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

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

Moment of Breath

There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. – Elizabeth Kubler Ross

At the end of the year, I always do my goals. Always. Since 1984. Really. I tend to think back to what some of those first goals were: “learn how to cook,” “learn how to cook well,” “spend time with family,” or the ever elusive and completely ubiquitous, “get fit.” At the time, I was 21. Over the years, things have gotten more complex, and easier. I actually know what a “goal” is and what a task is, and how to set them better, for myself and others. I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, probably more than is normal or healthy. I think about achievements and setbacks, I think about what ifs, and how could I do whatever it might be better. I love this time of year. Autumn to Winter is for reflection. 

This year, I spent a great deal of time thinking about death, and life, for all the obvious reasons. I think it’s healthy to think about our own mortality. And, let’s be honest: we all think about it at some point. When I was 13 or 14, I was terrified of dying. I would stop and think, someday I’m going to stop breathing. I’m going to not have my heart beat like this. My mind will not be…churning, thinking of goals. I will cease. If we’re honest with ourselves, that is scary if we have no other prospects. I won’t have this life any more. I think I might have said all of this before, but hang in there, it goes somewhere else I’m pretty sure. 

Fortunately, I was in an English Skills for College class, and Mr. Curran was adamant that we learn how to write a term paper. I used this as an opportunity to write that paper on “Life After Death.” I delved, plunged, and sunk into everything I could find about death other than what I knew from the standard, suburban bible studies. I read Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a pioneer in death and dying in the modern age, as well as the Bardo Thodol or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and Raymond Moody, another life-after-death pioneer. I listened to psychics and read “What Dreams May Come.” I read about near-death experiences and talked with religious people about what they believed via their religion.

What I found is that once I had an idea of what I felt, intuited to be true, I came to conclusions and beliefs that suited me. I wrote that paper with passion. I wish I still had that paper; I let Mr. Curran keep that paper for future classes. My pride overrode the thought of any future reference. Yet, the future reference was inside of me – I had integrated that into my mind and heart, and thus began my love affair with philosophy, death, religion, and spirituality. It also taught me that those that are most of afraid of death and dying do not contemplate it until the time is upon them, at which they have no construct to explore. In their horror, they simply cease to be. So, yes, I felt pretty stable about what I have come to believe for myself. 

Until this year. I’ve known and loved people that have passed before; my mother, JB (a co-writer with me), my grandparents, school acquaintances, beloved pets, and work colleagues have all left my life. Some I have cried for my own loss, and some of the loss to the world. For some, I never cried and in my detachment, I had wonder at that. I think the difference, now, is that I’m closer to my own mortality than I had been previously. I’m on the other side of my life, rather than on the uphill climb.

Had I been smart and conscious, I might have realized that I could have died at any time. Poof. Gone. Now, I know. Now, I think about it. Dad went relatively fast, from life to non-life. Faster than I might have been ready to deal with. And for a person who has handled so many things, been in charge and in control, it was icy water splashed in my face. Hey! WAKE UP!

In a 2015 article in The Atlantic, the author discusses life and death in relation to parents and children…

The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?” he wrote in his Discourses.

Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.

“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”

At the same time all was happening with my father, I began rereading Epictetus and Zeno – the Stoics.  I realized a while ago that while I love neo-Platonism from a spiritual perspective, I feel more like a Stoic. I think that my basic way of being is more stoic. People in my past might be laughing right now. That’s fine. I was not very thoughtful as a young adult – I was much more animated and, as HR likes to say, “passionate” about things. Now, the pendulum does not swing so wildly. My breadth of emotional response is far smaller. I feel, of course. I just don’t emote as…fervently. However, emotion isn’t all there is about stoicism. There are some principles of stoicism that authors have examined. The interesting thing is that none of the philosophers who we acknowledge as stoics have listed these principles in some sort of writings. Perhaps the closest is Marcus Aurelius, followed by Seneca.

I particularly love Marcus Aurelius…

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to mine, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of divinity, I can neither be harmed by any of them, nor no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my brother, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

In essence, it’s about what we as humans can control. Many of us, including me, are fond of saying that we can only control ourselves. However, most of us do not. We think that by thinking and worrying and emoting, we can actually change those things around us. A very good book about this is “The Untethered Soul,” by Michael Singer. He wrote a follow-on, autobiographical book titled “The Surrender Experiment.” I digress, sort of. We cannot change the fact that we will die. It is a foregone conclusion. That we know of it makes no difference; it will happen at some time as we are flesh. All we can do, to quote Gandalf, is “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So, I decide by writing goals. By deciding how I want to leave the world, how I want my one moment of breath in the long scheme of living beings in the universe to matter. I don’t want to spend my time thinking about the latest pop song, what some scheming politician has or is doing, or what I’m going to wear to look “presentable” for something. I want to be who I am and I want the long term, the big vision, the whole heart. I do think about those small things that happen around me almost as a matter of course. My brain picks them up and stores them, for some unknown crazy reason. But what I think most about is how the world will look in 5000 years, or 10000 years, and what will humanity’s path be, and what will be left after the earth rebuilds itself from our mark. I also think about 10000 years ago, and how far humanity has come, what we’ve invented and what paths we take. I think of this in a very Matrix-like mentality, like it’s a game that we’re all playing. I don’t say that outloud to many people, so you get to hear it here. I do think of life as a bit of a game, laughing at the seriousness with which we all go about our daily lives and emotional hiccups. Laughing at myself for buying the September Vogue and then thinking, really? Let’s think about something that actually matters… then laughing again because that’s just what matters to me. The circle of awareness expands. Maybe I don’t think that way when I’m the depths of humanness, crying for my dying cat or frustrated at family, I admit it. There is a part of playing human that we all have to do. I do, though, find myself lifting out of the depths some times and, like Trinity at the end of the Matrix, lifting above the clouds to see the possibilities of all Life and existence – the great game that we’ve all bought into playing, whether we believe it or not. What we believe is irrelevant, – belief will not let us control the outcome. It is what it is.

All very Stoic.

So, I write goals to play my human part and to participate in the world that we’ve created, nurtured, and sometimes destroy. My goals are lofty and pedestrian, sometimes in equal measure. It helps me keep playing the game and yes, part of that is playing the death part, too. I want us to all be a little less afraid of dying and death. It’s part of the game, after all. If nothing ever really leaves the material universe, we never really leave. We just come back as a new player, a new pawn or queen, knight or bishop, or perhaps the King. Maybe we come back as the board, the air, or the time clock, or maybe all three. Does it matter in the great adventure? Goals tickle my humanity and make it feel important. I know, though, that I’m not. We’re all not. And we are. We’re part of the game, part of the Matrix, and it won’t matter what pill you really take, will it?

That’s how I choose to end this year. On a Stoic’s note, as it were. Enjoy this, and laugh. ( Love this cartoonist… 🙂 )

To all of you, Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Yule, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Mithrasmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy days off, and most of all Happy New Year. May it be filled with laughter and love for the Great Game in which we all play a part, and filled with the Virtue toward which we aspire.

– TDD 

P.S. – I love this wheel of Stoicism, this compass. Sailing on the Sea of Life. 

Hiding and the Need

This is Thanksgiving day, and I am Hiding. Hiding from the world at large, not any one thing in particular. I am no different than a lot of people, facing a year of challenges. Usually, I’m not one to reflect on how “tough” or “terrible” something has been. I usually not one to reflect on much of anything. I think forward, and this does a disservice at times, I think. I forget how much of the world has affected me and what I have done to affect it, over time. Hiding is something I do to try to get myself back on the rails of life, moving forward as it were. I need to look back to look forward.

This Thanksgiving is a different one for me. No family dinner. No overstuffed turkey or gelatinous cranberry loaf on my table. We went to a place where no one knows us, where we can just do f*** all, as I’ve been wont to say lately. Get up late, don’t stress over the cell phone or emails, turn off notifications, sleep when I want, write, and think.

There’s a lot of thinking that goes on in Hiding. One of the things that I do every year is a set of goals. I usually start it around my birthday and work on it for a few months, until I feel good about where I’m going. It struck me the other day that I haven’t done that. My birthday came and went and not a glimmer of goal was to be found. So, we have gone into Hiding and I want to explore this with Doyle. We packed a bag and took a train, and went away with proverbial pen in hand.

One thing that struck me this year was that we accomplished one of our major life goals: we built our forever house. We moved in. This is what we had spent the better part of our lives working toward for decades. And there it is. Complete. Lovely. Ours. It’s what we’ve dreamed of and worked hard to achieve. We made it. A creation for decades to come and to share when we’re gone.

Now what? That was the question that kept coming to me. On the train ride up into the mountains, there was an abundance of beautiful land, bald eagles, deer crossing streams, and sheer wonder at nature. Now what? I don’t know. I am not sure.

I was surprised by one comparison that jumped to my mind: my father died as I was completing the house which is, to me, a major life commitment. My mother died as I was releasing my first book, becoming a Freemason, and divorcing my ex. Another set of major life changes/commitments. It’s like the universe had to help me shift my reality to be able to see a new life ahead.

Unfortunately, right now, I don’t know what that life is. I still feel plodding, stuck in a weird mire of apathy, fear, and meaninglessness. I search on the inside for some deeper feeling, something to connect me with life – with Life and Nature – and I’m struggling. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time I’m the adult, I’m the matriarch, I am the holder-together-of-the-family-left. It’s a job that is extremely challenging for me. Hiding tugs at me. Yet, the Need does as well. The Need? The need to grow, the need to be the best version of myself, the need to create, the need to laugh and find joy, and the need to have purpose. I’m full of others telling me I have purpose – but I need to feel it. The Need.

I know that everyone deals with these things, I’m just in the soup with all the rest of you. I am fiercely independent and want to find my own way, no one helping me. That’s freedom, to me. Yet, I know that asking for help is freedom, too. I’m learning not to be shy, not to shy away from the hand that is offered. I would not have made it this year if I had not reached out and grasped those hands. It was hard for me to do – not because I didn’t see the need, no. It was because I was afraid of committing more of myself to relationships that would take work. More of me would be lost.

Silly me.

This weekend is going to be filled with conversation and questions, eating, and sleeping. More of digging into what I love and what I Need. Hiding brings me to balance, where the Need can raise its head and make itself known. I don’t know where this next segment of life journey will take me. Probably on a train back home with a few less questions roaming around in my head and heart. Most certainly to a new life that will rise from the ashes of the past. Isn’t that always the way?

-TDD

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.

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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.

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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.