b–To repeat what every writer probably says

I’ve already learned that I really have to finish what I start at least in the same 24 hours or so because my mind will be somewhere totally different after that. So, I might polish this but it is what it is.

I love language, I love the English language in all its permutations. I love its complexity, its tones and shades. Of all the brushes of art it is the broadest to me. German is a neat language but it is cumbersome. They make new words by stringing old words together or adopting words from other languages. English usually grows from the streets, occasionally adopting something usually encountered in music or from the web. Those words my mother though of as disgusting slang words spread and a few are finally accepted into formal communications, like using the word selfie for a picture taken of yourself. Or the misuse of an existing word like opinionated to mean having a lot of opinions instead of “conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in one’s opinions,” as Google has it still. I will bristle when called that until I’m reassured the user didn’t know its real meaning.

The thing about English is that it is so easy to weave words into the most amazing images. The gradations available in English are limited only by our own linguistic sense. When a word doesn’t exist we can make it without the gargantuan constructions of German. I don’t know how other languages make new words. In this globalized world it seems adoption is so common. But taking language as we used it in our daily lives and reweaving it is so attractive. Rap music is really poetry to music. Listen to the language in it (beeping out the cursing and obscenity) and how words are layered to make more than a picture but a relief sculpture with great depth and detailed where desired.

We play with language. It really does mould our view of the world. Examples from Addicting Info that just popped up on my Facebook:

“Government spending?” No, we’re “investing in America.”
“They’re not ‘entitlements.’  Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment are “earned benefits” that we PAY for.”
“’Gun Control?’ How about “gun safety?”

I really became aware of it when I was reading fairy tales in the German. English really changes the tone. The word choice really matters. I found the children’s stories really scary in German. Some are in English but I was horrified as an American reading what they told children in the 1800s. It has an impact that can last a lifetime. The art of writing to me is to take words and refocus or to extend focus. The narratives we write are to give context to concepts, to explore how our conceptual framework structures our lives. Ultimately I want to answer the question, how do we build a community that supports all of its members in the ways they need? So I write to address all the subsets of that question.

Who are members? What needs can community fill? Where does the individual start and stop and where does the individual fit into a community? Does the community really address everyone’s needs or are there those who don’t belong in that community? If there are those who don’t fit, where do they go and then how do communities with different needs coexist in a global setting? How can we build a world where conflicts don’t become wars? Most conflicts are over relative things like religion, laws, economic systems, scarce resources. Can we move the conversation through changing our point of view? I believe so and I believe that change comes through how we talk about them. Language matters so much. There are so many examples from advertising slogans to the way laws are being made about how we talk about science. Politics is the first and final place where we recognize manipulation. We have called it propaganda. It has to do with who is the good guy and who is the bad, who is taking and who is giving, who is working and who is mooching.

I want to steer clear of overt politics in speaking of language but it is such a rich pot of examples of the use/misuse of language. It is the most typical place you find language used to lead or mislead.


b–Searching for Grace on a Snowy Day

I’m kind of obsessed with grace these days. I am blaming it on Anne Lamott. She makes me think of this all the time as I read her stuff and as I think about the ideas she has shared over the years. I wonder if there are similarly gifted writers who focus on serendipitous gifts. Now I’ve become a seeker, looking for the grace that underpins each day. It is there somewhere if I have the perseverance to search for it.

Looking out the window it takes a bit of a stretch of imagination to see the beauty and gift of ice all over everything. The dripping, cold stuff falling from the sky isn’t rain, isn’t snow, isn’t sleet, isn’t quite anything. I guess the closest thing is slush. Depending on where it hit it becomes. The upper limbs of the bushes and trees are coated with this crystalline coat of heavy ice. I fear the weight will break them. Gutters have ice dripping out of them and the backup of the continued fall may bring them off the houses. The layer of ice on the ground is too terrifying to contemplate. But tomorrow will be school, probably a 2 hour delay because it is supposed to be above freezing all night, which it isn’t now.

I suspect grace is all about perspective. 10 years ago a 2 hour delay of school would have been a blessing to a teacher. 10 years ago a 2 hour delay of school would have been a curse for a parent without someone to take and deliver kids. Usually the bus comes at 6:20 but now you got yourself and them up and have 2 hours to “kill.” Grace might be all of you making a real breakfast together. It might be letting one of the kids read to you. It might be letting them go back to bed and you get to do more on the work due when you get in. How tricky it is to anticipate grace.

At this moment it is not having to make excuses for not going out, not having to say it scares me to drive. Right now we have toilet paper, bread and milk. Now it is feeling secure that even if it isn’t clear tomorrow it will be the next day and I will be with the kids at school, be able to get and buy more toilet paper, bread, and milk. How fortunate I am to live now. How fortunate I live here where all those options are available.

I’m enjoying the pinging of the ice on the window, like a small wind chime. I can write and enjoy the storm without worry. I sometimes lie in my bed at night and listen to rain thinking about living in a cave, a thatched roof home, an animal skin tent and how they lived with rain that seeps into, under, and over just about anything. Even tent camping 10-15 years ago when it rained at least I’d count on the underside of the tent getting wet. How did people live their lives knowing this icy rain would seep into their lives and there was nothing they could do to stay dry or warm? How is this thought not a chance to see grace? Finding the balance between wet and dry, warm and cold really is hard when you haven’t discovered plumbing, home heating, and tile roofs? Now wonder the Romans were so clever. I am glad I waited to be born until I was.

b–A Million Tries

I love writing but I love doing it by hand and so I am the possessor of a sand storm of gritty pieces of paper with words on them. Some I remember and some stack up in the dunes of the forgotten. Typing is something I literally had to be forced to learn. Sometimes my parents were smart and sometimes I was wise enough to actually do what I was told. I’m glad Dad made me learn to type but I’d still rather put pen to paper.

That is kind of odd as I’m a bit of a tech geek. I’m a bit proud of having joined the computer age in the 1980s when I was a graphic artist. I love playing with computers, have had all the electronic thingies since my first transistor radio around age 13 or 14. I have an iPad, had an iPod, I got my first cell phone about 1997, got the 2nd generation of Kindle and that lives with me. But I still rather write with my fountain pen with blue/black ink. It used to be peacock-blue when I was in school but I  gave it up as garish in high school.

I can spend forever daydreaming what I’d say but getting it on paper seems such a struggle. I keep thinking recording it might work but then I think of how long it takes the software to accurately record in writing what you say. I seem to have excuses all over the place. Discipline has always been my tragic flaw. I have all these great ideas and brilliant insights but they flutter off on the breeze of the next best thing. My father used to yell at me when I did something wrong that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. This is really what that expression means, I meant to do it and didn’t get to it. Not that I tired my best and failed, which is how he read it. gosh, now I’m suffering from two intense feelings, grief and frustration. Can I make it a threesome give myself a reason to stop writing?

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott. She is about my age but has one son. He appears in many of her essays. She is considered a Christian writer. I’d like to ask her what she thinks of that label these days. What a trial is to be Christian, with what the right has done with the faith. It isn’t quite as bad as being Muslim but still carries a stigma that makes many cringe. She is someone who makes lemon aid out of all the lemons, even if it takes a lot of processing. I’ve been intrigued by her thoughts on grace. I’ve though about how the Jews have survived for so long and I’ve come to believe the persecution they face is actually the grace that holds them in their god’s hands. I don’t think anyone will persecute us Quakers any time soon, but with as crazy as the world has grown, you can’t count on anything.

Reading Anne’s stuff is helping me to be more aware of grace, to remember even in the fear and loathing I feel over what I see, god is at work and in the end it will be OK. As John Lennon said, It will all be OK in the end. If it isn’t OK, it isn’t the end. I think of what the world might look like on the day I die. That image has dramatically changed since 9-11.

I am so much less hopeful, not because of Muslim extremists but because of extremism. “They” are winning and I won’t be totally surprised if we haven’t totally lost even the illusion of democracy in the country by my last day, not that far in the future. We are giving it away hand over fist. Maybe the right-wing kooks have it right and we need to turn survivalist to survive with any semblance of personal choice and freedom. I’m actually very worried about it. So I write. I write warnings, I write fears, I write actions, I try to inform people and give them the resources to become aware and informed.

This train of though takes me back to something I heard recently, that we are genetically really only 2% different than any other species and if that is true, how different are we humans from each other? We work under the illusion that there are vast differences between the left and the right. When in reality the only difference is how do we get to a shared goal of a right life? If we nit-pick the differences in what the ideal life looks like we can look miles apart, which is what is happening today. It is over the nits and mustard seeds that we are at war. It is over the idea that happiness is a zero-sum game. We somehow got it into our heads that there isn’t enough to go around. We got it into our heads that there isn’t enough god, enough grace, enough joy, and enough comfort for all of us so we have to horde it. Since none of that is true we have to work to change the eyes people use to look at the world.

We need eyes that see the love, forgiveness, respect, equality and all things we have plenty of if we just reach out and share. We have to give it but also to be willing to accept it when it is offered without being begged to. We need to teach a mentality of plenty. A culture built on endless availability of things most valued, love, respect, caring, attention and so on has the ability to be a culture of plenty. That is the opposite of our consumer culture of supply and demand.

We take the 6th grade students to a camp, North Bay, in Elk Neck State Park in MD. They arrive on Mon. and stay until Fri. For many it is their first experience being away from family over night and often the first time in the middle of the woods, on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The kids explore the idea of plenty. It used to be that they could eat as much as they wanted and go back to get more as many times as they liked. What was done was that at the end of the meal ALL the uneaten food was weighed. They looked at how much they had taken and how much they had wasted. What always happened was that the amount of waste fell precipitously once the kids believed there was enough for them. The concept of plenty is that if we trust it is there we can leave it there until it is a time of need and we don’t have to take more than we need because it will be there next time.

That is a lesson we need to teach our children and we so often teach them the opposite. We teach them that only the best looking get loved, only smartest get respected, only the best behaved get rewarded, ONLY some get stuff we all need to have in faithful amounts. I was raised with what I call a poverty mindset. I, to this day, won’t use the last of something without having a back-up, even the tooth paste. There wasn’t enough money to replace the torn dress, the used up crayons, the broken toy. There wasn’t enough attention so get it while you can. I recall being told over and over and over that there wasn’t enough money. That seemed to be the source of all my want. It cost money to be happy because parents didn’t have time, they had to work.

Now so many have come to the point of feeling only their needs and opinions matter that the world is constructed of me and I and not enough and I got more. This world is a place with space for everyone and democracy in the modern sense is everyone. So we are giving it away so that maybe we can have more than someone else because they didn’t do x, y, or z to “earn” a life of plenty. In the long run, we will never see life as enough. We can’t earn what is free.