Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wonder Games: Tangerine Moment

I must have been deep in the fog of thought on that late summer afternoon as I walked along the Truckee River in downtown Reno. When I suddenly woke up, I was in a tangerine world. 

Along the river, bright specs of color … people, cars, buildings. They were tiny; I was tiny … mere dots surrounded by an immense, endless, golden-orange canopy of breath-stopping light. I felt infinitely insignificant yet somehow connected to and in the presence of all that is. Tears came instantly as I turned in slow circles trying to grasp the wonder of it.

Wonder … grandeur … mystery … there are moments felt, moments beyond words, beyond comprehension. While a meteorologist could explain that tangerine moment, all I could do was feel it and allow it to soak into my being.

In the days and months that followed this moment, I began to question how many of these moments I’ve walked through, half-asleep, unconscious to the wonder around me. I am now spending the rest of the summer at Lake Almanor in Northern California, determined to be awake to wonder.

This is slow time. The busyness of everyday life pushed aside by a microscopic being. During this pause, I want to be aware, awake, alive to everything, in awe of life and the marvels of the world. 

I want to turn finding wonder into a game and invite you to come play with me and all the wonders around you.

“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting
for our senses to grow sharper.”
W.B. Yeats

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Santa Virus ... it's not just lumps of coal

It is humbling to be so grateful to something that has caused so many to lose so much.

Yet, here I sit on my quiet deck looking out over Lake Almanor in Northern California as a gentle breeze cools the late afternoon air. For me not to be grateful for this gift would be an affront to life. I am reasonably sure I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for the pandemic that has stomped across the planet tossing plans and expectations into the air as if they were merely bits of plastic in the world’s largest Legos set.

Most of us could tell a story, or many, of where we were, what we were planning to do, when we realized that we were in the midst of something serious, something unlike we had seen before. Dream trips were suddenly cancelled; children were home all day, every day; jobs were lost, income streams halted, purpose derailed, and identity masked; loved ones were hospitalized with no way of holding their hands or offering them comfort. A microscopic lion blasted its roar into every corner of the Earth.

In the first week of March, I returned to Reno from visiting a friend in Florida. My first impulse was to go see my kids but then I realized I had no idea what I might have picked up there or on the cross-country flight. Thus began a self-quarantine I thought would last only 14 days while I tried to figure out what all of this meant. I had returned from two years in Mexico a few months earlier and had just purchased my permanent home. I was ready to start reaching out, getting involved, sketching the shape of the “rest of my life.” I still knew almost no one in Reno and now the mechanisms for meeting people were starting to slam shut. What now, fair child?

My curiosity about this novel virus plunged me into the deep end of the sea of information that was rising rapidly. It was something I couldn’t stop watching as the numbers exploded and the human drama of greed and generosity took the place of the movies that were no longer “coming soon.” A creeping form of insanity crept across the landscape with a bit of cloth as the line in the sand that divided the world. It was a story unfolding and we still have no idea how it will end.

For three months I wrote and made art about the global phenomenon that had shut down cities, wreaked havoc with economies, and killed hundreds of thousands of people. And then I stopped, called it done, printed the 130 page book and wondered what was next. 

The world was still topsy-turvy and there was no place to go. The US had done such a horrible job of flattening the curve that no one wanted us, our magical American dollars, or the contagion that blossomed in our wake of ignoring the obvious and arrogantly parading our rights as a free country to do whatever we wanted regardless of the consequences to others.

I dithered, generated a slew of new ideas, none of which stuck, and, in the meantime, summer arrived in Reno like an oven with its own wind tunnel. I was locked down by a virus and locked in by heat and wind. I needed fresh air and water. When I had returned from Mexico, I bought a kayak and a nifty lift that allowed me to single-handedly put it on and take it off of my car. A friend coached me through the buying of an easy-up tent and the necessary camping equipment.  I had a plan. God’s laugh was only a whisper ignored.

Nevada is an amazing state and I’ve fallen in love with it. However, it’s a bit like having a lover wrapped in barbed wire; it can be a bit harsh. However, I was determined to explore my new state, so off I went to Washoe Lake for my shake-down cruise and two or three nights of camping. I found a spot, set up my tent and all my stuff and headed for the lake. It was glorious … a little breezy and the water a little murky … but I was outside and on the water.

It doesn't look windy.
It doesn't look windy.

Back in camp, the breeze grew stronger, the air hotter, and white caps danced across the lake. Definitely not a day for an evening paddle. As I sat at my cute, red and white checkered picnic table getting hotter and dustier, I allowed my expectations and my inner weather wuss to have a tantrum and then slowly repacked all my camping gear and went home. Defeated.

There is a certain edge to defeat at age almost-75. That little voice I had banished so long ago has tiptoed back into my head. “Maybe you’re just too old,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re all by yourself … you could get hurt. It’s time to act your age.” That night, as I slipped into my comfy bed, I thought he might be right. I should just sell my camping gear and my kayak and settle into my little-old-ladyness.

One of the things I like best about myself is that when morning comes, the person who leaps out of bed (well almost these days) is ageless and positively anxious to start a new day, learn something new, find beauty, create art or words or almost anything interesting. Morning-me is a doer with no limits, enchanted by everything she sees through her rose-colored glasses.

Morning Hibiscus
For the next couple of weeks, I looked for ways to deal with the heat and the wind: walking early in the morning, putting a sunshade on my deck, focusing on finding a project that excited me. Somewhere during that time, a memory from decades before returned, creating an OMG reaction. 

Many years ago my first husband and I had spent a night camping at Lake Almanor and I remembered how beautiful it was. Now it dawned on me that it was only a two-hour drive away, so the next morning, I jumped into the car and drove to the lake thinking it might be a place to camp and kayak. On the way, I started thinking that if I could find a place to park an RV, I could have a place to go in the summer, a place for kayaking, swimming, walking among big trees. All those thoughts were clouded by the issues of moving a trailer or 5th wheel, storing it in the winter, spending money I might need later, and dozens of worries about this and that.

The lake was everything I remembered and I checked out a few spots for an RV with little luck. As I drove around the lake, the magnitude of what I wanted seemed just too daunting. And, just as I was thinking myself crazy for even thinking about this, I turned into a small RV park … Vagabond Resort … and saw a trailer with a deck … with a For Sale sign on it. It had a beautiful lake view and I assumed it would be entirely beyond my budget … especially since I had no “budget” for such an extravagance. However, I took a picture of the sign and the phone numbers.

On my way out of the park, I found another trailer for sale, no deck, no view, cramped location. I called the number and exchanged photos and information with the owner, only to discover it was definitely out of my price range. I tried the other numbers on the place I really liked but no one called me back. Conclusion: nice idea but obviously wasn’t going to happen.

The next morning, before reality set in, I tried the numbers again. Bob answered and I discovered it was within shouting distance of affordable. My heart leaped and reminded me that there are no certainties in life, a microscopic predator was actively proving that point. One thing led to another and three days later, we had a deal and here I am now in my dream location, kayaking when I want, swimming in lovely clear water, surrounded by friendly people, and feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

There are still wildflowers here.

I know this virus has created enormous problems for the world, however, I believe it has also offered us a chance to stop and think about what is truly precious in our lives. Buried deep within obstacles are unexpected gifts. May you find ways to give yourself gifts that will make your heart sing during this strange time.

QUESTION: What were you planning to do when corona interrupted everything?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #25: The Frank Sinatra school of language learning

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 am learning Spanish … again! It's becoming something of a dance.  I’ve had three significant failures in this endeavor and an uncountable number of lessor failures.

Este tiempo es diferente. This time is different. Why? I’ve found a way to do it my way … and … I’ve taken away the need to actually use it. .... screech ... halt! What? Why learn a language if you're not going to speak it?

It didn't start out that way.  My journey began when I wanted to speak to people while on vacation in Mexico; later that broadened and became the desire to speak to my neighbors and to the artisans who were featured at the  Feria del Maestros del Arte in Chapala. I had a purpose and a way to judge success ... and, most often, failure.

Of course, I would still like to speak Spanish, and I live in a mixed neighborhood where … assuming we ever get past COVID-19 and can actually have conversations with our neighbors … I would be able to use the language. However, I’m finding now that “success” is not dependent on my ability to have conversations ... a bit surprising since that seems to be the only definition of success currently used.

How does that make sense? How can I feel like a success as a language learner when I still can’t speak the language? I like Spanish and  I like to read so the ability to read Spanish would be one success indicator. I also like the sounds of Spanish so being able to understand spoken Spanish, songs, and shows would be another.

The one ability that has shown up recently surprises me. Turns out that I’m starting to be able to think in the language … and my thinking has a different quality when it’s in Spanish. I tend to think fast, skim a lot, and skip to the bottom line. Reading and writing in Spanish slows me down and somehow creates a thought process that feels deeper as I explore the nuances of word meanings.

Over the past three years, I’ve put in a significant amount of time studying Spanish and have clawed my way onto the lowest rungs of intermediate Spanish. When I left Mexico, I assumed there was no point continuing to study the language since I’d probably never use it. However, when I arrived in Reno, I started hearing Spanish and listening for it. I could feel myself leaning into it, yearning to know more. 

A couple of synchronicities happened and suddenly I was pulled back into the vortex of learning. However, this time, I was determined to do it my way. I gave myself permission to learn the language even if I didn’t speak it to anyone other than myself. (Aside: almost every language teacher says this is the WRONG way to do it.)  I realized if I wasn’t hitched to the star of spoken Spanish, I could learn any way I wanted to, and just enjoy it along the way.

Glimpse of the Truckee River
While thinking about this learning journey, I remembered my history with photography. I bought my first camera when I was 18 and the next several decades were a frustrating blur of trying to become a good photographer … classes, better equipment, photography tours, books, clubs … everything I could think of … but the quality of my images seldom brought me joy. Plus the cost of film and development hindered my learning process.

Then came digital and my world broke open. Within the first six month of shooting digital, I learned more than I had in 30 years. The instant feedback and being freed from the cost structure of film set my creativity free. I wasn’t aware of how much I had progressed until several years ago when I went to Aspen to shoot the hot air balloon festival and the spectacular local scenery. (Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed places in the west.) For some reason, I wanted prints so I dropped off my camera card at a local print shop. 

When I went to collect the prints, the manager of the store handed me the package and started talking about what a good eye I had. In over 30 years of photography, I had never before heard those words. I don’t think my eye changed, I think the instant feedback that comes with shooting digital taught my eye how to see and how to capture what caught my attention.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off: I needed instant feedback on my learning journey … but not the kind that comes in a “real” conversation. Think about it … when you’re chatting with a friend, how often does he stop you to let you know you’ve mispronounced a word or used it incorrectly? And, if she did, what did that do to your focus and the flow of the conversation?

I needed instant, non-judgmental, implementable feedback.

Google Dos Pasos

It was in Google Translate that I found the instant feedback I needed. People will be quick to tell you how bad Google Translate is, but I’m here to tell you that, while it may not be perfect, it is a teacher with infinite patience. And, it depends on how you use it. If I want feedback on my Spanish, I have to make the first step … in Spanish. From a learning perspective, it’s not particularly helpful to just put some English into  GT and then use whatever Spanish comes out.  It makes a weak impression on your memory.

For example, in the simple sentence at the beginning of this post, I wanted to say “this time is different.” As you can see from the Google Translate image, the English came out the way I wanted. Yay, me! I was right and a tiny endorphin rush streams through my body.  However, that's just Step One.

Step two is to copy the English translation and move it to left side and let it translate from English to Spanish. It comes back: “Esta vez es diferente.” While only one word is different, it’s a learning moment. The word “vez” means time, but more of an occasion rather than clock time.

Not surprisingly at this stage of my journey, step two is seldom perfect. However, the process let's me tweak and learn, learn and tweak until the sentence meets the objective of meaning what I want to say and GT agreeing that it says the same thing in Spanish.

Journaling in Spanish

Using this process, I began writing 20 sentences a day about my life and using new words that I put on tiny cards. These aren’t flashcards because there is no English, no translation on them. If I forget the meaning. I have to look them up again.  However, they stimulate me to write more complex sentences while still trying to stay relevant with my life and the world around me. That additional stimulus pushes me into new thinking ... not only about Spanish but about my life.

This is a slow process, usually taking about 2 hours to write the 20 sentences, but in the past several days, I've discovered a side benefit: because it takes longer to think about what I want to say and how to say it in Spanish, my thoughts seem to go deeper and get clearer. And, as I tweak the sentences to get the Spanish and the English aligned, I’m giving myself more time to think through different aspects of whatever it is I’m thinking about.

Every time a tweak is required, its a learning moment. My most frequent one right now is forgetting to use the personal "a." Without the Google Two Step, I wouldn't have that constant ... and gentle ... reminder. Someday, because of this process, I know that the personal "a" will become second nature.

Spaced repetition and reading out loud

The rest of the process helps to embed the sentences and the sounds more deeply in my memory. Once I have the sentences formed, I print them out and tape them to cards: 5 sentences to each side of two 4x6 cards. The cards are dated for review the next day, 3 days later, 6 days later and then 13 days later, a process called spaced repetition which every memory and learning expert seems to agree is a critical part of the process.

Before I put the cards in a box with date separators, I read each sentence out loud. Sometimes when review of a card from a previous day, I've forgotten what I was trying to say or the meaning of a word. That forces me to rethink the sentence or look the word up again. Reading out loud deepens the memory impression and trains my ears and my tongue.

Bottom line: I'm having fun

The bottom line is that rather than thinking about my learning time as a chore, it’s also a time for contemplation and reflection. It’s a gift I’m giving myself ... and it's fun.

I've now written over 400 sentences and can already feel my growing ability to express myself in this new language. I'm beginning to feel successful, erasing years of feeling like a failure. One day this success may show up in the world, in conversations with Spanish speakers ... or not. Either way, I'm grateful for this journey.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #24: doing what I don't want to do

Remembrance of Time Past
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.) 
Eight years ago I did something I had no interest in doing.

A friend and I were spending a few days in San Francisco. She is something of a fashionista and wanted to see the Gaultier show at the DeYoung. I expected to spend an hour or so being bored in the service of friendship. I did not expect to be completely overwhelmed by the sensational beauty and creativity of both Gaultier’s work and the show itself.

I didn’t expect to take more than 500 photos or make at least half a dozen works of art from those photos, one of which has landed in my permanent collection and was recently invited into an online show (shown above).

From Gaultier show
In an interview, Gaultier talked about his resistance to putting 35 years of his work on view: "A museum can seem dead, like a funeral. I don't feel dead yet. I wanted something to be very, very alive.” 

His show was definitely alive. I expected to walk through rooms of pretty, but odd, dresses. Instead I was surrounded by life-sized mannequins wearing outsized, and often outrageous, costumes. Even Gaultier himself was there telling us about his life and his art. 

"He talks. He blinks. He laughs. Standing against a panel of blue light with an army of similarly dressed and animated figures, he invites people into a fashion display unlike any other. From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk feels like a party. It's loud and bustling, full of movement and life.” reported one review.

The show blasted an opening in my conception of art and delivered a transformative lesson: insights come from unexpected places … places where we’ve never been before, either physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally. Doing something I didn’t particularly want to do expanded me, changed the way I look at the world and my definition of art.

Today, I’m reflecting on a decision I made a year ago: to leave Mexico, something I didn’t expect to do and am still sorting out the whys of. I miss Mexico in so many ways, but I have also come to love this harsh, beautiful land and this quirky “biggest, little city in the world.” 

Leaving Mexico changed my lifescape and opened up opportunities for new experiences and insights. One of the challenges of this stage of life is that we’ve seen so much, done so much, that few experiences result in new insights. We don’t have to change countries to see the world in new ways; however, deliberately doing things outside our comfort zones is a path to new ways of thinking and understanding ourselves and the world. This doesn’t have to be as dramatic as sky-diving or becoming a monk. Sometimes startling insights come from a book, a museum, a new friendship. It seems like the key is that it is a place or experience  where you’ve never been or thought you even wanted to be.

After seriously studying Spanish in Mexico, I gave it up when I left. I had no intention of going back to it … what would be the point now that I wasn’t in a Spanish-speaking country? 
Funny, how life goes. As I ventured out into Reno, I realized I was hearing Spanish everywhere. It called to me. I resisted. 
Then came COVID-19 and I furiously followed its twisting path for months, writing and making art about it, creating a “zine.” I didn’t even know what that was until after it was finished. 
As I looked around, I realized that my new neighborhood was full of Spanish speakers. I began to think once more about studying Spanish. And, then I received an email reminding me that I had signed up for a 90-day language challenge while I was still in Mexico. When I left Mexico, they agreed to put my registration on hold and I forgot about it. Now they were inviting me to participate in the next one. I dithered and then said no. 

A few weeks went by and the thought of Spanish still hovered in the background. Then, my daughter told me that the family trip to Costa Rica had been rescheduled to 2021 … and, did I want to go? It was all planned and she sent me the itinerary, prepared by the Spanish-speaking guide. Suddenly, I was saying “well, maybe” … not only to the trip, but to getting back to Spanish. I had a year and a half … enough time to make serious progress with this language that had stymied me for years. I began to pull out my old Spanish materials and tip toe back into the waters of learning a language.

One day, I sent an email to the 90-day challenge folks asking when the next program would start, thinking It would be at least a few months from now. Hah! The Universe has its own ways. The answer came back that it would start in a week and there was room for me, but I had to say “yes” in 3 days … and make an application video (something I definitely didn’t want to do.)

But, here I am in week 2 of what will be a 13+ week journey. COVID-19 and the completion of Corona Wisdom, cleared my calendar and I have taken a deep dive into Spanish. I didn’t think I wanted to do this again. For me, Spanish is a long trail of failure tracing back decades. However, I think I have the right resources now … I spent a lot of time learning about my own learning processes and there are amazing materials available these days. 

I already see progress and I know this is going to be life altering in ways I don’t yet understand. I didn’t want to do this again and that’s probably a great indicator that it holds unknown possibilities. Stay tuned. 

PS ... If anyone is interested in materials for learning Spanish ... especially intermediate level materials ... I'm putting a ton of new stuff onto the blog I created while I was in Mexico ... Aventura Español, learning Spanish while falling in love with Mexico. (It may need a new title now.)

More information:

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Corona Wisdom: glimpses of a world radically changing

Eighty days ago I began a journey of trying to capture the essence of a pandemic in words and art. The expected 30 pages have mushroomed into over 100, so it is time to wrap up this project. I wanted to end the journal with lessons learned and expected a long list of inspiring takeaways from this time.

However, days have passed with little result. Closure eluded me as I began to review where we’ve been since late February when the first inklings that this might be serious crept into our consciousness.

Since then, we’ve reached 100,000 US deaths, and one thing is clear: the common refrain of “We’re all in this together,” reveals itself as a cruel joke on so many levels.


Deaths are clustered around old age and the lethal combination of poverty and contributing health conditions. Approximately 40% of US deaths were residents of nursing homes and assisted living centers, and people living in poverty are twice as likely to die as the middle class and wealthy.

A similar inequality exists on the economic side of this pandemic. The capital of the wealthy is actually increasing and middle-class professionals are working from home with little impact to their incomes or life-style, other than a few less exotic vacations and gourmet restaurant meals.

The working poor, gig workers, and homeless however, are being devastated, not only losing their incomes, but also their health insurance, and often, access to security programs such as unemployment. Endless lines at food banks are common and the token payment of $1,200, intended to help people through the financial crisis, isn’t enough to touch the needs of most poor families.

Peace Egret
So, what are my takeaways, from this time of crisis? One lesson relearned and three questions.

THE LESSON: Times of stress and crisis bring out the worst and the best in us.

    A few examples of the worst that made me despair:
  • Bazookas in a sandwich shop.
  • Spitting on people just doing their jobs.
  • Threatening the lives of anyone who disagrees with you.
  • Armed protests for the freedom not to wear a mask.
    A few examples of the best that have lifted my heart:
  • A man playing his grand piano from a gondola on the canals of Venice.
  • Anonymous donors paying off student loans.
  • Amateur pilots flying medical supplies to rural hospitals.
  • Health care workers risking their lives to treat patients.
Do all lives matter?

Do all deaths matter?

Does our planet matter?

It it easy to respond:
Of course!

However ...

Actions speak louder than words and I’m not sure our actions are consistent with those words. These are deep, complicated questions with no easy answers.

If the lives of our elderly truly mattered, would we house so many of them in substandard warehouses? Only the truly well-to-do can afford the price of top notch care facilities. Plus, the salaries of care workers in all facilities are abysmal, resulting in astronomical employee turnover and a revolving door of under-trained people caring for our elders.

If the lives of everyone mattered, would we have streets in every city in America where the homeless wander aimlessly, often sick mentally or physically, lacking adequate food and shelter?

If the lives of everyone mattered, would Native Americans be facing loss of tribal income, staggering unemployment, and inadequate basic services such as clean, running water?

If the lives of everyone mattered, would children go to bed hungry in one of the richest countries
in the world, and almost a third of our people lack affordable access to health care. 

If all deaths mattered, what would we have done differently during this pandemic? The United States is one of the richest, best educated, and most sophisticated countries in the world. The Department of Defense budget for 2020 is $721.5 billion. Couldn’t part of that budget be focused on protecting us from the ravages of a pandemic? 

There is a huge amount of technology focused today on extending our life expectancy, perhaps even removing death from natural causes from our concept of life. Most likely, these options will be far more available to the 1% than the rest of us. Is this what we want?

And, last but definitely not least, does our planet matter? We’ve seen amazing changes in the past three months … cleaner air, clearer water, animals returning to places they had abandoned. We’ve seen changes in how we work, how we do business, how we relate to our families, our neighbors, our communities. We’ve done what we previously thought impossible, because something we can’t even see said: STOP! Will we begin to treat the planet as our only home or go back to our self-destructive ways?

We need to have serious conversations about these very complicated questions. There is a huge bucket of blame for the loss in life and economic security from this pandemic, however, at this point, placing blame will not serve us well. There is enough to be shared by all of us since we’ve all played a role in creating the current state of our planet. 

Tree of a different time
The bottom line, for me at least, is the understanding that we need to decide who we want to be as a people and then create the systems, the institutions, the government that will take us there. 

How can we foster these conversations?

If you would like a free online copy of Corona Wisdom, please click here.

Corona Wisdom back cover
There is a limited edition print version of this work ... unfortunately, the price is limited-edition ridiculous ... $50 shipping (includes US shipping). Contact me if you would like to order a copy.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Pebbles of the moment

One morning the dream world leaves words in my mouth:
the present is a point of energy seeking direction.

I tug at that prompt and an army of words marches onto an empty field.

Eager words, yearning for a band and bright flag, a stand of cheering patriots, hands over hearts.

Too many words for the 90-second program.

Space only for the color guard while the rest stand in sidelined shade, dutiful shoulders back, uniforms pressed, rifles at the ready.

Pebbles of the Moment

The present is a point of energy seeking direction.
The present is a deceiver whispering assurances 
that he knows the future and that it looks just like him, 
that he is in charge, saying "just hold fast and all will be well."

The past is a landscape of experience 
and momentary knowings, 
some a needle sharp virtual reality, 
some blurring like old photos, 
some already in the land of here-there-be-dragons.
The past is a trickster, a shape-shifting juggler 
tossing you colorful memory balls, 
in truth merely water balloons, bursting as you catch them, 
drenching you today with the emotions of then.

The future is a galaxy of bright stars 
coolly winking their promises of perfection.
The future is a sensuous siren shimmering her rainbow colors, 
blinding your eyes, emboldening your heart, 
luring you closer to the unseen rocks of reality.

and then there is you 
struggling to be present, aware,
holding that squirming energy,
wet-faced and torn with remembering,
yearning for that just-out-of-reach star promise, 
cracking under the fearful weight of past failures,
grasping for that hand of the confident deceiver,
and, ever and always, missing, 
arm left outstretched into the deceiving void.

bedazzled by possibilities,
chained by the familiarity of today and yesterday,
overlooking the sparkling pebbles at your feet,
you float like dandelion fluff
on the capricious winds of chance.

until … until … 
your eyes fall away from the stars,
your heart turns away from yesterday,
you pick up one of the pebbles at your feet,
feel its sun warmth pulsing in your hands,
slowly turn in a wide circle,
see the forests greening around you,
hear the birds singing their welcome song
and know that you are already home,
and this moment is all that is. 


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #23: dancing through time

"Dancing through time"
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 love Google.

Recently, I was thinking about my life and the dance of time and money when one of those odd memories popped into my head: “time is money - look in the clock.” I remembered it was from an old sitcom and vaguely remembered it being a mystery sitcom. That’s where the synapses parted ways and left me in the dark.

Until I googled the phrase and this answer, given twelve years ago, popped up in a forum:
Yes, this was on My Little Margie. They went to the house of a dead millionaire to find his treasure. His parrot kept saying "Time is money -- Look in the clock." But there were thousands of clocks. There were also sliding panels, secret passages, and a chair that dropped you down a chute into a big net in the basement. Most of the regulars sat in that chair eventually. I especially remember Margie's father Verne going down the chair. (There was a similar chair in one of the original Topper movies).
Taking it a step further, I discovered that My Little Margie aired from 1952 through 1955. I must have seen it when I was about 10 because that’s when we first got television. The Wikipedia synopsis triggers more memories:

Set in New York City, the series stars Gale Storm as 21-year-old Margie Albright and former silent film star Charles Farrell as her widowed father, 50-year-old Vern Albright. Many of the shows episodes are still available but apparently “Parrot Gold,” which features the line about time and money, is not available.

So, back to the dance of time and money. Most of my life was focused on career and money. However, 2008 changed all of that as the economy unilaterally decided I was retired. It took several life-style readjustments before my income and expenses began to balance out, but now I am in a lovely place where I can live on my Social Security, which is good timing in this covid-19 world of financial turmoil.

What I’m rich in right now is time … and a willingness to be open to whatever comes my way. Almost two years ago I began the practice of celebrating my death day every month on the 17th. It seems to create a momentary vortex, a black hole that sucks new energy into the mix of my life. Flitty little things like memories from an ancient sitcom as well as things with a little more substance such as the incredible book Ten Thousand Doors of January.

My standard process as I near the 17th is to watch the ideas showing up that I might want to write about. Often words and sentences start to form, especially in the twilight hours of the morning. I hold them loosely, letting them develop like steeping tea. More often than not, they turn flat and are replaced by other possibilities. 

This month seems to be following that pattern. A couple of days ago the theme of time and money appeared with that little sitcom phrase. I followed that lead until it stopped, and then waited. Apparently it was done and I needed to move on.

Corona Curiosity aka Corona Wisdom

Yesterday, a new thread dangled itself in front of me. Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been creating a journal of sorts about it, exploring the rich field of new learnings and endless drama. At times, I’ve felt like I was on a mission to synthesize this unique experience and tease out actions and stories that represent the whole of the pandemic. In the beginning, I expected this journal to become a little book of 30 pages or so. It is now sitting at 112 pages and I have begun to wonder when it will be complete.

The new turn began as I read about the mental health problems being created by the stress of the disease and financial devastation. My intention was to create a two-page spread in my normal format, synthesizing the issue and pairing it with an inspiring quote and a piece of my art. But, things changed along the way. 
Change #1: Suddenly I became clear that I was part of the problem. I was writing about these times in a way that amplified the stress and fear. I had to stop. I want to spread peace and kindness on the water, not add to the divisiveness of these times. I didn’t want to stop writing about this pandemic, but I wanted to do it in a different way: instead of feeding the negativity monster, I wanted to share wisdom and create peace.

Change #2: As I decided I needed to lessen the negative input I was absorbing from social media, I spread my yoga mat and clicked onto my browser to find something soothing to listen to, instead of my normal chanting playlist. I’m not sure how it got there, but the tab I clicked was on a TEDtalk by a Shaolin master, which was automatically followed by a talk by a Buddhist nun. That seemed like a confirmation of my new direction.
Not that I want to be a Buddhist nun or necessarily even a Buddhist. I also know I don’t want to be rich or famous; so, in our western society’s view of success, the question is always ... what else is there? 
That's what I was trying to clarify when I recently went through a 5-year planning process. The result of that thinking showed me that what I really want is to keep learning, creating, connecting with myself and the Universe, and sharing what I’m learning. This is who I am or at least who I want to be.  This is what brings me delight. 
Of course, the Universe and the 7 billion other inhabitants of this planet are buzzing around creating circumstances that will ultimately affect me. Just as I can't imagine that five years ago any of us would have thought we were sheltering in place, wearing masks, and watching an unseen enemy make mincemeat of our lives. So come what may, my job is to stay focused on my four priorities: LEARN-CREATE-CONNECT-SHARE and keep my actions in line with them.

Stay safe and find ways to feed your spirit.


Master Shi Heng Yi – 5 hindrances to self-mastery

My Path To Becoming A Buddhist | Emma Slade

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Calle Arteaga": a modern art street gallery

Calle Arteaga
All art has a beginning ... a thought, a feeling, a soft word, a hard angle, or an image that haunts. This one began with a street scene in Jiquilpan, Mexico, and became one of my favorite art pieces … not because I think it’s great, but because of where it took me. 

original photo
Where it began: A night scene on a street named after general and politician José María Arteaga Magallanes

Library with José Clemente Orozco murals
Backstory: Jiquilpan is a Pueblo Mágico in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Since it was close to Lake Chapala, a friend and I planned a short visit there and instantly fell in love.

It was one of those trips where serendipity happened repeatedly. At a coffee shop, we met a local celebrity who interviewed us and introduced us to everyone he thought we might like to meet. That night we joined a family at the plaza, laughing because we were in one of the most reputedly violent states in Mexico on one of the most peaceful nights of our lives.

Jiquilpan is the birthplace of one of the most popular presidents of Mexico, Lázaro Cárdenas. When we visited his museum, there happened to be a VIP group touring. They invited us to join them and we were treated to a private tour. Too bad my Spanish wasn’t up to the opportunity. We went to see the silk workshop, but it was closed … until they opened it for us and our tour guide was the director. By the end of the first day, we were planning a return trip and I had thoughts of moving there. Although I returned to the US before that trip could happen, should I ever return to Mexico, Jiquilpan would be high on my list of places to visit and even live.

After returning to Ajijic and processing my photos, this street scene haunted me. As much as I liked the feel of the scene, that long empty street bothered me. I tried a horizontal crop but didn’t like the result.

During a trip to Zacatecas, I kept running into amazing collections of modern art and had recently discovered the ground-breaking work of Hilma af Klint (now recognized as the first modern artist). For some unknown reason, I began to drop pieces of modern art onto the street scene. The first was a piece of Mondrian’s work that was a perfect fit for the foreground of the street. It called a Jackson Pollock piece into the mix, and after that, there was a joyous scavenger hunt to find ways to include other modern artists and turn it into a modern art gallery on this historic city street.

This morning, however, this piece of art surprised me when it took another turn while I was listening to David DuChemin talk about choosing what intoxicates us in his podcast A Beautiful Anarchy. For some reason, it made me think of "Calle Arteaga” a piece that incorporates work from 14 modern artists. I wanted to revisit it and capture some of the intoxication I felt when I was in the midst of creating it. I wanted to remember the joy of finding the modern artists I loved and make a tiny bit of their work a part of this one.

This particular rabbit hole lasted a few hours as I traced down the artists, especially women modern artists, in order to incorporate and rediscover what I loved about modern art. Below is a list of those artists who are woven into this piece, with links to their work.  I'm repeating "Calle Arteaga" in case you want to follow along with the various pieces of each artist.

Calle Arteaga
This catalogue is still available from the Guggenheim.
Hilma af Klint - her portrait is framed by a piece of her work in the upper right corner. The Guggenheim recently featured an exhibit of her work titled Paintings for the Future. It is a good place to get acquainted with her work.
Wassily Kandinsky - before Hilma af Klint, Kandinsky was considered the father of modern art. I guess if he is the father, Hilma would be the mother. His portrait is on the left in front of one of his works.
Paul Klee - Swiss artist and pioneer in modern art. Klee’s work “Red Balloon” hovers over the street scene.
Kazimir Malevich - another pioneer. Yellow and black figure on right.
Michel-Eugène Chevreul - he is here, not because of his art but because of his ground-breaking color theory which influenced so many artists. His portrait is below Hilma's.
Jackson Pollock - American artist, foreground squiggles.
Fiona Rae - contemporary, British Hong Kong artist whose work I fell in love with. Small piece in upper right.
Tess Jaray - contemporary, British artist. Geometric on left wall foreground.
Sonia Delaunay and Robert Delaunay - French artists who founded the school of Orphism (strong color and geometric shapes). Three circles on the left near front. Link goes to a fun article about Sonia.
Mark Rothko - American contemporary artist who spoke four languages and was basically untrained in drawing and painting. Committed suicide at age 66.
Albert Irvin - British contemporary artist known for large canvases and broad brush strokes. Lower left to right of bottom Delaunay circle.
Dan Perfect - British contemporary artist known for complex fantasy canvases. Next to Irvin painting.
Paul Tonkin - British contemporary artist known for his visual metaphors. Small piece on left as if the woman is pointing at it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Emerging: Memory reminders of a journey

Ten plus years ago, during a Miksang photography workshop in Boulder, Diane Walker, an amazing photographer/artist/poet/blogger and gradually a friend, listened to my story and said:

Your cup is empty.

That's all it took. Tears started flowing and within days, this blog was created as a place to record the refilling of my cup. Over a thousand blog posts later it has become a surprising memory bank.

Every once in a while, the blog stats indicate someone has visited a post from years ago. I generally take the opportunity to re-read these old posts and have often found them to be surprising memory moments.

This is a recent one from late 2014:
It Happened in Kingman, Arizona  -- when I saw that title, I was stumped. I've been through Kingman a lot but couldn't remember anything that had ever happened there. Turns out that in a Motel 6 that night, the direction of my life changed. 

Missy and I were returning from Tennessee where she had been staying with family while I spent four months in Mexico. I thought we were on our way to a happily-ever-after rendezvous that would result in our moving to Las Cruces, NM. My optimistic nature had pushed all doubts completely out of the picture, leaving me in the hands of my planner: what did I need to do to move forward, to take the next step? 

While I was in to do list mode, something  else took over.

Absolutely nothing happened during that Motel 6 night ... except a knowing. A recognition that all would be right. At the moment, I was "without home" ... much different than being homeless ... and in a puzzling relationship with an odd wall between now and what our expressed intentions were. 

Suddenly, that was okay. As I wrote in the post, "the fever broke." All the unexpressed doubts, the confusion, and attempts to control the future just disappeared. The next morning we proceeded toward my sister-friend's house in the Sierra foothills. And, within a week, the confusion ... and the relationship ... were gone. I'm not sure that would have happened so easily and effortlessly if it hadn't been for that night in Kingman.

Thanks to the unknown visitor who triggered this memory of a forgotten turning point in my life.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Corona Fridays: We must remember what we're learning

On the second Wednesday in March 2020, the world officially shifted, but few of us noticed. 

Not much changed on that day. We went to work, attended school, stopped for groceries on the way home, The day was not etched in our memories like 9/11/2001 or 11/22/1963, or 12/7/1941, or 10/28/1929.

March 11, 2020, however, is considered the official start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). People were already dying; however, mostly in places where we weren’t. 

Six weeks later, over 200,000 thousand (and probably more) had died worldwide and over 60,000 in the US. Today, it would be difficult to find any person over age 5 who hasn’t felt the pandemic personally: from small business owners who have closed their doors, to high school seniors who will never dance the night away at prom, to health care workers frustrated by the lack of personal protective equipment for themselves and their patients, to panicked seniors in nursing homes which have become virus hotspots. 

There are hundreds of thousands of different stories happening every day … tragedies, comedies, stories of courage and cowardice, greed and generosity, inspiration and abject depression. Most of these will be lost in the normal fog of memory long before this pandemic is actually over. That’s the way memory works … only the sharp, momentary memories last, making such deep impressions that we remember the details of the day, where we were, who we were with, how we felt.

This pandemic, the most significant, 
widespread event of our generation, 
deserves to be remembered. 

The pandemic is proving to be a universal teacher, revealing things about us personally, as cultures, and as a planetary society. Many have already described it as a wake-up call, although our normal reaction is to go back to sleep. When an event continues over a long period of time, something called interference writes current events over previous memories until yesterday is a fading shadow.

How can we remember the lessons of the pandemic? 
Make notes.

If someone asked you today if you would forget this pandemic, you would most likely respond, “Of course not!”  How could anyone forget the isolation, the lost sports and movies and cultural events, school children with no schools to go to, millions of unemployed with no incomes? How could you forget the sight of kangaroos hopping through an empty street, the crisp views of the mountains from the LA basin, the heartbreaking images of bodies being loaded onto a semi-truck in New York City, the unsafely-distanced, assault-rifle-bearing protestors screaming at police wearing protective face masks?

But, you will: it’s the way our brains work. There’s only one way to truly capture these memories and lessons … take notes, now, in real time. Whether it’s in a journal, an electronic notebook, photographs or videos, or letters to yourself, a child, or your cat …  record the pandemic from your own perspective. What was life like Before Corona and what did life become After Corona?
Harvard Health Publishing stated in an article on memory:

"You are most likely to forget information soon after you learn it. However, memory has a use-it-or-lose-it quality: memories that are called up and used frequently are least likely to be forgotten.”
Each of us has different circumstances that influence our individual perspectives … people who have lost loved ones see it differently than people who have not been touched by sickness. People who can work from home are less affected than small business owners or gig employees who no longer have an income. And, single moms doing everything including home-schooling their children live in a different world from retirees on Social Security.

Tell your story

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, stated, "Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.” Wiesel made it his life work to bear witness to the genocide committed by the Nazis during World War II.

Each of us does not have to make this our life’s work, however, making notes on your pandemic experience will help you make sense of it and could help your children and grandchildren better understand a challenge being experienced by the entire planet in a way that changed everything.

Questions to help you get started:
  • Where was I when the coronavirus became real to me?
  • What new awarenesses do I have now?
  • How have my values changed during these days?
  • What have I discovered about myself?
  • What have I missed most?
Corona Curiosity: My note-taking “journal"

I am a blogger and a photographer, so by early March, I already needed an outlet for all I was seeing, learning, and feeling. Since I had recently started making small, photoessay books, it made sense to start one for the pandemic. Most of these little books are about 30 pages, mainly photos and a few words. 
I didn’t realize the pandemic would be so big or go on for so long. By the end of April, it was at 72 pages and growing daily. Obviously, it was going to have to stop somewhere. 
At this writing, I still don’t know when the pandemic will end, nor when Corona Curiosity will be complete. However, I do know that doing this work is helping me feel grounded as I observe the reactions of the world, try to find the lessons, and feel more gratitude for my life and health and for the friends and family who are on this journey also.
You can see Corona Curiosity in it’s work-in-progress state in a magazine format here: Corona Curiosity, day-by-day glimpses of a pandemic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been adapted for phone viewing yet.

If you have any questions about how to capture your pandemic notes or tell your story, I would love to hear from you ... just leave a comment below. 
Stay safe and find ways to feed your creative spirit. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Poetry Month #30: Wolf Creek Pass by CW McCall

It seems only fitting that we should end this poetic adventure with a bit of humor from CW McCall ... only problem there isn't any CW McCall ... he was the invention of an advertising guy named William Dale Fries, Jr., who, theoretically, still lives somewhere in Iowa. Fries wrote the lyrics and sang while Chip Davis, later of Mannheim Steamroller, wrote the music.

Back when the girls were young, we drove from California to Missouri to visit my parents. To entertain us along the way, I made a mix tape (long before playlists) of story songs, some funny, some sad, some just down right silly. This one was a favorite especially since we drove over the real Wolf Creek Pass.

Somewhere along the line I memorized it and I love it when a conversation opens up and I can say with a sorta straight face ...

did I ever tell you about the time that me and Earl 
was haulin' chickens on a flatbed out of Wiggins ...

It's a fun song ... hope you enjoy it ... and hope we're all around next year when Poetry Month rolls around again. And thank you Mr. Fries ... or CW ... your music has given us a lot of fun.

The real wolf creek pass -- click here for the song
[Verse 1]
Me and Earl was haulin' chickens
On the flatbed out of Wiggins
And we'd spent all night on the uphill side
Of 37 miles of hell called Wolf Creek Pass
Which is up on the Great Divide

[Verse 2]
We was sittin' there suckin' toothpicks
Drinkin' Nehis and onion soup mix
And I says, "Earl, let's mail a card to mother
And then send them chickens on down the other side
Yeah, let's give 'em a ride"

Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side

[Verse 3]
Well, Earl put down his bottle
Mashed his foot down on the throttle
And then a couple of boobs with a thousand cubes
In a 1948 Peterbilt screamed to life
We woke up the chickens

[Verse 4]
We roared up off of that shoulder
Spraying pine cones, rocks, and boulders
And put four hundred head of them Rhode Island Reds
And a couple of burnt-out roosters on the line
Look out below 'cause here we go

Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side

[Verse 5]
Well, we commenced to truckin'
And them hens commenced to cluckin'
And Earl took out a match and scratched his pants
And lit up the unused half of a dollar cigar and took a puff
Says, "My, ain't this pretty up here"

[Verse 6]
I says, "Earl, this hill can spill us
You better slow down, you gon' kill us
Just make one mistake and it's the pearly gates
For them 85 crates of USDA-approved cluckers
You wanna hit second?"

Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side

[Verse 7]
Well, Earl grabbed on the shifter
And he stabbed 'er into fifth gear
And then the chromium-plated
Fully-illuminated genuine accessory shift knob
Come right off in his hand
I says, "You wanna screw that thing back on, Earl?"

[Verse 8]
He was tryin' to thread it on there
When the fire fell off of his cigar
And dropped on down, sorta rolled around
And then lit the cuff of Earl's pants
And burned a hole in his sock
Yeah, sorta set him right on fire

[Verse 9]
I looked on out of the window
And I started countin' phone poles
Going by at the rate of four to the seventh power
Well, I put two and two together
And added twelve and carried five
Come up with twenty two thousand telephone poles an hour

[Verse 10]
I looked at Earl and his eyes was wide
His lip was curled and his leg was fried
And his hand was froze to the wheel
Like a tongue to a sled in the middle of a blizzard

[Verse 11]
I says, "Earl, I'm not the type to complain
But the time has come for me to explain
That if you don't apply some brake real soon
They're going to have to pick us up with a stick and a spoon"

[Verse 12]
Well, Earl rared back, cocked his leg, stepped down as hard as he could on the brake
And the pedal went clear to the floor and stayed right there on the floor
He says it's sorta like steppin' on a plum

[Verse 13]
Well, from there on down it just wasn't real pretty
It was hairpin county and switchback city
One of 'em looked like a can full of worms
Another one looked like malaria germs

[Verse 14]
Right in the middle of the whole damn show
Was a real nice tunnel, now wouldn't you know
Sign says clearance to the twelve foot line
But the chickens was stacked to thirteen nine

[Verse 15]
Well, we shot that tunnel at a hundred and ten
Like gas through a funnel and eggs through a hen
We took that top row of chickens off slicker than the scum off a Louisiana swamp

[Verse 16]
Went down and around, around and down
And we run out of ground at the edge of town
Bashed into the side of the feed store
Downtown Pagosa Springs

Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side
Wolf Creek Pass
Way up on the Great Divide
Truckin' on down the other side