Posted in Poems

Falling

Photo by Bruce Christianson

Sense and Nonsense

Given the scope of my Truth
and the fact that i have been getting to know it
all these years,
I wish for a promise
that I cannot fall,
cannot fail,
but here I am

Spread-Eagled

in infinite Space
and I have been falling for years.
Not only is there no safety net,
but there is no ground.

At first you panic, flailing,
looking for ground that you are certain
will be The Death Of You
but it spins out of control.
There is no control in this
Space.
Nothing to push off of,
no orientation, no trajectory.
When you realize that,
when you settle into the space
between Beingness and Unbeingness
and enjoy the ride,
you realize that this
is not a fall to your Death
but your First Flight.

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Posted in A Day In The Life

Where I’ve Been

On February 2, I was at an event and had an attack of acute pancreatitis that was, I can tell you, among the most pain endurable. My doctor said, it’s like the alien in Aliens bursting out of you. Pretty accurate. I was in such agony that I was writhing, moving constantly, trying to find a slightly more comfortable position, to the point that I was sore the next day. My husband called it “agony aerobics.” Also accurate.

As it turned out, I had acute cholecystitis too — gallstones, causing the pancreatitis. My gallbladder was full of them. They took it out on the 7th. I stayed in the hospital until the 11th, and I’ve been recovering since then.

Why do doctors tell you some crazy conservative estimate of how long it is going to take you to recover from surgery? Two weeks, they told me. Maybe some people recover from having their gallbladder removed, but I am not one of them. Here I am, a month later, still struggling.

To literally add insult to injury, on the 25th I got a call that one of our best friends, Joe, had collapsed on his sister’s lawn and was life-flighted to Erlanger, and the next day, he was gone of a massive stroke. Joe gamed with us every week and was best man at my wedding and was just a light to everyone around him.

Needless to say, February has not been kind. I feel like I’ve been gone, on another planet, and am coming back to a world that went on without me (because of course it did), and am struggling to remember how to fit in and function. I have a month of course work to make up when I return to class on Monday. I haven’t worked in a month.

So this is me, tentatively stretching my muscles, writing something because despite everything, this is still the year I write. I still don’t know what, exactly. It doesn’t matter, so long as I am writing. I couldn’t even focus enough for several weeks to write in my journal, and that is really remarkable. It’s strange how pain makes it impossible to focus on anything but yourself, and I guess that’s true of emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m struggling with both, but both are getting better.

I hope that life has been much gentler with you, and if not, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Cherish this day and the friends and family who inhabit the wonderful places in your life. Take nothing for granted. Love and light to you. ❤

Posted in Daily Writing

Restless

This is a screech owlet I rescued. My neighbor cut his tree down and asked me to save him.

The following did not happen. Since 2019 is the year I write, I need to write, and this is where I’m starting… fiction that is more truth than fiction, and the person in the story is very much me, doing things I do, but this particular sequence of events is out of sequence, and fictional. But I guess I’m hoping there are struggling Polymaths out there who, like me, struggle with rotating obsessions and wondering at midlife or later what they want to be when they grow up.

I was sitting in a coffee shop, sipping a double latte, extra cream, and nothing much was going on. I felt like I was sitting in a bubble of voices, carried on them, but not really understanding them, not part of them, not even looking at their owners. I was looking out the window at a glorious blue day, but I wasn’t really part of that either.

Being a polymath is a long string of triumph and frustration with yourself. You get really, really good at learning new things, and at failing and being cool with that. The next thing will get better. If you do a next thing; you might just as well decide that you’re done with that activity and obsessed with something else today, and sometimes it’s like a switch flipped and you’re just not in love anymore. Thanks for the good times, Photography, but I’ve met Poetry and we’re… well… in love. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s always me.

Anyway the blank page sits before me again, and I feel like this is where I live my life, on the edge of the greatest idea I’ve ever had. This is it, I think, my life’s mission. Only when I’m not on the edge of that eureka, I’m worried that I don’t have a life’s mission.

I sighed and put my too-hot latte down. How do you know, you know? How do you know what you’re supposed to do when one day you’re so fired up you can’t sit still and the next day you’re bored out of your mind with the same thing? In my mind I am having this conversation with a meet-me-at-the-coffee-house friend that I don’t have today.

I clapped my poetry book closed without so much as a new mark on it and trudged back to the counter. “On second thought,” I said, “I’ll take this to go.”

“Sure thing,” the barista said cheerfully, and dumped the cup into a styrofoam (ugh) mug with a cardboard cuff and a plastic lid. I’m part of the problem, I thought glumly as I accepted today’s contribution to the local landfill enveloping that sweet, milky, caffeinated addiction, and walked out into the street, which seemed quiet after the buzz of coffee house conversation. The poem about conversation buzz and caffeine buzz lands in my head not ten steps out of the door, naturally. Should I find a park bench and write it anyway? Nah. It’s not that good.

I wonder sometimes how many of these ideas I let go might have been The Epiphany if I gave them time and nursed them. I just know for sure that I’ll see a bald eagle sitting ten feet from me in a tree, or a perfect rose, or some other thing I’ll curse myself for not having my camera for. Any one of them could have sent me running back to my photography obsession, if I caught the shot, if I was focused on one thing.

Sometimes I’m here, in flux, in between obsessions and worried I’ll never amount to much because I’m all over the place. On the other hand, I know something about a lot of things, and we need people in the world like that, too, right? Right?

It turned out, after all, not to be an eagle or a rose, but a baby bird, in the middle of the sidewalk, its paper thin, translucent throat stretched out in supplication, its peeping faint but audible half a block away. I stopped close to him, peering up into the just-budding branches of the tree above me. The nest was a mess and there was no putting him back in it.

Luckily, feeding baby birds is on my long list of things I know how to do, because I once worked for an avian veterinarian, fostering baby birds and syringe feeding them. I am not a certified wildlife rehabilitator, because that would have taken focusing on a thing for a long time and it’s not that high on my list of obsessions, but I know some things, and I know some people. I dumped the remains of my latte, carefully wiped out the inside of the cup with a pocketed napkin, lined the cup with more napkins, and scooped the little fellow into the cup while his head bobbed, hoping mom would find it and regurgitate him some food. “Sorry, my dude,” I told him, wrapping my hands around the cup to warm him against the spring chill. “I haven’t eaten any worms today.” I’d take him home, get him some food to syringe-feed him, and then find someone who could legally raise him. I get questions like this all the time, from my friends. I rescued this baby bird, what do I do with him? I just got a new crock pot, you have some good recipes I can make in it? I need photos taken for my son’s first birthday, would you do it? I rescued this kitten, I’m planning a protest, I’m painting my bedroom, what’s a good app to meditate…

“You know, Harold,” I say to a baby bird newly christened Harold, “maybe being a Jill of All Trades isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

If I’m willing to find a way without a crop, gizzard, or worm breakfast to regurgitate for him, he could not agree more.

Posted in Sermons

Manifestation and Letting Go

The following is a sermon I gave yesterday for Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cookeville‘s Burning Bowl ceremony. This is a ceremony in which each person writes on a piece of paper something that they would like to let go of, that is no longer serving them. Then we light a candle in a big ceramic bowl and ceremonially burn the papers. I really wanted to use flash paper this year, or flying wish paper, but I didn’t get the Amazon order in time. Maybe next year.

Burning Bowl Ceremony

The only constant is change, said Heraclitus of Ephesus.

Question: how do we bring more of what we want into our lives, and let go of the things we don’t want in our lives? In other words, how do we direct the change?

In Pagan and New Age and other spiritual circles, this concept is discussed using the term “manifesting.” This language entered the mainstream about 15years ago with the popularity of The Secret and Abraham-Hicks’ message about the Law of Attraction. The concept is this: If you ask for something, and you focus on it without fear about it not happening, without framing it in a negative — “I don’t want to get sick” — then it will happen. Because of your focus, you are attracting what you wish to you. By doing this you can heal your sickness, you can be rich, you can have whatever you want.

Needless to say, this concept is wildly popular. It got celebrity endorsement, and its proponents made millions explaining to people, sometimes claiming to channel otherworldly entities, how to ask for things so that you get them. The problem is that when the wishes fail to come true, people who prayed for God to make something happen or expected the Universe to provide wonder whether the fault might be in them. So, Is it true? Can we wish our futures into existence?

Like most things, it has a grain of truth in it. What you focus on, you will draw to you, but maybe it’s not because of some universal magic. Or, maybe it is. But most often, you don’t get what you want because you wished for it. That’s much more likely to work for someone who was rich, white and privileged in the first place. But when we give something our attention, it does make us more likely to look for connections, relationships, and opportunities that will draw those things to us. It makes us more likely to put our efforts into making it happen. And if there’s some universal law at work, so much the better, but the need for the work doesn’t go away. You still have to show up every day to make the thing happen.

But sometimes we get blocked. We get in our own way with negative self-talk, or fear of taking the next step or of failing, or lack of faith in ourselves, or lack of support from those close to us, or any other number of reasons. So the first question I want to ask you is this: what do you want to manifest? What do you want to be the focus of your year, what do you want to draw to you or accomplish in 2019? Put another way, I’m reading a book called First Things First and it asks the question: What is the one activity that you know if you did superbly well and consistently, would have significant positive results in your life? And the obvious follow up question is: why aren’t you doing it? Put more poetically, by Mary Oliver, what are you doing with your one wild and precious life?

So ask yourself, what is holding you back? What pain are you holding in your heart that it would better serve you to let go? As you ponder this, bear in mind that not all pain should be let go, just yet. Sometimes we need to hold it, and love it until it is ready to depart on its own.

The Buddha liked lists. One of the lists he gave us was Five Hindrances. He identified them as five mental states that hinder us in meditation and in our daily lives. For some of these things, we don’t have direct translations in English, so I thought I’d give each of them some attention.

The first hindrance is sometimes translated as greed, sometimes sensual desire. I like to think of it as Grasping or Clinging. We humans don’t like change, and yet all things change. Sometimes we cling to things out of habit or fear of sacrificing comfort, but those very things might be what is holding us back. They may even be relationships sometimes. Or they may be attachment to things. Maybe we can’t clear space in our mental lives because we have too much literal clutter in our houses, but we cling to those physical possessions for one reason or another.

The Second Hindrace is Aversion, and it is the flip side of the first. We cling to good experiences, pleasant sensations, and the other side of that coin is, we often push away what we have judged as bad or negative, or things that are unpleasant. In doing this we often lose a valuable lesson. One I like to share is, when I began meditating, every time I took a breath one of the vertebrae in my neck would click. Every inhale. Breathe in — click. Breathe out. Breathe in — click. Breathe out. It drove me insane. I could not focus on my breath or being present because of that damned click. So I went online, because I figured, I can’t be the first person to have dealt with this, how do I get rid of it? And somewhere in the middle of all of my online searching, I suddenly realized… sitting with this thing is no different than sitting with leg pain, or sitting with grief. You allow the experience, thank it for what it has to teach you, and let it be. The crazy thing was, it seems likely that I was causing the click because of some tension somewhere, because when I took this advice, it quite often stopped happening. And that’s true of aversion in a lot of cases… when we push something away, when we are saying to ourselves I HATE THIS, I CAN’T STAND IT, we are giving it attention and still holding it, just in a different way.

The third hindrance is Sloth and Torpor. These are translated pretty accurately, and I think you get the idea. Another Steven Covey phrase is “mind over mattress.” Often we have so much resistance to something, say for example, exercising, or getting started on a cleaning project. And then we get started and realize that getting started was 90% of the battle.

The fourth hindrance is Restlessness, Anxiety, and Worry. I don’t have to explain to you what these are, and if you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or worried about something you know what I mean when I call it a hindrance. For a Buddhist the answer to these things is the same as the answer to all of the others: sit with it. Let it be. In our modern day we often identify too much with things. We say I AM depressed, or I AM anxious. I want to ask you to watch your language and stop BEING things that are hindering you. Say instead, I am feeling anxious, and then, if you can make space for it, sit and ask why you might be depressed or anxious. This is not to say that you should not get help for these things if you need it. If this is a chronic problem for you, professional help might be needed.

The fifth hindrance is Doubt. Hindering doubt is not the same as questioning doubt. Questioning doubt leads us to greater understanding. Hindering doubt is occasionally failing to trust those who have our backs, but most often hindering doubt is self-doubt. Fear of failure, failing to trust ourselves, wondering if we’re strong enough to deal with something. So I want to tell you, not only are you strong enough, but you are Enough in every way.

Returning to our theme of how to manifest something that we want in our lives, and letting go of something else to make room for it, I want to read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words about Impermanence.

Impermanence Makes Everytghing Possible

We are often sad and suffer a lot when things change, but change and impermanence have a positive side. Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible. Life itself is possible. If a grain of corn is not impermanent, it can never be transformed into a stalk of corn. If the stalk were not impermanent, it could never provide us with the ear of corn we eat. If your daughter were not impermanent, she cannot grow up to become a woma. Then your grandchildren would never manifest. So instead of complaining about impermanence, we should say, “Warm welcome and long live impermanence.” We should be happy. When we can see the miracle of impermanence, our sadness and suffering will pass.

Impermanence should also be understood in the light of inter-being. Because all things inter-are, they are constantly influencing one another. It is said that a butterfly’s wings flapping on one side of the planet can affect the weather on the other side. Things cannot stay the same because they are influenced by everything else, everything that is not itself.

When we think about manifesting things in our lives, it’s important to spend some time thinking less about I want this NOT that, and more about How can this become that? Our lives are not a series of switches to be flipped, I no longer want this, I want more of that, but instead, we are all living on a continuum of inter-being and inter-becoming. Going back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching:

Conditions

Looking deeply into a box of matches, you can see the flame. The flame has not manifested, but as a meditator you can see the flame. All the conditions are sufficient for the flame to manifest. There is wood, sulfur, a rough surface and my hands. So when I strike the match ad the flame appears I would not call that the birth of a flame. I would call it manifestation of a flame.

The Buddha said that when conditions are sufficient you manifest yourself. When conditions are no longer sufficient, you stop manifesting in order to manifest in other forms, with other conditions.

— Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death No Fear

I encourage you to sit in silence and meditate on these things, especially the concept that what you want to manifest is not a thing that doesn’t yet exist, but something that the conditions have not until now been right for. What would it take to make the conditions right? Perhaps, light a candle to gaze at, as you think on these things for at least a few minutes, or however long it is comfortable for you to meditate.

Following the meditation, if you want to do the ritual portion of this exercise, take two pieces of paper, perhaps different colors . On one, write whatever you think you need to let go of, in order to make room for more of what you want in your life. On the other, write whatever you want to call to you. Light a candle and have nearby a large ceramic bowl or perhaps a large clay flower pot. I find this ceremony most powerful to do near dusk. You can fold the paper in some way that seems significant to you. Carefully light the paper with the candle, and drop the paper into the bowl. You might spend a moment watching the edges curl, blacken, and become something else: ash, embers, a chemical reaction, carbon dioxide, and then dissipate to become part of something else. After our congregation’s Burning Bowl ceremony, I took the ashes and put them in my compost pile, so that they literally could become part of something else, so if that feels right to you, you can do that too. Some people empty the ashes into a running stream of water to be carried away symbolically, again.

What you do with the other sheet of paper is up to you. You can put it somewhere you’ll see it in your house, or on your altar at home if you have one, or you can bury it in the earth or fold it into a paper boat (please use environmentally friendly, degradable paper) and release it into that stream of water with the ashes of the other paper. Or, do some other symbolic act of releasing your desire into the universe.

My friends, may your goodbyes be gentle.

Posted in Big Questions

Write Your Friends’ Eulogies While They Are Still Alive

A Single Rose

A few days ago I had lunch with a friend. Because we are both pretty deep thinkers (and maybe a little morbid), we started talking about death. We both knew, we said, what we didn’t want at our funeral, something we’d seen too many times at the funerals of friends and relatives: a minister of a religion the deceased belonged to only nominally, someone that didn’t know the person or only barely knew the person, giving a sermon that was more proselytizing than celebration of an individual’s life. We talked about friends doing readings, no sermon, just a swirl of memories capturing what we had been and what we meant to those dear to us.

You’ve thought about this, right? I’m not sure why our society thinks it’s strange and morbid to think about death, but I think planning for your death is as important as planning for your life. You’ll be dead a lot longer. You’ll leave an onerous financial burden on your family if you don’t think about it and plan for it. They’ll argue about what belongings you leave behind. Seriously, think about it. Think about end of life decisions too. If you need a guide in this process I highly recommend you check out Five Wishes and that you purchase their workbook for end-of-life-decisions. Don’t leave them guessing what you would have wanted at a time that is very stressful anyway.

The friend I was having lunch with said, “I’d like for you to say a few words at my funeral.” Obviously we can’t both speak at each other’s funeral, but that got me thinking about what I would say. There’s as lot to say: she’s as unselfish a person as I know, deeply involved with and caring about her family, and when you speak with her you know you have her full attention and she is interested in who you are and what you think, where you have been and what you know. She is easy to talk to and easy to be with, and I think it would be difficult for me (introvert me, even) to spend too much time in her company.

You hear, sometimes, “make sure people know you love them while they are still alive.” But really, it’s one thing to tell your friends they are loved and appreciated, and another to tell them all the things that you love and appreciate about them. And I thought, it might be awkward to hear that, and anyway, I could do a much better job of it in writing. I imagined myself at a funeral, saying “I wrote Heather’s eulogy in 2019, and handed it to her the following week.”

In a eulogy, you celebrate memories of a person, bits of ephemera like snapshots in a photo album gathered as commentary on the wonderfulness of the life they lived and the energy they brought to your life. “He was always doing things for others. There was the time my car broke down and…” It’s the essence of a person, or at least the essence of the ways their beingness intersected with yours, distilled into an essay.

Tell me, would you not want to hear your own eulogy? Wouldn’t you love to hear the way you’ve made the lives of your friends and families better? I’m suggesting you tell the people whose lives have impacted yours, before it’s too late for them to hear it. If it’ll embarrass them or you for you to say it out loud, write it. At the same time, let it be an exercise in mindfulness for you. When you’re with them, really listen to them,really hear them. Be hearing their dreams and motivations. Don’t just enjoy their company, really think about why their company is so enjoyable.

And then tell them.

Posted in mindfulness

Now Is a Gift; That’s Why It’s Called the Present

Different geese, prettier day.

My eyes snapped open at 6:18 this morning. I’d considered, last night, maybe I’ll get up early and try for some sunrise photography. Then I thought, nah, it’s after 11 and I probably won’t get up. But I got up. I glanced at the slate blue light coming in my predawn window, then checked my phone, when is sunrise? 6:52.

If I thought that was photographic destiny, I was wrong. Bandit and I packed up in the van and I headed up Spencer mountain, hoping for a vantage point to overlook the pretty farmland below, lit by a sky-blue-pink sunrise. Instead, it rained a little, and the sky was an undulating grey, and three minutes to sunrise there was no hint that I was even going to see the sun. My confused dog was looking at me with deep concern.

We ducked down a road or two marked “Dead End”, hoping for a view off the mountain anyway, for future reference and more attractive mornings, but mostly what we saw was a lot of trailers and some country that would’ve done Deliverance proud, and teaser glimpses of distant registers of mountains (there wasn’t even a decent mist this morning!) through trees silent, gray, and shorn of leaves. Bandit put his paw on my arm. “Fine,” I said, “we’ll go home. I want to look at one more thing.”

I’d seen a blip on my kayaking app that said you could put in at Spencer City Lake, a place I hadn’t known existed before that. I thought I’d check that out for more future reference and as a potential place to put the kayak in, before we headed home. The road was in fairly poor repair, ending in gravel-mud that looked like the denizens of Spencer had used it for mudding (driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle through wet mud). The put-in for the lake was gravel, not a bad spot to put a kayak in, but it didn’t look like there was much to see on a paddle. I may try it for a quiet drift some time anyway.

There was a gaggle of Canada geese not far from my van as I grabbed my camera and hopped out. Maybe, I thought, I can at least get a few wildlife shots. My wildlife lens, a 75-300 mm for you photography geeks, is okay but really woefully inadequate for wildlife photography. At least, it’s not the $9000 camera-dwarfing zoom that I’d really love to try out some day. I don’t expect to ever actually buy one unless I somehow strike it rich on a picture I take with this one. The geese were uncooperative, paddling to the other side of the lake with honky geese-chuckles. They’re awfully shy, I thought, remembering the noisy, gregarious flocks that shat all over my elementary school playground with little to no regard for the small, equally noisy humans who coinnhabited it twice a day, sliding on goose guano while trying to play hopscotch.

Bandit bee lined out of the van for a pile of leaves and promptly did his business. Ohhh, I thought. That explained his look of concern. Poor dude, I rushed him out of the house in the dark and into the van before he’d even had a chance to let his bowels wake up.

Once that was taken care of, since there was no one around, I unhooked his leash and let him explore. I must say, it is a glorious thing to have a dog who will come when he is called, that I can trust him to enjoy himself in the woods. He zigzagged from smell to smell, and I wondered if he was searching for other dogs or small, interesting, furry thing smells. There was a trail up the bank and around the lake, and I thought, what the heck, let’s stretch our legs. Maybe I’ll even get a critter to take a picture of.

Sometimes, when you are looking for The Photo (or, really, anything else), you forget to just be present. I found nothing photo-worthy at 6:53 a.m. today, but there will be snapshots in my mind. Bandit, still not really awake but joyfully exploring the smells in the woods. I heard a noise and stopped in my tracks, looking up. The tall cedars above me nodded their heads at one another, discussing the gray dawn, perhaps, making delightful creaking noises that called to mind other forests, other evergreens. I stood dwarfed by them, admiring them, for several minutes. No photo could hold them, or their voices. I walked on to a different edge of the lake and stood, listening to the lap of waves against a reed-forested shore. A kingfisher called in the distance, teasing: I’ve never been able to get a satisfactory shot of a kingfisher. I never saw him, but by now, I had come back to the present and it didn’t matter. Bandit gazed over the water with me, and eventually, we made our way back along the little trail to the canoe ramp. The geese called excitedly to one another and I knew they were going to take off, but my camera settings weren’t ready for flight speed and I missed that, too. I have’t looked at the pictures yet but I think the only photo I’ll probably bother with is an abstract one of the reed patterns in the water, distorted reflections dancing on the surface. I don’t mind. There are other mornings and this one reminded me how exquisite quiet mornings can be, in full living color or in grayscale.

Posted in Creatures

The Limits of Love

Rascal as I will always think of him, enjoying and glowing in the golden hour

Spoiler alert: there aren’t any. Love has no limits.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved y our beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

— W.B. Yeats

Rascal is not my dog. When my son Brandon was four, he saved up his money and bought a puppy. “Get a shih tzu,” my mom said. “I love collies,” I said. We opened up the newspaper and found shih tzu/sheltie mix puppies for sale. That felt like destiny calling. We got the pup.

That was almost 19 years ago. He has always been Brandon’s dog, a dude’s dog. I’m the one who messes with him, trimming nails, brushing (he requires a lot of brushing, but I have let it go except for what is necessary for his health), cleaning up his messes. Brandon loved him, snuggled with him, trained him, adored him.

And then went to college. When he was six months old we bought another pup to ease his separation anxiety, his half brother, and it wouldn’t have been fair to Rascal to go with Brandon and spend a lot of time alone. So he stayed home with me, wriggling with joy when His Boy came to visit him, covering him with kisses. If I get a kiss I count it a rare treasure.

Still, he is an old soul, and he had a lot to teach me. I think he still does. That’s a story for a longer blog post probably, the one I will sob over when he leaves us. It’s not time for that now.

Right now it’s time to cherish every moment he is still in joy. He still loves that golden hour, lying in the yard. He wags for snow. He wags for His Boy. He wags for Christmas presents. He wags.

He has had degenerative hip disease since he was two years old, so I am astonished that he is still plugging along. His brother Dink left us late in 2017. We lost bladder control last year, and he can’t hear too well or read the newspaper anymore. I have to pick him up to take him outside, and snatch him up when he’s done peeing to make sure he doesn’t fall over in it while he’s trying to walk when he’s done. He needs diapers. He gets diaper rash. His appetite isn’t the best and most of the time I have to fight with him to get pills down him. But the vet is astonished that his bloodwork looks so good for a geezer his age, and, well, he still wags.

He was always a Rascal. If he wasn’t tied, he’d run away, daring someone to catch him. Unbelievably, he still tries to run away. If I put him outside and don’t put him on a leash — this crotchety old man who sleeps with his face practically in his water dish so that he doesn’t have to get up and walk to it if he gets thirsty in the middle of the night — he will “run” away, by which I mean he hobbles 2 feet, looks around to see if I am watching, and if he is lucky, he makes it to the edge of the neighbor’s yard, feeling supremely pleased with himself for outfoxing me. If I’m not careful he will make it to the garden and get stuck.

He loves Christmas. He finds his present (he always knows because it’s the soft one that’s not in a box), and he pokes it with his nose excitedly while Bran helps him open it. Bran sleeps over on Christmas Eve. We had to wake him up this year, but he was still excited about his present, which was a bed and not a dog toy for the first time ever. The last three Christmases I thought would be his last with us, and he keeps surprising me.

He’s a lot of work. Loving an old geezer is a lot of work. I fight with the pills, I change his diaper, I carry him outside, I have to watch because often the only indication that he needs to go is that he tries to get up and move. I try not to diaper him all the time because he gets rashes, so he has accidents in the house sometimes, not getting up too fast, and we head to the bathtub to clean him up, one hand under his belly because he has a hard time standing for very long. I have to hand feed him sometimes when he is being picky. One of the hardest things about this past very difficult year was when I had surgery and couldn’t take care of him the way he needed me to, couldn’t pick him up.

But as long as he is still wagging, I do not mind. I find so much joy in his enjoyment. He likes his new bed. He loves the big glass door, lying on his bed looking outside, hanging out with Russ, and especially when The Boy comes. He does not love nail trims or brushing or me fidgeting with him. I do not doubt that he will let me know when the joy is gone and it’s time to let him go, when he has one last lesson for me. But we are not there yet.

So I want to tell you this: when love is a lot of work, that’s when you should hold on to it most dearly and with the most joy, but with a gentle grip, because it is fragile, and because when it is time to let go, you should not hold any more. That is the paradox and challenge of love. Can you cherish without clutching, do the work without resentment, be present without demanding?

Lessons in love so often come with paws and fur.

Posted in Reviews

One Thousand Books ( And a Review)

Much earlier this year, I noticed on Goodreads that I was 60 books away from having read 1000 books over my lifetime. That’s something! I thought. So I made myself a Reading Challenge (something you can do on the Goodreads app) to read the 60 books. This morning, I finished my one thousandth book, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.

I’m pretty proud of this accomplishment. Other stuff I’ve read this year, a mix of fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, how-to books, memoir, audiobooks, poetry… pretty much the gamut:

American Dervish; Beautiful Jim Key; I Am Spock; Wherever You Go, There You Are; Fools and Mortals; Lock In; Rules of the Road; The Fortune Teller; Daughters of the Night Sky; Beyond Belief; Uncommon Type; Find More Time; NPCs; Split the Party; The Watchmaker of Filigree Street; A Wrinkle in Time; The Book of the Unnamed Midwife; The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck; Genghis: Birth of an Empire; Tell Me How It Ends; The Power; 365 Tao; Hysterectomy: Exploring Your Options; Sociology: A Brief Introduction; Genghis: Lords of the Bow; And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer; Children of Blood and Bone; Felicity; God is Dead; Turn Your Passion Into Profits; West Wind; Small Great Things; Circe; Head On; The Ocean at the End of the Lane; Hoard of the Dragon Queen; The Kite Runner; The Lioness of Morocco; Braving the Wilderness; Earth Poems; The Third Reconstruction; The Companions; The Graveyard Book; The Night Circus; Jumping at Shadows; Dragon Keeper; iPad for Artists; Dragon Haven; Coraline; Gardner’s Art Through the Ages; We are Legion — We are Bob; City of Dragons; Social Psychology and Human Nature; Turtles All the Way Down; Blood of Dragons; Nonviolent Communication.

Best Fiction I Read This Year: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Best Nonfiction I Read This Year: Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

Worst Book I Read This Year: God is Dead by Ron Currie Jr.

I want to start reviewing books here, because reading is (obviously) so much a part of who I am. I thought it was appropriate that Nonviolent Communication be the final book in my first thousand, because it is so much a part of the person I want to be.

I started this book as part of a discussion group at church, called Compassionate Communication. The group is on its third tour of the book, and they have discovered that living it is harder than it seems.

Basically, there are four parts to Compassionate/Nonviolent Communication:

1. Make an observation that is not a judgment, something that has provoked your need to communicate in the first place. If, for example, you want to have an honest conversation about the dishes in the sink, you might say, “I noticed that there are a lot of dishes in the sink.” The key here is to avoid the judgment, something like “You always leave your dishes in the sink.” (The ‘always’ is probably not accurate, anyway).

2. Make a statement about how we feel in relation to what we have observed. “When I go to make dinner and there are dishes in the sink, I feel frustrated.” We often make “I feel” statements that are actually thoughts. “I feel like you’re neglecting me.” If your feel is followed by like, that’s a good clue that it’s not actually a feeling.

3. State the needs, values and desires that create our feelings. “…. I feel frustrated because I have a need for order so that I can get dinner made efficiently.” It can be challenging to be aware of our own feelings, much less the needs that are behind them. Our society trains us not to speak of our needs because it seems like we’re being selfish, but in reality if you make these things clear, and ask for clarification of the other person’s needs and feelings, quite often a solution becomes apparent without an argument.

4. Make a request for concrete actions that will enrich our lives. The important thing here is that it is a request, rather than a demand. The other person has the option to say no. Making demands is not conducive to good communication or good feelings on the part of both people.

There’s so much more to say about this book. As my friend Susan in my church group said, when she read it she thought, “This could change the world.” And so it could, if more people knew about it. So I highly recommend that you give it a read. You can also visit Dr. Rosenberg’s site, The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

If you want to keep up with what I’m reading, you can find me on Goodreads.

What’s on your To Read list for 2019?

Posted in A Day In The Life

O Christmas tree

It occurred to me this morning that I can have a different colored tree every day till Christmas.

I make no apologies for being THAT person… the one who’s excited about Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I missed roughly half of the Christmases in my life because I was a Jehovah’s Witness, so I am making up for lost time. I send Christmas cards, I love picking out presents and wrapping them. One of my favorites is Santa duty. Christmas morning comes, I get up early, and I set out the presents in sparkling packages, carefully arranged, and then lie on the couch to admire my handiwork and the way the tree’s lights twinkle on the packages. And I LOVE putting up the tree.

My son Brandon, who is 25 this year, loves it just as much, and is my Christmas cohort. Part of the reason I treasure this time of year so much is because I get to reminisce with Brandon. This is what past tree-putting-up-days looked like: he would help me go to the garage and get our two sets of ornaments, blue and silver or deep red and gold. We’d pick one. We’d parade in circles around the tree with lights and garland, then put up the nostalgic ornaments, the ones we made the first few Christmases after we started celebrating again, and talk about Christmases past while we listened to Nat King Cole and Dean Martin croon old carols. Then we’d turn off all the lights and admire our handiwork and yell at cats to stop bothering the tree, and enjoy the fact that Bran’s old dog, who is almost 19 this year, is still with us.

Not much has changed, really, with one exception: we no longer hang those old ornaments (I wish I had room for The Tree in the living room and a smaller nostalgic tree, but my house is small). Instead, a few weeks to a month ahead of time, we start texting each other and planning. I had the idea a couple of years ago to light the hell out of our white tree and put black ornaments on it so that they would be silhouetted against the supernova.

Last year’s tree. There are a thousand lights on this sucker.

My son is as creative as I am (he’s got a Fine Art degree) but his creativity is usually happiest married to some tinkering, technical aspect of a project. His original plan was to buy LED strip lights to go on the tree this year, and I had the idea to turn it into a giant candy cane, with the red lights as the stripes. We plotted together, went to Hobby Lobby to buy bright red and white ornaments, and he got the lights.

Only, it needed red garland, and I didn’t buy any. And the red on the strip lights was too orangey. Plan B! We sat on the couch and played with the lights’ remote control, looking at all the colors, and ultimately decided that we loved the bright white because it was so frosty-looking. Bran had the BRILLIANT idea to turn the LED strip lights inward, and with the white tree bouncing the light around it looked like the whole thing was lit from within. We covered the strip with white garland on the outside, so that you really can’t see the lights except where they are twinkling through the tree. We didn’t put any traditional lights on it at all.

We decided to deck the tree in only white and clear ornaments, and snowflake bead garland, and snow-white sparkly poinsettia flowers. We sat back down with the lights in the house off to play with the remote. It still needs a tree topper, and my plan is to buy a twinkly white snowflake for that. I loved the white lights the best still, but it’s also a lot of fun to play with the colors and the white ornaments look great in any color, or all of them.

And it was fun to sync with techno, too. Note beloved old Rascal basking in the neon lights.

Next year, red garland and all those ornaments I just bought. And maybe some high tech controls for Bran to play with. Or, you never know, we may go with another idea entirely, or a new tree, because that’s how we roll.

Posted in mindfulness

Rituals of Gratitude

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

— Three Gratitudes, Carrie Newcomer

Happy Thanksgiving.

For most people, this holiday is about gathering, family, and way too much food, but my wish for you is that it is also about actual giving of thanks, whether you thank the people who loved you this year or give thanks to the divine. It doesn’t matter. Gratitude changes us in wonderful ways, and I firmly believe that it should be among our regular practices not just one day a year, but every day.

My mother recently told me that she and my father, who has a great deal of problem with anxiety, have begun a daily Gratitude Practice together, each sharing three things at the dinner table for which they are grateful. She said dad called her up one day to tell her he “had a thing!” to share with her that evening. For me, I keep a journal, and each day I write three things (at least) for which I am grateful.

When you make this a yearly practice, you hit the big ones: family, health, home, well-being, friends, community, employment, gathering. When you make it a daily practice, everything changes. You start looking for little things to be grateful for, that you can write or share at your daily ritual. You start to focus on what is right with your life when it is so very easy to focus on what is wrong. And I believe, when you focus on the positive, you invite more of it into your life. People are attracted to positive people. You start to like the grateful person you see in the mirror every morning. You gain confidence that good things WILL happen.

It truly is life-changing. I beg you to try it, for a month at least. Share it on Facebook or Twitter. Write it in a journal. Make it a ritual in your family.

I’m not sure what the magic of three is. You don’t have to do three. You can do one. But for some reason three makes me push past the one big thing in my day that makes me smile, and encourages me to find more. There is always more. There is poetry in it. Yes, the sun is shining today, and it’s nice to notice that, but I can be grateful for the cheering glow behind my eyelids while I’m basking in it. I can be grateful for the long golden shadows at the end of the day. I can be grateful for the relief I feel after many gray days when the sun greets me and makes me realize that I didn’t know how much I needed to see it. Push your gratitude farther this year, dig into details and your feelings, let it really make you present. Why is the sunshine good? Why is your marriage good? Why is your job good? What is good about gathering with family, today? Yes, there is stress about the gathering, but you keep doing it year after year. Surely it’s not solely out of a sense of obligation. You’re not obligated, not truly. Find the joy in every small thing, the reason you keep doing it, and if you can’t… why are you still doing it? There is truth in gratitude, as well. Honesty. Maybe a wake-up call.

I am thankful that you are here, reading my words. I have known since I was small that words were my blessing and my craft. I have written a lot of words in a lot of journals since then, but now I am honored to bring them to the Internet, and more honored that you took the time to stop and listen to my thoughts. May this holiday season bring you joy that you have been forgetting to look for. ❤