Friday, December 25, 2009

Over the hill - or turning a corner?

(last visit to Wildflower Garden - click to expand.)

Most of my adult life, I've held a belief that there was purpose and direction to my life, and that there were reasonably dependable ways of tuning in to what I needed to do to move forward. Meditation, journaling, prayer (as in, holding the issue in the Light and waiting for discernment, as the Quakers would put it), consulting with friends, and occasional coin-tossing for I Ching readings have played a part. For many years, a reasonably faithful practice of dream recall and reflection provided an important source of tracing out the underground streams of energy and movement that often were running in opposition to my conscious intentions.

However, recent directions of life change have been less clear to me. Rather than finding the clues and then following them, it's been more that I'm finding myself making the changes, and only then seeing what the new patterns and energies look like.

Over the years, I've chosen to compromise, in many ways, with the underground currents that I discerned. Perhaps I wasn't brave enough to plunge into the Wild Mind to fully develop my writing (see Natalie Goldberg's book, which I'm re-reading), or disciplined enough to develop the spiritual muscles to become a dependable channel of healing energy in the world. I've earned a living, though, doing useful work that benefits society, or at least does very little harm, and I've provided a container that allowed my two sons to stay who they are becoming, with (I hope) not too many nasty recordings of my worried nagging voice looping in their brains. They are both actively creative, too. They will inherit my challenge of how to make a living and keep that creative self alive.

I'm feeling retrospective-ish, right now, because I feel that my recent birthday - turning 59 - marks turning a corner - and, in a way, a decision to start going downhill, rather than continuing to climb uphill in my job.

In my workplace, I shifted three years ago from being an academic adviser with some administrative duties (some years, fairly heavy ones) to doing administrative work entirely, supporting the direct service of my colleagues. In this new role, I have also supervised a small group of support staff. However, I had applied for and had not been offered the "other job" - of directing the advising unit and supervising the advisers. This last August, the advising associate director position was vacated. We've been scrambling somewhat ever since, and I've pitched in to cover some duties, but eventually we got permission (there's a hiring freeze on at my university) to replace this position within a new structure.

Ever since August, I was clear about seeing this advising associate director as the next step for me, and only recently began to question it. By the time the position was actually posted recently, to my surprise, the job no longer felt like it had my name on it. I didn't apply. Why not?

It's really connected to some underground shift in how I perceive myself. I begin to see the value of letting younger people step into positions that offer them a good stretch, a place to grow. But growing in this public, collective, external way seems to hold less appeal for me. And I feel I can let go because I begin to trust I can contribute in other ways than in being the person in charge. I can mentor others without being their boss. I can put more energy into the committee work I'm doing, some of which directly impacts the values of diversity and inclusion that have been core for me in my career.

And I can turn some of my (increasingly diminishing) energy back to my house and home, my family, my health, my own creativity.

In early November, when we stood in line to check out at the Humane Society with Charlie in his brand-new red harness clipped to one of our old leashes, I felt like I was walking through a door into something new. I didn't feel "this is jolly fun" - but rather a certain amount of sadness and even some fear. I recognized this was a somewhat different path than what I had been thinking I was on - one that held me on a leash, too, of needing to re-balance work and home. I knew at some level that this new situation would put limits on me, bring me down to earth. Also, that this new completely dependent curly bit of embodied life-force would bring care, worry, even sadness into my life. But I knew it was a good decision, and I was right. Now, Charlie is firmly fixed at the heart of our family unit (except that Tim hasn't met him yet), and is droll and winning and so danged cute, 24/7. When I wake up, he springs up from his cushion next to the bed ready for me to stumble to the front door to let him out to pee. He tends to be within a few feet range at all times, sleeping or chewing his rawhide bone, or inviting me to pick him up for napping on my lap. He seems to like it here. He gets us out of doors in all kinds of weather. He did a great job at keeping Ben from panicking with his late-semester crunch. Peter has decided our goal for Christmas day is to get ourselves cleaned up and take a holiday greeting card photo with Charlie on our laps.

Well - looking out the window this Christmas morning, I see another onslaught of the three-day-snowstorm is kicking in. Last night, instead of 5-6 inches of the fluffy white, we got 2-3 inches of slush, because it warmed up enough to be rain mixed with the snow. Heavy stuff! We stayed home all day yesterday (except for slogging around the block with the dog, looking at all the picture-postcard houses with festive lights in the snow), and will stay home again today. I'm forced to really see the clutter in the house. Perhaps I'll have some energy to tackle it.

May the holidays bring us all back to what is essential in our lives. May we take some time to breathe in the spark of awakening light and allow it to fill our dark and constricted places. May the new year's path open up us, and may we tread our unique paths gladly and surely, trusting in the wisdom of what we cannot see.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's a lamb - no, it's a dog - it's - Super Charlie!

Hmm . . . I wonder . . .

Is it a lamb? Or . . .

maybe it's a dog!

(His eyes don't usually glow like torchlights, though . . . )

I'm saving up the more ponderous reflections about My Life for another post. In brief: taking a few days off; finished my course grading; haven't taken in the solstice yet; house in great need of cleaning; youngest Young Adult Son squeaking through his finals (he moved home to get some support for the last couple of weeks); and . . . I'm choosing not to apply for the job opening in my office that would be a logical next step up the ladder, if I needed to climb any more ladders. Maybe I don't.

I think getting Charlie was some kind of statement to myself that there is life outside the office.

I'll write more when I'm rested up! Happy turn of the year into the Light!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This just in - new family member.

I've not been in the blog'o'sphere for some time lately - it just occurred to me today how much I've been missing some folks. Also, without some reflective writing, I end up feeling a bit too much like my days are calendar pages flipping past in a strong wind. BUT I have news to share - a recent somewhat impulsive trip to the Humane Society resulted in being captivated by our newest family member, Charlie.

The tag said "red poodle mix" but we've come to believe he's a gold-colored Pootalian (or Italian Poohound?). We first thought he was poodle mixed with Martian, but some YouTube footage of Italian Greyhound pups does make his heritage clear. It's most obvious when he's outside on a walk. The vet we took him to for his free check-up came to the same conclusion.

He's the sweetest little long-legged lapdog ever, and seems totally willing to love anything alive (not tested on cats or squirrels, though).

We're keeping Charlie in his kennel when we're gone during the day and also at night, which is the one thing he is most unhappy about, not because he doesn't like being there in general, but because I'm off in the other room (and not allowing him to sleep on my bed, which he has discovered to be the nicest place around). That's hard. But I have enough trouble getting good-quality sleep that I can't risk having that disturbed.

I'm not comfortable, in the long run, keeping him on the commercial food that came with him, as he has frequent sneezing fits and may have somewhat itchy skin (licking though not chewing his feet) - so I've spent some time reading up on people's internet conversations about pet food and allergies. Will do some shopping for an alternative this weekend. Any suggestions? I've certainly read lots of opposing opinions out there on the internet! Don't think I'm quite up for the raw-food diet, though we did some of that with Rufus when he stopped being willing to eat anything commercially prepared (except some of the pricier whole-food types of canned food).

I'll take some more pictures of Charlie in action so you can see his arched back and perky ears. He's beginning to get some fur back (they had clipped him pretty much to the skin - which worried me with winter coming on and all). (Oh - and I bought a little kid vest at a used clothes store and stitched some tucks in it so he has a little lumpy jacket for the chilliest days.) Besotted?

Monday, October 12, 2009

What happened to fall?

A surprise snow shower has loaded the still-green leaves with a soppy burden this morning (this is a cell-phone pic from my office window - see the little wet playground at the left). What happened to fall?

Fortunately, I had hurried off to Emit Shoes last Saturday (a little store that sells overstock shoes out of big cardboard bins) to buy some cheap waterproof boots ($10.95) and some shoes that aren't my usual Chaco sandals - and found some $20 Earth shoes that fit. I love a bargain!

I'm very aware these last two weeks how much a spacious, airy workspace adds to my general happiness at work. Walking down the hall to the elevator or 'facilities,' I see the Mississippi River expanse and downtown Minneapolis open up all along the windowed corridor - one of the best views in town. Cut off from even the view of the weather and trees all summer, I felt like an underground troll, and it was easy to have the whole summer season pass by me only half aware. I know that there were several large storm systems that passed through during those weeks that I knew nothing about until I emerged, blinking, at the end of the day.

Now - to put some attention to work-life balance - which will be harder to do if I don't get my home space feeling a bit more inviting than my work space.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Well - stepping over into Autumn!

In my town, we had a very long, extended summer-like season all through September. That ended a bit abruptly just a couple of days ago. I guess I shouldn't complain - but it is a bit of a rude shock to the system (not to mention I never got around to bringing out my warmer clothes).

In other news, I'm out of my summer-long dingy cubicle and into a recently refurbished building (as of one week ago). My corner office on the third floor (see below) is as big as the department director's - but I'm sharing it with a colleague. For the moment, though, it's just me and my books, which have been transplanted onto the ample shelves. (Presently no room for them at home. . . .) I'm waiting for a ride home because it's cold and rainy out there - not fun to drag my wheelie backpack through the sloppy wetness.

On the job front, there's still no word on the reorganization of our unit, which makes me feel unsettled, but also insulates me (somewhat) from feeling I have to take on all the responsibility for the work that isn't getting done.

To distract myself, I've purchased a mini computer that is my favorite toy for now (except for trying to keep the software from updating itself into filling up the hard drive, which at 8 gigabits is minuscule in today's terms):

Fall always ushers in a very busy time, as I'm teaching my evening course as an overload to a jam-packed day job, but I usually also gain some energy from the brisk winds and sense of planetary tilting toward a new state of being.

I know I'm heading for some days of breathtaking beauty. Hope I can get outdoors enough to enjoy them.

May all of us be safe and contented this season
May our efforts come to harvest
May the gathering dusk not dampen our hearts
May we join together to keep spirits alight
May we all be free from strife
May we be free from suffering

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Farewell dear Rufus

Sitting in the hubbub that is night
in this neighborhood

moon tucked behind tree branches
and diminished by streetlamps

a steady thrum pulse of cicada
and strokes of other insect calls

near and far and farther yet
dogs speak
their high and low
sharp remarks

jet noise travels through the sky
from right to left
from beyond the city
to its heart

car tires pass by

a distant siren shouts urgency

the moon stays white
and round
and silent

something has caught me - a childhood sense
of dogs in the night
of everyone busy living

is this what touches the sadness
to come out of hiding?

my brown, stiff, geriatric canine
who trusted us
who took for granted
our goodness and care

as we sustained him through illness
and a very long old age

bending our comings and goings
to meet his needs

week in and out

waiting and worried and paying close attention

and glad he could keep on going

what gave us the right to decide
not to carry you further

it was too hard

we weren't free enough
to give you a few more days

probably full of stumbling and pain

(but how could we not ease that pain?)

you came back in a dream
young and low, like a seal
swimming through air
full of delighted motion
heading straight for me

why were you
with my father, old friend?

do you know
how I learn now
to treasure what remains?

this line came to me
in my scanty spatter of tears
(not yet full-bodied)

how our weary hearts
at this mortality

so we talk of you as absence

in a heartbeat, gone
from lively part of this family
to a sad furry remnant
not even holding much resemblance --

a mystery!
or a cheat

how shaken we were
to walk away, off
to ordinary bustle

with this absence
as if you had never been

an absence that catches
as habit turns to care for you
to plan to return to you
to expect you at doorway
or heavily asleep on your mat
in the morning

but we're free
now, after so many years,
not to attend to your needs
and when alone in the house
we are truly alone
undisturbed - uncompanioned

from one heartbeat
to no heartbeats left

as if you were resting
as if you were at peace

at least there's
no more pain
no more turning your head away
from offered food

no more stumbling
on uneven ground

I'm sorry we didn't have one more
long, clear, open, unhurried day
to spend with you

I'm sorry we tucked
your ending into a busy afternoon

getting ready
for a trip
to a wedding

I'm sorry
I've been too busy since
to say goodbye

to say I miss you

your leash still in the car
where we dropped it that day

your uneaten food in the cupboard

your ashes gone
with other unclaimed pets' --
we had no need for them

but perhaps ashes would have been something --
more than the lingering fur
in every unswept corner

more than this absence
less palpable than a shadow

just out of view

more than a silence

forgive us
every neglect
or shutting you out of awareness
-- for convenience
-- for busyness

for not loving you
gladly enough,
often enough

for having to make this decision
without knowing
what you would have wanted
if you could know
if you could choose

forgive us, all of you

earth animals
driven away,
or cherished without wisdom

you have stayed our healing companions

you have taught us
life's persistence
life's joy

thank you

and peace
be upon you

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Too busy to blog much this summer. . .

Here's a recap on the last month, when I've been too busy to do much blogging. Mostly pictures. (Note: click to enlarge - and I've just discovered it's MUCH easier to move pictures around if you use the "Edit Html" option than dragging them around in "Compose".)

The rest of my journey to Idaho at the beginning of the month was spectacular, starting with a lovely visit my brother R. and I had with my friends in Boise, where we always eat wonderful food and stay out late by their koi pond catching up with each others' families, jobs, travels, and thoughts.

They also introduced us to a hilarious British stand-up comedian, Eddie Izzard, by showing a video of a show done on a visit to the U.S. some years ago (in drag).

This kept us up until 3:00 or so, but we managed to get off on our drive through some of the most scenic parts of central Idaho the next morning,

. . . stopping in Stanley, a little touristy town, where a sudden cloudburst brought a scattering of hail, which our waitress (a student from south China) had never seen. She was very excited!

Spending a couple of days in Mackay, Idaho, where my family maintains a little vacation home bought by my grandparents, was a trip back into the 1960s, when I was a teenager. The furnishings are mostly the same, and there is even a stash of old magazines from the late 60s.

(Here's the view from the house, across the road to the Lost River Mountains.)

The end of my trip was a lovely evening soak in the pools at Lava Hot Springs with my sister, as the weather had cooled off enough to handle these naturally-heated pools (no sulphur smell). My mother's family grew up there in the Depression years.

The day after getting back to the Twin Cities, I picked up the younger of my young adult sons from his summer camp job.

Our dog Rufus had unexpectedly rallied a bit, which allowed B. time to visit and say goodbye. Then he was off to Chicago on the super-cheap Megabus to visit his good friends who had migrated down there this year for school.

At the end of that week, we picked B. up in Chicago on a very long day's road trip to Cincinnati. We faced heavy rain, heavy traffic, and interminable road construction, pulling into Cincinnati fairly late at night. Older son T. had arrived from New York by plane, but was stranded on the tarmac for a couple of hours due to heavy weather there, coming in five or six hours later than planned. Here's a shot of a downtown boulevard. Those are little red-hot peppers growing alongside the road among the flowers.

The wedding was lovely, and the spare belts and ties and shirts I had brought with me came in handy. My niece was lovely and seemed genuinely happy. Her two young nephews were ring-bearers - the youngest tyke fell asleep for the ceremony, so his cousin pushed him up and then down the aisle in a hastily borrowed stroller.

The wedding and reception were both held at the Newport Aquarium, across the river from Cincinnati. This was a brilliant choice, as we had the whole building to ourselves through the evening, for a wonderfully catered meal, dancing, and wandering around looking at fish.

Earlier in the day, we stopped at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where my spouse P. spent a good chunk of time learning about the history of slavery in this country. Subsequently, we have both started reading more about this - I thought I was pretty aware, but the story is 250 years long and has many twists and turns, as the nation and its economy changed and grew. To say the history is shameful is just a beginning. To try to comprehend the ongoing cost is mind-boggling. It's heavy lifting even to read about it, but now that I know more, I feel compelled to do so.

We headed back on Sunday, again making the long drive in one day, but this time skirting the center of Chicago. The road construction was quiet, too, which allowed us to make steady progress through what would have taken hours more during the week. I kept alert by doing yoga stretches at rest stops - highly recommended! Must remember to do the same through the work day, when I get fairly oblivious to the results of hunching in a tense way over my computer screen.

I started teaching my fall evening (adjunct, moonlighting job) class last Wednesday: "The Spiritual Journey." For our first book, I'm once again introducing future accountants and nursing administrators and many other returning-to-school adults to the complex and baffling book I and Thou, by Martin Buber. I've created a study guide, but it's often tough going - but gives us a framework to talk about religious ideas outside any particular faith perspective. From there, we'll read The Sacred Pipe by Black Elk, Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hahn, and a choice of a more traditional spiritual classic (which includes work by Teresa of Avila, Juliana of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, etc.) We end up with SuperNatural Christians by Sallie McFague - another somewhat tough text for these mostly working adult students. It's fun to teach, but a lot of work on top of my day job in student services. It's a good thing I've corrected the vitamin D deficiency that my new doctor diagnosed last spring - I seem to have more energy these days than I did last year.

So - that's the busy August, which is rapidly plunging me into a busy September. Getting away for a couple of brief breaks made me feel that I had at least HAD a summer. I'll be posting when I can, and reading at least some of what you are all posting as I can. Here I go - VROOOM - into the early autumn!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It was inevitable, but hard . . .

Last Thursday, we took Rufus to the vet for the last time. It was inevitable, but hard, because he was not clearly dying, not suffering intolerably. He had gone three days without eating (which was a kind of benchmark I'd set earlier for deciding he was declining beyond pulling him back to a reasonable plateau) - but then had finally eaten the night before the scheduled appointment and was seeming somewhat more energetic. Still, he was wobbly enough to fall over if I tugged a bit on the leash.

He just plain wore out (he was over 15 years old) - kidneys shot, something growing in his sinus cavity that blocked his breathing, hearing and eyesight nearly shot, trembling and wobbly legs - it was getting harder and harder for him to brace himself to pee.

Then we were going to be gone for three days for my niece's wedding and had lined up a young man to care for Rufus, but the previous Monday when Nick came over to visit, Rufus seemed particularly ill, clearly not willing to eat, and quite weak. I thought leaving Rufus in Nick's care would be hard on both of them, and would likely just postpone the inevitable for a few more days.

And then the new school year was starting, and I couldn't imagine how we could continue to pour the time and energy into trying to get Rufus to eat that had consumed many hours of these late summer weeks. I couldn't come home in the middle of the day to let him out, and Peter would be traveling to Mankato to teach twice a week so unavailable those days.

Also, I had also vowed earlier to myself not to drag the inevitable out past the time that there was any reasonable quality of life left for Rufus.

But it was hard, because as weak and limited as he was, Rufus was still the same character he had always been, still interested in some of his favorite things (the sound and vibration of the vacuum cleaner - going into the car for a ride). Who were we to make this decision for him? (But how could we duck the responsibility for giving him a gentle end?)

And it was a gentle end, thankfully. I'm still torn with some regret and uncertainty around having had to decide, for playing the role of God in his life. Mostly I'm sad when we come home to an empty house.

A few weeks ago I wrote a longer story of Rufus's life with us which you will find here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A quiet day on vacation

(The view from my bedroom overlooking the driveway - as always, click to enlarge.)

I'm sitting in the cool lower-level family room of my parents' lovely home built on a hillside at the edge of Pocatello. Below the hill is the Portneuf River valley, a wide expanse build over millenia by the meandering small river that runs through town, faced on either side by land rising up into mountains, a branch of the Rockies. Through our childhood, my brothers roamed and got familiar with all this terrain while I lived in a world of books, mostly, though I also wandered a bit through the dry, sage-brush hills right beyond our block of houses (we lived close to Idaho State University in those days). Just after I left for college, my family (parents and younger brothers and sister) moved to Inkom, a small town just through "the gap" - a place where the mountains come closer together around the river and the interstate that goes through the valley - on the other side of the gap is a different micro-climate. While Pocatello sometimes sweltered in a smoggy haze, Inkom was always clear and fresh, though only 15 miles away.

This visit is going fast. Friday was spent traveling. Saturday visiting (and riding behind my biker brother* on the back of his Harley for a short trip). Sunday I attended the very small Quaker worship group in Pocatello, after checking with Judy Brutz that it was still going with (she's a midwestern Quaker who relocated to Pocatello to be close to her daughter and granddaughters). Then I accepted the invitation of Judy and David to have some tea and snacks in their home nearby, and ended up having a two-hour-long conversation about their worship group, Judy's writing projects, and my own circumstances. Late Sunday was another all-family dinner of hamburgers, eaten out on the patio, followed by root-beer floats (my dad's favorite). Monday - hmm - that was a lazier day, with the high point being lunch at a Mexican restaurant and a shopping trip to Costco. I also finished a re-reading of Harry Potter #5 rather later at night than was truly good for me.

(*"biker" when he isn't running his business)

Today, yoga in the living room, and then I finished up a complete back-up of my laptop, as my sister had a recent hard drive meltdown and hadn't backed things up. I also spent too much time yesterday and today trying to get through to my workplace files via the "VPN" software - virtual private network, I think it stands for. But the ISP settings of my parent's internet service aren't letting me get through. Darn!

So instead of doing job-related work (other than a stray e-mail or two), I went back and finished two long posts I had drafted earlier:

One is the history of Rufus written last June;

and one is a July 19 piece of reflections on feminist spirituality written in the wildflower garden (the blog piece is reflections on writing my dissertation - a discussion of William James and feminist spirituality - for anyone with hard-core interest, here's a corrected link for a downloadable copy of the dissertation bibliography).

I'm posting these in my new adjacent blog, More About Me (Than You Wanted to Know) - a place I can "park" pieces that are stand-alone or background stories, then link them for anyone interested.

Later today? I could finish reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, which I bought in a little used bookstore down in Pocatello on Sunday. Or - we might drive up to Lava Hot Springs, a lovely little town built around pools of non-sulphered natural hot springs. But the temperature is in the mid-90s, so the hot pools themselves aren't a real draw. We could take a walk along the volcanic rock hanging gardens, though, in the cool of the evening. A chance to take some more photos!

I've been taking many, many pictures with my little Nikon, getting better at using it, especially when I use the little flexible tripod that Peter bought me. Here's a sample of some of my favorites so far:

Sunday night - moon over the river valley nature preserve nearby

Monday morning(?) - looking north along the valley toward Pocatello

Monday morning - looking south toward the mountains

This morning - uphill from the house - another view of the mountain

Friday, July 31, 2009

Return to Pocatello - changes coming

I'm writing this while riding in a jouncy, elderly bus along Interstate 15 heading north from Salt Lake City to Pocatello, ID, where I grew up. A slight taint in the air wafts from the onboard bathroom in the back. The wide valley is bordered by gray mountains and gray-brown hills, though there is more green than is usual for this time of year.

Back at home in Minnesota, the dog – who had been holding almost steady in a frail, elderly way – seems to be hitting a definite slide down: no appetite to speak of, seems very uncomfortable, shaky hind legs. He has had a growth or something in his nasal cavities that was untreatable, and this has worsened in the past weeks, pretty much destroying his sense of smell. I’ll be surprised if he holds on long enough for me to see him again at the end of this ten-day visit to my folks. Mostly, I'm weary from trying over and over to coax him to eat and from waking in the very early morning to listen to his uncomfortable panting.

Still, it’s sad that the spouse is left alone faced with making the inevitable decision (that is, unless Rufus surprises us again, as he has a couple of times in recent months, by rebounding). It would feel awkward, vacant, unhomelike, to have him missing when I get back.

Soon, however, I’ll be immersed in all things family: two brothers and my sister are there, my older brother leaving in a couple of days on a Harley trip with his long-time Harley cronies. My youngest brother is down from Alaska, just retired with a generous state pension at 54. I wish.

At work, there are rumblings of more disruption and change around the corner. A colleague is leaving for a new position in another collegiate unit of the university, a real advancement opportunity for her, and potentially leaving a hole that presents some creative possibilities for me. Another colleague in a different office has just left unexpectedly, taking a severance package, as her contract was not renewed. In our job class, that can happen to anyone at any time, and the University is facing another big set of cuts next year, post stimulus semi-reprieve.

On the trip today (airports, airplanes, bus) – I’m reading Krista Tippett Speaking of Faith and gearing up to teach again this fall (in my moonlighting adjunct instructor job), “The Spiritual Journey.” What I present in this class is wonderfully convergent with the insights Tippett shares in her book (part personal journey, part passionate defense of the importance of deep and informed thought to the vitality of religious life). For me, that’s very much what it’s all about. Lots of sparks of recognition, names to file away for further investigation, good ideas to share in class, from this book. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Late afternoon in the office cube

Picture me, sitting here, long after the rest of the work-day folks have slipped away (except the young phone-bank student-workers who are calling prospective students in a separate area - when they aren't having snacks and loud conversations in the nearby kitchen nook).

I took a break from some work I'm trying to get done this afternoon, and an hour melted away with the reading of recent blog posts from you all out there. I haven't quite got the rhythm of how much time feels right to spend reading and commenting, but I'm getting better at knowing when it feels right to comment, and when I can slide on by. But I haven't been writing my own blog for a while.

I've had a couple of possible blog posts come into my head and not quite materialize. One was a rather somber post about a trial starting yesterday in Syracuse, NY, for the accused killer of a young trans woman, Teish Green. The described murder was chilling, but it was also chilling to note how little publicity this event (last November) got - likely both because the victim was trans, and because the victim and the accused were both Black. (I came across this situation through this post by Peter Toscano - who educates me in my efforts to be a GLBTQ+ ally with his witty and clear-eyed posts).

Another blog I didn't write circled around quakerblogs, and why mine isn't one, exactly. Of course, many blogs by Quakers are like any other blogs: some serious, some witty, some warm and personable. But behind the scenes, I think, is the centuries-long tradition of spiritual journals written by Quakers to do inner scrutiny and also to give guidance and support to others.

A religious tradition that's somewhat short on theology and long on individual experience lends itself to the use of spiritual journals as guidebooks. It's not the "belief" that is important, but the life and actions that are shaped by convictions and by the Light that comes from - inside? above? - somewhere both intimate and objective.

OK - that was the gist of the unwritten post. I guess it will take a while to get myself clear on a definition or description of my spiritual orientation, and it's sometimes a bit heavy going to both write or read. And it's more fun to just chat about what's happening in my world.

There's room for some of both, perhaps?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fireworks on the Stone Arch Bridge

Hope you all had a good one!

(The video is a slide show of about a minute and a half of my photos of fireworks - I couldn't figure out how to do a photo slide show, but found out how to do this with a Microsoft media manager on my computer.)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Many Blogs - Many Roads Not Taken

(Click picture to enlarge.)

I stayed up too late last night roaming through Blogistan, especially checking out quakerblogs (and more quakerblogs listed on quakerblogs). This morning, after dreams that touched on a couple of times / people long past, I made a connection: I seem to be looking for examples of lives lived along the roads not taken (by me), or only partially taken. What would my life look like if . . .

. . . I had gone into ministry-related work (hospice chaplain? spiritual direction? retreat organizing?) after theological study?

. . . I had been more single-minded and finished my academic work in a timely way, allowing for a full-time college-teaching job?

. . . I had stuck with the writing thing, made all the sacrifices necessary to turn it into my career (as one character in my last-night's dream did - going every day to write in a small rented room, living on next to nothing for those early years)?

. . . I had moved from personal dreamwork to train as a Jungian therapist, maybe doing sand-tray and dream therapy?

Throughout all the choices, and indeed through the choices I have lived, there has been the choice offered to turn toward The-Divine-However-It-Manifests (and it/Thou/they manifest[s] differently through time) in a more disciplined way, or to continue my pattern of off-and-on attention to that dimension.

The quakerblogs are a reminder of this constant option of a more disciplined spiritual path, as these blogs represent many various public statements of putting the religious / spiritual life at the center of attention. My first attempt at a blog was along these lines, but it didn't end up seeming - well - completely honest. This blog, with its quip of a title (grabbed out of the air when I sat down one day to start writing without over-thinking things), suits me better, I think. I can't sustain the tone needed for a true quakerblog, though I reserve the option of doing serious reflection whenever I want to.

Now, I need to say, that most of the possible paths I mentioned have had at least some realization in my adult life.

I managed to do some serious writing and even published a bit of it - and there's still an opportunity to reconnect with old writer friends with the ongoing Women Poets and Writers of the Twin Cities (described here);

I was a part of a planning group for several years organizing retreats for the (now dormant) Spiritual Nurture program of Northern Yearly Meeting (the picture at the head of this blog came from one of our retreats) -and I'm part of two ongoing small spiritual nurture groups which meet at least monthly for mutual support and shared worship;

I have been teaching as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies (in a different system from my "day job"), one or two classes per year, eclectic classes that keep me reading and thinking about emerging forms of spiritual expression and the varieties of spiritual development in real lives (my students astonish and humble me with their accounts of challenge and growth and miracles). These courses allow me to create temporary nurturing communities where students, most in mid-life, can explore ways of thinking about religion and spirituality, and areas to explore for their own practice. I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and as a very part-time instructor, I'm free from most of the academic politics of the institution.

It's not that I hate the "day job" working in student services at the University, but it takes most of my availabable energy, leaving me pretty tired a lot of the time, and unable to do justice to the other dimensions of my life. That's also partly my own fault for not being a good enough steward of my own time and physical condition, but I have gotten much better at that, too, over the years. It's also, frankly, because much of the work I do every day - which I believe I do well - is not work that draws on my core strengths. But then, much of it is.

Part of the fatigue comes from being an introvert surrounded by people every day; part of it comes from many hours facing a computer moniter; part of it is (oh heck) the fruits of not being in my 30s or 40s any more. Part of it is related to some health conditions which don't bother me unless I overdo it (which I've been doing recently).

Fortunately, reading many blogs also reveals to me this secret about life: even those lives lived along the paths I've not fully walked look pretty much like mine, in the main: daily decisions, challenges related to family and friends, the tug between the outward demands of the world and the inward motion of the spirit. It's always a rebalancing act. AND - I can do somewhat better, perhaps by dedicating at least a bit of each day to meditation and exercise.

Enjoy your holiday, folks! I'm going to experiment with my "fireworks" setting on my little camera.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Evening of Flowering Trees

Friday evening, it is still plenty warm when we set off after 9:00, down to 81 degrees after being in the 90s during the day. The light in the sky is still a bright slate blue behind us, reflecting off the glass towers of downtown as we approach River Road. At the Stone Arch Bridge, many people - families, couples, friends - are also drawn by the evening's relative coolness to stroll over the water in the darkening evening, a slender newish moon hovering over the condominiums and improbable-looking, asymmetrical new Guthrie Theater, its slender vertical marquees spelling out bright neon names of the three Tony Kushner plays being offered (none of which I have managed to take in).

Two women walk past, with their mismatched dogs, a tiny terrier and a happy young bulldog; the women lean toward each other, their perfume wafting past.

A large, sagging, shapeless man surges by on his motorized wheelchair, headlights beaming.

Three young adults sit on the stone ledge facing the walkway, drinking from a large jar of something orange - laughing and silly. (They are still there when we walk back.)

The evening deepens as we cross the bridge and turn around to walk back. I'm out of shape. We don't talk much. I have forgotten my camera, so take some pictures with my cell phone (fuzzy but capturing a bit of the late evening scene, still not full night though close to 10 o'clock).

When we get home, the air around our house is full of a light perfume. I spend a while outdoors just breathing it in. The smell triggers memories of the summers a few years ago when I was on a 10-month contract, from late June to late August off. Those summers were spent diving back into work on my Endless Dissertation, which allowed me to go to my tiny rented office and spend long afternoons and evenings, reading, journaling, pacing the hallways of the converted high school now home to small enterprises (alternative medicine, ecological study centers, lawyer and therapist offices for people doing it as an extra job). The Bookhouse was a half-block away, home to a large collection of used books, including women's studies, religion, and philosophy. Because I was researching popular feminist spirituality, it was a good source of material - and a great place to lose any sense of time.

Somehow, the academic work I needed to do could proceed only when I kept up to date with sleep, dreamwork, and meditation. It took me a while to figure that out. At the end of each summer through those years, I would reluctantly go back to my job, and despite my best efforts, the whole creative gestalt of the summer would grind to a halt, and I would be stalled out until the next summer.

The evening smell of the trees brings back memories of my dissertation summers, because I was sleeping during that time by an open window, with the fan upstairs pulling the hot air out and the night air in across my face. I smelled the perfume in the night and couldn't for the longest time figure out where it came from. Finally it dawned on me it came from the boulevard trees, those slender trees put in by the city after all the elms died.

Now, they are spreading wide, shading both the street and much of the yard, joining branches across the street, and stretching out over the roof. I hadn't noticed until recently that they had grown so big. They are loaded with the little white blossoms now that fill the air all around the neighborhood with a smell something like lily of the valley, only not so cloying. They started blooming just after the solstice, and are now at full bloom.

Something about the light perfume filling all the air around us, something about the memories, perhaps because it's Friday evening and the weekend still stretches out as an unbroken lake of possibility, puts me into the edge of a state of kairos - the kind of time very different from chronos, where it's business as usual, work-a-day, clock time. Kairos edges out chronos, too, when life is broken open, by birth or death, or by some unexpected gift. When I'm writing from a place of truth, I'm in kairos. Meeting for Worship, when it's truly "gathered" or "covered," shares this quality, a still, waiting, listening - time-out-of-time. It's walking through the cupboard into Narnia (or the place between the worlds). It's akin to Buber's I and Thou encounters, face to face with ultimacy in truly meeting a loved one, a piece of art, or, for Buber, even a cat or tree (Buber had to stretch quite a bit to allow for cats and trees, but I don't).

Here's a picture of one of the boulevard trees taken this morning - click to expand. I'm sure there are other people who would be able to identify what it is, but I really don't know.

(Later: I looked it up here.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Some awards - and happy solstice to all!

A while ago, I was pleased and surprised to find I had been awarded my first-ever blog award by Mel of "From Clutter to Shine" (the award described here). Thanks, Mel! I've really enjoyed your blog, finding out about "unschooling" (I'll do a post sometime on why I kept my kids in school, and about experiences with the first years of Friends School of Minnesota). I especially loved Mel's story about how her little dog Oscar came into the family.

I still feel much like a newbie, and I'm not completely familiar with the folklore and protocol of blog awards, but they are good fun. Here's the award:

Now I have to say something about watermelons, before proceeding with my (drum rolls) awards forward. That is - there's a certain easy rhyme between the fruit and my name which my younger brothers exploited early in life (e.g. "Mary Ellen, watermelon! Mary Ellen, watermelon!). I can't catch any more of the memory than a certain taunting exuberance in their voices. So, yes, I have an affinity for this award, and beyond the "#10 for excellence" I am also attaching to it the meaning of "rich, ripe, juicy, and fun." With that in mind (further drum rolls), I pass this award along - in the spirit of "no obligation blogging" - to a few peeps (and reserve the right to pass it on to more if the fancy should strike):

Leone and Kim, for diving back into the juicy work of painting, committing to doing it for the long haul, and bringing up treasures from your creative souls. (I also wanted to introduce you to each other.)

For Pop and Ice, for being - well - so danged funny and sharp and full of juice.

And for my first-day, first blogger-sister Minka - far away but close at hand. Thanks for introducing yourself that first day of my blog. I enjoy peeks at your days, your travels, and your dedicated teaching of lively ninth-graders (here's the photos from their school trip to Venice ).

Yes, I know I'm supposed to tag six, but I'm not one for the rules. And - again - rules are made for breaking, guys, so take this award and do what you will with it, split open a couple and spit the seeds out far onto the lawn. That's the right thing to do on a hot, muggy, longest day of the year.

Happy solstice - and may our planet be healed and healthy for our children's children and far beyond.

(No obligation blogging, remember!)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More to come . . .

I've come to the end of a busy week, focused on providing support for my #2 young adult son (Ben) to finish an intensive 3-week (May Session) course. He never quite hit his stride, and by the third week, when things were already winding to a close (an oral final exam, short papers due, labs due), he was a fair ways behind. So we launched into Mom-Homework-Helper mode - in some ways, my primary identity back when he was in high school, but little needed through the three years he has been in college. Mostly, I made sure he was fed, got him to (finally!) make a dental appointment, and printed out the articles he needed to read (his printer is out of ink). And I hosted him while he studied into the night, driving him home to his off-campus rooming house in the early hours. (He was able to study without as many distractions at our place.)

A complicating factor in the week was that Ben's dental exam resulted in two long stints at the dentist over the following two days getting a number of fillings. Also, we needed to drive out to a far suburb to get a camp physical that we could afford (because my health insurance wouldn't pay for a physical if it was a "physical with form," according to his clinic - thus costing us over $200 - she suggested a MinuteClinic instead where these were $30).

One early evening this week, when I brought Ben home to have dinner and study, I noticed something strange out of the dining room window - too big for a cat - loping along the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I called Ben to watch with me as the animal (half cat, half monkey) strolled unhurriedly to the telephone pole at the corner and started hitching himself up, arms reaching up, then pulling up his body, the way people shimmy up a pole. At the top, though, he got stuck for a while, and also wary as we came out to watch him and take some pictures. Note - we live within the city limits of Minneapolis, but close to some parkland that hosts deer, fox, and other wildlife.

(Click on the picture to see him in more detail.)

This marathon study week was all to get Ben through in time to drive him to Wisconsin where he will be a camp counselor at Camp Woodbrooke, a small, very simple, woodsy Quaker residential summer camp for kids. Did I mention that Ben is studying to be a kindergarten teacher?

I took Friday off to shop and pack for his two months at camp, and washed a large number of his clothes. The night before we drove to Wisconsin, Ben stayed up all night (fortunately at his place) doing the on-line labs, and then finished one of the his summary papers on the drive down. Somehow, he does manage to come through. I'm proud of him -and exasperated - and extremely tired (and sore from driving the little borrowed gas-sipping Saturn with the stiff steering wheel and clutch).

What's more to come will be some reflections I did on the drive back through "unglaciated" (that is, hilly and woodsy) Wisconsin. I love road trips, especially through beautiful country.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The meaning of my blog name revealed

I looked on Google for my blog name and found this skit (for boy scouts):

This Skit is meant for Boy Scouts, Webelos scouts.
Decide for yourself if it is appropriate for your younger scouts or not.
Required:3 scouts
Preparation:Largest scout stands center stage with arms raised like a tree.
Script:Scout enters stage, pretending to drive a car real fast. He swerves around, drives over a cliff, falling, falling, ... and then jumps onto the tree and hangs on tight.

Scout : Oh no, my car is totalled 500 feet down there in that canyon. I was sure lucky this tree was growing out of the side of the cliff. The road isn't too far up there. But, there's no way I can climb that cliff.

Scout : Man, my arms are getting tired. (squirm on the tree)

Scout : Help! Heeeelp! Is anyone up there?

Scout : Help! Heeeelp! Is anyone up there? My arms are killing me. (squirm around on the tree)

Deep Offstage Voice: I am here. I am God and I will help you.

Scout : Cool! What are you going to do? I can't hold on much longer.

God: Let go of the tree.

Scout : What?!? I'll fall 500 feet and splatter all over the rocks.

God: Do you believe in me?

Scout : Well, sure.

God: Then you have nothing to fear. Let go of the tree and I will save you.


Scout : Is anyone ELSE up there?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In June the Moon is Growing Soon

This week has been busy, busy, busy. But there have been occasional evening moments when I could take in the wonderful depth of the dark blue sky-sea with the moon hoisting its billowing sail and sliding across. I tried to capture that depth of evening light the other day - still lingering twlight when the clock said it should be deep night. But I'd need a tripod and delayed timer to avoid the smear and blur that come with late evening pictures even when I steady the camera against a tree. This one came out the best, but it's not exactly crisp:

Tonight, though, I caught the moon near full without too much blur:

That's it for me tonight! Except - isn't this an intriguing flower (if it IS a flower?) . . .

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blog Blog Revolution - Women's Voices

(Click the picture to see the new moon.)

It's the weekend - and (with Peter away for a while) I can just browse and ponder this expanding world, the blogosphere, that I've plunged into. And it does feel rather like a plunge. In reading these blogs and comments, I've felt there was something familiar about the give and take, the self-expression and response, that I finally identified as very much like the experience I had for many years as a member of the Women Poets of the Twin Cities (later Women Poets and Writers of the Twin Cities).

We started when I was a college kid, and the first meeting (if I remember correctly) was held in my scruffy apartment on Grand Avenue, a block from my school. This was (it dates me) the beginning of the Women's Movement, as we called it then, and women writers in my burg were just beginning to recognize that they had been second-class members of the writing community, or felt themselves to be. The journal editors - the creative writing professor/gurus - the international poets coming in for readings and booze-drenched parties - all were men, and we writing women came along for the ride. So some of us, who had met each other at those booze drenched parties (and sometimes shared the same booze-drenched writers as romantic interests), decided we were interested in - each other, each others' voices, each others' ideas, experiences, wisdom.

This group continued to meet, once each month, and did occasional readings and published at least one or two collections over the years. A couple of women who started with us moved away into lives of being full-time professional writers, feeling perhaps that the group wasn't up to their level, or not appreciating that the primary purpose of the group was not so much to hone the craft as to share lives at a deep level through the writing that people were doing. There was one woman in the group who was a particularly influential mentor to me in the art of being a mother and continuing to have a creative spirit. I needed that model when I started my own family.

Alas, I couldn't continue to meet with the group (though some of the members are, I believe, continuing to meet even today, more than 30 years later). Raising children - working full time - teaching occasional college courses on top of that - and trying to finish my degree on top of THAT - consumed more than a decade of the prime turf of my green and growing years. I also found that what discretionary time I had was spent with my Quaker meeting (serving on committees, being involved on the planning group of our regional Spiritual Nurture program for some years).

But - now my young 20-something men are (more or less) launched - at least out of the house for the present. After wanting to find some way back into writing that offered more than the insularity of my journal, I finally started blogging.

I had read blogs - usually blogs of some of my favorite authors, which I found when I researched them on Google. These bloggers seemed to have so much fun doing their blogs, and they had such lively, affectionate blogging correspondents. I thought it was something that could only happen to published writers, or - I don't know. People living in London.

But plunging into it myself, I find that it is a very open community, much like the Women Poets used to be, where each voice is given attention, whether or not it is polished. We used to give feedback of the sort and level appropriate to the sophistication of the writer, and always with kindness and empathy. It never was a "professional writer" sort of place, but a community of soul-builders, supporting the development of self-understanding and the strengthening of our women's voices, through calling out what was strong and good in what was shared. That's what I'm finding now in the blogosphere - hundreds of women (and men, too, but I gravitate to the women's blogs), all communicating facets of their lives, from the hilarious to the trivial to the heart-breaking, and receiving, for the most part, thoughtful and warm-hearted responses.

My Women Poets group started out as part of a revolution - thinking we needed to give voice to the previously unvoiced women's perspective to bring the world into better balance (remember this was at the end of the Vietnam War). I love that women now have places to share their lives - old and young, home-schoolers and professionals, mothers and artists living on the bohemian edge. And creating community with others, full of laughter and sometimes tears.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Work blurring with home

A short opinion piece in the paper struck a nerve today: (Jim Shea/Hartford Courant - "What a way to make a living") - with a description of something like "work-creep." He described that because technologically we can work at home, pretty soon there's an expectation that we are doing so pretty much all the time (checking e-mail, doing reports, doing work-related research . . . ). I had a list of work-related things I thought I would tackle over the long weekend, but didn't - instead, I experimented with my new camera, discovered and read new blogs, helped Peter get off to Philosophy Camp, then rushed my grown-up-kid Ben off to the urgent care after he got a deer-tick bite that was getting infected (bulls-eye rash, etc.). He should be fine, but I flipped instantly back into Full-Scale-Mom.

And this coming week, there won't be much unbroken project time at work, as we are doing three days of training. Also, I'm now working in a cubicle for the summer, with the buzz and rustle of others in motion around me (chatting, strolling past to visit the bathroom), which makes it hard to do concentrated work.

The columnist said we used to use the word "workaholic" - but now, he said, the behavior is admired. Is it? What changed? Why am I faintly guilty all of the time that I'm not doing "something productive" e.g. work-related?

In spite of the guilt, after doing the mom thing, I made it to my nearby public wild place, the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. New camera: not so good at scenery (I revisited the reviews and found this was clearly stated), but nice quick, close-up pics of flowers. Also very nice to have something in my pocket. (Click to enlarge - REALLY large - I'll size them down in the future.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Here are the links to new / old blog posts

I started with a recollection from a conversation years ago that led me to connect Rumi and country western music.

Then I went on a fruitless Google hunt for the perfect image of Divine Love.

I reflected on gender and the Spirit - which led to another search on Google images (and a Russian icon of St. Sophia and her daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love).

And the last posting of the "secret" (e.g. unvisited) blog was a long-poem reflection on loss, grief, and the search for connection, accompanied by photos from my favorite local nature sanctuary. (Note - pictures enlarge if you click on them.)

Then - I started over with this blog, and now it's all in one place.

No more blogging today - I need to get outside!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Putting it all together . . .

I started blogging very privately earlier this year, picking a pseudoname and an obscure blog title, and for some reason, nobody noticed or at least nobody commented. That blog was about, more or less, the spiritual side of my life. This blog ("Is there anyone else up there?") has been about pretty much anything going on in my life - except for the spiritual side of things. The tone has been more tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted, than my first blog, which had perhaps somewhat too much of a weighty or sometimes academic tinge.

For some reason, religion/spirituality is harder to talk about than most other things about us, except in contexts or communities where there is already tacit permission for God-talk/Spirit-talk. (I am really fortunate that one of these places is the college classroom setting where I teach one course a semester as an adjunct in Religious Studies. This is an overload to my "day job" doing college student services administration.) But I will say that, even though I am a member of the Society of Friends - where a spiritual practice and religious experience are supposed to be common ground - even in that community, many people struggle to find ways of talking about what is really going on with themselves spiritually. And there are many, many differences among us in my Friends Meeting - often around this difficult notion we call "God".

So, I'm plunging in today and uploading into this current blog the postings from that other, hidden blog, with the thought that this writing reflects important parts of the puzzle that is me. Maybe there are other long-dormant puzzle pieces that will stand up and want a voice (the poet part of me? the memoirist part of me?). You'll find them in January and February.

Let me know what you think!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Camera - Old Dog - Spring Days

Somehow, I blinked and May is almost gone. It started with an unusually hot and bright May Day parade and ceremony in Powderhorn Park, put on for the last three decades by the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater, and involving scores of neighborhood people.

The theme of this year was the importance of the soil and of green, growing things as the real source of our wealth, contrasted to greedy profiteering / credit card companies / banks, etc.

During the pageant, I sat under my umbrella for more than an hour, feeling smug and grateful that I had some protection from the unusually bright sun.

I was using my old camera, which has served me well for several years - very advanced for its day, with 3+ mgpx photos. But I've been hankering for something that would be small enough to carry in a pocket, which I could always have around, so I would take more pictures (and have things to illustrate this blog with, incidentally).

So I picked up the latest version of my old camera - still very much automated, which wouldn't please a real camera buff, but works for me. Playing around, I found that it can do very acceptable short videos (I'll try not to subject folks to too much self-indulgent sharing). Now 10 mgpx.

Last Easter, Bridget brought a bowlful of little packets of candy and flower seeds for folks at Meeting. I took home some extras and found that I liked the Spongebob Squarepants gummy crabby patties, so picked some up on sale yesterday at Walgreens. Don't eat them before breakfast.

Speaking of SpongeBob, you might get a kick from this movie review from the Atlantic:

The big question this holiday weekend is whether I'll get out and plant any of these seeds. I bought a big shaker-can full of flower seeds - last year? - some time ago, and never planted them. But I did plant five baby flowering trees that Joelyn got when she donated some money to the Arbor Day Foundation. A couple of them - skinny twigs, really, poking out of their little bowls of earth - are looking like they might sprout.

But mostly I've been taking pictures of my ancient and creaky dog Rufus. He has good days when he eats well and seems happy to stumble about in the yard or take a short walk, and less-good days when he seems to have no energy and turns away from his food. Kidneys shot - cataracts - arthritis - hearing shot - yet he still seems to enjoy being on the planet.

Off to do some lunch, then help Peter finish packing for his month at Philosophy Camp, then - who knows? - a nap could be in the picture. Or tackling the grown-over garden and planting those bright flower seeds?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Extraverted Evening

We spent the evening in contact with others, first by going to the 50th birthday celebration of our long-time friend Julie, then stopping by a cozy Irish bar (Merlin's Rest) to visit with Gigi, one of Peter's fellow Philosopher Campers who was just back briefly from Thailand.

Julie, the birthday girl, was looking wonderful in a simple top with a cascade of beads looping over it, and a long flowered skirt. She had asked people to bring "colorful food" for the potluck meal, and they had complied: we brought a red bowl of strawberries (more strawberries arrived later); there was a tall cylindrical bowl of brightly layered Jello; many salads; many platters with sliced veggies, especially sliced peppers; a cake with a crazy-quilt frosting of many colors; and some rice crispy bars with colorful M&Ms. As Peter's North Dakota relatives have been reputed to say, "the feed was good."

But the din when we arrived was like getting hit with a wall of sound. Family and friends filled the modest living room, where a dried branch arrangement glowed with pastel lights in the corner. The kitchen was full, too, of talking, eating people. There were two little girls, one in tiny pigtails remaining in her mother's arms all evening, and one toddling after the cat. A somewhat older (6-year-old?) girl with a foot in a splint played a game with her mother of bouncing balloons back and forth, in the only clear space left, up by the front door.

I parked on a small chair in the background to watch, and waited for opportunities for a couple of conversations, one with Julie about our kids - they had been babies together - and our jobs - she now teaches at a community college, and I blend administrative work in student services with some adjunct teaching. We both agreed that we prefer teaching adult students to the 18-year-olds, because adult students have life experience to draw on, even if their academic preparation is limited.

After the food, the champagne toast, the cake, we left. In the line-up hugging Julie on the way out the door, I explained to a woman admiring my red bowl that it was part of a multicolored set I had gotten at Cosco.

Then the drive to Minneapolis, stopping off at Lunds for some breakfast eggs and some Tums for the dog's anti-kidney-failure diet (a diet I found on the internet, which has given him a new grip on life - my Ancient of Dogs, Rufus).

Gigi was holding court at a long table close to the door in this noisy, friendly, kitsch-filled Irish bar. She was animated and vivacious - but Gigi always is, flashing her wide grin, talking about her experiences and plans. Gigi is entering into the University to do an MFA in film this next fall, and told us excitedly about her experience visiting the program. We chatted about her time in Thailand - she had loved the place, though the job she was there for turned into a disaster. People in Thailand don't cook, she explained, because it's too hot. They all head out to nearby stands to get food. She learned by experience what was safe to eat, though, because sometimes food would be standing out too long. I recounted my lessons in Ghana where I learned to eat food from the market only if I could see it cooking away. The best tactic is to carry your own bowl around. Fruit that can be peeled was safe, too. (Actually, the most danger at that time was the high-cost restaurants serving Western food, because things like lettuce salad could be tainted).

Another of the Philosophy Campers was there, a quiet, self-assured girl whose name escapes me. She is doing an AmeriCorps project housed at the College of St. Catherine, and told us happily about the great program, the great nuns involved, the skills in intentional communal living and leadership she was learning. Next year: off to work with border/immigration issues, largely on her own. We talked about ways she is planning to brush up on her Spanish. Peter urged her to come to church at St. Frances Cabrini sometime (as most of the folks from St. Stevens have sojourned out of there after a conservative priest was appointed).

We headed home up River Road, coming under the 35W bridge, flooded with green light, and through downtown, along the river, past the new Guthrie Theater. I like this route, as it's scenic and has very little traffic. Then, I spent a long swatch of time on my computer scanning through different blogs to see what was out there, looking for those I might want to follow. I recognized (as I stumbled to bed a bit later than I should have) that I was looking for potential on-line friends - but maybe in the wrong way.

My impulse was to look for people a lot like me (or my perception of who I am, which may not be the person that others experience at all). But what can I learn from that?

At the end of my search, I realized I really have enjoyed more finding connections from the serendipity of the blogger world - peeking into the concerns and joys of people from all kinds of corners of the world, by following the threads of one blog to another. So last night I found a blog largely made up of photos (including a trip to Madrid) and short reflections by a nurse in Germany; recently, I found a blog by a young college student "outside London" who reads poetry and graphic novels (he had commented on a word he liked in my last blog, "protoplasmic.") And I especially enjoy the couple of people who found my blog and started following it, right after I began. How did they find it? I can't even imagine. One of them, particularly, has been writing steadily to "improve her English" - sharing her busy life teaching young people in some northern European country.

In my recent random link-to-link walk through Blogville, I've found blogs with pictures of spring flowers, with fashion designs, with poetry that the blogger finds inspiring. And last night I did find some blogs of people who share some of my interests, but with a twist - one, a young Quaker whose main concern in his blog is to reach out to others who, like himself, are ex-gay survivors (have come back out after attempting to be "cured" of their sexual orientation).

Many voices, many lives. I do need to keep this reined in to an extent, in my busy life.

I am a new blogger, and I see others who have long-established friendships in their blogging world. How do I proceed? Can I sustain the effort? What are my intentions in writing? Well - I enjoy it! Welcome to my world, anyone who stumbles on this. Write to me, and I'll write back.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blink - - and it's late March!

I've been doing my good-old-workaholic thing this last few weeks. Usually, this makes me feel virtuous (useful, worth keeping employed, etc.). But something I was listening to while on the bus - oh yes, it was Marion Woodman's _Crown of Aging_ - gave me a reminder of something I've known for decades, which is that work-sickness is an addiction like any other -- just one that's seen more positively in our Puritan-shadowed culture than drug addictions (that put people out on the streets - so wasteful) or love-addictions (after all, love makes the world go 'round, and all that).

Actually, Woodman was talking about these other sorts of addictions, and I was sitting there feeling pretty virtuous for my clean-'n-sober condition when she mentioned work as an addiction, and it hit home. Yep. That's me - the job junkie. I wake up organizing my quickest possible get-away, mentally jotting down the day's to-do list. Then, when I get there (sometimes carrying in my breakfast to eat while doing e-mail), big chunks of time can melt away as I handle tiny but (seemingly) urgent tasks that pile in - bing! - on my screen, so that at the end of the morning, I haven't gotten much farther down the pile than I was when I started.

Then, I might sneak a peek at Facebook, which I've just joined. I don't much like the pile-up of everybody's business that the new format pops me into, but I look at the tab of my friends (and acquaintances) list and reassure myself that people are still having human stuff happening (eating cheese sandwiches, walking dogs, having a laugh). Then - more of the same, sometimes three or four meetings, sometimes a bit of human contact in the hallway.

When I was doing student academic advising, I had more face-to-face human contact, and I do miss that in my more bureaucratic role. However, I find myself surprised at how much fun some meetings can be, even on dull subjects (like reforming academic policies) - when the people are smart, funny, good-willed - sharing an interest in thoughtful and creative institution-building to improve students' experience at our university. I don't even really mind e-mail requests to solve problems, provide information, clarify puzzles. I enjoy explaining how things work, or clarifying the purpose of some policy or process.

I just need to keep in mind that I'm a protoplasmic being, a mammal in need of some movement, some fresh air, a break for lunch. And time to dream.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Unchanging change - losing and finding

Written in the autumn a couple of years ago (I have written a fair number of reflections on this lovely place - the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary - a sanctuary indeed).
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Coming today to the garden

I am seeing change in motion

the seeming solidity
of massed trees and leaves

becomes translucent, now veil upon veil
of golden and green.

My gaze slips through
to the steep hill banks
on the hillside, still
massed and brilliant.

Gold flecks fall and fall
leisurely, separately,
tens at a time

to patter down through
pellucid air -

like manna, like divine
coming into matter.

And here, farther in,
more trees bared

reveal the ordinary
earth and oncoming winter.

Yesterday's bold and brilliant blue

is softened by skeins of cloud.

Change in motion -

beyond our grasp.

Two days ago,
down the brilliant color
of the river valley

the family came canoeing

just when I was here -
snapping pictures of beauty -

their lives were overturned
bythe freak canoe accident

pinning little Rosa in the water.

That evening, as their inconsolable
grief took hold, unknown
yet to us,

in the darkened Quaker meetinghouse
our atheist, god-seeking poet
read out his poem

about children on the water -

like leaves -

"They could be yours."

What he meant to say,
is hearts are breaking

hearts embracing
intolerable pain
of each other.

Soon, the golden mass before me
will be empty,

the veils of beauty on beauty
that lifted me
from sorrow, that seemed to
know it,

and answer with steadfastness,

soon will be no more
than a memory
a handful of photos, flattened

and falsely still.

(Squirrel comes gazing and
gazing at me;
fly lights
upon the page.)

I came to interrogate the garden -

the presumed power of order
and renewal behind it -

and my own unvoiced question:

How do I live?

Stripped to its bark
and bare earth

(as I know it will be)

how can I endure my life?

Today, I said I would come here
to open myself to whatever

might be softly spoken
in the wind.

And now, in this hollow tucked away
at the back of the garden,

I sit - the light can fill it
now most of the leaves are gone.

In front of me a gold-green maple
still holds its leaves -

soon, they'll all drop down
a ball dress shrugged off
at the weary end
of the festival.

Squirrels rustle around me -

unalarmed by my stillness.

A chant comes to mind
(perhaps willed for comfort
perhaps in answer):

"All I ask of you
Is forever to remember me
As loving you.

All I ask of you
Is forever to remember me
As loving you.

"Ishq Allah
Mahabud Lillah
Ishq Allah
Mahabud Lillah."

As the infant looks trustingly
at the parents
who adore their child,

I will gaze at this world
and dare to receive
the laughing affection
of the world smiling back,

they eyes of my heart gazing back.

There is no separation.

Though the sun sinks, the leaves fall,
the squirrels take long naps,

though my energy ebbs,
the brightness of my mind
dims and stutters,

You gaze at me still
and hold me in unchanging affection.

Now, always and everywhere,
as fears of loss and failure
fill my mind with whispers:

may I lay them down
let them go -
wafting in the unchanging change -
leaving me simply here

in the spaciousness of light

companionship of squirrels

digging through fallen leaves.