All blog posts must be in this category.

 

 

 

My friend Susanne facilitates a circle of women, each of whom has experienced a cancer in her body. Last week Susanne read to them a poem I’d written recently, and it sparked the day’s conversation: how is it possible to sustain the feeling of every moment being precious when one is not “actively” dying?

 

I was immediately intrigued when Susanne brought that question back to me, and I was inspired to write a poem about it. But it seems that I have too many thoughts for a single poem to hold – my response is becoming a blog post instead. In fact, I’ve realized that the question is larger than just a single blog post. So I’m starting with the second part of the circle’s question, the part about “not actively dying.” Next month I’ll write about the idea of sustaining our awareness of precious moments. And in the meantime, I hope your comments, added below, will spark new thoughts and conversations as well.

 

So: beginning with the back end of the circle’s question, the part about not actively dying . . .

 

Probably the question for the women of this circle assumes a sequence of: cancer diagnosis and prognosis; then a chosen form of treatment; then revised prognosis, and the passage of time in some definition of “remission.”

 

But does any step of this sequence really determine whether or not one is “actively dying”? For all of the medical expertise behind it, all that “-gnosis” stuff is still just informed guesses. Treatment may slow the progress of a terminal disease – then there may be a revised prognosis, called a “remission.” However, the fact is that we have all been in a “terminal condition” since the second our father’s sperm pierced our mother’s egg. The real issue for us is that we have become a death-denying culture; we have forgotten that life is an STTD – “a sexually transmitted terminal disease.”

 

A terminal disease is one that is progressive and incurable. It is, by definition, irreversible. The “disease” called life may be more protracted, more like a chronic disease, but it is still progressive and incurable. We are mortal beings, and life is fatal.

 

With or without particular diagnoses, parts of us are dying continuously. The largest organ of the human body is the skin, an eight-pound organ that keeps us from evaporating. A skin cell lives two or three weeks, and then dies and is sloughed off as a new one takes its place. Cells of the colon live only about four days before they die and are replaced. White blood cells live about a year. The bottom line is this: there is no time when we are not “actively dying.”

 

For millennia religious monks, stoics, and philosophers have practiced meditating on impermanence. They have repeated, taught, and pondered the words “memento mori,” a Latin phrase meaning “remember death.” This phrase reminds us to be present to who we are and what we have in this moment. Live life fully, it says; don’t waste precious, limited time.

 

Which brings me to the first part of the cancer circle’s question: “how is it possible to sustain the feeling of every moment being precious?”

 

That will be next month’s blog post topic. I’d love to have you share with me your thoughts and questions between now and then.

candle photo

After hosting a series of short-term renters and Airbnb guests over the past few years, Katherine, an old friend, has come to be my new housemate. She plans to stay for a long while.

 

We have many things in common, not least of which is an addiction to books. It has been a comical scene as we pore over each other’s collections, exclaiming that we’d always wanted to read this or that, and, alternatively, shoving a book in the other’s direction saying, “Oh, if you haven’t read this one, you MUST!”

 

The books I get most excited about, lately, are in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I loved The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, in which the good and the evil characters are topsy-turvy: the dismal town’s leadership council and an order of nuns turn out to be wicked, and an ogre, a witch, and a dragon turn out to be the ones who save the townspeople.

 

A short story, “The Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang (which became the movie “Arrival”) deals with physics, with linguistics, with bigotry, and with our receptiveness – or our failure to be open – to what could immensely broaden the scope of our lives.

 

Helene Wecker’s wonderful novel, The Golem and the Jinni, stretches the reader’s willingness to consider the minds and hearts, the thoughts and motivations, of two totally unexpected main characters: Chava, a Jewish golem and Ahmad, a Syrian jinni, who meet in New York City in 1899. Go ahead, wrap your mind around THAT premise – or, far better, just read the book!

 

Then there is the late lamented Terry Pratchett, whose books are so witty and wise that the reader soon overlooks how bizarre they are. Filled with trolls and vampires and imps, Pratchett’s books take on truth in journalism (The Truth), the illusion of the gold-standard monetary system (Making Money), war (Monstrous Regiment), misogyny (again, Monstrous Regiment), and organized religion (Small Gods) . . . for starters! They bring the reader face-to-face with these issues, approached from such unexpected angles and so painlessly that she doesn’t realize she’s being drawn into the discussion until she’s already immersed in it.

 

The most wonderful aspect of fantasy and sci-fi literature, to me, is how, when we are in those worlds created by the authors, we must accept differences. If characters that we care about happen to have fuchsia-colored skin or elephantine noses or more appendages than we do, nevertheless we keep on interacting with them because we want to know their stories. If their culture has different values and mores and rules than ours, but we’re deep into the story and beginning to understand those differences, that’s a bonus, and we keep on reading, keep on being fascinated by the characters and why they behave as they do.

 

In our contemporary climate of “them” and “us,” of “right” and “wrong,” of black and white with no gray allowed, an excursion into a good book of fantasy or science fiction seems to be just what’s called for to expand our awareness, our tolerance, our acceptance at a time when we need them so desperately.

 

Katherine has carried an armload of you-gotta-read fantasy and poetry books to her rooms, and I have a new stack of utopian and spirituality books borrowed from her collection. Winter’s coming, the living room couches and rocking chairs have warm lap-robes strewn about, the fireplace will be alight more often now, and we will be happy as pigs in mud, reveling in shared books, new ideas, well-turned phrases, and widening horizons.

library photo

 

wildfire photoSomewhere near the corn-on-the-cob display in our local grocery store I heard a snippet of conversation. The speaker was bemoaning the murky skies that were ruining our record-breaking string of sunny days here on the western side of the Cascade Mountains.

 

Just past the mushrooms and sweet peppers I greeted an acquaintance who mentioned how weird the air was, and that you could actually look straight at the sun that was now bright red, and how everything was eerie out there and made her feel irritable. And I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “We’d feel more than irritated if we were refugees from the wildfires on the other side of the mountains.”

 

I was tired of hearing how inconvenienced some Puget Sound folks were feeling after nearly two weeks of raging fires that they saw on their TV screens – but not out their own living room windows. How little empathy they felt for the people caught in the chaos. On our “safe side” of the mountains we were worried that we’d have to cancel a backyard potluck barbecue, but didn’t think much about the fire fighters and smoke jumpers who had been injured or had lost their lives.

 

On the eastern side of the Cascades there were a hundred wildfires that consumed nearly half a million acres of trees. Thousands of people were evacuated. Our whole bioregion had had no appreciable rain in three months. On September 2 Governor Inslee issued a proclamation stating that “a State of Emergency exists in all Counties in the state of Washington.” (Many of those fires are still not contained, a month later.)

 

The opaque smoke that drifted westward over to our side of the mountains turned the air an orange-brown and threatened the health of children and anyone with pulmonary problems. During the days of densest smoke, small flakes of ash fell on our side of the mountains, like a malignant snow.

 

A few weeks ago I drafted a poem entitled “Prayer to the Scarlet Sun.” A colleague encouraged me to see that it got published soon, “so that our brothers and sisters on the other side of the mountains know that we’re thinking about them.” I said I didn’t know of any publications that had that specialized focus, and she suggested that I contact the Washington state Poet Laureate, Tod Marshall, to ask his advice. I did just that, and he emailed back immediately, saying that he’d publish the poem himself, on his website. He kept his promise, and you can read the poem at   https://wapoetlaureate.org/ .

 

I’m grateful that I’m not in the path of the current wildfires. I’m grateful to my Muse, who inspired my poem; grateful to my writing friend who encouraged me to circulate it; grateful to Tod Marshall who made that happen; and grateful to you, for following the link, reading the poem, and setting aside a few moments of thought for all those people who still are caught in the chaos and loss and devastation of the wildfires. Your attention WILL make a difference, in the larger scheme of things.

wildfire photo

 

 

Snails have been on my mind a lot lately. In fact, “snail” is probably a good metaphor FOR my mind lately: spirally and slow and withdrawn.

 

Last month I wrote a poem, using the snail metaphor, that was accepted for publication in a literary journal called “Snapdragon” for their September issue.

 

I have eaten escargot in Normandy, been amazed at the huge moon snails on the shore of the Salish Sea, been startled by the shell-less yellow banana slugs in a Northwest forest.

 

Every morning when I wander out with my first cup of tea, I see new snail trails across the concrete walk in my front garden. Sometimes they are determinedly headed for a destination straight across the walk. Sometimes it’s clear that a snail has changed its little gastropod mind and circled back, and then changed its mind yet again, its little trail of slimy hyphens making loops of indecision. By morning the snails all have arrived wherever they were headed, and gone into hiding from the sun.

 

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a beautiful little gem of a book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. It took me deeply into the life of one particular woodland snail, and of the woman who observed it for over a year. This book, wonderfully-written by Elisabeth Bailey, taught me how amazing all snails are.

 

My all-time favorite snail story happened about fifteen years ago when I received an official envelope from the Royal Mail in England. Inside the envelope was a letter professing, in an extremely proper British apology, that they were dreadfully sorry and did not understand how this could have happened, but that the enclosed piece of post, sealed in the accompanying plastic bag, had apparently, to their embarrassment, been eaten by snails. Again, they were terribly, terribly sorry, and wished me a good day. Inside the plastic bag was a letter, addressed to me from family in England and dated some four weeks earlier, with holes and paths dug by thousands of the little teeth* of a hungry, or inquisitive, snail. I laughed out loud when I realized that this gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, “snail mail”!

 

And right now I feel the urge to emulate my little fascinating friends. I’m going to curl up and perhaps digest today’s mail while I take a wee nap.

snail photo

*(FYI, a snail may have up to 120 rows of 100 teeth, though some species may have more than 20,000 teeth!)

 

Some twenty years ago I regularly participated in the Dances of Universal Peace as a communal spiritual practice. Dancing and chanting The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic was my very favorite experience, but that full chant, with phrases repeated dozens of times in the original language of Jesus, took nearly three hours to complete, so it was not often danced outside of a retreat setting.

But there was another chant/dance that I particularly loved, the words to which are:“The Ocean refuses no river,” referring to Divinity welcoming all forms of discourse and devotion. Being a visual person, I could easily see rills and creeks and rivers, oxbows and shallows and waterfalls, beaches and shoals and reefs all advancing and impeding and changing the course of the water determined to merge with the Ocean.

ocean photo

The other day, out in my warm summer-lush secret garden, I was sharing a pot of tea with a dear friend. We were discussing the difficulty of understanding some of the world’s many religions. I told him the chant about the rivers and the Ocean. Then he remembered a lesson from one of his long-ago teachers: “Each path up the Mountain eventually arrives at the same place.” We played with that for a while, and as we did, another image began developing in my mind, this one made of sound.

Finally I just had to say it out loud: “What I’m imagining is all those pilgrims climbing all those paths up the huge Mountain. Each pilgrim is singing or humming or whistling or chanting their own song. At the base of the Mountain, and even far up into their journey, they can hear only their own particular melody. But then something strange happens. One pilgrim stops to catch his breath (for trekking and singing at the same time is strenuous), and in his silence, from somewhere to his left or his right he can faintly hear a snatch of another set of notes. He starts upward again with his breath and his chant renewed. On another path a different pilgrim has paused to catch her breath, and something strange happens – to her right or her left she can faintly hear a fragment of a different song. As the pilgrims reach higher elevations they need to stop more frequently, and there it is again, except now it’s an even different melody, and it’s coming from their other side. Each stands listening, then quietly sings the song that has been part of their own journey up the mountain. Lo and behold, it harmonizes with the very different voice and notes coming from somewhere else.”

Well, you can see where this image is headed – the closer the pilgrims get to the top of the Mountain, the closer they get to each other, and the more beautiful the harmony of the variety of sounds that rise with them. There are different rhythms, different notes, even dissonance that makes the resolution into harmony richer than ever.

I wish you the great blessing of beginning to hear the harmonies that are possible when we stop to catch our breath and listen. And I wish you the joy of the chorus at the top of the Mountain.

One reason I’m a writer is that words fascinate me. Better than that, they amuse me, like shiny shapes swirling from a mobile over my playpen.

An intriguing unfamiliar word tweaks my ear or flashes across my retinas, and I think, Ooh, listen! Look at that! I wonder what that means? And Google and I are off down another internet rabbit hole.

My sister, Nancy, taught me the word “widdershins.” I didn’t care what it meant, I just wanted the pleasure of saying it. Widdershins. Widdershins. Turns out it has both a practical meaning and a negative connotation. It’s a direction, meaning “to the left” or “the opposite of the way the sun appears to move,” or “counterclockwise.” (What’s a kid to do with that word nowadays, having experienced only digital clocks?) The negative connotation is that, well, it’s a negative direction – against the “natural” movement of things, like the word “sinister,” which originally had almost the same meaning.

At a wonderful kids’ science exhibit called “Grossology,” three of my grandchildren and I got to learn all about the “gross” icky, sticky, stinky things that human bodies can do. I loved it! We could watch drop of snot drip from a gigantic nose. We got to slide down a twisty fiberglass colon and be defecated out the lower end. My prim mother would have been appalled! And we got to learn the word “borborygmi,” which has both a practical meaning and a positive connotation. Borborygmi are the natural sounds a digestive system makes while it’s doing its job. (“Borborygmus” is the word for a singular sound, but “borborygmi” is more amusing and poetic to me.) Although borborygmi might be embarrassing in polite company (at least after the age of 16 or so), and can result in even-more-embarrassing burps or farts, if you don’t have some rumbling and bubbling going on inside it might mean that things are not well in intestine-ville.

A “katzenjammer” is a hangover. “Tatterdemalion” means shabby or dilapidated. The word “kakistocracy” might come in handy in the months ahead – it means government by the worst persons. A “peripatetic” is a person who travels from place to place; one can chant it while walking: “per-i-pa-tet-ic, per-i-pa-tet-ic.” And the word “ensorcel” seems to contain a bit of what it means – to bewitch.

The other day, looking up the meaning of “amphigory,” I popped down a digital rabbit hole and ran into this book review, written by Robert McCrum, obviously a member of the word-collecting tribe:

“Schott’s Original Miscellany is strangely unputdownable. It is the mother of all miscellanies, aka an amphigory, a medley, a pot-pourri, a gallimaufry, a salmagundi, an omnium-gatherum, a vade mecum, a smorgasbord… Oh boy, but Schott is a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a mad magpie at large in the wide world of facts and words.” (Robert McCrum in The Guardian, December, 2002, a review entitled “God Bless you, Mr. Schott.”)

THAT reviewer, Robert McCrumb, is a man who knows how to play with words!

So it’s time to end this blog post – I’m headed off down another lagomorphic warren entrance to see if I can find anything else written by Mr. McCrum, clearly my compatriot in collecting delicious nomenclature.

word photo

Sometime in 2012, a few women who have since dubbed themselves Seriously Fun Productions, headed by Diana Lindsay, realized they wanted to learn more about the local women they met in coffee shops, at workshops, at the gym, or choosing vegetables at the local farmers’ market. And how about the artists, the farmers, the full-time professionals, and the stay-at-home moms whose paths they hadn’t yet crossed? They knew there were fascinating stories everywhere. They decided to create an invitational version of TED Talks, focused exclusively on the stories of women who live on Whidbey Island.

Since then WOW – Women of Whidbey – has become an annual two-day celebration of the amazing diversity and sheer magnitude of great women who live on this oddly-shaped island of ours. The tickets are always sold out within a few weeks. I had never ordered one in time, and so had never gone to a WOW festival. Then last year, a wise friend bought a bunch of tickets the day they went on sale (maybe THAT’S how they get sold out so quickly!), and she offered me one of her Saturday tickets. (Thank you, Janice.)

So it was, that on March 12, 2016, I heard and saw my very first WOW stories. I was enchanted beyond anything I could have imagined. And, even more amazing for a confirmed introvert like me, I knew that I wanted to present my story too.

Here’s a secret that almost no one else knows (until now): that very night, on the drive home from the theater I began visualizing what my performance might look like. But a WOW!Story performance is limited to ten minutes. How could I summarize my twenty-five years of service in settings from slum streets to psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes to hospices to court rooms? In just ten minutes? But when I got home I grabbed my laptop computer, sat down with a cup of tea, and wrote out a script. It timed out at about eleven minutes! Then I put the script away, and waited.

In October of 2016, I was called by one of the “WOW Mammas,” asking if I would “consider” telling some part of my story, as a WOW presenter at the sixth annual WOW!Stories conference in 2017. Of course I knew my answer. But I held back for a dignified amount of time – at least a nanosecond or two – before I said Yes!

Then there was the conundrum of how to create the mannequin I’d need. It had to be life-size, life-like, androgynous, believable as I demonstrated a “street massage” from my years working in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. It also had to have sufficient “muscle” that I could move my hands in natural ways through the sequence of massage. And it had to be light-weight enough that I could carry it easily. A tall order.  Two dear friends, Anna and Pip, worked long and hard to create “Jo,” the perfect partner for my performance.

My performance on March 11, 2017, on the main stage of Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, was a high point of my life. I will never forget what it felt like to share my story, to connect with 250 people in the audience, to feel their collective attention; to know, as I left the stage, that Jo and I had managed to bring stories of the People of the Margins into the lives and hearts of everyone who watched.

A week later I was asked to repeat the performance in April, at the Healing Circles Center in Langley, WA. I arranged to have it videotaped in that more intimate setting (40 people rather than 250) , and the performance this time was followed by forty-five minutes of Q&A with the audience, which I loved.

So now I invite you to be a part of the audience at that April performance. Return to the Welcome page of this website, and scroll down just a tad, to see the video of the eleven-minute performance. And then, if you wish, send me with any questions or comments by using the “post a reply” space below this blog post, or by emailing me at cynthia@CynthiaTrenshaw.com.  Jo and I look forward to hearing from you!

poetry photo

Photo by rolandmey

Poetry is much on my mind these days. It is my intention to complete a book-length manuscript of my poems, and to have found a publisher for the book by year’s end. I’m deep into the processes of polishing and organizing 70+ poems, and of researching potential publishers.

So, as I say, poetry is much on my mind, and today it led me on a brief detour, a little sentimental journey that I’d like to share with you.

Sometime in the early ’70s I fell in love with the nature art prints of Gwen Frostic. She carved block prints, some of them four- or five-colors (each color requiring a separate carved linoleum block), but most of them simple two- or three-colors. Each image seems to distill the essence of what Gwen was looking at: a wild iris; a gnarled tree limb; or a great blue heron in flight, her signature icon. Most images were printed on fine textured papers with deckled edges, and sold as stationery and card collections with matching envelopes.

One fine summer day I decided it was time to see Gwen Frostic’s Michigan studio. I packed up our family and drove along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to the town of Benzonia, south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With a population of around 400, the town was too crowded for Gwen, who was a hermit at heart. She purchased 40 acres of isolated sand dunes outside Benzonia, and built a single-story home/studio/shop constructed of native stones, wood, and glass. It looked as if it had emerged organically from the sand it sat on. I especially remember the gently sloping roof covered in soil that supported native grasses and whatever other plants found their way there. In the cool interior of the display room were the lovely prints I expected, plus a mammoth stone fireplace and a natural fountain, both in keeping with Gwen’s sense of natural beauty.

But just beyond that room was a whole other world that I didn’t expect: a huge room crammed full with tons of exotic paper, and twelve hulking Heidelberg platen printing presses. Most of those presses were at work, with steady deliberate movements, imprinting Gwen’s collections of beautiful images along with the illustrated packaging and envelopes to go with them.

Another thing I didn’t expect: when she was less than a year old Gwen contracted an unknown illness, similar to cerebral palsy, that left her with physical difficulties for the rest of her life. When I met her that day she walked with a cane; instead of struggling to inscribe her work and sign her extensive correspondence, she had commissioned a special machine that held a pen and wrote Gwen’s distinctive signature over and over again. She still designed and hand-cut her original linoleum block images, however, and oversaw the work of all those massive presses. Her physical limitations did not stop her from her lifelong creative expression, nor from making her artistic career so financially viable that at her death in 2001 she left a thirteen-million dollar bequest to Western Michigan University to benefit students of the arts and creative writing.

But her compromised health wasn’t the biggest surprise for me that day. How could I not have known that Gwen Frostic was also a poet? And that her books of poetry were self-published gems illustrated with her art and poetry printed on a melange of beautiful papers, some of them tissue-thin so that the poetry was visible through the prints, or vice versa.

I own four of her books of poetry. I confess that I haven’t read them in decades, but poetry is much on my mind these days. So this morning I dug out the Frostic poetry from my library to show to a friend who also writes poetry. His poetry is often more complex than mine, and I thought he’d appreciate something that I remembered about Gwen’s poetry: in her desire to praise the wonders of creation that she saw in the simplest of natural things, she apparently ran out of everyday words, couldn’t find adequate substitutes, and so (I believed) made up words that expressed her awe. Thanks to today’s Google, I’ve learned that those were “real” words, just not everyday ones, nor ones listed in my Webster’s Pocket Dictionary at the time. She used “omnity” where I might choose to use “divinity” or “God.” “Eternity” wasn’t forever-enough for her, so she used “diuturnity” and “indesinency” and “olamic” instead. There was something mesmerizing about these words, like reading a foreign language in which the meaning looks almost familiar  – but you trust that the author knows what they mean, and that’s good enough.

Knowing Gwen must have been like befriending a philosophy nerd high on ecstasy. Her poetry reads as if a philosopher/theologian were translating Mary Oliver from simple to complicated. Yet Gwen had a way of infusing the very ordinary with a mystical word-serum that, once you get used to living with the unknowable (“enigmatical”), makes the whole universe (“multiverse”) glow.

Gwen Frostic wrote her own uncomplicated epitaph: “Here lies one doubly blessed. She was happy and she knew it.”

What more can anyone ask of a life?

In honor of that life, I invite you to take a peek at her art and poetry books – they’re still available from that studio nestled in the sand dunes near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  You can see them at http://www.gwenfrostic.com

evolving_omnity.png

© 2015 Gwen Frostic LLC. All Rights Reserved

 

 

It is just a tiny memory, the flicker of an unexpected something seen from the corner of my mind’s eye – a bluish-purple line on a white paper background – and suddenly there is a rush of remembering one of my favorite parts of being in first grade.

The line of color is the outline of something, usually seasonal like a Christmas tree or a snowman or an umbrella or a tulip, or maybe something educational, like three letters that spelled out CAT, that we were supposed to fill in with colors from our treasured 8-packs of Crayola crayons.

And then, when we had done that, we got to choose, from the special box in the big art supplies cabinet, a pair of blunt-nosed scissors with which to cut out what we had colored, write our name on the back, and watch Miss Nina pin it on the classroom corkboard with thumbtacks.

There were rules, of course. We had to color inside the lines, and cut along the lines. Some kids had difficulty with that, but I didn’t. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I loved those projects – I was very good, back then, at following rules.

And even better, sometimes I got to make the hectograph copies – those purple lines on the white paper – for my class. If you don’t know what a “hectograph” is, you probably weren’t in first grade in a country school in the late ‘40’s.

A hectograph was a very simple duplicating device, a (non-toxic) forerunner of spirit duplicators and mimeographs, way, way before Xerox machines and laserjet printers. It consisted of a slab of thick clear gelatin set in a horizontal 8 ½ x 11 wooden frame. An original was drawn on paper with special ink, turned face down on the gelatin and smoothed until the image adhered. Then the original was removed and copies were made by pressing plain paper to the inked gelatin.

Because I could be trusted not to mar the gelatin, and because I learned how to make the printing surface just the right texture (not too much water on the moistening sponge, but enough so that the paper would come free and not stick and tear), and because I could count to 23 – the number of kids in my class – I got to help Miss Nina make those magical sheets of paper with the lines that told us where, and where not, to color and cut.

I loved coloring inside the lines. Perhaps it was the same satisfaction that is making adult coloring books wildly popular today. There are so many decisions to be made as a grownup, so much responsibility for good choices and judgments, that sometimes it’s a relief, for just a little while, to have someone else determine where the boundaries lie. It’s a lovely distraction to fill up those defined spaces with color, all the way into the corners where two lines intersect, and to feel as if at least for the moment we’re correctly following the rules and hoping someone – a former teacher, a co-coloring friend, ourselves – will give us a nod of approval.

Maybe even paste a gold star on our work.

220px-1876_Transfer-Tablet-Hektograph-Holcomb_1

 

There is so much serious stuff going on in our world. So painfully much.

You probably know the global stories far better than I, since I haven’t watched TV or listened to the radio for over 20 years.

The political issues here in the USofA are being described to me daily, and most eloquently, in emails from thoughtful friends and in blog posts they’ve forwarded to me.

In my own professional work over the last few months I’ve been deeply involved in biomedical ethics right where it’s happening in the real lives of real people right now.

But this month I’ve decided to write about none of those things, important though they are.

Instead I want to write about one of my favorite sports.

And that would be FLIRTING.

Almost everyone does it, from a precocious toddler first learning that “cute” will get him a long way towards getting what he wants, to women like me, a sometimes-mischievous 70+-year-old who is grateful that the “rules” of flirting are much more relaxed for people of a certain age, and I can play the game with more abandon and less angst than I could 20 or 30 years ago.

In fact, in “Flirting According to Cynthia,” there are only a few rules:

1) This is not a sexual game. The underlying message of my sport of flirting is not “I want to have sex with you” but “while the thought of sex may have crossed my mind for a moment, I’m much more interested in just playing this game.”

2) The best flirting is a playful way of saying, “I see you. I see the real you, inside your human shell. And you are beautiful and lovable exactly as you are. I don’t want you to change anything. I just want to add some extra spice and joy into our day.”

3) The game of flirting is conducted right on the giddy edge separating playfulness and seriousness – that’s half the fun, and most of the skill. A good flirter plays close to that edge, without losing balance. But stay alert for signs of offense or discomfort (in yourself or in the other player), and always be prepared to quite the game immediately.

4) The best games are short and sweet and seldom – coquettish. Longer or more frequent games get boring, like playing croquet eight hours a day. (Don’t get the two words mixed up!)

5) Have fun.

I’ve noticed that even pets flirt. Look at the appealing way that Fido tilts his head at you. Or the sultry way that Fluffy opens her eyes half-way and lets you see just a hint of the smoldering embers inside. Or the pattern of bubbles Nemo sends up whenever you pass his aquarium. Yup, that’s flirting. That’s saying “I’m glad you’re here, because seeing you makes me happy.”

I’m an equal-opportunity flirter. I flirt with men, women, infants, nursing home patients. Nurses of both genders. Doctors sometimes. I flirt with people from all walks of life. Millionaires and homeless people. If they’re willing to play the game, so am I.

Waiters and waitresses, baristas and bartenders, postal clerks, librarians, journalists, and food wagon owners. Dog walkers. Security personnel at courthouses (which requires a more subtle opening gambit to determine whether they’ll play the game – some guys with guns do NOT have a good sense of humor.)

I flirt with good friends, new acquaintances, repair persons, telephone responders – all are potential players in the gentle sport of flirting.

My physical therapist, Isaac (who is deeply in love with his wife Karen), is particularly tolerant of my flirting with him. That’s a good thing, because otherwise I’d be grumpy with him for having me work so intensely on balance and on strengthening my muscles that still function. (I do swear at him from time to time when I’m really discouraged, but he tolerates that as well, and my tears too.) Flirting lightens our good work, and the mood.

The best flirting with any particular person is done seldom and unexpectedly. But there are so many lovely people in each of my weeks that I get to keep my flirting skills honed and at the ready for a subtle opening play that will brighten my day – and hopefully that of my flirtee!

 

flirt photo