Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reverb6 Ease

6. Ease

What can you do to add ease to 2012?


Speak directly, answer the question that is asked and deal with concerns as they happen and not procrastinate or obfuscate. It will make my life much simpler.


Think of how I can help someone else, what I can add to life, what do others in my life need, when I come home what needs doing, could be as simple as vacuuming or cutting the grass, especially rather than reaching for my MacBook Air or my iPhone and getting buried in blogs and feeds.

Letting go

I don’t need to be part of every conversation or read every post on the web.

Self care

Accept that I will make mistakes and rather than berating myself, think of another way for next time. For instance, at my college we were interviewing candidates for a fellowship. The criterion was to ask the same questions of each for fairness’s sake. The question I had was about service beyond self. Instead of considering the candidate, an infantryman who’d served his country for half a dozen years, I read from the script and made it sound like I was blind, not paying attention, or tone deaf. Upon further review, I might have said, tell us more or tell us some stories about your experience and what they mean to you or what you learned, rather than just repeating the generic question verbatim. (Take the wisdom from the situation and accept the humorous side.)

Smile more.

Reverb 5 Reading

5. Reading
What has been your favorite book (or books if you can’t pick just one) that you’ve read this year?

I haven’t read many books this year. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read, for example Brene Brown’s wise and generous The Gifts of Imperfection; Michele Norris’s The Grace of Silence, which documents not only racial history in America but the author’s coming to know family secrets; Jessica Kristie’s Dreaming in Darkness, rich with stories of survival after heartbreak and insights into the author’s own writing process; and Elaine Schuh’s The Traz, delightful and improbable romp of a young brainiac who joins a biker gang.

One that especially made an impression is Present Value by Sabin Willet. It’s a book about value, the monetary kind and in life. It was timely to read around the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which are mentioned in the book, and then a company and a family implode. There’s elements of uncertainty, the characters are drawn sympathetically, even the wife who is addicted to her Blackberry who then finds herself fallen on the concrete on an icy January day. Maybe I connected with this story because it takes place in my part of the world, I identified with parents being disconnected from their children, the flashbacks to college and the idiosyncratic economics lecturer, and the timeframe of the story paralleled an unsettling time for me. I don’t know if it is my favorite reading from this year but one that haunts me at the moment.

Reverb11 #4 Beauty

4. Beauty
How have your standards of beauty shifted in the past year?

This question prompts me to ask, what is beauty?

What compels me to say “Beautiful?” What stops me in my tracks? What is different from what I usually see in the world?

Is it only the ugly, as it says in the Tao te Ching, or like Thelonious Monk’s Ugly Beauty?

I usually find beauty in color, colors of nature, pigment, textiles, design. And beauty in simplicity.

If my standards, if I have any, have changed, maybe it is a greater acceptance, a willingness to find beauty where I have not before. In an abandoned lot watched over by the same blue sky. In the ordinary, uniform dress of women and girls. In this moment, dissolved into a sequence of other moments.

And in another moment, maybe accepting impermanence, what is beautiful is subject to change and will emerge again, somehow.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reverb11: Year In Review

High points

Getting a new job after a long unemployment (nine months or so.) Things just seemed to fall into place around it. I felt welcomed by the staff. Drawn to the place and its beautiful neighborhood. Even the day I went for my interview, in front of me was a cement mixer with the word on it "advance." I took it as a sign. Many people helped and encouraged me throughout the job process, and I think of Carol. When I told her that I'd majored in religion in college she said it was because I liked to find connections between people and things and ideas, and that's as good an explanation as any I could give. Calling her on the day I went to the interview was a confidence builder as well. And when she said "I put things off for tomorrow because I didn't believe in today," I kept that with me.

And connection with so many wonderful people online, particularly through Twitter, more than I can count, has been especially gratifying. Especially Belle and her We Love Gratitude which encouraged my daily awareness and acknowledgement of what's good in my life. And also Christa and Amanda who both invited me to post short writings on their sites, Christa's question being how we might spend a day together and Amanda's a group of seven relating a favorite childhood memory. And Jessica asked me to review her book of poetry, and her work still delights me.

Low points

In February, the roof nearly fell in and we were evicted from our house. A lot of daily disruption and uncertainty, and accepting what I can't fix or control has, if not helped, certainly kept me from making things worse. And there is completion in sight.

And at times I've struggled with depression. Negative self talk. It's better today, because I'm refocused on what worked for me before. It's practice. Being grateful, staying present, paying attention, keeping active and focusing. And I have so many people to help me do that and I need to stay connected with each one.

The year as a whole

It would be great to say the path is linear. Maybe it's more like a sine curve. At times I've really felt held by something greater, and at other times this nagging anxiety like a boy who never has his homework finished. Maybe it's better when I don't take it so seriously. It's been a hard year and a great year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reverb11: Writing

From the Reverb11 event:

What is my favorite piece of writing from 2011?

This one, about another man's story. This one was hard to write, due to my feelings of inadequacy. So I took time and listened to the story several times and remembered details and nuances. I tend to remember the arrow or the direction of the story or the argument but am not too mindful of the particulars. Taking time to acknowledge these gave this writing balance.

On the other hand, it's typical of me because I stop short, lacking endurance.

If I had a second choice, this would be the one. It reflects taking a new direction in life and opening my mind even in a commonplace repetitive activity such as driving. At the same time, there's the usual allusiveness, which may be a copout, pointing to someone else's work rather than writing what I mean.

I can look back on some things I've written and say there was something alive in me and maybe something will be alive in me again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Reverb11: One Word

I appreciate Carolyn bringing this Reverb11 writing project to my attention via A Beautiful Ripple Effect.

Word for 2011

Gratitude. This word encapsulates 2011 for me because it is gratitude that has kept me going. Grateful for each day. Grateful for my family. Grateful for a community of friends online who supported me through difficult times, through their example and providing the messages (of gratitude, of action, of beauty) that I needed to read and hear and practice.There are more than I can possibly name or thank.

I got a new job in the beginning of the summer, running the libraries at a small college. I approached it with so much excitement and then encountered frustrations along the way. At one point it was clear I stopped doing what had been working, yoga, meditation, staying connected to people in my life, and daily gratitude, particularly in the form of a gratitude list. Since I've recommitted to these practices, I feel more focused, life weighs less heavily upon me. Frustrations will come and maybe I can put them in context. The bigger picture is wider, more expansive and more fantastic than I can ever comprehend, and the smaller picture is a lot better than one year ago. And all God gives me is the one day. Breathing, staying grateful and remaining connected to that energy and power, as a fellow traveler says, "which is our common denominator."

Word for 2012

I'm glad to have come across this project, thinking of goals which is unusual for me, especially at the end of the year. What is the word I'd like to say? Joy. Joy in appreciating right now people and opportunities in my life. Joy in taking action and writing every day and not apologizing for it. I'm thinking of joy as a step beyond gratitude, not leaving it behind, but rather than just "grateful that I escaped that shipwreck." Joy with gratitude. A cumulative process of right now, a continuum.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I found a wistful story in the New York Times Magazine about a man who ultimately felt compelled to withdraw from Twitter. The writer notes that he accumulated some 25,000 followers, but is there any way to verify the veracity of such a number? And from his description, his tweets were like drive-bys. Did he share useful information? Did he attempt to build something of a community through retweeting, conversations, support others he met and sustain online friendships offline?

I can't tell, because the fellow evidently deleted his account.

Certainly I identify with his one-time obsession.

As in real life, ongoing Twitter engagement takes time, away from other activities. Reading through my follow list I saw people I was interested in enough to include, but gradually it becomes overwhelming, to read all the tweets, never mind the blog posts. And I want to know. At some point, though, I had to stop, or level off. I wasn't getting my work done. Neglected analog relationships and obligations. Slowly trying to reconnect.

Because so many in the Twitterverse, more than I can name or recall, sustained me through particularly difficult times with the messages and examples that I needed to read and hear and read and hear again. This morning there was a thread called #spiritchat, in which I read: "Grateful that the internet brought twitter so that I may share and learn from other spirits across the world." Agreed.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My favorite story

This may be my favorite story.

I heard it in January 2010 at a storytelling event held at the Monti in Durham, North Carolina.
Scott Huler, an author of several books, talks about a time when he was "so thoroughly unhappy," "exiled to the state news desk" at the News & Observer. Why was he unhappy? Because journalism, at least what was expected or required of him, moved from telling stories to providing information ("Get statistics and write stories in the passive voice.") Through the experience, closeness with the escaped chimp, and writing the story, he discovers how he needs to change his life. He's just doing his job and doing it, figures out it no longer feeds him. The warmth, the humor, the surprise, the unexpected conclusion, all make it continue to resonate with me. Mixed in are some horrifying aspects, the prospect of an escaped chimp on the loose in Charlotte for a week, the roadside zoo in light of the recent tragedy in Ohio, the chimp biting the cameraman down to the bone, the chimp chain smoking. I forget these shocking details as I feel the storyteller's anger when the newspaper truncates the story which described an amazing day shared by many people. I like his description of how he checks his version of events with what others' experienced, it's a community storytelling, not something he feels possessive about.

What about me? Do I have a cage to break out of, or is it self imposed, like Blake's mind-forg'd manacles? Maybe that's an illusion, as Belle shows us. It's love and service. And gratitude. And doing what's worked before and may work again.

And what about what I call "my story?" An illusion too, maybe, just signifying the parts that I can recall at this moment, forgetting that I'm part of something greater?

Friday, November 4, 2011

OK, computer

When you are writing, do you prefer to use a pen or a computer? (#NaBloPoMo prompt)

I generally type on the computer when I'm writing. It hasn't always been the case. I wonder, yet, if in doing so I hide what I've written, file it away and forget. If I carried a notebook instead, perhaps I would read and reflect more, not to mention capture the little inspirations and thoughts that arise without my knowing it.

I spend most of my day at a computer. I'm trying to break up the consecutive time, at Michele Thebirge's suggestion. From Michele I learned about a meditation timer for the macintosh and downloaded it. When I remember, I activate it, a little chime that gets me away from the repetitive screen staring and typing, pausing and being aware if only for a fraction of a moment (whatever that is.) It's a sharp sound that makes me think of liquid metal or one of those beads rolling in a maze or something like a clock, not like the clapper against an otherwise empty bell.

Mostly I write on and when I reach 750 words I stop, feeling pressed for time or lacking in fortitude, endurance to keep writing. And forget about going back and reading what I wrote before. Maybe you don't forget but I do.

When I was younger, I didn't eagerly learn word processing. Eventually writing out college papers in longhand and then typing them proved to be onerous and editing them as I went using the software saved time considerably. Before that I filled a number of spiral bound notebooks with my daily thoughts. It was as if I was trying to record every event in my life I could think of. And I would become frustrated when the next day came and I hadn't finished telling the story of the previous day. This was especially the case in college when I was more likely to go out drinking rather than write a journal entry. In high school, I had a curfew and journal entries were a welcome way to delay homework.

But I couldn't tell you what I was doing at any time. What I was trying to say or understand. Those notebooks, wherever they are, most likely they are hosts. Fragments echo in my mind that probably have scarcely any connection with the actual events.

I like computers today. Can't imagine doing without one to check email or Facebook or Twitter and follow the resultant links via the browser, but writing something substantial on one, that I can't claim to do.

Maybe I give up too easily, throw up my hands and say I don't know. Something of me prefers the darkness. I read a quote in a library book from the gospel of John, that men preferred the darkness to the light. Maybe so it is with me. I'd rather not get too deeply into whatever it is, avoid the effort of facing the facts and having a choice to solve my problem(s).

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Today's #NaBloPoMo prompt: "Can you listen to music and write? What song did you hear today?"

Often I listen to music and write, or type, I suppose. I shuffle my iTunes library or hit Genius and listen to the same songs over and over again. At first Genius's response was pretty limited; I thought it more appropriately should have been named "Nimrod." Nevertheless, Apple has consistently improved the product.

But right now I'm not listening to anything except the revolving soundtrack in my head. Something's always playing there. Right now it is the last strains of John Fahey's instrumental "Orinda-Moraga." Before that it was Sonic Youth singing a chorus "you better not waste away." Most of the time there's no particular reason for the song. Other times, however, it would be good to keep silent. Why do I have such a hard time being with myself? The iPhone cranks for the duration of the car ride. Wouldn't it be good to listen to a conversation such as in a Podcast? Or nothing? What is a song, anyway, or notes, or sound? (Or silence, thinking of Cage's 4'33 or the prisoner who made a wooden piano and played the silent music on the keys.)

And at the same time, I agree with Jessica, who writes "Music is so important in all of our creative journeys as well as in our own personal soundtrack of life," and she shares a song every Lyrical Friday.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Last meal

Sorry to vegan and vegetarian readers. I'm omnivorous. My response to the #NaBloPoMo last meal prompt would be something of the steak or roast beef variety, though I wouldn't turn my nose up at a serious southern barbecue, pork ribs, collards, hoppin john or corn pudding, sweet potatoes, top it off with pecan pie.

My ex and I used to eat at a barbecue purveyor quite regularly when we were young. I'd finish my plate and then I'd finish hers. "Now you get to watch me stuff myself," I'd say between mouthfuls and she'd roll her eyes.

I am prone to gluttony, never been one to pause and enjoy each mouthful, but put as much as possible in as a preventive measure. I'm a greedy person and something of a completist, had to buy all the jazz records in my younger days, want to read all the blogs and everything on the internet today. Must be some kind of anxiety. When will it be enough? When will I be enough?

Fortunately, the day will come, perhaps without my knowing it, when it will be too late, the last meal will be served, I want to believe I would savor it, but that's doubtful.

I haven't reflected about this too much, perhaps as little as I reflect about what I eat. Why do I eat?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The best thing about writing?

Inspired by my friend Rachael, I decided to give the #NaBloPoMo a bash. What is my favorite thing about writing? I love and I hate to write. Maybe my favorite thing is stopping. And then the distance and time, or in the form of time, make what I've written more palatable and even afford me some discovery. What was I thinking? What was I doing? Because lately I've taken scarcely any time for reflection. Twenty years or so ago I kept a journal for a brief time. Some time later, reviewing what I'd written, I was surprised to discover what I'd said, which I don't remember and the book is long gone or packed away.

Thoughts come and go. I can scarcely remember what I was thinking about this morning, although, recalling a dream where I'd put my name to a book that I had not, in actuality, written. A prompt such as this is a gift. I have learned recently or had to learn again that once I have stopped writing, it is hard to begin again. Jacques Barzun in the Modern Researcher remarked that it required the strength of Samson. He also said that unlike the alcoholic who cannot touch a drink again the writer cannot stop for a day.

I have been asked why do I want to write, and I don't have a very good reason. Certainly there is a desire, but I lack compulsion, practice, structure, technique, knowledge of rhetoric, I don't know what I'm doing and I find it hard to answer a simple question. Yet I know that when I don't write, something is missing from my life, there's a longing. It was simple at the age of 6, writing and drawing, about a neighborhood like mine, about events in my life, like the woman I thought was a witch, though maybe that's what an older boy told me. "She's not a witch," my grandfather said, "she just doesn't like people trespassing on her property." I don't remember if it was after or before then I made "No trespassing" signs of my own.

And maybe none of it matters. And maybe it matters to me. I don't know. I do know that by writing it, it is something, whether it is what I thought I was thinking or not.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ten years after

It was quite a time for me even before the planes hit. In the middle of June my then wife told me she was a lesbian. Even though I was able to get help from a minister and my therapist, I kept it entirely within myself to protect her privacy. As such I really didn't get the help or advice I needed. I was floundering, looking for answers that weren't there, instead of planning how to take care of myself and our children, who were then 7 and 4. Later, after the planes hit, my therapist remarked that my wife and I were like terrorists, carrying around this information that would have such an impact, like bombs we were going to detonate.

The news should not have come as a surprise to me. In our bedroom, a few days before, I noticed in the closet a book with the subtitle "coming out later in life." The following Friday night, after our friends departed and the kids had gone to bed, she said "I have to talk to you," and fear quickened me. She said something to the effect of I love you, you're a wonderful husband and father, and I gasped and I felt my heart racing and as if it was rising into my throat. "I think I'm a lesbian," she said. The upshot of it was while she and my daughter went away for several days it was up to me to think of what I wanted to do. I had been fearful that she was leaving right then or asking me to leave. Anything but immediate action, that's what disturbed me most. It didn't occur to me to ask, why is this my problem? The prospect of making any decision overwhelmed me, but wasn't it more fear that was driving me, dread at the prospect of insecurity, thinking I couldn't afford divorce or imaging how a breakup could be facilitated. We had just bought a house with another couple who lived upstairs. Not too many months before, with a job, housing payments, child care, I thought to myself, I'm so leveraged I couldn't even kill myself. Now it seemed even more complicated.

In the ensuing summer days I went to work, took my to son to daycare, picked him up, rode home with him on the bus, drove around, had incomplete conversations with acquaintances and strangers, wondered about my own sexuality ( the Ox-Cart Man or the man on the Goodwill box seemed to have benign smiles and I flirted with a guy in the supermarket,) but for the most part did nothing. "Is it weird having me around," I asked my wife. "It's weird having me around," she answered. Early in August she asked me to sleep on the couch and so every night I would and try to wake up before the kids so I could fold up the convertible, but my daughter caught me at it, and she was not fooled.

Gradually I told my immediate family, my brother when he came to visit from France. He questioned why my wife was adopting such a rigid definition of her sexuality. Telling my parents, however, is one of the most painful memories I have. Looking back, I made the mistake of trying to smooth things over rather than letting them, especially my father, feel their grief. Perhaps because I have so much trouble sitting with my own discomfort.

Later in the month, I learned that the research institution I worked for was going to be absorbed by a large university, with an uncertain future for all. No one would say anything. There was a vague notice from the president in each person's mailbox. A group of professors from the university would visit on September 11 to visit the labs and evaluate the scientists, and your librarian was the last on the docket.

We had an ice cream party with our neighbors at our house. They invited all their friends, I didn't invite anyone. There was pretense, but I had been keeping it up all summer, what was another afternoon as the sun shone and the peaches ripened. September came and school started, bright cool sunny days. On a certain Tuesday I dropped my son off at day care as usual, and headed in to work. Soon a woman who worked with me told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and I thought it was maybe pilot error. Not long after that she came back to tell me that another plane crashed and that these were acts of terrorism. I tried to find information from CNN or some other web site but nothing would load on my computer. I had a half-assed radio and turned to any station I could find and heard Peter Jennings talking to some official about what had happened and how it represented a failure of intelligence. Later a television was placed in the lunchroom as we ate our customary Tuesday lunch, with our guests from the university. Someone's flight had been cancelled. My colleague who brought me the news was concerned about her brother, a New York City policeman. An older scientist was desperately trying to reach his son who lived in New York, whereabouts unknown. Our guests from the university sat at different tables, I remember one nervously looking around at the television. The show went on, however, and it wasn't until around six that the trio came to the library and I talked to them but I imagine they had their fill by then. Eventually I made it home to see my father dropping off my daughter. He remarked on the similarities with Pearl Harbor, which he would remember, and his last words as he walked off were "sad day."

Ironically, the day before had been our thirteenth wedding anniversary. I bought my wife roses. I don't know why. Maybe I wasn't able to let go. Several weeks later I moved out, renting a couple of rooms from a taxi driver not too far from my house. The first night I slept there I felt a sense of peace and relief. Much of my subsequent activity was driven by fear and avoidance, nevertheless.

(And Sarah (who is also called Chris, not the result of a Road to Damascus experience to my knowledge,) was not finished. Another story for another day.)

So the marriage ending, the turmoil around work, and the trauma of the national situation I think of as a triple whammy. Personal trauma, institutional trauma, and then, above and beyond, national trauma.

Eerie days followed. Sadness. People more distant. Trash cans removed from the streets and subways. Flags flying, whipping from cars and trucks driving past. Groups of people, especially kids holding candles at night. The troubling sight of the photos of the suspected hijackers, one by one, in the newspaper. Events in subsequent years I do not remember so well, but those days I recall vividly.

And today, a clear blue sky like that Tuesday ten years ago, occasional hum of helicopters and sudden roar of fighter jets, I try to exercise a little imagination and think of what this day is for others in the world, particularly those who lost someone, a parent, a child, a friend, and waking up every subsequent day with loss and grief that doesn't go away.

I recommend Pema Teeter's moving ongoing story series reflecting on the month of days leading up to September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Namaste "is a common spoken greeting or salutation from the Indian subcontinent." Certainly I never heard it until associating it with yoga practice. The most common explanation I've encountered is "I acknowledge the spirit in you which is in me," though there are probably many variations. Wikipedia goes on to provide interesting etymology. Namas, Sanskrit for bow, adoration, and te, the dative of you (second person singular. I have forgotten most of the grammar I've learned at one time or another.)

Even last night, as I walked from my car with my hands full, an Indian couple passed by, dressed in traditional clothing. They were singing. I can't remember what it sounded like, the elderly man's voice was rather resonant. They stopped singing as they passed and I stood aside to let them go by. Then they both gave the Namaste sign, bowing with cupped hands. I was too lazy to put down my encumbrances, so I nodded curtly. But there it was, they had acknowledged what is in all of us.

Then this morning in the car, I couldn't tell you what I was thinking about, maybe my neglected yoga and meditation practices, but I may have been thinking of anagrams, can't imagine why. And the word Namaste came into my thought. And I suddenly realized: my last name, Eastman, is an anagram of Namaste.


(Maybe I'll sign all my correspondence Namaste and see if anyone catches on.)

Namaste: I acknowledge the spirit in both of us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A regular guy

Looks like I fell off the #Trust30 commitment. The post I'm responding to today asks me to "pick up my ordinary," it is written by Patti Digh. How would I do this, choking myself with perfectionism like the weed wraps its tendrils around the hosta (until I yanked its root this morning, not so easy with my habits of thinking and acting.)

A man a little older than me who tried to help me when I was young remarked that I had a lot of self-importance and that I needed to become " a regular guy." "You think you're the only one who struggles," he told me, pointing out the person working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over the head and food on the table. And I didn't know what I didn't know. It's not that I want to be just like everybody but rather admitting that I don't deserve special treatment. So what are the ways I'd be "a regular guy" today?

Patience. Especially on the road, allowing myself as much time as I can to get from one place to another so that I don't have to drive urgently and/or with desperation. I try to anticipate where the light will change or there will be a crosswalk or another driver will cross my path and adjust, slow down a little, make room. As I've said in this venue before, "I don't own the road, I'm not the turnpike authority, nobody owes me anything." And not be resentful when I am not given the same consideration or someone drives behind me with desperation; as David Foster Wallace pointed out in a widely circulated graduation speech, maybe I'm in his way; and likewise, as a blog post I read makes clear, " I don't know what's going on." Maybe the other one is in a real emergency or just late and feeling desperate. I don't have to feed into it and I don't have to judge or feel superior because I have felt like that, that was the norm for me and it is taking lots of practice to change that. Through breathing and being in my body as I sit in the car seat, with acceptance, I can do it.

Generosity. I have an older friend named Carol who expressed a wish to buy a computer, that the one she had was outdated and that while her needs were simple, she would be interested in discovering material on the internet and online music. We saw each other fairly regularly while I was unemployed, but I didn't make a date to take her to the store and she has no car. When I knew I had a free Friday afternoon coming up, I made arrangements with Carol and picked her up yesterday. I saw her frustration with newer computers and the interfaces and components, but took the time to explain the choices simply, waited for her to make a decision, offered suggestions and worked with the salesperson to arrange the simplest solution possible. (Still have to pick up the unit and set it up.) She thanked me and yet this kind of giving is its own reward, combined with the satisfaction of doing what I said I would, in contrast to how many times I've made empty promises in my life.

Compassion for those around me, and this is new for me, having spent most of my life living in my head and really lacking empathy and having no idea what it would be like for another person, inside her or his skin, looking through those eyes, breathing that breath, experiencing that duration. My wife and I are living in an apartment while our house is being repaired. She had something of a melt down last night, working in an enclosed kitchen space in contrast to what she's used to, not having a salad spinner or a steamer, and then the smoke from the frying meat sets off the smoke alarm. While I would have preferred more emotional balance and the situation made me uncomfortable, upon further review of the play, I realized that this is the way she is feeling, she is expressing her feelings, maybe I didn't feel the same way but I wasn't the one trying to cook a meal in the kitchen while the smoke alarm was blaring and the obdurate smoke was not responding to the fan. (Add to that the general disruption and uncertainty of the housing situation.) I cannot expect someone to respond or feel like me and yet, no matter how many times I've been taught this in my life, in the moment, in the acid test, it is hard to remember and act accordingly. Asking questions too becomes easier with practice and trains the mind to respond and show interest and remember details from others' lives, even that the woman I work with went to visit her son, to be able to ask, how was that, even if it seems like chit chat, another person appreciates when someone shows interest. I know I do and am surprised when others remember details about me or ask about my children, probably because unlike me they are paying attention.

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, a fellow I was friendly with, we hung around quite a bit, wrote in my yearbook upon his graduation something about the ensuing years being hard on the soul, " so keep your feet on the ground," he told me. I had no idea what he meant by those words. I have a sense today, feeling myself held up by the earth or whatever is holding my body, a chair, a sofa. This was totally foreign to me then and for such a long time. Today, maybe the best I can ask of this moment, which is good, is to have my feet on the ground and be on this earth. I didn't know what I didn't know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fast ride

I was introduced to an intriguing new novel via Twitter, the Traz by Eileen Schuh. The subject is Katrina, a 12-year old "brainiac," computer-whiz, proficient in physics, learned hunting and survival skills from her grandfather, meditation, self-care and herbology from her grandmother, grew up in a chaotic home with an alcoholic, unloving mother who fights constantly with her policeman husband. Gradually, Katrina experiences more and more loss - her grandfather, and then ultimately both her parents are killed in an auto accident, her mother driving under the influence. Katrina's left with a lot of money and nowhere to go. Already, through a boyfriend, she has made connections with unsavory characters, and is sought out by Shrug, leader of a biker gang called the Traz, who is in reality an undercover cop. Katrina accepts his protection. The duration of the novel takes place over a couple of years and seems to pace slowly but the total effect is like a fast motorcycle ride. The situation is riddled with ambiguity, particularly Katrina's apparent sophistication belying her young age, and what are the implications for her future being mixed up with this organization. Shrug alternately presents as protective and threatening, insisting on controlling the situation and carrying out the operation his way, and yet to what potential harm has he exposed Katrina? Most of the story is told through Katrina's perspective; we read what Shrug and others perceive that seems to contradict what she says and thinks and wonder what's unsaid, does she knowingly or unknowingly present a different reality from what she's claiming? She is protected and imprisoned in the biker compound, gathering herbs to make strange tea concoctions, hacking into computer networks for criminal ends. Finally, Shrug cannot protect Katrina from the awful truth about the murder of her ex-boyfriend that is initially presented ambiguously and dreamlike and is clarified near the end of the story. (Interestingly, the Sergeant is called "Kindle," maybe he starts the fire or you can read everything through him, a conduit for information, I don't know. ) Evidently this is the first of a series, igniting an appetite for the sequel. A study guide with moral questions for exploration and resources for students dealing with life issues follow the conclusion of the novel. I recommend this dark and compelling story.

(Cross posted to GoodReads and Amazon)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Open to the unknown

Today's #Trust30 prompt by Jonathan Fields asks: “What alternative opportunities, interpretations and paths am I not seeing?” In a field facing potentially drastic changes, librarianship, this is extremely relevant for me. So rather than defining myself as a librarian or information specialist, person, whatever it is, I have to ask, what do I like to do, what am I good at, what new abilities might I want to acquire? Maybe I don't know the answers to any of these questions right now.

Take computing. I had great difficulty using a computer when I was younger, had to rely on help from my father to pass a math course, or from more skilled peers just to type a college essay into a word processor. I knew nothing of commands or programming, could barely play games even, and for me a computer was little more than a sophisticated typewriter.

This all changed with the world wide web, software developed to browse it and information placed on remote servers for me to find using these tools to help me in my library work and answer questions for the people I served as well as for my own personal interest. And all this was completely unknown to me several years before, I could not have conceived of it, even as others were working hard to turn it into reality. And what followed has been a long fascination with information discovery on the internet. Finding. I think of the Latin word invenio, I find, I come upon, from which comes our word "invent."

So the path for me in the future may or may not involve a library building. It may involve skills used in finding and organizing and presenting information, connecting people with people and information, or it may be something I haven't even thought or heard of. My colleague Bill Mayer is known to say that the distinction between the library and IT in organizations or the distinction between the library and the network is dissolving. In a place, be it a business, educational institution or municipality, where these things are conundrums, this can present an opportunity for someone interested in information and knowledge, making things accessible for people and putting them to use. And I once worked with a scientist who told me it was my job to make myself obsolete, and if I did, and did it well, there would potentially be other opportunities and rewarding work for me. I believe he is right.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two for the price of one

Traveling and with limited computer access this weekend I have not set aside time to respond to the #Trust30 challenges from Lachlan Cotter and Ash Ambirge on fear and surprise. One asks is do not doing the thing I fear worth sacrificing what I want and the other questions how I surprised myself in the past by doing something I couldn't and how will I surprise myself now.

If there is a strong wish in me it is to know the truth and to be honest with myself and others. I believe writing helps me pursue this, especially as the words that come out prove to different than what I imagined or what is revolving in my mind, the endless chatter of fantasy. For I have found it so easy to deceive myself, thinking I am honest, when I have left something undone, not paid someone I owed, not acknowledged someone who did me a courtesy, and I go about thinking I am conducting myself well.

However, I surprised myself once when making a driving mistake, getting in the way of another driver who honked at me furiously. We ended up side by side on the street and I rolled down my window and he rolled down his and we looked at each other for an instant. At another time I might have been frightened and avoided him. However, I looked into the man's eyes and said to him "I'm sorry." He curtly nodded. The light changed and we drove off and I will probably never see him again. For once, I took responsibility and did not act out of fear. Can I do so again and not once but every day? I admit I know too little.

What right now teaches me is to accept who I am and see how I can change for the better and become more honest and responsible to myself and others. Part of that is owning my own story. I look back on mistakes and accept this is the kind of person I was and did the best I could with what I had. I looked on others' successes and saw only my own failures. I can get beyond that now. So much is helping me. I learn from Victoria's post on experience not being wasted, necessary to bring one to where one is. Or as Brene Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, which I have finally begun reading, "Owning our own story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it." I am similarly inspired by Marjory's story about connecting with her soulmates and living the story of their bodies together. She and Julie wrote the words describing their bodily experience on each other (love the smiles and laughter in the pictures.) "We wrote our precious word messengers on each others chests to let them sink into our hearts." Further on Marjory writes "Your body needs to know that you will hold its story with tenderness." Or it is captured for me in this sign, courtesy of insightful and courageous Carolyn.

So I continue to pursue honesty, aiming to be like the monk who says to his disciple "I am close to not being deceived about myself." "But master, how can that be?" asks the disciple. The master replies, "Talking is easy. Being is not."

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Garrett, you quote too much"

I am an imitator, from birth, it seems. I would repeat things I heard, whether appropriate to the situation or not, whether true to my experience or not.

Here's an example. I met a former teacher of my brother's when visiting a school I would later attend, and sat in the classroom. "Of course we miss Andrew, we all wish he'd flunked," the teacher said wryly. Then many years later I repeated those words to a student worker of mine who, having just graduated, was bringing her parents around on a visit. Of course, they were horrified at what I said, and I had not thought how it would be inappropriate or misinterpreted. And this was my favorite student with whom I enjoyed a wonderful working relationship. And I still failed to learn, continued to parrot words I heard elsewhere even when it didn't make sense. It is unconscious, it is not a working part of the mind.

It's one thing to use another's words for inspiration or to really get inside them and see how they say something to my life. I quote less and less because I know that the words are empty unless I apply them to my life and can show by example how that is done. I like to feel connected through quotes and through sharing of words and stories. And yet for so long I have interfered with the telling of my own story.

If what I have learned from others teaches me something it is humility and my lack of originality, on one level. On another level, as far as I am concerned, I am the only one who can act for me and in my own interest. It is a fluidity between self-assertion and letting go, effort and relaxation, the will to change and acceptance.

And it is not what I like or prefer that will make the difference but what I do. I know that but I fail to act.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

One thing

Eric asks if I have one thing to say to millions of people, what is it?

Good question. It's not something I've created and it was something hard to come by, what many tried to teach me and I couldn't learn until practicing it and hearing it over and over again.

Breathe. Relax. Smile.

It doesn't have to be fake. It doesn't have to suck. I can be grateful and I can be kind. (Unlike when the narrator of Don Juan tried to solve the couple's marital problems and reported "their treatment was not kind," and then the young Juan threw a pail of water on him "unawares." That's the kind of thing that can happen if I don't mind my own business.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The thing I'm afraid to do

Make someone angry. Or do I have that power? It is someone else's feeling or reaction, not mine, isn't it, as Mastin demonstrates with one of his quotes. And then I remember what Maya Angelou said, "people won't remember what you said, people won't remember what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

So I am afraid to tell someone close to me that their negative look is drawing me downward. I am upset by the catastrophe that we are in together, that we share, and I've done what I could. I'm powerless over the situation and I'm powerless over her. She won't change, she is who she is and she becomes more and more resistant to help, even after some progress. While I acknowledge her right to feel what she is feeling, she probably will not be satisfied unless I am feeling what she is feeling. Why do we have to feel the same thing? Why do we have to agree?

Sometimes I see the realtor's sign for a home that will soon be sold, it says "under agreement." And then I think if the deal falls through a sign should be put up which reads "agreed to disagree." So why can't we agree to disagree. Because the one closest to me sees it as an act of disloyalty. I don't have the stomach for this fight and I've demonstrated so time and time again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Talking to myself in the past and future

Today's prompt by Corbett Barr asks "What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?" I've always ducked the latter part of such questions, not being a person with conviction and courage to plan for and execute something in the future. And I would look back on the younger self with regret and shame, how I must have disappointed him. In one way, as many say, there is only now. In another, that now includes for me everything and everywhere I've been, whether I am conscious of it or not. This is still the same body even as cells have died off and been replaced, especially with fat cells. Faulkner is quoted as saying "The past isn't dead. It's not even past." I also think of the Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which states "The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone," and goes on to say the subject really wanted to change the past. How many times have I either automatically or deliberately changed outcomes in my mind, like I were writing fan fiction. At the same time, the future is already here, moment by moment, faster than I can comprehend, days have gone by. This year is almost half gone by.

Where was I five years ago? Not in a good place, work wise, financially, personally, many struggles with family members, and I was very sick and not seeking any kind of solution. I had to take steps to make changes but I could not do that without help and five years ago I was unwilling to accept help. I was so withdrawn and so inept I didn't even know how to talk and I am still learning how. What would I say to the person of five years ago that I am still carrying with me? Accept help, as hard as that is, as obdurate as you are. Acknowledge your pain and the pain you are spreading around. Take responsibility. And it will work out in one way or another, you will not come to harm, have a nickels' worth of trust. However, I doubt that the person I was could hear it or take action, something else had to happen, I had to be backed into a corner.

What would I say to the person five years ahead? Don't forget. Change does not happen overnight. Remember what changed for me, acknowledge those who help me, and keep doing what works, every day and try to incorporate something new that will help. Visit friends and relations, be grateful, acknowledge the spiritual forces which made you, stop, work hard, make decisions, do the next thing requiring to be done. The lesson I learned: "Let me do it now for I may not pass this way again." Someone else described procrastination as disrespect for the future, and I've certainly created more problems for the person down the road doing this.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Bold

Response to today's #Trust30 Dare to Be Bold

What is the one thing I've always wanted to do? Writing. And I've seldom done it, never acquired a discipline or a practice or a technique. I know nothing of phrasing or rhetoric or other technique, so what comes out is what comes out, if anything comes out at all.

In recent years, I've introduced myself as a librarian and a writer, thinking that by saying it, I would become it. It is not so.

Why do I want to do this? What am I trying to express? Would anything be better left unsaid?

I've had moments of satisfaction, writing articles for various publications throughout my life, school and career related, many papers that I was proud of once the agony of composing them had abated, and two poems, one for my wife and one that just sort of came to me some summer day. I do not have them hand but will post them when I do.

With this blog and other endeavors I've tried to acquire a habit, a practice of writing. But I don't strategize successfully. I am often at a loss. Words don't come out easily, the thoughts in my head don't seem to translate into written words.

What's going on? What is my aim with this? Creation? Passing on what I've learned? Celebrate something?

It's deep within me, this desire, but I cannot say why, I don't have a good reason. Wrote stories when I was a kid. I can smile at them now, not cringe. Something I have always wanted to do and never given the time.

I'm grateful to Buster Benson and his 750words site, which I have been using daily for several months. However, I have not gone back and reviewed anything, made use of it. Might be a good place to start.

However, I need to be with the process, not just dump something and throw it over the wall and be done with it. Revisit.

"What can communicate tries." Cid Corman

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What am I waiting for?

Reading Jonathan Mead's #Trust30 prompt and the quote from Emerson, my only response can be "Fuck, yes." I have spent my whole life wishing and waiting and nothing has come and I don't have any practice, creative or spiritual. Or I cannot maintain consistency. So with a week left, what would I do? Say goodbye? Make apologies? Probably not the latter. I've apologized too much already in my life, often every other word out of my mouth has been sorry. I suppose I'm a sorry ass, have the word written all over it.

So what would be the way to go out? Reverentially, thankfully, gratefully, respectfully, appreciating what now is? Hedonistically, taking every pleasure I have hitherto refrained from? In recent days I have been seeking a balance, self-care, family, friends, work. What would have to go? the 'puter. I am tied to it and unconscious. Would I get on a plane to France as I resolved to do yesterday and see my brother and his family? Would I express gratitude to my parents, who scrubbed me when I was fresh out of the womb, sheltered and clothed me, gave me an education and sent me on my way and continue to treat me generously? Seek out teachers throughout my life, as well as friends, thanking them for what they have given me? I can't think of any places I really want to go, what can I say, I like it where I am, I always see something new and that makes me feel alive, can't say that has always been true or always will be, being on the depressive side. Put my "affairs" in order? Say goodbye to my children? Say, I will not leave you comfortless?

Interesting this question is asked today. A friend of mine's daughter-in-law has a form of terminal cancer. A young woman with a young husband and a young child, and with the loss of her income they are in the midst of significant financial hardship, so my friend made a plea to which I responded, but truly I cannot comprehend anything like this, cannot grasp it in the roots of my being, even as I cannot understand the flattened houses on TV from the tornadoes last week.

And the day will come and part of me accepts this, maybe it is only intellectual, maybe it is postural, but what if it was said to me right now, have I really understood this word?

After all, I cannot keep it simple. And I know I've done the best I can with what I've had and I can still do better. Finally, in the last days, I would write more gratitude lists. Final rounds of thanks like roses unfolding their petals until they come to the end of their time in the sun.

And I have to say thank you for the #Trust30, I would not be addressing these questions otherwise or make a commitment to daily blogging, and I feel myself coming alive that way, FWIW. I feel a little bit of hitherto undiscovered strength and energy, maybe something I lost years ago and forgot. Thank you an exponential number of times.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Questions of Travel

Today's #Trust30 prompt from Chris Guillebeau is about travel. Where would I go and what would I do to get there?

I'm not much of a traveller. Throughout my life I've experienced free floating anxiety whenever the prospect of going anywhere is on the horizon. "Airport stomach," my first wife and I used to call it, and she claimed she never had it until she met me. I suspect because I made a lifetime of putting things off for tomorrow, a travel date represented the most anxiety-provoking thing for me, namely, right now, today, I have to do the thing that was planned, not just put it off for the future.

I've relaxed a little since then, feeling life's hold a little more loosely. Just starting a new job I don't feel I can take time off in the future. I have traveled little. My favorite city is Paris. I love the historic buildings, the art, the gardens, the Seine. However, I would like to visit Strasbourg, where my brother has lived for years. He has a new family and a baby on the way. Many times in the past he has asked me to come visit him in France. We connected twice in Paris (on each of my visits with former wife and current wife,) but I've never seen his French city on the Rhine where evidently the streets still have German names.

And this not visiting my brother, saving money, making arrangements, making a commitment, is part of a larger picture, hiding from my brother, hiding from fear of being judged unworthy by him and feeling the lash of his criticism. We've both grown and I've relaxed over many years and we see each other differently. He has never not been supportive. Whereas I would be influenced by his opinion, I can follow my own influences, and we can disagree and I can not take it personally and assume I'm wrong or that even being wrong is the question. So engaging with this man to whom I am closest genetically and biologically and yet there is such a gulf between us, not just geographically, carries meaning for me to make this a priority with time and money. And it would be great to take the kiddos, though I am not sure how David will react to the French, he's probably watched too much South Park.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Post-It Question

Jenny asks a Post-It Question on today's #Trust30 prompt.

My question would be: How can I remain true to myself and what is within me in the face of all my responsibilties, new job, children, home, taking care of others?

I think of Kierkegaard quoted in Carson McCullers's Clock Without Hands: "

“The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.”

My response after 48 hours will be updated here.

Update 6/6/11: OK. I lied. More than 72 hours, and haven't really thought specifically of this question, though maybe through answering the other questions I am, in part, living this question. There is still so much work for me to do.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

One Strong Belief (courtesy of Buster)

I am indebted to Buster Benson for his excellent 750words site which has helped me developthe habit of daily writing. And today he asks "What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family?"

I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Not everyone has to listen to everyone else's story and it is not possible to do so. From listening to any one, if I can learn one thing and take it with me or put it into action, it has been a successful encounter for me. It wasn't always this way for me. I was not a good listener. Too much in my own head to put myself in another's shoes, really imagine what it would be like to be someone else and feel what he or she was feeling, imagine where they had been and where they were going and what they were thinking and feeling right now. We are more than we can say or communicate in action, and I only see the instant that I see, and what do I really remember, is it accurate, do I really perceive what is right in front of me?

At the same time, I have been easily influenced by one person's point of view or another's, one that is persuasive enough, and it helps me to ask is that the entire story, or is there more, to filter from my experience and where I am right now. And asking questions becomes a practice generating more questions. It is good to know that, and to feel love and tolerance for others even if I might not like what they do at a given moment.

Force Majeure

After yesterday's post which may seem swaggering and overconfident, or not, nature waved a threatening finger with severe storms coming from the west. We were not especially affected, other than with pelting rain, lightning dancing and flickering from the ground up all around, a crack that sounded like it was right on top of the house. However, it was a little anxious, to paraphrase Piglet, not just being a very small animal, but because this old house is a falling down house and may not withstand high winds. The worry may not be so much part of it falling on us inhabitants but upon our neighbors to the north. It could be a big disaster. I decided to stay where I was, which may have been foolish, given that tornadoes had formed elsewhere and that the rain was so forceful evidently that radar had difficulty tracking the path. West of us towns were hit, buildings ripped, a school with the roof torn off, a truck overturned, many injured, some died. Maybe not on the level of Joplin but that would be small comfort to the victims. I have friends and colleagues in the middle and western part of the state (interestingly, communities which are largely ignored by the media except in situations like these) and I am concerned for them.

On one level, I didn't think the storms would amount to much, that it was unlikely that tornadoes would form in our area. I can say that I believe I will be taken care of no matter what happens. I don't what the present feeling would be in the face of catastrophe. Shock has not been a stranger to me, it has come in the form of life changes, bad news, accidents, but probably nothing on the scale that others experienced last night and are waking up to this morning. Truly from any broad perspective I have lived a sheltered life, probably have no business even commenting on this subject. Did many of us feel these feelings with the news of Japan, Mississippi, Louisiana, Joplin? Yes. So what will I do today? Pray for those who are suffering and not add to others' suffering or my own.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Today (Response to Liz)

Since I need prompting, I've joined a 30-day challenge, #Trust30 on Twitter. I'll take any help I can get, of course I have to act on the help I receive. Liz's post asks me who am I today, in one sentence?

My answer is: I am happy and confident.

If I were to say more than one sentence, or why I would say that sentence, those words out loud, write them, it's because I know I'm not alone. I know I'm loved. I know I can be useful. I know I have work to do. I know I have inner resources. And I know I have priorities. I am at the beginning of something amazing, and not knowing, watching things unfold, even as I move within it, doing what little I can, but always taking action.

Rhere have been times when I've dreaded the day that comes with no escape, when I would have to do what I said I would, take a trip, move, face disruption, face reckoning. Can I live daily with some feeling of urgency, without the desperation, without the dread, with gratitude, not from fear but from purpose, as Mastin teaches.

And for me there is usually an undertone of anxiety or uneasiness which I need to learn to be with and then take action. Years ago I worked briefly with a man named Jose who said, to my incredulity, no harm can come to you, they can hurt you, they can kill you, you're still you. I don't know if my saying that to someone else will give that person comfort, but I am a small part of something far greater than me that will take care of me, that I matter and don't matter, am responsible for what I can change and powerless over what I cannot change.

And I am grateful. Perhaps not at every instant, I am not conscious every instant. When I consider the landscape of my life, where my feet have walked, where my body has stood, sat and lay down and risen up again, the greater part of my life has been and continues to be unmerited gifts.

Today I have work to do for my new job, work that demands my attention, meeting with my counselor who always starts me off with relaxation and a smile, and time with my children whose company I enjoy even if they are not always enjoying one another.

On my way to the interview for the job I was eventually offered and accepted, on the highway, I found myself following a cement mixer with the word "Advance," on the back. It became my word for the day and I found what I needed from within and I know not from whence it came and I am still advancing. And happy and confident.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Where does that highway lead to?"

Much has been written about the American love affair with the car and the road. Driving today in the blazing sun I thought of the continuous highway that stretches beyond anything I might imagine. For it is all connected, every part of the landscape, trees, dirt, rocks, creatures within, and as it stretches on it is all simultaneously present from one moment to the next.

I cannot imagine what a discovery it may have been to someone how the automobile gave instant access to a continuous stream of high speed simultaneously present images stretching as far as the horizon and constantly unfolding.

This is the dream and the freedom of the car and the highway, thanks to the Eisenhower Interstate System of the 1950s. But what of the reality? I counted my blessings with a clear roadway ahead while traffic was backed up for countless miles in the other direction and thought sometime that will be my situation. There are many ways of dealing with it, here is one.

I'll be doing this every day driving to work. I would like not to be asleep to it, indifferent to it, hostile to it, but my mind has other ideas and obsessions. The highway is traffic, commerce, inconvenient construction, consumption of finite fossil fuels, discarded trash, slow decay, impact of weather, tolls, human conflict, silence, eternity, now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beautiful Butterfly

I don’t know how I came to discover Jessica Kristie and her blog which delivers new poems on a frequent basis and was the source for updates on the progress of her first collection, Dreaming in Darkness. But I’m happy to have done so.

Dreaming in Darkness is dramatic, brutally honest, confrontational, and mysterious - one of the sections even has a double-take inducing partial title “Magic of Desparation.” Throughout there are powerful insights on the effects people have on each other’s lives, like this description of internal experience in "Shades of You and Me"

"The sounds of each letter find their way to a piece of me –
I have been trying to forget."

This is a lovely imaging of relationship:


"Mutual fire and mutual admiration,
what a lovely place to be.
With my words inside of you,
and yours inside of me."

The desire to change one’s self ins expressed in these two poems:

"Love letter"

"I beg for revolving doors.
Pain in: my journey in life.
Pain out: to grow and change."

“We Walk on Water”

Down on bended knee, as my bluest aqua blue,

reminds me of a bitter truth -

I must change.

At the same time, the speaker shows an appreciation for who she is and where she’s been, also from “We Walk on Water”:

What a masterpiece I have created in my soul’s foliage.

It is shaped of stars with scented breezes.

A desire to transform language through poetry:

“Tragedy’s Room”

Today I want to put skin around my words,

turn sentences into limbs,

and reach across the seas.

Jessica, in her introduction, indicates these poems are composed from many stories she’s encountered, “listening to all sides and filtering them from” herself, as Whitman urged us to do.

All in all Dreaming in Darkness is a wonderful first collection encompassing romance, heartbreak, loss, aloneness, motherhood and insights on the writing process. It will be exciting to see Jessica’s work evolve.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Responses to Self-Care, Mindfulness and Social Media chat 3/7/11

I thoroughly enjoyed the web chat on social media featuring Jennifer Louden , Tara Sophia Mohr, Marianne Elliott, and Bridget Pilloud. Tara Gentile moderated.

Some of the themes which especially resonated with me were:

A mindful approach to what I post and share:

- Jen said that she considers, before posting material, “what’s the conversation” “what’s the context” “who am I” “what do I represent,” all pointing towards “mindfully sharing.” I take this to mean posting, sharing something that will contribute to a discussion, that will pointto a useful resource, something given toward serving someone else. She also creates an intention and sets a timer before she engages with social media, and while using it she pays attention to what is going on with her (emotional, mental, physical states,) adjusts accordingly and aims to “share strength and upbeatness,” rather than the contrary.

- Bridget described her mindful approach saying if she is feeling “equally excited and scared when” putting “something out there,” that is when she feels most real, that she describes as authenticity.

- Marianne spoke of “getting grounded before I start” and referred to “limitless qualities of social media,” and that “the body and mind are not accustomed to entering into such a place.” Her techniques include “drop into my body” “relax and release” “bring awareness into my body” (feeling her body being present, her breath and her body sitting and whatever is holding her up) (she also mentioned her Zenpeacekeeper’s guide to Twitter, sounds cool.)

- Tara brought forth insights about the addictive qualities of social media, likening these sites to computer games, noting they deliver similar rewards and feedback and affect dopamine levels. While Twitter and Facebook may not be designed for addiction, they are certainly meant to be engaging, she pointed out, and it is up to us “to be conscious of how we respond” to these networks and “manage” our responses. She also described her approach to posting material "consistent with compassionate and wisdom," and remarked "less is more" and about the importance of "white space."

A lot of the discussion also centered around engaging with others on social media. Here, Tara said, it is necessary to ask oneself “why am I going to social media,” and if one is “looking for validation and reassurance… Twitter may not be the best place to find it.” (In which case, better to pick up the phone or go visit someone or go where people are. Although in the café or the library people will likely be engaged in social media.) Bridget said it is OK to "think of social media like your house," and consider who you want to invite in and not. Jen urged us to ask ourselves the question "why do you want to talk to someone," and to "create our own fishbowl," connect and share with others with like interests who support our efforts.

I admit to being sucked into Twitter and Google Reader and I want to read everyone's tweets and blogs, and obviously it's not possible. And I have to have a certain degree of acceptance with that, and also accept that people are busy. And I was reminded during the talk, maybe by Bridget, there has be a certain give and take. What do I offer someone on social media? How can I support this person? Why would she/he care?

And applying the awareness and the patience and the mindfulness and the presence and the enjoyment and the gratitude that I apply at other moments in my life will go a long way. If I can step back from the computer. If I can know when to post and when to keep silent. If I can "do the work," as Tara says, actually produce something. And just breathe. And have an intention. And be here now.

A great discussion by wonderful, thoughtful, energetic, positive women who each have a powerful presence in Twitter and the blogosphere. Thanks to all for making this happen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Run Like Hell

I am thinking of the Pink Floyd record Run Like Hell. It's not one of their best, IMHO, I'm more of a Dark Side of the Moon kind of guy or even Piper at the Gates of Dawn even though I have slightly terrifying memories of the latter. Run. Get out. I guess Updike wrote a whole book on this theme though I never got very far in it, last I remember the policeman was discussing with Rabbit why he could not engage in the activity of drinking with his wife.

The pendulum swinging between fear and trust. Both and. The people I know may know what I need better than me and I am an expert on myself, knowing things that are only part of my experience. (I think of the Johari window.) The terror one might feel upon discovery that someone one trusted is not who he or she seems to be, does not have the same interests, we are working at cross purposes, the rules of the game were not apparent. Maybe it is like that in divorce and raising children subsequently. Someone has everyday insight but may be too close to the situation, or may have primarily his interests, his secrets, his squalor, his inability to admit difficulty and accept help. The other may not have the courage, a condtioned response not to argue and say the truth, quickened by fear, tossed about by multiple perspectives, trying to decide what's fair rather than assert what he wants.

I don't know. I cannot reflect. This hasn't been very specific. I am thinking of an early Monty Python episode where John Cleese plays the cliched version of a cowboy and tells the ineffectual Michael Palin character "There's a time when a man has to stop running." Then there's the amazing story I heard at the Monti in Durham, NC last year, listen to the ending.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"But I haven't got anything to say!"

I am thinking of the Peterkin Papers, a children's book from the late nineteenth century. I read it to my kids when they were younger. An evidently well-to-do family seems quite befuddled and their friend, the lady from Philadelphia, shows a bit more sense than the rest. For instance, the Peterkins have a piano delivered, and it is placed with the keyboard facing the wall. So the daughter sits outside on the porch in all kinds of weather and plays the piano through the window. Then the lady from Philadelphia suggests the family turn the piano around. Most of the stories are like that and some are more interesting than others. My thinking and acting, throughout my life, has been much like the Peterkins. Find the most complicated, convoluted way to do or say something. My ex-wife once said, regarding this behavioral pattern, "it must be difficult to be you?"

The one incident from this book that sticks with me today is when John John, one of the sons, decides he's going to be a writer, and goes out and buys a fine writing table, fine paper, a handsome pen and other accoutrements (probably a comfortable elegant chair, too.) Then he's seated at his desk with all his new things, pen freshly inked and raised, with a sad look on his face, and he says, desparingly, "but I haven't got anything to say!!!"

I often feel like that when I log on to this blog, or even meeting an acquaintance on the street, I fall into a strange blank space and don't know what to say. However, upon further review of the play, there is something to say (and sometimes it's OK to say nothing.) I read a fine blog post by Victoria relating her experiences teaching writing to students at a community college, and one of the guidelines she mentions hit me between the eyes: "A writer is someone who writes." Everyone has a story to tell and not everyone has to listen to everyone else's story. "Listen to all sides and filter them from yourself," Whitman wrote. Or as Ornette Coleman wrote in his notes to Body Meta, "if you can read or write, but don't write or read, why?" The thing is to make a beginning. Now. As Tony's quote of Goethe urges me: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."