#105 I Wake to the Stark Reality of This House

I wake to the stark reality of this house.

I wake to the sound of the ocean, the vast water capable of absorbing all of my tears yet never once softening–

That’s not the purpose of the ocean.

I wake to the stark reality of hard surfaces, of wood and glass that reverberate sound without absorption–

That’s not the purpose of wood nor glass.

I wake to the stark awareness of yet another day spent in my own company, another day with my thoughts as companions when I long for the warmth and comfort of friends or family–

That’s not the purpose of aloneness.

I wake to the stark hardness of political messaging that uses division and hate that tears at the fabric of my understanding of humanity–

That is not the purpose of humanity.

I wake to another day of stark being and hard reality as I long for the embrace of compassion, first for myself then radiating to all others, each of us waking to yet another day of trying to stay safe while struggling with isolation and wanting connections–

That is the purpose of compassion.

#102 I Can’t Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, said the earth

gasping

and then

the fumes from cars and trucks

all over the world

stopped

and in the cities

the distant mountains

could again be seen.

 

“I can’t breathe”, we said

as we sat behind our closed doors,

the early spring still cold,

the shared outdoor spaces

roped off,

barricaded.

Social distancing meant

staying inside

without enough

movement

or

air.

 

“I can’t breathe”, said yet another

black man

restrained,

life flowing out from his body

as one more oppressor

prevailed

while the camera watched

then sent the image out

into the world.

 

“I can’t breathe”, shouted the

masses protesting

the accumulation of despair

and injustice

in shock waves

throughout the world.

 

“I can’t breathe” say

the non-mask wearers

defending their non-compliance

with no understanding

or regard

for the safety of others.

 

“I can’t breathe”, says

my spirit

as it cries out for

a better world

with love

and compassion

filling the

longing hearts,

the twisted painful

psyches

not yet recognizing

what they

most need

is light

air

and

breath.

 

 

Three Words. 70 Cases. The Tragic History of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/28/us/i-cant-breathe-police-arrest.html?referringSource=articleShare

#101 Deep Quiet

Deep Quiet.

What can be said for falling
into the farthest back folds of your closet
the place where silence reigns?

How is it possible to live day after day
saying only “Good Morning” with as much warmth and kindness as you can muster, then later “Thanks for bringing in the package”, eight words in an entire day while a stream of words run a constant presence in your brain but never leaves your mouth?

In this time of social distancing, of staying inside to remain safe and healthy
for over three months, is finding the daily isolation a bit too comforting? Is relishing the lack of face to face interchange, relinquishing the sound of words to the silent controlled realm of the keyboard, using words only when you have a handy “delete” function if you say too much or are a tad too honest, keeping everything upbeat and never discussing the darkness that lurks from all the edges, where you really want to be?

I walked a little at the re-opened park a mile or two away, where families returning to the normalcy of pizza boxes and blankets were sharing weeknight take out dinners or picnics, laughing together. The park, always a place of solace, made now ever so precious after the barriers and “Closed” signs came down. The families sat close together in household groupings while I moved around them, distanced, feeling the impact of my aloneness and isolation in contrast. During all these days of staying apart their being together for all this time was obvious. How had I become that lonely old woman walking unseen among the laughing clusters with an aching heart and gallons of unshed tears?

Is it a natural pairing, this aging and sliding away into our own company, shielding oneself from constant interaction, finding preference for solitude? If so, once again I am the outlier for I crave the warm presence of others, the interchange of observations of experience and difference, so while I’ve made use of the quiet, it does not fill me with joy.
Should it?

#99 The World Shifted In a Day

The World Shifted in a Day.

Pandemic news traveled
spreading fear
fast as moving air
fear seeping under doorways
spread by keypads and networks
finding ways
into consciousness

Virus droplets
growing in bodies
in close spaces
on shared objects
everything suspect

Days weeks months
isolation separation
no hugs no family.
flat screen faces
replacing whole bodies
learning to make do

Warming spring
closed public spaces
beaches parks trails
denied
old and young
disabled or strong
two legged
four logged
stacked inside
desperate for light and air
movement
solace
all denied

Magnetized energies
attracting unrelated
unresolved
hidden issues
pandemic pile-ons
growing behind
closed doors

So much pain
misunderstanding
hidden triggers
personal national global
discontent
wrongs needing righting
layers compounding
solutions
complex
unfathomable
desperately unintended
breaking free
into the awareness of everyone

This is not finished
the work
not done
until every
festering wound
opens to healing
yours
and everyone else’s

Don’t look for
returns
or endings
the point of
all this pain
is awareness
followed by
resolution
over and over again
until everyone
and everything
heals by
opening to
new beginnings.

 

 

#97  Size Matters

Size Matters.

A Great Black-backed Gull landed on the roof of a nearby house, checking out the surrounds for food scraps. A resident Herring Gull swooped in trying for territory protection. The Black-backed was not having any of that nonsense, in bird terms, shrugging off the Herring Gull clearly implying “Are you kidding me?”

Awhile back, I’d been checking out a good birding spot with a friend, a place where the tide comes in (and out) as a river flow into the mouth of a large marsh. A Herring Gull was strutting the beach with a clamshell lunch in its beak. A Black-backed landed nearby and proceeded to walk deliberately toward the Herring Gull who clearly showed signs that he/she knew that they were not going to get to eat that lunch. When the Black-backed got sufficiently close the Herring Gull simply dropped the clam on the sand and flew off. Size matters.

Great Black-back Gull: Larus Marius

Length: 2.1 – 2.6 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.9 – 5.6 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 4 lbs (Adult, North Atlantic population), Male: 4 lbs, Female: 3.3 lbs

 

American Herring Gull: Larus Argentatus Smithsonianus  

Length: Male: 2 – 2.2 ft. (Adult), Female: 1.8 – 2 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.1 – 5.1 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 2.3 – 3.4 lbs (Adult), Female: 1.6 – 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Great Black-back Gulls: “Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. They can be nasty, albeit beautiful, birds.”

From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black-backed_gull

According to family lore I am a throwback to my paternal Great Grandmother, a tiny 4’10” woman who arrived as an orphan on this continent along with her younger sister in one of the earliest waves of a forced emigration movement from England into Canada now labelled as the “British Home Children”. From 1869 until the 1940’s the descendents of  these neglected-by-history children now make up ten percent of the current Canadian population. It’s a long and mostly sordid story, the gist of which in my family’s case was to keep silent about Elizabeth Chew Hesseltine’s past. Her importance to me growing up was that I was the only short one in a family not particularly tall (but hardly runts). My shortness was attributed to my carrying her genes although in the late 1940’2 and early 50’s that could not have been the reference. I have always been aware that tall people, especially exceptionally tall women, seemed to rise to prominence where we shorties struggled for our existence. Heightists! Size matters.

There are fairly numerous references to the claim that the tallest Presidential candidate always wins. If we ever get to elect a woman as President will this stay true?

According to random Google searches men are usually regarded as “short” if they come in at less than 5’10”. What height is considered “tall” for a woman? Those Google results list 5’6” as an ideal height for a woman in the U.S. (5’11” for a man). My observation has been that thin ranks of successful top-of-the-heap corporate or institutionally prominent women are often near the 6’ mark. From my 5′ tall perspective, this is a “truth” I’ve been noticing for over seventy years. (I am conveniently ignoring the physical stature of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a giant among women.)

I used to think that those who exceeded considerable height could be kind, that they never had to resort to bullying behaviors used by those of lesser stature, that their size alone dictated they did not have to resort to tactics of the very short,  know: that “gentle giant” thing.  That thought lasted until a 6’5” wife beater was outed in my small town. And now there are lots of political examples (and no, we won’t name names).

There are lots of size issues in the Animal Kingdom and bird species obviously have different adaptations where size may not be the critical issue but I doubt that would be a consolation for that stymied Herring Gull I watched this afternoon. I stay rooted: size matters. Or maybe, with nods to the Justice, that should be “Attitude”.

Photo Note: Herring Gull at Two Lights

#96 Seeing Is Believing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing?

Researchers inform us that birds can see and differentiate color in ranges not visible to the human eye. Humans cannot imagine what it would be to have the precise vision of a hunting raptor flying high above or what it would be like to have unaided infrared vision. Researchers tell us a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of a human. How can we possibly make sense out of such information?

I watched a brief clip on social media of a two people coming together in a hug using a homemade device made from a clear shower curtain with two sets of plastic arm protectors so each could stay safe from virus transmission. An irate viewer commented on the ridiculousness of this saying she “would not live with such fear any longer”. I didn’t stick around to read the comments to her comment but I thought that in a way she made a valid observation; fear is permeating everything. But we know, don’t we, how the science of virology works and repudiating fear is not part of this knowledge. We can throw up our hands, go to church or to a beach or a bar and mingle freely with others and, later, others may read headlines on the numbers of us who have become infected and who have died as a result of our actions. Our conceptualization of reality is tricky business.

What is it about our own particular version of reality? How do we know what we know? Much comes from out of our learned experience yet we often don’t have a clue about the realities of even loved ones closest to us. What did we  learn and retain from our education?  If only it was as simple as those who spent the longest time in institutions of learning and wracked up the most letters they could add after their name insures that they  always get to be at the top of the heap. Turns out that’s not quite right. There are so many different ways of knowing. Aren’t there?

Sitting in the midst of the time-out pandemic it seems like the perfect time to let such thoughts whirl in our minds. We have been watching daily media showing what divides us politically as we move farther and farther apart in our disbelief of the other side’s unwillingness to see obvious truth. Is this not one of the deepest mysteries of human kind?

In the protestations of that irate woman’s negative reaction to a backyard invention, the shower curtain virus protector, I heard a truth. Reading science-based media reports about how this particular virus spreads and the various ways it has inhabited human bodies, I hear truth. Our daily lives are permeated with fear and the threat to our continued survival requires us to abide by rules that make sense to many of us that means following the rules of science. What is compelling is how we are each attempting to make sense of our world, our worlds, now turned upside down but with or without this virus this was always the case.

A vegan finds the killing of animals for food abhorrent. A gourmand finds the consumption of rarities a joy. A five year old may only eat rice or pasta plain with only a bit of butter or with nothing at all, for months on end. These are operational realities. How do we make distinctions which incorporate such disparities? What, when, where, how do disparities lead us to seeing variations of other realities as crossing the line into unacceptable madness?

Extraordinary to me is that our entire planet is enveloped simultaneously in a pandemic that challenges us like no other point in our experienced history. Can this be true?  When we cannot fathom the motivations and/or actions of someone who shares our living space then how can we possibly fathom the actions of someone, anyone, across the globe? And yet here we are seemingly all in the same boat at the same time. If you are trying to make sense of anything about this pandemic you are also asking the questions of what makes things real and what makes us human.

Note: Apologies for duplication of a photo used in a previous post. It was too perfect not to use for the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of links about known animal abilities:

https://www.everythingbirds.com/articles/birds-vision-different-from-ours/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

# 95 New Thoughts on the Future of Aging

New Thoughts on the Future of Aging.

If you stop to sit and think about Retirement, if you dive right down deep into ponder, purging your mind of numbers and stereotypes, it might strike you that Retirement is a rather strange concept. The idea of a hard work lifetime coming to an abrupt end at a magic number (you choose but the government has considerable sway) is beyond odd. In my last paid working years I pushed long past realistic capacity, becoming increasingly exhausted in my non-paid-work hours, when I wasn’t actually sleeping. I went from work to home chores, to sleep, and back up the following day, repeating endlessly. All-chore weekends were the norm. When opportunity knocked I was retired in a month, moved two states up and over and starting anew. It was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In this time of crisis the pause button has been pushed. It’s time for a rethink. Being older now means virus vulnerability. Our ranks are thinning disproportionately. If local, national, or global resources become thin our presence takes on furthered meanings—ice floe or a still contributing member of society?

During and after a pandemic what do we have to offer? For the past two years I’ve been working on Eldering and Building Community, giving me new purpose. In lifelong learning classes dynamic, talented, intelligent men and women were in states of new beginnings at a time I had thought this part of our lives was all about endings. Instead, we had landed on “generative” but where were the opportunities to apply what we had to offer? Our graying heads were talking among ourselves and it was illuminating and, perhaps, just a tad stagnant, although a lot of fun.

The ground has shifted. For the lean times ahead, in what ways can we be most useful? Already apparent are divisive signs where the aged are seen as takers not givers, users of resources rather than resources ourselves. If our backs are not strong enough for heavy pulling what then do we have to offer?

Don’t count on a moral high ground but don’t discount historical perspective. Divisions based on age and body soundness are not what will work for us now so we’d best be stepping up and using what we’ve learned in newly expansive ways. There is work to be done and many ways to do it. Think in the “Crisis=Opportunity” mode. Ditch the never-really-worked-anyway Retirement model. Transitioning, morphing, adapting have always been sound. Staying malleable, finding purpose, take what you know forward and on to new ground. Continue learning. Everyone has something to contribute. Consider yourself repurposed. 

# 92 Fear

Fear.

I caught my foot on a looped wire attached to the garage. It entangled my right foot so that my attempt at rebalancing failed. I went down. Hard. On tarmac. My yelling was as much a release as anything else. I was scared. Later, I realized that a fear of falling had been present in me for sometime. We all have one, a fear we are carrying that lies just below our waking consciousness and, like the shadow on the wall, this fear may be a magnification of something much smaller, which confronted, through experience or circumstance turns out to be quite different than we thought. Exposing the fear enlightens us, allows us to get to what we need to know.

Fear is a palatable part of daily existence in the time of this global pandemic. I am thinking about the zillions of ways it must be a working present in each of our lives. It might just be Step One in our healing—our awakening—process. 

After finally being righted (needing help to do this) shortly after the fall I felt the words “good will come of this” in my head. Years and years ago I recognized that falling is a healthy thing to do; it’s an indicator of our flexibility as landing from a fall shakes out what we need to loosen. Children fall frequently, popping back up like newly set bowling pins but as we get older our various rigidities begin to worm their way into our thoughts and into our bodies. I thought way back then I realized the secret was to continue to fall which would remind me to stay as flexible as possible,  but as serious aging moved in I stiffened with arthritis and fear became a part of me without my recognition. 

Our deepest fears are OUR deepest fears for good reasons. Mine are not yours and vice versa. In circumstances where we tap into the experience we get the gift of knowing, opening ourselves in needed ways. If this is so for our individual lives what then does it mean for our global humanity as we face the unknowns of a virus? What is the process of collective fear working its way out into awareness on this global level? 

Is it not a privilege to be present and part of what is being released? We are in a time of opportunity for learning, a time for being flexible rather than rigid, each one of us throughout the world, all of us at the same time.

#91 Dualities

Dualties.

The Gulls gather daily on the rooftop of the restaurant next door and also atop the chimney of the house where I live. They have come back to their feeding ground in the beginning of the season of french fries and fried seafood. They circle then squawk loudly. Where are the hoards of people carrying the red trays out to sit on the picnic tables overlooking the ocean? Why is the parking lot empty? Damnit, it’s time for their favorite seasonal foods and they are impatiently waiting.

Watching the Gulls I think of how so many of us are struggling with this changing world. We are not what we were nor what we will become. We are in the unknown-unknowing time with no idea how long we will occupy this limbo state. We, too, want our french fries or their equivalency in our lives. We want the sun and the summer’s warmth and all that comes with it. We long to be carefree, relaxed, engaged in the joys that summer represents. Instead we circle like the Gulls knowing that something is up but not exactly sure just what that means.

The days feel like a series of roller coaster rides. It is lovely to have time to think and to be quiet. On the other hand not being able to be together face-to-face is actually painful on physical and mental levels. The logistics of getting basic supplies are daunting and even more so for those who are compromised by health or age or circumstance. We battle moments of anxiety and darkness. And yet….

We can both grieve what we have lost at the same time we can believe in what will come.

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Brene Brown, author.

I believe my “something is coming” feelings started in my late twenties. We moved “back to the land” and our family became as self-sufficient as was possible at that time: woodpiles and four wood stoves to keep us warm, chickens, huge gardens, one freezer chocked full with meat and the other with vegetables and berries, canning jars on cellar shelves filled with peaches, pears, and applesauce and green beans and tomatoes. There were old wood bins with potatoes and carrots.  On the floor of an unused upstairs bedroom were varieties of squashes and the onions.  Put up or put by, the terms dependent on where you came from, it was hard work full of love and joy that brought a sense of fulfillment (and exhaustion). Most of us trickled away for varieties of reasons but at the dawn of a new century others began returning to those same thoughts and ideals. By then I was too old to return to that lifestyle and far beyond the means necessary to obtain–land, tools, a strong bodied partner– what is needed to live that way. But I still believe in this transition to a better world. I may not live to see it flourish but, unexpectedly, I am here at its beginning. The negative moments come when I look back. The positive moments are when I open to the possibilities of the future.

# 89 Inner Strength

 

Inner Strength.

“Everyone is struggling with things we know nothing about.”*

“New loss triggers old lost.”*

For years now I have thought that one of the problems of the design and refinements of homo sapiens is that we cannot, like Dr. Spock of Star Trek, do a “Vulcan Mind Meld”. The fingers of the Vulcan were placed on the head of another being, allowing the Vulcan to join with the mind of the other allowing instantaneous understanding of the issues at hand. A related concept with origins I did not know until I looked it up, came from a poem by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 entitled “Judge Softly” in which her readers were admonished to  “Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins”.

Without these abilities, in our best moments, we work our way to compassion, but beyond (and including) compassion is experiential knowledge, that “mile in the moccasins” thing. I remember thinking that I understood the grief born by friends when they lost loved ones but only when such loss hit my life did I understand how little I had actually known as I was trying to express caring and solidarity to those dear friends. Experiencing the searing pain of loss I wanted to contact each and every one of those whom I had wronged through the gaps in my previous understanding and I wanted to beg those friends for forgiveness and to tell them I finally “got it”. Too little. Too late.

Yet there is a flip side to this, almost a contradiction, when we ignorantly err trying to make sense of the lives of others through our own experience which is actually not theirs but ours. We think we know. We don’t.  And yet there are some who are able to use their hard earned knowledge to make a real difference, such as  those who become counsellors or sponsors in addiction recovery programs. These are the people who have walked that mile in the foot wear of others.

Among our friends, family, and community there are those who even in the darkest of personal times present a brave or noble face to others, to “suck it up” and just keep going. Were we taught that no one wants to hear such troubles? Was there an instruction manual that told us to hide what we were going through?  I have come to feel that such masking is detrimental beyond the obvious. Such masking has allowed our culture to brush aside the awareness and the honesty of mental health issues that arise in the lives of most all of us at some point in our lifetimes. We, as individuals, and we, as members of our culture, are steeped to steer away from such sharing, to hide the honesty of our humanness and our vulnerability. How recently it was that provisions for mental health began being required of health care insurance plans yet still there are limitations placed on such coverage which is a critically important piece that is still getting lost in all the clamor of “health care for all”?

Festering wounds are healed by light and air. This is true for both physical and mental healing. If you think yourself beyond such “weakness” you have yet to experience your own particular version of deep human trauma or, even worse, you may have stuffed your own pain and sorrow and stayed silent thinking that was what was required. In communicating with others I am learning that the most profound moments of meaning come from the “slip” into divulging what lies hidden (mostly only to ourselves). So many kinds of trauma and grief lie within our psyches wanting light and air, compassion and understanding. Owning our feelings and sharing them can be a breakthrough moment for everyone involved, strangers and friends alike.

Examples of the cover-up of mental health issues can be found daily by simply turning on your radio, TV, or by reading or viewing internet postings. Incapacitated leaders, celebrities, talking heads, pundits abound yet everyone seems to be in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” mode, hovering and praising while ignoring blatant realities. To call this out our honesty has to be motivated by compassion for others and for ourselves, and those who have walked in the shoes of others are those who could lead us to understanding. Pointing fingers and calling names does not lead to healing. There are so many ways for our personal pain, sorrow, or grief to come forth and the strengths they bring can begin to heal our world.

 

Notes and References:

Image note: I have written before of my admiration of the survival skills of Gulls and I look to them as examples of unrecognized strengths.

*These words came from a brief interview with David Kessler (author of “On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kubler Ross) on the NPR program On Point on March 31, 2020.

 

MindMeld

Spock performing a Vulcan mind meld.

The Vulcan mind meld (or mind touch) was a telepathic technique employed exclusively by Vulcans in which the minds of two individuals become a single entity. In the Vulcan language, it was known as taroon-ifla. (TOSepisode: “Dagger of the Mind“, Last Unicorn RPGmoduleThe Way of Kolinahr: The Vulcans)

https://memory-beta.fandom.com/wiki/Mind_meld

“Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” link: https://jamesmilson.com/about-the-blog/judge-softly-or-walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins-by-mary-t-lathrap/

 

# 87 Irony

Irony.

I recently posted about silos. My timing was certainly ironic. For some time now my life has been filled with an awareness of the importance of building community as our social-media obsessed culture spends increasing hours looking at screens instead of talking with each other face-to-face. I’m talking about old people as well as teenagers and everyone in-between. I am as guilty of the head-buried-in-screens obsession as anyone else, but I started to realize that having the opportunity to share observations and life stories in conversations was seriously important. I began to notice a real hunger for communication, for talking together rather than being talked at. Can you think of any worse form of communication than political advertising? Are you, too, exhausted by the concept of “staying on message”?

Our shift from citizens to consumers was a deliberate calculation driven by corporations. Our precious individuality got squeezed into boxes as each of us we were seen as purchasers of goods so that others could profit. Advertising became a primary tool for convincing each of us that we were inadequate but by purchasing this or that product we would be righted and restored. In this process we began to lose our humanity and we certainly lost our independent selves. Social media has taken this and run with it and now we find ourselves in isolated units, our silos, often more than a little lost. Our hunger for meaningful contact is tangible. I set out to see if I could make the tiniest difference in a few lives. My timing was off.

The coronavirus has descended necessitating thicker, taller, fortresses–silos–to keep us safe from the ravages of illness. The media screams dire warnings and publishes daily photos of store shelves emptied of water and toilet paper and hand sanitizer along with whatever else you can dream of that might keep you going in the face of certain contagion. Can you manage long stretches of quarantine? Has anyone truly thought this through instead of being driven by rampant fear? Do you really believe it is possible to stay in your house for weeks on end? Can entire countries shut down to keep the virus from spreading?

The climate of hysteria has been building for a few years now so the arrival of this potential pandemic hits us when we are ripe for showing how truly out of control we can all get. Our mental health needs contact, face-to-face caring and interaction, the needed tools for allowing growth of perspective and thought. At this moment it seems not safe to do that. Our lives seem dependent upon the very isolation that has been slowly strangling our hearts’ desires for meaning and making a difference. How utterly ironic.

 

# 84 Silos

Silos.

There was a period of time in farming communities all across the country when tall, dark blue, Harvestore silos began dotting the landscape. It was a new method of storing feed for cattle that used ground corn or grains, (maybe even grasses) which fermented in the tall towers. This method of preserving cattle feed was an alternative to the dangers of storing hay, which if not properly cured, was prone to ignition in (and of) the large barns in which the hay was stored. Everyone knew that Harvestore silos were massively expensive so having one or two erected beside your cattle barns was also a status symbol. The unmistakable stench blowing on the wind was the result of manure from Harvestore-fed cattle being spread as fertilizer on the fields along the dirt roads of my drives to and from home. Think Kim Chee only much much worse. Over time, problems of that method of handling feed emerged and (mostly) those big blue symbols of a thriving farm ceased being used.

In recent times “silo” is a term applied to information systems, a good way of illustrating info which is not readily available for sharing—silo as in isolation, stacked upon itself and isolated—making it not readily accessible to others. (My mind immediately flashes to shiny, dark blue towers every time I hear “silo” and “information” used together.)

In either case, “silo” suggests storage and isolation, and here in mid-winter, I feel like I’ve encased myself in one. The days are often without much speech; communication occurs via keyboard but often my physical voice is still. Some days it’s too cold to venture out and other days there is no particular excuse of an errand to run. I am not exactly ever bored. Quiet time is good for working on things of the mind, but the body wants sunlight, movement, and air, none of which is easily found in silos.

I am coming to see how “silo” is also a word that describes how our culture has isolated itself, pulling away from the ways in which communities had worked. Instead of going to public theaters our entertainment is streamed on media devices and/or on multiple home technologies allowing silo-ing even within families. In many places the collective needs of community, such as volunteers for firefighting, or do-gooder projects, or youth sports were ways that people came together, pitching in to help and getting involved. Now, we pay others to do this work. We have no time to volunteer because we are too busy with jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) to make ends meet or to get ahead. Activities for kids such as Girl and Boy Scouts and 4H clubs had depended on community help and leadership but a number of profound societal awarenesses and shifts means we came instead to paying for music, dance, swimming, chess, etc. lessons to keep our children and grandchildren safely occupied and learning new skills.

The increasing isolation of silo thought or behavior breeds suspicion especially as media outlets  found that repetitive, fear-based, stories increased readership and higher profits. Holding-up in our homes, tethered to devices, bolsters “us” versus “them”, we react to dire tales hundreds or thousand miles away as if they were happening next door. Then such stories seem to creep into our own communities (copy catting or mirroring?) seemingly proving that, yes, it can happen in your neighborhood.

We’ve locked ourselves in our towers and we are afraid. The only way out is to emerge from our silos and interact with our neighbors and our communities face-to-face. It is not as dire out there as the media reports. Good folk are all around you but if you, and they, are locked in towers you will never know that.

Photo note: Those are not Harvestore silos.

Terrific information sharing on Building Community is being done at Weave: The Social Fabric Project under the auspices of the Aspen Institute. You can click this link on any of your devices and be on your way to learning about the fabulous connective work which is happening across the country:    https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/weave-the-social-fabric-initiative/

# 83 Difference

Difference.

Have you been in a situation where a person is describing his or her view assuming that your world and their world is the same, the kind of conversation beginning with “ You know….” followed by a take on this or that which feels completely alien to how you make sense of things? It is my observation that the possibility of this happening is greatly increased when the company is, on the surface, homogeneous. All white? All male? All female? All elders? All professing the same religion? Listen for the underlying assumptions.

I’ve had the privilege of talking with various groups of people over the past few years and what stands out to me is how utterly diverse we are. This is often not a diversity marked by skin color or accented voice. Our pasts, our family history, our educational experiences, our relationships, our exposure to travel and to other cultures (just to name a few) are ways we form how we make sense of the world. When we sweep broadly, assuming the gray head, (female head, neighbor head…) next to us shares our values or anything else, we fall down a rabbit hole of our own making.

I first noticed the diversity of the world around me in a tiny town in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I was feeding lunch to the 70 or so kids at our local school, grades K through 7, trying to find good food that they would not dump into the garbage. I always provided makings for P, B, & J sandwiches in case the lunch offering was not to their liking so students would not have a hungry afternoon. I had observed that the “hippie” kids (this was in the 1970’s) dove into the white bread every chance they had while the “farm kids” did the same for the whole wheat alternative. Natural food “hippie kids” ate whole grain bread at home while “farm kid” Mom’s bought the cheapest bread they could which was the white stuff. I chuckled at this observation, thinking of the shock that simple switch would elicit from their parents, but that small observation grew to where I found myself thinking that around the dinner tables in this tiny, nearly totally racially white community, what food was on the table was radically different from one house to another—diversity awareness via dinner options.

Recently, sitting around a large table of lovely conversing beings, a speaker, deep into their expression of how “the world” works, shared assumptions in good faith and conscience with no ill intent but the facial expressions and body language of others around the table clearly indicated a lack of agreement as they  sat listening to what they heard as uncomfortable, unshared, assumptions that now hung in the air. The moment was painful, and led to divisive discussion-bordering-on-argument as others attempted to share  alternate views. The initial intent of inclusion fractured the delight of sharing stories. One person’s headspace assumption shared, then challenged, brought a conversation meant to unify was now a separation in need of repair and none of this was motivated by anything less than good hearts sharing personal experience.

How do we learn to see those around us as unique individuals, to see beyond even well-intended stereotypes? How do we find commonality beyond superficial measures of speech or dress, of stature or hair style, by surface clues we can easily misinterpret? This goes far beyond the outer focus on race, skin color, or ethnicity, of language and speech patterns, of looking  for signs of social standing via the presence or absence of material goods.

Have you experienced the utter delight of knowing how thoroughly you match in personality with a person from far across the globe? Have you experienced the utter despair of a childhood friend or dear neighbor whose values or political thoughts are repugnant to your sensibility? These are the true boundaries of diversity. They surround us every day. How do we communicate effectively, without assumptions, learning to recognize how we are different and how we are the same and finding the joy of learning through connective thought or experience and what we can also learn from that which is totally new?

# 82 More Than Strange

More Than Strange.

A message popped up on my phone indicating there was an immediate battery problem so I put the repair at the top of my “There is way too much serious stuff going on” list. Can any of us be without our primary communication tool, the lifeline of all those numbers and email addresses you no longer know by heart, the place holder for appointments that keep us responsible and accountable?

ln the Apple store I watched the impossibly smooth white skin of the hands of the young employee, keying on both my phone and on his iPad, hands looking newly formed, not hands of outdoor work or hard physical labor, moving faster than mine could have ever moved at any point in my lifetime, my hands-old, coarse, dark, and wrinkled-in comparison. His questions were polite, with touches of kindness, and the results of his work meant my life could resume after a 50 minute repair. Sweet.

To enter an Apple store you glide through openings between giant metal-framed glass paneled walls that melt away while open. There are no counters or lines or cash registers, just a myriad of same colored T-shirted helpers floating in a widely open space with wooden display tables and cubed wooden boxes for sitting. Every current Apple product is available for touch and tapping, the prices jaw dropping, the designs clean and flawless. Glazed customers float from device to device, a sea of color and slickness. To enter this realm is to walk into a version of a manufactured, non-nature-bound future, exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

This marvel of a future world is located in the large, local, traditional shopping mall. Current media frequently reports the retail apocalypse and, not having been in a mall in years, the reports make sense to me after this visit, like a trip to a living archaeological dig or one of those historical reenactment “museums”. I am of the generation before mall culture took over teenage life, having grown up in a small town far too many miles away from the closest mall hangout. As I approached the intersection of corridors, I felt all those years melt away, like a slickly polished morph between way-back-then and now, the dystopian factor looming large as I walked past nearly empty spaces, one or two employees present filling idle time sitting at counters, nary a customer in sight. It was like watching a still-moving dinosaur encased in glass and gloss, the sound of too loud, too trendy, upbeat music blaring into emptiness, the air filled with artificial scent, the kind that triggers migraines.

Later, when I stepped out into the 10 degree winter night, the rush of frigid air brought  relief and deep, fresh breathing. I looked around at the vast concrete splayed everywhere, no natural surface in any direction. What was bulldozed to make this site? What had this land once nourished and, after these mall doors permanently close as surely they will, what good can come out of all that abandoned hard scape?

The juxtaposition of the futuristic store encased in the anachronistic architecture baffled me, rattled my sense of what is and what is possible. It was as if I’d projected forward and backward at the same moment, neither making much sense, a telescope of time and building smashed together, the destruction of a natural environment for a quickly passing human whim.

 

Photo: American Sycamore tree bark.

See: 
https://www.businessinsider.com/american-retail-apocalypse-in-photos-2018-1

# 81 The Sex Thing

The Sex Thing.  

Who cares what old people think about sex?

One scandal after another has broken out involving powerful, rich men occupying high positions within our culture. Some versions of this involves the sexual exploitation of young girls–children is the more appropriate description. This story seems to repeat itself in endless versions, a Sisyphean tale damaging to everyone. 

I am hardly the only voice that thinks this kind of behavior has as less to do with sex as it does about control and quite a lot about a lack of emotional intelligence of men drawn to seeking sexual release using those too young to understand sexuality. Listen to the voices of those preyed upon years later as they come to microphones, speaking through tears describing how they did not come forth sooner because they thought they had brought the sexual exploitation (rape, groping, degradation, etc. on themselves.) This is about SEX? It’s not and all of us know it. 

Sex between adults committed to exploration with equal-playing-field partners is an opportunity to open to the divine nature of ourselves, a path of discovery to our inner being. It’s complicated ground worthy of deep diving. The more each person brings to it, the more possibilities there are for expanded consciousness as well as physical release. The possibilities are endless, joyous, full of awe and maybe even fear and always complex. 

The purported sexuality described in headlines and the explosion of internet porn suggests to me that our culture’s view of sexuality is adolescent in its nature: distant, based on a false sense of imagery, potentially violent, and definitely not about deep exploration with emotional attachments over a long haul (you define “long” for yourself). Is there any harm to just getting off? No. And yes, when it stops at that. There is so much more—sex as the nth degree of finding amazing ways to experience being human.


Having sex with young women, underage girls or boys, forcing anyone, male or female, into complying so they can get off is not about sex. Our language is not serving us well when it comes to sex and gender. We need a new vocabularies to clarify sexual activity so the variety and meanings are not confused.  We’ve a long way to go before our culture grows into the adult phase of sexuality.

And that part about old people piping up about sex? Those who are eldering often have years of observation and resulting opinions from all that seeing, some of it valuable and some of it not so much. 

#79 Cheating

Cheating.

When I was growing up, “cheater” was an accusation that carried great weight. The matter of degree wasn’t the point, whether the charge was leveled in backyard play out of the eye/ear range of adults or not, once the label of “cheater” stuck it was going to be an uphill climb for a long time. Formal charges of cheating in institutional settings wrecked future opportunities in education, jobs, careers, and relationships.

In the present world it feels like there’s been a shift and my aging self can’t quite wrap my head around what seems to have flipped. Childhood efforts to follow some kind of straight and moral path seems locked in history.  Way-back-when parents felt a sense of failure if their children did not measure up. Getting caught cheating was serious business indeed.

In this new world the concept called “Gaming the System” is grudgingly or enthusiastically accepted (and sometimes openly admired). “Gaming the System”, means finding ways to advantage oneself or one’s interests (individual to corporate), creating a way or ways to alter desired outcomes to achieve desired results. Is this a now accepted form of what I would have once called “cheating”? It feels like the value shift demonstrated by “gaming” is placing millionaires / billionaires on admiration pedestals as we collectively turn our gaze away from the “hows” to focus our adulation on the “haves”. Are we now enthusiastically embracing the Machiavellian concept that “the end justifies the means”, where “Having“ is the measurement of all success?

There are so many small, daily, versions of cheating.  Cars running red lights is one of these as their drivers shout through their actions that the rules of the road do not apply to them (thus endangering the rest of us).Or how about our referrals to slip ups from self imposed food prohibitions or our lack of meeting self-generated goals as “cheats”? Big picture cheats include money paid to college personnel for spots in freshman classes of selective schools, behavior demonstrating the lack of trust wealthy parents have in the worthiness of their children. These desperate acts damage everyone,  the potential students most of all. And then of course are the endless stories of politicians of all persuasions ranging from phony vote getting promises to the myriad ways of bending the rules in order to stay in office, via examples of gerrymandering districts to lining the pockets of cronies, reminding us all that making as much money as possible and grabbing power are what matters most.

Despite my tone, choice of words, and the examples I’m using,  I am not on a high moral horse accusing others while holding myself unaccountable. My thoughts are on the personal damage done through little and big cheats, those I’ve done myself while my internal “compass” waved in alarm. When we cheat we know it. Cheating is giving ourselves zero credit for our ability to surmount obstacles, its essence a demonstration of a lack of faith and a lack of trust in our capabilities to find solutions without resorting to “shortcuts”.

I (maybe we) have reached a point of exhaustion on cheaters and cheating as the daily headlines scream the latest versions. I know we will not return to my childhood backyard concepts of what was fair and what wasn’t. All implications of implying a return to an earlier era as the solution for current problems is useless. Selective memory forgets it wasn’t that good then nor would it be now. But my recollections remain; cheating back then was a far bigger deal than it is now. Our weariness is showing through, our seeping cynicism akin to the proverbial leaky boat filling with water on its way to the bottom. I believe we are longing for trust, in ourselves, in our loved ones, and in our leaders. Not having to suspect every motive and action would allow breath to expand, hearts to grow, and allow the possibility of love to replace suspicion, all of which would alter our existence.

From Wikipedia:

Gaming the system (also gaming or bending the rules, or rigging, abusing, cheating, milking, playing, cheating the system, working the system, or breaking the system) can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system to, instead, manipulate the system for a desired outcome.

# 78 The Anger Refugee

The Anger Refugee.

An image formed in my mind as I was thinking of the angry men I’ve encountered in my life, an image of a Chinese foot binding shoe and how it physically deformed and crippled female children.  My mind swooshed, linking the image of the physical damage done to female children via foot binding to the (modern) psychological damage done to the psyche of a growing young male, his feelings twisted and malformed by psychological restraints. In my psychobabble shortcut, these impossible restraints happen to young boys and men via demands of family or society in the suppression of expressions of love, fear, or emotional vulnerability when outlets for these hurts through healing talk and sharing is also suppressed. Again with the psychobabble, I think of how women are thought to be better at sharing and talking out feelings than men, either young or old.  I am drawing John Wayne stereotypes here and I ask your indulgence.

Modern Moms are working very hard to not use templates of the past, trying to deeply alter what has come before their shot at making a difference in the sons they raise with so much love and hope. I do not know how possible it is to rectify the past that lingers still, given our history and our prevailing culture’s grip on the idea of what it is to be a man.  My hope is that progress is being made but my thoughts turn back to the damage already done in the generations flanking my own.

Like so many women I’ve had up close and personal encounters with angry men. “What do you mean ‘I’m angry’?” “I’m not angry!” flying out of mouths as eyes bulge and red hues spread across brows, the intensity of sound beginning to bounce off the walls, gasoline tossed on a fire if you attempt to state the obvious. Holding silence as a buffer, you ride out this storm covering your own gut fear which is only a paper shield attempt at protection.

Not intended as criticism nor intended as excuse, from my safe distance of survival many miles and years  away from the fuse of past experience, I return to examine my conscience and my memories. Every day there are screen repeats I can watch to remind me of what I once intimately lived, and worked alongside, and saw repeated in the lives of women friends. We knew we were up against danger even if we had not been hit, always carrying the silent “yet” at the end of that thought. I carry sorrow and shame for myself and all the others, those who did not get to that “yet”, who suffered or fled, who did whatever could be done to shield themselves and their children. And I carry sorrow, shame, and grief for those who still suffer, for those who sometimes die.

The image of horridly malformed feet stays with me as I picture a hurt boy struggling to suppress his tenderness or his fear, told to be a man and suck it up, told to not ‘be a girl’. ( And yes, girls sometimes get similar treatment.) The psyche twists, confines itself to the required space, permanent damage done, and the questions hang: how will this manifest, what pattern will it take, who else will suffer as a result? Most often we can never get to “Source” which becomes embedded in these lives. No matter how much  faith I have in talk therapy, such damage runs as deep as an underground river. To those men and to the well-intended professionals working hard to repair the damage: please, please try and keep trying.

Throughout my life I witnessed angry men rising in their jobs or professions , seeking solace in power over others, a balm or elixir for wounds from their own histories or experience over time. In our work places, in our government, in our homes, and as fathers to our children, they are still there and still rising, the damage of personal histories played out in so many ways. Without answers, I only have this image of the bound foot released, yet far too damaged to ever be completely repaired.

I live my life purposefully far distanced for a very long time, no longer willing to participate in the intimate,  up-close-and-personal, bravery of partnered life. I am an anger refugee. But of course my own anger spurts out on occasion evidenced by loud four letter words when there’s no one to hear. There are many of us who have chosen such self-imposed exile over the pain of daily confrontation. We watch from the sidelines. We know it when we see it and we grieve for what we have all had to bear.

# 77 Honoring the Women of OLLI

Honoring the Women of OLLI.

If we have spoken face-to-face or by phone  or via email in the last couple of years you have heard me gush about OLLI. There are a number of such lifelong learning programs throughout the country: Senior College, Elderhostel, and the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning are three such programs. I found my way to the program in Portland where the offerings are broad and the people are fabulous, where OLLI has its own LEED gold star building, and the program was founded and funded by a native Maine philanthropist. There are OLLI programs throughout the country and they get raves everywhere.

No doubt my course choices (Consciousness, Aging, and Women’s Issues mostly) have led me to coming to know more women students than men and Oh! what women! (both students and instructors). Having the privilege of returning to school over age 50 brings out some of our best qualities; egos left outside the door; our ticking clocks  keeping us mindful and focused; the collective intelligence and vital inquisitiveness of the participants are all baseline.

Where there is joy there is also sorrow. I attended the service for one of the women I met in a fabulous class entitled Women & Aging that was offered a year ago. It is logical that given our age range (classes are free for those over 90) loss should be expected. Only it wasn’t. The depth of wisdom and intelligence of this particular woman made it a privilege to have known her in that context even though the class contact was defined and brief. I could write that about dozens of women with whom I’ve shared these classes and this woman would still stand out.

“Lifelong learning” is bedrock. Why did we ever think anything other? What is brilliant is taking this truth and giving it space and place and opportunity. This can be done in a formal setting like Senior College and it can be done in libraries and living rooms, in church basements, most anywhere there are numbers of retired people of active minds and deep conscience, people who have life experiences to share and longings to continue exploring.

The women (and men) I’ve met in these classes in these last two years have altered the path of my later life. I’ve been in school in one form or another since I was five and none of what came earlier was as richly rewarding as the expansiveness possible at this age and through these classes. To these wonderful women-and men-of OLLI, I give thanks.

And to Sally: Godspeed.

# 76 The Obvious

The Obvious.

Another ”Duh” moment has arrived. I was trying to figure out why I have kept one particular library book so long overdue. “I like this author”, I rationalized only then realizing in the past I have purchased her books while “forgetting” to read them or, like this time,  I’ve pushed past a library renewal due date while leaving the book abandoned and untouched on my bookshelf. “But she’s so clear, so succinct in shedding light on important issues of the day…” continued the swirl in my head, until it dawned on me that it does not feel good reading about hard world realities no matter how gifted the writer.

I then thought of my current tendency to binge watch series TV. I rationalize, thinking this is a temporarily distraction which allows my thoughts to escape into ease. I avoid dire. I cannot abide violent themes or films with protagonists with no redeeming character. I crave ”uplifting” and ”heartwarming”. I relish “overcoming” and gleefully immerse myself in stories where difficulties lessen as progress is made.

Lightbulb moment:  I watch or read things that allow me to feel good. ”Why is that?” I ask myself and the immediate, and obvious, comeback is that my aging body already hurts enough. Reading or watching stories containing pain and suffering pile emotional discomforts on to physical discomforts already present in sufficient amounts. Diverting attention toward things that feel good helps. Enormously.

Maybe a dash or two of “reality” reading or watching is enough, in the same way adding chili pepper flakes or jalapeños to food is sometimes worth a bit of gastric distress. Just not too much and not too often.

#62 Maliase

Malaise.

*Warning: Familiar Themes repeated here.

Is it because Fall is moving in, the colors everywhere changing to reds and browns and golds, leaving the vibrant greens for too many long months before they return? Fall is the favorite season of so many, but I find the transition–the colder nights, the dying plants, the disappearing birds–disheartening. There are oddities this year: the red and gray squirrels and the chipmunks disappeared a couple of months ago and they have not returned.

Monarch butterflies are on the move, headed south, gathering nectar for sustenance along the route from the last blooming rugosas, sedums, wild asters, and more. I’ve been watching them flutter by, mostly solitary but sometimes with one or two others, their purposeful migratory movements disguised by the way they seem to meander from plant to plant, so unlike hawk migrations. How do such ethereal creatures fly so far? How do they cope with cold nights and the increasing Fall winds?

Darkness arrives early and stays longer, its rapid increase from day to day quite apparent. Sunrise is more spectacular, if I can rise to it before daybreak when it is most vivid. Fall light is edged as the sun rises or sets, the angled light sharply defining rooftops, trees, grasses. Sometimes the light is strongly tinged pink or gold infusing everything it touches. The other evening traveling home as the sun was setting, the porch of a house, geraniums hanging in pots, rockers still in the coming evening, were bathed in strong rose colored light making the ordinary into a vivid, magical place if only for a few fleeting minutes, the whole scene glowing as if someone had pushed an alternate universe button.

I suppose it would help to keep the radio and the social media turned “off” in this time of wind-downs. The air waves are full of malaise, foul stories keep coming in a steady drumbeat, illustrating the lack of Humanity in the human nature of our beings. Fall brings hurricanes, damaging homes near or far, destruction and devastation. These magnificent, destructive, behemoths always felt powerful and dangerous but now, with Climate Change evidence abounding, our vulnerability feels enhanced. What will be destroyed next? What lovely palm-treed place of winter refuge, of tropic promise, will next be forever altered? Refugees, from storms or political upheaval, on the move everywhere. When might you or I be among their numbers?

It feels to me as if the Grifter mentality has spread like a plague, insatiable money hunger accompanied by power dreams, shoving us ordinary folk to the edges of forgotten and unimportant. The media pushes a constant supply of stories of cronies doing wrong and getting caught as the rest of us wonder how so many can gather more than their share of resources now becoming scarcer. So many of us do not care about the accumulations of wealth or power, preferring our lives to be filled with care and love of family, neighbors, friends, just getting by, content to notice what is beautiful in our lives–like sunsets and sunrises, and fleeting wings departing, while we steal off for one or two more moments of beach time., savoring every last moment before the oncoming cold.