Saturday, December 24, 2011

Second Bloom

It’s December, the month I sit down with my current calendar and transfer notes, birthdays, reminders onto the pages of the new year’s calendar. The space heater is on, the steam rises from a cup of ginger tea that sits next to a warmed-up biscuit on an antique plate from my grandmother—the one with tiny pink roses circling the edge. The sky is blue, and deceptively sunny. No warmth reaches the ground.

I’m on July, 2012 now, and in careful lettering with my special blue-ink pen, I write “Wisteria, 2nd bloom,” on the calendar page. I smile in anticipation as I mark this reminder that summer will come again, regardless of the weather at the moment. I feel excitement knowing that next July I will inhale the scent of these beautiful clusters of fragrant purple blossoms that will drip from the greenery overhead, just outside my window.

I have two azalea plants. One blooms in the spring, big, bright, beautiful red blossoms. This I’ve marked in May. The other, with smaller, perfect pink petals, blooms mid-September. Why? I haven’t a clue. I planted them the same time in celebration of a novella I had just published, Waltzing With the Azaleas. The flowers continue to bloom—the book has stopped selling. Such is life.

The days, months, years go so much faster now than once they did. Babies are born, friends and family die, the cycle of life spins along as it did before I arrived, and as it will after I’m gone. I’ve buried both parents, an event I spent the better part of a lifetime dreading. From the vantage point of being old(er) myself now, it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. There’s an order to life, and death is part of it.

The leaves have mostly all dropped like deflated parachutes from the trees that border my cottage. With sadness, I remember a story about someone waiting to die until the last leaf falls from the tree. I can’t remember how it ends, but the poignancy stays with me—I keep thinking that someone glued the last leaf, but the person died anyway. Some things are unavoidable, despite our best attempts at controlling circumstances.

And, as the leaves drop, turn brown, and become mulch, the new pale green buds on my lilac bush dare to raise their heads in careless optimism. As the last of my basil blackens in the early morning frost, the primary colors of the primrose defiantly beam their radiance up at me from their terra cotta pots, undaunted by the winter wind and rain, or the expectations of the season.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

At The Whim of the Muses

Some writer friends and I were talking about what drives us to write. We agreed that for whatever reason, we cannot not write, but the motivations were varied. For one writer, there are definite stories she wants to tell. Crafting the storyline, inter-weaving the plots is ultimately satisfying for her. For another, he wishes to create an income doing something he loves—something he’s proud of. He searches for stories that have not been told, many times the behind the scene stories of a headline news article.

We agreed that there were probably as many reasons to write, as writers. “And you?” they ask me.

It seems that I am at the whim of the muses. I write stories out of the universal consciousness as the characters call to me. For one of my novellas, I was shown a mental picture of a small boy standing in front of a mirror, drizzling strands of Christmas tinsel over his head to make him a beautiful woman. He needed me to help him through a sex change later in his life. Before that, the word reincarnation wrapped itself around my brain and wouldn’t let go until I finished a book about an unrequited lesbian love affair in the1700s, England. In a short story, a woman with multiple personalities needed a hand it getting out of an abusive relationship, and begged me to write her an escape route. In a collection of short stories, the theme of returning home kept emerging. In one of those, a young girl from the bayou hitchhiked across country to “find herself” in San Francisco so she could return home to take over the business she was to inherit. Without that quest, she would have lived a quietly miserable life, trapped in a go-nowhere existence. In another, a young Miwok girl beckoned me with mental picture of herself and her younger brother picking blueberries in a field. The girl is stolen and raised in another tribe, and fights for her life to return to her people. It amazed me how many versions of returning home there actually were when I began listening to the characters.

There appears to be no rhyme or reason to what I write—I just show up when I’m called.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creative Manifestation

There was a time in my life when I was faced with quitting a particularly physical job for the sake of my pregnancy. Everything about my life was about to change with the birth of my daughter, so it seemed like a good time to re-evaluate the space into which I was bringing this new life-form. In hindsight, I think of this as my hedonist period.

It started with bag balm. For those of you who’ve been pregnant, you know the relief this can bring to stretching skin. For those of you who haven’t, imagine cow udders massaged in a balm that would relieve the pressure and swelling of constant milk production and extraction. Yeow. Bag balm spawned the desire for other body pleasure/necessity products: soothing oils, lotions, gentle soaps, herbal toothpaste, scented shampoo. . .

One of my favorite spots on earth was the Berkeley Body Shop. I had moved up from Berkeley a couple years earlier, and when homesick for the chaos of city living (at that time, we were living on the side of a mountain, miles from anything, next to a burbling creek, surrounded by trees), I’d drive a couple hours south and spend the day in my old Berkeley haunts. The Body Shop was a place that met the needs of all my senses (yes, there were even edible massage oils). I used to dream of having a life surrounded by this sort of luxury, as I would pay for one bar of exquisite smelling hand-milled soap, or one carefully chosen bottle of scented lotion.

Pregnancy for me was a hugely inspired, creatively filled endeavor. When I quit my job, I decided to open my own retail business, selling all those scrumptious products I was driving to Berkeley to buy, one at a time. I’ve always been a learn-by-doing sorta gal, so with the help of my then-husband, I launched into a mad information gathering quest, learned how to do business proposals, a fictitious business statement, advertising, how to deal with wholesalers, keep records, price and display products.

We were putting the final coat of stain on the double Dutch shop door the day before I went into labor. Three days after my daughter was born, we opened up shop. My daughter had a special place on top of the counter, and a small quiet room for uninterrupted naps as needed. We were surrounded by luxury. In good weather, the top doors were open, allowing scents to waft seductively onto the street. New Age music welcomed people into the shop. Incense, music, scented soap, thirty different fragrances in bulk that could be used to scent lotions, shampoos, massage oils, shaving lotions, bubble bath, individual essential oils, jewelry, East Indian clothing, baskets, gift packages, lip balms, natural make up, hair brushes, foot massage products, Reflexology charts—virtually everything to soothe or stimulate the senses—could be found in this little haven of hedonism.

It became a hub, a center, a gathering point for like-minded people, breaking the isolation that often comes with new motherhood. Local artists displayed their work. It became an information distribution center for events in the community. It became a drop-in, safe and welcoming haven for patients from the nearby state hospital who were on day pass. It became “that place where the baby is growing up.” By the time my daughter was two, I was known about town as, “the Scent Shoppe baby’s mother.”

Fast forward a few decades. I sold the shop when my daughter was five, and returned to the university to finish my education. My life reinvented itself, as life does, although I didn’t lose touch completely with the word of scents. I went through a period of fascination with medicinal essential oils for healing. I’m partial to using Frankincense for removing skin tags. You want to know what you’re doing before you try this, or you’ll damage your skin. Geranium oil is good for those pesky fungal conditions and antibacterial needs. My favorite is an oil (blend) that reportedly was used back in the days of the Black Plague to boost the immune system.

Life moved on, and I got distracted with a host of other interests. I gave away my collection of oils and books on healing.

Recently, a friend passed along a recipe for foaming hand soap using essential oils, and I found myself returning to this old passion, the desire to bring a little luxury into my life. If you’re feeling particularly hedonistic and adventurous, here’s what you’ll need:

A foaming pump bottle. The only place I could find these where you didn’t have to order in lots of 1,000 was on-line. They’re very reasonable—a little over a dollar each. Into this bottle, fill ½ your container with Dr. Bronner’s unscented liquid soap (most health stores carry this, some in bulk); ¼ your container with filtered water, and 1/8 your container with an oil of your choice (jojoba, olive, almond, etc.). Add your favorite essential oil—a few drops or more, your choice. Shake gently to blend. The pump will do the rest. It creates a luxurious, scented, foaming soap worthy of anyone on your Christmas gift list. Or, perhaps, just for yourself.