We Are All Scared Babies

SB ChurchAfter writing in my journal this morning about how it seems as though the entire human race is freaking out, I opened my computer thinking I should write about this for my blog. As usual, I had about fifteen tabs open, but on the screen in front of me, I saw the following questions: “How will climate change affect different species?” and “Will organisms be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?” (http://www.calacademy.org/library-of-life)

The dots between these questions and what I had been writing about earlier connected and formed a solid bridge. Aren’t these the big questions that human beings need to ask themselves right now? Take out the word climate in the first one and change species to people. “How will change affect different people?” and the second, “Will human beings be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?”

It’s a known fact that human beings don’t like change. Some of us like it better than others and say that we like it… I’m in that camp, but what I mean really is that I like variety, because the truth is, I’m not capable of conceiving of my life as my own without its familiar context, like the color of my skin or that I am female and speak English as my native language and was born in North America… to say nothing of my education, age, religion (or lack thereof) or family.

I’m not referring to environment in the specific sense of the natural world here, but the environment as in the place we each spend our lives, whether its in high rise in a city or on a mountain in the middle of the wilderness. But the truth is, our environments are changing faster than we are comfortable adapting and so we’re all freaking out and blaming each other.

Maybe the only thing human beings are capable of doing to address this mess right now is to actually be honest about the fear that we are all feeling when we look around at the state of chaos on the planet and in the communities we call home.

Some of us only have to look as far as an empty shelf in the corner of a hut where there is nothing to feed our hungry children to know fear. Some feel threatened walking through their neighborhood because of the color of their skin. Some go to bed at night praying that they will wake up in the morning; that their home will be spared a direct hit by a flying exploding object because of their religion or ethnicity. Some hope that an unemployed spouse won’t come home drunk and beat them up yet again. Some watch incoming storms and wonder, will this one be the one that washes the land my hut has stood on for generations into the sea?

We think we need to stop the change. The urgency to “Do something about it!” seems to scream from every headline. And perhaps there are things we can do to actually slow down some of the changes. But I think the larger truth, that things are irrevocably changing, is demanding of us humans that we adapt.

What does it mean to adapt? To accept that the world is going to shit, buy a rifle and hole up in my house? Well, that’s one way to think about it, but really, doesn’t it mean that I have to change, and if I just go buy a rifle and hole up in my basement with my art supplies and books, I’m not changing. We humans simply don’t do this change thing very gracefully.

The strange thing is, that ever since the dawn of our species, we’ve had to change to survive. Whether you believe that we started out in the Garden of Eden wearing leaves and eating forbidden apples, or that we evolved from the great apes or chimpanzees somewhere in Africa, it doesn’t matter. In order to survive on Planet Earth, as the earth has changed, as the conditions in the environment have changed, humans have had to adapt. I’d like to think that we’re just having a giant collective temper tantrum because we are actually starting to recognize the imperative to live differently, like a baby does every time they are about to make one of those giant steps in growth, like sitting up, crawling, or walking. Each one of these is marked by a period of frustration involving, crying, thrashing, and all manner of unpleasant behavior that makes the parents think the child has suddenly become possessed. Then its over until the next developmental milestone approaches.

Perhaps we think we have more at stake this time; that we are mature and have created the greatest civilization in history and therefore only need to protect it. But that’s a pretty arrogant idea, and if we go back through history, we’ll quickly discover that there were other civilizations that thought they had achieved that status as well. Unfortunately, they’re not around to warn us that this arrogance only leads in one direction – the demise of said ultimate human civilization.

Unless we can, as a whole, develop a little cultural amnesia or humility, and simply look around and see what is asked of each of us today, right now, and what it will take to respond courageously to what is asked, it seems like we’re in for the ride of our lives. I do hope that somewhere along the way, we can begin to recognize each other as fellow travelers on a journey, not as white or black, Muslim, Christian or Pagan, man or woman, gay or straight, wealthy or impoverished, educated or not, just human.

How will we do this? Maybe the only way is through seeing each other’s suffering. We all suffer and we tend to be able to see each other’s suffering and respond to that. I’m getting over my head here, but perhaps if we can somehow come to understand that the collective fear of the human race is simply another form of suffering, we’ll survive this ride and come out better on the other side.

I have my opinions about certain elements of government and society that are making this whole mess worse right now, but behind those factions are bunch of scared babies, just like the rest of us. So ‘fess up scared babies… lets do it differently. I’m scared too.

This piece was inspired by a blog post written by Austin Kleon, the above referenced questions on the website of the California Academy of Sciences and a comment made by Theo Nestor in a writing class that we should write about the things that we spend a lot of time thinking about whether we believe we have the authority to do so or not.

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Subversive Meditating

blog-1True confession: I have a checkered track record with meditation. I started meditating a long time ago when I went to visit a good friend who had been through a number of consecutive personal ordeals and swore she had survived by meditating. We sat and listened to a guided meditation for about 45 minutes every day while I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as I could tell, you just space out and keep coming back when the guy reminds you to. Back home, I decided to look into it a little deeper, “Maybe I should actually learn how to do this meditation thing for real.”

That was when the trouble began… “Am I supposed to close my eyes or keep them open? Hands on my knees or in my lap? Cross legged on a cushion or in a chair? What if you can’t cross your legs and sit for that long? What constitutes thinking, anyway? Is it thinking if I listen to the birds sing? Is it thinking if I watch the images in my mind? Are images thoughts? Oh god, I totally suck at this! How can anyone stop thinking???”.

I decided that I was not at all cut out for this meditation thing and that it was indeed a danger to my mental health. Well, I didn’t actually quit completely because I kept making secret little forays into meditating from different angles, at times practicing for months before stopping again. I finally told myself that my daily writing practice was a mindfulness practice and that was just going to be my form of meditation.

But I kept thinking that I should be sitting on the floor saying a mantra. Some sneaky gremlin had me convinced that because I was such a lousy meditator, I was actually only a pseudo spiritual person because any truly spiritual person wouldn’t be as bad at meditation as I was. It was supposed to be good for me dammit! Just like the vitamins on the window sill in the kitchen and the soy milk that was in my fridge which I never really liked. This went on for years…

This past weekend, after listening to yet another podcast where the interviewee talked about their meditation practice, I said “ok, fine, 10 minutes, starting tomorrow”, and I set a reminder alarm on my phone for every day into infinity and beyond.

Fortunately for me, tomorrow found me sitting on a ferry with nothing but reading material and my journal to distract me. I had no excuse. So I meditated… no big deal.

Day 2: I was all bunched up over something that had happened the night before that I needed to walk off, so out the window went the meditation plan. After a couple blocks, I realized that I could not solve the problem and it was tormenting me. “Damn, I should have sat my butt on the floor instead of going for a walk.” As quickly as that thought appeared in my overly anxious brain, I thought of the phone in my pocket and did a search for walking meditations. Ha, found! Thank you iTunes. “I am so clever…”

Within a few minutes I was breathing again. It was quite short so I listened to another one. And another…  On I walked, listening and breathing, taking in the drippy new morning around me, letting go, letting go, letting go. 30 minutes later, I stuck my headphones in my pocket, and listened to the symphony of birdsong while the light rain dampened my face for the remainder of my walk.

Yesterday was the real test. No excuses… I made my 2/3 decaf, 1/3 caf latte and walked outside onto the porch. “I’ll meditate after this…” and then, “I wonder if there’s such a thing as a coffee drinking meditation?” A totally subversive little voice answered me, “Why not?”

“Because coffee and meditation do NOT go together!”

“Says who?”

I drink coffee not for the buzz of the caffeine, but because the richness of the smell lures me, the creamy bitterness holds my attention, the feel of the softly rounded ceramic warms my hands, and the embrace of ease and luxury it offers is a beautiful way to begin the day. Its a tiny little indulgence just for me.

I sat down on the porch with the sun on my face and closed my eyes. My meditation lasted as long as the coffee. I sipped it. I breathed. I listened to the birds. I told my body that I was listening and I told my mind I was listening and if they had anything they needed to let me know about it was welcome. Thought amnesty… “olly olly oxen free”, originally, “all ye, all ye, all come free.” I giggled as I thought these words and then I listened again… It was quiet. My inner critic gremlins wouldn’t believe it. They started making noises. “You don’t have a quiet mind”. “I know, you’re right, I don’t, but at the moment its quiet so shut up.” And I waited for the noise to begin. The only noise was my breathing and the birds singing. A few times I wondered if listening to the birds sing constituted thinking, but I decided I didn’t care and I didn’t care if anyone else cared and returned to simply listening and breathing and feeling the sun on my face. Then the coffee was gone and the rain began.

What I may finally have learned was that I don’t need another “should” that my oh so nasty inner critic can abuse me with. It doesn’t need more ammunition. I realized that I had tricked it and that I can do it again by simply asking myself what I really want to do and then do it in a meditative way. Framed in this manner, meditation becomes a subversive act, and that is more powerful than anything my internal critic can throw at me.

My ten minutes (or however long it is), is time stolen from the press of responsibilities, the demands of home, dogs, family, the needs of the hundreds of people whose urgent emails fill my inbox, stealing time, for me, all for me… And that is radical!

 

 

Sun-day in the Arboretum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome days, no matter how much might be amiss in the world that I should be personally attending to, how well or poorly I slept last night, or how many responsibilities are begging for my attention, I’m simply incapable of my usual brand of thrashing. I don’t have it in me to wrestle an idea to the ground, chase down my inner critic, or argue a point, even with myself.  On those rare and blessed occasions, particularly when they fall on one of the first days of spring, when the sun is just warm enough to go for a walk without a coat, I’ll often pick up my smaller camera and do just that.

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Today was one of those days. So while I had some ideas that I had intended to write about today, I’m not sure what happened to them. I think I lost them in the Arboretum, possibly under the magnolia tree with its impossibly large pink blossoms.

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I’m sorry to report that I haven’t solved any of the world’s problem’s today, but the world erased all of mine.

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Language and Identity

The title of this post sounds like some kind of philosophical treatise, and indeed, having typed “language and identity” into a google search field just to see if anything came up, I discovered an extensive list of scholarly papers and books on the topic.

I scanned the list and clicked on one link – a book of sociolinguistic theory published by Cambridge University Press. That’s as far as I went in my search. I could either write this post or dive into sociolinguistic theory…

In my writing this morning, I suddenly became fascinated by the hold the term “stay at home mom” has had on me. I thought, what if I just stopped thinking of myself in those words? In truth, I only have one child left at home and she’s 17. I don’t spend a lot of time at home being a mom anymore. Its almost not true. Its actually kind of a cop-out. I spend as much or more time writing, working with photographs, making art, and engaging in all sorts of outdoor physical pursuits as I do in my responsibilities at home.

I could call myself any one of these things. I often do call myself a photographer. Sometimes people pay me to make photographs. When answering the question, “What do you do?” with the words “I’m a photographer”, the next question is usually, “Do you make a living doing that?”, and then I have to say “no”, and mumble my bit about wearing many hats and not really making a living doing any of them. That sucks… but I’ve already written a lot about the conflict between being and doing and how we have a long ways to go culturally before we value “being” over “doing”.

I want to return to this other idea that I’m tracking about language though because it seems relevant to the larger question. What if I simply refuse to allow the word “photographer”, or “writer” or “stay at home mom” to define me in any way. Sure, there is concrete evidence to the fact that I am a mother. There are three human beings on this planet who confirm that fact.

I never decided to be a “stay at home mom”, it just happened, so how did I come to let those words make such a prison for me. How does the word “doctor” or “banker” become a prison for the free human being trapped inside that identity?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and blame it on my beloved words, and on the possibility that we humans have come to let words define us and our experience in life rather than demanding that words actually serve our purposes.

There’s a campaign I’ve seen on social media lately to ban the word “bossy”, which, when I first saw it, I thought, “Yeah really!” because I was one of those little girls called “bossy”. But then I thought more about it in the context of this topic and I thought, no… the real problem simply lies in the power we give those damn words. (Its not lost on me that I’m sitting here writing this using words. Actually, I’m pounding words into submission with every [hard] tap of my fingers on the keyboard!)

The bits of backlash I’ve read to the “ban bossy” campaign definitely make this argument, that as a feminist agenda it generally fails because actually, a lot of empowered women (feminists?) don’t seem to mind being called bossy. In thinking about it, though it was a word used to shut me up when I was young, it doesn’t have that effect anymore and I take a secret pride when my daughters are called “bossy”. I think “good for you!”.

In my last post, I said that I had some theories about why its so hard for women of my demographic to value themselves and share their gifts with the world. I’ll add to my original thoughts that there are sociolinguistic challenges as well. I smile as I write those words because I didn’t actually know sociolinguistics was a field until today.

Though I write from the perspective of a 52 year old woman who has spent most of the last 24 years out of the workforce raising children, I know that each person, no matter how they identify themselves, faces challenges when they decide they want to break down the invisible structures that contain them within an identity they no longer want to live within. Interestingly enough, I can’t say what it feels like to stop identifying with the term “housewife” for example, because its one I refused to adopt, or “soccer mom”, because I didn’t take that one on either. Likewise, but for different reasons, I’ll never know what it feels like to try to shed the identity label “attorney” or “banker”, if one longs to be a poet.

There’s no getting around the fact that we humans seem to like to label things. It would be a problem if we stopped labeling doors, “restroom” in restaurants and had people wandering around opening doors to closets offices and storage rooms when they simply needed to use a toilet. But we don’t have a problem with a closet being remodeled to become a bathroom, so why do we have such a hard time when we want to change our own label, or wear a different one every other week?

“What do you do?”

This weekend, I’m clearly a writer. This is my second post on this blog in two days after almost three years.

I’ll also be a cook, a dog walker and a laundress. I have a half finished art project that I’ve walked by too many times to count. Now that winter is trying to turn into spring, my garden is begging for attention. I might get called in to wear my editor’s hat on Sunday night, or provide college counseling. I have photos that need editing for my farm blog and an empty refrigerator.

What do you do?

Take Three or Four

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. She got a job, found a place to live, had a glamorous international career and lived happily ever after. The End.

This is not my story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. That plan didn’t work out so well. So she came home broke, got a job that paid well, got married, quit the job, went to grad school and became a french professor who traveled extensively, with an adventurous life of the mind, breathing the rarified air of academia, writing and teaching about esoteric ideas. The End.

This is not my story.

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to have a very adventurous life. She went to college, got a degree in French and moved to Paris. That plan didn’t work out so well. So she came home broke and got a job that paid well, got married, and went to grad school to be a professor, life intervened and that plan didn’t work out either, so she quit after the masters degree, had some kids, moved into a nice house in a nice neighborhood and lived happily ever after, never looking back. The End.

This is not my story.

I’m pretty sure my kids and husband would have liked it if it had been, if I’d been more content to “smile and pour tea”, happy that I had three healthy children, a nice house and enough food on the table, but it wasn’t that easy.

I could have gone back, I could still go back … to Paris, to the well-paying job, to finish the PhD program, to teaching french as I did during graduate school. But the moment passed. The fire was gone. The energy moved on from those places. My life grew roots underneath me and I had to find a new way to find myself.

Carl Jung said “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Finding this quote years ago, I pinned it to the wall, vowing to make peace with the choices I’d made in my life, with the past and with the future. I didn’t want my kids carrying around the weight of my unlived dreams.

I’m not finished with that yet, which is to say, that I’m not finished living the adventurous life. It hasn’t taken any of the directions I’d charted.  Its been a different kind of adventure. Raising three kids was all the adventure I could handle for many years. Sometimes simply getting three kids out the door and to school in the morning was all the adventure I needed in one day. Any full time mom will attest to that, and those that had professional careers, having children later in life, will largely agree that the work is harder, the emotional investment bigger, the hours longer, the payoff greater. So why is it still so hard for us to answer the question, “What do you do?” Why not just say, “I’m a mom.”

I write these words knowing that they don’t apply to all of my peers, that there are those who don’t flinch when asked “What do you do?”.

I have some theories about this. Largely, they’re chicken and egg theories, like, is it because we, as a culture, still don’t value the job of raising children because it doesn’t generate an income?  Or, is it because those of us who can’t answer the question without squirming still haven’t come to value themselves enough to stand there and not care what anyone thinks of their answer? I’m sure the answer is a combination of the two and that one reinforces the other. But why is it still so much harder for women of my demographic to value themselves for who they are, and for the contribution they make to the world regardless of what it looks like?

I have some theories about that also… about being part of an age group who grew up on the outgoing tide of the original women’s movement, too young to benefit from the first wave, and too old to be the daughters of feminist mothers. My experience with feminism in the early to mid 70’s was through the eyes of fairly traditional parents and Catholic school teachers.  During my own young adulthood and those of my peers, it was hard to connect “feminism” as it appeared in the women’s studies department and in athletics with being female. It seemed more of a terrifying than liberating force.

Perhaps I’m way off base, but I sense that I am not alone, that the larger cultural conversation is generally missing the voices of a whole group of women because we have silenced ourselves, because we have believed that our voices didn’t matter. Who decided that for us? Who decided that for me? And why did I acquiesce?

Last October, I screwed up my courage and went to the Emerging Women conference in Boulder, Colorado. It was four days full of inspirational talks and workshops by incredible women in business, thought leadership, music, art, and spirituality. Most had left or transformed careers to better live the truth of who they are. I loved every minute of my time there, and was truly inspired by those days. I also kept waiting to hear a story that was mine, or even mine but a chapter later, someone whose primary “career” had been 20 years raising children followed by some other creative undertaking, but there was no one whose distinguishing credential was “mother”. It is often my impression that in order to be taken seriously, a woman needs to have a resume that includes something other than “mother”… or does it? Because it is also my impression that we simply have to believe in ourselves and our words enough and be brave enough to keep saying the things that we need to say until they are heard.

Put into those words, isn’t it the same struggle anyone goes through who wants to have their voice count, whether its in music, art, literature or business? I think so. But I also think that the slope is steeper, the terrain more rugged, and the obstacles higher for stay at home moms of my demographic. I think that our struggles, (my struggles) with identity, confidence, and the duo of self worth and self love are particularly challenging after years of putting the needs of children and families above our own, as we believed was best for all. Somewhere among the diapers, the circular conversations with three year olds, the soccer carpools, the last minute late night editing with teenagers, and the preparation of thousands of meals, I (we) lost track of what it was that I knew was mine to share with the world, that I’m afraid is no longer relevant, or afraid that it never was to start with.

This, then, is my task, for my own sake, as well as for the sake of my daughters, my son and the generations to follow.

“Sinking into it”

Mt. Rainier

Maybe I should only post photos here taken with my Blackberry! I grabbed this one at noon today while hiking “the King” at the top of Crystal Mountain. I couldn’t resist. Often, while hiking with skis weighing down my right shoulder, I’m inclined to get to the destination as quickly as possible. Today, I had to stop, drop the skis, fish the Blackberry out of my pocket and capture the view. It was so bright, I couldn’t see what I was shooting, but I could see blue at the top of the screen and a swatch of something white-ish across the middle of the frame, so I figured Rainier was “in”. Continue reading

Two Different Lenses

Friday Afternoon

After dragging my camera all over town with me today, it wasn’t until late this afternoon on my way home from a long list of errands that I found anything that inspired me. The warmth of real spring sunshine was distracting and I just wanted to wander aimlessly. I wasn’t really interested in finding the “great shot” for the blog.

After yesterday’s photographic excitement of the Aquarium with its coral and jellyfish, even the Arboretum, in the full glory of spring’s blossoming trees, wasn’t doing it. I love the Arboretum. Its a comfortable, familiar place. I loved walking through with my camera this afternoon, but its like being in the mountains, the photos never seem to quite capture the magnificence of the scene. Continue reading