Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

While so many are focused on the new and what is coming, I'm going to take for my model the Roman god Janus. Straddling the calendar's shift, today is a time for looking back.

A few years ago, I was invited to a Solstice ceremony. Everyone was asked to bring a piece of paper and to write down all those things that we wished to leave behind us in the dark. These papers were then burned to create the new light of things to come. So today I'm considering what needs to be left behind.

First, and foremost, is fear in all it's aspects. I am determined not to carry with me fear of financial disaster. It may very well hitch-hike along for the ride or pop up like a jack-in-the-box, but I'm not wrapping my arms around it or claiming it for my own. We are almost all in the very same leaky boat on that score so it is useless to worry about it. Whatever will come, will come and there is no use angst-ing about it in the meanwhile.

I'm also all done with the fear of rejection. Most of my life I've held myself back, generally assuming that my presence was not welcomed. This was based on nothing more than a lack of self-esteem as many people seem more than happy to have me around. Granted not everyone, but that is always going to be the case for everyone. And, only by risking the rejection do I open myself up to opportunity for acceptance. I figure a 50/50 split is probably do-able.

And the fear that makes its appearance through lack of trust has also got to go. I don't plan on being reckless by any means, but I do plan to allow folks to show me just how wonderful they are. If they don't, well they don't, but I'm thinking most of the people one comes across are worth the effort. And, if they aren't, they don't get the second shot at me.

I'm going to leave behind pain, as well. I don't think I get the option with physical pain, although if someone would like to cart off my migraines and bury them, I wouldn't object. I mean the emotional pain that clouds new joys. Like everyone, I've had my share, but it is not going to go forward into 2009 with me.

Resentment also has to go. I'd already taken steps to eliminate the most egregious causes of resentment, so it's just the niggly little things that require digging up at this point. But it is time to get out the trowel and dispose of them as well. I'll probably also give the heave-ho to the nasty little pet names that I have given to those resentment causers.

That seems like a lot. However, given that they are all rather heavy and no utter use to me, I expect that it will be a relief not to lug them around any longer. And, when one is tightly clutching things in one's hands, it makes it impossible to open those hands to receive new gifts. So, prior to lifting a glass to welcome in the new, these things need to be tossed over my shoulder first, without a backward glance.

Monday, December 29, 2008


"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better." Robert Redford.

As generally happens at this time of year, people's minds turn to resolutions and, most commonly, to losing weight in the new year. As I listen to people talk about their determination to lose weight, I can't help but notice that their language reflects attitudes of struggle and sacrifice which would seem to handicap their efforts. And there also seems to be an undercurrent of virtuousness behind those struggles. This got me to wondering about both diet and the wider issue of "noble" suffering.

The average American diet is widely acknowledged to be a nutritional nightmare. I think this stems in great part from our hurried attitude towards most things. We must have fast food, fast cars, fast downloads, fast you-name-it. And with this speed comes an inability to savor anything. Meals bolted on the run do nothing beyond fill the stomach and quiet hunger for a while. Food swallowed whole has no opportunity to play on the tongue, although in the case of fast food that is probably for the best. We pursue neither nutrition nor enjoyment in our meals.

We look at dieting for weight loss as self-deprivation, further hampering our efforts. We focus on what we "can't" eat or on what we "should" do, eliminating from consideration what we can and may do. This simply has to set us up for defeat even before we've begun.

How might it be different if we looked at it from an attitude of self-indulgence rather than lack? I believe Alan Watts once wrote that if we were true hedonists we wouldn't consume more and more, we would insist on only the best. This would involve a bit of a time commitment, but what if we spent a few minutes finding the best tomatoes at the grocery or took the time to find the perfect pear? The enjoyment of them would begin from that moment and extend through the preparation and consumption. Surely this indulgence would enhance the experience and take away the feelings of deprivation. It would also lead to healthier eating overall, which might, just maybe, help us achieve our other eating related goals.

My other thoughts were set to unraveling the notion that suffering is somehow more virtuous than enjoyment. Perhaps this is a worn out hang over from the mythos of our Puritan ancestors, but it does seem to weave its way through our cultural consciousness. If I am miserable, I must be good and if I'm not, not. I'm not sure why this has stuck with us, but I vote that we attempt to un-stick it.

We could enhance our diets, our enjoyment, our lives by indulging ourselves in the freshest foods available, pleasing to both eye and palate. We could lovingly prepare nutritious, attractive meals for ourselves and our families. We could gratefully indulge in good tasting and good looking dishes. We could pamper our bodies with the best we could find. Certainly there is more virtue to be found in taking care of the one and only body that we've got than in trying to whip it in to shape. The result would be most likely the same and it would have to be better for our psyches.

If we consciously approached our eating, and indeed all of our lives, as a good to be enjoyed, we could also eat the occasional Oreo with no ill effects.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


There are many different types of silence: good silence, bad silence, silences that are meaningful and those that are truly no more than an absence of sound, full silences and empty silences. While being snowed in recently, I noticed an increase in several types of silence, some comfortable and some decidedly uncomfortable. And I began to think about these various silences and how they impact me.

The snowstorm imparted a deep physical silence. The snow itself muffled most of the everyday background noise that we tend to ignore in the course of our daily lives. The shutdown of ground and air traffic filtered out even more of the man-made sounds until one felt quite cocooned in a blanket of quiet. In the beginning it was comforting, even inspiring, like being new born into a new world. After several days, however, this very same silence became oppressive and I found comfort in the sound of the heater kicking on and resorted to electronic noise-makers to keep me company.

So what had changed? The silence remained what it was, mere silence. The duration had lengthened, but not beyond anything I hadn't tolerated deliberately before. I thought about other times when I had purposefully entered into silence for up to seven days, when the silence did not oppress me.

On those occasions, I chose to go into silence as a retreat from the noise and busy-ness of my life. The silence was an escape that I had freely and eagerly embraced. It represented an opportunity for rest, reflection, and a break from the more distasteful parts of my life. Sometimes I was alone and other times I shared the silence with others, but, in every case, the more deeply I allowed myself to sink into the silence the quieter I became internally and my thoughts were freed to gently drift into whatever paths seemed most restful or enlightening.

These planned forays into the depths of silence fed me in ways that constant chatter simply could not. In fact, after extended periods in silence, I found re-entry into the so-called real world to be extremely jarring and would find myself very quickly overloaded by the stimulation. I had to plan gradual re-introduction of activities for awhile.

Given my appetite for extended silence, I was surprised when I found myself uncomfortable with the silence of being snowbound. Not only was the world itself seemingly mute, but my phone took that opportunity to fail and I couldn't get out to replace it for 3 days.

I think my discomfort came from a couple of different sources. The first being that this silence was unplanned and of unknown duration. The first 4 days were enjoyable for me. I blissfully spent my days reading and knitting, admiring the snow falling outside and quite content with the reduction in responsibilities to be met. Then, sometime during day 4, I began to feel stifled by the very same silence that I had previously savored. It came to represent isolation and loneliness for me. The silence had to be broken, even shattered.

I don't think I was alone in this. While trudging a mile to the store and then back again, there were several people risking slips and falls to be outside, some were even skiing down the street. Everyone seemed friendly and eager to connect with others. I met neighbors that I hadn't even seen in the entire three years I've lived here. And the break in the silence enabled me to remain in the silence again when the snow began to fall once more.

The second source of my discomfort seems to have been that I am simply out of practice with being in silence, externally or internally. The hurry, struggle and chaos of the last few years left me unprepared for both the gifts and the challenges that silence brings. My muscles have gone flabby which means I should probably make plans to exercise my internal silence more in the new year. It is time to re-develop my skills in just being instead of doing. I've allowed myself to fall prey to the misconception that activity endows meaning and purpose.

Despite succumbing to a bit of isolation craziness, I think I've learned the lesson that the silence of the snowstorm had to give me. Now to see if I can retain it through the thaw.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow Revisited

I know, I know, previously I was all Zen-like about the snow storm. Yarn, rabbit, cocoa all at the ready, I would not be daunted by what passes for a snow storm in the Pacific Northwest. But the stuff is still coming down and they are predicting that we will be inside for at least two more days, if not longer. So what has changed? It isn't the snow, obviously, but the old mental state is slowly but surely shifting into the slightly batty range.

It isn't like I'm the sort that would be chomping at the bit to get out to do last-minute Christmas shopping. I avoid that like the plague, generally engaging in one dash to the stores to get anything that I can't acquire quickly on-line. I'm aware that we could be housebound through Christmas, but I don't feel any angst about that element of the situation. However, ramen for Christmas dinner might be a bit off-putting.

We're fortunate that our electricity is holding steady and so the heat is on. Don't have to worry about excessive cold. I am a bit miffed that the few festivities that I had planned on attending were canceled. Lost out on some much valued socializing there. But that's hardly enough to send me slipping towards the edge.

As I smugly watched others go bats after two days, I didn't imagine that this would continue to the point that I would join them, but here I seem to go. Why? As is my wont, I've been giving the situation a think and I have come up with a possible answer, or at least a partial one.

I first noticed myself slipping when I realized that I had not done enough grocery shopping for an extended snow-in. I'd gone to the store on Friday to pick up a few necessities, but I did not stock the pantry by any stretch of the imagination. Now this is a crucial point for me. When I was a child, the month always exceeded the paycheck and I learned to value a well stocked pantry. It symbolized security (as well as meals) to me. So this extended snow must be rattling my inner sense of security on some level, despite the fact that I am warm and fed at the moment.

This, of course, leads my mind to other security issues. Could that be the reason so many find themselves with, what is lightly referred to as, cabin fever? Is there a loss of security in being stuck inside? In spite of the fact that inside is safer than outside, I think this might be it, at least in part. When we can direct our days in any manner we like, we have a sense of safety in that we never have to face our constant and very real vulnerability to life. When Mother Nature asserts herself in our lives to the point that we cannot make choices that we otherwise would, we come face to face with the idea that ultimately, in some senses at least, we do not control our own destiny, whether that destiny be a trip to the grocery store or keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. We may not recognize this threat overtly, but when we are constricted, it burbles around in our subconscious and niggles at our sense of well-being.

All of us like to think that we are in control, on one level or another. Even though I often acknowledge that I have very little control over what life decides to serve up, I also like to control the little things to give myself the comfortable illusion of control. But a blizzard, or an earthquake or a hurricane, will very quickly send that illusion flying out the window. And, perhaps, this is why we become so very uncomfortable internally, as well as physically, during such times.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


We've had several snow days recently, but only today has it increased to a level of a bona fide snow storm. So today, there will be no heading out at whim, no quick dash to the store, no going out. Period. This has its good points and a few irksome points.

I sit here watching the snow blow outside my window, collecting in lovely clumps on the camellia, admiring the contrast between the whiteness and the deep green leaves. The wind speeds up periodically causing the falling snow to swirl and it makes it feel colder somehow. The birds have disappeared, no sight at all of the ubiquitous crows that live around my home. The cool blue winter light filters through the windows giving the room a chill. And I see that the tenacious rosebud has finally given up the struggle.

I've spent most of the day puttering. The chores have been virtuously completed and a quantity of knitting has been done. In the background, A Christmas Carol is playing on the television. There is no need to go out and so I find myself content to stay in, separated from the winter outside. This was not the case earlier in the week.

During the earlier snows, when the city shut down for no apparent reason, I found myself quite restless and resentful of inactivity. It got me to thinking about the nature of cabin fever and why it hits sometimes but not at others. Today, just like those earlier days this week, I am inside and most definitely will not be going out. But today I am content whereas before I was not. So, what is the difference?

Previously, I had plans for my days and evenings and could see no good reason for those plans to be disrupted. Having grown up in a different part of the country, part of me does not totally understand how such a little bit of weather can have such widespread effect. So I went out while others stayed in lamenting their inactivity. I just wasn't fazed by it. And, I'll admit, I was also a bit cocky about my Midwestern experience of "real" winters. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect bad weather and won't engage in foolishness during a storm, but my definition of bad weather is a bit stronger than some folks.

Having had my earlier plans thwarted by what I considered insufficient reason, I really struggled with the imposed inside isolation. I thought it was because I was not able to have full freedom and control of my own activities. But I don't know that that was quite correct. Today, I am also confined to the house, as the snow continues to fall all day long. But I do not feel any of the restlessness that accompanies cabin fever for me. I am no less restricted than those earlier days, in fact, I am more snowed in now. And yet, I am content.

Perhaps the difference in my reaction lies in the recognition that this particular storm is its own restriction. It isn't imposed on me by others deciding that the weather could be bad enough to cancel my plans. This hemming in of my options is due to a truer reality than what I perceived as the timidity of others. There is no arguing with an actual storm and, thus, I don't feel constrained. I could be wrong about this. It could be that two or more days of "real" weather inactivity will bring cabin fever just as the other days did. But, for now, I am content to curl up in my chair, with my rabbit at my feet, and knit the day away.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


"I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks." Daniel Boone.

This quote tickled me when I first came across it and I was sorely tempted to write it off as 18th century machismo. But then my mind got churning on what it means when we say that we are lost. And, I suspected, that it would relate to something other than wandering through uncharted territory. Daniel Boone just might have been onto something here.

Unlike Mr. Boone most of us never open up previously unexplored physical territories. I think the last human to do that may have been Neil Armstrong. But the rest of us mere mortals are constantly exploring the uncharted territory of ourselves or, at least, we could be. And sometimes on that trek we feel that we may be lost. But what if, like Daniel Boone, we are only confused for a while?

How might we become "lost" on this most important of journeys of discovery? One way might be that we are given incorrect directions. Any time someone tells us who we are or what we should do or where we should go, there is the possibility of our losing our way. These helpful others may wish us well and be trying to help, or they may not wish us well and be trying to control, but, whatever the motivation, it is very likely that they are wrong simply because they cannot know our interior landscape in the intimate way that we do ourselves. And should we alter our course to accommodate their direction, we run the risk of becoming profoundly confused about our path, our identity.

Another way could be when we choose to ignore our own intuition and neglect to follow the signs we see along the way. Those "aha" moments that we shout down internally so as to make ourselves conform to what is defined as practicality. We stop ourselves from reaching for the stars because that would not be prudent and, thus, we put blinders on, shielding our sight from a better path for us.

Still another method is to follow only the established paths begun by others with the street sign labeled "THE WAY", whether that be the path of established rules of business, religion or society. By denying ourselves the opportunity to question and explore, we also deny ourselves the possibility to discover and celebrate our unique vision and expression of life, to be our true selves.

Granted risk taking is, well, riskier, but the sure things seem to give much less in the way of personal rewards and growth. The innovators of mankind, in every sphere of human activity, have always been those who take the risks, think outside of the box, and dare to be themselves. Our risks do not have to be grand, earth-shattering events designed to touch all mankind. Indeed, they most likely will take humbler forms, such as not saying "yes" when we really want to say "no". Or asking for what we really need in our lives, or opening our hearts to another so that we allow ourselves to be known. Reaching for what would truly feed our spirits does not mean that we will be able to grasp it all, but it might cut down on the periods of self-confusion and those sad feelings of having lost our way and our very selves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wind and Longing

The wind has been a spiritual metaphor for many things in my life. Today it speaks to me of longing. In all its various guises, it stirs gentle memories and raging passions, joyous laughter and wistful sighs.

In its lightest, most elusive form, a breeze that barely flutters a leaf, it carries a snippet of a forgotten tune or the whiff of long ago cooking drifting through a youth with rare pleasures. It teases out partial memories and gently tugs out a desire for days that cannot return, for things that should have been, for people who should have stayed. It is the quiet voice of loss that never is totally silenced.

Another is like the cool breeze of spring, moving the grass with waves of hopeful promise of what yet might be. Stirrings of new life skirting through the trees carrying the scent of turned earth and budding flowers and disappearing down the lane, leaving a laughing invitation to follow in its wake. Running after it to discover what is just beyond our sight, offering promises of new joys.

Most invigorating perhaps are the roaring passions of the storm winds, stirring up feelings of depth and intensity that awake awareness of life lived to its limits in ways the breeze cannot even hint at. It couples power and risk, offering those who are not too timid to reach for fulfillment, if only they will dare. It blows away the dross and leaves a landscape cleared of the usual, offering new perspective and new possibilities.

There are long, lonely winds that whistle at our windows on cold evenings. These winds keen to us of loneliness and loss. Like mourners crying low in pain, they resurrect old sorrows and current emptiness and refuse to subside for their season.

Even the lack of wind leaves its own special longing. The hot, stuffy days, when there is no movement, feel pregnant with waiting -- waiting for the merest stir of the air which signals relief. And that relief could come in the slightest of breezes or the strongest of tornadoes, any movement at all that would disperse the stagnation and weight of humidity and heat. Setting in motion the desire for change at, almost, any cost.

Each longing has its own wind, its own time, its own expression. The winds of relationship seem to be ever present, if variable in type. There are very few places in life or on earth that have the same wind at all times. But the wind itself is constantly present, just as longing within the human heart is always present. And I notice which wind of longing is blowing and from which direction in the same way that a sailor must. I also wonder which way it will shift and what corrections in course I will have to make in order to accommodate it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Outside my kitchen window on this chilly December day is a coral-colored rosebud stubbornly clinging to the top of an otherwise barren bush. I have been watching this little bud for several weeks now, speculating as to when it would succumb to the inevitable and reflecting on the lesson of this almost flower for myself.

I wonder at its timidity in keeping closed in on itself, holding itself tightly, afraid to open up and share itself. Did it not get something that it needed to bloom? Was it missing adequate light or love? Surely, it didn't fear that its beauty would be rejected or ignored, that its sisters would outshine it. Perhaps it believed that it came too late to the feast and felt unable to participate, left on the outside looking in.

I marvel at its tenacity, holding on through rain, wind and chill, never letting go of its tenuous hold on life. Unfulfilled and yet more long lived than its cohorts, keeping a tight grip on possibility long after its season of hope.

How many of us are like this little bud at one time or another? Fearful of showing our core, we hold ourselves tightly closed with only the barest hint of our sweetness escaping. Perhaps, when first we tried to bloom, the air was chilled with rejection. Maybe our roots were not nourished with the warm mulch of love. Or we were pruned back too severely by convention and expectation. And yet we cling to the hope of possibility that we have not, in fact, missed our blooming.

But, unlike this rosebud, we do not fall after a season. We have the possibility to nurture ourselves during the fallow times, to aerate our roots, trim back the dead and open ourselves up to the possibility of blooming again in the spring. We have multiple seasons. And, as I notice my own growing and changing, and that of others around me, I feel a little less chilled by the sight of this tiny, unfinished flower. I can continue to dig around my roots, add new components and hope for an even more lush blooming with the change of a new year.

Certainly it is riskier, this always becoming. Next season may produce not even a bud for all the effort. It could, in fact, kill off the entire bush. But the possibility of expansive growth seems to be worth the risk. It is necessary to trim off the bud of lost hopes in order to cultivate the potential for what may yet be.

".... and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -Anais Nin.

Monday, December 1, 2008


"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Jack London.

Not being a fan of Jack London's work, I was surprised when this quote caught my attention. And, while I reject his muy macho, blood-thirsty image, it has got me thinking about the nature of inspiration.

According to the Online Etymology dictionary, the word inspiration comes from the ideas of breathing in life or animating with an idea. This life/animation can take many forms and come from unlikely sources. It also depends on the disposition of the receiver. So, it would seem, that inspiration is that point where the external possibility joins with internal receptivity to create something new.

I believe London was correct that passive waiting for inspiration to arrive is useless. But he was wrong in his attacking analogy. It is more akin to farming than hunting. It requires a fertile ground on which to fall, a welcoming climate, and careful cultivation and nurturing until the fruit springs forth.

One of the components must be time. While I have had the occasional poem spring, seemingly, fully formed from my mind or heart; most of my writing comes from taking the time to write, manipulating words and thoughts until the result bears some resemblance to what inspired it. But beyond the actual time spent writing is the time taken to notice and observe what is around me and within me, hoping to catch sight of what will inspire me next. Always turning things over, looking for unexpected facets and ideas.

Another piece is the rich compost of everything around us. There are lofty ideas, heroic personalities and jaw-dropping beauty which offer insights for creativity. But those things may be too limited. There is a much larger crop of the so-called mundane around us that offers new possibilities for the mind that is ready to receive them. They are more accessible and immediate to us than the Elgin Marbles and offer new windows into the beauty that exists all around us. No less than their more magnificent counterparts, the daily-ness of these things offers us the opportunity to step beyond what we might otherwise overlook.

A few years ago, I was at an Arlo Guthrie concert. And Arlo was talking about how he came to write a particular song. He said that he believed that songs and ideas were floating all around us. He said that this song was written during a time when he and James Taylor were sharing a house. He believed that it sounded like a James Taylor song, but when it floated past Arlo was the one who had the pencil. I believe Arlo was right and inspiration visits those that are ready for it.

And it is not only the artistic or officially creative among us that these things can enrich. This cultivation of inspiration requires only that we show up and open a space within ourselves to receive it. How it will then express itself is limitless. Some will write or paint or compose. Others will concoct a perfect salad or create a welcoming home. Still others will create an inspiring lesson or a beautiful garden. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter how it expresses itself, so long as we allow it expression in our lives. Whether it be small or large, the result will enhance its moment and place in our lives. All we have to do is watch for the opportunities all around us.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." Mark Twain.

I'm generally of a mind to think that Mark Twain was correct about most things. But perhaps no more so than when he said this. Despite the fact that my life has not been all hearts and flowers, I've usually been able to find something to laugh about, even if it is only my own foibles. And I believe that those who cannot or will not laugh are taking themselves far too seriously.

One of my earliest realizations of my tendency to laugh in the face of problems came when I was a 17 year old college freshman. For the first time in my life, I was on my own and very concerned about my ability to succeed. So I sought out one of the university's counselors to hash out my worries. At one point during our conversation, he leaned back in his chair, smiled broadly and said, "You will never go crazy." Odd little pronouncement, I thought, so I asked him why not. He said it was because of my sense of humor. At which I told him that that was a rotten thing to say as I thought it might be much easier to have doctors supply me with lots of lovely drugs and order my life for me!

A few years later, in the early 1980s, I was living in Texas. Folks were up in arms about a group of local KKK members getting a parade permit for a march through town. There was a lot of discussion about how or if to respond and the ideas ran from the benign to the bizarre. One friend of mine had what I thought was a brilliant idea. He said that everyone should line the parade route in silence and, as the ridiculous people in their bedsheets progressed along the route, everyone should begin giggling. Given that the KKK is not known for their sense of humor, perhaps it would have ended badly. But it would have been a lovely thing to see attempted.

Amazingly, even death can have its sting lessened a bit by laughter. My maternal grandfather's family did not engage in hushed reverent funerals. There was always loud conversation and story telling going on. And, if one didn't know better, or notice the casket, one might have thought a party was in full swing. When my grandfather died, the once large extended family had disbursed, but the tradition still held among those remaining. One of my grandfather's nephews, whom I had never met, came in and began telling us a story about my grandfather. It seems that my grandfather had taken him on fishing trips as a boy. And he'd let my grandfather know that he was fond of Milky Way candy bars. My grandfather knew no moderation in supplying things that people liked. And he gave his nephew so many candy bars when they went fishing that the kid invariably got sick. And didn't much want the candy any more. Laughter ensued because we each had our Milky Way equivalent. Mine was strawberry ice cream......still can't touch the stuff, although I do look at it longingly sometimes in the grocery store. And we won't get into what happened to get me laughing uproariously in the ladies room at the funeral home. I still don't know which one of my relatives heard me and beat a quick exit. The laughter didn't eliminate the pain I was feeling, but it brought those of us remaining closer together and it is the laughter I remember now, more than the pain.

I find that I don't much trust people who don't laugh. Granted at a given moment someone may be in too much pain to laugh, but there are some that never, ever laugh and it makes me suspicious. People who can laugh together generally do not hurt each other. And those who can laugh at themselves are usually gentler with those around them. Victor Borge once said that laughter is the shortest distance between two people. And what a lovely way to close the gap.

Friday, November 28, 2008


My first encounter with ethical relativism came rather early in life in, of all places, Sunday school. There we were, all of 11 or 12 years of age, discussing good and evil, being very sure that we knew the difference. One of us, and I hope it wasn't me, piped up with the proclamation that we would never steal. Our teacher responded that we should never say there was anything we would never do because we could not know that. She then said that she was absolutely certain that she would steal if it was the only way to feed her children. That certainly gave us pause. I don't know that any of us were less certain of our own correct behavior at that point, but, for me at least, it did make me a bit less judgmental of other people's behavior.

As I got older and saw more of life, I came to the realization that there are very few black and white, good and evil distinctions in this world and that all we can do is decide where on the gray scale to be in any situation. And sometimes that choice will be something that others will neither understand nor approve of. This all came back to me recently when I found myself in a dispute with a young person whose world is very much black and white. There could be no meeting of the minds because, in his view, both of us could not be right and so he had to fight tooth and nail to assert his own correctness. So, while releasing him to his own opinions, I found myself revisiting the issue of right and wrong and what it means in my life.

What is black? Genocide, rape, child abuse, wholesale destruction for profit, all seem to fall into that category for me. But other seemingly black ethical concerns can be slid to the dark gray end of the scale depending on circumstances. For example, ending another human life is an ill that becomes less black in certain cases and even our laws and society acknowledge this fact. A cold blooded murder is not the same thing as killing in self-defense and we all admit as much.

What is white? Love, care for the innocent, peace making, altruistic giving seem to be good in and of themselves. However, these things, no less than their blacker counter parts, can slip into the pale to mid-level gray areas. If unselfish care for another leads to a total abnegation of one's own needs and bitterness ensues, there is no beauty in those acts.

The grays predominate in every life and vary depending on an individual's time, history and circumstances. We like to think ourselves better than that but we might just be perpetuating a comfortable fiction which insulates us from ourselves. My Sunday school teacher was right and I no longer believe that there are things I absolutely would not do, although I sincerely hope that there are some. As much as it shakes my non-violent beliefs, I am certain that there are even some cases in which I would resort to physical violence, all the while hoping that I never have to find that out.

What is to be done with this relativistic life? What does it mean to make moral or ethical choices in such an atmosphere? It seems to require much more of us in the way of self-reflection and in identifying what guiding star we wish to follow. In holding that before us, always ready to adjust our course, perhaps we can steer more truly through whatever waters we may find ourselves in. It requires our constant attention and examination in order to avoid drifting into unwanted channels or crashing on the rocks. And, if at the end of the day, we can honestly say we did our best with what was before us, we can hardly wish for more.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Flying and Strawberries

"Would God give a bird wings and make it a crime to fly?" - Robert G. Ingersoll.

I've been musing on this quote for a couple of weeks now. Obviously, the author isn't talking about birds, but what might it mean regarding people? So much of our training, conditioning and up-bringing seems focused on controlling ourselves, which seems to frequently entail a very long list of what we may not do. And, sadly, it seems to end up curtailing self-expression and the enjoyment of many of life's pleasures. And my thinking leads me to conclude that this is simply ungrateful.

A turning point in my thinking about enjoyment happened well into my 30's on the occasion of my first massage. Having grown up in a time, place, and tradition that frowned on physical pleasure, it took some hard thinking on my part to decide to sign up for the massage. I was on a week-long silent religious retreat and massage was an option available on request. I knew one of the therapists. She explained what I could expect and suggested that I think about it. In a few hours, I'd thought enough to give it a shot. After all, I knew her and trusted her, what could possibly be wrong with it?

I was very nervous, but I signed up and managed to not cancel the appointment. Little did I know that it would have not just a physical effect, but also a spiritual effect on me. The room was dimly lit and as I lay face down on the table, I very slowly began to relax. The therapist asked if anything hurt. I told her that nothing did. How little I knew about my body and it's sensations. When she put her hands on my shoulders, I almost raised off the table, they were so painful. She told me that that was frequently the way, that we often don't recognize the pain that we are carrying around with us. As she gently started working on the knots, I ever so slowly relaxed and my mind began to drift as I casually examined the sensations. At one point, my mind followed a thought that was so strong that I almost heard it. "If we were only meant to have bread and water, why did God make strawberries?" I managed to maintain my relaxed state through the rest of the massage, but my mind was on fire for many days after that.

Why indeed? Everything in my background supported the notion that life was suffering. One was not to expect anything because that would only lead to disappointment. That there was, in fact, some sort of virtue in suffering. But now I had the evidence of the strawberries to contend with. For the first time in my life, I came face to face with the idea that life, every bit of it, was to be enjoyed rather than endured. And, further, to refuse to enjoy it was tantamount to ungratefully throwing the gift back at the Giver. It took another decade or so for this realization to solidify in my life, but it has remained, quietly nudging me to clearer recognition and response.

We refuse so many of the pleasurable gifts of life, whether through a sense of decorum and propriety or that of following what is expected. We smile when a child cheerfully skips past us, but we would never skip ourselves. We don't sing aloud, laugh aloud or love aloud for fear of being unseemly or improper. We don't reach for the brass ring because we might fail or look foolish in the attempt. We never indulge ourselves in massage or rich foods or long lingering looks because.....because.....why?

One of the gifts we have is that of our senses. Our nerves and emotions fire pleasure through our brains, if we but allow them to. But more often than not we clip our own wings and refuse to fly. Sometimes out of necessity, but other times out of a fear of disapproval from others. Each of us have different potential pleasurable paths before us; it is only for us to choose our preferred way. What sorts of grateful flights are we denying ourselves? And what would it take for each of us to fly?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A kind word

As children we all repeated a little chant: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." We did so in an attempt to turn away hurtful things someone else had said to or about us. As we grew older, we learned that words not only could hurt us, they could devastate us. And some of us then learned to be careful of our own use of words and to protect ourselves from the words of others.

Odd, then, how we were never taught about the healing use of words as well as the hurtful ones. How we can say a small thing that will brighten and transform the life of another, in large ways or small ways, often without our even knowing that we have done so. We can say just the thing someone has needed to hear and bring joy where there had previously been pain. We can make both small and large contributions to someone else's self image merely by opening our mouths and saying a heartfelt kind word.

Many years ago, I was walking down a deserted hallway in a university building. A strange woman, whom I had never seen before, was walking towards me. We exchanged the usual acknowledgments of each others' existence and kept on walking. I have no recollection of my state of mind or mood, but in fairly short order, this woman was about to lift it in a way that I have never forgotten. She had just passed me when she stopped, turned back and said, "Has anyone ever told you? You have the most beautiful eyes." This unsolicited compliment from a total stranger did so much to improve that day for me that I remember the moment some 20 years later and, I'm sure, this nice woman has absolutely no memory of it at all. It was just one kind act in what was probably a long series of kind acts in her life.

On another more recent occasion, about 6 or 7 years ago, in re-living a very traumatic event in my life in a very public place, several people approached me with very kind words. But one very dear human said something to me that changed my life. I didn't know it at the time, but I had been holding my breath for 24 years waiting to hear precisely the words he said to me. I was in a bit of a shocked state, so I don't know if he ever realized what a gift he had given me, but it transformed my life and permanently lifted the power of something that had haunted me for many, many years. And I will be eternally grateful.

All too easily we internalize the negative, hurtful words and dismiss the kind ones as though they have less power. Recently, I have been collecting and savoring kind words from others. Usually, they come very unexpectedly and I've learned to reply with a genuine smile and a thank you rather than the expected self-deprecating denial. And then I hug the words to me to savor their warmth for a time. In the past two weeks alone, I've collected quite a few lovely adjectives said to me or about me to others, which cause me to smile and see myself a bit more as others do, a bit more clearly, more positively.

And I am trying to more consciously put those same good feelings back out to others. It is not difficult at all to give half a minute to a genuine compliment or insight to someone. It is so very simple to say, "I just love that you are always so X." "I think it is great when you do Y." "Do you know how wonderful you are?" Anything at all, so long as it is true and good, may be the very thing that someone else needs to hear to make their day or heal some pain. It costs us nothing to boost each other up. There is no need to be suspicious of the motives or intention of these words. And, just like those two people from my past, it may help someone in ways we may never ever realize.

I can't help but believe that if more of us engaged in spontaneous acts and words of kindness that all of us would be better off. I don't know if it would lead to world peace, but it might lead to a lot more inner peace, and it certainly wouldn't lead to more conflict. And it costs us nothing to try.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I've always been drawn to fog. It has never had any of the negative associations with me that it has for others. I have respect for it and wouldn't do anything foolhardy like drive around in the pea-soup variety. But it has a decidedly mystical quality that draws me.

Even as a child, I relished autumn walks through the woods near my home as the fog wafted its way between the trees. It never felt frightening or secretive, but rather, it felt alive and as if it were inviting me to dance with it. And dance I did with the fog and my friends the trees hiding me from the more unpleasant parts of my young life. Perhaps it is my early good connections with fog, or maybe its the fact that my relationship with it has grown over the years, but there is no other form of weather that speaks to me on such a deep and spiritual level.

Fog has so many faces. The lightest mists have a quality of filtering away rough edges and softening everything, giving an invitation to enter more deeply into the surrounding landscape. As it thickens slightly, it also muffles and softens sound so that any harshness there also loses its power to disturb. At this point any breeze sets the fog stirring and it is as though you can see the breath of the Creator weave its way through its creation, blessing everything it touches. When it thickens still more, things begin to disappear and I feel wrapped in safety and love.

I wonder at how I form a small, non-foggy oasis in the mist. It surrounds me yet is not within me. I am with it, but perhaps, not of it. I feel softened, yet not invisible. It circles me, plays with me and comforts me. I always look forward to its arrival and happily hurry to join it, to be one with it.

Wisps of nothing
tango through the trees,
covering all sins.
The garbage, the buildings
and man
Artless Beauty comes out to dance.
Mother Nature pretending
that all is as
it should be.


The leaves are dying.
Red and gold,
fluttering in the breeze;
dancing with secret mirth.

The winds come through,
The weak let go;
tumbling and playing
over the ground.

The rains begin,
The remainder fall;
clogging gutters and streets,
seeming, at last, to be dead.

The rotting begins.
Pregnant smells in the air;
rich and earthy,
returning to their source.

Food for the future.
New buds in the spring.
In fact, it seems
they did not die.

Monday, November 17, 2008


"There is no such thing as security. There never has been." Germaine Greer.

I've been thinking about this quote for several days. It seems be both bold and, oddly, liberating to me.

We seem to spend our lives chasing after and working for security whether it be financial, emotional or physical. And, while I can certainly understand the desire, I am perplexed by the frantic way in which we pursue it. I have longed for this sort of security for as long as I can remember, but I can't help thinking that we seem to be chasing a will-o-the-wisp.

Certainly, the current economic situation has people very much afraid for their current and future financial security. But my finances were precarious before the recent events began, so I don't think that is what has set my mind to working on this question. Having grown up poor, I intimately know the stress of financial insecurity. We stretched a gallon of milk twice as far using powdered milk, Kraft macaroni and cheese was five boxes for a dollar, and I watched my mother stay up all night sewing so that we would have new clothes to wear. Jobs can disappear in a moment and child support fails to come. As an adult, I traded quite a bit of the rest of my needs in life for the illusion of financial security and, in the end, it simply wasn't worth it.

Emotionally, every last one of us has experienced disappointments and hurts that prove that security is an uncertain commodity there as well. There are exceptions, sometimes a great many of them, but there is never security here either. It begins when your best friend in kindergarten decides she really likes Sally better than you and continues right through to the one you thought was THE ONE, who couldn't be that one for you or anyone else.

Physically, we are vulnerable every second that we breathe. I heard someone once say that from the day of our birth, we begin to die and, no matter how much we would like to pretend otherwise, it is true. Friends and loved ones have been vibrant one minute and dead the next through heart attacks or accidents. Others waste away before our helpless eyes. Natural disasters, diseases and calamities hover at the edges of our existence. And violence, which may not kill our bodies, can steal our spirits in a flash.

So, why do I find this quote both potentially liberating and comforting? In acknowledging the reality of insecurity, I feel that I am opening myself up to more fully appreciate the many positive experiences that I have. By not wrapping myself in bubble wrap and believing myself to be safe and secure, I think it may be better for me to fall into the insecurity. By acknowledging the possibility of loss, I believe I enhance the experiences by feeling more gratitude for the blessings of each and every good thing that comes my way. By insulating ourselves from pain, we can also numb ourselves to joy and that is what I sincerely hope to avoid. I think it may allow fuller expression of our true selves. And, while I will continue to make sure my pantry is stocked, I hope to live more in the blissful moments that present themselves.

Blogger Tag

Being relatively new to the whole internet networking thing, I had no idea what it meant to be tagged. However, I'm happy to participate and, perhaps, stir up some traffic for some of my favorite bloggers.

First of all, I'm giving a big recommendation for Chris, who tagged me. She's an internet buddy that I've just recently met in real life. She is also an amazing photographer. Her stunning black and white photos of places in Portland can be seen at her blog Portland at Night (

Next, I'm supposed to share 5 factoids about myself.

1. I have a tattoo. I want two more. Nice girls from the Midwest are not supposed to want or have tattoos. Go figure.

2. I do not have depth perception. I generally like to tell people this when I'm driving them down the freeway at a high rate of speed, just to freak them out.

3. I own a banjo, but haven't yet learned to play it.

4. I plan to learn belly dancing once I lose a bit more weight.

5. I enjoy bird watching.

And for part 3, I'm to recommend other blogs that people might like to read.

Since I haven't had an opportunity to clear this with any of the folks I'd like to recommend, I will leave this blank. However, if you check which blogs I'm following (and I think you can do this on my blog profile) you may find something that you would enjoy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


For the uninitiated, KIPing stands for Knitting in Public. I've always engaged in it in a limited way. Whenever I knew I'd have to wait in doctors' offices or while the boys were doing something, I'd take along a portable project to fill my time. I never thought much about it. It was just something I did while waiting, until recently.

During the past month or so, I've had different opportunities to participate in KIPing with groups of women and it has me thinking about what this more deliberate, non-waiting public knitting is about for me.

First of all, it is fun to sit and talk with people that share a common interest and vocabulary. We can commiserate over having to "tink" something (unknit a mistake) or "frog" a failed project (unravel completely). There are discussions of patterns and yarns, along with the universal need to touch whatever other people are working on. There is also the ready help or advice when tackling a new technique. But these things aren't part of the public aspect of the knitting, although jokes are made about the subversiveness of knitting and how we are aiming for world domination by knitters.

The intriguing part of public knitting for me comes from the reaction of the non-knitters passing through the public space. These reactions seem to change depending on where one is knitting and whether or not you are alone or one of a large group.

Waiting room knitting is scarcely noticed. It is akin to reading old magazines to pass the time and gets only the quick question about what you are making from whatever doorkeeper may be present. Knitting at a yarn shop hardly qualifies as knitting in public at all. Everyone in the place knits and it is just a social gathering. Knitting at the mall is an entirely different experience. People scurrying between shops do not give much attention beyond watching while they approach, although they must be curious as to why nine women are knitting in the mall.

The most interesting experience I've had so far has been at a bakery. About ten women were gathered around several tables pushed together happily talking and knitting away. The staff were happy to see us. The twenty-somethings didn't know what to make of us. A couple of middle-age men struck up a cheerful conversation and jokingly solicited handmade sweaters for themselves. And an elderly gentleman walked in, couldn't take his eyes off of us and couldn't seem to stop smiling either. It made me wonder if he were remembering a dear one in his life who had been a knitter.

For me, these last examples of fleeting connection encourage me to continue to seek out other opportunities to be seen knitting. Perhaps it is the anachronistic quality of knitting or, maybe, it is the fact that several of us were doing it together, but something engaged, at least briefly, those who crossed our path. And human connection is always a good thing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


We could all probably offer any number of proverbs encouraging people to be industrious and to avoid idleness, to be practical and to work hard. We've heard since we were children that we shouldn't just sit around, but that we should DO something. We brag about how busy we are and qualify any enjoyable activity with "just" -- just reading, just thinking. There are even public service announcements encouraging us to sit down and have dinner with those we love. We're too busy to write, too busy to talk, to get together, to take a break, to live our lives. How did we come to such a state and why? I'm not sure I know even after observing the phenomenon for many years. It's as though we've hung every notion of our self-worth on how busy we are.

I'm not a historian so I can't pinpoint when this snowball got its start careening downhill. But it seems that each technological advance or labor saving device designed to make our work easier has, in some sense, taken away more of our time. There appears to be something in us that will not or can not say enough is enough. And I have been just as guilty as anyone.

When I was a stay at home mom, it wasn't enough for me to be chief cook and bottle washer. I sewed and baked, wove and knitted, did the driving, took care of the children and became the queen of all volunteers. I felt guilty for going away two or three weekends a year as if I didn't deserve the time off. And I wonder if that might be a part of society's endless pursuit of productivity, guilt.

But I also suspect that this false virtue of busy-ness is a type of drug that muffles the more frightening aspects of our lives. By being too busy we can avoid introspection and any harsh realties that might disrupt our lives. We can sidestep risks that might make things messy. But we also avoid reaching for what might bring us joy and fulfillment. My busy-ness enabled me to pretend that I felt valued, appreciated and loved. It kept me from recognizing unacceptable situations and chronic unhappiness. It made it easy to waste a part of my life.

We've all heard the story about the man on his deathbed who laments having worked so much while living and loving so little. But, having heard it, have we truly considered it? Are we so certain that we will not be that man? What would you do if you weren't so eternally busy? And why aren't you doing it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stash Diving

Most knitters have a stash of yarn of some size tucked away. I have yet to meet a knitter who bought yarn for one project, which they finished before venturing forth to buy more yarn. This knitter may exist out there but he or she is a rare bird.

My stash is much smaller than it once was. After a couple of divorce-fueled personal downsizing sessions, my personal stash no longer fills a walk-in closet but fits into two large plastic containers and a few smaller baskets. And I feel the deficit.

What is this insatiable yarn hunger that many of us have? It isn't as though all the sheep might disappear and we'd be left without. Nor is it likely that all of the yarn stores and internet resources will dry up. And many of us have the ability to spin our own yarn, if push came to shove. So, why the compulsion to acquire more yarn?

In culling through my stash, I see a wide range of types and motivations present in the various yarns. There is the acrylic charity knitting yarn found at Goodwill and various discount stores. Not my favorite stuff, but necessary for items to be given away and which require easy washing. Then there are the specific project yarns, generally high quality natural fibers chosen for all my own handmade clothing and for those chosen few who know how to care for them. There is also the hand-me-down yarn that someone else wanted to get rid of. Also of high quality, but it tends to sit around for awhile until I feel inspired by a project. And last, but most certainly not least, is my sock yarn, which is in a category all its own.

My love affair with knitting socks began over a decade ago and has only deepened over time. As my financial fortunes have ebbed and flowed, the constancy of sock yarn has remained. No other medium allows for such variety of colors, fibers and weights for such a relatively low cost. Silk, wool, cotton, silk & wool, washable wools; space-dyed, self-patterning, stripes; neutrals and wild colors; all singing a siren song to me to make yet another pair of socks. And I cannot turn my back on that oh so alluring ball because it may not be there the next time and I will have lost out on those socks.

While I can exercise restraint with yarn for sweaters and scarves, the sock stash continues to grow and change and, I expect, that will remain the case far into the future.

Perhaps artists are the same way about paints and brushes, or photographers about equipment. And I know as a writer that I have an extreme attraction for interesting pens and notebooks. Maybe by stashing yarn, knitters are merely loading their palettes for whatever their creative voice needs to express next. I suspect this may be the case. Or, perhaps, our gluttony just runs toward yarn.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bowling Night

For going on three years now, many of my Wednesday evenings have been devoted to my women's bowling league. Why, you may ask, in this time of fast-paced busy-ness where the individual reigns supreme do I belong to a bowling league? I do because it is a heck of a lot of fun.

Our current team came together in the most serendipitous of ways. One member has been bowling for decades, another has a long history as well. Two joined our team thinking that they were joining a different team entirely. And I joined a year after my divorce because I was spending far too much time at home alone. I've become such a fan that I roped in another person to join us.

We pride ourselves on the fact that we have more fun losing than some teams have winning. This is so true of us that we recently rechristened our team "We Don't Care" and are eagerly awaiting the delivery of our new bowling shirts with the name blazoned across the back.

So what is the appeal for me? It certainly isn't because I have plans to go on the pro bowling circuit. My average is nothing to write home about so it is a very good thing that we don't care about winning. The appeal lies squarely with the camaraderie I share with these women, which is unique in my life.

We come together with no other goal than to enjoy ourselves. We have a drink. We give each other high-fives for our successes. We cheerfully proclaim how much we suck at bowling when we fail. We play poker for quarters and for 3 hours a week focus only on having fun. We support each other in the trials and celebrations of life.

I marvel at the impact it has had on my life. Never having been a part of a group or a team, I little realized the positive power it could have in one's life. And to be part of a team whose goal is not to work but to play is truly special. I cherish my time with my teammates and really hate the off-season. And I wonder what I did before I found them and why it took me so long to discover this.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


"Betrayal of yourself in order not to betray another is betrayal nonetheless. It is the highest betrayal." Neale Donald Walsch.

I came across this quote recently and it is refusing to let go of me. It seems almost revolutionary in its possible ramifications. And it clearly points its finger at me and says, "J'accuse." I used to hold several semi-professional titles in the field of self-betrayal and only in the last few years have I attempted to call a halt to it. I don't even want to retain an amateur status. I sacrificed my voice throughout my life in the mistaken notion that I was making others happy. I never made waves, tried to help all and sundry, and forgot that I had any obligations to myself. I betrayed myself on a daily basis throughout my marriage not realizing that this betrayal also betrayed those I had hoped to protect.

Our society has a vested interest in promoting self-betrayal. Naturally, it appears under different labels and guises, but it is valued nonetheless. From the time we are very small, we are expected to mask what we think and feel, especially if it doesn't conform to acceptable norms. Children may not feel angry at adults regardless the provocation and, I believe, this leads to adults feeling unable to express dissatisfaction with figures of authority. It is a direct line from being seen but not heard to swallowing all manner of unacceptable abuse and neglect from anyone to whom one feels obligated. We enshrine the "good girl" who never makes waves, who goes along and smiles, no matter how loudly she is screaming for release inside her own spirit. As long as the surface looks good, the reality is of little importance.

Betrayal is a harsh arena and certainly not an action to be entered into lightly where others are concerned. But the betrayal of oneself is even more insidious and results in still deeper betrayals of others, even if they never know anything about it. By repressing our own needs, our own wants, our very identities in the misguided notion that we are protecting another, we have already betrayed them by withholding our true selves. The person they think they are with doesn't exist and we give life to a lie.

Of course, refusing to betray one's self comes with consequences. Conformity in society, in the work place and in our personal lives is rewarded. The rewards for being true to your self are less widespread and frequently only present internally. This seems backwards to me. Obviously, on the surface, people/society find self-actualization and expression to be a dangerous and unpredictable commodity. And, if one is going against the tide of societal expectations favoring conformity, I suppose it is. However, what if, what if everyone lived out of a sense of who they truly are without wondering if they are fitting the expectations of others regarding their roles and positions in society? What if everyone lived from a place of deep self-knowledge and personal integrity? Wouldn't that lead to a refreshing sense of predictability? We would know what to expect from each other because our behavior would flow from our core; our external self would match our internal self. And maybe, just maybe, we could truly know and trust each other.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Virtual Isolation

The internet has brought a previously unimaginable sense of connection with the world. We can conduct business, exchange ideas and play with anyone in the world who chooses to make themselves available. We can also maintain closer contact with family and friends very easily, no matter where they or we may be. So I am not for a minute going to denegrate the benefits of the internet. I value the interactions that I have established through it and I believe that part of my life to be expanding rather than contracting. However, I have a concern hovering at the back of my mind. It is a concern not caused by the internet but, perhaps, amplified by it.

We all know of the potential for abuse in the virtual world. Some of those abuses can be viewed as silly, while still others contain an element of danger. Practically everyone with an e-mail account has been contacted by non-existant Nigerian royalty with a golden opportunity to become rich. And anyone with a television has heard of the dangers of sexual predators in chat rooms. And disinformation about everything from political candidates to the satanic nature of soap companies flies around the world at dizzying speeds. The anonymity of the computer enables those who would do ill to do so very easily. This is not the concern I wrestle with, for it can be dealt with with education and an awareness of the potential dangers that exist.

A more subtle problem seems to be that all of this virtual connecting leads to more actual isolation. It could be that those of us who work at home and/or live alone are the canaries in the coal mine in this area but there are a lot of very lonely people out there and there exists a potential for damage in the way we connect and interact in the real world. No matter how many virtual contacts we have, we are still sitting alone in front of a machine.

Our society has blissfully plunged head first into incorporating the internet into every aspect of our lives. We have the convenience of shopping on-line for everything we need and thereby we avoid the hassles and the joys of interacting with others. We don't talk to the friendly butcher or choose which piece of meat comes home with us or hear how his wife likes to prepare it. Sure, that sort of interaction takes longer but we end up with more than pork chops at the end of those visits. We play games with strangers whom we call friends in fantasy worlds that, at times, eclipse real relationships in the real world. And, perhaps saddest of all, when our isolation becomes unbearable, we search for love on the internet by advertising our attributes in the hope that someone will want to share our lives in a more concrete way. We lose out on the look in the eye, the sound of laughter and the real presence of the other who might become more.

In addition, the internet has allowed some of us to totally forget our manners. It is easier to forget small kindnesses when dealing with words on a screen rather than with a person directly in front of us. We can dismiss people out of hand and without explanation because we are insulated from any grief we may be causing. And we can disregard as unrealistic anyone who might want more from us than the echo of electrons on a computer. Furthermore, the speed which with it moves makes it all too easy to come off as abrupt in our dealings with others.

What is to be done? How do we meld this wonderfully useful technology with the needs of our non-technical humanity? It seems self-evidently true that we cannot allow ourselves or our relationships to be limited in this way. It would be crushing to the spirit. I'm not certain what path each individual must take to find balance. Some possibilties: look at everyone you walk past, from babies to grandmothers, and smile; look at every person who waits on you and say thank you; go to the coffee shop and leave your laptop at home and, above all, call that person you've been meaning to call and make arrangements to see them. Do whatever you can to increase the physical world contacts you enjoy so that they balance the virtual ones. Technical savvy is no substitute for human interaction.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Obama

There are moments and events that are so full that they defy description; words fail, language limps and there are not enough adjectives. And pity the poor writer who feels compelled to make the attempt to put it into words. Last night in America, we had such a moment.

Old enough to have been aware during the 1960's, I recall the marches and the assassinations, the riots and the killings. I grew up in a time when those who would use the "N" word, did so with impunity. And a fight between teenage boys was termed a "racial incident" by the school administration rather than just the usual teenage stupidity. And I can't help but believe that just beyond the veil, untold numbers of those who died, perhaps without hope of this day ever arriving, are proud of what we, as a people, did yesterday.

And I consider the spirit of all of those whose participation enabled this to happen. All of those regular people, like myself, who contributed whatever they could in money or time so that hope could have its day. And then backed up their commitment by standing in long lines to fulfill their sacred civic duty by voting. We Americans like to think of ourselves in terms of our highest ideals; liberty, democracy, equality. And, in the past, we have all too often succumbed to giving these ideals mere lip service. Yesterday, we collectively not only remembered who we are, but acted on it. We stood up to say that we care what happens to each other. That hope is stronger than fear. And that, if we bind ourselves together, we can accomplish great things.

As I listened to how people around the world held their breath with us and felt happy for us, I felt profoundly grateful that we are now a step more closely linked to the family of man. As I received the congratulations of friends and acquaintances from the Middle East and Africa and Canada and Europe, I felt so proud of our country and of my small contribution to making this come about.

While watching Barack's speech last night, I saw a man who, while happy, was fully aware of the heavy responsibility he had just shouldered. I saw a good man, a thoughtful man, a man who has just sacrificed so many of the daily, mundane joys usually enjoyed by husbands and fathers across this country for the sake of this country. And I am filled with the deepest respect for and gratitude to him for this. And, I believe, that just as we came together to elect him, we must stay together to work for the hopes and dreams that we all voted for yesterday. We cannot send him on his way and expect him to do all the work. That is not what this is about. That is not what America is about. We must continue the effort well past January 20, 2009 and make our aspirations a reality for ourselves, our children and for those who follow us. We've picked up the gauntlet along with Barack and we can not put it down again. Last night's exuberance cannot be allowed to become today's complacency.

There is much for us yet to do. It's time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Yesterday afternoon a man from the Water Bureau came by with bright orange door tags informing everyone that our water would be turned off for eight hours today for necessary repairs to the water mains. For most folks having the water turned off between 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM on a weekday would have no impact as they are at work during those hours. But without a workplace to go to, aside from my desk, this immediately led to a change in my plans for both yesterday and today.

First of all, today’s laundry had to be moved to yesterday. Easily done. Then a bottle of water had to be filtered for drinking. No problem. I considered baking and deferred it to Wednesday. I debated rising early for a shower or taking one at night. Then the recognition came that flushing would require water and thus I could not plan on staying at home all day. In short, my generally unnoticed dependence on clean, easily accessible water came directly to the front of my awareness for the first time in quite awhile.

The longer I considered it I became a bit stunned that I hadn’t considered it before. My usual routine relies on the instant availability of water. I have a preference for washing dishes as I use them, it being so easy to turn on the tap. I shower, clean up and flush at my own convenience, never giving a thought that I might need to plan these activities or do without. And with this complacency, I believe there is an element of lack of gratitude.

Perhaps it is just the realities of modern life, but we have separated ourselves from an awareness of the very necessities of life. We turn on a tap. We don’t pump our water, draw it from a well or haul it from a stream. And this makes us unaware and wasteful. We use the water to cook our food, to clean ourselves and our belongings, hydrate our bodies and grow our crops. And yet, we seemingly give it no thought.

As I sat through the evening, listening to the rain pelt the windows, I noticed how ubiquitous water is and yet more difficult to access than one might think. The local river cannot be a source of drinking water due to the various noxious things we have dumped in it. There are no streams or ponds nearby. I don’t know a single person who would know how to dig a well if their life depended on it. And don’t get me started on the issue of outhouses. If the water were to be turned off one day for real, we would all be in a very fine mess very quickly.

So, as I move through my waterless day, I notice my needs more closely than I might otherwise have done. And, rather than allowing myself to be annoyed at the inconvenience, I’m grateful for the awareness it has brought me. Hopefully, this will stay with me beyond the remainder of today and influence my actions and sensibilities in the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The turning of the year

I don't claim the label of "pagan" or "Wiccan" for myself, but the Celtic calendar's spiritual significance speaks to me. This time of year has always been my favorite and full of meaning. Perhaps observing the new year at a nonstandard time of year makes it easier for me to do so in a thoughtful manner. Whatever the reason, this is my time for reflection on what has passed and what may be coming.

In the Celtic tradition, Samhain marks a time when the veil between the physical world and the spiritual world is very thin, allowing for easier access of one side from the other. The chill in the air and the falling leaves accents this as the wind physically changes the external view of the world. Trees release their leaves, which swirl and fall, seemingly dying. And yet, the rich smell of decay as they become soaked with rain is a harbinger of new life just below the surface waiting to be called forth in the spring. Rather than seeing this as a dormant time, I see it as a pregnant waiting, nurturing life.

As one who is not only experiencing a great many transitions but also actively courting them, I consider what leaves I am dropping and what will spring from their remains. I have released a great deal of what we generally call security for the hope of new growth. But I doubt, on some level, that security even exists. Everything that we hold dear can be taken from us without notice through disease or catastrophe. And I fear that many grasp at the illusion of security only to find that they hold stagnation in their hands. So, perhaps, all I have released there is an illusion.

I have released some very solid stumbling blocks both in the physical and mental realms and risked the consequences of going against the societal grain. However, society has never particularly rewarded me for my conformity and I have only released things that were not serving me well. I have given up the illusion of acceptance for the possibility of self-actualization. So, this is my time of watching some of my illusions fall away.

What may be coming in their place, I wonder? Of that I cannot be sure. The nature of waiting through pregnancy requires general preparation with only the assurance that there is something to prepare for. The new life springing forth could have any number of different traits and characteristics. Boy, girl, tall, short, blue eyes, blond hair, bright, slow. The only thing that is known is that there is a high likelihood that new life will be coming. We cannot even know exactly when it will arrive.

So, I'm settled in for my nesting period. Wrapped in a warm shawl against the chill and eagerly awaiting what might appear at any moment.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hand washing socks

If you know me for more than a few minutes, you know that I knit. And after that, you'll quickly learn that I especially like to make socks. I can wax rhapsodic about the joys of custom fit hand knitted socks.

Yes, I know that you can buy ten pair for $12.00 at Target. And that those socks are easily tossed and replaced without a moment's thought. I also acknowledge that handmade socks cost more in terms of the price of the yarn and the time involved in making them. But, plain old cotton crew socks cannot hold a candle to handmade, hand dyed, wool/silk socks.

With this luxury comes an obligation to the care of one's socks. While some of them are made from machine washable wool, most require getting right into the sink with them and scrubbing. Generally, I wait until I am almost out of socks before I engage in the great sock wash.

I take the basket containing the dirties to the bathroom sink and fill it with very warm water. And, for reasons passing understanding, I use the liquid Kiss My Face soap on them. So, I submerse a few socks and pump on the soap. As I rub each sock with soap, attempting to dislodge unseen dirt, I notice again the stitches, the texture and the feel of the knitted fabric. Most of the socks are not particularly delicate but I'm aware of wanting to take care not to felt the yarn as I scrub. Scrubbing hard enough, and yet not too hard, to get the job done.

As I scrub, rinse and wring out, my mind wanders to the lesson of the socks. The difficulty of rinsing the soap out completely, the need to be firm yet gentle, the repeated movement to get the task done.

And I consider that we are all like handmade socks. We each are made of different materials and yet still have the same form. Some of us are hearty wool work socks, perhaps not as pretty as others but strong and durable. Others are silky lace socks that are beautiful but require extra care. Then there are the colorful ones which allow for a bit of self-expression that would never be found in a larger garment. We all get dirty, to one degree or another, by what our life takes us through. We all need special care and careful attention in order to restore ourselves to a more pristine state. We can't take too much hot water or too much agitation. And occasionally, life rubs a hole that cannot be darned.

I hang the socks to dry and hear them drip as I clean the sink. Then I reach for my needles again.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Risky Behavior

For literally decades, wherever I've worked, be it at home, a cube farm or a classroom; I've had a quote from some unknown wise person posted where I could see it frequently. "Those who risk nothing, risk much more." It has always had the feeling of a bone-deep truth to me and thus, it is surprising for me to realize how reluctant I have been to follow through on this perceived truth.

Until the last few years, throughout my adult life, I have, in fact, done the exact opposite and avoided every sort of risk. I chose the security of a lifeless marriage over the risk of financial instability and emotional solitude. I never dared to risk social censure by saying no to requests that I did not want to agree to. I never had the audacity to ask for what I truly wanted, needed. My hopes and dreams were locked tightly in the cage of "Someday" from which they would never escape or be released to take flight.

Then came the much vaunted awakening of my fortieth year. And the first of the risks took form. I abandoned the lifeless marriage, accepting the financial instability that was sure to follow. And agreed to the emotional and physical solitude that I had so much dreaded. Still a fledgling at the art of risk, I thought I had risked enough. I thought wrong. More, much more, lay burbling beneath the surface, waiting for me to catch my breath.

I was still thinking in the old, acceptable patterns, not even imagining that I would bolt even further from the permissible norms. I settled into a nice respectable job because one must have a job with benefits and not entertain pipe dreams. Even if that nice respectable job eats you alive and makes you weary of life. One simply cannot do without health insurance and a 401K. So on I slogged.

Then, came the day when accepting the unacceptable became impossible. And I quit the job. Without a replacement in sight but knowing that I had to walk away. It took three long years for that awakening to occur. So I leaped without a net, thinking in vague terms that I would find "something" or do temp work. Anything but stay where I was.

I still hadn't quite got the risk thing. A partial risk is no risk at all. It's an all or nothing proposition. Fortunately, it only took about a week for me to figure out that I wasn't done leaping. Due to some residual income and a generous subsidy from my mother, I am now taking the largest risk of my life so far. The risk of being a writer and, more importantly, the risk of being fully myself. Perhaps, I should be fearful. But the life I led for my first forty years has made me dread another forty years of the same respectable, "normal," unfulfilling existence. I don't want to be an old woman sitting in a rocker who could have, would have, should have dared to live her true life.

My great grandmother used to ask the question, "When you get to be old, do you want to regret what you did or what you did not do?" Clearly, I have finally, at long last, embraced the risk of failure and regret for the chance at being fully myself.

And, although I've only just now removed the training wheels of risk taking, I am curious about what I will risk next.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rationalizations and justifications

Because I "only" had 5 projects awaiting completion, I decided it was time to cast on for a pair of fingerless gloves. I ran a very comprehensive rationalization of why I could delay the works in process even further and, I am happy to say, it was successful.

The cables on the sweater's sleeve require me to pay attention and I'd rather do something less thought consuming. The shawl pattern is fairly mindless but it is going to take a long time to finish. The seams on the cardigan need to be taken out and put back in, which requires full daylight to see well. I didn't want to haul the sewing machine out to bind the quilt or finish the blouse. And, (major point here) my hands felt cold as I was typing on the computer. Obviously, diving through my yarn stash and patterns was necessary. On hand were several small balls of Shetland wool and a pattern for fingerless gloves just begging to be started. So start them I did.

And as I contentedly worked away on my satisfying little project, I wondered why I felt the need to rationalize anything.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that completion of something is a virtue that must be achieved before another something can be begun. But why do I (and seemingly others) make that assumption? And is there any truth to it?

If meaning lies only in the completion of a thing, then perhaps the assumption makes sense. But, that doesn't seem to be true to me. The hours of knitting, sewing, and writing are full and complete in and of themselves. The thought, creativity and devotion of each stitch, each word or each action exists in its own moment regardless of its ultimate disposition.

Each project, action, relationship has its own seasons, whether to be started or finished or perhaps put aside. Like plants in a garden, sometimes one needs more attention than another. As the ultimate mistress of them all in my life, my task may be to help them along, each in its time, rather than to try to control the phases. To make way for what calls in the moment.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Backwards Glance

The kids were warned, both at home and at school, to stay away from the woods. Something bad would happen if they entered the woods. No one said what that bad thing would be. No one told any stories about bad things that had happened there. But everyone knew that something bad would happen.

A black top road ran alongside the school and the athletic field, straight towards the woods. At the tree line, it changed from black top to dirt. It was a rutted, axle-buster of a road and no cars were ever seen going in or coming out.

The girl ran down the road, past the school and the athletic field. She headed straight for the place where the road went into the woods and kept right on running. She ran as if the Devil himself were on her heels. Even though she knew Grandma would never come this far.

Once she got to the dirt, she slowed to an easy walk. She was much calmer now. The trees had closed ranks behind her, hiding her. She snuggled into her favorite spot, under the hickory tree next to the berry thicket, and escaped into its comfortable embrace.

After a couple hours listening to birds and watching clouds, the girl slowly and reluctantly rose and began to make her way out of the woods, walking towards the place where bad things really did happen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Comings and goings

With the unexpected advent of Rupert, I found myself thinking about all the other entrances to and exits from my life. The only constant is that they happen and, with few exceptions, they happen unexpectedly.

Some enter as a soft rain which starts almost unnoticed and ends just as indistinctly but, in another sense, has endured in the grass and flowers it nurtures. Others enter as a driving hail storm that flattens everything it hits and then abruptly moves on. Still others are the sunshine of a spring morning, gently warming and lighting for a time. While there are those that are the moon, variable in strength but constantly there.

The past several years have been primarily about exits. Most notable have been those strong storms that have uprooted large swaths of my forest, large trees and small shrubs both. There have also been sandcastles washed away by the tide and spiritual rocks that have been overturned by the waves. All followed by a blank landscape and fields left fallow.

There have been frantic attempts to sow new, generally inferior, seeds with disappointing yields. There have been endless months watching and hoping for new growth only to have the seeds wash away before they could take root. And there has been a seemingly endless feeling of being trapped in a bog.

And yet, the rabbit has brought a new awareness of the landscape. There have been new entrances in my life, like mist which can be sensed more than felt. They came in quietly, gently and unnoticed during prevailing storms; deepening to something more substantial with time. There have been surprising reentries, which raise an awareness of the turn of the seasons; returning every year the same and yet different. The worst of the storms have passed and, like crocuses in late winter, new connections and fulfillment are slowly poking up. And all of these have given me an inkling that more change is afoot. Invigorating coolness has replaced harsh sun and heat. Violent storms make way for fertile rest. And perhaps, someday, the fog of loneliness that weaves through the forest of my life will be dispelled by the gentle breeze of love.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Of bunnies and dust bunnies

Last weekend, I was attending the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival. My entire ambition for the day consisted of meeting a few on-line friends in real life and to stay within my very restricted yarn/fiber budget. But, I hadn't counted on the fateful meeting that was about to occur.

While we wandered through the animal barn, I was mentally stocking my fantasy fiber farm. In very short order, the dairy goats that already occupied that mythical place were going to have to be segregated from the pygora goats that absolutely had to be added to the farm. I rejected the notion of sheep, despite my abiding love affair with wool. Buzzed right passed the alpacas and llamas. I obviously like the idea of them better than the reality of them.

Then we came to the bunnies. Their intrinsic cuteness vibrated through the entire area. Children and adults both were more animated in the bunny section. I oooo-ed over the lop-ears. I ahhhhh-ed over the angoras. And I almost escaped, ready to buy yarn, when the very nice lady said, "The little one is free." Within 30 seconds, she had opened the cage and I was holding this little runt of a rabbit that they were calling by the insulting name of "Hamster". I heard the tale of his being number eleven in the litter and kicked out by his mom, then being adopted by another mother and raised by a girl in 4-H. I was sunk. In nothing flat, he had let me know that his real name was Rupert.

I threw on the coaster brake long enough to wander around the festival a bit longer and even eat lunch. But, despite a lot of very desirable fiber on offer, I was on a bunny mission. So, I peeled off and went to collect Rupert.

Bear in mind, I had no notion as I got up that morning that I needed or even wanted a rabbit. I had never even contemplated a rabbit in my life. So it was a bit surprising to find that my weekend had quickly become bunny-centered. A cage, bedding, food, toys; all had to be procured. The apartment suddenly became un-bunny-friendly and had to be tackled. As the week progressed, cleaning up after Rupert led to increased cleaning everywhere. Now the evenings include the joy of watching a 9-week old bunny bound around the living room, skidding on the hardwood floors.

So, what might it mean that this little rabbit has found me? I'd been wanting a pet for over a year but I'd never considered a rabbit. I was fairly certain that I wanted a parrot. Is it true, I wonder, that people, animals or events come into our lives for a reason? It feels like it may be true. But those reasons could be anywhere on the spectrum from hellish to sublime. Whether Rupert will turn into a lesson in further responsibility or undiluted joy, I do not know. I suspect it might be both.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Folding towels

I pull an armload of towels out of the dryer. Their warmth seeps into the core of my body as I carry them over to the table. The combination of hot cotton and dryer sheet assaults my nose with a smell both comforting and false.

I begin to fold them; matching corners to fold in half and then in half again. The bath towels, in tidy squares, smoothed and piled together. The hand towels in their own little group of rectangles. Then stacked together, bath towels on the bottom, wash cloths on the top, with the hand towels sandwiched in the middle.

I carry them to the linen closet, burying my nose in the fading warmth. Trying to catch the last little whiff as the cotton cools. I straighten out some rumpled towels already there and neatly stack each category of towels with its partners.

The repeated actions lend a rhythm to the chore that echos another beat. I feel that these rhythms that feed my soul are part of and are reflections of the all encompassing rhythm of life which winds through all living things. And it is this connection with that larger rhythm that brings me satisfaction in the smaller tasks.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Colors Without Names

I was making muffins (what else?) over the weekend. The recipe called for a cup of jam. When I stirred it in, the batter turned a delightful color. A color that I had never seen before. A color that I have no name for.

It was cherry jam that I added but it didn't look like "cherry" as it is generally labeled. The flour, the buttermilk and all the other ingredients contributed their own nuances to the batter, so that it wasn't pink and it wasn't beige and it certainly wasn't "cherry". There were flecks of fruit throughout giving contrast to whatever color this was.

When the muffins came out of the oven, they were a different un-nameable color; closer to what we might call "cherry" but only if we mean the color of cherrywood furniture. They were a rich, inviting color. A color for a favorite pullover or a cozy chair. Something to envelop and warm you.

I've noticed the same phenomenon in handspun yarn. The spinner plys two or three seemingly unrelated colors and the resulting yarn is a wonderful, never before seen new color; rich with depth and feeling.

All of this made me wonder about the limits of language. We are visual creatures who take in massive amounts of information through our eyes. And yet, we cannot adequately describe what we see. We cannot share with any exactness the color of a thing without resorting to an endless list of adjectives or delineating what something is not. We say something is green. But what sort of green? Leaf? Olive? Emerald? Grass? Sage? Loden? Moss? Or some shade found only in one location at one time of day when the sun hits it just right?

Our perceptions are so clear that we can take in the feeling of a color but language limps when we try to share it. So I cannot describe the muffins' color, beyond saying that it was the color of jam muffin batter after I stirred in the black cherry Polander All Fruit. And it was very pretty.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Washing Dishes - View 2

I pop the baking into the oven and turn to survey the damages. Not too bad. I turn on the tap and fiddle with it until the water is pleasantly warm.

I begin with all the measuring devices; the spoons and the cups. Very small, very little effort. I look out the window and notice a hummingbird skirting around the camelia bush. I thought it was too late in the year for hummingbirds but there he is and then he's gone.

Next comes the mixing bowls. The flour-y one is quickly disposed of. The one that held the batter takes a bit more attention. A new bird grabs my attention; a flicker climbing on the back fence. I've never seen one this close before. I turn my attention to the various spoons and utensils that I used for mixing and then I'm done. I de-flour the counter and put away everything I washed.

Bing! And the baking is ready to come out. After it cools, I wash the baking pan and the cooling rack. I ask myself what is the difference between this washing up and the previous washing up. There is more of a connection to the action but why? Could it be that it isn't washing but part of the baking? Could it be that it was a controllable amount of washing? Or could it be that my mind was more open to being connected at this time? And, if that is the case, how do I become connected and opened to the less appealing acts of washing?

I strongly suspect that the answer lies within myself and not in the dirty dishes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Washing Dishes - View 1

Every glass in the house is dirty and both the sink and the counter are piled with dishes. I could blame yesterday's migraine but the dishes got out of control without benefit of an excuse. So, with a heavy sigh, I turn on the hot tap and decide on a plan of attack.

The water is almost too hot, not quite burning my hands, but the delay in washing makes me want to attack the bacteria with murderous intent. The water flows unevenly through the tap making an irregular rhythm as it splashes over its targets. Adding the dish soap, I start in with the glasses, being the least disgusting items in need of cleaning. The slide of water and soap on glass is fun and soothing. There is no other adjective except soapy to describe the feeling of soap. It is its own unique feeling, sliding and slipping across the surface of the glasses.

Then I tackle the dishes, scrubbing away at a bowl with something orange stuck on it. What is that? Did we even eat anything orange colored? And now, scrubbing at something I can feel, but not see, smack in the middle of a plate. If I can't see it, why do I care? What could it hurt? But scrub I do. And, when it finally can be felt no more, I smile.

Bringing up the rear, come the pots. There are only a couple of them but they take more work inside and out. I add more soap to cut the grease and push up the sleeve that has dangled into the danger zone. I don't want to walk around with a soggy sleeve when I'm done. How in the world did grease get on the outside of the skillet? I grab the steel wool and get to work. I knew that I should have soaked this thing. As I apply the elbow grease to the skillet grease, my mind wanders away. Multiple passes with the scrubber before checking to see how much of the gunk is gone. Then back at it as I watch the bottom of the skillet slowly return as the food bits and burned bits gradually disappear.

As the dishes drain, I wipe down the counters and scour the sink. I fold up the towel and survey the results.

Now I get to cook and make a new mess.