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.

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?

Wandering in Paris

Awakening to rain my last morning in Paris with my feet still tender from miles logged the previous 36 hours meant rethinking how I would spend the time remaining until my late afternoon train to Lyon. So after packing up and stashing my packed bags, a buzzing boulangerie around the corner lured me in with the promise of a cafe creme and a pain aux raisins, which provided an excuse to sit and people watch while writing in my journal. As I sat, I flashed back, “Proustian” fashion, to pleasant memories of this very activity. Usually, it wasn’t a way to get out of the rain and decide what to do next, but an end in and of itself.

I felt my body relax and settle into the corner I had chosen, simply enjoying the flow of tourists and neighborhood residents which seems to be characteristic of the Marais. There are other neighborhoods in Paris that have this same feel, and 33 years after first visiting Paris, I still search out the corners of the city where I can sink in and feel what its like to be a part of this flow rather than apart from it. Its easy to go to Paris, or other five star travelers hot spots, and be so intent on seeing what is there to see that one misses this element entirely. You arrive somewhere with a list of “must see and dos” and proceed to check it off, feeling like you’ve failed the place if you fail to see its Mona Lisa. On the heels of this trip, I realized that it is this element of feeling the spirit of a place that draws me. It’s connecting with shopkeepers, street vendors, waiters, and other travelers as well as witnessing the ebb and flow of ordinary people’s lives that draws me to new places at home as well as to foreign lands. I’m not sure I could have iterated that previously, but having the two contrasting experiences back to back on this trip brought it home. Continue reading

Paris Day 1

A little over a year ago, I stopped writing what was intended to be a daily post. Shortly before I stopped writing, a volcano erupted in Iceland. While claiming that the volcano’s eruption bears responsibility for my lack of blogging productivity might be a stretch, its a pretty good story…

In truth, my 365 day project ran out of gas. It might have been different if the volcano had stayed quiet. I was scheduled to fly to Paris on April 18, ultimately making my way to Genoa for an inspiring and challenging week long photography workshop with David DuChemin and Jeffrey Chapman. But I stayed in Seattle. I spent a week with a packed suitcase in the middle of the floor. My morning routine involved drinking a latte with a phone to my ear, trying to find a flight from the west coast of the United States to anywhere in Europe that was operating and wasn’t oversold. It didn’t happen. I finally threw in the towel and called in my travel insurance. A couple months later, CSA sent a check for everything I had spent that wasn’t reimbursed by the airline. In the mean time, I stopped writing daily blog posts and confined my disappointment to the pages of a moleskine. While I appreciated the Seattle’s beauty walking through the Arboretum and along Lake Washington, and I tried really hard to recognize that there is a time and place for everything, I was having a really difficult time finding my daily routine as inspiring as France and Italy.

It took a few days before I was ready to start unpacking that suitcase. I carefully placed the bag with gifts for family and friends on a shelf in my bedroom, not knowing when I would deliver them, but vowing to doing so. The suitcase went back to the storage room in the basement.

Fast forward one year: A rolling duffel bag sat on the floor with piles of clothing and camera gear all around it for a week as I decided what was going and what was staying. I finally took the bag of gifts off the shelf, made a nest for it among my clothes, zipped and locked the bag. The heavy pack containing laptop, external hard drive, camera, lenses and other critical items went on my back.

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The Blog-versation

Some parents would never consider blogging about their kids

If you didn’t catch the beginning of our blog-versation, and you’re just “tuning in” now. Here’s what’s up:  Alle (link to her blog) and I are having a “healthy, respectful debate” about the virtue or vice of writing/blogging about one’s children. It started a month ago or so when I saw a post she wrote on this topic.

I have to admit that its kind of weird to see something written about me, my blogging and my parenting! And, I want to immediately express my gratitude to Alle for her kind comments about the latter. Continue reading