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.