Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Amblers and Shiftless Wanderers, Where Have You Gone?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?
Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song,
those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another
and bed down under the stars?
Have they vanished along with footpaths,
with grasslands and clearings, with nature?" ~ Milan Kundera

I have taken on too many projects at the present time, and I am feeling the dizzying effects of a whirlwind life. I am desirous of slowness, ambling, loafing, wandering shiftlessly. As a result, I have been thinking about the words "supper" and "dinner" quite a bit these last few weeks. People don't use the word "supper" much any more to denote the evening meal. I still use it quite often. I first got to thinking about it when my grandson was visiting. He's 4 1/2, and when I asked him what he wanted for supper, he wasn't quite sure what I was referring to.

We always said "supper" when I was young. This was to distinguish it from the noon meal on Sundays which we called "Sunday dinner." I don't remember that we ever really had the traditional-after-church-large-meal that was called dinner, but I know that's where this distinction came from. It seems to me that something has been lost as "supper" has gone out of style.

When I drive in the afternoons or in the summer down the streets of the subdivision in which I live, I am struck again and again with how empty they are. There are no children playing in their yards, riding their bikes, sitting under trees throwing pine cones at each other, walking along the side of the road talking . . . no children to be seen anywhere. Day after day. I know what they say: it's the video games, the tv, the computer that keep them inside. I also know that the homework load these days is burdensome. And I know, too, that fear of myriad things, mostly of strangers, keeps them inside as well. It has become a dangerous world. I realize this. Yet, somehow the fact that the children are inside and not out in the wide world perpetuates the danger, I think. I'm not naive enough to think if more children played outside the world would be safe, but our neighborhood would be different. It would be alive. Fear has a tougher time taking root in a place overrun with childhood.

The neighborhoods in which I grew up were well-inhabited with children. With us. We played kickball, Red Rover Red Rover, tag-freeze, tv, cartoon, and other silly forms of the game, hide and seek. We raced our bikes, played make believe - Planet of the Apes, The Yankees Are Coming. Fallen trees became mansions and palaces. Willow trees were curtains or veils. We gathered pokeberries, crushed them into bottles, and tried to market them as inks or paint, succeeding only in staining our clothes. We gently plucked honeysuckle and sipped the nectar that beaded at the end of the stem. We carved paths through the woods around the wild perimeter of the neighborhood, our own private kingdom. We splashed in Beaverdam Creek, watching the water striders skate across the surface, were scolded for coming home with our shoes covered in mud.
There were slow, quiet moments, too. We sat in yards that were not ours, making whistles out of the thick blades of bermuda grass, lying on our backs watching the clouds scuttle overhead. Front porches were prime real estate for sitting on railings, talking about how "Mrs. Jones hid that dog in the coat closet today and wasn't that the coolest thing ever and I'm going to be a third grade teacher just like Mrs. Jones." Or we'd try to figure out mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and the boys we had crushes on. Talking late into the evening, until either the mosquitoes or the chill night air drove us inside.

We always had to be called in for supper, though. Parents would come to their front doors, stand on the porches, cup their hands around their mouths and holler "Supper's ready." Beans and franks. Pork chops and Stove Top Stuffing. Stuffed green peppers that I could barely get down. Or spaghetti that I could have eaten every night. All of us children showing up at the supper table with skinned or dirty knees, grubby pants, hands sticky with pine resin or stained with pokeberry, barefeet black and calloused.

These weren't idyllic times. I remember tears, anger, divorces, grief and loss, along with the more mundane childhood dramas. But something has been lost along with supper time. I am sorry to have it gone. I don't know that we can ever get it back again. The world is a different place. We are a different kind of people living in it. I suppose we have to be. But I wonder if it's not the same thing as the looping connection between fear of strangers and streets empty of childhood. Do we no longer gather for the pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy for the Sunday dinner, no longer call the children in for supper, because the world moves so fast? Or does the world move so fast because we don't have anyone to call inside for supper?

"Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?
Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Silvery Goodness and Little Tiny Hars: On Aging Gracefully

Ever since I can remember, even when I was very young, my husband would say to me, "Age gracefully." I agreed with him. I have wanted to accept the years as they've come, stepping into each added number on my life chart with dignity and pride. I didn't want to be one of those women who clung to youth such that I became a caricature of myself. And I didn't want to kill myself keeping a youthful look or spend thousands of dollars doing so.

So here I am now, quickly approaching my elder years. And I'm trying to age gracefully. For my husband and me, this means no nips, tucks, Botox, liposuction, breast augmentations, and so on. For him, it also meant no hair dye. This last one I just couldn't agree to. Not when I had grey hair by the time I was 40. So I colored my hair for 10 years. Two years ago, I decided that by the time I turned 50, I would have my natural hair color back. A half a century seemed a fitting marker for a crown of grey hair.

My very gifted hair stylist (my son's ex-girlfriend-a story for another posting) did an amazing job of slowly, slowly blending in my natural hair color with the brown and blonde that had been my hair for years so that one could barely tell what was natural and what was boxed. By my 50th birthday this summer, I had mostly grey hair and, fortunately, lots of silvery highlights. I proudly wear it, feeling I've earned it - "silvery goodness" one friend calls these hard earned greys.

One criteria for graceful aging my husband and I have not discussed is electrolysis. I think this is one procedure that he would actually be in favor of. (I haven't had a chance to discuss this with him yet. And he's still in China until next month, so this is something that will have to wait until he's back on home soil.) I haven't researched electrolysis, though the word itself scares the shit out of me. I hate pain. And it sounds painful. Any word that shares its roots with others such as "electroencephalogram," "electrocute," and "electrode" is just plain scary.

But the little tiny hairs growing on my neck, along with other places - some unmentionable, is even scarier. This is not growing old gracefully, in my opinion. When I think of little tiny hairs sprouting on my body, I just keep seeing this ancient hunched over woman wearing a rumpled hillbilly hat (see Jed Clampitt's hat in the image above), her few remaining teeth clamped down on a chaw of tobaccy, talking about "those leetle, tiny hars" growing along her upper lip. (Imagine, if you can, the drawl in her speech.)

There are all sorts of things wrong with this picture, namely the stereotypes implied, for which I apologize. But it's true. There is just something about this recent hair growth spurt that offends my ego, pride, and self-image as a sophisticated, well-educated, modern woman. I don't know. Can one grow gracefully with leetle tiny hars poking out here and there and everywhere? I can proudly claim the silvery goodness of the hair on my head, not so much the one on my upper lip.

I don't know if I'll ever gear up enough courage to submit to something called electrolysis. Meanwhile, I keep a pair of tweezers in my purse, my bathroom cabinet, my car, and my suitcase. And I work hard to maintain a certain respectability and decorum befitting a 50 year old woman.

But every now and then, I'm just tempted to let it all run wild - let the hair grow out of control, become covered in a silvery pelt, run out in the night, raise my face to the moon and howl. Maybe, one of these days, you'll see a wild silver wolf woman running through her years, fierce and graceful.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupying Our Humanity

The title to this posting is, of course, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement happening all over the world. As I have read the various articles, editorials, and blogs, looked at images, and engaged in discussions, this phrase kept popping up. I have been trying to figure out how to make sense of all that is going on, where my Self is located in the world these days, and what I mean by this phrase that came to me out of the blue.

I want to tell two stories to get to the answer:

When I was in my graduate counseling psych program, my cohort participated in a cultural diversity exercise that has haunted me for almost a decade now. About a dozen volunteers sat in a fish bowl arrangement and randomly chose a sticky note with a few words written on it - presented face down so they had no idea what they were choosing - and placed the label to their foreheads without seeing which label they chose. As the volunteers in this exercise sat in their circle, they were to interact with one another only through the label. That is, they were to disregard the whole person sitting in front of them, the person they had chatted with at lunch, the person who was a mother or a brother or a teacher or who took on a thousand other roles in his or her life, and to parcel out the one thing that defined them at this time, leaving the rest of their human experience outside the fishbowl.

The scenario they were given was something like this: The group must choose the ten most important things that will allow them to survive indefinitely on a wilderness trip they are preparing to take. As they planned, they were to interact with one another solely on the pieces of paper stuck on their foreheads. These notes were directives such as: agree with everything I say; ignore me; respond to my statements only with questions; laugh at everything I say; argue with everything I say. It was one of the most painful experiences I've witnessed.

Sitting outside the fishbowl looking in, I saw the pain come over the person with "ignore me" written across the forehead. My classmate figured out early on what the label said and withdrew into a reinforced silence. The person who had "agree with everything I say" also figured out early on what the label said and took full advantage of it, suggesting outrageous items to include on the list for the group's survival. The person would say, "Let's take an elephant from the zoo!"

"Yes! Yes! That's a great idea!" the group enthusiastically responded. Later, the person with whom everybody agreed said this brought up old narcissistic pain, old ways of being in the world he thought were left behind long ago.

This exercise has stayed with me all of these years because I watched people I knew and loved become people I couldn't recognize. All because there was a label on their foreheads that told the world how they were to be treated. It opened my eyes to this phenomena in my everyday life.

I have had more than a few conversations in the last few months regarding the number of Facebook postings I put on my wall. Some have said they have to ignore most of them. A few others have said they hide my postings at times because it just gets to be too much. Evidently sometimes, when I'm really cooking, I'll post enough articles, images, pages, and videos to take up a person's entire Newsfeed page.

These links run a gamut of issues I am passionate about. The top contenders at the moment are: women's reproductive rights, the privatization of public education, LGBQTTTIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transsexual, transvestite, transgender, intersexual, asexual) rights, and global movements. Right now, my newsfeed is streaming links from all over the globe regarding Occupy Wall Street.

Evidently, I'm a Facebook nuisance. When I asked my husband (I must come up with my Blogger name for this man) if he had seen my posting about the delicious gluten free pizza I was making for myself these days (he's been in China for the last 5 weeks), he said he reads the first two postings I put up and then moves on. Says he doesn't have hours to spend on FB reading my posts. Even my husband thinks I'm a FB nuisance.

What is happening in the world today is big. It's really big. Conversations are happening between human beings and not just between governments these days because of tools such as Facebook. I have friends all over the world, wherever social media is allowed, with whom I can establish warm, loving relationships. There are humor and pathos. There are jokes, rants, and questions. We are all just people trying to figure it out. And the socio-political realm is reflecting these new relationships. Things are getting all shook up. Chaos reigns.

Here are some wise words from a friend in India, who watches global movements with a keen eye:
If we want to break free from oppressive politics and hegemony, we should first start with just that - speech. It is the most fundamental act towards empowerment.

In an age when we are told what to say, speaking up about what we think is a revolutionary act.

Talking, speaking, debating, and disagreeing are at the core of a process of reinventing identities that form a community able to govern itself. . . . We need to ask questions. And we need to seek answers. . . .

Our voice will join us in the shared grief of our loss, empower us with the ability to empathize with those who are different from us but are like us in their pain and unite us towards the shared goals of freedom, liberty and self government.

We have a great opportunity here to reinvent democracy as consensus of the people, by the people, for the people. Each one, having their say, is the first step.

We must not fear failure, we must fear silence.

How can I keep silent when our right to speak out is at stake?

I sat silent in the experiential exercise as I watched people I loved work in painful divisiveness and as all-too-human tendencies overtook their better judgment and the workings of the cerebral cortex. No law said I had to sit in silent acceptance. I had so many choices I could have made. I could have moved to my friend who sat still and silent through the ignorance of others, laid my hand on the shoulder of one who was alone, let that person know there would always be a loving presence. I could have moved across from my friend who was swept up in narcissistic power, eyes meeting eyes, filled with love for the heartful person I knew lived within him, so my friend could recognize that heartful person within himself. I could have said to the professor, "There is more to our humanity than this exercise. We get your point. We can be ruled by labels, preconceptions, fear, and power. But we can also be ruled by our passion, our voices, our courage, and our hearts."

This is what I attempt to do with my global news filtering through my Newsfeed. Nuisance or not. It is my voice in the world, loud and strong.

Lao Tzu said, "Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest with those who are honest, and be also honest with those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained." Thus, I would add, we relate to the flawed, vulnerable, grace-filled human being within each of us

"γνῶθι σεαυτόν." "Know thyself." It's that simple. Know that each of us has to pull our pants on one leg at a time, has to shit and piss just like the other guy, needs water and air and sustenance to survive, came into this world as a helpless wailing infant hungry for our mother's breast, laughs, cries, breathes, sleeps, and dreams like every single human being who's ever lived on this planet since . . . well, since time began. Each of us occupies our humanity every day, for better or for worse. Despite all the labels slapped on our foreheads. Despite all of our loneliness and all of our greedy power mongering. We are humankind. It's that simple.

So many, "yeah, buts . . . " to come back at this statement. But, really. It is that simple. Know thyself as human.