We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

Simcha

Lughnasa                                                                     Kate’s Moon

beautifulIt’s been a rainy, cold week here on Shadow Mountain. The dial on the various fire risk signs is either on low or moderate. Gotta love the monsoons. Yesterday we came home from Beth Evergreen and it was 71 in Evergreen, 60 at the house. Not very far mileage wise from Evergreen, but the altitude really makes a difference.

I’ve returned to a state of general well-being, forget why I veered off that course for a few weeks. Joy is around every corner these days from Kate’s progress in living with Sjogren’s Syndrome to Jon’s new house to our upcoming trip to Idaho for the eclipse. Rigel’s return to her young dog-on-the-hunt persona livens our day.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityRuth and I are going to the Fiske Planetarium tomorrow for a show on the moon. Kate will go along, as will Gabe. That way Jon can have time to work on the bench in the dining room. I’ll have a chance to stop at the Growing Kitchen‘s outlet store while Kate takes the kids elsewhere. The Growing Kitchen is a company that makes its edibles from the bud of the marijuana plant rather than from trimming created when the bud is processed for joints. I want to see if there’s a quality difference. Seems like there would be.

We’re also attending shabbat services tonight. It’s a “mostly musical” shabbat with all original music written by Rabbi Jamie. The poster for it reads: Is your Rabbi a rock star? Ours is! He’s a very talented guy, both musically and intellectually. Beth Evergreen has become a solid part of our lives, a community that always seems to make me feel better for having shown up. It actually is what the Christian church talks about as a beloved community. Interesting I had to go Judaism to find one.

 

For Tom

Lughnasa                                                                    Kate’s Moon

This is an overdue shoutout to my good friend, Tom Byfield.

So sorry to hear about your stroke, Tom. Gotta be scary, but if anyone I know can face down scary with a big laugh, it’s you. Moving to assisted living sounds like a big change, but there again, with books and arts and visits to the MIA when you’re able, I’m sure you’ll build a rich life.

It got me thinking about assisted living as an idea. Now that I’m past the 70 line, too, and with the history of strokes in my own family-Mom and Dad both-I know it’s always a possibility. I would find the transition to living in an apartment very difficult, but not impossible.

Tom, you’re a great role model for the 8th and 9th decades of life. You’ve met them with humor and passion, with intelligence and wit. You’ve stayed engaged and formed new friendships. I admire that. A great deal. Your poem at my moving to Colorado good-bye party is a treasure. I read it every once in while just for fun.

What happens after all this sturm und drang? Who knows? Maybe the afterlife for those of us who care about beauty is a vast museum with all the best art, good food, family and old friends. Plus all those dogs you’ve ever loved. It’d be pretty interesting to have DaVinci or Mary Cassatt or John Singer Sargent or a potter from the Song dynasty as a docent, wouldn’t it?

Right now the best I can come up with is that life is about friends and family, about love. That life, no matter what happens after, is a pretty damn interesting ride. As long as it lasts for both of us, I’m your friend.

 

Easing Back

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

books and cupWith concern about my knee prosthetic assuaged, I’ve gotten a better workout routine going. It’s taken me awhile to match my new workout time, start between 9 and 10 am, with productivity on other projects like reimagining and a new novel, but I’m getting there.

Yesterday I printed out work on Loki’s Children, the second part of the Missing trilogy, and the Protectors, a nugget about a group called the Carthaginians. That gives me three stories to consider. I’m also going to through a file I have in Evernote called story ideas. Check out what I’ve been squirreling away for the past couple of years.

Reimagining work right now consists of scissors and a stapler: cutting up the printed out pages from ancientrails, stapling individual posts together, then filing them under the conceptual (chapter?) headings I’ve defined. I ended up with well over 200 printed pages so this is no small task.

kabbalahThe kabbalah class is over until after the high holidays, but I plan to read in both the first volume of the Zohar and the key work by Isaac Luria. No idea right now about how to organize that reading, but Rabbi Jamie will help. Kate and I continue to study mussar, the Thursday at 1 pm group grounding us in both Jewish ethics and a small community.

Sister Mary and her s.o. Guru will be here Tuesday through Thursday. They’re flying here from Tamil Nadu where Mary and her friend Anitha were presenting at a conference. Mary has a conference in L.A. beginning on Friday. She’s got lots of air miles to her credit.

Life near the end of Midsommar

Midsommar                                                                   Kate’s Moon

a while ago

a while ago

Jon’s work on the benches for our dining room shows his continuing growth in woodworking. I’ll post pictures when he’s done, but the panels he’s building are cabinet maker good. That’s a pretty high skill level and he’s self taught after an apprenticeship with Dave Schlegel, a renovation contractor in Minneapolis many years ago.

The grandkids were up last night. Ruth’s excited about middle school, “I won’t be in the same classroom all day.” Jon, “That’s good for your teachers.” Ruth, “That’s good for me.” She’s a sweet kid. Gabe wants to be a sweet kid, too, but some misfiring neurons keep pushing him toward ornery. Maybe as the divorce settles and they move into Jon’s new house, achieve a new normal, he’ll come back toward center. But, maybe not.

20170721_172815Kate’s doing a lot of self care. She’s eating more, trying to get her weight up, an irony lost on neither of us. She does facial saunas, sinus clearing saline, pays attention to the development of thrush and knocks it back. Yesterday was her third or fourth infusion of Remicade for her r.a. Her rheumatologist gave her a drug for her dry mouth, a saliva stimulator. She uses the oxygen concentrator at night and sometimes at naps. Its humidifier has been a big help. None of these aggravations are fatal, but they do rob her of energy and sleep, of time, of resilience. Hard. But, she’s a strong, smart woman and able to develop a solid care plan for herself.

In my world I’m rediscovering my love affair with writing novels and my resistance to writing non-fiction. I reread Jennie’s Dead, maybe ten to twelve thousand words. Got excited about entering that universe, finishing it. This one’s about magic, straight up. I’m still going to continue research and general work on reimagining through Samhain, seeing if, as I said the other day on Ancientrailsgreatwheel, I get renewed energy for it in the fall. I am, however, going to look at a few other project fragments and pick one to flesh out, probably Jennie’s Dead, but there are a couple more. I miss the discovery and joy of creativity I experience while writing novels.

Lariat Lodge, Evergreen

Lariat Lodge, Evergreen

Since the visit with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Peace, I’ve ramped up my workouts, now aiming for 10,000 steps on the days I don’t do the resistance work, 7,000 on those days. So far, I’m hitting those marks. The new resistance work is good, sufficiently good that I’m considering extending my work with On the Move Fitness so that I can get a new workout every six weeks or so. Keeps things mixed up and I have a tendency to get into a rut with workouts I design myself. Also, my form gets out of whack, or was never in whack to begin with.

Grief

Midsommar                                                                         Kate’s Moon

arid westWe’re grieving. Kate visited her rheumatologist yesterday. She has both Sjogren’s Syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Eric told her that patients with Sjogren’s struggle in the arid west since it’s a disease that creates dryness in the mouth and the eyes. The low humidity here exaggerates and reinforces those symptoms. In addition both Sjogren’s and r.a. (rheumatoid arthritis) can sap energy, cause joint stiffness and generally make life difficult. “This is the new normal,” Kate said.

Jon also has multiple significant diseases: type 1 diabetes, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease (low production of cortisol), r.a. and has managed them very well. He’s 48 now and shows none of the sequelae normally associated with a long history of type 1 diabetes. These chronic conditions take up money, time and a lot of attention, requiring daily, and often more frequent than that, self-care.

grief-quotes-quotes-about-griefLife is different now and will remain that way, that’s what we’re grieving. We had hoped there would be some medicine, some procedure, some magic that would put these insults behind us, but no.

Most of us, by the time we reach our seventies have some cluster of physical irritations and annoyances: hearing loss, kidney disease, bad joints, high blood pressure, generalized anxiety disorder, for example. If we’re lucky, we can absorb these changes, mitigate their problems and live our lives in spite of them. There is, however, always a period of adjustment, of realization that, yes, this body or this psyche has a now permanent malfunction, a condition of dis-ease.

They are reminders, often not gentle, that someday, sometime, something will end it all. The grief involved in these lesser problems is a precursor to the larger grief, the loss not only of function, but of life itself. If we let them, these short of fatal conditions can teach us how to confront and absorb the larger grief.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Organ Recital

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

dodge-a-bullet-illusOrgan recital: Kate does not have throat cancer. Didn’t know that was what Dr. James Chain, an ENT, was thinking until he eliminated the idea yesterday. Nothing quite like dodging the metaphorical bullet you didn’t even hear fired. Her sense of smell, adumbrated, and her sense of taste, flattened, however, may not return. Tough for weight loss. If food doesn’t taste-bad or good, it’s not appealing. We’re working right now to figure out what she can taste so we can emphasize them in our menu choices and cooking.

My knee. Well, in short, nothing wrong. Dr. Peace, he of the elfin ears and round face, said, “Ligaments feel good, strength is good. You have more flexibility than 90% do at this point. You’re good.” Kate asked, “Can he kneel to weed?” “Oh, yes.” Me, “Oh, no.” This because I have significant pain when I kneel on my left knee. “For some reason,” Dr. Peace said, “50% of knee replacement patients report pain on kneeling. 50% don’t. We don’t know why.” Oh.

Dr. Peace says that short of blunt force trauma: ski accident, automobile crash, a bad fall I can’t hurt the prosthetic. “It’s designed for you to be active.” That’s good news because it means I can challenge it as much as I can stand.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

It was my knee prosthetic’s moment on the big screen. The x-ray screen. In scales of gray and white I could see the anchoring bolt dug deep into my tibia and the large lunette window shaped chunk attached somehow to my femur. Glue was mentioned. Say what? Most weird of all though, my knee cap floated free, a sort of slightly flattened disc which looked as if it wanted distance from the rest of this oh so necessary joint.

In short, good news all round. We celebrated with a meal at RICE Sushi and Bistro not far from Dr. Chain’s office. The temperature was a Minnesotan frying 95 degrees, but as we climbed the mountains of the Front Range we got down to a more bearable 77 at home.

Altitude: A Blessing and a Curse

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

visionaire-5-oxygen-concentrator-airsep

Living at altitude in the arid West has its challenges. So far we’ve decided that the blessings outweigh the curses. Kate did come back from her 55th reunion trip to Iowa healthier. Part of that was a treatment for thrush she began before she left, but a part of it, too, was being much closer to sea level (better O2 stats) and much more humidity. We joked about taking the oximeter and the blood pressure monitor on a drive around Denver to find a place we could live that would be healthier for us. The oxygen concentrator is a better solution for us right now.

Tibial-Keel-Punch-Protocol-Render.In other health news an x-ray of my left knee (total knee prosthetic imaging) raised a question. On Monday I see Dr. Peace, my orthopedic surgeon, for a follow up. Kate thinks and I hope he will say nothing’s wrong. I will use the time to ask again about how much I can challenge the knee. Can I, for example, kneel? It’s painful now, yes, but does it actually harm the prosthetic? Is hiking up a mountain trail too stressful for it? Why do I still have pain seven and a half months after surgery? Are my high intensity workouts too much? I don’t want to be too cautious, neither do I want to be cavalier.

Jon’s waiting on news about whether the seller of the house he’s purchasing will replace galvanized piping. Could be a deal breaker. Possible bummer alert.

 

 

An Earthquake

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

Kabbalistic_creatorKabbalah. It’s trying to pry off the empiricist covering I’ve put on my world. I say trying because I’m a skeptic at heart, a doubter, a critic, an analyst yet also, and just as deeply, a poet, a lover of myth and fantasy, a dreamer.

Last night’s conversation at Beth Evergreen was on miracles. As is my wont, I looked up miracle in the OED. The first definition, considered most important and most normative,  says a miracle is an event that defies nature and is therefore the act of God or another supernatural being. Its root though is the Latin miraculum which simply defines miracle as something amazing, wondrous. The Hebrew word for miracle, nes, means banner, flag, trial, test, as well as miracle.

Rabbi Jamie, and kabbalah, pushes us to broaden our definition of miracle, or perhaps, deepen it. What is a miracle? Several budding kabbalists offered answers. The human body, animal bodies. Anshel, who has an identical twin, says their relationship is a miracle, “I can feel her pain. And she lives in Florida. We pick out identical birthday cards.” I said life, the ineffable animation of the inanimate.

plate_tectonicsRabbi Akiva says that nothing in nature is less miraculous than the rarest exception. This means, for example, that the water in the Red Sea (or, Reed Sea) is as miraculous as its parting. Or, for that matter, the Hebrew slaves pouring across it are, too.

It’s hard for me to articulate how this changes me. There’s a stubborn I will not be moved part of my psyche (I know. You know this already.) that keeps me from changing my perspective without a lot of thought. Good and bad. Makes me resolute in the face of adversity, but also mulish in terms of new ways of thinking. Reason can take me up to the wall, but will not push me past it. So I entertain a lot of new ideas happily, but absorb few of them There has to be an emotional component, a combination of reason and feeling.

The emotional/psychological element involved here is big.  And, it’s not only about an attitude toward miracles, nor even toward kabbalah itself, but about an inner tectonic plate, one that needs subducting but that I have not been able to move for decades. This core substrata of my Self supports a continent and that continent is my productivity, purposefulness, agency. Messing around with it scares me.

caveIt is anxiety. I believe it infested my life in two early stages. The first was polio, a young boy’s physical experience of our human finitude. It happened once; it could happen again. The second was the death of my mother when I was 17. It happened once, to Mom. It will happen to me and could happen quickly.

Now, I believe anxiety has its purpose. It makes us attend to matters that might harm us in some way and it encourages us to resolve them by poking us psychically until we do. A good thing, in my opinion. Yet, when everything or many things seem harmful-like life itself-then anxiety becomes crippling, closing down joy, play, eagerness, and yes, the miraculous, too.

I can feel that plate beginning to grind its way under more positive parts of my inner world, kabbalah is one of the forces impelling it. So is, oddly, Kate’s health issues and my own, coupled with increasing age.

Seems contradictory, right, at least these last two? Yes, but here’s how that works. Both polio and my mother’s death have left me with a sense of impending catastrophe, not immediate, not right now, but…soon. And, of course, that’s both wrong and right. The sense of finitude that both put into bold face type on my inner sign board is real. I will die, there will be some final illness even more destructive to me than polio. That’s the right part.

timeThe wrong part is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to worry about it, fear it, be anxious about it. It is. Or, rather, will be. Maybe in the next ten minutes, maybe in the next ten years, maybe longer. I know this by reason, have known it for a long, long time, but I have not been able to displace the irrational fear in spite of that knowledge. That’s why I say reason can take me up to the wall, but not past it.

The shuddering that’s affecting my innerworld, a sort of psychic earthquake, is accepting the finitude, leaning into mortality, even embracing it. The wall that keeps this from happening is built of tangled vines. Will I work? Will I care about my projects? Will I just relax, sink into the hammock and never roll out of it? Cutting a gate through this wall to whatever lies on the other side feels like indulging myself, separating myself from the motivator/motivation that keeps me moving forward. That’s the resistance that anxiety has constructed in my soul.

the-secret-garden-kewYet, increasingly I find myself wanting a way through this. I can sense, and here kabbalah is playing a critical alchemical role, a different world, a better world now hidden from me. I can peek through the vines at times, can see the secret garden beyond. It’s this wall that holds up the substrata, keeps it from being ground other parts of my Self. This wall has its roots sunk deep into this tectonic plate, is a barrier to its movement. But I can feel the vines withering, their complicity in the substrata’s effect on my psyche weakening.

What lies on the other side? I really don’t know. That’s sort of the point, but it feels like a healthier, happier place. Perhaps soon I’ll find out.

 

 

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