Saturday, December 8, 2012
The biggest gift? Cats.
One I thought was found dead in the street. Cassie and I were rushing out the door to catch a flight to Washington, DC, to meet her sisters and clean out her late mother's apartment. We saw whom we thought was Pegasus, dead and bleeding from the mouth. We wrapped the dead cat up and put him in a cooler and let our friends know what happened. All weekend we thought we'd lost Pegasus and dreaded our return. When we got home Monday morning, all four of our cats appeared, including Pegasus. It was miraculous. So who was the cat that we found two days before? We'll never know. I brought the dead cat to the veterinary and asked them to give the animal a proper burial. However, I will never forget the gift of realizing that Pegasus, whom we thought was dead, is alive.
One night in September, Cassie informed me that our friend Michel had appeared in tears with a cat cage bearing Sabrina, his late father's cat. Another black cat, a longhair (we have had all shorthairs,) who had been abandoned since Michel's father's passing. He couldn't keep her as Ralph, their dachsund, wouldn't have it. Sabrina was clearly traumatized and spent most of the first two weeks with us in the cellar, though occasionally we would catch "Sabrina sightings," as she ventured upstairs for food. She had one eye which looked like it had cataracts but the vet later determined to be scar tissue (he also cleaned her teeth.) Gradually, she became more and more acclimatized and now Sabrina is our only lap cat. I haven't had one like this in years. She still mostly keeps to her living room sofa, but every day makes some sort of friendly appearance and explores a little more each day it seems.
This week it looked like we might lose Tibbs, who is Cassie's favorite. He is something of a fighter, somewhat aggressive and with a heart. He sleeps under the bushes along the driveway and yowls at us when one of us pulls up in a car. He likes to get into cars too. I thought I would be writing his obituary as he is diagnosed with feline leukemia and has been low energy with an undetermined infection, however, he is spending the night at the veterinary hospital and we are optimistic about his feeling better in the days ahead. Another gift. Nevertheless, I believe we have enough cats. ;)
Pegasus and Tibbs know what they want:
Aldous Huxley famously wrote, describing his advice to an aspiring novelist: "“My young friend,” I said, “if you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is to keep a pair of cats.” And with that I left him. I hope, for his own sake, that he took my advice. For it was good advice — the fruit of much experience and many meditations." However, what he goes on to say is the psychology cats reveal is not always so pleasurable; in fact, he describes many "sermons of cats" as "depressing." I suppose I've given up the novelistic aspirations, if I ever had any, though I do enjoy the privilege of these spiritual beings' care and company.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
1. My joyful surprise at Cassie's successful surgery, happened just as the doctor said it would. A skilled surgeon would know how and why, though for me something incomprehensible accomplishes the healing and I want to remain forever grateful.
2. Hannah singing the national anthem, rising to the occasion a couple of days after she was hospitalized with an infection. Driving her to the event she was having difficulty finding the right key, and then she calmly, unflamboyantly settled into it.
3. An abundant garden where one had not grown recently, flowers and vegetables, surprise upon surprise day following day. Though I've loved fresh tomatoes ever since I can remember, the real gift was the eggplant, which reportedly are hard to grow. A reminder of the abundance of life and water and soil and sunlight and growth.
4. Meeting Helen in person. We'd begun a correspondence through the We Love Gratitude website. I admire her faith, perseverance, humor and colorful way of describing people and events.
5. The Inspiring Women project, even as it feels unfinished ...
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
James Blackshaw. I like the solo guitar style made prominent by John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Robbie Basho and others I'm probably not familiar with, and Blackshaw's work seems like a worthy extension of that idiom.
Here is a video of Blackshaw playing on the street. I'm not sure of the date, it was probably filmed in the past few years, the sounds of the street complement the guitar playing. I also like when he dryly says "Cut" at the finish.
The Broken Hourglass is another performance that resonates with me, I listen to it a lot and love the emphasis and dynamics. It's a big sound and at the same time there's a lot happening.
There's also the Cloud of Unknowing. Blackshaw has an album of the same name though I like this live version a little more, it has a staccato quality in some places not heard in the other.
Hard to choose since there's so much of his work that I like, but here's Boo, Forever. I don't know what the instrument is that accompanies him in the final minutes.
Why? Something about his playing changes something in my being, I'm not sure what it is.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Looking back on the past year, not only did I not write much, I forgot my own advice in this blog's title.
I depend on an uncountable number of people each day, particularly in my job. Plans that I made and expected colleagues to help with did not come about, for reasons that became clear to me later on, but at the time paranoia and resentment clouded my thinking. I was unwilling to give others the benefit of the doubt and not "take it personally." Furniture and appliances were not delivered, no one would explain, and I became hostile and non-communicative.
The ice may have melted when I was in the process of writing an accusatory email and then I realized that it said more about it me than its intended recipient. Where were my priorities that I would take the time to send a "nastygram" instead of focusing on what needed to be done?
So as the moments arise, each out of each, I want to take things more lightly, that maybe what I think must be said in the moment doesn't need to be. It can wait. Or it won't matter.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Taking the prompt again from Hope again, I think of the past 4th of July. Cassie and I hosted our family, which this year included Andrew, my brother, Chloe, his partner, and Leon, Alan and Simon, three children all six and under. I don't see my brother often. It was Cassie's stroke of genius to buy a plastic wading pool for the kids. Especially meaningful was that the year before we were out of the house because of construction, with no certainty when the house would be fixed or when we would return. This year, we enjoyed bright sunlight, several outdoor gatherings and a flourishing garden which yielded many vegetables and flowers. Oliver, our neighbor, remarked that nothing had ever grown in that soil that he could recall. The 4th has special meaning for Cassie as it was her late father's favorite holiday. It was a summer to remember, especially with the yield from the garden. Home is especially grounding for Cassie, so to speak.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
I love Rachel’s Daily Pep Talk from a Best Friend and look forward to it. Rachel describes the site as “daily affirmations that don't suck.”
Mostly these consist of positive, encouraging and motivating messages. Here’s one to counteract stress and focus on a goal. Another reminds us that each of us can express creativity. Then there’s one that urges you to trust yourself and remember where you’re the expert and need not heed criticism or instruction.
When someone shares an accomplishment, Rachel gives a shout out, another aspect of affirmation that may inspire others in their own pursuits and reflective of the author’s generosity and kindness.
A great thing to do is subscribe to Rachel’s pepcast via iTunes and let her uplifting words enter into you through an auditory experience. Here’s a shining example. The site also has a “Random” link for those who like surprises. Here’s one I got to just now.
I look forward to seeing Rachel’s newest creations in my feed reader and always get a lift. Thank you Rachel!
Sunday, March 25, 2012
I met Maria two years ago at ScienceOnline2010. I’m not a mathematician myself (although my father is,) and I’ve never taken any advanced math courses, but more on that another time. At the time I was a librarian for a scientific research institute and attracted to the event because of its emphasis on (and having learned about it through) social media. Anyhow, Maria and I struck up a conversation and I learned about her work which you can get glimpses of on her website and blog. Since my inclination is finding information, I answered some questions she posted to Twitter, and Maria eventually invited me to join her math social bookmarking group.
Maria describes the purpose of Natural Math from her teaching and learning practice and philosophy:
“We need to participate and engage babies and kids in math-rich, meaningful human endeavors that are useful, beautiful and fun. From the earliest time, kids should see themselves as co-creators of mathematics. The richness of the mathematical culture has to become available and accessible in a wide variety of communities, in many beautiful and meaningful forms.”
Toward these ends, Maria created “communities of practice,” through math clubs, videos, the Math Future Wiki (which hosts frequent online events with innovators in math study and teaching.) And consider Maria’s ideas on curriculum as well as her inspired crowdfunding endeavor to create math objects for young children, Moebius Noodles.
A recent story Maria co-wrote with Sarah Berenson emphasizes her concerns with encouraging girls to pursue math and science in school and beyond, focusing on the Girls on Track summer camp resulting from a partnership between several North Carolina colleges and schools and entering into its second decade. “Inspired by the girls, we are working on an integrated model connecting the academic track point of view with personal and community significance of mathematics,” the authors report.
Recently, Maria directed her energies towards math learning games and in recent presentations here and here discusses “helping everybody - millions of kids, parents, teachers - design or remix their own games,” through communities of practice, social networks, and taxonomies.
For her advocacy of math and children’s natural learning and creativity, her effective use of technology and social media, and her entrepreneurial spirit, it is no wonder that one of her fellow travellers called Maria “the Maven of Math World online,” and I heartily agree.
From her story, I learned not only of her youthful modeling career, but how she changed course in her vocation, according to what she knows she likes to do. Joanne wished to become a doctor when she was a child, but found she preferred working in the laboratory. In the pursuit of a PhD, she realized she favored teaching over research and that’s what she does today in the classroom and online.
Let Joanne tell you about her change in perspective, it’s really quite insightful and moving: “I began by wanting to view the heavens with a telescope and then ended up looking into the body with microscopes. I started my life by focusing mainly on science and preferring NOT to be seen, to experiencing a world whose main emphasis is image and being larger than life, to withdrawing back into a studious scientific bent and now putting myself once again out in the world, trying to integrate all that I am in my goal of sharing science.”
Especially, Joanne says, her goal is to encourage young men and women to take in interest in science and not be put off by negative sterotyping. To that end, Joanne goes a long way to communicate the beauty in wonder and the wonder in beauty of the scientific phenomena she encounters.
I’m especially impressed with Joanne’s video book reviews and the range of books she spotlights. One she did with her daughter Amanda on the YA novel Math Girls is particularly enjoyable, focusing on an intriguing combination of math problems and teen romance with the emphasis: "Math isn't hard. Love is."
Or see Joanne’s collection of highlights from video posts on chemistry, Joanne Loves Chemistry to get a further sense of her spectrum of interests.
I’m also fond of Joanne’s discussions of the science of beauty, particularly the chemistry of make up, revealing the use and advantage of science in everyday products.
Some are odd, such as Joanne’s experiment of how many cats can fit in a kitchen sink. Another more reflective example is Joanne’s profile of Jacques Cousteau and how his work influenced her scientific interests.
These are just a few examples, however, and I have seen anything else like what Joanne does. Go see for yourself.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Jasmine’s blog is silent at the moment and she still speaks volumes.
Right now I’ll focus on Jasmine’s complex story of leadership. What immediately comes to mind is her five-part series on her trip to Vermont, a place she calls her heart, following Hurricane Irene.
Jasmine went north with her friend and the story begins with a volunteer coordinator asking for folks with trade skills. Her friend answers “We do,” for both of them, to which Jasmine reacts in disbelief, but her friend persuades her, subtly and not-so-subtly to go along.
“It turns out my friend is a born leader. She was able in that moment to see that what was really needed was a few people with organizing skills who were comfortable leading a group of people to safely and effectively accomplish a task. She knew we had these skills in spades.” Jasmine then goes on to elucidate some interesting discoveries:
“Leaders are not born (except my above mentioned friend), they are empowered. And they are not just empowered by an outer source of authority, but equally from an inner source of authority. …
Do not look at barriers. Only focus on resources. I was so hung up on my idea of myself as someone who is bad with a hammer and clumsy with a saw I couldn’t see the vast reservoir of resources I had to offer…
Everyone is a leader. From that moment forward I not only looked for what resources I could offer to the situation, but I also immediately looked to everyone else as resources as well.”
Eventually Jasmine and her friend assume coordination of the local project from a weary, grateful farmer, and she reports on what they accomplish:
“By afternoon volunteer crews had made substantial progress on the whole street, and by progress I mean amazing leaders had taken the responsibility to do things like hand five gallon buckets full of mud up through a hole in a basement for hours and hours on end as part of a large bucket brigade lined up through the basement and up through to behind the house.
Anyone who came to me that morning and showed the slightest sense of initiative I immediately put in charge of something. One woman came to me and asked,
“Would it be okay if I went and got a belt for Fred (the elderly man whose house we were working in who’d lost everything and then the day before his belt had broken)?”
I answered, “Not only is it okay, but you certainly don’t have to ask my permission, and when you get back from getting him a belt I am going to put you in charge of the whole street.””
“She didn’t know she could lead until that moment when she already was.” By doing. The upshot is “claiming your wisdom, power, and purpose in every moment.”
Jasmine goes on to meet the governor, by asking to speak with him after the governor expresses bewilderment at the condition of the town and the apparent lack of management. After the encounter, she reflects: “Maybe it wasn’t the Governor’s job to get the young out-of-state Vermonters to come home and help, maybe it was mine.”
And after travelling back to Massachusetts after two days, Jasmine, reflecting on her experience, realizes what she is called to do, what the governor was saying to her: “Less than an hour ago Governor Shumlin had said to me, “I need you” and fun as it was to flirt with the idea he needed me, what he meant was:
“Vermont needs all the help it can get and this town in particular. You showed up and now your leadership is needed. I don’t want to date you. I want to dare you to offer your skills to this community.”
So she returns. Confronted with similar chaos, Jasmine relates, in a moving and complex piece titled I Just Stood There Being an Opportunity:
“Looking for opportunity means realizing everyone is a resource however obstinate, recalcitrant, inefficient, inept, inert, traumatized, limited, or lame they seem to be. Help channel their energy in the right direction and—Voila! We move forward, work gets done, needs get met.
By the end of the day new connections were being made, awkward grace was establishing itself, and community leaders and the town selectman were beginning to work together.”
Physically exhausted by her efforts, however, Jasmine soon finds herself not as caretaker but in the position of being taken care of by newfound companions. The words she quotes from Pema Chödrön have particular resonance: ““Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” By helping others we help ourselves, through what we can give each other.
Recovering from this draining experience, Jasmine speaks in the next segment of grand plans to start a relief organization to take care of Vermont and more, until she is reminded by a text from a friend to take care of herself first with the word “differentiation.” She summarizes the complexity of her lessons incisively:
“We need leaders in this world, but equally we need teamwork and we need friends. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective at all in anyway what-so-ever.
We get into trouble if we think we can leave it all to the invisible THEM, but we also get in trouble if we think we have to do it all ourselves.”
It’s one of my favorite stories that documents the power of assuming leadership and responsibility balanced with the realization that helping others helps us and we can’t help anybody if we don’t take care of ourselves also.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Because I appreciate Christine’s honesty about writing and living, exemplified in this post where she writes: “I realized that the hard work I’ve done to pull myself out of the trenches of depression and anxiety has been important and valuable, but hasn’t yet fully addressed the root of my struggles—my sense of self-worth and my ability to love and honour myself.”
In another, on creativity, she says “Creativity means filling others with emotion, making a difference through beauty or skill, inspiring.” Then she goes on to write openly, “My life has become an array of contradictions. I’m happy, but I’m numb. I’m energetic, but I’m weary. I’m productive, but I’m still hopelessly lost. I’m doing, but I’m not being. I’m full of life, but running on creative empty.”
I consider Christine inspiring because she is willing to acknowledge her difficulties and persist towards equilibrium and self-expression. Look at the compassionate and open-hearted letter she writes to her younger self:
“Take the time to really consider your goals. Don’t worry about the expectations of others. They aren’t the ones who will be living your life. I cannot emphasize this enough. Stop, think and revisit your deepest thoughts often. Reflect on who you think you are and who you want to be. What brings you joy and helps you to feel fulfilled? Use this to help you decide what you want to do with your life. A day will come when you learn that a career should be about passion and happiness, rather than expectation and success. It should complement the rest of your your life, not be your life. Otherwise, you might regret some of the choices you make.”
And the hard realized truths she shares: “And so, if you ask me what I’ve learned this year—after all the reading and introspection, this hard, soul work—I’ve learned that this is just it. Today. This moment. Life is best lived now, not in the past or the future. If you can understand that, I mean really, really grasp it, then everything else either falls into place, or it falls away. All of it.”
Keeping an eye on my reader, Christine, until next time.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Like Ariel who finds “color…where there appears to be none”, Sally seeks inspiration “everywhere,” particularly from fellow fashion bloggers towards whom she is unfailingly generous, as the representation in her weekly Lovely Links post demonstrates.
And Sally’s style, clothes and colors and textures, is impeccable, helped by the clear photography and frequently lovely open air settings she chooses. Whether it’s focusing on a particular piece of clothing as in this essay on blazers, or advising readers where to buy or consign clothes (she places particular emphasis on thrift stores,) Sally offers an endless stream of tutorials and novelty.
Sally’s blog combines great style advice and examples with serious consideration of women's body image. She writes also that through dressing beautifully she began to appreciate her own body. This post includes a generous quote that expresses Sally’s body experience masterfully.
Body Gratitude is an excellent example of Sally’s aims, where she lists ten qualities she appreciates about her physical appearance and capabilities, following a few identifiable disatisfactions.
In response to a feminist documentary that makes her question her focus on clothes and style and body, Sally frames her work: “The point is not to feel beautiful. The point is to feel powerful, capable, invincible. The point is not to feel pretty. The point is that you’re already pretty, and once you’ve accepted that, you free up an enormous amount of mental space for other things. And, in the vast majority of cases, those other things have nothing to do with shoes or moisturizer or nipped-in waistlines. Tools. They’re just tools. Weapons, even. They help you build and craft the external you, so that the internal you can do her work unimpeded.”
Similarly, read the encouragement she gives other women not only to appreciate themselves but to say so out loud:
“Wouldn’t you love to hear more women talking about their amazing legs, fabulous shoulders, and flawless skin? Wouldn’t you feel empowered by overhearing a pack of ladies lauding their superior strength and sensual curves and undeniable grace? … I constantly ask women to cast off their self-focused negativity and accept their own beauty. But it would be equally beneficial to encourage women who have ALREADY accepted themselves as gorgeous beings to say so. Aloud. Declarations of self-admiration and bodily-love are brave and inspirational acts, not indicators of conceit. And we who struggle should acknowledge them as such.”
Sally’s writings on self-care and fitness are equally noteworthy explorations of how her practices sustain her healthy self-image, showing what works for her and ultimately brings her joy that it may help her readers towards something that works for each.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Tara Sophia Mohr’s poems put me in the company of two huge insights.
At one point, she communicates the richness and vastness of life and at the same time its essential inexplicable and inextinguishable qualities:
“You will be asked: Did you know it,
this place, this journey?
What there is to know can’t be written.
Something between the crispness of air
and the glint in her eye
and the texture of the orange peel.”
“I never believed in death, for I never saw it.
I saw only that this became that.
The petals fell away, and the thing became a stem,
and the floor became scattered in pink.
Containers break. Eras end.
Thing-ness only a stopping ground,
a pause at the train station, followed by moving on.
You were never yourself, and I was never I.
Everything cresting and falling,
giving way, again, to the ocean.”
At the same time, in the face of something truly spectacular and mindful of personal insignificance, Tara urges this expansion of one’s living through power and action:
“When you know you are a just a disco party
of cells that came together for a time,
you’ll live like the blazing sphere you are,
and dance with the spheres around you.”
And with the understanding of life’s abundance, comes both appreciation and aim:
“Don’t be greedy with the universe, she said to me.
But she didn’t say it in the mean way.
She didn’t say don’t dream big, don’t want things, don’t think you
She meant: look at your life and trust it.
Notice how you have forever been given what you need.”
Or in this one, a generous response provoked by belonging given by awareness of nature:
“I walked backwards, against time
and that’s where I caught the moon
singing at me.
I steeped downwards, into my seat
and that’s where I caught freedom
waiting for me like a lilac.
I ended thought, and I ended story.
I stopped designing, and arguing, and
sculpting a happy life.
Instead I chopped vegetables,
and made a calm lake in me
where the water was clear and sourced and still.
And when the ones I loved came to it,
I had something to give them, and
it offered them a soft road out of pain.”
And especially in this invitation, which displays mindfulness of life’s fleeting nature and a sense of urgent calm:
“This is your time.
Your time to say what you have kept silent.
Your time to ask your big questions without apology.
Your time to shine like a blazing comet,
whether they like it or not.
Your time to believe what your heart tells you:
that this world could be very different.
Your time to live by your rhythms,
and teach them to the world.”
(“This is Your Time,” in Your Other Names excerpt, p.3)
These are relatively short poems, but inside them is infinity, communicating what’s big and inspiring me to becoming bigger, enabling me to hold seemingly disparate thoughts at the same time. Brilliant.
Friday, March 16, 2012
There, as well as a diary of her creative journey and moments of joy and discovery from being a wife, mother and “creative cheerleader,” as Tammy also writes. Generosity towards and collaboration with like-minded artists is characteristic of her as the founder of Mortal Muses and her participation in Shutter Sisters and Paper Coterie.
Tammy has converted her photos from Instagram into web tableaux via Followgram, as well as her whimsical iPad doodles. Hard to choose favorites, but here’s one for perspective, light, elegance and interesting color scheme; beach bliss looks like a watercolor; a colorful creative project with her son; the fearful symmetry of the ferris wheel; and the new member of their family here and here.
Tammy has great instincts, timing, an eye for beauty, and an open heart. I’m happy to have met you online, Tam.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
On my bulletin board is a poster with phrases in black and blue letters, words I use to remind me of what to be grateful of right now and what is possible for me, words like “This life is a gift,” “embrace the possibilities,” “choose the path of joy,” “trust yourself- you know what you know,” “it’s OK to love a multitude of things & Want to Do Them All.” Andrea made it and her work is an invitation to possibility thinking and practice.
From the multitudes Andrea creates and includes on her web site, these are inspiring me today.
Reflecting on a recent journey, Andrea writes, “Travel replenishes the well of possibility,” and comments that she spent most of her trip noticing:
“How the vibrant colors of the landscape were so different from those at home.
Daily meals can be transformed into rituals of beauty and community by using fine china and candles.
Lives and livelihoods do not necessarily need to be separated – just ask the many craftspeople and shopkeepers who live above their places of business.
The power of place can turn an ordinary experience into an extraordinary one – for example, taking in a symphony in centuries old ruin on top of hill.
Work-life balance seems to be a priority as many shops close early enough to allow workers time at home with their families (and some even continue the tradition of closing at mid-day for a few hours to allow a healthy mid-day break).”
And that these phenomena prompt her to consider possibilities in her own life, and she urges the reader: “Take a trip. Look at your life as if you were seeing it for the first time, through the eyes of a tourist. What would you observe?”
Cultivating curiosity and writing things down is another practice Andrea praises as a way to discover your multitudes. Recording a conversation with her mother during which Andrea described all of the activities she is engaged in and her mother’s response was “Wouldn’t it be better to find a job? Just one job?” Andrea’s answer is:
“When you embrace that you like a lot of different things – and have a multitude of interests – you get to place of knowing. Knowing who you really are. Knowing that you are OK just the way you are. Knowing that you may not be able to do everything all at once but that you just might get to do some of it.”
Possibility thinking gives Andrea the freedom to change: “Quitting something because you got what you came for is different than quitting because you are afraid – afraid that you can’t do it, that you don’t have the skills or the knowledge, or that you are otherwise lacking.” When something in our life no longer serves the same purpose, it is all right to move on.
And possibility thinking enables one to challenge negative thoughts with contrary thoughts: “We have allowed words to be the “truth” about ourselves when the real truth lies elsewhere – namely, in our experience.” It reminds me of William Blake in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell,"without contraries there is no progression ..." and "Contraries are positives. A negation is not a contrary." (in Milton). It’s possible to hold competing thoughts and it is possible not to believe either one of them, not to be caught on the pendulum.