Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kaleidoscopic Fodder

Stained glass ceiling in Mérida, MX
A friend recently had a series of health tests that have revealed dark spots on her brain. The diagnosis she expected yesterday didn’t arrive, but in our email this morning, she told me how much she was enjoying the sunrise.

It made me think … this is all just fodder … it’s the paint and metal and glass and canvas that we use to create the art we call life.

And, as life artists (all of us!), we have to be grateful for our materials, however they come to us … whether through travel to a foreign country or exploring our own back yard, through joyful reunions or broken relationships, engaging new projects or cleaning the same window one more time, wins or losses, births and deaths. It’s all we have ... this kaleidoscopic tumbling of life forces, giving and taking, swirling and changing, laughing and singing, weeping and wailing.

In the past few years, great attention has been paid to “being happy.” We now know which countries, states, and cities are the “happiest places on earth.” But happy is only one point on the spectrum of life … maybe the bigger story is the totality of feeling.  Feeling love, joy and happiness … feeling sorrow, despair and empathy. Feeling connected, abandoned, embraced and isolated. Feeling energized, depressed, anguish and joy.

Maybe life’s job is to bring us experiences that make us feel. 
Perhaps it’s our job to turn those feelings into art, beauty, compassion, service ... transforming those emotions that rush through our human form into a flow of color and art, love, words, music, dance, food, flowers, friendship and connection.

Perhaps it’s only by understanding this cycle of experiencing and expressing our feelings that we become whole and wholly grateful for everything that comes our way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Year of Paying Attention

Facebook header based on wall art in San Miguel de Allende
Focus on this bright, shiny new year called 2015 has been slow in coming. Today is the 19th day of the year and I’ve been distracted by endings and uncertainty. I feel like I’m already “late” since I haven’t taken time to contemplate the coming year, haven't begun my journal for the year or even chosen my word for this year.  However, this morning I was thinking about how we learn and came across this line about attention.

Often, the main reason we don't learn something or remember it well is because we weren't paying attention in the first place.

It struck me that maybe my “year of …” wasn’t about doing something but about being something … being more aware and attentive, truly noticing the world around me and my engagement with and within it.

What would paying more attention look like? Fortunately, the guru-at-my-fingertips (Google) has an answer … many answers … a plethora of take-your-choice answers. Slowly, I begin to feel the rightness of this choice, feel things start to fall into place. ATTENTION is the word I want to explore this year. Let's see what 365 days of focusing and paying attention will bring to life.

Here are a few gleanings from this new focus on attention ...

One writer began with the definition:
at·ten·tion (noun)
1.a. The act of close or careful observing or listening.
b. The ability or power to keep the mind on something; the ability to concentrate.
c. Notice or observation.

The Redhead Riter (who bills her blog as … “witty, intelligent & addictive”) gives us 15 reasons why we don’t pay attention … 
  • Too comfortable in our surroundings and take it for granted.
  • Overconfident in our abilities.
  • Thinking too much about the big picture.
  • Fear that we will not get it all done.
  • Filling our lives with too many activities.
  • Not living in the moment.
  • Having too much clutter around us.
  • Believing that true multitasking is a reality. (Can you eat a sandwich, whistle and chew gum at the same time? No, you can’t.)
  • Not having a place for everything to reside when not in use.
  • Not putting back things into their proper place after use.
  • Boredom.
  • There’s not a lot of emotion tied in with the experience.
  • Being too tired.
  • We are not at optimal health.
  • Believing that looking and seeing are the same thing.
to be continued, expanded, explored, savored, chewed on, observed and paid attention to ...

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted each year in honor of two people who changed our world.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

If I only had a chair ...

I had a chair.
It was a bright, shiny chair.
I put it in the center of my room
where everyone could see it
even passersby in the street.

I cared for my chair,
dusted it, polished it,
told everyone who would listen
about its lines and curves,
how remarkable it was.

My chair had one short leg,
wobbled a bit,
My friends and I laughed
about our wobbly chairs
and the shims we used
to make them stable.

I painted my chair 
in bright colors,
shared pictures on Facebook,
dutifully liked pictures of theirs,
felt part of the tribe, 
felt part of the whole.

I seldom sat in my chair,
it was a bit rigid and stiff,
rubbed against my bones,
caused my back to ache,
set up an unease in my spirit.

A day came when I needed rest,
needed comfort and support.
Decided to sit in my well-polished chair, 
displayed and brightly lit
in the center of my room.

The legs wobbled, then buckled,
the pieces fell apart,
Leaving me sitting in a pile of dust,
in the center of my room
where everyone could see
there was no chair,
only a chairlessness and
an empty room,

If only I had a chair … 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


It is eleven days into the new year and I am still stuck between the old and the new. I have not made the transition; I have not glitter-doodled my journal for 2015; I have not collaged my intentions for the year; I have been stuck in old stuff that I carried with me into this bright, shiny new year.

Today a friend sent me a copy of Brain Pickings, a rather amazing collection of wisdom and thoughts, and it shook me out of my stupor and offered me a resolution … walking, or more accurately sauntering. Now, I have been an avid walker for as long as I can remember but suddenly I realized I have been only half-walking … walking in body and mind but not in spirit and connection with the world around me.

The realization that I have been missing much in my walking was sparked by Henry David Thoreau’s treatise on walking where he says (quoting from Brain Pickings) “(Thoreau) sets out to remind us of how that primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, that spring of spiritual vitality methodically dried up by our sedentary civilization."

"Thoreau argues that the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering. (In one of several wonderful asides, Thoreau offers what is perhaps the best definition of “genius”: “Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself — and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.”) An avid practitioner of hiking, Thoreau extols sauntering as a different thing altogether:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

So, my first resolution for the year is to practice sauntering, to treat walking as a holy act and to allow the world to unfold in front of me.
About the image: I think while I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas, I did spend a fair amount of time sauntering, wandering aimlessly through streets and neighborhoods, following sights or sounds as they appeared ... finding my way to the sea. This wall art was one of the things that captured my attention.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Confessions of a "Fast Learner"

From collection of 85 -eria words
I was always a fast learner. New information comes into my brain quickly and makes connections and linkages that give me insights … at least long enough to take the test, make the grade and then let all or most of it drain away. Over the years, I came to think of my mind as a sponge, soaking up information only to let it flow out almost as fast as it flowed in.

For most of my life, and especially in school, fast learning was enough; I seldom needed the information learned in one class to succeed in the next one, and, if I did, I could always quickly relearn it … and then reforget it.  However, over time I began to wonder why some of my friends and colleagues, who didn’t necessarily display that fast learning thing, seemed to remember more than I did, seemed to be able to recall information they needed to make decisions, understand the workings of things and systems, and even just talk about the movie they saw last month (or even last week, if I’m honest).
None of this caused me any great problems until I decided to study Spanish seriously. For twenty-five years I had been non-seriously attempting Spanish and failing. Adult-ed courses dropped by the wayside like summer flies on a window sill. Spanish books, tapes, CDs, and Internet programs provided me with my own technology timeline leading to nowhere.

I decided there was only one thing I hadn’t tried … language immersion in a Spanish-speaking country. So, I made my reservations and headed off to San Miguel de Allende only to have that illusion pop like a rainbow soap bubble in the sun. Being in a classroom taught by a native Spanish speaker and surrounded by the language in the streets and stores produced no magic. The classroom bored me and the forced efforts to speak without vocabulary to speak with only frustrated me. The streets enchanted me but dropped language into my brain drip by tiny drip without creating a coherence or understanding.

I switched to a tutor who handed me a workbook and led me through charming but largely uncomprehended conversations. I worked the boring workbook. I studied and when I could study no longer, I walked the streets, picking up more disjointed words. I started reading what I could, writing what I could, and endlessly wondering why so very little was sticking … what was wrong with me?

Then, I discovered Google Translate. A more flawed guide to a foreign language you may never find … but it was there 24/7 and it gave me instant feedback. At the time, I did not know how bad it was, I just knew that if I put something into it, it gave me something back, instantly. I started writing sentences in Spanish and putting them into GT. Instantly I could see mistakes … wrong words, wrong pronouns, wrong word order, wrong verb tense … wrong, wrong, wrong!

I fell in love with GT. It didn’t tell me I was stupid … it told me that I didn’t yet have it right and it was infinitely patient while I tried this or that or went off on a Google search to find someone who might have an answer for me. Somewhere in that process, I discovered and fell into a conversation with the developer of that very helpful site. He told me something that changed everything. He said that most students fail to achieve their new language objectives.

OMG!  If most people fail at something … at anything … there is something wrong with the system not the individuals trying to use the system. Maybe it wasn’t me … maybe it was the way I was learning. Maybe school had been one long experience of learning the wrong way. Perhaps … just perhaps ... there might be a better way?

That’s my new quest … and, so far, I’m finding some incredible stuff … stuff I wished I had learned in kindergarten … or at least by grade 2 or 3 … however, at least now I have some new tools to apply to the project of learning Spanish and am developing some confidence that I can reach my objective in that lovely language.

I will be sharing techniques as I learn them and experience how well they work on my own learning project.  Below is the first one and más tarde (more later …. ;-)

FIT: Focused Interval Training* … this is definitely not new but in our over-stimulated, multi-tasking world, it is worth dusting off and applying to anything you want to learn. Plus it’s just about as simple as anything you can possibly do … Set aside a specific length of time for focused learning … 25 minutes, 30 minutes - turning off email, phone and all distractions. Take a 5 minute break afterward. (*also known as The Pomodoro Technique).

There is even an app that helps you do this … 30/30 … here’s a write-up about it ...
Do you ever get lost in a project and wonder where the time went? If so, you should consider downloading 30/30, an app that keeps you on task.
What does it do?
It lets you set up a list of various jobs, each with a designated amount of time to complete them. Start the clock, and when it runs out, it will tell you to move onto the next thing.

Why do we like it?
30/30 helps you focus in a clean, colorful interface that you can control with gestures. Say, hypothetically, you tend to get lost down a YouTube rabbit-hole (not that any of us knows anyone like that). You could say you want to spend 30 minutes looking at videos followed by an hour working on your taxes. It alerts you when its time to move on so you don't waste too much time.