Circles and bowls

Is there a woman who doesn't love a bowl? If there is I haven't met her. A few days ago in the Mexican town of Sayulita my daughter and I found our way into a shop filled with beautiful pottery of all kinds. But it was the bowls that captured us. Unique designs, colorful and subtle, and it wasn't long before we were picking them up and admiring.

"Mom, look at this one."

"Oh, my gosh. And look at this." We finally had to tear ourselves away; our companions were getting restless.

Take any group of women shopping in a store that sells china or pottery and almost always they will end up caressing various bowls. Inevitably, one will say "I love bowls." 

"Me too," says another. "I have so many bowls I have no room for more."

To state the obvious, bowls hold things; they are practical. Little bowls hold little things: olives or nuts; paperclips or bobbie pins. Large bowls hold larger things, a casserole for your family, or a salad for a pot luck dinner.

Bowls, which are among the first items our ancestors created, are loved and appreciated in a way other utensils aren't. And I think women appreciate them, not only because they are useful and beautiful but because on a more subtle level they represent ourselves. For what is a uterus if not a life-containing bowl?

Proper bowls are circular, which is a comforting shape. Not for me that mean looking triangle—such sharp points—or boring rectangle, or worse, a parallelogram. No, I'll take round every time. Round like the belly of a pregnant woman. Round like the earth that sustains us and like the sun that warms us. Round like a bowl.

I write this on the first day of a new year, as we begin another circle around our sun, a year that's bound to be confusing at times. But I have high hopes for 2019, if we can summon our better angels and remember our history; remember that together we succeed.

As a small child I was taught this verse by Edwin Markham, and thinking about the year ahead it came to mind.

He drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win.

We drew a circle that took him in.


Gladness and beauty

In the year 987 Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev, seeking a religion that could unite his people, sent envoys to study the beliefs of his neighbors. They reported back that "there is no gladness" among the Moslem Bulgarians; "no beauty" in the temples of the Germans. But they found such beauty and awesomeness in the Orthodox Church of Byzantium that "we know not how to tell it." Which is how the Russians became Orthodox.

I first heard this story many years ago and have always thought it an intriguing way to choose a religion—though the need to choose still escapes me. Still, using beauty and gladness as decision points says a good deal about the power of those qualities. The envoys had attended services in Constantinople's Hagia Sofia, a structure designed to impress when consecrated in 537, and still does. I can easily imagine them awestruck as they stood looking up and up into the vast dome.

The most beautiful thing I ever saw—and I am lucky to have seen much—is Michelangelo's Pietà, in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It wasn't the religious symbology that captivated me. It was the soul of the artist exposed in marble. And while the image of Mary holding Christ's crucified body is one of sorrow, what I felt when I stood in front of it was tremendous awe and joy; a kind of affirmation. If a flawed human could create this otherworldly masterpiece, I thought, there is goodness in us all.

It strikes me as wise of Vladimir's envoys to suggest beauty and gladness as vital aspects of religion, and I find it sad that so often today religion buries joy in strident ritual. But we can’t give up on gladness. During this season of celebration and light and busyness it's even more important to know—despite the evening news and a sinking stock market—that we create our own joy. It's inside us always, waiting to be called on. We just have to pause, and remember.

Wishing You All the Gladness and Beauty of the Season.

The day before

It's raining hard today and the trees outside my windows are almost free of leaves. We are in the heart of autumn, and it's the day before Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I'll spend the day in Longview, Washington with old friends. I was invited to go with Jennifer and family and about 35 others to the coast, but I declined. As Jennifer told her friends who asked why I was not going, "Spending the day with a noisy crowd of 40 people is Mom's idea of hell."

So, it's the day before the holiday and I've no cooking or planning or cleaning to do. How nice. I sit down in front the fire with my knitting and listen to a highly literate podcast. It was comforting, even uplifting to hear two adults discuss a broad range of topics in complete sentences without making fools of themselves.

When that was over I put down the knitting and picked up a book my neighbor had lent me: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. Thumbing through I came on a chapter about Thanksgiving and sat down to read. I confess I am not excited about reading this book, I expect it to disabuse me of several favorite convictions and be seriously depressing. The Thanksgiving chapter did not disappoint, nor did it surprise me. You and I know the myth is just that—a myth. Tomorrow we will tacitly ignore all those who came to these shores before 1620—the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Dutch—even distort the relationships those early settlers had with the local Indians.

But I'm not going to dwell on that. I'd rather enjoy the myth, at least through tomorrow. I put down Lies and picked up The Hidden Reality by Brian Green, who was discussing, when I left him, the cosmological constant. This is one of many elements in our universe that is little understood but has bearing on whether or not we, Earth, our solar system, could even exist. I suffered through several pages of math and put the book down.

Opening the door for the cat I saw that despite the shorter days and colder temperatures the geraniums on the porch are still blooming. I will have to bring them in soon, before they die in a freeze. This thought reminded me of a podcast from yesterday, about a distinguished biologist with dozens of peer-reviewed publications to her credit, who works with plants and has proven through experiment that plants both learn and remember and recognize sounds. How can this be?

I am thankful for all these ideas that are so easily available; thankful for science and the mystery, for the measurable and the imaginary. How lucky we are to be here now, on this beautiful planet in this unfathomable universe. I am grateful to all who return to read my often erratic reflections, and I send you thanksgiving blessings.

Two days

After the election I thought things might calm down. How wrong I was. I know not everyone is as consumed as I by what passes for politics in this nation, but the constantly breaking news surely has a deleterious effect, even while we try to ignore it.

In just two days we've seen the firing of the attorney general and appointment of an "acting" who may not last a week, given his previously recorded words and tarnished reputation. We have a president arguing with and insulting members of the press and pulling credentials (and also lying, but that goes without saying). We have another horrific mass slaughter of innocents, and now in California we have two town-destroying fires. Oh, and ballots are still uncounted in Florida, California, and Georgia.

Yes, of course I'm happy about the new House Democrats—a wonderfully varied group who I hope  will get to work doing what they were elected to do; preferably in a bipartisan manner. But one happy event, great as it is, pales in the face of our ongoing news cycle.

It was my determined purpose to cut back on news after the election. And I have. But not enough, apparently. So forgive me this rant; I'm done now. The universe may not want to give us a break but I'm taking one anyway—I'm going for a walk. You should probably do the same.

It's the busy season

Sand hill cranes on Sauvie Island, photo by Jennifer

Sand hill cranes on Sauvie Island, photo by Jennifer

It's hard to believe that we're more than halfway through October already. Thursday, the 18th, was Ray's birthday; he would have been 80. That feels impossible. He was so energetic and full of life, always looking toward his next adventure. Even as illness overtook him he fought to keep cycling, keep going, keep trying.

I had been dreading the day, but in the end it was not so bad. I bought two slices of his favorite cake at the market, put a candle on one, sang Happy Birthday to him—wherever he is—and ate both pieces of cake. Then I looked through some of the photo books I've made since his death, reliving those good memories. And there are so many! I feel very blessed.

The next family birthday is mine, in 15 days. I would prefer it not to be Election Day, especially this election, but I don't have a choice. It will make me happy if you VOTE and send me a blue tsunami. A week after that is Jennifer's birthday, closely followed by Thanksgiving, then, too soon, Christmas.

Fall has always been a busy time for our family, and a favorite season; beautiful in Oregon. To catch Fall's last gasp (rain sets in this week) Jennifer and I drove out to Sauvie Island yesterday and picked tomatoes at one of the many farms on the island. It was a gorgeous day, mid-70s, clear blue sky, and lots and lots of people shopping for pumpkins and enjoying the food stands and farm animals. I had spent the last two days painting the bathroom, and it was wonderful to be out in the open again, relishing the light breeze and the endless skies. We looked for Sand hill cranes where Jennifer had last seen them, without luck, but the drive and the scenery were soul soothing.

Before long the days will shorten and winter will settle in, a time for reading and knitting, and visiting with friends. I look forward to that cozy period and hope that with the election behind us we can all return to a less frenzied and troubled existence. In the meantime, I'll enjoy what's left of our beautiful Fall, and even, maybe, make a pumpkin pie. 

Anger and angst

Like a lot of women in this country and beyond, I was triggered by the testimony given by Christine Blasey Ford, and not reassured by that of Judge Kavanaugh. Humans tend to put a lot of faith in memory, despite research telling us it is often unreliable. Witness accounts, for instance, vary widely. But as Dr. Ford described, traumatic events are stored in the hippocampus and are always available for recall.

I have previously written that I am not one to dwell on the past or worry much about the future. The past cannot be changed and the future cannot be known. As a result of this tendency I was soon able to put my own attack (similar to Ford’s) out of my mind, and seldom have I given it even a fleeting thought. I certainly didn’t report it and I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband. Shit happens, and to women and young girls it happens a lot. And then we move on.

Until now. No matter what the outcome of the final confirmation vote, the angst and anger among women will not soon end. It is palpable, it is everywhere, and unlike after the Anita Hill hearings, I don’t think this is going away soon. I am fed up with white male privilege and I ain’t the only one.

Your daily surprise

Zoe woke me early this morning. She bounded onto the bed and immediately started telling tales. "Meow meow meow," said she.

"Go away" I said, rolling over and covering my head. "It's too early."

Zoe wriggled her nose under the covers. "Meow MEOW Meow!"

"There's an elephant in the tree? I don't think so. Go away."


I got up. There was no elephant in the tree, of course. It was a sloth hanging upside down from a slender branch. Only a cat could mistake a sloth for an elephant. The creature opened its eyes, winked at me, and went back to sleep.

None of this surprised me because nothing surprises me lately. Elephants and sloths in Portland trees are nothing compared to what happens daily in this country. (If you don't believe me, visit The List.

But I have to confess that the NYT anonymous editorial almost surprised me. I was certainly shocked, but the content should be no surprise to anyone given what we've all been hearing and reading for almost two years. I was shocked because the writer seemed to believe that he or she is a patriot. 

Much as I abhor Trump and his policies, he is our duly elected president. His staff, however, was not elected (most were not even properly vetted), and I am uncomfortable having unelected persons co-opting the presidential role just because they're in the oval office occasionally. Where might that lead?

Sure, the writer claims that in light of a deeply unfit president s/he is doing what s/he thinks will make us all safer. I accept that argument while reserving my right to sceptcism. I would be more inclined if the writer had boldly signed his or her name, resigned immediately, and marched the copious evidence to Capitol Hill to share it aloud with Congress on live TV. That person would be a patriot. I, on the other hand, would be utterly surprised.