I ran across a reference to Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses twice in the space of a couple of days last month. First in Austin Kleon’s blog (do you read it? If you don’t, gift yourself the time to do so) and then in a second place — which I promptly forgot to write down.
I might not pay attention to everything, but nudges like that set me off on a search, sure, once again, that this is a clue order. Or clean closets.
Barely beyond the title page, I stopped reading, charmed by a word that made sense, and yet I’d never used:
1. to submerge; engulf. 2. to overcome utterly; overwhelm
Negative connotations drag at the more conventional, contemporary overwhelm. But Ackerman, in describing Helen Keller’s finely attuned senses of smell, taste and touch, said:
She wrote at length about the whelm of life’s aromas, tastes, touches, feelings, which she explored with the voluptuousness of a courtesan. Despite her handicaps, she was more robustly alive than many people of her generation.
I choose whelm as a guide word, a talisman on this blog journey. Time to give myself permission to find the things that make me feel curious and alive. And dive deep.
Newcomers to town were never quite sure what to make of The Dipper, a boat moored in the parking lot of the convenience store/seaweed sake shop.
The long time locals laughed when someone, astonished at the sight that somehow they missed when they took the spot two spaces over, asked “why isn’t it on the water?”
“Well, now,” said Mr. McPherson-O’Toole of the Lower Bay Road O’Tooles (not to be confused with the McPherson’s of Upper Bay Road) from his perch by the seawall. “Well now,” for any opening uttered twice captured attention quicker than a whistle, “why would you be needing water when there’s adventure behind every door?”
“Adventure?” the newcomer inevitably asked.
“Adventure,” came the firm reply.
Newcomers always felt they’d exhausted the adventure in their souls by the time they arrived in a new place. Most simply couldn’t face anything else new without absolute guarantees of safety and a good grocery store, and invariably they stood and looked at the boat (2 minutes 43 second was the average time) then turned away, muttering about another day.
But this evening, Hannah Applewood and her younger brother Harry, who’d napped most of the ride here and were simply full of the need for adventure, looked at the boat, each other, the boat, Mr. McPherson-O’Toole, the boat and then their parents.
“Please sir,” Hannah turned back to the older man to ask, “how do you start the adventure?”
“Oh now, Hannah,” said her mother, “we just need to get dinner and then settled in the house. We don’t have time for anything new.”
“But can’t I just know?” She asked. Inspired, she added, “It’s gathering research, for future important decisions and adventures.”
Knowing Hannah very well, Mrs. Hester Applewood looked directly in her eyes and said, “Just one. No run on sentences, no parenthetical additions. You have 14 words to ask your question.” This, she was sure, would lessen the time in the parking lot.
Hannah looked at the boat, then the sky, then at Harry. They nodded in unison and turned to Mr. McPherson-O’Toole.
“Please sir, what kind of adventures and how do we start?” She’d left one word off in case she needed to say Yes or No.
“Simple as can be, young lady,” answered Mr. McPherson-O’Toole. “You pick a door: Red for excitement, yellow for happiness, blue for calm and green for growth.”
“Thanks!” shouted Hannah, happy to know something new.
“But,” warned Mr. McPherson-O’Toole, “that all can change on the fifth night of the waning moon!”
Hannah had used up her words. She had so many questions and she could feel Harry quivering with his own right next to her. Darn the word restriction! Mom sure knew how to get her to go along.
But she and Harry would be back to find out more. For research and important information in order to make sound decisions.
I wonder if I told the full truth yesterday when I wrote about not revisiting my photos. Part of the equation is not dwelling on the past, that’s definite. But maybe I also don’t look because it would mean I have to decide what to do with over 11,000 images in my Google Photos folder. OK, OK. It’s 12K but some are also designs I made for social media accounts I maintain for work.
I share 1 out of every 20-30 photos I take on social media — with a personal limit of 3 in 24 hours. (That happens about once a year.) Honestly, I could share 10 a day and not even make a dent in the stock. Some are good, some are getting better.
Perhaps I’m overwhelmed: with that many photos how do I truly examine each one? Even with the nifty sorting and facial recognition at my disposal? Great. Now there’s one more thing to sort and conquer along with the tote bags and boxes.
The last three years, I made photo calendars as Christmas gifts. Every single recipient loved them. Some started noting on Instagram which photo they wanted to see in the next calendar. I’ve considered mailing people and asking which category of calendar they’d like: landscape, seascape, downtown Frederick, flowers. But then I tuck the idea away in a trusty tote bag and put it in the closet.
The universe may have other ideas. In the last 24 hours one pal asked what I’d charge if she bought a calendar to give as her own gift. Another pal said Frederick post cards are nowhere to be found, my photos would fill that void.
More ideas. This time, I wrote them down and kept the paper out in the open to hold myself accountable.
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the discomfort of putting myself forward, mock up some calendars and post cards. Approach some local shops. Figure out a place to sell things on line. Step back and see what else I’m supposed to do.
Most of the long drive home Tuesday was under skies of brilliant blue. All that changed about 90 miles from our front door when the clouds lowered and threatened. The unyielding sign we were back in the winter space, I suppose.
Once home we faced the up-and-down, in-and-out monotony of unloading the cars, stowing the vacation gear, sorting the clean and dirty laundry. All the things we performed with fresh enthusiasm three weeks ago were mundane, weary actions.
In my office space, I surveyed the room. Never neat enough, never cleared enough. (A reflection of self-talk? Maybe.) Mainly it reflects hoarded dreams and hopes and color. All the times I was sure I found the magic key to life falling into place.
Front and center were the bags. The pretty, utilitarian and spacious totes in which I pack up everything I may “need” when away from this space. This hidey-hole.
A quick inventory of the bags showed I never really unpack. Stowed inside are the items I was sure I needed in Ireland in April, in New York in June, for surgery days (how would I exactly see a notebook on eye surgery day?) in August and for the beach. Items that silently accused me of not living up to their potential.
A longer look revealed things I’ve never truly unpacked since moving here four years ago. Pictures waiting to find space on the wall lean against bookshelves. Candles waiting for a light line shelves and drawers. I see piles of the notebooks I knew — just knew — would magically compel me to sit down and fill them in artistic, poetic ways. Tote bags full of things I could forget once they were in a closet, out of sight.
That is the key: I tend to pack up memories of places in totes behind closed closet doors. My personal survival mode for moving over the years was to firmly shut the door on memories, looking ahead to the next steps instead of mourning the things left behind. Is that a reason for never truly unpacking? Because once I do, the chances of moving again are greater?
I don’t even look look back at photos of places because I refuse to give way to yearning to be back there.
I unpacked one tote and found three books I planned to read, and didn’t. Two yarn projects I planned to knit or crochet and didn’t. Six notebooks to match the mood of writing for a given day. In retrospect, I get having several lip colors in a bag for mood/dress, but six notebooks? Who exactly am I kidding?
That ready, willing fool waiting to be kidded on the universal level is, apparently, me.
Looking around the space I felt tired instead of embraced. How much do I have to shift the things already here to accommodate the things I brought back? (Fortunately, those things this time were small, specific and already well used.) How much still needs to be shifted from moves and trips and sudden, magpie-drawn-by-the-shiny need? Maybe I should have written NEED which is how the magpie brain works.
I wrote the other day that re-opening myself to posting here meant I need to show up. To tell the story in small bits of narrative. Clearing, cleaning this office space is now part of the whole narrative. Peeling back the thoughts and putting them in this space is important for a clear head. Parsing the tote bags, unpacking the boxes is important for an open heart.
For both, I need to take it in small consistent steps.
So I’ll start without the clearest of plans except to show up.
We had a plan: milk these three beach weeks until the very end. A good plan, considering the 16 straight days of sunshine. A plan destined for an untimely demise in the face of Florence the Relentless.
Tomorrow we’ll leave, two days early, while the sun still shines. While the brutal winds and surf continue to gather strength to the east. While there’s still a semblance of normal for everyone who lives here year round.
It’s time to go, pick up the reins of life at home and leave this little sandbar until the calendar brings us back to summer. I look harder to find the sun at home, peeking around the angles of our neighborhood for a glimpse of color, of light. I need to work for dawn when I’m home instead of stepping up a few steps into the rose and gold and orange and silver gift handed to me daily since the end of August.
So I’ll work a little harder to find dawn and breath and calm. And I’ll keep an open heart and mind that the sandbar makes it through another onslaught to welcome us back again.
I count on a stretch of time at the beach just to sit and listen. Depending on her mood, the ocean soothes in quiet laps. It spits and snarls out the last of storms far beyond the horizon I see from my little perch. It teases small children determined to make the waves in the shallows bow to their dominance. It buoys surfers ranging from wobbly beginners to lithe, confident riders who swing up, cruise in.
Quiet or loud, placid or tempermental, the ocean is constant in its reach and withdrawal.
I count on a stretch of time at the beach to just sit and watch. The sky fascinates morning to night (even as I avoid the midday). Dawn is a rowdy orange and vibrant pink that give any sunset a run for the money. Dawn is gray and lavender stealing the dark from the sky. Dawn is water that reflects steel then silver that gives way to blue under the relentless rise of the sun every day.
Evening offers a soothing stretch of quiet that waits for the moon rise and the stars to blink on. The mind lets go of the day as the lungs breathe in the salt air in rhythm with the surf. And when the stars blink into focus, you recognize how small we are.
I begin each day in the dark before dawn, I end in the dark after sunset. Constant, unceasing watch over ocean and sky, to fill the soul before heading back in to start or end the day.
When I’m not here, the surf still dances on the sand. The sun still rises, the moon still glides in waxing and waning grace.
My job is to dip into the overflowing soul and remember the constancy of the surf, the sun and the moon. And breath in and out in unison.
A while back, for 100 weeks, I wrote a Thursday post I titled Mileposts in the Distance. One hundred little slices of a life featuring crossroads, empty nests, half-marathons, family, dying swans and stashes of makeup. Why did I stop? At the time I’d convinced myself there was little left to say without repeating myself.
A good joke that, from a person who retells stories at the drop of the hat.
The itch to create strengthened over the past year. But in order to create, you must show up on a routine basis.
I’ve blown back the cobwebs, resuscitated Mileposts (at least on Thursdays) and taken back this space. No plans other than to show up here on a very regular basis and talk about what’s on my mind.