Purpose–December 30th

PURPOSE—December 30th
Nothing much works in life without purpose. First comes your inspiration, your idea, and then, your intention or purpose. You put that intention out into the universe, focus on it and work toward it and voila, you achieve success. In order to be self-actualizing and responsible, you first need purpose.
Without purpose, you’re like a drunk wandering home after a big toot. You may get there but most likely, you won’t. You may not even remember you have a home or where it is located. Flopping around out there on some footpath or another, you’re at the mercy of highwaymen.
If that’s the case, then your authentic self isn’t deciding your purpose. Chemicals, medications, or soul-sucking individuals have usurped your purpose and you will never be truly happy. Why do you think there are so many depressed people out there? In order to be happy, successful, and your authentic self, you have to find your purpose and put it into action.
I remember reading a novel in which the teenage character was unhappy and behaving badly. His school made him start to spend time with an old man, doing chores to help him out. The old man was a grouch and at first they made each other miserable. Somehow, though, they began to look forward to their time together. The young man started to feel good about himself because he was helping, and the old man started to feel good about himself because he was paid attention to and he could help the young man by sharing his life’s wisdom.
Aha, I thought to myself. If a person’s purpose is to help others, in the very act of that, he is helping himself. You think you are helping someone else, and you are, but at the same time you realize the many ways in which you are learning lesson after lesson. Your one gift is laying many more in your lap.
My soul, my heart, the part of me connected to everything else in the universe lets me know if I have chosen my purpose wisely. I can feel its rightness if I pay attention. I work toward my goal and I’m happy inside. Riches come to me. I am wealthy in results. Sometimes I don’t recognize my treasures because they are not the ones I thought I’d receive but that doesn’t change the fact that they are treasures all the same.
Those treasures aren’t going to arrive, however, without action on my part. I can’t just say here’s my purpose and then stand at my door expecting the arrival of my goal at any moment. I have to work for what I want. Purpose and Action are joined at the hip and you get nowhere without both of them. Both of them together lead to accomplishment, self-knowledge, and serenity.

Cooperative Economics–December 29th

COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS—December 29th
Early in the 70’s with the advent of “hippies” came a most advantageous example of cooperative economics, the exchange of goods and services from one to another without benefit of cash. This they called bartering. My parents, having grown up during the Depression when there were no cash resources, engaged in bartering long before the hippies, who, no doubt having parents like mine, took up the gauntlet and carried on the tradition. I learned how to barter from Mom and Dad and from the pages of Mother Earth News.
As a young married, I bartered what I could produce for what I could not. My friends hunted and brought me game and I traded with loaves of my homemade bread or prunecake. I could paint houses and others could dig fence posts. My friend Sharon painted my kitchen so that she could afford to stay a week at my home and visit the beach in the afternoons. What I enjoy about these exchanges besides the end results, is that every participant is respecting and honoring the skill of the other participant. It’s a way of saying, “What you know and do is worthwhile to the well-being of our society.”
Thanks to websites like Craig’s List, bartering continues today, proving that cooperative economics is still alive and flourishing.
Another way we hippie types prospered despite our tiny wages was to form co-ops to buy goods in bulk, and goods that were organic and grown by people we actually knew and not some corporation. Then we volunteered our time to run our own stores so that we could afford to buy those goods. I read every now and again that another co-op is starting up and some of the good ones never went away.
I admire large companies that engage in cooperative economics. In Kenya, the middlemen of corporate business were sucking the profit to be made from growing coffee away from the growers. Every inch of ground was being used for the growing of coffee so that the farmers were not allowed to even grow other food for their own use. Streams and water sources were suffering as well.
Wangari Muta Maathai of the Green Belt Movement[1] went to Starbucks to say these farmers were producing as much as they possibly could and still they were starving. Was there something Starbucks could do? And they did. They formed contracts directly with the farmers leaving out the middlemen entirely and once again those farmers could make a living wage from their land and grow their own vegetables on it as well. They replanted trees along the stream beds and water came back.
Both sides profited, thanks to a company that wasn’t afraid to give something back to its suppliers. Wouldn’t the world be better if every corporation cared about the lowest common denominator? If every government did as well?
I love the idea of cooperative economics as one more way to celebrate the worth of every person on the planet and to improve the lives of all.

[1] “The Green Belt Movement works to help individuals and communities improve both their environments and livelihoods, sharing the values of self-reliance, self-determination, fairness, and accountability.”
http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/a.phy?id=142

COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY

COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY—December 28th
I first encountered this as a concept early in my life when I read the words, “noblesse oblige.” Nobility obligates, that is, privilege entails responsibility. If you are with, you help those who are without.
Noblemen weren’t the only ones taught this philosophy, however. Native Americans know this as a law of the universe and practice it even today in our self-oriented modern world. My Paiute students weren’t satisfied with their own understanding of material; they made sure their fellow students understood it also before we moved on to another topic. I learned to never praise one until I could praise them all.
Until I read the term in college, I had no idea that “noblesse oblige” was a philosophy to be found in books. In my family this had always been a way of life. If any family is to succeed, each member is involved from the cradle nurturing everyone else in the family. You help out and everyone is better off. The cows get milked and then you can eat. You wash the dishes, your sister dries, and they get done faster. You help weed the garden, pick the vegetables, can the vegetables and in the winter you have something to eat. Tom gives you the apricots from his trees and you take him a box of canned fruits and vegetables, jams and jellies for Christmas. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it was every family’s duty to take care of its own.
Of course, that was when our life was more agrarian. It seemed obvious what had to be done to help out. In today’s world, just what responsibilities you undertake depends on how you define “family.” Some see those related by blood; others–Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Mother Theresa, HIV/AIDS workers in Africa, Doctors Without Borders–see those related by that in us which is God.
You undertake your work and fulfill your responsibility not because someone tells you to do it or because people admire you for it but because you know it needs done and you know you can do it. You do the right thing because you know it is the right thing. The opportunity is a gift you’re given. You do it because while it may improve the recipient’s life, it certainly and always improves yours.
We are a moral people, despite what we hear about ourselves in the news. Our financial economy may be tanking but our moral economy flourishes once we understand and put into action this law of the universe– what goes around comes around, or whatever force we put out into the universe comes back to us tenfold, or for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. The need for us to act grows every day.
In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Robert Heinlein’s character Dr. Johnson felt that to find a moral man was impossible: “One may as well search for fur on a frog.”
I submit that if Dr. Johnson had bothered to help someone who needed his skills, he could have found that man in the mirror. By accepting responsibility to work for the common good, so can we all. We just need to get fluff up our pelts and get hopping.

Self-Determination–December 27th

SELF-DETERMINATION—December 27th
I have long wondered why any two children born in the same family respond differently to the family environment and even their own genetic make-up. Why do some siblings from the same family turn to drugs, alcohol and other self-medication, for example, while others find the inner strength to work past the negative forces of their home environment and become a success?
I have seen vastly different outcomes between siblings and even those who are twins—it’s not home environment, then or even genes. What is it, from what source comes that quality of self-determination that makes one person succeed in life while another stumbles, fails and fails yet again?
In my family, we are stubborn, we have that fighting quality to keep on going no matter what. Some of us stumbled at first but we got up, assessed the situation, and made changes that took enormous strength of character and courage, that unwavering determination to make a positive change.
Some of us didn’t stumble at all, however. That’s what I want to know about. Some of us didn’t go down the wrong path to start with, despite how easy that could have been. Why not?
I have spoken with people who said they knew from the time they were small children what they would do with their lives, what they would be. And that is, indeed, what happened.
I have also spoken with people who have never understood that they make their own future by what they do today, that they are the captains of their own ship and that they should be aboveboard steering, as Thoreau said. Amazingly, some aren’t even on the ship but lolling on the banks waiting for the passage of time to bring them their future, to wash them along on a flood of fortune. Some are convinced that is their due, that all things good in life are owed them.
Here’s how it works, I want to tell them. First, you listen to your soul and how you do that can take many forms. Next, you think it, then you visualize it, then you research to learn what you need to make it happen, and finally, you take action. You advance unwaveringly, no matter how much time it takes. Eventually, you get to where you want to be, powered by the engine of self-determination.

Unity–December 26th

UNITY—December 26th

Unity is a principal taught to us the purpose of which is to get something done, make something happen, achieve a common goal. When something important needs to get done, the way to do it is through unity.
Pieces of wood are glued and bent to make a truss and voila, you have the seat of a rocking chair, a roof or a boat frame.
There’s an order for 100 chickens that has to go out tonight. This morning they are running about their pen, picking and clucking. Tonight they are in their plastic bags, frozen, and ready for delivery.
As my mother used to say, “Many hands make work light.”
The focus in that statement is on the end result and the efficacy in joining together to reach that end.
Something more comes from unity, to my mind.
Appreciation of other people and an understanding of how we are all truly connected begins to dawn upon those who join hands to accomplish a common goal. We become something more than just ourselves, our one tiny, ragged ego. We begin to realize that all of us have certain priorities in our life, despite our personal politics—a warm home in which to live, education for ourselves and our children, health care for all of us, enough to eat, and satisfying employment.
The outcome of the recent election is an example of the power of unification because we all wanted the same outcome. Here we were, all tiny, non-essential folk in the grand political scheme but because of the unity of the internet, together we could make a positive change happen.
Unity makes us a force to be reckoned with, the glue factor that shores up our nation. When it’s used for the common good, it’s a beautiful thing.

Treasures of the Heart

TREASURES OF THE HEART
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” –Thornton Wilder
When I work out in our home gym, I listen to John Fogerty’s Long Road Home album, singing loud as I can to every song I remember from the 60’s and 70’s—Who’ll Stop the Rain, Down on the Corner, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Lodi. I finish feeling re-energized and young again thanks to the music. I loved those songs back then and I love them now, especially since now I know all the words. Nothing like a little Creedence Clearwater Revival to feel young, young, young.
I watched a movie the other day in which two of the characters made love to a CCR song. I could understand how the song I admired could move them to such action. Then, my bubble burst. I realized the producer of the film chose this song to show that this segment of the movie took place in the PAST. If you were a viewer who knew the words to this song, it meant you were OLD, OLD, OLD.
Damn!
I’m not alone in my delusions of youth. Otherwise, why the ongoing popularity and financial success of the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, The Beatles (in number of albums still sold), and Neil Diamond? Cher, Bette Midler, and Tina Turner sold-out concerts? Most of us boomers still have our heads in the clouds thinking we’re the young ones who are going to change the world. Sometimes looking in the mirror shocks us into reality but not even that hurts like listening to the music we love and coming to the aching conclusion that we loved it 45 YEARS AGO as well!!!!
Actually, there is a bigger hurt than realizing our age. I’ll be listening to one of my favorite old songs, maybe playing it on my guitar and singing, and tears spring unbidden into my eyes. That old song isn’t just an old song anymore but a repository of memories, a jumble of friends, places, and potential left fallow. How I long to go back and be there in that time once again just to soak up the love and the longing and the import of each small and ordinary measure of time, to see up close again the faces of those I loved.
I tried, oh how I tried, to hold on to each wonderful moment of life as long as I could. I tried to heed what Thoreau said, to be alive, really alive and see how wonderful even the most routine of moments really are. Sometimes, though, life got heavy and I made haste, forgetting to savor. Thornton Wilder’s Emily was right when in Act III of Our Town she asks Mrs. Gibbs, “They don’t understand, do they?”
Maybe, Emily, the problem is not that we don’t, it’s that we can’t. Only at this end of our story do we understand the significance of those everyday occurrences that got us to where we are now. Awareness of what was precious comes to us now when there’s no way to rewrite that old chapter. Time requires that we let go and move on. When we hear an old song or see an old photo we suffer a moment of comprehension that is painful in its clarity. Suddenly, our hearts are conscious of our treasures. This is what it means to be alive.

Christmas Slippers

A decade ago I helped a friend sort clothing for her mother who was moving to assisted living. You know the triage—save, toss, or donate. It was beyond her mother physically, so we’d make choices and then run them by her for approval. For me, it was a lesson in letting go and an understanding that my mode of operation for my own shedding of stuff should be the sooner, the better.
My friend and I were astounded to see a vast amount of her mother’s riches lay in slippers. Drawers and drawers of slippers, some used and threadbare and others brand new, all mixed up together. We wondered how on earth she got so many slippers and why on earth she hadn’t thrown the old ones away. I think I know the answer now.
For the past two Christmases, I have received almost my weight in warm, toasty, colorful slippers. OK, that’s hyperbole. Not my weight’s worth but a considerable number, like my weight. Not hyperbole, unfortunately. More than I have feet, even if I run as they do in the comics and end up having ten feet in a big semi-circle.
Now I have some shiny purple slippers out of material curly as unshorn poodle hair with bumpy bottoms safe for walking on slick wooden floors.
I have some red and green and black and white Christmasy stocking slippers that come halfway up my leg, the tops tied with green fluff balls at the ends of the strings so that my cats think I’m a walking toy. These slippers have no bottom bumps so I can pretend to snowboard across my living room if I want to. Sometimes this happens even without my prior intention.
I have some plain red slipper socks with chevroned white sticky stuff on the bottom, the kind that we are now given in hospitals in the neutral color of gray. These are really used and I often wear them as socks because they’re thick, good for wearing with my hiking boots, and they match a lot of my clothes.
Still in a drawer I have slipper socks from three years ago. These came with buttons and green trees sewn on the sides, the background black with embroidered snowflakes falling. A tree has fallen off one of the socks and when I try to wear them with my hiking boots, the buttons push into my ankles. I haven’t given up on them, however, because they’re still very thick and warm.
This year my step-daughter and family gave me some black fleece slippers for toasty TV viewing, along with an accompanying scarf that holds a TV remote. I will use these in the 5:30 a.m. mornings as I’m reading the paper and waiting for coffee to make its rounds stimulating my circulation to full awakeittude. I wore the slippers to bed last night and waited until my feet warmed up before slipping them off.
Tonight I’ll try another pair of slipper socks I was given in striped cream, gray, and maroon, ones that match my bedspread and rugs. I’ll hang my feet alluringly out of bed and have my husband take my photo for Sleep and Snore Magazine. I can do all those things with proficiency—sleep, snore, and model footwear to match bed ensembles.
I know how my friend’s mother got so many slippers. Each Christmas brought another pair or two from friends and family who cared about her comfort, who wanted her to be cozy like their memories of her.
I also know why she kept them all. Each pair of slippers reminded her and now, me, of those who were the givers, the ones who wished the best for me with their gifts. When I look at my slippers I’m filled with joy that so many beautiful people comprise my circle of friends and family. Thoughts of them ride on my feet across my drafty wood floors and that’s what keeps me warm. How could I throw any of them out? They are my riches.

Misty’s Woman Cave

Everyone knows what a man cave should look like (stereotypically speaking)—a giant flat screen TV with huge speakers; a blackout curtain so all the better to see the giant TV; an ear-shattering stereo system; an assortment of posters, usually football or basketball; a plush, enveloping recliner with holes in the arms for beverages; a small frig to keep the beverages ice-cold and maybe a neon sign, either for a certain university or that certain beverage, a can of which fits in the aforementioned chair arm holes.
How many of us, though, know what a woman cave looks like? Are there woman caves? Early feminists like Kate Chopin or Virginia Wolff told us to get one, this room or small apartment of one’s own but how many of us have one? And what goes in it once we have one?
I recently visited my friend Misty in her own apartment blocks from where her ex-husband and sons live. One room hold bunk beds for the boys’ visits, a dresser, a table for this-and-that’s, and a box half the size of a refrigerator filled with books lying as they landed when they were tossed.
One room was Misty’s bedroom where I never ventured as it was a private space.
The living space was enough to give me an idea, however, of what a woman cave, a space designated for one woman and her honored friends, looks like.
In front of the bay window were two lime-green fainting couches adorned with floral pillows and warm rust and rose throws. Between them was a small stand upon which resided a potted palm reaching almost to the top of the windows. Books on the stand invited reading should the reclining person wish. A fern hung in the window to the left.
Further in the room was another seating area, two sleek, modern-style armchairs facing an orangy-brown love seat with an antique coffee table in between. The table intrigued me because on either end at the top was a small repository topped by a door with a black knob. These spaces were big enough for a small book or innumerable small treasures which, indeed, were inside when I looked. Between the two covered receptacles lay the glass top upon which were written words and phrases in wax of some kind, maybe crayon; words of hope for women looking for new jobs in our jobless economy. Also on this glass shelf sat the book, Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd. Under the glass top lay another shelf full of women’s magazines, flowers adorning every cover.
The loveseat was covered in more throws and pillows, as were the two armchairs. On the wall to the left hung two pieces of wall art made by Misty out of handmade paper, painted bamboo from her garden, and buttons. A dark wood mask hung between them. Under them sat the stereo and two small speakers. There is no TV in this home. The stereo was covered by a hand-embroidered table scarf and three candles.
Further down the room lay the creative areas. The kitchen table was full of jewelry making supplies—old and new beads of all sizes, shapes, and colors, chains, clasps, earring hooks, feathers, rocks, buttons, old jewelry pieces yet to be broken down, wires and implements to break apart old pieces and to join her creative pieces. All along the kitchen counter lay these interesting and intriguing items and bits that had caught her artist’s eye.
On the back wall above a bookcase hung a small mirror bordered by mosaic work. Surrounding that frame were a series of small paintings of people and women in mostly neon-vivid colors. On top of the bookcase were receptacles holding Misty’s natural finds: rocks, shells, feathers. These little “nests” so fun to peek in were to be found all over her home, in fact.
Her writer’s desk sat next to a sunny window where natural light can beam down on her musings. Scattered papers lined the top of this desk, along with various books, such as Writing Your Screenplay and an advertisement announcing, “ Winter 2009 Screenwriting Class.” This is where Misty does her writer’s work—the articles she writes for money and the fiction she writes for her soul.
This, then, is a woman’s cave: intriguing, pretty, wood and earth and things from nature. A place where things are created from the old to make the new. A place where thought becomes word. A place that invites other women to repose, revive, and collect themselves, to sink into comfort, wonder, and beauty before venturing back into the fast-paced, complex world. A place of peace.

A Dream to Remember

I usually don’t remember my dreams or if I do they are not ones I wish to remember but this morning’s dream before awakening is still with me–as much as dreams ever can be.

We lived in some kind of attached housing on the second floor with a long balcony running the entire length of the housing. Down below I could see heads of people and horses and bands–a parade was forming and passing. I had an errand to do and was in a hurry to get back in order to see the parade, so I had not combed my hair, brushed my teeth or showered. I did see my husband’s butt as he backed out of the shower. I see that cute little thing all the time, though, so that wasn’t the memorable part.

Whatever the errand–that part is fuzzy now–I was on the way back across a food court when I spotted out of the corner of my eye Ben Affleck and Matt Damon chatting at a table. I’d heard they were around but I didn’t stop to oogle in order to give them the space I know they rarely get. I ascended several of the steps out of the court leading to the long balcony when I felt an arm around my shoulder. I stopped and looked over to see Ben Affleck.

“Oh, hi,” I said, as if he were an old friend. “How are you doing?”
“Shoot,” he said. “You’re a schoolteacher.”
Why that would be disappointing I didn’t know.
“I’m retired,” I said. “How did you know?”
“You handled my hug with aplomb. Regular people go nuts.”
“I’m a writer, too,” I informed him.
“Come sit down with us a minute,” he said.
I did.
I told them about all the everyday people I knew whom I considered to be heroes, like the women in my water aerobics class. I talked about my poetry, my essays, my feature articles. Matt talked about a will. (I think my brain was doing the “Good Will Hunting” association.) Ben just goofed around saying goofy things in his charming fashion. I told them about being in Jerry’s short demo film sitting in a bathtub full of cool water in my bathing suit in an unheated house in December and how I now understood what long hours actors have to work sometimes.
When I thought they were getting bored, I excused myself. I could tell they liked talking to normal people about everyday things.
I never told them I was a screenwriter or that my sister and I have two spectacular scripts ready for production.
“I don’t do that,” I told friends later. I go through the proper channels.

When I awoke, I was so upset with myself for neglecting to ask how their respective wives and children were. Whatever will they think of me, one of the great unwashed?

EXCHANGE
In the photo of my father in his 87th year
he blows out the six balloon candles
on his beribboned German chocolate cake.
He sucks in air
as much as his liquid-filled lungs allow,
sucks twice more
to fill his arsenal.
His cheeks bulge
and he lets fly
his life force expelled
in celebration
of his birth,
a defiant exchange
to say he is still here
with something to trade
in search of joy.
He throws caution to the wind
that may not be here
tomorrow.