Like You Just Don’t Care

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The rare lower leg selfie.

Anyone have a neighbor who is often seen out in her yard wearing a bizarre mosaic of clothing that might include high-waisted jeans, old Beck t-shirts splattered with paint, bright blue socks adorned with cartoon versions of Bob Ross and his “happy clouds” (could be green and happy trees, depending on the day), and occasionally slippers when she’s forgotten they’re not actually shoes? Does she speak French to her chickens, whose responses are mainly limited to ‘buuuuuurrrrque (French for ‘berk’)? You may also have noticed her taking her undies and other laundry down from the clothesline during your summer deck party.

If so, howdy neighbor!

Yeah, that was me out mowing my lawn this morning in a get-up not too different from that described above (the summer version includes shorter pants, which is awesome if you’re my neighbor cuz you get to see more sock!), with the seasonal accessory of a white mask over my mouth and nose. Allergies suck, and I think it’s too late to hope I might “outgrow” them. At least I can eat peanut butter, and trust me, you don’t want to know me if I ever have to give that up.

We’ve had an exceptionally wonderful weekend here in Seattle (a smidge hot for this native, but I ain’t complaining after the long, soggy winter we just endured), during which I’ve had several occasions to spend time with loved ones who helped me celebrate my birthday. Lots of fun, with some downtime mixed in, and as a result, I needed to catch up on chores this morning.

I’m not tangoing to the mid-century beat yet, but it is pulling me onto the dance floor. (I love to dance, so perhaps if I think of it this way, aging won’t be so bad.) Meanwhile, I’m not a young thing anymore, and as a result, I find that I am getting less and less concerned with how I’m perceived. This is a blessing for me, but maybe a curse for my neighbors.

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Not to get too macabre about it, but by this point in life, it has become crystal clear that there’s much less time in front of me than there is behind me. I need to maximize every minute of every day (although I do like my occasional nap) to read everything I want, to continue learning, to travel, to see friends, to write, to garden, to work for social justice, to volunteer, to try new things. To finish this damn rug (tantalizingly close; see this post for where I was with it back in February).

As for trying new things, I’ve embarked on almost every creative ship that was departing Inspiration Bay. After enjoying a few days on beguiling new waters, I usually become bored of the horizon that stretches out seemingly forever and move onto another adventure. Such is the Gemini personality. The islands (i.e., closets) are strewn with the jetsam of my tossed-overboard hobbies, but nonetheless I have decided to set out on yet another journey.

I’ve always wanted to do sketch journaling, of nature, daily life scenes, travels…I am not artistically gifted, but as I allude to above, I’m trying to ignore the judgy neighbors inside my own head (and tune in to the Bob Ross socks instead*). I’m interested in this journal idea for a couple of reasons. One is to be in the moment and pay better attention to the world around me. Another is to use my right brain more, try to tap into a font of creativity. My friend Ed (whose great new blog Outpost4013 you should go check out immediately) often sketches and he’s one of the most creative people I know. I doubt I’ll achieve Ed-level creativity, but I still think it’ll be a good thing for me.

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Rosé with roses on a warm summer evening.

So I used money I got for my birthday and bought some portable art supplies. I had so much fun planning what to buy and looking at inspiring books (check out An Illustrated Life, which features many artists’ sketches of daily experiences, in various art forms). My friend and fellow gardener, Gilly, who lives in Ireland, sent me the book Botanical Portraits, which arrived a couple of days ago and I am excited to work with things right here in my garden. A timely and wonderful gift!

I have no idea how this latest adventure will go, but am wasting no time worrying about it. Even if I capsize, I’m sure I’ll gain new knowledge along the way. That alone makes it worth it.

* No I don’t think my socks are speaking, BUT, if they were, they’d be saying kind, supportive things, much like this or this Bob Ross account on Twitter).

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About a Podcast About a Blog About a Poem about Dusting

That’s a mouthful, I know. Let me explain.

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A book I may never have picked up if not for our many ways of getting information.

When I’m not able to read – while cleaning, gardening, cooking, wedged on the train in a way that prohibits even phone reading – I often turn to podcasts. I have a long list of them I like to listen to, ranging from football (Sea Hawkers) to learning (Stuff You Should Know) to word nerdy (A Way with Words).

I was listening to the podcast “On Being” the other day, when she interviewed poet Marilyn Nelson. I had not heard of her before, but my knowledge of poetry is limited to mostly white guys from the distant past. During the interview, the host mentioned a blog post she’d read by a professor on returning to her university office after a year-long sabbatical. While dusting, the professor was reminded of one of Ms. Nelson’s poems named after that very activity. How dust is made up of so many fragments of things of the earth and of life, through all of time – from “particles of ocean salt” and “winged protozoans” to “algae spores” that create “these eternal seeds of rain” – and it made her feel so appreciative of the dust that she almost wanted to stop dusting. (The reminder that we wouldn’t have rain without dust was a fact I’d forgotten, lost in the dusty corners of my mind.)

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. It made me realize that artists see the world in so many interesting ways and inspiration may come from anywhere. I’ve never looked at dust and thought ‘I’m going to write a beautiful poem about that.’ Perhaps next time I am doing some mundane chore, I’ll be moved to look at it differently. I could even expand on that and think about how we might view events, both good and bad, differently. The perspective of dust (i.e., it exists in a time span we can’t really grasp, as does the Earth and the universe) may serve as a reminder of how short a moment we have in this life. We are, after all, destined to become dust ourselves, contributing to the life cycle in another way.

On a less morbid and more mundane level, I am not a very great housekeeper; my house is usually cleanish but far from immaculate. I don’t hate to clean, but I’d much rather do other things. I often feel like I have to justify reading or writing when the house is a mess. This poem, the professor who blogged about it, and the podcast where I was blessed to learn of them, reminded me that our observations and thoughts (and sharing them) are so much more important than whether the house is clean. I did happen to be cleaning while listening to this podcast, so there’s some irony for you.

These are moments that make me realize how lucky we are to have so much information at our fingertips, how much more there is to discover and how seeking out new things can reward us greatly. Especially if the reward is feeling less guilty about spending time reading and writing in lieu of dusting.

Marilyn Johnson said that when she was 13, she prayed to God to “give me a message I can give the world.” I am grateful for her prayer and for the answer she received, because she is a brilliant poet and thinker. In its own circuitous way, one of her messages found its way to me and it gave me inspiration, comfort and motivation to keep doing the work of the mind. It goes to show you that you never know how your message might help somebody somewhere, if you just believe in yourself and keep going.