not in my mind

I didn’t make it to the class on Monday, but did make it last night. I wanted to do my best at the class. I’m almost a black  belt, but I was sick and tired and sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I look like at 80 year old running around the dojo. But I’m here and the stumbling run was the best I could do.

This wasn’t how I wanted to show up, but I was showing up and that would have to be enough.

Last Wednesday I got to work, stomach cramping and head ringing. I was doing a meeting and let slip that I wasn’t feeling great. My co-worker said,  “oh, maybe you should take it easy.”

If I let beign miserable stop me I’d never do anything.

And then the misery came in for real. I had a tough week. I spent my days and nights close to the bathroom with the strength of a noodle.

I couldn’t let that continue. Saturday night me and a friend had tickets for a music festival.

She was excited too. Duran Duran were headlining and she’d been wanting to see them forever.

I had imagined myself, dressed in my best 80s gear—Maybe even pink hair!—as I heard the band that meant glamour when I was my daughter’s age. I would storm the stage, jump up and down screaming and dancing

I wanted it,  hungry for it.

Yeah, like a wolf.

Would my medically induced sickness keep me from it? Everything in me pushed back. I had to find a way.

The day came. I put on some comfortable clothes, with just a dash of flash

I took a nap, took Imodium and made my way. I trusted my friend, we walked slow and I got to hear the music. I went over to a fence so I could lean against it. 

It was not like I imagined. But I still got to have it.

Like my class. This is who I am today. I’ll be a black belt, hoping I will not be ill on the testing day. I’ll do what I can with what I’ve got. 

My black belt journey doesn’t look like Jackie Chan. In my mind I can do amazing tumbles and spinning kicks.


In my mind I can flaunt pink hair and jump and scream to the music.

My body today can show up. It will have to do. I’m still here and proud of it.

Time Out

If an artist wanted to make art using time as the material, the obvious thing is music. Time is the pillar that holds music up.

I’ve been writing about both music and time.  

Time is not as stable as I had thought. The metronome my daughter, the  classical violinist, uses is very rigid. More regular than reality.

Art that inspired me shows a different perspective. Sometimes that is a yank back into the rigid. And sometimes it tears down the walls of expectation.

My musical culture is made of fours. Quarter notes and 4/4. The familiar but surprise variation is the three quarter tim. One two three one two three…waltz with me. You know it, right?

A different familiar.

 Can something completely new—not following the pattern and the usual—can it still be beautiful? Or would it be unsettling?

Jazz famously pulled music into new shapes. Dave Brubeck and his quartet created an album Time Out in 1959. He intended to try different time signatures, after traveling around Eurasia. 

He didn’t expect much from it, nor did Columbia records. 

So he and his quartet created this exploring album, with an extraordinary result. This album, taking a risk with not a lot of expectation became the best selling jazz album ever. Wrapping the mind around the wrong way, a new way of making music, the whole album had strange time signatures.

Take five proves the delight, the surprise…if no one told me it was in 5/4 I wouldn’t have noticed. But it is very catchy and even though it goes on forever it doesn’t feel repetitive to me.

Composed by his saxophonist Paul Desmond, Take five reached number 2 on the billboard charts.

I might be the only one who feels the attraction for the odd thing I’m trying to create.

Or I might not.

I still want to create.

Time for me

I have this hope that time will be a stable thing. I want to be solid and unchanging, like a good chair that I use every day.

It’s not just the chair though. There are a lot of players in the field of time. The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes and at the end of of a week comes the weekend. The end of rhe week is still part of the week, but it feels like a different world. It’s a marker that sets it apart and then launches the next week strong.

Until it doesn’t.

This weekend wasn’t a weekend, because I worked Saturday and Sunday. I was out in the desert for the country music festival. I slept out there, woke up at dawn and drove home to start my day. My work day.

I got messed up and distracted from what day was what. I was not as tired as last time, which might have made me evern more distracted.

There are rungs, like a ladder or a set of monkey bars that I swing off. These habit make the rhythm and the shape of my life. This weekly wonder has been part of that shape, one that is really important to me.

I make a point of it. For more than a decade now, it’s been what I do. 

I am an artist and a writer. That’s what I want to be.

But am I a writer if I don’t write? I better write.

Just like that riddle about the tree falling in the forest, if I write and no one reads it did it really count?

I don’t want to have to find out.I want tokeep my habit of writing in public.

The thoughts in my head almost every week include “no one would notice if I didn’t do this. It doesn’t matter.”

But it matters to me enough that I keep doing it.

I’m grateful to my readers –to you!—for sustaining my desire to be and my identity as a writer.

This is something we are doing together.

Back to the now

If this past year was a jump into a future I haven’t had yet—being 80 when I’m only 50—I thought I was trying to get out of the future and into the present.

When the cancer crisis pushed me out of the biggest event of my new job last year, I had to accept that I would have to wait to experience Coachella, the biggest music festival in America. I walked into the spectacle last weekend. In my mind  I’d be joining the life in the present that I’d skipped the track on last year.

I’m not a fan, or a customer of the festival. Of course I’m a fan, but in this case I’m a worker ant, moving the pieces to put the art puzzle together. My ant eyes could only see so much. Still- I looked through a wormhole—a tear in the fabric of my universe

The sensation of time doesn’t follow any laws. 

The stages, the clothes, the images and the music exploded my mind. 

Was I in a warped and fabulous future? was I so out of step with culture that the current moment was unrecognizable?

Maybe it wasn’t the moment, maybe it was myself that I didn’t recognize.

The reporting on this year’s festival declared it was a celebration of 90s music. Time warp to 30 years past. When am I again?

As the worker in this temporary carnival, I had access to the back lot. All the workers came through the mess tent—catering is what they call it in the entertainment biz. Care was taken to make it pleasant. Big speakers played songs for people as they ate.

I expected a playlist of songs from the performers that were scheduled for the festival. What I got was the hits of the 80s 90s and …nothing from today.

Which edge is the cutting one?

While I was fretting that I was out of step, the trend is moving back in time. It’s not that the latest music isn’t appreciated by the newest generation. But music from 30-50 years back is also popular. When the festival organizers picked No Doubt and other 90s acts, they were tapping into a real impulse.

Cover songs and retro originals are popular right now. Comfort culture perhaps? The streaming stats show that GenZ is a big consumer of 2000s music. More and more cover tunes come up in my media

The stagecraft at Coachella is new, but I am familiar with how music is being used and spread.

The way music is discovered and consumed has to do with the many ways it can be delivered. Background music used by content creators is moving toward nostalgic styles of royalty free music. 

This has happened before. There was a ASCAP strike in 1942. Musicians had to play songs that were public domain (royalty free) while things were beign worked out. That was the big band jazz era. They ended up finding songs from decades past that kept them working. The jazz standard “As Time goes by” was from that time. 

It’s new if it’s new to me. It’s also new if I am seeing it in a way I never have before.

New perspectives were pushed on me. Here I’m seeing new angles on thingd I’ve known for a long time.

Big

This is rare. I make sure to write this essay every week. I’ve blogged for 22 years and sent out  this weekly wonder email for more than ten years. 

It’s part of my identity. I never missed it during my chemo treatments, and I am fairly certain I didn’t miss it anytime before.

And yet.

I have two hours to write something, and I’m not even sure what it will be.

I’ve been waking up and trying to get back to …normal?

This makes me think of what we were all saying during the COVID lockdowns: the new normal.

I spent this weekend working the Coachella festival event. Before I got this job, I would never have aspired to go to this event. It seemed like something that was too high above me.

But then I got a job at the company that puts it on. I was very thrilling with anticipation. Especially  to see the technical side, which is even more exclusive. I could hardly wait to get there.

Until I was surprised with cancer news. Surgery was scheduled last year on the very first day.

No Coachella 2023 for me.

It’s been quite a year. I had the festival on my mind as I tracked my appointments and timed when I would have my strength back to experience the festival.

What I didn’t properly account for what how depleted I would be the day after.

The entire weekend I was at the festival and was knock flat by so many things. What an event!

And the next few days I could barely function. This is the wednesday after, I realized I forgot to write this essay.

My mind was so full, and so physically exhausted that I couldn’t tease out the thread of a profound thought to explore.

Gravity has increased for me so that I couldn’t get out of bed.  I had so many experiences—sights, sounds, feelings and sensation—that I’m still exploring.

My world got so small—in COVID and then again last year. This festival reminded me of how big and beautiful the world can be, and that I’m invited to be part of it.

habit forming

I’ve always been a systems person. Some people think of it as habits. I have systems and I work them consistently—even when I was very little. It makes sense to me, and I like getting things done that way.

But a year ago, I was shaking as I looked into the future of a big surgery. Then all the things that came after that. All the things that I put my body through.

In ways I never had before, I let go of anything that wasn’t necessary. It took all I had to do the basics. The minimum took all I had.

Old habits fell away.

And now I’m coming up from the depths. I’m still not sure which way is up.

I had to take an online class for work, so I chose one on time management. An easy basic that I could do without thinking about it.

Until I was hearing the systems the teacher was pushing. I knew all this!
This was basic, stuff I was already and expert at.

Except.

I realized I’d lost my expertise. I’d put these skills down on the side of this road.

Can I pick it up again? Am I ready?

Questions must be asked.

Last week I walked a labyrinth. I’ve talked before about the joy I have in walking the twisted meditative path I find in a labyrinth.  Last time I walked one was before this cancer journey.

And this time, I went into the labyrinth and walked layers of time. While in the present, I remembered who I was the first time I walked it. I remembered the push and the urgency I felt, the drive to get THERE.

What is there has changed significantly. The surroundings have added so much to the way. 

I am thinking, these new old habits are changed too. I’m seeing how things fit together, now that I’ve experienced a different way of attacking my basics. 

New systems could replace automatic habits. 

Transformation

A marvelous part of my home is the gentle sunshine. Plants grow because we water them. Grass and flowers, vines and trees have a cycle I have watched for decades

My home in Alaska had plants, but not ones that we planted. The trees and shrubs came with. They self-planted and grew and watered themselves from the melted snow left behind over the summer.                      

Los Angeles County doesn’t leave water behind. We have watering systems.

And we have fruit trees we’ve planted. Citrus in particular, and I can see trees in neighbors yards and even my own. When they are in season, bright bulging fruit hang on the branches.

It’s still miraculous to me. Fruit trees were an impossible mystery to my young self.

Now I grow several different kinds. That means I have miracles within reach.

My orange tree is blossoming. It is covered with white buds, with a very few opened up into flowers that waft an extraordinary perfume.

I was there last season, when the blossoms came in. Then the petals fell and the tiny hard green spheres remained to swell all summer. Those that hung on to the tree became the succulent fruit for eating.

I look forward to those fruits. I talk to the tree and anticipate what kind of crop I will get each year.

I was there when the tree was planted. It was a slip of a tree, about 3 feet tall. Not a baby.

Not a seed.

I have grown plants from seeds. I think of cilantro seeds I’ve put in the ground. The tiny hard balls can sprout and grow into the leaves I like to put in my food.

It take a week or two…Or more…for those seeds to sprout. They come up in a two leaf combo, a little like arching rabbit ears. I didn’t expect that, because the harvested cilantro plants don’t look like that. The leaves look totally different. The first time I saw this sprout I pulled it because I thought it was a weed.

It didn’t look like I thought it would. I ruined the work I’d done in the intentional planting of the seeds because I thought I knew better.

I know they are miracles. An ordinary common miracle, and a miracle nonetheless. It speaks to me as I long for great things. I have ideas, dreams and desires. 

I’m trying to make progress toward those things. And I get in my way and ruin the progress. Hard as I try, I can’t know how everything will come out along the way. I have to leave room for what will come.

There are a lot of transformations between the seeds and the fruit. 

trying

The cancer fight has left me victorious. I went into something like a fugue state. Yes, I did other things. But my priorities were extremely focused. I had a battle that sapped my strength, but it was important enough to be the top precedence in any situation.

Then it was officially over. Nothing but checkups and a few prescriptions. Let the battle stay won!

After battles, it is well known that soldiers have trouble returning to civilian life. That’s where I’m at. I have been used to a situation in which life and death were part of every choice. The simplest things like food water and rest had to be fought for.

And now.

But now?

What now?

It is easy. Mostly. Is this how it used to be? Do I remember how it used to be? 

The nights of insomnia wishing the die-ease would end. Misty fantasies of strength and endurance—dreams of long strides of thoughtless grace and competence.

Was I kidding myself? Was I every really capable and strong?

More importantly, will I every be so in the future?

I aspire to ordinary.

Flashback

As a homeschooled teenager in Alaska, I had no one to compare myself to. Was I keeping up? Was I behind where I should be?

Was I at least ordinary? Then and now I was hoping I would be better than ordinary.

The song comes back to me, still popping up on the radio—the radio no longer forbidden to me now that I’m grown—Duran Duran on their comeback hit Ordinary World

What has happened to it all?

Crazy, some’d say

Where is the life that I recognise?

Gone away

But I won’t cry for yesterday

There’s an ordinary world

Somehow I have to find

And as I try to make my way

To the ordinary world

I will learn to survive

For months the song has haunted me with it’s lyrics. I made my choices with the dream of the ordinary world.

Big week of ordinary

It’s been a big week in my house.

It’s been an exciting week as I emerge from the poison into the normal. Normal life means I get to be part of the mass of humanity, rather than the dramatic star.

In the broader world, there were interesting days on the calendar.  Here’s the list

March 14th

March 15th

March 17th

March 14th as we write it here in America 3-14. That’s the first three digits of pi, that number we use to figure out the circumference and area of circles. Out town is a college town, and so we often have a pi day celebration. 

On thursday the 14th  Chris did an errand downtown and reported: “There was a line around the corner at the pizza place downtown,” 

Oh Yeah! Pi (or pie..or pizza pie) day. 

With this reminder, my coupon king husband found that more than one pizza place had coupons to celebrate. The excitement has spread from the math department to the marketing department.

So we got a pizza with a free personal pizza that Veronica got to take to school the next day. Pizza for days!

Importantly, Pizza leftover to the next day: March 15th.

That day in march known to the ancient romans as the ides of march. And to the slightly less ancient Elizabethan English audience of Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar, when they heard a creepy street oracle tell Julius “Beware the ides of March!” they understood. 

They knew that he knew what the oracle meant:

March 15th

What J. Caesar didn’t know and Shakespeare was foreshadowing was that his BEST FRIEND was gonna murder him that day.

Et tu, Brute? 

Even you, Brutus? 

Tragic betrayal that echoes down the centuries.

My husband said 

“We should have a Ceasar salad.”

We hear them in my household still, but the echoes are getting fainter.

Ceasar salad would go well with Pizza. I went down to trader joes to get a salad kit. 

The women at the checkout asked me how my day was going.

“It’s the ides of March. I had to get a ceasar salad,” I said with a smile.

Her face crinkled up “what?”

Ahh. The echoes had not reached her ears.

I told her a bit of the story—Shakespeare, Roman calendars, betrayals. 

She was listened, nodding, and hearing this new information. I ended with
“..and don’t listen to street oracles.”

She replied “That’s so interesting. And true! That happened to me—there was a street oracle in San Francisco this one time…”

But there was another customer waiting his turn and I wasn’t able to hear about the San Francisco street oracle.

And this takes me to Sunday: St Patrick’s day. The activity of this day is my daughter’s karate tournament. Not very irish. 

Then again, she’s competing as a green belt.

Structure

Thomas Kuhn, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, found a pattern in how new ideas come to be accepted.

First there is the idea—the accepted idea that everyone knows is the standard. Common knowledge is another word for it. The science that society had come to accept and teach. The codified unquestioned way things are

Until someone has another idea. An idea that can be demonstrated. An idea that has proof and science behind it.

But the first idea a has society behind it. There is inertia in continuing to believe it. It’s working. Changing things is too hard.

Until more people come to see the proof of the new idea—the revolutionary idea. There is a

REVOLUTION

After some struggle, the new idea is adopted, and becomes accepted and taught. When it is prepared to be passed on, it gets packaged so it can be absorbed.

I am in the middle of a personal revolution. My life was thrown into a new reality last year. I wrestled with the new idea of who I was and what I could do.

I re-calibrated my expectations. I made it through.

Until now. The old idea is overthrown. Both of them.

My world is not what it was before the cancer.

It’s not what it was during the cancer treatment.

I spent all last year in the land of medical poisoning. I’m 3 months into the new year. To be fair, I was radioactive until a month ago. I’ve been dumped back into my life that I longed to return to.

I’m in the revolution. I’m casting about for a way to explain myself to myself.

I remember Kuhn. I’d like to find a structure to the chaos I feel.

Revolutions are messy. That is well-known.