bio–Moving Closer to God

Like so many women, I’ve worked most of my life against the patriarchal image of god. I’ve done it consistently for almost 50 years but I still run into that guy with the white beard in my head, much to my frustration. I’ve worked hard to replace that image and maybe that is the problem. I’ve come to think that broadening my images might be a better way to go about what I’m trying to do. I don’t need to replace him just ask him to move over and share my head.

It is very hard for me to see the god I was raised with as a warm and loving anybody, much less father. He is really a scary dude. The biblical god is cruel, whimsical, and takes pleasure in the slaughter of thousands and thousands of people on a regular basis. It created us, gave us a test it knew we would fail, then punished us forever for the failure. Is god a power that really needs people to praise it all the time? For what? It’s ability to make people suffer? I don’t get prayers asking for things, though I do it out of hope, not faith. Could such a power exist, I suppose so but as a human it seems all so pointless. I want the god who choses prayers of thanks, for those things are the miracles in the world.

I’ve been looking for a god of real justice, of love and mercy, a god who holds you in her hands and gets you through all the shit and pain, fear and jealousy without going totally crazy. I’ve found her little by little, sighting by sighting as I look at life with gentler eyes. If I take the chance of looking every bit of life in the eye I find that spark. To look everyone in the eye I had to quit assigning blame. I had to really see that we are all actually dealing with our own stuff, theirs just looks different than mine. Even if they are the royalty of Dubai.

Our lives are all so messy, and it is all just awful to have to clean up after ourselves. Some of us end up living in the squalor of our messes, some give up and let it pile up higher day by day for not being attended to. Some of us learn to cope with some of it, trying to clean up after ourselves, even helping each other at times. Having some sustaining power who cares if I make it, makes a difference. I really seem to need someone to answer to, someone who cares. Sometimes I think I might be getting ahead of the game, others times I know I’m losing ground fast. But either way my god gives me hope that I will make it because I’m not really totally on my own.

Holy books are great, up to a point. I replace the male pronouns and write down useful things I find. It’s so hard to winnow out the chaff, there is so much of it. I keep looking for more efficient tools to clean it up with. I’ve found a few the most important being I try to live a simpler life so I don’t make so many new messes.

To get where I want to be I need a god to whom I can’t lie, a god to whom I can’t avoid admitting what’s true. If she sees the mess, I have no excuses left. I need a god with compassion, not one who seems to want to send me to everlasting hell for not trusting myself or knowing what to do and making a mess out of my life. That god is too scary. That god saps me of hope because I know there will always be failure in my path. I need a sense that god cares, this christian god is untrustworthy. I don’t know how to placate this god who demands too often that believers fall on their swords, demands too often I give up who I was created to be to the designs of someone else’s ideals.

Admitting that life is a mess is the essential starting place. Change only happens when you see there is a need. Sometimes it is tweaking, sometimes it is cleaning the Augean stables. Without the hope of a god, it’s all pointless. How can it be done and even why put so much effort in when in the end you are just going to die, go poof, into nothing. The mess is just too huge. The mess is all over, everywhere, next door, here in our own homes, not just in some foreign land. How can we look at all the poverty and injustice without a god to give us hope that there is some reason. I don’t buy that god is mad so is killing innocent children. And it’s too hard to live in a world where the only answer is, shit happens.

In my teens and 20s I went through a period of blaming god and saying if he was real I wanted nothing to do with him. I basically I wanted a new god who was at least not so much of a jerk so much of the time. It’s not the fear of hell but the injustice of it that made me reject the whole thing. Being in college in the late 1960s meant I was very much into the feminist ideas. I thought since god isn’t human but I need an image if I was going have a relationship with a god that I would chose a female image. I had good role models of loving mothers, even if mine wasn’t. I’d kill two birds with one stone and make this god into the mother with whom I could have a positive, accepting relationship with. I was done with job’s god.

Men have interpreted the creation story to justified the subjugation of women for thousands of years. I refuse to live by that book. The rules given to Moses were reasonable but men were so unable to accept them as applying to themselves that they turned the laws on their head and made the commandments the very reason for violating their god’s rules. In the end I’ve given up reading the old testament. There is too much just awful stuff in there to ferret-out out the bits of wisdom. The Tao Te Ching is a lot most accessible. So often institutional religion has drained the spirit out and replaced it with hubris and coercion. The whole institution thing is so corrupt, I appreciate why so many have tried to start over. That is in essence what I’ve done, starting with the very face of the divine.

From that starting point I became a seeker, which I remain to this day. I found that Quakers encourage this seeking, are rooted in a personal source of the light within each of us, and the idea of personal responsibility to the light that we seek to lead us through the mess we inevitably make in our lives. In becoming a Quaker I’ve grown in the image of that of god in each of us. I’ve been amazed by power of the Light and its continuing revelation though each and every person. God is working in and through each one of us. In some people it’s just a bit harder to see than in others.

It is particularly hard to see in those who have given up because the mess around them makes their light really dim. God shines through in the work of our minds and hands. Even a gun that has no other use than to kill people is a work of art, each concept executed in that weapon is the result of the light that someone found inside themself, that reveled itself. Look at the knitting Friends do in meeting. They take this long piece of yarn or thread and they make beautiful things. They make useful things, they make necessary things. That inclination to create is god shining through. God looks like a baby blanket, like a row of lettuce, an old used tire that needs to be cleaned up, it is all god’s work through us. In there is the face of God.

Even those who would deny that god exists because science shows them how all the pieces fit together still can’t answer the question that points to god. How did it all start? Where did the first spark come from? You can trace it through black holes to other dimensions but not back to that very first thought that came before the very first atom or spark of light. I side with those who say god exists and that I am is proof that she is.

b–And Going Away

I sat in the den with the TV on at 6:00 so I could catch at least a brief glimpse of the horses before the race. I usually look at them and pick who I think will win, sometimes I’m right sometimes I’m wrong but it gives me a horse to root for. This time it was all American Pharoah. I looked at the others but no way did I need to find someone to root for, it came with this day. I’ve watched just about every Belmont in which there was even the slightest hope of a Triple Crown. With this colt it felt hope rose so much higher than in the past, or maybe it was just my desire for one rose each year. Whatever it was, I was in tears before the gates opened.

I was a bit terrified as I watched, thinking bad thoughts of Ruffian and other horses who left their life on the track. These gorgeous, graceful creatures are so fragile. We’ve bred them to run only so far, with legs like toothpicks and hearts enough to break any horseman’s heart.

I kind of tried to narrate my own call of the race as AP walked nonchalantly into the number 5 slot. Moments later number eight, with his butt swinging out a bit, was in. The starter wants to get them off before the horses do something stupid so it took maybe two seconds for the gates to slam open and eight carriers of hope to bound forward pounding for the rail, if they can get there, all but one settling for second best. AP, who didn’t break well but fast enough, took the lead, and totally owned it. I don’t know about anyone else but owners, trainers, and friends of competitors who listend for anyone but AP.

I was truly worried about him staying sound until AP caught his stride and made it look easy. Once he wasn’t going to have to avoid another horse I felt more comfortable that he’d make it home in one piece. By the last furlong I’d actually almost forgotten my worry. As he crossed the wire my prayer of thanks was that he’d made it sound and then that he’d done it, won.

My bet is that even the owners of the horses that didn’t catch him weren’t all that disappointed. Frosted was the other name I kept an ear out for, intrigued by the gray (which is also being called blue roan by some), and was glad he had made it out in second place but certainly would have wanted to trip him if he’d come close to catching up. He’s a lovely horse and ran a good race but he isn’t AP.

I hand-road AP every stride from my couch, no whip, just prayers. I was so excited that the dogs got to barking along with me, the midget jumping up and down on the couch with me. As I wasn’t sure they understood this was like the coolest thing in twice their lives, I figured I’d just catch my breath, clear the tears I was crying off my glasses and hope the dogs would now lie down and relax.

I kept looking for the dun the female commentator who does the interviews usually rides. I wondered if that’s AP’s stable buddy, probably not. I looked at the visage of triumph on the jockey’s face, the joy and pride in the face of Bobby Beathard and the elation of the owners and just grinned. I even tried to let go of a my dismissiveness towards the owners, I kind of liked the son. I have to admit to a level of resentment towards those with all that money when there is so much need in the world. On the other hand, I’m glad their horse won, congratulations, finally.

b–Moving on

It seems many of our friends are moving, downsizing or getting away from noxious conditions. We were asked to share our experience with this. That is what follows.

Amy,

     We are in the same process. We have been here for the whole 27 years of our life together. We have touched every surface in this home. We have painted, sanded, tiled, wallpapered, washed, waxed, and loved every bit. The deck outside was built with money from my mother’s estate, the tree out front with money as a housewarming gift from Mardi’s when we first moved in. 

     We have probably tilled every inch of the yard to plant and harvest. We dug and trimmed and encouraged things to grow. The yard was almost perfect this spring. Maybe saying it’s time, you’ve done what you can. Even the roses planted 2 years ago, which I was always afraid to plant because I don’t like using chemicals to keep the bugs away, were super abundant just as the peonies bloomed. The wisteria that I’ve been tying to get to bloom well finally did for the first time in my memory. I made sure to take pictures.

    The peonies have traveled from one house to the next with me and the dwarf red maple is from a seedling dug up in my mother’s yard as are the aucuba and and ajuga. Some of this we can take with us, some only the pictures and memories but all of it will come with us. I’ll miss eating the asparagus next year. We planted it several years ago and it should be of an eatable size next spring.

     Sorting stuff has gotten easier over the years. I have lost the need to be able to touch everything I own. It is OK for it to give others use and pleasure. A whole Jeep full of stuff went to the meeting house for the Strawberry Festival this Sat. I’ll go say a last good bye to all 7 boxes of stuff there. I will bring a thing or two back, maybe some earrings or a book or two. It is a relief to feel so much less acquisitive. In many ways that has been one of the burdens of my life. I’ve been like a turtle, needing to carry my home with me, just in case. I’m so much lighter as my needs and fears are fewer.
     In this process I’ve been striving to look forward rather than back. I can do that looking back from our new porch, doing it now bogs my spirit down because back feels too much like I’m losing something. Looking forward is gaining something and a grand new adventure. Looking forward opens me. It lets me open both my soul to the adventure and my hands to letting go of whats slowing me down. I’m terribly sentimental so this is a bit hard. Mardi has gone overboard with her culling and regretted giving some things away, having to replace them just to move from day to day. She is really into this simplifying but the moving has her scared.
     We haven’t even found a house yet and we have to wait a while to really aggressively look because the uncertainty is so scary. We are doing the part that pleases us, the simplifying, first. Starting that was the hardest part. It’s gained momentum as boxes for the thrift store fill up. We’ll see what next step we are ready for. I’m grateful that we started this. With sorting out I’ve found more space to wiggle my toes, along with some long lost possessions  We are in no rush except houses are getting more expensive. Now that I’m retired and so is she we are fairly unrestricted in where we can live. We just need to be able to get down into town for the music and events we enjoy and have enough money left to not be to scared to use some for pleasure.
     One day at a time, one finger at a time we are changing handholds. Even walking requires a moment of suspension when you are waiting to catch your balance again. You sound like you have your forward foot reaching for the ground. Once it settles I hope you find your new home brings you all the peace and health and joy your are looking for.

bio–Mother’s Days

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Page 1 is Life-A Work In Progress 
.....(find next in order)

Parents are myopic. They see only what is right in their face after it filters through their hearts. Being a teacher of other people’s children is a totally different set of lenses. Any parent knows kids are not nice, they are not kind, they are not smart about things like money and friends. That is why they have parents.

Offspring need training in both the skills of survival and as social beings, how to be part of the “group.” The most important thing parents give kids is a balance between trusting themselves and trusting others. If young people haven’t learned to trust others like peers, parents and teachers then they have a horrid time with relationships. They have trouble working and even playing with others and romantic relationships can’t thrive without trust. If children don’t learn to trust themselves to solve problems or have good judgement they are really unable to do it. Their decisions are default decisions because they don’t see themselves as able to know what to do and often they hold a low opinion of their skill.

Of course there are the parents who go too far and never let the kids learn from their mistakes, they do as someone said just today, they smooth the road all the way to adulthood and then don’t understand why their kids can’t stand on their own two feet. Consequences are the learning tool, mistakes are the environment for the learning. They think someone else will fix things so they never become truly independent adults. All their failures will be blamed on something outside of themselves because they never learned the base lesson of personal responsibility.

The wisdom of the day when I was born was Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, in which he said that children learn by example, you don’t have to push your kids or tell them what to do. He later retracted that and deeply regretted the anguish that advise caused so many parents and children. My parents had the philosophy that children knew what was right or wrong, you just corrected the wrong stuff because they should know it’s wrong. So my sisters and I only heard about the bad stuff. We never knew if we did things well or right. We never learned to trust ourselves, we lived never quite sure what was expected of us. To top that off our mother was inconsistent in what was going to piss her off. Some things we had no doubt about but often times she just came out of the blue at us.

One of my earliest memories is of my father telling me I had to do as Mother told me to do. My reply was that I didn’t want to do what she said, because she was mean. I had to have been about 3 years old then. I remember she put in the closet when I was bad at least a few times. I remember having screaming fits at her. We just didn’t hit it off from the beginning. In retrospect I suspect there was what is called these days, a failure to bond. I suspect the foundation of the problem was that I was a very independent, ADHD kid. My memories fit the classic pattern of non-stop movement, real smart, being called bossy, more comfortable with adults than kids, problems getting along with kids at school. When I was 40 my father died and it was at that point that she and I managed to establish a more loving relationship. Up until then we had built up so much anger, fear, and resentment towards each other we could hardly share, it usually ended with both of us upset. I think I heard, “I resent you so much,” as often as any other statement of feelings from my mother. Mothers really shouldn’t give in to the desire to yell, “I hate you,” at their small children no matter what they have done.

At one point a few years after after Dad died I asked her when she knew she hated me. Without a pause she said, when I was 18 months old. I was blown away by that answer. It came so quickly she had obviously asked herself the same question. She didn’t deny hating me as I kind of expected her to do. My reaction wasn’t surprise but gratitude because, if I was that young it couldn’t have been my fault, even if it was about me, which I’d suspected all along. She was supposed to be the grow-up. I had never been able to understand what I did that was so wrong that she hated me when I was so little. It had to be about who as much as what I did. It was more than just me being a willful, hyperactive child who was too smart for her own good, it was that she didn’t expect and didn’t know how to mother a child like me. This just wasn’t what her child was supposed to be like. It was about her as much if not more than it was about me. If her kids weren’t perfect it was a reflection of some failure of hers and she was much about appearances. It never seemed to strike her that she might need help coping with me. It was all on me to change.

I would tell her fantasy stories to try to get her to approve of me about how I had friends and did this or that with them. She just thought I was crazy and at 8 she took me to a child psychiatrist. That was in the days when psychiatrists actually treated patients as therapists not just as pill pushers. I saw Dr. Olshaker for maybe a year, maybe less. The last time I saw him was the time when he met with my parents, I assume to talk about my treatment. I have always suspected Mom didn’t like what she heard so pulled me out. I recall she was mad when we left that day. Years later, when my dentist recommended I get therapy for stress because I was grinding my teeth at night, she said she wasn’t happy about it as she was sure they would put the blame on her. I figured that what what she was told by Dr. Olshaker all those years before.

Now in my late 60s, and she has passed on, I am working more diligently on the legacy of what she gave me. I am shocked at times to see my mother move my hand, or say something, or I see her in the mirror. We eventually came to a fairly comfortable relationship but not anything near the ideal mother/daughter relationship. I couldn’t confide in her or trust her to really care deeply what happened to me. It was enough that I could honestly say “I love you,” without thinking caveats. She specifically told me she really didn’t want to hear my problems. Of course we did talk about some on a superficial level because as a teacher, school was my life and as a teacher, the system was my problems. But I didn’t seek her advise and she really didn’t offer any, just some sympathy, which was probably good.

I don’t think I would ever have been ready for much advise from her, I never have believed she actually understood me. She and I were so very different in our approaches to life and politics. She was poor listener and that was one of the “problems” between us. I wanted a mother who understood me and wanted me happy. She wouldn’t listen to me. She’d hear my words and then try to tell me how I felt or what I meant by what I said. It infuriated me. How could she every know me if she couldn’t listen to me. It always seemed that any time I tried to talk with her, it always got turned to what she wanted to say, what she thought, or what she believed. It didn’t matter that I had gone to her for help with my thoughts and issues. She seemed to always turn so that it was really about her, not really about me. She was so much less than helpful. I felt so isolated. As much as I loved and trusted Dad, he wasn’t any real help in the daughter’s problems department. When I did try to talk with Mom I suspect that I was so defensive I really couldn’t listen well to what she said. She made me so angry with no place to spend it. She cared to little about me. When Dad was there I’d just go hug him and cry, I resented her so deeply. In retrospect it was probably a bit of a set-up, I looked for her to do the things that reinforced my beliefs about her. If I let my guard down and tried to talk with her, her first slip-up would close me off in a flash.

Mom was very social and liked to have parties. My sisters and I were the help, and at times she treated us with the same distain she had for all servants. She ordered us around and if there was an empty glass that needed to be filled she’d be haughty in commanding us to do our jobs as “hostesses.”  Of course clearing dirty dishes, cleaning the kitchen, and making sure everyone had their after dinner coffee and drinks was our job. I liked the parties but the way she treated me in front of her friends took a lot of the pleasure out of them. I didn’t mind helping but in her cups she’d say awful things about me. She did it in front of company or to people at these parties she gave or the family went to, just to embarrass me. She even admitted to intentionally trying to humiliate me.

What saved me was the very thing that made Mom so upset, that I was totally me from the beginning. There was no artifice. I did what I wanted and really didn’t care what anyone said. I didn’t recognize authority that I didn’t grant, even as a small kid. That was the abrasion the turned into the wound of resentment and hate. I wasn’t a tractable kid.

The greatest grace was my father. I have said often that he saved me. He taught me to love and to trust. He defended me to, and from Mother, he argued for me and really tried to find a way for the two of us to at least peacefully coexist. I was his favorite and I believe that made Mother resent me even more, that Dad took my side instead of her side against me. I was his first child and he wore his love for all of us on his sleeve, especially me.

Mom used the words “propriety” and “breeding” a lot as we were growing up. She wanted us to be the proper, sweet, perfect children in cute dresses and black patent mary janes a true Southern Lady, as she saw herself, would breed. Patti, who is 22 months younger than I am, tried to be perfect, sweet, and happy but could still never please mother. Robin, I’m not sure how she saw things. She never saw much advantage in being mother’s favorite but she would lord it over Patti and me at times.

One of the things mother did was to place on my shoulders responsibility for  anything that went wrong in the family. I was the carrier of the entire emotional life of the family including between her and Dad. She held Robin, who is 4 1/2 years younger than I am, up as the one to emulate. My opinion was, right, my baby sister is the one I want to be like? She seemed smart enough but was so ordinary and boring and totally self-centered. On Robin’s part, she accepted Mother’s judgement of me and blamed me for anything and everything wrong in her life until she was in her 30s. There has never been more than a blood bond between us. We never did learn how to be friends.

Mom always talked about how important family was but actually was the one who tore it down by pitting us against each other. She told them not to trust me, not to follow me, not to do what I did. I understand why she did that but the consequence was much broader than I suspect she ever really thought about until it was way to late to repair. In the end, a couple of years or so before she died we were talking about problems she was having with Robin and her husband who were supposed to be caring for her but weren’t. I was telling her what I was trying to put in place to protect and take care of her. She said to me, “I guess I was wrong about you.” I couldn’t say anything. I was grateful that she had come to that conclusion but it was so late in the game for us. There was relief in it but little joy.

Life-A Work In Progress

I’m attaching it here to TRY to keep the bio in order. It is next to impossible with the existing structure of this web site. This is a repeat of the separate entry in the top menu.

Page 1 of my bio

When I read something I really feel a need to know more about the writer. What biases does the writer travel with? How does she see the world? What loves/hates/frustrations/passions tint his life? So, in that vein I will reveal a bit of me.

I kind of want a space to talk about my history because it has so much to do with what I write. I don’t want this bio to be overwhelming and I am wordy so I’m breaking it into bits, I don’t know how many but some. This one is about the facts of my early life. It isn’t in any depth. That will

I was born in Oakland Calif as an early baby boomer. I am the oldest of the kids. I have sisters only, so no experience in growing up with brothers. My dad was a writer and in my early life there Mother was the classic housewife. She had gone to college with the specific intent of getting her Mrs. and after the war came (on the day they got back from their honeymoon) she became Rosie-the Riveter in LA while Dad was stationed in the Pacific. When Dad returned he started working in San Francisco as they spent the usual period struggling to save for a house. Dad had a degree so didn’t use the GI Bill for college, instead went back to work for the Associated Press, which he’d been “on loan” from, to the army during the war.

Two more daughters later Dad thought San Francisco was boring so asked for a transfer to Washington, DC, where the actions was, and it really was back in 1950. We moved here at the end of 1951. The image of Ossie and Harriet pops to mind. Mother took that for 2 years and had to get out of the house (apartment). There were many causes and I can’t speak to all of them or even the order of importance to her but no matter what mothers were supposed to do in the early 1950s, this Mother was going to work. She hired a maid to take care of us and the apartment. I have a blurry memory of being walked to school for kindergarten but really don’t remember much except the first few days I was in the wrong room and when I left I was sad because the teacher had a parakeet that I liked. I remember taking my kitten to school for show and tell, and naps, and liking school. I never outgrew naps or kittens or liking school. I suppose that is how I got to be an elementary school teacher. Or maybe not.

Mother had taught us to read as small children and she got into this battle with the principal at our school because the wisdom then was to leave teaching to the teachers. The other thing was that the school was taking it on itself to place us in special instruction for speech and I’m sure I was seeing a school psychologist. I suspect they thought I was being abused. I recall in 3rd grade being given anatomically correct dolls to play with. I am guessing the results of that was really why Mom pulled us out of public school and put us in parochial school. I went to a child psychiatrist about that time. At some point, I don’t recall how long I went to see him, the doctor had a conference with my parents. Mother was less than tolerant of opinions that she didn’t like, it didn’t matter who held them or how expert they were. That was the last time I saw him. Mother diverted the shrink money to my horseback riding lessons.

I come at life and faith through a lens of need. I was a lonely child, over weight, disliked by my mother, undefended as far as I knew by my her. I grew up saying I didn’t understand what the problem was. I was a nice person. Why didn’t kids like me? My mother told me it was because I was “fat” and bossy. Well, yea, and I also felt I was right. I usually was, which made me less than popular. I was in fact a rather classic ADHD kid. I was constantly on the move, jiggling and bouncing, talking non-stop and I was a bossy know-it-all. I suspect that was the core of the conflict with my mother when I was very small. She had no idea what to do with a girl who didn’t want to be frilly and dainty. No young girl was allowed opinions, and you didn’t disagree with your mother. I don’t think she ever imagined having to pull her daughter out of trees, yell about keeping shoes and clothes on, worry how it looked when all her daughter would wear was jeans and shorts. Were girls supposed to live on their bikes? I didn’t give her any options, I was doing what I was doing and I didn’t like her so I didn’t want to do what she told me. One of my earliest memories was a conversation with my father where he is telling me I have to do what Mother says. My response was she was mean and I didn’t want to do what she told me. I never really changed my mind and after while it became a reflex to resist her.

My dad was my savior and idol. He loved me as I was and that made it bearable even if it was more confusing. I was his first child and it was clear I was the apple of his eye as a small child. It was very important that my dad was there. I have no idea if I would have survived without his love and faith in me. I suspect he felt a bit adrift with all the females in his life. My mother was a hard woman to live with a lot of the time but I think basically they loved one another. They were a private couple, even from us. There was little hugging only the briefest peck between them in front of us. But there was lots of hugs and kisses between us and them, especially with Dad. We would throw ourselves at him to hug him and kiss him. We gave each other kisses good bye and even hello. But on reflection neither of them shared a lot of their lives with us, especially Mother. Dad was more open, talking about his childhood and war experiences. Mother talked a little but I learned more in one trip with her to Memphis for her 50th high school reunion than in all the years before. By that time we had reached a point of wanting to make things better between us.

Now my 50th reunion is this year. How strange to think of that. I’ve had next to no contact with any of Mom’s family since that trip in 1988. I never heard from them when Mom died a few years ago. Maybe they didn’t know at the time as I had no way to contact them. They had Mom’s address but they didn’t use it. When Dad died his brother and 2 cousins came for the funeral and stayed with us for a few days. The aloofness of Mom’s family kind of reflects the difference between Mom and Dad. We grew up without extended family. We are all the family we have.

We grew up in Maryland, for the first 10-11 years we lived in a townhouse style apartment. When I was in high school we bought a house and when I think of growing up it is more of living in that house than the years in the apartment. I had what I thought was normal childhood. Besides the running battle between Mother and me there was school. At first the nuns were intimidating but quickly became a focal point for me. I watched the way they talked quietly together. The way they put their hands up their sleeves when they were standing around. I wondered what the convent was like. I wondered how they became teachers, was it the same as the lay teachers? I wasn’t popular but I did have friends, the girls I hung out with at recess. I had one friend in 4th grade but she didn’t last much past that. There was something so alien about me that I couldn’t have real friends. But on the other hand I wouldn’t be picked on. I was big, 2nd tallest in our class, and I was a good 20 pounds over weight. I didn’t take any shit. I had no compunction about telling obnoxious boys what to do. I could face almost any of them down. They gave up messing with me because I mostly ignored them and if I wasn’t they would back down. It wasn’t worth the risk I’d get really mad about something.

bio–Touching

I’ve grown into kind a touchy-feely type. I love hugs and to touch people as we talk if I feel they are open to it. I grew up in a family full of hugs. My expanded joy might have evolved from two places. One is from being an elementary school teacher. The rule is not to touch kids. I do it all the time. For too many that is the only loving contact they have with an adult, a touch on the shoulder or head from a teacher. Any child who asks me not to touch them, I don’t do it or at least try to remember not to. I really love the ones who run up to me and throw themselves at me, trusting my hug will keep them safe. I also need to touch these children I am so heart connected to. The other place that has opened me to allowing touch to be important instead of threatening is from the lgbt Quaker community I’ve belonged to for better than 35 years.

At first the tendency was to look around and see who would see you walking into the gay meeting, just so you could keep score of who knew. A sense of being under threat pushes people together. You cling to each other. If you want to assure your group forms a strong bond, have them persecuted.  A subculture grows around the code words and key signs of membership. The campy humor, hankies, chains, special jewelry, haircuts, the touching and hugging, the leaning towards each other. The deep need for human contact we all had could be addressed in this subculture of ours where we could touch each other. We supported each other with more than words. It seemed we were aways so close to tears, so vulnerable, so tense and often downright scared. That there were people around us whom we trusted to hug us, touch us, hold our hands, listen, confident the confusion and grief were understood and often shared kept us mostly sane. I came to understand the critical nature of touch. Even those who reject it do so out of fear, not out of any real desire to be untouched. I usually keep the offer open. Sometimes I try again. So, I touch children and I’ve grown brave about touching adults as well.

As I’ve come to appreciate the physical contact with people I start out I barely knowing, I’ve seen how it has deepened both my understanding of them and my desire to know them. Hugs and touching can be like prayers. They can be a thank you, a WOW, you’re great, or a moment of peace and grace folding over you all. I don’t hug people just a little, unless I’m not comfortable with the hug. I hug like I mean it with my whole heart. The heart in the hug speeds up healing and encourages our connections. It makes us less afraid.

Day By Day

A Few Notes:

♥ Photo above by Ken Arni, I’ll try to credit photos I use and will never use them for anything but this blog and remove them if asked. Contact me if you see something I need to change.

♥ Well, I found out that making my poetry public on this web site makes it essentially ineligible for publication. I’m not sure I want to do that. I may have grandiose hopes but part of the thought in posting all of it was to get it exposed so that I might get a wider readership. If I find out that the information I got is wrong and that isn’t a problem I’ll make everything public.

♥  I won’t change the blog posts unless there is a factual error and since most of this is my opinion there is no need to change them. As I change my mind I’ll write new posts. The biography won’t change here but I might put up new stuff about the same thing as my views grow.

If anyone knows a good on-line poetry site where I might be able to have my stuff critiqued honestly I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know. jspinner@outlook.com

THANK YOU for reading what I write.

Joan

bio–Do You Want to Save Those Changes?

I’ve been struggling with this web site trying to make my posts show up the way I want them to. Thank goodness they have a feature of saving past revisions so that when I lose a post I can go back and get it. That was one of the first things I learned how to do because I overwrote an entire blog post early on. I saw something on Facebook the other day like, Do You Want To Save the Changes? My first thought was of this struggle. Then I got to thinking of it sort of like The Path Not Taken by Robert Frost.

In the poem Frost talks about the idea that he might be able to come back and explore the path he didn’t take, then acknowledges it most likely wouldn’t happen. In science fiction the idea of going back and changing something would lead to a whole different world. Anyone who’s seen Back To The Future knows the theme. There are a couple of decisions I made early on that I wish I knew what would have happened if I’d simply been more patient. I can’t project very far down that speculative road but I have memories of making those choices and of the branch that was the consequence of each of them. As we live in a linear 4th dimension and it is a one way street, we live on auto-save and no back-ups so we can’t even see the nexus points. We only think we know what some of them were.

One is when I was 18 my dad, who worked for the Associated Press in DC, got me a summer job working as a runner in the Capitol. Before faxes, computers, and cell phones young people were used to run pieces of paper and cups of coffee to those who worked in the building or between office buildings. The job didn’t start for several weeks after school let out and I wanted to start making money right away so I went off and took a job in a store as a clerk. Dad gave my job to my sister, who wasn’t so impatient and to this day it is one of her favorite memories.

I don’t begrudge her, I look back at myself, as most people must, with frustration at my impulsiveness and impatience. The reason that job was so good for me was that even in high school I was very politically active. One other reasons for my regret is that I let my father down. He had been excited that I’d be working there and it disappointed him that I wouldn’t wait. I can’t recall much about the decision making process, I just remember the results. It turned out to not be a very good summer for me. I learned that retail clerking wasn’t a very rewarding or well paid job. So I think of that summer with disappointment with myself. I wonder if I had taken that Capitol job if I would have made a different decision and gone to law school as I had thought I might. Like I said I can’t see around the bend right there in that path.

The other decision that was so seminal was a request a 17 year young man made of me. He wanted to go to this Quaker gathering of gay and lesbian Friends that was happening in DC in Feb. I didn’t know about it but, with some hesitation agreed to take him. It changed everything for me. If I had let my fear of being seen there keep me from going literally everything in my life today would be different. That simple yes, was all it took.
As a direct result of that decision I made friends and connection to the gay community and to the wider Quaker world that were and are the most profound of my life.

Yea, I’d like to un-save some changes. But I like where I am today and to change anything, including having more love in my life early on, would leave me somewhere else. I wonder how many people are as satisfied with their lives as I am mine.

b–In That Mood

So America has officially been recognized as an oligarchy in several studies, for-profit prisons are creating a need for themselves at the cost of young black mens’ lives, racism is alive and well in the streets, school, and jails, the public schools in this country are being intentionally and systematically destroyed, there are persistent and intense attacks on the financial security of all segments of the middle class, the right wants to dismantle the health care system at all levels that are not privately insured, cities and states are broke from trying to fill the gaps left as the federal government withdraws support from its traditional roles. That is just one sentence of the things bothering me very deeply.

My mother was very politically active until she moved out of the DC area. She was in her 70s then and decided that the world was going to hell at too fast a clip and there wasn’t a thing she had been able to do to derail that trip in her 40 years of rather intense efforts. She became very disillusioned but I am not quite sure exactly what bothered her because by then we had come to terms with the fact that the two of us couldn’t discuss politics with each other. She just couldn’t accept that I didn’t agree with her point of view. She would call me all kinds of stupid, fool, dupe, and ignorant. Who wants to hear that?

I think that is a bit of what has happened to the national debate over most things. We talk with those who agree with our opinion and avoid arguing with those who don’t because we have all come to believe that there is no possibility of rationally discussing anything with the other side. I have seen several studies recently that talk about why we are so polarized and why it will probably get worse. I hope the conclusions are wrong. But, in the mean time it really does get worse because we won’t even try out of fear.

I have been reading Anne Lamot’s work and others who are optimistic and find grace and solace in the small things. I think I’m so burdened by the world that I need a break from it. I’ve stopped listening to the news except the headlines just to avoid knowing how many new lives have been taken by Islamic terrorists, ISAL or Boco Haram, or how many children stolen by The Christian terrorist, the Lord’s Resistance Army. I’m sick of the 60 year stalemate in Israel and don’t want to hear a peep out of the morons in DC who just support the oligarchy or some personal agenda instead of caring about this country as a whole.

I’ve been reading Anne Lamot’s work because it gives me hope. I read other writers and will follow links to pieces that give me hope even if it is that I can cook rice with less calories. There is good news. We really do do good things for each other and ourselves.

So I’m hunkering down in my home space of my house and my Friends meeting. Those are what  I have. I’m pretty comfortable in both spaces. It is like so many things, if you leave malleable things there long enough they will conform to the shape of their containers. I love my meeting. I love the people and every time I see one of their beloved faces I feel like I shine a little brighter, like the moon off the sun. Truly, there is nothing like a Quaker meeting that has been around long enough for some members to see it as home, that place where they have to let you in. Like old friends, conversations pick up where they left off. We have a knitting circle where we solve all the problems of love and life. We lean forward to hear each other. Little is as affirming as that. I lead a discussion this past weekend and the lifting up about it is so rare. Even if at some level I did an awful job, they tell me it is exactly what was needed and that is exactly what I need. I don’t have to feel such a failure about voting rights, ISIL, anti-vac people, schools or any of that. My family leaned towards me.

b–Making Yourself Crazy

I believe each of us has favorite ways to make ourselves crazy. You know that stuff when you sit there thinking about all the stuff that has, will, might, or is happening. Sometime it is worrying about how we will survive if terrorists shut down the water supply, where can we save enough water that won’t go bad on you? Could we fill the bathtub or would we just waste it because the dogs got into it or would algae take over. We could use it to flush the toilet once it got grotty enough. Or should you use Grecian Formula for Women or will it take out too much gray, some looks nice but how much makes you look old? I wonder how much that costs. Maybe it’s too late as I haven’t seen a real brown hair on my head for 10 years at least. Then there is the issue of the dog who has taken to eating his food bowls or at least the rubber, non-slid coating from the bottom. Will the bowl now turn over or will the plastic make him throw up after I just get out of the shower and now have to clean it up? The blessing is none of these things has happened yet.

It seems my craziness has a mean streak. I’m pretty fed up with this neighborhood in general. What started me this morning was being unreasonably pleased that the trash men didn’t pick up the trash across the street. I don’t know why I haven’t gone and told them what the problem is but I haven’t. They have lived in that house for like 2 months and can’t figure out that the trash they put in the recycling bin isn’t going to be picked up by the trash men. They also can’t figure out the recycling men won’t take the trash in the recycling bin. I’m waiting to see how long it takes them to figure this out. I wonder what conversations others on the street have about this. Do they watch the trash men and smile as they pass by the way we do? Do they have the same guilty feeling for being such a poor neighbor as to not tell them? But they must all kind of wonder like I do, how long will it take them to figure it out?

My newest craziness is moving. What joy! Here is an cornucopia of things to fantasize about. Now, mind you, as we move forward in this adventure the sources for things to make me crazy kind of diminish but so far we haven’t even seen a house so there are boundless things to go crazy about. What if there is the steep driveway, will it be possible to put in steps with a hand rail so I don’t have to drive to the bottom of the drive way just to cross the street? I want a bay window. Do I want curtains or should I hang plants as a visual barrier, what if there isn’t enough light but I want plants? I so want a good exposure for the the orchids. See, I’m having a ball.

I can’t even decide on a realtor, how am I going to make other decisions. What if the realtor doesn’t really know the area we want to move into? What if he doesn’t find the houses fast enough and we keep losing out because we don’t know about them? What if we chose one and find a better one? How do we know if they are good? How upset will I be when we don’t get the first house I want? What if we don’t bid high enough, can we try again?

And the loan; Word of Warning: DON’T CONTACT QUICKEN they will drive you even crazier. Seriously, we got 2, TWO letters from them just today after I told them last week to leave us alone. Every time the phone rings my hair stands on end that it is them, AmVets or the cleaning service which I used last year who won’t leave me alone despite several demands that they do so. I have had to learn to desensitize myself to being rude and just hang up on them. I don’t want to listen to all 6 rings we have the phone set to so I have time to get to it before the answering machine picks up. I just pick up the receiver and drop it back down now.

I used to want to do that to my mother at times but do you what happens when you do that to your mother? You’d better have a good story about how that happened. So now I make up stories to tell her when I might have done it but she passed away over 10 years ago so it didn’t happen. I’m still trying to develop an approach to the “unavailable” calls. So far I just wait to see who it is but that makes me crazy. Isn’t there some way to set the phone to go straight to the answering machine when the caller ID doesn’t have an ID? How can they not have invented that yet? Who could I contact to invent that? I’ll have to google that.

I have a friend who is better at making herself crazy than anyone I know. She got on a spiritual kick some time back. Now there is a real cornucopia of things to go crazy over and there is no cure. You never get real answers to any of the stuff you can worry about. Her biggest thing is worrying over if the bible is true. What if Mary was a virgin, which I keep pointing out to her wasn’t even a thing until about 400 years after she died. I love listening to her. She makes me feel like a novice at obscure concerns. It is quite a blessing to realize you aren’t the biggest crazy out here. She got this puppy about 4 years ago. She said she wanted a little dog that could sit in her lap, which seemed like a reasonable plan as she lives in an efficiency. She called me to come meet her new puppy. I asked her what breed it was and she was unsure. She said the pound told her it was probably some kind of Chow cross as it had a black tongue. I’m already dubious about this critter. I get there and this thing has paws the size of dinner plates. I just coo that he is sooooo cute. I don’t tell her anything about the giant this puppy could be. Now he’s like 100 pounds! He’s a pony. And I need special clothes that repel dog hair for my visits.

My wife makes me crazy. I can’t imagine living with someone and them not making you crazy. I’ve lived with men and I’ve lived with women. They all make me crazy. I had to chose which crazy was less terminal or likely to lead to criminal behavior. Men usually need nannies. They can’t do basic procedural stuff like get undressed and put their things away. In fact the only things they can put away are the ones they really don’t want you to put away for them. Women generally put their things away or at least shove them under the bed to get them out of the way. Men don’t care, they can step on things without falling better than women can.

My wife generally puts things away but she opens every drawer, every door, and every cabinet when she walks into a room. I don’t know why. I’ve been asking her for almost 30 years what she was looking for. So far she hasn’t remembered. I just walk into any room she is in or has been in and close all inappropriately open things. Sometimes it annoys my friends when I do it in their homes.

I can go on endlessly about how computers make me crazy. I gave up watching TV, well first I gave up on the DVD player, then the VCR, then the TV. It took half an hour just to get the picture and sound to work simultaneously on the DVD player. It was kind of frustrating to watch half a video and then get the sound working. This originally took place when we were trying to watch Lord of the Rings. By the time Harry Potter came out, or maybe it was the other way around, we admitted defeat and had gone to watching DVDs on the computer. Usually we could get that to work. Then I gave up on the VCR because it began to eat tapes and we didn’t see buying a new VCR. Then we got this new box for the FIOS. FIOS has kind of defeated us. Now we just use FIOS for the computer. The TV is collecting dust behind some of the boxes that are half packed. I’ve given up trying to watch anything I can’t get on Amazon Prime.

I’m reasonably functional. No advise needed, mostly don’t mess with the things that make me crazy. Most of them make me perfectly happy eventually, after I get over being crazy about it.

b–Being brave

3/3/15  (clearly I can’t decide if this is a journal, blog or diary)
I asked Facebook friends if they would read what is here and give me some feedback. That was hard because it is putting myself out there and maybe no one cares. I did get 3 replies. I have one friend who had read this yesterday but feedback seems hard for most. One of my paddling friends said sweet things but she hadn’t had a chance to really read it. I kind of feel a need for hand holding. I hope it continues to be good. It would be so helpful if they could points to what works or doesn’t.

3/6/15 I’m listening to Anne Lamott and she talks about the way she developed her particular writer’s voice. The more I hear of her, the more similarities it seems there are in our histories. It is astounding. She said that when she was a girl in the 50s she felt that the world she lived in was “kind of heartbreaking” for people, kids and animals. She took things very seriously, she was bullied for being strange looking and grieved for the world. The grief, sadness, and distress were “unattractive” to her family and you weren’t supposed to have these feelings that weren’t “charming” so she got sent to her room a lot. She was “shamed” into becoming this more adorable person and ended up doing a lot of drinking and drugs early in her life to fit into the skinny jeans the world wanted her to model. In response to the pressure to fit in she developed this writing style in her teens of someone whom everyone loved and wanted her to be. As a writer her task has to been to break through to where her real voice is, who she really is beyond that person others want her to be. So all the anger, and hurt, hopelessness, and rage have returned right there to her sleeves. The outcome of our similarities seems so very, very different until I recall that we really are only about 2% different genetically anyway, what can I expect?

She talks about the necessity of writing because it is her gift and she has a debt of honor. I don’t relate to how she describes herself in  a lot of ways so her actual writing is what really moves me. Writing is something I like to do and am relatively good at. I probably feel more comfortable with my writing because I’ve never really been edited. No one seems to like the bones of my writing enough to put time into helping me make it better. That uncertainty is where the bravery comes in. Is it that I have written so much it is just too hard to pick an chose? Is it so weak that it would be better to just start over with the basic idea? I suppose a writing class might be a place to go but in looking for one they all seems to be about writing fiction. Is that where I should go to learn the writing  craft? How do you learn to write nonfiction, maybe it is fiction I need to learn to write. I will freely admit I can’t do dialogue, it is fake and stilted when I try it, even when writing down real conversations, it feels fake. So, do I give into my doubt about the fiction and not do it? Where can I take what is essentially a blogging/journaling style? Everyone seems to be trying it and what about an audience? Who would I want to give this to and why would I expect them to accept it?

For me to ask others to read what I write there has to be a point to each thing. What is the point? In talking with others I’m known for asking them to tell me what the point is they are trying to make. Sometimes I’m polite about it sometimes I just blurt it out so it is only fair I do that to myself if I’m asking someone to spend their time with me. I need to sit with this a while.

I know I want to tell the story of what happened in my life. I want to justify my failures and be celebrated for my successes against so many odds. I want to compare the today me with the last year me. I think I’ve grown and I want to see it. I’m afraid to see that maybe I’m not as great as I think I am or not as nice as I want to be seen as. I know my writing it to communicate myself to others and the very idea that someone would think I’m trivial or, oh my god, self-centered is kind of shattering but I’d still like to hear useful things even though the criticism is about those fearful bits.

She is right, writing is about yourself. It is self-indulgent, self-centered, and egoistic. If it isn’t, it isn’t true. The reason I want to write is to explore those parts in me. I don’t know any other way to do that. I want to affirm what I think is true, have it challenged, have it revealed and pealed away. I want to use the process to see the procession of grace in my life and how those unearned gifts move me through to a mindful place where I am more and more aware of how none of us is really in control but karma is in play. I want to tell the stories that remind me of how lovely and awful my life has been, how I’ve had angels on my shoulders who let me make awful messes and then cleaned up behind me. There is no way that some of the things that happened to me ended with such joy and satisfaction from anything I thought to do. I want to explore how that happened.

I’m trying to be brave out of hope and need.