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September Journal Snippets: Mountain Musings

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My journal snippets are always some of my most popular posts, so in the absence of anything profound to say, I’ll share some of my September musings with you. The first two weeks of the month were all about road tripping. I drove from my pandemic hiding place in New Hampshire back to my home in Maryland for the COVID funeral of my dear friend Bill, then took my annual pilgrimage south to Hot Springs, North Carolina for the Wild Goose gathering, a festival of “spirit, justice, music, and art.” I briefly returned to Maryland to allow my dermatologist to snip my ear to biopsy, and then headed back to the mountains of New Hampshire.

I will spare you the suspense and let you know that I do, in fact, have skin cancer, but it’s not serious and hasn’t spread. So don’t worry.

Without further ado: 

  • September 1

.Cabin #4, Hot Springs, N.C. Before-bed hot tub. Early morning hot tub. Gonna be a rough trip. I will say, I feel guilty. I’m trying to embrace the both/and. Yes, Taliban terror is already starting in Afghanistan; yes, Bill and 600 thousand others have gone; yes, climate catastrophes abound: Hurricane Ida and another massive direct hit on New Orleans. But also, yes! I hear the wind in the trees, the rushing river, the whir of the wings of the approaching Wild Goose. It’s all captured in the dark clouds of Ida’s remnants roiling over these peaceful mountains.  

I feel so painfully aware of my privilege, sitting here. It’s kind of obscene. It is a gift to have the amount of money and time that I have and to live in the U.S. I want to be fully aware of that, and also to give back where I can. Such abundance. I’m feeling very spoiled. It is a nice connection, too, to know that Bill sat in this very hot tub, relaxed and happy; that he gazed across these treetops to that mountain. Sat at this table on this deck and wrote in his journal. My dear friend. 

At this table, on this deck
  • September 4

Notes I made at Goose Wisdom Camp: “indecision, confusion, restlessness, aimlessness, uncertainty. A little frantic. Fears underneath, of dying, of aging, of not having done enough, been enough, of over-committing, of failing.” At another session, author Gareth Higgins spoke about seven basic fears, the deepest being fear of death, and another being fear of having led “a meaningless life.” That resonated. 

The question is pretty simple, really. How do I spend my remaining time and energy? And how can I best align with my true self, with God’s vision for me? I need to re-read Parker Palmer. My passion for environmental work has faded, for whatever reasons. Too depressed about climate? Disillusioned? Hopeless? Don’t get out in nature enough? I do feel some passion around spiritual growth and pastoral roles. Yet I stepped down from being an official pastor. Kind of lost my mojo around blogging and have to force myself to work on my memoir. 

I believe the small things matter, loving your neighbor, being kind to kids (and adults), serving in simple ways. But I still want to save the world.

  • September 5

Taking a tea and chocolate break to both rest and wake myself before my guests arrive at the cabin. {Bill’s wife Shobha, his sister Linda, and our mutual friend Lori.} I love our tradition of a left-overs feast on the last night of the Goose. Poignant this evening because today is six months since Bill left. That seems incredible to me. I believe I need more chocolate.

What We Need Is Here
  • September 11

Twenty years. Just a check-in, not time to reflect on 9/11, except to note that it wasn’t that long ago that a national or global emergency would bring out the best in us, bring us together regardless of politics, remind us that we are one. No longer. Now millions of grownups refuse to get a shot or even wear a cotton mask to save children’s lives. This Delta variant is cramming pediatric hospitals. No words. And so I just live my life. Today is packing day, I’m on the road back to New Hampshire tomorrow. Awaiting a biopsy. Won’t think about that, I have cleaning and packing to do. 

  • September 13

Ah – what a whirlwind the past few weeks have been. It is good, good, good to be back in the silence. There are just the beginnings of fall, a blush of red and a few orange-tipped branches. I’ve cooked up a batch of hummingbird sugar water in case some of my friends are still around, or at least passing through. How I wish the mosquitos would migrate elsewhere! 

  • September 14

It’s a lovely sunny morning, warming up after a chilly start. The dew is offering up tiny rainbow prisms on the tips of the grass, and the crickets are singing their late-summer chant. There’s a hummer in the phlox, there’s wind in the trees, and the rustle is drier now, crisp, higher pitched than it was a few weeks ago. The maples by the driveway have turned their muted gold, steady and understated sentinels. An orange swallowtail flits from phlox to goldenrod, unaware or unconcerned about its tiny lifespan. It is enough for it to become itself, to taste nectar, to feel the sunshine, to float upwards on the breeze, wings outstretched. An acorn falls. It is enough. More than enough. 

The grasshoppers are mad this year, flinging themselves this way and that, seemingly unsure of  direction or purpose . . . or am I projecting? Need I ask? Better the unconcerned butterfly than the frantic grasshopper. 

Why Am I Not Writing?

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I’m not a big believer in writer’s block, despite the fact that I’ve had it for over a year. I’m supposed to be writing a memoir about an intriguing woman’s various addictions, her career in environmental politics on Capitol Hill, and her ongoing search for God. I haven’t written a chapter in — I don’t even know. Last fall, maybe? 

Writing group deadlines are the only thing that keep me writing at all. Recently I’ve been dashing off essays on random topics like food justice and grieving after COVID (if we ever actually get to AFTER). I revised these essays based on the group’s feedback, submitted them to one publication each, was rejected, and went back to writing grocery lists on sticky notes. 

I thought this solitary pandemic time would result in multiple completed manuscripts and possibly a book contract or two. In reality, I’ve barely produced a blog. 

The Poetry of Avoidance 

I’ve come to realize that taking classes is one of my favorite ways to avoid actually writing a book. I’ve taken at least six classes in the past year, for which I write short, one-off pieces connected to nothing meaningful. Little challenge, little reward. 

I got a few poems published, which was nice. At one point, though, a memoir teacher asserted that when writing a memoir, one shouldn’t distract oneself by doing things such as signing up for poetry classes. This is just a way to avoid commitment, she said. I don’t know if she could see me blushing on Zoom: I had already registered for her poetry class the following week. Regardless, none of the classes resulted in a new paragraph appearing in my memoir.

COVID Sucks

Maybe it’s too convenient, but I do blame COVID. I have lost three friends to the virus so far, including my very close friend Bill, whom I’ve been grieving deeply since March. Watching his wife Shobha — just as dear a friend — bear her grief, and not being able to carry it for her is excruciating.

Bill & Shobha: where my heart is

Bill was one of my blog’s biggest fans. Like me, he immersed himself in politics, environmental policy, and spiritual transformation. He read every blog I wrote, and often sent me encouraging notes or commented on my posts in our conversations. So writing a blog without the promise of his appreciative reception is a challenge. In fact, I haven’t written a blog since Bill left us. It feels more than ever like sending out words into an empty universe. 

But I guess I can’t blame my lack of words entirely on Bill’s passing. It’s been going on the whole bloody pandemic. I mean, I’ve nearly stopped reading actual books, as I have zero attention span for anything. (Thank God for audiobooks.) Anxiety looms, moving from the background to the foreground, depending on the news or who is sick and how sick they are. Or whether a crazed mob has tried to take over the Capitol.

After getting vaccinated this spring, I began to entertain the idea of an end to isolation and anxiety, but then WHAM! — three friends of mine (one family) got COVID despite being fully vaccinated. And I had just spent an entire day with one of them unmasked, riding in a car, and sharing meals! Needless to say, I am masked up again.

Piecing It All Together

As I did last summer, I have hauled dozens of old journals up here to my New Hampshire “writing” retreat, as fodder for my memoir. I also brought along a jigsaw puzzle I was simply unable to focus on last year. Seems silly, but this really bothered me, because jigsaw puzzles are one of my favorite ways to relax; to declare, “this is truly leisure time.” And COVID took even that simple pleasure away from me.

I’ve had some luck with the puzzle recently — at least I have the border together.

Life is a Puzzle

Maybe that’s a sign. Perhaps I’m ready to take another shot at piecing together various scenes from my life into a meaningful whole. One memory, one word, one prayer at a time. And perhaps it will all come together into a story Bill would have loved. 

Make This History: “Do You Have Children?”

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Happy Women’s History Month.

Let me start by saying I’m extremely irritable right now, having just lost a dear friend to COVID a few days ago. I’m edging into the angry part of the grief cycle, which I know will come and go for a time. Meanwhile, people in Idaho are staging photo ops of their children burning life-saving masks. Innocent people are dying and others are acting like drunken teenagers careening down the road of life threatening all the rest of us. So there’s stuff to be truly angry about. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I wouldn’t say I’m angry about today’s topic, just irritated. In recent days, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the (virtual) presence of a lot of lovely people I don’t know, praying and grieving and helping the family. As irrelevant as it seems to me in those situations, that perennial question still popped up: “Do you have children?”

As always, there was the awkward silence. Then I answered lightly, “No, I’m fancy free.” But then I added, “Why do you ask?” All of a sudden, the awkwardness was on her instead of me. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I just thought . . ., “ and trailed off. 

No, you did not think. That’s my point: please think before you ask a stranger that question. Some would say it’s not your business, but I won’t, because that sounds mean, and I know the question is not meant to hurt and is probably just your way of trying to connect, to make conversation, to know me. 

But you don’t know me, you don’t know my journey, you don’t know that I haven’t lost a child, that I didn’t try for decades to have a child, that I did not endure repeated miscarriages, that I did not pine my whole life for a husband who never came along. 

None of those things are true for me, blessedly. Your question is just a pinprick. But I know women in each of those categories and your mindless question is like a knife in the heart for many of them. Surely, you also know people for whom one or more of those things are true. So — please stop. If a woman has kids. you’re going to hear about them soon enough if she wants to talk about them. 

I’m not trying to be mean. Really. (If you want to see my mean face, start telling me why you choose not to wear a mask.) It’s just a matter of thinking about what you say. Nearly half of all women of childbearing age do not have children. In women beyond childbearing years like me, 1 in 7 don’t have kids. There are all different reasons for this, but none of them count as “small talk.” 

I Don’t Know What Happens When People Die

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My dear friend Bill stands at the threshold between this life and whatever lies beyond this life. A victim of COVID, his lungs are battered and his strength is all but gone. I am holding out for a miracle, because they do happen and my God, Bill deserves one. He is like a brother to me, and if you know my journey with my brother, you know I do not use those words lightly. 

I stand behind Bill, peeking over his shoulder at what’s beyond. I don’t know, though I had some profound insights in 2008 when I peeked over my mother’s shoulder at the Beyond. 

I was trying to explain all this to my cat Alice this morning, and I think I clarified it for her. 

“We never know for sure, Alice,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure I know for sure that later on, we will know for sure.” Alice seemed content with that.

Can’t Seem to Grasp It as Hard as I Try

Here’s the thing, though. I’m trying to grasp this with my mind, but this is not a mind thing. Oh, we don’t like to hear that, we like to believe that our noggins and our beloved “logic” rule supreme. But the greatest mysteries are in the realm of spirit, of energy, of heart. So, too, is the greatest meaning.

I suspect that our logic and critical thinking skills aren’t of much value in the by & by, but I truly hope that God humors us and allows our minds to grasp the big stuff, the real stuff, the whys, the WTFs, and how all the pieces fit together — to see the good that God doggedly brings forth in the midst of tragedy. 

If we are inclined towards gratitude, we can often see God’s good right now, right here in this life. Right alongside the grief and rage and despair of Bill’s situation is the overwhelming power of love and selflessness I am seeing in our community. I can’t describe it to you, I have never experienced or even heard of such an outpouring. It is the fruit of the loving lives that Bill and his wife Shobha have lived so far. It is what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” A glimpse of the Beyond.

Don’t Let the Uncertainty Turn You Around

When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. I spent many nights under the headphones with him, and many afternoons and evenings at his live shows. There was one song I always told my boyfriend I wanted played at my funeral, but in later years my spiritual understandings evolved and I found the song too existential for my taste.

But these days, the song is in my head again, day and night, and I sing it to Alice as I dance with her around the living room in our cloud of uncertainty: 

For a Dancer

Keep a fire burning in your eye

Pay attention to the open sky

You never know what will be coming down

I don’t remember losing track of you

You were always dancing in and out of view

I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown

Now you’re nowhere to be found//

I don’t know what happens when people die

I can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try

It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear

That I can’t sing

I can’t help listening//

And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round

Crying as they ease you down

‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away

Right on dancing

No matter what fate chooses to play

(There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)//

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown

By everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own

No matter how close to yours

Another’s steps have grown

In the end, there is one dance you’ll do alone//

Keep a fire for the human race

Let your prayers go drifting into space

You never know what will be coming down

Perhaps a better world is drawing near

Just as easily, it could all disappear

Along with whatever meaning you might have found

Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around

(The world keeps turning around and around)

Go on and make a joyful sound//

Into a dancer you have grown

From a seed somebody else has thrown

Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own

And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go

May lie a reason you were alive, but you’ll never know

{Jackson Browne, For a Dancer, 1974}

Praying for a Miracle

Choosing Joy at Christmas

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I woke w/ Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in my head – not a bad way to start the day! I’m playing it now and remembering my Mom’s dancing giddiness whenever she heard it. I can only imagine her joy, being a young lead soprano w/ the Boston Orchestra and singing her heart out as the organ swelled to a crescendo.

“Forever and ever! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

It’s transporting just to think about. I am glad she had such joy!

Christmas is often sad-sweet, especially once you’ve lost close loved ones. Those ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future dart through your head and heart unannounced, sometimes bringing tears, sometimes laughter.

The season has been especially tough since I lost my beloved brother at Christmas in 2013. This year I lost two dear friends, and I’m hurting for their families. But surprisingly, I’m on a fairly even keel so far. Perhaps I was prepared for a difficult time between COVID, trump trauma, and the prospect of a particularly solitary Christmas.

At any rate, I’m decorating more than I have in years, listening to carols, watching Christmas movies, and reading Advent books of art and poetry. I am fortunate that while I sometimes edge into depression, I am mostly prone to grief — simple sadness. So I can choose what I will pay attention to, what energy I will feed.

Christmas, like all of life, is both/and — sadness and joy, loss and abundance. After all, the season celebrates the birth of a tiny baby who offered peace to everyone on earth for all time, but who was also destined to experience deep grief, betrayal, and a violent death. History has it that he was a poor handyman who became the most influential person who ever lived. The ultimate both/and.

As author Anne Lamott says, “Hallelujah anyway!”

I wish you great, transporting joy this Christmas, if you celebrate the season.

The Eternal Election Night

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The last four years have been interminable. The year 2020 itself has lasted four long years. And now we have entered the Election Night that would not end. Several people have requested that I write a blog post in response to what is going on, even a friend in New Zealand. I’ve never had such requests before, so I’m trying to comply.

I find I’m up against some challenges, one being that I’ve just returned to Maryland after four months of hiding from COVID up at my place in New Hampshire. I drove on Election Day because I hoped there might be a pause in the wilding trump supporters who have been harassing people, stopping traffic, and trying to run Biden buses off the road. My car is plastered with liberal bumper stickers, plus it’s a communist hybrid. Thankfully, it was a quiet drive. But I’m all discombobulated and can’t find anything in the wreckage I’ve unloaded from my car.

Also, as I mentioned in my last post, WordPress has instituted a “new and improved” blog platform that everyone seems to hate, and I haven’t had the time or inclination to learn how to use it. Blogging is not the simple act it once was. I can revert to the old platform, which worked perfectly well, but it would cost me $300. So there’s that. 

And finally, I don’t much feel like writing. My head is jangling, filled with all kinds of brain chemicals I’m not used to. I don’t have a TV, so usually don’t see commercials or hear the stress-inducing manic music most of America lives with. But the networks are graciously allowing even plebeians like me to livestream this week’s mayhem, so here I am, hooked. I’ve been glued to my computer screen since I arrived home at 8 p.m. election night. I watch the red & blue vote tallies not move, as I flip back and forth between MSNBC and CNN and FOX (my first time ever watching the latter — it’s kind of fascinating).

The Narrow Path

Last night I wisely unplugged and went to a prayer practice circle held on the grounds of my church. We used the Welcoming Prayer, which I’ve blogged about before. I recognized and welcomed my fear and anxiety and anger, and then I released them to God. 

It was harder to let go of the grief that I’ve discovered underlies it all — grief for my country, for humanity, for the planet. Grief feels good and right, even holy. No matter who wins the election, the fact remains that nearly half of America thinks it’s OK to have a president who cannot tell the truth, who promotes violence and racism, gasses peaceful protesters, denies science, and gleefully puts the profits of coal companies ahead of human survival. Grief is appropriate.

Biden’s path to electoral victory is narrow, and trump’s is narrower. But the narrowest path is the path back to basic sanity and civility for our nation. If Biden becomes president, it’ll be a steep and dangerous climb. If he doesn’t? Well, you see why I can’t write about this.

What we know so far . . .

Awakening From the Trump Nightmare?

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I’ve had the strangest feeling lately, sometimes several times a day. I feel happy. I’m just going about my business, chopping fresh summer squash and tomatoes or brushing my newly adopted kitty Alice, when all of a sudden I realize there’s an underlying happiness. I’m not sure what this is about, but I have some ideas.

You can brush my tummy. No, really, go ahead . . . trust me

Life Right Now

Several things have happened. For one, I’m staying longer term at my beloved country house in New Hampshire, away from the COVID hotspot near DC where I live most of the time. Four months instead of six weeks. So there’s less anxiety. I am still very careful, but I don’t feel as if I’m taking my life in my hands when I go to pick up cat food. At night I watch stars, listen for owls, and hope to see the shadowy shape of our local bear. During the day, I sit on my deck and gaze over the same meadow that my grandmother and my mother gazed over, waiting for the wild turkey and deer to show up.

The Meadow

I also got off my last prescription meds after losing seventy pounds. In my journal I wrote: “Last prescription med taken. I am the Queen, the boss, the winner, the smartest, best, rockingest human on earth. Just so you know.” (That last sentence has the ring of a presidential tweet, doesn’t it?) This is a long-time goal, and I’m feeling really good about it — so good that I went to the local sandwich shop and got two scoops of my favorite ice cream, peppermint stick. First ice cream since December, and it was beyond delicious, especially topped with hot fudge and caramel sauce.

Hope At Last

Lastly, there’s Kamala. I’ve already told you how I feel about her. I am under no illusion that the pollsters have a clue what they’re talking about. I am nowhere near complacent after 2016 and with all the voter suppression going on. The stakes in this election are literally life and death, COVID, healthcare, climate chaos, police brutality. Even more so if you happen to have been born with brown or black skin.

Still, there’s a tiny tinge of hope where there was none a few months ago. Perhaps America will step up. I don’t know. But we might.

Tears, All the Tears

Last night was unexpectedly weird. We knew it would be weird, being the first virtual convention in history. What surprised me was my reaction. I was in tears within minutes. I often cry at “America the Beautiful,” but I never cry at the National Anthem. Too militaristic for me. Not so last night. I started crying when all those regular old American people began reading the Preamble to the Constitution, was in full flood by the time Biden’s grandkids read the Pledge of Allegiance, and then all those faces, young hopeful faces singing the anthem! By the time we got to Bruce Springsteen’s inspiring song, The Rising, I was drenched.

 

Watching the videos and listening to the heartfelt speeches, I proceeded to run through all the feels in short order: deep sorrow, anger and rage, hope, fear, even trauma. Especially trauma. What we have been through and continue to suffer, as individuals and as a nation! I love America so much. I texted my friend: “I hate what he has done to us!”

And you know what? I feel happy about those feelings, all of them. It reminded me that Melanie’s still in here. All my feelings are still alive, despite having had to put a lid on them for the past four years. I mean, you have to build up defenses against the constant atrocities and the dread, especially if you’re a sensitive sort like me.

I felt my defensive numbness starting to melt last Sunday at the Quaker meeting I attend. A woman rose to remind us that New England Quakers are celebrating three hundred sixty years as a faith community working for justice and peace. “And two years ago,” she said, “a new light was lit when we began meeting here at Orchard Hill. I am constantly amazed at the light.”

I found I was crying. All the lights, all the amazing lights.

A light was lit at Orchard Hill

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Coping with COVID, Cocaine, and a Cat

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COVID is Happening

I’m having a hard time right now. But who isn’t, right? I mean Donald Trump is president, so there’s that. And there’s the escalating pandemic that he has bungled so badly, there’s no relief in sight, short of escaping to another country — if any of them will have us.

I’ve already lost one friend to the virus, and another is intubated in an ICU in Baltimore, waiting for test results. So much grief and sadness in the world. The care-free summer months I always spend here at my family home in New Hampshire are hardly care-free this year. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be here where COVID cases are 1/1000 instead of 1/45, as they are in my Maryland county. But most of my friends are still there!

Still, there is so much beauty and quiet here. My grandmother named our place Quiet Hills, and except for the fact that one of my neighbors is a gun nut and was firing his rifle all morning, it’s mostly the chittering of birds and the breeze in the trees. At night, the racket of bugs munching on leaves is tremendous. I’m not kidding.

Cocaine Happened

I’m struggling with my memoir, but in a good way. Having a writer’s group gives me deadlines, so I’ve been cranking this week, writing up to two thousand words a day. The struggle comes with the memories, trying to remember what withdrawal was like when I quit cocaine, what it felt like to find my drug dealer in my bathtub with a loaded rifle. Trying to remember a night I’ve tried very hard to forget, when one (ex) friend got so ripped he raped another friend, after which the guy’s girlfriend beat the poor woman up. And of course being afraid to write all of that because certain people will be mighty ticked off if they ever read it. Memoir is really, really hard.

A Cat Happened By

My biggest news is that I’ve been adopted by a feline. Hooray and haroo! It’s been two long years (heck, the past four months alone have lasted at least a year) since my two elderly kitties went to the catnip farm in the sky, so I was beyond ready. But I never took the initiative to find a new kitten because they always seem to find me. I knew destiny had mine picked out, preferably two sisters, one calico and one black & white. I’m not particular.

But no, destiny chose a grown tabby, and if I had my doubts when she showed up at the door the first night I arrived, she did not. She was quite certain she belonged inside with me.

 

And she felt the same way the next morning.

I’m still here!

 

I told her that she was not the one I had ordered, being neither calico nor black & white. But persistence paid off, and she’s settling in.

Home

So life is doing what life does. It’s passing. Sometimes in trauma and sometimes in beauty, but always with love beneath it all.

Writing of Racism and Pandemics

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Everybody says I must write. It’s what writers do. Words help us make sense of the world. Words can comfort and calm or inspire and challenge, all of which are sorely needed in this moment.

It’s just that I’m having trouble writing. I write in my journal most days, as I have for fifty years (??!!) but I mean writing for consumption by others. I had written a nice, hopeful blog back in May, before all hell broke lose in the white world — because of course “all hell” has been lose in the black world for a long, long time. The blog was about how COVID-19 is teaching us to appreciate the simple things and to live in the present moment. It started out thusly:

“‘Plan Ahead with Confidence!’ shouts the red banner ad splashed across my screen. I laugh out loud. I remember planning. I have years of journals filled with various versions of it: What, when, how, with whom? Nowadays the only thing I’m able to plan is my grocery list, which feels outlandishly vital. I know exactly what I’m going to get (if the shelves aren’t bare) and it’s all written in aisle-order so that I don’t waste any time wandering around with all those scary masked vectors who used to be my innocuous neighbors.

My grocery list gives me a sense of control in this time when so little is in my control, least of all, the future. Of course, the future never was in my control, but somehow planning gave me the illusion of control. In reality, all we ever have is this present moment, but these COVID days have made us more aware of this truth.”

. . . And then I prattled on about the present moment, how lovely it is to bake bread, how walking is sweet therapy, how my neighbors probably started their new gardens out of a survival instinct, but are learning to love digging in the dirt and watching seedlings sprout. Etc. It was a “nice” blog, which now reeks of white privilege to me.

Things Aren’t Nice Anymore

Since the week of May 25th, when George Floyd was slowly, tortuously murdered by a policeman in front of the whole world and we witnessed intentional, vicious white privilege in the form of a safe, professional white-lady-dog-walker, things aren’t so nice. The thin veneer of niceness that separated white reality from black reality has, at long last, been splintered into sharp shards. The President of the United States is using those shards to slash whatever vestige of American unity might have remained.

Local artist’s portrayal of George Floyd

Sitting in my living room tapping on my laptop keys seems pointless.

Instead, I’ve been on Zoom calls about systemic racism and white privilege, I’ve ordered books and more books, I’ve joined Facebook groups that help white people understand that their reality is not the only reality. I’ve had honest and uncomfortable conversations with my black friends. I’ve attended four socially distanced, masked protest vigils in my community and at my church, not wanting to risk COVID at the protests in D.C. 

Writing a New Story

 

I’m taking an online class called The New Story Community, about imagining a new human story based not on power and domination, but on community and cooperation. A speaker named Melvin Bray really resonated with me (if you click on that link, begin at 10:05). Melvin teaches that simply trying to change minds and hearts won’t dismantle racism. By the time you get to the emotional stage, it’s too late. Because racism started for reasons of gain and profit, not hatred or fear. Once you’ve enslaved a bunch of people and committed genocide against some others, you have to backfill with a rationale for your actions. So you conclude that those people are “less than . . . sub-human . . . beasts . . . need to be civilized,” or better yet, “saved” by your religion. From that rationale is created your society’s myth, the story that dictates how you live, and your emotions and beliefs. Hence, if you start with emotions and beliefs like white hatred and fear, you’re way too late. You have to start with action —  a “doing” — because that’s what started the cycle of racism.

 

These are not times for inaction or silence, and I feel restless and impatient. I pray and I meditate and I implore the cosmos, “What’s my part, what’s my role, what am I to DO?” And two words keep coming back to me: truth and write.

Writing Truth

Truth is a hard one, especially when we are experiencing a pandemic of lying, concealment, and “alternative facts.” Real truth, though, is an inner thing. It only comes when you still yourself, open your grasping hands, and sit with the grief and pain of losing whatever myths you believed about yourself and/or the world. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” I believe this, and I also believe that when anyone escapes their fearful, ego-centered thinking and opens their heart to true oneness and compassion, they are connecting with the same spirit I find in Jesus, no matter what they label it. 

So getting to truth is complicated, and confused with “reality” and “right and wrong” and “proof” and all the rest. 

But writing? Writing I can do. It’s what I’m called to do. I pray that my words and the spirit behind them will add mercy and kindness and truth to the world. I also pray that grief, confusion, cynicism, fear, outrage, guilt, and despair do not keep me from being who I’m meant to be and doing what I’m meant to do. Amen.

Amen

New Year’s Reflections of an Extremely Eclectic Blogger

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Happy new year, friends! I especially want to greet all you readers who’ve just recently wandered into my little patch of the virtual world, which I call Writing With Spirit. My guess is that you newbies followed WWS because of my travel/photo entries from New Zealand, my weight loss posts, or my musings in the Twitter #WritingCommunity.

I’d love to give you an introduction or overview of some sort, but like any semi-spiritual endeavor, Writing With Spirit is not linear and it’s not easy to characterize. Let’s just call it eclectic.

Psychology, Politics, and the Planet

It won’t take you long to discern that focus is not my forte. I originally intended to write about the spiritual & psychological aspects of de-cluttering, but since I’ve done very little decluttering in the eight years since I started blogging, that kind of fell by the wayside. Plus, it was an election year, and I quickly fell into politics, which I’m addicted to, for better or worse. Mostly worse, since the traumatic events of November 2016.

Those traumatic events also transformed my peaceful poems about mother nature into rants about environmental policy and the evils of greed and corporate power. OK, I probably ranted about those before trump, but now it’s, it’s . . . I mean, what can I say? Everything I worked for in my thirty years as a Sierra Club lobbyist in D.C. is being decimated. Who knew how fast all that progress could be reversed? Oh, and incidentally, the survival of humankind and countless other species is now under serious question.

This is what climate change looks like; Australia 2020

Addiction, Grief, and Pretty Pictures

But let’s talk about something more pleasant, like addiction and mental health. My Dad was an alcoholic, and some of my friends struggle as well. I used to have quite a taste for cocaine, myself. I spent eight years in therapy, and even more in twelve-step groups for people who love people with addictions. So sometimes I write about addiction or recovery or mental and emotional health.

Then there’s death. I lost my Mom, my brother, and several good friends in recent years, so there’s a lot of grief processing in this blog (though praise God, less than there used to be). As far as edification and practicality go, I think those blog posts are some of my best. You might want to use the search function to explore my musings on grief if you are in a dark place.

On a lighter note, I’m a writer and I love words, so sometimes I’ll do an entire post about one word that captures my attention. I’m currently wrestling with my memoir, so I write about writing (or not writing). I also lost forty pounds in 2019 by using the Noom weight-loss plan, and I’ve started to share about that experience. I love traveling and taking pictures, so my followers journey along with me. Last year we went to Seattle, British Columbia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and New Zealand.

Shell Shadow on Himatangi Beach, New Zealand

 

Tree Art near Seattle, Washington

 

Rose, Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

 

Cat Greets the Dawn in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

At my core, I’m a God-seeker and a Jesus follower, hence the name Writing With Spirit. That is my center, because like the French philoshper-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I suppose you would call me a progressive Christian, though I don’t care for the tag Christian, since it’s generally come to mean judgmental, mean-spirited, exclusionary, and not particularly thoughtful. My faith moves me to care deeply about social justice and the poor and especially dismantling racism. So I write about that stuff, too.

Because all that I hold dear is under attack, I often take jabs at the current president. I can’t help it. I try to be nice, but let’s be real.

“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

–Bob Dylan

So there you have it. An introduction and overview. Sort of. It’s not what I meant to write when I sat down. That was just supposed to be the first sentence or two. Anyway, various posts may or may not appeal to you, but I hope you’ll stick with me on this journey. And if you have any friends who might want to accompany us, please invite them. Cause check it out! I’m only two followers away from 5,000, and even though it’s only a number, and recognition and affirmation and all that rot isn’t important (and we’ve seen what happens when it reaches pathological levels), still — it’s kinda cool.

Thanks for your support for my ramblings in 2019!

Oh, have I mentioned I have Attention Deficit Disorder? Do I need to at this point? Sometimes I write about that, too.

Happy 2020!!

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