Growing up, I was taught that I was called into being by a Creator and that I had the ability and the responsibility to become a co-creator. It seemed like a very daunting future. What was I to create? What could I offer the world?
I started with trying to discover what I might be good at. I majored in Music/Voice Performance in college, and I married my High School sweetheart in my senior year. By graduation, I was pregnant. I had a talent for producing children, turns out. I had four children by the time I was 28.
I met a celibate priest and author, Rev. Martin Smith, at a church event. He spoke of how people would always wonder at his sacrifice of creativity and fatherhood. He assured them that while he was not making babies, he was making meaning.
“Making meaning” became a phrase that stuck with me. When I was 30, I began to write poetry. I self-published a book of poems and parables and sold 50 copies in our church bookstore.
When I turned 50, I bought myself a digital camera and started blogging. I had been using the Canon AE-1 that my high school sweetheart and late husband had bought me as a teenager to develop a photographer’s eye. Having the ability to see the frames instantly fed my appetite to produce images.
All this time, though, I wasn’t sure if I was really “good” at creating anything. I felt like I dabbled. I thought that I might not have earned that co-creator status that I was supposedly destined for.
During “the Time of Covid”, I clicked through a lot of psychology videos while sorting out some major life transitions. That is how I came across the very affirming words of Brené Brown, who maintains that we are inherently creative and that shame is the major obstacle to our living out that creative purpose. She and Scott Barry Kaufman (co-author of Wired to Create) did a podcast in which she shares this quote from one of her books:
“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastisizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” -Brené Brown
Wow. So, on top of all the grief and rage of “the time of Covid”, not using your creativity will cause another layer of unhealthy detriment to your soul.
I had re-entered the community theater scene last year after 14 years. I was in a musical last summer and a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in February. In March, I played Irish fiddle (badly – having first picked up the violin only two years ago) in an improv comedy act, but the last performance, on St. Patrick’s Day, was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Via the magic of Zoom and Discord, I have been able to connect with folks to do reader’s theater versions of plays by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder, and others. I do voices – English accents, Russian accents, old people, young people, men, women, and storms.
I started trying to learn to speak Spanish yesterday. My youngest daughter is teaching herself Russian. Together we are also addressing income insecurity and racism and politics in our precious face-to-face discussions. For me, making meaning in this “time of Covid” and after a cross-country move is about affirming life, affirming values, creating community, and living wholeheartedly into an uncertain future while braving the vulnerability and shame that always hovers around my humanity.
Creativity in the Time of Covid is essential for all of us. It is a practice for our individual mental health and the health of our shared humanity. We need to see ourselves as beings called to make meaning together and hard-wired to connect around our vulnerability. We are navigating in treacherous, uncertain waters. If we can make ourselves into a human life raft, we might just stay afloat.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Congratulations to the Lens-Artists on their 100th week of photo challenges and for building an artistic community that reflects vision and awareness!
I have not participated in all 100 of the challenges; I joined in at week #13. This week, Tina is our host, and she puts together a beautiful and moving post incorporating the theme and thoughts surrounding current world events. Her inspiration is spot on.
We live in challenging times. The struggle to move forward despite grave difficulties threatening survival is a real one. Whenever I am feeling the need to get emotionally grounded for the journey, I head outside for natural inspiration. This afternoon, as I walked the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, I noticed all the biodiversity of a summer woodland scene and the competition for sunlight. There were millions of maple seeds that had sprouted and created a blanket of living green on the forest floor.
I realized that very few of those delicate sprouts would become seedlings and that even fewer would grow to maturity. Survival and survival strategies are complex and interrelated among all species. And yet each organism is hardwired to try to survive…somehow.
Looking at the teeming abundance of green in a June woodland, you have to respect that Life seeks to survive. I think of myself as a Biophile. I love Life. I think is it beautiful, interesting, awesome, and sacred.
A humble respect for Life is paramount to the health of our Planet and to civilization. The peril of the arrogant human practice of willfully extinguishing Life is realized in a million different examples throughout history. Life has plenty of healthy self-regulating systems already in place. A much more useful human practice is kindness, wonder, and love.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We certainly have a long way to go on the road toward a reality of unarmed truth and unconditional love. Best to strap on our hiking boots and take steps.
This article is featured in the January edition of The Be Zine, which you can read HERE.
TO The States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty. – Walt Whitman
James Hepworth and Gregory McNamee chose these italicized words from Whitman’s writing for the title of a book they put together on writer and radical environmental activist Ed Abbey. I think of Ed in the desert wilderness of Utah’s Canyonlands. He is choosing to explore without roads, without a vehicle, without expensive equipment. He is on foot. He has matches, a knife, and boots. He drinks from the river. He walks in the cool of the night. He gathers sticks and makes a fire. He cooks a fish from the river. He is free. He is central to his existence, no other. I met some of his friends at the Wilderness 50 Conference in Albuquerque in 2014. They were a spirited bunch and passionate about the value of wild places, places without systems, where humans are visitors only and do not dominate the landscape. These wilderness advocates represent a resistance movement that truly inspires me.
The freedom to choose how you will act is basic autonomy. To relinquish that choice is enslavement. However, exercising that choice need not be violent or ego-driven. I believe it is possible to act freely while maintaining a posture of love and openness. I admire the practice of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk who engages in political activism in a peaceful and mindful manner. The first step to acting in freedom is awareness. Being aware of the present moment includes being aware of the suffering inherent in a situation, of the emotions that all parties bring to bear. It also includes being aware of the values you wish to embody. The Eight-Fold Path describes values to consider: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. Determining to walk this path while resisting temptation and influence in other directions is indeed a form of activism.
I am wary of the pressures that systems in this country employ to urge compliance. I don’t want to see my freedom of choice reduced to “paper or plastic?”, as George Carlin suggests. At the same time, I recognize that freedom requires responsibility. If I make my choices, I must abide by the consequences. Again, I think of Ed in the wilderness, happily accepting the dangers along with the adventure, feeling completely alive. There is risk involved in living in freedom and an opportunity to respond in community to the outcomes of those risks. That I will be wise enough to respond with compassion and not restriction is my hope. I cannot say that I practiced that as a parent raising four children, though! I do know the urge to stifle the free exploration of a youngster. I am not convinced that it is the best practice for the spirit of either parent or child.
May we all have the courage to resist enslavement, the compassion to encourage freedom, the awareness to recognize the choices before us, and the will to act in love.
As a positive-thinking person, I am sad to hear so many people saying that 2016 was a bad year. So, I decided to go back through my photos of the year and pick just one from each month to remind myself what I was focusing on and maybe get an idea why it wasn’t so terrible, horrible, no-good and very bad after all. Here are my monthly picks: January –
I don’t want to say that the year was without disappointment. At the beginning of 2016, I was also campaigning for Bernie Sanders by phone and door-to-door.
On the last day of November, I suffered two losses that hit me very hard: my boss resigned and a dear pet died. I guess my point is that perspective is still up to me. Where I give my heart, where I direct my eyes, where I train my efforts and thoughts is still up to me. And no system can take that away.
May all beings be happy in 2017; may all beings be free from suffering in 2017. Thank you for visiting my blog!
There’s no such thing as Time. It’s not a thing; it is a concept. It tries to explain why we see change, which is a thing.
This looks different!
This difference is a change. Why did it change? Because the tree fell. When did it fall? Ah, now we need a concept for that moment and for the changes since that moment.
This looks different. This is a change. Is it about the time? 47 years doesn’t mean much. The changes mean a lot. There was a man, a husband, a father, a singer. Now, there is no man, no husband, no father, no song.
What about this change?
It might look like a change from what you’re used to, but some people see this every day. No change; no time.
In order to feel a sense of time at all, we need to be able to imagine what something was like before and how it’s changed.
And then we try to measure the rate of change. How long did it take for this to become something different?
We humans get to think about change and time because we have such big, big brains. Other species don’t. That gives us a huge amount of responsibility. We should be taking that seriously, noticing changes and imagining what the future might be like.
In time, we’ll see what changes. And we’ll know how we’ve participated in that change as well.
I wrote this article for The Be Zine whose November issue was dedicated to “At-Risk Youth”.
Under the light of the half moon, David Attenborough speaks to the camera on Christmas Island, surrounded by a moving mass of red crabs. Tens of thousands of crawling females, heavy-laden with hundreds of fertilized eggs, are approaching the high tide in order to release their burdens into the surf. The water turns reddish brown as a surge of life heads out to sea. Millions, no, billions of little babies are set adrift. Enormous whale sharks cruise the waters nearby, ready to feed. Sir David explains that the hatchlings will spend one month in the water before returning to land to move into the forests and begin their lives as adults.
That’s probably not the first picture you conjure when you hear the phrase “at-risk youth”, but it’s the one that came to my mind. It may not be popular to approach this topic from a biological standpoint, but there is a meaningful truth in this perspective. If the “risk” you are referring to is death, that is something that youths face as much as anyone. Death is certain for all of us, and no one is guaranteed adulthood. The human species, however, is far from the threat of extinction. Our population is dominating the globe, in fact. So, “at-risk youth” is not about the peril of the demise of our race. I believe it is much more about social and behavioral dangers than biological ones. This is where we can be optimistic. We can create and control our societies and our behaviors much more readily than we can our biological tendencies.
What does it mean to “survive” to adulthood in our society? How do we measure the success of childhood? Certainly benchmarks in health, education, safety, justice, self-reliance and freedom come to mind. We set standards and often cast about for whom to blame if they are not met. Aren’t our children entitled to these milestones? Are they goals to strive toward if not guaranteed rights? And what about the risk of “merely” surviving?
My youngest child is now an adult. She has survived the death of her father. She has survived self-destructive behavior due to depression. She has survived being institutionalized in the mental health care system. She has survived living in the third largest city in this nation, finding a job and supporting herself. She has survived coming out as queer and has proudly announced her engagement to another wonderful young woman. Her survival of everyday panic, anxiety and body-image crises is chronicled in her Facebook updates. While all of this is great success that I do not mean to diminish, I keep wondering, “Is the mere survival of the hazards of our society the best our young people can hope for?” My daughter is highly intelligent. She is a naturally talented singer and dancer. She is passionate about history and poetry and science. I fear there is a great risk that these traits may remain embryonic throughout her lifetime because she is so focused on navigating social pressures – in a culture that is probably the most economically and socially privileged one on the planet!
That our systems erect road-blocks to social survival and detour our young people from paths of true greatness is a profound risk, I believe. Read the poem “The Truly Great” by Stephen Spender. I get to this stanza, and I am openly weeping.
“What is precious is…
…Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.”
We can so easily provide food, shelter, and opportunity to our youth with the systems we have devised, but those systems have become mine fields where kids are sabotaged on the journey. We have become so enamored of control that we have hobbled love and freedom and self-worth, and our young people will always be the most vulnerable to that constriction. Their symptoms are obvious. They are fighting to survive amid an abundance that mocks spiritual destitution. The Dalai Lama commented on his first visit to America that the thing that surprised him the most about Westerners was that so many suffered from a sense of low self-esteem. He’d never heard the term up until then, but everyone he asked agreed that it effected them.
Our young people have the best advantage for living long biological lives. If they are to live good, happy lives as well, we all must take responsibility for creating caring social space within our psyches and our communities. We need to nurture and model the spirit of social justice from the ground up AND from the top down. We need to encourage and not criticize; we need to live as models, not as victims. One of my favorite examples of a person who dispels social danger with kind communication is Fred Rogers. He takes time; he is present; he sees truth and speaks love. Here is an excellent illustration of that. And a great example of modeling fairness and social progress from the top down can be found in this video about the new Prime Minister of Canada.
We will never be finished addressing the social risks facing our youth. They will be new every moment. If we take up the challenge to face each of those moments with awareness and a commitment to justice and kindness, though, we can be confident that we are living out the remedies even as problems continue to arise.
“Victory” is a word that makes me rather uncomfortable. It brings to mind a dualism that causes suffering. In other words, if there’s a victor, there must be a loser. I feel sad when someone is put in that role. I do not like competition. I do not like war. I do not like capitalism. And I do not like losing or feeling “less than”. So often, winners are unkind, insensitive and arrogant. I was the fourth daughter in my family of origin, and I probably felt like “the loser” in lots of ways as a child: redundant, younger, dumber, less skilled. It doesn’t feel good to be on that side of the scale. I prefer to imagine a way that everyone can win, that we can all share and get what we need regardless of how much or how little we are able to contribute. I used to tell my own 4 children, “Fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. Fair means everyone gets what they need.” May all beings be happy. May we all feel that we can get what we need. I am hoping for a kinder Victory for my country, for my children, for myself.
What color is humility? What color is Pope Francis? What color is poverty? What color is racial injustice? What color is responsibility? What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice? What color is love? What color is peace? What color is Thich Nhat Hahn? What color is health? What color is despair? What color is the sky? What color is Earth? What color am I?
Some Thoughts on Poverty – Spiritual Lessons from Nature Series
This article appears in this month’s issue of The BeZine. To read the entire issue, click HERE.
Raising a child is not rocket science. It is more complex than that. Rocket science is merely complicated. What’s the difference? The Latin root for complicated means “folded,” like pleats. There are hidden surfaces, but you can unfold them and draw an iron straight across it. Rocket science requires a long series of problems to solve, but with enough time and effort, you can get through them all and even repeat the entire process with very similar and predictable results. (Any one with more than one kid knows this is not the case in parenting!) In the same way, you can determine which peak is the tallest one in the Appalachian Mountains. You probably can’t guess correctly just by looking out over the landscape from a single overview, but get enough people with GPS tools to climb the hundreds of peaks on the horizon and take measurements, and eventually, you can figure out which one is the tallest. Complicated, but do-able.
Complex is a whole different story. The root of that word means “inter-woven,” like a spider’s web, where each fine thread is connected to another. And they’re all sticky except for the ones the spider uses to climb directly over to her stuck prey. But can you tell which is which? Can you tell that the one you just stepped into is sending a ripple right over to where the spider is sitting? She now knows exactly where you’re stuck, but she doesn’t know that you harbor a parasite that will kill her and make its way to yet another host when yonder sparrow snaps up her dead carcass. That’s complex.
Raising a child is complex. Trying to tell which peak in the Appalachian range is the tallest is complex, too, if the landscape is dancing: changing in an unpredictable pattern , moving to the rhythm of an imperceptible music. Which peak is tallest now? And NOW? And why are we even trying to find the answer to that question while watching this mysterious dance?
Poverty is complex. It is not something that is solved by simply devoting more time and effort to the problem. If it were, we would not be looking at thousands of years of history on the subject. We give in to the temptation to simplify poverty into a matter of dollars over time, reducing it to something measurable, predictable, and controlled, a mere graphic—the poverty line. But poverty is an inter-woven network of relationships and concepts—self worth, social justice, resources and their extraction, economic policies and global politics. It is as complex as our planet’s environment.
So how do you engage with a complex issue like poverty?
Aldo Leopold arrived at a Land Ethic after years of developing and recording a relationship to a particular place in Wisconsin. In the book A Sand County Almanac, he writes: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Making personal decisions about right and wrong based on your relationship to the community is the responsibility of every individual. Applying that ethic rigorously and non-dogmatically is the work of love. How do you love your neighbor? How do you preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community on this planet of inestimable and finite resources? How do you alleviate the suffering caused by poverty? These are complex questions.
“We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.” —Aldo Leopold
Maybe a more accessible question is this: How shall we strive to end poverty? To that question, I can imagine simple answers. Start early in your learning. Teach children about sharing and portion, not dogmatically, but in relationship. Strive toward understanding basic needs and toward a sense of what is enough. Build trust and hope and compassion. Be flexible, changing with the land and its resources. Be present with the multiple factors involved; do not look away, diminish or dismiss what is real. Be authentic and honest and diligent, and finally, believe that even on a dancing landscape, food is growing underfoot.
Brie Anne Demkiw’s challenge invites us to share our personal ‘muse’, the subject that we return to for new inspiration and in-depth study. She has a favorite pier (coincidentally Scripps pier in La Jolla — I went to Scripps College in Claremont), which reminds me of my own pier post,A Jury of My Piers. My muse is always Nature, and mostly Wisconsin, and you can visit my gallery page of Wisconsin nature shots by clickinghereor on Wisconsin Outdoors in the heading.
But today is an historic day, and I want to celebrate another muse, my youngest daughter Emily. Emily recently announced her engagement to Nora, and today the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage in all of the United States. This is a break-through for the entire nation, but it’s a personal triumph for my family as well. Emily is a ‘guiding genius’ (one of the definitions of the noun form of ‘muse’); she is a poet and singer and artist and recently became employed by a science surplus store….so she has all the Greek goddess talents going on. In addition to that, she is an inspiration to me about social awareness, about being aware of yourself, your own psychology, and that of the people around you. She is extremely intelligent and articulate, so that makes it easy for her to assess and communicate about what she notices and what she thinks. She has called me out on my hypocrisy and my delusions (lovingly, of course) and challenged me to become more broad-minded. She is a subject that I find particularly appropriate today….and she’s very photogenic. So here’s her gallery:
So here’s to Emily and Nora: a bright, fabulous future to you! May you continue to be an inspiration in the lives you lead and the love you generate.