Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Sweet Peace #2 - Guidelines

Barbara's Camelias

Sweet Peace. What does that actually mean? Whatever it is, I think it eluded me this week. Travel, holidays, and weather disrupted normal routines and left me feeling scattered, vulnerable ... and entitled to sugar.
However, I’m here, reflecting on the week and realizing that while I want to report perfection … some magical state of sugar-free equanimity … what really happened was an increase in awareness, some small wins, and a wave function of peaks and valleys. The distractions of the week left me without a clear definition of my intentions; so maybe clarifying what I mean by Sweet Peace is the goal for this week.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Sweet Peace: Week 1

Forest Sacrament

Today is Solstice, the day the sun returns. It is also Tuesday, a day which gets its name from the Anglo Saxon god of war and is perhaps best known for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. Normally a day of excess, I’ve chosen it as my day of sweet peace.


Yesterday, my friend Barbara and I finished a significant project: redesigning her peace magazine. We were both pleased with the result and wanted to celebrate. I have been thinking about celebration for several weeks as I worked on the revision of the gratitude journal, looking for ways to celebrate life events without resorting to food or drink. Unsuccessful in that attempt, we opened a bottle of champagne and ate sweet treats as we watched the final episodes of Frankie and Grace.


The excess of sugar, carbs, and alcohol left my stomach almost as disturbed as my mindset. Sleep came slowly and fitful. Around 3:00 a.m., I heard the invitation of Solstice to begin again. Sugar has always been a central character in my drama: a reward, a treat, a temptress, a siren song leading me toward the rocky shores of a toxic desire. 


Sugar toxicity seems to be a scientific fact, and yet it is still the center of our cultural rituals and celebrations. Yesterday convinced me to break this tie, so for the next 52 weeks, I am going on a journey to find non-food/drink replacements for the desire for sweetness. This does not mean replacing sugar with sweeteners. It means finding sweetness in life, indulging in joy and celebration, focusing on gratitude and connection rather than taste bud ecstasy.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #42: Aspiration for 2022 emerges: Just for Joy


(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 joy-filled life. Once a year I get to celebrate both my birth and death days on the same day.)

This week as I left Julian for the five-hour drive to Santa Barbara, I reviewed my newly loaded audio books to see which would be my companion on the drive. I passed by the I-should-learn-this tomes and clicked on Miracle and Wonder, Conversations with Paul Simon, which sounded like fun. 

These conversations focused on Simon’s creative process and the specifics behind the development of some of his most memorable songs. Soon, I was buzzing with delight, coming alive in a Just for Joy moment which had no real purpose, outcome, or expectation. However I was transported, energized, and held in the grip of music and story from an artist I have grown up and old with, a remarkable artist who has invented and reinvented himself for six decades.


For some reason, the word confluence came to mind. When two or more rivers come together, it’s called a confluence. Sometimes life is like that; things flowing together from different places, emerging into one. Heraclitus said you can’t step twice into the same river, wisely observing that the river is always flowing and you are always changing; therefore, it’s not even the same you who’s stepping into the not-same river.


For the past 15 years since Richard died, I’ve traveled in a fast-moving river through isolated, high canyon walls. I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, learned a lot, following the rapid flow of gravity. Now I seem to be merging into a meandering stream, spreading across a flat plain, drifting below leafy cottonwoods, joining new waters. 


As I reinvent myself in this different pace and time, my body feels like it is pulsing, adapting in waves: advancing then pulling back as new meets old; old trying to stay contained, hold its shape, while new whispers invitations and swirls diaphanous, inviting patterns that pull me forward. It's almost like a three-dimensional chess game played by an unseen hand … one old friendship moves to a higher level while a different one is removed from play. An improbable square opens up, revealing a path to a new, possibly game-changing direction while the river behind me turns down a different canyon.


 I’m not sure where this confluence of rivers is taking me but I am grateful for the journey. I’ve never felt in control of my destiny and feel no need to try now. There may be rapids in my future … or I might wind up on a beautiful, sandy beach … or both … or something completely unimagined. 


As 2021 winds down, I want to follow my own internal music, being in harmony and grateful for everything that comes my way, for all that I learn and create, for all the people I connect with, and all the ways I share what I’ve picked up along the way. I want to do more joyful things, feel more joy, share more joy, and help this beleaguered world heal its divisions by nurturing the joy surrounding us.


All of this brought me to my aspiration for 2022: 


Just for Joy.



Thought from 
the Wisdom Cave:

We are just specks on a speck, 

yet each of us specks on this speck 

is a unique, one-of-a-kind original. 


Presumably, living beings on other specks 

are also original and one-of-a-kind. 

Therefore, each of us right here, right now 

is an original, never-before-here and never-to-reappear 

entity in the endless Universe of specks on specks.


So go forth the and enjoy your one life, 

be kind to the unique specks around you

and let joy light up every day

of your life.

Monday, December 6, 2021

An Enchanted Question leads to more questions

In her newsletter, Sam Horn challenged us with the question
of who the author of this quote was.

 My chest hurts and tears fill my eyes. I feel like I have just lost something very dear, someone I was somehow connected to, and yet, until earlier today, I had never heard his name even though I was familiar with one of his songs: eden ahbez.

To make sense of all of this, listen to this song, “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole.


Click here to listen.


Then think about this comment from Tactictoe 7 years ago

"A song written by a man who lived his adult life outdoors - reportedly under the second L of the HOLLYWOOD sign, no less - a man who refused royalties, preferring to divide them up and hand them to strangers...yes ladies and gentlemen, eden ahbez had the right to write this poem, later adapted into a song...I'm genuinely tearing up to think that there was such a selfless soul out there. You don't hear much about them anymore. But they're out there.

- Should have said in the OP, his name was eden ahbez, and the lack of capitals are intentional, as he didn't believe in capitalising names that weren't righteous IE God."

eden ahbez was part human, part myth ... part adopted-kid from Kansas and part other worldly being drifting in on dandelion fluff, living in a pre-hippies dreamscape. Somewhere along the way, perhaps in a cave, perhaps under the Hollywood sign, he wrote a song. Somehow, in a story worthy of a Horatio Alger novel, he left his song at the feet of the great Nat King Cole and a legend was born. The song became a #1 hit and swept the country and became the crossover song that endeared Nat King Cole to audiences black and white.


This strangely compelling story kept tugging at me and I eventually found an article with another video, a trailer for  a documentary by Brian Chidester,  called As the Wind: the Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez.


Click here to watch

The article includes a quote from ahbez: “All the money in the world will not change my way of life. Because all the money in the world could not give me the things I already have. Anna and I have learned that nature and a simple life will bring you peace and happiness. We sleep on the ground in sleeping bags in the California mountains and deserts.”

In a different article he is quoted as saying, “I may look crazy but I’m not. Others may not look crazy but they are."


ahbez continued writing and making music, working with many of the greats of his time and died in 1995 at age 86 from a car accident. Just as I was about to stop following this trail, I found a 3-part behind the scenes series on YouTube:


Behind the Scenes of "As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez" (Part One)

Behind the Scenes of "As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez" (Part Two)
Behind the Scenes of "As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez" (Part Three)


And then more:

My chest still aches ... I now know who eden ahbez was and more about his music. I don't, however, know why I feel so much for this person I never met, nor why it feels like grief.

Maybe because he was such an authentic person?
Maybe because he lived a life we all yearn for?
Maybe because he touched a chord that millions of us feel and felt with his line ...

“The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”


Friday, December 3, 2021

Been There Voices: Susan Larson - Singing while the glue dries

Singing Cobbler

A few days ago, my dog, Paco, chewed through yet another expensive new leash. I sighed and looked at all of the unusable leashes draped over the railing. Then I realized that I could take it to the little shoe repairman whose shop was nearby. Of course, here in my little village of 11,000, everything is close at hand.

When I got to Humberto’s dark, dusty shop, I found him watching something on his phone, with shoes,  belts, and all sorts of leather things stacked up, filling the tiny shop. But the back walls were covered in posters advertising the events where he had performed. Some posters showed a very youthful and handsome man, while others were of a proud older gentleman.


Using my broken Spanish, I explained my dog had chewed through yet another leash and could he sew it up? Smiling at me, he answered in English that he could, and I could just wait. His first step was to apply industrial strength glue, and while we waited for the glue to dry, I asked him if he sang? Putting the leash in the sun to dry, he picked up his guitar and serenaded me, looking into my eyes the entire song.


The glue had dried by then, and he patiently started stitching the leash over and over again, sharing with me the great difficulties local musicians had during the pandemic when everything was shut down. People weren’t getting shoes repaired, and there was no music in his life or money in his pocket. Of course, I bought a CD too.


Reflecting on this later, I realized how different life is outside of the hustle in the USA. Every activity is monitored by computers, from doctors to check out people, Woe be it, to those who can’t keep up. Yes, I am grateful for my simple life here.


No one is going to serenade me back “home” while the glue dries. 


*** Susan Larson, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX, explorer of the edges

Click here for more about Susan and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Been There Voices: Becky Ripley - Uprooted Miracles

We recently drove to western Maryland where Mother Nature was in full glory. In my Gratitude Mojo Journal, I gave thanks for ten mini-miracles I experienced that weekend. For these and so much more, I am grateful…

 

  1. Hillsides of golden trees in mid-wardrobe change
  2. Pine needles strewn on the forest floor, creating a blanket for passers-by
  3. Rushing surge of waterfalls
  4. Cozy-looking lichen-covered rocks, roots and tree trunks
  5. Layer upon layer of distant hills, Maryland’s version of a Jerry Schur painting
  6. An uprooted tree showing off her labyrinth of lacy roots
  7. Six friends professing gratitude for shared time and the gift of each other
  8. Wet leaves underfoot, softening the path with intricate shapes and a range of colors
  9. Families soaking up Mother Nature, where everything sparkled after yesterday’s rain
  10. Blue skies peeking through my surround of autumn tree branches

 

** Becky RipleyColumbia, MD, lover of life and card making

Click here for more about Becky and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #41: A new possibility opens up buried grief

Sunday morning on Garden Street

(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 joy-filled life.)    

Change comes in many forms from the slow creeping rise of oceans to the sharp cataclysmic fractures of the earth or fire-spewing volcanic eruptions. Aging is a slow form change, advancing cell by cell, obscured by the blur of life until time and the river sweeps everything away in one last heartbeat moment, leaving a barren but fallow griefscape for those left behind.

I am in Santa Barbara. It’s not where Richard died; it’s where we lived. Its streets trace our former life like lines criss-crossing the palms of my hands. I’m left wondering how I will make new paths in this deeply furrowed soil as I plan the return to our place, the place we claimed when love was new, where memories of shared sights and sounds, loves and losses, roll in and out like morning fog. 

This Thanksgiving season of his death is especially poignant as I walk through the inescapable past; every step a paper cut memory: the what-ifs and if-onlys, the words still unspoken, the remembered hopes and dreams of yesterday, the finality of change that has no tomorrow. 

With this possibility of returning with new skills and dreams as well as deeper wisdom, softened and strengthened by grief, I tug at the door so firmly closed years ago. The beauty of this place floods in mingling with the pain, the tears, the joy and heartbreak. Years of solitude and carefully controlled sorrow shatter into a what-now confusion as this place I adore invites my return, alone, without the love and the man who brought me here so many years ago. 

 All the things I know, all the wisdom I’ve gathered, cluster like monarchs on a somber day: colorless things waiting for warming sunshine before spreading their bright wings and continuing on their way. I know that sunny day will come to me also; I just have to walk forward into this gift of life, this one more chance to live in the only place my heart calls home.

Richard and baby Ava (now 20)


Sunday, November 7, 2021

A strange land: No passport needed

 There is a place, just across a border, a border unmarked on any map. It is a paint-splashed place just beyond the norms of here and now, this and that. A place where discarded televisions, old tires, left over cars, empty paint cans, and unleashed freedom dance their way into art. It is a disordered place of chaos and beauty, of yin and yang, a defiant, blatant physical rebellion against expectations of square-cornered control.




In this place lives a tribe of misfits, the rejected and rejecting ones: dreamers, painters, sculptors, wild-eyed visionaries, hoarders and protectors of the debris of the commercial world, pontificators, dropouts, over-dosed crazies, shattered geniuses, potential messiahs, and a greeter named Wizard … all skipping blissfully and blindly toward the promised land at the tip of Maslow’s hierarchy, attempting to create heaven on earth in the midst of an accepting but unyielding desert.








In East Jesus over the past two and a half years, a type-A woman named Dot has created an entrepreneurial empire that sprawls over several abandoned and relocated trailers, including a 3,000 book ArcHive, a boutique housed in a repurposed school bus, an art emporium, and a blind-eyed chicken.



These are pioneers shaking off their past as they stake their claims in the name of art and freedom from a broken future. Their place has many names:

Salvation Mountain - Slab City - East Jesus - Bombay Beach ...









Thursday, November 4, 2021

Been There Voices - Anita Perez Ferguson - How do you manage prolonged exposure to grief?

After teaching my weekly class at the Ventura Post Acute Care Center I wrote:

Your pain and sickness
Distress my spirit.
Seeing you erases
The smile I washed and ironed Especially for our visit.

How do you manage
Prolonged exposure to grief?
I cannot store up enough cheer to last the journey.






** Anita Perez Ferguson, Santa Barbara, CA, young adult historic fiction author

Click here for more about Anita and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Been There Voices: Joyce Wycoff - Gratitude for Life, a journey into journaling


When I was 10, someone gave me a 5-year journal and I fell into enchantment with the idea of writing my life. One likely ending of that not uncommon story is: here I am going on seven decades later with a trunk brimming over with journals filled with life stories and transitions. 

It didn’t quite happen that way.

My journal was green with a nubby leather-like cover and a cute lock with a tiny brass key. It was all mine and I was going to write my secrets on its endless pages. It didn’t take long to find the fly in that inviting dream. All my secrets revolved around my troubled relationship with my mother and there was no way that tiny lock was going to keep her from reading what I wrote. That was a path leading directly to disaster.

My solution: a code. The problem: I couldn’t remember the code and was afraid to write it down somewhere. I should make it clear: my mother was not an ogre but she did have red hair and the temper to match. My best strategy was to stay out of her way so I escaped into books and left the idea of keeping a journal behind.

However, two seeds had been planted … one grew quickly; one barely sprouted. The first seed grew into a magical cloak of many colors that let me blend in with any group. I became a young yogi, able to twist my body, mind, and spirit into a thousand forms, seamlessly fitting into the groups around me. Only my feelings wouldn’t conform, so they were put into a dark corner where they wouldn’t cause problems. The second seed went into that corner also, languishing but never quite dying.

Decades pass. I marry, divorce, marry again and become a widow. The dream of becoming a writer … about someone else’s life … flickers wildly, always meeting rejection. Journals reappear, collaged pages with abstract words but no context, hinting at possibilities with muted whisperings of an inner life. Most pages remained unblemished while glittery covers suggested a richness unfulfilled.

Grief does what yearning couldn’t. A siege of losses breaks me open and art walks in, speaking in a language I feel but can’t articulate. Behind it rolls a tsunami of words pulled to the shore of my deserted island of self.

Poetry begins bubbling up in the strangest places. Memoir acts as if it has a story to tell. I seem to be a passenger on a bus going somewhere but no one tells me where. 

I think maybe I’m supposed to be a poet so I apply to an MFA program. Rejection. I apply to the most prestigious writers’ conference on the west coast. Rejection again … four times again. 

I start my own newsletter and for eight years, no rejections. I write about outside things, useful things … corporate culture, innovation, creativity … while a cauldron of ghosts and eyes of newt bubbles away deep in the forest. 

I flee to Mexico, thinking to flood myself with a new culture. In spite of the color, the stories, the exciting vitality of Mexico, I don’t find myself. 

I return home not knowing why. However, words and images begin to pour themselves into little books, books only I will publish, books only a few will read. But, there I am, growing more visible on the page, taking that tiny second seed out of the dark corner, watching it stretch toward the light.

For a writer, I’m told, success is being published, ideally by a big name publisher with a big advance. For an artist, I’m told, success is having canvasses snatched up by eager clients and showing in a gallery whose spacious walls are devoted to one or two stunning masterpieces. 

All of that would be nice. However, for me, a different yard-stick of success is emerging.



When I was in the fourth grade, Charlene Storm was the princess. Thin, beautiful, and creative, she wrote plays the four of us girls in the fourth grade (country school) would act out during recess. I wanted to write a play. So, I did and submitted it to Charlene. She was gracious about telling me that she couldn’t read my writing, which, at the time, was a tiny, unreadable mess. 

(Aside: the only “C” I got in school was in “writing” which was what school called penmanship. I have to wonder if that was a factor in a life-time of trying to be a writer and considering myself mediocre, a c-level writer.)

I think back to that first rejection often and wonder why I didn’t just rewrite my play more legibly and resubmit it. Instead I ate that judgment, that platter of rejection, and let it become part of my core belief about myself. I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t good enough. That role was reserved for pretty girls whose waist bands never crumpled and whose petticoats never slumped bedraggled below their poodle skirts.

It has been a long, slow journey but I now know I am a writer … because I write; and know I am an artist because I make art. I am successful at both of those things because they come from my inner core; they are reflections of who I am. That is success enough. Rejection is just a puff of fog that I walk through on my way to the next writing, the next piece of art.



That ten-year-old child with her unused 5-year journal could not have imagined where we would wind up, the adventures we would have, the growing pile of writings and art with my name on them, regardless of their recognition by the world of judgment and fame.

And, that unloved seedling of creativity is now out of its dark corner, flourishing as I step into another aspect of myself. I have now become a maker of journals. 

Five years ago, I created a gratitude journal and am now remaking it with a dear friend. This morning, it called to me, inviting me to walk into a shadowy part of my journey as I explore  questions to help me and others explore our own selves and our journey in this "one, wild and precious life."

For all of this, I am truly grateful.



Postscript:

1/2/2022 ... Cleaning out Evernote files and find a poem from 1/10/2021 based on a snippet found in one of Maria Popova's newsletter ... was Brain Picking ... now The Marginalian <newsletter@brainpickings.org>

Kerouac Knew

a shadow with a mean hand 
lurked over the green book
with its tiny, brass key.

a siren, beckoning words, 
five years to the page, four lines per day, 
space, inviting forbidden thoughts. 

key and code. too weak:
marble secrets shatter
against cold concrete

stop. stuff real words
back into dark places,
like unmatched socks.

write vanilla smiles
onto bright white paper
in broken, braille letters.

wait. tears and years.
new notebooks still locked
by old shadows, until …

A new key scattered
words across the page:
“for yr own joy”

-- Joyce wycoff
1/10/2021

From Brain Pickings:
Jack Kerouac began his 30-point list for writing with:
  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy 


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Been There Voices: Becky Ripley - One thing my mother said to me

Here’s  Mom, me, and my sister—prepping for a family holiday meal.

The one thing my mother said most often was, “Here, you must be hungry.” The older she got, the more she wanted to feed us from the moment we walked in the door until we left a week later. Before dementia, Mom was an exceptional cook and baker. Food was her language of love. Lots of love.  

A few years ago, I was on an early morning coaching call in my parents’ home office. Mom tiptoed in with a plate of fruit and banana bread and a cup of tea, stage whispering, “I thought you might be hungry.” So dear, albeit so distracting.

 

I shared the following food story during the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral. “I happened to be home for a visit when iconic basketball coach Bobby Knight arrived, hoping to recruit my much younger brother Rod to play for Indiana. Knight got to the house about 8 in the morning as scheduled — just as Mom was pulling a pan of homemade sweet rolls out of the oven. I think Bobby fell a little in love with Mom that day; her warm welcome and delicious baked goods made such an impression that he sent her Indiana sports attire long after Rod declined his offer to be a Hoosier.”

 

All of my friends and family would agree that I didn’t fall far from the feeding tree. I, too, speak the language of love via bodily sustenance. No one has ever left our house hungry.

 

I regularly express gratitude to my dear mother for my culinary talents, my efficiency, her unconditional love, and so much more. Rest in peace, Mom, and thank you.


** Becky RipleyColumbia, MD, lover of life and card making

Click here for more about Becky and other Been There Voices  

________________________________________________________

Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.