Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What if you just let yourself weep?


Today an inner voice said, “What if you just let yourself weep?”

Because having a puppy is harder than I thought

Because all the work decluttering seems for naught when I see how much I still have and how obscene it is in a global context

Because even being sober and abstinent isn’t a magic potion against feeling overwhelmed somedays

Because isolation is lonely and virtual connections don’t quite meet some primal need to connect

What if I just let myself weep without even knowing why?

Because we’re all connected and so many are hurting

What if I just let myself weep instead of bucking up, counting my blessings, or thinking of someone else for a change?

What if I just let myself weep?

How long would it last? 10 minutes? Thirty? An hour or more? Am I afraid I won’t stop?

If I wept every time I felt sad, scared,  anxious, impatient, out of my element, in over my head, or utterly alone, would it be like an afternoon tropical shower that clears the air and enhances the sun?

What if I just let myself weep because others have so hardened their hearts that some of us have taken on their quota of feeling?  

What if I let myself weep because some people won’t make it through these times, at all.

If I cry today I could feel lighter tomorrow and see glimmers of goodness and slivers of solace anywhere I truly looked. 

Why don’t you  just let yourself weep?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

On Loving Work


I’m not a workaholic, for I can relax and be away from work without becoming anxious. But I do love to work. Intellectual and emotional labor is what my current job entails. I’m a well-trained listener and invite people to share details, stories, and memories of their lives. I notice patterns, phrases, and perhaps most often, what’s absent from speech but somehow here between us. That’s where I gently probe. My career requires concentration, presence, and effort, but it doesn’t exhaust me and is never boring.

I need physical work to be happy as well. My favorite vacations are visits with people who need my help with some project, or travel to beautiful places where I can hike each day. Walking the Camino de Santiago was sublime pleasure for me. I prefer having a destination when I walk.

Work provides purpose, which keeps the life force moving through me. I have noticed that people who retire without a project often turn their health into their life’s purpose. Couples with nothing new to create once the family is raised have a harder time staying together.

As I descended to the basement for a second time this morning, I realized that this kind of physical effort to clean, replenish supplies, and release what no longer serves is what connects me to humans throughout time.

Our ancient connection to the actual work of staying alive played a big part in my love of camping: making a shelter, building a fire, cooking food and cleaning up to prevent animal encroachment feels primal and satisfying. Resting in that deep lap of time brings comfort.

It’s always seemed ironic that the work of tending bodies and souls of children, the old, and the ill pays the lowest wages in this society, whereas abstract work with money, paper, and numbers pays so highly. I’ve come to believe that the intrinsic reward of work that has immediate value offsets the low wage while work that has been made up and doesn’t serve people in a tangible way requires more monetary reward to justify itself. It's  not just but it makes a perverted sense.

Since the start of the pandemic, many people have devoted additional labor to their yards and houses. Now that we are spending more time at home, why not make it completely functional, even beautiful?  The privilege of this work is not lost on me: too many Americans are unhoused, and encampments in parks have highlighted the crisis we face and must resolve.

We have collective work ahead of us. Establishing practices, policies, attitudes, and systems that don’t let anyone fall through the cracks will call upon all our talents, energies, and ancient knowledge. Such work can renew our sense of purpose, connection, and joy. 

I’m ready.

Monday, November 9, 2020

What does writing want of me?


Now that I feel some space to breathe, I'm curious what new project I might undertake in this coming retreat-like winter. 

I asked a question--What does writing want of me?--listened, and  wrote. I hope you do the same in whatever form your creative energy wants to dance.

My writing is a lean and sinewy older woman, tanned from living mostly outdoors, with hands that are strong, nimble and capable of healing. This writing/woman has long grey hair in a braid, and she wears jeans and turtlenecks but can put on pearls for special occasions.

What does writing want of me?

Writing wants to be a daily presence in my life because she thinks of herself as my friend, and the more frequently we talk, the better we know each other, and the deeper we can go.

Writing wants a regular time with me. It doesn’t have to be long, or always at the same time. It needn’t be formal or at the computer or a desk, but it does need to be daily because she gets scared and shy when I don’t show up to listen.

Writing wants to be trusted. She wants to take the lead and know that I’m willing to follow, that I’ll let my imagination go and sometimes write a paragraph of fiction.

Writing wants to be in the process and the mix without criticism every step of the way. She knows there’s a time for winnowing and weeding, editing and revising, but most of the time she wants to be trusted, unfettered, and allowed to run.

Writing wants to be well fed. She knows that sometimes I want to check out and just read a good story that makes me turn the page, but she also wants slow food, some poetry, something to sink her teeth into and ponder, language that takes her breath away.

Writing wants not just the message but the way it’s expressed to matter.  She knows that happens late in the process, but she gets sad when I never return to these pieces to polish them and put them out there. She’d love to be in the world more than she is.  It’s those occasions when she puts on her silk and pearls and is admired for looking good as well as being wise.

Writing also doesn’t want to be lonely--she wants to nestle next to others, to be held and thought about in a circle of writers.

Friday, October 2, 2020

If Democracy were a Dog

The last time I saw them we were driving from Indiana to California and stopped at the veterinarian’s office to board them.  My sister and I waved as the black and white mutts we’d had for six months were led into the office on their chains.

We vacationed up and down the west coast visiting cousins and friends, and when we came home, my parents did not pick up the dogs. I don’t remember feeling sad or betrayed. Mostly, I think, I was relieved. That was the end of the Campbell family’s attempt to have pets. 

Happy and Snappy weren’t housebroken, didn’t come when called, and were never walked. My parents had little experience and less patience and skill training dogs, so these two were seldom in the house.  They slept in the garage at night, unheated in the winter, hot and muggy in the summer, and spent their days tethered on long chains on the hill beside of our house.

My job was to shovel the dog poop regularly and to get them in and out of the garage daily. More than once they got loose and ran pell mell through the neighborhood with me chasing them in school clothes.

Years later I realized my parents had no plans to collect the dogs are our three weeks away, and neither is alive to tell me if they were adopted into better homes or euthanized.

Today I have a new puppy, Lucky, who we picked up last week from my cousin. As we drove 90 miles home, I cradled his little head and  flashed to a scene years from now when I would hold my beloved companion again as he took his last breath.

Although I don’t have much experience raising a puppy, I’m going to become a skilled dog guardian, someone who sticks during challenges, who is steady and present, consistent and firm. I will have a well-trained, well-loved dog.

I believe the same is true for tending a democracy.  The United States has allowed all kinds of bad habits to develop: racism and genocide are at the foundation of this nation and we’ve never compensated for that in any way. Yet rather than work diligently to weed those traits out and replace them with rules, policies, and practices that reward our better traits, we’ve chosen a set of policies that reward greed, power, and exclusion rather than generosity, love, and inclusion.

So where does that leave us? Can we be vigilant like never before, consistent in calling out racism, sexism, violence against the working poor and those without homes, disdain for those addicted or mentally ill?  Or do we hand over this experiment in democracy to another owner? Or euthanize it?

I want to be a guardian of the basics—one person one vote, easy access to voting for citizens, fair taxation, sovereignty in our home without fear of invasion—some of which the initial revolution was based on, some of which has evolved as our thinking has evolved to embrace equality and equity of ALL.

This dog called democracy, although not perfect, is worth all our energy right now. We can’t stick it in the garage and hope it develops on its own.  And if, as those who have lived through authoritarian rulers tell us, it’s already taking its last breaths, I need to be there, having attended to it every single day.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

On Rage, Grief, Biden, and what's next


I’ve been writing a spiritual memoir, which is mostly a record of my life's moments of failure and loss because sadness and grief have shaped my personality and orientation to the world.

Just as they have for Joe Biden. Snarky people tweet that Biden has capitalized on his grief for decades and it’s time to get over it. But it is his story. Losing a wife and child when he was 30, losing a son just recently to cancer--these difficult events have formed who he is, for every loss creates a place of choice:

Do I want to proceed with an open heart, aware that there is surely more grief to come if I do? or Do I want to close up and get smaller to protect my heart from experiencing this kind of pain again?

I grew up with a mother who made the latter choice. When my dad died suddenly, at age 42, a part of her seemed to die too, and she walled herself off from future pain. She never again lit up when my sister or I walked into the house. She never remarried, didn’t even date, and her pleasures were few—a bridge game, a service sorority meeting, an occasional trip to Minneapolis. Mostly she retreated behind a wall of cigarette smoke and noise from the television, piling newspapers and magazines on the couch and other chair in her den so that it took effort to be her companion.

Joe Biden, apparently, chose differently.  He stayed connected to his remaining children, he fell in love again, and he offers himself to strangers. He has used his sorrow as a bridge to connect with others rather than a wall to protect himself from future pain. That may be why he’s malleable on the issues—he’s open to listening, experiencing others’ stories, and adjusting his viewpoints accordingly.

Where have I closed my heart to the pain of the world because it’s so overwhelming? Where do I need to step out and lovingly demand changes in a system that continues to shoot Black people for NO reason at all?

Kenosha Wisconsin is not some big bad city.  White supremacy infiltrates every single institution in America, like carbon monoxide—odorless and deadly.  We have detectors for this poison—the actual deaths, the videos of the shootings, the glaring injustices.

It is past time to remediate and remove this deadly force. Diverting funds from a militarized police is akin to choosing not to build another bomber because we’re the most armed country on the planet.

We’ve over-protected ourselves, America, perhaps because we haven’t ever faced the grief of our origins of indigenous genocide and slavery. In our armoring, we’ve stunted real human connection and growth. We're a country stuck in adolescence. What would an old soul country do?

Wise countries might take 52% of the budget that is devoted to military and enact wages that afford people to have housing when they’re working. A mature country would invest in wellness to prevent our deadliest diseases that occur because of the choices we make. A sane country prioritizes the well-being of its children--with beautiful opportunities to learn, play, and develop occur in safe, healthy environments. 

Despite the appearance of rage, I believe America is grieving, and the choice is clear—we can harden our hearts in hope that we won’t feel more pain or we can remain tender to what’s happening and walk on a bridge of love to what can be if we only remain open.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

On Being Brave and Truly Patriotic

When my sister arrived from Indiana for our annual Fourth of July connection at our cabin, she suggested that this year for the boat parade, we decorate the pontoon with a banner Black Lives Matter and put names of Black people killed by the police. Given that I live in Minneapolis, the site of George Floyd’s recent murder, this made so much sense.

And yet I was nervous because I know there are people up here who support our President.  There is one house on the road with a Black Lives Matter sign, stalwart progressives who have not lost their roots that had them meet during service in VISTA decades ago.  Others fly a Trump 2020 flag. Did I really want their ire? I told my sister I was open.

The next morning in meditation an image came for an additional banner—this one had a peace symbol, a heart, and the scales of justice. I took that as a confirming sign, and we launched our project, driving into the small town to find supplies.  At the dollar store we found white plastic tablecloths, markers and a stencil set.  Lori is quite crafty and artistic and can make anything look good, so I followed her lead as we measured, held the tablecloths to the boat, measured again and cut.

An earlier thought was to fly the America flag upside down, a universal symbol of distress. But both of our husbands cautioned against inflaming observers. Better to reclaim the flag for this anti-racist message.  We festooned the boat with plenty of red white and blue decorations and mini flags from previous years, demonstrating that the very definition of patriotism is the freedom to state your beliefs.  

A couple nights before we started on the banners, I put both leaves in the table so we had adequate workspace, Lori created a stencil for the heart, free-handed the peace sign and justice scales, and I shaded rainbow icolors n the heart at three inch intervals.

After stenciling BLACK LIVES MATTER, we each took a column of names of those killed and highlighted the local names, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Jamar Clark, making them larger and then added dozens more.  Printing the names was sobering: Lori said she thought of the mothers who named these babies, and then lost them so tragically.

On Saturday the Fourth, we timed the decorations for a big reveal. The next door neighbor said we were “clever,” and another neighbor with a Black son in law up for the weekend came over to introduce herself and thank us.

We headed over to the parade end of the lake, and Lori drove us slowly by the observers. Most of them were ready with water balloons and hoses, as this parade becomes a big water fight typically, despite pleas for the well-being of the fish and birds.  We always skirt their firing range and this time drove slowly and waved flags.

I wasn’t sure how we would be received, and when we got the first applause and thumbs up, my eyes filled with tears.

Some people waved politely, some turned their backs, but one gave a peace sign, another a raised fist in solidarity, and most cheered. What really touched us were the kids who looked and then leaned in to read, mostly pre-teens perhaps on the cusp of becoming aware of the wider world.

Only one woman in a passing boat was close enough for me to hear her say, “oh my God,” and I’m not going to even interpret that.

Takeaways from the experience:

I underestimated my neighbors. I let a few vocal extremists seem more numerous than they actually are.

Taking this action was a little scary. I’m a people-pleaser who avoids conflict. If I’m worried about jeers, how much more do BIPOC feel every time they leave the house? And Breonna Taylor’s murder shows she wasn’t safe IN her home.

There is no passive anti-racist stance, as Ibram X Kendi teaches, where I read important books and think good thoughts. I have to be active in my white privileged world with an anti-racist message that Black lives do, indeed, matter, that police killing Black people, mistreating a race, has to stop. Right. Now.

Being brave is easier if someone else is along.  My sister was the instigator, the courageous one, and I’m forever grateful to her.

Bravery begets more bravery. I actually swam later that day in the lake, something I've avoided for decades because I fear fish, weeds, turtles, and leeches.

I’d like to think we will never need to list the names of Blacks killed by the police again, but I think we are in this for a long, sustained advance. Count me in.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Despair, Distract, Distance, Deepen, Deliverance

I apparently have a new cycle during COVID19 that I’m working through, despite my desire to be calm and accepting of all that occurs.

Despair wakes me up at 4 am thinking of a new password and counting its characters with my fingers, as if I were practicing scales without a keyboard.

Despair keeps me scrolling through my phone during a zoom meeting, favoring a stranger's meme over the nuggets or nuances from someone’s sharing.

Despair gets me out the door, fitbit rebooted, obsessively meeting a 10,000 Step goal.

Distract becomes my new coping mechanism. See above during online meetings for an example.

Distract helps me read a novel every couple days, watch a new series, and perhaps motivates my new napping habit. (See the 4 am waking reference.)

Distance keeps conversation superficial, tears private and quickly squelched, hands busy tidying up.

Distance occurs on every vector: with myself, with others, and with my higher power.

Deepen is my new desire, but too often distraction inhibits the meditation practice that forms a bridge or perhaps acts as shovel.

In order to deepen, I need to journal beyond the tally of tasks accomplished, into the murky, shadowy landscape of today’s setting of pandemic.

Deepening inevitably means letting something go, sharing something raw, trusting someone, almost anyone, with my current state of being even before I can articulate it.

To deepen is to acknowledge this world—green, anxious, hopeful, corrupt.

To deepen is to settle into this body—fit, healthy, sober, achey.

To deepen is to accept this mind—busy, sharp, creative, restless.

To deepen is to welcome this spirit—expansive, settled, awake, curious.

And if I can acknowledge, settle, accept, and welcome, then I am delivered into what’s next. The ultimate unknown.

Which may well lead to despair, and the cycle begins anew.