Dark

imagesToday I am dark.  It’s September, my favorite month in Oregon and here I sit, dark.   I am dark even on this pleasant morning, when the weather is warm but cool, and even though today is predicted to hit the triple digits,  I can anticipate that in a few weeks the sideways light won’t erupt into an early autumnal scorcher.  Of course, it’s not quite yet fall. It’s still summer, just the end of it, so the season has  a right to be as hot as it wants. By the calendar we can’t even call it “Indian summer”, a ridiculous term anyway, because Indians didn’t make it hot and they bear no responsibility for heat waves.

I am dark about women, and how willing we still are to be oppressed, raped, dismissed, and told we have no or lesser talent. The New York times doesn’t help.  I read the article about how a taxi driver in El Salvador tells his fare about his expectant wife and how he doesn’t want a girl . “They are trouble” because they get raped and killed in El Salvador.  Now, my friend, how is it that the girl is trouble when that happens? Why isn’t it “I don’t want a boy, they go out and rape and kill people, they’re such trouble?”

Now I know you have a son, and you love him very much, and I am certain he would never do such things. I do not have a son, but I have met my daughters’ male friends and they seem honest, kind, unlikely to assault people, and basically good people. (for the most part). One of them pulled a drowning boy from a lake, just last week. Well done, lad!

Just because most men and boys are basically good people doesn’t answer my fundamental question, though. Why is it that women are blamed for their own assaults, abuses mostly inflicted by men, and the misbehavior of their husbands,sons, fathers, and so on? I knew women who complained bitterly about Hillary and clearly believed that she was “in on it” and didn’t stop Bill because she wanted it that way. Like you can stop someone from sexual adventures. Like you can stop anyone.  On the other hand, I’ve never once have a heard of a woman’s husband being blamed for her “wanton ways”. Have you ever heard “well, he didn’t keep her happy, so …who can blame her?” Nope. Never once.

She’s a whore and a home wrecker. ..but…He was unhappy.  People get mad at him for wandering, sure, but underneath (is it just me? tell the truth) we know it’s the wife’s fault. Sort of. She’s a the victim, the sad Madonna, but ..what did she do? Must have been something. Maybe something she failed to do.

Now here’s the next corollary on this topic, and I’m sad to report it. Last week my (female) boss and one of my colleagues at work, also female, apologized for their math.  One of them feigned ignorance and asserted her own incompetence to get a better explanation, something along the lines of “well, I’m not that bright, so maybe if you’d explain it to me”.  The other apologized for PERFECTLY ACCURATE MATH so as not to offend our (now get this) FEMALE boss in chief.  No men involved! Not a one!  I say this with the aforementioned darkened heart…they have internalized this myth about “it must be my fault”. What the hell?

I yelled at both of them. Not real loud, but I did insist that neither of them would apologize like that again.  Did you really think you didn’t understand the MATH?  I told my boss. That’s correct..you read that right.  I told my direct supervisor to stop fake apologizing immediately.  What, I ask you,  is wrong with saying, wow, I see that differently. My numbers don’t add up that way. I wonder how we’re coming to conflicting conclusions. Do you have to imply that you are somehow not that bright?

I ask you my friend, what are we to do?   There are entire countries where women are forbidden an education, young girls are forced into marriages with dried up old prunes, and many adjust their style of clothing so as not to provoke, upset, stimulate, worry, embarrass, or otherwise impinge on male sensibilities and self control.  What’s worse, I fear that they believe this is for their OWN GOOD and of course, if men are told they just can’t control themselves, in some ways it is for their own good, because who knows what can happen.  The US is no bastion of equality either.  One of my friends at work explained to me that she was the only girl in a family of boys, and was the only one who had to clean up the house, and of course, to clean up after her brothers.  She is younger than I am.  She’s from one of the fine neighborhoods depicted in Hillbilly Elegy, which, by the way, isn’t that great of a book.

I don’t even want to guess what it’s like where you live.

I think we’ve lost ground since the 1980s,  I’m dismayed to say.  I don’t want to wait for this to get better. We each have two daughters.  I do not doubt their intelligence and capability.   I was blinded in some ways by my adventurous mother who told me I could do anything I wanted. I thought there was nothing wrong. I can see more clearly now, so I am more in the dark. I do not blame my mother; she created the confidence I have and not being fully aware of the obstacles, I was able to flourish with less self doubt.  Others are not so lucky.

Here’s a start. For now,  I’m going to insist, each and every time I see it, that women do not apologize for the crimes and misdemeanors of others or imply that they are not capable.  Got any other ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

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Spheres

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McMinnville, Oregon August 21, 2017 7:13 am

The sun, the moon, the earth.

The fortieth anniversary of the Voyager Spacecraft launching was eclipsed by, well, the eclipse.  Because our little party of five couldn’t cope with after eclipse traffic out of  the little town of McMinnville, Oregon, we took advantage of the local museum’s invitation to extend our visit after the moon blocked out the sun.  The  Evergreen Air and Space Museum had hosted an early morning coffee, donuts and parking lot event for those who could get to the edge of totality and could spring for a $5 ticket.  As an added bonus, the museum threw over its usual program of events for a free viewing of a program about Voyager I and II, the unmanned probes that managed fly by scannings of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

I cried my way through a lot of a big screen PBS documentary.

I might have been a bit overtired after the 4am departure time for the big event. I had driven my old (now my daughter’s ) ancient minivan, long without working air conditioning, for about an hour and then waited in the dark and early dawn in a car line at the museum parking lot entrance for another hour.  I stared at the sun for about an hour and 15 minutes before it went dark for the extraordinary 56 seconds. Afterwards, I  waited a long time for lunch at a local diner, because there was one heck of a lot of people trying to get some eggs and recover from the  stunning event in the sky.

Maybe I’m just an overtired old lady,  or maybe it was something else.

My parents’ “family room” had a wall of books and several shelves were devoted to copies of National Geographic. It’s hard to imagine now, but those magazines were considered near to gold to our family. They were not to be cut up, drawn in, or thrown away. They had the keys to interesting happenings all over the world, and there were color pictures.  I remember a giant tree that a car could drive through. I remember photos of huge white capped mountains, some of which I live near today.

Most of all, I remember a fold out color diagram of the solar system with a picture of the Voyager Spacecraft and the plan for its launch when I got to High School!!! and the dates it would pass by each planet. I looked at each date and I marveled at how old I would be when it got to each planet. I read about the golden record that was meant as a message to aliens. I wondered if I might be living on the moon, or at least have visited, by the time I was…what? 47?  Would I even live that long?  Would the aliens have found the record by the time I was that old?

Even at age 8 or 9, I thought the alien contacts perhaps a remote possibility.  I was a sensible kid.  A trip to the moon, well, maybe not so hard.  That certainly was possible. Perhaps on Pan Am.

Getting older in some ways is about getting more realistic. Since Voyager, by all accounts an astounding success (we are still receiving signals, and both vessels have left the solar system) we had the tragedy of two space shuttle accidents , more glories with the Martian Rover and some failed efforts with travel to the Red Planet as well.  As a younger person, I expected progress to be linear. Line em up, get it done.  If you can get to the moon, off we go to Mars. No unexpected explosions.  Science rules.

I  fully expected a Mars colony by now. Apparently not so simple.  Mars, as it turns out, is pretty far away, and there’s no air. Weird stuff happens to living beings when you stick them out in a small space capsule for a long time. Building materials are expensive to transport.  People are adapted to life on, well, Earth.

On top of all that they demoted Pluto.

I really do wish in some ways I could have been an astronaut, but my applied math skills are solidly above average and not outstanding. I tend to get motion sick and my eyes were out of focus by first grade. So, physiology and inclination led me in other directions.  I have had to come to terms with my limited contribution to human progress, and I’m not sure I’ve done much at all. I envy those space engineers who know, beyond a doubt, that they have contributed something extraordinary with the design and execution of Voyager.

So human beings are limited, and somewhat disappointing, and life is wondrous and disappointing and  and we occupy the tiniest bit of space and time, and it’s what we’ve got, and the eclipse, with its unexpected changes in the weather and the wind, along with the eery absence of daylight, was both shocking and awe inspiring.  Carl Sagan’s voice ( I smiled, I hadn’t heard it for years) in the movie, with  his signature “billions and billions of stars in the universe” and his eloquent description of the how the earth looks from Neptune, a tiny, tiny blue dot, with “everyone who you know, and ever knew, and everyone who ever lived” is on that dot, and how that dot  is barely visible from one of our nearest planetary neighbors, and how it is easily mistaken for a speck of dust on a photographic print.  Dr. Sagan’s voice is  clear, and in the movies I remember my childhood, and am aware that just hours before,  I watched a full horizon twilight, and watched the sun go out, and looked at my daughter’s face, and the faces of her friends, and knew that we take life, with all its limitations, and something as basic as the sun, and its satellite, the moon, for granted.

 

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McMinnville, Oregon August 21, 2017 about 10:18 am.  The sun.th

Dr. Carl Sagan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb4WhNvLRFw  The Pale Blue Dot

 

Glass as Dark Matter

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I’m sitting on a train, moving rather slowly, then stopping.

Yesterday was business, busy-ness. A multicultural quorum links up in a glass enclosed, grey walled conference room with views of the next building. There’s a coffee robot programmed to autocoffee everyone and twenty somethings sitting in smaller glass boxes, together in body but not in spirit, eyes down on the screens. They are quite beautiful, in a perfectly science-fictiony sort of way. One of them sits with the elder brain trust hive-mind, her braided hair piled high on her head, precisely speaking in her workforce jargon. Clear skin smart and tailored, she really can recite the language. I think of a seven year old piano player I heard play once, a technically amazing child and his piano, not old enough for any musical feeling.

I want to tickle the twenty something assistant and ask her if she’d ever spilled anything. Or if she’s afraid to. She’s too sweet or too perfect to deliberately fluster, although I consider it, a rather unprofessional thought.

Outside, also science-fictiony, the city swelters at 95 degrees. The brain trust and the coffee robot are safe and cool and intellectually elevated, but the homeless people, in the park, hide in sweatshirts that are way too warm. I saw them when I walked to the cool office on the fourth floor. I’m sure there were heat related deaths as we met and thought and latted in the glass box. If I am right, it was the park folks that overheated, and that information won’t make the news.  On screen news is for the senator, the rock star, and the ex football star, the people who are welcomed into glass offices. I was tempted to talk with the park dwellers, how did they end up living in a park? I didn’t. The park people are time travelers and their stories may not correspond to my lines and boxes; I feel I’m a slave to a clock on a phone. I worry about being late.

I answer my own questions about them with well known theories about how people end up in parks and under bridges.

There’s trash on the edges of the train tracks, and the shattered glass glints and shines and looks a mess. It’s mixed with paper and plastic, waylaid on the route to recycling.

After my glass box time, I head to the museum. The poor we have always had with us, suggests the  exhibition. Here is a portrait of an industrialist who built roads and bridges and fed the hungry and exploited the workers and stole the land. Here’s an Indian who was hated and hunted in life and now his effigy lays carved in static elegant white marble, not worrisome in death, in fact, he can now go into glass offices if we could hoist him up there, but he’s rather heavy now and so he stays where he is. In life he would have broken the glass windows and showed up half naked in animal skins, a presentation now boxed into video pornography, pretend wildness purchasable with plastic. He is running right out of the woods, not just on a screen for someone’s sexual exploitation or carved still for some post mortem admiration, but for his own purposes.

And he runs into the city park, right under the windows on the fourth floor, where the brain trust tries to figure out what to do with him.  Again.20170720_171419

Splitting the Adam and the Eve

Splitting the atom unleashed a power that the world had never known. Taking a thing into halves that craves to be whole has consequences.  Energy explodes outwards, leaving radioactivity in its wake, the leftovers of the whole split into parts.  This energy could have been understood and harnessed, but there was a war, so it became a weapon.

Splitting is also a term used in psychology, essentially describing the tendency of young children, and immature adults, to split the nature of others into “good” and “bad”. Maturity is marked by the ability to understand that all people have the capacity for both great compassion and great aggression and harm towards others. Understanding that capacity in yourself and others deepens empathy for how others might experience their lives.

Early in my career, I thought that “splitting” in  adults was rare, something for the mentally ill or underdeveloped.  Those people all had official psychiatric diagnoses. Most people grew past that, I thought. People who couldn’t see others except as all good and all bad were living the lives of children. They got stuck in time because of abusive parents. That was probably it.

Now I think splitting is  a fundamental feature of stunted growth in America.

In November, over forty percent of college educated women voted for a man who bragged about molesting women, grabbing them and leering toward them to assert his dominance over them. How possibly could his publicly admitted and even bragged about behavior be accepted by these women?  If you are not female, perhaps his behavior could be ignored or minimized. As you point out, the experience of women can only be experienced in imagination by men.  And frankly, I think most men would rather not think about it. But women? Some of whom, and perhaps many or most, have had to deal with unwanted sexual advances, even rape?  They voted for him?

There must be some splitting going on here. One side says “strong dominant man with conservative values, who will fight for us and keep us safe”. The other side says  “crass and crude, at the worst, a rapist”. These two extremes are not reconcilable. There is a split. You have to pick one, because that noble man cannot be a rapist.

Apparently, many women chose to see the “strong dominant man who will fight for us and keep us safe”.

I know a very kind and intelligent woman who works at the same company  I do.  Very little is publicly acknowledged, but most everyone understands that she keeps the clinic where she works operational..financially, technically, and organizationally.  Like many women, she works hard, she is largely unnoticed, and she accepts this with a combination of resignation, humor, and a degree of martyrdom. Yet one day she told me, in a frank discussion about the election, that a man is better to lead. I was utterly bewildered.   I said clearly to her that I believed that she was running the show in her current position, so how is it that men are better? She agreed she was doing the work,  but she felt that she was just waiting for the right leader, a man, to show up. She even agreed that it was alright for me to lead, but it wasn’t for her.

She is waiting for that strong dominant male to fight for her and keep her safe, and perhaps, less grandly, simply relieve some of her workload.

I so much want to put my hand on her shoulder and tell her,  “you know, my dear, he’s not coming”. And ..”you have everything you need already”. But instead this lovely women waits.

I cannot wait for that noble man, my friend, and I know that you can’t either. It hasn’t a thing to do with hating men; it has everything to do with what women can do if they accept their own intelligence, athleticism, artistic talent, and many other qualities, and create their own stories.  When we don’t speak out against the splitting, when our need to be saved by the hero is so severe that we ignore the abhorrent and endorse the leadership of someone who looks half the part, then we are in trouble. We then cast ourselves as the weak princess in the castle, the little girl never grown.  We tell our sons that the hypermasculine is the ideal, and that the women they love will never equal them, that men alone receive both the glories and the burdens of leadership.

We split the Eve as well as the Adam. We teach both that an equal partnership based on mutual love and the best development of both partners is impossible. Each is reduced to half of what could be.

As always, I want to say something about physics.  Last weekend I saw the movie Hidden Figures, about the profound contributions of three African American women to the space program. I enjoyed the story very much, but what deeply distresses me is that I am now 53 years old, and I never knew about these three women-all  deeply intelligent; one likely a mathematical genius.  Without them, and especially Katherine Johnson, it’s unlikely John Glenn would have succeeded in his first orbital journey.

When I sat down to write about splitting, and thought about physics, and splitting the atom, a tiny bit of Wikipedia research revealed another gap in my knowledge.  I did not know that  a woman named Lise Meitner, a physicist of unbelievable stature, had a key role in developing nuclear fission.  Her history includes a journey to escape Nazi Germany, because as a Jew, she couldn’t continue in her post as the head of the physics department at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.  Later, she refused to participate in the development of the bomb that devastated Japan, although she co authored the paper that explained the theoretical underpinnings of nuclear fission.  The science was not meant for war, in her view.

Naturally, she was denied the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The prize went to her male coauthor, blah blah blah.

Not really a shocker.

But what if that perception of those women had been different?  What if they had been treated as equals, not as just women, or just blacks, or just a Jew, what energy would have been released? What if  Dr. Meitner had received the Nobel Prize, been recognized as a fully fledged scientist, and an advocate for peace… and what energy would have been released if Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson had been recognized for their contributions at NASA?

I think as a young woman interested in the space program, I would have felt that energy.  The energy of a fused self, all aspects together. Fusion over fission.

I bet a lot of other people, men and women, would have felt it too.

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Dr. Lise Meitner

daily

Stardust

unknown     “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

 

I’m writing this evening when my brain feels as scattered as stardust, blown about about the cosmic wind. My focus is lost; I think there’s a thousand things I should be doing with myself to oppose the insanity that has taken this country. Where to best put my energy? I come up with a plan, a theory, and the next event, the next encounter, changes my mind. I want to write about how sorry I am that you have had this terrible loss, this friend that is gone from your life, like the loss I suffered nine years ago..nine years! It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. See how my mind races, I am irritable, and I feel that I’m no good to anyone.

Quite by accident I found myself this afternoon, with my boyfriend,standing in front of a Holocaust memorial. We had gone to Forest Park in Portland for a hike, and I needed one, as I felt the anxious energy building and building. I have gone to the Vietnam memorial in Portland several times but  I must admit, regretfully, that I never even knew where the city’s Holocaust memorial was.  We went a direction in the park I’ve never taken, and there it was, hidden in the enormous pine trees, a black wall, with some tiny memorial statues, not of people, but rather a broken suitcase, a teddy bear, a pair of eyeglasses, all in a place where one could trip over them, solid metal renderings of personal possessions. We took the time to read the entire history of Hitler’s destruction of Jewish people, disabled people, Roma people, and anyone else he decided to hate, but especially the Jews. The engraving told of  early history of the Holocaust, beginning with banning Jews from immigrating, then from stores and businesses, then from schools, and registering them, forcing them to designate themselves with a middle name of Sarah or Israel, mocking these honorable names.

Sound hideously familiar? I know it does to you.

My mind is still racing. Only in the past few years did I really understand that my father’s history is Jewish. His family seems to have arrived a long time before the Holocaust in Europe, maybe a hundred years. Names appeared in the more easily accessible records now available online..a great grandmother named Rachel, a great grandfather named Isaac. If they hadn’t moved to Illinois in the nineteen century, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here. Not that that’s so very important…it’s just likely.

Thirty three years ago I stood with my college classmates in Auschwitz, Poland, reading in our second language, German, the ugly orders that exterminated thousands or tens of thousands of people in “relocation” camps. Behind us was a plexiglass wall where tangled eyeglasses, the actual eyeglasses, kept by the Nazis, were piled up on display.  Another room, behind more plexiglass, was a ceiling high mound of human hair. We walked on silently to and through the gas chambers where the fingernail scratches of the dying, the marks of frantic scraping at the walls, were still easy to see.

The bus ride back to Krakow was silent.  I remember staring out at the bleak landscape and crying.

I will never forget that experience. I doubt any of my classmates have forgotten.

Now, at this moment, we live in a country that is banning immigration to a group of people based on their country of origin and their religion.  I see comments online that chastise the educated for believing their liberal professors and accuse me and other deeply worried citizens of “whining” and “not understanding national security”.  Now I feel angry, even enraged.   I think, I’d be happy to introduce these fools to the descendants of victims of their ancestors’ great sin, the destruction of Native Americans. Perhaps they worry that they will be treated the way their immigrant ancestors treated the actual North Americans when they arrived.  Failure to comprehend after this experience would then result in me ripping their lungs out.

That would not be very productive, I think.

It’s amazing how rage is catching, like a virus that spreads everywhere, infecting, infecting.

Anger and rage, part of grief. I feel such sorry for my country, and I don’t want to sound trite, but I do love America, I do. I wept when those towers came down, and I was both proud and humbled when, during my recent travels, a French couple told me no matter who the President, Americans are always welcome in France…This ongoing welcome,  I knew, because of World War II, when we opposed Hitler’s evil, although we were late, so late to the defense, but this couple, this pair, forgives America for that and for the current travesty, and welcomes me, and you, and America, even though most of us had nothing to do with that war, we were not even born.

I wonder, are you angry? Are you angry that your friend was taken from you when he was not very old? I was, so so angry, I had plans for my lost friend too, nine years ago, upcoming plans at the time, and I loved her.  He can’t contribute his talent anymore, we can’t look forward to any of his works, and you will miss his friendship, probably more than any of his writing.  I know I miss her, so deeply. I am not as angry as I was at first.

At the time of my friend’s death, she was working on a draft statement by psychologists, a position paper against psychologists contributing, by assessing or evaluating, prisoners who may be tortured. Guantanamo was a big concern and it seemed misguided professionals had somehow lost their way and gotten involved. The ugly possibility of torture has arisen again…the dangerous fool leading us has stated his support, and his uneducated! dare I say it! minions sell the American public on its “effectiveness”.

For some reason, and please recall I am scattered today, Carl Sagan floated into my mind. There was a part in the original Cosmos series where he reminded his audience…we are all part of the stars…we are all made of stardust. The Jewish dead,  the exterminated Indians, your friend, my friend, you and me, we are all stardust.  Today you and I hold a certain form that the stardust takes, a human form.  I hope the universe sends me a sign as to what to do.  Maybe I can combine the stardust that is mine, and the stardust that may have been part of others, and find the right thing to do, and I will be less strewn about, less angry and confused.

I hope.

 

Escape Velocity

Escape velocity is the speed that an object needs to be traveling to break free of a planet or moon’s gravity well and leave it without further propulsion.
       Today’s a day about plans, and thwarted plans, and how plans go south when you mean to go north. The day’s about comedy, since, as a close friend of mine told me, we are not kings, so this story can’t be a tragedy.  Today started last night, like all days do. It’s a day of shrugged shoulders, of four wheel drives sent out in the night on a mission to restore power, a day when the hope of that long delayed meetings would occur, and this time, this time, result in definitive action… and instead, we can’t get down our driveways. It’s a day that reminds us that we need to eat and stay warm before we can consider weighty philosophical subjects, a day that when we shudder at the prospect of a few hours without wifi,  but a broken heater is much more uncomfortable. It’s a day when we wonder if we could make it to the doctor if we needed a doctor, and except the most ill among us, we are not really worried.  We may not think much about plumbing on most days, but today, most of us have had thoughts about water and pipes.
          Portland is having is eighth! (eighth?!) snow day this winter, a year of note.  Since it “hardly ever” snows here, Portland civic leaders forgot to or decided not to buy too much snow equipment, and we’re pretty much locked down. It’s far short of a pioneer adventure, but we can think about Lewis and Clark holed up with their traveling companions in Astoria two hundred and more years ago, unable to move, and Clark getting more and more depressed, mud seeping into cabins, food running short.  Their mission was in some ways, completed. They had reached the west coast of the continent; there was no coast to coast waterway, the easily navigated route of their dreams. They sat in an Oregon coastal winter, snow in some amounts, but mostly relentless rain. They had to wait to walk, ride and paddle East to say what they had seen.  It was Jefferson’s vision Lewis and Clark carried out; the two leaders and their small party struggled forward to the edge of the land, buckled down, and then waited  and waited to bring their lofty findings home.
       The return mission was delayed by weather.
       Weather is a mighty force that affects escape velocity. One thing I know about myself…I have spent many years planning, executing and delivering the goods. When the carefully crafted plans didn’t work out,  I  often assumed I lacked something in the execution. I was confused.  I was thinking I was a king, and that my thwarted plans were tragic, a personal shortcoming.
       I think now it might have been the weather. Or the earth as a whole.  A bit of a cosmic joke played on a small player.  It’s just hard to achieve that escape velocity, the energy needed to make the plans fly.  Something as simple as snowfall can stop it all.
        Our bodies keep us connected to the earth, they are part of the gravity, and they have a relationship with the earth and atmosphere that keep us grounded.  Our feet hurt, our noses run and we slip and fall.  Someone develops a fever. The snow falls from the sky, we  need to put on hats and gloves and coats and long underwear.  The sun beats down, water dries up or rushes down, we need something to drink. We are foolish to ignore the weather and its bigger cousin, the climate. Go outside without a coat today in Portland, and you’ll feel it and fast. Now think bigger. Civilizations with mighty plans, one on Easter Island, for  example, disappeared because the jesters used up what was there, and the earth fought back.
       We’re pretty smart, we comedians. We’ve found ways of hiding and protecting ourselves from the real ruler, the planet we live on. We build warm houses, we have snow plows (if we decide to buy them) and we know ways of melting snow and cooling off in the heat. We found a fluid that keeps our heated and cooled vehicles moving. We create tools and machines, and plans to achieve escape velocity and arrive somewhere else, coming back with soil samples or a new type of flower.
       But make no mistake, we’re not kings. The earth froze my toes today and moved my personal economy just a little bit in the wrong direction. My orbit was much closer to home and I had to slog to get away from the house and slog to get back.  I can plan all I want, and gravity pulls me down, and the snow piles up in the driveway.
        I have occasionally shared my disappointment that no human has yet walked around on Mars. After today, my hometown in paralysis, I realize I should fall over in utter shock that we reached the moon, and that a  couple little remote control buggies from California have chug a chugged all over Mars without a human driving.
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      Plans thwarted are the norm. I’m going to rejoice on the rare days when myself, or someone else, reaches escape velocity, and even more amazing, returns to earth without burning up on reentry.  If you get to bring back a soil sample too, or maybe a flower, or a snowflake…well, maybe I will reconsider and call you a king.

Gravity

My intent, and it is time for intentions, is for the next year to be lighter. So perversely, my brain goes to gravity, and weight, and the burden of years, and things, and relationships and entanglements.

I stood with my daughter in La Sagrada Familia, the temple that is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, in Barcelona, just one week ago. Deeply impressive from the outside, towering, unfinished, above anything for miles, it is as if  an alien species decided on a city location for a sand drip castle.  The inside, however,  is nothing less than astounding. I have never seen anything both so weighty and so etherial and light. I can’t imagine what happened in Gaudi’s brain when he conceived of such a space, how a building can make heaven seem possible, colors saturated at the lower levels, hazy diffusion and clouds meters above.  Not painted clouds. Actual clouds, mists through windows. Heaven is obscured, hinted at but disappearing and out of view, just as it is in everyday life, in the everyday world.

My daughter, who flirts with an endearing combination of hippie identity and Buddhism (and has much to say on both subjects )was speechless for long minutes. I came close to tears.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!  William Shakespeare

How is it that an insight, a vision, leads to clarity of what to include, what to build, what to leave out, what to leave behind? I’ve returned home now, and there are objects all around, some useful, some less so, many burdened by the weight of memory, my possessions, and my partner’s things, are a jumble together, the weight is not gravity, seriousness and meaning, but gravity as burden. I need to lighten up, and I’d like a vision to appear to me to tell me how. Unfortunately I’ve never known visions to appear on demand.

One thing is certain, more of something, and maybe someones, will be left behind. I’m vigilant of loss, and I hang on to more than I should with a death grip, but hanging on is, paradoxically, death anyway. The best adventures don’t come with much equipment, and the useless is best discarded along the way. I only two pairs of pants with me by the time I got to Barcelona; I have ten or more at home.  I abandoned both my sweaters in Lisbon.  I didn’t need them, I didn’t regret the loss. I remember our beloved Leah had a white dress, a blaster, and some hairpins ( I think, how else did she keep that hair in buns) and guts. How little we need. How much we hold on.

Even harder to leave are the people,  the relationships that are worn and outdated. It’s a one sided decision sometimes, which causes pain, and I loathe causing pain. Sometimes the relationships just need an update; maybe it’s not all or nothing. I don’t have a five year old and a two year old daughter anymore, they are adults, and now I learn as much from them as they do from me.

And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so.  William Shakespeare

One more statement, and then I promise, I’ll lighten up. I nearly died last year, and I was resurrected. I am no Gaudi. I may be closer to Leah. I have limited time, and my grey hair (some are natural blondes, and lucky, and their grey doesn’t seem to show so quickly) tells me that I must let go of what was, or with my tight grip, even more will slip through my fingers.  There are young women, and dare I say, perhaps some young men, that need my help.  What we were offered as young women, what we watched and noticed as a new princess took her place in a galaxy far far away…that needs protecting now. Pared down to the essentials, I am free for the next adventure.

Perhaps that will also include a more comfortable couch.

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La Sacrada Familia, 2016

Refraction

Light changes when it changes mediums; so do waves in the ocean or in the bathtub, and sound is muffled by the walls.  Encounters change the progress of travel itself, whether you run into a wall or pulses of light hit the side of your eye, undetectable, until you’re in bed with a migraine. It doesn’t have to be that brutal. Light softens a room, candlelight travels through water, love becomes easier.

Without refraction, nothing would move through us. Hard sharp corners, reflection only, the ultimate narcissism. You’d only see yourself looking back. It’s hard to avoid as it is, being the center of your own universe, the sun in your own solar system.  No refraction, then nothing penetrates, nothing gets through. We’d be static as well as unaffected, unmoving and unmoved. Alternatively, I suppose, we could absorb everything and end up dark and muddled. Nothing would escape, but that’s a pretty heavy existence, especially if you hang around people who give you a lot to soak in.

I try to take a refractory approach to life.  I think it’s the years of sitting in the orbits of others lives, listening and listening. If I reflect everything I hear in therapy sessions, I’d cause despair and loneliness and make the problem worse.  If I absorb everything, I’d have the trauma of genocide to carry, and I’m sure I can’t carry anything that dense.

It’s been two years since the passing of a fine man I knew for a brief while. The formal arrangement was that I was to help him with a forty year old regret and a tragic recent loss. I believe he tried not to weigh me down and I sometimes let these waves pass through me with a false objectivity, as if I were playing at a crystallized existence. I saw a glimpse of a barracks destroyed by a bomb, a flash of a knife, a military funeral, tiny children dancing in Indian regalia, a small girl sleeping in a truck, a makeshift boxing arena with Blackfeet men gathered around to watch a fight, a high school baseball game, veterans in uniform at the mall, sipping McDonald’s coffee, a brush running through an old woman’s hair.

I heard a voice ask for forgiveness; I could only listen, and channel the forgiveness from someone who wasn’t present to offer it herself.

I felt the warm press of his hand.

The light travelled through me.

One day his son called me  and told me that his father was with Creator, and the waves hit me hard enough that there was no air, and I sat on the floor. I didn’t get up until someone knocked on the door.

 

 

 

Light

img_0044Pacific Northwest winters leave you no doubt as to the need for a solstice, a festival of light. The days are disturbingly short here for an Arizona native, sun mostly gone at 4:30 pm this time of year. Still a month to go before it turns around, before the days begin to lengthen.  I suppose it is a matter of perspective. I remember a friend’s mother who came down from Alaska for the winter, for the sunshine, the grandchildren, and the longer days. Her desire to migrate south for the winter to balmy bright Oregon made me laugh.

Mostly when I look out the window here in November, I see grey, and more grey, and soppy trees, a few leaves clinging to branches in orange or red, but now mostly brown. I force myself outside; I don’t like getting wet. I own rain pants. Incandescent lights flood all the houses. Most of my psychologically minded friends have a “full spectrum” desk lamp, to mimic the sunrise we can’t see, and to tell us to get the heck out of bed.  Everyone is on high doses of Vitamin D. You can hire people to put up thousands of outdoor Christmas lights on your overbig suburban home.

I remember the frost on the continuously green lawns in Arizona, our weak version of snow. You could erase the frost by walking on it, trodding around in ridiculously warm boots to make a traceable path. You could even slide a few steps, or try to scrape it together to make a feeble ball. How I wished for snow! ..thinking of the one picture, some cacti with white coating, taken when I was very small, evidence that  snow actually fell just a bit on one Christmas day. Maybe this year! Inevitably though, there was no snow, only the sun sparkling off the frost until it got too warm.

There was light, though, and plenty of it, and playing outside as much as you wanted, even in December.  And a strange plastic white Christmas tree, with gold and red decorations, and there were lights on the tree, too, lights that drove my father crazy because those lights needed to work, EVERY SINGLE ONE, or none of them would. I remember  the obsessive compulsive search for the offending burnt out bulb, and the victory when it was discovered and ruthlessly replaced, and I think my father had a scotch to reward himself when the tree finally lit up.

Portland is vastly different from Arizona in this respect:  no one would have a fake tree, or very few people.  Pine trees grow like weeds, sometimes in backyards. Christmas trees have to be dried in garages before they’re brought in, and  once installed, watered relentlessly in their stands.  Moss can take over the grass lawns, water pours from the skies, down the streets, off the roofs. We’re so wet we don’t carry umbrellas; maybe it’s another layer between our eyes and the hidden light of the sun, and we can’t afford more shade.   A few days of sun, of unobscured natural light, is all we can hope for in late November and December.

I sit here and contemplate a walk outside, with my full spectrum lamp beside me, the kitchen lights reflected in the window, the surrounding rooms black in contrast. It’s not even 2pm. I’ll put on my raincoat, and maybe my rain pants, pull up my hood, and take myself outside.  I’ll unplug the orange lights from Halloween and look in the garage for the twinkly red ones.

Light is both a wave and a particle, I’m sure you’ll remember. I’ve had my share of both, lived in unremitting waves of light, in a place where light could power all the houses and the cars, where light transformed to heat could burn the back of your thighs on vinyl car seats, where sometimes you’d wish for night to come and cool you off, so that you could finally open a window. I’ve also lived very particular light, so precise and time limited that a glimpse of it would provide hope for the coming week even if you only saw the sun for four minutes on Monday at 9:47 am.

Given I’m in very particular light right now, I’ll  try to imagine the blue sky of the desert, and look forward to the Winter Solstice and the tilt back towards the sun.

Gratitude

Well, the holiday season is underway again. I’m weary of it.

I wish I had the internal resources to approach the holidays with the joy and anticipation children have naturally, and which the advertisers try to generate with their Santa clad models and sparkly champagne, with smiling families all around a turkey (and if you’re one of the newly defunct liberals, certainly acknowledging that their are “issues” and “unacknowledged grief” but agreeing magnanimously to set that aside so we can stuff ourselves).

I’m ready for a diet, and I might begin on Thanksgiving.

I recall a conversation with a woman at a church I attended once; she was probably in her sixties or early seventies. I had young children at the time, and of course I was in the midst of planning the Santa visit and wondering which matching dresses I could pick for my adorable daughters. I must have asked her  what she was doing for Christmas, and she looked at me somewhat ruefully. “I’d be fine if we did this every five years” she said. “That’s about right for me.”

I haven’t enjoyed Christmas for years now. It’s possible that I am a Grinch, or that my Jewish roots, long suppressed, are exerting themselves.  Perhaps I need a Day of Atonement before the winter holidays so this natural tendency to ruminate on my sins could have formal expression. Or…if I could just focus on the True Christmas, the gift of new life and a savior for all? And the best values of America for Thanksgiving, the American Holiday?

I’ve got to admit, after this election, that last statement seems like a sorry joke. And I sort of resent having to bolster myself to see through the trivial in these events. Where’s the heart? And am I the one that has to dig through the nonsense to find it?

I’m aware  that I am weighed down by loss and grief which by social rules forbid expression at the happy holidays.   In fact, my most joyful holiday in the past few years , (one I’ve always liked a lot, in fact) is Halloween, the holiday that acknowledges pretending and relationships with those no longer with us.  I can say out loud “hey, all these people I love, they’re dead!” and everyone says “yes! they are!”

Awesome.

We don’t want too much of that dead people stuff, though, and so we move on to the joy and smiling, and the unacknowledged pretending and family truces.

The mindfulness and meditation movement coaches gratitude, and I agree in theory and try hard in practice.  I will say it here-I have much to be grateful for.  I wish gratitude outweighed anxiety. I am anxious in the arrival of the holidays, because I will be sad.

This year, both by choice and coincidence I will actually escape, or at least  I will be on plane on Christmas day, returning from a pilgrimage I hope will put a positive spin on a very challenging year. What is remarkable is that even though I would love to skip Christmas, I feel a sense of loss for the very thing I want to avoid. How sad not to have your family all round you at Christmas, brothers, sisters, parents, children, spouse. How doubly sad to realize that those relationships are absent, distant,  or isolated to a spiritual realm. The plane actually makes little difference; there are not that many people to celebrate with, and certainly not the people I miss most.

But here is a bit of gratitude: Halloween comes every year.