Words for Wednesday

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The Enkindled Spring
~ D.H. Lawrence
This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.
And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.
************
Picture found here.

And You Will Call It Fate

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“But her emails!”  You’ve probably seen it dozens of times on social media.  It generally follows a description of some evil, incompetent, embarrassing thing that Trump has done.  It’s a shorthand way of saying that our “liberal” media spent an entire campaign hyper-focused on a complete non-issue related to the woman candidate while pretty much ignoring or glossing over gigantic issues of competence, character, and evil on the part of the male candidate.  So, sure, Trump is literally working to make sure that people in blue states die from a deadly virus, but it was either this or elect that woman who sent some emails.

I often post a slightly longer version of the same message.  When Trump does something particularly evil, or corrupt, or cringe-inducing, I say, “This is your semi-regular reminder that unconscious sexism has real-world results.”  In other words, the disparate treatment of Clinton and Trump was, in many cases due to unconscious sexism, about which I’ve written before.   (And, as I’ve explained , women, who grow up in a sexist culture, are also, unsurprisingly, often unconscious sexists.)  It’s unconscious sexism that makes us judge women on their performance (which we judge more harshly) and men on their potential.  It’s unconscious sexism that makes us  believe  that even evil, abusive men must really have a heart of gold or just be in need of more love.  And that honest, competent, good women must be lying about something and should be punished.

Why keep saying it?  Because, by and large, we still haven’t learned the lesson.  Look at how Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand were treated.  Look at the campaign against Pelosi becoming speaker — she was too old and needed to step down in favor of one of several “moderate” white men.  (Of course, neither Donald Trump, nor Bernie Sanders, nor Joe Biden, nor Mitch McConnell is too old.)  And, I keep repeating it because unconscious sexism doesn’t “just” hurt the specific woman who is, at any given time, being targeted.  All of us are in danger of dying from this pandemic.  All of us are coping with its effects on the economy.  Unconscious sexism has “real-world” results.

One way to combat unconscious sexism is to point it out when we see it.  Another is to examine our own reactions and to ask ourselves if, perhaps, our reaction to a person or event may be tinged by unconscious sexism.  Carl Jung said that, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”  Until we bring unconscious sexism into the light, we’ll keep doing crazy stuff like focusing on Clinton’s emails and ignoring Trump’s corruption and we’ll call it fate.  “Yes, Trump’s terrible, but there was nothing we could do.  It was this or elect that woman who sent some emails.”

Picture found here.

The Springing of the Year

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This morning, I came across a favorite poem of mine that seemed to have special significance here in this time of plague.

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

~Robert Frost

It’s almost impossible not to get caught up in worries and “what ifs” in the midst of this kind of crisis.  And, of course, there are some sensible “what ifs” for us to address.  Have you appointed guardians for your children in case something happens to you?  Do your family members know where your medical directive is?  Can you get your doctor to write a three-month prescription for that drug you need so that you aren’t having to go to the pharmacy to pick it up every few weeks?

But so many things are out of our hands and “thinking so far away” doesn’t really help us to gain any extra control.  Frost’s poem is a good reminder to enjoy what we can enjoy while we wait for an “uncertain harvest” which may be the best possible outcome or may be rather grim.

When I was a girl (and it was many and many a moon ago!) in Catholic school, the nuns used to read to us from the Lives of the Saints.  I’ve always remembered St. Anthony who was sitting with some brother monks discussing theology when the question came up:  “What would you do if you knew that you had only an hour to live?”  And as they went around the circle, one monk said he would go to Confession. Another said he would want to hear Mass.  A third said he would spend the hour in prayer.  When it was St. Anthony’s turn, he said, “I would be sitting here, with my brother monks, discussing what to do if I had only an hour left to live because that is obviously what God wants me to be doing.”

If you’ve done all the practical things you can to cope with this crisis, then give yourself permission — in fact, force yourself if you have to — to take some “pleasure in the flowers today.”  Love your loved ones, play with your pets, have some fun, and, if at all possible, go outside and enjoy the “springing of the year.”  Whether this is your last or one of many still to come for you, go breathe it in.

Picture found here.

Together While Apart

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Physical distancing is hard. And I live in a house (so we have some space and a tiny yard) with a spouse, two affectionate cats, and three pretty betta fish. (Come to think of it, the spouse is pretty affectionate, too.)

I’m trying to get people to use the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing” because that’s what we’re really doing – we need to stay away from each other physically while not losing touch socially.

What are you doing to try to accomplish that?

So far, I’ve been calling, emailing, and texting a lot.

Zoom has been a lifesaver.

My Spanish class has now moved online via Zoom. The first class was a bit of a disaster, but we were all new to it, and they asked for feedback this morning, so I was able to offer a number of suggestions for helping it go more smoothly next week.

My gym, which graciously automatically suspended everyone’s memberships while they’re closed, is starting a sharply reduced rate membership next week with three weekly real-time Zoom classes that will be archived for those who can’t make the live time. I’m not positive, but I think I may have been the very first person to sign up for it.

My belly dance group is going to try to get together via Zoom to dance on Sunday afternoon. It’s ATS, so I’m not sure how well lead-and-follow is going to work virtually, but we’ve all agreed if it’s a total #FIAL, we’ll just open up some wine and hang out.

My birthday was last weekend, and I got the fam on Zoom in the morning (even my brother and sister-in-law and their three kids, who’ve historically been resistant to using any sort of video calls, much to the consternation of my out-of-state self and out-of-state parents), and a group of friends on Zoom for a late-afternoon-that-stretched-well-into-evening birthday happy hour (we popped open some rosé champagne, because, hey, birthday).

I “met” a friend for a Zoom coffee late yesterday afternoon. She and I have been friends for more than 15 years, and we generally get together every few months for coffee. And we were overdue. Doing a bi-weekly Zoom with a good friend who lives in Sacramento, too. She and I were supposed to see each other while presenting together at a conference next month. Not anymore, but at least we have Zoom.

I’m getting out for a daily walk around the neighborhood, always staying on the left side of the street so I can dart out into the bike lane or road (after checking to make sure I’m not about to be mowed down by a bus or bike) any time anyone approaches.

I’m seeing virtual art galleries in many windows, draw by the kiddos who live in that house. Some of my neighbors are starting to put teddy bears in their windows in response, so the kids can go on teddy bear walks.

Local musicians are starting to play from their porches or stoops, and one of the local groups that tracks and shares information about live music is coordinating paying for sidewalk concerts. Musicians are making themselves available for people to sign up to buy a sidewalk concert for a fee for themselves, their neighborhoods, or you can even buy one and send it to a friend.

Our city council member last Friday organized the first stoop/porch happy hour for our Ward, encouraging everyone to go out front at 5, stay in our own yards, and chat with each other from a safe distance. A small number of people on my block participated last week, but the CM is encouraging everyone to do it again, and we have a few more commitments here on our block for tonight.

How are you staying in touch when you can’t, you know, touch?

(I know I just wrote about this last week, too, but I think it’s something we all need to be doing in an intentional way. Human contact is necessary for our mental and emotional health, and none of us can bear additional strikes against those right now.)

Image found here.

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“Tell Me, What Is It You Plan to Do with Your One Wild and Precious Life?” ` M. Oliver

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This epidemic doesn’t change the fact that you only get, at least this time around, one wild and precious life.  How are you going to live it here, in the midst of sickness and death?

Son, a long-distance runner (sometime, ask me the story about the weekend morning he called me from a payphone about 20 miles from home), has a saying.  “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”  For many of us, this “sheltering in place” thing is novel and one of the things that is novel is that it is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

In our work-a-day world,* we sometimes get a snow day, a holiday, a three-day weekend, even a week or two of vacation.  You know — sprints.  And what often makes sense is for us to use those short breaks to completely relax.  When I was teaching and Son was in school, a snow day meant turning back over and going back to sleep, making a pot of chili or soup, playing Scrabble, and maybe doing a load or two of laundry.  Three-day weekend?  Sleep in.  Live in a t-shirt and shorts, eat whatever, lounge in front of the tv and binge something entertaining.  Vacation?  Get on an airplane.  Go someplace with lots of other people.  Eat out at restaurants.  Throw your normal schedule out the window and go for broke.

But what we’re in for now is likely to be different.  Many of us don’t have a lot of practice managing our time when we’re stuck at home for a significant stretch.  And, it’s going to be different for all of us.  You have to manage kids doing on-line lessons while you take conference calls from the basement.  He has to work mostly from home, but must head into the office for irregular emergencies.  I’m having to figure out how to use an awful lot of time all on my own.  Your kids wonder why they can’t play video games all day — every day.

What I’m going to propose may or may not work for you. Take what you can use and leave the rest.

My master’s degree in education is based on the teachings of Alfred Adler  and I do believe that children (and most of us) do better with a schedule.  The schedules may vary  — my kid may want to sleep until noon while yours may be up with the dawn —  but having a schedule helps children because it provide stability, security, an infrastructure for their lives.  And, to be honest, it helps most of us adults to have a schedule, as well.  Sure, if your normal circadian rhythm means you wake up at 11:00 am and go to bed at 2:00 am, go for it.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some structure to your day.  Just shift things to meet your needs.  There’s a reason that the monastic branches of almost every religion have a schedule.

Here are some basics now that we’re in the marathon, not the sprint.  Use them if they work for you.

When you do get up, have a shower, brush your teeth, put on some clothes.  As my friend, Mrs. Whatsit, says, the clothes can be yoga pants and a clean t-shirt, but put on some clothes.  It’s a signal to your Younger Self that the day has started and it’s time to accomplish something.

When you’re dressed, make your bed.  This is maybe the one, best thing that you can do or teach your kids to do.  With today’s beds, this is usually very easy.  Pull up a sheet, smooth the coverlet or quilt, and straighten the pillows.  Just do it.  It takes 3 minutes and it starts your day off with an accomplishment.  And it will feel much nicer when you go to bed.  If you can follow up with an evening 5-minute “pick up the toys and put them away” or “clean the kitchen and prep the coffee pot” routine, so much the better.

Meditate.

Have a general plan for the day.  Two or three “goal posts” can make a big difference.

For example, sleep in if you like, but beds are made and dirty clothes are in the laundry basket by noon.  Lunch is at 1:00 and everyone sits at the table and makes their sandwich from bread, peanut putter, jelly, pickles, diced celery, raisins, and/or chutney.  Then, there’s “outdoor play” for an hour.  This can be a walk, soccer game, shooting baskets, hike to the local park, splashing in the rain, or some yoga from your cell phone.  Then, everyone plops in the living room or on the deck for story time.  Remember when your second grade teacher used to read to you for half an hour — or one chapter — after recess?  There was a reason for that.  Dad can read, or kids can take turns reading, or you can listen to some British author reading on line.  But outdoor time is followed by reading time.  From 4:00 until 4:30 is chores.  Peel some carrots for dinner.  Take the trash to the curb and water the spring onions.  Fold laundry and do some homework.

Finally, given that this mess may go on for some time, everyone in the family should pick a “short-term” goal.  Learn to knit.  Finish reading a big book.  Organize all the family photos.  White 100 postcards to voters to be mailed this Fall.  Pull everything out of the garage and either throw it away, recycle it, or donate it.  So much of what’s happening is out of our control.  Being in control of something — organizing all the lego pieces, emptying the ironing basket, planting a row of spring radishes — can be incrediby helpful.

The universe, in Her infinite wisdom, has given you this gift of time.  How will you use it???

* See Dancing in the Streets  for a discussion of how much time our ancestors used to get “off” before Christianity and the Industrial Revolution screwed us.

Picture found here.

Words for Wednesday

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A Blessing

~ James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
*********************
Picture found here.

Calling All Witches

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My friend Gwendolyn has put together an elegant structure for the Pagan community.  She writes:

If you are the kind of person who looks at times like these and thinks, “I have to DO something,” then you are a Granny Weatherwax.  Granny Weatherwax is a fictional character who epitomizes the will and wisdom to do what is needed.

The most important thing we can do to combat COVID-19 is embrace social distancing and rigorous hygiene.  People in our communities may go into quarantine and some may be hospitalized.  Operation “We Are Granny Weatherwax” provides a structure and tools to help us quickly organize our personal social networks and link them so that we can all take care of each other.  These are hard times.  This is a call to organize and act.  Join the movement and be a Granny Weatherwax for your community.

I am hoping that some of you will join me in taking on the role of Granny Weatherwax and organizing support for our communities.  Please take a look.  I am happy to receive any feedback or take any questions.

Much love to you and all of your network.

Love and Light,

Gwendolyn

Information here.

Picture found here.