The sun has beaten me to this day,
its arms to the sky
while mine stretch and wish
for the quiet victories
of an early rise —
the silent, solitary laps
the final slow rotation
before the crowd roars
and the race begins.
Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 24. Image: Sunrise on the Sea, Camille Pissarro
In the front bedroom of the house my Grandmother owned from the time her husband was killed in Okinawa until her own death in 1998, there was a fan.
It was large window fan, stalwart like her, with a six inch rubber belt wound around two pulleys, the partnering of which turned the giant steel blades with such determination that it teased cool summer shade from the ancient maple near the patio, through the back porch and kitchen, into the living room, up and around the bend in the steps, and down the hallway where the bedrooms lined up and we all slept on July nights in Bethlehem.
Its reliable mechanics, like the inner workings of the steel mill across town, represented the ideals of good and right and worth a long-fought battle.
It was not the type of fan you sentenced to the dump because the cost to repair it was so much greater than the cost to buy a new one.
It was not the type of fan you tossed to the curb after a summer or two, like the gadgets in the seasonal aisle next to the display of ninety-nine cent American flags Made in China.
That fan was never lazy in its labor, never turned off from a hard day’s work, and never complained.
In return, we didn’t take it for granted, and gave thanks for it often. We weren’t divided about its value, never questioned its strength, nor its ability to hold up under the hottest conditions.
My Grandmother’s fan was the kind of machine that demanded your respect, quite frankly because it earned your respect.
Words ©2015, Jen Payne
IMAGE: Bethlehem Pennsylvania graveyard and steel mill, by Walker Evans
In Honor of National Doughnut Day
For sure there is a story to tell, of late night clichés and coffee-stained romances there behind the counter of the midnight doughnut shop. She had written them in situ, on journal pages stained with raspberry-pink jelly: the dashing pirate, the rookie cop, the old war vet with a “crack in his cookie jar.” No doubt she learned more there than in any class at the university—or any day since. But could she find them again? Stir them up, let them proof and rise into something more than naïve schoolgirl impressions of the world and her life not yet begun?
100-Word Story, ©2015 Jen Payne
IMAGE: Coffee and Donut, Ralph Goings
“And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” — Matthew 5:30, King James Bible
To be honest, I only know this quote because of a 1976 episode of Little House on the Prairie. Pa Ingalls and the girls are on a camping trip, but Ma stays home. She cuts herself and the scratch develops into a major infection. In a blind fever, she refers to this passage from the Bible and cuts away at the infection to save herself.
I talk about them as if they are old friends — Ma and Pa Ingalls, Laura and Mary. As if I am somehow related to them and their stories. In a way, I am. Television has been my lifelong companion.
My mothers tells the story of how, when I was a baby, she would set me in a swing in front of the TV with a cookie so I could watch Mister Rogers. THAT explains a whole host of things, not the least of which is Television as Soother.
Although I can’t really say I actually “watch” TV. These days, I’m more of a channel surfer — the fast blur of color and sound lulls me into my quiet and safe place. Not meditative, but not frenetically trying to solve the universe’s problems either. I just zone out — for hours.
Hours and hours. And hours.
An article in Self magazine reported that “people who tuned in (to television) for two or more hours daily had weaker ab and back muscles (by up to 10 percent) than those who viewed less than two hours, regardless of their overall activity level.”* THAT explains a whole host of OTHER things!
I understand the physical ramifications of this little media addiction, but there are others.
We can gloss right over my dwindled attention span, which I bet you could time at the interval of show vs. commercial. There have been studies that show this consequence as well.
What concerns me most, however, is what I watch. Every night, I prepare a nice meal for myself, find a comfortable spot on the sofa, turn on the TV and select from my line-up of favorites: Criminal Minds, Law and Order, CSI, NCIS. Essentially eating my dinner while watching serial killers, murderers and rapists.
If it is not violent drama, then it’s the mindless drivel of reality television or the entertainmentized facsimiles of “news” and “weather.” All of which pose as important, relevant, and of some consequence — all of which they are not.
I have said for years that I must curb my television watching. I have deleted channels from the remote control, dropped back on my cable service, attempted to leave the television off all together. But like any good and well-bred addict, I go back again. And again.
So, here it is. THIS IS THE DAY. The day I cancel cable. Cutting it from me to save myself – my abs, my attention span and and my self-respect. If it offend thee, cast it from thee.
• • •
*”4 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Fighting Ab Flab” By Lucy Danziger, SELF Magazine.
When my friend Steve and I were dating back in the mid-nineties, we had a knack for finding strays — a coyote stuck in a storm drain, an injured seagull at the park, a mourning dove chick we nursed in a flowerpot hung from a branch. I suppose he and I were strays, too, in a way. He was just out of a long marriage, and I was finding my way in a new town with a new business.
When we bought our house in 1999, it was no surprise that it came with its own stray — a small black cat with bright yellow eyes we cursorily named Little Black Kitty.
He showed up randomly, back then, making his way across the front yard to his home under the neighbor’s garage. We’d bring food to him, but he’d hide in the bushes and wait for us to go inside before hungrily finishing his meal.
Our house was cat-full back then — C.J., Crystal and Emily were living with us at the time — but we soon considered Little Black Kitty part of our extended family, and watched out for him as much as we could. One winter, we made our way in ankle-deep snow with flashlights to push a warm fleece blanket into the crawlspace nextdoor, hoping it would ease the cold for him just enough.
In the spring, Little Black Kitty arrived, no worse for the winter-wear, on the picnic table in the back yard. It became habit then — and an unspoken promise — that when he showed up on the picnic table, he would get fed.
By the time Steve moved out in 2004, Little Black Kitty was a fairly regular visitor, though random. Sometimes only a day or two would pass, sometimes weeks…or months. I had no idea where he went in between visits. Did he still live under the neighbor’s house? Did someone else feed him? Take him in for the winters?
I longed to take him inside myself, to make him part of the family, but I needed to work on getting him to trust me, first. By then, we’d been meeting at the picnic table for five years, but I had yet to get close enough to even pet him!
I started staying outside when I fed him, standing at the door, then several feet away, gradually closer and closer as he’d allow. One day, when it seemed right, I brought a dish of food outside and crouched to the ground — waiting for him to come to me. “Come here,” I encourage softly, “come here.” He studied the situation from a few feet away, as I balanced myself and tried not to move. Then slowly, he came closer. And closer. Until there we were, inches from each other — his head bowed into the dish — trusting.
And so it went for a while — Little Black Kitty would show up at the picnic table, I would bring food, sit on the ground, and he would eat there in front of me. Until one afternoon, when he fell to the ground, arched his back, and rubbed himself against my feet. Kitty affection at its best, I was full of joy!
After that day, Little Black Kitty became more and more comfortable with my presence. He would show up at the picnic table, catch my eye and meet me at the back door to wait. He let me pet him, and eventually pick him up for small amounts of time, but he never stayed long. His schedule was still as random as it had been in the beginning — days or weeks or months in between visits. But those moments of trust continued, like old friends meeting up after time apart.
I hadn’t seen Little Black Kitty in almost a year when he showed up on the picnic table this summer, just weeks after Emily died. Perhaps he was finally ready to come inside, I thought. One evening, I sat on the back porch with the door wide open — “come in” I offered. Night after night for a week, I tried — “come in” — but he wasn’t ready.
He was ready to be a regular visitor, though, and began showing up every day for food and love. I took the opportunity of this new schedule to finally get Little Black Kitty to a vet — secretly hoping he was healthy enough to bring inside for the winter, for Lola…for me. Sadly, he carries the feline aids virus, so we’ve agreed to option B: daily feeding and a warm spot in the mudroom when the nights get too cold and weathery.
This past Monday was an especially bitter-cold night, and Little Black Kitty did not show up for food the next day. I couldn’t blame him, it was too cold for anyone to be outside. But when he didn’t show up on Wednesday or Thursday, I was sure I’d seen the last of him. His age, his illness, the cold — surely it had finally taken its toll.
I was in tears at the thought that I would not see my little friend anymore, that I’d been remiss in letting him know, one last time, how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his ongoing, beautiful example of trust.
And then there he was — yesterday! On the picnic table, waiting. I raced outside, scooped him up without hesitation and held on as tightly as he’d allow. And without hesitation, he started to purr and nuzzled into me — hello.
• • •
©2013, Jen Payne
The blogosphere is a pretty amazing place. Consider this: on a regular basis, I open up WordPress, put down in words and pictures a conversation that is on my mind, and hit PUBLISH. Those very steps connect me instantaneously to all of you—my “Followers” and the greater blogging community.
Like that! I hit PUBLISH, and someone in Slovakia is reading about my trip to Cape Cod, and someone in Mongolia is taking a walk with me in the woods of Connecticut!
Like that! We are communicating—you and I and people from at least 100 other countries! Reading, commenting, sharing in the thoughts and ideas we exchange here.
Like that! I am sitting in an Italian pastry shop in Northampton, Massachusetts feasting on decadent, sugary treats with a fellow blogger I feel like I’ve known forever.
Judith and I meet and immediately pick up our conversation where we left off yesterday, although we haven’t seen or spoken with each other since last July. We do this easily, because our blogs are part of our conversation — almost daily.
An assortment of pastries sits on the table, alongside an assortment of topics: technology, writing, books, spirituality, photography, food. It’s no surprise — but a great surprise, at the same time — that she and I find common threads in our thoughts, our interests, and what we want to talk about today. By their very nature, blogs attract like-minded souls, and our tête-à-tête bears witness to that fact.
We immediately come to the agreement that the word “conversation” best fits this synergy that happens between bloggers, and joyfully continue with ours — animated and face-to-face.
• • •
©2013, Jen Payne
I have never liked the term “Bucket List.” It makes me feel old and out of time. So when I heard a Honda commercial refer to “Leap List,” I knew that was a concept I could buy into! It’s got a much better energy about it, don’t you think?
According to the Urban Dictionary, a Leap List is “a list of ten things you want to do before taking your next big leap in life (e.g. before you get married, or have kids or turn 40).”
Do you have a
Bucket List Leap List? Mine includes driving cross-country and returning to Paris, seeing the Northern Lights and cooking a Tuscan feast I once saw in Gourmet Magazine.
It also included going on a Whale Watch, which my dear friend MaryAnne promised me as a birthday present last year. We finally got our chance during the Great Cape Escape, by coincedence on her birthday!
Cormorants escorted us out of Provincetown Harbor into Cape Cod Bay for a three-hour opportunity to see whales up-close and personal.
It was a gorgeous spring day with a blue sky dotted by some occasional clouds. While sun-warm on shore, it was cold once the boat reached the bay, where the ultramarine water was scored with whitecaps from a strong northeast breeze.
Not too long into the trip we were alerted to a Finback Whale off the two o’clock side of the boat. And soon after that, there was a Right Whale breaching about a mile and a half in front of us. Racing from side to side of the boat, we caught glimpses of fins and tails, and spouts of water from the depths of the ocean beneath us.
According to our naturalist guide, we had the chance to see eight Right Whales and three Finback Whale on our trip.
Mostly, we saw a bunch of splashes — and we laughed a lot.
As we were leaving the boat, the Captain thanked us for joining him, and reminded us that every journey is different. “Don’t expect more than a great boat ride,” he told us, “and hope for whales.”
• • •
GREAT CAPE ESCAPE II
• Great Cape Escape 2013
• A Journal of Days
• Elemental Things
• Sand and Water
• Words Like Abundance
• Blessed Places
• Where Everybody Knows Your Name
• Visions of Design
PHOTOS ©2013, Jen Payne
When people ask about my hometown or where I’m from, I rarely mention the Connecticut town I grew up in or the Pennsylvania hometown of my parents that felt like mine, too. The “where everybody knows your name” of my life is Branford now, and has been for the past 22 years.
And then there’s the Cape.
The roads and beaches of Cape Cod are oddly familiar to me, though I swear I have only been there a handful of times. The breadth of shoreline, the presence of the ocean, the wildlife and change of seasons feel far away and just like home — at the same time.
It must be that way for a lot of folks — that mix of some place new and just like home. On this recent trip, it seemed like everyone I met was from Connecticut. Visiting or transplanted as a docent in a museum or a ranger at the National Seashore, they all somehow found their way to the Cape. Like me.
Part of what makes it such a special place to visit are the people you get to know, the conversations that continue, the connections and reconnections.
Beverly, the owner of the hotel I stay at, was happy to see me again this year. She booked me in the same room as last, and we took time to talk about the cats in our lives — my Emily who I was tempted to bring with me, and her Norman who passed away last year. When I left she gave me a hug as kind as my Grandmother’s and said she’d see me next year.
Gabe, the young waiter at my favorite restaurant, knew me as soon as he arrived at my table. “Hey! How are you?” he asked, laughing. He even remembered my food and drink of choice…from last year!
A stuffed quohog – my favorite. Missing from photo: whisky sour on the rocks.
On a round of souvenir shopping, I had a chance to meet local business owner Om Singhal. As if I’d been shopping there forever, we had an hour-long conversation about our businesses and day-to-days. He showed me a photo of the time he met President Truman and talked about meeting his wife for the first time. “Simple living,” is his philosophy he told me. “Simple living, hard thinking.”
Om and I pose next to his Indian Clothing store, in front of the elephant he had built from a dream, in honor of Ganesh.
At the Lobster Pot in Provincetown, my friend MaryAnne and I met Cassie, friend-of-a-friend and bartender extraordinaire. She welcomed us with a broad smile, then shared the secret that our mutual friend had treated us to dinner! We felt like regulars and left with big hugs all around.
MaryAnne, Cassie and me, celebrating MaryAnne’s birthday at the Lobster Pot.
As I was leaving on Saturday, driving west down Route 6 and over the Sagamore Bridge, I felt like I was leaving old friends. I couldn’t help but wonder — would I get to see them when I head back again next year? I hope.
• • •
PHOTOS ©2013, Jen Payne
The moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
the moment I jumped off of it
was the moment I touched down
— Alanis Morissett
It started simply enough: a few shells collected on the first day set down next to some small reminders to meditate. And each day thereafter, there was more — scallop shells and sea glass, colorful stones and heart-shaped rocks, driftwood and whelk.
This small altar greeted me every morning and upon my return to the room each afternoon — a reminder of gratitude for treasures found at every step.
“What wonderful abundance,” a friend commented. “I can feel the serenity.”
They become the words I meditated on: gratitude, abundance, serenity.
• • •
LYRICS: Alanis Morissett, Thank You [listen]
PHOTOS ©2013, Jen Payne