Wag More, Bark Less

Prancy-watercolor

My mom’s old dog Prancy, snoozing in the afternoon shade.

Someone asked me last week how I keep it together and don’t lose my mind. We were talking about how crazy our jobs are, but most of us have pretty complicated lives, so this question has broader implications.

First of all, last week’s post demonstrates that I, like all of us, don’t always hold it together. Sometimes I fall apart. Last year, when I didn’t write, I didn’t feel completely whole either. This year has been better in that respect, I’ve found ways to pull myself back together to do things that heal and nurture me. It’s been incredibly hard in other ways, of course; my own struggles and triumphs feel pretty insignificant in light of all that is happening with our democracy. As much as it might help my mental health, I don’t want to hide from those hard realities, but now and then, it’s okay to take refuge inside a smaller circle of friends, pets, books, and whatever else gives you the ability to keep going. Last week, I retreated and worked on some more watercolors, which I find incredibly relaxing.

Then you get back to the fight, because you don’t want to let the “bloviating mendacious shitgibbon(s)” win. (I stole that from a George Takei tweet, cuz no way could I make up something better than that.) Plus, giving a damn about something outside ourselves that matters – other people, our environment, creating things – makes this life worth living. At least for me. As another George, author George Saunders (one of my faves), advised graduates in this 2013 convocation address:  “Err in the direction of kindness.”

I did just refer to certain people as shitgibbons (whatever those might actually be), so clearly, it’s not always easy to be kind. I’m pretty sure George S. would agree with this characterization, but still. The onslaught of meanness and hatred lately testifies to how hard kindness can be, and it’s tempting to want to jump into the fray of nastiness. But I don’t want to live like that. For me, it helps to remember I’m not the only one suffering. I was really struck by a poem I read recently by Mary Karr called “Carnegie Hall Rush Seats.” The poem’s subject is the cello in the orchestra:  “…like all of us, it aches, sending up moans from the pit we balance on the edge of.” As she says in the poem, “Be glad you are not hard wood yourself and can hear it.” I think if we do not let ourselves become hard, we can still hear each other. We can help pull each other back from the pit, and ourselves in the process.

Awareness is part of it, but there’s also action. This year, one of my goals was to put some energy into volunteering. I’ve been a supporter of Old Dog Haven for a few years now, ever since our dogs got old and I realized how hard it is to watch your loyal, live-life-to-the-fullest friends slow down and need help. And of course, the inevitable end, which we must stay present for as well, as hard as it may be. Old dogs deserve so much love and care, and ODH makes sure they get that. So I signed up to volunteer earlier this year, and have done a few small tasks here and there. On July 23, I will be helping out at the annual Walk for Old Dogs event. I’ve registered and have a sponsorship page set up in honor of Shadow and Tanner. Can’t wait to see all those old tails wagging!

These are just a couple of the tools I’ve found helpful. I have others I’ll share another time. Meanwhile, listen to whatever music lifts your spirits and moves your mind (your booty, too, if you like), read a good book or poem, do something nice for someone (and yourself!), and put the shitgibbons to shame.

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What’s Going On?

20170516_032059046_iOSI don’t know about you, but I’d really like to know the answer.

What’s going on with you?

What’s going on in the world right now?

I’m not totally sure, but I think this might be the most beat-down I’ve felt all year. My mind is in a bleak place. Case in point, a little story.

While we were eating lunch today – on the back deck, in the clear yellow sun – we saw a hummingbird sitting on the feeder, sipping some lunch by us. Another hummingbird came along, eyed the one drinking for a few seconds, and then lightly landed across from its feathered fellow. Aaaw, look at all of us, peacefully enjoying our meal together.

It didn’t last. If you’ve ever watched hummingbirds, you know they’re fiercely competitive, with each other, with other birds, even other animals. I’ve had them buzz me when I was weeding too close to their favorite flowers. They fear no one. They are also not into sharing.

The first bird immediately shot over to the new one, chasing him off the feeder and through the yard. We see this happen routinely, and often spot two or even three hummingbirds zipping through the yard and sometimes high above our heads, dive bombing each other.

We admire them and revel in watching them. But today, all I could think about was how much I was reminded of us, humans, right now, doing all we can to eliminate our “competition.” It feels like no matter where I turn, the news is about people being killed, harassed, terrorized, or deported. People in the Northwest picking up weapons to “protest” against each other. The threat of climate change and shitty (or just plain non-existent) health care will no doubt take their toll on most of us if we don’t all kill each other first. The only people who seem like they’ll escape this race to the bottom are the people currently in power.

I don’t have any answers, not today. If I can’t even enjoy one of nature’s most astonishing creatures without these kind of thoughts, I probably need to go meditate or something. But I felt I needed to say this, because I know I’m not alone. And I wanted you to know you’re not alone. Unlike hummingbirds, I think we do want to get along, help each other, see people be happy. Things just feel bewildering and intractable right now, and I think that’s a normal reaction to insanity. I’m not sure that makes me sane, but it’s a start.

Being in the Streets

Nothing much in the tank today. Or, in more climate-friendly terms, the batteries are depleted and the clouds are preventing much in the way of energy production. I’ve been crazy busy these past few weeks, and ran out of steam.

It was a really good weekend, with some work in the garden (peas have a semi-functional makeshift trellis), getting ready for and going to the climate march Saturday, and having dinner with friends that night. We hadn’t gotten together since New Year’s, and it was so good to catch up, scarf down pasta and take a walk in the last of the day’s light with a typical Seattle mist falling on our heads. We found a soccer ball in the cul de sac at the end of our block and ended up playing some convoluted form of soak-’em and soccer in the street until we were gasping from laughter. Ed, being on the opposing team from me and Tess, kept losing a shoe which I felt fully justified in kicking as far as I could from him. I think she and I still lost, although I’m not entirely sure.

As far as friends go, you can’t ask for much better. Aside from our parents and siblings, they’re the people we consider our family members. We’ve traveled together, gone camping together and have been trying to figure out for a long time how we could eventually all live together. Since among the six of us, only one has a grown daughter, it’s likely we’ll be having to find a way to care for ourselves as we grow old. I think about this a lot now, since of course I assumed Doug and I would be very self-sufficient well into our old age.

We’re barely self-sufficient now as it turns out, but we manage okay with help from these and other friends, and our parents who come take care of things around the house. Doug and I both have four parents, and while I’d never suggest divorce is good, we’ve had more than our share of parental love and support as a result. My stepdad Grant is 83 and still works on our cars. Talk about spoiled.

climate-march-D&G

Doug and Grant, the dynamic duo

Speaking of whom, he marched with us on Saturday! He has grand kids and great-grand kids, and he wasn’t the only grandparent there trying to do something to help keep our planet a decent place for them to live in the future. He’s really frustrated and worried and just wanted to be out there in the streets to protest with like-minded people. I felt really honored to be out marching with him.

climate-march-kidsWe arrived early to the pre-march gathering at Occidental Park and were right in the middle of the action when things got started with drummers, a marching band, and a not-coal train powered by people wearing wind-turbines on their backs. Lots of great creativity, as always. I really loved the person wearing a bee-keeping outfit, with paper bees attached to her by springs so they bobbed all around her head. Her sign said “Honey Makers Not Money Makers.”

A major element of the climate change movement is for a just transition away from our oil-driven economy, in recognition of how a changing climate will impact some communities more than others. And that the solutions should – and can! – improve our lives, with green energy jobs, cleaner air and water, walkable communities with healthy local food, and so much more. There is no reason for polluting pipelines to go through native peoples’ lands if we move to solar and wind power instead. There’s no reason to open our national parks up to gas and coal exploration either. None of these things is needed, but they make huge profits for someone, so of course they get pushed.

climate-march-PFTP

This kid has major courage and conviction

At the end of the march, we rallied at Westlake Park and heard a bunch of great speakers, including two kids from the youth-led organization Plant for the Planet. Their goal is to plant a billion trees (!) around the world. These kids are amazingly well-spoken and motivated, and they aren’t afraid to call out grown-ups like us for not doing more. They’re taking the actions they can, and reminded us that we can vote. Ahem.

So yeah, we have work to do, and not just in the streets. But while we’re on that topic, today is the beginning of the annual Bike Everywhere month (read my 2015 post here). It’s one of my favorite ways to help the planet and stay healthy. Plus, we have some actual sun in the forecast, hallelujah! I feel more energetic already. Happy May everyone!

 

 

Not Enough Sign

BLM-marchI put on my marching uniform and hit protest number three yesterday on the year, for Black Lives Matter. Could have been four, but I didn’t attend the Tax March in the morning, even though I obviously support the sentiment. Why hasn’t 45 released his taxes yet? It’s appalling. Many of the Tax March folks showed up for BLM though, so it was a good size march, around 7,000 people. The Facebook RSVPs numbered 18,000 so I guess a bunch of people decided not to come, which is disappointing. The organizer lamented the lower than expected turnout during the rally, but since we were the ones who showed up, not sure how helpful that was. (FYI, I did read on the event’s FB page that some black people in Seattle didn’t support this march because of the organizer; I don’t know much about that, so will need to learn more).

My hubby got to go with me to this one, having had to miss the Womxn’s March and the Immigrant & Refugee rally because he was sick or not up to handling the crowds. It made me really happy to have him there. I missed my other partners in resistance, but CG was away for Easter weekend and the others were working. Peg Cheng and her husband were there, but of course, we never saw each other! Maybe next time, since we know there will no doubt be a next time.

Two things hit me right away when we got there. First, there were WAY more cops than at the Womxn’s March, for way less people. I suppose they thought more people were coming, but even if all the RSVPs had shown, it would still not have been anywhere near the volume of the Womxn’s March. A giant pink sea of pussy hats must be less intimidating than a little pond of black beanies.

The second thing was there were no porta-potties. I don’t know if this was due to a lack of funding or planning, but it was a bummer. I hope there will be some for the People’s Climate march in two weeks, or my mum will be very unhappy.

BLM-names

Remember their names.

You can’t really talk about protests without talking about signs. I spent days thinking about what I wanted to put on one, but in the end, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to say. There’s too much to say to put on one sign. The theme of this march was to tie into the tax one, in light of the economic issues and disparities faced by black Americans, and especially in Seattle where our sales & real estate tax rates unfairly burden lower income and people of color. But Black Lives Matter is both more specific, to stop police shootings of unarmed black people, and broader, drawing attention to educational disparities, lack of affordable housing, environmental (in)justice, discrimination in the judicial and penal system, and so many other things that no sign could possibly capture it all. When you start layering in issues of intersectionality (i.e., gender, LGBT, disability, class, etc.) you might as well create a flip board. I may do just that at the rate we’re going.

BLM-sign1Of course, I saw signs I liked, like the one pictured here, which captures one reason why I wanted to be at the march, even though it’s only one tiny effort to dismantle a system that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I saw something online while I was thinking about sign possibilities – how instead of a wall, we should build ourselves a giant mirror, and look at ourselves, what we’ve become. If a mirror could also show us the past, perhaps we could accept what (or more accurately, WHO) built so much of this country’s wealth and prosperity, and figure out what kind of country we want to be moving forward. As white people, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our role in an unfair system that we feel like we didn’t create, but still benefit from. Looking in the mirror and listening to black peoples’ experiences is the only way we can start to fix things. Racism is hard to talk about, but if you don’t start with that basic premise, it’s a lot harder.

Oh, and in case you missed it (I haven’t really paid that much attention to it myself), lots of states are trying to pass laws to curb protests and make punishments more severe, including here in Washington. Because it’s “economic terrorism.” Which is both laughable and infuriating, given we have a President who refuses to be transparent about where his money comes from and if he’s paid any taxes while the rest of us spend the next two days getting our taxes done on time. If you like irony, it’s a good time to be alive.

Failure to Launch

Jeanie & Carl

My cousin & I showing our cards. It was almost the 80’s…

Two weeks now, two posts I’ve worked diligently on, only to get scuttled (well, I didn’t sink them, I just didn’t get them to their destination). I don’t know why, they just didn’t flow. One didn’t go anywhere, and the other one went somewhere but was lurchy. I think maybe I was trying to put too many ideas together and I ended up with a frankenpost. I felt like I was close to wrapping one up last night, when our internet went out for several hours, and today, I just wasn’t feeling it.

It’s also been really hard to focus on my own small concerns, given all the news lately. It was making hubby so anxious he finally had to stop reading it every day. I think there are quite a few people in the same boat. Real Change paper had an article recently called “Mental Wrecking Ball” about how area therapists are seeing so many patients who are traumatized by the President’s policies and the rift the election caused in relationships. I was looking for a therapist early in the year and it took me a while to find one who had any availability.

The good news is that I have been writing. Pretty much every day, which is great. I have noticed though that as the days get longer, my hands want to be in the dirt. Our weather has been pretty uncooperative this spring, so I haven’t had too much temptation yet to be outside instead of at the keyboard, but I can still feel that pull to get out there. Even if it means my hands cramp up from the cold.

Other than the usual homebody stuff, I’m looking forward to several events that I can hopefully use as fodder for writing – this weekend the Black Lives Matter march (got my black beanie!), then seeing James Osborne read from his book “Will Your Way Back” at the library, followed by Lidia Yuknavitch reading from her new book “The Book of Joan” and lastly getting up at crazy o’clock next Friday for Daybreaker in honor of the one year anniversary of Prince’s passing (#RIPPrince). It’s a pre-work dance party, starting off with yoga for an hour, then two hours of shaking your groove thing. In 80’s garb, of course. CANNOT wait.

To close out April, I’ll be marching with my parents and hubby in the People’s Climate march. With two more marches in one month, maybe my new sign will just read “Too Many Issues, Not Enough Sign.” In my research, one of my favorites was “Fossil Fuels are Ancient History.” Clever, no? Speaking of which [word nerd alert] – at the beginning of this post I used the word scuttle. Aside from the deliberate sinking of one’s ship, it also meant a pail especially used for carrying coal. And now that we’ve come full circle, I’m going to actually launch this one!

Be well everyone, keeping dancing and keep resisting.

 

 

Emerging from the Bardo

MonteVerde-butterfly

Taken in my previous life while visiting Costa Rica.

This is a meditation on a book I haven’t read yet. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out how that works.

A week or so ago, I went to Town Hall with the NWCs to hear George Saunders talk about and read from his new novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo.” I told M that I felt like a fangurl, I was so excited to hear Saunders, even though I’ve read a total of two of his stories (10th of December and The Falls). Both stories made huge impressions on me – so much humanity is evident in his way of capturing the thoughts of his characters, a rare and often funny empathy on display. In February, I read a New Yorker article about the new book and immediately knew I had to read it. So, when M found out he was coming to town, we all jumped at the chance to go. Our three tickets included two signed copies of the book, which I will be reading as soon as I can, given my usual embroilment in several books at once (slowly digesting Charles Johnson’s “The Way of the Writer,” commuting my way through “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and just picked up a collection of James Baldwin’s writings yesterday at the library). I am running out of time to achieve my life goal to read all the books!

On the off chance I don’t attain this lofty peak, I will have to hope that my bardo is filled with books and I can stay there for a while. Oh, if you haven’t looked up bardo yet – it’s a space (or place?) in Tibetan Buddhism between death and your next life. A sort of limbo land.

At dinner before the lecture, we spent some time talking about the intriguing concept of the bardo. Even though it’s a post-death phenomenon, metaphorically we felt that it could be about any period of limbo. When you don’t move forward and aren’t sure you ever will. I feel like I spent three years in the bardo, going through the shock, anger and grief of Doug’s stroke. I’d have to learn more and maybe there’s not even an answer to how one leaves the bardo, but I feel like I have emerged from this in-between place. Which isn’t to say I’m “over it” now, it’s not the kind of thing you ever really get over, but I feel I’ve reached a point where I am ready to find out what’s next. This next life has writing, reading, resisting, joining with like-minded people to work for racial equity, working with Doug to make a new plan for the rest of our lives together. So I am now really thinking of the bardo as a chrysalis, because you emerge with your old self still there but in a new form, sipping nectar instead of munching on green leaves.

Getting back to the book, if Lincoln is in the bardo, he must be dead, right? Not really. It’s his son Willy who is dead and in the cemetery, where Lincoln visits him. Lincoln’s actions and thoughts are narrated by a bevy of ghosts, interspersed with historical snippets that provide snapshots of the ongoing Civil War. Given this unusual story telling device, the live reading was unlike anything I’ve seen for a novel before, a bit like watching a scene from a play involving five people (in the section we heard). It was exciting to see a reading as unique and creative as the book itself seems to be. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more things to say once I read it.

Before and after the reading, Saunders talked about this first novel and his life as a writer (and the many odd jobs he did before that). If I was a fangurl before seeing him, I’m now completely enamored. He’s down to earth, funny, creative, just like his writing, which he talks about as this fun thing he gets to do, as play. Even though I love to write, I have a hard time grasping this idea, but he made it seem so possible. What if writing could just be a room full of all your favorite things to tinker with?

Along those lines – and this is going to sound ridiculous, since it is called fiction after all – although I love playing with words, I tend to get very dull and unimaginative when trying to write anything fictional. After reading The Falls, I had this sudden realization that if you want to put unconventional, funny, trippy, even inaccurate words into your characters’ mouths (or minds), you can just DO that. They can say all the wacky stuff you want them to, you aren’t bound by any rules. I’ve always been a rule follower, in life and in grammar, and this was just such a liberating moment. Even the beloved NWCs gave me astonished chortles at that confession, so I won’t hold it against you if you are laughing right now.

Saunders (who wrote for the New Yorker in 2016 while reporting on Trump rallies) wrapped up the evening with a Trump resistance poem he wrote in Seussian style (this link goes to the DC reading, which I think is slightly different from what we heard, but it will give you the idea). It starts out with him answering a question on the importance of art and artists in these politically challenging times. Perhaps this period of our country’s history is another bardo, and we will all emerge from it transformed, for the better one can only hope. More than hope – continue to work toward.

Where in the World I Was

People start blogs, keep at them for a while, then drop them. I swore I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be the cliché. But here we are. And I probably should have known it would happen, given my general habit of starting things but not finishing them. Like this bleeping rug that was hatched (can rugs hatch? why not?) in 2014.

Rug in the making

The hundreds of recycled clothing items that are becoming a rug.

I will finish it this year, even if I have to work on it in the sweltering heat of August.

In our post-stroke life, there is no shortage of excuses for not doing the things we should do – exercising, eating well, reading instead of watching TV – but in the end, they’re still just excuses. 2016 was a year I’d rather forget, but like every day of every year, there are consequences for our choices. I chose to focus on our own tiny sphere, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that life threw a bunch more challenges our way and I focused on those in order to maintain my sanity. It was all I felt I had control over, and even then, it wasn’t really in my control. Doug still has epilepsy and takes two meds to keep seizures at bay. Both our dogs still passed away last year.

Meanwhile, our democracy was in the process of driving itself right to the edge of the cliff, and we’re now teetering. Given my inability (or unwillingness) to take action to help prevent that, I’ve pledged to focus on helping us pull back, or at the very least, get the vulnerable passengers out of the damn vehicle. I’ve thought about this a lot, because putting energy into resisting all that’s going on right now is hard – not just for me, but for so many of my family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors, and at times it feels daunting when I have a lot on my plate already.

It would be easy for me to go the victim mentality (which I have done at times, trust me), and just fall right into the trap of believing that Doug and I have paid our dues, so we’re off the hook. But the reality is, we’ve weathered our own personal tragedy so well because of our privilege. Our good jobs and medical insurance. Our families with means to help us. The flexibility in our schedules to focus on therapy and healing. Not everyone has these “luxuries,” which shouldn’t be thought of as luxuries at all. Basic humanity. Something that we should be able to provide in this country. Having this kind of privilege is a gift and shouldn’t be squandered.

So what the hell am I doing writing, NOW? Shouldn’t I be making phone calls to my representatives? Or volunteering time to organizations that help refugees, or protecting the environment? Yes, and.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the role of writers and artists during times like these, as well as on hope and activism. The resounding message is that action and words are both necessary.

Here’s a quote by James Baldwin that I read today (I’m currently obsessed with his writings; items in bold are my emphasis):

The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people. He could have done this only through love — by knowing, which is not the same thing as understanding, that whatever was happening to anyone was happening to him. It is said that his time was easier than ours, but I doubt it — no time can be easy if one is living through it. I think it is simply that he walked his streets and saw them, and tried not to lie about what he saw: his public streets and his private streets, which are always so mysteriously and inexorably connected; but he trusted that connection. And, though I, and many of us, have bitterly bewailed (and will again) the lot of an American writer — to be part of a people who have ears to hear and hear not, who have eyes to see and see not — I am sure that Shakespeare did the same. Only, he saw, as I think we must, that the people who produce the poet are not responsible to him: he is responsible to them.

That is why he is called a poet. And his responsibility, which is also his joy and his strength and his life, is to defeat all labels and complicate all battles by insisting on the human riddle, to bear witness, as long as breath is in him, to that mighty, unnameable, transfiguring force which lives in the soul of man, and to aspire to do his work so well that when the breath has left him, the people — all people! — who search in the rubble for a sign or a witness will be able to find him there.

I’ll never be Shakespeare or Baldwin, of course, but while I may write for myself, more importantly, I will try to find the courage to bear witness while I do that. And because you never know what your words might do for someone else. My writing inspiration this week is thanks to the wonderful writer and writing coach Peg Cheng (@pegcheng), whose blog I love and who tweeted me after reading this poor neglected blog. Thank you Peg, for the encouragement and inspiration.