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Advent in Paris

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No, I didn’t suddenly jet off to Paris to celebrate Christmas. I simply wrote a poem in honor of hope, in honor of Advent, in honor of the many people who have toiled for years toward what happened in Paris recently. Not the dark, bad happening — the light, joyful happening:

Advent In Paris

Between the darkness and the light lies the truth.

Oh, I know, we’re not supposed to talk about truth anymore.

Subjective truth is all we’re allowed.

Mine lies between darkness and light.

What it looks like, what you see, varies

Depending on which way you face,

turned toward the dark or the light.

In Paris, they turned toward the light.

In Paris, they saw the truth: the climate is warming.

Please don’t tell me about the shadows you see.

Political obstruction, elections, sequestration technologies.

I don’t want to face that direction, not now.

Look! There’s the light!

We are standing in the truth.

We are facing in the right direction, the light direction.

And we are ready to take a step.

candle

An Eye for Good News

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There’s been way too much bad news lately, right? The stuff of nightmares. So when this week’s photo challenge suggested the word “eye” as inspiration, I considered writing about the optical sight on the barrel of an assault rifle or the crazed eye of a terrorist behind a black mask.

But I’m weary of such topics, and besides, I haven’t personally taken photos of guns or terrorists and hope never to do so.

I have, however, photographed a pelican’s eye. Here it is:

Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

This is a juvenile – isn’t he pretty, in a pterodactyl kind of way? Here he is in the water:

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Here, fishy fishy fishy…

Happily, this pelican-eye picture provides a reminder that good news happens.

You May Say I’m a Dreamer

When I was born in the fifties, Brown Pelicans had nearly disappeared from the continent, thanks to pesticide use. Endrin killed pelicans directly, and DDT weakened their egg shells so that they cracked when the parents stood on them (pellies warm their eggs with their feet).

In 1970, the year I entered high school, the birds were listed as a federal endangered species. Politicians worked together to confront the crisis (cue John Lennon’s song, Imagine), and within two years, DDT was banned and Endrin production was reduced.

By the time I started working at the Sierra Club a decade later, pelican populations along the Atlantic and eastern Gulf coasts were bouncing back, and when I left the Club almost 30 years later, pelicans nationwide had reached pre-pesticide numbers. The species was declared fully recovered in 2009.

All Eyes on Paris

So while many of us pause each morning before turning on our computers, televisions, or radios for fear of bad news, it’s important to remember that good things happen, too.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of conservationists working in Paris this week to negotiate a binding agreement that may at long last confront the crisis of climate change. All eyes are on you. Thank you, and may the Force be with you.

If you need another smile, check out the link to the photo challenge – Henry will melt your heart. Peace.

 

 

Terror in Mexico, Hope in Paris

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TERROR IN MEXICO, HOPE IN PARIS

When the United Nations was founded seventy years ago, nobody but a science fiction writer could have imagined that human beings would one day threaten the very climate of the planet. Too ridiculous to think about. Yet seventy years later, the largest Pacific hurricane in the history of the hemisphere is roaring towards the coast of Mexico, set to claim the latest victims of climate disruption.

Larger, more frequent, and more intense storms – just as predicted. And, as it happens, 2015 is shaping up to be the hottest year in recorded history.

At the groundbreaking for the U.N. on October 24, 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman said that the challenges of the day were no longer “impersonal natural forces,” but human relationships. In the 21st century, the two have combined: human hubris and short-sighted greed have made natural forces very personal indeed. Just ask the victims of Katrina or Sandy.

Truman’s words that day are just as true today: “The real dangers confronting us today have their origins in outmoded habits of thought, in the inertia of human nature, and in the preoccupation with supposed national interests to the detriment of the common good.” He went on to say that the U.N. could promote “a spirit of reasonableness” that would address these challenges. He had hope, he said.

I want to have hope, I really do. It’s too late to stop Hurricane Patricia from slamming Mexico, but some scientists think we still have time, time for humanity to demonstrate “a spirit of reasonableness” and leave our great grandkids a habitable planet. I pray that’s so.

I don't have grandkids, but I have a nephew with kids and they are doing their part...

I don’t have grandkids, but I have a nephew with kids and they are doing their part…

At the end of November, world leaders will gather at a U.N. conference in Paris to – once again – discuss taking action to slow the climate crisis. Politics and corporate greed, much of it American, have colluded to stop meaningful U.N. action thus far. Secretary of State John Kerry says that this time, “failure is not an option.”

Except that it is. Corporate money talks.

For the love of God, and in honor of the Mexican people who will surely die in the storm tonight and in the flooding over the days to come (the only other category five storm ever to hit this area killed 1,800 people in 1959), can we please, please stop the madness?

Photo Challenge: (Climate) Change in Progress

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This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to “show us change in progress.” Sad to say, these cheerful photos of bumblebees sipping nectar reflect profound change . . . climate change.

Bumble Bees in Trouble

Bumblebee on Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) in my Maryland garden

You see, scientists say that bumblebees are abandoning their southern habitats due to the warming climate, but they are not expanding their northern range. In other words, they could be squeezed out of existence.

And when bees are in trouble, the crops and wild plants that depend on them for pollination also suffer. And who is at the top of that food chain? Yeah, the species that builds coal plants and fracks for oil.

“We play with these things at our peril,” says bee ecology expert Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa. “The human enterprise is the top floor in a really big scaffold. What we’re doing is reaching out and knocking out the supports.”

Kerr says that the shrinking bumblebee habitat is clearly related to climate change, and he’s amazed at how fast it’s happening. In the past forty years, some bees have retreated more than 185 miles from their southern homes. They’re also escaping to higher alpine altitudes — but all is not well in the mountains, either.

Another study shows that the deep, tubular flowers that alpine bumblebees prefer aren’t surviving the warming temps — up 3.6 degrees fahrenheit since the 1960s — so the bees now have to rely on more general foraging. Amazingly, in just forty years, the tongues of bees have shrunk 24%, which enables them to drink from different flowers. The pace of this change is “dramatic,” reports study author Professor Candace Galen in the journal Science.

“The finding of rapid adaptation is a glimmer of hope for bumblebees, whose populations worldwide are declining,” Professor Galen says.

And we can sure use the hope.

I’m hoping there is another type of change in progress, too, brought on by the straight climate talk from Pope Francis last week. It’s the old-fashioned concept of repentance, defined as “to feel such regret for past conduct as to change one’s mind regarding it.” The word is derived from the Latin “to think again” or to “re-think.” In ancient Greek, it’s translated as “to turn around.”  All of this would be appropriate for humankind when it comes to our environment.

Greed, denial, and creaturely comforts are tough to turn away from, but I think the Creator of the Bumblebees is up to the challenge, and so I pray: Great Lover of the Bumblebees, please change our hearts and minds and make us instruments of peace instead of purveyors of destruction. Amen.

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Try

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I try. I’ve always tried. When I was a kid, I tried to be good, I tried to be smart, I tried to keep the peace in our house. Kids think the world revolves around them (you may also know adults who did not outgrow this) so they try extra hard to control things, especially in an unpredictable alcoholic household.

I’ve always tried to avoid conflict. It reminds me of the dinner table when I was growing up, where I couldn’t understand my father’s tirades or my mother’s silence in the face of family chaos. I tried to be invisible so as not to become the target of paternal wrath or sibling ridicule.

When I was a teenager, I tried to belong; I tried to be the cutest and the coolest; I tried to act like I didn’t care. I tried to end the Vietnam war.

As a young adult, I tried. I tried everything. I tried to see how many drugs I could take without passing out or going bankrupt and how much tequila I could drink and still drive home. I tried to see how many boyfriends I could run through.

Thankfully, grace abounds.

As an older adult, I tried to get ahead in my career as an environmental lobbyist, and I tried to be a good mentor and manager. I tried to make members of Congress vote against the polluting industries that funded their campaigns. You see how well that worked out.

Trying to Save My Sanity

When I was young, I tried to save my father from the bottle, but he died at fifty-eight. In recent years, I tried to save my brother from mental illness and heart failure. That didn’t work either. He passed away in December.

Nowadays I try really hard. I try to work through my grief. I try to “let go and let God,” to surrender my illusions of control and accept what is. I think I finally get that I can’t control anything except myself, and that’s where I need to focus my trying.

I try to manage my time better. Because I know that life is short and getting shorter with every breath, I try to spend time with safe people doing things I enjoy. I spend quality time alone with God, whether that means journaling, meditating, or being out in nature.

I try not to try so hard, and I remember to schedule time for having fun. I just bought a djembe drum!

10644526_10204542935284032_3292755110340356353_o

So my trying is a constant, though the object of my effort evolves. Now I’m trying to learn to play the drum.

There are a few constants: I will always try to avoid math whenever possible. I will always try to be grateful. And I will always try to change the world; I think I’m hard-wired for that. That’s not trying to control, it’s trying to hope. I’ll be marching in the streets as long as I can, trying to end endless wars and trying to get action on climate change and trying to promote justice.

Because you have to try.

Trying

Trying

♦ ♦ ♦

Thanks to WordPress for today’s Daily Prompt: “Verbal Confirmation: To be, to have, to think, to move — which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?”   http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/verbal-confirmation/

Worlds Collide — My Green Faith

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“Bible study! Bible study!?” My friend’s saliva sputtered across my desk and graced my hands, which were now clenched and starting to sweat. His reaction was just what I had been fearing.

“Hey guys,” Carl bellowed down the hall, “did you hear that? Mel won’t go get a beer with me cause she’s got BIBLE study tonight!”

I still cringe at the memory. For months, I’d been trying to figure out how to tell my agnostic/atheist coworkers at the Sierra Club that I had – gasp – become a Christian. I’d known Carl a dozen years, and he was a good friend, often flying from California to D.C. to help me lobby his congressional delegation. This trip, he had mentioned that he’d recently discovered Zen Buddhism and been on a retreat. Since he’d confided something of his spiritual journey to me, I thought he might be a safe person to tell about my decision to join a church community and tag along after Jesus. Wrong.

The Unholy

I didn’t blame my fellow environmental lobbyists for distrusting Christianity. Ultra right-wing politicians had formed an unholy alliance with the conservative Christian Coalition and several polluting industries to deny climate change and promote a false jobs-versus-the-environment message. (But we can’t afford to protect air and water, it will hurt poor people!)

More fundamentally, environmentalists and even many Christians misinterpret the ancient Judeo-Christian concept of “stewardship” as meaning dominion over nature, or license to exploit – even responsibility to exploit. (God put those trees there for us to use, so we must cut them down even if they are a thousand years old.)

Some Christians just figure Jesus is coming to get them any day, so why worry about the planet?

I was a different kind of Christian and a different kind of environmentalist. Could I ever put the two halves of myself together?

The Holy

For me, love of nature and reverence for God are integrally connected and biblically sound. One of Jesus’s early followers, Paul, wrote in the Bible, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

If you believe God is the Creator, then God is revealed in the created world and we should honor it. Duh. But what seemed like a no-brainer for me wasn’t as obvious to either my environmental or my Christian friends.

The Rift Widens

The day after the offending Bible study, I was at a Christian leaders’ retreat focused on identifying and using spiritual gifts. I had determined that my deep love of nature and my passion to care for it were both gifts from God; I was starting to hope that perhaps my spiritual life and my career could become integrated after all, grounded in my new faith.

During an afternoon break, I leaned against a rickety ping-pong table and surveyed what I now recognized as common church-basement fare: store-bought cookies (Oreos) and paper (non-recyclable) cups of juice.

I was chatting with the first missionary I had ever met. He asked what I did for a living and I told him, with perhaps more pride in my voice than God would have liked. In the cavernous pause that followed, I could feel the rift between my two selves widen.

He said, in precisely the same cringe-inducing tone that Carl had used the night before, “Sierra Club! Sierra Club? I wouldn’t think someone from Sierra Club would even be in a church, let alone at a leaders’ retreat.” Apparently he bought into the political rhetoric that all environmentalists are misanthropic atheists who care more about trees and spotted owls than people.

I had no allies in either camp, unless they were in hiding.

Becoming Myself

Today, millions of Christians recognize the responsibility to care for creation as part of their faith tradition, although many older ones still distrust what they mockingly call “tree huggers.”

Unabashed Tree Hugger

Unabashed Tree Hugger

But twenty years ago when my “identity split” took place, the false dichotomy nearly broke me in half as my two selves battled for balance and acceptance. I didn’t feel at home with my old hard-partying, competitive friends in progressive politics anymore, yet I didn’t quite fit with my new faith community either.

During this period, I had the opportunity to meet former President Jimmy Carter. I asked him how he managed his dual life, immersed in cut-throat politics but also reflecting the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control that the Bible says are gifts of the Holy Spirit.

He gave me one of his penetrating icy blue stares that I imagine unsettled many a foreign leader and said, “Contrary to popular opinion, God lives in Washington, D.C., too.”

We laughed, but the deeper meaning of his words took root: God is always at work and inviting me to join in wherever I am. It’s my job to pay attention and respond. Best of all, I’m not in charge of what anyone else thinks of me.

Over time, my commitment to spiritual growth – which includes connecting with God through the natural world – has given me the confidence to become the unique person I was created to be; other people’s opinions be damned.

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I’ve written this post in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge, which points to our many personas and asks us to “tell about a time when two or more “yous” ran into each other.” You have a persona story to share?

 

 

The Power of Names: Meet My Multiple Personalities

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I discovered my multiple personalities about five years ago while working with my therapist. I am going to introduce you to “my kids,” but first I want to make it clear that I do not have certifiable Multiple Personality Disorder, properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

True DID personalities would fight mightily against being introduced to you — it has been called “a disorder of hiddenness” — and they would likely have the power to stop this blog from happening. While my kids are shy and not sure that you’ll like them, they are nevertheless ready to reveal themselves.

I am not making light of DID when I speak of my kids. I know people who have DID, and it is a painful and debilitating disorder involving mistrust and secrecy that can isolate you from others. Many people don’t even know they have DID and have instead been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or bipolar disorder.

There’s a whole spectrum of dissociative disorders, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being the “mildest” (ha!) and full-blown DID being the most severe. DID is not a dysfunction, per se, it’s actually a remarkable coping mechanism for people who have experienced traumatic events. In essence, the “parts” of the self that have been traumatized “split off” in order for the psyche to survive.  They keep the painful memories isolated.

This becomes a dysfunction later in life when the trauma has passed, but the self and its dissociated parts remain separate and act as if they are still threatened. Hence, the separate parts are usually mistrustful, somewhat paranoid, and protective.

Psychology lesson over. To learn more, check here and here and here.

The Birth of My Personalities

Like a lot of people who grew up in chaotic, unpredictable homes, I experienced some dissociation when I was a kid. When confronted with painful and confusing situations, like my gentle and loving Daddy suddenly becoming an aggressive and nasty person after tossing back a few tumblers of Gallo sherry, my brain compartmentalized the chaos. Distancing from the craziness made it bearable.

My brother told me that when I was thirteen, I walked into the dining room and my father slammed down his glass and said, “So, are you pregnant yet?” I have no conscious memory of this. But the shock and confusion is in there somewhere.

You may be able to relate. Perhaps you’ve reacted to a situation irrationally and then in retrospect wondered why you were so bent out of shape . . . or since it’s easier to judge others than yourself, you may have noticed such inappropriate overreactions in friends, family, or coworkers. Often, the reason for this behavior is that our brains have made a subconscious connection to a similar upsetting situation from childhood and we are literally reacting with a child’s mentality. We have disassociated from our adult identity.

In short, I have some kids in my head, and they sometimes govern my reactions to life events. I can now recognize them and give them their due. It’s like being a parent to a passel of children. You need to listen to them, reassure them, and meet their emotional needs.

kids charleston2

The cool thing is, these little characters are part of my identity — I am reintegrating them into my adult self and find that they are creative, funny, and inspirational. And they like to express themselves through poetry. Their poems help me understand myself.

This week marks twelve weeks since my brother Biff passed away. The kids honored the event by expressing their feelings through poetry. The poems are Blackjack Poems, three lines of seven syllables each for a total of twenty-one. So without further ado, here are my kids and their poems.

Marnie and Biff

Marnie and Biff

Characterization through Poetry

Marnie

Marnie is what I called myself when I was too small to say Melanie, and the nickname stuck. Mom always called me Marnie when she was feeling mushy. Marnie is about four. She likes to laugh and have fun and play and is easily frightened by anger or confrontation. I have an image of her in a puffy party dress, hiding behind the couch waiting for an argument to blow over. She’s the reason I avoid tense situations. She writes:

The house is very quiet

I don’t know what happens next.

Nobody’s laughing. He’s gone.

Sport

Sport is a nickname my brother gave me when I was seven or eight. Sport is a fun kid with short hair, freckles, and a gap between her front teeth. She’s an animal lover and likes to be active outside. In the early sixties, she would flee whatever madness was going on in the house and escape into nature, which she found to be a healing balmalmost mystical. She’s probably the reason I became a vegetarian and devoted my career to environmental protection, and she’s definitely the reason I get so pissed off when people say they don’t believe in climate change. She knows that honoring nature is a matter of survival on many levels. She writes:

No, that’s silly. He’s hiding.

There’s no sun if he’s not here.

He’s the one that makes us laugh.

Whisper

Whisper didn’t show herself until well after the others had come out and named themselves. Whisper is intensely shy and prefers to be invisible because it’s less painful than being ignored or neglected. She feels responsible for bad stuff happening and carries a lot of shame — another reason for hiding. Whisper spent the late sixties sitting in front of the TV watching sitcoms and eating bologna sandwiches and chips, in the hopes that chubby layers would keep her hidden.

She’s a creative little soul, ten or eleven years old, who finds peace and joy in music and other artistic pursuits. When I decided to face my fear of computers and create a blog, it was to Whisper I turned. I gave her permission to be heard. I think she’s the one who helps me write from the gut. Her poem:

If I am very quiet

And don’t cause any upset,

Maybe he will come back home.

Cat

Cat. Dear Cat. Her name says it all. She is a teenager and powerful in a way that only teenagers can be. She strode in, dressed in patched blue jeans, a paisley t-shirt, and a bandana and stood between my father and the cowering Whisper. We were silent no more, though we could be sullen, surly, and snarky. Passive-aggressive and bitingly sarcastic, Cat was done with my father. (Now that I think of it, she learned those behaviors from her beloved big brother, Biff.)

Cat’s clever and brims with false self-confidence. Underneath, she’s just as fearful as Marnie and Whisper, but you would never know it. I love Cat — she took control and took no prisoners. She’s impulsive and spontaneous and is the one who still occasionally tears down the Beltway at eighty five miles-per-hour in pursuit of some idiot who cut her off. Sometimes she drinks too much and it took me several tries to get her to quit smoking. She cusses a lot. Cat is dismissive of poetry but offers this nonetheless:

How could he do this to me??

What the fuck! This can’t happen.

I gotta get out of here.

 Mel

Mel is a miracle. Mel totally rocks. She is my young adult, twenty or so. She’s the one who started asking, “Why not?” and “What if?” She is smart, capable, determined, and gets things done. Mel worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and held a weekend job as well so she could pay her way through college in night school. When she didn’t find the major she wanted at university, she designed her own Environmental Studies degree. She nagged the folks at the Sierra Club until they hired her in 1982. I think she deserves most of the credit for the Masters in Nonfiction I just received from Hopkins. I need her to get me out of bed during this period of grieving. I’m sure she will step up, she always does. She writes:

I guess I’ll try to do this.

What is an executor?

I’ll ask the lawyer; he’ll know.

Melanie

Finally, there’s Melanie; adult Melanie. Me. Through spiritual disciplines, recovery support groups, and therapy, I’m learning to integrate my kids and am becoming a whole and healthy adult. I seek to appreciate and learn from all my parts — the whimsical joy of Marnie, the outdoor girl in Sport, the creativity of Whisper, the fearlessness of Cat, and the go-getter spirit in Mel. Here’s where I am:

On good days now, I can laugh.

Some days I stay home and cry.

My friends laugh and cry with me.

 ♥♥♥♥♥

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge: Power of Names. I’ve found it empowering and enlightening to name and claim the kids inside of me. Who’s inside of you?

What Color is Pride?

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What color is pride? For many baby boomers like me, I’ll bet the first thing that comes to mind is red, white, and blue. With stripes. Growing up in the post World War II era, the whole country was awash in the hues of Old Glory.

My father, being a Texan, had his own proud blend of red, white, and blue. As kids, we had a fine selection of confederate flags, which we draped over plastic replicas of General Lee’s horse Traveler, raised on toothpicks over little statues of the Alamo, and wore as magical capes as we pranced around the house fighting bad guys.

I was told that being half-Texan meant I could do just about anything I put my mind to. Bigger and better than anyone else.

My mother, on the other hand, was brought up under the red, white, and blue of England’s flag and passed on the idea that while we were better than everyone else, we were never to say so. “Don’t brag, it’s unbecoming,” was followed by, “No, dear, you mustn’t play with them — they are not our kind of people.”

What’s worse? My Dad’s resounding pride or my Mom’s false humility?

Oh well. My childhood understanding of pride may have been confused, but at least it all fell under red, white, and blue, so there was no question about the color of pride.

American Flag

The British are coming, the British are coming!

The British are coming, the British are coming!

256px-Confederate_Rebel_Flag.svg

Until Vietnam. That’s when those colors began to divide America and my family. I sided with my older hippy brother over my Commie-fearing father, and my understanding of the color of pride morphed into a bright tie-die unity with the anti-war crowd. Proud to be a pacifist, proud to be against the machine, against the system. Proud to “let my freak flag fly,” as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young put it in their song, “Almost Cut My Hair.”

Going Green

When the environmental movement took off, my sense of pride took on shades of green. In college, I began marching under the green and white eco-flag.

In surveys I did while working at the Sierra Club, we often found that people associated the word “environmentalist” with “arrogance,” and I can understand that. There’s an odd, almost combative pride that develops when people are devoted to a cause they feel means life or death. That’s particularly true when for policy reasons, they must define “the solution” and push for it, which comes across as “we know best.”

Still, the way I see it, when you are up against an opposing force that simply denies the reality of biology, climatology, or any other kind of science for that matter, it does no good to search for a “middle ground” — you have to push if you love humankind and the rest of creation. So I’m still green and proud of it.

Marching under the Green Flag

Marching under the Green Flag

A Child of the Universe

Speaking of loving humankind — in my thirties, I chose a path that truly confused my notions of pride. I became a committed Christian, which meant that I got serious about being open to personal transformation and healing. I had to lay down the prideful ego that, unbeknownst to me, had been driving my life up until that point.

When God was gracious enough to show me how much my ego and my need for recognition and esteem drove my actions, I was disgusted and dismayed and quite willing to change. I wanted to tear out the thick black threads of pride that ran through my being, binding me up and making me dance like a marionette to the tune of other people’s opinions.

At the same time, if you dare to believe that you are a beloved child of the Creator of the Universe and that you — yes, you — are unique and uniquely gifted in all of history, part of a cosmic plan to make the world a better place, well . . . well, just wow.

That’s a different color pride.

As I’ve gotten to know myself in the light of Love, I have become gentler with myself. Like any child, I have built-in needs for affection and approval. That’s OK; that’s sweet. I believe those needs are driven by our natural inclination to be close to God and to other people. (And, yes, also by our evolutionary need for survival in community, which I don’t think is contradictory to the God-part. We are wired that way by the Master Electrician.)

These natural emotional needs simply get warped by the world. Now that I’m aware of this, I keep watch, and on a good day these traits don’t run my life. I can smile fondly at them and go about my business.  I think that somewhere in the dynamic tension between our beloved uniqueness and our egoic drive lies a perfect balance of pride that is pure white like a dove in the sunshine, or perhaps transparent, clear as a pristine stream.

I’m nowhere near that color pride, nor do I expect to be in this lifetime.

creek

Abundant Yellow

Right now, I am experiencing pride as yellow — bright sunshine yellow. It is warm. It is glowing. It is good.

Last week, I graduated from Johns Hopkins with my Masters in Creative Nonfiction and gave a public reading from my thesis for close to two hundred people. I did well. People smiled and nodded and laughed in the right places. Am I proud of myself? Damn straight! I busted butt for four years to get to that podium, and I think I did a really good job. (Sorry, Mom, I know I’m not supposed to say that.)

At the Podium

At the Podium

Thing is, everyone else in my graduating class of sixteen also did a really good job. I’m super proud of them, too. We’re all standing in this sunny pride. There’s plenty of it to go around, enough of the good pride for everyone — it’s not something to clutch. It bathes the whole world in its warmth. We all glow from it. I think it comes from God, and I think it’s related to love. Which raises the question, what color is love? Another post.

Speaking of love, as I was writing this, my blog stats reached three thousand followers, adding to my golden glow. Thanks so much to all of you for accompanying me on my writing journey! I love you guys!!

And now, after that commercial break for a moment of pride, I will return to my false humility.

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/what-color-is-shame/

Photo credits: Wikimedia.com, Public Domain Photos, Publicdomainpictures.net

Things are Quieting Down, and I Don’t Like it One Bit

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I’m a fan of the concept of “living in the Present Moment,” something recommended by spiritual sages throughout history and also by Pure Inspiration magazine.

I like thinking about it, talking about, writing about it, leading retreats about it. But I’m not very good at doing it — sometimes I don’t even like doing it.

If (as so often happens) it’s a sunny day, I’ve just sold an essay, and I’m walking in a field of daisies, then I’m down with the Present Moment thing.

Life Ain't All Daisies

Life Ain’t All Daisies

Most of the time, though, I either forget to live in it, don’t want to live in it, or have already moved on to planning my next Present Moment. Occasionally I’m obsessing about past Present Moments and what I might have done or said differently.

In Search of Discipline

Lately I am making an effort to clear my schedule — to say “no,” to refrain from filling every evening with friends or events, to just “be.” This didn’t begin as a spiritual practice; two happenstances coincided to bring on the intentional openness in my schedule. Well, three.

The first is that I’m working on my thesis. This is going to take serious discipline and organization, things at which I do not excel. I can get stuff done when I am essentially reacting — working with others under work plans and deadlines — but if I’m self-directed, big projects take some real doing. My inclination is to fill my time with everything except what I’m supposed to be doing. (My houseplants are extremely well tended lately.)

The second motivator was a meeting with my financial planner and an unpleasant surprise about my retirement plan, such as it is, which resulted in my beginning to keep a budget. It was truly a shock to find out how much money I spend and how much I waste. So I have to stay home more and be more intentional about my cooking, entertainment, and random purchases.  A spontaneous dinner out, a movie and popcorn (OK, and some Gummy Bears), a trip to the nursery for some annuals and herbs — these add up!

Thirdly, there is the chronic issue of my beyond-messy house. I bethought myself, “Self, if you stay home more, you can clean in all that spare time.” Not so much. I just mess up more. Well, that’s not completely true — I washed one-third of my bathroom floor the other night. Don’t ask.

Living (Uncomfortably) in the Moment

So there’s all this space. Space to live in the present moment, space to just be who I am, where I am. And it makes me anxious. Like something is supposed to be happening. Like I’m missing something. Like I *should* be doing something. Like I could jump out of my skin.

It’s crazy.

I’ve preached a sermon about this at my church; I’ve led retreats and classes about this; I’m in two weekly spiritual support groups where I often lead discussions about simplicity and silence and present momenting. I’ve stayed nice and busy preparing all those things.

Here I am, though, practicing what I preach. I am left alone with myself to remember how far I am from who I want to be, who I am meant to be.

Memories pop up. Feelings surface. Grief and guilt and shame emerge, and anger and angst.

I worry about climate change.

I remember that the odds are good I’m going to die someday, because people I love keep being sick and/or dying.

I know my discomfort is good. I even believe the dying part is good, intellectually. I know for sure there is a better place than this world because we have such a strong desire in our hearts for that better world.

One Thing is Certain

One Thing is Certain

Grant Me the Serenity

I’ve been working hard at trying to become my real, whole self. I made a life mission statement earlier this year, which helped, and my therapist and I continue to work through my childhood crap and how it affects me today. Of course, this means everything is all stirred up, but it needs to be stirred up in order to sift through the debris and silt at the bottom.

It’s all good, as they say. It just doesn’t always *feel* good.

Being here in my space, living in this present moment, leads me to pray and to meditate and to recall that I’m not in control of the universe. The only thing I can hope to control is myself.

There’s a prayer that’s used in Twelve-Step Recovery programs that I think says it all:

God, grant me the serenity (isn’t that an exquisite word?)

To accept the things I cannot change (friends, family, and me dying; mass shootings; government shutdowns)

The courage to change the things I can (dirty bathroom floors; my thesis; my finances)

And the wisdom to know the difference (does it have my name on it?).

I wish you serenity, friends.

Mountaintop Moment

Mountaintop Moment

I Don’t Like Poetry, but I’ve Written Some

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I recently went to a prose poetry workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. An oxymoron, right? I thought that prose and poetry were by definition different animals. Not anymore, not in the postmodern era when anyone gets to do whatever they want and call it whatever they want.

Prose poetry is basically poetic prose – regular ol’ writing with some of the elements of poetry, like rhythm and repetition and word imagery and  “compression,” which means getting rid of extra words. Obviously the latter is not something I’ve mastered. (Compressed that would read: I blather.)

I was excited to learn about this literary form; it changes the way I think about poetry and makes it more accessible.

I have never understood poetry and always wondered why writers can’t just say what they mean without getting all complicated and obtuse.

In recent years, I’ve come to appreciate poetry (or at least poets) through the Johns Hopkins Masters Writing program . . . but only the teensiest bit. I still have a problem with poetry, but at least I know it’s my problem, not the poet’s.

In fact, I want to be a poet. Then I could wear a beret, right?

Which is why prose poetry is good news for people like me. I love playing with words and sounds and flow and metaphor. Perhaps we non-poets can aspire to poetry?

Anyway, in celebration of doing whatever I want and calling it whatever I want (hey, in summer anything goes), I’m going to share these with you and call them poetry.

Planet Prose Poetry

Night Magic

A winking airplane is as magical as a firefly

If at first you think

it is a firefly.

Renewal

Where the trees stood,

Before the chainsaws came to kill,

Now raspberries and wildflowers grow

And deer come to eat.

Oh Well

The wells don’t dry up anymore,

And I can shower in August

Since the flooding began.

Climate change, they say.

Oh well.

I can shower in August.

Hello?

On the crest of the mountain

Grow two cell phone towers painted blue and green

To match the sky and trees.

How stupid

Do they think we are?

Thanks for humoring me. Poets among you — I would love your feedback in the comments!

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