(Reblogging from 2012. Today would be Alice’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 20 years old.)
Blue eyes. That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters. She had our father’s eyes. She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her. But that took a while. Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life. I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps. I adored her. She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends. She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular. Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school. We all were, and she was very sensitive to it. When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk. He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull. The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed.
She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest. I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight. She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion. She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej. By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters. She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”. She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me. I was thrilled!
We spent that summer at home together in California. I introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband. She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer. She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion. The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility. We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed. She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me. Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado. Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night. We never made it.
Nebraska is flat and boring. We’d been driving for 6 hours. I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph. Alice over-corrected, and we flipped. She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open window. Her fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes. She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.
Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun. Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form. I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time.
This is what I’ve been working on. Besides editing, I wrote 3 pieces and Steve wrote one. Please click on the Be Zine link and enjoy all the contributions! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about sharing. This is a hugely important arena, encompassing life, health, and EVERYTHING!
September 15, 2016
The Environment is a complex array of interconnections and interbeing (as Thich Nhat Hahn would say). Steve & I have various metaphors for this. He likes to refer to “his bowling pins”. He imagines setting up a toy set of pins on a lawn and bowling at them. When they scatter, you set them back up exactly where they landed and bowl again. This takes you all over the neighborhood in endless permutations. I think of “trophic cascades”, changes in an ecosystem that originate at an extinction or other dramatic altering of balance, similar perhaps to “the domino effect” but less linear. However you try to wrap your brain around it, the nature of Life on this planet is intricate and incomprehensible. We are wise to approach it with the utmost humility. Because we are intrinsically involved, however, we must not fear to engage. We are already…
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As a Contributing Editors of The Be Zine , we are currently accepting submissions for the September 15 issue (submission deadline Sept. 10) that will focus on Environmental Justice, which is also the theme of our 100 Thousand Poets (and friends) for Change virtual event on September 24. In order to propel the discussion into deeper focus from the outset, we invite and encourage contributing authors to ponder a few things about their perspective and their voice on this topic.
When we talk about Justice, it is sometimes assumed that people will agree on what is ‘the right thing to do’. However, as with anything else, our decision-making about Justice is influenced by our values, by the things that we deem ‘special’, ‘important’, or ‘sacred’. I propose that there are (at least) three categories of valued environments, or ‘Holy Ground’: Nature, Place and Community. Think about these three different arenas and how you see Justice being applied to them.
For example, if Community is your value, you may feel that Environmental Justice has to do with how people are impacted and how human activity creates change. If Place is your value, then questions about Justice probably will involve a particular area with borders of a physical or conceptual nature. It may be that feelings of injustice are felt in terms of ‘This, not That’ or ‘Us, not Them’ or in a desire to see a Place resist change. If Nature is your value, then you may see Justice in more fluid terms as the balance of resources between producers/consumers and prey/predator is in a state of constant flux with perhaps no ultimate goal.
So, as you sit down to write about Environment Justice in your unique voice, identify your values. Perhaps use the lenses of Nature, Place and Community to focus. What is important to you? Why? How does it affect your decision-making? What factors impact this ‘sacred’ ground? How do different cultural models or systems impact your cherished home? What feelings arise in you – what empathy for Living Things or Living Habitats? What fears?
Thank you for spending time with these concepts and these questions. Your presence, your life energy, your embodiment of love is a gift that we are privileged and honored to receive. Please, share your thoughts, your words and pictures with us!
— Priscilla Galasso and Steve Wiencek
I have 4 broad cubbyholes for experience titled “Distraction”, “Entertainment”, “Useful” and “Inspirational”. This is not a system of judgment, simply an organizational game that my homo sapiens brain finds oddly relaxing. I can truly laud events in any of those categories, but sorting them is something that satisfies in a strange way, like the way I play Solitaire on the computer before bed. When I thought of all of the books in my life (and since our home is an online book-selling business, I literally have tens of thousands of books in my daily life!), I wondered how to pick which to write about. These categories are going to help me navigate this topic. Books that change lives can fall under any of these headings.
I have to start with Children’s Books because I was a child when books began to influence me. Certain Children’s Books can fit under each of those labels. Did you ever try to distract a child in tears by offering to read a story? Sure. Did you ever pick up your jacketless copy of Ferdinand and flip to the illustration of the contented bull under the tree smelling flowers because you were seeking escape? Yes! So maybe “Distraction” is a place where some of my favorites can be filed.
“Entertainment” is a fine role for a Children’s Book. Pure imagination (Roald Dahl), puzzle-solving (Graeme Base, I Spy…), and song and dance (Priscilla Superstar, Eloise) come to mind. Rhyming books by Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet were always fun to read aloud to my kids. Of course, I do voices. (After all, I was a Voice Performance major in college and a theater teacher!) Books can serve up silliness in all shapes and sizes.
A child’s book becomes “Useful” when it has a gentle way of teaching a very important lesson. I loved Babar immediately, and slept with a plush version each night, thumbing the yellow felt of his crown until its softness lulled me to sleep. I learned to respect animals and humans, that responsibility can bring anxiety, and that belonging to a community helps you to feel secure and peaceful.
When I think of books that are “Inspirational”, I think of them as initiating changes that transcend mood and feeling and circumstance. Perhaps you can call them “paradigm-shifters”. Every so often, a Children’s Book has that kind of impact, too. They defy the age-ism of the Children’s or Young Adult section. The Lorax, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Little Prince, A Wrinkle In Time. These books introduced me to the realms of mysticism and philosophy that I began to explore in greater depth as an adult. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Poems by Hafiz.
There are iconic books that have shaped my life that I think I would put in a separate cubbyhole, perhaps shaped and decorated more like a shrine. These are sacred texts: The Bible. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn. They became almost monolithic in my life journey at certain points.
Most of the goods manufactured by human beings are problematic to me. Luxury items strike me as senseless and leave me completely cold. Clothing is necessary but has a seamy underbelly in Fashion. You don’t even want to get me started on Plastic! But Books – well, they could be the veritable justification of civilization itself, as far as I’m concerned. I cannot imagine my life without them.
This essay is featured in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. To see the entire blogazine, click HERE.
(this is a featured article in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. Click here to see the whole thing.)
Once upon a time, there were a bunch of Big Brains who decided that living things (which they rarely called ‘living beings’) needed to be neatly organized. Grouping things together based on similarity was important to them for some reason. So they made up categories and named them Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, in succession from broad to specific. Then they had to remember these categories, so they memorized “Kindly Professors Cannot Often Fail Good Students” – apropos of nothing much. (Personally, I think “Kindly People Courageously Offer Fauna/Flora General Sympathy” might make better sense.)
Meanwhile, some other Big Brains decided that everything in the Universe was made by one Creator and that He gave humans dominion over all the other animal species on Earth and gave every plant for human use. That made them feel they were Most Important among the creatures on the planet. They felt very comfortable with that and valued themselves, and those that looked and acted most like them, very highly.
As for those creatures who were terribly different from them, well, they were kind of “icky”.
Well, these Big Brains were very clever. They prospered and multiplied (and divided and conjugated and came up with quantum physics). They learned how to make a Big Impact on the Earth, making things they liked out of the raw materials Earth had. And every year, there were more of them. They liked to be comfortable, so they tried to eliminate things that bothered them. Like locusts. And dandelions.
They liked to be powerful, so they claimed victories over other living things that had power. Like lions. And giant sequoias.
Gradually, they noticed that some of the other living things (or Living Beings) were disappearing completely. Some people thought that was a shame, especially if the thing was useful or furry or had a face. Others noticed that when one type of thing was gone, things began to change for the rest as well. A few Big Brains began to ask some really Tough Questions about why things on the Earth were changing so quickly and whether the Big Impact of humans had anything to do with it.
I can’t tell you the ending of this story. Perhaps the Big Brains will disappear like so many other Living Beings did, and Earth will go on without them. Perhaps the Big Brains will become less numerous, less dominant, and Earth will go on with them. Perhaps something altogether different will happen. It doesn’t really matter how I tell the story.
What does matter?
What we Big Brains decide to do with all matter will matter and will help tell the end of the story.
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.
This article is my submission to the July edition of The BeZine. For the table of contents with links to my colleague’s work, click here.
“THE CRITIC AS ARTIST: WITH SOME REMARKS UPON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING NOTHING” — Oscar Wilde wrote this essay in the form of a dialogue between two characters, Gilbert and Ernest, in the library of a house in Piccadilly. Here are some key quotes from that piece:
“The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it. That is not the least of the tasks in store for the critical spirit.”
“When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet.”
I confess I have not read The Critic As Artist in its entirety and so have not discovered Wilde’s “remarks upon the importance of doing nothing”. However, I do have some understanding of our critical mind, the ways we apply it, and the results of being dominated by it.
First of all, what is ‘the critical spirit’? I think what the author is getting at is the individual thought process that creates meaning. What we ‘know’ of the world might be broken into 3 categories: Fact, Experience and Story. Fact is the measured detail of life — how old it is, how big it is, how it reacts chemically, that kind of thing. We learn some things from it, but it has no emotional arch, no meaning.
Experience is the raw sensation of the moment: emotions, smells, sounds, tastes, sights, awareness, feeling. It is how we know we are alive.
And then there’s Story, and this is how we are all poets: we take in data, we see events transpire, we feel emotion and sensation, and then, we put that together into a narrative that makes ‘sense’ to us. We have created a story, a meaning, and attached it to history. That work is largely supervised by our Ego as our thought processes select and omit and weigh the data according to our own preferences and values. We imagine and imitate what we like, we suppress what we don’t; we spin what comes out. These stories become part of the body of data that we use to create further meaning as well. It is essential to realize that we are constantly making up stories. Civilization is a story. Religion is a story. Philosophy and Art and Psychology and Anthropology and so many other pursuits are simply ways that we have manufactured meaning by creating stories. There is wonderful wisdom in recognizing “the danger of a single story”, and so it is a fortunate thing to have so many different ones. (a Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fleshes this out in her profound TED talk, HERE) Stories are ubiquitous. There is no ‘right’ story. Good stories point at Truth, but there are lots of ways to construct them.
This awareness of the creation of story by your own Ego is the key to “the importance of doing nothing” as well. The plethora of stories and the facility of story-telling in our culture tends to dominate our reactions and expectations, creating drama, manipulation and anxiety along with meaning. In some ways, we want that. We find it exciting. But it’s also exhausting and can be exploitative. To be able to leave the story-telling aside and simply BE is important for my well-being and my personal peace. Meditation is helpful in the practice of stilling the ego and refraining from making up meaning. When I concentrate on the present moment and return to the simple activity of breathing, I allow the world to be what it is instead of conscripting it into the service of my creative ego. Then I am free to relax my mind and let go of my anxieties about how the story will turn out. My energy is renewed, and I am at peace. (This is a practice that I am only just beginning to employ. Awareness is the first step!)
“The imagination imitates; it is the critical spirit that creates.” We are invited to engage with the world on many different levels, all of which can be useful and appropriate at certain times. Wisdom is the art of choosing how to engage in a way that is edifying for yourself and others. For everything, there is a season: a time to imitate, a time to create, and a time to refrain from creative ego activity. May each of us find joy in the exploration of this Wisdom and delight where we recognize this exploration in others!
While I was off in California at my brother’s wedding, my blogger friend Juls from Paris challenged me to a writing exercise. Finally today, on a cool, rainy Saturday, I’ve had time to myself to sit down and write. Here is the link to Juls’ post. (This is my tricky way to get you to visit her site and discover an amazing quadra-lingual traveler and photographer!) Here are the rules:
1. Open a blank Document
2. Set a stop watch or your mobile phone timer to 5 or 10 minutes, whichever challenge you prefer.
3. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH YOUR TIMER!!!
4. Once you start writing do not stop until the alarm sounds!
5. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spelling and grammar using spell check (it is only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write with correct spelling and grammar.)
6. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation or capitals.
7. At the end of your post write down ‘No. of words = ____” to give an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.
8. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nomination (at least five (5) bloggers)
The topic I was given was “The Road”. I gave myself 10 minutes. Here’s what I wrote:
The road is the path for the journey. The road is where we spend our time, living and going, breathing, walking, being alive, moving forward. The road is not always comfortable for me. I have often wanted to stop, to set up house, to be sheltered and still, coddled and kept safe. Danger exists on the road. Danger exists in life, and every instinct in me wants to minimize danger, for myself, my children, my loved ones. Trying to eliminate danger, trying to make the road more like a safety shelter, is a constant struggle against reality. I have tried many established ways of making the journey of life and death more comfortable. I have gone deeply into religion, the sojourner who seeks the aide of the divine to travel more safely. I have surrounded myself with the buttresses of society, traveling in numbers to increase safety and minimize inconvenience. The funny thing is, when the most dramatic events occur, I find that I am truly experiencing them alone. No one really travels through death in company. When your brain is about to shut off, who thinks your final thoughts with you? No one.
I have lost a lot on the road; I have gained much as well. My sister and I were in a car crash on an Interstate Highway. She lost control and was killed beside me. I lost my husband in the safety of our own home as we slept. Death is in life, not in location. I have discovered life on the road, on the journey. Moving forward to greater acceptance of my children and their autonomy is a fine example of this. It is an experience of opening up to possibility, to opportunity, to change and movement and dance. You can’t step in the same river twice; you can’t leave the road and still go somewhere. I have been stuck at the side of the road for stretches of time. I invariably begin to twitch, feel hot and restless. It is not living. The road is wonder, challenge, growth. I want to be on it; I want to be moving forward, even as I resist and return to neuroses sometimes.
Word Count = 365 words…one word for every day in the year, oddly enough. My 5 nominees for the challenge are:
Hoping you’ll find this stimulating! And now, set your timers and scroll down for the topic….
Your topic is: SPIRIT. Go!