A Perfect Day

Back to school today, right? Yes, for some. Not for me any more. 

I used to love school when I was a kid, there was something magical in learning about words and numbers, places and histories (hint: school was a solid institution those days). It also made me feel more likeable: in the culture I grew up in, getting an education was the only way you could stand up for yourself against class equality (no, I have not mis-spelled it). And if you were smart enough, parents would be proud(er) of you – so one was pretty much psychologically bullied into getting a degree of sorts. 

Many years and a few degrees later, I started to teach – I quite enjoyed it. It gave me purpose, it felt like I was contributing my knowledge to the betterment of the young. Alas, the young were less and less interested to learn… anything. Last year, I had four students who cheated on technical drawings (!!!) – basically copied them from one another which qualifies as plagiarism, while nearly a whole class of others failed to attend presentations of out-of-town professional guests who I had personally invited. Guess who was guilty in the end for students’ inability to properly perform? That’s right, me!

I fully realized it about two weeks ago. As I was just starting a trip on my own along the Columbia river gorge in Oregon, I hear my phone ding! An email from the coordinator of the program announcing dryly that there are no teaching assignments for me this fall and no winter course in drawing. It was the easiest thing to get mad – yet I looked straight at the Vista House and I forced myself to marvel at its magnificent location on top of a cliff overlooking the entire valley. The automobile enthusiasts in the 1920s had chosen well this spot for a journey halt.

The morning was simply splendid. I went on the top terrace and I slowly glanced from left to right. The picture below doesn’t even begin to describe the landscape, but what can one ask of a cell phone camera? Frankly, I think it did quite admirably at capturing some of the grandeur.

“Lord, help me to enjoy this day and this trip.” I made a mental promise to myself to let nothing spoil the joy. I let my eyes linger on the colours and my lungs get filled with the fresh air. My head was full of negative thoughts, trying to convince me how inept I had always been at making myself pleasing to the bosses, how terrible a teacher I was, what a failure of a mother I am as my children had chosen to spend their day browsing shops in downtown Portland…

“Stop!” I cried aloud. I closed my eyes tight with anger and then I looked up in the faint hope I might be able to release that. It didn’t exactly work instantly. So I looked up in the air at my imaginary (?) enemy and I said with a smile: “you shall not win today.”

With this determination in mind, I drove further into the woods and I stopped at a few of the waterfalls which make the travelers’ delight on the Historic Route 30. Sad as I kinda was, I didn’t expect the magnitude of beauty which gradually engulfed me with every stop I made.

Latourell Falls looked slim and elegant like a lady all dressed up to celebrate:

I found the Bridal Veil hidden behind tall rocks at the end of a descending trail:

Further down the road, Wahkeena Falls does justice to its Native name as the “most beautiful”:

… By now, my negativity had pretty much melted and had been carried away in the waters. From the base of Wahkeena, I decided to take the Perdition trail up to the Fairy Falls. Little did I know it would take me a good hour of rather strenuous climbing. The first half of the climb was on an asphalt trail – how the heck did they pave that and why, it really makes one wonder.

Then the Perdition lived up to its name as it did not seem to end… Not only that, but in due time I entered a strange domain looking much like Tolkien’s Rivendell.

The trail went up and up. There were only a few daring others following me or descending (and those had encouraging words of “just a few more turns and you’ll see it”). Finally, when I had almost lost hope, the Fairy Falls came into full view. Smaller than I had imagined it. But the closer I drew to it, the more fascinating and mysterious it grew to be. It had a symmetry about it which defied laws of merely physical nature. Indeed, later on that evening when I browsed the photos I had taken, I noticed a round face right in the middle of the falls… spooky!

I drank some water from the river.  People looked at me in a strange way. One said: “I wouldn’t do that.” I thought to myself: “too bad, city girl, you don’t know what clear fresh water you’re missing on – but hey, who am I to teach you anything.” I began my descent. My heart was beating fully alive with the overpouring beauty. There are no words to describe the poetry of the moment. ‘Blessed’ is the closest I can find.

The afternoon was leaving way to the evening when I made it to Multnomah. It is the second highest falls in the U.S. and it is truly magnificent.

As I stood on that bridge separating the two parts of the waterfall, I thanked God for my loneliness that day. I thanked Him for walking with me in the conscientious discovery of pure joy. And I was glad beyond all words and worlds that my own will had not let some stupid small-minded folk spoil the magnitude of the discovery which was to come.

I’ll leave you with this for tonight. Do not forget: if you want to find joy, you will. Sometimes it is a mighty fight against your own judgement – but boy, is it worth it!

As for the beginning of school today… well, it feels to me like time for a change.

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CAN touch THIS!

Tuesday morning. Hi there! Back in the body business today. Sticking to that morning walk? Excellent. If you discover any fun stuff along the way, drop me a line. And if you don’t feel like walking, we’re gonna…

… dance – that’s great for your body. If you’re like me, you can easily replace gym with a dance session for day. When I was a student, I tried aerobics. It worked for a bit but I got bored with dancing on the same music just because it fit the exercises for the various muscles. Good thing I didn’t give up the parties. And man, in those days did we dance at parties… There wasn’t much booze available in the communist stores, not to mention drugs. Just before I was born, an anti-abortion law had been passed which stayed in place until 1990 – you got it, no contraceptives of any kind, sex was a tricky affair, better not. So what could you do at parties? Play the philosopher guy and hope you’ll bewitch the (more intellectual) girls, or dance. Which is why people in my generation are not only pretty good dancers and sophisticated philosophers (yes, of course they don’t say anything), but have also stayed relatively slim into old(er) age.

I love dancing. As a kid I had asked my mom to put me in ballet lessons. At the end of the first one, she excitedly asked: “so how did you like it?” “I didn’t” – I said. “Why?” came mom’s surprised voice. “Well, they asked me to stretch and stretch and to just go around the room.” “Oh, honey, it takes some time and exercise to get into the ballerina moves…” “But I don’t want to learn those moves – I just want to wear the pretty dresses and dance.” That was my first realization that sometimes you gotta work hard for a pretty dress. So I dropped the ballerina thing, absolutely no regrets – and later on became one of those rare architects who also wear colours besides black.

Anyway, no big deal. I continued to dance whenever the occasion arose. Not to brag, but I was the soul of the parties and I did dance almost all night long. I remember once we returned home at 5 am – it would have taken forever to get the buses, so we had to go through a park. My feet were hurting so bad, I removed my white shoes and walked home barefoot. Liberating. (I probably would have done it at 1 pm, too. I’m just that kind of person.) Oh, and I danced a bit more on the way. You see, I was in love.

Dance has the amazing ability to put you in a good mood. A loving mood. And if you don’t have somebody specific in mind, how about loving yourself? Swing, baby, swing. You can put on Swan Lake and twirl through the house, or a waltz and go one-two-three, one-two-three… Or go easy with Ella & Louis and don’t wake up just yet, keep dreaming … And when you’re quite ready to start your day… full steam with M.C.Hammer – trust me on this!

Let’s dance! Happy Tuesday!

I am grateful for…

…Monday morning.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was not grateful for any morning, let alone Mondays. A new beginning, a new day, a new opportunity. Whenever I heard or read any of this, I rolled my eyes and went back to hide under the covers. Yes, I was depressed and yes, I hadn’t yet hit the bottom.

And there was another time, even longer ago, when Monday was just another day feeding into another week which was part of another month of an infinite row of years. Yes, that’s how we think when we are young: that we are eternal and time will always be on our side, aren’t we stupid. A good number of years in that – now I know it’s rather finite – row passed before I got to the bottom of that depression valley, and all the Mondays – slowly but surely – lost their flavour and excitement and joy.

Until one day. I don’t even remember if it was a Monday – probably not. It doesn’t matter. Out of the blue came the memory of another day from that forgotten youth when a nice kind man had woken me up to say “I have news for you.” (We had had a conversation the previous night and I had confessed to him that sunny mornings were not giving me joy any longer). So I said: “Yeah, what kind of news?”

“Well, mixed really. The bad news is that it’s sunny outside…” – he said seriously.

I smiled thinking of our talk. “Oh yeah?”

“… and the good news is that it’s sunny outside.” – he smiled back at me.

I didn’t get it then, I thought he was just trying to look smart to impress me. He was, in a way (long story short, he’s my husband of twenty years now). I got out of bed, had breakfast with him, and then we walked through sparkling snow for about 4 hours. He was courting me, it was lovely.

Six years ago, he watched me helplessly while I drowned in my own sorrows. Then, as I was saying, that memory came back and I got it: it was all about perspective. You’d think I’m pretty obtuse, how could I not get that in the first place? Oh, but I did: in my head. It sounded like a joke then. And suddenly, so many years later, it sank into my heart and it became reality.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is shining. What? It’s cloudy? So? The sun is still there, above the clouds, and your brain knows it. Now let your heart be flooded with its warmth. Feel the new beginning, the new day, the new opportunity. Life is yours to live it. You gotta want it – and why wouldn’t you? It’s in your power to change everything. Yes, gradually – you know, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and that’s one true saying. So start with that step you don’t want to take and just be grateful for today.

Happy Monday!

A Woman’s Job

Is it career or is it family or is it both? Or is there any other choice?

I’ve been torn between choices for a good number of years. In world’s years, that means nothing – in the finite time of my life, it feels too long. Time is precious and how can I use it wisely? I can do many things, literally. And when I say I can do them, that means well enough. I can draw, cook, write, teach, solve difficult problems, sew, knit, garden, design architectural plans. I can keep deadlines and manage projects of all kinds including the complex ones of a five-people household. I know the sophisticated grammar of two languages, a lot of history, advanced Math, geography, physics and politics. Some may think it’s ridiculous I can’t decide, that I don’t have a career. After all, women these days can do everything. Well, that’s exactly the problem, I’d say.

We are conditioned to think about what we’ll become when we grow up. It’s in what you’re taught when young, in your parents’ behavior and their life choices, it’s in your peers’ success (or lack of) and personal relations – ultimately, it’s in how much you let all of these affect you. Add to this your partner’s behavior, goals (or doubts), dreams and actions – that’s a biggie for no small reason: you two are supposed to share a life together.

Is it any wonder that contemporary women like me find themselves tangled in definitions of womanhood? At times, we can be focused or unfocused, depressed, overwhelmed, excited, sad, good busy, bad busy, frustrated – are we happy though? Are we at peace with our choices – or the incapacity of making at least one? Happy to be vertical, happy to breathe. Are you? There’s so much pressure. It has always been, but if we try compare to past times, it does look like there’s much more to fit in a day. It’s hard to resist that – especially when everybody behaves (and expects others to act) like a computer.

We do have many dimensions, but see, we’re not machines. Despite their amazing managing capacity (which is a thing of the head) women are ruled by their heart, and their actions – analytical as they may be – carry the heavy burden of pain. Formerly abused girls or women are likely to develop into feminist bitches who abuse others, or depressed addicts of sorts who continue to let themselves be bullied. It is quite rare that such women would snap out of destructive patterns and become balanced individuals.

Is this generalizing? Probably – and I’m no psychologist so I shouldn’t even talk. In my little life experience, I had lost some of my feminine dimensions along the way. Once aware of that, I have tried hard to retrieve them, as if they were applications which I could upload back into my system after a reset to factory standards. Hmm… some worked, some didn’t. Sure they didn’t – what factory am I talking about? Maybe it’s a matter of time and discipline. Maybe it’s matter of acceptance, of loss, of aging, of trust and belief.

A friend brought me some colorful yarns yesterday and I got inspired to start knitting. As I was doing row after row, I remembered how long it takes to make a pullover. In contemporary currency, it’s not worth it. I could spend my time much more efficiently. My thoughts floated to my mother who would knit and knit in the dullness of the office in the hydro-energetic institute where she worked. There were not many projects which engineers would work on during those communist years. People showed up at work in the morning and found ways to fill their 8-hour work days. My mom was a trained engineer whose real profession was to make colorful clothes for us in a country wrapped in gray bleakness. She would sew and knit countless pieces. I was the best dressed teenager in the high-school, no kidding. Not one single item survived… I gave them away, stupid me. Well, they did lose appeal, they went out of fashion. Thinking back, I should have kept some because they had timelessness sewn in. Fortunately, I still have some cards she wrote after we immigrated. I miss her.

I also miss my grandmother. She had worked twelve years in a flour factory moving heavy sacks around and when she finally retired, she cleaned our house, she cooked good food. She was quiet and stern. She was the reliable background, not much of a different career than that. I miss some of my teachers too, and colleagues from the museums and architectural companies I have worked for. They were exquisite professionals who did their jobs well. And as The Beatles say, some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

Is it then only love that remains? Do you, my dear fellow woman, know the power of your heart? If there is pure love in your work, you are blessed. If you can wrap your family in love and give them hope and courage, you are blessed. If you can do everything, then you are blessed. And if you cannot decide on more than today’s effort, you are still blessed. A woman’s job may very well be that undefined matter of the heart, which takes shape according to the circumstances. Sometimes, we need to use the brain to get things straight – but please, please don’t dwell in the analytics. It’s hard when they tell you differently, when both men and women try to convince you that you’re a man. It’s hard when you’re a good planner. It’s very hard to detach but it’s worth it. Peace is not found in charts and problem solving, but in songs and in the – sometimes annoyingly perfect – geometry of the circle. The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round… all through the town…

Woman, you can bring misery or you can bring joy. What would you like to be remembered for? Do you care to be remembered?

I am too scattered. Can I love so much?