Tomorrow is Today

blankpage

Yesterday, this sentiment popped up on my Facebook feed set in various backgrounds. I like this one particularly. That it was so popular yesterday is no coincidence, for yesterday was New Year’s Eve, and today, of course, New Year’s Day. 2016.

Today is the beginning of a brand spanking new year with a pristine new book of 365 blank pages. It makes sense. Let’s start the new year with a blank slate and write our stories day-by-day. Here’s the rub: while the pages may be blank, none of us is a blank slate. Instead of chalk, our slates may be stained with indelible ink. It’s not easy to erase what’s already been written.

Blank pages are an altogether different thing. Nothing is written on them. They can be intimidating. Staring at us in the face. Blank. And, as much as we desire to fill up the pages with inspired poetry and prose, with promises and hopes, with dreams and desires, those blank pages voraciously feed on fear or judgment or regret, inducing a painful paralysis. The blank pages thus remain blank or, worse still, carbon copies of bygone, ink-stained pages.

Blank pages can be intimidating.

So, here at the start of 2016, every day is a blank page; that’s something I need to remember. Certainly, factors and circumstances beyond my control will assail me every day. I can’t stop that from happening. But, I can write each day however I choose. I have that agency. I can create the setting and the scene. I can populate the cast of characters. I can shape the main character in every way, controlling the tenor of her attitude and the tone of her speech. I’m writing the dialogue, after all.

Blank pages can be intimidating.

But, oh, think, too, of their possibilities.

The Scent of Summer

I’m on the brink of summer vacation. I have one more day – tomorrow – to finish out the school year. All of my exams are scored; the seemingly endless task of grading is complete: my grades are finalized (this always comes as a shock to me; I almost don’t believe it); I’ve ticked off everything on the year-end check-out list save one – I just need to organize and prepare my classroom for summer cleaning. It’s been a rough school year – not with my students. No, I’ve had a great bunch of kids this year. It’s been a rough year because of a failed school levy in November, because I lived on the bubble for months not knowing whether I’d have a job next year or not, because my job is safe but 54 of my colleagues have lost theirs, because tomorrow I have to say good-bye to some good friends and wonderful teachers – incredible teachers – some of the most passionate and innovative teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach alongside, because the full effects of the levy failure are going to be excrutiatingly magnified next year, because the anticipation of that is heart-and-gut-wrenching, because I’m fearful that my district won’t recover from this for years.

But, I’m on the brink of summer vacation, and I need it.

As I write this, I am sitting in a reclining chair in my office, laptop on my lap, both windows open, indeed all windows in the house open. I am not a fan of air conditioning. Oh, it has its place, especially when it’s sweltering and humid, as is frequently the case in an Ohio summer; even then, though, my windows are almost always open; my neighbors joke that it must be really, really hot when we close our windows and turn on the air. I have an aversion to being closed in and cooped up in the house; it feels to me like I’m living in an insulated cave, like I’m breathing stale air, so the windows stay open. Today, it is neither sweltering nor humid. It’s a glorious morning. And the windows are open. The birds are singing. Someone nearby is cutting the grass; the whiz and whir of the mower faintly distinct in the distance. I can almost smell the freshly cut grass; the scent hangs in the air, mixed with the perfume of multitudinous blooms, a complex bouquet tickling my nose. Utterly delightful.

This is the scent of summer. It is a nostalgic scent. It transports me back through time and space to my childhood home where the windows were always open because we did not have air conditioning. A scent that restores me to my youth in my happy home with my dad – robust and healthy and alive, my mom, my brother, my sister. It is a fresh scent – a scent tinged with excitement, adventure, carefree fun. It is a scent that promises lazy days. A scent that divines the goodness and presages the endless possibilities of the day. It is a scent that expects me to stay up to all hours of the night and to sleep in late in the morning. At the same time, it is a scent that goads me out of bed to enjoy an invigorating walk at the crack of dawn. A scent the sees me sitting under the shade of a tall tree, reading a good book.

It is a scent that regenerates, rejuvenates, relaxes, renews, revives. And this summer more than most, I need it.

Smell You Later

Passing the Torch

The Winter Solstice has passed; we’ve turned the page from 2014 to 2015.  That means spring is around the corner with summer following closely on its heels.  But first, we need to make it through January and February – the dark months.  Summer is especially sweet for me: as a high school English teacher, it means time to recover, to recharge my batteries, to rest up for next year.  My preferred method of recharging is to get away from it all…to go camping.

I’m a camper from way back.  When I was growing up, my folks bought a Starcraft pop-up camper, and we went everywhere in it.  Everywhere.  Camping was an affordable way for my family to travel, and we did: we camped up and down the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida with notable stops in Washington, Myrtle Beach, and, of course, Disney World.  Oh, and Charleston.  Can’t forget Charleston, but that’s another story for another time. We ventured north of the border, too.  A fisherman’s mecca – Canada.  We made our northern pilgrimage often because my dad was a devotee; I, his neophyte.

Some of my best memories come from these camping trips.  Oh, we fought like cats and dogs; it inevitably rained when we were setting up camp or taking it down; we endured maybe a little too much togetherness.  But, we were together.  As a family.  Experiencing and exploring, sharing and playing, laughing and crying.  And yelling, lots of yelling. Together.

As an adult, with my own family, I wanted to offer the same experiences and promises of memories with my children.  So, many moons ago, I convinced my husband to buy a camper.  A pop-up camper.  Of course.  In the quiet of this cold, bleak, early January morning, my mind wandered back to our inaugural adventure in our new pop-up camper.

Being the romantic sentimentalist that I am, I wanted my mom and dad to come along with us.  It was important to me that they be a part of this trip, especially.  It seemed only fitting:  after all, they instilled in me the wanderlust, the love of nature, the sense of family. Their presence would signal a symbolic passing of the torch, an affirmation of their awesome parenting, a hope for my own family.

So, we set out from Dublin, heading north on I-71 toward Youngstown on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, our pop-up camper in tow, on our way to pick-up mom and dad.  I was (and remain) the tow-master.  The first really important lesson I learned as tow-master was that we definitely needed the sway bars that we did not have.  Our pop-up camper flipped and flopped around behind our van like a hooked fish at the end of my pole – a furious and indignant fish, desperately determined to free itself from its tether. It wasn’t just scary; it was terrifying.  But, somehow, we made it to Youngstown.  We loaded mom and dad, and we continued to our destination – Mosquito Lake.  What an unfortunate name.  Maybe it was an omen.

It was not raining when we arrived at Mosquito Lake.  But it was dark.  As a novice tow-master, the second really important lesson I learned was that I had seriously overestimated my trailoring abilities. I was not adept at all at backing into the campsite.  Since it was the first major holiday weekend of the camping season, the campground was, of course, packed.  Campers in neighboring sites were comfortably sitting around their campfires watching me try to back into the campsite.  Over and over again. I could feel their eyes on me; I could imagine their smirks.  The pressure was on.  Over and over again.  My pride was wounded. The pop-up camper wasn’t even set up, and I already felt a failure.  Well, a neighboring camper was watching, but he wasn’t judging my inept manuevering skills.  Campers are nice people.  Really nice people.  He came over and offered to back the camper in for me.  I relinquished my pride and gave up the wheel to him.

Finally, the camper was set up.  The beds were made, but the third really important lesson that I learned was that I seriously underestimated the number of blankets that we would need.  It was cold.  Really cold.  We needed to turn the heater on.  So, I went out, into the dark, with a small flashlight and a lighter to light the pilot light on the heater. I removed the cover over the heating element, and I flicked the lighter.  I held the flame to the element…to no avail; nothing happened.  No heater, no heat.  I did think it was odd, though, that there was insulation visible where the pilot light should be . . . so close to the flame of my lighter.  Hmmm.

I went back inside, and we all cuddled under the few blankets spread over each of the beds.  I woke at one point to see the silhouette of my dad sitting up in his bed, shivering, his blanket drawn around his shoulders.  He had to go, but he didn’t want to go out in the dark, in the cold, to the restroom down the lane.  I nodded to him.  He got up, hobbled over to the door, opened it to the cold, stood on the threshold, and peed into the weeds, baptizing our campsite.  When he returned to his bed, he looked back over at me across the pop-up camper.  And I learned the most important lesson.  We laughed silently together; I could imagine his eyes twinkling; then we settled down to sleep.

First!

Next Year….Now….Simply

We’re almost there.  Next year.  And, like many, I’m thinking of next year….now.  New Year’s resolutions abound everywhere. They are ubiquitous. Naturally.  The flip of the calendar from one year to the next has a way of doing that to most of us, me included.  It’s symbolic – out with the old, in with the new.  A fresh start.  A clean slate.  I didn’t publish resolutions last year; I kept them in my head, but I haven’t kept them.  Naturally.  At least, that is natural for me.  I start the year with good intentions.  Gung ho.  Brimming with vim and vigor.  Or maybe it’s piss and vinegar.  Anyway, I start the year with hope – hope that I’ll keep my resolutions.  Hope that I’ll change, that I’ll improve, that I’ll start, that I’ll stop.  “Hope,” as Emily Dickinson writes, “is the thing with feathers.” Hmmm.  It always seems to flit away – that hope – taking my resolutions with it.

I’m not sure why I have trouble keeping resolutions.  Maybe they’re too specific.  Or too broad.  Or too ambitious.  Or maybe I’m just lazy and unmotivated and undisciplined.  Maybe.

Thoreau (one of my favorites) advocates that we “Simplify! Simplify!”  I’m going to take his admonition to heart this year.

That’s my resolution.

Being: Bristol, Birds, a Babbling Brook, Bullfrogs, Bunnies, a Biker, and the Bells of St. Brigid

This morning I woke up at 5:26 AM.  It’s summer, and I’m a high school English teacher on summer break. Considering that the alarm goes off at 4:30 every day during the school year, waking at 5:26, sans alarm, is actually sleeping in.  I made a commitment several weeks ago:  I’m going to walk in the Columbus half-marathon in October.  In order to meet that goal, I need to train, no small task given that I’m not in very good shape.  But, I have been faithful; I have a training schedule; today marks the beginning of the third week of training, and I’m on schedule.  Since I was already awake, and because I wanted to walk before the heat of the day descends, I got out of bed and headed out the door.

This morning’s walk, as with every walk thus far, was an occasion for rumination.  A myriad of seemingly disparate, but strangely related, ideas flitted through my head as I walked along with Bristol, my beloved mixed-Terrier shelter dog (some say we rescued her from the shelter, but I believe she rescued us).  My first thought was that it was a beautiful morning – the kind of morning that I’ve been missing lately.  It’s been a different summer:  usually we camp most of the summer, but this summer, my husband had a total knee replacement, so while he recuperates, our camping has been and will be curtailed until at least the latter to end part of the summer.  This morning, though, was like the camping mornings I so enjoy. When we camp, I’m usually the first one up, and since my internal body clock is set to rise early during the school year (remember the 4:30 AM mandatory wake-up call), I tend to wake at the the literal crack of dawn, school or not.  It wasn’t always this way, though.  Teaching has made me a morning person, and I’m glad.  Mornings are wonderful – the “filet mignon” of the day, according to a dear, departed friend.

My first thought as I stepped outside was that the morning was delightfully cool.  It’s been blisteringly hot and humid with an inordinate amount of rain.  But, not today.  The sun, starting to rise, colored the eastern sky orangish-red; while a few clouds, gathered on the western horizon, began their slow march eastward.  It was that time of day – no longer night, but not quite morning – that ethereal time in-between – that I love.  I love it because it is so still, so quiet, so soft.

My second thought was one of gratitude:  I am grateful that I live in Dublin, OH.  Though I pay high real estate taxes in Dublin, I don’t begrudge those in the least because it’s a community of great schools and quality of life; I can see where and how my tax dollars are being put to good use. Thanks to the awesome city planners, Dublin boasts miles and miles of walking/biking trails that connect the whole city.  The trails are well-maintained, and many are woven through parks and woodlands and wetlands.  Mature trees, with their welcoming shade, and vibrant plantings of annuals and perennials, bursting in riotous color, line the walks. Wooden bridges span the creek in numerous places along my walking route;  there’s been a respite from the recent rains, so the creek, lately a raging torrent, has softened into a babbling brook.  Soft morning, soft birdsong, soft babble of the brook.  Soft.  Softly speaking to me, all around. Playgrounds, still and silent, wait patiently for their eager charges, and meticulously groomed baseball fields sit empty and quietly, for a time.  Dublin is green, and right now, it’s in full, glorious bloom. Just beautiful.

I don’t listen to music when I walk for the same reason that I prefer to have my windows open (in my house and in my car) rather than having the air conditioning on:  I want to hear what’s going on around me.  With earbuds in (just like with the air conditioning on), I feel enclosed, caved-in, claustrophobic.  Besides, what better music is there than birdsong?  I love to hear the birds when I walk.  They compose a symphony unparalleled, indeed a joyful noise.  This morning the birds did not disappoint.  They were joined in chorus by some raucous bullfrogs, slightly out of tune, but nevertheless lively and passionate about their song.  And bunnies.  Bunnies danced and darted, flitted and fluttered across the path.  Feisty and spunky, ears pricked, nose twitching, tail wagging a mile-a-minute, Bristol was awash in sensory delight.  Birdies.  And bunnies.  Oh, and squirrels. Maybe sensory overload.

For the first hour of my walk, it was just me and Bristol and the birds and the bunnies, oh – and the squirrels.  That’s an advantage to heading out the door at 6:14 AM.  I had the trail to myself.  A lone biker (or cyclist, I guess) came up behind me as I crossed over the bridge into the wetlands.  I didn’t hear him coming, so lost in birdsong and rumination was I, that when he announced “passing on the left!” I about jumped out of my skin.  Another mile, another twenty minutes would pass before I would encounter another human being.  In the meantime, the wetlands were abuzz with activity and birdsong and rumination.

And in the near distance began the melodic tintinnabulation of the bells of St. Brigid.

Perfect.

Good morning.

The Waiting Room

Hospitals, much like airports, fascinate me, perhaps because both are hubbubs of activity; each is a microcosm: an intersection of cultures, of personalities, of humanity, and both are rife for watching, observing the breadth and range of relationships and emotions; both are peopled with determined humans walking purposefully toward their destinations (or maybe their destinies); likewise, both are populated with the aimless, the dazed, the tired, the bored, the impatient, the hopeful, the worried, the relieved, the kind, the rude, the broken – many wandering about; some huddled on uncomfortable chairs, trying to sleep or trying to appear as if they’re sleeping; a number gathered in groups, chattering and laughing and hugging and eating and drinking and drawing strength or comfort from each other; others reading newspapers or books or magazines, or talking on cell phones, or gazing at laptops and iPads; a few praying. It’s early summer here now, and many of those waiting are dressed for the season as well as the waiting, wearing shorts or capris and t-shirts or tank tops, tennis shoes or sandals or flip flops, and ball caps; some anticipated the chill of the air conditioning and came prepared with sweaters or sweatshirts (I am not one of those: it seems I’m always hot these days, and today is no exception); a couple are more formally attired: the elderly gentleman in starched, striped, button-down shirt, tie with clip, Coke-bottle eyeglasses, slightly worn and scuffed dress shoes, and Einstein hair, his cane resting against his leg; the elegant woman in classic Ann Taylor and impeccable pumps and Queen Elizabeth pocketbook sitting in a straight-backed chair, alone, along the rear of the room (I suspect these two would likewise dress to travel; they’re of that generation, a by-gone era). Most of the waiting are toting ubiquitous, nondescript, brown paper bags filled with patients’ belongings. I hear voices: some hushed; some elevated; some coarse and raspy, gruff and gravelly – smokers’ voices, these; some uniquely distinct – their words discernible, even from across the room; all of differing timbres and inflections; a few with accents – foreign and domestic; some imparting medical updates with obvious relief; others talking privately (too loudly) on their cell phones – one young woman taking a call from a creditor and then, embarrassed, nervously lowering her voice when making payment arrangements; many simply chatting, passing the time in companionship – new and old – striking up random conversations with other waiters.

Overhead, from somewhere among the fluorescent lights, comes another voice – a disembodied voice that summons patients and families to the information desk, sending them on their way or providing patient updates. A still different voice interjects overhead and warns of an impending test of the hospital’s fire alarm system, advising waiters to disregard flashing lights and blaring horns. The arrival of the complimentary cookie cart prompts a mad dash to the front of the room.

And then, my husband’s baby-faced surgeon enters and beckons me to the waiting room within the waiting room. My wait is over: all is well.