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

Pâté for the Partay? Or, the Zen of Eddie

I have a cat who is 16 years old, which is 80 in cat years. Lizzie is still fairly active, still makes trouble, and inevitably messes with my head. That’s how I know she’s okay. She’s always been a picky eater and finding wet food that she likes is challenging. When I discover a flavor she will eat, stupidly I buy it again, and she looks at me like, “What the hell is this?” and walks away. A friend of mine, who has five cats, holds to the axiom: the stinkier the better – and that has been true for her royal highness who lives in my home.

The problem with the wise axiom is that we are in the era of “gourmet” “healthy” cat food. Stinky is hard to come by. Rachel Ray’s Nutrish line – phew…Lizzie isn’t having it. Finally out of desperation I went to PetSmart or Petco – I’m not sure. I found many aisles of fancy cat food, bowls, and more nonsense than you’d ever need. My eyes glazed over and I asked the cashier if someone could help me.

I was roaming the aisles when a tall elegantly turned-out older gentleman came walking towards me. I liked him immediately. He had a slightly amused smile and he put on Kelly green glasses to read the labels. He looked like a classical or jazz musician – menthol cool. How had he landed on planet pet store? I told him about my fussy eater and mentioned that she only eats pâté. Shredded, bits – no way. So, this nice gentleman and I looked for pâté in the various brands. He was enjoying the play on words and was saying “pâté for the partay” which was cute. We found one brand which had a picture of a cat wearing a bow tie and a black tuxedo…? I must be an advertiser’s nightmare because I don’t understand what I’m supposed to infer from the image. Is the cat James Bond or a maître d’? I pointed this out to my fellow explorer and we continued goofing on more words and pictures: “Hereinafter called The Pâté of the First Partay…!” We actually found a couple of cans that Lizzie ate. Isn’t it great when you randomly meet people who are enchanting?

I returned the following week to restock and hoped I would run into my new friend, but I did not. The third visit I saw him again and he was working the cash register. His name tag read: Eddie. Eddie was having a good time with the lady ahead of me, and when it was my turn, I reminded him that he helped me and we enjoyed more banter. Eddie definitely  marches to a different beat. Jealous? Sure I am! What is Eddie’s Zen secret? He’s present and enjoys the moment. I am hoping some of Eddie will rub off on me.

How do I know I don’t have Eddie’s Zen? A couple of days ago I was telling a friend about the “decor” that my neighbors “adorn” on and around their front door. This situation is worthy of its own post, at least for me, but I’ll leave it for now. I realized that I was ranting way too long, and my friend, Blanca, is just wonderfully calmly and understandingly listening. God bless tolerant friends! She is definitely closer to Eddie Zen than I.

For me, I have a long way to go.

Exhaling,

 

 

Clare

“Cat Yelp” cartoon by Paul Noth, The New Yorker. 2018

We Just Weren’t Made For These Times

Once again I was listening to the local high school radio station. A student whose show I enjoy was signing off for good. He’s headed to William and Mary in the fall. I will miss his astute music knowledge. His last show was comparing the Beatles’s Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Revolver, a sort of battle of the bands for the pinnacle of musicality. He played a Beach Boy song with the Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound, and then he played it without – just the harmonies of five beautiful voices. Marvelous both ways.

He also played the song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Watching the Showtime documentary on Brian Wilson reveals his emotional troubles, which are well-documented, and this song is emblematic of his discontent. And all our discontent?

I often have this thought myself and I know I am not alone. I think of my friend Will and a friend’s daughter who yearn for something….else. We’re fairly certain it’s not this. My friend’s daughter, Emily, is a beautiful tall blonde athletic Amazon. She’d been perfect for the surf culture decades back in San Onofre and Point Dume. She’s trying to find her way in this nutty world, and is not feeling the manic pull of over-achieving-I-have-to-get-into-Harvard nonsense. 

Will, who is her senior by ten years, is a sweet guy who wants everyone to be happy and love one another. He hangs out at a local vintage shop full of 50s and 60s memorabilia. He has not taken the usual route of “success” and chooses work where he can connect with people. He’s good at it – everyone loves him.

What we have in common is an attraction to a simpler, freer time, which through the rose colored glass is the 1960s. A time of division in the country and an vibrant youth culture – not unlike now. There’s a growing feeling inside of me to light out of where I am and drop out. Hunker down either for “the end” or for the backlash to lash back. I was always like this, even as a kid. A friend’s older brother would laugh and say, “Clare, how far back do you want to go? Do you want the right to vote?!”

Back to the student DJ and his open-mindedness and insight. As a counterpoint, I was talking to my friend Sebastian who is in his twenties. We were discussing a song from the 60s, and he said, “I know I’m supposed to hate it, but I don’t.” That was the saddest thing I heard and it also pissed me off.  What is this “supposed to” stuff? What happens if you download a song “not of your time” on Spotify? Does a red rotating alarm light go off and you’re taken to an underground bunker for reprogramming? To Sebastian’s credit he remains open, but I was discouraged nonetheless.

What is the remedy, I wonder, as we watch everyone exercise their right to act crazy – publicly and privately. While we are lamenting the death of the 99 cent avocado, some maniac who has just been on a high speed chase with police runs into Trader Joe’s wielding a gun and holds the store hostage. Or as we hand over our democracy to Russia with a big bow on it, will we rue the decision of learning Mandarin instead of Russian? 

My answer: not sure. Find a patch of peace, make it your sanctuary, watch, wait, and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Yes, some of us just weren’t made for these times.

Clare Irwin

 

The Year Got Rung

I woke up the morning of January 1, thrilled to be on this beautiful earth, and so grateful that 2017 was a fine year and looking forward to 2018 being the best year yet. Happily I was having my coffee, looking out onto the frigid yet beautiful view from where I write…musing…”God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!…” You’d think, right?

Well, it was true until a couple of people in my life, not necessarily close people, but people I must deal with, started to infiltrate my euphoria…the buzz kill was about to begin. And, in the time in which we now find ourselves, always plugged in, the invasion is that much harder to stave off. Do I have to end up like the guy in The Omen who shuts off his electricity, wallpapers his apartment with newspaper clippings, and seals himself in?

I don’t know, maybe it’s the full moon. But part of the day was vexing. Inconsiderate behavior — one of my least favorite things. By early afternoon I had put the matter in the proper perspective, and pretty much didn’t care anymore. Blithely, I went about the remainder of my day.

Until about 9:15 the next morning. It’s all minor stuff, but I’m territorial when it comes to my peace being disturbed. I was contacted by email by same persons. When I tried to call them: unreachable, can’t talk, in meetings all day, yada, yada, yada. Sure. I consulted a friend who gave me good input, and moved on to other things. Later, I realized I hadn’t addressed the issue. So I started to compose an email that would be fair, polite, balanced – whatever, because God forbid anyone’s feelings gets hurt! I found myself agonizing over word choice and I stopped. I thought,  “Why do I even care about this?” I hopped over to here – Phantom Noise –  and slammed this out. My inclination is to not do anything, which is usually the best course of inaction. I am fairly sure I’m never going to be right with these people anyway.

That’s it. The big drama. A friend of mine says, “The smaller the stakes, the bigger the drama.” How true. So instead of thinking this is the tone of 2018, I’m decreeing it was annoying, and if that’s the worst – then I’ll take it and we got it out of the way.

Happy 2018! For real.

Clare Irwin

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

Giving Thanks

I remember a hymn we used to sing in school at this time of year, “We Gather Together.” I always liked it and still do. It’s a pretty melody and one I can actually sing – I can’t carry a tune to save my life. I thought it was English, but I was just reading that it is Dutch in origin. Religious practices aside, the title is a nice thought – let us gather together, be at peace, grateful that we can, as the family of man (and women), be one.

The present seems unsettled, fractious. Perhaps it is. But following the axiom of “be here now,” really truly being present – I pray and hope that for all of us “now” is a quiet moment, loving and gentle. I have spent holidays in hospital rooms and places where I knew what was coming was going to be challenging. And, I have spent holidays full of joy and abundance and with all the people I love around me. They are all worthy. I think that often we learn more from the “hard” times – as uncomfortable a feeling they may evoke.

Let’s take a moment, or more than a moment, to shift our attention from all the ads and reminders of Black Friday sales, shopping, consuming and more consuming, and slow down, breathe deeply and exhale. 

I hope all who read this, whether they observe this holiday or not, take some time today to think about what they are grateful for, who they are grateful to have as friends, family, loves, grateful for all the little things we take for granted: the sweet bird at the bird bath, the sunshine, a smile from a stranger, small acts of kindness.

I am deeply grateful for this day, for all I have, had, and will have. The road before us is unknown, but it matters not. It reveal itself at the proper time. Know the journey is what we make of it, and often the journey is as or more amazing than the destination – maybe they are one and the same.

Enjoy. With love and gratitude,

Clare Irwin

 

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.”

Theodore Baker, 1894