us to see.

In Kevin’s poem, “Clothes Left in the Washer,” you can hear the rhythm of the repetition as well as see images that convey longing, passion and a little bird of mystery too:

Clothes Left in Washer

I’d go at once to meet you,

only I’d check

my eyes in the mirror

to make certain they pierced,

to make certain they could go absolutely cool—

as smoke, as brushes on drum head,

as breathy ballad,

or in the way John Coltrane

played the tune Naima

for her for the last time.

Red dress,

frog-buttoned in back,

geisha dress

that stopped your rival’s wedding,

dress that kept you

from being invited to mine;

red dress,

I forgive, I invite you.

Parade on in.

Hold every curve

as a hand would.

Palm and lift up.

As you pass, know I will remember

that last hot bath you ran me,

when I returned

through the thunderstorm

for the clothes we left

in your apartment’s quarter washer,

that afternoon when you told me:

You can stay. We can love.

— Kevin Rabas

For this month’s Write from Your Life, use Kevin’s poem as a guide to how the ordinary holds within its grasp the extraordinary. Write about something very regular that happens in your home, such as clothes left in a washer, dishes in the sink, a porch needing to be swept, or a garden wanting weeding. Or try another angle by writing from the point-of-view of a piece of clothing and letting its story come through.

Listen to some of Kevin’s poetry to music and consider buying his CD here.

Listen to a podcast of this column and of June’s Write from Your Life!