On Stones and Walls and Memories

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On Stones and Walls and Memories

I came upon this photo last week – stone garden walls in a misty rain. It brought to me to my childhood home, called Rock Springs, because of the rocks, I suppose. It also had a spring, but somehow that didn’t etch itself in my memory.

Rather, it was the granite, so much a part of Ellicott City, those stone walls, stone steps, rock gardens, that were such a part of my growing up.

Installed generations before we lived there, I took all for granted.  Now I think of those who planned it, and, more so, those whose physical labor put it into place – a herculean task in the 1910s. And of the generations who enjoyed the fruits of that labor.

I left years ago, to be a city-dweller, I said, extolling the virtues of downtown living. Later, much later, Rock Springs was…

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On Stones and Walls and Memories

On Stones and Walls and Memories

I came upon this photo last week – stone garden walls in a misty rain. It brought to me to my childhood home, called Rock Springs, because of the rocks, I suppose. It also had a spring, but somehow that didn’t etch itself in my memory.

Rather, it was the granite, so much a part of Ellicott City, those stone walls, stone steps, rock gardens, that were such a part of my growing up.

Installed generations before we lived there, I took all for granted.  Now I think of those who planned it, and, more so, those whose physical labor put it into place – a herculean task in the 1910s. And of the generations who enjoyed the fruits of that labor.

I left years ago, to be a city-dweller, I said, extolling the virtues of downtown living. Later, much later, Rock Springs was sold, too long after my mother could no longer take care of it, the house and grounds a sad dowager in need of a facelift and much tender loving care.

The family who bought it, in possession of a superabundance of earth-moving equipment, destroyed every wall they found. Who can say why?

And now, the property in more loving hands who seek to restore it. They found mountains of rocks piled high in the woods, those rocks that, over one hundred years ago, had been placed forever, or so it was thought.

I sent drawings, and best wishes that Rock Springs be loved as it once was.

On Tangling at the Well

On Tangling at the Well

Last week I headed to the Well of Mercy, a North Carolina retreat center where they offer “respectful hospitality and quiet sanctuary,” to take an introductory course on Zentangle. I had heard about Zentangle, don’t ask me where, and signed up mainly as a show of support for the center. I knew that my schedule wouldn’t allow an overnight visit this year, and they do such a wondrous job in offering a setting of tranquility, acceptance, and peace that I wanted to be sure to support them. I wasn’t especially interested in adding another interest to my dilettante’s plate. I suffer from a superabundance of interests, none of which I do particularly well, and to add yet another — well, you understand.

But how thankful I am that I attended. Sister Donna Vaillancourt, a Mercy nun of extraordinary talents and mercy, and, I might add, a CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher) was our muse, guide and cheerleader.

For those of you who might not be familiar with Zentangles, they are miniature pieces of unplanned, abstract, black and white art created by creating an ensemble of simple, structured patterns called tangles, all drawn on a 3.5-inch square paper tile.

The process of creating a Zentangle can become a form of “artistic meditation” as the you concentrate only on each individual stroke, one stroke at a time. You never know what you’ll end up with, and that’s part of the freedom and beauty of the process. For it is the journey, rather than the outcome, that is the focus. They say that “anyone can do it,” and I’m here to tell you they’re right!

I spent a mesmerized three hours, and came home to order more books and supplies. I have been tangling every day, and am always surprised at the outcome. And even when I think that my square is not one of my best, often when I come back to it, an hour or a day later,  sometimes seeing it from a different angle, it speaks to me.

They are right also about the meditative aspect of Zentangle. You really do get into the moment, and while your conscious brain is intent on each stroke, those under-layers are free to roam to parts unknown. On one such journey, I decided that I was finished with saving things for “good,” for special occasions- that, actually, every day is a special occasion. So the “special” dishtowel is now in use, the linen shirts which I save for bookgroup and lunches out, are now worn whenever my fancy strikes. If not now, when?

So I am hooked – with my micron pens and paper tiles – Zentangle is my new best friend.

And, incidentally, if you’re interested in learning more about Well of Mercy, here’s the link to their website: http://www.wellofmercy.org. It is a magical, mystical place. If you go, you will never forget it.

And I’m wearing my linen shirt as I write this.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Grace and Frankie and Friendship

 

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TV STILL — DO NOT PURGE — Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series “Grace and Frankie”. Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.§

On Grace and Frankie and Friendship 

I spent this week in a mist of season two of Grace and Frankie. It continues to be one of the best shows ever. How refreshing to see two women find a commonality that overrides differences in spirituality, politics and clothing styles (though I would give anything to have Frankie’s wardrobe).

The season is a celebration of sexuality at any age, complete with yam jam and ergonomic vibrators, and the sad, and wondrous, reality of helping a beloved friend leave this world on her own terms.

It is a salute to friendship in its highest form – two very distinct souls discovering an appreciation for the other, complete with humor, and, more importantly, with honesty. Honesty about who each of them is, acceptance of their differences, with just the right touch of sarcasm and knowledge that, for each, “her” way is actually best.

It is about caring enough to tell the truth. In one scene, Frankie says, “I call bullshit.” What a great friendship — one that risks anger, misunderstanding. A friendship where “calling bullshit” is done with compassion, not censure or condemnation. In a world where, for many of us, friendship is defined as always being there, always being supportive, how refreshing it is to see support, real sustenance, to be able to disagree with your friend, not always to feel you have to say “yes, you’re right, the rest of the world is wrong.”

And it took me back to my Chicago years, where in the midst of a soul-wrenching work situation, I sat by a coworker’s desk to bemoan the horrors and dreadfulness of my new boss. After weeks of this, and I was becoming tiresome even to myself, he looked at me and said, “Cynthia, you’re acting like a real asshole.”

I was shocked; I was hurt; I was angry. Mainly I was hurt. How could he pour mercurochrome on the wound in my heart. I returned to my office, to stew, to lick my even-more-abraised wounds. How could he? How could my friend say this to me? And I thought. And then I thought some more. What if he were right? Could it actually be that I was wrong? And, for the first time, I tried to see the situation from my boss’s point of view.

And I got it. I saw how I appeared to him, and I was embarrassed for myself. I changed my behavior, and to my boss’s credit, he accepted my apology without words. We went on to become best work buddies. The situation turned around on a dime. All because a friend told me the truth, as painful as that was to hear. He told me what he honestly thought I needed to hear. He also taught me what it meant to be a friend. And I have tried to pass that on.

So, Leon Ward, wherever you are, thanks. I’ll never forget you.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

On the Elasticity of Freedom

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Girl jumping with rose petals in air

On the Elasticity of Freedom

Last week I spent five days on my own – in my house – just me – and the cats. So, I said to my highly-in-need-of-structure self, this is an opportunity. Throw off those shackles of your “to do” list, be free, do only what you feel like doing, when you feel like doing it, be spontaneous. You can do it!

Now I realize that, since I left the world of paid employment (without a backward glance I might add), I am nothing but free, as I regularly prepare lists and schedules of tasks, errands, and most importantly, writing goals. Write every day the experts say – seat-in-chair. And so, for the most part, I have done this – as my seat is currently in-chair at the Toyota dealership for my car’s annual state inspection. And even on those days that I don’t write, I’m thinking about writing, and/or feeling guilty about not writing.

So, all this is a much too lengthy introduction to my point. I gave myself permission to NOT write, NOT research, and NOT feel guilty about it.

Just how did I fill my time? Naps, a season four House of Cards Netflix binge, lots of foreign and independent films, all the while supine on the sofa, with cats stretched out on various parts of my body.

I admit that being without a schedule, without a list, made me a bit anxious. And, yes, I succumbed. I did write down those things I wanted to do, though I not assign a day, time, or priority code. I told myself that I just wanted those words on paper so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Yes, and I’m sticking to that story.

How free was I, you ask? Well, I even read library books as my fancy chose, throwing caution to the wind about their due dates. I spent time on the sun porch; I straightened closets and junk drawers, and then read some more.

It was a lovely interlude. And as long as I knew it was an interlude, that soon I would be free to resume my rhythm of life, with husband returned, with responsibilities, with meetings, and, yes, even dinners to prepare, that taste of freedom was delicious. But, like a rich Viennese torte, best savored in small amounts.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On Feeling Alone in a Crowd

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On Feeling Alone in a Crowd

Well, all of us feel alone, separate, like we don’t belong, don’t we? And some of us feel it more often, more deeply, more acutely than others, that particular hole in the heart closer to the surface.

As a writer, I spend a lot of my time alone, a blessed relief after an earlier career of being/feeling “on stage,” wearing a costume, an armor of someone other than my deeply buried self. Most of the time I revel in being alone. When I’m not writing, there are books, DVRed TV shows, Netflix, and most important, sitting on the sunporch staring into space, watching the birds, feeling the wind blow, and thinking.

My husband, daughter and I lived quite happily this way – when asked, years ago, what activities we did together, he replied, “We like to be in separate rooms together.” If you understand that, then you understand me – and I’d never feel alone in a crowd with you there.

Being with a group of non-kindred spirits is not how I would choose to spend my time. I’m no good at chitchat, and a group of a hundred people where conversation has to be screamed is not a place to find a genuine connection. Plus, it always feels like everybody already knows everybody – all those smiles, all those teeth.

I have a friend who has a ten-minute rule. She goes to such functions, makes sure that she is seen by the host, and leaves after ten minutes. Another acquaintance follows a “just-say-no” practice. And everyone seems to understand him, though I must admit there is much eye-rolling whenever his name comes up. He really is my hero.

Now it is not people I hate, it’s not even parties (well, it is, sort of). Rather it is the overblown pageants. I just don’t get it. Too much food, too much alcohol. Too much chitchat, too much trying to prove something that few care about. Yet it provides me with an opportunity to appreciate simplicity, paring down,  drilling down to those values that are dear to me; it also provides me with an opportunity to practice non-judgmental acceptance, though I, obviously, have a way to go on that one.

So one of these days, perhaps sooner than later, I’ll draw on some inner resource, and just say no, and make it up to those who provide such celebrations in some other way. Or more likely, if they read this, my problem will take care of itself.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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