two things: 1/12/17

1) The Wake Up Project is an Australian-centered mission to promote kindness and mindfulness. Five years ago I followed them but somehow I lost track — maybe in one of my occasional email subscription purges, which I regret. Click the link above for more information; I’ve signed up again. One of my dear, dear friends shared the most recent email from the founder, and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it here, and say why/more . . . but first, the email:

With all that’s happening in the world, I see 2017 as a profound call to personal leadership. More accurately, I’d call it an invitation to spiritual warriorship – to train and nourish our heart’s tremendous potential for kindness towards ourselves, each other and the earth.

To me, this means stepping up and honouring the ordinary magic of our daily lives. Learning how to protect our minds, listening for guidance and living from our hearts.

May I offer three areas to focus on this year:

Feed Your Mind Beautiful Things: Never has this been so important. Feed it truth. Feed it inspiration. AKA uplifting literature, wisdom, poetry, comedy, music, podcasts and good journalism. Surround yourself with people who nourish your mind and open you to new possibilities.

Adopt a Practice of Intentional Stillness: Set aside 5-15 minutes a day to relax and rest in the unchangeable part of you. The method doesn’t matter – sit, journal, pray, swim, stretch. It’s all about calming your mind, befriending yourself and listening to what life wants from you.

Once a Week, Pause and Ask Yourself “Who Can I Be Kind To Right Now?”: Really listen. It could be a friend, lover, family member, stranger – or it could be the same person each time. It doesn’t need to be big – e.g. send a text, make a phone call, leave a note. Or it could be big and risky. Step by step, kindness becomes your #1 spiritual practice. Set a weekly alert in your calendar to keep this practice alive.

Always remember….

“There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

So there it is. This is your year to Wake Up the best in you. To befriend yourself through unapologetic gentleness. To discover a profound rest in your human imperfections. To awaken the revolutionary (and essential) qualities of kindness, courage and creativity. This is spiritual warriorship.

OK! The reason this struck me the way it did is that like most of us, I’ve been just so scared of the incoming government, and a big part of that fear is that we’d all just get worn down and quit fighting. That the media will cave (as they have already done to a large extent), that the fighters will be loud at first but gradually they’ll (we’ll) subside because of exhaustion or because they’re systematically shut down, and that those of us with truly little power will find our powerlessness too hard to accept so we’ll start saying things like, “well, I’m just going to be kind/ paint/ write/ knit” and without diminishing those things AT ALL, they are too easily, I fear, a transition to acceptance of the situation. I’ve been scared of that, and I’ll just claim it for myself: I’ve been scared that will do that.

Te-Ata, Chickasaw

But this letter orients that effort in such a powerful way: spiritual WARRIORSHIP. My mother is descended from a Chickasaw woman named Ela-Teecha, so I am going to imagine myself a spiritual Chickasaw warrior. I found this beautiful photo of a Chickasaw woman named Te-Ata (Bearer of the Morning) and since I don’t have a photo of Ela-Teecha, I will instead hold her in my mind as my spiritual warrior image. (Wasn’t she so beautiful?) The Chickasaw belong to the Five Civilized Tribes, and were relocated, along with the Cherokee, on the Trail of Tears.

And so I will follow the guidance of the Wake Up Project and do the things I’d planned to do, but as spiritual warriorship. Somehow that feels different to me — and I will march and protest and write emails and make calls, too. And that is enough for one powerless person.

2) Speaking of Ela-Teecha, here’s what I know about her:

A friend did a quick exploration for me through Ancestry.com and uncovered so much information — often thrilling, sometimes painful (slave owners in Georgia) — and in the documents, she found this. I read it again and again, and adore “married into the great Choctaw family of Leflores.” The description of Ela-Teecha sounds exactly like my mother, exactly: straight black hair, very high cheek bones, and small black eyes … — medium size and slender build. That description can of course look a lot of different ways, and she undoubtedly looked nothing like my mother, but my mother fit the description too and that’s a bit eerie.

Ela-Teecha, my ancestorOH!! I found her! After she married Smith Paul she went by the Anglicized name Ellen. She lived from 1797 to 1871, and if I joined Ancestry, I could also see her grave, and probably find out exactly where she is buried. Wow. For a rootless person like me, that feels utterly amazing. I was able to snag her tree without joining:

I love that one of her sons was named Tecumseh, and another Mississippi. I’m unsure which of her children led to me, but I think that must be knowable. My father’s paternal line is a series of abrupt, violent stops, but that’s not my whole story. I know my father’s mother descended from a line of Alabama Coushatta, so on both sides I am descended from native people and their toughness and resilience live through me.

This is not really of interest to anyone but me, but I’m glad to stash this here for later finding.

Find your own model, if that will help, or maybe you don’t need one, maybe you are ready and able to fight your own way, just out of your own core. #resistance

three things: 1/7/17

1) I’ll begin with a poem titled “A New National Anthem,” by Ada Limón:

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Our country is breaking, as was inevitable, and our time is passing. I just hope we don’t do too much damage to the world before it’s all over. One thing I loved about the poem so much were the lines, “best when it’s humbled, / brought to its knees, clung to by someone who / has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon, / when it flickers”.

2)  One of my favorite paintings is by an artist named Helen Frankthaler. She was born in Manhattan in 1928, and began exhibiting her work in the 1950s. This one is titled Eve, and I must have somehow seen it the year it was painted (1995), because I think I’ve loved it that long. I remember having it as my computer wallpaper in 1996, for a full year. I find it so hard to stop looking at it. That exquisite yellow-orange, the shapes above it that certainly suggest a hanging apple. The thin, wavery line, the watery blue.

1995
Medium: Prints and multiples, color screenprint on woven paper
Edition of 108
44 x 29 7/8 inches (full margins)
Catalogue: Ann Kendall Richards, Inc. Inventory Catalogue

I only just learned that she was married to Robert Motherwell, another of my favorite artists! Wow, what a home theirs must have been.

3) Such a terrible feeling, the feeling of being out of control of yourself. Of deciding you’re going to start (or stop) doing a thing, swearing to yourself you are, and then to do it. Again. And again. And then the renewed vow. Even though I have never suffered an addiction, I do know this feeling from a more ordinary position, from getting back on a sugar/eating binge (I’ve been eating my fear and despair since before the election and it feels terrible) or getting out of the healthy habits that make me feel so good, and struggling to return to them as my norm. I remember my dad vowing at night as he was poured into bed, by me for a long time, that tomorrow would be different, tomorrow he wouldn’t drink, but then the next morning he couldn’t get out of bed without a big tumbler full of straight vodka, and the cycle would begin again. That cycle leads to such intense self-loathing, so common among addicts, and I’m grateful not to have that part of it, the self-loathing. I’m grateful to be kinder to myself, gentler to myself, to instead try to help myself in manageable ways. Today, just drink lots of good water, that’s all you need to do. And take a yin yoga class, so nourishing and manageable, and let tomorrow be whatever tomorrow will be. Just today, drink water and take a yin class.

Be kind to yourself, that’s the most important place to start — it really is. If you are kind to yourself, it’s so easy to be kind to other people. It’s so easy to have a bit of yourself to give, then, to send out into the world. Open your phone and look through your text messages — pick one and just send a kind note, a quick text, a surprise bit of kindness. Texts require no time commitment, just a few thumb strokes, and a click. Make yourself or someone else a beautiful meal. Pick or buy a flower, for you or someone else. Little things, quick things, kindnesses — and start with yourself. Just for today. xoxoxoxo

passive-aggression

Facebook facilitates so many kinds of things, one of which is the passive-aggressive post. Sometimes they’re in the form of a vague post, like, “Boy you really learn who your friends are don’t you,” leading people to comment, asking what happened. And then the response offers even more passive-aggressive possibilities!

But sometimes the post isn’t even the slightest bit vague, even though the intended target isn’t specifically named (otherwise it would be straightforward aggression). And I’ve been guilty of it too! My area of passive-aggression has reliably been politics; after reading one too many posts from someone discussing “King Obama,” for instance, I’d post something intentionally and pointedly intended for that person. How stupid of me, and what a game! The other time I have reliably used it is when I’m very scared for one reason or another, and it may help in the immediate short-term but it never helps in the long run.

You can do it outside Facebook too, obviously — people have relied on passive-aggressive comments as long as there have been social relationships, I’d bet. The cowardly thing about passive-aggression is that it allows the speaker to be just as mean as desired but always with the ability to refuse responsibility for it. “That wasn’t meant for you!” or “You’re too sensitive.” Coward. And also, gaslighting.

dualityMidway through last year I was just about to make some kind of passive-aggressive answer to someone when it hit me like a ton of bricks: This is aggression. And aggression is violence. Even if it’s cowardly aggression, which it most certainly is, it’s aggression. It’s not innocuous, it’s not at all innocent, and it’s not at all what the world needs, what people I know need, or what I need. No, no, and no. So I deleted that response and have stopped to think before I say or write something to see if I’m really just intending it for one person, to “show them” or something terrible like that. And the great thing is that it hasn’t been hard to do that, it hasn’t left me feeling silenced or victimized by the other doing it first. Instead, deciding not to do that has made me feel better, because it suggests that I wasn’t just imagining things, something about the thing I’m responding to probably is passive-aggressive so I can just let it be.

Since very early December I’ve been the target of a bunch of passive-aggressive stuff, and it sucks. It’s disorienting, and as always it has led me to second-guess myself, to wag my finger at myself and think, “Come on, you’re just reading into that.” But no, no I have not been reading into it. This long and ongoing experience shows me even more clearly the potency of this kind of aggression as aggression. That word ‘passive’ in front of it belies the power of it as aggression. I’ve been tempted, a time or two, to post my own passive-aggressive response but luckily I realized all this last year so the temptation was just a flicker.

It occurs to me that this post itself might be seen as a form of passive-aggression, just in case the person attacking me reads the post (I doubt it), but I don’t know how else to talk about passive-aggressive stuff without referencing my experience, since it shows me so clearly the power of it when you’re on the receiving end. It doesn’t have to be as big and public as my experience; there are so many tiny ways we’re passive-aggressive, like when we say “Whatever” when someone does something we disagree with, or asks us how we are when we seem upset. It may be hard to spot that as passive-aggression, but it is! Sometimes we use it, I think, when we’re scared to be direct, but even then it doesn’t help and instead hurts. It’s scary to be direct, and it may even be scary to say, “I’m kind of scared to say what’s going on” instead of relying on “Whatever,” but it’s a step forward and at least it isn’t aggressive.

Another response could simply be kindness. Not even just turning the other cheek, but actually extending kindness to the aggressive person. You run the risk of being called stupid (that happened to me when I worked at OUP), but whatever. 🙂 My friend Becci posted this yesterday (on Facebook, speak of the devil), and it’s a new formulation of a belief I hold dearly, even if I am certainly imperfect at it:

hell yeah!
hell yeah!

Maybe you haven’t thought about passive-aggression as aggression, as I hadn’t, and that’s why I’ve written this post. And if you have good approaches to dealing with it when you’re the target, I’d love to hear them! Especially if you have approaches that work when you’re scared, as I frequently am.

If I’ve ever been passive-aggressive to you I am so sorry. I’m trying hard to spot it and cut it out because it is aggression and that hurts me and you and the world. I say this again to myself: be kind, dammit.

showers

wisteria
wisteria blooming in Japan — imagine the shower of those purple blossoms

Y’all. You blow me away, again and again and again. This is not pretense designed to get you to say nice things about me, I MEAN THAT from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t say anything about me in a comment. This is about you. You are so extraordinarily kind and good to me, and I don’t know why.

  • You write me cards and letters and notes by hand, because you think I will like it. (I do!)
  • You have paid attention even to the smallest things and then sent (or given) me a gift based on that attention. Sometimes for no reason at all.
  • When I am in trouble of any kind – giant spuds or the smallest potatoes – you reach out to me with generous hearts and words, and you somehow remember to keep checking on me. Or maybe you get me a membership in the Cloud Appreciation Society. Things like that.
  • You send me little notes, images, stories, things you see online, or maybe in a newspaper you tuck into my door, because you saw them and thought of me.
  • Sometimes out of the blue you send me a note telling me something you appreciate or value about me. (!)
  • The moment I click ‘publish,’ I imagine I’ll think of several more things like this.

It isn’t that I think I’m a bad friend or anything like that, and it isn’t that I don’t realize the ways I can be a good friend, but seriously, I just don’t do these things, and y’all do. I wish I did these things, even when I’m not in the moment of being the recipient. It’s a thing I wish I did better. And then y’all do these things and I wish it even more.

You shower me with friendship, love, kindness, warmth, generosity, and care. And I feel it like a shower, a tremendous blessing. You make me feel better about the world, which often leaves me in such despair. But there are people like you in it, too, people of such quiet generosity, people who care for others in real ways, not just attitudes that one should care. I know you do these things in the world, not just for me, and knowing that you are there, knowing there are people like you moving through the world, I feel less despair.

Please please don’t say anything about me in the comments. If you feel like you want to comment, you might say something about kindnesses others have shown you, because I think we all need reminders that this exists in the world, too. My last words here are directed to you: thank you for the showering. xoxox

synchronicity

not MY H-E-B, but one here in Austin. Love H-E-B.
not MY H-E-B, but one here in Austin. Love H-E-B.

Yesterday morning I was driving to the grocery store and thinking about wanting to put some happiness into the world. I was thinking about simply telling people good things I thought about them — what Oopie called ‘giving flowers to the living.’ I thought if I saw a woman at the store who I thought was pretty, or wearing something I like, or whatever, I’d just smile and tell her as I passed her. And I was feeling awkward and unsettled about it; wouldn’t that be weird? Might they wonder what I want? Wouldn’t they be startled and then think it was strange?

I pulled into the parking lot and as I walked toward the door I decided I’d just let it settle and say something if it struck me without being too planful about it or making a thing out of it. Basically I settled into just giving myself easy permission to respond in a moment. I only needed one thing in the produce department, so I went in the door on that side of the store, picked up what I needed, and went to the very-quick express cash register right by the same door. I was in the store a total of 1 minute, didn’t see anyone, so had no chance to do what I’d thought about. And after the very lovely old man at the cash register gave me my change, he said, “You’re real gorgeous.” (Quite thick glasses on that lovely old man.) But the POINT is the mystery of such incredible timing: he did exactly what I’d been wanting to do, so he gave me a chance to talk back to all my worries. No, it wasn’t weird! No, I didn’t wonder what he wanted! Yes, I was startled but it made me very happy, the unexpectedness, the just-saying-it-in-passing, the kindness. And the funny thing was that it didn’t make me think I might be gorgeous, at all — it was just the unexpected kindness that made me so happy. I laughed and thanked him, and asked if he was going to be working tomorrow so I could come back. He laughed too, and said he was. Very easy and nice, two people simply seeing each other.

kindnessAnd as I drove to Katie’s house, I smiled the whole time. How nice to be the recipient of a surprise and personal kindness. How nice to be seen — and again, it’s not even about the specifics! He could’ve said I like your glasses, you have a nice smile, it’s nice to see you again, or even just looked at me and smiled, seeing me. We go through the busy world being seen as others, as shapes, as “people,” and when we get seen as an individual, even that can be such a gift.

So thank you, very kind man, for seeing me and making my day. And thank you, universe or whatever creates these moments of synchronicity, for answering my concerns about doing the same thing. Kindness into the world, y’all.

the question of nice

I belong to an amazing group of women who cluster together in a number of sub-groups — reading, photography, movies, and one about being honest about our lives. Since I felt like the newcomer, the odd one out in a group that all seemed to already know each other, I asked how old everyone was and then one woman wrote a post introducing herself and many of us have followed suit. Each introduction and the torrent of responses could be a book. So many absolutely moving stories, of all kinds. Stories of mostly happy childhoods and adult lives. Stories of wrenching hardship growing up. Stories of betrayal, stories of families of every kind. We all try to hit the important details in a way that conveys who we are without writing whole encyclopedias — which we could certainly do because we’re all adult women. It is remarkable, and my favorite place to be right now.

niceThe issue of being nice (or, more pointedly, NOT being nice) came up in the group and that hit a lot of my buttons so I’ve been thinking about the broader topic ever since. WHOO-HOO, nice and women, such a thing to explore. Southern US women of course get trained — hard — in being nice. We are always supposed to be nice. “Be nice, dear.” “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Or as Alice Roosevelt said, clearly not a southern woman, “If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.”) I have gathered from my eleven years living up north in the US that northern women do not receive such training. And I don’t mean that in a catty way, at all — should I wish I had the same training (or lack of training)? Do I?

Being nice can be a terrible trap. Be nice. In the south, if you’re not being nice they say you’re being ugly. “Now, don’t be ugly.” Sometimes “being ugly” happens when you are saying the truth, even if you do it in a ‘nice’ way, though that’s so hard to pull off, that in my experience it tips back toward nice and away from honest. [Thinking back now, I cannot recall a single time where a boy or man was told to “be nice.”] I have a terribly hard time not being nice all the time. Sometimes I think I’d love to just be not-nice and say whatever I want, be passive-aggressive whenever I want, not care about how other people feel, fuck them all, fuck you, say something that shuts down the conversation and not give a crap about it, say whatever I want and then respond to the fallout by blaming them. Meh, not nice. That’s me. I’m not nice, so I say that I’m not nice and that’s the extent of my responsibility. I am not nice. Can I do that? Do I even wish I could?

Maybe you're getting what you give out....
Maybe you’re getting what you give out….

I worked with a woman here in New York who was world class breathtakingly cruel — and I know from cruel — and my shock and fear kept me silent and she responded by telling people I was stupid. (When she was finally laid off, the thick, toxic atmosphere lifted immediately and people in our offices in the UK noticed the change, it was that bad.) I don’t know. I don’t really care too very much how people like her see me. But when people are cruel, or mean, or hateful, as she was, I learn that about them and then have little interest in interacting with them. Because why would I? Maya Angelou’s death has prompted a flurry of her best-known sayings being posted, and one is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I disagree that people forget what you said — I remember the things people say very well, especially when they say things that hurt or are just mean and cutting. I remember how they made me feel with what they said. Oh yes, I remember.

I’d like not to be so worried all the time about being nice, but I do not want to simply be cutting and cold and shaming of people because “I am not nice.” The way I’d like not to be so nice would be in responding in the moment when I am unhappy about something. If someone does or says something to me that warrants a response, I’d like not to sit there and ‘be nice.’ THEN, in that moment, I’d like to speak up. Do I have to speak up in a hateful way? Well, I guess that depends. Sometimes I suppose it does. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a whole host of situations where my response could and should properly be hard, or cold, or sharp, or strong, or in their face. I’m getting better, and am certainly better at it than I’ve ever been but I have such a long way to go.

But overall, I do believe that nice and kind are valuable ways to be in this world. (Maybe, though, I am basically a kind person.) That being nice to others, kind to others, matters a lot. That recognizing that others have their own shit and are trying the best they can, that others are managing stuff I have no idea about, so as a baseline being nice to people and kind and as accepting as I can be, I think it’s a worthwhile thing, trying to be kind. I think it’s valuable to recognize when it’s my own shit that’s being stirred up and focusing on that instead of being mean because “hey, I’m not nice, tough.” It’s a value I hold. As with everything, it’s about finding the balance and nice does not equal being a doormat. As the years have passed, I think for her it was less about her not being nice and more about her being pathologically screwed up, which is a different thing.

I can easily call to mind women I know who are nice and kind but not doormats. I respect the hell out of them. We sometimes see things differently and they don’t abandon their views and neither do I, and they’ll stick with their positions without bending and they’ll stand up for themselves, I’ve seen it, but they are otherwise kind women. I admire the hell out of them and watch them as teachers.

Here’s a beautiful poem titled Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 1952:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend

And finally, I have to put this song here. It’s called ‘Say Something’ and it’s important to some people in my family and when it was shared with me yesterday I broke down crying. Say something / I’m giving up on you — a song about loss, but pointedly about not just one kind of loss. The video even includes the death of an old woman, so that one at least doesn’t easily fit say something / I’m giving up on you, but my God, what a beautiful and heartbreaking song, especially if it’s appropriate for you in some way already, as it is for me and people in my family. Here. As she always does, Christina does some serious over-acting, but crap I don’t care. Please, please, please. Just say something.

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loving kindness

One of the words I’m trying to work with this year is kindness. Like everyone, I find kindness easy to manifest toward people I love. That’s a no-brainer. I have a more difficult time extending kindness to myself, but it’s not as hard as it used to be so that’s good. But the whole point of kindness is to extend it into the world. Period.

candles not required
candles not required

There is a kind of meditation called the loving kindness meditation. You can read about it here, if you don’t know about it.  Basically, after getting into a relaxed position, you begin by extending kindness toward yourself. May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease. There are variations on the phrases, but they’re basically of that form. After that, you visualize a person about whom you feel kind and loving. PIECE OF CAKE! My big problem would just be picking one of you. Then you meditate while visualizing the person. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at ease. Next, the standard advice is to think of a person about whom you feel neutral (more on this in a sec, because I have something to say). Then you do the same meditation. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at ease. Then you visualize a person who is difficult in your life. Do the same thing. Then you do the same meditation out to the world, or to all sentient beings in the world. Lots of variations, but that is the general idea.

There is a growing body of scientific research on the effects of doing this particular meditation. It surprises people who do it — such a small thing, so many benefits. I want to do this. I want to do this regularly. I want to extend kindness to the difficult people, to the world. But two points:

Neutral people. Seriously? Who are neutral people? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel neutrally about anyone! I don’t even know what that means. If you do survey research and ask people to answer a question on some kind of scale (and I’m grossly oversimplifying here), if you use an odd-numbered rating scale they’ll often pick the middle, or neutral point. The truth is, probably, that we just feel meh about an awful lot of stuff. I’m not really all that invested in my paper towels, for instance. But if you give people a rating scale with an even number of choices, thus forcing them to come down on one side of the range, even though they’ll be pissed off and want to say that they really wanted something in the middle but you forced them, the forced choice they make is information! I’d like to pick a middle point about my paper towels, but if you just force me, I’ll probably pick the one on the positive side of the middle. And so even though I resent you for it, I guess I do feel a little bit more positive than negative about them. But not much! I insist!

I tried hard to think of someone I feel neutral about, but I couldn’t. Maybe I’ve internalized an even-numbered scale or something, but my feelings about people I know fall on one side or the other of that scale. Maybe I like you a tiny bit, or I dislike you a tiny bit,  or maybe I like you a lot, or dislike you a lotor maybe I totally love you or totally hate you. But neutral? I don’t get that. Even the person checking me out at the grocery store falls in one direction or the other. Even if I put in a silhouette headshot and think “person I just haven’t met yet” I still feel on the side toward positive! I like you a little bit at the outset and go from there, up or down. Maybe I’ll just have to skip that part of the loving kindness meditation.

Difficult people. So here we get to the nut of it. There are two very difficult people in my life right now. Aside from the people I grew up with, these are the only real difficult people I know. How hard is it to extend thoughts of loving kindness to them? I’ll tell you: It is super super hard. OK, I’ll do it, but I have my fingers crossed and I don’t mean it. Do I get credit for just saying the words?

And yet, and I honestly do mean this, I get it. I really do. If I can be open enough to extend loving kindness to both of those people — may they be well, may they be happy, may they be at ease — I am opening my own heart and pulling out the thorn. And perhaps if they were well, and happy, and at ease, they would be different in the world too. (I don’t think it counts if you’re doing it to try to get people to be nicer to you. 🙂 )  Do I sincerely, from my deepest heart, wish that they would be well? That they would be happy? That they would be at ease? You know, I think I do. Just sitting in my chair, out of the blue, I don’t. But when I am in that meditation place and relaxed and wishing that I may be well, that my loved ones are well, that allegedly neutral people are well, that those two are well, and that the world is well, I can mean every last bit of it from the bottom of my heart.

That is some mysterious stuff, man. If you want to try it, here’s a very good video that will do one with you. I recommend it.

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hello, gorgeous!

Well hello, year 2014! It’s so very nice to meet you, you have no idea. There were many years of my life that were so bleak you were just a dream, you there in the 21st century. Many years I never dreamed I’d see you, and you are more beautiful than I thought you might be.

clean-slateLet’s start off clean, why not. It’s entirely arbitrary, deciding to do anything at all on January 1 just because it is January 1, but why not? Just because it’s arbitrary doesn’t mean we can’t do it. Clean slates for all, I hope; the only slate I can clean is my own, so here I go.

Instead of resolutions, how about intentions? There will be two words I’ll think hard about this year, one for me and my own life, and one for my life extended out into the world.

STABLE — there’s no rule that says I can’t have this word two years in a row! You could even argue that it’s quite stable of me to stick with stability. Last year I really needed stability in my lived life; I started the year a stranger in a familiar town, with all new stuff in a new rented house, and with no sense of what my new life would be like. After the rollercoaster of 2012, with Marc’s 6-month hellish treatment and Oaxaca and Myanmar and then all the losses in the last 2.5 months of that year, stability just meant quiet and space to find my feet, find the ground, and put my feet on the ground. For 2014, though, I’ll be thinking of stability for my inner life, so I take it all more easily, stay connected to myself with less effort, remain calm inside myself if life swirls around me.

So 2013 was about external stability, and 2014 will be about internal stability. To help myself with that, I’ll want to focus on breathing and meditation, and on regular exercise. I’ll want to keep eating as well as I have learned to eat so I’m not riled up or crashing. Steady as she goes, that will be me. It’s hard to find inner quiet, sometimes, so I imagine I will be writing about the effort.

KINDNESS — the other word I want to keep in the forefront of my mind for 2014 as a way of making my world/the world a little bit better. This is also an inside job because the place I am most often unkind is in my thoughts, and those thoughts make it hard to connect, they agitate me, they show up in small ways even if I am trying not to express them. (If you could only hear my mind when I’m in traffic, or at HEB….ooh, boy.)

Kindness doesn’t just show up in thoughts and words, obviously — there are small kindnesses I can do, surely, opportunities to make someone else’s day a little better, to make a burden a little lighter, to lift troubles for just a minute. The benefit for me will be to get me outside myself, to help me see the world a little more easily. A great kindness is to really see someone, to give them your full attention, to really listen, and I want to do more of that. There is a lot of writing and thinking about kindness, and some brilliant people think it’s the only religion that matters. I want to be better at it, so I will practice.

I’m sure, knowing me, that I’ll write about both of these things here throughout the year. As I think about these things and work on them, I’ll probably be reading and studying and trying little exercises, stuff like that. I’ll be collecting them in one place . . . see the new item in the menu bar, above? Right next to About the Queen? That’ll stay up all year, and will be the repository of Good Stuff. Check it out now and then.

Whatever your thoughts are for the coming year, I hope you can let go of old stuff you’ve been dragging around, as I also hope to do, and I hope the coming year is kind to us all. It won’t always be, of course, and when it’s not, I hope we find each other and help each other through.

Happy new year!

kindness

For such a long time, the politics of the right in this country have felt particularly mean and even bordering on cruel to me. You certainly may disagree. It’s the political beliefs themselves, and it’s also the ways in which their proponents express them. Harsh, cruel, mean-edged. For a long time I shared political material on my Facebook wall, not because I had any thought of influencing others’ opinions, but as a way to show similarly minded friends that they were not alone. That’s always how I felt when I’d read theirs . . . whew, there’s at least someone else who sees this the way I do. Thank heavens, because I do not want to live in the world shouted into creation by the other side. I don’t want to live in a country where the solution is a Wild West solution, for instance, for every one of us, man woman and child, is armed. But this isn’t about any one political position, it’s about tone and stance. (And to that point, I can quickly call to mind friends whose political beliefs are opposite of mine but they don’t have this hard and mean stance. So truly, my point here is mostly about stance.)

I wrote yesterday about kindness, so this is a continuation and extension of that post. I’ve continued to think about the various ways of being in the world. I’ve been thinking about real people I know in the real world who are deeply kind people — Dixie and Karl come to mind immediately, and so do a great many of my friends. Katie. People who extend small kindnesses all the time, like my darling neighbor Nancy who brought me soup and M&Ms because she knew I was sick, and who lights little candles in the entry to our front doors when she knows I’m having friends over at night. I’ve written about the dozens and dozens of really quite small kindnesses people showed us in the wake of Gracie’s death, and how each kindness formed a knot in the net that held us up and carried us through.
kind
I can be kind, and maybe I am often kind, but I am as often unkind. I can gossip, though the older I’ve gotten the less I want to do that. I can make fun, I can have a mean edge to my making fun. I have really terrible thoughts about people at times, like my thoughts about the person who has been stalking me and then trying to sue me. I aspire to greater kindness, and I will have a struggle against the darker parts of my heart and mind. But after the last couple of days thinking about this, I have decided to try harder. I am in NO DANGER of being goody-goody, I’m too far away from that (no matter what darling Dixie will say), and I say that not out of modesty, true or false, but out of an understanding that I am a human and just like everyone else, I have dark and light inside me. Just like all of us, I have the whole complex of human strengths and weaknesses. But I can try. I can try harder.

The Dalai Lama says it is always possible to be kind. Theoretically I can understand that, but I know myself enough to recognize that there are circumstances in which I would not be able to be kind. Hurt my kid, or someone I deeply love, and I just know that I couldn’t be kind — I certainly couldn’t start there. Destroy everything I love, as the Chinese are doing to Tibet, and I couldn’t respond with kindness. But I am no Lama, that’s pretty clear. So in my life, I can imagine that it is almost always possible to be kind, and I can try harder.

I’m completely removing myself from public political conversation. You might say that this kind of disengagement is hiding my head in the sand and maybe it is, but then again political discourse doesn’t move the dialogue like it used to. I will of course be working hard to help elect Wendy Davis and all the other politicians whose positions are more in line with mine, and I will of course be doing all I can to help turn Texas blue. But I won’t be talking about it, and if anyone tries to engage me about any kind of political issue (or the politicization of any non-political comment) — on Facebook, definitely — I won’t be responding. I’ll be trying harder to be kind and when I fail as I inevitably will, I’ll just try again.

pollyanna clubI think it might be wonderful if everyone tried this. We’d all fail and have to reboot, but what a shift it might make. If we just spoke with greater kindness, even if we kept all the same beliefs we hold now. But if we think about presenting our beliefs in a framework of kindness, from a position of being kind to the person we’re speaking to, I just think things might shift a little bit.

Marnie and Tom arrive today so our holiday celebration is about to commence. Happy Saturday, y’all. xo

we’re never one thing

I don’t need to tell you that I’m pretty open. It’s a conscious decision, a carefully-thought-through position. And yet that doesn’t mean I reveal everything, of course. I keep others’ secrets . . . you cannot possibly imagine how hard it was not to reveal that Katie was pregnant, since so many of you were there for us through the last tragic year after we lost Gracie, and since you would ask me, with great kindness off-line, if she was pregnant yet. You were holding such hope, such care, offering prayers and good thoughts, and it was so hard to keep her secret. But it was Katie’s to tell, Katie’s and Trey’s to hold, and so obviously, I kept that secret.

You know I’ve had a cold, wah wah wah I whine about it. Ugh I feel bad. Oy this cold. Yuck it’s so gross. Going to sleep early, thank you NyQuil. But otherwise I’ve been my regular old self, feeling grateful and happy, thinking about things, processing stuff that happens, glorying in the good and trying to make sense of the difficult. It seems I am an open book.

But I’m sad, too. I’m very sad, and feel heartbroken that my son Will keeps himself away from us. I think about him almost all the time. Everything makes me think of him, and especially here at the holidays, as we all gather together, I feel so very sad that he won’t respond to us, that he continues to be a jerk. He’s just right there in NY, we reach out over and over and over, and once in a blue moon he’ll grant me a visitation. Once in a blue moon he’ll respond to Katie. He hurts us over and over, but he is our son and brother, he stays in our heart as the boy we knew and loved, even if he is now a man we barely know. He will forever be my son, he will forever be their brother, but he does not seem to want to be in our family.

2003, the last time we were all together at Christmas. Ten years ago.
2003, the last time we were all together at Christmas. Ten years ago.

Katie wrote so very eloquently about driving to the hospital to deliver Gracie and looking at people in the cars next to them and . . . . well, let me just share her words from her public blog because I can’t possibly do them justice:

As we drove to the hospital the morning of my induction, I tried to look at the faces of the people in the cars around us.  The faces in our car were washed in heartbreak and loss.  It was the worst day in our lives.  What about the car next to us?  What’s happening in their life today?  Did they just lose someone they loved? Did they lose their job? Did a loved one just get a cancer diagnosis?  Are they driving like a maniac because their child is sick?  Everyone is nursing some kind of pain.  Everyone is broken in some way.  Be kind to the people around you.  You never know what their life is like and what your kindness will mean.  Be kind.

And this was on my mind today. Yesterday morning in response to a non-political Facebook post, a friend went political and even after I said I was not taking a political position, this friend continued. To her, it was just an interaction, nothing more and certainly not intended to hurt or upset me. To me, though, I feel fragile and it felt harsh and more than I was up for, although she didn’t know how low I was feeling. I have been sick — very small potatoes, of course, just a cold, but I am alone here and have been wishing someone were here to take care of me and make soup for me.  I am so very grateful that Marnie and Tom are coming from Chicago for the holidays, and Katie is pregnant with our little Oliver, and we will all be together . . . but not with Will. I’ll glow with the joy of being with my wonderful daughters and their wonderful husbands and I will feel the hole that is Will’s absence, and I don’t even expect that we will be allowed to speak to him on Christmas. He certainly won’t call us, and if we call him he won’t answer the phone. It’s very painful to a mother’s heart, and I am always aware of it. Always. When I’m smiling, when I’m laughing, when I’m lost in an experience, when I’m bathing a mama elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, that pain is always there.

And so you interact with me and I’m laughing, I have opinions and things to say, good things happen and I share them with joy, difficult things happen and I try my best to make sense and integrate, ordinary boring time happens and I pass it as you do. We spend time together and I am so damn glad to get to be with you. I have a lot going on, more loving friends than most and more wonderful opportunities than many and a pretty great life. But don’t think that’s the whole story; it isn’t for me, and it isn’t for anyone. As Anne Lamott said, “the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the  emergency ward, and we, who are more or less OK for now, need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

That is the thing. We are all patients in the emergency ward; maybe not right at this exact moment, but something hurts, there is some unspoken secret, some dark worry, some sharp pain, some unnoticed-by-others silence. Everyone is dealing with something. We just don’t have the spare attention to keep this in mind all the time, and we can’t, really. And we probably shouldn’t, or we wouldn’t ever get anything done, we’d be too busy trying to consider everyone’s everything.

But if you have a moment, it’s always worth remembering that every single person you encounter has something else in their heart and you just may have no idea what they’re dealing with. As Katie said, be kind. As Kurt Vonnegut said, be kind babies. It’s the only real rule. You can never go wrong.

be kind

counting good

A couple of days ago I saw a news program about the whole “paying it forward” idea. [aside: i really hate that phrase. i wish we had something else for it.] The reporter was at a bagel shop with a drive-through, talking about the ways people will pay for the person behind them in the drive-through, and how very often that happens. One person even paid for a whole morning’s worth of people’s drive-through orders. The reporter interviewed people in the drive-through when they learned their food had been paid for, and apparently each one of them spontaneously said it made them want to go do the same for someone else. Then the reporter asked the manager how often it happens and he said it happens all the time, it is just extremely common.

Some talking head social scientist, I missed her name, said it’s no longer just a little fad, as it was when it started a few years ago. It’s widespread, growing, sticking around as a specific thing, this ‘paying it forward’ idea. Because of course we do good for others all the time. We know it in our families, among our friends, in our churches or synagogues, in our cities and towns, and around the world. People with great resources giving time and some of their resources to directly help people.

lamaAnd then I read something on one of those “10 ways to be happy” articles that said the key way to be happy is to do kindnesses for other people. Well. I started thinking about how we count things. We count the number of glasses of water we drink. We count our steps, some of us. We count all kinds of things! What if we counted our acts of kindness, what if we set a daily goal? What if we made a list of the kinds of things we might be able to do, so we’d have them in mind, and then just made a little tickmark. The danger is that it becomes about puffing up your own chest about just how GOOD you are, so if you make notes, “helped a little old lady cross Anderson Lane” it might seep into a sense of “hey, aren’t I such a good person! Look at me!  But maybe if it’s just a little anonymous kind of tickmark, details forgotten, it’ll just be a count, nothing more.

For the last couple of weeks I participated in a group focused on health, nutrition, and exercise. Every day we reported our points, to a total of 10 each in eating, moving, and self-care. Before we started, I came up with a framework so I could be exacting about figuring about what to report, so it made it simple to know. I think I want to try this idea; given the fact that I work in my home alone all day every day, I won’t have that many options so the count I’m shooting for might be smaller than someone who’s out in the world every day. It doesn’t have to cost money — you don’t have to buy someone else’s food or drink –but all of us, I think, can come up with some possibilities that fit our own lives. Kindness begets kindness.

There isn’t one damn thing I can do about the economy, about the minimum wage, about the outrageous number of public gun slaughters that threaten us all, about Syria. Nothing. But I can focus on increasing my acts of kindness in the world, and some of those will beget other acts. Usually a giant rock drops into a pond and from that, little ripples spread out. What if we start in the other direction — let’s get the ripples going and just see what happens. I’m going to make a list of possibilities and see how many I can do in a day. Little things, anonymous things when possible, kindness in the world.

Happy Friday y’all. xoxo