Tell Me Your Story So I Can Make It Mine

If a person hears a story
from someone who, say, was just talking
and then tells that story to others
I’m wondering who owns the story

If the story is about being afraid, so afraid
that one sits terrified, looking out the window
for a car that might drive up in the dark,
does the fear become the teller’s in the telling

At lunch, the man tells me his story
his gone wife, their nameless children, all angry
mistakes, what his name used to be, grief
which I pack in a bag with a sandwich to take home

His words stick, thick rubber bands in a drawer,
wound around each other to be picked apart
and set on the table, the gist refigured, reconjured,
stitched together for my telling to you




Bum Leg Friday Round-Up

My left leg has got me walking like Granny Clampett. I was just sitting on the couch, not hurtin’ nobody, and ouch! like a rubber band got snapped around my knee. It’ll go away, it always does, but in the meantime I’m rocking back and forth like a bobblehead on the dashboard. I hate that, it messes up my pretending I’m 50.

We are awaiting a big snowstorm. So, of course, I am looking forward to the big cozies, especially the part where there’s a ton of snow and I get to watch someone else shovel it, an arrangement made more likely by my suddenly bum leg. Completely coincidental.

Speaking of snow, you will be glad to hear that, after a month of operation, those in charge of the homeless warming room have figured out how to get the sheets and blankets washed. Yes. You read that right. It’s taken much confoundment, more complaining, buck passing or sheet passing as it were, but there now seems to be a plan. Me? I figured we could ask four people to each take a load and get it done. No. Too simple. So we had to wait and stink up the place and make the folks staying there feel crummier than they do already while folks diddled around finding a company to wash the damn sheets.

My older son turned 35 earlier this week. He was a toddler when we met, 21 months old to be exact, so I’ve not known him his whole life. And I won’t claim that it makes no difference. It makes a huge difference. He was someone else’s baby first and then he was mine. At the restaurant the other night, sitting next to him, I marveled at that, how much I love him even though he so often seems foreign to me. My son. A miracle, not him, us.

I moderated a candidate forum today wearing a red sweater that, when I wear it, I don’t get nervous. It’s a magical thing, sort of like Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, but the sweater is getting a little lumpy with sweater balls and I fear for its longevity. However, living in the moment as I am committed to do, I refuse to become preoccupied with what’s next. There is just right now, me and my red sweater, taking on the world.

Advent 17: Accommodation

Half a loaf is better than none.

“Something is better than nothing, even if it is less than one wanted. For example, he had asked for a new trumpet but got a used one – oh well, half a loaf is better than none. This expression, often shortened, was already a proverb in 1546 (John Heywood’s Glossary) where it was explicitly put: “For better is half a loaf than no bread.” (Free Dictionary)

A lot depends on who has the half loaf. Am I telling someone else who ought to have a whole loaf that she should feel content with just half? Or am I looking at the slices of bread in my hands and saying, yes, this is plenty, I don’t need a whole loaf.

I think we more readily assign this proverb to the fortunes or misfortunes of others, as in “you should be happy you have half a loaf” because our inclination actually is to provide you with no loaf.

This was the hum in my head tonight riding along on the Street Angels outreach bus, looking for people who needed to come in out of the cold. There was a half a loaf waiting for them and they should feel lucky. Or so the saying goes.

Advent 10: Cruel Soup

I’ve spent so much time around really kind people in the past year or two that I’ve lost my edge. I’ve become a naive little flower in the poisonous garden of neighborhood politics.

So I was taken aback as the first, then the second, then the third speaker spoke against opening a warming room for homeless people in a local senior center. The warming room would operate when the senior center was closed – folks would come in at 7 pm and leave at 7 am, well before seniors showed up for tai chi or woodworking or for their morning social.

But because an alderman got busy stoking the flames of fear and loathing, the speakers were dripping with hostility, it ran off them like spring sap from a maple tree, just unabashed as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“They’re filthy.”

“What about lice and bedbugs and diseases? They’ll make us all sick.”

“They’ll leave their needles laying around.”

So there are things that take your breath away and hatred is one of them. Now there’s a lot of hatred in the world, even in a nice town like Milwaukee, but usually people take some pains to cover it up. You know, like they might have a stain on their favorite shirt so they put a sweater on to hide it; they don’t want anyone to know they have a stained shirt. Yesterday, at this public meeting about the warming room, people were wearing their stained shirts with pride. It was truly breathtaking.

I am bothered by this for a lot of reasons. The first one is that it’s 17 degrees outside and supposed to get colder. The second is that there are a lot of homeless people sleeping outside very near this senior center. The third reason is that we had to have a public meeting about offering homeless people a place to not freeze to death. Experts told the crowd that bedbugs and lice and diseases weren’t issues – no more than with anyone you might meet. But the chorus had started on these notes and only got louder as the meeting progressed. No one knew how to change the tune.

So it is depressing.

I let the dogs out the back door and the cold air hits me in the face. I close the door because it’s too cold and I stand inside watching while they run around, disappear in the bushes and then leap back on to the porch. A few days ago, I would have gone out on the porch or in the yard to watch them but it’s too cold now. Too cold for me in my jeans and sweatshirt. My big socks. When they come in, I turn up the heat. Why? I don’t know. Because I can, I guess.

The warming room will open, sooner or later. I believe that. But there is still tonight and the 17 degrees and the hatred and the heat I can turn up if I want to. It’s a cruel soup.

Hygge Friday Round-Up

Hygge (hue-guh) is the art of wintering gracefully. It’s about making the ordinary lovely and warm but in small everyday ways, intentional but undetectable. It’s a Danish thing. I have a Danish friend whose name is Marcia. She takes hygge with her wherever she goes in that she is always warm and unhurried, glad for the company she has, so everyone around her feels like they’re special and glowing. I want my house to be like that this winter. So that is what this girl remembers about being here.

This week I feel like I have a protest sign tattooed on my forehead. Everywhere I go, I’m pissed off about something and I feel myself slipping into one of those old crank types that attends every public meeting taking furious notes with a chewed-up pencil and yelling “Point of order!” all the time. I was a guest speaker in a graduate class on nonprofits this week talking about activism and community organizing and I told the students that you can’t have everyone hating you at the same time. I might have come close this week.

Our next dog’s name is Punchy. I think we are punchy for getting another dog. It’s ridiculous and an overreach but much like our entire lives have been so we are oddly comfortable with the idea. Punchy is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky, a sled dog currently living at Nature’s Kennel, Swirl’s old hometown. Like Swirl, he probably doesn’t have a clue about living inside, going up and down stairs or walking on a leash, but we know he will be sweet and simple and stoic, also like Swirl. Two retired sled dogs – what on earth could possibly be better?

I love winter. I love weather and snow and cold. But I say this before winter starts its terrible habit of beating the shit out of me, before I’m breathless from shoveling, or picking myself up off the ice after falling. Right now, I love winter. I walked through Lake Park near our house this morning, alone, just me and Swirl, and felt as lucky to be alive as I have ever felt. It might be fleeting but it is true, as true as life can be.

I am all about being an honest elder. I am unabashedly old. I don’t deny, pretend, shrug off. I’m this. I wear my age like Joseph’s coat of many colors, it keeps me warm and glorious. And increasingly I realize that I am protected by the fact that I have nothing to lose. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. Precious and sweet and powerful it is, this being old.