Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Love Letters to my life #15: A new kind of happiness

Turquoise Turnings
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.)

Three days ago my older granddaughter turned 18. It’s easy to turn the clock back to when her mom was in and out of the hospital with false labor pains as we wondered if Ava would share her birthday with the most horrendous act of terrorism the US had experienced. She waited, though, and finally arrived on the 14th. Having never had children of my own, I felt blessed to be there as part of her waiting family.

The family has been through its share of problems; however, when given a choice of dispersing or being a family, we kept choosing to be family. And now we’re all here in Reno, with one child “of age” and another one four years behind, and all of the adults on solid footing. We’re not a Hallmark-card family, but we’re together, supporting and loving each other.
Ava is in the carriage
Recently, on a morning walk, I realized I am happier than I’ve ever been. However, it’s a different kind of happiness, a contented peacefulness that buzzes at a cellular level. My dearest aunt often said that certain things strengthened her bones. What I feel right now strengthens my bones, comforts me like a Patagonia fleece (a plug for Annie’s employer), makes me happy to be who I am, where I am.

Yes, there have been times that were more ecstatic: falling in love with Richard, becoming a stepmother to two amazing young girls, being awestruck by Santa Barbara, the opening day of the first InnovationNetwork Convergence, making my first piece of art that bowled me over. Those things took my breath away and I am grateful for the experiences.

And, double yes, there are sucky parts of today’s world; things that make me want to leap onto the back of a silver stallion and ride through the world with a cleansing sword, or carry the brightest lantern into the dark corners. There are moments when hate writhes on the ground like breeding snakes and I want to pull up a hoodie and huddle somewhere with my kindle.

River birch
 Then I go for a walk with a cool breeze blowing in my face and the sun warming my back. I walk through giant trees dappling sunlight on the green grass. I see women and men walking their dogs, gaggles of young girls giggling, an old woman wearing a huge sun hat weeding the Rotary garden along the river walk, and I am just glad to be alive.

The ending words of Anne of Green Gables are, “God’s in his Heaven. All’s right with the world.” I know that all’s not right with our world, however, in my small piece of it, things are just fine. I also know that, this, too shall pass. So, I savor this precious moment.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This administration is NOT the United States

Reno at the river
This administration is NOT the United States; 
nor was Obama’s, Bush’s (either one), Clinton's, 
nor Carter's, Reagan's, Ford's, Nixon's, FDR's,
or even Washington's. 

Living two years in Mexico as an expat and then returning to life in the US has clarified a lot of my feelings about being a US citizen.

Several years ago, I was kayaking on June Lake in the eastern Sierra, when one of those messages struck me. You know the ones ... you may not actually hear them, but they come through a megaphone into your mind.

I was peacefully kayaking around the lake, noticing the twisted junipers growing seemingly out of solid rock when it sounded:


It was so clear, so shocking, I almost dropped my paddle. I haven’t gotten many messages like that in my lifetime, so it stuck with me, almost haunted me.

Eastern Sierra near Bridgeport
At the time, after moving about more than the average couple, we were living in the high desert, eastern Sierra town of Bishop, content with life. I decided the message meant that regardless of where I was living, I should learn and grow. Little did I know how many times I would get to test that message over the next few years.

Gradually, I came to realize that it referred to more than just geography as within a handful of years, I lost my husband, my home, my mother and second mother, a dream of happily ever after, another home, and my dog. Each loss was another “place” giving me opportunities to learn more about who I am and how I want to live in the world.

As I lost the most critical connections in my life, I began to realize the importance of things I had always taken for granted: family, love, unconditional love, community, real friends and shared history. However, as life became increasingly more disconnected, the thought of moving Mexico began to seem like the next step. It was just another place to grow, a place I had always enjoyed, and one that fit my Social Security budget.
Ajijic pier
So, I moved to Ajijic, an art-rich, gringo-filled village on beautiful Lake Chapala. Because of all the people from Canada and the US, speaking Spanish wasn’t a necessity and it was somewhat like a high school for seniors … if you were interested in something, there were bound to be playmates interested in the same thing.

For the first time in memory, it felt like I was part of a community. Walking to the plaza meant stopping to talk with new friends … you just didn’t know which ones you’d run into. It was heaven: great photography and a chance to get involved with amazing projects such as the Feria Maestros del Arte, an organization that produces an annual weekend festival of Mexican folk art where ALL the sales money goes to the artisans who come from all over Mexico. The Feria collects no fees or commissions from the artisans, and pays all their travel expenses. 
Alebrije from the Feria Maestros del Arte
I was happy: writing, making art, studying Spanish and exploring some of the incredible colonial towns in central Mexico. I had a few close friends and a growing network of acquaintances. Learning about the history, culture and art of Mexico fed my intense need to learn; plus, I had moved into a beautiful, historic property right on the lake with a pool and what felt like a private resort for its nine owners. 
The pool at my place on Lake Chapala
Life seemed perfect, until …

I was visiting family in Reno, doing my usual morning walk when tears started falling. Ridiculous I thought, but still they came. When I tried to find the source of the tears, the words that appeared were: “I want to come home.” That was strange since I’d never lived in Reno and had never ever felt “home-sick.” Home was just the place where all my stuff was. 

Yet, the impulse was so strong, I immediately announced the decision to move to Reno. Within two weeks I had bought a car and a new home (basically a tiny house) and, within a month, I was living in Reno trying to figure out why. 
"Family" is what I told everyone and that was a huge piece of the puzzle. Eventually I came up with some additional, somewhat superficial reasons; however, it took weeks before I realized what underlay them all … ROOTS! With all my moving around, I never thought I had roots, but Mexico taught me differently. 
 Art piece inspired by Fiesta de Cristo Rey
In the month prior to moving to Reno, I had explored the state of Michoacán, primarily Pátzcuaro and Morelia. I was fortunate enough to find a brilliant guide, Jaime Hernández, who opened up the history and culture of Mexico in a powerful way. It is common knowledge that family is important in the Mexican culture. However, Jaime helped me understand more of what is meant by “family.” 

Wedding in a small village near Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
As we stood in a village plaza watching a wedding in process, he explained the proceedings and told me about one of his family weddings. In the wedding of a godchild, there was a great deal of ceremony among the grandparents, uncles, and cousins of the bride’s family and the groom’s as they committed to supporting the young couple. Then, the two family groups came together and passed around cigarettes and tequila as both sides solidified their intentions to become one, much larger family. 

As Jaime described his family wedding, he joked, “I gained 43 new family members in that one day.” In Mexico, family grows quickly into community and becomes the primary support system in an uncertain world.

Jaime’s guidance was one of the best learning experiences I had in my time in Mexico. However, it may also have opened my eyes to the important fact that Mexico, with all its beauty and lovely, generous people, was not what filled my bones. My own roots were in the United States.

When I looked back over my two years in Mexico, I could trace a growing trend in the conversations and Facebook posts of my expat friends, who are largely progressive and primarily from the United States. Shock, anxiety, anger, and disbelief have been common reactions to the dismantling of human rights and protections of our democracy and natural resources by the current administration. 
Beyond those emotions though, the expats also often express gratitude for no longer being in the US with its increasing violence and openly expressed hatred of anyone with diverse beliefs, colors, economic status, or religious affiliations.

Refrains heard often included: “I’m glad I’m not there (US).” … “I would never go back.” “It’s not the country I thought it was.”

I understand those feelings. However, I think they also are part of what brought me back as I suddenly felt that I needed to be here. I needed to stand with my country in its time of trial and pain. I don’t know how my being here will help, but I feel like it’s important for me to do my small part to help us survive this challenge to our democracy. Ours is a democracy birthed with the seedling of an idea of freedom and justice for all, which may or may not survive the current assault, but I will be part of whatever happens. 
Reno's Pride Parade was a joyous affair
I will support diversity in all forms, take part in the political process, connect with my community, fill my remaining years with as much beauty as I can find and share, and try in all ways to "be love."

Afternoon glow and families at the river
Beyond the current administration and each of the administrations that went before it, there is the people of this country who have shown incredible generosity and goodness, as well as a dark shadow of greed and discrimination. I don’t know if our better natures will win. I don’t know if we will have a habitable planet long enough to find out. I only know that:

This is my country, good and bad. 
It is where I was planted. 
It is my place to grow.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Go placidly amid the noise and haste

"Winter Moon" by Joyce Wycoff

There was a time a few decades ago when almost all of us had this poem posted on our wall (usually in calligraphy); some even knew it by heart. It was attributed to different people but apparently written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana. The word desiderata means “things that are desired.” Ehrmann said he wrote it for himself, “because it counsels those virtues I felt most in need of.”


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. 

Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy. 

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Intend Peace

On September 15, 2009, I began this blog. At the time, it was called Peaceful Legacies and it helped me stay peaceful through challenging times. As my life changed, the identity of the blog changed and now it is changing again. Once again it began when a piece of art resurfaced ... art that was created as I thought about my intentions.

Here it is again with my renewed commitment to these intentions:

Trust Love
Create Beauty
Seek Truth
Give Freely
Receive Easily

Listen Generously
See Goodness
Honor Self
Laugh Often
Practice Joy

Be thankful for EVERYTHING!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

What happened today: was it ants or the moon?

Sparks Marina
A friend on Facebook posted that the coming new moon will generate a lot of “positivity.” So, maybe it was new moon energy, but something unusual happened today. 
First of all, I did something out of the ordinary for me: I approached a stranger and asked her a personal question. I hesitated twice, thinking that what I wanted to ask her might be imposing or even rude, but when she walked right by me on her way away from the coffee shop and the moment was slipping away, I finally stood and said, “Excuse me."

Let me back up. When I moved to high-desert Reno, I heard there was a “marina” here, so, eventually, I went looking for it. What I found was a beautiful park with a large pond and a great walk. There were a couple of small docks for non-motorized boats in front of a luxury apartment complex that apparently earned the area its title as a “marina.”

This tree-lined park buzzed with ground squirrels zipping past walkers and a few morning fishermen. Only a few years before, it had been a Toxic Superfund Site, a gravel pit that had been contaminated by a massive spill of a nearby fuel-tank farm. After the clean-up and the flood of 1997, it was discovered that it was a natural aquifer and maintaining its desired 100-feet deep level requires pumping out a million gallons of water daily into the Truckee River. 
There is a charming coffee shop by the marina and I had resolved to spend some time there. Today my plans changed twice before I wound up there and settled in with an iced-latte and my notebook. I briefly noticed a woman across from me working on a Mac laptop, but I was focused on a new project. 

The Maybe Stage

The new project has been niggling around in my mind for quite some time. It calls to me, and at the same time it overwhelms me. It seems like a project someone else should do … someone with more credentials and experience. So, I’ve been in the “maybe stage.” Maybe I should do it. Maybe it would be fun, or even useful. Maybe it’s too big or too much work. Maybe I don’t know how to put it together. Maybe ... maybe ... maybe.

That’s where I was, sitting at an outside table making notes on all these maybes when I noticed the woman again. She looked interesting and like she might be in the right age range. The new project is about women in “this stage of life,”  what they're learning, how they're coping with the challenges of this stage, and how they find meaning and purpose. I thought briefly about introducing myself, but it was easier to just stay in my own head.

Then, she got up, gathered her stuff, and walked over to the trash can. She walked easily and gracefully, and it took a moment to notice that she had an amputated foot. That increased my interest; obviously, she had faced a challenge and could have wisdom to share. But, she might also resent an intrusion on her privacy. When she went inside, my mind was churning … should I approach her or would it be rude? I finally got up and went inside, determined to introduce myself; but she was talking to the counter person, so I went back outside and sat down. It wasn’t the right time.

A few minutes later, she came out and was walking right by me. I could sit and watch the moment evaporate or I could do something. I had an excuse, many excuses … I didn’t know her, I didn’t even know if she was old enough, or if she would be interested, or if she would think it rude of me to approach her because of a physical handicap.

Then, without further thought, I stood up and said, “Excuse me … I hope I’m not being rude, but I’m working on a research/book project and wondered if I could ask you a question?”

“She smiled and replied, 
“That’s interesting, I’m working on a research project, too.”

We laughed and wound up sitting for another half hour talking about our projects. She interviewed me for hers and agreed to be part of mine. We shared some information and resources and decided to get together again.

During these minutes, I found myself tearing up as I felt touched by the Universe, gifted with encouragement and the sense that this new project had just left the “maybe stage.”

What about the ants?

Oh, yes ... the ants! I’ve recently begun to think change is the work of ants.   

Think of any major moment in your life and try to find its start … getting married, having a baby, getting hired for your dream job, or even breaking up with your first love. You may remember when it happened, or even when you decided that it should happen, however, if you follow the trail back to the true beginning, to the first moment it became a possibility, it often starts with an ant. … Ant?

Imagine it’s a slow day and you’re watching an ant carry a crumb larger than itself back to its nest. Suddenly, you think: if that ant can do that, I can certainty do this thing I’ve been thinking about and wanting to do. That's the ants at work, shifting the ground beneath your belief systems.

There are other ants … the phone rings and your life shifts … you turn right when you normally turn left … someone hands you a book … or you stand up and ask a stranger a question. There are millions of ant moments in the world and you never know when they’ve changed your life until you look backwards, tracing the winding path back to the beginning and finding an ant hill of tiny shifts, decisions, and happenstance. 
And, at the top of that tiny mountain, there’s this smirking ant holding a sign that says: 


Author Ann Patchett calls them breadcrumbs rather than ants. In her 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence, she said, 
"Every choice leads you to a trail of breadcrumbs so that when you look behind you there appears to be a very clear path that points straight to the place where you now stand. But when you look ahead there isn’t a breadcrumb in sight, just a few shrubs, a few trees and woodland creatures … 
Call them breadcrumbs or ants, we almost never recognize them when they happen. Only in hindsight do we look backwards and say, “Wow! I wouldn’t be here, doing this today, if that tiny event hadn’t happened."

Somehow, I think the shift that happened today might just be the work of ants … but, of course, I won’t know until some day in the future when I look back and say, “Yes, that’s when it started.” 
Of course, beginnings are just beginnings. Unless, I carry forward and follow the call of this project … unless I choose to do the work to make it something, when I look back, there will be nothing to see and I won't even think about all those tiny ants scurrying around trying to create a new path.

Today I stood up and took a minuscule risk. Tomorrow and for many days into the future, I will have to stand up again and take another risk. I will have to risk talking to strangers and making myself vulnerable. I think it might be slightly easier because I can remember today's magical moment when I felt the Universe write “YES!” across the sky.
Ann Patchett gave the 2006 commencement speechfor Sarah Lawrence and it was so popular, she later converted into the short book What now?

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Willingness to wobble

Hallway in Renaissance Reno Downtown
I spent two thoroughly enjoyable years in Mexico. I loved the beauty and diversity of the land, the kindness and generosity of the people, and being immersed in a different culture and history. When I suddenly knew that it was time to leave, I wasn’t sure quite why. I said, “family,” and that was true, but it wasn’t all of it. Walking gradually offered me some other clues.

Here in Reno, where the streets are flat, walking became, once again, a mental activity rather than a way to meet my basic needs, traversing the cobblestone streets which require constant attention to foot placement. The joy of following my feet wherever they wanted to take me freed my mind to wander and wonder. 
This morning, while walking through the whitewater park along the river, I saw a man wobbling on a balance line strung between a pole and a tree. It wasn’t a familiar sight so I went over, iPhone in hand, and asked if I could take his picture. He said, “Sure” and I watched as he walked (wobbled) across the line, muscles taught, ukulele in his left hand waving through the air as his balance came and went.

When he stopped and I asked him why he was doing this, he talked about balance. Then I asked him if he was trying to do something crazy (thinking about the dare devils who cross canyons) and he said, “Yes.” He obviously wasn’t ready to be more than the two feet off the ground, so I’m sure I looked shocked.  He said he wanted to be able to do back flips and play his ukulele while walking the line. I laughed and offered to send him a photo, and, with his email safely in my phone, walked on.

It wasn’t until I was sitting at a coffee shop, watching the river flow by, that it struck me: that was something I had missed in Mexico … those random, spontaneous conversations that add a sliver of understanding to my view of the world. In Mexico, my lack of language fluency precluded me from connecting with strangers or hearing bits of conversation as I walked through the world. I worked hard at learning the language and was making progress, but reality (and a friend) told me it would be another 3-5 years before I would be conversationally fluent. 

Maybe if I were 40, I would have continued that journey. However, it wasn’t just the language. I was also missing enormous chunks of understanding of the culture, the history, and the governmental structure that affected every day life. I am a learner so I could have eventually filled in those blanks. However, learning takes time and effort and were those things my priority for my learning efforts?

Raffy, the man on the balance line, taught me how much I had yearned for those random connections with other lives, those lessons spelled out in actions rather than words. He had set his line up in a public park, willing to be seen learning something new, wobbling, flailing, wobbling again.  And, he had an outrageous goal to turn backflips and play the ukulele. Could he even turn back flips or play the ukulele on the ground?
It made me wonder where in my own life I was lacking the willingness to wobble in public ... and were my own goals outrageous enough?
On my journey home, I passed a small house, woman weeding her small garden, man on a porch swing apparently talking on the phone. My ears turned toward the conversation and the joy of eaves-dropping, something I also missed in Mexico. I heard … Marx … the principles of Utopia …

I laughed and walked on, happy to understand another bit of why I pulled up stakes once again. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Reno Duck Race

How do you dump 20,000 little rubber duckies into a river and then pick them all up again? And, how do you determine the winner when hundreds of people are watching the process hoping their Duckie is the one that will bring them a new car?

Just another day in Reno on my morning walk as I happened upon the Nevada Humane Society setting up for the Duck Race. This afternoon they will release a flock of little rubber duckies into the Truckee River and the fastest ducks will win prizes for their sponsors. It's all part of the Duck Race for the Nevada Humane Society … a race organized by a fund-raising game company that says it has raised over $280 million partnering with more than 2000 organizations.

How could I resist? As I shelled out $20 for a Quack Pack (5 ducks), I learned that these weren’t MY ducks … they were only leased. If I wanted one to keep, I could buy one for another $3. At the end of the race the volunteers would have to fish all the ducks out of the water to return them to the originator of the event.

Finally, it was time. The crowd did a 10 to 1 countdown; the assisting firemen opened the gates and the yellow duckies flooded into the rushing waters on their way to making a few people happy. As of yet, I haven’t gotten the call telling me to pick up the keys to my new car.

I knew Reno was quirky, now it turns out that they are also quacky.