Who are you really?

It appears a move is in my future. I’ve reached the top of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher list in my county and this time it’s portable: I can live anywhere in the United States I wish. I’ve been very very good at following the rules and now I can be rewarded. I don’t have to live in low-income housing, or a senior ghetto, or stay at what society views as the bottom of the pond.

So, I find myself going through my things. I’ve learned to live on and with so little, everything seems rather extraneous; over-the-top. Things I used to believe defined me — diaries, manuscripts, pictures, poetry; even clothes, favorite books, and decorative items — I’ve learned do not. This lesson was brought home to me last year during the fires that raged through Oregon, when we were on high evacuation status. When it came right down to it, I knew I could leave all those defining “things” behind, these records of the stories about myself.

As it happened, I did not have to evacuate. Increasing accessibility issues opened the door to living in a new place, and here I am — still surrounded by boxes and shelves of my life story. With all those cobwebs of memory and intertwining ties that bind, these relics of my past have been up to now the most difficult to sort through. That is why they’ve accompanied me back and forth across the Atlantic, and have lived in other people’s basements and garages and scattered storage units in several states. I felt they defined me. I needed them to prove to myself and others that I’ve had a life. Really, I have!

What I realized with a shock today is that what I’m required to keep if I’m to live in the United States and its unreal reality has absolutely zero to do with who I am: bank records, medical receipts, driver’s license, passport, five years’ rental history, birth certificate, Social Security card. And, most shocking of all to me, my credit record. How on earth did a credit score become a defining-one-as-a-good-human benchmark? Really, think about it!

We are not our documents. We are not, despite our agonies over it and the constant checking of websites to “know where we stand,” our credit score. We are not our birth cert, or marriage cert, or divorce decree, or bank balance. We are not our Covid vaccine status, or passport, or criminal record, or record of church attendance. For one thing, identity theft (what a crazy idea! as if we can be stolen!) thrives on duplicating, stealing, and fabricating these various records. Indeed, if there were no records, what would they steal at all?

If I’m to exist in this current reality, though, I must keep all those things that most definitely do not define me, for there are still so many people who believe they do. It’s enough, for now, to know that these “records” are not who I am — really.

Trash Talk

3 a.m. The hour when body clocks switch from nighttime to daytime. The hour when our thoughts, if we’re aware of them, are weighty ones.

I rose and glanced out the window. Dismay! My trash bin looked like a dark cone with a triple scoop of darker ice cream perched not in, but on it. A similar thing had happened last week and caused the lid to come off when the trash guys came. They gave me a new one for free, but the next time it comes out of my pocket.

[Background: Our housing authority has strict rules about trash, codified in our leases, that we do not use another’s bin. (Has there bin too much trouble over it in the past?) The reality is that tenants do, forced to clandestine forays to the various bins, hoping that the curtain twitchers (every neighborhood has them, those who wait and watch for inevitable lease infractions) have closed their eyes for a few moments. I rarely have much trash, so mine has been a favorite bin. I embraced Reality and gave permission for my bin to be used, right there in front of god and everyone, in broad daylight. I did ask them (a) please bag the trash (early on, it had not) and (b) make SURE the lid can be closed. Them’s the rules, and I see good reason for them. Everyone heard the “yes” but did not hear my caveats. That’s Reality, too.]

On the heels of the dismay, I was glad I’d caught that bin with its lid down, and early enough to prevent its embarrassment when the collectors came in a few hours. Out I went in my jammies to see could I get that bag inside the bin.

Ah, but it was jammed tightly into the top three inches of bin. I laughed (silently). I couldn’t help but think of me trying to get myself into jeans several sizes too small. So tight, the zipper was unusable and I would just tuck the fabric back into a V. No danger of them falling off, for sure. Talk about muffin top!

I huffed and I puffed and managed to at least get the bag out of the bin. Never good at geometry, even I could tell that bag was never, ever going to fit. What had the neighbor been thinking? Tomorrow…no, actually, later today…I would gently but firmly let them know it was unacceptable to abuse my bin in that way. Wait…I have no voice, and no one’s going to want to read six chalkboards’ worth of my thoughts on the matter. Hmmm…

And then mind’s eye saw the neighbor who’s moving in a few days, going back to the never-ending tidying after her little children and baby are in bed. Only one trash bag left, she sees, and still so much to go in it. Wiping tears away, she fights exhaustion and continues to fill the bag. Jen will let me use her bin, she remembers. When she’s put all she can into the bag, it’s too heavy to lift. Hon, she says to her husband, will you bring this down to Jen’s place. And this gentle giant, who knows instantly that the bag will not fit but cannot bear to see his beloved in tears, says Yes. He brings the bag over, he stuffs it in as best he can, says a little prayer that the top-heavy bin will not fall over before the trash men come. For he and his wife–and indeed, all my neighbors–are kind-hearted, generous people who wish me no ill will.

As I drag the bag to a place where if the neighbors look out their windows, they will not see I have taken it, I remember all the times I moved and left boxes (of what I thought were treasures) behind. I remember leaving Ireland in 2004, dear friends helping me throw things into boxes for shipment and other things–bags and bags of them–into heavy-duty trash bags like the one I was holding now, leaving them (with embarrassment, with chagrin) for the landlord to take away and it was not even his job. And it was not free, yet he returned my full deposit. In cash, so I’d have it for my trip. I so underestimated the size of my stuff and what it would take to contain it, I missed my own going away party in Dublin.

And I thought of all the times my family and children and friends kept boxes for me. Out of love for me did they do this, not for what was in those boxes. I would sincerely and honestly believe I’d be back soon for what I thought were treasures. Days turned into weeks turned into years before I realized, here at 3 a.m. on a cool starry night in south-central Oregon, how profoundly kindly I’ve been treated over the years. And my heart ached and I wept and I wanted to ask forgiveness of my son, my daughters, my sisters, my brother, my friends, for my taking advantage, however unwittingly, of their kind natures.

And I thought, too, how we have this small bin of time here and we try to stuff too many things in it, thereby not appreciating any of it individually. How we buy all these trinkets and gadgets in the hope they will fill our holes and make us happy, but they end up just trash in the end. We treat trash like people and forget that real treasures (like people) cannot be bought, sold, or even thrown away.

All this I thought in the wee hours Friday morning. Later, I sat where no one could see what I was doing and joyfully, mindfully rebagged the trash. (It fit in my bin after all. Next week it will be taken away.)

What goes around, comes around, truly. It’s my turn for the trash.

Do that to me one more time

My first Covid isolation a year ago was such a time of profound awakening that I must have asked the Universe for another dose, for here I am — today, the 15th of April 2021 — in Covid isolation again. Yet, I also find myself in a state of gratitude and delight, just as I did last year.

Indeed, words — those structures I have studied and loved all my life — appear now as divisions of what is, in my experience, a oneness of all that is and ever could be; an eternal Now. My words at best confuse, and at worst alienate all but those who have experienced this awakening. And they who know this feeling of absolute acceptance and love of what is, don’t need me to tell them about it. It is at once unable to be shared, yet freely available to all.

Life has become even more simple than last year. My job is still to notice how everything happens FOR me, not TO me, but there’s something else I’ve discovered. If I’m not able to do something — like speak, or walk — I’m being spared. For example, this bout of Covid leaves me exhausted with the slightest effort. (And I thought MS was fatiguing? Yikes.) I wondered who would take care of my little garden, for I knew if it was meant to be taken care of, someone would arrive to do it. Sure enough, my neighbors offered. They’re doing the watering and everything, and I get to view it from my living room window.

If you want to experience a life where beauty reigns and you feel like the wealthiest person in the world, you don’t need me to show you how (even if I could). I have no special skills whatsoever, and I’m no more “lucky” than anyone else. I found out I’m not a teacher at all; I am an eternal student. You are my teachers. If you enter my life, I will just listen (benefit of having no voice!). I don’t want to change you, but I remember when I did; when I thought I knew best. I too have felt “hard done by,” whether by disease, unemployment, abuse, or beliefs that I didn’t have or was not enough—and the agonizing emotions those thoughts triggered. I believed my thoughts for 60+ years and I got really good at finding the “proof” I needed to support them. Learning to undo my thinking took but a fraction of that time. I now question every thought that moves me from a place of joy, every day.

If you ask, I’ll gladly do what I can to help you achieve clarity of thought. Nothing you could say would shock, disgust, or change my love for you in any way. Know, though, that you already have the power to change your perspective and live a contented life. We all do.

Thank you for being in my life!

Best year…EVER

It’s true: 2020, for me, was the best year ever.

How can I possibly say that? Am I on drugs? (No) Did I spend the year on a different planet? (No. Well, not technically. Read on, Macduff…)

This is the year it all became clear. It was the perfect year to test my new-found ability to maintain inner peace and happiness, what with fires, floods, political shenanigans and betrayals, death, separation from loved ones, new (and old) health issues, racism and inequalities galore.

The inner peace and near-constant joy I experience now become more extraordinary in light of my 50+ years of depression. For more than fifty years, I experienced suicidal thoughts: my first suicide attempt was at age 14. The most serious attempt, which landed me in a psych ICU in 1991, taught me to never EVER let health professionals know how depressed I was, and make sure I succeeded the next time. For I was sure there would be a next time. I learned to bring myself back from the brink, though, by such methods as planning a trip to Ireland (I believed I was happiest there), or moving (to Ireland or, if I couldn’t afford it, to somewhere else), and finally by telling myself I had to clear out and organize all my papers and things so my kids wouldn’t have to do it. (That, actually, was the most successful deterrent. You have no idea how much I hated paperwork.)

Then, in 2020 — and thanks to COVID isolation — I saw the light. At first daily, then hourly, then minute by minute, I deeply learned these truths: that happiness has nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do with money, health, religion (or lack thereof), “life purpose” or even family and friends. It has NOTHING to do with where I live, be it the street or a mansion, or what the weather is like, or — and this was a very big one for me — how much I got “done.” It has NOTHING to do with how much education I have (indeed, I wonder if higher education got in the way of my learning these truths sooner), or where a person is on the ladder of success (there is no ladder; it is a fiction), if you’re crippled or an Olympic athlete, if you clean toilets for a living or run a Fortune 500 company.

As incredible as it may sound, I see no problems in the world anymore, for my world is what’s right in front of me and its nature reflects my thoughts and perceptions. If I experience any anxiety, frustration, or sadness, I know it is because I’m believing a thought that’s untrue for me, and I question it. I find it rather funny that for so many years I wrote articles and blog posts and whatnot about my life’s journey, exhorting others to try this method or that guru. Now that I’ve actually found peace and happiness, I can offer no lessons or instruction, hence the paucity of blog posts this past year. I cannot give you peace of mind: only you can do that.

Peace in your time is possible. It’s not “out there,” it’s within. It’s accessible to all, free of charge.

May 2021 be your best year ever.

Brave in a New World

It’s been a time of profound awakening for me, this Covid “isolation.” So much so, that I find it impossible to describe the constant state of gratitude and delight in which I find myself. I’m brave in this New World.

Indeed, words — those structures I have studied and loved all my life — appear now as divisions of what is, in my experience, a oneness of all that is and ever could be; an eternal Now. My words at best confuse, and at worst alienate all but those who have experienced this awakening. And they who know this feeling of absolute acceptance and love of what is, don’t need me to tell them about it. It is at once unable to be shared, yet freely available to all.

Life is so very simple: my job is to notice how everything, but everything that happens, happens FOR me, not TO me. I could opt to record these noticings for posterity in this blog or in articles, but I prefer to go walkabout and revel in awareness. A new friend here in Reedsport said I was a beacon, drawing others into a circle of light. I love that! What’s funny is, I’d met him several times months ago, but he didn’t remember those meetings. I’m radiating at a different frequency these days, I guess.

If you want to experience beautiful clarity and bravery, you don’t need me. I am not a teacher; I am a student. You are my teachers. When you enter my life now, I mostly listen instead of talk. (I know! Hard to believe, eh?) I want to hear your story, and I don’t want to change one bit of it. I’ve been there, whether it’s disease, depression, or the belief that I don’t have or am not enough. I remember how it feels so true and real, and how agonizing it can be. I believed my thoughts for 65 years and I got really good at it. Undoing that thinking, though, took but a fraction of that time.

If you want my help, please ask. I’ll gladly do what I can because I love you, but know that you totally have the power yourself. We all do.

Where there’s smoke…

This morning I finally had the opportunity to remind my neighbor not to smoke when he sits outside his front door because it goes straight up to my living room. He knows the rules well enough; he was just trying to get away with it a bit longer. (I’d been in Portland for several weeks, and he made the most of it.) I had to come within a few feet of him to relay the message and he became agitated. “We’re supposed to maintain distance!” he said. I said, “Of course you’re right,” adding under my breath, “I’m not that worried though.”

As I walked up the path to my patio, I wondered why I wasn’t worried. I should be! His cigarette smoke (and that of residents much further away) was his breath for heaven’s sake. All those germs! I live in a place full of vulnerable seniors with no means of escape. Alcohol-tinged smoke seeps through the walls and my apartment reeks when the residents, totally against the rules, take refuge from the pouring rains of Reedsport to puff away inside their homes. While I hate the smell, I can see how the stress of this pandemic has led even people who’ve been off cigarettes for years to start again, let alone the at-risk population with whom I share air.

That’s when it hit me. I’d forgotten my science in the fog of fear surrounding us all: the air we have is the only air there is. There’s no giant source of fresh air outside our world we can pump in. We’re breathing the same stuff as Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Hitler for that matter — only ours is much dirtier. We’ve been systematically, carelessly, selfishly destroying it in the name of “progress” for centuries. We’ve conveniently forgotten that this air is all we’ve got.

It’s not just stinky cigarette smoke that alerts us to what’s in the air. When I was looking for house-share accommodation, I noted some potential roomies allowed “no essential oils.” Whaaaa??! I laughed at that then, but now I can see their point. It’s as pervasive as the smell of cinnamon buns. Or farts, for that matter. A silent, violent one can be detected in church, let alone an elevator!

COVID-19 doesn’t smell like freshly baked pizza, unfortunately, nor do some of the world’s most dangerous gases, pollutions, and infections: carbon monoxide, air pollution like that in Salt Lake City, Ebola, AIDS/HIV. And while there’s no way to smell the danger, we know it’s here because people have died from it. Like the canaries of old used in the coal mines, the victims of COVID-19 have made the ultimate sacrifice for our insatiable consumerism.

Their deaths need not have been in vain. Already the positive effects of early containment policies are clearing the airways and circulatory systems of our ailing, suffocating planet. Yes, millions are out of work and economies have ground to a halt, but now we have a chance to do things differently. Humans are nothing if not creative and resourceful — especially when it comes to their survival — once fear has been dispelled.

Economic survival is not the same as physical survival: that myth must die so we can live. Investments do not, hate to tell ya, “grow.” People do. We’ve treated money as if it were alive for so long, we’ve forgotten that it isn’t. It’s a tool and nothing more.

Our real wealth lies within, with the knowledge that we’re all on this earth-ship together and linked inextricably by the air we breathe. I get that people want to do something about the virus, but “social distancing” (there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is not the answer. We’ve been breathing the same air — stewing in our own unhealthy juices, one might say — for years. We’ve gotten so used to it, we don’t notice. Fact is though, folks, our shit does stink. No one of us is stink-less. We might not get the coronavirus, but we are nonetheless infected with false beliefs, one of them being that money can save us.

COVID-19 gives us the perfect opportunity to clean up our act. Since we’ve all either been exposed or will be soon enough, let’s stop avoiding each other and instead pool our resources and talents. There is no need to fear; it’s already here. And look at you! You’re reading this article. You’re surviving quite well, if you care to notice. You’ve got this.

We need clean air, folks. This isn’t a Chinese problem, or a Spanish problem, or even a medical problem. It’s our thinking that’s the problem: thinking that what we do individually is not affecting anyone else; thinking that economics will save us when it’s the very thing that caused the infections in the first place.

Do we really need governments to force us to take measures to protect ourselves? How much better to choose to consume less, to curtail our driving, to forgo the holiday that requires air travel. We can act like adults and stop behaving like spoiled children, with no thought for anyone but ourselves.

I’m so grateful for that smoking neighbor of mine, for he triggered the factoid from my fifth-grade science class: this is the only air we’ve got. We can’t run from it; we can’t hide. Not for long, anyway. It’s all around us, rich and poor alike. And instead of succumbing to the air of fear surrounding us, we can rejoice that we have another chance to save our world. We can let our innate compassion spill out to help our neighbors instead of shun them. With fear out of the way, our creativity and ingenuity will shine and new ways to move forward into a kinder, more inclusive world will emerge.

We can come out of this smelling like roses. It’s up to us.

Trailing Clouds of Story Do We Come

Two friends recently received DNA test results that floored them: the stories they’d lived with for fifty-plus years were lies. Their grief increased when they learned everyone else in the family had known all along and kept the secret from them. Both have difficulty now trusting friends and family. What else might they be hiding?

What I shared with both friends is that they are not their stories. I and others love them for who they are: kind, witty, generous, creative, easygoing, intelligent. They would express these traits no matter where or to whom they were born.

I speak from experience. You see, I gave up a child for adoption in 1975, and she found me in 2018, through a cousin who’d had DNA testing. When we had our first encounter via FaceTime just before Mother’s Day, what struck me like a cannonball in the chest was that she was exactly how she would have been had I kept her myself. Yes, she looked like my mother (who died in 1994) and me, but what startled me most were her voice timbre…her sense of humor…her intelligence…her mannerisms…even the way she sang and danced with her children. Regardless of the back story, she was just her beautiful self.

Right after the conversation, I felt horror: I wouldn’t have needed to give her up! Rage at the lies told us and grief for the lost years nearly overwhelmed me. Love proved stronger than both grief and pride, thankfully, and now our whole family enjoys her presence.

Love won when it dawned on me we are not our stories—no matter how long we’ve believed in and cherished them. We’re born into our stories, and they’re heavily edited ones at that. Caregivers tell tales they believe are in our best interest. While time may prove those stories to have been more for their own interests doesn’t matter; people do their best at any given moment. Since most humans operate out of fear, however, it’s no wonder we rarely get the truth.

And that’s my point: no story is “true,” as in objective truth. Our vision and hearing are selective. “Truth” derives solely from our perceptions, which are filtered through our personal priority lens. Priorities change, and suddenly we discover the time for confessing has passed. We cross our fingers and hope to die with the secret unspoken.

Stories have this nasty habit of reincarnating, though. Just when we think it’s safe to look in that closet, out tumbles a skeleton, and the coverups restart. DNA testing has caused a sharp rise in de-closeted skeletons, has it not?

If it weren’t for skeletons, we’d have far fewer stories. As audience, we always know more than the poor protagonist: If it’s a quest, we know the hero will find their Grail. If it’s a mystery, we know someone will be found guilty of the crime. But when it’s non-genre, we don’t quite know what’s going to happen. We identify with the protagonist and hope for a happy ending.

What, then, is the difference between “real life” and stories about “real life”? Nothing. Nothing at all. We think there’s a difference, but it’s just that in one we’re the audience, and in the other, a character.

We enter life mid-narrative, our role already decided. The original script has been altered beyond recognition, yet everyone keeps playing their part, however unsuitable. We’re unaware we can change roles at any time; we don’t have to follow the script. We can scrap it altogether and start fresh.

After my daughter found me, I grieved for a time. Losing stories can feel exactly like losing a precious human or pet. Then, determined to suffer no more, I gave thanks for every single past experience and person I’d blamed for my nearly half-century of suffering. Not forgiveness: gratitude. There is nothing to forgive if everyone is, as I believe, doing the best they can. They’ve got their burden of untrue stories, too. Forgiving implies that my perception of events is more true than others’. It’s not. I don’t need apologies, nor do I extend them anymore. It’s simply not necessary.

Gratitude: that’s the key. After mentally thanking every event and person for the gift they’d given, I discovered I loved myself. For the first time in sixty-odd years, I love myself! Talk about miracles… but if I hadn’t had those experiences… if I hadn’t believed the stories… I would not be the person I am today. And I love me! A strange paradox: though we are not our stories, our stories act as a filter of our reality. We then make decisions based solely on what comes through that filter.

What we don’t realize is that no two filters are alike; no two humans view events in exactly the same way. Embracing this truth fosters compassion, and compassion leads to gratitude. I’ve chosen to view everything that comes my way as a gift—the best ones often arrive in shit-brown wrapping paper, BTW—and I give thanks for it. It not only brings me daily contentment, it obviates the need to retread the path of suffering.

Stay in your painful story if you choose. You’ll have a lot of company there, for we’ve long been told that suffering is mandatory, and life is hard and unfair. Those are lies, too. I no longer believe them for one second. Grieve your loss, yes; but know that suffering—the clinging to pain long past its usefulness—is optional.

We’ve all been lied to. We’ve all experienced betrayal. But if we move our mind’s eye, we will also see we had love, sunny days, and starry starry nights. When you filter life through gratitude instead of old stories, you’ll be astounded. Everything you ever needed or wanted sits there, just waiting for you to notice. Notice. Give thanks. Then go ahead—open your Present.

This article will appear in the Milwaukie-based arts and culture magazine 99E in 2020.

This IS My Normal

Wheelchair users get such questions by caring people as, “What happened?” or the more blunt, “What’s wrong with you?” When I hear those questions, I look around to see who they’re talking to, and then realize they’re talking to me. “Oh!” I say. “There’s nothing wrong with me. This is my normal.” They blink a few times, murmur “Oh…okay” and leave, perplexed.

People assume that if you’re in a wheelchair, there’s something wrong with you. Indeed, I believe many wheelchair users also believe there’s something wrong with them. They haven’t yet realized that their wheelchair is the most natural, practical, and helpful thing in the world—at least right now. Believing that you shouldn’t be in a wheelchair when in fact you are, causes deep suffering. I choose not to suffer in that way anymore.

We use words whose meanings we believe we share: honest, fair, or even our friend, normal. But the truth is, we do not share these meanings; we do, instead, create definitions based on our perceptions.

Let’s alter our perception of the term “perfect.” Doesn’t perfect mean that something or someone cannot get or be better than it is? In this moment, can you or I be different than we are? The key is: in this moment. And I hate to break it to you, but we only have this moment. We may choose to alter our behavior in the next moment, or the one after that, but there is no way in this moment to change what’s happening. By definition, it’s perfect. We confuse perfect with ideal. Ideals, when we feel we’re not meeting them, make us feel not-good-enough in that moment and thus rob us of our greatest gift: the present.

To believe that we are not “normal” also robs us of the present. It’s saying to the universe or your Higher Power: “Not good enough. I don’t want this present. Give me another one.” Don’t you hate hearing that after you’ve spent big money on the perfect gift? Yet many of us do this day in, day out.

Let’s get back to normal. We have the perception—aided and abetted by the billions of dollars poured into advertising—that there is a normal out there, and if we just buy/do/say the “right thing,” that normal can be ours. We who are older think we remember a time when we were normal. (Um…yeah.) We spend every waking moment and most of our savings trying to recapture that. (They don’t call it “lost youth” for nothing.) Young people spend their money and time trying to ward off or postpone the Demon, Age. (Thus, “youth is wasted on the young.”) Living in the past or fearing the future is a sure-fire way to waste your present in suffering. And it’s utterly needless, for neither past nor future normals exist. Few people recognize that the present is their normal, and it’s just perfect the way it is.

What great news! If you change how you think about it, then right-here-right-now, YOU’RE NORMAL! And your body knows exactly how to get you to your normal—not the ideal you’re harboring. It’s constantly giving you feedback. Maybe instead of muffling what it’s trying to tell you (with social media, drugs, alcohol, or shopping, to name a few), you might like to listen to it. Your body, with its neural networks and receptors and genes, works tirelessly and perfectly behind the scenes, listening to how unhappy you are and how you wish you were someone/somewhere/something else. It loves you anyway and gives you a constant stream of feedback to let you know what systems need your attention now—not twenty years from now, or twenty years ago. If you choose to listen, you can give it what it asks for: sleep, a good cry, exercise, nourishing food, pure water, a hug.

We arrived in life hardwired with incredible healing powers. We can switch our genes on and off with a mere thought; we can change the course of our own lives in a nanosecond. The caveat? We must be present to do so. We’ve been conditioned to regard our world in a binary way—good/bad; right/wrong; normal/not normal—as if we were computers and not humans. We wonder why we feel so out of place, and agonize because we don’t have/look/act like “everyone else.” It is very painful indeed for social animals like ourselves to feel like we’re just wrong the way we are; that we’re not normal. It’s painful because it’s so untrue. We are not just one thing or its opposite; there are as many normals as there are people. Not an ideal system, but it is perfect.

Our complex body systems have infinite capabilities and thus, an infinite number of “normals.” We’re equal spokes on the ginormous wheel of time, yet we each have a slightly different perspective of that wheel and our place in it. We cannot adjust its spin, but we can know we’re perfectly placed. And normal.

This article first appeared in Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities blog column, “A Rolling Perspective,” in October 2018.

Warped (II)

Inset from Bayeux Tapestry, 11th Century

like greed, poverty, pestilence,
violence to women and children—
form part of the Great Tapestry.
The first weapon-threads were embedded so deeply
so early
(surely warped, not weft?)
ancient weavers remember not their origins.
No way to unpick the fine wools now,
though present weavers try.
With magnifying glass held in hopeful hands,
they kneel at the feet of history
and look in vain.
Behind the artisans the gun-lovers crouch—
nicking needles
stealing scissors
taking tufts—
distracting the peace lovers from their task.
They are all too close to the hanging.
From a distance
I laugh, sadly.
For it’s easy to see what violence has been done to the Tapestry.
I look not at the grass roots; my eyes travel upward.
Do you—
can you—
see what I see?
Areas of grayed, frayed wool
(inferior stuff)
mar the precious pattern; they
grin ghostly
sneer sickly
from the red-lipped mouths of history’s generals;
their tombstone teeth,
once woven in gently
by duped women
stooped in sorrow,
now hide openly, in a place too lofty
for the searching souls at their feet.

Published in Jan/Feb 2020 issue of 99E

Original of “Warped” appeared in broccoli4breakfast after winning first place in Weber State University’s poetry competition, April 2013

But Seriously, Folks

This article was published by 99E‘s Sep/Oct 2019 issue. The 99E is a Milwaukie Oregon-based arts and culture magazine not available online.

Walking on Bandon’s beach a few weeks ago, I noticed an octogenarian collecting rocks. They concentrated on the task with a vengeance, never looking up or to either side, and only pausing to drop their tiny treasures into one of several pockets located on their super-nifty, no-doubt-expensive, canvas vest. Not only did it sport eight pockets of different sizes and various toggles, clasps, and zippers, but it boasted a tool belt specially made for those must-have rockhound aids.

I couldn’t suss the beachcomber’s organizing system. One stone went here; a shell went there. Nimble fingers quickly unzipped or unbuttoned or unhooked, and as quickly re-closed, all without the vest-wearer even looking.

As I compared my woeful ensemble—faded jeans with rolled-up cuffs; twenty-year-old sandals; threadbare, oversized hoodie—to theirs, I felt envious. Wow. This person is a SERIOUS rockhound. Look at that gear! Then I stopped mid-squish. Is that not an oxymoron, ‘serious rockhound’? Isn’t rock collecting a hobby? Just how serious has our fun become?

We’re bombarded with ads: designer gear for the SERIOUS runner… for the SERIOUS hiker… SERIOUS cook… or even invalid (the SERIOUSLY ill). NaNoWriMo, the home of National Novel Writing Month and now marketing all year long, encourages would-be writers to buy mugs, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia to show how SERIOUS they are about writing. If you need a T-shirt as motivation, I would seriously question your desire to write at all.

Buying accoutrements for our interests and thus prove to ourselves we’re committed is one thing; but are we also hoping others will believe we’re serious? We might not even have to do anything if the neighbors can see our impressive collection of, say, cycles for every terrain, complete with matching helmets. These items require SERIOUS storage spaces. And a way to bring them with us on the vacays we might take—if we ever get time off, of course. Unfortunately, we must work seriously long hours to purchase, house, display, and insure these toys. No one can see how serious we are about boating, for example, if that boat lives in a storage shed fifty miles away.

It’s not just sports equipment, either. I’ve noticed cooking’s gotten way too SERIOUS. Time was you could buy a decent can opener or a set of measuring cups for a couple of bucks, but those days are gone. Weekend gourmets, who think they’ll create such masterpieces as pomegranate-rhubarb-cilantro chicken on a bed of lightly sautéed ants, have caused prices to skyrocket for the items we ordinary, actual-food-making folks use daily. Color-coordination, I assure you, has absolutely ZERO to do with yumminess. My granny baked for a living; how on earth did she manage with only those basic, non-ergonomic aluminum utensils? Horrors!

It’s scariest for parents, though. If you have children, you’ve experienced the crushing economics of “must-have” lessons, from music to clown school. Parents feel obligated to provide any number of pricy pursuits, with no idea whether their child will even like them. Lessons must be paid for, but so too the shoes; the costumes; the music books; the gas to get there—never mind the untold cost to the environment and dangerous health effects the stress of juggling work schedules, organizing carpools, and breathing exhaust fumes cause.

Who, then, promotes the questionable notion that those who plunge into debt to provide their offspring with a plethora of pursuits are better parents? The promoters are not on the front line of parenting, but marketing. It is not your child’s, but their own financial wellbeing that is uppermost, exploiting every parent’s fear of not providing the best possible childhood experience.

Your child might rather stay home with you. Take that opportunity. If you watch without judgment, you’ll witness firsthand what delights your child. Focus on that. (Be warned: they rarely choose activities you like, or lessons you wish you’d had. Children are individuals, not mini-versions of us.) You might not have to shell out for private lessons, either. Community centers are great places to get excellent classes for reasonable cost. Bartering is another viable option: what can you do that the ballet teacher can’t? (Maybe those color-coordinated kitchen doodads will come in handy after all!)

Marketers have succeeded in convincing us we’ll run like Usain Bolt or play tennis like Serena Williams if we buy a certain brand of shoes, or a NASA-designed racket. A racket’s involved, all right, but a different game altogether. Companies spend millions on brain research to learn how to target their ads to neuron-level, and 1-click systems have us ordering before our higher brain’s reasoning kicks in.

Spending hard-earned cash (or worse, using a credit card so you’re still paying when your child turns 40) is not an indication of how serious you are. Question “put your money where your mouth is.” Actions speak louder than words or money.

Fun needn’t be so damn serious. If you want to run, don old sneakers and jog a few blocks. Do you like it? If you yearn to write, grab a pencil and paper. I assure you, no mug or t-shirt in the world writes novels; people write novels. (Good ones, anyway.) Want to play guitar? Borrow one and see how it feels. We’ve been trained to believe spending serious cash will force us into worthwhile activities; actually, it shows an underlying resistance to them. We always find a way to accomplish our highest priorities: no force required.

Take my beloved beachcombing. In Bandon, I wore no fancy vest. My bare hands scooped up treasures, rinsed them in the sea, and placed them in the pockets of my rolled-up jeans. My ancient Birks didn’t survive the watery adventure, but so what? I’ll go barefoot next time. The point is, I had fun. Seriously.