Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Warriors

         Men do not just talk about sex and football anymore.

            This generation still known as baby-boomers, even as we settle towards our time of rest, relaxation and retirement, was raised quite differently than we have actually behaved.  What was envisioned by our parents as a right of ascension has been, for better or worse, supplanted by the realities of sustainability and justice.

            A standard of abundance and prosperity was achieved and celebrated post-war and Great Depression, bottled and marketed through the marvelous invention of television, and imprinted on our souls to influence these many years since. The stereotype of the man with his briefcase home from his commute, kissing his wife in heels as the children marched off to bed, was certainly not that far from my own childhood.  The scene played out night after night as families nurtured the seed of the dream into the souls of their children, spreading expectations across the suburbs of America for bountiful harvests to come.
            Stated far too simply and without proof, power and greed assassinated Kennedy, shattering the Camelot that never was, but we refused to believe it and hired a commission to report that Oswald had acted alone.  The ubiquitous "they" then fed us a war against communism on the other side of the world to support our growing economy.  No one was supposed to get hurt, but the draft invaded our happy neighborhoods with funerals for the boys next door and the Middle Class began to take notice.

            Martin Luther King reminded us that some neighborhoods, both black and white, had been left behind and Bobby Kennedy repeated the call.  It got ugly. In Czechoslovakia, Chicago and Kent State, Ohio, the established authority tried to shut our freedoms down and it felt like a battle raging.

            Amidst that anger and violence, this generation of not-so-innocents was able to see beauty.  Some of it induced by drugs, for sure, and largely in a state of privilege, ultimately we imagined a world of love that was based on spirit and inclusion, envisioned Aquarian values dawning.  It felt like we had ended a war and embraced a lifestyle that could set us all free.
            The murder of John Lennon by an obsessed fan dashed the purity of that dream and turned us towards the responsibilities of raising our children to a better world.  Hippies became Yuppies.  Slums were gentrified into chic districts and any open land in the suburbs was filled in with mcmansions. We went about our business as usual, another generation exhibiting its share of Wall Streeters, Main Streeters and back road strollers.

            The change in most of our hearts took hold, however, in many different ways, some subtle and others overt.  Women were now side by side in the marketplace while dads learned how to change diapers and took off time to attend parent conferences, or stayed home while their partners provided.  Yoga, meditation and gym memberships, coaching soccer and joining food cooperatives translated the dream into a busy reality.

            Men, paying better attention, also learned how to cherish their women with praise and heartfelt gestures as much as with a secure home and a dozen roses on Valentine's Day.  Words like "feel", "trust" and "commitment" became commonplace and therefore far less frightening, no longer anathema.  We discovered eros simmered more fiercely in one place than scattered like sparks in the wind, even if that particular one lasted only for a decade instead of a lifetime.

            Communication became more comfortable, not just with our spouses, but with our best friends.  In pairs and small groups, men compared notes and discovered companionship and support for this new masculinity.  The three martini lunch was replaced by a bagel and intense discussion of self-help books and romantic tips that might nurture our lover as much as arouse. Foreign to our DNA, the struggle to be vulnerable became easier, confiding our frustrations and bewilderments to each other as opposed to holding things stoically inside or releasing it in a good, clean fight.
            Ironically, going against the grain is not without its proportionate amount of chafe, denial and disorientation.  Women seemed to adore the refocused attention, but in their loins, apparently, having had the same training, still lust after the strong provider, all sensitivity aside.  Men remain at the check-out uncomfortable not whipping out our wallets to buy lunch even if the woman is just a colleague on a similar expense account.

            Centuries of habits are difficult to erase in a single generation.  Confusion is understandable.  The true advance is that the men of today have thrown off their brutish cloaks and glittering chains of male testosterone in favor of coming together more in collaboration than competition.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

'Til Death Do Us Part

Moving my father into the room where he will likely take his last breaths has understandably unleashed intense emotions neither of us could avoid. Only a year ago in a similar room one wing over, he and my sisters held vigil for four days as my mother's body slowly shut down, one system by one, and life passed away.

Although my father is fairly strong today, I could not keep the memory away as I arranged his furniture around the hospital bed at the center of the room. Having rarely talked deeply in our lifetimes, sitting together in rest on his sofa facing that bed looming so largely, we finally became equals in our human form.

The world is a fragile place and most of us understand and accept the precarious stance we hold in life. Death may come at any moment, but on a day-to-day basis, we mostly live with our heads held high and our hearts strong in faith that we will live to see another.

No matter how comfortable they make the residents of this community, the truth is always evident that they are on a one-way sequence of moves from their homes to apartments to skilled nursing and ultimately hospice care. All are in various stages of acceptance that their own day-to-days are largely in preparation, anticipating (or avoiding) that final one.

My dad has the book "How We Will Die" on his night stand. He does not remember getting it, only thinking when he found it on the internet that it might be interesting. He reports regularly on his memory loss and muscle fatigue as if they were financial indexes. Nearly deaf and practically blind, missing his lifelong companion, he says he is ready and regretfully predicts the strong beat of his heart will keep him alive at least another year or two.

Raised a silent Quaker and living as an atheist ever since miraculously surviving a ship explosion in World War II, he believes he will simply go to sleep, never to dream and never to awake. He listens to some of us talk about our mother's spirit waiting to embrace his energy, but cannot really wrap his own arms around the concept. He admits to whispering "Goodnight" to her every evening, but never hears her answer back, even in the most quiet and deepest of places.

He is pleased the room is so comfortable for the rest of us, his paintings and sculptures surrounding all. He stares into the silence and thinks of his ashes next to hers.

We are comfortable in the busy little efforts of moving bureaus and arranging mementos on the shelves. Not much needs really to be spoken. Not much ever was. He fails to understand the choices I have made to lead a creative life in trust the universe will provide, but seeing my comfort and renewed strength, he knows there is no time left to worry, argue or judge.

As I walk past the dining room and see other residents docile in their wheel chairs, bibs tucked safely under their chins, patiently waiting for whatever or whoever comes next into their view, I commit to cherish the time I have left. Life is so much more precious for knowing I get to leave, return to Vermont, my business, life and loves.

As a kid, old folks were so foreign I had not the slightest understanding of their language, neither their pain, sorrow, regrets nor their joys, memories or even the lessons they might teach. In youth, there is no sense of age, no knowledge of time passing relentlessly nor wisdom of wings so swift and death so final.

Thirty years separate me from my father so frail, but having lived now nearly sixty, I am keenly aware of how fast the next thirty will fly. No moment can be wasted, no thought too insignificant to ignore. Light shines when the sun rises and I realize there are far fewer for me to see than have gone before.

Still there are mornings I linger much too long staring at the ceiling without clarity for what I want to do, even who I want to be. By night, I can lounge on the sofa with not much more to show for the day and still too tired to do anything by stare at a little mindless television (Netflix reruns).

My thoughts in between often struggle with value, weigh the gold of each moment like so many strands woven into a fabric. Even if not so obvious to others, mine litters magnificently this morning and I am so grateful to awake to another day.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trump Loyal

           In life there are things we know which science eventually proves to be true.  Like a fever that begins with chills is confirmed with a thermometer, we are learning in these times of transformation that we can think with our hearts as much as our minds.

          Intuition is a force long regarded as a voice with value.  Often labeled as a woman's insight, even men have been told to ultimately trust their gut when making tough decisions. We know this truth to be self-evident, still we continually struggle to keep the deepest urges of our heart free of the bombardment of conscious rules of what to do or don't.  Without quantifiable substance, our passions are muted, devalued and eventually deemed irrational and often dissolve of their own inertia.

            It is regularly said that all actions are manifestations of either love or fear.  Events cascade and the direction of their flow is based in large part on the stronger influence in that particular moment.  Like all the colors in the universe being shades and combinations of just three, these two primary forces wield enormous power over how we operate in the world.  In each moment, we have the choice.  Motivated by one or the other, we take steps forward in life or choose to stand still, creating our realities in the process. What we imagine comes true.

            Love is usually seen as expansive.  We can feel it physically in our chest, a powerful pulse of heart, a deep breath from the belly, the urge to open our arms and embrace.  Life seems beautiful.
            Fear is contractive.  Our muscles tense.  Shoulders curl inwards to protect our hearts.  Our minds assess, evaluate and form plans of escape.
            Balance is lost to the rapid swings of the choices in certain moments. In an instant, we can leap from one to the other.  A word, a gesture, a look in the right or wrong direction sends us soaring or plummeting. Often unable to recognize the cue, instantaneous reactions based on past experience take precedence over clear choices.  We re-act without even knowing the triggers have once again been squeezed.
            Reflection teaches us to learn from our mistakes.  From a quieter place after the fact, we can contemplate what happened and glean the morsel of insight that caused us to stand or run.  Smiles of recognition punctuate the repeated oath to not be so fooled again.  Meditation is a place of peace where we find the balance, release the contractions and expand our hearts.  The flow of energy is renewed and redirected in a more positive direction.
            None of us wants to live in fear.  We long for love, search high and low for the evidence and race towards its rainbow in the eternal and unshakable belief there is a pot of gold underneath.
            The fear in our minds, the memories of disappointments and pain in our previous attempts, amplify the chatter that warns us to stay safe.  Thoughts clutch and restrain the initial burst of passion.  We can so easily hesitate or turn away.
            In a moment recently, I had the opportunity to make a difference and transform fearful energy into a wonderful memory.  Working so hard in the last years to have the tools of love readily available, my own heart still contracted in response and the embracing energy evaporated.
            For the rest of that afternoon and late into the sleepless night, my mind tossed and turned over the various approaches and results that could have been, might have been.  In many scenarios, I could see my life very changed by the consequences of that sudden seizure of fear that failed to embrace and celebrate, hesitating and then contemplating too many avenues of loss.
            Regret is terrifying.
            Finally at dawn, in the rejuvenating light of a new day, love returned to push away the fear.  There remained the trust that passion is real, that it is better to feel scared than not to feel at all.  With the sunrise, a vision appeared of a way to reach out again. 
      Forgiveness, both of ourselves and of others, is our finest trump.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

MC Squared

          Calories are energy, a unit of potential heat most often measured in food and calculated in how we feed our body.  A clear and quantifiable amount, we can see what goes in and link it directly to the exercise and activity necessary to burn it off, what must be accomplished to get it back out.

            ...or we get fat.
            Money is energy.  Likewise, we produce in fits and spurts or methodical routines and track our bank accounts like so many meals.  We accumulate and compare, struggle to make ends meet or hoard our stashes like squirrels preparing for winter.
            In this case, obesity is often considered a good thing. People envy the man in his castle on the top of the pile, the hearts of women and respect of fathers laid on the mantel like so many trophies.   More can seem better and there are many of us who are raised with our focus on the calories more than the taste. To some, there can never be enough and it must be flaunted brazenly to cover over the holes of fragility in the basic structure.
            Love is energy.  Our hearts expand and flow without measure, swell to the point of aching.  We speak in poetry of "bursting" when it is accepted and "broken" when it is not, but either way, the passion is energy that fuels our existence with vitality as succulent as the most exquisite meal.
              Sexuality is energy.  In our most sacred practice, we unite with our beloved, making love, creating joy and discovering passion that feeds our soul as much as any food can enrich our body. Two souls connect and become one with source, ecstatic and entwined, passion for life, creating a life of passion.
            Fear is energy.  It blocks all that we might do with billboards that can turn us in wrong directions, create doubts about what lies ahead, temptations of disasters that may or may not be actually lurking, luring us from our determined roads.
            In so many ways the quality of our lives can be measured.  We seek definitions to account, justify and explain our actions and behaviors.  No matter how hard I try to stay in the beauty of the moment first waking each morning, my mind bounces from past to future, evaluating and promising, missing out on the grace of the sunshine that dawns through my window for another day.
            Meditation helps to find the quiet place of gratitude, but in the bustle of the day, it is a constant battle not to judge each moment, quantify and articulate the progress and regressions as good and bad.  Calories in and dollars handed over the counter.  Am I loved? or so desperately, painfully alone when I settle back down into dreams at night?
            As if a message from my mother herself, so long ago lost in Alzheimer's and finally death, a postcard greeted me from my kitchen table this morning, tossed down by my son who shifts his belongings to live with me full time.  Of a painting in Paris by my father, on the backside she wrote a gushing note about the wonder of the trip they were on. 
            Her delight was so contagious, even now, fifteen years later, her love and gratitude so plentiful, it is easy to conjure the vision of the woman scribbling on a cafe table, thinking of her grandchildren, surrounded by the simple pleasure of a market full of life. Tears I had not felt since her graveside (a year ago today, I suddenly realize) welled from deep within as I remembered how much grateful energy she allowed to flow from within and without.
            Life is energy.  We expand and contract with every breath, opening our hearts to what is available or shutting ourselves behind walls of fear.  Each moment lies before us to make a choice.  We have the power to act or re-act, doing over and over and over again until the lessons are learned.
            Intuition is the voice within that truly knows the best path for each of us, ignoring the billboards of fear and guiding us towards fulfillment of our highest interests.  Listening carefully, like a heart beat from exercise and nurtured by diet, if we let it, the voice becomes stronger and louder.
            Gratitude is energy, a celebration that invites more love into our lives.
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Monday, September 12, 2011

Chairs on the Side of the Road

Several years ago, I went to an event of my men's group, a near stranger wandering into a club to which I was not sure I belonged. My marriage had ended, my business collapsed, my daughter grown estranged, but I was beginning to scribble ever more fervently.

From across the room, several men came directly towards me, arms outstretched to embrace the writer whose words they had read, but not yet met. A profound moment of affirmation, I recall it often to remind myself that efforts no matter how apparently small and trivial in our own lives may actually have the meanings, significance and impact on others we had imagined.

One man in particular made a big deal about the construction blog that had started my efforts to go public. He confirmed that I was providing inspiration for him to commit to the business and expand his view of what kind of career in it could be available to him.

A year later when the emotions and self-discovery of this much more personal blog had become dominant, at our next meeting he mourned the silence on those other pages. His regret has plagued me throughout the recovery from my fall.

As I embark fully, well-healed and determined, on this new life as a writer, his image has come regularly to mind. More to the purpose is the observation that after several years of depressed markets and difficult financial terms, the housing industry struggles to express vitality in a transformed market.

While the accuracy of my hammer hits have greatly diminished in reality since my fall from the scaffold (not to mention my eyesight), by doing a few projects lately, I realize I have a wealth of other skills that can be translated to hits on my written words. The emergence of ebooks and a new generation of home owners more comfortable with computers than hammers makes me certain there is a niche to offer my services.

The world changes rapidly, but shelter remains an undeniable need. In these last two weeks, between painting projects for others, I am replacing the porch entrance to my little apartment. The transformation from decrepit and dangerous to sturdy and welcoming facades is indicative of the work on my own heart in these several years.

Too often caught up in the swirl of current events, it is important to compare our surroundings with other moments along the way. Like the tortoise walking obliviously right past the hare, the forward movement can easily be lost and growth seem apparently insignificant.

How rich has your own garden grown this summer? How deep have roots been planted and widely friendships nurtured?

We tend to be myopic in this fast paced life, racing event to event, focused and action oriented by inclination, opportunity or demand. The world shrunken by the internet to make so much available dangerously occupies our minds to the point we lose track of our hearts.

It is not easy to secure and maintain our homes. Not just the place of the heart, but the food and clothing also required seduce us into extraordinary efforts to create our lives. Too easily we can confuse quantity with quality. Obsessing with clearing away our trees to look out on the forests around us, we forget to sit down and enjoy the view.

Maintenance is not worth the effort if we fail to lounge on the Adirondak chairs we worked so hard to purchase. They look pretty enough out in the yard as we march arms full of groceries from the driveway into the house, but it is vital that we make the time to use them to nurture and support our heart-felt dreams and souls yearning for love and connection.

Will you notice the sunset today?

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Finding the Pot of Gold

Starting with a swollen head and more rainfall, the day seemed like a slog through thigh deep mud until I realized it was the first anniversary of my mother's death. No matter how normal we want to be, there are times the quagmire is real and we just have to sink into it and allow the time to be what it is.

The single blessing of Alzheimer's, I answer people's condolences, is that it gets you used to the loss and even makes their passing a relief. After a decade of coping, despite the gaping hole, we can get back to our own lives, remembering who and where we are, maybe even a little clearer about where we want to go.

My mother was a grand woman of hope and encouragement. On the cloudiest of days and in the thickest of mud, she could open a closed heart just by stopping, listening and offering a hug. If people's greatest need beyond food, clothing and shelter, is to be heard, she could feed the world.

No one was too small or unimportant to become the focus of her attention. She was never too busy. The hard work of my father provided her the canvas, but she applied the spirit that made portrait after portrait of conversations that inspired people young and not so young to follow their dreams.

Her boundless optimism could be irritating to me who shivered in wet clothes and would prefer changing in the tent to coming back out to see yet another rainbow. It was contagious, however, and has seen me through problems that might have settled me otherwise into harmful depressions of immobility.

This morning could easily have felt like that. My problems with money and frustration with apparent unemployment could feel overwhelming. No lover's eye to brighten my breakfast might immerse me in loneliness. The steady drizzle outside could pour misery into open wounds.

Instead, acknowledgment of the day and remembrance of the woman who was so steadfast beside me creates a meditation that keeps her spirit alive and close within my heart. Disdaining celebration of Mother's Day, she requested honor every day or none at all. The little things to her made all the difference.

So I learned to put one foot forward, and then swing the other past. When looking at too many piles of leaves, she taught me how to focus on one and drag it to the corner before raking the next onto the tarp.

Today, I start with the dishes in the sink, sweep up the floor and sit down to scribble a few humble words. It is the Labor Day weekend and instead of bemoaning no job to take off from nor picnic in sight, I do the work of every day in honor of my mother who is no longer here. Her spirit still influences and her heart still warms.

Her encouragement so consistent from so long ago still pushes this pen and I respond as if she still sits at the end of this marble table waiting to read. Only if we allow ourselves to be lost in the moment do we lose the love that has brought us so far.

Awareness shows us the rainbow and stops the shivering, warms our heart and gives us reason to come out of the tent.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Heart of Gold

No sooner do I make the grand declaration of being a writer, then I suddenly spend my time in carpentry clothes. Projects on my own apartment, for a friend and for some quick cash from an old and loyal client keep me busy and distracted from the work where my heart authentically lies.

Curiously, the energy in my finances dips immediately back into that frantic place of scramble I had known so well in years before. With the delightful certainty of dollars earned for hours worked, it would seem easy to calculate the corresponding emotional gain, but panic rises hyperbolically instead. After reaching such a settled place of simplified peace of mind in these last two years, the contrast and connection to wearing carpentry clothes is compelling.
 Fully healed physically at last (I am swept over by exhaustion after a few hours of concentrated exertion, but am otherwise fine), I have no excuse not to be fully engaged in gainful employment. 
The bleak reality of the economy, however, returns virtually no response to my cover letters and resumes submitted online, while knocking on doors only elicits the polite request from a twenty-something fresh smile to make all applications through the internet. There is no escaping the headlines that the unemployment rate stands steady at a recessionly high number.
 Comfortable with entrepreneurial spirit, rather than succumb to depression, I take charge of my life by this recent declaration and commitment to use my words to earn my way. I have a book ready to publish, a collection of short stories available through My pen slides so easily across the pages, it seems logical I should be able to equate dollars as easily as I could driving nails in the past.

The internet has changed everything about the way we live and do business, creating an enormous demand for written communication if not of quality, at least for speed, but the world is changing even more rapidly. No longer can the less adventurous feel confident that their hands on the corporate ladder are any more secure than my stance on the scaffold that bounced me from the hospital to the couch for twenty months. The old rules no longer apply and we are forced to adapt.

The dream fulfilled that brought so many tears of hope, joy and optimism with Obama's inauguration has dried and evaporated in the harsh reality that some things never change. The politics of government are too selfishly intransigent to make a positive difference in our personal lives and the Wall Street executives continue to amass ridiculous fortunes whether their clients profit or lose. Foreclosures are old (and boring) news compared to Lady Gaga, but still forcing human beings out of their homes, and even the marriage of William and Kate has settled into daily chores.

After witnessing catastrophic disaster on the other side of the world in March, my own neighbors in Vermont are the headliners this week, devastated by water so peaceful that surged horrifically and receded to the same calm flow, but surrounded by completely different lives. Like my own body, repairs can be made, but the view for many right now is topsy turvy and no one affected will be the same. Transformation of one kind or another is not optional.

Each morning the sun rises and we plan as best we can to make our way. We earn our keep, help our neighbors and love our family, praying to whatever belief that by nightfall we are safe to rest. I want to say the only constant is that we have each other, but the truth is that friends move away, children grow into their own busy lives, marriages end. We truly have no one but ourselves.

It is vital, therefore, to live as best we can, open our hearts to the beauty around us in each moment. When all else fails, the coin of the realm is our love for each other today and our capacity to be generous. Rich in that, my friend calls and I head out to live another day.

How will you choose to live this day?

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