States of Mind by Miriam Sagan

Feels like a season to take stock. My 64th birthday has passed, and I’ve been “retired” for almost a year and a half. I’ve been thinking about the mental states that compose my day—my life—and want to try and understand them here.
Balance is something I strive for, but it does elude me. Balance between what and what? In asking that question, I came up with six categories.

1. Chaos. This is my least favorite state. It is when someone you love is suffering. It is sitting outside the ICU. It is the state that cries out for the first of the twelve steps—I am powerless over…heroin, my drunk uncle, a broken heart, you name it. Each person will have his or her scary things. Mine include medical procedures, and embarrassingly, even having my teeth cleaned. I don’t think I ever say—give me more chaos. Rather, I’m apt to limit my exposure. When I was widowed, I did not get my teeth cleaned. I’m not suggesting this as a good habit, just being honest.

2. Emergency. I think of this as the kind of chaos I can respond to positively. A sick child. A distraught friend. A financial crisis. An injured cat. This is where I have the skill set to cope. I like to limit my emergencies too—not take on someone else’s unless I have it to give. Emergency can devolve into chaos, or solidify into the next state—work.

3. Work. This is what I am supposedly retired from, but that isn’t really true. Work is what we do for money, or necessity. I count all of (traditionally) women’s unpaid domestic tasks as work. For if we didn’t do it, someone would get paid to. But much of work is satisfying, because here effort really pays off. Unless you have a soul-numbing or body destroying job, I suspect most people enjoy feeling competent and the sense of a job well done. I don’t mind work, but I don’t adore it. However, it turns out I do need some of it.

4. Play. This is a purposive activity that doesn’t produce something salable in our culture. Obviously the line between work and play is malleable. Creating a beautiful garden or writing a novel can go back and forth between work and play. Sometimes there can be emergencies or chaos in there as well. Sports the same. A good job will have elements of play. As a poet, I feel odd saying “I’m working” on a poem. I might be partially, but Im also playing.

5. Focus. Technically this might be samadhi, a state of focused attention. I associate it with meditation, but it can appear in almost any situation of work or play. It is a great asset in an emergency—and I suspect the EMTs I’ve known often benefit from it. It is probably my favorite state of mind. I like to write in the state of flow, throwing in bits of play and work as needed. In fact, all will go well with a poem in samadhi—until it doesn’t. That’s when work comes in, consciously looking at technical problems and solutions.

6. Moments of Awareness. Like chaos, this tends to take us unawares. It can be anything from an existential instant of being to a Zen-like awakening to the nature of things or a child-like sense of wonder that erases self-consciousness. You can find it in psychedelic drugs, solitude, nature, and spiritual pursuits. Actually, you can find it in giant Walmart too—because awareness tends to find us as much as we find it. It is good for writing—and emotional health—but it doesn’t actually create anything unless you bring it back to play or work.

I hope to write a bit more about this in the next few days—and welcome your comments.

From This Corner of My World

Two days after my 64th birthday. One day after my first husband Robert’s. He’d have been 59. Unbelievable. He died at 36.
Two thrashers on the mailbox. I’m sitting here in my fave Japanese poly caftan, with peacocks and peonies. I wish I had 20.

Of concern to me:
Has Trump destroyed America?
Why can’t J. get a boyfriend?
What is my budget?
Does X. imagine we are on speaking terms?
Do cut pink lilies have consciousness as well as an almost cloying scent?
When will Rich finish the Le Guin book so I can read it? I bought it, after all.
Are there missing mysterious ways in which I should pump my career?
When this notebook is full, should I try to replace it or just pull one from my stash?
How far could I drive if I had to?
Will the new owner of the vacant lot ever clear the brush pile?
Were the skunks I caught living in that brush pile?
Were the skunks sad to be relocated?
Can skunks truly be said to sad or happy?
Can macrophages?
Can I?

When I’m 64

I turn 64 today! And am lucky to be in Pagosa Springs, which also means lunch in Durango. I had a fortuitous meeting with Ms. Catrina of Day of the Dead fame. She is better dressed than I in that hat, but I am still…a bit more fleshy…at least for now!

Omer Poem by Ya’el Chaikind

The black and white cat usually
sleeps in the dirt next to my irises
and stares at me like a golden-eyed
statue before suddenly leaping away
and today as I pull into my driveway
I see the cat sitting across the street,

owning the entire neighborhood, and
I look over and, well, meow, in a kind
of clichéd voice, I mean, I grew up with
lots of cats, and if I weren’t allergic now,
I’d have at least one, they are like stuffed
animals come alive, but I’m a bit rusty

with cat dialect, I’ve lately practiced talking
dog more, but I remember how to speak
in that rough sort of cat tongue, and to my
surprise after only a few tries, me and the
cat have a conversation like any other two
neighbors, calling out and matching each

other’s tone in an escalating energy of
mutual understanding, clearly the cat is a
linguistic expert in speaking human, and I
don’t exactly know what I am saying but it
must be something good because the cat
starts running towards me after a few

meow rounds, and I crouch down, delighted
in the connection, and we keep talking,
even when the cat stops a foot away and
teases me with a seductive rub against my
fence while fixing those golden eyes upon
my open hands, and I patiently wait for our

hearts to collide in tangible victory, meowing
my purest intentions and the cat takes a step
towards me before turning away with
a final swish of tail, and we both meow in
unison, wishing each other a good night.

Ya’el Chaikind

Omer Day 24:
Tiferet Shebe Netzach
Harmony, Beauty, & Balance within Structure, Endurance, & Victory

Carol Moldaw Reading & Poetry Posts

The ten poetry posts on SFCC campus currently showcase Carol Moldaw’s poetry–both new work and a selection of older poems, including one of my favorites, “Beads of Rain.”

She will be reading from her new book BEAUTY REFREACTED at Op Cit this Sunday, April 29, in the deVargas Mall, 2 pm.

“Dream Loop #2” from Beauty Refracted:
The way inmates and their families
hold palms up to opposite sides of glass—
even without touch, seeing you comforts.
We, the imprisoned; you, free to go,
your sentence commuted, the terms no longer
a source of agony, tedium, despair, joy, hope
or spite. All crimes absolved, death
its own rehabilitation. This time the setting
is a crowded beach, a grilled burger
in your hand. Are you all of nineteen?
Or thirty-five, an image from childhood.
Joy radiates out of your eyes.
I too am elated, though with no chance
to discuss the dilemmas that vex me—
your detachment not unloving or cold
but a state few of us living attain.

Please Don’t Pressure Me To Consume Health by Miriam Sagan

In some discussions about Barbara Ehrenrich’s views in her new book “Natural Causes” I feel that I have stumbled upon beliefs that are more dogmatic than practical, particularly as regards health. I’ve loved reading Ehrenreich since I discovered her first book, many years ago. “For Her Own Good.” chronicles women’s healthcare, and its relationship to the subjugation of women.
Her new book really lines up with the way my thinking has been developing. It basically points to the reality that all of us will die, that much of health advice on diet and screenings (and even, I’ll add, the target numbers for metabolic diseases) don’t necessarily lead to either increased longevity or improved health, and that we should make our own decisions.
It is this last point, I think, which sets off those folks I’m conversing with. Let’s say I decide to stop testing my PSA. (I figure that’s a gender neutral example, as I don’t actually have a prostate!). Many people react as if I’d decided to ignore malaria, a broken leg, and a psychotic break all at the same time. How…irresponsible! How unscientific!
This is where the religious approach kicks in. Forget that the jury really is out on many screenings in terms of public health. Forget that screenings carry risk. Apparently I’m also supposed to forget that I’m more in charge of my own decisions than, let’s say, the health care industry or my average friend. I don’t like to be bossed around, and I doubt if that is going to change. Actually, as regards my life and death and fashion decisions, “ain’t nobody’s business but my own.” There is no reason for anyone to make me conform.
I don’t like it when other people monitor what I eat or drink. I don’t appreciate comments or implications that my choices are unhealthy—or healthy. Frankly, I wish folks paid a lot more attention to my creative pursuits or attempts at social responsibility and a lot less attention to my health decisions.
It’s not like I’m refusing a vaccine against polio, and therefor putting a child and the group at risk. I’m guessing it is the fact that I’m hesitating to consume that upsets some other people. And this is because I’m also often lectured for not having a cell phone, a dryer, a micro-wave, or an unshared car. Why on earth should this bother anyone else? They aren’t washing my dishes.
There is no moral or ethical imperative that I’ve ever heard of that requires us to buy things or comply with the health fads of the day, and much of health advice is indeed momentary. I’m all for self care, but I’d like to be involved in defining that for myself.
Now this may be the point in the discussion where someone tells me how X. did Y.—and X’s life was saved! Is X. to be my role model? Is X. charitable, bold, creative, compassionate, adventurous? I probably would not do as X. did in terms of finances, romance, aesthetics, or child-rearing. And, honestly, not in terms of life and death.
Another book I recently enjoyed was “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Dukes. It’s about poker, and how life is much more like poker than chess. The author emphasizes that we are always making decisions based on incomplete information, and that adjusting to that is a necessity. The answer isn’t to try and get more information, but to realize you have to take a chance. She also looks at outcome biases—thinking a decision was good or bad based on the upshot. I wish someone would develop this as regards health care decisions.
One last thought—making our own decisions also affects end of life—i.e. deaths. Again, I don’t owe it to anyone to do a certain kind of treatment. But I’ve been thinking that it would help if we applied the notion of quality of life to life itself, rather than to just its end stages. How does the accepted capitalist paradigm of earning to consume affect our quality of life, year after year? Personally, I like to practice saying no to consumption. Not in some huge morally superior way, just in small ways that allow me to explore my own autonomy.

This Week’s Omer Poem by Ya’el Chaikind


Life is short and love
is awaiting before
our eyes, an unlit

match full of potential
spark ready to shine
a light in the dark

dampness where fear
molders, carving its own
terrible beauty into

the walls of our heart,
yet fear only adds
volume to love’s song,

where harmonizing
opposites can ignite
an endless flame.

Ya’el Chaikind


Omer Day 15:

Chesed Shebe Tiferet

Lovingkindness within Harmony, Beauty, and Balance

Marietta Leis Sculpture

Albuquerque based Marietta Leis is one of my favorite contemporary artists. Her paintings are often color fields, expressing light and place. But sometimes mixed in with these are representational pieces, adding a kind of narrative.

She says: “Solo” one of the works in my upcoming “Engrained:an ode to Trees”exhibit. Yes our trees are the new gold!

Haiku, anyone?