Saturday, October 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #28: Something about picnic tables

by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)  

There is something about a picnic table. It’s not particularly comfortable, or lovely even in its cross-legged simplicity. However, the sight of a picnic table prompts a happy reaction in me. Maybe it’s the picnic table from childhood under the shady shelter of a large pecan tree; maybe it’s the symbol of years of camping trips and excursions; maybe it’s an ancient memory of eating in community out doors around a fire. 

My reaction to picnic tables seems to be deeper than its form or function. Something happened yesterday that started me on this path of thinking about picnic tables and called to me at 3:30 this morning until I surrendered and began this letter. 
 
San Diego County ... ocean to desert
 
I’ve been here in the hill country of east San Diego County for a week and a half, long enough to settle in and begin the familiar routines of writing, photography and making art. Yesterday, as the shade laced the yard, I spread my laptop and notebooks across the picnic table and settled in to think about a new project.

It was a perfect fall day: the air fresh and that perfect temperature that feels neither cool nor warm.. And, even though I’m in a rather large RV park (250 spaces), my neighbors were gone and the only sounds were a rustle of leaves and an occasional birdcall in the distance. I drifted into the project, writing, revising the related art work, mapping the project which slowly emerged like a developing photo in a dark room. When the day softened into evening and turned cool, I picked up my work and went back inside.

That's when I noticed the quiet. Not just the quiet of outside, but the silence in my head. I could hear, or rather feel, the silence, like being wrapped in a blanket of calm and peace. I thought it would go away when I noticed it, but it didn’t. It seemed to be in my body as well as my mind. It was part of  my breath.

In the past six weeks, I’ve been called to make this change, not understanding why. Every time I would have a doubt, it would be whisked away by the ease with which everything was happening. It was like walking through a maze of blind corners with no clue of which way to go until suddenly a “this way” sign would appear. 

I still don’t know exactly why I’m here but it feels right and the peaceful silence is still with me even though it did wake me up in the middle of the night, demanding that I get up and write about this.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Take a Stand #3: Free, independent press is worth protecting

"Take a stand” is a on-going series articulating beliefs which deserve more of my action.

Taking a stand #3: We need a free, independent press. We need journalism we can trust to bring us facts and truth. We need net-neutrality to guarantee the free flow of information.

Action: Subscribe to Mother Jones; donate to Democracy Now!; pay attention to attempts to end net neutrality, and reduce time on Facebook and Twitter through a social media fast on Mondays and Thursdays.

***

This stand was prompted by a podcast from Bioneers.org:  When Truth Is Dangerous: The Power of Independent Media featuring the leaders of two of the most successful independent news agencies in the U.S.:
  • Monika Bauerlein is the groundbreaking CEO and former Co-Editor of Mother Jones, which since 1976 has stood among the world’s premier progressive investigative journalism news organizations.
  • Amy Goodman, host and Executive Producer of Democracy Now!, has won countless prestigious awards, including an I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence Lifetime Achievement Award and the Right Livelihood Award. She has co-authored six bestsellers, including Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America
  • Neil Harvey, Host and Consulting Producer
Podcast Highlights:

MB: The only way we are going to have journalism that serves the democracy that it is a part of is for the public to take ownership of it.

MB: Speaking of the history of corporate journalism.“Like any profitable activity, the people who were doing it, the people who owned the profit-making, wanted to do more of it, so there was an incredible amount of corporatization and consolidation. 

NH: A handful of mammoth of media monopolies now dominate the mindscape with familiar names such as AT&T, Comcast, Viacom, CBS, and Disney. Not only does this media concentration stifle freedom of speech it also throttles a diversity of counterpoints.

NH: In 2017, under intense lobbying by media monopolies, the Federal Communications Commission overturned net neutrality. Although the Internet was created and paid for by US public tax dollars, it’s now controlled by giant corporations. The information highway will start to act more like a toll bridge.

(The FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which took effect on June 11, 2018, provides a framework for protecting an open Internet while paving the way for better, faster and cheaper Internet access for consumers. https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom)

NH: Amy Goodman and her team began broadcasting in 1996 as the only daily election show airing on public television and planned to wrap it up after the election was over. Instead, it was a free and open internet that allowed Democracy Now! to flourish. 
AG: But there was more demand for the show after than before. I mean, it was a way of getting grassroots, global voices out there.
NH: The early Internet mantra that “information wants to be free” gave way to web and social media platforms that are now some of the biggest corporate monopolies in history, such as Google and Facebook. The public town square is not in their business model, and they have siphoned away the majority of advertising money that funded traditional journalism. Nor do they pay to use the news gathered and produced by media outlets. 
These digital media platforms are also largely unregulated, and not subject to standards of journalism. In reality, their main profit center is your data, which are now the most valuable commodity in the world. 
MB: So the way Facebook makes a profit is the more people spend more time on the platform and share and like and engage, the more money they make by them being the people who do the bundling of eyeballs and selling them to advertisers.

*** Previous Stands:

Taka stand #1: I believe that we white people created Black Lives Matter out of over 400 hundred years of treating people of color as if they didn’t matter.

We did it to black people, native Americans, Chinese, Muslims, Jews, Indians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and others that don’t fall into the white, supposedly-Christian, used-to-be majority.

Action: Apology and resolution to be more outspoken
As a white person, I sincerely apologize to all people of color for not working harder to end the injustice that has gone on for far too long.

Take a stand #2: I believe all consenting humans have the right to love whom they love and their private relationships should not be restricted by laws or religious pressures.

Action: Apology and resolution to be more outspoken
As a heterosexual person, I sincerely apologize to all non-heterosexual people for not working harder to end the injustice that has gone on for far too long. 
 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bioneers Podcast #2 - Interviewing the Vegetable Mind

Fire and Ice
About five years ago, I felt a small shift in my being when I was honored to have a piece of art selected for the Bioneers, San Luis Obispo conference. My compensation was a complimentary registration which I appreciated as I thought it might be an interesting experience. I expected an academic meeting of environmentalists. What I experienced were amazing, uplifting stories about love ... love of our planet, love for every living being on our planet. 

 I wound up volunteering to be part of the organization which turned into a seed that continued to grow even after I moved away from the Central Coast. 

Last year I attended the national Bioneers Conference last year and recently began to listen obsessively to their amazing podcasts, looking forward to the many different approaches to stories from the ..."revolution from the heart of nature."


Robin Wall Kimmerer is a favorite author: Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, and Monica Gagliano tells amazing stories of developing creative ways to test plant intelligence.

This is such a delightful, inspiring podcast. About 30 minutes.

“It’s a sign of respect and connection to learn the name of someone else and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. And yet, the average American can name over a hundred corporate logos … and ten plants. Learning the names of plants and animals is a powerful act of support for them,” — Robin Wall Kimmerer

Precepts of the Honorable Harvest … it’s just good manners.

“Every breath that you take was made for you by plants.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Trust the Journey

Embracing Uncertainty
A half-century or so ago, a kid-from-Kansas washed up on the shores of California. It was like rain falling on a desert seed which then blossomed into a love affair.

A bit more than fifty years later, wearied after so many moves, that same not-such-a-kid turned up in a not-California place, determined to grow where she had been planted. After all, it was the beginning of the year of perfect vision and a bright new decade stretched before her. 

So, she began to spin a dream, a dream of delight, a dream of living from her true center … learning, creating, connecting, and sharing. Soon, change came, saying, “Ok, you want a ride? Let’s go!”

All around her, storms began to tear at the old foundations. While the winds of politics howled, an unseen enemy locked down the customary paths of everyday life, and hatred, hurricanes, floods, and fires raged across the land, making life seem less predictable, each day a precious gift.

In the midst of the cacophony of tribulations, our weary traveler heard a tinkling bell and followed it, step-by-step, to a blue lake … in California … where a new adventure was waiting.


I sit here in the still-dark morning, the stuff of my life melting away, my new turtle shell home looming on the empty lot just outside my door, waiting for the rest of my basic necessities to be stuffed into its nooks and crannies.

Five days from now, a man with a truck will shepherd my tiny home toward a new life, a new project, a return to California. I have moved for jobs, for a partner, for reasons not quite understood. 
 
This time, I’m moving to follow a still-undefined project that calls me. Bits and pieces of the project are clear: California - wildflowers - nature - indigenous wisdom … but the details are still a swirling fog and it’s easy to fall into doubt: Who am I to attempt something which feels so enormous?

Every once in a while I just breathe deeply and try to remember to trust the journey. This morning I woke to my mostly empty house, words demanding space on the page, and a thousand questions rattling through my brain, wondering if I'm on the right path.

Breathe. Trust the journey. Breathe.


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wander & Wonder Date #1: First turnings of Fall

Stop #1 along Hwy 88
Recently I made a decision to uproot my life in order to answer a question: What would it feel like to feel connected to nature? 

It’s a question that has been emerging for some time. Several years ago, in a values exercise with a friend, “connection” was in my top three values, and, more recently, the tagline for my art appeared as “connecting through art.” 

Connection may be what I’ve been looking for my entire life. Strange things seem to be churning my decisions, pulling me in directions which seem to have no logical rhyme or reason, making me feel somewhat like I’m just along for the ride, paying the bills and packing the boxes.

You know those fall wind spirits that swirl leaves and dust like a mini-tornado? That’s a bit like what’s going on in my head. I catch bits and pieces … wildflowers and nature, California and connection ... but can’t seem to grasp the whole. I know I need time in nature, slow time to observe, to invite connection, to feel myself as part of the universal whole, part of nature. I have the sense that this is going to take a new way of being in the world. Thus chopping and tossing my life like Sunday fruit salad. 
 
Rabbitbrush
I’m not sure I can do any of this. I’m a product of my first 74 years and the dominant culture that considers the earth a supply cabinet of resources. Do I even know how to begin to open up to a different way of knowing, learning, and being?

Today was a baby step that tells me I have far to go. However, it was a joyfully delightful day so that must count for something.

I’ve always been something of a road warrior … point A to point B with no stops other than the mandatory requirements of body and car. My husband slowed me down a lot since he was constitutionally unable to pass a historical marker, a fruit stand, or a small town museum. Now, my camera slows me down, although I still tend to have that antsy “gotta get there” feeling if I dawdle too long.

When I decided to sell my house and establish two RVs at different ends of California in order to spend a year (at least) exploring California, photographing wildflowers, and reconnecting with nature (on the assumption that I was once connected.), I knew more than geography needed to change. So, I developed the idea of having a weekly “Wander and Wonder” date … based loosely on Julia Cameron’s artist date concept. 
 
Yesterday was the trial run as I left social media and projects behind with only a loose idea of going to Page Meadow, somewhere near Lake Tahoe where a member of a Facebook group had taken a lovely picture of a Toad Lily. When my GPS didn’t want to find Page Meadow, I stopped in a shady spot next to one of the many Emigrant Trail signs I would see often during the day. I realized I wasn’t particularly concerned with where I was going. It was a glorious, blue sky day and I was happy taking pictures and enjoying the beauty around me, delighted that I could finally recognize the difference between a ponderosa pine and a Jeffrey. 
 

When I saw a sign for Silver Lake, that seemed like a fine destinaton, so I continued up the hill, stopping frequently for photos that just had to be taken. The first fall colors were spotting the hillsides and, as usual, Aspen gold made my heart flutter. 
 
Church at Plasse's Resort
During the trip, I was listening to Bioneers' podcasts and heard a speaker say:
The Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh was asked what we need to do to save our world and he replied: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.”
When I stopped for lunch at Silver Lake though, what I heard was more like purring as I gazed across the peaceful lake surrounded by granite mountains and pines. 
 
Lunch at Silver Lake

 
 Red Lake Vista Point

After lunch, I continued to Lake Tahoe's Inspiration Point on Emerald Bay. This has to be one of the world’s most stunning places and the signage offered nuggets about the area and history. One of them told about the early days when people in their Model Ts and Oldsmobiles would drive up the makeshift road to see the incredible colors of the water. I think it particularly impressed me because I had been gripping the steering wheel and trying not to look over the edge as I drove up the perfectly paved but narrow road.  
 
Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

 
The Lake Tahoe area is one of those places that has been overloved. The beauty is breathtaking, but even on this off-season Tuesday, the parking lot at Inspiration Point was jammed. I felt more touristy than inspired or connected. 
 
The last stop of the day was the Spooner Lake Trailhead day use area where I lost a battle to a food bee. They must have the most acute sense of smell in the world. No sooner had I opened the snack baggie of deli turkey than they were all over it and me. One of them must have been starving and was not about to be shooed away or take no for an answer. He won. When he stung me, he and the food went flying and he’s probably still there pigging out.

Each of the picnic tables was covered with graphic images that looked a bit like place mats. Each told a story about the area and its history, reminding me that Chinese immigrants who came to the US were not permitted to own mines or bring their families to the US or marry a non-Chinese person. They were forced into service roles such as railroad laborers, flume builders, or camp cooks. 
 

Picnic Table info graphics
In these political days that often baffle me, I wondered about the process that resulted in a body of legislators three thousand miles away deciding who could own what and who could marry whom based on where they came from or the color of their skin. And then I remembered that it’s all about money.

Even in my bee-wounded condition, I was able to wander though the Aspens looking for carvings by the Basque shepherds. Most, though, were the marks of young lovers and I wondered how many of them were still together, or what their lives were like today.

All in all it was a pretty remarkable day that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, as I drove home reviewing the day, it seemed like the ratio of gas burning to nature observation was out of whack. It felt like a tourist day rather than a day of connecting with nature … other than the bee, that is. We definitely connected.

Thoughts about my next Wander and Wonder date: slow down. Maybe include time for sitting in meditation, sketching or doing watercolors, limiting the day to one or two places.

A few “rules of the road” appeared throughout the day:
  • Wherever you go, there will be beauty to be found.
  • Stop often! You may never come this way again.
  • No eating in a moving car. Stop and savor. 
     

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The broken windows of our lives

Update: September 19, 2020

Every once in a while a post from some time ago, pops up again as did this one.

In this time of COVID-19, it's an interesting reminder of how important little things are. So many people are acting as if it doesn't matter if we wear a mask and avoid crowded conditions, especially those that involve shouting, cheering, and singing. It does matter. Our actions matter. Our choices matter. ***


  It doesn’t matter 
if I forget to make
my bed,
     I’m just going 
     to sleep in it 
     again tonight.
 
It doesn’t matter 
if I eat that last 
piece of pie,
     it’s small and 
     it was so good.
 
 It doesn’t matter if I miss yoga class,
     they won’t miss me.
 It doesn’t matter if I don’t make that call,
     she’s probably busy any way.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t create art today,
    no one will notice or care.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t write that poem,
     few people like poetry anyway.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t vote today,
     everyone knows who’s going to win.

There is a theory of broken windows that says little things matter. People see other people getting away with minor crimes and they think they will also. They see broken windows in a building and assume no one cares, that it’s okay to break more or take that interesting bit of decoration. The first tagger who spray paints his name on a billboard opens the door to others.

Thinking about this concept made me wonder about the broken windows in my life. What are they and what effect do they have?
 
Obviously, little things matter. If I don’t make my bed in the morning, I have a tendency to throw things on top of it and soon it’s a looming mess. Eating that last piece of pie is sort of like a broken window ... if I can eat that, I can also order fries instead of salad, and oh those mocha lattes! Maybe no one will miss me at yoga class, but my body knows and after awhile, it tells me about it.

They're small things those
Unmade beds,  
unwritten poems,
unplanted flowers,
unexpressed love,
uncreated art, 
and uncast votes ...
They may each seem as if they don’t matter,
but they all add up to a life unlived.

Everything matters.
Every breath we take, 
Each decision we make,
All the lessons we learn ...
I … you … he … she … we ...
Every one of us matters.

Everything matters.
Earth, air, water, sunflowers, frogs, fungi,
even chiggers and bacteria,
every micro nit beneath our view,
all the stars, black holes and universes
beyond our scope,
Every thing matters. 
 
(c) Copyright, Joyce Wycoff, 2017

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #27: The futility of swearing



by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

I fell in love with California when I arrived at 22 with my Marine Corps husband who had just returned from Vietnam. This kid from Kansas/Oklahoma was enchanted and was fortunate enough to spend most of her adult life in some of the most beautiful places in California: the southern coast, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Bishop, the Sierra foothills, the central coast, and even a place called Paradise. 

At one point I remember swearing three things:

                I would never retire

                I would never remarry 

                I would never leave California
               
I had forgotten the powerful refrain: never say never. 
  • I loved my work and thought I would do it forever … until the Universe retired me in the recession of 2008. 
  • My husband died fourteen years ago and I haven’t remarried and think there’s little likelihood of that happening, but 2020 is such a weird year, who knows?
  • A few months after my husband died, I left California and experienced three years of Arkansas and Colorado before returning to California.  Later, when it seemed impossible to balance my income to California housing prices, I left for Mexico for two years and then tried Nevada for a year. 
Now, I’m returning once again to the land I love (after discovering that it’s possible to downsize enough to make my income work). I would say … even swear … that I’ll never leave it again. However, I know better now. I know that the person I am today is incapable of swearing to something that the person I will be five years … or five days from now … would have to deliver. 

We change. Life changes. The Universe changes. Under the onslaught of the corona virus, there are probably millions of us doing things that we would have sworn we would never do. That’s okay … as long as we can stand on the bedrock of our most important values. 

Recognizing that bedrock isn’t all that easy. Life is constantly giving us tests or opportunities to make decisions that reflect that bedrock … do I want X enough to give up Y? When I decided to leave Mexico, I was having a hard time figuring out why. I loved being in Mexico, exploring its history, culture and beauty. I lived in a stunning and affordable place and had friends I enjoyed spending time with. What was it that pulled me enough to give that up? 


Part of it was family, however, it wasn’t until I stumbled on the possibility of living on the lake in Northern California that other pieces started falling into place … trees and water … wildflowers … nature … beauty and peace … kayaking on a quiet lake surrounded by yellow pond lilies. 

My place on Lake Almanor was limited to five months a year (too much snow for the park to stay open in the winter); I knew that was not going to be enough. I wanted all that peaceful beauty year around. The price would be giving up the normal idea of house as home. It would mean recognizing the bedrock of my spirit: freedom to explore, to find beauty and connections to the Universe, nature, people, stories and all the surprises waiting around the next corner.

In my many years of doing values exercises, I never came up with freedom as my bedrock. In these days when freedom is linked to the idea of carrying a firearm or not wearing a mask, I’m not sure I would have chosen this particular value as my bedrock, however, it seems to have chosen me, so I’m going to explore it and see what it has to teach me.

I am not, though, going to swear to it. I’ve learned my lesson. 
 
 So, what’s your bedrock?