Small Animals and Cookies

To me, my life seems rather mundane. I work. I love my cats. I hug my husband. I read, I write. I take pictures. I write some more. I go shopping. I cook. Sometimes I get to travel, sometimes I take more pictures of interesting things. I talk with my friends, I drop in to say hello, and invite them to sit in the hot tub and talk about philosophical ideas, while looking at the brilliant stars. It seems, well, kind of boring.

I do other things, don’t get me wrong. I am a Freemason and have been for 25 years. I have all the degrees. Yes, all of them. That in itself shocks me, but I’ll continue. I travel for that love of Freemasonry, and I help people, hopefully, on their Masonic journey. Much of my writing comes and goes through a Masonic lens. I love to cook and play in the kitchen, and I like to grow herbs and play with making things from them. Music is always high on my likes and listen-tos, as is art of all kinds. A symphony or a ballet? Yes. An art museum or a very cool art opening? Heck, yes. I believe in championing the arts and artists. I am blessed with original works from very talented painters an photographers. I am who I am and I kinda like it. No, I do like it. As Oscar said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

I’m coming off a year of weirdness. Caretaker and handling the aftermath of a parental death, a new home, a new job (same company…), and yes, the kicker, menopause. Why say it? So every one of you can either sympathize or groan (I hear you, men. Sympathy for the spouse is acceptable.) No one is more aware of the weirdness and ugliness that can come from that hormonal shift than the woman going through it. Sometimes, it’s a body betraying me. What I knew to be true has fled. Things hurt. Things take longer to do and to heal. I forget the weirdest things. Sometimes, that forgetfulness is helpful in terribly awkward situations. I have no problem admitting I have no idea what someone is talking about now. At least in a personal situation. I care less about the highs and lows that emotions can bring. I get angry a LOT less. A. Lot.

Then, there are the cat videos. And stories of animal rescues. Oh, yes. I can sit for an hour looking at how the human beings of the planet, because it’s everywhere, can be cruel and heartless to creatures that offer them nothing except love. The last one, a dog shot in the face and blinded, put me over the top. Why do I watch them? Hell if I know. Hell. If. I. Know. Is that a Maiden-turning-Crone thing? Maybe it’s a Joan Baez thing – get the hell out and change the world before you can’t any more thing. What I do know is that I do not want to be associated with anyone who has that kind of cruelty. If you can be cruel to something that unconditionally loves you, how do you treat those who might actually, and most probably will, hurt you? I don’t want a life without animals. Torturing myself to watch these rescue videos… I think it keeps me from having my head in the sand about how people can really be.

The world continues and this year is now fraught with family sickness, dealing with trustee and social security issues, that new job growing into a monster, changes in travel, and figuring out how to keep sane in a world that wants anything but your sanity. I am blessed and tired and hopelessly sad at animal videos. At least I’m alive – right?

For a further escape, the new freak is cooking videos. Tasty. Kitchen Stories. It doesn’t matter where they come from. If I feel like I want to run away, I learn how to bake a new type of cookie. Can I eat them? Hell no. Because, you know, aging and blood sugar boojoo, But, I can make 12 dozen for Christmas for friends. Oh, and there are some very good videos out there. Talk about extremes. Learn a life lesson about humanity or cook for it. One of the two, bring it on. I can take it. Killer chicken jalapeño soup or chicken soup for the soul. Matzo balls, no charge.

Please tell me that the world is as weird or normal as me.

Random Musings

The coffee house music was playing in the background as I walked across the wide planked, oak floors to slump into a worn wooden chair. Newspapers littered the table, detritus of another morning in another life, a parallel human universe that intersected with black words and crossword puzzles. I imagined a man sitting here, reading glasses pushed up over his short, gray hair, leaning back, black pen in his teeth, as he contemplated the next word. White tee shirt over cargo shorts, lean tanned legs, and middle-aged arms. He’s thoughtful. He gets up quickly, startles his neighbors, tosses the papers into a pile on the table and leaves. Leaving behind the intersection for me to stumble upon. The shop is quiet, save for the music droning in the background. I am sad, for a brief moment, that it wasn’t me that could stop for a moment and fill in that crossword puzzle. That is wasn’t me that breathed in the slowness of the morning air, relaxed with a deep sigh into the chair, sipping my coffee, waiting for the day to be on. The sadness is more than that. It’s almost as if I could place myself in this man’s place, for as I said, I imagine him to be a man. I can sit here and be him, and once transported back to my own place and time, I am sad for having lost the being of him.

Its in moments like this that I feel like something is passing me by. Another life that was once mine or could have been mine, like a railroad track veering off toward the right, a spur of steel and wood that was one of my destinies slipping into a ravine, never seen again. A surge of sleepiness takes me into its hands, cradling my sorrow with small, fluffy clouds of ennui. I do realize that I am doing what I am is what I have made myself, and it’s far from something to be sad about. There’s a kind of disjointedness that takes over from the heart when the head kicks in. They reach for each other, yet never quite touch, but straining as each insistent organ send out tendrils desperate to interlace.

The afternoon brings a plane flight home. As we circle over the smaller and smaller landscape, I see the place I grew up, the places I envision when day dreaming about what might have been. The air strip seems too small to carry the vastness of what this plane means. I notice a single truck, cargo style, driving down the highway toward the bridge toll. I see where he’s going, I have been there at 10000 feet. I think down to that driver and wonder, who is in the cab? Does he have a passenger? What music is playing, what is he seeing in front of him that I cannot? What have I seen that he cannot? So many intersecting lives, from on the ground to up in the air, we observe and thus, we effect. I wonder, would my view from up here really change the course of someone down there? Am I really in the right place at the right time, in order to affect the change that needs to happen…there?

I imagine that the driver of that truck is dark haired, dark skinned, listening to streaming Spanish music, his muscular arms and hands gripping the plastic steering wheel and shifting foot to brake, to gas, and to brake again, as he urgently bounces on degraded asphalt in his bid to get across the bridge before evening traffic. He has no passenger. The windows are open, the cool fog-less night of the San Francisco Bay pushing out the smell of stale plastic floor mats. The sun is setting and streams of dust motes flicker golden on the slightly chipped windshield. All this from ten thousand feet. I wonder if I have created that or did it exist somewhere in time captured from memory or dream?

How much do our thoughts create? How wide and how vast does the energy of thought take our world? There’s the argument that there is an objective reality and that anything our thoughts provide in the way of backdrop is just that – window dressing on a world that exists as it is. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps the only reality that we can perceive is that which resides within our minds. Our minds take the sensory input of the world and through a creative process of interpretation based on experience, history, and knowledge we come up with a distinct version of the world that is ours alone. Does that mean it is reality? Perhaps, and perhaps not. What is reality anyway? Maybe this is a topic for another, less-tired moment in my life.

For now, I sip coffee and muse about the universe that is the one I know. I can create all kinds of dramas in my own mind to keep me amused. Maybe like a Twilight Zone episode, someday I’ll find out what I have created. Until then, another Americano, please.

-TDD

A Search for Meaning

I woke up this morning, this early Summer morning, at 5:21am, with the sun beginning to stream through the tall, thin pines in the forest behind the house. No curtains and festooned with three cats, I felt locked into place; prying eyes inside and out. There were no prying eyes outside; backing up to a forest affords us a certain set of “passes” that the urban dweller just cannot get. The moment my eyes open, the cats, with their keen sense of another’s consciousness, let their growing hunger be known. It was time to “rise and shine.”

I stumbled into the bathroom and get my glasses, herded the cats toward the kitchen with promises of love and kibble, and thought, do I really want to make coffee? The spouse is away and I gazed at the coffee leftovers from yesterday. It’ll do. I’m up, but inherently lazy this morning. I had to write a speech for an upcoming event, send a few emails, and do the morning necessaries. I glanced at the open library, sitting there, begging. I can’t, I thought. I have things to do.

Whenever the spouse is away, I am very quiet. I try to figure out what I want. What music should I play? Bath or shower? Do I want to eat breakfast or just wait for an early lunch? To game or to read? To write or to walk? It seems like it’s a time of exploration, and most of the time I just end up writing. It’s a fallback love. No, it’s a forever love.

I just wrote another blog on walking in someone else’s shoes. What does it mean to try to find empathy? What does it mean when you find it? Does it mean anything? I’m surrounded here by very smart, dynamic, energetic people with large vision and good hearts. I love my community and my chosen family. We don’t always like what each other does but we certainly enjoy who we are when we are with them. We shape each other to be better people. It’s nice to be older and mature enough to slough off the shackles of societal confines and just be…me.

Sometimes, though, even now or maybe especially now, I wonder who “me” is. I don’t want to be anything other than I am, and I am always questioning who I am. No, that’s not right. I’m not questioning it. I’m digging into it. I’m discovering it. I’m testing it. What do I like? What don’t I like? What is good for me and what isn’t? Job, family, friends, food, exercise. There’s a lot to think about and some of it doesn’t need thinking. Some of it just needs being. Some of it shouldn’t even be a question.

Sipping my warmed-up-leftover coffee, I flip through a recent article on global warming. Climate change. I think back to the conversation a group of us recently had on climate change. It was a civil conversation, no name calling, nothing divisive. People stated what they had read about (which was indefinable at best) and what they deduced. It’s difficult to have an opinion on science. Science is, well, science. There were lots of good pieces on why it’s happening and how some of it may *not* be human induced. Some of it may. It’s hard to take all the factors into account. When asked how I thought, I tentatively raised my hand on one side. I wondered if I could have this conversation with all my friends and family. Probably not. I am afraid to be me sometimes in the presence of judgment. I’m not as strong as I appear at times.

We tend to think of the meaning of life in terms of our deaths. How will it be when it all ends for us? What traps did we live in and how do we know what is right, wrong, or the purpose? Should we blindly put our heads down and plunge forward with “work,” or do we have a reason behind our work? Is it important that we know? Will we know once we’re done? Maybe our consciousness will just blend with everything else, and we’ll become part of a mass network of consciousness strung out across the stars. Then, will the meaning of our lives really matter?

When I think back on life, my life in terms of, well, my life, I think about all that I’ve done. It’s thin. There’s a lot of should in my silent, mental vocabulary. There’s a lot of how come I don’t have the energy to do that, or shouldn’t I be better at that now, or why don’t I already have that skill mastered. I feel failure often. I listen to others and think how wonderfully smart they are, how skilled a living, how joyous, how full of energy and ideas. Perhaps I spend far too much time alone. I have a secret thought, sometimes, and that is that I’m not fully baked yet. I’m not done being ready for whatever I’m supposed to be doing. That seems weird but there it is. I’m voicing it for the first time, and maybe the last. So, then, what do I need to do? What is the meaning behind me? And what if I’m wrong?

This all sounds dangerously nihilistic. I don’t think so. I think that we determine our lives, and if we don’t, the circumstances of our existence will. How we lived is our life’s meaning, even if we disregard it as important or even relevant. That is, in the end, we will have lived something and someone will review that something with a critical eye, good or bad, and learn something from it. A friend. A family member. Maybe this is why we have funerals and wakes; they teach us to learn something from everyone. The more people attending, the more education we’ve provided to a thirsty world.

We Americans live in a very thin society; the need to fill ourselves with things, experiences, and feelings. The drive to achieve success, defined by some 94-page magazine or celebrity TV show. The ability to achieve success with a rant and rage on Facebook or create an app to solve a perceived problem. We send money to organizations to do the work we’re unwilling to do – we don’t have time, we’re exhausted from commuting or families, no time for community or fraternity. We are children who get upset that someone took our toys and then move on to the next incident. The strong prey on our inability to focus. We’re an ADHD country. I don’t know what we are as a society but I do know that finding true meaning in all of this is difficult. True community. True work. True progress. These latter are slow, plodding, eventually successful but they take patience. I think it takes fewer of us, too. We can’t make change nationally; we can’t make change by ourselves. Small, concentrated groups make change. It seems we can only make change, and perhaps find meaning, in our smaller communities and states. Therein lies a greater identity. In the small, we find greatness.

I stare out the back window of the house, across the stairs, to the two bird feeders, hanging from iron rods near some trees. I sip my coffee and hug the cat that has climbed up onto my shoulder, and is now purring contentedly. My mind wanders across the view. A squirrel is hanging, upside down, from the feeder, eating happily. A raven, beneath him on the ground, is scooping up the dregs. The sun is bright in the east, above the hills, and creates a crisp view across the dark brown floor of the forest. Nature has no need for meaning; it simply is. Maybe I start there, with my community and family, and just remember that I can just be whatever I am at that moment, and perhaps that is meaning enough.

-TDD

Welcome Back, Spring

It was about this time last year that the first news of my father’s illness came to me. I was in a workshop, semi-secluded, when the call came from my sister that Dad was in ER. We were days away from a certificate of occupancy on The Vicarage, coordinating a move from a storage unit and a house, three cats, two cars, and a mountain of little things to finish before we could hang a hanger. I raced frantically toward the hospital, 90 minutes from the workshop to find out that our lives would be completely altered henceforward.

From then onward, until he passed 11 weeks later, it was a steady stream of days on the road, staying at his house, taking care of cats, Dad, bills, finances, and a whirlwind of legal and ethical and financial questions that I wasn’t at all sure of. I don’t think that I’ve seen anyone, short of Doyle’s mother Anna Marie, go to that long home with affairs in any sort of order. I don’t think my father’s affairs were a mess – but still… finding his first divorce certificate (he was married to a woman ten years before mom?) buried in his enlistment and discharge military papers was a bit of a shock. I knew he was in the Navy but also the Air Force? And why he never signed up for Veteran’s Benefits, I may never know. Not really. I digress. The physical stuff is, for the most part, finished. A few loose ends.

But here we are, a year from the onset, and I struggle a lot more inwardly now, with my own mortality. You are flooded with offers of grief assistance and counseling when a loved one passes, especially if there was hospice care. Quite honestly, I don’t think you need it then. I think the day to day shouldering of dealing with the messy materialism consumes you. It’s easy to push everything aside until you’ve dotted the last I and crossed the last T. Push. Push. Push. Until, really, you slow down and start thinking about your own mortality. You start to think about how your body is failing you, not doing what it used to do, or that it’s maybe something wrong with you, you’d better check it out. You think about the pain and suffering you saw and start applying it to your own short remaining years on earth. It’s not that I dread death. It’s the dying part that is messy. I think the grief counseling is something you should do six months after a loved one dies, not right then. I don’t need to be pulled off a cliff and I’m not sure that most people do. I need to be saved from the quicksand of my own mind later on.

I recently attended that same workshop again, with people that I love and cherish. There’s a lot of talk about mortal existence and how we live our life. How we live our life. How we think about our day to day, the choices that we make, the equality that we all have, the toleration for others and dealing with the oppressors of freedom and truth. We talk about things far greater than ourselves and how we, as small specks of humanity can help further the progress of humanity. Working on perfecting humanity. These are a lot of words to think about, when you think about death and dying, and how short our lives here really are.

It’s also hard to think about those things when your ankle hurts or you sprained your wrist doing the dishes, or maybe when you wake up from a bad dream, something you can never remember from your youth. It’s easy to get caught up in the physical and emotional pain of living. I think this is how most of the world works, living day to day, thought to thought with the ideas never really rising above the surface for a bit of fresh air. These workshops remind me that there is more, and there are better goals we can all achieve. If I can get out of my own way. The physical pain is generally temporary. The angst of living an unlived life, I think, is probably far greater. I don’t want to be that person. I used to say I don’t want to regret anything when I die. I’ve learned that we will all regret something. It’s about minimizing those regrets that seems most important. Have I done all in my power to make the world a better place? Even if I have to take Advil to do it?

Spring seems like the perfect time to pull yourself out of the mire of a year’s worth of mourning. A year’s worth of inward focus on pain and suffering. It seems like it’s time to take a little joy from the flowing Bleeding Hearts or the small bit of green that shows on my hydrangea. I saw a hummingbird for the first time today, whizzing past my window to land on our feeders we just put out. The house is settling, the mourning is settling. Perhaps it’s time I did, too, and just enjoy the warmer days, the beautiful green trees, and the fact that I have the opportunity to wake up and work on the world, aches, pains, and all. Take the days while they are here, because the Night comes when not one of us can continue to work.

NYE is not News

I am laughing at myself. Seriously laughing. I bugged my lovely spouse to put together my new incline trainer because, come the new year, it’s time to work it. News flash: the new year isn’t news. It’s the same as every other day of the year, with the slim exception that the majority of the nation I live in celebrates it as a new beginning, too. It’s a new fiscal quarter, and for some, a new fiscal year. Stores here are open, partially, and stores are closed as well. It’s no different than any other day.

And yet, here we are treating it as if it was a brand new you from yesterday. You all of a sudden have the tools and skills, will power and desires to make your dreams come true. You are a super hero now, all brightness, light, and perfection. Day three rolls around and somehow, you’re actually the same person you just were four days ago, with the exception that you now sign your checks with a new year.

“Downer, Kris.” So much for hope. So much for passion and enthusiasm. So much for a new beginning. I guess this is part Debbie Downer speaking. But… not really,

What I mean is that NOW is the time we should be thinking about how we want to take on the new year, and what commitment we’re really making to the world, ourselves, and the people around us. I just read another blog on “The Best Version of Ourselves,” wherein the author updates her essay each year, about what this year should be to her to achieve the best version of herself. She said she realized that her desire to eat well, sleep enough, and train hard were ends unto themselves; or, at least, she treated them so. What she really figured out was that they were a means to an end, which allowed her to do the things that really made a difference. They were the foundation to that better life to achieve…more.

In other words, we mix up goals for tasks, the pinnacle from the foundation, and the destination for the journey. The goal is to be able to be of service. The tasks to get there are to have a healthy body, mind, spirit, and emotional state. We achieve that goal by ensuring the tasks are complete. Or at least, setup.

That’s what I’m really talking about. I’m taking the time between Christmas and New Years to reset my mind to the goal, not the individual tasks. It is a journey, AND a destination. How am I going to do that? I’ll do it by driving Doyle crazy and cleaning out all the junk food. If it’s there, I will eat it. I’ll do it by getting my butt out of bed 1/2 hour earlier and get downstairs to the new gym – it’s 300 ft away – come on! I’ll do it by making sure I do get enough sleep every night, whenever I travel or when I’m at home. I’ll do it by controlling my blood sugar and exercising my mentality by reading more, and writing even more. Those are the foundations. And you know what? I’m going to stumble. I’m going to sleep in late every once in a while, I’m going to stay up too late talking with Christine, and I will eat that Irish soda bread that I can only get at the Phoenix, once in a while. It’s not about perfection. It’s about striving for that best version of myself. She may not always show up, but she’s there.

I have friends and family to help, I have a neighborhood of lovely people to support me getting out of my house, and I have a lovely spouse who no matter what, is right beside me – whether we’re together or not. The best version of myself can show up this year, and every year, if I let it. It’s not about pain to get there – it’s about the pleasure of finding the right path and dancing along its ups and downs.

The author I noted above has a toast that she and her husband give every year, every New Year’s Eve from the sound of it. I like it. I’m sharing it with you, because maybe you can remind me when I need it.

Here’s to the road behind; may we only have to learn those hard lessons one time. 
Here’s to the road ahead; may we find better versions of ourselves. 
And here’s to this moment, right now, which is perfect in every way… 
To life!

It’s not new, or news – but Happy New Year, just the same.

-TDD

Solstice and Light

After a particularly ugly night of un-sleep, I woke up to a gray morning. It looked how I felt. I was hungry, even though the stomach was still reeling. I sat in a gray scoop chair and looked out the window onto the pine forest and rocky slopes. It is the day after Solstice, and the Light returns. I feel like it’s slowly coming back in my life, too. An intense feeling of relief, gratitude, love, and beauty flooded my being. I felt, feel, truly content.

I wonder at times what happy is. What is “happy?” There’s laughter, and joy, tinged with the sense of mirth. Is that happy? I wonder if happy is this ethereal state that we strive for, in our American culture, where we’re not content until we or the people around us are “happy.” Can we settle for content, or even blessed?

I was thinking about the split personality of the year. On Solstice proper, I was thinking of Cernunnos, the Celtic God of the forest, fertility, the underworld, wealth, animals, and wildlife. Wildlife. I dove into reading about him as I was looking at the Solstice ceremonies performed for thousands of years. The two horns of Cernunnos may depict the two sides of the year, full of darkness or full of light. Involution and Evolution. Doyle walked in while I was thinking about all of this and said, “Did you know that the pause in the amount of light and darkness, that three days at the Winter Solstice, did you know it only occurs in Winter? There’s no visible “stop” in the Summer Solstice. It makes sense if the Summer is about evolving and the Winter is about involving. It’s reflective, soft, contemplative, passive, yin, black. It’s the snow fall and hush of the trees. It’s beauty overwhelming.

This romp through the linguistics of the name Cernunnos took me to Proto-Indo-European language forms, and into Dis Pater, the god of the underworld, where we are spending these three days until the Light returns. Dis Pater is thought to come from Dyeus or Dyeus Phter, the chief deity of the Prot-Indo-Europeans. He was the god of the Daylight Sky, a mirror to what occurred on Earth; the Sky Father. The name is etymologically linked to Jupiter, Apollo, Zeus, Zio, and also known as Akasha. It is most likely the Roman who split Dyeus Phter from its original roots into Sky Father and God of the Underworld. What better way to banish an old religion than to banish it to the darkness?

By the time the Rig Veda was written, Dyeus Phter was already old. It predates written history in thought and form, and it has permeated through so many human cultures that it most likely a faint copy of its original splendor. I think of the Silmarillion when I think of this. I think of the beginning of the light found in the beginning of the world and how, over time, it was a faint copy of the original. The archetype is lost and only a small seed remains of the original light. It’s bright and beautiful and yet, so faded. Perhaps we can only slightly comprehend what the original meaning was. Yes, I think about all these things. I think of what we’ve lost, and what we’ve replaced it with in our culture. It’s the big things that stir in me during Solstice.

I think about being “happy” and laugh. How thin a mindset is that? I think about what we’re becoming, and how to be in this world better than we are. I think these three days of involution are just fine and perfect, if we use them correctly. If I use them correctly. It’s a short window from which to plant the right seed in fertile soil. In Cernunnos’ hand. Today we walk up the road and down, to visit neighbors, to embrace the snowy silence of a forest waiting. It’s waiting for the Light to return, as are we all. Perhaps that is the better question to ask: what is Light? What will I do with the Light that returns and how can I bring it back to our modern age? Perhaps it just starts with me. Perhaps that is all I can do. I will not wish for peace because I think that is futile. I will not wish for happiness because that is fleeting and unsure. I will wish for Light evolving. It seems to me to be in sync with what the Earth is already doing.

-TDD