Archive for the ‘Living and Learning’ Category

Across the Lines

July 16, 2017

Over the years I’ve heard complaints from different people about other different people, that the Italians are so noisy, or the Greeks are loud, that Blacks are impossible when they get together in groups because of their noise level and lately, particularly, that Africans congregating make a constant racket. The speakers are, obviously, not Italians or Greeks or Black Americans nor Africans. The speakers are more likely of northern European or Asian backgrounds, from cultures where restraint, quiet voices, and minimizing confrontation are deeply embedded values.

I’m not out to compare the benefits of restraint versus airing one’s mind, not to suggest that one way of interacting is better than another; all are equally effective for the members of the defined groups. My interest is in a more personal appreciation of how the same action can feel very different when experienced by members of different cultures.

Specifically, I engaged with my spouse in a process of clarifying an assignment. Together we successfully sorted out what was required and he completed his work well before the deadline. The sorting out process went rather more by his cultural norms than my own, feeling to me like an argument with raised voices, almost shouting and bordering on anger, whereas he thought our volume was merely that of a beneficial discussion.

In a similar vein, as I’m making new friends among the Africans attending school near my home, I find I’m having to explain my quietness as “just my nature” and not the result of feeling ill or ill at ease. I speak up when I have something to say, but have never learned to put energy into debate for its own sake, nor to chat casually about non-essentials. I used to think this a failing on my part, this inability to make “social chitchat” as my mother scornfully called it. I used to wish I had acquired that skill, and tried to do so but without success. My efforts were perceived for what they were, a stilted pretense of interest. Only when I had/have a role, like hostess at a party, or instructor, or guide, am I able to talk easily to or in a group. Thankfully, I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept this way that I am, and not feel badly about it.

With that acceptance has come the ability to observe different cultural patterns of communication and even to learn how to participate in unfamiliar ones without too much stress. Not so very long ago, the assignment discussion with my husband would very possibly have turned into a genuine argument, not because we disagreed but because the feeling tone of the way we expressed our understanding of it was so very different. I would have gotten hung up on the sense that he wasn’t listening to me, or giving consideration to my opinion, and he might have given up trying to convince me that I didn’t understand the assignment. Instead of a successful solution, we would have been left with frustration.

In a larger social context it seems to me that our nation is expressing constant frustration these days, arising from lack of ability to communicate across a deep cultural divide. The intolerance on both sides of that divide gets translated into a false belief that trying to understand “the opposition” is a sign of weakness and a betrayal of values. I’m far from the first to point out that “my way or the highway” has replaced finding grounds for “meeting in the middle” to the detriment of civility and increasingly to the detriment of our civil institutions.

I’m old enough to remember my parents glued to the radio listening to the Army-McCarthy hearings that brought about the end of the ugly extremism of the early 1950s. I therefore have a degree of confidence, based on past history, that the present accusatory public debate will also resolve itself and allow us to move forward in a more civil and civilized manner as a society. We won’t get there by each side trying to out-shout the other. Rather, both sides need to find the bases for having sufficient confidence in themselves and their values that they can tolerate listening to a different opinion without feeling attacked.

If we each start with a one on one encounter with someone from another part of the political spectrum, what progress we as a whole might achieve!

 

As One Luddite to Another

July 8, 2017

I took a survey on Quartz about my interactions with artificial intelligence – questions about my familiarity with its current role in various fields as well as what I would or would not want it to be doing for me in five years. The process made me both aware of how many ways AI is already affecting my life, and the ways that I very strongly object to it doing so. At the most simplistic level, I have always turned off “auto correct” in my word processing software – my knowledge of correct grammar is better than that of any language correction program I have yet encountered. I don’t mind suggestions, I abhor being summarily overruled.

All the supposedly-tailored-to-my-interests advertising and “read this” article suggestions that pop up when I’m using a search engine make it clear how pervasive AI already is; also making it clear how inadequate it is in matching my interests. Because you see, when I’m searching for something i’m only interested in that single item. All the suggestions are irritating distractions. If AI were in fact intelligent it would know I hate and ignore them.

Recently I was given a loaner car while mine had serious undercarriage repairs. The new VW provided to me as an enticement to consider an upgrade/purchase came equipped with lots of gadgets not offered when I bought my custom-ordered Golf TDI in 2004. The various improvements on seat adjustment were nice. The polite requests that I turn on trip director and let the GPS system tell me where to turn felt almost insulting. I mean please, if I need to be told how to drive from my motel to my workplace, I shouldn’t be behind the wheel at all! Perhaps I could learn to adjust to using the screen that comes on when the car is put into reverse, but the perspective was disorienting and I looked over my shoulder to back into a parking space, as I have all my life.

It’s already apparent, when there’s a power failure at the checkout counter, that business grinds to a halt, and not just because the under 30’s cashiers can’t do simple arithmetic to make change. Inventory control, all sorts of other functions are now tied to the computers inside the cash registers and without power they don’t work. Annoying when standing in a store, unable to complete my shopping. Impossible when it’s a matter of getting where I need to go.

I really don’t see the point of a device meant to move me from one place to another being designed to be totally dependent on a computer (artificial intelligence) and thereby unable to do its primary job whenever there’s a ‘glitch’ in that device. The cars (and pickups) I grew up with could be wired together, adjusted and kept running by a reasonably intelligent layman. Those vehicles kept doing their primary job year after year after year. The new vehicles being presented as superior require a whole garage of high tech equipment just to diagnose what’s not working right. That doesn’t seem to me to be particularly intelligent.

I like and appreciate computers – in their proper place. They are good at supporting communication, quickly organizing or sorting data, making huge libraries of information readily available, enabling me to have face to face visits with friends and family around the world. I suppose the AI personal assistants can be considered to be highly skilled data organizers, keeping track of appointments, reminding of laundry that is ready for pickup, providing lists of nearby restaurants that meet the … hmm, owner? master? boss? human’s preferences,

We’re already told we use only a small portion of our brains. Why are we being moved toward using ever less of them? Shouldn’t we be expanding our own mental capacities rather than giving our already limited thinking capacity over to an artificial brain?

Makes no sense to me, unless maybe that artificial brain can quickly teach me to understand how Chrome works. My brain has been so programmed by Microsoft, that it fights adapting to Chrome. I know there’s no delete key, for example, but my hand keeps reaching for one anyway. Come on, unused brain cells, kick in and take over and learn this new system. Isn’t that what you were created for? To be used?

 

Moving Forward

June 11, 2017

If I were required to give a theme to my present set of priorities, it would be what I’ve taken as the title of this post – moving forward. Not necessarily by conscious choice, and not without some rather bumpy road to traverse. Rather, recognizing that the bumps are jostling my state of equilibrium and pushing it towards a new place, way of perceiving/being.

Not coincidentally, this is my marriage anniversary period, and also the start of a new way, for me, of accessing the “larger world” of technology, Internet, etc. Coming from a weekend MasterPath seminar with my spiritual teacher into a dramatic challenge, on Monday, of the theft of my purse, with driver’s license, credit cards and phone necessitated an immediate implementation of the lessons reinforced on Sunday. Regaining the critical items – driver’s license and phone – by Wednesday, through the attentiveness and caring of three strangers, demonstrated to me how protected I am from any serious harm.  Experiencing also the thoughtless and even ugly corporate responses of Walmart, MVD and La Quinta has pointed me toward engagement with “speaking Truth to power” that I have avoided in recent years. Moving forward in this arena means being clear in my intention, such that there is no anger in my communication. I’m not out to force changes that somehow “put things right”, only to point out clearly the values which are being trashed by blind corporate policy. If changes result, find. If they do not, so be it. I’m not attached to the outcome, only to the truth.

Being without my phone for most of a week was enlightening. I was made tangibly aware of the extent to which I have come to rely on it for access to news, as well as for the distracting pastime of playing various solitaire game. I already knew that I needed better access to email and various internet sites – including this one – and that I would have to get some sort of replacement for the recently deceased laptop I had been using. Without really any research, I went to Best Buy and came out with a Chromebook. It fits my financial limitations, and seems to actually fit my needs well, if I can just figure out how it works! Being old school and accustomed to printed materials, I feel the lack of a manual to teach me how to use such a different device. It helps that I’ve decided it’s about half way between a smart phone and a laptop. At least I have a frame of reference for thinking my way through accomplishing necessary functions. I have not yet figured out how to print a web page, if that is even possible? Yes, I know I can access manual sections on line, and will have to do so for the time being. And I can also use my husband’s computer (when he’s not busy on it) to find and print the manual. So why do those options feel unsatisfactory? Obviously, because they represent yet another way in which I am being pushed to move forward, away from familiar methods of doing things and onward into the new world order.

Caring without being attached, trusting without fear of being misled, speaking out without anger or other negative emotions, communicating clearly but without engagement with results… all avenues for moving forward into yet another new way of being, implementing yet another level of the fascinating path of spiritual evolution.

Thanks be.

 

I’m Not…

May 6, 2017

Whatever else is or is not right with the world, heavy snow and a high of 30F on the last days of April is most definitely not right. Maybe for Alaska, but not for New Mexico. Yes we get spring snows, even into May on rare occasions, but not wintry cold snow lasting more than two days and temperatures in the teens. Not later than March. But that is what we had last weekend, and now here it is looming again. Wind and damp and plummeting temperatures, icy rain on the way. Or maybe snow again? At least this weekend I did get a walk in the sun earlier this afternoon, before the weather turned.

I’m trying to put myself into a mood to be appreciative of the moisture which is always welcome in our high desert environment – but not succeeding very well, at least partly because we’ve had few pleasant weekend days to enjoy the outdoors. I feel stagnant, rusty, worn… I dare not say old, as several of my closest companions have forbidden me that word.

One benefit of living in a rural setting is ready access to the pleasures of nature, but the down side of living 15 miles from town is no easy access to indoor places for exercise. At least so I tell myself – that if I lived in town I’d get over to the indoor track and walk in winter as readily as I walk the rural lane near me in warmer weather. Maybe I delude myself? Would I really make the effort?

It’s regrettably easy to imagine how much differently – better – one would do things “if only”, rather than make the effort to do those things “despite”. Nothing prevents me from walking around and around in my house when I can’t get my walk outdoors – but I don’t do it. I don’t even give myself an excuse as to why I don’t do it. Nor do I question what it would take for me to develop a habit of in-the-house exercise. Obviously the activity just isn’t important enough to me at this time.

What is more important, but equally unresolved, is finding my way toward a change in how I relate to certain types of people. Specifically, how do I move past an emotionally based and negative attitude toward people whom I experience as dishonest, hypocritical users. They are what they are and that isn’t going to change. As often as possible, I have chosen to avoid engagement with such persons once it becomes apparent that no amount of tolerance and making allowances will produce a more honest and positive interaction. I know myself to be someone who leaves a good space for others to be as they choose to be but I do give myself permission to not engage with those whose conduct persistently offends me.

I also acknowledge that once they’ve crossed an ethical line, there’s no going back. I guess I embody the saying shared with me recently by my hairdresser. It’s something she found on line. “I’m not Jesus, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so don’t expect me to either forgive or forget.” My most common response is to avoid further contact, a tactic which has worked effectively until now.

For the first time in my life, I am faced with both a professional and a personal challenge to how I will deal with a person I cannot avoid but whom I also choose not to forgive. The work situation is the less difficult, in that I have relatively little direct contact with the upper level manager whose behavior is unacceptable. The personal situation is in-family and therefore much more difficult to avoid. Others whom I care about are involved so there’s not just my interaction with the person, but theirs also to consider.

So as I try to find some positives in the experience of winter on the last days of April, I find I must also reconsider what has felt like unforgivable behavior towards me. Needed moisture redeems the snow and cold. What might the equivalent be in regard to a relationship I have less than no desire to rekindle, after a long period of mutual avoidance?

My dilemma arises from the separate issues I have with this person’s behavior, above and beyond those that the others in my circle feel, and I feel on their behalf. How do I clear space for them to sort out their relationships with the problem person while I remain disengaged from the process?

“Won’t you accept an apology?” I was asked.

If I thought the person capable of offering a sincere one, and there was an accompanying change of actions, with a new and moderately respectful attitude toward me, then yes, I would accept the apology. Sadly, I know such a change is not forthcoming.

“If I’m shown a hypocritical face, I will show the same back” is the strategy to be used by one of the others involved. While that may in fact be an effective response, I know myself incapable of copying it. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions, to pretend something I don’t feel. As a good friend said to me recently, “When you are righteously angry, it is a powerful anger and everyone can feel it.”

So I will instead take myself out of the way, allowing those who choose to interact to do so, free of the added dimension of my presence. If it goes well, then maybe I’ll be willing to be present for the next interaction. If it does not go well, it will be clear that I did not have a role in the negative outcome.

And meanwhile, I will try to do what I know is right, but oh so hard – to let go of the entire issue, to “put it in the Master’s hands” and to accept whatever awaits. It is only ego, after all, that holds a grudge.

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Patience and Attention

January 31, 2017

The two new members of our family are Akirri, a now-four-month old Akita/German shepherd cross puppy and Miss Kitty, also about four months old and now to have her name enhanced to Miss Patience Kitty.

As the picture posted a few days ago clearly shows, she’s a fraction of Akirri’s size, but in little over a week she’s established ground rules for their interactions and is “on top” of the relationship.

Akirri, which means Christmas in my husband’s tribal language of Ngie, is smart and learning to sit, and stay down (not jump up on me with muddy paws) but has not yet made much progress with ‘come’. Particularly not when the chickens are clustered to be fed and it’s such fun to run through them and watch them scatter.

Miss Kitty, on the other hand has already successfully trained me to have her breakfast tin of food open and ready for her no later than 7:30 AM, and her evening dry ration on her plate by 5:30. Her added name of Patience does NOT come from her attitude toward being fed. Rather, it’s a reflection of the way in which she tolerates being turned into a play toy by Akirri, emerging often from the encounters wet from doggy kisses, and looking slightly chewed over. When she’s had enough, she freezes in one place, hunkered down beneath Akirri and no longer fun to play with. Indeed, it’s as though she’s recognized that being boring is a sure way to cause Akirri to turn elsewhere for amusement. Looked at from a slightly different point of view, Miss Patience Kitty clearly knows and implements the basic lesson of disciplining – ignore the misbehavior and reward the good behavior and you’ll fairly quickly have a well behaved… animal or… child… or person?

I’ve been considering whether there isn’t a parallel to be drawn between the training going on just outside my front door (on the enclosed porch and the larger yard and pastures), and what might be effective on the political scene. Not that unconstitutional edicts can be ignored exactly, but they can simply not be followed, as has already happened with the scientists who will not be gagged, thet acting attorney general who determined to follow the Constitution, and the federal judges who have countermanded the recent “barred from entry” immigration edict.

Patience Kitty has other means to dominate Akirri. She easily achieves heights that put her out of Akirri’s reach. And she’s able to fit into or thorough small places where Akirri cannot follow. When she’s ‘had enough’ she slips through a narrow opening into a large enclosed area under the porch, and clearly enjoys taunting Akirri from her impenetrable safety zone.

So far, neither of the two has used her “weapons of war” – sharp doggy teeth and strong jaws, or equally sharp and lightening quick claws. Hopefully, they’ve already formed enough of a bond that this ‘nuclear option’ will not be called upon.

A line in a book I just finished (Deborah Crombie’s “A Finer End”) resonated with my concerns for “the times we are facing”. The story is set against the sense of ancient powers that pervade Glastonbury England, and how that elemental energy can interact with human failings to produce violence. An historian and expert on paganism, Goddess worship, and their integration into very early Christianity was asked in the narrative, why anyone would want to upset the balance of the powers of light and darkness. The line that caught me was her answer, “I am a Jew my dear. During the war I lost every member of my family to the camps. If you ask me what I believe, I can tell you that those atrocities were an incontrovertible example of the power of chaos, magnifying and abetting a very human evil.”

Akirri charging at the chickens generates chaos. Their fluttering panic encourages her to charge and charge again. Patience Kitty sheltering in place quickly stops Akirri’s rough-housing.

Strident panic, and flurries of media attention, in response to every new use/misuse of power would seem, similarly, to lend authority to their author. Calm counter measures akin to sheltering in place – standing witness, standing up for truth and our constitutional values, walking out of a hearing to prevent it going forward, would seem to be appropriate responses well worth pursuing.

My spiritual teacher tells us that “attention is food”. Give your attention to what you want to manifest in your life, and take your attention away from what you want to diminish and disappear. Our present national fearless (fearful? fearsome?) leader has made it plain how essential attention is to him. He must have his daily, even hourly doses of it.

So, in addition to taking steps to de-fund what we do not support (and pay for what we want – money=attention=food) should we not also be insisting that the news media, which most immediately direct our attention, give that attention to the actions, events, people and values we consider important? They contributed largely to the present chaos, giving undue attention to every showy bit of bluster in the name of reaching a wider audience and hence making more money. They surely have a responsibility now to introduce some balance, to try to undo some of the damage they were active participants in creating.

I can only imagine the tantrums that would be thrown if, for merely a day, there were a total media black-out on everything originating in the new presidential regime. I would love to imagine the tantrums being thrown because the press (and the social media) did indeed have the patience and courage to impose such a blackout!

Trump et al are doing their best to muzzle all opposition. How would they behave if given a taste of their own medicine? I’d love to find out.

A Way Forward

January 27, 2017

One of my followers, and fellow bloggers, recently inquired after my well-being, not having seen a post from me in quite some time. I appreciate the concern – am in general okay – but recognize that in subtle ways I have not been myself, or at least not the self who reflects and blogs.

Now that I’m coming out of the blank space, I can see that it was:
1) real (not an alternate fact),
2) somewhat akin to depression,
3) also at least partially rooted in a doctor-ordered change in thyroid treatment,
4) definitely influenced by political ugliness in both the U.S. and Cameroon,
5) full of flashbacks, or recognition of old patterns and feelings that no longer have a place in my current life, and
6) clearly an opportunity to process and release residual mental patterns that do me no good.

I know that some of the threads I pulled from the tangle included a deep anger that our society still values a sorry excuse for a man over an intelligent and accomplished woman – an anger that eased on January 21st.

Another thread was a profound fatigue, best reflected in one of the signs carried on January 21st by an older woman. “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.” Really, do I have to do this all again, fifty years later?

Yet another thread was a vivid remembrance of my college years, in the infamous sixties, marching in protest against the war in Vietnam and in support of civil rights, dating an African fellow student and later marrying a Black American, living integration on a day to day basis at a time when that marriage was still considered illegal in several southern states. Today we have an Oscar nominee in a new movie about the legal case that ended miscegenation laws, but also an upsurge in attacks on mixed race couples and their children, legitimized by the new administration’s ugly rhetoric.

Yet another thread from the past woven into the present was my own feeling of limitation in what I could say or do to protest domination by values with which I profoundly disagreed. In my youth, that limitation resided in the fact that my father was an officer in the nation’s diplomatic corps and I was made to understand that my conduct could not undermine his position and responsibilities. He had written reports in the mid-1950s, warning of the quagmire into which the U.S. would fall if it followed the course of action then being dictated in southeast Asia. He was ignored, and then told to stick to economic reporting. He was back Stateside, and assigned to an academic setting, when I attended the very first march on Washington to protest the start of the Vietnam War. He warned me to be very careful where I went and what I said, just starting out on my working life, in order not to prematurely curtail my options – and also in order not to bring more censure down on him.

I was not then, and am still not now, a demonstrator in the public crowd sense. I tend rather to make my statement of values in the choices of how I live my daily life. I’ve become comfortable having friends from a variety of backgrounds, working in a helping profession (Care Coordinator for an MCO with Medicaid recipients as my caseload), married now to a Cameroonian studying here, and living in a “rural frontier” community in a state known for its multicultural heritage (Hispanic, Native America, Anglo and with a small but historically significant black population) that has also welcomed many Vietnamese and, lately, Tibetan and Middle Eastern immigrants.

I began to come out of my blank space when I read that my college Swarthmore, in Pennsylvania, has declared itself a sanctuary school. Santa Fe (NM), near my home, has declared itself committed to remaining a sanctuary city. I wear a safety pin on my outer garments ever since I learned of the act as a symbol that others, of whatever type, are safe with me. It seems that I’ve needed time to find my way into the acts that allow me to express my resistance to the present state of the nation. Because I am under constraints now, as I was all those decades ago. Again now, as then, people whom I care about can be harmed if I become too outspoken.

Am I truly having to go through this yet again? How could the nation have regressed so far, so fast?

I have not been writing, and therefore not posting, while I work through my response to what seems to be the undoing of everything I have cared about and supported my entire, many decades long, adult life. Living my values in my small corner of the state is necessary, but has not felt sufficient. I’m signing petitions, but ignoring the constant demand for cash contributions to fund more protests, because I don’t have the cash to donate (if I did, I wouldn’t still be working full time at long past retirement age). I’ve been seeking what would feel like an appropriate expression of my objections to the so-called swamp which, instead of being drained, has been broadened and deepened to cover the entire nation with greed and egotism and petulant childish tantrums and threats to our most fundamental Constitutional freedoms.

Today, when I heard that federal funds will be cut off to any entity that resists the government’s attack on immigrants, I remembered another piece of my past – tax resistance. As a Quaker, I refused to pay for war when I was young. Might I now refuse to pay for a wall, and a registry, and an immigration ban? Might I give my tax money directly to Santa Fe schools that will need it, instead of to the Federal government to spend on taking this country backward a century or more?

I don’t know how this idea will unfold, but it is clear to me that identifying a form of protest congruent with my life experience has been necessary to bring me the rest of the way out of my funk. Now let’s see if it also ends my silence.

Tea-tinted Memories

August 29, 2016

Filling time between a dermatology appointment (Neosporin aggravates rather than helps to heal wounds!) and a dharma talk at Upaya, the Zen center in Santa Fe, I took a walk up Canyon Road, famous for art galleries, a history of being the path to the source of water and wood for city residents, and site also of the Santa Fe Friend’s Meeting with which I have a long and pleasant history. Most of the galleries I knew from years past have gone; so too a few favorite restaurants.

Living 80 miles away for the past 25 years, I’ve obviously not kept up with the street’s evolution. I did walk past the house where longtime friends lived when I first visited Santa Fe, in the early spring of 1972. And the gallery where, during that visit, I purchased a small bear fetish made from serpentine is, amazingly, still in business. The Glory Hole is gone. I miss its lively presence, the roar of the furnace and the crowd of onlookers enjoying the vivid, skilled and energetic process of creating blown glass objects.

In that space there are now several galleries – and a tea shop. Very ready for some cool refreshment, I went into the store to order a freshly brewed glass of Assam, and looked around at the walls of tins of different types of tea for sale. Many familiar labels stood among the black, green, white and herbal teas offered. Old friends from Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenya, and Russian, English, and Scottish blends. Smoky Lapsang Souchong, various Greys (all with the bergamot that I have an allergic reaction to and therefore do not ever consume) and also a variety of jasmine blends. Last in a row on the top shelf, with a plain white label, one canister caught my eye. Vietnam OP.

In a flash, I was thirteen, touring a tea plantation with my father, in the Vietnamese highlands. Seeing how the leaves were graded according to which plants they had been picked from, told that those plants higher on the sunny slope produced a better quality of tea. We walked through the drying sheds, saw the different ways leaves were handled, to make green versus black versus smoked final products. My father’s role was to verify that the packaged tea was totally produced in the “free” south of Vietnam, not in the Communist controlled north. His certification made it possible for the tea to be marketed in the United States (this was in 1957, when the U.S. was determinedly not dealing with any countries with socialistic or communist-style governments.) My presence was the result of my father arranging a treat for me, compensation for a missed birthday party that had to be cancelled due to a government imposed ban on gatherings of all sorts, after a series of bombings had occurred in Saigon. (No terrorism, bombing of innocent civilians is NOT new).

We had journeyed up the coast and first visited a salt producer – beds of ocean water walled off and allowed to evaporate, with the resultant salt raked up, rinsed, dried once more, and bagged for market. Then we traveled up into the hills to the tea plantation. Both business operations were being managed jointly by a French and a Vietnamese proprietor. Both had been solely French until 1954 and the ouster of France from Indochina. Many of the French living in Vietnam had gone “home” to France initially, but many had then returned to take up their former occupations, more at ease in the tropics than their native land in which they had not lived for as much as 20 years. These returnees negotiated with the Vietnamese government, trading their expertise for acceptance back into their former occupations and lifestyles, now with Vietnamese “partners” to participate in the production and profits of salt, tea, cinnamon, rice and other agricultural products.

After the tour of the tea plantation was complete, we were treated to a “tasting”. Tiny cups – one sip worth – of each of the teas produced on the plantation were offered for sampling, freshly brewed with bites of plain local rice taken between sips, so that the palate would be clear and ready to appreciate the new and different tea sample.

Much has been written, and incorporated into literature, about the rituals associated with wine tasting. I learned then that there is as elaborate a process in savoring tea, though it is much less well known in the West. I did know even then, from my father, how to make a “proper” cup of tea. He followed the Russian process of brewing a very strong essence, then serving a small portion of it into a cup and adding freshly boiled water to bring it to the proper strength for drinking. Although I admit to using tea bags (or make my own with bulk tea), I still follow my father’s process for special occasions.

I’ve made a series of such special occasions this past week, each time I brew myself a cup of the Vietnam OP which I purchased in Santa Fe.

Half a world and most of a lifetime separate my two experiences of tea from Vietnam.

Probably not coincidentally, the message in the sermon my husband heard in church this morning was about the importance of making memories – and of sharing them.

So won’t you join me for a rich, energizing yet soothing cup of tea?

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

 

I Went for a Walk

August 14, 2016

Cleaning out unneeded documents in my computer files, I came across an essay I wrote for myself about eight years ago. I don’t recall writing it. Rereading it now, I recognize that I’ve integrated the essence of it into my self, my life, my philosophy of living, my spiritual path. I choose now to share it with others, offering a bit of my beloved grandfather’s wisdom to those who honor us both by reading my words.

A Walk with My Grampa

I Went For a Walk in the Forest was the book title and first phrase I learned to read, precociously at age three, sitting on my Grampa’s lap as he read the story over and over to me. The book was paper bound, about 6 inches high and 10 inches long, with a black and white cover sketch of the forest surrounded by a pumpkin-orange border. If you opened the book out flat, so that the back and front covers made one whole picture, all the animals met on that forest walk could be seen hidden among the trees. In the delightful manner of children’s fantasy, the animals collected in that forest ignored the habitat restrictions which would normally prevent them meeting, except perhaps in a zoo.

From the safety of Grampa’s lap I learned about lions and horses, a giraffe, an elephant, deer and antelope, and a monkey. When the reading walk was done we rested. He smoked, and I trapped the smoke rings he blew into a wide mouth bottle, where they magically retained shape until the genie who also lived in the bottle stirred them into a fog to give himself shelter.

I went for a walk at the zoo, with my Grampa, most Sundays from when I was seven until I was twelve. He would come down on the train from Baltimore to spend the day with us, and would take me for ‘our’ time. Not always to the zoo, sometimes to the park or just for a walk around the neighborhood. He would ask me about my week in school, what I had learned and what I was reading, and he would tell me about the poem he was working on, or the article he was writing (in Hebrew, or Yiddish) for The Forward (which he pronounced as though a “v” began the second syllable). It was important to him to pick just the right Hebrew word from among several choices for his poems, to convey mood and spirit, as well as meaning.

I went for a walk on the beach – alone now, a world away from my Grampa, he still in Baltimore and I on the sand at Nha Trang, picking up tiny pink and black and pearl-colored shells which elderly Vietnamese refugees from the north collected to string into elaborate necklaces. I wore a small gold pendant my Grampa gave me, with the Tree of Life etched into it. A link, he said, that would stretch from Vietnam back to Maryland, to keep us sharing our walks. Those were harder years, without his immediate presence and gentle wisdom to balance the emotional stresses of my early teens.

I missed him still, when I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne during my high school years. I wrote to him, sitting on a sarcophagus in Pierre La Chaise cemetery, one of the few places in bustling Paris that I could find solitude and quiet. Those were very hard years, for both of us. He was no longer working in his dental practice and had fewer places to publish his essays and poems. He was no longer as able to care for himself, and not very aware of time, so his replies to me were intermittent, and rarely responsive to the questions I asked.

I went for a walk in the Crum Woods on Swarthmore’s campus, during my college years, and felt his presence through the guitar in my room, a fine instrument I’d found in a pawn shop, which he gave me the seventy-five dollars to purchase. I’d asked my parents for the money, but my mother had responded in her usual fashion. “Why don’t you prove your interest in playing guitar by learning on a borrowed one before you ask me to spend my money on something you may not pursue?” Fifty years later, that guitar stays easily in tune and its tone is admired by everyone who plays it.

I went for walks by the Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, and along the Charles River in Boston, after helping my mother to settle Grampa in Miami, where the better weather and the presence of a few close friends made it easier for him to manage. We talked on the phone since his eyes had failed to the point that he could not write, nor easily read. With a metal-bound, rectangular, hand-held magnifying glass left from his collection of dental tools, he would slowly read the daily Yiddish press, sharing his opinions with me on the events which he didn’t trust TV news to present fairly. He worried, after the Six Days War, that while its outcome improved Israel’s security at the time, there would come from it a negative turn in world opinion toward the Jewish state. He would, I know, be distraught over the actions and decisions taken recently – the wall, and the West Bank settlements which have become symbols of oppression rather than statements of freedom.

I went for one last walk with my Grampa, along the path beside the railroad tracks in Lamy, here in New Mexico, after he could no longer live on his own. My mother and I moved him into a nursing home outside Santa Fe, where I visited with him several times a month, and brought him to my little converted boxcar house for an outing, the one weekend he was strong enough to come. I told him the story of looking out the train window, age twelve and on my way to Vietnam, seeing Lamy as a strange, wild and western place – missing him desperately and never imagining that we two would walk together there. He answered that it was good to walk with me, though he didn’t really grasp where we were, and complained to me that there were people in his nursing home whom he could hear speaking Yiddish from a distance but who, when he came close and spoke to them, would not answer. I tried to explain that they were speaking Spanish, not Yiddish. He was by then seriously deafened, hearing just enough scraps of language to know when it wasn’t English being spoken. Like most speakers of more than one tongue, with advanced age Grampa’s communication abilities lasted longest in his first language, or in his case his first two, Yiddish for everyday and his beloved Hebrew for poetry and praise.

My grampa died within days of his official 91st birthday. Official, rather than real, because he had to transfer a birthdate from the Jewish (lunar) calendar used in what he called the “dot on the map village outside the dot on a map town” where he was born in Russia, to the western calendar he encountered when he entered the US as a twenty year old man in 1907. Knowing Shvat to be a spring month, he arbitrarily called it March. He equally firmly rejected the proposed Americanizing of his name to Hill, insisting that “no, my name is Domnitz, Aaron Domnitz.”

I go for walks now, often a brisk measured mile by Storrie Lake, or a leisurely stroll along Bridge Street, and realize I am just the age my Grampa was as my parents prepared to take us (his only close family) across the world to Vietnam. After 14 or more years of weekly trips from Baltimore to DC (he began them when my mother became pregnant with me), how great a change – and loss – that must have been for him!

I wonder – but obviously have no one to ask – why my parents didn’t bring him with us? Perhaps it was discussed and he refused? More likely, I’m afraid, my mother determined that she ‘didn’t want the responsibility’. That was her standard reply with which to block everything from my having friends for a sleep over, to helping host visiting dignitaries whom it was my father’s job to entertain. Blessedly it was also her response when Grampa needed nursing home care, so that I got to have him close to me for those precious last 18 months of his life. We went for so many lovely walks, in our talks, during my on-my-way-home-from-work visits with him!

Because life in his natal village had gone virtually unchanged for centuries before he left it, his awareness bridged nearly 300 years. Thus, we talk-walked streets of the 1700s in Russia as readily as those of Santa Fe in 1975. He shared the concern of many, that our technological skills so far exceed our ethical advances. “Will we now bring war to the moon?” was his question after that ‘one giant step’ for mankind.

Grampa’s dental cabinet, filled with a fragile, gaily decorated porcelain tea service from Vietnam, sits in my dining room. I use his magnifying glass when I need stronger eyes. The guitar provides music from many cultures, when I entertain students from the United World College. I pick my written words with care, respecting the importance he gave to nuances of meaning.

My Grampa started me reading about a walk through a forest to meet different animals. He continues to guide me on my walk through life, meeting its varied challenges. Some of that guidance arises from one of the last things Grampa said to me, shortly before he died. I’d asked if he had his life to live over, what he might have done differently. His answer was that he had only two regrets. The first was that he thought perhaps my mother might have been a happier person if he had remarried (he raised her on his own), but he’d never found the right woman. The second was that he wished he’d learned to play the mandolin. No wonder he supported my learning the guitar!

However long my own life walk turns out to be, I hope that when it ends, I will have as few regrets as my Grampa did. With his gifts surrounding me, and his ethics a part of me, I have every reason to succeed.

Rooster Knows

June 12, 2016

You know you’re in the country when… your rooster lets you know not just when it’s morning, but when the hens are wandering farther afield then he thinks right, or the goats are butting each other away from their food, or the dark clouds of summer afternoon rain are looming and the flock should take cover. I’m told that chickens in Cameroon only get under cover when a serious rain is impending. For a few drops they will continue their foraging undeterred. I’m waiting to see if the same applies here in high desert northern NM.

Being able to differentiate mild from major disruptions may be an inherent skill for Cameroonian chickens. It does not seem to be so for humans. Rather, we can spend a lifetime learning to “not sweat the small stuff”. Finding one’s way to feeling happy with oneself and one’s life – a goal most of us strive toward – requires not only relaxing about those small irritants, but also accepting that it’s okay to be happy.

From several sources recently, I’ve been reminded of how much more readily we identify with loss, pain, difficulties and challenges then we do with being “temples of God”, the home of Soul, or inherently divine beings entitled to feel happy and fulfilled. Many years of spiritual practice can increase the ease and frequency of identifying with one’s highest Soul essence, but still we can (or at least I find that I can) be tripped into the pit of unworthiness by surprisingly small stuff.

Why is it so easy to identify with negatives, to point always to what’s missing, and so hard to embrace being loved, appreciated, fulfilled, happy?

Believers of some religions would say it’s because we are born in sin. I think rather that the concept of being born in sin originates in a mind’s effort to explain our propensity to see imperfection rather than perfection. Yes, this is a cart and horse debate, one that cannot be decisively resolved. But in my experience, looking for what’s right rather than poking around in what’s wrong makes for a much happier and more satisfying life. It does take persistent attention and regular refocusing, to not let past experience of lack distort present enjoyment of wealth. I’m including within wealth all the tangible and intangible benefits one can enjoy – supportive relationships, worthwhile employment, a sense of purpose, relaxed ease of emotions, meaningful spiritual practice… a comprehensive list would run many pages.

Research study after research study reveals that negative behaviors of adulthood originate in childhood – abusers were bullied and abused as children, jealous spouses never learned to feel worthy of love, rage-aholics had explosively angry parents, etc. We hear much less about how good childhood experiences with positive role models produce happy and successful adults. Just as news of disasters sells papers, it seems explanations of negative behavior result in academic publication. Would that it were otherwise!

My favorite feature in The Week is entitled “It Wasn’t All Bad” and cites (usually) three stories of generosity, (a fire fighter who bought a month’s groceries for a citizen whose kitchen fire he had been called to help extinguish); achievement (a 101 year old great-grandmother getting her high school diploma alongside her great-granddaughter); or heart-warming connection (a dog lost for over a year being found and returned to the developmentally disabled child who was its original owner). I wish that fully half the weekly magazine’s content could be similarly summarizing positive stories – but it’s a magazine devoted to reviewing the “top” stories in the world press, and most of those are less than heart-warming.

About our bodies, it is said that we are what we eat. About our minds and emotions, it is also true that we become what we give our attention to. Looking always to the negative, we cannot help but feel unworthy. I prefer to “count my blessings instead of sheep, and fall asleep counting my blessings” – at least until the rooster thinks I should be aware and alert to one of his small concerns.

Cock Calls

Cock Calls


Neurodivergent Rebel

Rebelling against a culture that values assimilation over individuality.

Quartz

Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.

The Beauty Along the Road

Discovering Beauty in the small details of our lives

KURT★BRINDLEY

WRITER★EDITER★PRODUCER★CONSULTANT

Glitchy Artist

Screenshots of the Universe

Flowerwatch Journal

Notes on Traveling with Flowers

1eclecticwriter

Wide-Ranging Commentary

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

smilecalm

Life through mindful media

San'in Monogatari

Legends, folktales, and anecdotes from Japan's San'in region

Immaculate Bites

African and Caribbean Recipes Made Easy

wild life weeks

your weekly nature and travel blog

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **

aka The Versatile

Food | Fashion | Lifestyle | Beauty | Finance | Fitness | Education | Product Reviews | Movies | Doodling | Poetess

Aging Abundantly | Women Over Fifty | Empty Nesters | Caregivers | Aging Gracefully

Finding Joy at Every Age with writer/philosopher Dorothy Sander

TIME GOES BY

Wide-Ranging Commentary

ARTZZLE

Helping with the Pieces in Life's Puzzle of Art and Design