21 December 2010

Lunar Eclipse 2010

In case you missed it, there was a remarkable occurrence in wee hours this morning. A total lunar eclipse. "The first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Northern Winter Solstice (Southern Summer Solstice) since 1638." What does it mean for the Moon to be overshadowed by the Earth just as the Sun also faces its shortest day? I don't know. But more than just astronomers got excited about it; the astrologers, solstice worshipers, apocalypse predictors, and all sorts of folk looking for omens seemed to get worked up as well. 

Me? I slept through it all last night. Most of America did, I suspect. 

I know, and you probably do too, all the explanations about the dust in the atmosphere giving the moon that rust red tinge just as the full (umbra) shadow of the Earth is cast on its surface. All the ancient stories of animals swallowing the moon, of the gods turning away from mankind, all that is just window dressing in folktales to amuse children in these enlightened times. 
The thing about large astronomical events in this age of technology is that we are jaded. We have seen distant galaxies up close in our telescopes and on our televisions. We can look at pictures that tell us so much more than we can get with our naked eyes. It is so easy to catch not only the instant replay at a reasonable hour but also the condensed and interpreted synopsis of the event that most of us don't bother reading the full story in any case. 

I have seen a total lunar eclipse before, more than once over the years. But I still remember the first one. It was several decades ago when I was home from college for summer break, or was it winter then too? I don't know, too long ago to really remember. My parents were living in rural Wisconsin so it had to be after 1970 (because that is the year when I left for college the first time). I remember my cousin watching with me. My parents, aunts and uncles, in the house playing cards--paying no attention beyond an occasional: "that's nice, dear." 

I clearly remember standing in that yard, watching the shadow crawl so slowly across the surface of a nearly full moon. As if the moon were a woman drawing a blood-red veil over pale skin and turning her back on us. We stood in the yard for a long time. And at the point of total darkness, when the moon was just a dim spot of blood in a black sky, I remember feeling chilled. Caught in a  silence that felt like it might go on forever. I remember my mother telling us to come inside, it was too late to be out in the dark. I remember being unable to look away until I saw that first hint of returning light at the penumbral edge. Until I knew the moon was coming back from whatever dark place she went.

So why didn't I go watch last night? 

Maybe I am jaded by the scientific explanations now, too.  Or maybe, just maybe, as I get older--well into my fifties and facing yet another birthday in a week--maybe those demons chasing down the moon are coming just a little to close for comfort these days. Too close for me to want to look at them closely anymore. Demons of days lost, the loss of years, and with them the loss of chances, of people, of friends, of family, of those who once would have watched with me. The shortening of days and the turning of winter seasons are all too poignant to watch as my losses mount up. We do not face the dark with ease as we grow old. 

06 December 2010

Seasons Come, Seasons Go

Just three weeks ago this was the view walking across campus from the East Campus Parking Deck toward Olin Hall.

Today, after the first real snow of winter, this was the view.

Isn't it amazing how fast the seasons change, how quickly the years fly by. Is this a function of my getting older?

05 December 2010

Things you think about when you can't sleep

It's 4 am on a Sunday morning when I could be asleep, but since I am not... Funny how the brain works. I wake up a lot in the early morning hours, 3am, 4am; then I just lay there in bed thinking. I used to get up and write (poetry, stories, blog posts), but I haven't been writing much at all since early last summer. Not that I don't have anything to write about. In fact the opposite is more true. I have far too much to write about... so much in my head I just don't really know where to begin and (this may sound odd) on top of that I don't know anymore who I am writing for.

One of my fiction writer friends says she writes because she has to. If she didn't the words, the ideas, would just keep rolling around in her brain and drive her crazy. I can understand that. Sometimes I wish my brain had a switch--on, off, clear cache... reboot.

Somehow, though, for me writing has to have an audience. And therein lies the rub. If I write about most of the stuff in my head anywhere I send it, post it, or share it, it is bound to offend someone. The thing about stories is that they want to be told. They don't want to sit in notebooks or lie about in drawers. So I feel compelled to publish, to share. My biggest problem is I am not good at audience. Although half my audience is generally chuckling and enjoying the story immensely, the other half is invariably bored, or worse: pissed off.

One of the first poems I ever published was about my grandmothers, my mother, and my daughters. I was looking at how women carry on through generations. My mother's only comment was about the stanzas she was in, and what she said to me was: "That's a lie, it didn't happen that way."

What I had been telling was her story as I had heard it, from her, from my dad, from others. Filtered through my writer's sensibilities and my (imperfect? biased?) observations of her as her daughter. What she saw in herself was so different that she was angry at my less than flattering portrait. But the woman she saw herself as could be seen only through her filters. Two different stories. Both accurate if disparate views. My story was about an ordinary woman with with extraordinary desires leading an ordinary life. The problem is no one wants to be seen as ordinary. Not really. Certainly not my mother, who spent most of my childhood telling us how happy we were and how lucky we were to be us--this ideal suburban family. What I still see looking back is a husband who got drunk, ran around looking to other women for affection he didn't get at home, because he never made enough money to support five kids or to satisfy a woman who had her dreams of movie-stardom thwarted by the realities of motherhood and the embarrassment of dependence on her own mother for handouts and hand-me-downs. When I tell the story my way I upset my family. When I tell the story the wasy they want it to be seen, it's not as good a story.

In some ways there are beautiful stories in there, in my head. The problem is my characters don't ever look heroic when seen by those who inspired them. Especially when inspired by people I care about most.

Right now I have the urge to write about my daughters. But I know if I do I will anger at least one of them, confuse one of them, and amused the third. Do I dare that chance that they will or will not see my fiction for fiction?