Stuff.1 by Devon Miller-Duggan

Stuff.1  

There are memes on social media and articles in all sorts of publications telling us (Boomers) that the subsequent generations DO NOT want our stuff. Not our heirlooms, not our elegant china, not our furniture. None of it. This may be a phase. Humans have phases. But it does make it oddly hard to de-stuff your stuff if you have a need to do that. In our house, we’re prepping for a bunch of major renovations to make the house functional for two families so that our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter can comfortably stay and, hopefully, see us through aging-in-place. The house is big. The yard is BIG. We like each other a lot and have been living together for 5+ years. It’s a classic story—they moved in planning on it being temporary, and it turned permanent. Works for us. But the house does need some changes for 5 big personalities to negotiate American-standard communal living, so we’re wading into a bazillion months of construction. This necessitates lots of packing-away. Which involves LOTS of why-are-we-keeping-this work. I am, so far, enjoying it. It feels like order-making in the midst of a mildly dis-ordered life in the midst of a massively dis-ordered world.  

One of the things I find myself most attached to are fabrics. It’s so bad that I asked my daughters last year to stage what amounted to an intervention in advance of a yard sale. I unloaded about ½ my stash in the face of ruthless questions about whether I was EVER going to make anything out of X yardage. Not much of it sold at the yard sale, but a bit more than half went to a woman in our neighborhood who makes all her children’s clothes (also homeschools them and grows lots of veg in her front yard. The person who took the fabric was a friend of hers who mentioned this, so I cajoled her into taking practically everything kid-able in the piles. The rest went to the thrift store, where it will, hopefully, find other sewists who want it. There was a lot of wool in there. Who wears wool any longer? I don’t, especially the sorts of skirts and jumpers I used to wear a lot. We don’t have much winter in DE.  

Just this morning, I went to put on a dress that is too big, feels frumpy, and has seen me through a lot of summers (I tend to keep clothes I like a long time). The thing is, I LOVE the print. Love it. I could take the dress in, and may, or I could cut it up (the fabric is in great shape) and make a dress for a granddaughter. What I won’t do is put it in the thrift store box because the fabric is a perfect print and makes me happy every time I look at it.  

So I’ve been thinking about what categories of stuff I am most attached to. I am surprised to say that it’s a smallish list: a few of the things my grandfather gave me, some books, lots of art, a few pieces of jewelry, and fabrics I love, most of them one shade or another of green, photos. So why is my house so blasted full of stuff I don’t really want (my mother’s Lenox, my Madame Alexander dolls…), but that is too good to thrift, and too hard to sell? I have thought it was acquisitiveness—one of the Great Sins and a convenient thing to beat myself up about. But I think it’s got more to do with accretion and connection—stuff that I loved in the past, or just landed here because someone else close unloaded it and I automatically kept it because of that connection. So if you’d like my mother’s almost unused set of Lenox “Autumn” china, let me know. I’ll be happy to ship it off to you. As soon as I find it.

I’m walking around the house with my eyes closed by Miriam Sagan

I’m walking around the house with my eyes closed. Here is the reason.

I go for a standard eye exam, but not with my usual doc. Because of missing the annual exams during covid, I am now a “new” patient after 20 years. This just means I can’t get in to the usual doc. So I see a new one (Let’s call this person MD1).

MD1 announces I have age related degeneration. It sounds scary, and it might be, although I have no symptoms. The signs are brand new, MD1 tells me. Then departs the examination. It happens fast, and I am not invited to ask questions.

Although even I—-anxious and hypochondriacal—-realize it is unlikely I am about to go blind, I start practicing. This is not new. I spent much of my childhood with my eyes shut, just in case I lost my vision. I could easily dial the telephone without looking. I also practiced using my non-dominant hand, in case my right hand got cut off in an industrial accident (unlikely in suburban New Jersey after child labor laws, but still…)

As a result, I can stand on one leg for a good long time with my eyes closed. Impressive for a person my age. I can actually do many odd things, but I won’t go into them all now.

I wonder if I should learn braille—-which has always fascinated me. Granted, I’m signed up to learn Sanskrit, but I can change that. Would audio books be enough? I’m really worrying now.

Finally, I decide I need more information on my vision. I call my “real” doc—-let’s call this person MD2. MD2 says my eyes seem perfectly normal, and there is no change since 2018.

Of course this is confusing. One doc must be wrong. But I decide to believe MD2, who has helped me in the past. Plus, neither doc wants to see me for another year in any case.

I hang up the phone with my left hand, and take some barely legible notes with it as well. I’m not quite ready to give up training for…well, something.

Never Check “Other”

I went to get a baseline bone density test and I fell into a Kafkaesque intake.
First off, I have to admit: I am a crazy person in medical settings. I blame the 6 weeks in the ICU and months in the Beth Israel Hospital I spent as a young woman. Or, my personality. Anyway, I tend to lose it.
Intake forms are always a big challenge. I usually just lie. I have never had a drink, an edible, or more than one sexual partner.
This form innocently asked for my race and I checked “other.”
“What are you?” the tech asked. She was a pleasant person I was about to torture.
“Askenazic Jew.”
“They don’t have that. Can you just say ‘Caucasian’?”
Now that is a pretty rude question. Are we not allowed to self identify here? However, I didn’t need to tell her how Jews couldn’t swim in certain swimming pools or go to social dancing parties when I was growing up. But I did.
However, I’m not just insane. If X-ray Center needs me to be white, I can be white.
“Mark whatever works,” I said.
But now she was confused. It seems she wasn’t checking anything. “Your results can’t estimate your fracture risk now,” she said.
At this point even I was confused. Fracture risk assessment needs race. And I was firmly “Other.” Maybe that is why I check that box–the Jew as Other, the reason for the Holocaust.
But I just left it alone.
Turns out, my bones are normal.
It is the whole me that isn’t.

15 Easy Minutes by Miriam Sagan

Time—friend or foe? I’ve always engaged with it. In the 5th grade, I suffered horribly from boredom and the snail-like pace of time passing, particularly the last quarter hour of the day. The big clock would click and move forward every minute. Every 60 seconds.

School let out at 3 pm. At 2:45 I’d start to watch the clock. I’d try to do 15 tiny things to amuse myself as time passed. John Cage would have loved me.

1. Hold my breath. See how long I could do that. Practice in case I fell into the water from a boat. (Not very likely, but better safe than sorry).

2. Twist the button on my shirt until it fell off. Count how many times I had to twist this. (My mother hated this, but I never told her how it kept happening).

3. See how many times I could kick my friend Mary Ann’s foot until one of her tennis-shoe shod feet would kick me back. (She was good-natured and didn’t seem to mind).

4. Stare at the back of the boy I had a mild crush on and will him to turn around. A smile was a bonus. (I loved him because he was sarcastic—unwittingly the start of a trend in my romantic life).

5. Count to a hundred fast in under a minute. (I still do this).

6. Do #5 but backwards. (100, 99, 98, etc.).

7. Scribble a line and then work it with a pencil over and over until the paper shredded and I was writing directly on the desk. (I’m sure you’ll enjoy this too).

There were more, but this is most of what I can remember. I did have a winter scarf with fringe that could be braided different ways. I don’t know if this was the start of my time-killing technique called “think about something for a minute”—what I’d like to eat, how to spend a million dollars, who I’d put a hit on, and more.

I have spent my life since 5th grade playing creative tricks with my mind. And it seems time has passed. I’ll be turning 68 this spring. Click. Click.

Dear One by Jessie Parker

Editor’s note: Jessie Parker is a New Mexican, public school teacher, and a great writer! I’m grateful she let me re-post this from Facebook for the readers here at Miriam’s Well.

The Trevor Project invited me to write a letter to a young queer person who may be struggling this holiday season. This is what came out. Sharing here, feel free to share with a young person in your life.


Dear one,
The holidays can be difficult for everyone, especially you as a young queer person. Please hang in there. The world needs you and the beauty you bring to it! You are going through probably the hardest part of your life. Mental health is so important – do you have a therapist? Trusted friends or adults you can talk to? I am a bi/pan, cis white woman, who experienced deep depression in high school. I didn’t know what my future would look like. Today I am in my 6th year as a teacher, I started a GSA (Genders and Sexualities Alliance) at my school, I’m in a fulfilling relationship, and I have cute dogs! Over the years I built up my chosen family, and leaned on close friends for intimacy and kinship.
I know many people have difficult and different experiences treating mental illness, but perhaps I can share my story with you? I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at 14, an autoimmune disorder. This was paired with an inescapable, self-loathing depression. My friends imbued me with a strong stigma against anti-depressants, so I didn’t try any. Three years later, a teacher who I admired told me anti-depressants helped her and I decided to give them a try. It was the best decision I ever made. Things still weren’t easy, but my baseline came up to a manageable place. I fell in love with my best friend, who later came out as a trans man. I feel I needlessly lost years of my life to depression due to stigma. #endrant
We as queer people are a natural, necessary part of humanity. We deserve love, equity, and respect. Please know that you are so loved. Listen to the voice inside yourself that knows you are worthy of deep love and care. If your family can’t see that, it’s truly their loss.
You are valid. You are loved. You are so beautiful / handsome. I am so glad you exist. Please ask for the help you need. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Move your body. Trust the voice in your heart. May your 2022 be filled with blessings.

Who Am I?

Inspired by Yoko One. One of her pieces in ACORN. I wrote this in a group–revised later. You can follow Ono’s grid to create your own piece.

Name: (Including all the names you are called by)
Miriam Anna Sagan
Mir

Past Address: 153 Dwight Pl. Englewood, NJ 07631
Present: 626 Kathryn St. Santa Fe, NM 87505
Future: One and a half grave plots. Jewish section. Memorial Gardens. Rodeo Road.

I am at the age where…
I hang suspended between vitality and death. A long pleasant autumn day but getting colder.

What you like:
Place: the desert
Time: dawn
Weather: rain
Colour: dark blue
Sound: the mallet hitting the solid heavy wooden han at the entrance to the zendo
Smell: low tide
Taste: coffee, anything bitter

Describe your world as you see it.
Inner: Chaos, dreams, pale roots shooting down into the earth, a web of…the unknown, the imagined. The presence of death, dried dusty butterfly wings. Once I couldn’t fly and I still can’t. Grudge. Hope. Compost pile.

Outer: The westside, yellow leaves and late apples in the street, graffiti and tag lines, the invisible but real networks across the city—arroyos, acequias, boundary lines, surveys, the old abandoned tunnels the kids call “Heaven” and Hell.”

Regret: that I never liked how I looked when I was young.

Pride: that I never let down a child who depended on me (knock wood).

My attachments:
a. animate: husband, daughter, grand-daughter, son-in-law, Texas red oak, two apricot trees, friends, siblings, nieces and nephews, road runner in my yard
b. inanimate: house, memory, money, dead husband, dead friends, costume jewelry earrings, Navajo rugs, Persian rugs, Pueblo pottery, justice

(Perplexed, I notice that art, poetry, and music do not appear here. Or religion. Are they perhaps not “attachments?” Also, I can’t decide if animate or inanimate!)

My wish:
1. to not be confined
2. to get my own way
3. to love

Forest Fire Spotter, Lighthouse Keeper, Hotdog Stand Owner, Writer by Mark Pumphrey

A lone forest fire spotter sits Zen-like in a tower at the top of a slope in the Gila National Forest as he has done day in and day out for the past twelve years. He cannot read—distracting. He cannot watch television—eyes on the forest. He cannot talk on his phone—bad signal and too much dividing of his attention in case of a fire. He can only sit zazen, staring into the green and blue as they meet just above the tree line on the other shore above the lake below him. He had a canary once, but the canary died. And the forestry department did not approve of the canary.

The fire spotter chose his job and it chose him. He was one of those individuals, along with lighthouse keepers, hotdog stand owners and writers, who must have freedom before they can breathe. Who must be alone before they can ever be with other people. Who must have silence and inertness before any action can arise in them.

When the fire comes, he is then ready, and bolts into action, in the zone required for a sensible and efficient resolution of a dangerous situation.

The lonely lighthouse keeper, wife long dead, groping in the dark on a wind-swept, stormy shore, being overcome with an internal darkness except when in the tower watching out for the boats in distress in the night, is a stereotype that may be closer to the reality than we think. Am I the only person who has ever longed for such an existence?

The independence of the hot dog stand owner-master of his own destiny, answering to no one but himself, is probably a myth. Those buns and condiments have to come from somewhere. But how many of us as working stiffs whose creativity has been stamped out by the gods of bureaucracy have not longed to be our own boss, doing our own thing and doing it in the way we believe to be the most meaningful?

As a writer, I too, must have quiet. I must be alone. No café writing for me. No putting pen to paper before first sitting and emptying my mind of all thought. Only then can the real writing of consequence occur. Only then can meaning come into the writing, for my self and for others who choose to read what I have written.

***

This piece was written earlier this month in a Tumblewords workshop on zoom from El Paso. The prompt was a painting by Margarete Bagshaw that references forest fire, “The Day The Sun Turned Red”  36″ X 48″
In honor of Indian Market, 2011

Changes

There seems to be a cultural consensus that “change is good.” It helps us move “forward.” That is how we meet our “goals.” And yet, as any housecat will tell you—change is also bad. For example, running the vacuum. A bad change. Ditto for redecorating. So, which is it?

I like having a vision, an action item, a focus. Yet I won’t put a positive moral judgement on my goal-oriented personality. Sure, I’m trying to maximize. I have also mislaid my car keys, said something insensitive, and spent money frivolously.

And my forward motion isn’t exactly change. Writing a book, imagining a new project, getting a group to work creatively—that isn’t change. It is more like an expression of the essential part of myself. But that isn’t new.

I’ve lived in the same house for half my life. I’m married to my high school boyfriend. However, this house is thousands of miles from where I was raised. The boyfriend is a second husband. So—change or stability? Obviously both.

I love it when I or a friend can experience a fresh start. There is nothing like a sense of rebirth to keep us going. That isn’t change in the consumer sense—not a new car, or a new to do list. It is change in the more profound sense, as in everything changes no matter how we respond.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. True or false? In some ways yes. Fashion for example looks different but feels identical—a cultural ready made that demands conformity—no matter the time or place. The housecat says—false. A vacuum will never be a comfy nap. If you throw out someone else’s beloved ratty T-shirt (or, God forbid, try and wash the toddler’s blanket) it will be obvious that things have not stayed the same. Things are worse, much worse.

I’ve tried to change my basic character, and totally failed. I’ve tried to change my most neurotic self-destructive traits and had unexpectedly good success. I painted the bedroom apricot and liked it. Years later, I painted the faded walls the same hue and liked it again.

I think I’m not so much a fan of change per se as I am a fan of the ability to develop and grow. To emerge, to stretch, to begin anew. A caterpillar can’t turn into a butterfly more than once, but a butterfly can flutter off in a new wind.

M is for Medusa by Miriam Sagan

In our girls’ school uniforms we watch “Un Chien Andalou” in the auditorium. I’d rather be in the bathroom, hanging out and smoking Balkan Sobranies with my friend Juliet. She favors the black ones with the gold filters. They taste of elsewhere. A hole opens in the man’s palm and ants crawl in and out. I’m unimpressed. We have plenty of ants, in every sandy crack in the sidewalk. My father is at war with all nature, setting mouse and ant traps all over the house. And yelling at us if we leave the sugar bowl uncovered. But he is losing the battle. An old mop abandoned on the back porch is colonized by yellow jackets who build a nest in its snaky Medusa head. My father’s three daughters swell from flat-chested childhood into the busty rebellion of womanhood. We roll up our uniform skirts and show our legs, a shadow between the thighs. We believe, for the first time, that we are real, and begin to act accordingly. 

http://lostpaper.blogspot.com/

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.