Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Little Feathers: Who's Got Your Ear?

Little Feathers: Who's Got Your Ear?: I remember the first time I ever heard a warning about the plethora (thanks for the word, El Guapo) of bad advice out there. I was 18, and a...

Who's Got Your Ear?

I remember the first time I ever heard a warning about the plethora (thanks for the word, El Guapo) of bad advice out there. I was 18, and a teacher told me to be very careful about granting authority. I was a naive 18, and tended to think that if an adult said it/wrote it, it must be true. Especially if they were famous or powerful. Or dead and published. It was really good advice.

We all know the dangers of listening to only one viewpoint/agenda/news channel. We begin to believe that one group is morally or intellectually superior. I keep wondering where Walter Cronkite went. He was someone we could pretty much count on to tell us truth. Now who has our ear? The outraged or the outrageous? Neither of which is as interested in facts as in persuasion?

And how about something as simple as healthy living? If we cut out every food, every activity, every thought process that someone out there is touting as destructive, what in the world would we eat? Even the nutritionists who study constantly keep changing the rules. Who is a real authority on health? I have come to the conclusion that there are still some things no one knows about the body. And it's a foregone conclusion that nothing we do will ensure a long and healthy life. You can't take the accidental/tragic/unknowable aspect from life, no matter what you do.

Financial advice? Sheesh! Millionaire of the Month Club. And how about the biggest one--how to live a good life and be happy? We either reach for our goals, strive every minute to be better/stronger/smarter, or we stop the madness, embrace each day, live in the moment, smell the roses. Or a thousand varied paths combining those. Can someone else tell us who we are and how we are to live? Should we listen if they do?

How to parent? More confusing and complicated than ever.

Every one I know of says,does, and advocates dumb things sometimes.  I used fen-phen for heaven's sake. Talk about dumb. And I shudder to think of all the poison I drank in the form of diet soda. And yes, when I was a teenager I wore....sauna pants! I would love to say I have learned not to engage in stupid behavior, but I'm not there yet.

Imagine if things were black and white. If we knew how to fix the inequities of the world without making more mistakes. If we knew for sure who to believe. For now, we all need to listen for that voice that rings true. The ones who seem motivated by service, to the good of all. Who's got your ear?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Little Feathers: Unexpected Gifts, Surprises from Boston

Little Feathers: Unexpected Gifts, Surprises from Boston: I knew we would eat great seafood. I knew we would enjoy the historical museums, the little glimpses of America's struggle for independe...

Unexpected Gifts, Surprises from Boston

I knew we would eat great seafood. I knew we would enjoy the historical museums, the little glimpses of America's struggle for independence. I knew we would love being on the Boston Harbor, cozy in our room in the historic Boston Custom's House right by the water. I've wanted to make that timeshare trade for years. I knew we would enjoy the different culture, different vibe of a Northeastern city at Christmas time. But I didn't see some of it coming. I love surprises, and Boston was full of them.

We Texans (after living here 40 years, I guess I count myself one) tend to think people south of the Mason Dixon line are friendlier. You know, just nicer. It's a Southern ego thing, I think.  But the brusque sounding people of Boston have a niceness of their own. It may seem a small thing, but whenever we pulled out a map, whether on our phone or in our hand, on the street or in a bustling subway station, someone always stopped to see if they could help. Men, women, young, old, long-time Bostonians (from their accent) and new arrivals (from theirs) stopped to see if they could help us get from here to there. Like the woman out walking her dog who took us a block in the right direction, telling us about her life. Like the man with the Eastern European accent,strong enough that I had to watch his eyes and hands to be sure that what I heard were the directions he was giving, who stood outside with us and kept talking til we got it. And the people standing in line at Giacomo's who wanted to be sure we knew where to go for the best dessert. I'm telling you, people in Boston are nice.

For me, the most wonderful surprise happened at the Lighting of the Tree on Boston Commons. Over and over we heard the story of how the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia have sent a glorious Christmas tree to Boston for almost 100 years. Their memory is long. In 1917, Halifax suffered a disaster. Over 2,000 people were killed in a terrible explosion. Boston sent a relief train the very next day. Halifax never forgot that generosity. This year, once again, they sent a thank you gift to Boston in the form of a beautiful 49' spruce tree. That is a wonderful story, in an of itself. But what I saw and felt at the tree lighting is also a wonderful story.

When I first heard about the tree lighting, I wondered if many would gather on a cold night in a city that had known terrorism not that long ago. In light of the recent attacks, and the fear that is a natural result of them, I wondered if Bostonians would show up en mass. They did. Mostly young-ish, not much gray hair in the crowd (my handsome husband and I excepted,) very diverse ethnically, the crowd surprised me with their enthusiasm. They sang along, bouncing around on the fast songs, swaying on the slower ones. The sophisticated looking 30 somethings in their black wool coats and hats smiled and sang. So much for judging people by their clothing, huh? When the tree was lit and the fireworks went off, I thought everyone would make a quick exit. But they stayed and sang some more with Santa. It was actually very sweet, and for a reason I can't quite put my finger on, it was very hopeful. And very American. Not really because it was Christmas, as there are tons of Americans who don't celebrate that holiday. It was a feeling of community, of solidarity, of courage and joy all rolled into one. I won't forget it.

I loved walking the city, seeing the residential streets, the big banking centers, the well-preserved small historic buildings in the middle of the metropolis. And I loved the seafood! Holy shellfish, Batman! The North End is filled with smells of garlic and seafood, small family restaurant after restaurant bustling with appreciative customers. Street performers and lots of decorations made the city seem festive. But it was the people that made Boston seem magical. Boston Strong, yes. And Boston kind, as well. Way to go, Boston. Thanks for the gifts, the surprises, the memories.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Little Feathers: 'Til We Get It Right

Little Feathers: 'Til We Get It Right: I'm surely not the first person to sit looking at the sunrise and feel grateful that I'm not yet out of time. A new day, another cha...

'Til We Get It Right

I'm surely not the first person to sit looking at the sunrise and feel grateful that I'm not yet out of time. A new day, another chance to get it right. The hope that floats up when I see that ball of warmth come over the hill is a blessing to me. Because there is a lot weighing me down, as I know there is every person everywhere. Worry and guilt and confusion about world events. Grief for the suffering. Anger toward the perpetrators of evil. Anxiety about the uncertain future of humankind. Not just our survival, but our moral turpitude. Our cowardice, avarice, indifference. But the sun is climbing up into today's blue sky, and something I was born with deep inside my psyche makes me think there must still be hope for us, hope for me. And work to do.

There is much I have no control over. In fact, everything on the far side of my skin is fair game to influence, but not control. So what will I do with this day? I pray that I'll use it up, drink it dry, every other metaphor for understanding the blessing that it is. Not motivated by fear of loss, but by gratitude for the time I am still breathing.

I have a voice. We all do. And that means nothing unless we use our voices to call for justice, for mercy, for compassion. I have a much better idea of what mercy and compassion are than I do justice. If we all got we deserved, yikes. Just yikes. Because I've never met a perfect person. So I have to leave justice to God. And I don't know what that looks like, in all honesty. I can't buy the Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. Cotton Mather got it wrong, in my opinion. But thankfully, thankfully, thankfully my opinion doesn't alter God one iota. That mystery remains mystery to theologians much smarter than me. I won't call for the justice that cuts off hands and puts out eyes. Or condemns broken people to lives of serving other broken people. Or turns its back on children adrift in a sea of danger.

Mercy and compassion are easier to define. Feed the children. Comfort the grieving. Honor every child of God, who is everyone. Everyone. Every color, every creed, every child born of every mother. God created us humans, and every bit of matter on this earth. And then called us to be stewards of that creation.

The sun is above the tree that is growing strong and tall in the back yard. The tree leans a little because it shared space with another tree during it's young life. Like us. We lean a little from sharing our space. But that imperfection is the daily reminder that we don't get what we deserve any more than others who are struggling to feed their children. Many of us are simply gifted with this life of ease where we can type away on a computer, eat breakfast, go to work, drive cars, watch TV, eat more meals, sleep in a bed, wear clothes that fit. And wake up another day because we get another chance to get it right.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Little Feathers: So You Think You Can Dance

Little Feathers: So You Think You Can Dance: Today I laughed and cried. I met someone who is fighting to stay alive, but living so fully that her joy reached out and woke up my mind. I ...

So You Think You Can Dance

Today I laughed and cried. I met someone who is fighting to stay alive, but living so fully that her joy reached out and woke up my mind. I was sleeping, you see. Sitting there on my chair in a dance studio, asleep to the magic. But her voice and her dancing woke me up.

Beth Benge is a beautiful dancer. She has danced and choreographed all over the country. She loves jazz, and moves like a jazz dancer. Her smile lights up a room. Her laughter bubbles up from her soul. In spite of the fact that metastatic breast cancer keeps giving her brain tumors. In spite of the fact that the tumors and the treatment for them severed the connection between her mind and her body, forcing her to forge a re-connection out of sheer grit. Today Beth danced, and I got a rare gift from watching her. I got a reminder of possibilities. And of the effort it takes to make dreams come true.

Years ago I heard the quote, "If you think you can't, you are exactly right." It was the same idea as the usual inspirational quotes of the day. You know, the Little Engine Who Could type of saying on a coffee cup. We usually say it the other way, "If you think you can, you can." Yet today, watching Beth, I felt the power of the "can't" that sneaks into my thinking. I saw a woman dancing out there on the floor of a dance studio who would not let the "can't" stop her.

It is tempting to let obstacles have the last word. To let rejections from publishers eat into my resolve to write. It is tempting to think I'm too old to create a story, too overweight to dance, too whatever-whatever to work toward my dreams.

What can stop us from making our dreams come true? If it is the obstacles we encounter that cause us to give up, then that surrender is our choice. Want it badly enough? Don't stop working. Want it badly enough? Don't believe the self talk that you aren't good enough, smart enough, skinny enough, nice enough, talented enough, educated enough.

So you think you can dance/paint/write/become a brain surgeon? So you think you can start a business, learn French, get a degree in anthropology, cut a record? What you decide to be, who you decide to be; it is your choice. How much you are willing to pay to get there, how hard you are willing to work, that is your choice, too.

I will never forget today. I have filed it away under favorite experiences, to be taken out and examined whenever I want to blame someone or something else for my own giving up on things I want to accomplish. Not to shame myself. But to remind myself. I am the one who will keep working toward my dreams, or not. I want to be honest with myself. If I do say "I can't", then it will be my own voice I hear. 

Find Beth's website at bethdances.com. Her mother, Milbe Benge is a wonderful painter and friends with Bunny Oliver, another woman I admire greatly. Bunny has inspired me for years with her art, her philanthropy and her spirit. They are both auctioning a painting to help Beth. Go to info@capitalfineart.com to see their work.

Beth thinks she can dance. And so she can. I'm grateful I saw her do it, grateful I heard her story. She helps me think I can.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When Early Seems Late, And Other Autumn Ramblings

When I was a kid there were a handful of movies that made such a deep impression, they are part of my psyche. Part of my weltanschauung (a word I remember learning in my high school psychology class-and the word that makes me believe there is no such thing as objective logic, as no mind exists in a vacuum, untouched by the influence of one's own existence- does that make me an existentialist? BUT I digress ((as most of us do when making an argument, because we are the mercy of that big word at the beginning of my sentence))). ANYWAY! One of the movies was about a family who lived in the north- I believe in Canada, and when the geese would gather on the pond to fly south for the winter, surrounded by the changing leaves of fall, the air was filled with the call of the geese. Even as a child, I felt the sadness of the end of summer, the sadness of time running out all tied up with that sound. The geese flew over our home a lot when I was a kid in Washington, and that sound is in my head this time of year.

I have always loved Fall, with the downhill slope of the year leading to my favorite family times. The fun of Halloween, the gratifying gatherings of Thanksgiving, the quiet days of Advent crowned by the magic night of Christmas Eve. And I love winter, especially now that we get to enjoy a few days of glorious snow at our cabin in the mountains. I love the fire in the wood stove, the gloves and boots and hats and coats. I love the crunch and smell and feel of snow. But there is a feeling of nostalgia that begins with the turning leaves. And that feeling gets stronger every year.

I read once that the early church decided to put Christmas in December because the northern Europeans really needed a little light in those dark days (in addition to tying it in to a holiday already in place, the Winter Solstice). It was a great idea, and for centuries people have lit candles, sung hymns, gathered together with families and friends to give each other wishes for joy in the darkest days of year.

Now that Christmas has been annexed by the retail world, we hardly get to live in the moments of the fall. Halloween is in the stores in August, Thanksgiving barely makes a showing other than free turkeys and long lines in the grocery stores. But Christmas is already on display. Do we need that extra time to buy more lights and blow-up Santas? It's early for Christmas, don't you think?

It's dark early, though. Up here in mountains, I do well to stay up until 9pm. It feels late about 8pm, and that is kind of funny. We joke up here in our little community that Valle Escondido has a 9pm curfew. Lights are pretty much out shortly after that. Except for the stars. The stars stay up all night. I know. I've seen them shining brightly at all hours of the night and early morning.

Back to the geese! Yesterday I walked our boxer girl, Lucy, down to the little lake where Josh and Nicole will be married in a few days. It was cloudy, so the lake was dark water, and there were probably a hundred ducks and many geese. They are just passing through. But they were making designs on that dark water, the ripples from their quiet paddling catching what little light there was in the sky. I sat on the edge with Lucy for a while, thinking about the coming celebration, thinking about the passing of time, thinking about the people we've lost who I wish could stand there with us and see two people we love make promises to each other. I thought about the promises Bob and I made, about how hard it can be to keep them. About how important it is to get through the tough times so that the journey is shared, the work and the grief, as well the joy and laughter, are shared. When the light gets short and the rest of our time seems sloping toward that one night when candles and quiet songs make the darkest days a time of comfort. When having someone to share the Autumn with seems like the biggest blessing in life.

For now, for today, I want to watch the leaves turn. Hear the geese, and the elk bugling in the night. For now, for today, I want to live this day. Just this one. Just this Fall day. Looks like it will be a beautiful one. The light is filling in behind the clouds and the mountain tops are dotted with the golden aspen. It is enough.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Little Feathers: Roots (and Rants)

Little Feathers: Roots (and Rants): The noise in America is deafening. How can we have come so far from our roots as human beings that we can listen to, or make, some of the ar...

Roots (and Rants)

The noise in America is deafening. How can we have come so far from our roots as human beings that we can listen to, or make, some of the arguments that are clogging the airwaves? We have made political arguments out of some issues that have no business being political. They are simply matters of human decency.

How can anyone argue the point that guns must be kept out of the hands of lunatics? Seriously. I don't hate guns. I don't think guns are evil. But I think guns in the hands of criminals and crazy people is an insanity of its own. To say you are against all gun control is incomprehensible. How can we take back our safety? I don't know. I hope to God someone has an idea that will work. To make guns illegal will ensure that only the criminals have guns. To do nothing ensures that another shooting of innocent men, women and children will happen again and again. It isn't Democrats vs Republicans. It is anyone who wants to feel safe sending their children to school, or a movie, or to work on TV.  We have to stop arguing about this and do something that matters. No more kneejerk reactions to "for" and "against". Stop the rhetoric. Is there anyone out there who is for the murder of innocents? Besides the ones who have no right to a gun, I mean? It isn't political. It is human rights. The right to live through the day.

There is a black market for fetus parts. It makes me cry. There are women who get pregnant and sell the aborted fetus to pay for their drug habit. Do I want the government to tell me I can or can't get an abortion? No. Do I want someone to address this atrocity? Yes. It isn't political. It is human decency. The talking heads are mucking up the picture terribly. Drawing lines in the sand about an issue that is intensely divisive and inherently personal. It isn't Democrat vs Republican. It is much more elemental than that. Who will step forward to defend the woman and the fetus? Who will do that?

Politicians, do you know anyone who is gay? If you do, you are not going to be able to lump them in a group and decide what rights they can or cannot have. If you know anyone who is gay, you know an actual person. Someone with every bit as much right to the same freedoms that you enjoy. If you don't like their lifestyle, fine. You can go around disapproving. You just can't go around feeling superior. Because you are not.

Mr. or Ms Candidate, if you are not Native American, you live here because your ancestors had the freedom to settle here. People fleeing to America now are in grave danger. Children arrive dehydrated and starving. Their parents had to be desperate to leave their homes and make the journey. And you would turn them back. How compassionate of you. What does our Statue of Liberty stand for now? Give me your tired, your poor...baloney. Pass some legislation that makes immigration work. Turn away the drug lords and terrorists. Turn away the pimps and child molesters. They have made their choice. But do not turn a blind eye to the families in grave need of sanctuary. Please.

Whether or not the climate is changing due to human pollution, the fact is that we should not be poisoning our earth. We should not be trashing our home. Is there a person out there who disagrees with that? Is there someone who thinks it is just fine that China is so toxic that millions get sick and die from it? Is there someone who doesn't realize that the air over China doesn't stay over China? China isn't the only one. Pollution isn't a political talking point. It is just common sense that it has to stop. 

What is left? If we take those arguments out of the grab for voters, what is left? What are our roots as humans? In a nation that has prided itself on its values, we are drifting far, far from the core. Who are we as a people? Stand up and say something that matters. We the people stand for decency, for compassion, for freedom to make the decisions that affect ourselves without hurting our neighbor. We the people stand for a society that promotes opportunity for everyone, not just a certain ethnicity. We the people stand for accountability, for personal responsibility to take the opportunities given and make a life for ourselves that contributes to the good of the whole. We the people see our own culpability in the problems of this world, and work to clear the smoke of self-aggrandizing to see the issues as they are. Not as reported by special interests. It isn't politics. It is survival.

Easy to write a blog. Easy to sit back and judge. What work am I willing to do to right the wrongs that are building up like a sludge over our collective conscience? I'll admit I don't know. I only know I want to get back to the truth. Boycotting politics won't fix anything. I hope a candidate will emerge who is more interested in truth than in their party's rhetoric. I'm praying hard for America. I'm praying hard that my feet will match my lips. Our roots are in the Garden of Eden (metaphorically or literally, it works the same way). We are born innocent, hopeful, creative, vulnerable. It is a tragedy if the only vestige of that in our adult lives is the vulnerable part.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Little Feathers: Everybody, Everybody

Little Feathers: Everybody, Everybody: Everybody needs grace today. Everyone who has been hurt, oppressed or simply ignored because of who they are. We all need grace today. Onc...

Everybody, Everybody

Everybody needs grace today. Everyone who has been hurt, oppressed or simply ignored because of who they are. We all need grace today.

Once I saw a t-shirt that listed everyone who is loved by God. I had no problem with the obvious ones. Of course God loves sinners (create in me a clean heart, oh God), of course God loves the ones who have been bullied by society (create in me a clean heart, oh God), of course God loves the ones who stand on the corner with a sign, who have become so desperate for one reason or another that they will debase themselves by begging. Of course God loves the addict, or the oblivious self-centered power monger. Then the troubling ones were listed. The ones I want to pretend don't fall under the grace of God. It said God loves the Nazi, the KKK, the bigot, the bully. Really? Those are children of God, too? Those who I consider to have fallen much further than anyone else? Well, (bad word), that is a hard pill to swallow.

Who needs grace from me today? The ones who are speaking out so loudly against the human rights of others? Shoot. I'd rather focus on giving grace to ones who agree with me. You mean, I might need to love like Jesus did, and put away my own judgmental nature? The very nature I fault Them with? You mean I'm no better than Them? Crap. That's as bad a word as I can make myself type in a blog. So it will have to do.

How do we allow each human the dignity of their own opinion? How do we give human rights to the ones wanting to keep them from others? Freedom of speech comes with a price. I guess one way is to choose to love and pray for all of the ones listed on that t-shirt. I'm pretty sure it covered humanity in its entirety. If we are called to love each other, that means I can't call people names, even in my heart. I can't pretent I'm better than those who disagree with me. And I have to realize that the loudest voices are most likely driven by fear of change, fear of losing what they believe is right and good.

If we boil down our biggest challenges as a society, at the bottom I believe we will find fear. A desperate attempt to control lawmaking, to keep it in line with what we personally believe benefits us. I have trouble giving the same slack to certain voices that I want for myself. I'm not talking about agreeing with them. I'm talking about not disrespecting them. I'm talking about not belittling them. Yet, if we are ever to grow up as a nation, we have to stop the high school tactics. I do have a choice not to listen, not to get enraged, not to knee-jerk-react. I haven't really accomplished that yet, though. Other people's snobbery drives me nuts. Which is snobbery of my own.

Everybody, everybody needs grace. I don't just mean forgiveness. I mean grace to live as they see fit, when it doesn't hurt someone else. That last phrase is the tricky part. Humility is that balancing act, the one that understands I am no better, and no worse than anyone else. That is easy to say when comparing myself to people who are different than me, but who pose no threat to me. I am not threatened by the LGBT community. I am threatened by the ones who would treat them as other than human. So for me to understand, in my soul, that I am no better than a Nazi, a KKK...that is the really hard part.

I was born lucky. Born into a loving family, a stable community, a beautiful place of plenty. That is not because I'm better than someone who had none of those things. It is because I am fortunate to have had an easy life. How can I attribute my circumstances to my own worth? I can't.

Everybody, everybody deserves to feel loved and accepted. It is my hope that I will grow more in grace to see the child of God in the ones who seem so wrong. I am an everybody. I am wrong about things I don't even realize. I misunderstand things, don't see the whole picture. I don't see the whole everybody, everybody. Would that I will, before I die. A lofty goal. For everybody.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Little Feathers: In the Dark

Little Feathers: In the Dark: We humans don't like mystery.  Maybe we like "a" mystery, because then we get to figure it out. What is more exciting than a s...

In the Dark

We humans don't like mystery.  Maybe we like "a" mystery, because then we get to figure it out. What is more exciting than a scientific discovery that explains something of the unknown? Or a medical breakthrough that will stop a disease forever?  But to admit we don't know, that we will just have to be content with not knowing- that is not our nature.
The big questions that have plagued us for eons still elude us. Why are we here? Why do people suffer? Where is the compassionate creator of the cosmos when children die in the rubble of an earthquake or families are washed away in flood waters. What is truth? What is beauty? What is the good life, and how do we live it? (Though often repeated, still pertinent to me.)
We have heard the postulations of philosophers and theosophers, theologians and scientists. And after all the words have been written and read, believed or discarded, we are left with a mystery. We are left with the darkness that sits on the part of our world that we can't explain.
I loved the sermon that Caroline Albert-Donovan preached last Sunday about Jesus waiting in the dark for Nicodemus. When I imagine how dark the night was in Jesus' time, how it was filled with dangers of all kinds, it is a very different night from our own that is lit by jillions of wattage in an attempt to roll back the darkness. But we have our own darkness of ignorance, every bit as frightening. The idea that someone who knows me waits in the dark to tell me the answers is very comforting.
Now that I am 61, I realize that my most common answer to questions is, "I don't know." And it is true. Some ideas that I have taken as truth for most of my life are showing wear and tear, complete with holes. Now that I am 61, I am very aware that an honest not-knowing trumps pat answers. I don't like it. I never like not knowing. Maybe that is part of my human desire to control the world around me. To admit ignorance is to cede control. But that is the funny part. I never was in control of the world around me to begin with.
So, I'm working on surrendering the need to appear as if I know it all. It should be a relief. Maybe it will be as I practice it more and more. Maybe I will come to love the dark. I should, because my three options are to pretend it isn't dark, to know it is dark and fear it, or to see it for the darkness it is and trust that I am not alone in it. To trust that, ultimately, all will be known, and all will be well. For now, I'm still working on sitting with it. In the dark.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Return to Who You Are

My friend Bunny Oliver shared a quote on facebook today. It said, "If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.”
Masaru Emoto - Secret Life of Water

Bunny is an artist. She paints gorgeous pictures of places she has been, flowers that have caught her artist's eye, changing seasons, and much more. She paints with vivid colors. She also paints with love, and her spirit comes through her work.

Her share on facebook this morning spoke to me. I know in my heart that we are given inspiration when we need it, when we are ready to see and hear it. I also know it is easy to block that direction and listen only to the white noise of stagnation. Ennui has its own sound. And it isn't one you would dance to.

Lately I've felt a definite lack of motivation to pursue the writing projects. For the past six years I worked very hard to create them, collaborate on them, and encourage them to leave the nest and fly. So, my recent months of energy loss has been puzzling and troubling. I wanted to blame someone else, blame the time of my life or something out there conspiring against me. I questioned whether or not I wanted to just let them go, to stop working on them and let them die a natural death. After all, they are not really something that will change the world, right? They are just books, stories and plays. Not literature of import. Why keep working so hard on things that don't really matter?

My perspective began to shift last night when our daughter Katie challenged some of my give-up mentality. I could hear the plates of my resolve-born-of-negativity grate against each other. That almost always signals an earthquake. But this time it is more of a breaking loose, a release like the small click when a door blows open that was not quite shut.

There is a big difference between white knuckling it, gutting it out, forcing yourself to say things you know are true but don't believe at the moment, and letting the truth sink in. Self doubt builds up calluses. We want to be the ones to say it doesn't matter, so that no one's "no" or lack of respect for our work can beat us to the punch.

Return to yourself. Who am I? Who is my best self? I must admit that I am happier, more fulfilled and more positive when I am writing, when I am excited about possibilities for sharing my work with the world. Honestly, if it matters to me and gives me joy, then it matters. If happiness is a choice, if it is born of gratitude and not bestowed on some lucky ones, why would I not choose it?

Disappointments can pile on thick in the writer's world. The prolific novelist James Patterson said he was turned down by 31 publishers for his first book. By the time it was published, he had six others waiting in the wings. He could so easily have given up, blaming others for his lack of success.

Another writer I admire, Anne Lamott, wrote about the character devastation that great success can cause. She told of writers she knew who became so full of themselves after making the best seller list that she no longer called them friends. For a little while, I toyed with the idea that I should stop working because that could happen to me. Seriously, that is worth a giggle. Not because it is impossible or merely highly unlikely. But that I should give up because I might succeed! Ha! Ha ha! Fear of failure/fear of success is exactly the same thing. Being ruled by fear.

Return to yourself. I was not born afraid. I was born to find joy, to believe in good, and to be of service. Hiding behind the excuses that seem sound and true is still hiding. I wasn't born to hide. I was born to bloom, muddy water be damned.

Creating something requires me to suspend my disbelief in myself. To overcome the notion that I have nothing to say. Thanks to Katie and Bunny,  I feel the tiny breeze from the crack in the door. I am allowing myself to stand in the breeze and let it blow my hair, let it blow the cobwebs from my imagination. All I need is a little fresh air. Just a bit. That's all I need to return to myself.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Little Feathers: Finding Joy

Little Feathers: Finding Joy: Last night I sat through a dance recital. I didn't have a child onstage, though I did have a fabulous choreographer/teacher/director bac...

Finding Joy

Last night I sat through a dance recital. I didn't have a child onstage, though I did have a fabulous choreographer/teacher/director backstage. I sat next to a man about my age who wiggled and squirmed and sighed his way through the program. Not sure who his dancer was, but he clearly wasn't enjoying himself. But I was.

Every spring for 15 years we watched Katie grow up onstage with Dancer's Workshop, so these recitals are part of wildflower time for me. The babies who scamper onstage and are thrilled just to find the tape marker that tells them where to stand. They watch the teacher in the wings for cues, or just make up something on their own. Adorable in their tulle and sequins with their hair glued into a ballerina bun, they hardly have to move to entertain. But entertain they do. Some boss their neighbors, some lose their shoes, some wave to Mom and Dad. Some are stage struck and don't remember a thing, a deer-in-the-headlights look on their tiny faces. Some actually have a musical sensitivity at age three. And some exude a joy that makes me smile and makes sitting through a two hour recital of other people's kids really fun. I hope their families recognized it too, and have the time and means to let those natural dancers fill up with the good things that come from studying an art you were born to learn.

All these years of watching dancers and I am still surprised by the unexpected dancer. The one who doesn't look like they would have stuck it out all these years. The one I end up watching more than the perfect bodies and flawless faces. The ones who dance outside themselves and give away their hearts. Like a singer who reaches through the radio and tells a story that can make you weep or laugh out loud, a dancer can forge a bond with the audience because they are authentically invested in the dance. The same ones who won't be picked for the pom squad. Like that voice that doesn't fit with the other pop stars, but you can't quit listening to because you hear your own emotions in their singing. The dancers who leave you in a different place when you walk out of the theater.

I am grateful for the teachers who open their minds and hearts to instruct in a way that leaves room in art for the individual to find themselves. Dance can be a very narrow, judgmental world, full of angst and anorexia. I doesn't have to be. People like Dawn Weiss, the owner of Dancer's Workshop, give a breadth to dance that lets young people find their way to the best end result of art. They are taught to dance. And to hold each other in esteem. And in that secure place, they can find their joy.

Between the little imp who stole my heart in the pink tutu number and the strong, heart pumping hip hop number by the almost-pros, were scores of dancers who had worked for months perfecting their recital pieces.  All those tuition payments, miles driven to the studio, lives arranged around the rehearsal schedules, all that effort by dancers and their families was about more than the time spent under the lights. It was about learning to dance, yes. But also about learning to respect teachers and fellow dancers. For some, it was about pure joy. The lucky ones who were born in a time and place that allows them to pursue their passion. And to share it with the audience. And lucky ones like me, who soak it up and go home lightened.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Little Feathers: Cracks in the Sidewalk

Little Feathers: Cracks in the Sidewalk: Nothing is perfect. But maybe that is not true. Maybe what I see as imperfections are exactly what make something the way it was intended to...

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Nothing is perfect. But maybe that is not true. Maybe what I see as imperfections are exactly what make something the way it was intended to be.

On Saturday I was lucky enough to walk 12 miles of the 26 mile first day walk of the Avon 39 with Nicki Beglau Black. Houston was a challenge. Raining buckets for the first three hours, it was the muggiest steambath ever for the last five hours. Hundreds of walkers who had raised 2.7 million dollars to fight cancer made their way along flooded and cracked sidewalks (cracked is a misnomer...they looked like a major earthquake hit), braved blisters and hurting parts and heat prostration to show how much they care that others not die of cancer. People walked with names written on their shirts to honor those who have been in the path of cancer. Nicki raised over $33,000 dollars herself, and her team of five came in 6th overall for fund raising.

It was hard for me to admit that I should not do the whole walk when Nicki first told me she was going to do it again. We did it in 2011 but I had multiple injuries before the walk began and could not do that one entirely, either. But I kept telling myself this time that harming my own health doesn't cure any cancer. Nicki had to make that tough decision also, after finishing the 26.2 mile marathon the first day, her knee was so bad that she could not walk the 13 miles on Sunday. It hurt her to admit it, and to let it go. Sometime it takes a lot of courage to surrender. I am proud of Nicki for the hard work and dedication she put into her fund raising and training. I am also proud of her for have the courage to let her team finish in her name.

So, where was the perfection in that weekend?  In the success of those who could make the whole 39 mile walk? Yes. In the success of those who raised tens of thousands of dollars? Yes. In the steps of those who quit at the lunch break? Yes. In the hearts of those who had to get on the bus when their bodies gave out? Yes.

Cracked sidewalks. What was once smooth and level has been turned jagged and menacing to those who don't keep their eyes on the path. Upheaval caused by tree roots. Those exact same trees that offer a beautiful canopy of shade to streets and yards. One walker pointed out that if people had been content to make gravel sidewalks those roots would not have caused any trouble. But someone thought in inflexible sidewalks would be better.

Tree roots are messing with my concrete sidewalks, and I am beginning to understand that my definition of perfection is more realistic, more honest and more germane when I see the canopy above me as part and parcel with the gnarly roots. More gravel. Less concrete. More compassion, less judgement. More humility, less control-freak. More open mindedness, less self centeredness. More humor, less hubris.

Today a beautiful 44 year old woman I met on the walk will have her call-back 3-D mammogram. I am convinced that I sat on a blanket with her, cheering as walkers went by, because I could share my story with her. In 2011 I had a call back in the days just before I went to the walk. I was blessed to meet survivors with many different stories to tell. I am praying that Ashley will get good news today. Either no cancer or really early detection like me. When you read her name, I hope you will lift her up with thoughts and prayers for courage. Ashley, wherever you are, the sidewalks are cracked, but the canopy is wide and the shade is enough.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Little Feathers: Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve

Little Feathers: Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve: Yesterday my husband, Bob, read a quote by Christopher Reeves. It had to do with not being proud of your appearance, because the looks you w...

Pride, Gratitude, and Christopher Reeve

Yesterday my husband, Bob, read a quote by Christopher Reeves. It had to do with not being proud of your appearance, because the looks you were born with, good or not, are not an accomplishment. It got me thinking about lots of other opportunities for pride that are more likely to be opportunities for gratitude.

It's obvious, but I didn't choose my 5'10" height. Or my bone structure. Or, for that matter, being born to white parents in a free country. I didn't choose any of those things. In fact, I've joked all my life that I would have picked different "parts" from my ancestors. Dad, I love you, but your feet! Sheesh! But I am truly grateful to have been born with strong bones and musculature, good eyesight and hearing (I know, Bob might argue with the hearing part), a beating heart and happy lungs. Health. I am very grateful for it. And, I guess the saying "take pride in your appearance" really means take care of the body you have been given. Be a good steward of it. That makes more sense. More healthy sense. Not pride, but gratitude.  I am grateful for my parents, who raised me to believe that life is a beautiful adventure. I am proud of my parents' accomplishments, too. They worked hard and gave my brother and I an idyllic  childhood.

Proud to be an American? Well, I am proud of America when we as a nation act like civilized people who care about something other than our own pocketbook and power (synonymous, I think). I can't really be proud of something that isn't an accomplishment. I can be grateful to be an American.

America is a great place to live. Is it morally superior to other countries? Sometimes. Not always. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been born here. But that was not my doing. Only my good fortune. I even have trouble saying I was blessed to be born here, as if people born in other places are not blessed. As if God favors me, favors America. That is a kind of weird theology, or maybe theosophy, I can't buy. The America I would be most proud of would be one that valued people as children of God no matter who their parents were. The country that takes pride in justice. The place where freedom means no one is oppressed. That would be an accomplishment. One that has not been made by any country throughout history. We could be the first. That would make me very proud of America, indeed.

I love my children with the heart-exploding love that makes me remember their childhoods with teary eyes. I love them as adults. I am truly proud of their accomplishments. Their choices to be good people are my greatest source of pride. But I did not choose who they would be. Just as they didn't choose to be born to me and Bob. I am grateful, grateful, grateful to be their mother. I can't really say I'm proud to be their mother, though I am proud of them.

Some of the mistakes I've made in life have turned out to be my greatest teacher. I truly am not proud of those choices. I try to be grateful for the lessons learned. I even have trouble with that sometimes. When I get to thinking I can control anything beyond my own behavior, things go awry. Sometimes pride itself is a stumbling block to living the good life, the one I believe God longs for me to live. That is why I am blogging away about the notion. Typing away to sound out the intricate differences between pride and gratitude in my own mind. Thanks for the lesson, Christopher Reeve. I admire you greatly. I'm very proud of you for the way you conducted your life.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Little Feathers: How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know

Little Feathers: How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know: Of course most of us want to be successful. Of course we do. We want to see our books in the stores, our songs on the radio, our paintings i...

How Much is Enough, and When Do We Know

Of course most of us want to be successful. Of course we do. We want to see our books in the stores, our songs on the radio, our paintings in galleries, our businesses grow. Don't we want to feel like we are good enough at our job/avocation that others will notice? If not, what is up with all the "reach for the stars", "set your goals high", "dare to dream", "use your God-given talents", and so forth?

A really brilliant writer, Anne Lamott, writes a blog that hits me where I live nearly all the time. In her last one, about turning 61 (my same age), she observes that success can be our downfall. That some writers on the best seller list have been derailed by acclaim. We don't have to look far in Hollywood to see that same affect on many of newly famous. We all know cutthroat business people. Yet, as a writer, Anne spends her time with the most important writers tool, "butt in the chair" as she calls it. She is driven to write. It is her catharsis. She is a terribly successful blogger, by my standards. Over 50,000 shares of the birthday blog. That is happening, in my opinion, because she forges strong bonds with her readers. She writes with such a strong voice, we can hear her as if she were in the room with us. No self-promotion could ever work as well as her own writer's voice.

Every time I go to the children's writer conference (if you want to write for kids, please be sure to check out your local SCBWI) I hear some presenter say, "If you need money, get a job. If you love to write, have to write, can't keep from writing, write." I also remember my husband telling insurance agents, "Don't go into an interview with dollar signs in your eyes" - in other words, keep the well being of your client above your own need for income. If our top priority is lining our own pockets, we'll forget ourselves. We'll lose our way. We'll become the greedy humans that lie just beneath our best intentions.

Like works and grace, it is a tricky balancing act, this effort to create something worthwhile. Marketing our own books has fallen to the writer more and more as the publishing world has changed and morphed. If we don't promote them, no one will, for the most part. And, promoting something you believe in, whether a product or ourselves and our abilities, is not a bad thing.

Sometimes I feel a little edgy, with time passing quickly and my age creeping up. I have so many books I want to write. But I don't just want to write them. I want them to be read. Ambition is a wonderful thing when it serves us. It is a negative thing when we serve it. Will I still be okay if not another book is sold? Will I feel like I did my best if the two books that are "out there" go no further? How much is enough?

What is success? What is the good life, and how do you live it? We define it for ourselves. Am I there yet? Yes. Because there is no there. Just here. And since I am here, in this amazing place, in a life filled with blessings all around me, it is enough. That doesn't mean I don't feel compelled to write. Or have a desire to promote my books. It just means that I can't wait for another day to feel successful. I just have to remind myself. Gratitude again. The one pure, true note that sounds above the din of commerce. Hear it? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Little Feathers: Speeding Toward the Light

Little Feathers: Speeding Toward the Light: My sister in spirit, Nicki Black, recently brought up the mystery of why time seems to go faster and faster as we age. Much has been written...

Speeding Toward the Light

My sister in spirit, Nicki Black, recently brought up the mystery of why time seems to go faster and faster as we age. Much has been written about it. Here's some more:

I was watching the water drain out of my kitchen sink this morning. The last couple of inches drained out much faster than the first couple, I swear. Now, any scientist worth their salt would argue that the human eye is no real judge of that sort of thing. Besides, it would seem to make more sense that the weight of the whole body of water would make the first few inches drain faster, not slower. Don't quote me, I haven't googled this yet.

And, who can deny that the last pages of a good book, or moments of a good movie, go by much faster than the beginning? Then, again,there is the river that builds and builds and builds as tributaries join in on the way to the sea. Just listen to Smetana's Moldau. It is the symphonic painting of one of Bohemia's great rivers. At first sprightly and young, then lively and playful, then tortured with rapids and conflicts. Finally, in the closing passages, it is majestic and full of compelling story. The end is soaringly rich with yearning. I am actually tearing up just thinking about it. The life of a river that races toward the sea. The life of a human, born on a journey, of which the ending is both unknown and unknowable.

We think we have so much time, when we are young. We think that when we are old, time will slow down as we do, that more retrospection will give us wisdom and preparation for our final days. Maybe we do spend more time looking back, but nothing prepares us for our approach to the sea, (more river analogy, sorry...you really do have to listen to the Moldau). Nothing prepares us for the gathering velocity of our days. There may be some who are more sanguine about death, but I think most of us feel the mystery in our bones. Not necessarily dread or fear, but honest wonder about the great beyond. About our own ending.

We are reminded daily of the fragile nature of life. We are bombarded with stories of lives ending. As we age, more and more of the ones we hear about are in our generation, not our parents'. Maybe that constant reminder that we are very temporary inhabitants of this life is part of the reason it seems all the more fleeting.

Of course, the only balm for the thing is the same fix for every other human ailment. Gratitude. We know it. We say it. We write it. We think it. This is the only day we are given. Live this day with thanksgiving. It may not slow our speeding toward the light. But it makes the trip a better one. And, seriously--Smetana's Moldau. You'll never look at a river the same again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Little Feathers: Ten Lessons From the Campground

Little Feathers: Ten Lessons From the Campground: 1. Sleeping outside in nice weather is therapeutic. Even if it is only a nap on a blanket in the shade. 2. Sleeping outside in a thundersto...

Ten Lessons From the Campground

1. Sleeping outside in nice weather is therapeutic. Even if it is only a nap on a blanket in the shade.
2. Sleeping outside in a thunderstorm doesn't happen.
3. Cooking over a campfire requires fortitude and a sense of humor. And, if the hotdogs take a dive into the ashes, it requires quite a bit of water and a diligent washer to make them edible.
4. Food cooked over a campfire tastes better. It just does. One of life's mysteries.
5. Camping is not for sissies. Sissies (like me) can rent an RV to mitigate the hardships. But even so, camping requires much more effort than other vacations.
6. It is entirely possible to over-pack for a camping trip. Measuring cups and a microplane should stay at home.  
7. Surround yourself with fun people.  And, since everyone has their own definition of fun, maybe it is better to say, surround yourself with people who have a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.
8. Give thanks for your washer and dryer when you get home. Campfire = stinky clothes.
9. You can take lots of pictures, but you still have to burn into your memory the looks on the faces around the campfire. They are priceless.
10. You can plan, but you can't control. Nature is full of wild cards. Which is the very definition of adventure, right?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Little Feathers: Love you. Miss you.

Little Feathers: Love you. Miss you.: My dad has been gone for over a year now. I know how lucky I am to have had him in my life so long. Not many people get to feel so very love...

Love you. Miss you.

My dad has been gone for over a year now. I know how lucky I am to have had him in my life so long. Not many people get to feel so very loved by their dads for so very long. I know all the things we say- 'how lucky to miss him so much, that means he loved you so well. He is in a better place. I wouldn't wish him back for one more day of suffering'. All those things are true. But I miss the man who loved me best first.
Spring is coloring Central Texas with the most vibrant, new green. The Bluebonnets are popping up all over, and the sun is starting to feel familiar again. It is beautiful. It reminds me of the last car trip I took with my dad, when I drove he and Mom around the Hill Country looking at Bluebonnets. He could not look straight ahead, due to his curved back, but looked out the side window. One thing about my dad, he managed to enjoy life to the very end. And he loved to eat out. We had not been on the road long when he began to wonder where we would eat lunch. Such a simple thing, but he found pleasure in it. He was always ready to try new foods. The only gee-whiz thing I can remember that he was only luke warm about was kale chips. He ate them, but wondered what all the fuss was about. They didn't even hold up to dipping in salsa, so what was the point? I doubt seriously if kale chips are on his plate now. I'm thinking more like heavenly chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. And probably biscuits, and some sort of pie. Any pie would do, really. He wasn't picky.
I look out my window at our back porch and still see him standing beside the bar-b-q pit with Bob and whatever other guys were around. Maybe smoking a cigar to add the right touch to that smoke coming off the grill. My dad didn't ask to be the center of attention. He wasn't a big joke teller or attention getter. He just loved his family, loved being part of whatever we were up to. And he was a helper. Even after he could no longer get up from his chair, he would ask if I needed him to help me with groceries. He forgot, because he still had the desire to lend a hand.
I'm thankful to have so many good memories. But I miss him. I'm sure he's still around. I can hear his voice sometimes, and feel his presence. Love you, Dad. Say hey to the grandparents for me. Tell God I need to talk to him about this whole death thing. And I guess you can tell him I said thanks for Spring.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Little Feathers: Electrical Votes

Little Feathers: Electrical Votes: Clichés abound. They litter our speech like Ladybird's roadside flowers in Spring. I think most of them attained that status honestly. B...

Electrical Votes

Clichés abound. They litter our speech like Ladybird's roadside flowers in Spring. I think most of them attained that status honestly. Because they ring true for us, we say them often enough that they become little phrases stuck in our rote memory jar, to be pulled out at will.

That's why is it is really funny when someone does that little thing Yogi Berra used to do. They say most of a cliché, or observation, then substitute a word that is similar but not quite right. One quote Wikipedia sites for Yogi Berra is, "Texas has a lot of electrical votes". Well, that's true. And I have no doubt that Mr. Berra knew exactly what he was doing with that small change.

What got me thinking about this is my instinct to correct the speaker if they get the cliché wrong. But, I'm asking myself why I want everyone to conform in that particular area, when I am a fan of individuality, of uniqueness and originality. Or am I? Is it easier for me when others follow the rules, and I get to be the only one who decides when it is okay to deviate? I am married to a man who likes to follow rules that he deems practical, and disregard the ones that seem foolish. Sometimes that makes life more fun, and sometimes it gives me a rash. And therein lies the rub. For some pesky reason, I like to be the one who decides when coloring outside the lines, or getting the cliché ever so slightly akimbo, is fun, and when it is too messy to abide.

Back to the instinct to correct...maybe the human need to be right is really the human need to run in packs. A loner is scary. A non-conformist has seen our rules and judged them unworthy. Now, that might be acceptable in an artist. How I loved E.E. Cummings in my teenage years. No rule-following for him. No capitalized letters (I learned only recently that he didn't use lower case letters for his own name, others did), no approved punctuation. And, T.S. Elliot's Prufrock. I read and re-read it, trying to make sense of it for myself without the literati telling me what to think. Neither of those men were rule followers, and both changed poetry. In a way, they had a lot in common with Yogi Berra. They jarred the reader, shaking up our expectations. They got away with it because they were intellectuals. We allowed them to carve their own way. I doubt either cared about the approval of the masses anyway. (whispered aside) Unless Prufrock was Elliot.

I have a new goal about correcting others. Instead of biting my tongue, thinking to myself that I know the real words, my goal now is to listen to the newness of the idea. To let the change, the unexpected, be original rather than wrong. It is grace I surely want for myself, because I am not a grammar whiz. And a lazy proofreader. And I forget things. And I forget what it was I meant to stop doing to others. Yogi got so many things right. Texas does have a lot of electrical votes. You can feel the voltage leading up to elections. A potent observation. Would I allow him to make it if he wasn't famous? I hope so. He was a very smart man. And very funny. Coloring well outside the lines of his baseball fame. No "dumb jock" label will stick to him. We do love our labels.  Electrical votes. Ha!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Little Feathers: Shaggy Dog Story

Little Feathers: Shaggy Dog Story: I just had my brain filled to the brim with instruction on craft and information about publishing at our area Society for Children's Boo...

Shaggy Dog Story

I just had my brain filled to the brim with instruction on craft and information about publishing at our area Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. The weekend was inspiring, and the presenters were great. What does that have to do with a shaggy dog? Well...

A shaggy dog story is one that lacks certain elements that would make it a truly good story. Imagine a shaggy dog is walking down the sidewalk. He stops to sniff some people, and some puddles. He greets some people and has a stern word for a dog or two. Then he goes home.  Maybe that was his day. But there is no story arch, no conflict that will teach him about the world and himself. Kind of like watching the movie Boyhood was for me. I was entertained to watch those people age over the years of filming. I sympathized with the young man who grew up before our eyes. But it was a bit of a shaggy dog story for me.

Together with my daughter Sally, I am working on the sequel to our young adult novel, Raina Rising. We have some fun and interesting plot elements figured out, but I had the niggling feeling that what we had was a bit of a shaggy dog story. I couldn't put my finger on just what needed to change for that to not be the case. Both of us want this book to be better than the last. And the next one better than this one. And...you get the drift.

In one moment of clarity this past weekend, an agent conducting a writing intensive said exactly the right thing in exactly the right words. I started writing as fast as I could because the little light bulb can go dim pretty fast these days. Ah-ha! Now, what was that again? Anyway, from that point on, I could hardly wait to get home and get to work on the book.

We all experience turning points. In the midst of them, we may not see them for what they are, but they are pivotal, defining moments when we will decide who we are. Yesterday I understood that Raina's biggest challenge in this book comes from within. And that seems to be the most character-honing opportunity in life. We all have threats and challenges from the outside that cause us to gather up the courage to fight, or the wisdom to run. Our heroes are the ones who conquer the bad guys with muscles,guts, and brains. And then, there are those times when the enemy is indeed our own greed or envy or self centered pettiness. The enemy within is sneakier, quieter, more manipulative than any foe we will face. I don't believe anyone escapes that kind of battle. It leaves scars. What is more powerful than regret?

Here's hoping I can take Raina where she doesn't want to go. She's already dragging her heels. She does that sometimes even when she knows it is the right direction for the story. Sometimes she is perfectly happy being the shaggy dog. Not today, girl. Gather up your courage, Raina. I know how you hate being wrong, but just hang in there. You will prevail. You have to. This is only book two of the trilogy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Little Feathers: The Science of Gratitude

Little Feathers: The Science of Gratitude: Okay, that is a dumb title. I know it. But I stole it from an article I read whose writer did not think it was dumb. And, since dumb can be ...

The Science of Gratitude

Okay, that is a dumb title. I know it. But I stole it from an article I read whose writer did not think it was dumb. And, since dumb can be subjective, I read the piece from start to finish. What I found was that the word "science" was used loosly. Kind of like other words we throw around when we really mean something a little different.

Like "addiction". We use "addiction" for simple habits or strong preferences. I'm addicted to checking facebook too often. I'm addicted to watching Justified, or Elementary, or Newsroom. I'm addicted to Jazzercise. Somehow, using the word relieves me of needing to do the work to change the habit if it needs changing for quality of life. If I can actually do the work to change the habit all by myself, chances are great that I am not addicted. I may have an attachment to the thing, and it may be truly hard work to change my behavior, but using "addicted" for behavior I am able to change whenever I want to waters down the true state of the mind when addiction is the reality.

Okay, back to the Science of Gratitude. I imagine that scientists cringe when some of us use the "S" word. I have a friend whom I admire greatly who pointed out that we can't proof for God. If we could, faith would be an obsolete endeavor. Even though many people can point to times in their lives when God revealed something to them in a way that left them no room for doubt about the existence of God, science didn't enter into it. We can't quantify feelings or beliefs. No matter how strongly we feel about them, they can't be proven in a scientific study. I have a sneaky feeling (not provable) that God prefers us to truly experience free will. An irrefutable scientific study proving the existence of God would take free will away entirely.

Gratitude does improve our lives. Gratitude lifts our spirits and makes us less selfish, less critical, and less apt to compare our lives to those of others and come up short. Gratitude is a habit of the mind. And, like other habits, it can be built by conscious repetition until it becomes our go-to response to life. If my brain were a bicep, curls and bent arm hangs would produce noticeable delineation. And maybe, just maybe, the work of grateful hearts/grateful minds does show on us physically. Maybe the sparkle in the eyes of someone you meet is an indication that they live joyfully.

Whether or not a grateful heart makes us live longer or overcome disease more surely isn't science. Not to me. There are too many unknowns, too many variables within the human mind. Some of the most positive, faithful, grateful people I have known have died early from disease. Or lingered long in a debilitated state. My Grandma Rozell was one of the most positive, faithful people ever. But she lost her mind, and her life, to Alzheimer. It was a slow process, and a heartbreaking one. Gratitude did not save her from that. But gratitude shaped her life before the disease took her personal will. Her grateful heart made people want to be with her, to enjoy her laugh and her light spirit. Her grateful spirit lives on in my mind, and the hearts of those who loved her.

The Art of Gratitude. That makes more sense, to me. Art is something we can produce ourselves, by sheer courage, letting others see what we see. The side of my brain that works the hardest is the side that sees in color, not black and white. I'm grateful for the colors, for the questions asked through the centuries, for the freedom that is art. I'm also grateful we have scientists who follow the rules of logic and post their findings for the rest of us to ponder. Both sides of the coin require Thinkers.

Some people say money makes the world go round. I would say gratitude makes the world go round. But I can't prove it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Little Feathers: Human Being

Little Feathers: Human Being: There is a thin, narrow strip at the center of everything. It runs straight and true from beginning to end. From birth to death. Every now a...

Human Being

There is a thin, narrow strip at the center of everything. It runs straight and true from beginning to end. From birth to death. Every now and then, I stumble across it and am reminded. It is the simple part of being human. It is the being part.

Years ago, a popular phrase that focused in our desire to make our lives matter by being as busy as possible was written everywhere: I am a human being, not a human doing. Like every other catchphrase or slogan or mantra I've come across, it is reactionary and only tells part of the story.

We can't stop doing. Not if we want to tell a story or build a road or serve our fellow humans with our hands. Not if we want to actually love someone. That takes a lot of doing. Every workshop I've ever attended teaches this version of the truth: that successful people are willing to do the things that unsuccessful people are not. Lots of esoteric judgement in that notion. It assumes we all agree on what success actually is. Most of the time, in our society, it has to do with income and recognition. We are asked to suspend our disbelief and imagine that the definition of success is universal. Ah, fame and fortune. Worthy goals, right? We hear it sold to us everywhere: money may not make you happy but it buys the paving for the road to happiness. I won't pretend for one second that I don't like the comfort money can buy. But we can't stop there. We can't say comfort is success, because there are way too many comfortable people drinking themselves to death, or numbing out with other addictions that do not serve them well, in order to face life.

Working on our dreams as if our lives depended on it is a well respected way to live, at least in our society. Bigger, better, longer, faster...who doesn't admire the success stories of those who start with little and end up with a lot?

But is that why we are here? There is more to our existence than the pursuit of happiness as defined by success, as defined by winning. At least, for me.  What role our search for meaning will play in our own happiness can't be recommended to us by someone else. Not even by Viktor E Frankl. Not even Aristotle or Descartes or Charlie Brown. Snoopy comes close, but still...

My theory for today is that stopping to examine my path is a necessary part of my happiness. What is the good life, and how do you live it: a question Bob and I have been asking since our days at Holden Village as teenagers. The answer morphs and re-organizes itself as I grow and change. Being open to growth and change is another requirement for me. Another phrase from the 70s "If you don't know where you are going, you will likely end up somewhere else" is not quite right for me, either. It implies we are in control, and already know what is best for us. Having dreams and goals is good and helpful. But pretending that the best intentioned planner will not be broadsided by unforeseen circumstances is not quite honest.

Being grateful for lessons learned by my failures, being grateful for the comforts born of success, being grateful for time to reflect and ask and learn and fall and get back up again- maybe that is my personal definition of success. Time for being in the midst of all the doing. And grateful for being human. A human being. Who gets to do stuff. I have never put an emoticon in my blog, but I'm tempted to stick a happy face on the end. You'll just have to imagine it here:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Little Feathers: The Soundtrack

Little Feathers: The Soundtrack: I realize I am a little quirky, but many times there is a soundtrack for my life playing along in my head. I have certain favorites for cert...

The Soundtrack

I realize I am a little quirky, but many times there is a soundtrack for my life playing along in my head. I have certain favorites for certain things. I borrowed my downhill ski song from my friend Connie Grosskopf: "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by the Mamas and the Papas. The tempo is just right for my style of skiing, but even more than the tempo, the lightly lilting quality is perfect for staying in the right frame of mind to ski gently.
What is funny to me is the subconscious choice of music. I don't really plan to pick it, like I did the ski song. The first time I understood that was when I narrowly missed being in a car wreck. It was so close, and so traumatic, that I pulled over to let my heart settle down. When I reviewed the scene in my mind, the screeching sound of violins in a frenzy, from a horror movie, accompanied the memory. That sound plays again when a car gets too close or I have to pass an eighteen wheeler on a two lane highway. I am a passing wienie, but that is another story. At any rate, somehow my brain decided that scary sounds were helpful for driving. I tried to override that notion, but it will take some practice to replace that cacophony with something a little more zen.
John Denver stars in my soundtrack a lot. When I reach the top of Don Fernando, a mountain above our cabin in New Mexico, "The Eagle and the Hawk" starts up full volume. If I'm ever there alone, I'll let it rip and join John in a duet. When Bob and I hit the road for home, even though I love our life in Texas just as much because our family is there, John is singing "Goodbye Again" as our car makes its way back down the mountain.
For a reason I can't explain, since no love is lost between true Texans (I'm only a transplant) and those north of the border, when we cross the railroad tracks beyond Clovis and hit the Texas border, I hear Curly and the rest belting out "Oklahoma". Strange. I know. There are a lot of Texas songs. But somehow my mind has chosen that broadway tune to signal re-entry.
Children's songs play a role as well, and maybe that inclination is part of why I chose to write for children. Burl Ives is perfect for paddling a canoe. Most of the time, though, the songs change constantly and I never know what will pop into my head. The last time I cried, Finlandia's yearning strains kept time to the tears.
I guess it's a good thing that only white noise plays when I write. I guess that is so that I can hear my character's voices. At any rate, I sometimes wonder what soundtrack other people hear. Anybody?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Little Feathers: All the Kings Horses

Little Feathers: All the Kings Horses: When Humpty Dumpty fell the first time, we found out that bad things happen to good people. That smart people do stupid things. Humpty Dumpt...

All the Kings Horses

When Humpty Dumpty fell the first time, we found out that bad things happen to good people. That smart people do stupid things. Humpty Dumpty falls again, day after day, for someone. And all the king's horses and all the kings men can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But that old egg can do it himself.  He'll be cracked and crooked, vulnerable and leery of another tumble. But he'll get back up there. It may take him a while, and he may look entirely different from here on out. Bearing his injuries, climbing with a limp.
Will we laugh at him, ridicule him because he got caught out and we didn't (this time)? Will we say he got what he deserved? What intelligent egg would sit on a wall, anyway? Will we call him names like Monica Lewinsky or Pete Rose or Jim Baker or (insert the name of a President you love to ridicule, depending on your political party) to make ourselves feel superior?
The king's horses and the kings men will stand around, pretending to help but too self centered to actually lend aid. They are, after all, royal servants and not egg repair workers.
Mother Teresa isn't in the story. Or maybe she is, just off the page a little, offering encouraging words. Maybe she knows the drill so well that she can be a helper even from that position. Maybe she's seen enough eggs fall to know it happens to every single one who takes a breath to stay alive.
Most likely we are the kings men or Mother Teresa at different times. Hopefully we get more like the latter the older we grow. And forgive ourselves for our horsy smell when we sit idly by.
Today's metaphor is brought to you by life's great struggle.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Little Feathers: Realer and Realer...That's a Word, Right?

Little Feathers: Realer and Realer...That's a Word, Right?: I just finished a book by an incredible writer. The Migration of Animals, by Mary Helen Spect, is just a little beyond me. It's as if I&...

Realer and Realer...That's a Word, Right?

I just finished a book by an incredible writer. Migratory Animals, by Mary Helen Spect, is just a little beyond me. It's as if I'm standing in a group of artists (I know they are artists because they are all very cool looking, dressed in black with slightly messy hair) who are speaking a language I can't quite piece together. I know the individual words. I just can't quite get the gist. I'm standing on the outside of a book, wishing I was smarter. If I was smarter, I could tell stories like this writer. Oh, wait.  I'm doing that deadly comparison thing again. The one that makes me hesitate to put my own writing out there. Is that why I'm blogging? To keep from writing the books?

On Friday night my husband, Bob, and I went to a fancy seafood restaurant. We spend a bundle and got some fabulous food. When we got home, I was thinking about how fortunate we are, how my grandparents would never have gotten to eat at place like that. That got me thinking about my grandmothers' cooking. Both of them were wonderful cooks. Simple food made perfectly. My farm grandma made the best fried chicken (a bird who has never been in the refrigerator before it is cooked is a different animal from the supermarket chicken) and the best, flakiest, biscuits you can possibly imagine. Her vegetables were fresh from the garden or from mason jars where they were "put up" with love and care. The butter she made by shaking a large jar until the creamy solids came together. She cooked from a wheelchair from the time I was a young teen, pulling herself around her messy kitchen with one foot, putting food on the table that lives on in my memory. And she laughed so much and so often, it is a sound that I long to hear again.

You know where I am going with this. I think I do, too. If I were to eat a meal prepared by a famous chef, spent time to recover from it, and then ate my grandma's chicken and biscuits, which would be better?

If writers are charged with telling the truth, who is out there who knows the universal truth for all time? Who knew more about life and loss and victory and surrender than Pooh and Piglet? How long does it take to become real? The velvet gets rubbed off regardless of whether it is loved off or scraped off by happenstance.

We know when we read the truth. We know when we stand in front of a painting if the artist has put their honesty into it.  The hard part may be telling the truth as it has been revealed to us, without mimicking the voice (or the recipes, or the brush strokes) of an admired one just a little (or a lot) more educated than we are.

I'm grateful for writers like Dostoyevsky and Rilke, Stringfellow and Kierkegaard. They challenge my mind and make my blood richer. But where would we be without Charles Schultz, Erma Bombeck and A.A. Milne?

We're all getting the velvet rubbed off, and the stuffing knocked out of us. Hopefully it's making us realer and realer all the time, and not just cranky, limp copycats.

My daughter, Sally Nava, helped me with the music for this poem years ago. It was part of youth play at church. I really like the flute part. Thanks, Sally.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Little Feathers: Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quit...

Little Feathers: Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quit...: Our society, particularly in America, preaches the fulfillment of self will as the driving force in our lives. Try hard enough, you can do a...

Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quite Figured Out

Our society, particularly in America, preaches the fulfillment of self will as the driving force in our lives. Try hard enough, you can do anything. Make it to the top in your career, achieve your goals in all areas, even prolong your life by living within the current nutrition-and-exercise wisdom.

Now, if you are of a particular bent, add in the component of spiritual life. Seeking wisdom. Seeking what some would call the will of God. This is where the waters get murky. This is where the rubber of  rationalization meets the road of behavior. Many current spiritual leaders call for prayer, but prayer that seeks to bend the will of God to our own desires. This raises all kinds of questions. Chief among them is why some prayers are answered and some are not. I have asked this question a million times.

I recently re-read an article from 1960 by Catherine Marshall called The Prayer of Relinquishment. This prayer is the very thing that the 12 step program calls for. Giving up self will. In fact, the only good use of the will for an addict is to be willing to give up what the self wants, and seek to put in its place the thing that God wants. Catherine Marshall points out that God will never come between us and free will. So the only way God can actually work in us is if we empty out that space in the center of the universe where we normally put our own desires. 

That is simply against everything we are taught from the time we are tiny. Being our own advocate, trusting in our own intellect, our own hard work placed firmly on the altar of achievement...this is what makes sense. Concrete. Scientific. If you train harder, you run faster. Bootstraps, for heaven's sake.

How unnatural is it to actually trust God?  Why should we trust a being who lets bad things happen to good people? Catherine Marshall wrote that it is not some arbitrary original sin that separates us from God, but it is fear. Fear that we can't trust, should not trust, anyone but ourselves. Theologically, calling fear the wall between us and God is an old, old notion. It is fear that causes us to turn inward on ourselves, to stop looking up, to stop looking out. The whole inspecting-the-lint-in-our-spiritual-naval thing. Maybe it is semantics to replace "sin" with "fear". But to me, it makes sense. If I can't trust God with my life, with my loved ones, with my desires, then I have to pray that my own will be done. God, give me good health so I can live long and love my family more. What is wrong with that prayer? God, give me. God, give me. Me. Me. I know what is best for my life. Who is in the center of that picture? Well, I am American after all. It is me.

While I would love to think I've discovered some key to serenity that will never leave me, I know that my own human nature will fight back against this line of reasoning. Sometimes I am willful, sometimes I am just the lazy, acquiescing to habit. I'm in the habit of being self centered. It will take a lot of work to let go of that. Wait...is my surrender dependent on hard work? Am I the captain of that ship? Well, yes. This is where Americans are right. It is hard work that will let me surrender. It is very hard to give up thinking I know best for myself. The application of my will to give up my will. Someone will think I'm ready for the loony bin. 

I don't have it all figured out. I just know it goes against the grain of human achievement. And, I know it is something I long for. So, I'll keep working on it. Working on not working. You know what I mean. Right?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Little Feathers: Thank You, Stuart Scott

Little Feathers: Thank You, Stuart Scott: I keep thinking about Stuart Scott, the ESPN sportscaster who died of cancer at 49. He said, "When you die, it does not mean that you l...

Thank You, Stuart Scott

I keep thinking about Stuart Scott, the ESPN sportscaster who died of cancer at 49. He said, "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live."

This morning I woke up to see the star over the tall evergreen that shines down at me on clear mornings before the sun comes up. It is the most encouraging star. When I am laying there in the bed working on getting my rise-and-shine juices flowing, that star seems like a connection to God. Like that old game of telephone that involves two tin cans a long string. I can imagine the creator of the cosmos way up there, light years away, giving me words of peace and love all the down the string into my heart.

This is the day we are given, and we have been given everything we need to wake up today. Sometimes that knowledge makes me worry that I am going to squander this day. That I need to do something important to show that I am grateful for my time on earth. The old notions of worthiness, of striving to be good enough to deserve the love of God play on in the mind. I guess they are just part of the human consciousness, even though they are false. They get it backward. I don't have to try hard enough to earn grace, because it is a free gift. Once I let that mantle of forgiveness and mercy settle about me, then I can respond. Then, I am free. If I am obsessed with myself and being productive, being smart enough or any of the other "enoughs", the self absorption that results is a stumbling block. I can't see the small miracles all around me.  Like walking through the woods with a mirror before my face, I can't see the beauty laid at my feet.

The wisest people I have known have found a way around the what-about-me part of the human condition. Not that they are perfect, either. But they have found the power in surrender of the will. Stuart Scott found the peace that comes with knowing we are not charge of life, even of our own life. Peace that allowed him to give hope to millions of people by his example of courage.

Work is one of the gifts that we are given. Being productive is as necessary to our search for meaning as education. Finding the work that fulfills us as people can be a life-long journey, and it can also change tremendously as we age. Raising kids was my heart-growing work, but that job ends earlier than some. Only when the kids were up and out did I find that writing is important to me. It is a gift to me. When I remember that I have that gift to unwrap every day, I understand that I am not earning my time on earth. I am given that time. Free and clear. One day at time. My most important work is still loving the people I have been given to love. That job is never-ending, and since I will never get it just right, I turn to that mantle of grace to deal with my failures. Finding the courage to work hard at writing, being willing to share my insides with total strangers, that is an ongoing project as well.

Stuart Scott, I am grateful for the grace you modeling in living, and in dying. You make me want to make the most of this day, and I understand that I begin that effort with gratitude. And gratitude is the middle. And gratitude is the end.