Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Progress!

Happy Monday, everybody! Two months ago (minus 5-6 days) our faithful waterbed sprung a nasty leak. We’ve been camping out in the house ever since. On Saturday, the construction crews finished their work. Getting the waterbed functioning and warm enough to sleep in was Number One on our to-do list the last few days.

The top photo shows our lovely kitty, Smudge, sitting in the middle of the waterbed’s bare bones. Below you can see the skeleton laid out for reassembly. The metal rails (above) are for under-the-bed drawers, two on each side. As shown here:

The central area beneath the mattress is open–though D later attached a sturdy cardboard door to the back entrance to foil you-know-who. But before he did that, the Inspector General had to check everything out!

Most exciting of all was a strange ‘hole’ in the wall (above). He stalked it like a pro and then went for the jugular! (Note his straight-back all-business tail.) Sadly, the mouse hole was just an electrical outlet set back a bit into the baseboards.

This morning D, with a bit of help from me, got the bed all put back together. The logo on the white mattress proclaims loudly, STAY PURE! Still scratching my head…..  In case you’re wondering, the two water bladders are zipped into this cushy white mattress. The green eye on the wall is our resident creature from outer space.

Here’s the bed all made up, minus our pillows. Right now the water is warming, and we should be in our own bed tonight. I turned on the overhead light for this one.

When we moved from Tennessee into this house in the early 1980s, we had no bed for several weeks. Instead, we camped out on the living room floor on the mattress we’d slept on for years (yes, on the floor) in South Carolina, California, and Tennessee. Our current house was built by a local carpenter for his family of 10 children. The huge attic (transformed a year ago) was for his boys. I think there were 5. And yes, there were several sisters, too.

At any rate, our first major furniture purchase when we moved to Pennsylvania was this waterbed. We’ve never regretted it.

Happy Monday, again, and peace, especially for everyone going through tough, sad, disorienting or lonely times.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 September 2019
Photos taken by me, with my iPad, 22 and 23 September 2019

A Bitterness | Mary Oliver

This poem by Mary Oliver hooked me a few months ago. I think it’s about her father. In Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary describes what she did in order to have a life of her own. This included taking a different route in life than her father took. In this poem, she describes his life as she understands it after his death.

A Bitterness

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.

© by Mary Oliver in 1992; published by Beacon Press in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, winner of The National Book Award; poem found on p. 43

I wonder what Mary Oliver’s father would say about this description. It strikes me as a perceptive and honest lament. This is the father she left in order to save her own one precious life. It’s also the bitter man who never found the comfort he craved.

In the last lines, Mary Oliver points to the strange disconnect between his ‘cold and dreamless’ world (in life and in death), and the beautifully wild yet peaceful flowers now covering the ground above his coffin. The contrast couldn’t be more painful.

As a young girl, Mary Oliver endured brutal mistreatment from her father. Her poem entitled “Rape” leaves no doubt. Nonetheless, Mary Oliver’s relationship with her father didn’t disappear. She comes back to it in several poems in this collection.

In this poem, she points to a sad irony about her father. Here he rests, “cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.” Clueless about what he missed in life and, even more painful, what he missed in his daughter’s life. All because of his undying bitterness.

The poem reminds me of my father, and the circumstances that shaped his outlook on life and on me. What poem might I write about my father? What might be his identifying characteristic? If not ‘bitterness,’ then what? And how does that affect me today?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 September 2019
Photo found at fineartamerica.com

What’s the hurry?

Why the rush?
Why so many accidents?
Why the impatience
To get somewhere —
Anywhere but here

On any day of the week
Another set of lives
Is lost to this world
Thanks to our addiction
To what? Waiting until
The last minute? Rushing
To make it through
The intersection before
What?

And then there’s that
Annoyingly impatient
Horn honking from behind
As if that would force me to
Collude with the driver’s
Deep need to hurry to
What? At what cost?

I look in the mirror
And see myself
Not in the driver’s seat
But in mundane events
Of my mundane life
Racing in spirit if not
In body to the next thing
Waiting in the shadows
Of my deep need for
What?

I’m just back from a lovely walk around my neighborhood. Right now the weather is perfect for morning and afternoon walks. What more could I want?

Yet in the half hour before I left the house this morning I thought of at least three things I needed to get done right now. Even though I didn’t. Three excuses for putting the walk off until later in the day. Or tomorrow.

Thankfully, my inability to decide what to do next forced the issue. I went for a walk. It was lovely!

When I returned, D was talking with our painter about a horrible automobile accident in which several lives were lost, including one of his friends. All because of one driver who was in a hurry and couldn’t or wouldn’t slow down to stop for a red light.

I wonder what I’m avoiding when I begin honking the horn at myself. And at what cost?

Here’s to a Wednesday devoid of horn-honking. Especially at ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2019
Photo found at medium.com

Unexpected Gifts

I’m just back from a long morning walk. Gorgeous sky, just-right breeze, birds singing, at least 5 nannies or moms out with tots in open-air limousines (strollers), and a far-off sighting of Rita walking her dog. And that was just the beginning.

Most wondrous was a sudden realization. For years I’ve been fearful about turning 78, even though I still have just over two years to go before that happens.

My Mom died in February 1999. She was 78 years old. She had a stroke (brain bleed) that she couldn’t overcome because of her already compromised body. Three months after the stroke, she died peacefully in a wonderful hospice facility.

That same year, my fear of turning 78 was born. Magnified by fear that I might not even make it to 78 years. Never mind that my father was nearly 97 when he died. My problem would be getting to 78 and beyond without dying.

This morning, for the first time, I realized I no longer fear turning 78 or not living long enough to celebrate 78 years. Why not? I’m not sure.

A second unexpected event was seeing one of my neighbors when I was almost home. She had just finished a novel she thought I would love. She was right! I carried it home and will begin reading it today. It’s a murder mystery set in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

And finally, a third exciting reality: Our painter is beginning work on our bedroom! After which the carpet will be replaced, and we’ll start putting it all back together again.

More than enough to fill my happiness cup for today, with some left over for tomorrow.

Happy Monday to you!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2019
Photo of North Carolina Marsh found at ncwetlands.com

Living in the purple zone

Living in the purple zone*
Unconstrained by party loyalties yet
Uneasy about befriending strangers
Or talking about tough issues –
What has happened to me?

How many times have I caved
To the lowest common denominator
Or looked the other way
Or changed the subject
To avoid tough conversations?

Why do I hear few references
To injustices of yesterday
That might help me understand
Currents and tides now miring us
In the swamp of us versus them?

Perhaps there already lurks within
A deep longing for this disquietude
To disappear into the bowels
Of our churches, cities and towns
Afraid to stir up what won’t go away

Meanwhile we mere mortals living
In the purple zone or not go about
Our daily lives minus truth or
Justice or even a quick look into
The mirror of our own demise

*The purple zone: neither red nor blue, the two major political party colors in the USA

Here’s my dilemma:

I have a handful of friends willing to talk openly about social/political realities that are in plain view every day. These realities drive our politics, social lives, economics, and increasingly our church preferences. They also impact us differently depending on things like race, gender, age, immigration status, color of skin and dialect.

These and a host of other ‘sorting out’ categories lie just beneath the surface of every social interaction and social avoidance technique.

For the most part, we here in the USA seem to have deeply ingrained avoidance habits. We like being with birds of our feather. Especially in spaces where we might have conversations that matter. Places like churches or other religious institutions, small study groups and classrooms of all kinds.

Though I’d like this to be my dilemma alone, I fear it is not. Any and all feedback will be gratefully received.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2019

Forget the third day | Our 9/11 Wedding

11 September 1965
D and I on the right; Sister #2 and J (now deceased) on the left

It’s already the 4th day of our bedroom and den updates. Yesterday was chaotic, at least for me. Our painters/carpenters got down to the nitty gritty. Translation: lots of noisy pounding, trips up and down the stairs to bring in supplies, and prepping the new den and bedroom ceilings for paint.

This morning they removed heavy old furniture from the bedroom, installed new baseboards and a bookshelf, and who knows what else. Lots of up and down the stairs again, plus sawing and pounding.

Yesterday was our 54th wedding anniversary, marked by the absence of any big celebration. Partly because of tributes to all those impacted by the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks 18 years ago. Sadly, we’ve inherited more problems we never saw coming, and seem to be without resources to address long-term. That would be ongoing fallout from long-term health and well-being issues.

So what about our 54 years of marriage? On the day we married, D and I inherited challenges we never saw coming. So what has it taken to survive and thrive? Here’s some of what it’s meant for me.

  • Learning to ask for help from trustworthy people
  • Learning to tell D things I don’t want to talk about because I feel embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Learning to listen to D without jumping in to have my say before he’s finished with his say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Making painful mistakes in my relationship with D and starting over–small steps, one at a time
  • Learning, especially now, to let D do what I might be able to do for myself, but don’t have energy to accomplish
  • Forgetting about perfection in anything–housecleaning, playing the piano, keeping to a schedule….
  • Taking time to be together away from home–Longwood Gardens, the Zoo, church, visiting neighbors and family members….
  • Ending each day together, relaxing with Smudge on our laps sound asleep!

All this and more, of course. The bottom line is still the same: Marriage has been hard work and a form of dying. Not in a morbid way, but dying to My dreams for us, My way of seeing D’s world, My brilliant ideas….and finding there’s life in creative thinking together about even the most difficult problems We face.

Thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2019
Photo of the lovely couples; taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony; Savannah, Georgia

On the second day

On the second day
Four men plus one disconnect
Our important lifelines
Most painful was the internet
Which drives me into my
One size fits all office and
Temporary bedroom
Hoping for a quiet moment
In which to write a line or two

Already marked off my list
For the day – one lovely walk
In this end of summer weather
Accompanied by incessant
Mowing and sawing and pounding
Plus the nearly total absence
Of children now gathered
Inside school rooms bursting with
Joy and unexpressed sadness

Agony seeps beneath closed doors
Daily flooding the earth in
Sorrow and tears of pain
Drenching carefully chosen outfits
And routines that proclaim
All is well especially when it
Isn’t and we’ve forgotten how
To accompany one another
Through these trying seasons

I walked by the grade school this morning, thinking about burdens children carry to school. Not huge book-bags, but things like hunger for food, for peace at home, a best friend or an adult willing to listen and cheer them on. The kind I had when I was 9 years old. Her name was Mrs. Hanks. She taught me much more than how to play the piano with grace and joy.

As you can see, our internet connection is back. I’m relieved, though the electrical work is taking longer than anticipated. It’s an old house, designed by a carpenter in the mid-1900s for his wife and family of many children. It’s full of wonderful bits, and some not so wonderful realities such as strange wiring patterns and lack of attention to squaring things off.

The contractors just left. Time to release Smudge from his laundry room penthouse, and get on with what’s left of today.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2019
Photo of Mrs. Hanks and me, taken by JERenich in Spring 1960

On the first and last day

On the first and last day, She said:
Let there be light in dark corners
Music in the streets with dancing
Pardon for everyone laboring
Under the grand delusion that
Time and good-will effort will solve
Every problem we’ve conceived
And brought to late and early-term birth
Now scattered across the face of the waters
The forests the rivers and the high places

The poem isn’t an effort to solve our environmental problems. It’s another way of pointing to them, regardless of what happens next. We can’t dance them away, as if they weren’t that bad. We can, however, step back and come at this in a different way. We need more than well-intended efforts to do (or feel) good.

This morning feels a bit chaotic. Day 1 of work on our bedroom and den. In the meantime, orderly chaos reigns in our offices and the attic. So far I’ve managed to keep my protected zones of sanity clear of clutter, though I’m already hazy about where we squirreled things away.

Hoping for breaks in today’s cloudy sky, and an opportunity to walk outside with D.

Happy Monday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2019
Image of street band at SXSW in Austin, Texas, found at Flickr.com

Sorting through closets

Sorting through closets
I’m overcome by sadness
about what?

Beloved outfits, yes
And also reminders of a time
when I was what?

Somebody?
A worker bee all dressed up for slaughter?
A shining star in someone else’s grand career?

I need another outlook
On these outgrown outfits
Consciously assembled to cover
A harmless woman
Not seeking glory or fame
Easy to work with
A good team player
Not given to outlandish clothes
Or calling attention to herself

I’m not mean
I’m neat and tidy
Unpretentious
Don’t mess with me
And by the way
I’m not sure who I am

Today’s work isn’t the end
It’s a beginning
An expansion
Not of what’s in my closet
But in my spirit —
The spirit of our Creator
Whose expansiveness goes
Beyond the boundaries of my small world
Into the vast unexplored territory
Of the woman I am already becoming

Most of my time right now is spent getting things ready for the contractors. They’ll begin work this coming Monday. In the meantime, we’ve been sorting things out, making another dent in our worldly goods.

As relieved as I am to be doing all this, I’m also grieving. The poem above is about going beyond my small world. Still, I carry happy memories of past collaborations with colleagues, and lively courses with students. My clothes are a reminder of good times, not just the other times.

Today I’m expanding. I also feel the drag of my upbringing and life as a woman in college, seminary-land, church, and society in general. I remind myself that our Creator is constantly expanding, moving into new territory, and calling out to us to follow, ready or not.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 September 2019
Image found at pixabay.com

One of a kind

Grounded in gratitude
and the painfilled joy
of being female

Can these things coexist
in one body?

Yes, my daughter,
though you must never forget:
Pain is a necessary thorn in
tender female flesh for reasons
not understood by mere mortals

My mind does not accept this verdict –
drowning in ignorance about me
and the course of my life on this earth

How many of us are there?
Each necessary to the great vine of life
Hanging on for dear life

I’m struck by the strange mix of gratitude and pain uncovered in me on any day of the year. It doesn’t take much. A news item, an ad, an assumption about me or all women, or the absence of everyday examples that might connect with real women and girls. Is this what it means to be human and female?

I’ve given up trying to understand the self-serving, convoluted logic I often hear about being female. Instead, I’m aiming each day for a calm mind, a relaxed body, a singing heart, and a trusting spirit. Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 September 2019
Image of caged bird found at asfmtech.org

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