Thursday, September 10, 2015

Taking a Spin

File:Earth within celestial sphere.gif

In her May 2015 column, “Tell Me About It,” Carolyn Hax posits, “[We] don't feel the earth move, but that doesn't mean we aren't spinning around the sun.” Hax used this as an analogy to illustrate that we are often unaware of the effect our words or actions have on others. We may not “feel” it or recognize it at the time, but they do have the ability to impact another person—sometimes good, sometimes not.

A few months ago, a young man who went to school with my sons told me my family and I had made a lasting, important and positive impact on him as a teenager. He said when he observed and interacted with our family he witnessed unconditional love and support for the first time in his life.
This comment came after I told him how proud I was of him for his many achievements and way he has conducted his life. To my amazement, he gave much of the credit for his successes to me.
If asked what I recall about the times this young man was in our home, I believe I would have remembered the many times of teenage turmoil and my almost constant feeling of parental ineptitude.
What he remembered, however, was laughter, trips to the coast, doting grandparents nearby, hearty family dinners, a loving father who took time to listen to and talk with his sons. Average family, right? Maybe not.

If you know me well at all you know I do not ever get offended. It’s not that I have an elevated sense of self and can’t imagine someone making a remark to purposely offend me. I simply choose to put a different “spin” on the comment. Seems to me one chooses to “take offense.” 
On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve learned that something I said has had a negative impact on another person. I do understand words have power and am aware there are times when my personality is too forceful. Even so, it usually takes a beat or two before I understand that, even though I did not intend to show disrespect, my words hit the person in a vulnerable spot. 
In these instances, I take a mental “step back,” thank the person for telling me, do a mea culpa, try to explain, and move on.

I am honored when I’m told my words or actions have benefited someone else. I am chagrined if my words or actions cause offense.

The laws of nature mean we’ll never really feel ourselves spinning around the sun. I don’t take offense, but after traveling zillions of miles around this central body in our solar system, I am finally understanding the effect I, one speck in the *whirling rubble, might have on those in my orbit. 

Wikimedia Commons: Earth "This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license."
*Thank you, Richard Dawkins. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surviving Stupidity - Part 4*


Our 30-year old, 33’ Chris Craft cabin cruiser was polished to a sheen, engines in purring condition, galley stocked with canned goods we’d eat if, horrors, we didn’t catch fresh seafood. We planned to live on our boat and cruise the San Juan Island area for 100 days - over three months of fishing, crabbing, clamming, sunning, and exploring.

My husband and I had been planning this adventure for over a year. Michael’s mechanical expertise guaranteed the two big engines of the boat ready to handle any difficult waters we might encounter. He pored over navigation charts in the weeks preceding our departure while I worked on organizing the loose sightseeing plan for the 100 days.

Once we were on our way, days passed with beautiful and marvelous precision. All we dared to hope for materialized. The sightseeing proved exquisite and the seafood was bountiful wherever we went.

One day, two and a half months into our adventure, we discovered an oyster bed of magnificent proportions. Over our two-day stay in those waters, we ate our fill of fried oysters - breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Two weeks prior to this "find," an educated fisherwoman in Paradise Cove told us oysters would keep several weeks if they remained in wet sacks. Remembering this, Michael stuffed two gunnysacks full and stowed them in the bow of our 15’ dinghy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Messing with the Past

I wanted the past to go away,
wanted to leave it, like another country;
I wanted my life to close, and open like a hinge, like a wing,
like the part of the song where it falls down over rocks:
an explosion, a discovery; I wanted to hurry into the work of my life;
I wanted to know, whoever I was, I was alive for a little while.
~Mary Oliver

There are days when the drag of simple routine allows room for some interesting thoughts, gives time to think, "What if ... ?" and dwell on the old bugaboos, "Why didn't I ... .?" and, "If only ... ."

However, unlike the talented poet Mary Oliver, I've never wanted my past to go away. There have been far too many amazingly wonderful, life-enhancing, life-altering, joy-filled experiences. I may wish I had been more loving, more considerate and, in many cases, shown more understanding. There's advice I wish I had taken and advice I wish I had asked for. But that's all predicated on my knowing then what I know now. 

A few days ago my sons and I talked about our choices and how those choices have impacted our lives. My oldest son opined that we tend to believe different decisions along the way would have made our lives so much better, yet we'll never know. Life might have been much more of a struggle and not nearly as fulfilling. Of course, on that very philosophical level, he's absolutely correct. Therefore, 

Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes,

make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules.
Leave the world more interesting for your being here.
~Neil Gaiman 

I've definitely made some "interesting mistakes."  However, as I said to a friend last week, I liken the way I once painted a room to the way I managed most of my life: I made some big, sloppy messes, but I always took responsibility for them and always cleaned "things" up afterward (as best I could). 

Again, referring to my eldest son, when he paints he's very, very meticulous. It takes longer at the outset, but at the end he doesn't have to go back, go over, redo or make excuses for sloppiness. He acknowledges he didn't always "paint" his actions with forethought.

Good decisions come from experience 
and experience comes from bad decisions.
Physical limitations mean I no longer paint the walls of my interior rooms, but I do slap and spray paint willy-nilly on my outdoor furniture, shed and garden decorations (no gnomes or flamingos, by the way!)

I'm not making those other kinds of  "big, sloppy messes" but I am certainly satisfying some inner need to make changes and stir things up ... just a bit.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

May the Forest Be With You*

File:Oregon forest and mist.jpg
Stand beside me as I stand beside a tree and you will likely hear me say, "Trees are my talisman." 

Whether walking in the woods, sitting on my front porch near the stalwart Persian Ironwood, looking out the back windows to towering fir trees in a neighbor's yard or marveling at the beauty of the many varieties of maple tree in my own backyard, the same sense of delight and wonder comes over me. 

I feel such a oneness with trees that when I see a log truck barreling down the highway loaded with newly hewn logs piled high on the trailer, a real sadness comes over me. I know, I know: lumber is necessary to build our homes (but wait: does anyone really need a 10,000 sq. ft. home???) and the "timber counties" in Oregon benefit (or have benefited) from Federal timber payments (which strikes me as ridiculous as tying our school funding to income from lottery dollars). 

The Oregonian newspaper's December 24, 2014 edition featured a guest column by George Wuerthner, a Bend, Oregon ecologist writing about forest fires and forest ecology. Wuerthner states, "Though it is nearly universal among most people who have been taught to think about wildfires as destructive, from an ecological perspective it belies a failure to really understand forest ecology."

A few days later another article appeared which seemed to imply that both timber company owners and those who usually decry clear-cutting were in some kind of agreement regarding the thinning of our "forests." I can't help but think there was a bit of skewed reporting going on here. 

Planting trees in order to remake a "forest" is clearly impossible. A true forest can never be made by man. When forests are clear-cut, scabbed and scarred land becomes ripe for landslides. 

As with all of life's conundrums, some middle ground must be found or else, in this case, we risk slipping and sliding down a muddy, barren hill without a limb to grab onto.   

*Portland Nursery marquee December 2014
Photo Michael Richardson, -2-7-2012 - Oregon 

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Apprentice Poet's Legacy

Nine months ago she died. Shall I say, "I had a friend whose name was Diane English"? No, no, I won't begin that way because Diane English, although no longer in my physical world, is with me every single day. That's the kind of impact she had on me and on everyone who had the good fortune to know her--on any level. I call it the "Diane Effect." 

I first met Diane in 2006 at a combined screenwriting, acting, creative writing class at Marylhurst University. Approximately 40 women, ages 20 to 75, were in attendance. After a short talk centering on the merits of allowing our "creative inner child" to emerge, the moderator of the event asked us to choose one of the three disciplines and gather into groups. 

Eight women, strangers to one another, sat in the circle comprised of those who chose "acting." We were instructed to grab something from one of two boxes situated in the center. 

Diane, sitting across from me, reached out, grabbed a brightly colored silk scarf and, with great flourish, tossed it around her neck and over her shoulder. About the same time I reached into a box and came up with a turquoise Robin Hood-style felt hat which I plopped on my head. Our eyes met, a spark of impishness crossed Diane's face. 

I looked around the circle after all had taken some treasure from one of the boxes. I saw a woman of about 50 holding a cardboard sword and another tying a chef's apron around her waist. Two women who looked to be about 35 were already in play-acting-phase: they each held an old, black telephone handset and were mouthing words as though they were talking on the phone. One woman held a toy violin and another a pair of old tennis shoes. 

What in the world was this all about? 

We soon discovered it was about unleashing our creativity, about spontaneity, about letting go of a few of our inhibitions--those bugaboos that warn us to "Stop being so silly and act [our] age." 

Jodi led our group of "actors." She didn't have to give any of us much of a reason to begin pretending. Diane and I, now sitting side by side and both showing childlike delight and abandon, began a dialogue. 

Never in my life have I had such an immediate connection to another human being. 

From that day forward, Diane English and I became fast and dear friends.

In 2012 Diane moved to a studio apartment in an assisted living facility. On one wall Diane hung six or eight wildly and colorfully patterned diaphanous scarves. When she was expecting visitors, she wore a scarf from her collection. 

Each time I visited her there, memories of that first meeting flowed back in bright waves as I easily recalled her devil-may-care tossing of the scarf she chose from that eclectic pile of "props."  

She called herself an "apprentice poet." About a year before she died, Diane published a book of poetry titled, Sunbreaks and Magic Acts. "Upon Leaving My Earthly Form" is the final piece: 

Upon Leaving My Earthly Form

I ask those I love and leave behind

to remember when my body held breath
how hour upon hour I stood
near speaking streams immersed
in language of gurgle and gush
walked cliffs above the sea, watched
sacred tidings from the deep
roll onto shore in unfurling
white, scroll after scroll.

I was never rooted in the ground, preferred being
where current meets current, seeing
sunset mirrored on a Sound.
Why then, once I’m gone,
would I wish to be buried underground,
encased in urn, or weighted down by stone?

No dust to dust for me. Rather, gaily fling—
yes, fling—burned remains of my earthly form
far out to sea, to travel tides and moonbeams.
If the ocean is too far to go, sweetly scatter my ashes
on a river, to whorl and eddy with its pulse.

Let this stand as last request to those I love
and leave behind: find me a watery bier
and if you wish to contact me where
my spirit keeps vigil, visit me there.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Language: Comprehension & Perception

The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, 
if you cannot comprehend them.  
~ Anatole France

Even before I could actually read, letters, and all words made up of those letters, fascinated me. It didn’t matter what the material was—cereal box, signboard, mailbox, the raised letters on the tires of the family car—if there were words, I wanted to read them!

When I was a child, my father often brought home (used, discarded) National Geographic and Scientific American magazines. The one magazine he had a subscription to was Popular Mechanics. Big words, odd words, never-before-seen words ran through these magazines. I didn’t ask for definitions and seldom looked them up in our family’s dictionary. Most of the time, there were enough familiar words interspersed so that I absorbed what was needed to satisfy my young mind. Once in a while I even learned and then understood a new word.

Several years ago I worked for a doctor whose reception area was rife with magazines dedicated to scientific quests and discoveries as well as publications dealing with amazing architecture, aesthetic elements and environmental issues. When two or three back issues piled up, I had approval to take them home.

During my recent weeks of reading The Great Bridge, I was struck by how fascinated I had become with the extremely detailed engineering data, with the ways in which the laborers maneuvered and manipulated the tons of steel and miles of wire and by the minute, onsite calculations which had to be made in order to complete that massive bridge.

However, I don’t remember one iota of that information! Why did I enjoy the book as much as I did, considering my inability to comprehend the intricate details? Did I enjoy the book less than a scientifically learned mind? There’s really no way of measuring that, of course.

This is why I began thinking about the ways in which language comprehension affects our perception—of life and of life’s events (yes, I easily go off on tangents such as this!).

Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, San Luis Obispo, California has written, “Language comprehension is the ability to connect to and interpret both oral and written language. It is the ability to recall facts, get the main idea, make an inference, draw a conclusion, predict/extend, and evaluate. It is the ability to reason from language that is heard and language that is read. It is cognition.”

Even if I don’t recall all the facts in The Great Bridge, I certainly grasped “…the main idea.” Therefore, I feel I can discuss the book fairly intelligently. If I were speaking with someone who had also read the book it’s likely some pertinent data buried in my brain might surface and I would feel comfortable adding that to the conversation.

There are times when language comprehension, or lack of, can lead to great misunderstanding and anger; and not simply for people whose native language is not English (as we know it). Even for those of us who speak the same language, there are many times when simple statements are heard as threats; times when we read an editorial in the newspaper and infer something entirely different than what was actually meant.

Maybe our perceptions are what determine how we comprehend language, rather than the other way around?

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
~Henri Bergson.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Celebrating Ostara*

Image result for quotes about pagan easter
The PNW's 2015 vernal equinox arrived wrapped in drops of rain, scenting the air with the unmistakable aromas of fertile soil birthing new life. In the several days since March 20th, sunshine and blue skies have elicited birdsong of the kind we humans have come to recognize as mating calls. 

The arrival of spring signals new growth, new beginnings, for all living things. Each season brings its own gifts, yet springtime has always been my favorite time of year and Easter Sunday is the perfect day for my gathered loved ones to celebrate our mutual, unbridled, pagan-like joy in the arrival of this season of rebirth.

My hairstylist, Anie, is also secular. However, she particularly likes the advent of Lent. Each year it spurs her to give up a couple of things she feels are negatively impacting her life. She says it's easy to do and even after Lent she often keeps these things out of her life.  

Anie throws a party every Easter Sunday Eve. The focus is the celebratory, just-after-sunset, burning of the "Yule Tree," which she and her wife brought into the house on Winter Solstice, December 21st. The tree has been in their garage since January 1st, awaiting its immolation. Ukrainian Easter eggs, (pysanky) as well as various springtime ornaments, will decorate the now sere tree. 


*"Ostara," the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe, derived from the ancient word for spring, "eastre." The Old English, "Eostre," means "dawn." 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Be Clenched - Be Curious

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. [Don't wait] for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager. 

~Susan Sontag, from a lecture about writing at Vassar College

Mr Pipo Think 03 texrays.svgfew days ago the Chicago Tribune posted a short article positing that distractability seemed to be a boon for creative types, spurring them to higher achievement. The idea is that people with "leakier filters notice more information in the world [and] this can lead to novel combinations of information. Some of the greatest artists in history had trouble concentrating," according to Darya Zabelina, lead author of this study. 

Conversely, people who easily filter out distraction are likely to have higher academic test scores.

A friend who has heard me complain more than a few times about the bombardment of so-called music that seems to be endemic in every store of any kind, tells me I am simply "overly sensitive to noise," saying she is seldom aware of it and, if she is, it doesn't distract her.  

I consider myself nominally creative in two or three areas and will allow that I likely have a touch of the "leaky sensory filter" syndrome. On the other hand, when I am at a task I enjoy and which demands my full attention, filtering out distractions comes easily.  

The most artistically creative person I know could be said to have a "leaky sensory filter." He is fascinated by everything and anything. It's often difficult for him to focus. 

The world holds excitement and he wants to experience all of it. His creativity comes out in sculpting, oil and watercolor painting, writing, jewelry making, crafting hand-made papers, etching, the list goes on and on. If the world holds a creative endeavor he hasn't tackled, it's as though he is compelled to experience it. 

«Олександрія»Изображение 399.jpgSontag tells the creative one, the creating one, it's all about paying attention. I understand this and I tend to agree. But, as the study by Zabelina seems to show, creative types have trouble filtering. They "pay attention" to everything!

I had the gift of knowing another highly creative person who made no bones about the fact that she simply was not "visual." She often commented on how many things I noticed, saying it was all so much minutiae to her. She also had the ability to filter out any sounds but those she chose to hear (her ears and mind became 100% focused and open when the "sounds" were the voices of those she loved). 

This woman had friends of all types and ages all around the world whom she mentored and loved unconditionally.   

Essentially, however, she lived inside her head. She thought, she read, she mulled, she parsed, she wrote poetry and prose, she created, she focused on... one...thing... at... a... time. Got it right. Then moved on. Nothing distracted her. 

I am aware creative types may be more easily distracted because they "notice more information in the world," and therefore have "more information to choose from," however, at some point they do need to block distractions and concentrate on the work at hand or else they never would "create." 

The ability to filter out and easily focus on a project right from the get-go doesn't apply only to the "academic types."

Stay eager!

Note: Second person, past tense. This amazing woman died in July 2014. The world is a darker place now that she is gone.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Extremism is a spiritual phenomenon"

[David Brooks' February 20, 2015 column is quoted in full below]

The intelligent response to religious extremism
By David Brooks

The struggle against Islamic extremism has been crippled by a failure of historical awareness and cultural understanding. From the very beginning, we have treated the problem of terrorism through the prism of our own assumptions and our own values. We have solipsistically assumed  that people turn to extremism because they can't get what we want, and fail to realize that they don't want what we want but want something they think is higher.

The latest example of this is the speech that President Barack Obama gave at this week's Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. It was a bad speech, but its badness is no reflection on Obama, for it was the same sort of bad speech that all U.S. presidents have been giving for the past generation.

Religious extremism exists on three levels. It grows out of economic and political dysfunction. It is fueled by perverted spiritual ardor. It is organized by theological conviction. U.S. presidents focus almost exclusively on the economic and political level because that's what polite people in Western capitals are comfortable talking about.

At the summit meeting, Obama gave the conventional materialistic explanation for what turns people into terrorists. Terrorism spreads, he argued, where people lack economic opportunity and good schools. The way to fight terror, he concluded, is with better job-training programs, more shared wealth, more open political regimes and a general message of tolerance and pluralism.

In short, the president took his secular domestic agenda and projected it as a way to prevent young men from joining the Islamic State and chopping off heads.

But people don't join the Islamic State because they want better jobs with more benefits. The Islamic State is one of a long line of anti-Enlightenment movements, led by people who have contempt for the sort of materialistic, bourgeois goals that dominate our politics. These people don't care if their earthly standard of living improves by a few percent a year. They're disgusted by the pleasures we value, the pluralism we prize and the emphasis on happiness in this world, which we take as public life's ultimate end.

They're not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They are doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.

On Thursday, Mona El-Naggar of The Times profiled a young Egyptian man, named Islam Yaken, who grew up in a private school but ended up fighting for the Islamic State and kneeling proudly by a beheaded corpse in Syria.

You can't counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision. He was marginalized by society. He seems to have rejected the whole calculus of what we call self-interest for the sake of an electrifying apocalyptic worldview and what he imagines to be some illimitable heroic destiny.

People who live according to the pure code of honor are not governed by the profit motive; they are governed by the thymotic [hunger for recognition] urge, the quest for recognition. They seek the sort of glory that can be won only by showing strength in confrontation with death.

This heroic urge is combined, by Islamist extremists, with a vision of End Times, a culmination to history brought about by a climactic battle and the purification of the earth.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Surviving Stupidity - Part 3

Wisdom is the reward for surviving our own stupidity
~Brian RathboneRegent
Twenty-five years ago I'd never ridden on a motorcycle. Never wanted to, for that matter. Then into my life came a man who did like to ride motorcycles. He bought a new one and I discovered I enjoyed being carried along on what I came to feel was the "catbird seat."  Right, left, front and overhead, nothing escaped my vision. 

He'd come home from work on a warm summer evening and ask, "Want to go for a cool-out ride?" Sure, why not? I'd pack some sandwiches and a couple of beers and off we'd go, usually out of town and away from traffic. Back roads carried us for an hour or so and then we'd stop and have our picnic. 

You do not need a therapist if you own a motorcycle, 
any kind of motorcycle!
~Dan Aykroyd

Soon we two were taking longer and longer bike trips. At this time there were no laws about wearing helmets and ... we didn't. I never thought about it. Goggles or glasses to ward off the wind and keep the bugs out of our eyes, yes, but no helmets.

The inanity of not wearing helmets never crossed my mind. I felt secure on my perch and supremely confident in my partner's ability to keep us upright. 

We took a 600-mile trip out of state and when we returned to our home city we were stopped by the police because we weren't wearing helmets. As it happened, in the three weeks we'd been gone our state had passed a helmet law. We were given a warning and bought helmets the next day.

So, we don't sound so stupid, right?

However, later on, and maybe because the helmet made me feel so very safe, I'd actually fall asleep on the back of the bike as we traveled long, straight country roads or on the freeways at over 80 mph! Supremely confident in my partner's ability, as always. 

Now when we talk about those days ... those rash, caution-to-the-wind times of 80 mph-plus motorcycle rides, we both wonder, "What were we thinking???" 

Motorcycle drawing Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More*

Well, now, that was fun! Portland Sunday Assembly on January 11, 2015. 

Sunday morning I readied myself to attend my first Sunday Assembly; then decided "no," then decided "yes." I'm so glad I chose "yes." 

Friendly, open and honest faces greeted me at the door. The positive energy from the 150 or so in the room was palpable. 

After a short welcome message to all, two musicians, tagging themselves as the "Crazed Weasels," played a couple of sing-along folks songs on banjo and guitar. That definitely got the juices flowing. 

A young man read a beautiful poem he'd written, another gentleman spoke for a few moments about where his life had been going (not good) and how his life has been changing (for the better). 

The main speaker was Vicki Reitenhauer, a professor at Portland State University. She teaches courses in the Women, Gender and Sexuality program at PSU. Dr. Reitenhauer spoke eloquently and informatively. 

Then, more music by the "Crazed Weasels," a couple of minutes of silence and, for those who wanted to have lunch (which I did), down one floor to McMenamin's Ringler's Pub. 

I sat with three vivacious women of varied ages and occupations. We found it easy to talk and share, opine and discuss. Perfect! 

The fish and chips: not bad either! 

*Motto of the global Sunday Assembly