Hijacked

When I was a young teenager, airplane hijackings came into vogue. Perhaps there were more then than now. Added precautions probably cut down on them. But in the 1960’s, they filled the news.

My overactive imagination easily created a scenario in which I was trapped with my family in a downed plane among sand dunes.”If we get hijacked, what will we do?” I asked my mom.

To her credit she didn’t point out any of the unlikelihoods. She just retorted: ‘We’ll teach Danny to read.”

My brother was about three years old at that time, so it would have been quite an undertaking. But I felt instantly unworried and happy. And that was because I had an activity.

This approach continues to help me. After all, much of life is about being hijacked–by history, health, finances, fate. Even by our own characters, and obligations. Free will, as a Jesuitical friend once explained me, is not an absolute, but on a scale. And that scale slides.

It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve taught literacy my entire adult life–from ESL to composition to poetry, fiction, and memoir. When my plans are hijacked, even by a pandemic, I still have something to do.

Commercial jet flying above clouds.

(Negative) Bucket List

Although I love to make lists, I do not have a bucket list–and never will. They have always seemed oddly commercial to me, involved with spending money to attain culturally anointed experiences.

I did get to Japan (my kids did that, actually) And live in an artists’ residency in a freezing cold farm house. Was that a bucket list item?

No. I hardly knew that world existed.

And I’ve accomplished things, but I call those things goals. That is, they aren’t wildly aspirational but rather composed of quantifiable, attainable, things. For example, I’m apt to say: my goal is to do five events for this new book. Not–my bucket list is to win a big prize.

So, I’m going to create a NEGATIVE bucket list. Here goes.

  1. I won’t make up with my enemies, bad old friends, or difficult relatives
  2. I won’t need to ever have my appendix removed
  3. Donald Trump will not be president of the United States again

You can see why I don’t trust the efficacy of bucket lists.

Bluefish by Miriam Sagan

New Issue: http://lostpaper.blogspot.com/

bluefish
Miriam Sagan

First you burned, and then everything else went up in flames. I unhooked you from the respirator, and then you died. Do you remember that evening when we caught the bluefish in Menemsha Bay? We were ill-prepared, had neither a bucket nor a knife. We didn’t expect to catch anything, but a large vicious bluefish took the hook. We pulled it gasping to the sand, and had no way to kill it as its teeth went for our bare feet. You took a large rock and brained it. At that exact moment the moon rose full and orange over the eastern shore of the island, behind us. We put our hands in gassho and bowed to the fish. Took it home, cooked, and ate it. Only I remember, as both you and the fish are dead. You were cremated in your gray under kimono, along with your lineage papers, certifying that you were an ordained Buddhist priest.

Fresh fish (bluefish) on the boat floor

Bubbe Report: Sleepless at the Sleepover

It is bedtime, at my house. Ms. G. aged 2 years and 2 months is sleeping over because her parents have requested a night off. We always have fun, but now the struggle begins.


“My dad is coming,” she says. She’s getting very good at stringing words together. She looks out the window. “Dad,” she says, but perhaps with more hope than certainty. Still, it is heartbreaking. Even I, who know he is out to dinner with G’s mom, am thinking—where the heck is he?


We’ve played and eaten and bathed and danced along with Big Bird and read. Now at dusk, grandpa Rich announces he is going for a walk. “Go for walk!” she suggests to me. But I’m now the evil witch, and I insist on bed. A bit of sobbing, a bit of thrashing, collecting Bitty Binkie the Blankie and Tygger and the two favorite baby dolls, and soon snoring. I lie down next to her—I’ve promised. And besides, I’m exhausted.


In the middle of the night we wake up, stagger to the bathroom, and then a bit more sobbing, “Read! Book book book!” “Ok,” I say. “I’ll read Little Bear. Shut your eyes.” Of course I can’t read in the dark, but I’ve got Little Bear memorized. More snoring. But now I’m wide awake.
I’m old, I’m tired, I feel bad that not every minute is perfect. What is she learning? That you have to compromise with others? That sometimes our chosen person isn’t there? That her grandmother is slavishly devoted but still can’t indulge every whim?


By morning, all seems forgiven. Breakfast, and by 7:30 am main man dad is back. “Your dad is here!” I say. But she bolts into my lap, buries her face in me, holds tight. Only when he opens the door does she rush towards him, wreathed in rewarding smiles.


And off they go. What is unfamiliar to me in her—her sunny good nature, a love of heavy machinery—comes from him, my son-in-law. She is familiar to both of us, but in different ways. Last night as she kicked my back in her sleep and edged me off the bed she reminded me a lot of her mother as a babe.


Does she remind me of myself at two? Well, that I can’t remember.
“Grandpop walk,” she tells her dad as she reports. That is what she retains. A missed adventure, something intriguing, something she is sure to get.

Bubbe Report

How do babies do it? Do they read ahead in the child development book? Anyway, 21 month old G. is acting a lot like…a 21-month old. I still call her “the baby” but figure at the two year mark she is officially a child (or a toddler).

Language is starting to kick in. I joke that she is my slowest ESL student ever, but she is making great strides.”UP, mom.” “NO NO NO.” “Moon. “Salt.” “Pepper.”

Every time she notices Tiny Dog, the sweet chihuahua who has been G.’s companion since birth, G. tells me confidingly: “dog.” I thought that would be her first word but it was “up”–an important word for a short person.

We still communicate more on the level of sound than complete thoughts.”Caw caw” she says, seeing the crow out the window. I have managed to teach–by example–my silly useless game of fake sleeping, complete with fake snoring. She lies down, closes her eyes, and pretends to snore. Maybe this isn’t a universally useful activity–but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Everything is in groups. I have toes. She has toes. A cookie, broken onto bits, is referred to as Dada, Mama, and baby. Pretty much all objects are arranged this way.

What is she thinking? I’ll never know–and her brain is changing so fast she won’t remember. When she feeds the crayon a grape I sort of get it, but not totally.

Still, the crayon seems satisfied.

Bubbe Report

I spent rather more time than I could have imagined putting a pair of reading glasses on a pastel confetti-covered toro pinata.

I might have created a monster as 19-month old Grainne now expects me to sing from “Carmen” whenever we engage with this bull-shaped pinata.

She was scared at first, and I understand why…the new creature seemed “real.” But unfamiliar and potentially too wild. Now it is part of the domestic scene.

Things are changing and fast. G. has new words such as “mine” and “no.” “Boom” and “dog” seemed easier on the ear. I wouldn’t exactly say the grandma/baby honeymoon is over, but we’re entering a new stage.

I don’t quite remember this feeling, though, from motherhood–that we are entering it together. Maybe I was bossier as a mom.

I bring her into my world and she lets me in to hers.

Summer by Miriam Sagan or Where I’m At

Creative process is sometimes deep and wide, sometimes ephemeral. Like my dreams, it reflects the world but not always in an exact way. My book of poetry about astronomy, Star Gazing, is out from Cholla Needles Press! That was about nine months in the making, a focused and even pressured process. I’m completing a novella, Shadow on the Minotaur, due out from Red Mountain in 2021. Fiction can be a lot more laborious for me–I’m almost four years in.
So–what now? Since January I’ve been dabbling in a memoir I’m calling Stash–flash pieces, often about childhood. Yesterday’s blog post on ankle socks is part of it, as is today’s musing on the season and the goodness–or lack of goodness–of God.

Summer

We lie in the lawn and eat what we can forage—mostly tasty onion grass. I pick three-leafed clovers and peel another leaf to add to them.
“Look! Four-leafed clover!” I tell my dubious younger siblings.
“What’s this?” My brother holds up a tiny daisy.
“A daisy,” I say.
“No,” he says, “a sunflower…only very very far away.”
He will grow up and become an architect.
My father is out with the weed killer and a spiked tool that pulls up roots. It is a two-acre lot. That is a lot of weeds. The lawn is mostly bluegrass, but it also has its primeval edges…moss, violets, forage. Once we see a caterpillar wasp paralyze its prey and lay its eggs in the still living mass of protein. It is just this wasp that made Charles Darwin doubt a benevolent God, but we are children. As such, we know only God’s tyranny, and the random cruelty of the universe. The wasp does not bother us. It is just following its nature. As is my father—spraying and pulling. He works the front lawn while we sit in the back blowing every dandelion head that comes to hand. The lovely fairy-winged seeds float innocently on our breath, looking to land.

Once Again I’m Thinking About Underwear–in this case Ankle Socks by Miriam Sagan

Ankle Socks

At the end of Second Grade, my friend Buffalo Mary Ann announces: No more ankle socks for us!

What!?

Once we go up to the big school, we’ll have to wear knee socks. Or…peds.

Oh no.

Third grade—through Sixth—is in an old mansion up the hill. Apparently it means a change of footwear.

No more ankle socks? But I love ankle socks, love how they look, how they feel. They seem to give my feet a life of their own, often with folded down frills. My feet look like cupcakes, trimmed in pink or red scalloping. Sometimes the socks even have little bumblebees embroidered on them.

I hate knee socks, so confining and itchy.

Little do I know just how bad it is going to get. Garter belts and nylons once I reach puberty. But then, shazam, soon after my menarche, miraculously pantyhose come in and I have neon green ones and orange ones and sheer plaid ones. Then footless tights, which I wear to this day.

And with footless tights, of course, I wear ankle socks. I am sixty-six years old and I have a basket full to the brim of ankle socks.

I have never worn peds, those disgusting nylon slip-ons that cover just the foot, ever in my life. And now I don’t even worry that I ever will.

I count myself beyond lucky that my female form was never crammed into a girdle or corset. That I often do not wear a bra. But as mobility is the most important thing to me, I love that my legs can breathe while my toes are protected and enclosed. Ankle socks.

Sukkah: Gimme Shelter by Miriam Sagan

I’m not one to retreat from the world. Yes, I can spend long stretches of time alone in remote settings. After all, I twice spent a week in a trailer in an abandoned air force base in Great Basin. Nothing but howling dogs in the distance and three million acres of bombing range.
However, I experience this as being CLOSE to things–myself, the environment, poetry, even what I’ll call G-d. It’s the difference between loneliness and solitude–solitude being a relationship to the unseen, not a lack.
So I’ve hated the idea of being in lockdown during the pandemic. Locked down with what? Fear, an exaggerated emphasis on my own safety, a compliance with rules? Sorry, this does not sound like me.
I’ve done my best to not be locked away from my world–physically, emotionally, spiritually. I’m always practical, so I’ve given in to the demands of the time. But I’m connecting to nature–from the mountains to my veggie garden. To people–from my family to childhood friends. To literature and art and music. To my spiritual support group. And yes, to the sometimes sad often diminished neighborhood that I live in–and love as much as if it were a person. The details are my own, and might not be universally useful. However, I’m trying.
A friend very kindly said to me–“You’ve created your own life within the pandemic.” I was truly encouraged that she’d noticed my effort.
So I think of myself as living within a tent. It’s not my usual life, but it is serviceable. It is a kind of sukkah. “Sukkah” is defined as a temporary shelter covered in natural materials, built near a synagogue or house and used especially for meals during the Jewish festival of Succoth. It can also be used to describe the sheltering effect of the Shekinah, the feminine aspect of the divine.
So, what is going on in my sukkah? One very important thing to me in life are those seemingly random or casual exchanges that often contain meaning or wisdom. I’ve recently seen a very large man happily catch a very small fish. Been complimented on my tie-dye hippie dress by a stranger. And been given some important personal advice by the laundromat lady.
Gimme shelter.

The Stupid Man Club by Miriam Sagan

I’m not exactly Proust–heck, I can’t even manage to read Proust. But I do like to remember. The act of writing seems in and of itself to stimulate memory. Was The Stupid Man Club my first foray against the patriarchy or my incipient life as a writer? Most likely it was a weird project born of boredom and creativity–a hallmark of my way of living even now.
***

The Stupid Man Club

My parents decide to install fire alarms throughout our three story house at 153 Dwight Place. The house is white shingled, with a wrap around porch. It’s a lovely house. The formal dining room is graced with Corinthian columns like something out of a British novel, but it is otherwise unpretentious and pleasant. Large, to be sure, with four bathrooms. But old-fashioned, with 50’s style fixtures. The basement is sprawling and damp. I dream recurrently that a pharaoh’s tomb is located off one of its twisty corridors. The roof leaks over certain spots that can never be fixed, no matter what my father does. The plaster just peels. My mother has papered the ceiling above the children’s bath tub with a blue sky studded with white clouds.
Men come to install the alarm system. My sister and I follow them around every day. Observing and recording their stupid seeming behavior in a small notebook. I’m the eldest, so I do the writing. Once they are finished, we find other stupid men to observe—repairmen, garbage men, gardeners, mail carriers, and more. Even the doctor making a house call with his black bag.
My father also appears to come and go more than he does to actually live with us seven days a week. He works half a day Saturday and Thursday night until past our bed time. He comes home on week nights well after we have eaten supper. I can’t remember if his doings are recorded in The Stupid Man Club’s notebook or not.