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.

“Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto”

One of my fave Twilight Zone episodes is “The Lateness of the Hour.” An inventor and his wife are waited on hand and foot by robots who do everything for them, no backtalk. Their daughter, however, wants to get out and “do something with her life!” Alas, she must stay inside lest she betray the family secret. If the townspeople see the robots, everyone will want one. Then Daughter finds out her own robotic roots. Guess who was reprogrammed to fit in?

Humans are so messy, aren’t they? All those emotions…often late to important things like work…prone to illness (especially if they’re stuck in jobs they hate). Annoyingly (if you’re trying for mill/billionaire status), these humans want to be PAID for their mostly boring, sometimes dangerous work. They also insist employers put money aside so when they become too old or ill to work, they will STILL get paid. Imagine that! Not only do they want money for nothing (and their chicks for free) so they can buy life’s necessities, they want to accomplish items on their bucket list. Leisure pursuits, indeed. Ridiculous.

Moguls know employees comprise their biggest expense. Thus, they use all methods at their disposal to reduce the costs associated with the very persons whose efforts result in the mogul’s own wealth. Surely using robots would increase profits. Am I the only one worried about this?

Robot and AI technologies are developing at an alarming rate—alarming if you’re an average Josephine, anyway. Yet we’re aiding and abetting the perpetrators’ plans. We allow constant surveillance even Orwell couldn’t imagine. “Oh, it’s just marketing,” people say, but it’s not. AI developers need data on how we think and act so their robots will be truly lifelike. (Check out the Institute of Art and Ideas “The Case Against Reality.” IAI)

Think your job is safe from robotics? We’re not talking “Danger, danger, Will Robinson” models that fall somewhere between a vacuum cleaner and the Tin Man. Robots have come a long way, baby. Read Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and see how far.

We’re told robots will mean more free time for us. Instead of driving ourselves, for instance, we can hop into a self-driving car. Think of all you can accomplish there!(?) But what if you’re a taxi or bus driver? And O, how handy it will be when you’re sick, to pop into a health clinic manned by robots—unless you’re a health care worker. True: as robots become commonplace, our free time will increase. But folks, we’ll have no money.

Case in point: When I was declared disabled, I was forced into taking Social Security. What a financial shock. But when you leave the game early, you leave with less money: the dreaded words “fixed income” describe it. Even those with a decent pension are discovering they don’t have enough for basics, let alone indulging their creative side. My “retired” friends all work, or are looking for work.

Meanwhile, government finds more ways to slash money from program budgets for housing, food, healthcare, and clean air and water. I can’t imagine it ever deciding to give people MORE money for nothing, let alone private corporations. Yet AI enthusiasts swear we’ll be free to pursue wants because needs will be met by robots: this idea wars with reality.

One reality is, we hasten the robots’ arrival every time we complain about not receiving PERFECT, SMILING, SPEEDY service from human customer service personnel. Only robots needn’t pretend they’re not bothered or offended. Only robots can be programmed to smile 24/7. And a boss never has to say to a robot, “Don’t bring your personal life to work.”

Employers may desire automatons, but we as consumers needn’t aid and abet them by requiring perfection of their staff—and what the hell is ‘perfect’ anyway? One person’s ‘perfect’ is another’s ‘disaster.’ It’s all a matter of perspective.

None of us wants to be judged harshly and irrevocably for all-too-human behavior displayed in a particular moment. Do you operate better when someone stands over you, judging every keystroke or burger flip? Do you do your best when someone’s yelling at you? (If so, you’re in a minority.) I’m reminded of Keeping up Appearances’ Elizabeth, who so dreaded the summons to coffee with her judgmental neighbor Hyacinth, she invariably spilled or broke something.

To keep the robots at bay, we can stop expecting perfection—theirs or ours. Try this simple experiment: For one week, greet each person with a smile whose job it is to serve you, no matter whether your dog died that morning or you just received a speeding ticket. Notice how the employee reflects your expression, effortlessly. People cannot resist a heartfelt smile meant just for them.

Then, find something in every transaction to be grateful for and acknowledge it out loud. “Thank you for leaving room for milk.” “I love that there’s always a place to park my bike.” “Did you know you’re the only store whose restrooms are always clean? Thank you.”

I enjoy visiting places like Freddie’s (Fred Meyers, if you’re in Oregon) and noticing how, for example, the dairy manager, whose aisle sees more traffic than O’Hare, arranges her stock for easy reading: labels out and pulled right up to the rim. I’ll say, “How inviting your section looks!” Or I say to the guy cleaning up yet another spill on Aisle 7, “I appreciate how you always clean up messes right away.” He beams. Think how you feel when someone gives you an honest, unprompted compliment—especially when you were “just doing your job.”

If you go to a manager give kudos, not criticism. Employees get enough criticism, don’t worry. Only a robot could smile while cleaning shit from a restroom floor or making its hundredth soy latte of the day. Before you Yelp or criticize, exercise a bit of compassion.

Domo arigato, but you can keep your Roboto. I prefer flawed humans.

This article will appear in the January issue of 99E, a new Portland publication

Breaking News: Talk Not Cheap


by Jennifer Holland, NBN Reporter

Necessarily Brief News reported today that the cost of Talk, once so cheap it could be ignored, has risen to the point that an as-yet-unidentified number of persons have lost everything: relationships, businesses, employment, and worse yet, Hope.

Experts were focused on world markets and various stock indices and did not notice Talk, specifically the Self/Own sector, making its meteoric rise until the Speech Bubble burst. NBN learned that millions, if not billions, of people have been affected by Talk’s steep cost increase. Horizon’s CEO, in a rushed interview, blurted: “No one thought they needed budget. Our ads misleading, ‘free talk/text.’ World under illusion quantity better than quality. Must—”

Human thought/talk expert Byron Katie could not be contacted by phone or email, so this reporter read one of her books. Apparently, self-talk trumps any other form. Disparaging comments directed toward one’s self ultimately affect a person’s health, wealth, relationships, and even happiness levels. People belittle and minimize themselves with shocking frequency, and their Mind believes every word. More important, Mind influences Brain to organize what it believes are successful outcomes to those thoughts, known for decades as “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Fearless questioning of one’s self-talk is, according to Katie, the only sure way to dam the rising flood of negativity that causes untold suffering.

Katie restates older texts here. The Bible’s Proverbs 23:7 notes that as we think in our hearts, so are we. Abraham Lincoln, a man of few but excellent words, noticed people were about as happy as they’d made up their minds to be. Humankind might have noticed the signs of impending doom had they (a) acknowledged sooner that their cell phone bills did not, in fact, total $0.00, and (b) paid more attention to their Self/Own talk than their mobile devices.

Citizens are urged to stop wasting their cell phone’s “free” minutes and spend time freeing themselves via nurturing Self/Own talk.

How to Give Peace a Chance

I wondered why my mind could not rest after reading and responding to Jan’s comment on my last blog. At length I realized my mind’s machinations were providing me with the last chapter of the how-to book I’m presently writing (as yet untitled, but The Art of Poverty has been bandied about). Though I’m reluctant to release details of the book prior to its publication, my mind cannot rest until I share these more general thoughts with you today.

I was never a contestant for Miss America, but I know my answer to the question, ‘What is your dream,’ would have been — and still is: World Peace. “Can’t be done,” says nearly everyone. And if nearly everyone believes that, they’re absolutely right, for as my friend Jody says, “Perception is reality.” Until we can see something in as much detail as possible in our Mind’s Eye, we have but an infinitesimal chance of achieving it. (You can see my earlier blog, ‘I Can’t See That Ever Happening,’ for a fuller discussion of this phenomenon.) When it comes to World Peace then, it would take a very large number of people indeed to make that happen, right?

Maybe not. Journeys begin with one step, and world peace begins with one person. We must make peace with our own world, our inner world and immediate outer world, first. That’s why I’m writing the book, but I only realized its larger import today. If we individually can see how amazing and creative we are when facing our own budgets, for example, and we see the fruits of our non-violent efforts on our own behalf to love and accept ourselves as we are, the ripple effect will be remarkable in the best of ways — even to the elusive concept that is World Peace.

You know, I taught ESL for years. I often quizzed my students as to why they chose to learn English, and especially why they chose to pretty much forsake their own beautiful languages and cultures in favor of the upstart, American English. My Chinese students confided that their number one reason for coming here was to learn how to be creative. As far as English went, they knew more grammar than I did, but the Chinese knew that that was not enough for success as they envisioned it. They wanted our ingenuity, not our language per se. Unwittingly, we gave this to them and a hundred other cultures because we mistakenly believed all they were interested in was the money they could earn by learning English.

Imagine that! Here’s a country — China — with however many millions/billions of people (as I mentioned yesterday, facts are not my forte; I’m a mystic, for Pete’s sake!), who could take the U.S. over by simply sending over their strongest and bravest young people and killing or maiming us before we had a chance. (You younger folks won’t know that various Menaces were portrayed for earlier generations in just this way.) But this never happened. Why? Because they discovered creativity is stronger than the sword.

As Americans, we have forgotten that it is our ingenuity that made us a world power in the first place, and it is that aspect of us that other countries want for their citizens. Thus, they send their students to learn our “secret recipe,” if you will. They observe and learn and return to their home countries to teach others. Meanwhile, we use the bulk of our money and ingenuity devising ways to kill and torture people. We send our bravest and strongest overseas with that murderous technology, and, unbelievably, in the name of peacekeeping or peace. Has there ever been such a dangerous oxymoron?

Citizens in some countries backed away quite a while ago, while others are only doing so now. They see the truths we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge. One of them is that the country who proudly brings you such earth-shattering inventions as drones to deliver pizzas, fifty ways to cure your hemorrhoids, and robots that will clean up your dog’s poop, seemingly cannot come up with a creative alternative to war, let alone ensure healthcare as a basic right, or clean air, or pure drinking water for all its citizens, and not just the rich few. They watch in horror as their belief in our democracy crumbles. They know that Democracy is a bottom-up process and not a top-down one; how do we not see that? They watch us charge into various countries — often unasked; or worse, having caused the mess in the first place — with the best of intentions, but placing us further trillions in debt. (I’m reminded of the times others tried to “help” when they were doing anything but. I know I’ve said, “Please, if I get any more of your ‘help,’ we’re all doomed.” I wish the countries who feel that way about the USA would just tell us!)

Seriously, would you be given several hundred thousand dollars because you wanted to keep pests out of your and your neighbors’ gardens? “But I’m doing a really great thing!” you tell the loan officer. The bank, knowing you make $1,000 a month and have a credit rating of 500, just gives you an incredulous stare and calls security. None of us are allowed to spend money so irresponsibly as does our government. We must scrimp and save and budget till we feel like we have been through a war ourselves.

That’s why I’m writing the book, which focuses on a concrete method of living happily within your budget. What I only copped on to today was that the method works not only for individuals, but societies. If enough people realize that their ability to creatively control their lives (including their budgets) can be extrapolated to their fellow citizens, world peace could actually ensue. The reason I couldn’t stop thinking about yesterday’s blog was that I hadn’t realized I’d actually discovered a way to World Peace. That’s what I always wanted, yet thought I was being too idealistic and naive. (And you thought so, too, I know:D). Watch this space, folks; watch this space.

It takes courage to envision a new future, and a lot of creativity. Bombing the hell out of people and places is so 2016. I love the words from a Michael Franti song, a man who also believes things can change: “You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb the world to peace.” Amen, bro. I’m reminded, too, of a Vietnam-era poster that said, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” These statements are meant to raise our consciousness and allow the creative process to begin: the imagining that John Lennon so beautifully articulated in his immortal song.

You can have peace in your lifetime, whether it’s world-wide or not. It really is up to you.


Bring Them Home

I had an entirely different topic in mind for this blog, a very upbeat look at the New Year, but the shutdown of our government presents such an amazing opportunity to change the world for the better, I could not resist proposing at least one option: Let’s take this chance to bring our children and grandchildren serving in the military home. Get them out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and a place most of us didn’t even realize our children were being killed — Yemen.*

Learning that the military leaders Stateside would not lose a penny in the shutdown and that war is considered absolutely the most vital task our country could be conducting, should not have been a surprise to me, but it was. What’s worse, our young people are over there without pay. Even worse, if any of them die, their families are not entitled to the death benefit. Don’t believe me? From ABC news yesterday, 19 January:

Additionally, families will not receive the $100,000 death benefit provided for fallen service members. That money can cover funeral costs and family travel. It also helps to bridge the sudden halt of once-regular paychecks that the deceased was receiving — paychecks that end immediately after the individual is killed.

During the 2013 shutdown, Congress worked to mitigate the shutdown’s effects on the Department of Defense by passing a bill allowing for the death benefits to continue. Another bill allowed service members and “essential” Department of Defense civilian personnel to be exempt from the pay freeze.

“Ah,” you say. “So they’ll be paid retroactively when the shutdown ends.” Um, no. ABC, whether intentionally or not, neglected to mention that (a) the bill allowing for death benefits to continue did not pass, and (b) it was a signed order by President Obama that authorized paying the past wages (but not the death benefit) to military and furloughed government personnel. In case you haven’t been paying attention, anything, but ANYTHING Obama did, Trump will not do. Do I need to repeat that? Anyone believing Trump will pay retroactive wages, let alone death benefits, to our troops overseas is suffering from a major delusion.

So, let’s bring our children home now. We need them, our strongest and bravest young people with a heartfelt desire to defend our constitution. The war against democracy is here. The terrorism of government leaders who champion money over human life is happening right here, right now. Trump and his cronies really thought the Democrats would back down, but that’s because they don’t understand those of us who value human life and dignity over unadulterated greed. This is not a partisan issue; it’s simply about being compassionate humans.

You probably are aware that the military has but few soldiers hailing from the upper class, and even fewer that have Senators or Representatives as parents or grandparents. In fact, it’s less than one percent overall. (There’s that 1%/99% thing again.) Trump and his cronies thus have no “heart investment” in paying or protecting our troops. Trump has lambasted our troops more than once for their lack of skill, bravery, and competence. (This alone should qualify him for impeachment.) Truly, Trump’s way is a dead end.

It’s up to us. Somebody please start up a “Bring Them Home” fund and get our kids out of there. I’d contribute, and I’ll bet you would, too. Let’s do it while they’re still alive. Mothers, fathers, extended families, the Nation; we want you, our fighting sons and daughters, to know WE NEED YOU HERE. You have not been abandoned by those who love you and respect what you’re doing over there. Leave the war, if it must continue, to the mercenaries and professional soldiers. Trump always said they should be the ones there anyway, so let’s let them at it.

Trump probably believes that blaming the shutdown on the Democrats will ensure more Republican wins in the upcoming elections, but he has gravely underestimated the American people. The 99%, those of us who are so happy the Democrats stood up for not only the Dreamers, but all of us, will return the favor by voting against Trump and anyone who supported his racist agenda.

Federal employees too, if they’re honest, realize their jobs came about largely because of the Democrats. And we ALL know it’s mainly warmongering, greedy-for-oil-and-power Republicans who got us into the wars in the first place. Trump is so out of touch with average Americans he believes we all, like he does, only want money and more money. He has no concept of serving our country, for he was never in the military. We all want to prosper, certainly, but not at the expense of our humanity. What does it matter if we “win” (what does that even mean? How will we know?) our various offshore wars against terrorism if there is nothing but racism, hatred, and poverty for our troops to come home to? Indeed, without action on our part, there may be no way to get them home at all, for the parents of the children fighting cannot afford to bring them back — alive or in a box. Trump will make sure they get no financial help, so it’s up to us.

Why can’t we turn at least one aspect of this nightmare into something positive? Can we bring them home? Which is more un-American: a whole-scale walking away from war; or a strutting, pompous President who keeps our strongest and bravest children in bloody arenas just to get his own way? The Democrats drew a line in the sand and stood up to this bully on our behalf. Democrat or Republican, let’s use this time to Bring Our Children Home.

“You may say I’m a dreamer,” as the song goes, and that’s okay. “I’m not the only one,” either. Extraordinary times like these spark the kind of passion and creativeness that give those dreams a real chance of coming true. Let’s change the world!


*The war in Yemen we’ve heard virtually nothing about — even on MSNBC, which aired 5,000% more about Russia in the last six months than Yemen — is unconstitutional because it was undeclared. How much do you want to bet that this is the argument Trump will use to deny payment to all the troops, not just the ones serving there, when the Great Shutdown ends?