life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


We wanted --no, needed --this rain. It came up from the Gulf, swept thru Alabama, Atlanta, the Carolinas, and was over by nightfall. It left us cooled by calm breezes that followed on its heels, quietly hemming the darkness like fine lace on the silken shawl of night. The crickets and other small animals chirrup a sweet melody, marking time to my thoughts. The dishes are washed, laid in the rack by the sink, the towels folded and put away. Sitting opposite me in our library, my husband sketches a portrait of a highland soldier in time to the ancient melody brought forth by a celtic songstress, her dark voice husky as the night wind, and equally as haunting. Surcease --a mechanism by which we let down, relax, find ourselves and our thoughts. We are quiet, yet the world around us is humming with vibrant life. Surcease is when we fall into step, find ourselves picked up and carried, by rhythms or emotions. It is not a time of nothing. It is a time of everything.

The pinnacle of surcease is when we two are together ...we match ourselves to each other’s rhythm, we are the water that rolls up from the depths of the ocean, we become the tide itself. We are no longer ourselves, we emerge from our cocoons to become something completely different, more than human, no less than gods. There is undeniable power in love, it is the coupling of two energies, and so can never be denied as anything other than something more than the whole entirety of our separate beings. Surcease. Could it really mean --a joining? It can never happen without a catalyst: surcease never comes in and of itself. It is always the result of something. It is added: it satisfies a need, usually a deep longing, depletion, or hunger. Perhaps that is why we feel as if we are more than ourselves when we are together: because we are. We receive more than we can give to satisfy our own needs: our depletions are filled, we no longer lack.

And so, the truth is that the earth, no matter the richness of the soil or the lush canopy of protective forest, needs rain. Without the addition of the catalyst of water, seeds do not open, roots dry up, the ground cracks open and releases the remainder of the nutrients it has held onto since the last rain. Why do we listen when people say, “You don’t need anyone else. You have yourself.” We may as well say the earth needs no rain, the tree needs no water, for both hold their own, even for long periods of time when necessary. But eventually the earth dries up, the tree withers, the leaves fall from the stress of holding on and conserving against need. The truth is, nothing but the coupling of rain can preserve the earth. We are not so different. No one is an entirety unto him, or her, self.

We all need someone. For surcease.

Monday, May 30, 2005


This cool green wood that silent waits
guarded, watchful
catching the last clear rays of light
with upturned boughs of verdant trees
before the mist rises to veil the calm-laden valley
It softens the heat, lightens the gloom of evening, and
for brief silver seconds the world seems to shimmer, not really there,
but an intangible thing;
Solid wood and vast stretch of fern-blanketed earth
seems momentarily fragile,
on the verge of being swallowed up by night.
Here is where I played,
I stood in the shadows and watched--
my mind alive,
hearing finely tuned,
straining to catch the essence of the wooded green
in the treasure chest of my imagination.
I could not hold it for more than a moment,
the vibrant pitch of waiting, growing greenery
would filter through when all was silent,
and as quickly, was lost, when I turned away and
answered the call of the outside world.

I must return to the wood,
go back and walk those paths
along which I ran as a child
when I was too busy chasing dreams
to gather in the wonder that lay about me.
To examine bark, and leaf, and twig,
touching needle-strewn beds of moss,
gazing intently at the pattern of life within
each tiny sprout and curling lichen
Something rests here, which helped me
to make peace with my world,
and I need to find that, to once more make it a part of me
the young part, the growing, wondering, reflecting part,
the part of me which accepts,
and believes in the future,
and grows wiser, knowing.

Image copyright 2005 by Susannah B. Smith

As the wood, we grow tall, stretching forth our branches,
we answer the call of the whippoorwill,
our voices teasing, beckoning,
wanting deep within our hearts to mate,
but always holding something back, something vast,
precious, and green...
...answer, tell, pray, answer, look, tell, answer, answer, tell:
Believe, said the spirit, and isn't it a shame that the
legend is such that the magician had to die before he could
communicate to his wife that one small intelligence?
that love surpasses even Death?

We should know this, and trust in it, and go on,
What is it that we do not acknowledge?
I think that deeper than Fear, it is our Want,
our need of soulful replenishment
our craving of a concrete essence to re-affirm our own choices,
our own decisions.
Laughing, we mate, we do not think that a lifetime will be so long
to share with another.
Laughing, we were wrong.
So misguided.
We are lost, after a time. Life itself eludes us, we look upon one another as at the door of death itself, and recoil –
aghast, shivering, disgusted.
Depleted, indifferent, yet still tightly nursing the flame of want within our own being.
And so we return to the wood, we look at every tree and branch,
and slowly, we understand.
We grow old, we wither, we die, but
though individually the trees of the wood do just that, the forest remains.
Whole. Vital. Alive.
With every death, a new seed sprouts forth,
to feed upon the old.
Either within the wood, or just outside of it.
Love doesn't die; the men and women do,
so says old Will in the midst of rising waters and thrashing wild palms;
and so right he was.
Love doesn’t die, it outlives us all.
We can hold nothing fast to us
when we are constantly changing, evolving, growing
into someone else ourselves.
The very limbs we use to clasp will wither away to dust,
and grow again, as flowers, new fronds of sun-kissed willow,
and the tiniest of earth-bound leaves.
So. Like the seeds of larch, oak and pine,
we too reach out to grow new roots,
and embrace the Death when we can do no more,
draw from it, extract its nourishment
adding strength to the stand from within ourselves,
expanding our very breadth,
breathing life into death
with new seeds to sow,
ideas and sustenance that we’ve brought in
on winds aloft, from far away.

Note: This is an old version of a poem. Posted in honor of National Poetry Month.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

a day well spent

yesterday we spent an incredible day attempting a plan to mend the heart of our little town. like doctors bent over the surgical table, we planners moved things about, hemmed & hawed, stroked our chins, and puttered. at day's end we had done quite a bit of work, had the beginnings of a downtown development plan containing most of the usual elements of vital and functioning places, including pedestrian paths, light retail, a library, post office, town hall, medical offices, the grocery store, the church, even some residential (yet to be defined) and yes, the farm all arranged methodically and interconnectedly along the slopes and drainages that make up the ground we are given. a redevelopment plan for the existing shopping center --turn it into a major component of the new downtown. cross-path connections around the low-lying areas so that things are not separated or squared off against one another, but hold hands across the street, or tie together with open pathways through a short stretch of wood. beautiful. vital. functioning. a happy place.

now, to polish up and verify the reality, and to give words to ideas in the form of published reports --back to the offices. all this in preparation for the seeds of change --to be sown in september, at the public presentations. promises to be a bit of a roller coaster ride, so stay tuned. i'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

four tenets from a wise woman

Meditations for today:

Economy, prudence, and a simple life are the sure masters of need, and will often accomplish that which their opposites, with a fortune at hand, will fail to do.

The surest test of discipline is its absence.

I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man's work for less than a man's pay.

I have an almost complete disregard of precedent and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done... I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind. I go for anything new that might improve the past. --Clara Barton

When I need reminding that we have come some distance from overwhelming public stupidity, I look at the war women waged in the nineteenth century to regain some of what they had lost in the late eighteenth: respect, purpose, and the ability to have some input, for good or aught, into the direction of society. In doing so they eventually went beyond what they had achieved before, and gained sufferage, some semblance of their own economic worth, and at least some recognition of their ability to contribute to the betterment of the world. So we do not give up, we do press on, and march in time to the need of our day.

Monday, May 16, 2005

it doesn't get any better than this what my colleagues tell me, over & over. today i had the edifying experience of a fellow planner --who has gone to the "dark side," meaning she now works for a developer (albeit a relatively good one) telling me after a meeting in which certain public officials for whom I work had shown their respective lack of good sense and cluelessness, "Man. You have the patience of Job. I would have been screaming & walking out of there! How do you stand it?"

I guess I don't, anymore. Just do the "head down & butt" thing. And keep analysing the problem. One thing I did identify, with the help of the aforementioned colleague, is part of what makes this current position so absolutely horrifying is that, there are absolutely no qualified persons on our planning board. Not a one of them knows anything at all about development, environmental issues, or economics; they are all just "citizens." So we get what they call common sense and we know is ultimately ignorance of the real issues. None of them can even read a plat so all they can do is point out typos. All they can do is hold up the ordinance and try to make it match up to what is said in print. They have no idea how to analyse layout and design of a proposed site plan or development, but boy, they do have opinions. Opinions based largely in subjective aesthetic dream-worlds.

OK, 'nuff said. I am working out of the bitchy mode. I always do. The Mayor likes me again, I guess I came thru her hail of fire with flying colors. I am just tired of having to prove I do actually know what I am doing, in spite of the fact I have a couple of college degrees in this stuff.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


where have i been in the past three weeks? i wonder. aside from the ruptured tendon, that thankfully did not turn out to be the achilles and will not require surgery, it's been busy, in a word. and three of us had a bout with whatever the local nasty virus is this month; we survived.

so. i get so fired up about work nowadays. is it hormones, old age, or just being fed up with the stupid career choice i made? i leave it for you to judge. a brief recounting of facts:

1. April 25 - Board of Adjustment Case, in which the Planning Board rendered a 6-0 unanimous decision in favor of the applicant, who having filed a Request for an Appeal from the Interpretation of the Zoning Administrator (for which I was asked by two council members to recommend that the applicant file such an Appeal, so we could not prosecute the applicant for putting up the structure without a permit, while we changed the ordinance to allow him to do what he probably could have done to begin with, except several members of the community and Planning Board felt that it wasn't allowed. Are you confused yet? Wait, it gets better). Intepretation indeed. Then they spent two and a half hours of the public's time roasting the ZA over the coals for "over-regulating." Apparently some of them didn't know the politics behind the case. And I learned --how could I not have known already? --how fickle and forgetful most politicians are when they get on a podium in public and the topic is "deride government regulation." Forpitysake, I told them to begin with the damn thing didn't need a permit but they insisted on finding some way to permit it, in order to "control it." What was this thing, you ask? An unlighted wooden scoreboard at the local public ballpark that IMHO didn't fall into the category of "needing zoning approval" because it wasn't a sign, and it did not require a building permit due to its size and construction. Still, some insisted that if we didn't require them to get some sort of permit, they might build something bigger and light it & then they would be out of compliance & it would be a PR nightmare for the Town. Better to figure out some way to permit them. So I pulled out the permit application, they filled it out, then when it came time to pay the fee they balked because they are a "non-profit." The ordinance doesn't give any breaks for "non-profits," they have to pay just like you and me. But the two aforementioned councilmen decided at this point they shouldn't have to pay and we should change the ordinance. And besides, what was wrong with the scoreboard anyway? This is what you get when you have government by committee, and none of them have any training in this sort of thing. The trained one (me) ends up looking like the chimp watching a tennis match. I can't keep up with where the ball is coming from half the time, and the other half it is bonking me on the head.

I ask you: why do I do this? No, I ask myself. There is surely something for which my brain and energies are better suited.

All I ask is, tell me what the rules are. I don't care what they are, I just want someone to explain them to me. And don't blame me because you don't like the damn rules that you made. Even if I do work for the government. I'm just here, I'm not a criminal.

OK, I'll stop whining in a minute. I just have to get thru this and try to make some sense of it.

2. I understand people are mad at me because I had to miss most of last week due to aforementioned injury and illness. There are dozens of phone calls to return, even though I left an out-of-office message regarding my situation. Howsomever, I think I did a damn good job keeping up with things in spite of those challenges. We had 5 subdivisions in various stages of approvals to be heard at the Town Council meeting on Monday --and I sailed thru those with my requisite professionalism and "can-do" attitude. The engineers and applicants for the most part deserve nothing less --they, like me, are just doing their job. The developers rarely attend these meetings & when they do, they don't understand a word of what is happening. I long ago learned to separate the technical staff from the greedy.

3. To continue: What I did not need yesterday was the Mayor leaving a nasty voice mail --no, two nasty voice mails --stating that she had a complaint that I "cursed" a customer in my office and "this behavior will be cause for immediate termination if she hears about it again." This is absolutely ridiculous, I in no way "cursed" a customer or anyone or anything else, not even my foot, or the fact that for the past month my office has been upside down & I have been enduring construction of a new storage closet complete with new lighting and shelving, and have had nearly every piece of furniture re-arranged or replaced. Translation: can't find a thing, and can hardly think what to do with it when I do find it. Still, I kept my bitching to the blog and the Planner's list. Never once was I anything less than respectful to any person I encountered. Now, I may have had a few negative thoughts, especially toward the contractor who threatened my job when I declined to sign something he wanted signed that day without consulting as I had been required wtih the Planning Board Chairman first. She was unavailable, I left her a message. Not good enough. I was costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars. How did I like that on my conscience? I (again politely, but firmly) informed him I had nothing of the kind on my conscience, I had done what I could to get him an answer regarding the signature and was certain the Chairman would call back soon. I would get it taken care of as soon as was possible. He growled something absolutely insulting which I will not repeat. I lowered my voice as I do when I start to get angry, and stated that I did not allow attitude in my office, and he could leave this minute and send in the next person who was waiting out in the hall to see me. Explosion, consternation generale! I heard him stomp up the stairs and slam the door to the Administrator's office. I expect that is whence the accusation of cursing came. However, I am not guilty of cursing out loud. Perhaps silently. I am not as senseless as that would require. As I have said elsewhere today, I need this job, much as I hate it sometimes.

I would ask the Mayor tomorrow when we have our "meeting" about this and "other complaints she has received," for the respect she would give any normal person when investigating any complaint, and that is, the respect to ask, "Is there a problem? Can you tell me what happened?" For if that is not to be forthcoming, I think there will be a problem indeed. And I am not likely to hang around too much longer to discover the particulars. Life is much too short, and I am much too unhappy lately. A conversation with one of the local engineers who attended Monday night's meeting was enlightening and encouraging. He said, "I expect you'll land on your feet. Talk with the Mayor tomorrow. She's apparently forgotten how professional you always are --I suspect she must be buckling under some sort of pressure herself." Kind words, and helpful to hear.

Will try to put all this in its proper perspective, and march on toward whatever goal I am supposed to achieve. Surely that will manifest itself sooner than later.