Tuesday, August 31, 2010

September Anxiety Dreams

Guess my mind is back from vacation, back from the pastoral warp of timelessness, pleasure and harmony. Back from the world of nature and nostalgia, the imagined world where deadlines vanish, self-importance takes a long hike, and we're eternally young.

Thump, thump, no charms to ward off things in the mind that go bump in the night. Dreamcatcher found me back as a grad student, having just been informed that I hadn't finished my dissertation.

"But, but... I've had a whole professional life based on that dissertation," I stammered.

Wrong. Incomplete.  You didn't ever finish, so make a decision: Are you in or are you out? Going to get the PhD or delete the term from your history? Going to be authentic or a fraud?

Ah, the angst. Good old-fashioned anxiety dream. Do you know anyone who hasn't had one or two? 
At another time in my life, I'd toss it off as a typical end-of-August/early September Back to School Anxiety dream. But I'm not going back this fall. Not putting assignments on Blackboard, re-reading and second guessing texts and assignments. No fresh faces, new names, high hopes and best intentions sitting in a classroom with me. So why the school anxiety dream?

Maybe it's because I'm not walking into the classroom this fall. For most of my life, as a student, parent, professor or administrator, September has been the new year. All those first-year students coming on campus have wiped their high school slates clean. Everything is good, green, and forgiving. Innocence trumps experience for a while.  Fresh starts and new beginnings abound. I love it. Hands down, my favorite time of year.
It's a semi-truth that the first day of pre-school, kindergarten, high school, and college are the same. Hoping to make new friends, have the right clothes, books, music, toys, teacher. But for most students, college has the added dimension of a new environment, new bedroom, new living mates, I am who I say I am, I am the person who shows up, I am new and this is serious. For now.
Harvest time, harvest moon....Starting to look for Baseball's Mr. October in September, that's one cycle. Planting seeds of inquiry, creativity, knowledge, possibilities is the other fall cycle. It's planting time in one worldview; harvesting in another. 
 Looking for a surge of energy, a bolt of optimism for the future? Just walk around a university in September. It doesn't get much better than those early fall days on a college campus. Joy to the world, jump-started.

Maybe that's the anxiety....Back to real time, new beginnings in a new form. Will I show up as a fraud (who is that woman?) or as authentic (hey, it's the real me!)?
Fortunately, a replenished soul and spirit came back with me from vacation. Abundant resources for new beginnings. Anxiety gone. And I have the dissertation in my bookcase, in case you wondered.

Monday, August 30, 2010

So Primordial

It's a simple thing, after all. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. High tide and low tide.

The following diagram shows how the moon causes tides on Earth:

In this diagram, you can see that the moon's gravitational force pulls on water in the oceans so that there are "bulges" in the ocean on both sides of the planet. The moon pulls water toward it, and this causes the bulge toward the moon. The bulge on the side of the Earth opposite the moon is caused by the moon "pulling the Earth away" from the water on that side.
If you are on the coast and the moon is directly overhead, you should experience a high tide. If the moon is directly overhead on the opposite side of the planet, you should also experience a high tide.

How Things Work - description designed for a mere child. What's not to understand?
What's not to understand? How about that moon pulling on us every day - autonomous, independent, free, top of the food chain us?  Can you feel it pulling on you?  And that's just the beginning. There's the moon, the ocean, the earth, us and who knows what else? We're part of this pushing and pulling, waxing and waning, all experiencing the highs and lows, the bulges, storms, tranquility.
I don't mean to go all mystical, new age-y, Avatar plus here, but standing in the water, feeling the movement in each toe, up the legs, over the body one is hard pressed to deny the sense that everything is connected.
Much of life seems to be a struggle for identity or the multiple identities that feel comfortable as we make our ways from stage to stage.  We struggle to fit in our bodies, psyches, minds, souls -- I love the Aha! moments when I feel "This is it. I know...it's all so comfortable, nothing to adjust...just me in all my me-ness."
And I love, equally, at least, the moments that declare, "This is it. I am one with everything. I feel total synchronicity. Moon, sun, nature's forces, star cells, people cells, seashells."
Just part of the ongoing primordial ooze...
That's what the ocean does to and for me: brings me to the things of this world and the other world. Raise me up, slaps me down, tumbles me, and connects me to all things, including myself. It embraces my memory haord, tumbles it around, and sends it in on the lapping waves.
All the senses are engaged by the ocean. "Hear me, see me, touch me, smell me, taste me; the ocean calls on the whole us.  Adjectives line up to be counted as descriptors. Primordial, mythic, sustaining, holy, nourishing, tumultuous, raging, tranquil, eternal.  The ocean is as close as we'll come to ever knowing infinity. Or so it seems to me.
But I'm from the East Coast....I've been going to Watch Hill for more that fifty years. Half a century. In all of my life, I've probably had two or three years at most where I never got to the ocean. Can't remember when, but just to stay on the safe side, I'll say a couple of years ocean-less.
Now I live in a land-locked state. Colorado is beautiful also.  Want to catch a little perspective on one's sense of importance or one's trials and tribulations, take a look at a mountain. Power...strength.....endurance.
So I understand people live their whole lives never seeing or being in an ocean. And they do just fine. Better than fine.
But I need to connect to the push and pull, the origins of life, the 'Take Me to the Water' experience. I need to stand someplace where my momentary problems seem silly. The ocean does that for me.

So much to write and reflect upon after a week of absence, a week signaling the end of summer and new fall beginnings. So much to unscramble and reflect upon.
Unfortunately, the mundane calls to me right now: unpacking, laundry, catching up with the details of daily life. Back at you tomorrow. In the meantime, a couple of sea thoughts.

There was a magic about the sea. People were drawn to it. People wanted to love by it, swim in it, play in it, look at it. It was a living thing that as as unpredictable as a great stage actor: it could be calm and welcoming, opening its arms to embrace it's audience one moment, but then could explode with its stormy tempers, flinging people around, wanting them out, attacking coastlines, breaking down islands. It had a playful side too, as it enjoyed the crowd, tossed the children about, knocked lilos over, tipped over windsurfers, occasionally gave sailors helping hands; all done with a secret little chuckle"
Cecelia Ahern (The Gift)


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Numbers Fly Like Pigeons

One of my favorite when we were young Back to School poems     Arithmetic

Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your
Arithmetic tell you how many you lose or win if you know how
many you had before you lost or won.
Arithmetic is seven eleven all good children go to heaven -- or five
six bundle of sticks.
Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand
to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer.
Arithmetic is where the answer is right and everything is nice and
you can look out of the window and see the blue sky -- or the
answer is wrong and you have to start all over and try again
and see how it comes out this time.
If you take a number and double it and double it again and then
double it a few more times, the number gets bigger and bigger
and goes higher and higher and only arithmetic can tell you
what the number is when you decide to quit doubling.
Arithmetic is where you have to multiply -- and you carry the
multiplication table in your head and hope you won't lose it.
If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you
eat one and a striped zebra with streaks all over him eats the
other, how many animal crackers will you have if somebody
offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say
Nay nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?
If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she
gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is
better in arithmetic, you or your mother?

Carl Sandburg

Arithmetic by Carl Sandburg

Arithmetic by Carl Sandburg

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What are Friends for?

Guess it’s that Beloit Mindset and the fact that we’re heading for Watch Hill next week that has me thinking about Tom Smith so much today. University life and the shore....couldn't add up the hours spent with Tom in these places.
I miss Tom…miss him often and at seemingly odd times. But Tom doesn’t miss me, doesn’t even know I’m gone. He’s slipped into his Alzheimer’s World, landed with a new set of characters in a different time and space, and left the rest of us behind.  Anyone who knew Tom has at least four stories to tell about him. But no matter how many stories have been shared, they don’t come close to the number of stories Tom told all of us. This is truly a man who never met a tale he didn’t like and never met a tale he couldn’t make interesting. His gift to us…. And probably still his gift to the people in the home where he now lives.
When Tom taught – whether it was his beloved Chaucer, Andrew Marvell or e.e. cummings – he always had a tale from the present that brought the past storming into life in the classroom. Everything was mythic, powerful, and potentially life transforming.  He is a man of the classics as well as the contemporary. Give him baseball and jazz. Send him to the moon with the blues and bring him to lunch with a concerto.  Become the dancing fools we all once were. Touch the bases on those green fields and head on home for him.
He once taught a special course for military officers and began the first class with Jimi Hendrix’ Star Spangled Banner.  Several of us, in a spontaneous effort with Tom, once depicted the Christmas Scene with Jumping Jack Flash playing in the background.  Students would leave his classes with empty notebooks  (no way to outline or capture his talks)  but with full hearts. As professor he wanted students to fall in love with literature, not see it as a ‘subject’ to be studied. There might have been a student who didn’t fall under his influence, but in several decades, I never met one.
Tom came into my life in 1963, one of my ex-husband’s best friends, and hasn’t left yet. Tom’s wife Shelly is one of my dearest friends.  We tumbled through lots of crazy years together, our kids sort of meeting before they were born, becoming friends and best friends…rumor has it they once had a debate about whose parents were the craziest. We shared separations, divorces, re-marriages, second marriages together. Shared things with no names, things that must be remembered, and memories that must be obeyed.  Danced under the moonlight and in the rain to Sly, Ike and Tina Turner (that long ago) and James Brown at different places around the country.  Spent summers at Watch Hill, watched Richard Nixon resign, boycotted grapes and pressed for Civil Rights together. Lots of other things, but not worth conjuring up right now. Some things better left buried… some too funny, some too sad.
We had lots of love affairs with life together.
I know Shelly misses Tom every day. And I know his beautiful kids, Ian and Jessie, little Max, miss him every day. Of course, I can’t miss Tom the way they miss him… miss him even when they see him.
But this is a selfish blog today. I’m missing a good friend in CT and sad to know he doesn’t know me anymore. ..Or maybe it's that he doesn't know he knows me anymore. I think I hold the memories of our passion, compassion, ironic twists and joy by myself. . Today's nostalgic trip began with me listening to You Can’t Always Get What You Want on an early morning walk and continued as I thought about Watch Hill.  I’d catch a wave for Tom when I get there – if I could catch a wave.  After all, what are friends for?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Channeling the News

When is the last time you wrote a letter? I don't like to think about the letters I haven't written for decades. I personally don't see the end of cursive as the end of the literate world. Even back then -- you know, then - when we penned love letters, I had boyfriends who printed their letters. True, they seemed less romantic than the letters from guys who used stylin' cursive, but who cares? If I were still receiving communication from people promising undying love to me, I'd take those missives in IM or a tweet. And be all the happier for the lack of shoe boxes filled with cursive messages... a BFF would have been enough, don't you think?
So if cursive goes the way of Kodachrome slides, videotapes and Czechoslovakia we'll be ok.
Just as we are ok knowing that only people of a certain age actually watch tv shows when they are 'on.'

Reading the Beloit Mindset was a great reminder of how much television has changed and changed us. I earned my television-watching badge on three channel and a small round screen. Motorola TV, I think.
CBS, NBC, ABC -- Three channels, black and white screens, lots of static, boxing, sit-coms and soaps.  All those suits, some with mustaches, some without, heroes delivering the news to us on a daily basis. That was back in the time when we all assumed the newscasters were telling the truth (whatever that meant). No-one was biased or had a point of view.  We even thought science was objective, a tale told by neutral men designing neutral research projects.

By 1992, the birth year of most students entering four-year colleges and universities, that model was on its way out. Bill Daniels, Ted Turner and other cable cowboys had changed viewing for over 60% of the households, and by the time these tots were out of their pampers choices were numerous. Cable News, through CNN, brought us our first 'live war, and news was available 24x7. Don't like that reporter? Find another one who suits your frame of mind.
And the remote control. When's the last time you saw someone roll off the couch, stand up and take a dozen or so steps to change the channel?
By 1985, so I've read, more televisions were sold with remote controls than without. So our incoming class has been clicking its remote while sucking on a pacifier.

Some of us didn't even know we had analog tv until it was time to switch to digital; others are figuring out high definition and still others prefer to watch whatever it is on a computer. 3D or Not 3D? These are the times that try our souls....The times are a'changing just as they always are.
And these college students are in media res also. . . who knows what media changes are in media res?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mindset - Beloit College

Here it is, heralding the beginning of the college year. The list is a not-so-gentle reminder to us of what the world has been like for the 18-19 year old students stepping on college campuses across the country.  There's lots to talk about here for a few days. . .

No. 1 and No. 2 are probably the most interesting to me, but some others certainly catch one's attention, don't they? I know people use PPhones, Blackberries, etc. to tell time, but I forgot that the wrist signal no longer means anything. I wonder how many times, at a party or meeting, I've silently pointed to my wrist to ask someone the time. Gone.
 Another way of looking at this list, or so it seems, is to think about the multiple shifts that we have made in our cheery little lives.... This is only eighteen years.  In the end, I think the biggest legacy our generations will hand off to those left behind will be CORDS and WIRES....the millions of telephone, computer, television, DVD, IPhone, IPad whatevers we've purchased trying to keep up with things - all seem to have a wire or two or three. And I haven't mentioned remote controls, as I think only people over fifty are still collecting those for some future purpose.
The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.

 1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.  

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.”

4. Al Gore has always been animated.

5. Los Angelenos have always been trying to get along.

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High.

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend.

10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet.

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation.

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine.

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways.

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection.

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn.

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech.

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars.

24. “Cop Killer” by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording.

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks.

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown.

30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows.

31. The first computer they probably touched was an Apple II; it is now in a museum.

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed.

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.

34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always been an alternative to hospitals.

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an “Annus Horribilis.”

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics.

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice presidential edict.

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college.

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents.

48. Someone has always gotten married in space.

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States.

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

51. Food has always been irradiated.

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church.

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn’t he?

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy.

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife.

58. Beethoven has always been a dog.

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola’s new Tab Clear, it was gone.

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48.

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies’ withholding tax, or else.

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.

63. Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies.

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church.

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

69. The Post Office has always been going broke.

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping.

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

72. One way or another, “It’s the economy, stupid” and always has been.

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated.

74. They’ve always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi Channel.

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sound and Fury

Slurp..slop, whoosh, I don't have the voice or sound system capable of replicating the noise a dog makes when licking its paws and legs, but can tell you it's a noise that rattles my brain and smashes my sensibilities into incoherent particles.

I also don't know why certain sounds are far more irritating at certain times than they are others. I've been around long enough to know that I am super-sensitive to noises that don't belong (by my parameters or in my judgement). There's the usual assortment: popcorn crunching at the movies, time extended cough drop unwrapping at the theatre, AARP loud speaking/questioning voices (I know, I know, I'm one of them) at the movies, theatre, and any lecture, any where, any time.  The coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing, throat-clearing follow in the same public parade. Yes, I know I am often guilty.
The cracking gum, tapping foot, clicking pencil, spoon scraping the bottom of the yogurt container, corn being bitten or sucked off the cob, fingers drumming, hair curling, lip smacking, finger cracking, paper flapping habits of  people drive me crazy. Again, I know I am often guilty.
But I don't drive myself crazy. I hardly hear myself....and when I do hear, I'm quite soothed by my activities.
What I want to know is how can a particular noise or sound put me on the verge of apoplexy, while the person next to me doesn't even hear what I hear? How does that happen? How does that person hear the words in the play and not the words of the yammer-mouths behind us?
How is one person able to move into a meditative state as the dog licks and I  move into a frenzy, unable to focus on anything but the drool and lick sounds?
Mind over matter doesn't work for me. My mind selects sound A and turns its sound system to high. No amount of deep breathing can eliminate the unwanted sound.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm just in a framework, have arranged the context of my thoughts, so I am ready to be irritated.
By now you are probably thinking: Lady, get a life. Enjoy the sound of dogs, cats, humans talking, trees in the wind, bees on the flowers. Be grateful you can hear so many things at once. OR
Lady, get a real problem. Dog slurping is not terminal. It won't kill you. What might kill you is having nothing more to focus on than dog licking.
I understand. But I still want to know how and why certain sounds can take some of us over the edge sometimes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Trinity Forum

 Serendipity happens. All the time. Roscoe just sent this to me from The Trinity Forum, as it fits with the pilgrimage theme (and life) we've been following. And it's a wonderful reminder of Tolstoy's perfect short story, Two Old Men. As  we've just been thinking and talking about other famous pilgrimages, including the Camino de Compestela, Canterbury to Rome, the hajj to Mecca, the spiritual journey from Russia to Jerusalem adds a certain symmetry to the posts this week. 

I love the reminder that we must be seekers on the journey; what we are seeking will not just come to us without a little work. Remember the hoax of the book 'The Secret,' where people thought if they just sat back and visualized a new car, necklace, job, love it would just come their way. The secret is that isn't true. We can do the hard work, we can seek, we can put things in order the best we can....one foot planted in front of the other, and see what comes.

Thanks to  Cherie Harder and all the pilgrims, everywhere.

Taken from The Trinity Forum, August 13, 2010

 The Effort of Refreshment

The dog days of August have arrived. Here in the nation’s capital, the heat and much-anticipated congressional recess triggers a city-wide slowdown—traffic thins out, the workday becomes shorter, lunches grow longer, and the normal city bustle gives way to vacationers’ pilgrimages out of town.
It is a fitting time to reflect on our need for refreshment and renewal.
In Leo Tolstoy’s story of “Two Old Men,” we meet two friends who have made a vow to make a pilgrimage from their village in Russia to Jerusalem. Tolstoy masterfully sets out their personalities in just a few words—Efim is serious and responsible, Elisha relaxed and kindly.
Efim always has a reason to put off starting on the journey—whether it’s a bad economy, business crisis, home construction, or untrustworthy son who can’t be left in charge of affairs. Elisha encourages him to reconsider his priorities and eventually the two set their affairs in order and embark on their pilgrimage, though their journeys soon take them in different directions.
Efim and Elisha are seeking in Jerusalem a spiritual renewal that they cannot find in the routine duties and joys of their lives. For them, the experience is worth the effort of making a journey of at least 1,600 miles—by foot.
We can see several parallels in the story with our own ongoing quests for personal renewal. As with taking a pilgrimage, attaining some kinds of knowledge (let alone wisdom) demands a significant initial effort on our part. “Jerusalem” will not come to us. Knowledge does not force itself into our minds. We must set out and seek it. And—as with learning an instrument or becoming proficient at a sport—we must be persistent in our efforts.
That such effort is required means too that we need a vision for where our journey can take us. Many people, for example, have learned Italian to experience the true genius of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Others have learned physics to appreciate for themselves the beauty of the equations that describe the universe.
It is also worth considering the ways that our daily lives can crowd out such quests. Often a shift in routine is needed. Some kinds of knowledge—particularly those that contribute to our refreshment and renewal—are attained by resting. In our culture, even resting can, paradoxically, take significant effort, not least in quieting our minds and our cell phones.
We need rest to slow down enough to appreciate the buzz of insects, the waves on the seashore, or the laughter of children, to immerse ourselves in a work of great literature or a sublime musical performance. Even with all the critical faculties we bring, none of these can be fully appreciated without simply spending time with them, and cultivating a capacity for simple enjoyment.
Resting—for a Sabbath or a vacation or a literal pilgrimage—requires trust in God to sustain our other endeavors. We must resist the sin of pride and affirm that the world can get along without us for a time, as Efim, however reluctantly, chose to do.
What refreshment awaits you? What holds you back from it? As Elisha reminds us, “friend, we can never get through all we have to do.” We hope that during this quiet summer season you will take the time to seek out new areas of meaning, reflection, and renewal in your own life.
Cherie Harder

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Wags the World?

Quote from T. H. White's The Once and Future King.  Arthur, soon to be king, is in some troubled times, searching for meaning. So he seeks counsel from Merlin, the magician.  Merlin's counsel:

The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies. You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins. You may miss your only love. You may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it, then:  to learn.
Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.

I always loved that quote and, for some reason, was reminded of it when someone asked me why in the world anyone would walk from country A to country B --- or even city A to city B.  What's the motive or motivation? I don't know. Why does anyone write poetry,build bridges, solve equations, plant flowers or high jump? Passion, curiosity, boredom, the familiar 'because it's there'?  Following on yesterday's pilgrimage motif, I think we're all on some journey trying to figure out why the world wags and what wags it. We might take different paths, but there is something to learn on each of those paths. Your wag might be different from mine, but we're still on the learning path.

Merlin the Magician. Not bad advice.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We're All Pilgrims

You walked from Kyiv, Ukraine to Patras, Greece in the winter? Alone? Through the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania relying on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging?  The answer was YES.
Meet Ann Sieben, Winter Pilgrim.  Nuclear Engineer turned Pilgrim. She spoke at REI last night, recounting her numerous adventures and walks. Spirited, spontaneous, smart. All necessary qualities for a pilgrim.
She's walked the Santiago de Compostela, hiked from Canterbury to Rome, crossing the Alps in winter, and her hiking boots took her through Germany, Belgium and France.
Ann's next pilgrimage is in North America. She's going to head out the door in Denver and find her way to Mexico City to the mission of our Lady of Guadalupe. She'll have her friend Eileen on the road with her as far as Chimayo, and then go the rest alone.
As you can imagine, this is one amazing woman.  She's encountered some fierce weather and some fierce dogs - but never fierce people. "People welcome pilgrims into their homes. I've never had anyone be unpleasant to me."

She's figured out how to deal with dogs:  "We know fear and dogs know our fear. But dogs also know fear. So I always figure out who the alpha dog is (always easy to spot the alpha), wave and shake my walking sticks at the alpha dog, and everything settles down."
Bet she found equally smart ways to deal with the alphas back at those engineering meetings. This woman has no fear....or no fear that she can't overcome. A reasoning risk-taker. "I want people to know that they can do what they want to do. Fear doesn't have to be an obstacle," says Ann.
Time to take up the metaphorical walking stick, I say to myself.  Whether it's on foot or in the head, time to move the spirit.
As if that wasn't enough for one night, I met another woman who is off on the Canterbury to Rome pilgrimage this coming October. She and four friends...experienced pilgrims, off on another venture.
Yes, I went to this talk at REI last night, after tweeting and whining on this blog that I was exhausted walking to Shadow Mountain Dam yesterday morning. Think I should just leave a permanent Humble Pie image on the blog. And I should remember to be careful of the company I keep when I talk about myself as a pilgrim. I have the compestelas to prove I made the pilgrimage to Santiago, but my way was a little softer than Ann's journeys.
One journey leads to another. Last Sunday my friend Linda went on a hike with a group of women, got to the top, and sat herself down at a picnic table. There sat a lone hiker with a Camino tattoo on her shoulder. Do you think Ann knew she was about to make a lifetime friend? Probably not. But if you know Linda, I bet you knew it before a word was spoken. Linda's gift is finding interesting people and bringing them into her wide circle.
One sentence led to another, from Ann to Linda, Linda to Ann, back to Linda and I find myself at REI to hear a talk by the Winter Pilgrim. Linda's on a mission to spread Ann's words and vision. Now I want my world to know about Ann Sieben, the Winter Pilgrim.
How else do we get by if not through the inspiration of one another? One step at a time. We're all on a pilgrimage - cultural, religious, intellectual, social, personal.....All making our way.
At this moment, thousands of Muslims are celebrating Ramadan and preparing for the hajj, the pilgrimage,  to Mecca in November. I sometimes think we are always on a spiritual pilgrimage, whether we 'believe' in the spiritual or not. But I'm not sure we always ( read 'we' as 'I') always prepare for the pilgrimage with enough intentionality.
Where will your pilgrimage take you?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Tweet of a Post.

Took a walk to Shadow Mountain Dam while in Grand Lake. Horrified to discover I have a disorder.
               Out of Shape Disorder.  OSD. I doubt that sitting on a therapist's couch or taking a pill will help.  Have  to call on the old demon Discipline to cure this one.  So tired I can barely plunk these keys. So, that's it. A little longer than a tweet, but not a full post.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stop the Syndromes; Dump Disorders

I guess I'm in the throes of what the keepers of the DSM  (Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) would call oppositional defiance disorder.  Never really liked authority unless I thought I had it.
But I've been thinking about disorders and syndromes for a while now. In no way do I mean to negate or diminish the seriousness of people with debilitating disorders or syndromes. Nor do I underestimate the passion and dedication of caretakers everywhere who are trying to provide the best possible lives for those with disorders and sydromes.  But I've just been thinking about the sheer number of diagnoses there are.
Then I heard a truly brilliant talk and presentation on dung beetles Friday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art. On Sunday, I read an article on bedbugs in the NYT.  The more I thought about the speakers and researchers, the more I wondered how or if they would be diagnosed these days.  Imagine that eight-year old child, fascinated by beetles, especially the ones who are in dung. Which friend, parent, sibling, recess coordinator, teacher, relative would be the first to voice concern about the child's obsession with beetles and merde?
Who would be the first to say, "All that focus on getting toilet trained in time for early nursery school. Look what you did. Maybe if you got Star Wrs Wii he'd get over it."
The child thinks the dung beetle is beautiful. Does anyone else? Oh, this kid must have some syndrome or disorder. What do you do with a child who is immune to Mattel, Lego, Star Wars, Fisher-Price marketing?  He's obsessed with Real  live dung beetles?
Ditto for the bedbug lover.
So many disorders, so many ways to get the label. Is there a classroom in a middle-class or upper-class neighborhood that doesn't have at least several kids labeled with 'autism spectrum disorder'?  More than several?
OK -- I know, this is way off the topic, but bear with me. Guess it's the dung beetle that has brought me here. Have you heard of IBS? Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Yep. Symptoms?  Diarrehea or Constipation. On a given day, how many people do you think can say 'yes' to one or the other? Quite a few, I bet. My point?  A lot of people have a lot of symptoms of any number of disorders or syndromes. Do we have the expertise, the skilled diagnosticians, to ferret out the truly disordered from the slightly symptomatic?
The categories and classifications change with the times. More disorders are added than are eliminated. Some change categories.

Until 1974, the folks who brought you the DSM declared Homosexuality a mental disorder. It's gone, but Gender Identity Disorder is in. Quite a prestigious job, declaring what is in and what is out as a mental disorder. Up until fairly recently, the Manual has been primarily Americana; in other words, a disorder but another name in another part of the world is not necessarily a disorder. Surprised? I'm not. I know, the Manual is far more inter and intra cultural than it has been in the past. Still, somethings we call disorders are called 'becoming westernized' other  places.  But, again,I digress.

Early this morning I read an article by someone explaining the rude mannerisms, impoliteness this person apparently brings to meetings and other places. "Oh, I have Asperger Syndrome. So did my grandfather. So does my son and my husband. We just don't have the social skills to read the signs well."  There you go. Problem identified. Where is the solution?
I am not being oppositional to the people who categorize and classify other people. Well, not too oppositional. I do admit to being relieved that they weren't giving out all those labels and letters (ADD, ADHD, IBS) when I was younger. But I am being a bit oppositional to those who think classifying or categorizing is enough. It's the work done; hand the problem over to the eagerly awaiting pharmaceutical companies that cause my ODD.
One of my brothers, now deceased, got himself quite a few identifiers.  Alcoholic and Addict were among his. Those were pretty straight forward. The a-moral, sociopath, psychopath classifications were a little murkier. To this day, I don't know how the classifications ever helped him.  I perused hundreds of psychology books in my day - or I should say, in his day - trying to connect that 'soulless, person with a lack of conscience' to him. Glib, charming, manipulative, conman? Oh, yea. Those terms worked. But then what?
Sociopath has been replaced or updated into a disorder. The term used these days is anti-social personality disorder. Same characteristics...new name. The 'disorder' exhibits itself at the age of fifteen. Really?
Just so you know, the 5th revision of the Manual will be distributed in May 2013. A new disorder awaits us:  Relational disorder.
Dare you to find me a family, siblings, couple without at least a few symptoms. My name is probably already on the list.

(again, this post isn't meant to minimize the seriousness of any disorder or syndrome)

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Have a Problem

I never answer the doorbell. But the door was open and I was reading Sunday's NYT obituary page in plain sight of the steadfast women.
Oh, oh...all that interior monologue from yesterday smacked me in the forehead.  I knew what these two women were up to this mid-afternoon. All dressed up, wearing dark pantyhose, dresses and jackets on a day that was supposed to reach over 90 degrees. As if the clothes didn't give them away, one had a handful of pamphlets and the other was carrying a book. I knew it was that book. The Holy One. They were not from the NRA or the Homeowner's Association. They had the Word and the Word was with them. Sorry, I'm not looking for redemption yet. I'm sure I will be. But not now.

I didn't want to have a conversation about God, my God, your God, Godlessness, old-time religion or new-time spirituality. As life's constant ironies would have it, I had been thinking about God. Around 7:30 this morning, on the way to yoga, I saw the message  Dear God, I have a problem. It's me.  (Isn't that the truth?)
This appears on  the sign at Saint Vincent's Church on University Blvd.  I give Saint Vincent's the First Place prize for the best drive-by messages in Denver.  Of course, the problem is me. Who or what else would it be? I'm irritated because XXX didn't do YYY. What's the problem? The problem is that I'm irritated. Brilliant, simple reminder.
So you might think I was primed for the visitors at my front door eager to talk about God. Not so. But I remembered the drive-by sign from Wednesday: A Smile Usually Starts With Someone Else.
Saint Vincent's Church must be calling my name. I went to the door, opened it, and said - with a huge smile - "No Thank You."  Both women smiled back and said "Have a nice day," turned their backs and headed on down the sidewalk.  
It seems one problem might be that I am constantly pre-empting or scripting anyone who comes my way.
Yesterday's woman with the 20% discount coupon and today's women with their potential messages of salvation weren't problems at all. All those projections are the problem.

Now...speaking of projections, I've held on to that NYT Sunday obituary page for five days now, so taken was I with one of the notices. To me, the NYT Sunday obituary pages and the engagement/marriage pages provide perfect social commentary on contemporary life. The NYT was the first paper to announce a gay marriage and it continues to show us slices of people's lives and aspirations, failures and promises. Same with the obits.
The headline Robert Tucker, a scholar of Marx, Stalin and Soviet Affairs, Dies at 92  first attracted me. And what an interesting man was Mr. Tucker. Page 24, August 1st, if you want more details.
Mr. Tucker attracted me, but  Alex Higgins, 61, the Bombastic 'People's Champion' of Pro Snooker captured me. First lines of the article:
"The rogues of sport are legion. Gifted, charismatic and reckless, they burn with hubris, flout convention, seize championships and rouse fans. .... Alex Higgins - smoker, drinker, brawler, gambler, womanizer and two-time world snooker champion - was an exemplar of the type."   Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, the Belfast Boy.  Alex Higgins, "as angry as John McEnroe but more physically threatening. . ."
- Bruce Weber, you are one brilliant writer.
When is the last time you read an obituary that began in this manner? A perfect narrative opening to a lyrical piece of fiction, but it's not. It's about the death of a pro snooker player. Stunning style. Lots of description, biographical information provided in this obit that takes one-third of a NYT page. You'll find Alex Higgins' obit right under the obit of scholar Robert Tucker.
The People's Champion sure made an impact on the world of snooker and the world of the outrageous.

Weber goes one step further and quotes from the Daily Mail of London's obituary. "A belligerent narcissist, filled with self-pity and towering anger, he never allowed concern for others to put any restraint on his appetites, whether it be for drink or drugs or sex."
Alex Higgins, how did you manage to offend so many people?

Alex Higgins, did you ever say, "Dear God, I have a problem. It's me."
I doubt it.
If you're having a hard time making a connection between the women at my front door this afternoon and the death of Alex Higgins, don't worry. I never promised connections. However, I do hope there's some redemption or salvation for Alex Higgins.
 In his prime.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers
Standing in the aisle with three products in my hand, I'm trying to decide if I need a little shopping basket or not. Another one of those decisions that leaves me with my mouth hanging open in public.
"Oh, I see you are going to purchase some things," says the woman walking up to me with her empty hand reaching into her pocketbook.
No, I cannot buy you something, will not fill out a customer satisfaction survey, a needs assessment, or an entry black to a contest where I am sure to win a flatscreen television, oatmeal for the rest of my life,  free aqua velva or a jump start on the latest, guaranteed to work weight loss product.
Keep your free samples for some other sucker. 
Not signing a petition for all organic produce or chemical -free dog food. Oh no, not going to get me on the primary question. My mouth is shut, and we'd all be better off if more were. I sign all my petitions on line these days. Already signed the petition to Target and promised to protest on Saturday. Petitioned both my senators to support Elizabeth Warren to direct the Consumer Protection Agency.  If you ask me to sign something - anything - I am going to hand you my now unwanted products and walk out the door.

"Well, I can't really find anything I want," she continues as she comes closer. "Please take this coupon. It's for twenty percent off today, and I'd feel better if it were used."  For the record, I am quite nicely dressed for someone strolling through a store. Brand new pants. Cool earrings. Even a smattering of make-up. So it's not a 'Here, dearie, you need this more than I do' moment. It's just a nice gesture.

There you have it. Not a big, life-saving moment, just a stranger passing by with a little gift for whomever was standing in the aisle with some products to purchase. I smile. "Thank you, thank you; you are so nice," I say, and I am thankful...and thankful my Dorothy Parker monologue didn't betray me.
The kindness of strangers. I've been smiling all day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Out of My Meditative Mind

You remember me from yesterday, sitting in Grand Lake musing (well, more like pontificating) about being present, being open for the moment, don't you?
Well, it's my mouth that's open today. Eating Humble Pie.
My meditative mind just walked right on by my open pocketbook as we locked the doors yesterday and headed for Denver. Never noticed a thing until this morning when it was time to head for Karen Quinn's house. Hmm. Where's my pocketbook? Upstairs? Downstairs? Still in the car? No...perched on the couch in Grand Lake.
I left Grand Lake with phone in one hand; sunglasses and water bottle in the other. Guess if both hands were full, I must have whatever I need. Guess again.
So in honor of full and/or empty minds everywhere, minds that meditate and those that space out, I'm posting this little piece by Jim Shea of The Hartford Courant.

From Jim Shea:

I was reading another how-to article on meditation when I had a moment of enlightenment.

As moments of enlightenment go, it wasn't like a "Caddyshack," Bill Murray, Dalai Lama promise of perfect consciousness eye opener, but it was a revelation.

I already know this stuff.

I have been meditating all my life, only under a different name … spacing out.

Although I've never had any formal training, I don't feel it would be exaggerating to say that when it comes to spacing out, I could be a guru.

I attribute this natural mystical ability to having grown up in a large family. When you are constantly surrounded by a lot of people you tend to space out often, although never at dinner.

The major difference I can see between spacing out and meditation is that when you space out you are thinking about something, while when you meditate you are trying to think about nothing.

I don't want to get all metaphysical here, but technically isn't thinking about nothing thinking about something?


Basically, I have two main problems to overcome with respect to meditation, three if you count not being able to take chanting seriously.

One, mediation is really boring, and you are not allowed to do anything to pass the time like read or watch a video. I'm also pretty sure the rules say you can't have any visitors or order takeout.

The second thing that trips me up is the way meditation slows down your mind. Apparently, this is supposed to happen, but I don't see how it is helpful.

When my mind is racing I don't dwell on my problems. When my mind slows down I am able to focus on just how many things there are that I should be seriously concerned about.

Another thing that doesn't really do it for me is breathing through your nose. If this actually works you would think it might work for me. I have been blessed with a nose capable of drawing enough air to sustain a small submarine.

Breathing through your nose is supposed to be a pathway to inner peace. For me it seems to be a pathway to hyperventilation.

The one thing I haven't been able to bring myself to try is sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop in a flowing white robe. (My reluctance is related to going-commando issues.)

Anyway, all this anxiety over meditation is stressing me out.

I need to relax.

I need a coffee.

Contact Jim Shea at shea@courant.com and read his blog at http://www.courant.com/tooshea.
Thanks, Jim.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grand Lake

 Live in the moment. Be Present. I come to Grand Lake to get away, to see if I can truly be in the moment. Once settled in here, even for a short stay, one is called to pay attention.
The sky is in charge during the day. I've got the sun in the morning. Blue skies: Go for that walk now. Be in the moment, follow the road up and to the left and on to Adam's Falls. Wait until after lunch? No. The skies are blue now. In the present. Take the walk now.
The 'do what' in the present doesn't matter so much -   hike, observe, saunter, smell flowers, sail, canoe, kayak, water ski, fish, sketch, photograph, sit on a rock to write, think or meditate. Pick your point-of-presence frame. Timing is everything. Being pesent to the sky is essential.
Of course, if all your getaway moments, attempts to regain the ability to be present take place inside, the sky loses its power. Inside, I'm in charge. I can do what I please when I please. But I'm called to nature to be reminded I'm not in charge.
I come here to walk or hike because the Sky, Mother Nature and Dame Fortuna control the resouces. No time for second thoughts, re-writing that little to-do list. Follow the sky. Follow the sun. Sieze the moment.....
The burden of planning rolls of my shoulders. Immediate weight loss as the burden disapears. Just look up and look out.
I'm being called and I'm about to follow.     I know the dark clouds are just the other side of  Baldy. Have to capture my presence right now. See ya!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Reach Exceeds the Grasp

Have you ever been in a conversation or listened to a talk where you knew you would be wild with enhusiasm about the topic if you  understood  a tenth of what the speaker was saying?
Over the weekend, at the Museum of Contemporary Art's Mixed Tastes, that is exactly how I felt.  T. W. Adorno, the philosopher,  and Black Holes were the topics. As always, the end of the evening is devoted to figuring out the connections between the two topics. Beforehand, my guess was that trying to understand Adorno would be a little like falling into a Black Hole, but that was based on my utterly superficial and miniscule knowledge about both topics. The program was sold out, so I knew I was in for a heady evening. Heady would be an understatement. Can a head be totally empty and too full at the same time?

What do you think? Have we failed the promise of the Enlightenment by not using Reason enough, or following Reason to its logical end? (yes, that's the philosophers' Reason, with a capital R)
Just to help you understand the tenor of the twenty-minute talk, here are a few Adorno quotes:

Dialectic thought is an attempt to break through the coercion of logic by its own means.

Mind arose out of existence, as an organ for keeping alive. In reflecting existence, however, it becomes at the same time something else.

 The existent negates itself as thought upon itself. Such negation is mind's element.

Metaphysical categories are not merely an ideology concealing the social system; at the same time they express its nature, the truth about, and in their changes are precipitated those in its most central experiences.

Now, Dr. Henry Pickford knows his Adorno...this is a professor in love with the works and mind of T.W. Adorno. He's put in his time understanding Adorno, Marxist Theory, Heidegger and a long etcetera here... Pickford was brilliant and funny. But still...Brilliant, funny, and acutely aware of the audience's limitation doesn't make this an easy task.

Aha! During the five-minute break I realize I am in a Black Hole, swept into its chaos, swirling enough to teach a dervish to dance. I'm prepared to be pulled out of the hole. But it doesn't happen. Five minutes isn't enough to breathe in enough oxygen to catalyze my brains cells.
 Dr. Bally hits the stage, turns on his powerpoint and doesn't stop talking.

This man is mad about the sky, the stars, the multiple universes, black holes, vortexes,
 origins, formations and evolution of planets...
He can go forward and back three billion years as he walks across the stage.
He doesn't need his telescope - or any one else's - to see a completely different sky than I do. His sight is filled with tales of the past, bubbling formations, relationships, comings and goings, to'ing and fro'in, and I see a sky and stars. What I see is beautiful enough, but  I'm not flooded with understanding, not feeling part of the vastness of what is.
It's not just that I don't understanding everything that Dr. Bally says, nor is it that I can't see the beauty of those photos taken by superior telescopes, it's that I know I don't feel the effects the way he does. I don't walk in a field of uber-connectedness, am not in awe of the star dust that I am. I can't get there from here.
The two men and the audience are brilliant at making connections and the energy created by the discussions energizes the space. People don't want to leave. We're all electrified by the ability of the mind to make connections, and een more electrified by getting closer to the connections we don't quite make.  Closer is better than not at all.
If nothing else, I realize I feel the meaning of Browning's statement:

“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”  What's a heaven for? Reaching.