Doing the work

One of my favorite Zen quotes is Chop wood, carry water. In other words, do what's in front of you. Focus on the needs of Now, this instant, this moment. It is a positive and productive way to get through whatever tasks or trials one is facing and lately I've been repeating it so often it's become a mantra. Chop wood, carry water. Don't worry about tomorrow, or yesterday. Do the work—honored or irksome—that is in front of you.

As we prepare for the holiday season—almost always stressful at some point—and a new, onerous administration, we have been given a gift and a challenge: to recognize the darkness that exists in our culture and ourselves. If we are to act, to fix, to remedy, to save, to improve, we must first look within, shining whatever dim light we can muster into the dark corners of our hearts. That is the work that presents itself at this moment, for whatever reason. It is also opportunity.

Chop wood, carry water.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a lovely, thankful holiday.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our new world

We live in a new world now. One where more than half of us are shocked, despairing, and afraid. We have handed the reins of the world's most powerful country to a man who has never held office, who is an admitted sexual aggressor, racist, and xenophobe, and who was the favored candidate of the alt-right and the KKK. Many adjectives have been applied to him. Unfortunately, intelligent, thoughtful, serious, honest, and responsible are not part of the litany.

So what are we to do? I know that we must give ourselves time to grieve. And I know that we must not give in to depression and despair, easy as that is. Hillary didn't run a sterling campaign but I liked her motto: "stronger together." Together we can grieve, and together we must work for change.

There are hundreds of ways to envision how our country will be affected, and I can't imagine being muslim, or latino, or black or native American and experiencing the fear this election has engendered. I want to tell them, "It's not true that half your country hates you." But why believe me when the new leader so loudly says the opposite? I want to say to the Earth, "Don't worry, we'll protect you," while the new leader declares, "Away with global warming initiatives—more oil, more coal; that will make us great."

There are many ways to think about what lies ahead, but my choice is to reaffirm—despite despair—that life is a gift and each of us has a purpose. I will do my best to counter what he and his cohorts stand for. I will speak out about injustice when I see it; I will call out racism. I will defend our constitutional rights, our common heritage and our common lands. I will no longer be silent and "polite."

We are confronting the darkness now, and there's only one way forward. No matter how difficult, we must be the light.

Sputter and spit

It's hard to think or write about "normal" issues with all this Trump outrage floating around in the ether. His sexually aggressive and vile comments have generated a lot of unwelcome emotion, especially among women. I don't know any woman who hasn't been verbally or physically abused by some jackass at some point in her life, including me. Seeing his words plastered on every news site and constantly replayed brings unwelcome and often hurtful memories. We sink into a swamp of fear and disgust. 

And betrayal. We could all see this coming, he's been taunting us with his crazy ideas for a year now. How did he get this far?

Call me naive but before Donald Trump became such a crowd pleaser I had actually begun to believe we might, finally, be growing up, that we were close—not there yet, but close—to accepting others as themselves, no matter their religion, gender identity, skin color, or sex. I was even crazy enough to believe that equal rights and equal pay for women might be on the horizon. But then we heard Donald's distant braying. 

Now he's no longer a distant annoyance, he's right in our faces with his outrageous conduct, not just the sexual remarks but his constant, unconstrained lying, his arrogance, and of course his narcissism. He is so unfit to lead this nation that it leaves me speechless—all I can do is sputter and spit—an unhappy position for a writer. How has this country been brought to such debasement? This is surely not the direction we want to go.

I don't care who you vote for. You can write in the name of your pet turtle or your favorite aunt, or the nice man down the street. It really doesn't matter. Just don't vote for Trump. Let's stand strong together and use our votes to deprive him of the prize. Humiliate and shame him as he has shamed so many women. Then let him run to his golden toilet, lock the door and stay there. Forever.

 

Transitions

It rained all day yesterday and some of the leaves just off our balcony turned from pale pink to dark red. I guess fall is here. It will be interesting to see what happens to our view as the weeks roll by. At the moment we see the variegated greens of many deciduous trees—almost touchable from the balcony wall—and here and there in the background, an evergreen. I imagine we'll feel quite exposed when all these leaves depart, but maybe not. There are so many trees it's almost like a forest.

There's a real forest just a hop away. It's Portland's Forest Park, at 5,157 acres the largest urban forest park in the U.S. Our condo complex sits near the edge of Forest Park and sometimes it's hard to remember that we live just three miles from downtown, with all its busyness and bustle. There are 80 miles of trails in the park so when the pain in my achilles tendon lets up there are plenty of opportunities for good walks.

It's lovely having nature near at hand and it helps make the transition from small town to city a bit easier. But it's still a transition. I still miss the ponderosas. And from experience I know it takes a least a year to feel like you belong in a new place. And this move has actually brought us to two places, one that can be found on a map and one that can't. Ray's Alzheimer's has brought us both to a whole new country.

Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a blog about Alzheimer's. There are plenty of books and articles, and blogs no doubt, about the disease. I don't intend to contribute to that. But it's important to acknowledge, and to accept that it has changed our lives. Ray is still in the early stages but it has affected his mobility and his attitude. He's no longer the curious, outgoing, eager-for-life guy I've known so many years. He's quieter and less interested in the world. But he still has his quirky sense of humor. And we still laugh a lot.

This transition is going to be slower and harder, but it will come. Life is truly a gift, and the lessons the universe keeps thrusting on me are unchanging and wise: Be treelike. Accept and do your best. Open your heart. Forgive others and yourself. And love, love, love.

It's inevitable

I've been doing a lot of painting since we moved into our little condo. I like painting but it's harder than it used to be. Squatting and reaching and bending for hours is hard on my aging body. But I take another ibuprofen and keep painting, because I am driven to make this space ours as quickly as I can. The paint roller moves and the old, washed-out colors—the betraying evidence of another's life—disappear. Instant affirmation; I am here.

Our condo was built in the early 90s and has no doubt had many owners. The most recent before ourselves did some upgrading: new appliances, new sinks, new counters in kitchen and baths. For the most part I like what they did, but the need to make it mine is strong. Hence the painting, new lights, and new gas fireplace.

This need to paper over other's choices can sometimes cause problems. I vividly remember the day the former owner of our very first house decided to drop in unexpectedly. He seemed very ancient to my late-20s eyes. I think now he was probably about 80. He and his wife had lived in the house for many years and he was homesick. So he came home again, to the place that held his happiness.

But that place no longer existed. Appalled by a dining-room wall papered with ducks that flew straight at you, we had torn them off, just as we had the floral paper in the living room. The interior was freshly painted and the kitchen wore new linoleum. The poor man was as appalled as we had been by the duck wallpaper. I tried to talk to him, to explain that it was our first house, that we wanted it to feel like ours, that we loved the house—and all the other things one might say to a distraught, elderly gentleman. It was no use. He left in tears, grateful that his wife had not come along. I felt like crying with him.

It was a good lesson though.

Dwellings are highly personal and unique to their owners in ways that even frequent visitors can't recognize. This is as it should be. But leaving such a home is a wrench. It takes time for an unfamiliar empty shell to capture and absorb one's personal uniqueness, to be a stage for one's personal narrative. Belonging arrives slowly, in fits and starts, but with effort it does arrive.

And so I'll keep painting until I've covered every wall, every corner, every baseboard, determindly putting our stamp on this unfamiliar shell where we reside. And the day will come when I look around and suddenly feel that we are truly home again. It may take awhile, but it's inevitable.

A new view

The view from our new windows is of trees—deciduous and evergreen. Zoé's spot on the wall reveals a street not far away, but it's a private street and there aren't many cars. Unlike Zoé, I prefer to stand back and see only green. I miss our garden, but there's plenty of room here for large and small pots and in a few years, if I have my way, the balcony itself will be full of flowers and greenery.

This move was a challenge on many levels. Still, we're here and settled, finally. I've been busy painting walls and moving furniture and trying to find room for all the things we had to have when we left Sisters—a good portion of which have already gone to Goodwill. And although our little condo is very different from our house in Sisters, it's a good perch for us, and every day it feels more like home. There's still painting and other fixes to do, but nothing that can't wait while we recoup our energy and adjust to life in the big city.

Big thanks to those who keep coming back to the blog. Enjoy the rest of your summer and check back soon. I won't promise anything, but life is full of surprises.

 

When in doubt, adapt

I have been derelict in my duty to you and I apologize. Like many of you, my life has been a cascading series of events punctuated by change, indecision, surprise, misadventure, and downright craziness. Not to mention the Republican primaries, which leave me wondering if America will survive the coming year.

When we came to Sisters we hoped it would be our last move. But we are now summoning the courage to put our house on the market once more, and move back to the Portland area. Ray's illness is the primary reason; there are more care options there, and opportunities to participate in research. And of course our family and old friends will be much closer.

As I wrote the above paragraph I found myself wondering if this move is really what I want, and I have no answer. I will certainly hate leaving Sisters and the friends I've made here, but mostly I'll miss the nearby mountains and my walks through the pines, and the sunshine and dry weather—though its snowing as I write this.

Through all our many moves (19 if you count France and Turkey) I have learned to be adaptable, finding something to love in each of our habitats, even when the surroundings were less than lovely. I am not alone in this of course. The world is a shifting mass of humanity, most fleeing war, terror, economic collapse, or other misfortunes. With no other choice they are forced to adapt to new surroundings, a new culture, a new language. In contrast, our moves have generally been our decision, our choice.

Adaptation is a key survival mechanism and the millions of refugees adapting to new surroundings offer proof of that. As we adapt we adopt new ideas, new societal norms; and we share old traditions with our new neighbors. All this is good in the long run, but it isn't easy. Personally, I'm growing tired of the turmoil. I would like the world to rest awhile, to reach a kind of stasis, so we can all plant deep roots; roots that will hold us and our surroundings in place for a time, providing continuity, solace, permanence, and hope.

But I could be wrong. Maybe upset and constant churning is good for us. Maybe adapt is just another way of saying evolve. And maybe our politics will return to normal and our endless wars will cease. One can always hope. And if that fails, adapt.