Thursday, September 25, 2008

Broken Glass

For some reason these days of early autumn I have been thinking of glass. Bits of glass. Broken glass.

All my life I've had a fascination with glass; there is something about the way light comes through it, something about the colors, something about the odd feeling that glass has, being solid and liquid and air and fire all together, all in one.

The second scar I acquired in my life came from a bit of glass, shining in the sunlight, so beautiful, so translucent, so enticing. And at the bottom of the broken bottle, some sweet liquid. Of course I had to drink it. The scar sits as a little half moon, hiding in the line of my smile. I still remember the sweetness, and the amazement at the sudden cut. I could not have been more than...oh, maybe nearing 3 years old.

The first scar, since I can't leave you all wondering, is at my left eyebrow. That one I do not remember, though my mother told me how I nearly lost the eye. You know how you aren't supposed to run with sticks, let alone scissors? In my case, according to family report, it was a wooden handled flyswatter. I hope I wasn't dashing about as a murderous two year old, intent on destroying the poor insects, but I don't know. I fell, the handle snapped, the wood went into my face above my eye. My godfather--conveniently enough, he was a doctor--was visiting. Every so often through my childhood my mother would bring out the story, in which she lamented my brush with certain blindness and the intervention of the doctor, and my early rashness of spirit.

But glass. When I was 11, reading the book of Revelations, mourning my transplanting to a desert air force base where I had few friends, my school class had a mosaic project. Other, far more sensible students made their mosaic portraits of their dogs or stylized owls or whatnot with easily obtained dry beans and popcorn glued to a thick sheet of cardboard.

Beans and popcorn never crossed my mind. I wanted glass. I wanted the colors to shine, and the edges to be jagged and the world to come together from fragments to something beautiful.

It's still something I want.

So at 11 years I wandered the vacant desert lots of the air base where sonic booms shook the air, and I picked up pieces of glass. Blue, olive green, amber brown, dark green, CocaCola blue gray, milk white.
And I glued them to a board, painted white. I would have loved to glue them to a sheet of glass, but I didn't have one; my mother, perplexed, provided the board.

The pattern was of a wandering vine, and flowers. I cut my hands a lot working on it. I loved the way the tiny bits of blue worked against the green.

It must have been thrown away the next time we moved. I still recall, however, the thrill of the glint of tossed away, broken glass, gathered to make flowers and vines.

Ten years later I'd take some classes in stained glass, and true to form, working on a shag carpet in my grandmother's home, I'd end up bleeding. I'm not sure which numbered scar that is, but it marks the top of my left foot and took several stitches to close.

But I loved the light through that many colored glass. It was well worth the blood.

And why was broken glass on my mind these days? I don't know. Maybe it's that I've been carefully placing my cobalt bottles on my shelves, and the one small yellow medicine bottle brought to me by one of my street friends, dug up somewhere in the desert, carried in a pack through a winter and a summer in thanks for a small kindness I'd forgotten.

And maybe it's that I keep thinking that someone needs to love the broken bits purely, and see the patterns of vines and flowers and stars and moons that are there, just scattered a bit.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

At the new windows

In July, if asked, I would have assured you I deal very well with chaos. I am accustomed to doing several things at the same time; I am usually fairly graceful about it. Or so I would have told you.

In early August, if asked, I would have cheerfully told you, "No problem; yes, it is complicated, but all is well."

That would have been true, but it would have ignored the month or so to come, and the late night times of "I do not want to lift another box of books in my life" and the dust in my hair, and the fights with my partner, and the poor confused critters.

But now--well, the view from my desk is of the beautiful hillsides I fell in love with more than 30 years ago; the hills I wandered with a friend, that slope to the winding river. The view is of some redwood trees across the street, of a little park graced with plum trees, and of my vast porch and windowbox and the very old grapevine clambering up the building on the north, and the sheltering plums, locusts, oaks and bay on the south. Old rock walls support the porch; the grapevine makes a graceful arc over the steps down to the path north. The steps south lead up to town.

When the sun sets I watch it over the distant green and gold hills, and my heart is at peace.

True, I still go to a shelf all confident in search of a book and stop.."oh, gee, that one isn't in alphabetical order yet..." But that is easily remedied.

We are on the main street of a pretty little town, and people can wander down to chat with us and buy books and pay proper attention to Champ and his feline companions.

The main street is also pretty much the highway for hitch hikers; I can be found by my wandering friends when they need me.

I hadn't figured on moving, though. The universe is full of surprises, and some of them come as shocks.

This move...well, it all started in late July, when there was some controversy over the installation of a portable toilet in the lot of the post office near our bookstore. It's a long and tangled tale, and involves allegations of destruction and such by folks without homes, causing the closure of the PO during evenings and weekends.
This was quite the problem for people who live in the hills and come in once a week--no one could pick up their mail. It was about a year long problem, and some folks got together to work out solutions with the PO. Seems there was a meeting, and the portapotty was one of the factors.

Not a bad idea. I mean, we all do have bodies and such, and many the tourist came to my shop wondering where on earth they, go. We were informed of the portapotty by a rep from the Chamber of Commerce and by a candidate for the board of supes. Okay, fine by us.

Except we were told it was being placed next to our front door, near the roses I'd planted and tended.

Big reality time. My partner was enraged at what he saw as a deliberate slap in the face. I talked him down, because when I thought about it I figured...hey, we ask people to be compassionate. We ask people to go beyond their personal comfort all the time. How can we block this.

He grumbled, and said I was right.

So the glorious toilet day was coming, and the postmaster came to tell us it was being placed "tomorrow". And I was figuring, okay, I'll build screens and plant vines and all will be well...but then I wondered if anyone had bothered to talk with my landlady.

Well, no.

So I suggested the postmaster phone her.

And thus I became...well, lord knows what she was told, but she'd wanted for a long time to renovate the building, so...we, who invented homeless people (I gather) and had held the meeting to bring her property values to the ground (though we hadn't been there) didn't have to move that day, but tomorrow would be nice.

Sure, I know that's not legal. But here's the deal: I hung up the phone, told partner and daughter, and daughter phoned her boyfriend who said "hey, so and so is moving her office next to where I work...get on it".

And we did. Within 10 minutes we knew where we were moving a zillion books and...oh, you don't want to know about the piles of leaflets and the odds and ends.

It seemed to go on forever. A week stretched into another week. My partner started likening it to a hostage situation "day 22, and counting..."

But the help that came was so amazing. Not a day passed without someone unexpectedly showing up with a truck, or a strong back, or a vat of coffee. Old friends, sure, but people I only knew vaguely as customers--the guy who loves French literature turned out to be a great carpenter and built me a wall of shelves; the guy who reads sci fi spent a whole weekend carrying heavy boxes. My street friends, who could get some good money for the sort of heavy work they were doing for me, refused payment. "You've been our friend for so long, let us give you something back".

Although it was exhausting, although I seemed to live on ibuprofen and strong coffee for a few weeks there, it was also touching and astonishing.

We are settling in with joy and gratitude. The town cemetery is not too far north of us, down a lane lined with redwoods. When I first arrived in the area I used to walk there and sit and collect my thoughts, wondering what I should be doing with my life. These mornings Champ and I walk through, startling the bluejays, admiring the autumn roses, plotting guerrilla planting of daffodils, and noting the many friends whose markers rest delicately beneath the old cypress trees.

It's a good place. It feels right. And the whole move, though so tiring and so long, felt all along guided and protected. As I say, sometimes good changes come with a curious shock.

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