Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sweet Peas And Lemon Balm

Last evening, I looked over my garden, and realized how magically my connection to these plants has unfolded.

Garden is a bit misleading, especially after the move, as I had to break down the big bag container with over 500 lbs of soil and compost.  But there are containers and containers of growing green things that are happy, so in this sense, it’s a garden.

Last year, I dipped my toes in the water.  A few containers on the front porch, while nearly twenty in number, it was just a beginners practice summer.  This year, I made up my mind to go all in, even though I knew I might move.  I had a choice, to take a chance and live, or to decide against buying soil and containers because I might move, might lose a lot of money and time because I needed to pack up again.

Caution be damned.  I went all in, buying over 1,000 lbs of soil and compost, containers of all different shapes and sizes.

And then my landlord sold the building, the sale contingent on my being out in 30 days, no wiggle room.  So  I moved.

My new place not only has an entry porch, a sunny backyard perfect for growing, but I now have a huge screened patio that I can use in the winter, and an indoor nook that I’ve decided will hold the herb garden during snow season.

I moved over 250 plants, and most survived.  The ones that didn’t, weren’t faring great before.

Yesterday evening, I looked over my garden, and I remembered how I decided to pull out all the stops, no matter my living situation, and life followed me more extravagantly than I could have expected.  I’d forgotten about the decision that I made this spring, when the local nursery delivered dozens of 40 pound bags that I had to lug around to the back, then haul out again to plant containers and the bag bed, which alone held over 500 lbs of mulch, soil, compost, and worm castings.

I now know what “worm castings” are, and I feel like a real green goddess having come this far.

I’ve harvested three or four huge cucumbers, and the three varieties of heirloom tomatoes hang heavy with ripening fruit, and they continue flowering.  A red pepper plant looks like it will give at least a few peppers, and some chili peppers that I planted have flowered with the heat.  I wrote before on the radishes; notably, I wrote that poem before the move, as though the physical expansion has expanded my perspective.

It’s the herbs and flowers that have my attention this evening.  The violas keep blooming and blooming, in profuse dainty bunches.  The French marigolds still pop a few blossoms out, but their container is too small for their roots now, and I think they’ve run their magnificent course this year.  Unless I transplant them, which I may, to see what happens.

Today, I noticed that a bucket that I planted delphinium, zinnias, and sweet peas in offered the first sweet pea blooms, a gorgeous marriage of purple and pink, blossoms like small butterflies.  This bucket’s been slow to take off, I didn’t think I’d see flowers.  But the zinnia’s have been blooming for a couple of weeks, and finally the sweet peas are offering themselves to the world.  I hope the delphinium decide to say hello.

A few containers down from the flower bucket sits a hand painted ceramic pot overflowing with melissa.  It’s taken off since we (the plants and myself) arrived here, nearly dying after the move.  It loves the porch near my entry door, but I’ve not paid it too much attention.

I bent over this evening and rubbed its leaves between my fingers, and a sweet citrus scent remained — “Oh, lemon balm, it’s lemon balm,” I thought, as I vaguely remembered why I planted it.

A quick google told me that among other uses, I can make a cold fragrant tea.  So I harvested lemon balm leaves.  Two  large mason jars of soaking leaves sit in my fridge, preparing for my pleasure the next couple of days.

I looked out my garden this evening, and I picked lemon balm’s sweet citrus leaves, as I admired my delicate and oh so lovely blooming sweet peas.  I remembered my decision a few months ago, again, took a deep sigh, and thanked life for honoring my decision to live and to do so boldly.

If there’s a lesson, here, it’s to choose in the direction of the life you want, and that life will appear, without fail.

 

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The Feminists Are Saving Women, Again

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.  —  Neitzxche

 

The principles of so-called “feminism” are on my radar this week; its ideological stick hitting hard and swift in its certainty.

The “feminists” are outraged by Amnesty International’s call to decriminalize sex work.  It’s patriarchal.  It’s exploitative.  It’s dehumanizing.

To read my Facebook feed, Amnesty now enshrines patriarchy’s every evil.

These evils that Amnesty presumably unleashes on the world boggle my weary mind; especially given that Amnesty’s trying to disentangle sex work from trafficking, a distinction lost in the collective understanding, and they are trying to protect society’s most vulnerable, those who have no personal or systemic protection from predators.

There’s a reason that serial killers target prostitutes, and it’s not because the workers “have it coming.”

Sex work isn’t trafficking.  It’s a right.  To use one’s body as one sees fit, and to earn a living is a right, with safety and without stigma.  This holds true for men as well as women.

Just like cleaning toilets, changing diapers, garbage collecting, or whatever other job that people may consider “dehumanizing.”  Decriminalization is a means of giving workers their power, little by little, and toppling the pimps who control women caught in illegal work.

It’s not the work that’s dehumanizing, it’s the attitude.  The privilege of those who have never faced homelessness, or provided the most severe service work strikes me as ludicrous, especially when one of the most strident, vitriolic, professorial voices in my feed pronounced this past week, “I’d like to see how privileged elites would feel doing the work, and then let them agree with Amensty [sic].”

Funny, I thought similar about her.  White published female professor, speaking on behalf of the victimized sex workers  Has she ever been a house cleaner, a waitress, a live in baby sitter for brats, a retail clerk?  A sex worker?

Trust me, a lot of sex work is better than other domestic work, if one makes it volitional.   I didn’t know it was shame based work in my early days; it was rent.  It doesn’t mean that it’s not some of the toughest work imaginable.  It is.  All the more reason to protect the workers, who deserve to ask for equitable wages.

There’s an important universal truth that these strident voices forget: to label someone a victim is to make them a victim twice.

The policy orientation and its rhetoric serve no one but the haves, by keeping victims, i.e., society’s most vulnerable, victims.

I won’t entertain protracted debates on ethics, waste my precious life minutes wrangling on social media, or take too much policy to task in expository writing, at least not now: the real work of change begins within.  For I believe that the better we manage our ego, which loves to hold itself victim, the better we are for ourselves.  Only then can we serve others.  Erasing the victim narrative proves crucial to moving on.  This seems the most important message, the inherent dignity of every being, no matter their work, race, gender, belief, or species.  For those of us who have actually lived through mental illness, fought homelessness, and performed grossly underpaid service work, we deserve protection and rights.  Rendering us victims and keeping us from rights perpetuates slavery and shame, all because the enlightened “feminists” know best.

The feminists who cry loud about the evils of Amnesty save no one, they work from an outdated way of seeing the world.  Their ideas of shame and economics are entrenched in patriarchy, purity and pollution motifs that keep the most vulnerable marginalized; ironically, these feminists appropriate their ideas of dirt and power from patriarchy, not a different way of viewing the world.   They’ve looked into the ideological abyss so long, that they cannot revise their idea of rights: trapped in a stranglehold, they’ve become the monster they’ve sought to slay.

Over a decade ago, while I was befriending transgenders, dealing with the isolation born of race issues, talking to those with closeted homoerotic desires, helping those brutalized by patriarchy’s rage against ‘male’ identity, these “feminists” cared more about terminating an unwanted pregnancy than they cared about my rights to earn a living, and my right to help another, stigma free and in safety.

This they did while arguing that a woman’s body is hers to do with as she will, while reverting to the victim narrative when talking about something as fundamental as sex worker’s rights; much less problematic to this writer, than the murkier philosophical-scientific debate about how to define when life begins.

The liberal policing feminists are saving no one.

They’re exposing their self-righteous privilege, in which good intentions crown victimhood’s reign.

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At Night

 

I sleep on the porch;

a breeze blows through the screens,

I look up at the stars as I stretch

under the Big Dipper.  An old sleeping bag on

worn floor boards, and I lose myself

to the evening’s music.  Until the winter

cold drives me to mattress and comforter,

the porch holds my dreams: night serenades me

under constellations, in orchestras of crickets,

the frogs’ rejoinders, and

the trees’ rustling cantatas.

 

Two-thirty a.m., I wake; stillness

would overwhelm reverie, if not for the river’s

rushing, an irrepressible surge rising from wooded earth and

turbulent water, an overflow streaming through me

in darkness: night carries me

beyond myself without

hesitation.

 

 

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Training Into 26.2

Today was my worst training day in recent memory.

It’s important to document the bad days, because even the best have them, and I am not one of the best.  I am simply trying to complete 26.2.  While my month ago half-marathon length was an easy accomplishment of strength and recovery, today’s abbreviated trip was a six-mile wipe out.  I intended to do eight, but thankfully I listened to my body, and turned around at three miles.  Less than a half-a-mile later I was dizzy, near fainting. legs shaking, I think it was yesterday’s diet.

That’s my guess.  That and some other lurking reasons, strange sleep schedule, recent move, emotional up and downs, though I’m not certain.  But today was a stunning crash and burn, less than a month and a half to 26.2.  Even stranger, the hills here are gentle slopes, like the roadways that most people train on.  Unlike my home in New Hampshire, now two weeks gone, in which arduous inclines met me less than a quarter of a mile from doorstep.

I’m now in Maine — if there were any doubt, I am officially a “Maineiac” — and the remote landscape characterizing my last two years has become less remote, though still rural..  My primary training road is Route 25, a thoroughfare for logging trucks, gas and oil rigs, and commuters.   No remote backwoods, no arduous inclines, just roadways characterized by the occasional rise and fall.

This isn’t the land of epic hills, personal epiphanies, or deep communion with trees.  It’s poor and rural, and a little easier to navigate, in myriad ways.

Because this is a rural area, like suburbia, most folks commute.  Foot traffic isn’t common, let alone a female alone between villages spread five miles apart.

When I lived in New Hampshire, I’d run into neighbors on Route 25 after leaving the back roads, to loop back home.  “Aren’t you afraid of 25,” they’d ask, with true concern furrowed in their brows.  “No,” I’d say.  Sometimes I’d add that I have my Higher Power, and always say a protection prayer before going out.  Sometimes not.  Depended on the audience, depended on my mood.

I suppose if one wants to invoke “faith,” training and creativity and love are the primary grounds.  We can burn ourselves into old habits that keep us safe, or we can dare to push ourselves, and experience a depth of life that safety won’t ever offer us.

If one chooses life, there’s not time for fear.  Due diligence, yes.  Fear, no.

Is Route 25 safe?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s the road I’m taking, because I’d rather say a protection prayer and hit the road then worry about whether such naiveté really works, and decide that its best to stay at home, because there are big, bad logging trucks that go really fast, and have little regard for a woman on foot in the middle of nowhere.

Today a truck sped past me, and the smell of cut pine and the wind from its speed bathed me in wood and wind, a kind of brilliant respite in an otherwise hellacious training day, in which I nearly passed out more than half-a-dozen times, no exaggeration.

There’s always a different way of looking at things, and more than once a semi has cooled me down, put the wind in my sails, helped me go another quarter of a mile until a real breeze lifted me.

It’s not about circumstances, it’s about the Mind one brings to those circumstances, and what alternative stories one will cull when one chooses Life over fear.

Today was my worst training day in recent memory, yet I suspect it is a turning point in taking me into 26.2.  If for no other reason, today I saw in the strange looks given to me by cars and semis and men in red trucks waving at me as though I were their long-lost friend, that I’m quickly becoming ‘that woman,’ the one on Route 25 who knows little fear, and provokes in my small corner of the world both a disdain of disbelief and admiration.

Is Route 25 safe?  Yes.  I believe it is.

And on a day like today it is exhilarating.

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Saturday Afternoon

 

The apartment’s littered

with empty boxes and the chaos

of a collector ‘s move: memory

and beauty’s accumulations wait for order

in a foreign land.  During summer days

of atmospheric immersion and love’s deluge,

time’s become unnavigable. The unknown

reigns sovereign, and life rebels in willing turbulence.

Once more I indiscriminately choose

a word’s yearning.

 

Sun floods

the windows’ sills;

a solitary glass vase sits on the floor,

half filled with crystal beads,

opalescent, shimmering worlds

that unwittingly catch the light.  A universe

discloses itself in these luminous spheres: crumpled,

empty newsprint, torn cardboard boxes, ignored remnants

now live; circles of angelic light animate debris

in overflowing orchestration.  Tori Amos accompanies

the illuminate resurrection; I fail to meet her high notes,

so I hum to the bass, as my fingers

move across a pianoless keyboard.

 

From the river’s waters,

a breeze blows in; its forgiving hand

caresses my face, brings wind and water

to my longing flesh, a bare cheek waiting

for love’s perfect thunderstorm.  Spirit

and baptism soak this Saturday afternoon;

I unceremoniously eat a warm baked potato

mashed with mustard and mayonnaise, bite by bite,

until the sun arcs beyond revelation.

 

 

 

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Blueberry Meditation

 

The phone rings.  My friend asks me if I’d like to go pick blueberries with her, she’s in her car downstairs, waiting to see if I’d like to come along.

I’ve never picked blueberries.  It’s late in the afternoon.  The weather’s unseasonably mild, so I say yes, run downstairs, and join her in her daisy covered white Volkswagen.

We meander through the Maine hills, following painted signs: wooden signs painted in bright yellow, decorated with a single, over-sized large blueberry on each, “U Pick” lettered in black with arrows leading the way.  These signs are unlike most in these rural, economically depressed parts, where commerce is commonly expressed in make-shift, piecemeal, ripped cardboard with haphazard lettering, the carelessness testifying to inexperience coupled to hopelessness.  Not so these placards, bright and welcoming.  Not professional, but caring with their bright yellow backgrounds and gigantic blueberry portraits.

We turn left, go up a hill, and a large house with a gazebo stands at the top.  Around it are hundreds and hundreds of blueberry bushes, acres and acres full of berries.  From the hill-top we have a vista view of the mountains.  “Are those the White Mountains,” I ask my friend.  “I don’t know,” she says, looking around, trying to get an idea of which range we might be facing.  Sunlight in broad beaming shafts cuts through rain clouds and lights the mountains’ sides, the sky uncertain if it will rain or shine.  We get out of the car, go to the porch, the owners make their friendly introductions, give us each a decapitated milk jug to fill as we wish.  “Three-fifty a pound,” the wife says, with a broad smile.

We wander down into the rows, our paths diverging, as we enter into our own worlds.  My fingers begin their first berry picking experience.  Immediately I realize that I need to pay attention, or I’ll pick unripe berries with the ripe ones.  Attention, and a deliberate use of my fingers in separating berry from berry, and berry from bush; a new skill born.  Fingers meet berries, one by one, blue spheres like soft japa beads on a mala string, my fingers acquire nimbleness in this mediation.

Meditation.  Yes.  That’s what this is.  I pick blueberries one by one, and realize that there are only these berries, my fingers, the moment in which I separate ripe berry from bush, leaving the young ones to mature.  A breeze blows through my hair, and cuts the humidity.  I am serene, feeling nothing but the moment blowing through me like a cool breeze under a gentle though humid sun.  I look at the mountains.  It doesn’t matter what mountains they are any more; they are what they are, and I am what I am, and this moment is as it is.

Presence.  Presence everywhere.  I begin forming words around the moment, know the meditation will continue as words strung together, a mala of words, as my fingers caress berries, filling a topless gallon milk jug finger by finger.

My mind and heart live, blueberry by blueberry, the dissolve of my self into berries, moment, land, sky, mountains, Mystery, my love.  My fingers pray with these blue japa beads, my mind caresses the quiet joy of everything in unbound appreciation, knows only the sweetness that blue-purple stained fingers offer, fingers stained berry by berry, fingers blue-purple in shining Presence, until Presence returns to time under the weight of a full milk jug.

My friend and I unceremoniously wander back to each other, in unspoken synchronicity, our jugs full.

“It doesn’t matter what mountains those are, does it,” I say to her.

“No, it doesn’t,” she answers, in unquestioned, knowing agreement.

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts On My Father

For years I had a story about my father; well, I had many stories, the bulk were uncomplimentary given my mother’s anger toward him, the man who destroyed her dream of a white picket fence, church on Sundays, and an impenetrable version of the American dream.  None of which were really her, given her personality and life choices, including my father: rather it was a mythos she enshrined about what being a wife, mother, and Christian looked like, even though she knew firsthand the hypocrisy of that mythos.

When I was young, every time I didn’t behave as she expected, she made certain to vent her frustration about him and our life circumstances, for I was just like my father.  This was true especially when I was emotionally “cold,” withdrawn and solitary, and singularly stubborn.  My emotional coldness was her biggest frustration, the distance certain to arouse accusations of being like the man who left her alone.  But I understood early that a child ought not be the emotional caretaker for an emotionally deprived adult, so I deliberately crafted the disdained emotional distance as a survival tool, a necessary distance to avoid her emotional morass.  She in turn fashioned me in my father’s image.

Yet despite her anger, my mother knew that he was a victim of circumstance.   His mother was emotionally incapable of raising her children, so his older sister, younger sister, and he were given to his mother’s aunt and uncle to raise.  These two had no interest in trouble making boys, so they shipped my father off to a military school at about eight years old.

There was a problem with this solution: my father was an artist, he wrote poetry and painted from a young age.  Military school was a death sentence, and any salvation his soul may have sought in the world deteriorated into rebellion, in a self-fulfilling prophecy about boys being bad.  When I write “death sentence,” I use the term literally.  For his spirit broke too young: the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at twenty-five was his soul’s cancer spread throughout his body.

He wasn’t just a bad boy, he was good-looking.  Charming bad boy.   Women flirted with him.  Waitresses, my mother told me, would run their hair through his thick blond curly hair, in front of her, as if she were not there.  My mother and father met, married, and lived in Alaska, and when I visited for a summer in my late teens — 100 dollars, a backpack, a book of Patti Smith poetry, and an invitation to stay with my godparents for a summer — the first thing women who knew him mentioned was his good looks.  “Boy, your father was good-looking,” I heard many times, as though this were the most worthwhile thing to tell a young woman about the father who died when she was six.

I don’t remember him.  His only visit to me, probably eight or nine months before his death, provides no residue of the man, which is odd given all the other excruciatingly painful details I remember about that visit.   I only remember the emotional contours of his person, a dying shadow figure with a suitcase full of experimental medications to ward off the inevitable.  I have a few photos though, and he looked staggeringly like Frank Converse.  Although Frank Converse’s hey day was before my time, the first time I saw him on television, I harbored a secret fantasy that my father had faked his own death, and was still alive — not because Frank Converse was handsome, but because he looked exactly like the pictures of my father.  The secret fantasy of my father living somewhere found a face and name, made more real because my father’s middle name was Frank.  I didn’t really believe that Frank Converse was my father, I understood the distance between the fantasy and reality, which is why every time I saw Frank Converse on television, my stomach ached, my throat tightened, and I’d cry alone and without comfort given the carefully crafted emotional walls built far too young.

***

A gentler story that mother told about my father went like this: one day, he found a drunken homeless man on the street.  My father took him to the drugstore, bought him some toiletries, brought him home, and had my mother make him a meal.  He let him use their shower, clean up, and they ate.  My father then took him out, and with the last twenty in his pocket bought him some new shoes.

“Your father had a kindness in him, such a deep kindness, that’s what I mostly fell in love with,” she would tell me in her forgiving moments.  “Just like you, you’re just like your father that way, kind.”

Emotional coldness, notwithstanding.

***

I’m doing the Jimmy Fund in September, the Boston Marathon route, 26.2 miles and raising money for cancer research.  It’s my fourth time, though the last time I participated was six years ago.  I can’t say that I am doing 26.2 primarily for cancer research — I’m doing it because I can do the Boston Marathon route at whatever pace I want, without being chipped, and I love a challenge, but on my own terms.  I’m also ambivalent about the current state of cancer research, but the event always proves overwhelmingly inspirational, and many of my critiques diminish when the stories pour in about people who Dana-Farber serves.  It’s an extraordinary day.  Every mile there’s a photo of a child at Dana-Farber, and they make placards thanking you — the number of survivors that one meets, the number of stories told, it’s a special day of people who beat the odds gathering.  It’s also a special day of remembering those who didn’t.

Every year I’ve participated, I’ve dedicated the 26.2 to a friend who has had cancer and survived, let them know I was taking them with me.  My old friend Bairn who passed not long after the first year; my friend Kath who was one of my biggest supporters the first year, and the following year had to go in for a radical mastectomy and reconstruction; the third year, for my godfather who let me be a hiking bum  in Alaska for an entire summer, and has successfully survived prostate cancer.

It occurred to me after registering this spring, that I have never dedicated the route to my father, who died of Hodgkin’s disease.  Not once.  How could I have avoided the obvious?  Because for so many years I had stories about his visit (“how could they have been so stupid as to traumatize a child like that”), the anger over being left alone with my mother’s unending well of demands and expectations, anger that he left, anger that he died, a burning anger that took me long and far but never with happiness or peace.  An anger that turned inside, consuming my mind in its depths.  “I can’t figure out why you are so angry,” mother would say, and I’d think, “God all mighty, how can you be so clueless.”  Once fueled by anger, I’ve let that fire become an incandescent light, a shared light between myself and the Divine, in which I no longer fear or blame.  There are now no walls between me and the world, and any that still exist I know will come down gently with time.  I choose freedom over anger, because it’s been given to me to do so, after decades of trial and error.  For this reason, my father now appears to me without tears, he stands as a poet, an artist, a man willing to give his last twenty dollars to put a pair of shoes on a homeless drunk.

I realize I’ve come full circle; or maybe I’ve finally grown up.  The stories only have meaning in the way I craft them.  Because I am no longer a victim of circumstance, I am the generous one.  I put on my running shoes, and dedicate 26.2 miles to the man who gave me life, poetry, art, and kindness.  In so doing, I take his too short incandescence into myself, and I increase my life’s light through his.

 

(If you’re interested in supporting my 26.2 with a tax deductible contribution, email me at julia@juliaharis.com and I’ll give you the details.  Thanks.)

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