Attention

Remember Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, the fable of guileless children and preoccupied, inattentive adults? Remember what the narrator (so consumed with matters of consequence) learns from the tiny prince (so consumed about tending his rose)? And it is a single rose that lives on his planet, a rose who “chose her colors with the greatest care” and who did not “wish to go out in the world all rumpled, like the field poppies.” Certainly the fable is one of friendship, love, and loss of the unique, but what makes me smile is the depiction of the rose. How vain the flower is, how she expects to be protected, and how true to life Saint-Exupéry describes the tending of a rose.

HPIM0284Six years ago, I had my own rose bush, just outside the door. I cared for it: watched the leaves burn red and green, delighted in the new buds, breathed in the fragrance of the bush, clipped the flower just about the five leaf, pruned it knee-high in November, clipped it low, shaped like a basin, in February, and waited for the apricot surprise waiting every summer.

HPIM0283Years have passed and I have not cared for a single rose. Even though I live in an apartment complex, I was sure that management would give me permission to plant one outside my patio. The answer was “No.” I do understand. Like the flower of the little prince, roses demand attention. Then, in May, a young friend who was moving offered me a plant. “It will get better care with you,” she said. And she handed me a rose twig perfectly suited to the pot and the sunlight on my patio.

Over the months I have faithfully tended this tiny plant. And little by little she has flourished. Not yet ready to bloom, but so close, so close.

You’d think I would be content. Instead, I have walked the neighborhood noting rose bushes, the healthy ones peering from inside fences, the bedraggled ones hanging limp outside the yards.

IMG_1005A neighbor lady and I met one morning, a sad rose bush between us. As she watered her potted geraniums and golden zinnias, we talked about warm weather and our dogs and summer plants.

“What about this rose bush?” I asked.

“Not mine. It’s in the neighborhood’s common space.”

“I need a rose to tend.”

“You go for it.” she answered.

I clipped old blooms just above the five-leaf marker. New leaves burned a familiar green and red. Not having been tended for a while, the leaves had suffered insect nibbling and the bush was a bit on the shabby side. Gradually, though, the buds are coming, not in apricot tones, but in lipstick red.

IMG_1043I will fuss over my tiny roses and the larger cluster just two blocks away. There is a difference, however, between me and Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. My patio rose and I may watch sunset traces and falling stars, but I cannot drag a lawn chair down the street. My neighbor, initially gracious and generous, would probably open her curtains, observe the scene outside her window, and judge me a bit obsessed, sitting in the dark, paying too close attention to a singular rose bush.

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Miss Manners

Not so long ago, individuals were expected to follow rules of etiquette. The courteous were welcomed in society because they displayed gracious manners, educated opinions, and the ability to listen to those with differing views. Crass or cruelbehavior had no place in polite society.

And in the canine upper-class world, Angel was expected to excel in social graces. After all, she possessed papers verifying her noble Shih Tzu bloodlines. But because she is only human—whoops, canine—she had to learn the hard way how to navigate in the big, bad world.

Rule # 1: With a patient strategy, the domineering can be redeemed.

In the beginning, Darla, a huge lab, considered Angel and her leash as dog toys. One tug and Angel turned biblical: “Wherever you go, I will go, too.” Darla, though, was just a gentle giant. If Angel didn’t resist, Darla lost interest. The gist of this story (the little and big of it), is that the two became good friends.

Rule # 2: In matters of war and peace, the former gets you riled and the latter helps you sleep.

Somewhere around eight months, Angel decided to assert herself—a behavior she carries to this day. No one would treat her like a stuffed toy. She scampered around so fast that humans thought petting her was akin to chasing a squirrel. Playing hard and wild taught Angel an additional truth: too much exertion ends in collapse. Out of self-preservation she settled for a more non-confrontational posture.

Rule # 3: Sharing is essential to the common good.

Oh, but generosity has never come easily to this eight-and-a-half-pound pup. She prefers her own toys and her own company. How simple that would have been if she were the only dog, but for ten years she has lived in a household of visiting dogs and adoptive siblings, so she has no choice but to share. And the meeting place is the living room dog bed. 

Rule # 4: Sometimes the one so different from us becomes the greatest treasure.

Of all the dogs in Angel’s life, her best buddy was a big, gangly, scruffy mutt named Josie. By appearances, they would have seemed a strange pair, but what a bond. No matter that one was a breeder’s darling and the other a cast-off, or that Angel’s hair was silky beige and white and Josie’s was wiry black and gray. So different, so linked, such faithful friends, content to share time and cushion. When, after twelve years of life, Josie began to fail, Angel refused to leave her side.

The other day I sang along with Anne Murray’s “Sure Could Use a Little Good News Today.” So often, the world’s anger knocks the wind out of me, and then I look at Angel’s funny face and I laugh. Miss Manners? Maybe not all the time, but just enough. If creatures, through instinct, can curl up with those four rules, if animals can give and take and make friends with those different from them, maybe there is hope for the rest of us.

Feet First

 

The publication of my book was only the beginning. The hard part for me is the trek into marketing. When Seuss promised, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, he described my experience from first to last.

house

Congratulations!
Today is your day.

The journey began with a celebration at my cousin’s home in the Oakland Hills of California. I had memorized my thirty-minute presentation and outfitted myself in black-and-white with super-cool sandals. Surely I fit the description:

Your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet

My audience, in turn, was a group Seuss would recognize in a minute as both brainy and footsy. The Q & A brought forth stories and questions of spiritual journeys and nun memories, of the 1960’s power and disillusionment, of promises made and kept and broken, and of the desire for something greater than ourselves.

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At Ashland’s Bloomsbury Books and All Saint’s Church Hall in Portland, I felt like the high fliers Seuss describes. Whispering Winds and Forest Grove’s 55+ communities welcomed me. The audience at Cortland Village Apartments preferred discussion to snacks. What a surprise to reconnect with high school classmates, former students, Franciscan friends, and my family, both immediate and extended. But the seduction of success tricked me into claiming Seuss’ tongue-in-cheek lines:

You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

crumbling building

Except when they don’t.
because, sometimes, they won’t.

Ah, well to remember Seuss’ advice and make my way through the rubble. Among the bricks and mortar, though, I end up having to wait. Maybe, just maybe, book sales will rise; book reviewers will call; Amazon, Goodreads, and The Oregonian will praise my memoir. And those contests I entered? First place is too much to expect, but wouldn’t it be nice to be among the chosen ten?

In the meantime I need a head full of brains and shoes full of feet. One last admonition (a variation on the good Doctor’s words) as I practice my talks, don my paisley, and pull on my leather boots:

Be careful, nimble, and cleverly deft
so you’ll never mix up right foot from left.

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Oh, the Places I’ll Go:

  • July 9: Laurel Parc at Bethany
  • July 18: Mary’s Woods, Marylhurst
  • August 17: Art Accelerated Gallery, Tillamook
  • September 9: Beaverton Lodge Retirement Community
  • September 12, Book Group, Portland
  • September 22: Hillsboro Library Book Fair
  • October: St. Mary’s Academy Creative Writing Classes