Monday, July 15, 2013

102? You Must Be Kidding!

My friend Reg Wilson delivered a wake-up call this week.  It's not the first he's handed me in our 30+ years of friendship but this one really has me thinking.

He sent me a link that asks several questions and then delivers an estimated longevity.  Mine showed up as 102!  Here's the link if you want to try yours.

I'm very healthy so I've assumed that I would live well into my 80s or 90s … but 102?  Even knocking off a few years, that's 30+ years … long enough to learn to play a musical instrument or another language, long enough to read and re-read the classics, make a lot of new friends (and probably lose a lot of old ones), see my granddaughters reach adulthood, and smell a whole lot of roses.

Of course, we never know how long we have to live but the thought that I possibly have another 30 years is really making me stop and think about what I want to do with them.  It's an interesting question because, even when the words are not actually spoken, the social expectation is that those of a certain age will … relax and enjoy our leisure years … take it easy, rest, travel, play with the grandkids … slow down, take care of ourselves, get our affairs in order.

However, 30 years is a lot of time to basically drift carefree through our senior years.  I don't want a job but I do want a purpose. I don't want my days filled with other people's agendas, but I do want to wake up with something juicy pulling me into action.

For years I've struggled with the DO-BE conundrum.  Are we "human doers" or "human beings?" I think it is important to be in the present, to be grateful for everything in our lives, to be loving and kind toward all … however, I think this earth passage is a time for doing. We're in a physical incarnation that allows us to turn the soil in order to create food and flowers, build bridges that connect one land to another, write words that open minds and touch hearts, generate ideas that transform problems into solutions, raise children so full of confidence and love that they can march boldly into the world asking, "What do you need for me to do?"

I'm in the center of a roundabout … you know, those confusing, although highly effective, traffic control devices where you enter at one point and exit later in the direction of your destination … or drive round and round the middle not going anywhere.  I'm circling and keep seeing exit possibilities and waiting for one to light up and say, "this way please."

Now that I'm told I have 30 more years to explore the possibilities, maybe it's not about choosing the "right one;" perhaps it's just about choosing one and going all the way to the end of that particular path, knowing that, statistically at least, I'll have time to come back and do another one later.

What do you think about your last 30 years … or whatever number your age calculator spits out?   In the meantime, I'm asking the Universe, "What do you need for me to do?"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Winter Daughter, A Young Girl's Quest

Winter Daughter
On this day 237 years ago, our ancestors here in the U.S., gave us the gift of great genes … a DNA of democracy, reverence for education, law and order, equality and justice. Like all peoples, we haven't always lived up to our potential but today is a day to remember what we were given and to renew our commitment to protecting this great gift for future generations.

I hope on this day ... and all the days following it, you find your own way to declare freedom ... and act!  There are many types of freedom and gifts of DNA to fulfill and protect.  Today, my gift to you  … and to myself … is a written piece that showed up over the past few weeks.  It is a new direction for my writing and I'm not sure what to do with it other than to give it away.  

I hope you enjoy it … and, if you do, I would love to hear from you.  Actually, I'd love to hear from you even if it isn't your cup of tea.

Click here for Winter Daughter

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reconnecting with SkyStone

About the time I turned thirteen, things began to change … some obvious … some behind the scenes. From afar, it is always interesting to note the moments that stick like tiny flags pinned to the map of our lives.

Before that turning time, I was avid for all things turquoise. Not long afterward, on one unremarked day, I stood in a clothing store, in love with a skirt and jacket that made me feel adult and wise.  It came in two colors: ecru and turquoise. Stylistically, I'm sure ecru was the wiser choice, but I now feel that I left a piece of myself behind as I carried the pale, sophisticated color home.  

That decision carried forward as my choice of blues narrowed to one: navy. My exterior began to resemble the world around me, the world I wanted to be a part of, the world of logic, reason, success, power … the world of men. The color turquoise, the stone turquoise (even though it was my birth stone) and any hint of that early love was banished, cast into a deep cellar along with pink, cute shoes and all thoughts of exchanging recipes. I became a woman in a man's world, making a wide arc around anything too girly, too feminine, too soft and powerless.

Years rushed by, underpinned by modest success and recognition in the world I chased, unsoftened by child bearing or inclusion in the world I avoided. Until … until another turning happened in my fiftieth year when poetry began to flow through the cracks in my life and painting said, "I don't care if you do it badly, just do it."

For the next ten years, I walked with an awkward gait, one foot in each world, not knowing where I belonged or which direction to go.  Loss made the decision for me when my husband died and the world as I knew it drained away. When the clouds began to part, the only clear thing was that I couldn't go back.  I began to make art that refused to reconnect me to the world of success and recognition.  I surrounded myself with women friends. I let my hair grow long and painted my toenails bright colors. I began to wear turquoise, the color, but still avoided turquoise the stone.

Yesterday, in the midst of writing a story about a young woman going through a journey of initiation, turquoise came to me and demanded the return of its presence in my life.  I agreed that it was time, so this morning I purchased a turquoise amulet and a bright turquoise purse. In a few days, I have a date to join my step-daughter and my two granddaughters at a salon where we will have pedicures prior to her wedding in Yosemite. 

I have already decided on my color of choice: turquoise.

And, my question for you ... what have you put away in that cellar of your life, that now wants to come out and play again?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Jungian Fable

Once upon all time, a boy child was born in a land of mountains by a great, blue lake.  A lonely, only child, he played alone, daydreamed or strolled through the woods alone, creating a secret world of his own design.  He dreamed of places he had never visited, of people he had never met, of stories he had never heard.  On his breastplate, he wrote, "I am a solitary," and he walked into life.

Called by art and nature, soul and science, heart and mind, word and image, he dreamed himself onto the world stage as a storyteller, artist, scholar, healer, writer and disciple of the illusive butterfly of psyche's wisdom. Deeper and deeper into the myth he strode leaving footprints of giants and bread crumbs of ideas, dreams and myths for followers to tend and decipher.

He spread a banquet of symbol and sign across the table of time and invited all to dine at the creative feast.  People the world around came to sit as his feet and called him wise.  He replied, "I am also an old fool."  As he lay dying he bequeathed his work to those who suffer and the marker on his grave stone reads, "Called or not, God will be present." Carl Jung.

** I found an almost-fable at the beginning of The Wisdom of the Dream, The World of C.G. Jung by Stephen Segaller and Merrill Berger.  It made me want to write in a more complete fairy tale style but I need to give them credit for the idea and for the borrowings.  I hope this is in the realm of "creative" plagiarism.

Musings on Love and Loss and the Great Ride of Life

Twenty-one shots fired into the drizzly morning.  The veterans in dress uniform paid honor to my mother's military service, not knowing that her time in the Women's Army Corps was cut short after two months when they discovered that she was only sixteen and sent her home.  Witnesses at the graveyard were few … my dad, two cousins, the overly effusive funeral director, and me, the only child, the one who got mixed up in the hospital, the one who didn't fit into the preconceived notions of daughterhood.

For years, I had wondered if I would cry when this time came. Two of my cousins had traveled  across country to be here and they told stories about how much they loved Aunt Lucille.  As they wept at the graveside, I stood dry-eyed behind them repressing the impulse to tell them how much each of them had annoyed my mother. I stood there not feeling grief or pain or even loss as this pivotal part of my life was ritually sent on her way.  I felt some angst about what might have been, but I knew my parents had done the best they could.  I had worked out my feelings toward her.  Or, had I?

Five years later, at a writer's conference in Santa Barbara, a workshop leader is talking about screenplay structure, drawing pictures of story arcs and the weaving together of plot and character development.  She plays a clip of "It's a Wonderful Life," a movie I've seen dozens of times.  The scene is George's lowest moment, when he yells at those he loves and believes that all is lost.  Suddenly, I am weeping and my chest is in a vice-grip of pain.  

The scene changes and George is in his living room after seeing the world as it would have been without him.  He is ecstatic even before the townspeople surround him with love and the cash that solves his problem.  My tears and pain gain momentum; I am thankful I'm in the back of the room.  This wave of grief puzzles me and I try to find its source.  The only thing that comes is:  mother.

Jung says the story of a life begins somewhere at a particular point where memory begins.  My earliest memory, at about three, was waking up in a car alone in the dark.  I now know that my parents must have stopped on our way home at a neighbor's where they bought milk.  I am not aware of it then, however, so I decide that they must have been eaten by a bear. I wonder who I will live with now.  I am not frightened, I know someone will take care of me, I just have to decide who it will be.  

Then my parents return and I tell them I was frightened because, somehow, I know I should have been.  I wasn't though, if anything, I remember feeling anticipation.  I was on the brink of a new direction, I could see another path winding off into the distance.  I didn't get to follow it that night but I always knew it was there waiting for me.  Somewhere out there, my people were waiting.  Years later, it appears that, by age three, I was already disconnected from my family, willing to move on to another place.  I was unbonded, looking for my real life.

Thus, my story was born, told and retold through the years in a hundred ways.  Now I recognize this tale as the archetype of the abandoned child.  However, as Leonard says, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." Feeling abandoned is the crack in my life but that was how the light got in, making me independent, self-reliant and strong.  I left home as soon as possible and, by keeping several states between my past and my present, I gradually learned to love myself, grieve for my abandoned child, and, eventually, began to find my place in the world.

Perhaps the return to grief brought forth by that perennial Christmas story was for that abandoned child, but maybe it was also for my too-young mother, a wounded child who had her dreams stolen before she even knew she had the right to have some.  Her life story made mine look like the Brady Bunch. She left my birth father after only a few months of marriage and found her self unemployed, undereducated and with an infant who cried continuously because her mother's breast milk was not providing sufficient nourishment.

While I was still a toddler, my mother covered over her wound by marrying a man who adored her but whose love she could never fully accept or trust.  In her last months, lost in deepening dementia, she repeated the same question over and over as fast as the words would come out to anyone who came near her, but most of all to my father, "Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?"  

Even before she began to verbalize it in a river of pain and confusion, that desperate, unending question wrapped around her life like barbed wire, wounding everyone who came close and keeping the very people who might have cared for her at a distance.  In an ideal world, together we might have healed our karmic wounds.  In the real world, we nursed our wounds, separate and alone.

All of this makes me think about the great scheme of things.  We seem to be thrown together in a way guaranteed to create wounds, shaken up in the great bag of life with the very ingredients (people and happenstance) that tear at our hearts and then offer healing for the wounds. It's all there  … thorns and bandaids … with no signs that say, "Try this; it will make you feel better," no instruction booklet included.  Was that an oversight?

The other night I listened to a reincarnated Buddhist master talking about the path of the bodhisattva which, as I understand it, includes a vow to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.  Perhaps that's the instruction manual, period.  In this time when purpose and meaning seem to be so illusive, maybe that's all we need to know.  Perhaps all of us are here simply to learn to love, care for, and reduce the suffering of ourselves and our fellow travelers.  There are a lot of ways of doing this so it probably doesn't matter which form we choose as long as the intent to help others is part of it.

Of course, that still doesn't explain why we've been thrown into a world that guarantees that we will be wounded but does not guarantee that we will be healed.  Maybe we've chosen to come to this theme park where we can either ride the roller coaster screaming and shouting in fear all the way until we stagger off rubber-legged and delighted, or walk about as an amused but unengaged sightseer until the park closes and we go home to sleep.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013



She wanders cold and naked 
Through the ancient, dark forest.
Neither light nor warmth touches her breast,
Blood drips where spiky undergrowth scratches her legs, 
And tangled vines trip her toes,
Calling of an unseen bird in the far distance, 
Crashing and snorting behind her,
But   she   does   not   stop. 
She does not stop. 

Touching trembling, black bark of tree,
Feels water rising … rising. 
Joins the water, joins the impossible rising.
Up   up   up  toward the sunlight of blue sky,
Spilling out of leaves 
Becoming rain falling toward green earth
In the unknown, waiting world.

(c) Joyce Wycoff, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

What If You Were Forbidden to Write

This past weekend Pacifica Graduate Institute gathered writers into a Jungian container of myth and stories of the inner journey. Dennis Patrick Slattery was one of the leaders who held the space for us and he describes myth as being, "a loom on which we weave the raw materials of daily experience into a coherent story."

Dennis is a charming man dedicated to helping others find and follow the path of the writer.  He has a new book filled with over 80 writing meditations designed to help writers go deeper into the part of themselves that wants to be expressed in words.  At one point, he asked us how important writing was to us. "Would you have to die if you were forbidden to write?"  If the answer is yes, he said, "Your whole life must be built in accordance with this necessity."

That statement struck me.  I've always wanted to be a writer and writing is how I make sense of the world ... however, have I built my life in accordance with this necessity? How would my life be different if I did?  Steven King says that in order to be a writer, we need to read a lot and write a lot.  That's pretty easy, but how else do writers design their lives to be support their chosen paths?  Something to ponder.

Here's a link to a video of Dennis talking about his new book:
Riting Myth, Mythic Writing: Plotting Your Personal Story.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Flaming Feather

Last night was the first night of the writers' conference at Pacifica Graduate Institute which was opened by one of my favorites ... Michael Meade.  Michael came without his drum but filled us with lyrical rhythms of his stories and song and touched us with a call.

Michael told us to "sing into the emptiness between the world and ourselves," to awaken our unique voice, to re-create the world with our words. 

A tall order but by the end of the evening, we were ready to pick up the burning feather, a metaphor that came from another story he shared, that goes something like this:

Once upon all time, A young person was riding through an ancient forest (aren't all forests in stories ancient, dark and deep?), when her horse (a magnificent beast) stops just as a golden, flaming feather drops from the sky.  

As the young rider contemplated the feather, the horse murmured (because it was a horse of power, of course), "Do not pick up the feather or you will know trouble and fear." 

This could be a cautionary tale to avoid new things, to play it safe, but we know (because in the ancient stories, we are always wise and courageous) that fear is telling us where we must go.  The burning feather has to be picked up; we have to journey in the direction of our fears. 

And that was how Michael told us that our way is marked ... That we have to take the sword of courage in hand and make our way into the dark continent of our fears and psyche to bring back the boon of wisdom to be shared with the world.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hunger for Peace

JR won a TED prize with his wish to turn the world inside out with art.  In this TED Talk, he tells the story of how people are changing the world one picture at a time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Language and Habits

It always intrigues me when science comes to a conclusion that confirms other teachings.  As far back as I know, positive thinking advocates have always recommended putting affirmations in the present tense … I AM trim, healthy and energetic … rather than I WILL be trim, healthy and energetic.

It seemed to make sense but I never understood the reasoning behind it until I read about a study done by M. Keith Chen, Yale University, School of Management and Cowles Foundation.  In this study, he proposes that languages with a strong separation of present and future tense create a mindset that causes people to be less likely to save money, exercise regularly, and eat healthily.  

Languages such as English, Czech, Russian, Persian, Turkish and Georgian separate the future from the present with verb tenses … I will go verses I go. Other languages such as German indicate the future with context … It rains tomorrow.  These languages seem to make the future feel more similar to the present.  Therefore, people treat the future more like the present … they save money today instead of putting it off until tomorrow.

Chen's study sparked conflict within the linguistic community and still hasn't received rigorous academic review.   However, it is interesting to contemplate how the language we speak may affect our attitude and actions.

More info:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Circling Back

When I was young, I thought I'd be a world traveller.  I had a plan.  After I got out of high school, I was going to take a tramp steamer to Europe and then backpack to Switzerland.  I still haven't been to Switzerland.  Life had other plans.  I went to college, got married, started working and here I am, closer to the end than the beginning and those unfinished threads seem to be waving at me again. "Hey, remember me?  Is it time to play?" they seem to be asking.

A friend introduced me to International Living, a magazine and organization that helps people understand the legal, financial and cultural intricacies of moving to, and living in, a different country.  And, I now seem to be circling back, thinking about those childhood yearnings, wondering what's stopping me from doing what I might have done then if things had gone a different direction.  What's keeping me from spending several months a year living in other countries, learning other languages, immersing myself in other cultures?

The more I think about the things that fascinated me as a child, the more it seems that "circling back" might be a strategy for this stage of life.  Maybe those interests and yearnings are like dormant seeds just waiting for the right combination of time and circumstances before breaking ground once again in our consciousness.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Scurrying Rat

My dad had a gift for seeing all the possible things that could go wrong in any situation.  He wanted to protect me so he gave me a rat ... a rat called Fear.  He trained it to remind me, with its scratchings and clawings, that beyond the known world there be dragons. Our known world was small ... a white-bread, Kansas farm town, as humanly and culturally uniform as the geography ... safe.

By the time I left home, I hardly noticed the rat as it kept me contained within the borders of its protective field. It was only when I tried to go outside those borders, that I heard it scurrying and the eerie scratching of its claws.  I was in my late twenties when I first caught a glimpse of the rat itself.  I had moved to the "big city" with my husband and quit my job to start my own business keeping books for small businesses.  

I had one client but needed more, which meant going out and talking to people, walking the streets of the big world. The rat went crazy.  Every scratch carried a story of crime, mayhem, and a hundred possible ways I could be hurt.  Leaving my office became a battle between my desire to find work and the rat.

I wish I could say I actually won that battle but it was merely postponed until another day when my first client offered me a full-time job.  However, I had met the rat, had begun to know what he was trying to do, and could begin to think about his role in my life.  A year and a half later, change beckoned. My husband helped me pack my car, taught me how to change a tire and use a CB radio, put a gun under the driver's seat, and sent me on my way as I headed out for a cross-country trip to find a job in California, at which time he would follow.

The rat eventually caught up with me, but was worn out by the trip and has never since had quite the same power over me.  I always know he's out there, trying to narrow my world, but now I can scratch as loudly as he does.  I'm grateful to him, he makes me think twice before rushing into a new venture, but I know what would happen if I let him have his way. 

He's old now.  He'd like to have a very small field to circle.  He'd like to be able to sleep in the sun without having to keep such a close watch over my activities.   He'd like to put me in a box so he didn't have to do anything at all.  My job is to not let him run my life.  It's a constant job.  Sometimes he recruits the help of my friends and acquaintances.  He's always dropping news flash warnings on my path, reminding me of the dangers "out there."

But, I have one life to lead and I choose to follow the path that calls me. I choose to trust the universe.  I know that doesn't mean that I will always be safe. But it does mean that if I die, I will die living my own life.  It does mean that if I should get hurt, I will figure out how to deal with it and learn the lessons that come with it.

Every day I breathe in Joy and breathe out Fear.  I'm not sure it is possible to live without fear. It is probably hard-wired into us, and rightly so.  There are lions and tigers and bears in the world.  But joy, beauty, and surprising delights also lurk around every new corner.  We just have to keeping taking one step after another on our own path.  We can listen to our friend the rat but he has to be constantly reminded that he is not in charge. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Peace Pilgrim

This month marks the 60th anniversary of a remarkable pilgrimage.

A story by NPR reports:  In 1953, Mildred Norman set off from the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day with a goal of walking the entire country for peace.  She left her given name behind and took up a new identity:  Peace Pilgrim.

She vowed to be a wanderer until mankind learned the way of peace and walked over 25,000 miles and fasted until she was offered food, and traveled on foot until she was given shelter.  To prepare for her walk she hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one year -- the first woman to do so.  Determined to walk until the world declared peace, she walked for 28 years carrying no money, with only the clothes on her back and a few items in her pockets.  She died in 1981 … riding in a car.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every year I post this poem on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 
birthday in honor of all that he gave us and in hopes that
we live up to his words.

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, 2011