A short hello to say that I hope you’re having a lovely day!
“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” – Daniel Webster
A short hello to say that I hope you’re having a lovely day!
“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” – Daniel Webster
Everything you love today will be one day thrown off, cast in a heap, stolen or forgotten. You may write your mementos into a will, put your signature upon books you’ve written, and, in the case of your very body, have portraits done to capture who you once appeared to be.
As a man came from his mother’s womb, so he will depart again, naked as he arrived. He takes nothing for his labor to carry in his hands. This too is a grievous evil: Exactly as a man is born, so he will depart. What does he gain as he toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness, with much sorrow, sickness, and anger. Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of life that God has given him—for this is his lot. Ecclesiastes
Antique fairs are like walking through graveyards but with less respect and order. Attendees remind me of grave robbers on battlefields (in a small way) though I very much enjoy being one of them. The dead are not quite so fresh at a county fairground, and we have no idea in most cases what the original owners died of. Let’s hope all in their sleep and at ripe old ages.
Last year the fair was cancelled, along with most everything that makes life worth living so this year the line to get in to see dead people’s stuff was easily a football field long. Everyone was commenting about it as they stood surveying who wore the mask correctly or not-at-all, obviously that person over there was not up-to-date on the latest studies, etc — so many studies! At least as we stood (at less than six feet apart) we were getting a good dose of Vitamin D.
Anyway, despite knowing I’ll die one day, I still love collecting old stuff. I love imagining the original owners and wonder am I imagining or tapping into their memories — it’s hard to know for sure, but I’m leaning toward objects granting the seeker a knowledge, a hint of something more. It’s the same way with writing. The muses, the spirits are there inviting you to see things, to take a chance. Where might these glimpses and promptings lead?
“One must really be brave to choose love or writing as one’s guides, because they may lead one to the space in which the meaning of our life is hidden — and who can say that this space may not be the land of death.”Demetrios Capetenakis
I think of the Catholic Sisters of Charity who ran toward the battlefields and hospitals and died (of disease and exhaustion) for the love of many soldiers during the Civil War who would otherwise have died without names. Or the soldiers themselves who found purpose in loving their country, or comrades or family back home. Nowadays we see all death as the worst possible outcome. I think this is because we have given up on the idea of eternity.
For the life of me I can’t keep death from my novels. I don’t even want to, I guess. I’ve made peace with what the muses say must be done. I’ll be happy if one day, for the love of my mission here, I am able to completely let my ego die and get down to just loving the people and things before me. The more I write, the more I love the characters, come what may. The fear of them leading to bad reviews or just plain bad endings diminishes the more I accept death as part of creation.
Do you know what this badge is? It’s a Grand Army of the Republic grave marker for a Civil War veteran. Somewhere a grave goes without its marker. I can’t imagine why, but I couldn’t very well leave it at the fair.
Again I think of the soldiers who died and were buried on plantations or in mass graves or even lovingly by their comrades. The men would often do their best to leave markers made of whatever they had available, most of it not holding up in the weather.
It was the evening before Cold Harbor when an officer spied all of his men crouched over sewing their names written on little sheets of paper to the backs of their jackets so sure they were of the hopelessness of their situation.
My idea is to plant a small garden for this relic of a brave soul’s life, to me unknown, but not really.
One sharp pain. One utterance of surprise. Oh. He leaves no great philosophies. There are no medals, no headstone. Only a few strings left attached to this world. Letters in government files The sacrifice a mother makes to prove her relation to the boy whose life is opened up on paper for a pension she is denied. Is it invasion to hang on their every word -- the words of intimacy and filial love in these letters? I am his family too and he is mine. These strings scribbled on cheap, creased stationery little ways of knowing a great deal (though I knew him without knowing it all my life ). Apologizing for his handwriting and blaming his pen. Butter from a country doctor as he sits in a hospital bed. No letters from home yet. Despair in one string, bravado in another; A book sent home to remember him by and I'm a tuff buck now. Have brother plant these pair seeds They be big as a fist and From Vermont. He spells as he spoke: haint, dast, Upstate I be The book cost me dear. The last string of words money sent home for mother's new house never be afraid to ask, I gladly go without. He is my muse and my relation All these years later a picture is found and we look the same. I've known him and I have no doubts. Never question God's creative force, or His happy coincidences. The heavens open sometimes and the saints speak and pray -- happy for reunion.
Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.2 Corinthians 5:8
For Further Reading:
My husband’s mother cancelled Christmas one year after her dog Mopsy died. She didn’t get another dog for over twenty years. When my husband’s favorite Golden Retriever died I said I thought it was a little disrespectful for him to want a quick replacement, but I immediately jumped in to seek out another. We picked up a new puppy a week after burying Elizabeth.
When my best friend Rosie died suddenly last summer, I vowed never to get another Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – then I started looking. Over the years the breed has become a status symbol. The interview process can be ridiculously grueling. I tried to explain to my husband why the breeders had to be so — particular.
“Golden breeders aren’t such snobs,” he would often say, and it’s true.
And then I discovered a new breed, one I had never heard of, one that intrigued me, one with a LONG life expectancy. Losing two dogs in less than a year had been tough on us. I wanted to avoid the pain if we could.
I deleted all of the Cavalier Instagrams I followed. I couldn’t handle seeing so much cuteness knowing I would never have another Rosie. I started following Tibetan Spaniel Instas instead. My husband was still bent on getting me a Cavalier puppy.
“It’s your signature breed,” he said. “I don’t care if they cost $6000 and still have heart murmurs that slowly kill them.”
“No. I want a Tibbie,” I said, not sure at first if I meant it, but then I did.
My husband stayed up nights scouring the breeder map and was willing to drive all the way to the Mississippi if need be (we had only driven a few hours to get the Golden puppy, but there’s no stopping him once on a mission). The phone rang one day (it was one of the top breeders of Tibbies!). “Oh, so you have no litters planned? But you have a retired show dog who sticks his tongue out too much? I’ll ask her, but she wants a puppy. Yes, send us a picture.” My husband turned to me. “You’re already settling on the breed and now it’s a two-year old dog …”
The email came through and I gasped — I actually really gasped. I was instantly in love with ZACK. Even the name spoke of greatness somehow. And he is pretty terrific. Before him we had only female dogs and they always fought. He walked in the door, glanced around, claimed the best couch and put all the other dogs in their place. Nala, the big white non-farm dog always seemed jittery in her alpha dog position. Now she can finally relax.
All dogs need to ask if they can join Zack’s humans on the couch and the bed. Actually the bed is off limits to the big girls now. He gathers all of the toys and doles them out as he sees fit and lounges at my side when I write. Sometimes you have to try new things or new breeds.
My husband has more than returned the favor. I still miss Rosie and Elizabeth, but there’s always more room for love.
“Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”
― Dean Koontz, False MemoryDean Koontz
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution
The morning begins. Those first sleepy moments are driven off by the cold in the mudroom as I tug my thick overalls and muddy boots on over my pajamas. There is something to knowing you’re needed, a mutual, satisfying feeling between the animals and me. We always say that every day is a good and pampered one for the animals except for their last.
I can’t imagine the loneliness of a farm with no animals. When we must load lambs off on their last day I cry and seriously consider giving it all up. But then I remember how sick I was without meat, and think too about the state of factory farming, and how life is a series of compromises. Not a single human soul is truly pure or innocent.
“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.”Wendell Berry
When you raise animals you tend not to waste their sacrifices. I laugh at the ram lambs as they gambol about and admire the proud ewes as they murmur sweet nothings to their newborns. They clean and dote over them with such soft looks in their eyes — looks that disappear after the little brutes get bigger and nearly upend her seeking milk.
Every night there’s the big sky in its various moods as I trudge down to the barn. The wind, the snow, the sun, the autumn leaves in little whirlwinds in the apple orchard — all things to keep me forever in the world, forever in the seasons, forever dirty, forever unfinished.
For the curious there is always so much more to learn. For someone like me who is so attached to the past, there is nothing better than discovering how my ancestors went about doing the same chores I do now.
Work keeps me sane and the seasons keep me from ever complaining about the monotony of chores. Yet chores aren’t really monotonous. Chores are dependable. Every night I announce, even when we have visitors, “Okay, I have to go do the animals.” It’s funny to think that for ten years I’ve said it exactly the same way. Not a single word changed. The tone is almost a complaint, but not really. Once I’m alone and outside I’m happy to be there.
“He who tills his own land has food in plenty, but he who follows idle pursuits is a fool.”Proverbs 12:11
The mini horse with his big personality always whinnies at the sound of the house door slamming. He still likes to push me around but I’ve charmed him into doing things I want to do as well. We’ve become friends. Every year I get quieter. I think it’s a spell that comes over some people who grow lots of things and keep farm animals. There’s so much to witness, tiny signs and bugs that hint at future doom or survival. Intuition, that feeling in your gut, becomes attuned to the dull look in a sick sheep’s eye. Sometimes in this quiet you know exactly what that dull look means.
I love the sound of a ticking clock. When I’m writing I prefer that to be the only noise. The other day the house was silent but for the ticking. I sat to write but was nudged by some spirit to go to the window. There against the white snow stood a fox staring right into our chicken coop. He looked curious, but I’m pretty sure he was just deciding which color hen he wanted for lunch.
The indoor farm dog was sent out to chase as I stumbled into my boots shouting from the garage (as if a fox would ever listen to me). The snow was so bright I was nearly blinded and didn’t get to the coop as fast as I would have in better weather. We lost one chicken. I spent much of the morning trying to corral the frightened flock inside for safety. Some regarded me as their savior and let me carry them into the coop. I felt complimented. The chickens are lucky. We take the eggs they couldn’t care less about and they live until they die of natural causes (whatever that means for animals with so many predators loving the taste of chicken).
I’m so happy that there are young people as entranced with the old ways as I am. The ideal of total independence is just that — an ideal, but without a grassroots embracing of the small and local, our land and independence will be swallowed up by an ELITE FEW who want to control (and change) our food supply. Slavery starts when the few control the very sustenance of life.
Yesterday was the beginning of Lent for Christians.
This was the first time in years (or maybe ever) that I was excited to get the ashes smeared on my forehead. Going back to Confession was a big step for me since for the longest time I hated the idea of a priesthood set apart. I wanted to be on equal footing with everyone and liked the idea of having “accountability partners” who basically were just as flawed and untrained as me.
The priest I went to see was pretty hardcore (in a nice way). He didn’t downplay my tendency to jump into family gossip and self-righteous back-stabbing of my adult siblings. After all everyone in the family does it. The priest shook his head. “No, that’s a bad sin.” Of course he was far more eloquent about it.
Friends tend to help you find excuses for your bad behavior. After a while all of my “accountability partners” became suspect. It started to bother me when they soft-pedaled around things. I’ve done the same, thinking to myself this person is a train wreck but not saying it. I mean, calling someone a train wreck isn’t helpful anyway, but you know what I mean. I didn’t have the faith that the friendship could survive an honest appraisal of the person’s behavior.
A priest at Mass recently talked about how draining it was in this time of priest shortages and bad-apple priests to carry the weight of parishioners’ sins. Until I “got” the sacredness of the priests’ position I would not have understood what he was saying. He intercedes for us! Now that is a burden for sure!
I was tempted to wipe the ashes from my head. I was torn because some teach that wearing your faith on your sleeve (or forehead) is offensive to the sensibilities of others, and I so enjoy being liked. Some say you should proclaim your faith in actions and behavior. In the end, since I’ve decided to fully embrace traditional Catholic culture I went ahead and wore the ashes to class.
Totally by coincidence, the judge who was involved in the adoption of our daughter was taking the same class with his tiny pug-like dog Wolfgang (which is the cutest name ever). It’s always funny to see people outside of where you put them in your head. Obviously the judge doesn’t wear his robes to class (and he doesn’t command the same authority with his dog that he does in the courtroom).
He smiled when he saw the ashes (by now I had forgotten them). “Oh, I forgot today was Ash Wednesday,” he said, “but I went to a Fat Tuesday pancake dinner last night. It was really good.” He sheepishly laughed again. How could he have forgotten after a full night of pancakes? I laughed too.
We all care so much about what people think. 🙂 As a writer I care about every last review and fret when people on Amazon find the few negative reviews from when I first published MY NOVEL “helpful” because this lands those reviews as Top Reviews. I tried to explain to an Amazon rep that it would be better to set the default on reviews to Most Recent (since my book has been thoroughly re-edited and getting good reviews for a while now) but to no avail.
I found this this helpful:
“To realize how desperately we depend on the ‘existence’ that recognition by others gives us, and how hopeless we are without it until God gives us feet to stand alone on. I have those feet sometimes, but once again, let me realize that there is no absolute ‘standing alone’ — only awful poverty and insecurity and clinging to God in one’s need of others, and greater appreciation of the smallest and most insignificant of communal verities.” THOMAS MERTON
Going to puppy school has been a good thing for me. The tendency to keep in my hermitage actually makes me more desirous of outside praise and notoriety. I don’t want to be that bitter person who compares likes on Instagram and lives for new followers, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. At puppy class everyone goes without their authoritative robes. We are all at least partially dependent on the whims of the puppies. Learning to let your guard down and take your lickings and laugh when you can’t make puppies stay is the best kind of humbling experience. And in this most insignificant of communal experiences I find, as I already know but forget, that we are all the same and live in this mystery of loneliness and friendship.
“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when — like the artists of every age — captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.” Letter of John Paul II to Artists
Isn’t there something thrilling in the idea that God, through some mysterious inspiration, taps our shoulders and asks us to birth beauty? Artists are graced especially with a sense that we are given something from nothing. We take an idea only just now occurring to us and bring it into this dimension of reality. When we have taken our inspiration seriously enough, we sense the importance of it or the goodness within it even in its embryonic stages. Though our limited talents may always disappoint us, there is a sense that this idea, this vision was given as a gift — if even a more humble one than others receive. Yet is any gift small if it is meant especially for us?
When we keep our eyes on the gift before us, we feel that expansive breath and excited heartbeat. It transports us to the heavens — if only for moments of time. I don’t know if everyone is gifted with such moments or if it is really only given to artists. I do know that we have a choice to accept the grace or not.
For twenty years I ran from God’s call on my life like Jonah, and I too was swallowed by a whale. I had caused many storms and needed to be thrown overboard. I turned back to God and the creative call only after everything else that seemed more practical had failed.
But it doesn’t matter anymore. Saying yes to the art that God asks us to make puts you in a special mood — one that makes life very simple even when it’s difficult. Listen and obey.
Have you ever felt called to do something? Did you run from it or embrace it instantly? I’d love to know in the comments!
“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it.
Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
Do you think of this time of year as a time of reflection or a time for shopping? I confess that for most of my life I’d never even thought about the weeks before Christmas as something separate from the actual holiday (which I rarely reflected upon either).
So what is there to reflect upon? For Christians advent is not about waiting to put the porcelain baby in the tiny manger on Christmas, but about waiting for the second advent when Christ returns. Non-Christians may find this a foolish notion, but I wonder if there is a person alive who doesn’t feel that humanity needs to be saved.
Social media and “the news” — no matter the flavor — ask us to take sides in the battle to save children, animals, foreigners, neighbors and the planet because we all know in our bones that we need saving and that there is something of value to save.
This year I find myself at loose ends (the perfect time to reflect).
I wonder about blogging. I’ve made some great friends.
I feel constrained sometimes.
Years ago at college I took a journalism course called Minorities in the Media. The professor loved my political writing, and I loved the praise. At the time, I was marching behind banners supporting terrorism in my spare time. I embraced a victim-hood that wasn’t even my own because I had an Irish last name. For a brief time the badge of victim-hood got me good grades and a seat at the university activist table. It also meant that I cared little for the people who might die for disagreeing over the issues I marched for in complete safety. In short, I was young, naive and ignorant of the complexities of human nature and history — so much so that compassion disappeared.
I remember one young man who dared question the narrative. He was Jewish and had living relatives who had survived the Holocaust. He refused victim status. The professor often stood back as the mob shouted him down. I remained quiet more out of cowardice than anything else, but that one boy’s stand against group-think made an impression on me.
In the books I’ve written I have never considered shying from controversial topics, yet more and more when I blog I find myself second-guessing writing about things I really believe in. The idea of offending someone and having to spend a day defending an off-the-cuff remark just seems so boring and useless. Politics and religion are fascinating subjects but the idea of writing about them in the present environment is so fraught with anger and hysteria I find it difficult to wade in.
With a few exceptions the internet is becoming a cultural desert for me. People are told to write how-to-blog/how-to-write posts to get more followers. People are told to stay away from religion and politics. Or to write about religion and politics to create extreme controversy and buzz.
I am guilty of it all. I’m guilty of chasing followers. I’m guilty of insincerity and of paying too much attention to the repetitive promptings of how-to-write/how-to-do-life blogs which at this point all blur into one another.
So why blog?
To build a platform? (when do we feel the satisfaction we are hunting for?)
To meet only like-minded people? (doesn’t this get so very boring?)
To trash opponents? ( I admit I too often find reading this stuff entertaining — but such a waste of time)
To offer advice? (not always — but often — the advice is copy and paste)
To bring something of value to the world? (isn’t this what we all hope to do?)
I suppose we all value different things, but for advent I’m reflecting on Saint Paul’s admonition:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8
But, my friends, I’m at an impasse.
This may all be Lyme-induced brain fog. Who knows …
Or maybe we just have to occasionally question why we do what we do.
One thing I do know is that I’m hungry for beauty, depth and inspiration. There are many blogs I really enjoy (but I want more!). Three that come to mind are: