Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kitchen Wisdom

I don't believe in killing any living thing, I just don't. So when the stray fly or beetle, centipede or moth finds its way into my living quarters, I usher it out. I catch it in a cup, bring it to the nearest door or window, and toss. Easy enough.

I used to own a fly swatter (a long long time ago), but no more. And the cup doesn't work so well with flies. So I usually will coral them, back them into a corner which happens to contain a wide open door, and out they go. Lately though, thanks to all the time I spent in Europe--the land of no window screens--this past year, I've adopted a whole new approach to flying insects. They really do find their own way out rather quickly. Easy come, easy go.

A swarm or an army is another matter, however.

Each springtime, I am reminded that I can easily attract tiny ant visitors by the hoard with the crumbs of kibble that invariably end up outside the cat food bowl. "Ant season" usually doesn't last that long. But it sure can be a drag to have to brush dozens of them into the dustpan to return them outdoors - almost daily. When the season seems to drag on, or when I wake in the morning to find that some all-but invisible stray food particle has lured them in droves up and over to the sink and drainboard, I lose it. I confess that in a spike of "This means war!" passion, I have flushed a good number of them down the drain (all the while petitioning for their forgiveness and my absolution) with a desperate quick sweep of the sink sprayer: voila. I feel lousy when I do this, but feel pushed to it. That's a justification, I know.

Suffice it to say that, when just on the verge of buying ant traps (silent, invisible deaths seemingly not by my hand...), I was tickled to find a number of safe, easy ant deterrent tips at the quick click of one Google search (why hadn't I researched this sooner??). Cinnamon, baby powder, salt, vinegar, pine, mint, ground chalk, and I forget what else. Because I have a good supply of them on hand, I bumped chalk, mint and vinegar to the top of the list and decided to start with the vinegar. The results were instant: IT WORKED! And I don't mean to kill the ants; I mean to disappear them.

What I did was pour plain white vinegar and a little water into a spray bottle and spray under the stove and sink unit, then around the cats' eating station. I let it dry as instructed. Et voila! They must detest the stuff, and they apparently detect it from afar, because I haven't seen an ant in the kitchen since. *

What a relief. Farewell murderous desperation; hello restored integrity! Long live all creatures great and small.

*reapply as needed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Those of you with a Language of Love 2009 calendar from Love's Freeway might recognize the shell and glass shard pictured here. Being so very small and light, they are among the precious few Irish Sea treasures that returned with me to Boston two months ago. But what's with the 25-cent piece? you may ask.

It is not news to friends of the Freeway that I have a penchant for if not fascination with shooting subjects at close range. With my camera came
who knew? an exceptional quality macro setting. When I started using it, the gasps commenced: I'd open on screen to a rich world previously unseen--and unseeable--by my naked eye. That's wondrous for me, for sure. But I realize that part of my amazement is in marveling that such intricate worlds exist in such tiny forms, and I've been wondering if some of that marvelousness might get lost in translation. Hence the quarter (above) and the green pea (below). Yes, this is a beautiful seashell in its own right. But in my view, there's a lot more to its story.

The shell is periwinkle sized, smaller than a quarter, slightly larger than George Washington's head. So? Well, on a long walk in late-day light on Claremont Beach in Howth, County Fingal, Ireland, it is easily overlooked. Ditto the shard of glass. And they might have escaped my notice except that I stopped. I had found a place in sun, away from the ever-present Irish wind, and sat. The light was golden and all but pouring like honey over everything in my sight. I wanted to adore it. Maybe I wanted to store it--for the darker, rainier Dublin days, or for some future day when Ireland was thousands of miles away. Sitting put me in closer proximity to the sand, and when these two objects lying upon it caught my eye, one thing led to another. Before long I had composed a still life of them. Something about the golden sun, the orange of the shell, and the orange and gold in the glass had me curious what that all might produce in combination.

I tried a few shots, not expecting much. The light was beautiful but not that strong, and my subject was so darn small; still I figured it was worth a try. I wouldn't have guessed my essay would yield anything worthy of a gasp, never mind a place on the next year's calendar. But it did. It's this month's image, in fact.

So that's the story that isn't apparent to someone flipping through or glimpsing the calendar. And I offer it for a little visual perspective, if not for the reminder that there really is always more than meets the eye.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mission Accomplished

Going on two years ago, I created a book called Love's Way: Reflections and Practices. The impetus to write it was my wanting to tell some of the stories behind the images of Love's Freeway. As the work unfolded, I saw that what I was creating was an invitation in 70 pages for readers to follow Love's way.

The book is an extension of the Love that I am to anyone who wants it. When someone does want it and benefits from it, I am overjoyed. Imagine my delight when I opened to this note from a writer-colleague (and former student and client) last week:

The other thing is - your book - Love's Way. It is my bible I'm a little embarrassed to admit, I mean, I hate to be a disciple of anyone. But I take it with me as a security blanket when I travel, keep it in my purse, etc.

Last night I was set up romantically down at my friend’s farm. The guy joined our party and I really liked him and began to get nervous. I was talking to him and this other really smart guy and I made a word up without realizing which completely freaked me out. I think the word was 'rectoring' -maybe I meant 'rectifying' - so later when we went on a group walk to observe fireflies, I informed the group that I was gonna head back to make the ice cream. But really I needed to escape cause anxiety was hitting. So I got back to the house and read a page of your book.

It was "the Curl" that I randomly opened to (and speaking of which, your whole book is now 'a curl' - it is very worn and warped and the back page got ripped off from being in my purse but I digress). So I began to read it and thought "oh God, I'm not in the mood for Kathryn getting so mushy - talking about "fates" and "oh it must have all been divinely organized", etc. Usually I love it when you bring up that concept, but last night I was especially hard to persuade.

But it restored me anyhow to some sort of normalcy and maybe hopefulness, I held out just enuf - enuf to conduct a lovely conversation with the guy until 1 in the morning with my head swimming with possibilities. That is very unusual for me, I usually run and hide in those kinds of set-ups. So thank you. I mean it.
Mission accomplished! I am happy for D, happy for the new guy, and happy for Love. Love, 1; Fear 0: thanks, D, for tipping the scale in Love's favor. There isn't a one of us who doesn't benefit from that!

P.S. - By the way, f you'd like to have a copy of your own, you can get one here.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

No Resistance, No Bite

When I noticed a mosquito on my leg where I sat reading in my garden, I leaned to blow it off. When it didn't blow off, I knew it had already attached itself. I suppressed the reflex to brush it away with my hand, and returned to my New Yorker. "You'll die for this," I thought. But that's only with bees, isn't it? That after they sting, their hours are numbered. Well anyway, it was clear the damage was already done, its proboscis inserted and drinking. And so I thought it a good time to test the theory.

I understand that the itch of mosquito bites is a consequence of interrupting them mid-suck. If left to finish their work and depart in their own timing, the swelling and itchy skin can be avoided. I do think I've tested this before with dubious results; but here was a golden opportunity to test it again, or once and for all.

I hadn't felt it land, nor did I detect its presence on my skin, or its probe into my vein, and this was its own curiosity. How long would it drink? That was my other curiosity, so I glanced back after a time--only to see it visibly swelling with its red drink, my life blood. That was all the incentive I needed not to look again!

In due time, it lifted off, sated and heavy, leaving no trace of itself behind. Experiment complete. Presently, I would have my results. I would know conclusively if the theory proved true.

My skin remained tranquil, unblemished just after the "bite," and even now, one day hence, there is no trace of it on my flesh. But to say the "little fly" left no impression whatsoever would be false. While it had been drinking, I mused on the theory I was testing: no resistance, no bite. How true this is in other realms too, I thought. I am bitten or stung or at the very least aggravated by countless circumstances in life. I decide "This [fill in the blank] shouldn't be," and thereby interrupt the flow rather than let a thing complete itself and pass. Which it does, always. We know this. One doesn't need very much time on this earth to see, to realize that everything is passing, that change is our only constant here.

I tell my writing students, "If you're suffering, you're breaking one of the Rules." By "Rules," I mean the 9 rules of writing practice that are, in sum, the key to abandoning resistance, the secret formula for letting our thoughts (stories, essays, poems) flow through our pens and onto the page without interference. Stay with that practice long enough and one can't help but live this way off the page as well.

Where there is no resistance, there is freedom, flow: this I know. Why we insist on obstructing it--routinely, it would seem--I don't know exactly. But we do. And when we do, we pay the consequences, simple as that. The skin swells, the scratching begins, and by our scratching, we disperse the poison more widely and recovery takes that much longer.

My skin is completely clear where that mosquito rested for a time. It came, it drank, it left, and left no trace on my flesh. All I had to do to accomplish this was...nothing! How do you like that?