Sunday, July 17, 2011

If You Can't Spare the Day, Carpe the Moment

You can Google anything, really you can. I am not the first person to ask what “seize the moment” is in Latin. Here’s what I found out. Actually carpe diem means (figuratively) to seize the moment. So while you could say “Carpe temporis punctum,” it wouldn’t really mean anything different from carpe diem. My point, though, is sometimes we don’t get a literal day, but a day is made of moments. Every moment has the opportunity to be seen as gain of some sort; even if it is just another f***ing growth opportunity.

You can’t plan them, but there are those moments when we experience physical happiness despite ourselves, before our mind reminds us of the reasons we shouldn’t. A slight breeze, a little bird music, beautiful clouds, the sun as it hits the tops of the trees early in the morning, a perfect gardenia caught before the edges turn brown in the heat, helping a friend move into a new home and a new place in her journey... Your senses say something before your good sense says something different; before you remember all the stuff you have been worrying about, or all the anger or disappointment or fear you are clinging to for dear life. If only we could be creatures of the body more often. Cheryl Crow sings a song with this line in the refrain, "If we could only get out of heads and into our hearts...lay down your fears, swallow your tears and look to your heart." Amen and amen. And that is church for today.

I am heading to Seattle this week, and not a nano second too soon. In fact, I would happily have been AWOL for the two 100+ degree days with humidity this past week. The dog days of summer. Don’t know where the term came from, but I like them about as much as I like dogs, so it fits for me. But then came Friday. We in Raleigh awoke to cool, low-dewpoint, invigoratingly fresh air. It is a gift from the universe. (If you slept in you missed it; it was brief.) I ride my scooter to work. I pass the cemetery and want to play hooky from work and walk among the gravestones. I cross the railroad tracks and yearn to go on a road trip. I pass a restaurant that has its woodgrill fired up and my mouth waters for delicious food. I get to the church and want to keep on riding. All my senses are on full alert. It is a moment of gratitude. “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”  (Robert Brault)

I got a pedicure yesterday, only the second one I have ever had. Why is that? Because it costs $27? Can you put a price on allowing yourself to be pampered for an hour? To have your feet and legs and toes massaged. To close your eyes and let go of guilt over the decadence? I didn't take a book, I don't pick up a magazine, I don't worry about all that feels wrong about asking the Vietnamese refugee sitting at my feet to clean my garden-dirty toenails (I tip her well and let her know several times how good it feels and hope that my gratitude for her gift is enough). I just enjoy the moment. And now I look at my beautiful orange toes and smile, and recall the attention Christine gave to me.

In the garden the drought resistant plants are becoming apparent. Surprisingly nothing that I haven't already enjoyed (like the hydrangeas) looks too bad. I do throw water on the garden from time-to-time, and it seems to be enough to tide things over until the rare rains come. But the roses are blooming again; the black-eyed Susans are a wonderful sunny spot along the chain link fence; I love the pink and white Rose of Sharon trees that I look down on from my upstairs window each morning and that hang over the side garden. The zinnias and vinca are colorful and bright. The grape tomatoes hang heavy on the vines. (The basil is not doing well; I have given up on the balloon flower; several ferns have retreated into the ground. Failure to seize the moment.) The birds explore their universe while I sit close by on my wonderful new patio. I watch the cock-headed Carolina wrens look for bugs in the grass, the titmouse with its headdress tuft bobs at the suet, the robins worm-hunt, the mourning dove drinks from the birdbath, and the sleek catbird mocks my black and white cat that lies at my feet watching.

I discover moments of wonder with my camera in the early morning, getting up close and personal with the flowers in the garden. Have you ever seen a popart lantana bloom before its parts open up into flowrets? Did you ever notice the center of a red vinca is brilliant magenta? Did you ever observe a bee with its body ecstatically buried in the center of a flower? "If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for a moment." (Georgia O’Keeffe) I have been seizing moments.

At the cafe I sprinkle the raw sugar from my scone wrapper onto the ground. The sparrows check it out, but they really aren't interested in unhealthy eating. The tiny ants, on the other hand, have found the treasure before I leave. They scurry to and fro, passing each other on the ant super highway, carrying their crystal bounty that glints in the sun like the gems that they are.

Last weekend, at Max's mountainside home with big sky, I point out a cloud formation to him. I don't know if he has ever looked for shapes in the clouds, and I think for a moment he doesn't get it. But then he lets go of his disbelief and his knowledge of the world and belly laughs when he sees the woman with big hair about to eat a bit of cloud. The rest of the day he points out shapes to me. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "People see only what they are prepared to see." Max prepared himself to see animals and ice cream in the sky, and there they are.

I am remembering rainbows. Rainbows, along with spectacular moons like the one this week, are a phenomenon that screams to me to stop and look. To take a moment. They are frequent sky treats in the Pacific Northwest and I have always missed them here. But I remember several years ago seeing one as I drove through Cameron Village. I pulled into a parking space and leaned against the hood of my car and watched it arching over the Fresh Market until it faded to nothingness. All around me people were scurrying from their cars with their eyes on the prize, the front door of the grocery store. Or on the ground, as if looking for a face-up penny to bring them luck. "Look up, look up!" I wanted to shout. "You are missing the prize!" But they only saw what they expected to see, and that did not include rainbows. Sad.

I go to a new yoga class this week. The thing about going to a class with an unfamiliar teacher is you do different poses. This class is really gentle; sometimes Julie's are not, but I like them. But in this class we hold one of my not favorite poses for "a full minute." It's called dandasana, and you sit straight up, palms on the floor, legs extended in a "v." Sounds easy. Not. Not if you have tight hamstrings, as I do. It's torture. And she tells us we will be there a full minute. Are you kidding me? At fifty seconds, just when I think I will surely die, something happens. The tension in my legs lets go and first the back of one knee and then the other touches the mat. The pain just let go and gave in to the moment. Just. Gave. In.

Readers often comment on the pictures in my blog, asking what kind of camera I have (it's a point and shoot Nikon Cool Pix, and a Mac that edits well). Yes, it's a good little camera, but not professional quality. And I do just point and shoot, changing only from regular setting to micro and back. I know nothing about photography; but I see. "Being creative is largely about seeing more. We ALL have an artist's eye, we just need to use it more." (Patti Digh) I truly believe that. Open your eyes and seize the moment. Every one of us can.

I was going to also write today about what, to me, is the antithesis of seizing the moment, and that is wasting moments worrying. I read a line in a novel this week that caught my attention: that for some people worry is a hobby, without much more to say for itself. But I had too many "moments" to share this week, so perhaps I will worry another time. On vacation next week! Maybe blog. Maybe not.

In the meantime, "Please lick the art. Live like your hair's on fire!" (Patti Digh) Live your moments. Even a shitty day is full of them!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ringing In Justice

Well, I've got a hammer...
The anniversary of the
revolution is here,

the revolution that took this
land from the British
who didn’t really want it.
(And to whom it
didn't really belong.)
Or was it from the tribes,
who did?
We didn’t so much fight
the Indians for it
as slaughter them
and steal it.
We need a National Apology Day.
I guess they played their
part in the gruesome mess too,
But really?

...and I've got a bell...

What is this celebration about?
Who had the most
Who shed the most blood?
Every year we re-enact it
with noisy bursts of color
exploding in the sky.
Who has the most
rocket power?

...and I've got a song to sing...

In the garden
in the cool
air of early morning––
before the heat
pulls up its moist blanket
and the smoke from the
wildfires at the coast
floats silently
into the atmosphere
100 miles from the burn––
the real fireworks
are erupting.

Purple pink white
crepe myrtle
explode in all directions,
the summer phlox spray their
purple from green stems,
the salvia flings
pink confetti into the air,
and the red-winged
firecracker cuphea
fly this way and that.

The dragonfly views
green on green on green euphorbia
like fireworks from a jetplane.
A stand of tiger lilies
yawn their petals into stars
then curl back on themselves
like the shape-shifting
that you can’t look away from
or you miss the beginning.

The petunias cast faces
upward like children
on blankets when
the spectacle begins.

...all over this land.

it’s a good thing.
It’s a good country.
It could be better.

It's the hammer of justice...

My coffee was 2 cents
cheaper today,
a drop in sales tax.
“A drop in the bucket,”
says the cashier at the cafe.
“What about my student
loans? They can
have the 2 cents.”
When will independence
come for her?'s the bell of freedom...

And what about those we
stepped on to
get here?
What about the
What about the
boatloads of Africans?

What about the ones
we keep stepping on?
The "alien" immigrants,
the women,
the sick,
the old,
the gays,
the poor?

When will independence
come for them?

When will there be
"and justice for all'?'s the song about love between 
my brothers and my sisters...

Keep Independence Day.
And add 
National Justice Day. 

...all over this land.

(If I Had a Hammer, lyrics by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, 1958. Playing at the cafe as I get my coffee. )