Tuesday, March 31, 2020

This is who I am: a 5-year plan at 74? While in a pandemic? (part 2)

Turn my ship around

March 31, 2020 - 
part 2

And then, came a virus with a vengeance. You could hear doors slamming shut all across the planet. Lockdown. 

Sudden change left our heads spinning and our hearts softened as we marched to war … the peoples of the earth fighting against something we couldn’t even see.

Uncertainty. Not knowing what’s coming our way is changing us, turning us back toward the basics, stripping away norms built up over the years of prosperity and gluttony … eating too much, buying too much, self-indulging too much. It’s like we have been sent to our rooms to contemplate our futures and think about what’s important.

My thoughts about a 5-year plan were caught on the edge of this tectonic shift. A plan implies that there is an X in the future that we want  to arrive at or achieve. How can you plan for an X five years into the future, when you’re not even sure there is a future or what it might look like? 

However, what we do now counts … it will create our future and who we become regardless of whether we’re in good times or in a totally disorienting pandemic. We can’t wait for calm waters to figure out how to handle our lifeboat in the middle of a raging sea.

The word plan doesn’t quite fit this during corona (DC) time. However, what should we call a set of possible actions or intentions chosen to take us to a different state of being? Thesaurus and I had a long discussion about words: pattern, picture, guideline? Nothing quite worked until I started asking questions:  
Who am I? 
Who do I want to be? 
What’s important to me? 
What are my gifts? 
What can I give? 
What do I want my days to be like? 
How do I want to spend my time?

Suddenly, it was clear. QUESTIONS. 
I don’t want a 5-year plan. 
I want a 5-year question.

Whereas a plan is a fixed, step-by-step set of actions focused on an outcome; a question would be a living energy constantly refocusing me on my “one wild and precious life” and what I want it to be.

Plans take  you to places the world recognizes as good: fame, fortune, accomplishment, recognition, a book published, a piece of artwork sold, a new title and bigger office, a spiffy car, an island hideaway, a marathon record, more followers on twitter. A question circles around our essence, inviting new layers into action, calling forth intentions that resonate with who we are, asking:

Assuming there is a future, 
who do you want that future self to be?

Then, the logical me kicks into gear and asks: how will you measure success?  What will be on your “to do” list? How will you know you’re making progress? How will you manage your time? How will the world know that you’re a good and successful person?

My head spins again as an old tune begins to play … “What’s it all about, Alfie?” 

Is it “doing” or “being”? I know that’s the wrong question. As always, it’s both/and. We are living beings who do things. What we do is either a reflection of who we are, who we want to be, or a negation of that standard. If I know who I want to be, I can judge all my actions based on that criteria, asking: Is this action a reflection of who I want to be?

Searching for my 5-year question, I write: 
What do I want in my life and who do I have to be in order to create that life?

It sounds good, but I’m not sure it’s THE question. see part 3

Monday, March 30, 2020

This is who I am: a 5-year plan at 74?

Written late February, 2020, a time we now call BC (before coronavirus):

The first three decades of my life were spent as a chameleon. I worked hard at being invisible, turning whatever color someone wanted me to be. You want cheerful; I’m cheerful. You want responsible; I’m responsible. You want flexible; I’m a yoga master bending to your whims.

That life strategy gradually cracked, but it wasn’t until my 50s when it split open like a ripe watermelon in a hot Kansas field. Poetry, certifiably bad poetry, spewed forth; grade school imagery showed up in art workshops, and “creativity,” a word I don’t remember hearing as a child, took hold of my spirit as I started teaching people how to free their thinking and imaginations. I believed and taught that everyone was creative, while the voice in the back of my head reminded me that I was the one true exception.

All of this is to say that I have been a late bloomer. A recent conversation with a friend about my 18 year-old granddaughter raised the issue of 5-year plans. I’ve had a fairly productive life so my friend was surprised when I told her I had never made a 5-year plan. I guess it surprised me also because the conversation kept haunting me.

In my 20s and 30s, I read most of the popular positive thinking books. I wrote affirmations and filled my mind with possibilities. I visualized wealth and fabulous homes on distant islands. I pasted the title of one of my books on the NY Times best seller list and made vision boards. My efforts were always short-lived and, obviously, those fantasies never materialized.

Gradually, I determined to become visible. I began to blog, post art on FB, spew my thoughts on Twitter and occasionally tiptoe into Instagram and Pinterest. Apparently I'm trying to make up for those years when I was that mousy girl in the corner with her nose in a book. The metaphor may be inept but I basically crept out of the closet and said “take me or leave me, this is who I am.”

So, here I am at 74, thinking about 5-year plans. Who makes 5-year plans at this stage of life when the standard joke is that we don’t even buy green bananas? 

However, turning the coin over, the question becomes: why don’t we ALL make 5-year plans at age 74 … or 84 … or even 94??? Who cares if we die before we reach the end of the plan? If our spirits are still reaching for joy, still learning more about ourselves and the world around us, still finding new ways to share our being with others, then wouldn’t that be a good thing?

So I flung myself into the 5-year plan idea, doing it my way, of course. Fame and fortune no longer interest me, so no more cars and boats and planes in my plan. The only thing that truly interests me these days is deep connection … with friends and family, with myself and the world around me, with the mysteries of the Universe. 

I began to develop a plan to become more who I am, more visible, more generous with my gifts, more attuned to the Universe. I reviewed the new literature on making changes and establishing new habits and found a model that resonated with me. Rather than starting with specific (or even SMART) goals or new processes, this theory advocates starting with identity. Who do I want to be?

As I began my contemplation on who I wanted to be, suddenly there came a virus with a vengeance … see part 2

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Corona Curiosity, seeking inspiration, answers, and solace in an upside down world

The main thing that seems to calm my heart and my mind right now is art and writing. From this need Corona Curiosity was born  as I wonder where our world will be when we reach the end of this crisis and what we will learn along the way. I don't know where this is going or what it intends to be. I'm trying to just show up, listen, and record.

I've assumed it will take the shape of a photo essay book since that's where my passion is right now. So, everything is being put together as pages. 3/30/2020: I'm up to 17 pages so I'm putting them into a magazine format and will update it periodically. To see the latest version, go to Corona Curiosity.

I believe fully that "this, too, shall pass," but my goal is to  come out of this challenge feeling more productive, more creative, and grateful for what I have learned from the experience.

Stay safe and find ways to feed your creative spirit. joyce

United States
March 31:  Confirmed cases: 174,684; Deceased:3,400; Nevada cases/deaths: 1,044/17
March 30:  Confirmed cases: 143,724; Deceased:2,601; Nevada cases/deaths: 920/15

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Love Letter to my life #21: The Road to Gerlach

(book cover)
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 had already drafted a different letter for this month when a virus  turned the world upside down. Conversations on Facebook went this way and that and one of my friends suggested I post some art as sort of a distraction. My mind jumped at that idea like a hungry bass after a perfect fly.

Turns out, I had just finished a 30-page photo book …  hmmm ... 30 pages … 30 days. And, there was a story involved about a place most people don’t know exists. As a matter of fact, Nevada is one of those places people hardly know exists  … other than Las Vegas, of course. 

So for the next 30 days, I’m going to post this micro story, one page every day. It’s a transformation tale about my decision to apply for an Artist in Residence position in the Black Rock Desert … some of the harshest territory in the US. I wanted to go … I didn’t want to go (not big on hot, wind, or dust). 

I know little about this part of the world and I’m not a typical candidate for a gig like this so I knew I had to somehow present myself creatively. Of course, I won’t know if I will actually get the opportunity to go until sometime in May. However, just writing this story and assembling the book turned on a new energy. Plus, we all need a bit more distraction for the next few weeks … right?

So, this is the beginning of The Road to Gerlach … The "story" is told on the  left side "black" pages and amplified by pieces of my art with snippets about its creation on the right side "gray" pages. This photo book will be part of my application for the Artist in Residence position. We'll see how it works. In the meantime, I hope it brings you some interesting thoughts during the next 30 days.

I’ll also post it on Facebook and here so if you miss a day, you can always catch up … not that it’s exactly going to be a cliff hanger. If you have any questions or comments about Gerlach, the story, the art, or anything else, please leave in the comments.

*** Inside Cover ***

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*** Page 9 ***


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Workampers and a broken security net

Jessica Bruder website
I love entrepreneurship: people who see a possibility that fills a need and then build a business around it, creating jobs and opportunities for others.

Because of this life-long fascination with entrepreneurship, my ears perked up when I heard a story about a guy who wrote a business plan for a new idea as his wife drove them cross country to their new home on the west coast. It was an outrageous idea made feasible by a growing web of technology combined with financial and transportation systems all geared to deliver convenience in an ever more fast-paced world.

From the beginning, this entrepreneur was a big thinker. Struck by the incredible growth of the internet in the mid 90s, he imagined the largest river on the planet as he set forth to build the largest bookstore in the world: amazon.com. 

To most it made no sense. The very word store conjured up a confined space with shelves, doors and cash registers, and everyone knew bookstores were gathering places filled with low margin products bought with tiny slices of disposable income. 
How could this invisible river of books ever make a profit? For several years, it didn’t, only turning a tiny profit after sales skipped past the billion dollar mark. After that, though, it became the river that flooded the world, changing the way we buy everything and offering shopping convenience that is closing retail malls across America. 

However, behind this tidal wave of instant gratification, 
hairline cracks began to appear.
  • Retail Amazon became the place where you could find anything and have it the next day. Mom and pop stores either went online or went out of business. Thousands of people started their own Amazon stores only to have the company later change the rules leaving them out in the cold.
  • Amazon publishing system opened up the world to writers, giving us a world of often poorly edited books with life-time sales of less than 100 copies, while also devastating the old-world where editors carefully chose, printed and marketed books through bookstores.
  • “Next day ‘FREE’ delivery” depended on super human systems that exacted a toll on mere mortal bodies. Mega warehouses were built along major transportation routes, bringing new jobs to small towns. However, those jobs involved long hours of grueling physical labor at entry-level pay and few benefits. 
 And, that’s where and when 
the second part of this story begins.

One of the books on Amazon’s own digital shelves is Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. It is one of the books chosen for 2020 by Nevada Reads, a state-wide bookclub, and will be released as a movie later this year.



Most of us remember the time span called 2008, also known as the Great Recession. We talk about that period in hushed tones of lost jobs, foreclosed homes, bankruptcies, lost savings, and financial chaos. For the fortunate ones who managed to hold onto the four key elements of life: jobs-homes-health-marriage, it was “back then,” the past, a survived brush with danger. For others, many others, it was a freefall through the safety net.

Many of those freefallers were seniors … people in their 50s 60s 70s and 80s … who took to the roads in their cars, vans, and rusty RVs. They became a barely visible wave of “houseless” migrant workers reminiscent of the Okies of the 30s, often with only a minimal Social Security check standing between them and total destitution and homelessness.
From a review By Timothy R. Smith, Special To The Washington Post
Seventeen years into the 21st century, the news for the middle class is bleak. As one expert puts it in the book, the “three-legged stool” of retirement security — Social Security, private pensions and personal savings — has given way to “a pogo stick,” with Social Security as the single “wobbly” leg. As the election made clear, the erosion of factory work is taking its toll on many Americans. These days, many decent jobs are in cities with absurdly high rents.
Nomadland tells the story of this largely invisible segment of our society … too poor for standard housing … too proud to be homeless. They have become “workampers” following the call of seasonal jobs: park camp hosts, oil fields, amusement parks, sugar beet fields, or, coming back to our story, the warehouse meccas of next day delivery.
Amazon has a marketing outreach to the world of workampers called:

It’s website invites “enthusiastic RV’ers" to choose from seasonal assignments involving "picking, packing, stowing, and receiving.” CamperForce advertises “the chance to build lasting relationships with your coworkers” although the micro-managed schedule involves walking up to 15 miles a day and, as one person in the book said, “about a thousand squats a day.” All for $11 - !2 per hour (as of 2017).

Gradually, as I read this book, it seemed as if the workamper day could be described as: Arrive. Take Tylenol. Walk-bend-squat for 12 hours minus two 15-minute breaks and 30 minutes for lunch. Go home. Take Tylenol. Fall into bed. Repeat. I’m not sure where they find time to build "lasting relationships."

The majority of workampers are women who typically have significantly lower Social Security checks because of motherhood and the gender pay gap. The main character in Nomadland is Linda May, at the time, a 64-year-old grandmother with a history of interesting but lower paid jobs and a SS check in the neighborhood of $600. She is living in a tiny trailer she calls “Squeeze Inn.” As her children were having their own problems maintaining standard housing and she didn’t want to further burden them, she set out on the hard road of being a migrant workamper. Her first tour with Amazon left her with a wrist stress injury from hours of using a hand scanner.

Three years and many seasonal gigs later, Linda still has a dream: she wants to build her own, self-contained earthship in the desert. As the book ends, she has found her piece of dirt and, using her savings from her last tour at Amazon, she has started clearing the land. However, the “check engine” light is showing on her Jeep.

Nomadland is a distressing book, but it is also a book about the creativity and resilience of the human spirit. It was compelling to me on many levels. Two of the seasonal job sites mentioned were places I identified with … one close to Reno where I am now and one in Coffeyville, Kansas, where I grew up.

It also sparked memories of my own 2008 when the work I was doing as a consultant in the field of innovation suddenly disappeared as companies scrambled to survive. Around the same time, my husband died and the loss of his income threw me into the financial abyss. Since then, I’ve had a series of downsizings, some relatively optional but all focused on making ends meet in a more and more difficult housing market.

However, I’m one of the lucky ones. I've wound up in a stable and affordable micro home with a doable SS income. I keep thinking, though, about Linda May and the other women I met through Nomadland, women who live in a tiny space, subject to freezing temperatures (or blazing heat), stretching a budget that barely covers food, walking for long hours on the concrete floors of an Amazon warehouse, or cleaning campground toilets, or bent over picking strawberries. My heart goes out to them.

This book made my recognize my own anxiety and fears, as well as theirs. Fear that comes with living in an aging body and the constant possibility of financial disaster in a society whose safety net has already been broken. For me, all of this is an occasional worry; for them, it is every day, as close as a “check engine” light, a wrist injury, or an empty cupboard before the next check.

There are no villains in this story. Since the book came out, Amazon has raised its minimum wage to $15/hour. Right now, it needs its workampers. However, it also has over 200,000 warehouse robots. Will they eliminate this “opportunity” for seasonal workers?

The current administration is talking about reducing Social Security. For many of us that might mean tightening the belt a bit. For workampers, it could be a death knell ... literally. 


Interview with author: The Rough Lives Of Older Americans In ‘Nomadland'

Book reviews:





Monday, February 17, 2020

Love Letters to my life #20: Grow where you're planted

Follow Your Own Path
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.) 

Consistency is not an innate trait for me, so I find myself surprised that this is the 20th monthly Love Letter to my life. That thought prompted me to walk back through my journey as documented by these letters. 

I generally ponder my next letter for a few days,
trying to catch the thought that has the most heat. Fragments for this letter have been stirring around in the Reno winds but nothing was sticking … until I reread Love Letter #9: What Am I Supposed To Do? which focused on the dark side of Mexico. 

Every thing, every person, every country has a shadow. However, Mexico’s shadow is a little more visible than some. For expats, Mexico is mostly a safe country, some say even safer than the US with its all-too-frequent mass shootings. However, for Mexicans, especially poor Mexicans, and most especially, poor, indigenous Mexicans, life is lived on the edge of poverty and violence. 

Corruption is woven into the fabric of daily life of Mexico. Disappeared is not a word used for lost keys or missing documents. It’s a gaping, black hole of tears where children, loved ones, and hopes for the future disappear without closure or certainty.

Mexicans celebrate life and death frequently and with great exuberance. They hold family close as the only completely trusted bond. We talk about living in the moment and savoring life; they actually live that way because the real possibility of death and persecution walks beside them every day. 
Mural from Cherán
One of my favorite stories from Mexico is about the town of Cherán. Told more fully on México Stories, it is basically about a town where kidnappings, extortion, murders, and illegal logging of the local forest--the lifeblood of the community--were part of daily life, until one day Cherán took back its power and kicked out the cartels and corrupt politicians. Today, to visit the town, you have to go through an armed checkpoint and declare your reasons for entering Cherán. 

One of the reasons I fell in love with the story was because the change happened when a posse of old women, armed with sticks and brooms, attacked a cartel truck and kidnapped the driver who was stealing their sacred forest lumber. Out of this rebellion came a democratic process of self-government that has been successful for almost a decade.

When I went there with two guides to take pictures of some of the amazing murals in the town, the spirit and courage of the town made me weep. It hasn’t been easy, but they have been so successful that the Mexican government has now recognized Cherán and several other indigenous towns as legal, self-governing communities.
People leaving tributes to the 43 students
Rereading this and the story from 2014 when 43 students were “disappeared” from a small town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, gave me a clue as to why I felt so called to return to the US. I thought it was a sudden decision, but now I understand that it had been festering for over a year. 

The visit to Cherán triggered thoughts and feelings about what is happening here in my country. I thought my move was about being close to family, and it was, but also, it sprang from a desire to come home and be part of the solution to our present crisis.

Being in Mexico reminded me of how privileged I’ve been to grow up and live in a democracy where the rule of law was the norm. We have never been a perfect country. Nor have we ever reached our vision of what a country could be. However, we have declared our aspiration to a vision of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.

As that aspiration has become severely challenged, I felt like I needed to be here, doing my small part to help return us to a more perfect union. Mexico was my teacher: it is an amazingly beautiful country with wonderful people being strangled by corruption. It helped me understand how fragile our systems are in the face of greed for money and power. 

Mexico showed me a possible future story that I don’t think any of us want for our children and grandchildren. Recently the Mexican government reported almost 62,000 people “missing” since 2006. It's hardly comprehensible that the unofficial reports are even higher. 

Corruption is a cancer that kills people, institutions, and countries.

Cancer is also a hidden disease that grows beneath the surface until it reaches a mass large enough to disrupt everything. It’s easy to not see its beginnings and to ignore the early signs. However, once seen, it can no longer be ignored as it will eventually be lethal.

Mexico helped me see the early signs of cancer in our political systems; now I can no longer look away. My job, as I see it, is to help others see these signs so we can treat the disease. It’s not a job I wanted or even feel prepared for. 

Lake Tahoe rather than June Lake
I once received a message while kayaking on June Lake in the Eastern Sierra. Across the peaceful blue water was a dusty green and twisted juniper. The message that came was: Grow where you’re planted!
This is where I am … trying to grow where I am in this strange and frightening times of the United States where competing forces of good and evil battle for the future. I think I’m on the right side. I just hope I have the strength and courage to stand up for the vision of this country and our people.
About the image: Follow Your Own Path
Focusing on the ugliness of current politics depletes me and leaves me feeling depressed. One of the few things that helps is art. I've started reworking some older pieces of art in hopes of getting them into a portfolio book. 
I've always been fond of this piece because it represents so many pieces and places of my past ... a garden arbor in a Minneapolis park, a bright painted sidewalk in Coronado, California, a sunset from the Sierra foothills, and a rooster from Mexico who has insisted on being in so many paintings. 
Even though I don't know what's behind the door at the end of the path, I know it's where I'm going ... that it is my path.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year I post this poem on the day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 
birthday in honor of all that he gave us and to honor Rosa Parks and all the brave people who gave so much to the fight for equality. 

We still have a dream ... may we live up to his words and their actions. jw

Twenty-six he was when destiny crooked its finger,
beckoning the still-green minister-scholar into the world.
Forty-two she was when she pounded on the door
Theoretically opened ninety-four years before.
It was the first of December, 1955, when history wove
Their fates together into a multi-colored tapestry of change.
“Tired,” she said, “Bone tired. Tired of giving up.
Tired of giving in,” she said and sat in the front of the bus.

Montgomery, Alabama, shivered as the temperature rose.
The old ways could be heard keening long into the night
As 42,000 people left the buses to stand by Rosa’s side.
381 days they walked: nannies, maids, carpenters, all.

Two hundred years of anger rose up to shatter the silence
And from this deafening roar came a molasses-rich voice
Spinning a song of hope with a melody of peace and love.
“I have a dream,” boomed and echoed across the land.

The young minister-leader painted a picture of a life
without color lines, a world without violence.
His voice lifted the dream: Richmond, Little Rock,
Dallas opened their buses, took down their signs.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter," he said, never silent again.
He took our hands and led us step-by-step onto a new path,
Brothers and sisters connected by heart rather than skin.

“Always avoid violence,” he said.
“If you succumb to the temptation …
unborn generations will be the recipients
of a long and desolate night of bitterness,
and your chief legacy to the future will be an
endless reign of meaningless chaos."

Thirty nine he was when one man with a gun silenced the voice,
But not the words …those four words branded into our brains:
“I have a dream …,” saffron-rich messengers left behind to
Carry forward the dream of a color-blind world of hope and peace.

Dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. born January 15, 1929;
Assassinated April 4, 1968.
And Rosa Parks, civil rights activist, born February 4, 1913
Died October 24, 2005

-- Joyce Wycoff, copyright, 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

Love Letters to my life #19: Life on Joy Lane

Reno Dance
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. This month, I get to celebrate both my death day and my birth day on the same day!)
The refrigerator is naked, shorn of its magnets, clearly a sign that another move is underway. The number of moves I’ve made in my life is clearly ridiculous. 
However, I hear a whisper, “last time.” 
I respond, “I’ve heard that before.”

This time it could be true. This move was prompted by Joy … literally. Being raised poor, I sometimes have reactions that surprise me. Over my many moves, I’ve lived in a wide variety of homes, from a stunning, view home in Santa Barbara to a tiny cabin in the woods. Recently, my Social Security years have directed me to mobile home parks, ranging from elegant to funky. While there was a slight status adjustment to living in a “manufactured home,” it didn’t last long because they were well-built, comfortable, and felt like a “real house."

My move from Mexico to Reno landed me in an RV “park model” on the river; the equivalent of a tiny house, which was “quirky by choice.” “Quirky" tempered “tiny" leaving my status bubble in balance. When my space rent increased a few months later, I opened my thinking to other options and started looking at mobile homes again. Reno has recently gained the distinction of being one of the most expensive cities in the country, so affordable pickings were slim.  

When a realtor suggested an affordable option, all I heard was “old, single-wide trailer.” No way. It would be like being branded “poor and old; worthless." I refused to even look at it, offering excuses such as “flat roof” and “dark.” Jim played it perfectly, offering to keep looking. In the meantime, the thought of being in a park community with neighbors, an exercise room, pool, and so on, was growing on me, so I went driving around looking at possibilities. Nothing quite worked.

Jim called back with some other things to think about, places I’d already driven by and rejected. Then he said, “By the way, that place I told you about has a pitched roof. You really should look at it … the owners have completely remodeled it.” He went on to outline all the things they had done and sent me a link to the listing. The photos looked interesting but what caught me was the address: 1538 Joy Lane. How could I not look at something on Joy Lane?

However, I can’t say I walked in with an open mind or heart. I tried hard to find the fatal flaw. However, everywhere I looked, this small house had been remodeled with great love and beautiful materials. Slowly my objections drained away and I began to see myself living there. When the owners returned, they pointed out even more of the carefully crafted details and we developed a strong rapport. The next day I made an offer that was accepted. 
Joy Lane Kitchen
So, will this be my forever home? Who knows? I love Reno in so many ways (although cold, winter days are not my favorite). For the first time in many years, I'm living close to the only family I have, whom I love and enjoy immensely, and I’ve just found a place that fits me and my budget. I’ll miss living by the river but we know each other well enough now that I can visit frequently. 

And, I’m gaining neighbors and a club house. That’s rather amusing since neither has ever been high on my list of druthers. At this beginning of my 75th year, I feel like I’m in some sort of backward evolution process. For most of my life, I’ve been moving out into the world through school and career, choosing living spaces that let me sink into the solitude required for my introverted self. Now that I no longer spend the bulk of my time in the world of work, solitude is an overflowing joy -- one that needs to be tempered by interaction with others and enhanced by conversation and camaraderie.

A new life … on Joy Lane … one never knows where life will take us.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Eagle: in Nevada and in poetry

Yesterday was one of those everything days as we explored the Nevada outback (more elegantly known as the Great Basin) … cold with a few peeks of sunshine, occasional bits of tiny snowballs, and fierce, stinging winds that whipped around canyon walls. 
It's an empty world … until you look. In a cavity of a high rock cliff, we were stunned by a golden eagle's nest. 
On the floor far below, I spot the blue belly of a ring-tailed lizard who had left this world for another. An opalized seam of white cracks the towering rock face from tip to floor, scattering crystals this way and that in washes of rocks luring hungry eyes. Tiny white jaw bones with teeth still embedded and fossilized rocks hint of the past ... one that stretches far back in time.
It's a silent world that whispers its secrets only to the wind. If you want to know them, you have to stand close, listen, and imagine.
If I were an eagle, I’d want to sit on that high cliff with my equivalent of a cup of coffee and contemplate the world below me while warming the generation to come. I’d be loath to leave the secure nest I had built stick by stick. Eventually though, a scurry on the desert floor would rouse me into action and I would unfold my giant wings and "fall like a thunderbolt" toward my next meal.

This short poem has always been a favorite. Now I realize how incredibly accurate his words are.

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls. 
Thank you Annie and Don Tennyson for an incredible day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

I miss skin

Afternoon sunlight poured across the street.
Sometimes it seems I am just a passenger on this journey. While others seem to be able to plot their course, I am like dandelion fluff blowing in the wind. Fortunately, it's continues to be a gentle wind; one that brings me words in the middle of the night, words that arrive unbidden, sometimes drifting away without a farewell, sometimes demanding their space on the page.

During the day, I follow the action: war and the stock market, truth and lies, courage and cowardice. At night, though, something else takes over, something seemingly unrelated to the schemes of man. It makes me wonder about the longer sleep to come. None of this leaves me with answers, simply words untranslated.

I miss skin

I miss skin,
The naked length of one body 
Meeting another in unworded exploration,
Blind fingers on the surface of acceptance,
Searching for openings to the other,
Yearnings beyond eyes or ears,
Connection lit pore to pore.

I wonder at the truth 
of my brown-splotched skin
masking the still wide-eyed child.
While old bones dream-remember
skipping and the lightness of spring,
I envy the vitality of the never old river, 
The steadiness of the slowly old cottonwood, 
The loveliness of the forever young sky.

Deep beneath skin lies the damp bed rock of me,
Multi-colored pebbles polished by wind and rivers of time,
Microscopic sands worn through canyons of being,
Each grain neither perfect nor planned,
simply life in an achingly slow lane, 
speeding toward a cliff unseen.

In the greyed world of memory and time,
It is the loneliness of untouched skin 
That wakes me in the night. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

What is a Heart Book?

Catching Sunset
People are hungry for stories …
 for stories of connection …
Who am I? Who are you?
What is our connection?

You see it everywhere … people taking photos ... taking selfies … capturing memories.

Here I am … alive … with my best friend ... with my family… at sunset …
in front of a buffalo in Yellowstone … on top of a mountain … at the beach.

I am alive … my life has meaning …  
 I have meaning.

there is a conundrum though ...

An image is worth a thousand words.
A word is worth a thousand images.

How could that be?

An image ...
  If you've ever been to the beach, or wanted to go to the beach,
you could probably easily come up with a thousand words about this image.

Or a word: dog

If you've ever loved a dog, images will flow as you remember
her in your mind and see her tail wag with joy as she sniffs and plays.

When words come together with images,
a story is born
... meaningful memories are captured.
When those stories are put on paper,
they can be shared with friends and family ... and the future!


Call the process foto journaling ...
when books are made with this process, call them:

Heart Books ... 

books made without agents or publishers,
without contracts, marketing or book tours,
without thought of royalties or copyrights,

simply books from our hearts,
from our "one wild and precious life."*
*(Thank you Mary Oliver.)

 Lost Photos

A lost photo on a street in Mexico
Several years ago, when my mom died, I inherited a large box of photo albums and hundreds of loose photos. Most of them had no names, dates, or places. They were simply strangers on bits of paper. I carried them with me for years before I gave up and threw them away.

It still hurts to say that because I know they were important to my mom and they held stories that might have been important to me. They were lost photos just like the one above: stories never told; connections never made; a future left in the dark.

I'll never know the stories in my mom's photos since all the memory keepers of my childhood are gone, joining all my ancestors, known and unknown. Huge chunks of my life are blank spaces, gone forever. That loss has prompted this focus on simplifying the process of making Heart Books.

Cell phone technology helps us capture images; however, it is not good at helping us share our memories. It is frustrating when we find ourselves thumbing through hundreds (thousands) of photos to show someone a favorite photo of a grandchild, hobby, or vacation.

There is a much better way.

This image from my cell phone tells me I take a lot of photos. It doesn't tell me how I felt when I took each one or help me share those memories and feelings with others. To hold onto those, we need words.

Technology now offers us an easy, enjoyable, and inexpensive way to create personal photo books that will stand the test of time. These tangible stories of your life and loves could be the greatest gift you give your grandchildren ... and yourself as you reflect on, and make sense of, your life experiences.

What is a Heart Book? 

 Basically ... sharing your memories and stories through words and images (photos, maps, sketches, ticket stubs, or any other artifact of an experience) in a personal photo book (paper)
with the intent of being able to see and remember your experiences
and share them with others.

Words + images = memory stories 
(Words + images) in personal photo books = shareable connections ...
Heart Books