A Mysterious Thread

Peninsula College photo by Mary Dessein
It is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.
Now that could mean this is the only fall I can remember. It could mean I am truly amazed by the flamboyant oranges, golds, yellows, russets, ambers, corals, titians, hennas, coppers, and saffrons I see across the park in the one hundred foot tall cottonwoods and maples.

It could mean I have been so focused on going, doing, finishing, scheduling, herding, supervising, parenting, balancing, cleaning, and meeting that I did not take time to look around me. No matter how the wind blew or how high the tawny maple leaves piled up in the corners of my carport, I had tasks to complete, dawdling in wonder was not on that list.

In the fall that I started first grade, I could hardly wait for the first day of school. My mother bought me a dress. It came in a plastic bag, was folded neatly and flatly like the shirts on tables at Penney’s. She probably got it there actually. I clearly recall the pale steel blue background with little gold and dark blue pinwheel designs in an orderly pattern of rows, similar to a chain link fence. I kicked through the leaves as Mom walked me the nine blocks to Central Elementary School, delivered me to Miss Winan’s first grade classroom, then took my little sister’s hand and walked back home.

In driving southeast on I-90 through Sammamish, by Preston, over Snoqualmie Pass, alongside Keechelus Lake, and past Cle Elum a few days ago, I again thought, “This is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.”

How much have I skimmed by without taking the time to really see? Oh my, I don’t think I want to start a list. What I do want to do is start anew. Hear the Canadian geese flying over head and stop to listen to their honking.

Ritter Ridge, OR photo by Mary Dessein

See the jagged edges of ice along Camas Creek, white against the dark creek bed; watch the fuchsia leaf dangling below the hanging basket on my porch by a mysterious thread twisting in the breeze; watch a toddler pulling at the handles of a paper grocery bag and laughing in delight while she sits in the shopping cart; pull my car off to the side of the road of Ritter Ridge and gaze into the forever distance over the hills at the gathering soft pink and orange dusk; play fetch-the-stick with my grand-puppies and be in their joy, not my to-do list.

Indeed, this is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.

Fall in Love? Win a Prize?

Fog wafting in Photo by Mary Dessein
Ernest Hemingway’s letters show his vulnerability, says Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar and editor of the book being produced, “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway.” His letters are “unguarded and unpolished” as he grumbles and doubts and rambles.

After four marriages, who knows how many relationships, writing at least twenty-six novels, winning Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, numerous dosey-does with Hollywood, and known for his bravado – he was vulnerable?

Reading this brought to mind a very vulnerable incident, taking unguarded to a new level for me. It was in the recording studio in early 2017, working on my CD, ‘The Black Prince ~ an Egyptian folktale,’ I was flailing about trying to record my harp and my voice on separate tracks for a fifteen second song. Attempt after attempt, re-do after re-do. I was frustrated and self-conscious. Devin, a most amazing and talented musician in his own right as well as a superlative recording engineer, watched me as I stopped with a huge angst-filled sigh. Excuses of “the harp won’t stay in tune,” “the lighting in here is wrong,” “my toe hurts,” were all used up. No pretending the problem wasn’t me. My failure was on display.

I looked at Devin, who was looking back at me, waiting. A few awkwardly long seconds passed, my voice expressed my exasperation and defeat, “How bad do I want this, Devin? I don’t know.”
“You want this. You wrote it, you can do it. Breathe.” He drew in and exhaled a long breath.

Some weeks later, in working with someone who would not admit they were wrong no matter what incontrovertible evidence was presented, it dawned on me that perhaps an issue with them was vulnerability. I used to get all wired up at meetings when that person would flat out deny something they had done. I ascribed it to their ego, having to feel like the boss, and/or always wanting to appear in control. Yet perhaps, the more accurate assessment might have been that they were unwilling or unable to be unguarded in front of others. As this possibility swirled around my head, it became a multi-layered lesson about releasing what does not belong to me, acceptance of the things I cannot change, and recognizing how I judge others without a larger view of the circumstances.

Vulnerable: susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm; defenseless, unguarded; at risk of abuse or neglect.

There is a postulate that one reason relationships fail is due to one or both partner’s unwillingness to be vulnerable. A while back, I was dating a nice guy who told me more than once, “I’ll never get married again. People leave.” His experience had taught him that to be vulnerable emotionally and legally was too big of a risk. He definitely wanted a romance, however, one in which he could control risk and minimize pain.
Vulnerability. Safety.

In those minutes in the recording studio, there I was: weak points overshadowed the strengths; I felt completely out in the open, like driving in a car with no windshield. No curtain to pull while I corrected a clothing malfunction. It was me hitting a wall I had not foreseen and then sitting there stunned.

Devin looked at me, no sympathetic expression, no “there, there now,” he simply said, perhaps a tad stridently, “You want this. Listen to the voice track once more.”
It worked. ‘The Black Prince ~ an Egyptian folktale’ went on to win a national award.
Vulnerability. Safety. Trust.

Fascinating thing, safety, is it not? What determines it? I bet if I asked twenty people, I would get twenty different answers. And of course safety has a dark side when it keeps us from taking a risk that would help us grow. Or fall in love. Or win a prize.

Morning fog. Photo by Mary Dessein

“The start of a new project is always very scary because you will not be the writer capable of writing it until you have already written it, but you do have to do it anyway.” Words from Brandon Taylor, a young editor and staff writer.
Vulnerability. Safety. Trust. Risk.

In some meditation and hypnosis practices, fog is used as a safety visualization, a cloud of protection from the stresses of the world. It can give us a brief respite to regroup, to pick ourselves up, to remind ourselves we are trustworthy and the risk is worth it.

“Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid,” Dorothea Brande. Her book, “Becoming a Writer,” published in 1934, is still in print today.

Vulnerability. Safety. Trust. Risk. Do it.