Monday, August 30, 2021

Flying Lessons

Most of us who have been using personal computers for awhile have a favorite software that acts like a junk drawer. Mine is Evernote and it passed the junk drawer stage years ago ... after twelve years, it is now a full on attic.  Evernote is an organizer's dream but can quickly become a tangled mess when discipline is slack. 

Charitably, I would describe my organization as mid-level, although it has been drifting toward tangled mess for awhile. With a little prodding from a highly organized friend, I've committed to tidying up. 

It may take awhile because, like any good attic, there are treasures hidden amongst the dust bunnies. One that appeared tonight was a bit of poetry that arrived a few years ago as I was reading about Unfettered Mind, the title of Kitty Ferguson’s biography of Stephen Hawking, which is a metaphorical paean to a life of freedom.

 While his body was locked in an immovable prison, his mind soared into the far reaches of space and time, unbound … unfettered … by the requirements of ordinary life (in large part thanks to his wife Jane’s constant care.) In spite of his decades of paralysis and continuing loss of physical abilities, Hawking said, “In my mind, I am free!”

I became fascinated by the fettered part of unfettered and wrote the following:

FETTERS are those things that bite and scratch,
Claw our spirits, drain our energies,
Withhold the light that shows us the way,
And, distract us from our path home.

FETTERS are the darts of judgment,
Telling us we’re not good enough,
No one will love us, we’re too old,
Slow, dumb, fat, ugly, clumsy,

Darts thrown by the world.
Darts thrown by ourselves.

FETTERS are our neon limitations,
Blank spaces where there should be
Shapely arms or legs, IQ points, money, time,
Energy, mentors, a degree or certificate,
All the things we lack in order to be enough ...
Potholes, sinkholes, wounds, all the missing pieces,
All the many reasons we can’t do what calls us.

FETTERS are the gathered weight of the world:
Too much and too many ...
Stuff, expectations, pressures to fit in,
Be a success; be right; be normal;
Heaviness driving us into the ground while
The weighty expectation of future continuity
Sucks adventure from our bones.

FETTERS are the dark shadows of fear.
Creeping into the corners of our spirits …
Tendrils of failure, abandonment, pain, loss,
Sickness, poverty, entrapment, death,
Calling us to hide, lash out, freeze … or run!

FETTERS nurture the fear that clutches our heart,
And calls us to forsake the clear energy of flowers,
The kiss of morning mist shifting through trees,
The dance of children,
The frosted nuzzle of an old dog,
Or a slow afternoon of friends and family
Gathered around burgers and lemonade,

Joy traded for the weight of pieces of numbered paper.
For the protective shield of our limitations,
For our own acceptance of the world’s judgments,
For the comforting warmth of our hand-sewn quilts of safety.

Thank them, those many fetters, for their lessons,
And then let them go,
One by one,


-- Joyce Wycoff

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Been There Stories: life stories from women who have been there


Stories. Life stories. Life stories from real women leading real lives.

It's easy to be in awe of the exceptional ... the stars, the Olympic champions, the people who make sweet lemonade from life's bitter catastrophes. However, those stories come with a tendency to think those stars walk on a different plane, were given gifts not available to us mere mortals. It is easy to dismiss their stories and lessons as unrelated to us and our specific journeys.

And yet, anyone who has lived into their sixth decade and beyond has faced the dragon ... probably many dragons ... and survived. The intent of this project is to provide space for those stories; stories which can help all of us recognize our own strengths, our own wisdom, the uniqueness of our own journeys.

Been There Voices is about us, 
our lives, our successes and failures, 
our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. 
The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, 
however, this project focuses on the stories of women.

Been There Voices will begin officially in September 8, 2021

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Granary Tree, Volume 4 - Mountain Shadows Moon

FREE Digital version, click here.  Ad Free.

Life during Volume 4 turned a bit dramatic as the biggest
wildfire in California history began to sweep through the
Lake Almanor area in Northern California.
Although the official evacuation for my area has ended, 
the air quality is still Hazardous and 
I'm staying in Southern California
until it's safe to breathe up there.

Print copies are available ... email jwycoff at me dot com.

Sample pages:

back cover


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Love Letters to My Life #38: Choosing Gratitude Resilience

(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.)

Some images sear themselves into our consciousness: the Twin Towers collapsing, the young girl running down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack, the picture of a struggling mother during the Great Depression. For me, another one has been added to that gallery as thousands of panicked people of Afghanistan mobbed the airport in an attempt to flee their country.

On this day dedicated to being grateful for my incredible life, I’m having difficulty getting past the raging monster fires spreading across the west, including my own beloved Lake Almanor area, the Delta variant threatening our health care system, the melting icebergs, lost animal species, and the incomprehensible rise in violence as our political differences turn toward madness. 

Watching desperate people flee a disintegrating government only deepens my rising sense of despair and hopelessness. My rose-colored glasses are circling the drain. Stop! 

But, stopping this cycle is like applying brakes to a locomotive. All I hear is the squealing of metal on metal as sparks fly. However, stop I must. Beyond this point, there be dragons.

I know gratitude helps. It’s a light in the darkness, but the shadow that holds me does not want to let go. It feeds me “but-what-abouts” until I gag. It tells me horror stories of past and present, paints pictures of apocalyptic bleakness, hellscapes of a dying world.

This, too, shall pass.

 The words are a whisper, but enough to calm my breath.

This, too, shall pass.
Everything changes.

I begin to list my right-now reality: I am alive, I’m amazingly healthy, sitting in a beautiful place surrounded by mountains, trees, and pristine air. There is food in my refrigerator, clean water from the tap, and the wifi is working. Friends are a phone call away; birds are singing; it’s a brand new day.

I remember what I have survived: death of loved ones and friends, disappointments galore, divorce, financial set-backs, lost jobs and homes I loved, a lonely childhood, and almost 76 years of life.

Gratitude slowly seeps back into the day as a blue bird explores the screen of my front door. I hear a squirrel digging through gravel to find a buried acorn and feel the cool morning air. All around me new acorns are growing, green apples are slowly turning red, and the top leaves of the poplars are turning yellow. Life is going on, turning into autumn, dancing to its own rhythms. I can’t control it, but I can flow with it.

Resilience and Gratitude

In a Psychology Today article, Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., Adjunct Associate Research Scientist at the Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology Division of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center, states:

One key aspect of resilience is having gratitude practices.”

Canadian life coach Ray Samuels defines resilience as “functioning with a sense of purpose, meaning and forward momentum in the face of trauma.” Today’s world overflows with trauma, to the point that all of us seem to be just a bit shell-shocked, reacting to the many challenges of the world with fear, anger and symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Gratitude may be the best healer.
It doesn't change the circumstances, but it helps us manage them. As Jeff Thompson reminds us: “It reminds you that if you stop and pause, there is still good all around us and it is happening each day.” That’s what helped pull me out of the feelings of despair that surrounded me this morning: recognizing the good that surrounds me, remembering that I have weathered other storms, and knowing that I’m not alone.

4-word advice

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt asked Facebook readers what advice they would give their younger self … in exactly 4 words. The responses were golden (choose your friends carefully) … and sometimes brutal (do not marry him). The one that stuck with me was the most was “life does not wait.” I decided that my addition to that list would be Brother Steindl-Rast’s famous dictum: Everything is a gift!

 On my morning walk, while the jays squawked and the squirrels scurried, my mood lifted as I absorbed vitamin-N. I realized that I am actually grateful for the pain I’m feeling for the world right now. It means I’m human and have a heart. It means I can feel the pain of others; that I am connected; that we are all connected. 

In a life where I’ve often felt alone and disconnected, I am grateful for these feelings; grateful to be a part of life with all it’s sparkling joys and all its piercing disappointments. 

Topping off the morning walk was a gift: a small, blue Stellar's Jay feather: a reminder of other days, in a world where Jonathan Livingstone Seagull soared and the sequel Illusions introduced me to the power of rare, although simple and believable, gifts. I've been here almost a year and this is the first of these beautiful feathers I've found. This one was right in the middle of the path where there was no way to miss it.

Choosing to feel grateful is a choice; choosing to practice gratitude in the toughest of times is a choice which yields amazing gifts and results.

Read more:

“Resilience and the Practice of Gratitude. How a gratitude practice can contribute to your inner strength,” Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., Psychology Today, March 29, 2020