Saturday, May 30, 2020

Corona Wisdom: glimpses of a world radically changing


Update: The revised version of Corona Wisdom is now in the hands of the printer. The title changed slightly and I hope we chased down those pesky typos in the process! It will be available as a print-on-demand book in about 3 weeks. 

In the meantime, this virus goes on displaying new tricks and devastating lives as it goes. End of year forecast for the US is 400,000 dead ... and yet September 15th has been designated the day to end wearing masks. Please stay safe.  9/7/2020


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.


Emergence

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.
And THE QUESTIONS:
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. 



Rememberance
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.


TEDTalks: 

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

Emerging
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.