Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Perspective

Walked into yoga class this afternoon, yellow scarf on my head, and rolled out my mat. Looking over, I noticed a woman with dark brown hair, almost as short as mine, scarf-free. Tried to concentrate on letting go of mind chatter and concentrate on breathing, but all I could think about was her hair. How much longer was her hair than mine? How long did it take to grow? And it looks fabulous.
So, after class, I asked her to stand at the mirror with me and compare hair. I took my scarf off and looked. Hers was maybe a quarter, half at most, inch longer than mine.
"I love your hair. It looks great. Maybe I am close to just going public with these stubs of white hair," I said.
Before I could ask the big question, she interrupted me with,
"Oh, just got it cut yesterday. Thought it was a little boy/mannish at first, but today I'm loving it."
Perspective A: It's been three and a half months post chemo, and my hair will never be long enough to go scarfless/wigless. I look ridiculous.
Perspective B: I love my hair this short and will never have long hair again.
Time for me to change my perspective.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Carrying a Cross

I have no idea why the piece I copied in to this blog is red, and no idea why the font is so bold. You'll find me receiving no prizes for editorial savvy on the web. But, all of that aside, this is about a man who turns out to be my neighbor, though we have never met. I've seen him carrying his cross, but not for a long while, and had no idea he was going to carry it into the townhouse diagonally across from mine. But he was out and about on Sunday, but not at the townhouse/neighborhood annual picnic. Someone pointed him out, and said he was leaving to walk with his cross in Sudan soon. And it's the first I knew his name: Arthur Blessitt.
Last night, Roscoe, Ann, Eileen and I were talking about him and his mission and what we thought his intended message was.
Then, this morning, as if it were part of the continuing conversation from last night, I saw him out walking with his cross.  I was walking at Lowry, in the newly created park with a stunning sundial reaching to the skies.  Usually, at around 7:00 am there are five or six people with dogs, one or two people with strollers, and me walking in this quite and treeless refuge.  
I was on the return part of the circle, looked over to that sundial screaming towards the skies and saw Arthur, cross on his shoulder, walking the path behind the sundial. In the past, I noticed the wheel on the bottom of his cross, as he walked the streets.
It's not as if there were people to convert in the park this morning, nor were the geese and ducks there to take notice. I've just not been able to understand the intended message or even understand if the message is just a Rorschach: it means what you think it means. To me, it's all strange and a bit unsettling. Does he think he is Jesus? Is he carrying his cross for me and my sins? Does he just like having additional weight on his shoulders? And what are the Moslems, the Jews, the Buddhists and others thinking as they see him walking with a large cross?
So I did what we do these days: I googled him and got right on his home page. Here are a few facts: 
Arthur Blessitt is the man who carried the cross around the world in every nation and is listed in the Guinness World Records for the world's longest walk over 39,227 miles, through 318 countries & major island groups for 42 years. First carried the cross 1968. Story & photos of the cross in every nation.
 “Jesus did it. All Glory to God!" 
"The Glory of the Coming of the Lord is at hand"
There is so much information on his website - free e-books and a store where you can buy things. A blog, a record of adventures, a way to donate, stories, photos. In one of the readings I did figure out that the cross is a reminder that Jesus died for our sins.
I don't know how he goes from this image to conversions, but apparently he has converted people to Christianity from around the world. 
I wish I got it, but I don't.  I don't know what he'll do in the Sudan - probably engage people as he has done other places. But how? And why? Surely, he is doing no harm in the world, and probably doing some good for many. The passion and commitment are well beyond my capabilities or understanding.  It's all a mystery to me, and I suspect no matter how much I read on his website it will remain a mystery. And all in the little neighborhood of Harcourt.  Behind each door is a story . . .

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dreams and Stuff

Yesterday was supposed to be the dedication of the new MLK memorial in Washington, DC. The date was deliberate, as it was August 28, 1963 that Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in DC.
He was 34 years old when he delivered the speech. I wasn't there and I don't know why, because most of my friends had taken the trip down from CT for the event and protests for jobs and freedom. Thirty four years old, with power and eloquence in language, with passion, intensity, and rhetorical persuasion that hasn't come our way since that time.
We have 24/7 communication, and no-one close to the voice of a Martin Luther King; no one to lead us intellectually and emotionally to the dream, updated.
 A lot has changed for the better since that speech, and there is great cause for rejoicing. But jobs and freedom for all (you know, that immigrant issue) are still issues in this country.  Feeling nostalgic for the voices of inspiration. Feeling a bit lost without the inspiration.

So here's just a few words from the Dream. May it inspire new Dreamers with the commitment and passion to bring us closer to equality and justice:
I have a Dream . . .
   let freedom ring.. .
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true, so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Not sure Facebook, a blog, or a tweet can help us serve up such powerful language.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shifting Realities 3

This is it. All future shifting realities will remain unspoken.  But I just want to know if there is a state in the US that isn't on Hurricane Alert?  Nothing has shifted our reality the was 24-7 news coverage has. I'm sitting in a totally landlocked state and wondering if I have enough 'supplies.'  Never know how far one of those waves will roll. I know it's better to be prepared than not and we don't need a post-crisis/human disaster message from our president saying 'Brownie's done a great job.' So I hope it turns out not to be a big shifting reality storm and just leaves us griping about hurricane news fatigue.
But now for the last shifting reality and it's a guest post from Pat O'Driscoll, one of the finest writers I've ever known (and a pretty good guy, also). Actually, it's from an e-mail Pat O sent this morning so he didn't even have time to clean it up or edit it... I just lifted it as it was, so I could share with you. Beware those shifting shopping carts. 
While at Target a couple of weeks ago, I scarfed up for next time a coupla armsful (armfulls?) of notebooks and pens on low-low-low back to school sale prices. We are gonna ROCK the next Project Homeless Connect. . .
 
BTW, funny story about that:
I actually scarfed up those armloads (ahh, better!) of notebooks/pens TWICE because, unbelievably, somebody walked off with my ENTIRE SHOPPING CART of would-be purchases while I was perusing Target's back-to-school aisle. So I had to retrace my steps and shop twice -- fruit, veggies, other goods and, yes, notebooks and pens. Amazing.
 
I must've strolled around the store a good 20 minutes, maybe more, discreetly trying to look for somebody, anybody who would have picked up all those items (including an electric/ultrasonic toothbrush, not your everyday gallon of milk or carton of eggs). Yeah, I was the cart-less guy peering into everybody else's cart. Kind of like a doe looking for her lost fawn, "rescued" by some well-meaning idiot . . . I even approached a woman in the check-out line because HER stash of notebooks looked like mine. "Did the cart also have Play-Doh in it?" she almost sneered, gesturing to the items beneath the notebooks. I apologetically said no as I backed away.
 
But really, now: How, I wonder, does somebody do that -- wander off with the wrong cart for the rest of her/his shopping trip and NOT realize there's a load of stuff in the cart that isn't hers/his?
 
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shifting Realities, 2

Shifting realities for Steve Jobs these days, and somehow that seems to change all our realities just a tad. In many ways, everything will change at Apple with his stepping down, and nothing at all will change. People's perceptions of Apple's robustness or strength might change, but the company won't necessarily change. For me, his announcement shifted my sense of reality in a more abstract way, and serves as a reminder of the fragility of life.Health and fragility. Fragility and health. One day he's well enough to run the company; the next day not. That's a shifting reality.
But on a brighter note, here's another tale of shifting realities, and a great reminder of how we're often an experience, an epiphany away from a new reality.  I quote from the very first article I read (on-line, University of Denver)) this morning:
"Ashey Buderus was named to the El Pomar Foundation board.
When Ashley volunteered at Il Piccolo Principe children's foster home in Bologna Italy in 2002, as part of her DU study-abroad experience, she had an epiphany.
She was planning to pursue a career in corporate business, but while working with the children, she realized she should dedicate her life to helping others.
'The service I did there was my tipping point,' she says, 'A light went off that I could dedicate my entire life to service.' "
The article goes on to list Ashley's many, many activities and her professional non-profit work since she graduated in 2005.
I was in Bologna with the University for a segment of time in 2002 when Ashley was there. We had worked long and hard putting together the academic and civic engagement pieces of the program and wanted to make sure the service sites were running smoothly.  I got to engage with Ashley and the other students for long periods of time and had the opportunity to watch the mini-transformations taking place. Realities were shifting everywhere I walked, talked, and observed. Ashley's was the most pronounced shift; she had her epiphany and never looked back. Corporate business' loss; the non-profit world's gain.
I see Ashley occasionally and she still has the glow of epiphany enveloping her.  For those who wonder why anyone chooses an academic career, Ashley's journey explains it all. Shifting realities.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shifting Realities

A plate shifts under Virginia, another one moves under Colorado and all of a sudden the world seems so tenuous.
Sitting in a meeting about a Leadership Conference it struck me that, metaphorically at least, these days, the plates are rumbling, tumbling, screeching, shifting under and around us all the time. Plant a foot firmly, and the other slides away. Don't stay in any one place too long.  I don't know if the tectonic shifts are imitating us or we're imitating them - or even more likely, we're in synch.
So it's in this context of shifting realities, that I read about Pat Summitt's early dementia this morning. I don't know if one has to be a woman's basketball fan to know who Pat is, but if you do follow women's college basketball at all, you surely know Pat as the 8-time NCAA winning coach of the Lady Volunteers of Tennessee.  Pat and Geno (UConn Women's super winning coach) have been friendly enemies on and off the court for decades now.  Greatest sports duo ever, bringing their teams to the tops year after year.
Indomitable,persuasive, persistent, competitive and brilliant, Pat has been a pillar of women's athletics, an icon of persistence and hard work. She had a tough season this past year, and know we have some idea why.
It appears she has been living with this 'new normal' for months now, but just disclosed yesterday, so now we are all living in her new normal world, where she will still be coach of the Lady Vols.
My dearest friend Tom has been on this same journey since the age of 59, and the road is long, perilous, and fraught with the unexpected. We'll all be privileged to be allowed to observe parts of Pat's journey.
I guess it's the timing, but I just see these shifting plates, pieces being dis-remembered, new realities crafted together, blurring of lines, a rift here, a schism there....plate tectonics of the brain.
One finds or creates synchronicity in the strangest of places.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Love at the Beach

Little flicks and flakes of sand seem to be embedded in my fingernail polish. A grain or two of sand has even found its way onto my head, barely covered by the short white hairs trying to cover my head.Yes, I'm back from a glorious week at the beach in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.  Hours of boogie-boarding and body surfing for some; long beach walks for everyone. For two days it rained so hard the cars had to be moved to higher ground to avoid being flooded.  The parking lot became a lake and then back to a $10 parking fee unit within three hours of sun.
A Movable Feast, one of my brother's called it -- never fewer than ten of us for dinner, and a wealth of gourmet cooks, young and old. Evening walks for ice cream cones. A week surrounded by the smells and sounds of salt water and sea air - what could be more heavenly?
Well, nothing other than the love and joy that comes from being surrounded by family. Being nostalgic here, but just had to give a big call out to a week of love and peace with my family.  I realize all families don't have this experience and we had our years where thinkgs were far from love and peace, but my shout out of love is to now, to this moment in time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sabbatical

Still reeling from the effects of Project Homeless Connect and the power and optimism of the people we met.
I'm collecting all my thoughts and ideas - and those of others - and packing them in my suitcase, heading for the beaches of Rhode Island for a week,   Going to connect with family, friends, the sound of the ocean, taste of the salt water,  feel of the sand and plan to disconnect from all things electronic as best I can.
I'll be back August 21st and look forward to connecting with you then. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Honey, I can barely write my name, but thanks." 
"Write? I love to write. I write poetry. Love Tupac, man; he's the best." Here, let me show you some of my writing, and let me show you my new pen. It's the best." And out of his backpack comes a huge notebook stuffed with pictures, poems, drawings and his writings. 
We were busy all day long at the Lighthouse Writers Table at Project Homeless Connect. Lots of questions, from the homeless clients, volunteers, and people from other service agencies.

Fortunately, hundreds of college students from Beta Alpha Psi, the organization for students of finance, accounting and information services across the country, were in Denver for a convention and dedicated this day to working at Homeless Connect.
Over 800 clients were served on this day, and each person had an individual mentor walk him or her through the system to make sure they got the services they needed. There was childcare, legal aid, and a judge who could render a decision on individual cases. Outsource providers from local towns, , mental health workers, the Denver Library, and Voter Registration were in our area.  Hundreds of service providers at tables all day long, maps were crystal clear and easy to read, and no-one was turned away.
Katie Symons, Liz Ochs and their crew had this day perfectly organized. They didn't miss a beat. Having been involved several years with the project, I am always impressed by the complete attention to detail - starts with the mentor going through a series of questions with the client to make sure that he/she gets what is most important. To some people, it's a medical check-up; to others it's a birth certificate. The only snafu seemed to be at DMV, where the line was just the way it is when you show up at the office. Then we found out the DMV had come with only dial-up services. Go figure. 2011. Convention Center wired and wireless; hundreds and hundreds of outlets. That seemed to be the only place where people were turned away at the end of the day.
The many volunteer hair stylists were busy all day long serving people from 5 to 75.  For some it was a back-to-school haircut; for others just a new look for a new day.  Who doesn't feel good after a haircult?
The clients and mentors have lunch together, take time to chat, and the mentor/volunteers make sure clients have had contact with the services they most need.  Then the clients fill out a quick exit survey and make their way to the spot where clothes, toiletries, and other goods are available.  The process of filling needs and talking with the clients are uppermost. It's not about "show up, get something to eat, and then browse the free clothing and toiletries for what you want." It's a day of dignity, a day of supporting someone who needs help solving a particular problem.  Hugs all over the place at the end of the day. 
 On another note, here's a personal observation:


"I love to write," was the unanimous answer of every young child who stopped by our Lighthouse Writers Table at Project Homeless Connect.  The tough questions are "How can we make sure these kids still love to write ten or twenty years from now?"  "Are there enough resources to sustain and expand the creativity of these presently homeless children? What can the parent, or guardian do, as he or she is making a way through the maze to find a place to sleep for a night, a week, a month, a year?"
I think this is a challenge to and for all of us.  Remember that old bumper sticker, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."   Watching the people lined up for health care and to learn about health care coverage, it's the same story: "If you think healthcare is expensive, try no healthcare."
I think we've tried both ignorance and no healthcare a little too long, don't you?
I don't know where our writing project is going, but after the interest people showed today, you can be sure it's going to go somewhere.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Project Homeless Connect

Getting ready for Project Homeless Connect in Denver at the Convention Center tomorrow.  An amazing array of services - from a day in court to writing resumes and finding housing - are lined up. Doctors, dentists, hair stylists, mental health practitioners and hundreds of volunteers will be available to help the homeless and almost homeless (not sure what this really means) who show up at the Convention Center with their particular needs. It's a powerful event, seeing so many agencies, non-profits and others collaborating effectively to help people with their specific needs.
I have no  idea how our little project will work or how many people will be interested in what we offer. Julia, Patrick, Andrea, Roscoe and I will be at a Lighthouse Writers table offering people the opportunity to write - just plain write anything they want and to fill out as survey to see if there is any interest in writing workshops among the people who attend.  And we know that if there is interest, it won't just be a matter of sending out e-mails and getting responses. We'll have to find ways to contact people. We also know that for people in desperate situations, writing may not exactly be a need or a priority. But we believe writing empowers people, and hope maybe we can empower one or two people. More to report after the day's end on Thursday.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What are you reading?

It's been more than six months since I've been on a plane, and I had forgotten how quickly things can go amuck. One thunderstorm in Chicago, one plane having to go to Wisconsin for gas after circling Chicago for an hour, one plane gone, and all the rest full. In short, left Hartford at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, arrived home in Denver 9:30 p.m. on Monday. In the same clothes from 8:00 a.m. Sunday until 10:00 p.m. Monday. I won't even think of adding up the $$$'s for plane change, hotel, food.  Glad to be back in the air, but would have preferred to go to London in that amount of time.
Saturday before the Sunday plane irritations I spent some time in a CT bookstore. Sat in a chair to read something and noticed the stacks of book on a table between my chair and another.
Piled up on the table next to my chair were The Childhood Roots of Happiness; Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids; and Kids, Parents and Power Struggles.
On the other side of the table, next to the other chair were When Your Lover is a Liar; Why Should I Forgive You; If it Hurts, It isn't Love; Getting Naked Again.
Sitting at the back of this small table, almost equally between the two piles, sat Yoga for Dummies.  Truly.

One reader trying to find the keys to confident, happy children; the other reader trying to become a confident, happy adult in the face of adult angst. Both probably could have made good use of Yoga for Dummies. I imagined that both readers were women (is that sexist?) and probably about the same age. I wish I had seen both of them. I imagined what the two readers might have talked about had they struck up a conversation. "If only my parents had read a book like that," or "Perhaps it's enough to forgive yourself and move on." I don't know, but more often than not, I get sucked into these imaginary conversations based on a clue or two and my imagination.  The magic of bookstores and libraries.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Are You?

If you've ever been asked 'What are you?" as opposed to "Who are you?" you might love Cara Lopez Lee's new post on her blog girlstrektoo.com where she asks' Do you often contemplate your ancestral past?' and asks the readers to respond.

I read her post and finally responded myself with a short answer. It's a great question, and one I'm sure most of us have wrestled with over time. I suspect the answer has changed over time for many people; it certainly has for me.
What are you? Who are you? Are those really different questions?  I've always wondered how much of my ancestral past - going way, way back - is still in me, somehow embedded in mysterious ways in my DNA. I remember Maya Angelou once saying to a group of students "You are not here free. There is no free lunch. You are here on the backs of slaves, people who went through pogroms, famines, were imprisoned, fled towns and countries, died; you are here on the backs of all of them, all the way back.... each one taking a step forward to your future."  And when she spoke, I could visualize the scene: people suffering, working, praying, moving with those of us yet unborn invisible on their backs. Yes, we've been carried by generations, and that day I could see it all as clearly as if I were standing in a field looking for myself.
There is great power, I think, in contemplating one's ancestral past and great power in the voices of those who urge us to do so.
On another note, into the future, I will be away for several days, far from my computer and without easy access to the internet. So, let's meet again next week.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ramadan

Apropos of nothing, that solitary strand of linguine is still on the sidewalk. Must be indestructible.

On another note, today is August 1st, and this year it's the beginning of Ramadan for Muslims. It's the beginning of thirty days of fasting from dawn to dusk, and is taken pretty seriously by the over one billion Muslims around the world. No eating, no drinking, no sex from dawn to dusk.
Each year at the beginning of Ramadan, especially when it occurs in the summer, I am reminded of the summer I first taught English as a second language to incoming university students from around the world. This was decades past, decades before some of us  knew much of anything about the cultures and customs of the middle east; these were the days when I thought the students were here to learn about the US and about our particular university; the days of innocence and some presumed superiority. (Remember, I was so much younger then, so sure of myself.
That was the summer of students from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Japan and France. If they passed the summer course, these students would be studying business, engineering, or art at the university in the fall.
The language courses were intense and we had an added component called 'American Culture.' American Culture included trips to art and history museums, baseball games, county fairs, and other Americana icons.
I should have known, especially after we visited the Noah Webster House, that we professors had something to learn. The Noah Webster house was not perceived as 'old' by any students' standards. It was 'old' bu US standards.  Then there was the county fair. Imagine how disgusted our Muslim students were when we paraded by dens of pigs. And so it went. 
We did know enough not to schedule any American culture events at night during Ramadan. We knew about Ramadan.  What we didn't know, of course, is the impact Ramadan would have on our grammar and sentence construction courses or on the reading assignments. There sat our students, who had been up since dawn praying and fasting. There sat our students during lunch hour, eating and drinking nothing. There sat our students at 3:00 in the afternoon, heads on the desks, writing sentences with different verb tenses or learning American idioms. Blurry-eyed, exhausted, and most of their day still to come. Some days a group would head off to the local grocer to buy large supplies of food; other days they would just go back to the residence halls and begin cooking.  Finally, 8:00 or later, the sun would go down, they'd eat a date, participate in their fourth prayer session of the day, and then have the dinner/feast they prepared. Then they would socialize, clean up the kitchen and dishes, and prepare for the next day. And we would expect them full of energy and ready to learn at 8:00 a.m.  Not one student ever complained about anything.
Slowly, and humbly, I learned a lot that summer.  I learned about my own particular brand of American arrogance, learned respect for people with deeply held beliefs, learned as much as I could in that short time about cultures and religions, and learned how much I had to learn. That was the summer I learned that people are people and share a common goodness wherever they live. That was the summer I learned that people may or may not have anything to do with the stereotyping we have of a particular country or culture. That was the summer my education really began.