Sunday, May 12, 2013
This is my mother. Today I am defluffing dandelions to make syrup. Tomorrow to show how much I love my mother I will be planting flowers, vegetables, bushes, and trees. I am learning and working everyday to hopefully leave to my children a speck of earth in better shape than when my feet first landed on the soil.
Hugs to the peacekeepers and planters of trees to give each of us strength to create the future as we envision it!
Saturday, May 11, 2013
I planted hollyhocks and lilies today. I placed the start of a paver path. I helped to pick a brown grocery bag of dandelion flowers. I went to the farmers' market and I bought 12 heirloom tomato plants and 8 pumpkin plants. I ate a sweet potato and pecan turnover. This was my day. My day. My insular day.
This morning I said I would post later. Currently I am bone tired, but I said I would post and I will keep to my word.
I have been thinking all day about many things. Among the things I have been thinking about is how we create our own realities. Sometimes we create these realities by conscious choice and sometimes by not recognizing or making a conscious choice. We view the world around us and create the stories of events or we allow the stories we have always played to be the norm and we move through the dramas like puppets. We see the glass half full or half empty believing there is a glass and one response is our unanalyzed standard. We decide consciously or unconsciously what a situation is about. We react, respond, or consider. We become our habits without knowing the why behind them or seeing the options.
I was thinking about how when I am uncomfortable or when I have a strong emotional reaction, such as anger, the emotional response is created within me and by me. When I am angry with someone, the anger is created by me and resides within me. That anger can point up where I have lessons to be learned. Further, the anger is uncomfortable for me and it can color a year, a day, or a few moments-- the choice is mine. There is no one outside of me holding me to the obligation of the experience of the anger. I can let it go at any time.
I heard a story about a zen master who was walking with a novice. They were walking serenely through the marketplace. A drunk staggered out of the tavern. He belched loudly at an old woman who shook her head and turned away. Tottering the drunk made his way down the dusty street. He bumped into the novice and became sick at the feet of the master.
The master frowned. He wiped his shoes and told the man to go lie down in the meadow and let the cool breeze blow across his face. The master told the drunk to drink cool water and sleep.
Because of this incident, the novice became angry. He felt the drunk disrespected him and the master. He fumed and fussed and lost all sense of peace. The next day he awoke and vowed to find the drunk and teach him a lesson in humility and respect. The novice stomped around and viewed the world through a disgruntled attitude. The porridge was cold, the day wasn't sunny enough, the children were too loud. He began to head out to the town to find the drunk and came across the master sitting quietly contemplating a flower. The novice approached the master and asked, "How is it that you are so calm after what happened?"
The master turned and asked, "What has happened?"
"Yesterday the drunk was sick all over your shoes and he bumped into us. So disrespectful."
"You are angry?" asked the master.
The novice answered he was and he was going to find the drunk and teach him a lesson. The novice asked the master how it was that he wasn't angry.
The master smiled and answered, "Once I would have been angry for a week. I would have stomped around and fumed and made myself miserable. Then I noticed that it achieved little beyond upsetting myself. I decided to only be angry for half a day the next time. After that it occurred to me that I could be angry for only a few minutes and have more serenity. Then I meditated on the experience of anger. I learned the anger came from inside myself and perhaps those who I believed were making me angry were not attempting any such thing but rather they were a gift so I could learn my own faults. In the past my pride would make me believe the man was disrespectful when he became sick at my feet because I wanted to see myself as elevated above others. A holy holy man. I felt embarrassed at the hubris of my own ego. I chose to look outside myself and see beyond me. Perhaps the drunk lost his wife and he drank to ease his pain. Perhaps the drunk was no drunk but rather a sick man who went to the tavern keeper's wife for a remedy for some illness. By considering the possibilities and choosing to be open to them I could feel compassion. I realized later to be grateful for the opportunity to run into the drunk because it opened me to so much and it was a chance to see the complexity of this existence."
The novice felt his stomach drop and he hung his head. He sat at the feet of the master and cleared his mind to be open to possibilities.
I watched a video called "This is Water." In the video it talks about how many of us don't examine or make conscious choices about how we experience our reality. The value of an education is to train the mind to be able to consciously see the options that are available and to decide what we want. We don't have to be goldfish in a goldfish bowl who are unaware of the water around them. We can choose to see our circumstance and be able to decide how we want to see the world and express ourselves. And in this there is true freedom.
I will come back and post more later because I have a veritable plethora of thoughts and ideas streaming through my head this morning. The world is such an amazing place. So much to explore, so many discoveries to be made, so much to do. It is almost dizzying and sometimes the questions I have spin me. I doubt if I could live five, ten, a hundred lifetimes if I would learn all I want to learn.
Because I am about to dash out and buy heirloom tomato plants and because I cannot live without poetry, I am just going to post a poem by Gary Snyder from his Pulitzer Prize winning collection titled "Turtle Island".
The Great Mother
Not all those who pass
In front of the Great Mother's chair
Get passt with only a stare.
Some she looks at their hands
To see what sort of savages they were.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Last week I went to a permaculture design certification training at Midwest Permaculture in Stelle, Illinois. While I was there Bill Wilson, one of the incredible trainers and the owner of Midwest Permaculture, told a story about two brothers. I want to relay the story because sometimes our hearts and minds don't reside with the same thoughts and it is important to listen to both.
Once there were two brothers who grew up as close as any two brothers could be. They were inseparable and people often thought they were twins because they were forever seen playing, talking, and running together. When they grew up they inherited their father's farm. The brothers split the land and lived side by side. They married at similar times, had families, and their families were close.
One afternoon the brothers had a disagreement. Each was hurt by the words of the other. Each was angry and felt they were in the right. They separated and stormed off.
The first brother told his family they could no longer talk to or visit his brother's family.
The second brother told his family the same.
Everyone was unhappy.
One afternoon while the first brother took his family in to town, the second brother began to stew. He thought about the argument. His anger was renewed. In a fit of self righteousness and anger he took out his backhoe and created a deep trench between his farm land and that of his brother (incidentally creating a swale and capturing all the water on his property-- but that is another story for another time). Tired and feeling vindicated he went home.
When brother number two came home and saw the deep trench, he was furious.
The next day a traveler came down the road. He always carried his tools and when he needed a little food, a place to sleep, or some cash, he would knock on the door of a farmhouse and offer his handyman services. He knocked on the door of brother number two's house. The brother opened the door and listened intently to the traveler's proposal. He looked across the yard at the trench and a plot hatched in his mind. He said to the traveler, "I have lumber in the barn. I want you to build me a fence. A tall fence. A mighty tall fence. My brother and I had a falling out and I don't want to ever see him, his family, or even his farm ever again. I have to go in to town today. Could you build this while I am gone?"
The traveler tilted his head, squinted his eyes, and nodded. "I can set to work right now."
The brother said, "I will come back from town around dusk and I will pay you for your labor then." The brother then showed the traveler where the building materials were and left the farm.
All day long the sounds of a hammer and a saw could be heard as the traveler worked.
When the brother pulled into his drive, he looked towards the property line between him and his brother. His eye scanned the length along the still visible trench until he saw a beautifully built bridge. He was furious. He pulled into the yard and jumped out of his pickup truck. He marched towards the traveler.
And then he saw his brother coming across the bridge, wiping at his eyes. He stopped. The traveler stood aside. The first brother walked up to the second and said, "I am so ashamed. I was so angry I was willing to destroy the love between us. I dug that trench to hurt you. And instead of hurting me back you extended a bridge." The first brother wrapped his arms around the second brother.
As his brother held him the second brother realized he had missed the first brother and he embraced his brother and the two men held one another tight. The second brother said, "We should get everybody together for supper. We need to catch up."
The first brother nodded and went back across the bridge to collect his family and some food to share.
The second brother turned to the traveler and asked, "Why did you build a bridge? I told you to build a fence. A tall fence."
The traveler shuffled a bit, shrugged, and said, "Your words said fence but I could hear your heart and it was crying out for a bridge."
The second brother smiled and nodded. "I have missed my brother. I will come clean and tell him you were the one who made the decision to build the bridge. Because of you we are talking again. I will pay you ten times what I offered this morning. I don't think I could pay you enough."
The traveler smiled and said, "Just pay me what we agreed, work things out with your brother, and leave me knowing I did a good deed."
They shook and everyone broke bread together.
Maybe we can't always build bridges, but a few more in the world and a little more connectivity between people wouldn't be a bad thing.
Friday, April 26, 2013
The concept of time changes over the course of a lifetime and for different circumstances. When I was a child summer vacations felt as though they went on forever and the distance between birthdays was just unfathomable. It felt like I had all the time in the world. When I visited South Africa the time went by all too quickly. Currently some mornings I read and research for several writing projects I am working on and two hours seem to fly. Other days I have to wait for service people and the time drags. Time is very relative.
A year ago I sent my mother flowers for Mother's Day just as a part of the annual routine. I didn't know it would be the last time I would send my mother flowers for Mother's Day. Currently, I am receiving daily emails from the company I ordered flowers from asking if I would like to place an order for my mother this Mother's Day. Last Mother's Day feels like an eternity ago. When I sat with my mother last fall as she was dying the time went too quickly. I regretted not spending more time with her over the last few years. Her death was a smack upside the head that we really do only get so much time on this earth and being conscious of this and choosing how we spend time is important.
Currently I am working on creating my own business and doing great quantities of writing. My time is not structured in the same way it was when I was formally employed. I find I need to project management my efforts and my time. I have a great tendency to believe I can accomplish more in my time than is humanly possible and so I am getting a better sense of what I can do in a certain amount of time. I also will easily work 80-90 hours per week on various things such as trying to get my house fixed, gardening, studying permaculture, doing research and writing, and more.
Never before have I had quite such a grasp of how valuable my time is. Choosing to spend time with someone just to hang out or talk means I value them. A great deal. Currently every morning, I review my schedule for the day and create a list of things/tasks to get done. And then I start. Never have I felt so compelled to get things done and to not waste time.
I am in a kind of transition time right now. I came to the awareness a while ago that whatever we put time and energy into is what will develop. In part I came to this on my own and what solidified it was researching and writing a biographical essay about Ai Weiwei. Ai Weiwei is probably the most influential modern artist alive at the moment. For years he worked as a day laborer (and incidentally learned to gamble and is a top-tiered blackjack player) and refused commissions that would lead his art away from his vision. He worked tirelessly and remained committed to his ideal.
I have been reading about permaculture and ecology lately. When old growth forests are cleared, if the land is allowed to regenerate on its own a type of scrub will grow in to protect the soil and water table and begin to heal the land. Weeds are beneficial to the land because they bring nutrients to the soil, can penetrate the hard pan, prevent erosion, etc. Don't underestimate the benefit of weeds. But then as caretakers we have to come in and make choices about the use of the land. If we are wise we will imitate the progression of a natural forest and plant plants and trees that will create a full habitat for animals, insects, birds, humans, and the plants.
During transition times for people, it is a little like the time of scrub growing in. Opportunities pop up that relieve anxiety but may not be in alignment with one's vision for what one would like their life to be. There is great deal of flailing around and trying to figure out what will work and be beneficial. More than a few weeds will come in and present ideas and more. I guess it is this task in this time period to envision what one's life should look like in the end and engineer backwards. And then no matter if time seems to move slowly or fast, be productive or flailing, just keep working towards the vision. Try out different things and figure out what will work.
So the quality of time is relative. Time in terms of how it feels in passing is relative. But if one invests time and energy in a vision of what one wants to accomplish this is the only way to make it happen. We only have now and I want to make the best of it.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
I am currently working on a novel outline for a book about angels, demons, and a psychic. A string of mysterious deaths occurs, the psychic is pulled into the homicides, and there is supernatural agency at work.
I am working on laying out cause and effect streams for all the major characters and seeing how the threads interact. This has lead me to thinking about ambiguity in fiction, villains, and portraying character.
I have written about villains in the past in a post titled "The Best Types of Villains." I don't want to repeat what I wrote in that post. I discussed various types of villains such as the inexplicably evil villain, the type of villain who manipulates situations, men portrayed as villains because history is defined by the conquerers, the out of control child villain, and the sociopathic villain who spreads his doctrine to others.
Villains are much better when they are portrayed with depth. This brings in ambiguity. For instance, if a character is just simply someone who vandalizes for the sake of destruction and the reasons for their destroying things is never explained this is a type of inexplicably evil villain. Perhaps the character puts caltrops on the road because it makes them smile to see people's tires blown out. The sheriff's deputy who has just been hired is put in charge of tracking down the one planting the caltrops. This is not a very compelling story.
Yesterday I was in a group of folk, some of whom have done street art and some taggers. In the past I created public chalk murals with the intent of spurring thought and discussion. I don't entirely understand tagging-- spray painting one's symbol or tag. To me the tagging doesn't inspire thought in anyone else or serve anyone other than the tagger. I was asking why someone would tag and continue to tag to the point of it being a felony charge. I could understand the thrill the tagger might get from doing something against authority, surreptitiously defacing property in plain sight, and having a level of notoriety swirling around them, but ultimately what they are doing holds little ambiguity.
So, let's change these stories slightly. What if the person planting caltrops is trying to prevent the sometimes legal and sometimes illegal deforesting of old growth forests? The caltrops are still against the law but perhaps so is the felling of some of the trees. Who is the villain? In the situation with the tagger, what if the the story were set in a police state where people were oppressed and each incidence of tagging gave the populace hope? Who is the villain?
The story of each character always has its own unique perspective. The determination of who is the villain might be subtle and the character of the characters has to come through via showing and not telling.
Here is a scene portrayal. I hope it holds ambiguity and relays what I am talking about.
The male character sighs and shakes his head. He says, "I can never count on you for support. I just wanted a relaxing conversation. A little distraction. Some time away from everything. I am so stressed out. I really wish I could count on you, but you always just think of yourself and what you want. You don't really care about me."
The female character, crying, says, "I do care about you. A great deal. I am trying. It's just your dream. The dream you just told me. Why did you tell me about it?"
"What about it? It was just a dream," male character says.
"But you said it was about having a love affair and then breaking off with the woman. Why did you bring it up?"
"See. You don't care about me. You don't care about that I am sick and stressed and have a stressful day tomorrow. You bring this up to talk about when it is late. And you know how hard it is for me to talk about my dreams and such. This is all about you. About what you want. You want to be in a relationship but you don't care about me. Just don't care. And I cannot count on you," says the male character.
Who is the villain? The woman who is asking about the dream the man has just told her that is about a love affair being broken off? Or the man who is condemning the woman for reacting to the dream he has chosen to tell her about when it is late, he is stressed, and he is feeling sick?
Villains can be the same stuff of heroes, it is just a matter of perspective. A man can be creative, brilliant, well-educated, working in a field for the common good, and articulate and at the same time manipulative and selfish. He can believe he is virtuous all the while he is making decisions and hurting those around him. He might do this while feeling justified or placing the blame elsewhere. The downfall of a human being is rarely so clearcut as to be a simple decision on the part of a person to be "bad." The nature of a situation or the stated character does not make someone exempt.
If an angel allows the murder of four girls by a priest and tries to put the blame on another innocent person, are they virtuous just because they are an angel?
If a demon tries to prevent harm to a human, are they still evil? What if it is so the demon can possess the human? What if it is so the human won't be damned? Is the demon truly evil no matter what?
People are complicated. Situations and motivations can be complicated. The cancer patient may seemingly evoke sympathy, but what if he is ultimately merely manipulative and just happens to have cancer? (As in the television show "Breaking Bad.") The widowed mother who needs to support her children may evoke sympathy even as she sells marijuana, but what if she has always been a selfish, wild-child? (As in the television show "Weeds.")Villains whose actions and motivations are ambiguous help us to explore our dark side. They help us to learn and see the everyday situations that might arise to cause a person to make less than virtuous decisions. Fully fleshed out villains are always ambiguous and more interesting.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Poetry is a happy thing! It is like a puzzle where words are used as tightly as possible to convey multiple meanings and emotion. I love poetry. I love the economy of poetry. And the possible impact.
Today, I am carrying "Crystal Spider Ascension" by Charles Wright in my pocket. What are you carrying in your pocket?
Crystal Spider Ascension
The spider, juiced crystal and Milky Way, drifts on his web through the night sky
And looks down, waiting for us to ascend ...
At dawn he is still there, invisible, short of breath, mending his net.
All morning we look for the white face to rise from the lake like a tiny star.
And when it does, we lie back in our watery hair and rock.