A False Start?

How is everyone’s 2020 going? We’ve had an almost war, impeachment in the Senate starts tomorrow, and on the Martin Luther King Holiday there’s a Second Amendment rally in Virginia. Which is okay, I suppose, since the First Amendment entitles us all the right to assemble. How heavily armed to the hilt is what I am wondering. We’re riding the whirlwind that’s for sure.

In the micro, it’s time to open up a big can of whup ass. My ambitions for a new template have not yet been realized. This penning would have been under a new menu – working title – “Quick Cuts.” At the moment that new website – and menus – exist only in my imagination, while certain people are absent from the task. I hope you’re reading this! And another person of my acquaintance owes me $40. Not a big sum, but needed all the same. I hope you’re reading this!

On the lighter side, it’s a beautiful frigid day and I’ve had time to read: Dostoevsky, Mishima, social psychology and anthropology. Joy! I have also been decluttering and am appalled at the amount of nonsense I keep. Satisfying work.

Despite the madness and frustration, I shall take the wider view. My octogenarian cat wants to play, have treats and guilt me into opening another can of food. A buffet on the kitchen floor.

None of this should stop me from writing, except the fact that the latest update of this template is counter intuitive. That’s a nice way of saying I f’ing hate it.

In the words of Admiral Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The writing will continue. I hope you’re reading this!

On your mark, get set, go!

Clare

A New Decade – A New Look

Yeppers! Here’s hoping in the next weeks we have a new website! Praying all the planets align and the code gods cue up and we pull this off. Relying on the generous kindness of talented friends to bring their skills to the task with me. Thank you in advance & I do hope you will all enjoy what comes next!

Love,

Clare

Sunflower image: Venetia Jane’s Garden, Bedfordshire, England. Twitter: @VenetiaJane

Wrap Up

Welcome to 2020! I took time these last days to reflect on the year past, what I choose to leave behind, and what I hope, with a qualified expectation, for a new decade.

Personally, 2019 was a great year. New friends, reconnecting with old, love and support from my family of choice and birth – weddings, babies born, one on the way, harmony, a growing circle of love and joy, good people and kindness, expanding my work in holistic and wider ways, satisfaction and love for what I do.

Geo-politically, or outside my immediate world…it was an ugly year. The endless chatter talks about fatigue. Yes, definitely. I think this a large reason for my not writing much. I am deeply disturbed by all the rancor and vitriol that is rampant. I feel ashamed – for all of us – of images of children separated from their parents, held in unspeakable conditions, ill and dying, the world burning and drowning. The name calling, the glee in destructive action and rhetoric, the cruelty and lack of concern – it’s a leap backward from which I am not entirely certain we will be able to recover: to return to being thoughtful, intelligent, and inquisitive, questioning authority, having accountability, a thirst for knowledge, responsibility for our fellow man….etc. All the things we were taught and know.

Yet there is hope. All of us have the ability to seize the moment and call out this unattractive selfishness. It takes courage, but it is the call to adventure and action. Let’s rescue wisdom from the past. It’s not a us v. them situation – it’s You and I together time. Do the right thing – speak truth to power. Have no fear. In these situations, one grows in leaps and bounds and one discovers how much strength one has. We cannot allow cowardice and laziness to be the prevailing attitude.

Good luck. I’ll see you on the other side…

…check back for a big announcement!

Clare

The Last Time

Today marks the autumnal equinox and we’ve had a glorious September. Every ushering in of the early fall finds me in a restive state. This year I feel downright restless. I have stayed close to home and spend peaceful hours outside with my old girl, my 16-year-old cat Lizzie, watching her sunbathe. When it’s quiet – no lawnmowers, no electronic sound, we listen to nature. And Mother Earth is loud! The cacophony of crickets and cicadas and their music is mighty. How humbling to know that creatures so small make great noise.

This late summer/early fall I hear them saying to me: “Last time! Last time!” Their refrain fills me with an itchy feeling — it’s time to move on, go put down roots in a quieter cleaner place. The “last time” feeling also makes me think of Lizzie; I wonder is this the last summer we have, the last time we will sit and do nothing in the sunshine. She has days when she mostly sleeps and is low-energy, and then there are days when I find her jumping up on high window sills to watch the birds or the world pass by. It pulls at my heart – we are so fragile and so resilient at the same time. A mass of contradictions.

The clear warm sunny days with turquoise skies also remind me of the last early fall that my mother was still well enough to do things. I traveled to see my parents and we decided to go raspberry picking at a local farm. It must have been a weekday because we were the only ones in the fields, and the rows were situated to provide a wide vista of rolling hills and low mountains. I stood up from picking and looked at the view: my mother and father intent on their task. I knew that that would be our last time. The last time of normal fun activity — our remaining times revolved around sick rooms and hospitals.

I was corresponding with my friend MK who traveled by car cross country to return to college in California. He took his time and had the “experience.” His photographs are a beautiful travelogue. I shared my wanderlust feeling with him, and my science friend wrote this: “I believe everything will work out fine. I trust the universe, and its mechanisms. Ever since my move to the US it has always been by my side, bringing me one success/accomplishment/acquaintance after the other, and you are one of them. The one thing I do to make sure this rhythm stays in motion is wake up and take a few seconds to be grateful: for my feet that get me out of bed, hands that prepare my food, eyes that see, family, roof that houses me, etc.”

Well put. Here’s to a benevolent universe and to last times — and first times.

Clare

Cancel My Subscription

Greetings and salutations! Forgive the absence – November and December were a blur. I feel so rusty, and I’ve been indecisive on which topic to write. My folder is full of ideas, but I can’t get it together.

The last months were great – busy and productive, and the holidays were peaceful, non-materialistic, simple and not overindulgent. Amid feelings of bliss I am forced to encounter people who are…not happy…or confused?

Some incidents occurred, which at the time peeved me, but I had my outburst and it was over. Now, I am grateful because these nothings were so absurd, they offered up a treasure trove for me.

During my down time I caught the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. A line, from Larry, came up more than once: “I don’t subscribe to…” referring to a belief/custom/social norm – fill in the blank. The one I remember is he’s asked to take a house tour because Susie and Jeff move into a new home. Larry refuses. A screaming match ensues. Regarding house tours, I’m with Larry. Unless you’re showing me around Chatsworth or Highclere Castle, I’m not interested. We have to see the matching curtains and bedspreads – whatever (a major interior design violation in my book) in your daughter’s bedroom? What is the message we are supposed to receive – wow you have great stuff, you can recognize various hues of pink and put them together? What am I’m missing?

I wasn’t asked to take a house tour, but I’m citing Curb because I feel that the “I don’t subscribe to…” can fill a lot of ellipses in my observations of the world as I watch people go crazy or reveal some weird neurosis that is obnoxious.

Let’s start: “I don’t subscribe to your desperate need to be flattered, nor do I care how many people think you are amazing.” This is for an 86-year-old woman who is related to me by a misalliance of marriage.

“I don’t subscribe to baby talk or cutesy talk unless you are under the age of five.”

“I don’t subscribe to the use of the word ‘metrics’ in a sentence when talking about a person.”

“I don’t subscribe to complaints or bitching without a solution (no matter how half-baked), or trying to help (no matter how inept).”

“I don’t subscribe to your identity/victim don’t hurt me schtick, which you think is a hall pass for your shitty behavior.”

“I don’t subscribe to feigning interest in the description and explanation of your tattoos/piercings/Manic Panic hair color, etc.”

“I don’t subscribe to the notion that a person will have apoplexy or syncope if I say ‘fuck.'”

“I don’t subscribe to the contagion of business speak – speak in plain English!”

Example: “Utilize historical and predictive analysis to inform media decisions, develop media approach and strategic direction for various initiatives, define target audiences, create and execute plans designed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, and use data and tech advancements to drive corporate and network goals. On-boarding new employees, training, growing and supporting direct reports and colleagues.”

I speak four languages aside from English, and I recognize the above words, but the arrangement baffles me. What does this MEAN?!!!

Maybe I don’t want to know. The list goes on, but I will end here and declare that I do subscribe to apologizing when required, while simultaneously encouraging the refusal to “buy in.”

Contritely,

Clare

PS. After writing the new post: “Pâté for the Partay…” I realize I have another “cancel.” I don’t subscribe to the “I’m a cat person,” or “I’m a dog person.” Why are humans so self-limiting? We have to chose sides? Can’t we love both…or better…all the lovely creatures?

In Memoriam – Harry Leslie Smith

On November 28, Harry Leslie Smith passed away at the age of 96. Last year, when I discovered Harry on Twitter, I didn’t know of him. After following him I learned how well- known and admired he is in the UK, Canada – around the world. Over the year, on Twitter, we had a few sweet exchanges, despite the fact that he has hundreds of thousands of followers. Real followers who too are dedicated to righting the wrongs of this world. But Harry is unique. Fearless and outspoken, he voiced his opinions and took on his detractors. His story is powerful: poverty, starvation, war, finding love, children, losing his love and dedicating his life to helping those who have no representation, no one to advocate for them. He is a remarkable person and I hope and I pray that I, and others, take up the baton and continue his work. I think that would be what Harry would want most of all. It is presumptuous of me, but I do think that’s on track.

I wrote this piece last year when I first made Harry’s “acquaintance.” It seems a bit naive now that I know more about him. I am republishing it nevertheless, lest we forget those among us who are humble and so so brave. In loving memory, Clare

From December 25, 2017:

Holiday Wishes & I’m Just Wild about Harry!

Yuletide wishes & happy festivities to everyone! I hope your holiday is full of love and joy and peace. Now and always.

I was on Twitter this morning, composing a holiday greeting, and on my feed I saw a sweet tweet from a gentleman in England: Harry Leslie Smith. The tweet read: 

“Happy Christmas to all my friends and followers. Love will triumph even in this darkness, if we show the courage of compassion to our fellow travelers. All the best, Harry.” I went to his home page and learned that Harry is a remarkable man. Nearly 95, he has decided that, “I’m spending the last years of my life touring the refugee hot spots of the world to find a solution to this crisis…” How fantastic is that? Harry’s profile reads: “Survivor of the Great Depression, RAF veteran Activist for the Welfare State Author of Harry’s Last Stand Love Among the Ruins, 1923 & The Empress of Australia…”

I hope I’m like that if I make it to 95 – but why wait? I think I will take a leaf out of Harry’s book and start…now. All that courage, concern, heart, resilience and joy. It’s admirable stuff. I remember that The New Yorker magazine used to have mini-columns (maybe it still does), that were usually at the end of an article where some space needed to be filled. There was: “Block that Metaphor!” and “There’ll Always Be an England.” Of course, they were clever and funny, and I am thinking of Harry, but more in connection to the song, “There’ll Always Be an England,” which I vaguely know. It embodies British pluck and courage even in the midst of the “darkness” to which Harry refers.

So dear friends, have a happy and raise a glass to Harry, to yourselves, your loved ones, and to bravery. 

Cheers!

Clare Irwin

Thanksgiving Wishes

Wishing everyone a loving, sweet and joyous holiday weekend. I hope we take time to reflect on all for which we are grateful. And, more than a thought for those who are ill, alone and suffering and managing on so much less. Less excess and more giving.

New post coming soon.

Love,

Clare

“Live simply. Dream big. Be grateful. Give Love. Laugh lots.”* 

 

 

 

*Quote from Mindfulness Wellness @healingMB on Twitter

 

Cleaning a House – My True Ghost Story – II

My second paranormal encounter happened years later, about two miles from where I saw the ghostly apparition on Halloween night. This patch of town is charged with stranger things. I had a friend, actually he and his mother were friends of my family for years. Not quite sure how they met, or what sustained the relationship because they were so unlike my parents. They were secretive, tightfisted, aggrieved. The mother, Eleanor, had a sense of humor, but her son Thomas, not Tom, always Thomas, was a bundle of ticks and neuroses. They were not unkind people just troubled. Part of the glue that held this friendship together was, I would guess, that they and my family were residents of the area for a long time. I’m harping on this, but the relationship between mother and son, I believe, is key to the creepy things to come.

Thomas’s mother passed away after a long illness, and I was living at my folk’s place sort of in-between things. By default, Thomas and I would occasionally go to a movie, meet for a meal. I think I felt sorry for him, he seemed so dissolute without his mother – they were uncommonly attached – and he had never lived on his own. He remained living with Eleanor. He never seemed to have a girlfriend, had never married. What he did with his time was a mystery. Eleanor was quite wealthy and the property spanned 40-50 acres of prime real estate. Neither worked yet they lived well, traveled extensively. There must have been a significant coffer from which money was drawn.

During my time of hanging out with Thomas he asked if I would house-sit for him. He was going to Paris, Zurich, and Turin – for “business.” He had four semi-feral cats, to whom, he was uncommonly attached as well. I agreed to house-sit. Dumb.

Thomas’s house was traditional – I don’t know the style – it was attractive and there was a cottage (unoccupied) on the property. The house was situated on a hill with a beautiful view. No neighbors in sight. It was decorated tastefully yet fussily, a lot of white and Biedermeier. During Eleanor’s reign, if you were allowed into the living room for tea or a drink, you couldn’t relax for fear of spilling on the white damask and brocade, wriggling under Eleanor’s hawkish gaze. Good times! What’s the point of having stuff if you don’t use or enjoy it. More often, to my relief, we would congregate in the kitchen which was the only room that had any degree of warmth. It was spacious with an oak table by a stone fireplace.

The house had a strange vibe. It was hollow and a little sad – devoid of personality. Thomas told me that there had been a fire years ago and most of the house was rebuilt. Thomas’s mother was gone nearly ten years, but he tentatively moved around the house and agonized over moving or changing anything. He was an only child and had inherited the lot, but acted like he still needed permission from mom.

I go to get instructions on the care and feeding of cats and house. After all this time of “knowing” the family I had only seen the first floor. Neither upstairs nor down. When I got the tour I was barely allowed to see the upstairs but did get a tour of the basement which should, had I been a sensible girl, have sent me running. It was unfinished and ramshackle with many stone and dirt creepy crawl spaces wherein the cats would mysteriously disappear. The basement was the truth – the main floor the lie, and I was to discover, the upstairs was the awful truth.

I was told to sleep in the guest room on the first floor. It was inexplicably freezing cold. Since watching movies and shows about the paranormal that was a sign: cold spots. Teeth-chattering shivering cold. Thomas called from Europe and I told him about the Ice Station Zebra problem. He hemmed and hawed and finally said I could sleep in his mother’s room. Hallowed ground! I knew this was a big concession and something he didn’t want to do. Thomas’s bedroom was also upstairs, which I was instructed not to go into, and by glancing from the open door why would I? It was pitch dark and full of junk. A black hole. Across the hall was Eleanor’s room which resembled a Golden Age Hollywood starlet’s bedroom combined with Rebecca’s bedroom from the movie. Ultra-opulent and feminine. Boudoir. Which was strange because Eleanor was none of those things and quite unattractive. That was sad too. So I slept there. One night. It was slightly less frigid than the room downstairs.

The following morning I woke up and was cold. I hadn’t brought enough warm things so I went into Eleanor’s walk-in closet/room hoping there may be an old sweater handy, and I jumped. Among the rows and rows of negligees and fancy slippers was a mannequin head with a red wig on it. Everything was as if Eleanor would walk in at any moment and need a peignoir to entertain guests. Now I’m thinking Norman Bates.

I had enough and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and devise an excuse to get out of my obligation. I was in the kitchen and the sun was pouring in. Another sign – the sun would come in but it didn’t warm or light the house in the normal fashion. As I turned from the stove holding the kettle I see – Eleanor. Dressed in flowing white – but not a shroud. She glances at me and moves through the swinging door into the dining room. I froze. I couldn’t believe it. I put down the kettle and followed her. The door was still swinging and I caught a glimpse of her back as she turned the corner and vanished.

I got into my car and drove to my dad’s house. I didn’t say anything but I did call the girl at the vet’s office (who was the backup plan) to go care for the cats. I planned to leave it at that, but I called my sister’s Wiccan friend, Helen – I wrote about her in an earlier essay – and told her. I had to tell somebody, and Helen would understand? I made her day because she was amped and told me, “Clare, you have to clean that house! Thomas is holding his mother there and she wants to leave!” How did she know? Helen also had some choice observations about Thomas and his cats, but I’ll leave it at that.

Why did I agree to this “plan?” On the surface it’s pretty stupid, but I was curious and wanted see what, if anything, would happen. I have to say that Helen knew her stuff, she rattled off a list of things I would need which took me a day and half to assemble. Including a trip to Home Depot and a sizable length of thin copper wire which a kindly salesclerk cut into 4″ lengths. He looked at my quizzically at one point and I said, “Don’t ask.”

The day of battle arrived. I drove to the house fully equipped and with Helen’s written instructions because this was complicated business – I won’t go into detail. The first thing she told me to do was to light a white candle in a silver candlestick holder – in the room where I saw Eleanor. I placed the candle and holder on the kitchen table and went to light it and realized I didn’t have matches. I walked to the other side of the kitchen where they were on a counter, and the candle flies out of the holder at me. Like someone whipped it – hard. This was the moment where I should have reevaluated the situation. I had goosebumps but I kept on. I put the candle back and proceeded. The interior cleaning took time because it had to be done exactly as Helen prescribed. After that process, where I could feel myself getting physically exhausted, I was to extinguish the candle, close the door to the house and start on the copper wire.

According to Helen, the copper wire is an energy conduit, and as I had “cleaned” the inside of the house I needed to create a route out for Eleanor. Luckily there was a water source at the end of the long drive, and I was pushing the wire into the soft earth from the house all the way down to the stream. As I was nearly finished, it was a sunny cold October day, I looked back at the house and I heard what sounded like many doors slamming violently. More goosebumps.

Helen told me not to reenter the house, to let it rest at least an hour before returning. No convincing needed! Happy to see the place in my rear-view mirror. Later, when I had to go back to get my things, I talked my father into coming with me. I told him nothing, not because he wouldn’t have believed me, but he would have shaken his head and thought that we – I, Helen, Thomas, Eleanor and the cats – this is what we had time for? So we go, and as we’re walking towards the house glancing at two inconsequential garage doors, my father, who was a marine and feared nothing said, “You know, this place gives me the creeps.” Validation! From a sane person!

As Helen predicted, the house was different – better – and the cats were upstairs. Had Helen’s recipe worked? Still I didn’t stay. The cats were attended to by the vet girl and I went home. When Thomas returned, he called to thank me for house-sitting and at the end of the conversation he asked, “By the way, what did you do to the house?” Nothing, I said, and he dropped it. My guess is that he was weird enough to conjure Eleanor back, but I never returned, so I can’t say.

I didn’t see Thomas much after that. A couple of years later we received a postcard with a picture of a renovated cottage and a charming apartment. Thomas had moved to Geneva, why I don’t know. Maybe they have scarier ghosts there, or in the spirit of Swiss neutrality, ghosts without an agenda? I heard through the grapevine that Thomas had subdivided his sizable landholdings, made millions, and leveled the house.

Shortly after my “white magic” encounter, I was in a bookstore that specialized in theology, New Age and crystals. Something for everybody. It was a delightful store and the staff was knowledgeable. One of the last privately-owned bookshops. I was at the register and the woman who was checking me out did a double take and said, “You just did some major housecleaning!” I was impressed. We became friends until she died suddenly and unexpectedly.

As I close, remembering the experience and Eleanor’s and Thomas’s unhappy backstory – which I had to leave out because of length, I feel uneasy and a little sad. All those people, for better and worse, are gone from my life and so is any semblance of where they inhabited. Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a thing and am grateful I was shown something….unusual? And, maybe in some small way I helped Thomas move on.

Happy Housecleaning,

Clare

 

My True Ghost Stories – I

I wrote this piece last year, and in the spirit of the Halloween season I decided to republish. I found my notes to this story whilst cleaning out my office. The suburban legend I reference at the end was told to me by a girl who lives near the purported melon heads. In this desolate area there’s an unpaved street called Velvet Road, with one solitary abandoned house. The old colonial is inhabited by the melon head family who are faceless, easily insulted, and envious. The local cheerleading squad calls that stretch of road “Drakula Drive…”

I will describe, as best I can, two events that happened years apart which defy explanation. The common denominator is they both took place in a remote area of New England, in the same town, and they occurred in the month of October — one on Halloween night. It’s Native-American ground up there, you can sense it, and I don’t know if the town’s founding fathers respected that. I need to channel Stephen King; I cannot do it justice. He is the master. I’m thinking about the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in his writings. The names of places in my story are all Native-American too. We would find arrowheads in the woods, which we gave to the historical society; if a tribal elder was passing through, or we had an address, what we found was returned.

I was not a child who was afraid of the dark or had any issue with ghosts or monsters or things under the bed, so I tend to trust that my memory is reliable, if not definitive. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about believing, or not, in the supernatural, I am open to the idea and certainly there are things in this world that are mystifying.

The first encounter happened when I was around 10. I had come out to the town to visit a family I knew and Halloween fell during my stay. So, I went trick or treating with my friend Sara, her little brother Eddie, and her older brother Andy as our “escort.” There was a fair distance between houses, no lights on the road and it was pitch dark. Halloween began as one would expect, knocking on doors and getting candy. Then the weirdness crept up gradually like a music crescendo. By the fourth house, which was rickety looking – the local gossip was that the older couple who lived there were odd and creepy – an unearthly feeling fell. No one was home. Candy was left with a note on the porch, but everything was a mess like a creature had run riot. We surveyed the disarray and decided to leave without partaking, when we sensed that someone was watching us – that someone was home in the dark house staring. Even so, we shrugged it off and continued.

Next was a house we knew. A lovely restored barn owned by a glamorous couple who weren’t around much. Above the front door was a beautiful carved horse’s head – smooth and elegantly realistic. We were familiar with the aesthetic because the couple had a marvelous swing that went over a steep hill, and in the summer months we would play there. We rang the doorbell, there was no answer and the house was dark. All at once we looked up at the horse’s head which appeared to be looking at us and at something in the distance; the pale moonlight gave it an eerie cast. That was when we started to get jittery.

We set out to the next house which was far away. The back of the country club golf course was between us and our point of destination. We were walking on the side of the dark road where the soft hills of the golf course were and a fine mist was hovering. On the other side of the road was dense wood. Not a house in sight. We were walking, talking, goofing around. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all looked towards the golf course and saw a silvery tall and slender figure of a man in leather skins – in profile. I can still see the image – no color just the moiré effect of silver/grey that defined him. Andy yelled, “Run!” And we did. As we turned to look, the figure was running parallel to us with long strides and keeping up with ease. As this point we were frightened and we kept on running until we got to the next house (which was owned by a woman who locals claimed was a witch – I think that was because no one liked the family much and they had strange ways). When we approached the house, Eddie asked, “What was that?” No one answered him. As we reached the door it opened and spilled out a flood of light. We scrambled in and were greeted by the witch mom. She seemed to sense we were rattled and she had an slight smile at the corners of her mouth (did she know?). She made us welcome while Andy called their mom to come pick us up.

We never spoke of it. Ever. And we remained friends and in touch over many years, until our parents fell ill and passed. They moved away and started their adult lives. I often wonder what it was we saw. I am convinced it was not a person trying to mess with us, but what was it?

In the last couple of years, I have gone back to visit the town and other people I know there, and I hear from them and the local teenagers that there are still strange occurrences. One girl told me that due north, where the woods are even deeper and there are no houses at all, there is a “Suburban Legend” that has been around for a time. The land is owned by the state and there are reservoirs and nature preserves so it’s virtually uninhabited. Except for one abandoned house. The legend is that a family of “melon heads” lurk there. “What do you mean melon heads?” I asked. A head like a melon with no face, no eyes, nose, or mouth.

She was on the cheerleading squad and told me that they were heading to a game with one of the mothers driving a Suburban 10-seater on this stretch, and the car just stopped. Dead. For no apparent reason. Cell phone service there is spotty at best, but they survived unscathed. I can imagine the piercing screams and shrieks that were coming from the car as they were stuck there.

Now that would have scared off just about anything.

In respect to indigenous peoples, to the land they hold sacred, to the unknown, to the fact that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Clare

Coming Soon – My True Ghost Story II – Housecleaning. And I don’t mean vacuuming!