Monday, December 31, 2007

Turning In My Cat Stevens T-Shirt

Yesterday in church the congregation sang a hymn I didn't know. In the past that wouldn't have been a hurdle any bigger than a twig. Singing hymns has always been the peak moment of any church experience for me, and my pleasure was never hidden under a basket. "If ya wanna sing out, sing out!" That was Cat Stevens' invitation and my motto long before Stevens ever strummed a chord.

I always sang out. If I didn't know the tune, I offered an imaginative substitute. If the song was pitched too high for me, I sang an octave lower, and considered the result harmonizing. But in any case, I sang loud and with fervor.

Little children several rows ahead of me would turn around in amazement. Boys of ten and twelve would snicker into their hands, unfamiliar with harmony. Girls just into the teen years would slump further into their pews and roll their eyes at each other.

Among other motives, I always hoped, by example, to inspire lukewarm pewsters to sing from their hearts. Not meaning any offence, I have to say that most congregations sound pretty weary and wishy-washy: Methodist, Mormons, Lutherans, Presbyterians--especially the Presbyterians, who were not only sad but funereally slow--all seem muted and Prozaic. Two exceptions: a wondrous group of full-throated Freewill Baptists in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and a lusty flock in bright muu-muus and neatly ironed shorts on the island of Oahu. In neither place did a single head turn my way.

But my days of merry freestyle singing are no more.

For months now, I have been taking weekly voice lessons. And oh, the hesitation, the modesty, the tentative sounds a little learning brings in its puny wake! All I could do yesterday with the unfamiliar hymn was silently mouth the words. Sic transit gloria ignoramus.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


The solitary junco
at our bird feeder
pays no heed
to the tolling bells
or shrill plastic horns
that mimic rasping crows.
It is not his new year
that is welcomed.
But it is mine.
So I will remember to buy more sunflower seeds.
And I have hung two wide strips of red ribbon
in the window,
because earlier, a sober junco crashed into the glass,
seeing it as simply more dark night.
I resolve to lose no more birds to illusion.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Today having grabbed the young goddess Cyberia around her waist and holding a sprig of mistletoe over her head, I intend to plant a few hearty kisses on her rosy cheeks. It's more than holiday playfulness behind this move; it's gratitude.

Quick chronology:

1948--Norbert Wiener coined the word "cybernetics" to denote
the study of "teleological mechanisms" [systems that embody goals].

1982--William Gibson coined the termed "cyberspace" to refer to the world of the Internet.

1994--Yours Truly christened the spirit of cyberspace "Goddess Cyberia."

Now, frankly, Cyberia resembles Shakespeare's Puck more than she does such high and mighties as Hera, Athena, or Kali. We're all familiar with her mischief-making side, and who among us has not sworn a few snarling words at her dark side, from serious ills such as abuse of children by online pedophiles to overkill by online winking-blinking-maddening pop-up advertisers?

Still and all--

Because of Cyberia, my brother and I, who for decades communicated solely by means of Christmas cards and a very rare phone call, now exchange chatty updates several times a month. In other words, in our seventies we are becoming acquainted, becoming family.

Because of Cyberia, I am now--after decades of "I wonder what happened to Whosis?"--
in touch with several chums from high school days. It's a shot in this aching arm to discover that Carolyn is as drily witty as she was at 16, and that John is every bit as quirky and imaginative and brilliant as he was in Mr. LoMaglio's English class, when he was responsible for my having to report to the principal.

Because of Cyberia, I can shop without grinding my teeth or kicking the walls of Nordstrom's dressing room.

Because of Cyberia, I can rent wonderful, thought-provoking "little" movies I would never have known about, let alone seen in a local cineplex. [Short list: Happy, Texas; Dancer, Texas Population 81; Career Girls; On A Clear Day; Nine Lives; The Tic Code.]

Because of Cyberia, I can stay warm and close to beloved friends even as they and we have scattered to Left Boot, Montana, or Mal de Mer, California. In some ways, we are closer via email than we were when we lived across town from each other. Can't figure that out yet, but it is true.

Because of Cyberia, if I forget the name of a minor actor in a 1943 movie, I can pluck it from cyberspace and not have to spend the night thrashing in the bedclothes and mumbling, "Was his name Conrad? No. Conway? No. Courtnay. . . ?"

Because of Cyberia, this hypochondriac knows all the symptoms of a textbookful of diseases she never heard of before 1995. (Okay, I admitted Cyberia has a dubious side.)

Well, of course there's more. But Cyberia is wriggling out of my grasp and about to crash or freeze or pull any one of her many tricks, so I'll stop now. But thanks, Milady Cyberia. When the Great Ice Storm of 2007 knocked out power last week, and you were as silent and inaccessible as Garbo for while, I realized just how you have changed my life. So stay around, okay? And ignore the occasional ranting from this end of cyberspace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


A dozen years ago, sore-footed from maneuvering Dublin's cobblestone streets, I popped into a little specialty shop and bought a cool walking stick. Made for serious hikers, of a lightweight metal the astronauts invented on one of those long dull circuits, it worked well, kept me from stumbling into harmless Dubliners, some of whom had their own stumbling to deal with anyway.

Then, a few years later, when arthritic knees started bothering me, I switched from the chic, outdoorsy stick to a plain, dowdy cane for occasional use. More than cobblestones seemed to make walking harder, and the cane helped. I thought.

Recently, I pulled into a Target supermarket, and since I planned to use a shopping cart, I just left the cane on the front seat. I am compulsive about locking the car, but apparently this time, I forgot. Returning to the van, I discovered the cane was gone. Nothing else was missing--sack of books to be recycled, dog crate, coats, box of groceries for the local food pantry, toolbox, CD's and tapes, gym bag and shoes--everything present and accounted for, except the cane. Exasperated with myself, I bought another cane the same day.

Three days later, back at Target, I carefully locked the car and took the new cane with me. Put it safely in the shopping cart as I trundled around the aisles. Driving out of the parking lot, I rounded the corner onto the main thoroughfare only to realize the cane was gone. I must have left it in the cart when I loaded things into the van three minutes earlier. I zipped swiftly back into the parking lot, earning three honks and one raised finger from fellow drivers, and searched the carts where I had parked. Nothing. Did gymnastics and peered under nearby cars. Searched the lines of neatly stowed carts. Talked to two different employees who herded carts back into the store. Talked to Customer Service. Called Customer Service twice over the next few days. Not a trace. So I bought cane #3.

Why in the world would someone lurk in Target parking lots to pinch thirty-dollar folding canes? Yes,I've heard about the importance of finding a niche when establishing one's business, but really--canes?

: Visiting some old stamping grounds a couple of weeks after the Great Cane Caper, I make an appointment with a chiropractor who has helped me for years. Mostly I wanted a 100,000-mile checkup. Told him about using the cane. He said, in effect,"Lose the cane." Pointed out that the cane created an unnatural gait and was also counter-productive in strengthening the muscles around the knees.

Because long experience has taught me to trust this man, I stopped using the cane at once. And of course--need you ask?--I am doing amazingly better, walking with almost the old verve much of the time.

The Universe (Life, God, the Spirit, our Inner Guide, the Oversoul) gives out messages all the time. About small things and large. Mostly, we're not paying attention. So the message is repeated, a little louder the second time. Sometimes the Universe has to get pretty in-your-face, pretty dramatic, to get through to us. To me, anyway.

Here's how Will Shakespeare puts it:

"And this our life . . .
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones. . . ."

And, perhaps, prescriptions in hapless happenings. Revelations in random reactions.
Served up, frequently, with a dash of cosmic irony.