Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Are Who You Are

Me in a marble

“The easiest thing in the world to be is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don't let them put you in that position.”

Leo Buscaglia

I don’t know what a co-dependent is exactly, but I have a feeling that’s because I wasn’t one. I just didn’t like myself.
Having a relationship with my Creator changed all that in a miraculous way.

When I was young, I was bad. That was my role in the family, and that was how I stood vis-à-vis the God I was raised with. Can anybody relate?

Then I had a deep spiritual experience and was reborn. But I still fell terribly short of the requirements my faith dictated. Now God loved me, but I was supposed to live a very spiritual life, and I didn’t do that, so again, I was bad. This went on for decades.

Then I found the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I did the 12 Steps with a sponsor and discovered forgiveness. I discovered my God not only forgave but loved me exactly as I am, imperfect and also very wonderful.

Part of my imperfection is that I really need the affirmation of others to believe that I am okay as I am. I can accept it today, since most other people feel the same way. Acceptance of my humanity makes it possible for me to be me and to let you be you.

Today my intuition is better than it once was, thanks to the Steps. I can feel when I’m not being authentic, when I’m searching more for affirmation than I should. I’ve also been blessed because the people I’m close to also accept me as I am, and they don’t require me to be other than that.

Do you believe you’re good just as you are? Are you glad you are who you are?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Little Things Matter

“It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.”
Samuel Johnson

What are the “little things” Johnson is thinking of here?
The major events of Johnson’s lifetime were the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the idea of the human right to democratic government (the American and French revolutions came after his death).
These were really big movements, made up of small discoveries.
On the other hand, microscopes were undergoing innovations at the time. Maybe Johnson was thinking of the microcosm. Maybe he was considering how to make a really good cup of tea.

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
Eleonora Duse, Italian actress (1858-1924)

What are your simple things, and little things, that make you rejoice?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Successful Creativity

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Arthur Ashe

Anyone who maintains a blog is creative. I think it’s the nature of the beast.
Titanium, who does her Element 22 blog with lots of originality, was acknowledged recently with the Kreativ Blogger award, something her wit and imagination well deserve. She passed it on to me.
The deal with this kind of award is that you explain who gave it to you and provide a link. Then you reveal seven factoids about yourself, and you pass it on to someone else. And somewhere on the post you insert this award:

I think I’ve told everything there is to know about me. But let me peel some layers off the onion and see what there is to find.

1. My first job was in a rock and mineral shop when I was 12. My dad got it for me because I loved rocks. I earned 25 cents an hour cleaning and helping rearrange the wares. Bonuses: The owner gave me rock and mineral specimens for my collection, plus I got free lunch at the next-door Tastee Freeze. I still have my rock collection.

2. My first car, presented to me the Christmas I was 16 by my dad, was a 1960 Studebaker Lark convertible. It looked like a black bomb to me and I despised it, because it was 1971 and the car wasn’t a classic yet. Dad paid my uncle $50 for it. I drove it for a year before cracking the radiator and getting a VW Bug afterward. My dad told me to be sure I always kept the radiator full on the Bug. I was paranoid until I found out it had an air-cooled engine and Dad was pulling my leg.

3. I trained as a florist in high school, then chose my university to study horticulture with the notion of a career as a floral designer. After one semester of plant identification, that idea went south, and my English professor talked me into switching majors. I kept up my work in floral design, and now I compete as an amateur in our regional fair. I won a Best of Show for my work last year.

4. I won a crossbow-shooting contest in the Swiss Alps while loaded to the gills on vodka. It was the first time I had ever handled a crossbow. It must have been the liquor.

5. I met my husband in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 1990. Friends played matchmaker between me, a high-falutin’ magazine editor, and Joe, a truck driver with tattoos. I fell in love with him on our first date, when he described someone as looking like a “beachball with arms.” We’ve been inseparable ever since.

6. In the earthquake we had here in 2004, my town lost a few 1880-era brick buildings. I brought home some of the bricks and made this miniature piazza, in the shape of an iron cross with limestone accents. It serves no useful purpose, but I like knowing the bricks were handmade 130 years ago down by the river, and that I have preserved them from the garbage dump.

7. I love my Canon digital camera. These days I enjoy shooting with the macro setting. I cruise around the yard often, looking for possibilities. No one else gets to see the shots except me and sometimes you. That suits me fine. As Arthur Ashe said, the doing is more important than the outcome.

Now to pass on the award. I bestow it upon two blogs I discovered during my Haiti Challenge early this month. Please go visit them:

Patti at Pattinase looks at writing, books, movies, politics, life and music in creative ways. She covers forgotten books, old TV shows, political or corporate faux pas, old crime thrillers, what’s funny and what’s not. She’s fresh and interesting.

Rene at Not the Rockefellers promises to share the “view from the cheap seats” and she delivers with a wry sense of humor. I like her poetry too.

And do You think success is a journey, or a destination?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Good Day's Work

“Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.”

Henri Matisse

I am a fan of Matisse, with his vivid colors and unusual vision of the world. A print of the painting here, The Red Room, has graced my living room for 20 years, and I’m not tired of it yet. It was a good day’s work for him.

You are what you do, not what you say, or even what you think, although I guess the thought is the parent of the action. I believe that my character is defined by what I do, not the fine words I say or the confused, sometimes brilliant, sometimes negative things that run through my brain.

So a good day’s work, for me, is something by which I can judge myself. If I make myself do something despite my fickle feelings, I am proud of myself. If I illuminate one other life besides my own for a brief time, I am grateful.

I got the only C I ever got in college in my Philosophy class. I was 16 years old and taking my first university course. The prof made us read cumbersome books by boring people who thought way too much and did way too little. I apologize for my ignorance of his fine points, but David Hume bored me to tears. He was far too smart for me.

I like painters and poets and novelists and revolutionaries and volunteers, who pursue passions good or bad. I like the Shaker philosophy: Hands to work, hearts to God.

I didn’t feel like writing a poem yesterday morning, but I wanted to work at my craft. So I sat down and made myself write a simple poem. I liked myself better for having done it, and it was a good day’s work. What I’ve learned in recovery, among other things, is not to be defeated by my feelings, but to derive happiness from right actions.

What’s a good day’s work to you? From what does your happiness spring?


After a three-year drought that turned to dust the riverbed, the fields,
Today the manna from heaven falls softly on the surface of the soil,

Which laps it neatly like a cat at the water dish, and the pores of leaves
Open like rosebuds to drink it. The mock orange shivers with raindrops,

The pine needles quiver, those brave narcissus bend their thirsty heads.
Rain patters like music on the roof, no longer creaking in the sunlight

But tooting like a piccolo in joy. Rain, rain, rain, a sighing in the air
Of satisfaction escapes the mouth of the ground beneath my feet,

Breath I feel on my cool skin as I embrace the raindrops in my arms.
The roots sing as their veins swell, and brown water begins to pool

In the dry riverbed. Small puddles reach out to other pools; they link,
Trickle gaily into low spots; and the river’s muddy blood awakens.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Lonely People in a Bar

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways
that won't work."

Thomas Edison

For 15 years my major relationships began in bars. After a night of drinking and talking, and with my judgment impaired, I'd fall in love and then try very hard to make the ensuing relationship work.
The drinking together part was fun. I was younger then, and I thought it was very liberated of me. What was hard was trying to relate together in the nondrinking hours. We didn't always like each other when we were sober.

But I was tenacious, if nothing else. I could even go years trying to make things work out well. Sometimes it was only a matter of months. In those days, a six-month relationship constituted a major event. But once I went eight years, off and on. Another time, it was two years.

I found the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous when I was 36. I had tried to commit suicide three times. I had two children, one of whom I had placed for adoption. I had 15 years of failed relationships.

I don't think I was a failure as a human being. I think I found 10,000 ways that don't work, before finding the one way that did. Sobriety has been the great gift of my life.

Here's a poem I wrote about one of the ways that didn't work so well.
How do you relate to Edison's quote?

Two Lonely People in a Bar

To him—who speaks of nights that sound like scriptures
read by some poor trembling monk
who sometimes in the clutch of darkness
has traced against his will the silken flesh
with longing lips and flinching soul,
alone with his colliding needs—

she—who thinks herself forsaken—
is incandescent, whitely in the
dim gold bar lamps crying
I could make the morning

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Jesus Didn’t Ride in a Land Rover

“What we’re saying today is that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.”

Eldridge Cleaver
Speech in San Francisco, 1968

This week I found the blog of Father Marc Boisvert, who runs a large agency for children, called Pwoje Espwa (Hope in Haiti) 100 miles from Port-au-Prince.
He brings to light another in the evolving miseries facing Haitians more than month after the earthquake: the problems getting international aid to the countryside. A million people (by one report) have fled the city to surrounding towns, where they appear to be forgotten by relief agencies. Some excerpts from Father Marc’s blog:

Am not happy that I don't hear about any food being targeted for the countryside. The authorities are asking people to leave PaP and even giving them free transportation to Les Cayes and other smaller cities but how are we to feed all these people? [Jan. 31]

Families in the countryside are falling apart because they can't find food. There are no jobs and there's no relief in sight. Yes, we are here and there are other groups helping but the need surpasses our abilities. Wasn't it bad enough to suffer through such a massive earthquake that caused thousands upon thousands of deaths, destroyed the city of PaP, displaced a million people? If relief does not come soon for those in the villages and towns, it will be the end of Haiti. [Feb. 2]

Host families have been promised assistance but none has materialized. Requests were made at some major NGOs [Non Governmental Organizations] (one which received hundreds of million of dollars in US donations through the church) for food assistance but nothing has happened. The large NGOs, by their nature, cannot respond quickly in a crisis so maybe it’s just a question of time. I hope so. The problem is that the people are hungry now.
We are seeing a huge increase in requests for assistance from families who live near us so it is safe to assume this is the reality all over Haiti. A friend of ours who was providing for three children now has a house filled with 22. How to care for them?
Folks are begging us for food and we are doing what we can. [Feb. 14]

We were visited today by five representatives from the UN [and two international non-profits]. So far, there have been twenty investigators come to "visit"… We answered their queries and they appeared satisfied… They come to guarantee the safety of the children but don't offer us a dime for their care. I wonder how much is being spent on this? How many reports will be generated in triplicate and then collated and made into a major human rights publication?Now I know that some of this is absolutely necessary but there are times, like right now, when it just seems out of whack with reality. [Feb. 15]

Except for us grass-root small non-profits, there's been no international relief here. How much longer will we be ignored? Tensions are high in [Les Cayes] as people are hungry and have no means to purchase food. Families are hurting under the strain of hosting those from PaP. Heard that a small vessel came to port this afternoon and that there was a riot as people fought to get food. No police or UN military for security. No real plan other than give out food and blankets. Not good. [Feb 16]

[Regarding TIME Magazine article, UNICEF seeks to keep kids out of Haiti orphanages]
The director of UNICEF Haiti is quoted as saying "No to the orphanages in Haiti!" Wow, what a sound bite… a couple of days ago I was ranting about the fancy offices, the cold air-conditioning, the shiny cars of the big NGOs and their strategy to "make systemic change" rather than waste their time actually helping children by feeding them, clothing them, providing medical care...

Well, the one big NGO that had converted an old mansion into a gleaming office space with beautiful furniture and striking art work, that had lots of very busy people working on their computers, that had security guards protecting them from the riff-raff, that had paved over a large courtyard so that they could park their new SUVs...was UNICEF Haiti. They made a conscious choice not to practice direct intervention to assist a child. They have not helped any orphanage that I'm aware of in providing the basics like food, clothing, medicine, education. How very noble to stand there now and say "No to the Haitian orphanages!"
Phew, thanks for listening. I feel better now. [Feb. 18]

[Back to me again here.]
I don’t know anything about UNICEF except what I’m reading on Haitian blogs. This is the third charity blog I know of that has mentioned that organization with frustration. I think they deserve to be heard. One commenter on this particular post wrote: “Jesus didn’t ride around in a white Land Rover writing reports. He was too busy feeding the hungry and healing the sick.”

This post has gone on too long, and I thank you for your patience. I looked for news of Haiti on the BBC, CNN, and MSNBC. The only new story concerned a group of 2,500 people in a camp on the prime minister’s former office property. They say the police have stopped food and water deliveries to force them off the land.

The photos here are from Father Marc’s blog. In the top photo are some of the hundreds of kids living in the Pwoje Espwa compound, who have received new T-shirts. In the bottom photo are two children, Elandia and Judelin, from Port-au-Prince who lost their house in the earthquake. Their mother brought them to live with family in Les Cayes but there's no room and no money, so she asked Pwoje Espwa to take Judelin until she can make other arrangements.
And the good news is: On Monday’s post, Father Marc got the good word that a ship full of supplies, which they’ve been waiting for all month, was finally allowed to leave Miami!

Father Marc says the Haitians have a saying: Pa bliye nou. Translation: Don't forget us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wonderful! Day 3

"Anything looked at closely becomes wonderful."

A.R. Ammons

To follow yesterday's talk about suffering, I want to think about something wonderful. The word might be overused, and we might have forgotten its root meaning.

wonder: state of amazed admiration or awe

wonderful: outstanding, amazing, magnificent, breathtaking, astonishing

Mr. Ammons was a fine poet noted for his nature poetry. He looked closely at the natural world... a wave, the bark of a tree, the sand beneath his feet... and found the beauty in it.

But he says "anything" and I think "anything" includes people, and maybe even things we make or situations we take part in. If we look closely enough, so many things can make a person feel awe.

The eye of a fly through an electron microscope is magnificent. That a guy can hit a fastball going 90 miles an hour with a thin stick inspires awe. The ordinary telephone, a plastic device that carries my voice to your ear the instant I speak, is an amazing invention. A painting, a poem, a marriage lasting 50 years, a child's curiosity...

I went around the yard and took photos of some wonderful things, but they're just the tip of the iceberg of stuff around us that can induce admiration if we only look closely...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Suffering Succotash Day 2

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
Helen Keller

Is it true that suffering is the only way we develop character?

Does our success in life depend on the hardships we face?

Maybe Helen Keller, who went through life blind, deaf, and mute, was only justifying her existence, or to put it more kindly, was looking for the silver lining in the black cloud that was her life. Hmmm?

It's a good thing I'm not cynical. If I were, I wouldn't like me at all.

I happen to agree with Helen’s statement. It’s the only thing that makes sense of the suffering of good people. If there is a God who loves us, why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow fine people to suffer, while wicked ones get off scott free?

Questions like those are asked in the Bible. There isn’t one perfect answer, but partial answers abound: The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Trouble doesn’t differentiate between saints and wrong-doers. God uses trials to refine us like gold. Without the refinement, all the impurities would remain. God also turns all things to good for those who love Him and seek to do His will.

I know if you can make it through a period of suffering, you’ll be stronger at the end of it, just like a muscle being strengthened by the force of resistance. I know, because I lived through it.

Bad things used to make me whine and attempt suicide. But now, because of years spent surviving rough times and looking for reasons to keep believing in God, prayer, life, and myself, I’m able to walk through difficulties with some grace. I don’t fall flat on my face in the quagmire anymore.

Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Losing my father at a young age has made me compassionate with the losses experienced by others. Dealing with lifelong depression has made me sensitive to others with mental illness. Being a recovering alcoholic has made me empathetic with those who also struggle with issues of addiction. Having a mother with dementia has made me kinder toward her and others.

So experience has taught me that good comes of bad, if you look for the silver lining. What have you learned from suffering? How do you handle the trials of life?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What Does It Mean? Day 1

A power flower in my garden.

Here’s my new blog project: I want to discuss the interpretation of a random series of famous quotations. How does a particular quote apply to my life? To yours?
Each day I’ll pick a new quote and ponder its relevancy. You’ll chime in if you feel prompted to add anything.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This quote came to me at about 6 a.m. on an ordinary Friday, surrounded by the predawn darkness. It was just a random thought that flitted through my head as I drank my morning coffee.

It originated in 1887 in a letter written to a Catholic bishop by Lord Acton, a British historian and moralist.

I admit that I study government like I study quantum mechanics: a tiny bit. Philosophically, I’m a mutt: Libertarian, Republican, Democratic, Peace and Freedom… As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed an aversion to talking about politics.

But I have no aversion to sharing my opinions on corporate America.

Last summer, the corporations that govern my credit cards started sending me letters to tell me they were raising my interest rates. Since I had specifically chosen those credit cards over other credit cards because of their lower interest rates, I was curious why they were doing this to me.

In the fine print of the notifications, they all stated, “If you do not agree to this, you may opt out. Call XYZ.” So I called to protest, “opt out,” and insist that my interest remain the same.

Well, explained the disinterested customer-service reps, I was certainly allowed to refuse the interest-rate hike, but if I did, I must cancel the card. They made this sound like it was a choice.

To my way of seeing things, if you say to me, either pay up or I’m taking away your credit card, that is called extortion.

I asked to speak to the managers on duty. I was given the same “choice.” When asked why the rates were being raised, I was given a song and dance about rising costs and interest rates. When I pointed out that interest rates were at a historic low, I was stonewalled with the phantom “rising costs and interest rates.” When they discovered that I always pay off my balance, they all said triumphantly, “Then you don’t have to worry about it.”

The fact is, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Congress passed a credit-card-reform law last May, but didn’t make it effective until this month. So credit-card issuers had carte blanche for seven months to raise all their fees and rates in anticipation of a law that now limits their ability to do so.

So what did they do? In the quest for higher revenues, they stuck it to us. They quickly exercised their absolute power to do as they wished, before the government could curtail it.

I call that corruption.

Corrupt: immoral or dishonest, especially as shown by the exploitation of a position of power or trust for personal gain.

What do you know about absolute power and corruption?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard Hearted (a 55)

The big oak tree in the garden has stood for more than 400 years.
It has a secret life.
When people appear not to be looking at its ever-changing face, it dances.
It whirls like a dervish. It waltzes with the wind.
It rides the earth like a horse.
I will never tell its secret.
(This is a Friday Flash 55, a tale told in 55 words. Want to play? Go see the G-man.)


Ancient oak
Naked and gnarly
Whispers in the fog
I know everything and nothing
Will I tell you, human

Centuries old
Smelled the signing of the Declaration
Heard the guns of Fort Sumter
Saw the last dead Indian rise
As spirit from Flanders Fields

Hard wood
Hard of heart wood
Quercus alba just like me
White Oak rises in the dawn
Wringing its hands at the sky

Survivor of drought
Of the year it rained
42 inches and flood washed
Away the bridge between
Here and there, as usual

Home to moth
Field of plenty
To the woodpecker and squirrel
Rent by lightning but unmoved
Great mother of the acorn infant

Glows golden
In the setting sun
Lit by some strange inner light
I know everything and nothing
Will I tell you, human…

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Alzheimer's Poetry

See if you can explain this to me.

I took my sweet, demented mom for a drive through the country yesterday afternoon. Then we went to the store and bought a few items. On the drive to her home, out of the blue, she said (and I quote her carefully):

"March seems, at least to me, when I was... oh, when I was over... there... March seems to be the color of that thing."


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lousy Haiku

Nature’s enemies
Await a loving season
Nature’s call to arms

(I am not satisfied with this haiku. I like the reference to spring and the play on "arms" because it looks like Riley is holding Mystery in his arms. But there's something better out there. I can't find it right now. )
Today will hold more of life's balancing principle. Because I'm sober and able to do difficult things, I'll be taking my demented mom on a drive through the blooming orchards and green hills of my countryside. By the grace of God, I'll be able to do it lovingly, without falling apart.
Later, the five grandchildren will descend on our house, fill it with their exuberance, and chomp their way through their grandfather's homemade tacos.
Next, I'll pay a visit and eat dinner with my friend who has Parkinson's, and we'll have good conversation, filled with laughter.
Finally, I'll come home and thank the good Lord for my day and my life. A situation I worried about all month resolved itself yesterday without effort on my part, thanks to a woman with 25 years of sobriety. I finally prayed for calmness and acceptance, and within half an hour, the problem was completely put to rest. That one goes into my memory bank, building my reservoir of hope. I love the journey of recovery.
Difficulties are always balanced by reasons to rejoice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Good News, Bad News, Plus Poem

This is a news post and a poem prompt. I have good news, and I have bad news.

On the gopher front, we have one casualty. R.I.P., Mr. Gopher.

In the bad news department we have some serious developments in Haiti to discuss.

I’ve been following a very good blog by a humanitarian worker, Ellen B., who works with the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation. They’re receiving spinal-cord-injury patients out of Port-au-Prince.

She has posted some links to utterly thought-provoking articles written about the aftermath of the earthquake on Jan. 12.

Ramifications that come as news to me:

Institutions of higher learning—universities, vocational schools, medical training schools—were demolished in the earthquake. An entire generation of students, those who survived the earthquake itself and whose skills would have aided the future of that poor country, have nowhere to go anymore.

From the New York Times, dateline Feb. 13, an article by Marc Lacey begins:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Christina Julme was scribbling notes in the back of a linguistics class at the State University of Haiti when, in an instant, everything went black.
“You’re in class, your professor is talking, you’re writing notes and then you’re buried alive,” said Ms. Julme, 23, recounting how her semester came to a halt on the afternoon of Jan. 12 when the earthquake turned her seven-story university into a towering pile of wreckage, with her deep inside.

Read more here.
Another group of survivors I haven’t considered until yesterday: Women and girls. In the struggle to obtain food, they’re less able to compete against stronger men. Living in streets and tent cities, they have little protection from sexual violence (one study found that over 70 percent of Haitian girls have been raped). And dead in the earthquake are leading women’s rights activists.

In “Cracks of Gender Inequality: Haitian Women After the Earthquake,” writer Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, explains:

“The circumstances under which many Haitians in Port-au-Prince, Leogane, Jacmel, Petit Goave and surrounding areas have been living since the earthquake present unique challenges to women and girls that must be addressed in relief efforts, recovery programs, and the re-construction of the state.”
Read more here.

Ellen deserves a salute for doing what she can to help circulate situations like this. It helps open our eyes, and gives those who pray specific needs for which they can pray.

What do you think?

Photo by Ellen Bolden

Willow over at Magpie Tales has published a poem or fiction prompt. Today's the day we post our offering. Here's the photo, and my offering:

A Woman’s Mettle

I don’t own any silver.
My purse is empty.
My life is all the silver
I will ever see
and it is tarnished
believe you me.

My lack of precious metal
doesn’t make me poor.
I’m finely wrought
if a little bit battered
and unlike glass
I haven’t shattered.

My shape is still as shapely
but with no filigree
the design as plain
as the day I was born.
It’s for working
that I was formed.

I’ve envied other houses
where rich people live.
They have gold and silver
but still I love my own.
Burnished, cared for,
I have really shone.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Gophers 2, Me 0

This is what I spent two hours doing on Sunday: digging fruitless holes in the garden, searching for the gopher tunnels that I knew were there.

Things I’ve tried in the past:

Drowning with a hose (unsuccessful)
Pesticide bombs (unsuccessful)
Ex-Lax (dropped down gopher holes, unsuccessful)
Metal spring traps (currently unsuccessful)

This gopher is smarter than I am. He somehow springs the traps I have placed into the tunnel (when I can even find a tunnel), then fills the hole with dirt, making his unfindable exit. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal.

Other things I did on Sunday: Attacked and cleared another section of garden. I’m now halfway finished with the back yard. Two days ago, I thought the job was beyond me.
Look what a little bit of diligence will do.

Things I saw as I worked:
Miniature daffodils.

Unusual daffodils.

A new bud forming on the roses.

My faith is renewed.

The Haitian prayer tacked on my refrigerator for the past 8 years:

Your servant doesn’t know left from right.
Even now I don’t know which one of your hands I am in.
Whether I am in the left or the right, it doesn’t matter.
I am in your hands.
That’s enough.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Head Is Not My Friend

The garden was horrible. The whole area wrapping around the back of the house was a big ugly mess. Just the sight of it was overwhelming.

The head said, “Run back in the house!”
The program of recovery said, “Just because your head is attached to your body doesn’t make it your friend.”
This is what I saw when I stood out there wanting to flee this problem.
Dead stuff as tall as my head.

Weeds up to my knees.

To top it off, a gopher had found my garden and had begun to kill my prize hollyhocks.

I feared the problem was larger than I am. FEAR= F Everything And Run. Or Face Everything And Recover.
The Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book says the main problem for the alcoholic centers in the mind (page 23). A vital spiritual experience changes things, and “Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them” (page 27).
I know I’ve had spiritual awakening as the result of taking the 12 Steps.

So I had a spiritual experience in the big ugly garden. I stood there with gardening gloves and pruning shears, wanting to run but didn’t.
In Appendix II of the Big Book, William James is quoted as saying there’s an “educational variety” of spiritual experience that develops slowly over time. But still it results in a “profound alteration in [my] reaction to life” that wasn’t brought about by myself alone.

My life has been like a garden run amok, and I wound up in a big ugly mess that landed in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Slowly, one small section at a time, the Master Gardener worked on me.
I had a profound alteration in my reaction to life in that garden. It became important to just make a beginning, take the first step, worry about the next one later. Once I was committed, I started seeing things differently.

I saw this.

And I saw this.

And the work gradually got done. Not all of it. Not even most of it. But a beginning was made, and I’m free of the bondage of despair. Maybe I’ll even get that gopher.

Update, Sunday afternoon: Gopher, 1 --- Chris, 0

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poor Pleasures

A few weeks ago I took part in a state poetry contest. The topic was to create a poem from the words rust, muslin, peony, coal, and forest.
I forgot to submit my work. Oops. So you get to see it:

Poor Pleasures

In the ragged shack on the edge of the blue-oak forest
she stands barefoot in the kitchen lit by one bare bulb.
Threadbare blue jeans cling to the stems of her legs
the sleeves of the man’s shirt rolled up to bare thin arms
as she washes dirty old dishes in the rust-stained sink.

It is 5 o’clock on a spring morning and he is gone
to the oil fields. The chill in the kitchen is bone deep
but her bare feet are tough with years of poverty
and the floor is smooth worn red linoleum, gleaming
underfoot from the damp mop standing by the fridge.

Anyway the coal box by the stove is empty of all
but black soot. The water on the stove is just lukewarm
but her hands sing with pleasure as she pours it out
to rinse clean dishes in the dish pan in the sink.
Even this small warmth is lovely on a chilly morning

The blackened glass over the sink reflects her face
unlovely and inscrutable, with one small scar adjacent
to that wide full upper lip where his fist came to rest
one night long ago before he gave his life to the oil field
and demanded nothing but her food and narrow hips.

She dries the dishes with a muslin cloth hand-stitched
by her mother in the lamplight of her cabin, a flour sack
converted to an endless use for dishes, a dowry
for a marriage tired before it even started. With a rag
she wipes the sink, untroubled by the rust today.

She wipes the old stove down and a song slips out
as she scours old grease spots, at first a humming
melody, but as she turns with the rag to the tabletop
and wipes its red-checked oil cloth, the words pour
forth: amazing grace and one white peony in a vase.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Flash 55 Friday

A Fallen Kindergarten

Little ones, my door is open
come inside and learn
counting! letters! music!
we shall be glorious

Little ones, the world is mad
turned you upside down
orphans! injured! legless!
we shall be glorious

Little ones, my door is open
let us bandage you
tender! gentle! food!
we shall still be glorious


Photo of kindergarten by Ellen Bolden, Saint Boniface Foundation, Haiti
Write a tale in exactly 55 words and go tell g-man.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I Want to Steal Daffodils

Down the street from my house is a house where yellow daffodils grow in clusters around the front yard. I pick a couple daffodils when no one is home. When a car is parked in the driveway, I stay on the sidewalk.
I put the daffodils in vases and enjoy them. Here's a photo of one so you can see for yourself how pretty they are. I just discovered, though, that I feel guilty for stealing.

I grow daffodils in my own yard, but they are pale cream in color and bland. I don't want my own daffodils. I want my neighbor's.
I'm now pissed off that I feel guilty over something so stupid as picking a few daffodils. It's a few dumb flowers, what on earth does it hurt? It hurts absolutely nothing, and I'm being ridiculous.
If it's no big deal, then, why do I so carefully stay on the sidewalk when the neighbor is home? I don't want to be caught stealing, that's why.
So is it okay to steal when no one is there to catch you at it?

Why am I having a moral crisis over picking my neighbor's daffodils? The truth is I've been sitting in judgment of another member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She stirred up some controversy, and I think I'm better than she is. I've been crabby for two days about this. I'm righteously angry, and I would like to stay that way. Oh, I love feeling superior!

I'm not a paragon of moral perfection. From small, insignificant thefts, to the full-blown seven deadly sins, I'm guilty of bad behavior. I make the situation worse when I blame someone else for committing a wrongful deed that I'm guilty of myself. Shame on me.

I guess I am going to have to stop picking daffodils at the neighbor's place. Somewhere it says we should concern ourselves with the plank in our own eye rather than the mote in someone's elses. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reason to Hope

I like the word hope.
I like the way it sounds when you exhale it. It breathes.
I like what the word stands for. With hope, there is a possibility of something good.

Hope is not a trivial thing. Hope has power behind it. It’s stronger than a wish. It’s stronger than a desire. Hope has hunger in it.

I could say, “I hope I get my article about rain written today.” There actually might be a chance of that happening, if I settle down and focus, do a phone interview, and use my left brain to explain what I have learned about rainfall.

But I would be misusing the word hope if I said that. What I would really mean is that I wish I could focus on my article and get it done, I plan to do that, I intend to, I want to, I’d like to…

Hope is a passion. You have a fervent need to believe that something will prevail.

I hope God will release my frail old mother from the clutches of dementia before it robs her of her dignity.

I hope the world doesn’t turn its back on Haiti because it’s tired of helping.

I hope my experience, strength, and hope can help another human being.

In the 12-Step program I’m a member of, we are told to share our experience, strength, and hope with each other, that we might solve our common problem and help others to recover from a seemingly hopeless state.

Hope is the flame of a candle burning in the darkness. I have hope today. I fervently believe it’s possible for human beings to unite in a common cause, to work together for the benefit of someone in need.

I hunger for the possibility that we’re bigger than a bunch of egos that only want to be looking out for Number One.

I want, with all that is within me, to discover that our humanity, our ability to help each other, is what matters in the end to the man and woman on the street.

Even though people in my 12-Step group are in the midst of a bitter dispute, even though my mother grows more frail and confused by the week, even though Haiti has been dropped from my newspaper, hope is a candle, burning bright.

What do you passionately hope for?


"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's Raining on My Parade

Showers are in today's forecast, with thunderstorms possible. It's a fine day for sitting in my sunroom office, surrounded by wet, yet snug and dry, working on a story assignment about, of all things, rain.

I have beside me on my desk a compilation of numbers, 350 sets of numbers to a page, representing the past seven decades of rainfall in my hometown. It's my job today to pore over these figures (hm) and analyze trends, then write an entertaining magazine article about them.

Ha! Sometimes I laugh at the work I am paid to do. What I know about rain you could put in a teaspoon. Let's see: The water cycle is this, evaporation from ocean surfaces, water vapor in the air, condensation, formation of clouds, collision of warm air and cold air, the jet stream, and voila ~~~ snow in Virginia, rain in California.

The only difference between me and the next nincompoop is that I'm motivated to go find out about rain, whereas the next nice nincompoop actually has real work to do.

(Silence for all of five minutes, while subject refers to the magic of Google, unearths the USGS water cycle diagram, and says, Aha!)

Now well-schooled in the water cycle, I turn my attention to an unrelated question: Is writing a left-brain or right-brain activity?

That question comes up while I pour myself another cup of French roast coffee. If I were in the same zip code as my friend and neuroscientist Mariana, I would call her up and ask. But I can hear her answer: Depends on the type of writing.

Nothing is simple. Nothing is ... Wait. Creativity is a right-brain activity. Why don't I go write a poem about rain, and put all the rest of it on the back burner for a while?

You see how my mind works. That's why I'm blogging rather than working. Being in my head at the moment is like riding a bucking bronco. There's no steering this beast.

So here's a list I found of the primary actions of the two brain hemispheres. Just a quick look-see tells me which side dominates in me right now. What about you? Which side is in charge?


uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies

uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
risk taking


Monday, February 8, 2010

Look What You've Done!

Midnight approaches.
I stare at the blank page and words don’t come.
The highway of thoughts has a gridlock somewhere.
When all else fails, pause and run a systems check.

Heart: beating.
Eyes: open.
Fingers: flexible.
Butt: tired.
Lungs: respiring.
Stomach: hungry.
Emotional temperature: warm.
Intellectual capacity: exceeded.
Chris has exceeded her allotted storage capacity for the day!

I have read one hundred and fifteen blogs so far this weekend. I have logged in one hundred and eight replies to that many different people. I’m dizzy with words stored up, used up, passed on, exhaled, inhaled, spelled, erased, and thought of anew.

What an experience, to host a blogfest like the one I’ve just done in honor of Haiti. I’m not a hostess. I’m a loner, a nice, quiet poet gardener recovering alcoholic with battle scars and a will to do something, anything, to help a little makeshift hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I met the most marvelous congregation of people the past two days. As I opened blogs and read about the simple blessings this group of human beings wanted to share with the world, it seemed a little like opening presents at a birthday party.

So the words appear to be flowing again. Here are the facts for now, after midnight on Monday morning:
TWO ANONYMOUS BENEFACTORS have come forward privately and are matching our total donation dollar for dollar. That just astounds me. It’s not the amount of money—that’s just a drop in a bucket for what is needed—it’s the heart behind the offer.

Because you participated, you have caused my family to send $216 to Heartline Ministries in Haiti. Heartline’s little hospital has functioned with the mighty power of volunteers from all over, trying to repair crushed limbs, birthing healthy babies, easing the dying in their final hours, saving the lives of God’s kids. When I read their blogs, I feel like a million bucks because humanity is alive and pulsating on this earth.

I feel rich and I feel tired. It was a good weekend. God bless you in ways both small and large. I’m proud you people exists on same planet I do.

The photo is of Dr. Jen at Heartline's hospital, comforting a young patient. Jen's mom, Connie, sent it to me yesterday. There are volumes spoken in this simple moment. God bless these wonderful people.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let the Challenge Continue!

We're hovering just below the $200 donation mark in the final hours of the Simple Things Challenge... an easy way to keep your blessings flowing to Haiti. And here's the spectacular news: An anonymous blogger is going to match our donation!

Yesterday and today, I'm celebrating the simple pleasures of life, and you are helping me. For each person who participates with a list, a poem, or a prose piece about the joy of simple things, my family will donate $2.00 to Heartline Ministries for their medical clinic and other programs in Haiti. The Heartline Ministries blog by John McHoul will tell you more about what they are doing.

We have 98 separate posts as of 7 p.m. Pacific time. Post your piece by midnight today, and include a link to my blog. Then pop in here to say you’ve posted your “Simple Things.” Don't forget to notify me that you’ve posted. You can borrow the “Simple Things” photo. If you don’t have a blog, a comment on my blog will count too if you tell me so.

What I've noticed so far while traveling the blogs, reading your "Simple Things," is that a lot of us cherish our first cup of coffee in the morning.
We also love the laughter of children.
Simple things that are priceless: good music, good books, good spouses, cats, dogs, smiles ~~~ all things that can be savored without spending money.
Everyone has been a joy to read. I visit your blogs with a smile on my face. And guess what? I sip my favorite cup of coffee too.

Some simple things that make me blessed:

water running from my faucet on command, and it's clean and drinkable

my daughters' beautiful smiles

I'm warm and dry, although it's stormy out

a smooth ocean-polished stone found on the beach

greeting a friend

the fact that people from Scotland, Norway, Australia, Germany, India, Canada, South America, the Phillipines, and both coasts up and down the US have joined in this one particular blog here, to wish Haiti well and make my family send money to a worthy cause.

I can make my mother smile

Thanks to Christina at Soul Aperture for her permission to use this idea.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain on Me Flash 55

The rhythm of rain on the roof
The whish of tires on wet streets
The scent of wet earth in the hands
The smell of wet dogs, wet coats
The sight of a brown river running
The cascades of water in every ravine
The dripping of raindrops on hair
All singing the song: goodbye drought.

If you would like to tell a tale in exactly 55 words, post it and go tell the G-Man.

What are some of the simple things that you appreciate in life? I’m hoping you’ll tell me and others what those things are. For everyone who tells me and links to my blog, my family will donate $2 to a little medical hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

My “Simple Things Challenge” begins tomorrow and ends on Sunday night at midnight, Pacific Time.

What simple things do you cherish? Post those things on your blog, along with a link to my blog and a quick blurb about what you’re doing.

What you’re doing is this: For each one of you who posts a list, a poem, a paragraph about the simple things in life that you savor, my family will donate $2 to a medical clinic in Haiti, run by Heartline Ministries. Don’t forget those two important things: Include a link to my blog in your post, and then come tell me.

If you don’t feel like posting on your blog, or you don’t have a blog of your own, just a comment on my blog will count.
My goal is to have at least 50 to 75 people commenting and linking over the weekend.

I’ve borrowed this idea, with permission, from Christina at Soul Aperture. She donated $1 for every comment to Doctors Without Borders, and she wound up sending $180.

I like the idea of celebrating our gratitude for the simple things we’re blessed with. And I love the idea of using the occasion to send financial aid to Haiti, to keep the blessings flowing.

I love what Heartline is doing. For years they’ve been in Haiti trying to improve the lives of women and children. In the aftermath of the earthquake, they’ve transformed their property into a makeshift emergency room, operating room, recovery hospital, and safe haven for suffering people who are in desperate need of medical help, even more than three weeks after the earthquake.

Their volunteer doctors and RNs have performed amputations on plastic folding tables. They go into the slums and tent cities to pick up the wounded and take them for treatment. They serve on the front lines on a wing and a prayer.
Read John McHoul’s blog about their work here.

And pop in to visit me this weekend.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can You Make Me Pay $200?

Some big names in the music business got together under Simon Cowell's organization and cut a single to raise money for the Haiti earthquake relief effort.

The Haiti fundraising cover of REM's "Everybody Hurts" is available to download for a fee on Sunday, but you can listen to it free here. Scroll down past all the stars and the text about "We Are the World" to find the song (Yep. This means the world will be treated once again to rockdom's priciest choral ensemble).
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Christina at Soul Aperture gave me permission to borrow her "Simple Things" challenge. On January 27, she asked her fellow bloggers to celebrate the simple pleasures of life with her. For each person who participated with a gratitude list, Christina’s family donated $1 to Doctors Without Borders for their work in Haiti. She had about 180 takers.
I'm holding my "Simple Things Challenge" on this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 6-7. For an explanation of how it's done, see the "Simple Things Challenge" post, below.
It is really just an excuse to hold a blog party and cause my family to donate even more to a wonderful group of people trying to help the suffering city of Port-au-Prince. The Heartline blog will tell you more about what they are doing.
Make a list, write a poem, do a story, whatever floats your boat. Here’s a haiku for starters:

Roses bloom bravely
Lifting their magenta heads
In spite of the frost


“Simple Things” Challenge

Last week I visited Christina at Soul Aperture on January 27, which happened to be her “Simple Things” day.

That’s a day when she asks her fellow bloggers to celebrate the simple pleasures of life with her. For each person who participates with a gratitude list, Christina’s family donates $1 to Doctors Without Borders for their work in Haiti.

I like the idea of celebrating our gratitude for the simple things we’re blessed with. And I love the idea of using the occasion to send financial aid to Haiti, to keep the blessings flowing.

So I asked Christina if she would mind my copying her idea. She kindly gave her permission.

I’ve randomly chosen this coming weekend, February 6 and 7, to be my own Simple Things celebration.

It’s like G-Man’s Friday Flash 55. Write on your blog on Saturday or Sunday about the simple things that bless you and include a link to my blog. Then pop in to my blog and tell me you’ve posted your “Simple Things.”

I’ll visit you, we’ll visit each other, and for each blog that participates, my family will donate $2.00 to the Heartline Ministries medical clinic in Haiti. I hope you really make me open up our checkbook here. I want to dream big. I hope that more than 50 bloggers will play along with me. Post by midnight, Pacific time, Sunday, and don’t forget to link with me and notify me that you’ve posted. You can borrow the “Simple Things” photo, which I’ve borrowed from Christina with her permission.

Make a list, write a poem, do a story, whatever floats your boat.
Here’s a haiku for starters:

Wish for human kind:
Hearts desiring forgiveness
Make the whole world smile.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Cat Writes Haiku

Katie the cat has taught me many universal truths.
I spy strange new worlds
That might enlighten my own
Just beyond my reach.

Plastic sack on bed
When employed a different way
Cheap entertainment.

Things that bar my way
Scoot a little to the right
Have an end in sight.

A soft red pillow
With the proper kind of touch
Can become a bed.

My throne a trash can
I can see a distant shore
With eyes wide open.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Teardrop on Lilac

Teardrop on Lilac

The air has reached its dewpoint: It can no longer hold
all its water vapor. At that point, water vapor condenses
into liquid tears. Oh, excuse me, not into tears, but into
liquid water, which are tears. In very warm, humid times
the dewpoint can reach 75 to 77 degrees F. It is then
called “soupy air” and most people can feel the thickness
of the air as they breathe, the water vapor content
is so high.

This is all to say that I have reached my dewpoint
and my tears condense into drops of liquid water
that form on lilac, barren in the winter months,
as my heart is barren in those months between
the fall of leaves and the budding of new ones.
I can see in lilac stems the promise of new buds
forming, encased in their protective shields, safe
from burning frost.

I can see the hope of lilacs. Through the liquid tears
that tremble on the stems, I can see the air has reached
its limit. It now must shed the tears it held so long
within its filmy eyes. I feel the thickness of the air
I breathe, as my throat thickens with the tears held back,
and now they fall unchecked, sorrows condensed
in liquid form. The dewpoint reached, the drops are free
and so am I.


Albert Einstein Quotes