It’s Elemental

You sit outside in the February chill, crisp clear skies are filled with painful white and blue; the contrast at 7000 feet can be retina-searing. The wind swirls by you quickly, in small puffs as if the glaciers hundreds of miles away were panting from lifting the heavy weight of winter. Spring is slow; the green takes months to emerge and even then, its colors are even tardier. Chill breezes cause our diaphragm to expand, to breathe deeply, and let the freshness fill our blood. Our mind clears a little, we feel lighter, connected to some invisible terrestrial life force.

You open the door to the steaming shower and step inside, cringing at the immediate sting on skin, the itch rising to the surface. Standing with your back to the water, the warmth seeps into your shoulders. Your head, at first feeling the water chill, soon succumbs to its velvet blanket heat. There’s something that loosens the tight body and mind. We feel a slight tingly energy standing in the spray, wishing we could have it surround us more, wrap lovingly like mother’s arms, just… holding us still in timeless comfort. Peace. It soothes us without thought, erasing away demons and letting them circle the drain. Gone.

You shift again.

There’s something oddly fulfilling about taking a walk on bare sand , the slight give of the chill grains as they seep between your toes and scrub off the feel of tight-woven socks. Feet in the mud, soft and silky between toes, almost tickling, and the fresh, loamy scent of water and dirt defying a rain storm. We seem almost afraid of the earth, afraid to let it embrace our bodies. We have a primal dislike for our future home, one speculates. Ash and stone, mud and rock, if we allow ourselves, it helps us feel solid, at peace. Stable. A home. Perhaps a once and future home.

Humans are fascinated with fire. Prometheus’ gift is a blessing to human kind, allowing us warmth and food to last throughout the most extreme winters. The scent of sulfur when the match strikes, and we anticipate the orange and yellow temptation of light and scent to the candle wick. Hand passing over the flame, we feel the touch of death. And life. We learn as children to respect the fires around us, to use them sparingly. It’s almost as if there is an unspoken rule – fire can be wasted. Don’t waste your fire. It is precious to you. To me. Fire heals and harms, is soothing and painful. Fire transforms.

There is a dance between humans and their environment. We have only our senses to feed us data and a brain to transform it into information. These elements inform us, partner with us, sustain us, hold us in life and death. They provide for us and take from us. They use us and we use them. We form bonds of familiarity, affinity, and disregard. I hate the cold. I hate the heat. I like the rain. I’d rather have wind. Why do we find ourselves loving or hating an inanimate element so fiercely?

Perhaps because it is us. And we never do very well in dealing with our own natures. Rocks tumble against each other and wear each other down because they both have pokey bits. Neither of them are smooth. Nature and the elements, they are not necessarily kind to Humanity. Neither, it seems, is Humanity good to them. We are fascinated by our earthly natures, testing and touching those parts of us that are so basic and yet, so foreign. Humans create other humans using these elements – they are our plaster, mud, ink, and pigment, tears nerves, and blood. Compositions in animated elements.

You’d think we would be nicer to each other, being one in the same.

It is alchemy that we search for in our basic parts. It is the alchemy of rainstorm to glacier, of fire to lightning, of plant to paper, of wind to power. That same alchemy can be found in us, nervous system all ablaze with creation and wisdom, intelligence and naïveté. Perhaps, we think, perhaps that amazing alchemy can be found within ourselves, within our creations. And what we never really realize, what we cannot see because we are too close, to microscopically close is that…we already have. Alchemy is everywhere, always, continuous. Breathe. That is alchemy. Thought. That is alchemy. A child born, the aged die – that is alchemy.

We are creatures of wonder in a world of wonder. Wake up from the dream, and See.

A Moment, Sir

I just sat at the kitchen table, finishing up a lovely boneless pork chop and mixed veggie stir fry, and told my husband I feel four and a half months pregnant. I feel like I’m slogging through the last few weeks, dragging my tired mind and body toward working on building a new house, flush with all the possibilities, and yet, it’s too fast. No, it’s too slow. Work is crazy. Work is good. Work is crazy good and frustrating. When the people with vicious motives are allowed to run rampant, it’s a cross between being so busy your eyes spin and so mad, your ulcers flare. No, no ulcers here – just the worn sense of loyalty to someone who has been very good to me and is being unfairly treated because he spoke up. There are some truly crazy people out there and yes, you and I work with them. The saving grace is that I’m 1000 miles away now and not subject to the day to day “sturm und drang” of it all. You have to wonder how people stay in business when “buttheads,” as my CEO said once, are allowed to stay. Luckily, my world is not overflowing with them. Here, I have cats and wireless headsets, and the washer and dryer to keep me company. It’s far more pleasant that gossip. And hate. And hubris.

But, I digress.

194168-Illustration-from-The-Sorrows-of-Werther-by-Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Posters

Back to my pregnancy. Anyone who knows me knows there is a world of improbability in that statement. This has to go to building a house. This is the third house I’ve built, if you don’t include a complete renovation in an 1889 Victorian Cow Farm house. I do count that beast. I have loved every one of them. There’s part of me, at this stage of the build, that is very antsy for me to have my part – that’s the interior design. I have to wait – for walls, roof, electrical, drywall, and flooring. Then, I get to play. But, in this preliminary time, gestation if you will, I have to wait. I get to scan plans and magazines and design studios feverishly, waiting for my turn at the work. Yet, these rough ins are just as important if not more so than finishing. I know this. I find a good foundation more important than anything. And Doyle, well, Doyle has surpassed his own expectations and risen to be very good at shepherding the process. He really has given it his all and I am so proud of what he’s done. There’s always some challenge with a build, here and there. You minimize the expenses and go with the solid work. The people we’ve chosen have been outstanding. Doyle is fortunate enough to be able to work every day near the build so if something comes up, he can be there. We slaved over the plans to make it right, and then over the choices of builders. All in all, we’ve done well so far. We’re probably about 1/2 way through, and hence, the four and a half months.

pendulum-1

I imagine mothers, at 4 1/2 months pregnant, thinking, I’m only 1/2 way through – no more morning sickness, probably, munchies, excitedly thinking of names, gender, rooms to nest. There’s the dread of the last month, feeling like it’s so close, you want it over and yet, terrified that something will go wrong. Finally, the day arrives and you push through the pain and anguish, the fear and the doubts and here it is – a beautiful creation that you’ve given the world. We’ve released our creation to the world and for however long destiny or fate decrees, it is ours to share and then ours to provide to those who remain. A legacy of some time for future generations. I am convinced it is what humans were born to do – create things.

Sounds mushy. Meh. It’s true. Cope.

For me this house in particular denotes freedom. I have worked thirty plus years to fulfill this dream: a house that I have built where I can live comfortably, that has my mark on it, that is all that I’ve saved and worked for, and ultimately, means I can be free from the “sturm und drang.” It is freedom in the sense that I can begin my real path in life, whatever my real work is. The house excites my sense of style, creativity, and design. It fulfills my desires for beauty and an open, inviting home to share with the loved ones in my life. It is freedom from, yes, say it, the every day, the corporate, the mind-numbing what-everyone-else-does. Of these houses that I’ve built and loved, this one feels truly ours. It is what we’ve built together – his engineering and form, my design and feel. We compliment each other well, when he lets me have what I want. Seriously, this is some strong mojo here, building this together. It really does feel like a true partnership of ideas. And damn, it’s big. This house means something.

For all the speed of this whole build, now, I want to savor the journey. I want to feel pregnant with design ideas and thoughts, visions of how it goes together, how it feels to entertain, what the lighting illuminates, what dances on the ceilings, how it sounds and smells, during the build and after. I walked through the basement last weekend and it smelled like… a house build. It’s the only way to describe it – fresh cement, wood chips and worn bent nails across the floor, mud puddles and dirty foot prints, tracking the smell of slightly decaying tree debris. There is that smell that a house build has, an aromatherapy of desire and anticipation that tingles. Tantalizes. Begs for an Atlas Moving Truck. And maybe just a little Sherwin Williams and Pottery Barn.

patienceFor now, patience is at my bedside pillow, a comfort on the warm nights of waiting. That virtue sits beside the stack of design magazines and catalogs, next to a day-old ice tea and an alarm clock that reminds me the work never really ends. With some perseverance, it can become true Work. Yes, this house is freedom, of a very personal kind. I want the moment to last only so long as it needs to, before the memory becomes dust. I want the shackles to fall and the darkness to become light. I want crooked things straight, the path laid out before me. A moment, sir, to savor the wind and the rain and the rushing torrent, before I can be free to grow in the sun. On a beautiful lanai overlooking a fresh, lushly forested mountain. In the house that Kris and Doyle built.

Briefly, On Aging

“Never do I return home with the character I had when I left; always there is something I had settled before that is now stirred up again, something I had gotten rid of that has returned. …our minds are recovering from a long illness; contact with the many is harmful to us. Every single person urges some fault upon us, or imparts one to us, or contaminates us without our even realizing it.” – Seneca

 


Maya Angelou, 86

I rarely think of myself as an “age.” When someone asks me how old I am, I generally have to calculate it. My age doesn’t come readily to my mind. I take the year, subtract my birth year, and there you have it. Not so hard but it amuses me. I, along with every other person I’ve met, feels that they are not their physical age. Inside, in our guts, we all feel our youth.

Even funnier is when our gut does not comply. No, in this case I mean our actual gut. It is more sensitive to what we eat or don’t eat. Drinking to excess hurts more. Our joints hurt in the hot or cold, it’s tougher to want to move, to think, to do just about anything. Entropy is fatal, I know that, and yet… it has taken up residence nearby. I don’t like that. My mind still feels as if it’s seventeen, ready to have my body stay up all night or do a cartwheel. Yeah. Not so much. Our minds are youthful gymnasts where our bodies belie the truth of our age. My father, at 84, is fond of saying ‘these Golden Years are not so golden.”

I find that at times, our minds can get a little lost, too. I have learned a whole lifetime of Elizabeth Warren, 67language of self-talk and most of it is not good. There are soundtracks that I’ve forgotten about, repeated phrases that are said in my head, at a whisper, that I’ve just learned to accept. The vernacular gets tiring at times but still, I fall back to it when it’s comfortable. I hate it. I know it’s wrong, I know I don’t want it there…but…yeah. I get stuck in my mind quite often, generally in a feedback loop of negativity and failure. It’s entirely self-directed. There are times, though, when I also get frustrated with my fellow humans. Kids who play really loud thumping music, wear their pants around their knees, or are crass and rude in public. I try to laugh it off, think, “this is what my parents said, too” and then I think that I am adopting the rigor mortus of aging. My mind and habits and ways of being are crystallizing. Apart from the inevitable pains of deteriorating flesh, this horrifies me most of all.

Now, to be fair, I never really did like some of those things, even thirty years ago. Thumping bass music has always given me a headache and kept me up at nights. People who are rude and embarrassing in public have always made me want to run away. Some of that is just who I am. I do my best not to judge and I am aware that I do have my own likes and dislikes. I work hard to keep my personal affectations personal. I think what I’m most annoyed about is that people in our country seem fit to impose their own likes, needs, wants, bad days, dreams, complaints, and problems onto others. It is as if there has become a shared responsibility for individual emotional need. Egotists and narcissists. I don’t think that’s something that has sprung up because of my age; I think it is a symptom of the age and the culmination of our social experiences in the digital world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems like such a quaint notion. I feel so old to even wish for that state of social interaction.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 84I, personally, tend to like the weird. I like the people who wear plaid and polka-dots over their cartoon-festooned flannel pants. I have had my hair purple and red, orange. I am convinced that the only people who make good coffee in cafes have more than three piercings and four tattoos. I like to challenge the status quo, and myself, probably more often than is healthy for my career or friendships. And yet, the relationships that I have garnered over the years also celebrate the weird and off-beat. I am variety girl. This is why the idea of crystallized thought forms is so horrific. I can’t settle. I never seem to buy the same shower gel twice. I hope I never do. I want to experience all the smells.

A few years ago, I was head over heals for Crossfit. I loved and still love the variety of Oprah Winfrey, 63physical challenges. I had a wonderful coach, Saul, who is an example to all of us who have spent our careers in the Information Age. He lived, and ultimately escaped, it to move into the Crossfit arena. Saddled with poor posture and a computer attached to our fingers and wrists, we who were born in the computer age have suffered for this digital art. We’re aging differently in America because of it. When I started doing Crossfit, Saul worked with me to help me understand how to adapt a computer-wrecked body to do the physical work of Crossfit. It wasn’t easy. I think, though, that the most important lesson I learned from that time at Crossfit and with Saul was that if you think you can do it, you can do a little more, and that the only constraint to keeping you from a goal is your mind. There comes a time when you hear the feedback loop of “I can’t do it,” and you just say screw it, and you get it done. You push through the mind block and the pain is gone. You can do it. What you feared would happen, failure, doesn’t because you just chose to do what needed to be done. I can’t do it becomes I did it. There is that moment, that quintessential moment, when your ego (fear) gets out of the way and you really remember that you can do anything you set your mind to do. I’ll never forget the first moment that happened, on the rowing machine and ready to puke, when I realized that the “I” that is Kris is my only set of chains. I can do what I set my mind upon.

Of course, without wings, I’ll never fly, but that is another challenge entirely.

 

Tao Porchon Lynch, 96And, let’s be honest: walking with a broken leg or some other injury like it precludes this mind over matter thing. What I’m talking about is that niggling little feeling you get when you are ready to get up from a chair and think, oh, what if my knee gives out, or my back hurts and I can’t walk further. This is your mind controling your boundaries not the actual state of your body. And, when it comes down to it, this is my point: when we succumb to the mind telling us we can’t, then we age. That is aging. This is why variety girl may always be variety girl; the idea of letting my mind ‘settle’ equates to aging, to getting old, to stagnation and ultimately, to decay. I hate the feedback loop of negativity and when I do recognize it, I kick it to the curb. Like my knees, I have to overcome the idea that my choices in life, my thought processes, and my decisions have to be ‘settled.’ I’m doing what I can now to preserve my mind and keep it nimble. If this means always pushing myself into new activities, and failures, so be it.

Judy Chicago, Artist, 77

Women have the extra baggage of hormonal changes as we age, coupled with the ideas of how we’re portrayed and valued (or not) as we age. Our roles as women shift from beauty icon to mother to crone in American society. Yet, women over the age of fifty aren’t what they used to be. My mother, at 50, struggled with an identity and self worth. She was sickly and rarely got out of the house. Today, I’ve seen 80 year-old women bodybuilders, skiers, gymnasts, dancers, artists, photographers, and singers. The paradigm of aging for everyone but especially women is changing. Women no longer see themselves as dried up husks, finished with childbearing and rearing and set out to pasture to care for the aging members of family and ultimately becoming that aged old crone. Older women are vibrant people capable of bringing real depth and art to society, to be role models and champions of aging well, gracefully, with energy and life. The one thing our generation has brought to America is the idea that getting old doesn’t mean wooden rockers. It means hair-band rockers.

 

disruptorIt’s work, this getting older thing. It takes paying attention to your body and your mind in ways that you didn’t think necessary before. It means moisturizer. It means one glass of wine, not one bottle. It means taking care to push mental boundaries and never get stuck, and at the same time revel in what you have learned. Appreciate yourself but never settle. The brilliant moment is when that epiphany happens: the mind is the only prison we really have and that achievement can be had at any age if we really want it. We don’t need anyone to toss us the keys to get out, either. We can walk right over to the wall and get them ourselves.

-TDD


 

“Spend your time with those who will improve you; extend a welcome to those you can improve. The effect is reciprocal, for people learn while teaching.” – Seneca

(Be)Longing

finger-pointing-criticism.jpegOf the 367 books I am reading right now, one is standing out. It’s called The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau.  What’s always interesting to me is the dialogue that goes on in my head when I read one of these types of books. Some people call them “self-help” – I deplore that word. It smacks of being unable or unwilling to work with the world to achieve what you want|need, and thus must turn to some sort of guru for the answer. I also deplore gurus, but that’s another story. I actually like these books very much because it gives me insight into Someone Else’s journey. It’s like I’m collecting a series of events that led to ideas that I could not have, because I didn’t live those events. The ideas I have come to me through different channels and experiences. I love these books because, like any good travel book, they give me insights into the mental surroundings that created them.

Continue reading

The Wider View

hopeI was reminded this morning, by one of my dearest friends, that the popular artists of the world die and the world mourns; the neglected and war-impoverished hundreds of thousands die, and the world barely sighs. If we believe the data in Wikipedia (yes, I know…), we can say that somewhere between 315,326,595 and 754,762,571 have died in ALL wars in recorded history. Syria, by contrast with 470,000, is a blip on the map. Hardly a scratch. The difference is, we see all our wars now with faces – on the TV, in the papers, in our Social Media feeds. War is not something far away. Humans may have found ways to kill lesser numbers of people, but they are still killing people regardless. Is this our nature?  Continue reading

Used to do..

Dried_LeavesFilled with “used to do.” This seems to be the thought that is number one on the memory ticker tape – “I used to write more.”  “I used to have energy to do more.” “I used to laugh more.” In the series of questions of “what happened?” I wind my way down to the simple fact that I am just…slower. I move a little slower, I contemplate what I want to do, I analyze, maybe too much. It comes up with such a wide variety of topics, I wonder if it will ever cease? I used to do cartwheels, get by with less sleep, have more energy, write often, be excited about travel. Perhaps an over abundance of those things has caused this slowless. Perhaps it is just laziness. Perhaps it is maturity. Can I pray for more of the latter, and a little less of the lazy part?

One of the things I have not done less of is write. However, that writing has been contained to a single topic and the exploration of side subjects in that single topic. The effort break that trend is why you’ve seen more blogs here. This is my place and my soapbox. It is a place for me to play and not really care who checks in or not.

About 15 to 20 years ago, I used to write more fiction. In fact, I wrote serial stories via email. A few select friends would get serials at very random and infrequent intervals, linking together the chapters into some sort of oddly meandering story. It was a way to practice chapter writing and see if I could actually create a convergent story over time. They’ve seemed willing guinea pigs….

A friend’s recent comment about two of the characters in one of the stories made me think about that again. I decided to do something with it, and with the current state of affairs in our lives. So, Tom Narcisso, thank you for the jolt of lightning. Willis and Varna are, alas, gone. Emails vanished into the digital ether. However, I think you, and maybe a few others, will enjoy this next endeavor. Look to this space for more in the coming weeks…years. No title yet… maybe you can help? Let’s see how far we go… *Wink*

-TDD