Category Archives: Perspective

Fill’Er Up With Fear

My worst fear? Okay, here’s my mental process on that particular question: Humm…the leaky bathtub that is turning my walls into goo; the balding tires; the quote unquote financial slum in which we find ourselves; my frickin’ neighbor who cannot let up on using gas-powered yard devices on Sunday mornings…doesn’t he know I am writing, here? (Okay, that would be under the topic of things that piss you off ); there’s my on-going struggle with independence, yet fearing I will get in trouble for it…that if I exert myself at work, I will in some way pay the piper for it; there is the fear that I won’t be able to provide for my children…even simple things like a cello, or a used car, much less college; there is the fear I have for my true-blue artist husband–not a drop of money from painting sales in the last 14 months; and then there are the garden-variety-neurotic fears of dust bunnies, piles, missing spoons, and cat food ground into the tiled kitchen floor; then there is the fear that my face and butt are looking a tad bit older today, than yesterday; then there are those universal fears of covert governments and that our constitution is now meaningless amidst a  severely moneyed economy; then there are my related historical fears, that JFK, Robert Kennedy, post Mecca Malcolm X, and MLK were all taken out to derail the Civil Rights movement; then there are the children fears…particularly for my son who has survived depression and is three months away from surviving and enduring the  American-style educational system…I fear, will he make it? Will he be able to maintain a perspective and a willingness to finish the fight with honor? And then there is religion… I so fear the entire unreflective gang that have white-washed a whole lot of dry rot in the name of Jesus; who then think, armed with the delusion that God is on their side (a notion shared by the witch-burning crowd in Salem and pretty much every right-winged fundamentalist and European monarch of all time) that they are the arm of God, empowered with the task of shaping up the masses; Oh, and speaking of masses, I fear those whose governing notions are more like Alexander Hamilton’s rather than Thomas Jefferson’s; I fear close-door meetings; I fear mass hysteria; I fear the Costco-American Idol kinda of mentality; you know, that I-do-not-care-what-is-happening-in-the-world as long as I can have my super sized hot dog and a good show; I fear people’s unresolved pain or issues visiting that national stage, like they did during the McCarthy era; I fear things wearing out when I don’t have money to replace them; but what I fear most of all is simply this: that I won’t have the faith to push this plethora of fears off the table of my consciousness today. That somehow they will poison the little garden of faith I am cultivating. For you see, even though every shred of evidence in this noisy world begs to differ, I have this crazy notion that my faith shapes my reality. That belief proceeds a miracle; and that we create our lives by our hopes.

Yeah, I know…just look at the papers…the news…but I don’t listen. Mainly because people say what they are paid to say these days. But it is also because I think faith works best when I don’t know how impossible my dream might be, or how absolutely difficult it might be to accomplish. Seems like you need to be a bit shy of a few brain cells to achieve the impossible. So turning fear into faith is my greatest hope for the day…for with that state of mind…all the other fears shrivel down to the size of the dust bunnies that dance along the wooden surface of my floors.

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By the Numbers

Credit scores, housing prices, size zero jeans, 21 point evaluations, numbers on a scale, or in a bank account, all these things  seem to define what it means to be human. Your stats, if you are an athlete, SAT scores, if you are a young college hopeful, the dollar amount of your salary, if you are working person, all press hard against the windows of the soul. Menacing enough, that a mortal might just wonder if they matter to the world in which they exist, if the numbers don’t line up.

These days the numbers aren’t so good for me, and I have to ask an age-old question: Just what is my value? I am also, rarely, a member of any group or committee of note. My voice is not sought after. I don’t have a post-graduate degree. I haven’t written a paper or had my name associated with a big project. I am an observer, but I rarely know what is going on. And I have to admit, that often I am happy in my matter-not-one-bit-ness. But I would also be a liar to say that there is not a tiny, overly sensitive part of me that wishes I could better play the numbers game. But I am not even in the running.

So what do I do with my digitally-challenged self. I don’t know right now. I feel sad. Still a bit like the school girl who was always chosen last for dodge ball, the one never invited to parties. I do know one thing for sure, though. Isak Dinesen said it best Babette’s Feast, “An artist is never poor.” I have my words and the way I see the beauty in life. And I know another thing, I can love and be gentle. For I get what its like not to be number one.  I can give grace for I understand deeply what it means to be at sixes and sevens. I can accept that I may just be known as a social security number on some record one day, but there are sublime things in a human, sweetness that cannot be calibrated or measured. These little, inconsequential things, like the heart-felt connection between two souls, can’t be counted, but do indeed count.

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Filed under "The Journey", Pain, Perspective

Furniture of Life

Yesterday, in class we did this silly little quick write activity. The prompt was in the form of a multiple choice question: What is your favorite piece of furniture?

a. swing

b. couch

c. desk with computer

d. pillows on the floor

I asked my students what they thought mine was. Some thought, rightly, the desk/computer combo. A good choice, backed with plenty of evidence. I love technology, our class is nearly 100% digital, and I am a writer. Others assessed me as a pillows-on-the-floor girl. Right on, again. Lots of support for that one, too. There is a shift in atmosphere when people are sitting on the floor, comfortably with something soft to recline upon. I also think it takes away the distance thing that happens with tables and chairs. It’s harder to stay emotionally separated from another human being when there are no barriers. You can get closer to hear what someone is saying. Also everyone is on the same level. No hierarchy.

Although these two answers are true of me, at the heart, I am a swing girl.

First of all, a swing is exceedingly simple. Very low tech. It’s movement calms the savage beast within. It is, by default, set in nature. Very important. Desks, computers, and pillows are creatures of the man-made world. In fact, they dominate in some ways. Or a least play a starring role. A swing is a small thing set against the lush wide wild world of God.

There was this swing up in Santa Cruz, probably long gone from the playground there, a casualty of that oh-my-god-swings-and slides-are-the bastions-of-danger citizen’s group. You know those clans that have existed for all time. The ones that think the unsafe must be eliminated at all costs. They should be called the taking-all-fun-out-of-this-world group. Okay, back to that swing. It had so much purchase that once you got going, you could touch the low tips of the Redwoods that clustered, in a protective way, around that little box of sand. At night, you could gaze on the blanket of black dotted with its starry random pattern and feel right again. I think it was also the site of my first kiss.

You see for me, the swing puts me in my place. I am a part of a much bigger picture. I am not isolated from the world. I am in it. Those Redwoods, those stars, the maternal movement of the swing, are far more like me than those things made by human hands. And I feel at home with my worldly family.

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Filed under Healing, Materialism, Perspective, Recovery

Kahlil Gibran and the Dead Fish

Soft sobs emanated from my daughter’s room this rainy morning. Her beloved Beta lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. We knew he was old. We knew he wasn’t well. So we were “prepared” like our culture says we should be…like expecting a loss would somehow make it better.

As I held my daughter in my arms, as she cried, I thought of what I could say to make it better. Again, it feels like that idea is more a cultural norm. For what could anyone say that could ease the pain of loss. A quiet presence is needed…coupled with a willingness to do something hard: enter into the silence of sadness, even if it is just for a few minutes. Just be there. Let it penetrate the heart, like a storm surge over the emotional boundary levy of the heart… the one that most of us have constructed against the pain and horror of this world. But that is not what usually happens. We raise a hand to suffering and say, “You shall not pass.”

But what does keeping out this metaphorical sea actually accomplish?

For me it has, ironically, kept me from life. I was raised to avoid the sad and the tragic, even though, right within my immediate family, there was heart-breaking dysfunction.  I am not sure why this seems to be the way of things. Maybe when there is so much incomprehensible woe, you just disassociate from it. However, regardless of the emotional content of my childhood, the result was that I interfaced with life quite superficially. Life on the surface is not much of a trip. The deep is where the wonder is.

Just think about it, if a person’s guiding, albeit unconscious, philosophy is to avoid pain at all costs, look what is lost. Relationships with others are most definitely on the block. For there is no other place fraught with more suffering than the commitment to love someone in all their imperfection. Also what about risk? It is the essential element  in having a dream. What then? Can great things be accomplished if risk is reduced to a background buzz? Yes, it is true that there is safety, but what kind of life is safeguarded? Is it something transcendently beautiful, like the soulful strains of a cello, or the orange-pink of a morning sky? No, it is a life of  protected routine  that never allows for the sweetness innate in every soul to emerge. Kahlil Gibran said that our capacity to feel joy in life was directly proportional to our capacity to feel pain. I wonder in our society, if some of the great tragic sweeps of serious psychological hurt might be displaced, somehow, if we as a culture, made some  sacred space for sadness, instead of always trying for “happy” all the time?

Kahlil also says:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

So back to the dead fish. As I held my sweet girl, I thought of this to say:  “He was probably the most loved fish in the world. Most people don’t even care about a little fish, but you did, and he knew it.” When my daughter would place her finger on his tank, he would come. There was a connection between two living beings. Life happened. It wasn’t safe, for as Antoine de Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, you risk tears when you love. But it was life because there was depth and meaning present…”mattering” was there. It was one of those Gibran daily miracles. That fragility of loving something, knowing consciously that it is indeed ephemeral, that it will die, or leave, and then defiantly loving it all the same, is life. And it can hurt. But it is also sweet…it is poetry…it is the heavens touching our plasticy, costumed existence with such luminous beauty.

Who would have thought there was so much in the little life of a fish.

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Filed under Children, Dreams, Healing, Joy, Loss, Love, Pain, Perspective

Perspective Knocking at the Door of My Heart

After I finished the “Dinner Theatre” post yesterday, sitting at a little oak table in the corner of the coffee shop, watching the rain gently misting down, I picked up a copy of one of our local weeklies.  I turned to Rob Brezsny’s column and read because 1) he is a metaphor god 2) he has something to say, whether you buy his brand of spirituality or not.

Okay, to the point, I read “Taurus”, and Rob quotes W. Somerset Maugham, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous.” In interpretive mode, Rob goes on to say that people born under this sign had a great 09. At this point, I look at “Ares” because Phil was born on the cusp, and perhaps this “reading” will have some resemblance to reality, because “Taurus” was soooo off.

Philip, my husband, who is technically a Taurus, has had a stripping-the-flesh-off-bones year in almost every way possible. He sold one painting, healed from a serious injury, and our marriage was, at best, thread bare. This gifted painter has shoveled dirt, repaired mail boxes, fixed all manner of house related ailments, all to bring in a tiny wage, that like manna, covered the just day’s needs. His life as an artist, well, let’s say, has shriveled back to just a seed of promise.

So Brezsny got it wrong, right?

That brings me to this morning. I am padding around the living room, tidying. It was my oldest son’s eighteenth birthday on January 15th, and we have had kids in the house ever since. Guitars, shoes, and water bottles are everywhere. Then my eye falls upon my middle son’s journal. I had seen it yesterday, and without my glasses, I thought it was just a school related tome or perhaps a place for his newly honed songs.

But no, it was none of those things. Upon closer inspection, it was a book of prayers.

Okay. It’s perspective knocking at the door of my heart, once again.

How many parents would wish that their children would have some guiding force in their lives? And here, we had it, without any effort on our part. We haven’t pushed faith on the kids, but they all believe. We haven’t pushed fiscal responsibility on them, yet they all are extremely careful with the little pocket change they have in their position. We have not pummeled them with rules about being kind to others, yet they are true to their diverse cadre of friends. We haven’t even pressed them to love us, but they do. The 18 year old wanted us to stay at his beach birthday party, because it “wouldn’t be the same without family.”

I could go on, but I won’t.

It just the simple fact that there no real success in life, unless the invisible kind is present.

So maybe what Rob said was true…

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Dinner Theatre or Partying Naked?

In the film, My Dinner with Andre, there is this  interesting exchange about the theater and parties. Wally, an out-of-work-actor and playwright remarks to his friend, Andre: “You know, Debby once said after one of these New York evenings, she thought she’d traveled a greater distance just by journeying from her origins in the suburbs of Chicago to that New York evening, than her grandmother had traveled in making her way from the steppes of Russia to the suburbs of Chicago.” He also that he said that he never understood what was going on at  parties. To which his friend, Andre, responded, “Well, I think that’s right! You know, it may be, Wally, that one of the reasons that we don’t know what’s going on is that when we’re at a party, we’re all too busy performing…You know, that was one of the reason that Grotowsiki gave up the theater. He just felt that people in their lives now were performing so well that performance in the theater was sort of superfluous…”

So my question is why when we are a completely unique form of life on the planet earth, are a walking novel, or strain of beautiful music in the starry night, do we feel the need to be someone else? Why do we feel the pull to pack away the truth and rummage in the costume closet for another identity? Or why do we feel compelled to only submit the well-scrubbed, carefully edited, polished, savvy self  to others? Particularly when, if we are honest, this kind of activity will only guarantee a really boring conversation.

I know the answer. It has been my life’s work to drop the costume in a pile on the floor and emerge in all my fragile psychic nakedness into life. Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said that you had to be born again. Maybe it is nothing more than being born out of a life of costumed slavery and falseness. Maybe what he meant when he spoke of life abundant was that we could actually live free and true…

This has a lot to do with why our Christmas tree is still up. Just call me rebellious, but I don’t want to do anything without making sure my freewill, my ultimate gift from God, is engaged and active.

Now about the tree. We did not put ornaments on it this year. Martin Luther, who allegedly started the tradition, when out walking one night, came upon  snow-kissed evergreens shimmering against the starry night. So we kept our tree like his primordial vision…green with little lights shining out in the darkness. However, let me be abundantly clear, it is no longer a Christmas tree. It is our winter tree and I keep feeding it water because its fragrance and lights comfort me.

So what’s the thread, you might be asking? Well, it is this. I don’t want to do anything because I think I need to perform for any external dictates anymore. I personally think that listening to that haranguing voice that says stuff like, “You better do such and such…or it’s imperative…or don’t say this or that,” just condemns me to a life of stress and inauthenticity.

You may be wondering if I am just some kind of rebel who leaves her laundry piled high and is at odds with every so-called authority figure or duty at hand. Yes on the laundry…sometimes…because dirty clothes happen, but I don’t go looking for conflict.However, when a hurt, frustration, or reaction to someone or something, arises out of the misty realms of my psyche, I inquire within. What is this about? Why am I feeling this way? Is this some post-traumatic-stress thing poisoning my present moment? And I have to admit, that a lot of the time, it is just that. I, damn it, have played a starring role in my own pain. After the moment of clarity comes from this kind of inquiry-based learning, I usually don’t have a lot of fight left in me. Also, doing my job, being a worker-among-workers thing, is a super essential mindset for me. In all of my uniqueness, there is a sweetness, paradoxically, just being a part of a greater whole. I think it is why I adore storms. Big weather reminds me of how small I am.

Yet let me be clear, if  after such a sifting of my spirit, there remains something that is unequivocally wrong, I will say the truth. I have to or else, by denying the veracity of the throbbing bruise, I will never, ever heal. It will perturb me, like the Princess and that little nuisance, the Pea, and I will have no rest, no restoration, or well-being until I deal with it.

No rulership or enforced authority is my code, which makes me an anarchist of sorts. It’s just that I know that I am made to obey one source, and let me clear, it is not carbon-based. Poet Walt Whitman described human liberty as “loosed of limits and imaginary lines.” It is freedom from those systems of belief about what it means to be human, those false notions that bind me  up at parties, at work, and at life. And frankly, I am saying “No” to that kind of rule in my life.

Dinner theatre…all of life is a stage and we are the actors? I say, “I don’t want to play that game any longer.” I want to be known for the fragility, the lack of education, sometimes the iffy morality, the failings, the humor, the courage, and the rawness that is me. And I want to know that bundle of idiosyncrasies that is you, too.

I don’t care where or if you went, to school. But I would love to know what you learned. I don’t care what your house is like. But I do care about the life, dreams, and joy that has occurred in amidst those walls. I don’t want, really, to hear your plan for keeping the proverbial boogie men out of your life or what massive efforts at controlling others you are mounting at the moment. But rather, I am interested in hearing how you have handled life when those sad, dark things we all wish would never happen, happen. I want to know your journey through pain, for there is no greater, more epic Mount Everest-of- the-soul expedition than to face down the demons that taunt when all the busyness of the day dies down, and all that is left is the four walls of the soft, exposed self.

Now wouldn’t that be a dinner party…a celebration of all the uncostumed reality of the attendees. Gives new meaning to “party naked.”


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Filed under "Looking within", "Saying No", "The Journey", "To thine own self be true", Freewill, Healing, Parties, Perspective, Truth

Sticky Fingers

One of my most favorite authors of all time, Anne Lamott, kept a journal that turned into a great book called Operating Instructions, which chronicled the first year of her son’s life. In one section, she recorded a conversation she was having with God about how things were progressing, or more accurately, not progressing…After giving God the proverbial laundry list of concerns, she made this statement, which, no pun intended, has stuck with me. The paraphrased version is this… “Well God, I am trying really hard to keep my sticky little fingers off of all this.” It was a statement of surrender, and honestly, it is with this kind of thought in my head, that this existence begins to work for me.

This is my plan today. To try to keep my sticky little fingers off my life and listen for my next set of operating instructions…

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