Untitled, by Diana Maus, http://mosaicmoods.wordpress.com/

Friday, December 30, 2011

Let Nothing Be Postponed

  "Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or Never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment...Take another course and life will be a succession of regrets." Henry Thoreau Journal, April 24, 1859.

 Good wishes and loving deeds must never be postponed, they should be inhaled in the present if received and sent freely, if the opportunity presents itself to warm the hearts of others.
Many years ago my loving, but Germanic, mother-in-law came to Colorado to visit.  My oldest daughter was about 8 or 9 years old at the time, and before she launched herself into bed she ran to Nana to get a kiss.  Nana's answer, "Oh no, dear.  You've had yours."  Earlier she had kissed them goodnight and, due to their dawdling, I guess they didn't have a right to another kiss.  Nana meant no harm.  In her heart she loved the children very much; it was just her mindset, her rigidity, her conformity to a personal set of norms that held her captive to a code of conduct.

I wish I could say I have been one to always jump at the opportune moment to wish someone success or health and to show kindness where it is wanted and needed.  I wish I had never let a set of rules and norms pen me into my narrow thinking.  Alas!  I am so good at telling and knowing what should be done, but so negligent in the doing.  And it follows; life can then be a series of regrets.

So, on this eve of the eve of our designated New Year, 2012, I want to wish all my friends and family the brightest New Year wishes anyone can imagine. "Let nothing be postponed.  Now or never!  You must live in the present, launch  yourself on every wave, find  your eternity in each moment.  Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land.  There is no other land; there is no other life but this, or the like of this." 

Happy Day, happy New Year!!   

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Jonathan Safran Foer said: "I'm grateful for anything that reminds me of what's possible in this life. Books can do that. Films can do that. Music can do that. School can do that. It's so easy to allow one day to simply follow into the next, but every once in a while we encounter something that shows us that anything is possible, that dramatic change is possible, that something new can be made, that laughter can be shared."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


A body of research out of the University of Michigan in 2010 suggested that our opinions, as contrary to fact as they may be, are based on such fundamental beliefs, that, when presented with contradictory facts, we will stubbornly adhere to our original belief.  So much for human intelligence.  The phenomenon is called Backfire, and it is playing a powerful role in how we are shaping our views on welfare, immigration, and even the president's place of birth.  It is also as dangerous as the gun pictured above. 

Like Lincoln, I have always believed "If given the truth, they (American people) can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.  The great point is to bring them the real facts."  Our present puzzlement, however, comes from the fact that we are unsure who has the facts that we can depend on to not be skewed or full of lies.  Do we listen to Glenn Beck?  Does Chris Matthews have the answer?  Have you found some other news source that relies on facts? 

The longer I'm on earth, the more slippery facts become;  we are getting so good at distortion, concealment, and manipulation of our facts, that we seem able to fit pseudo-facts into any number of prejudiced points of view.  Ergo - Backfire.  As difficult and time-consuming as it is, the truth of the matter is that I must ferret out what appears to be facts from sources that "appear" to deal squarely with both sides of issues.  Otherwise we will be able accept as a candidate for president of the United States someone who states proudly, "I'm a leader, not a reader."  It is obvious this kind of leadership is based on Backfire.  It's like deciding to make an apple pie and making it with cherries.  However, because of some garbled recipe, or regard for the person who gave us the recipe, we stubbornly insist that "This is APPLE pie!" 

Perhaps the time has come when we can no longer depend on anyone for facts - perhaps we must take the time away some other part of our lives to test ourselves:  do I know how much the national debt is and to whom I owe it?  Do I know the facts about the decline of the middle class and what that means to America?  Have I listened to those who call themselves the 99% or have I simply labeled them based on my favorite commentators prejudices? 

Find some sites that you trust:  Here are some I subscribe to.  I don't guarantee their complete nonprejudiced point of view, but at least they assess fault or honors for both parties and multiple points of view:

http://factfinder2.censu.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml  (This gives fantastic info from the latest census.)
Just a few facts from that last site:

One third of the population earns less than $35,000 a year.
7.4% or 8, 478,651 ppl earn less than $10,000.  (That's the size of a large city full of Americans.)

15% of Americans have no health insurance.  How many million is that?  Where do they go and what do they do when they are sick?  Who pays for it?

6,421,415 children under 18 have no health insurance coverage.  Another large American city's worth.
Of our 18-24 year olds, 14% have less than a highschool education.  How many million is that, 30% of whom will live in poverty. 

Facts are like eating food that is good for us.  We may not like it, but we're better for it and we will make better decisions with it.  The more we look at facts, the better we will like ourselves and the less likely we are to be victims of the manipulators we are exposed to.  The more often we will ask questions about what 9-9-9 really means and why we can't provide work for those out of work. 

Backfire will kill us.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Descarte In Love

Ran across this more intelligent and descriptive way of expressing where I find myself right now.
 Love, accepting that we are not pure and lucent hearts, ricocheting towards each other like unlatched stars—no, we are tainted with self. We sometimes believe the self is an invisible glass, just as we believe the body is a suit made of meat. Doubt all things invisible. Doubt all things visible.

Descarte said it - I didn't!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

If We Are Alive...

No need to add more to this.  The more I read this passage from Walden, the more I feel at home.  Seems to me this is at once Thoreau at his poetic best and, at last,  his philosophic peak. 

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, from "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"

"Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his posterity at least could accomplish it.

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry -- determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, ( noonday) situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains.

If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Half Awake

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground
our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

~ Stephen Levine ~

(Breaking the Drought)

What can the heart abide?
One thing I am seeing as I get together with my senior friends, is the importance of friendship, love and activity in our later lives.   Friday, F said with a nod, "You've got to be tough to grow old."  Yes, but is there more...?   This was followed by a short silence and someone answered, "And say a prayer of thanks in the morning for every day given you."  We dropped our knitting into our bags, rose from our chairs and hugging one another, parted for another week, or more. 

There are those in the group who are quite willing to share some feelings, but I must admit, as a group, it is difficult and rare for us to share much at an emotional level.  By the late seventies and eighties we have a layer of the cultural restraints of our age, and also the reluctance to allow ourselves to feel--we have hurt too often.

Steven Levine's work casts a light on why we are the way we are and what we can do to help ourselves:  As he says in the above poem, "when the fever breaks".

 Born in 1937, Levine has immersed himself in almost all the religions including sufism, Christianity, Buddhism and others.  In other words, he is an inclusionist, which is where I find myself.  To quote Goethe, "What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account everything that strikes us,"  and here, I believe we can use the older meaning of 'genius' as one's most basic personhood. Goethe continues, "the greatest genius will never be worth much if he pretends to draw exclusively from his own resources."  "Every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things."  So much for Michelle Bachman's recent remark that "let's get rid of the gray."  It is the openness and inclusion of other people, thoughts and experiences that allow us to work through these later years with a positive, healthy attitude.

Without this, as we age,  Levine says, "Our ordinary, everyday grief accumulates as a response to the 'burdens of disappointments and disillusionment, the loss of trust and confidence that follows the increasingly less satisfactory arch of our lives. In order to avoid feeling this grief we "armour our hearts," which leads to a gradual deadening of our experience of the world."   A Half Life or a life?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do You Feel Lucky?

Humility causes me to modify my belief in the strength of our creative spirits to see us through the rough parts of aging.  I have to admit that the parents, who spoke to their son as he was hurtled like a firey bomb into the second World Trade Center, have a right to depression and a sad old age.  How one faces the loss of a grown son, daughter-in-law and grandchild so tragically, and still manage to go on, leaves me silent.

9/11 has had many editorials, essays and speeches spoken and written today, and that is as it should be.  Ten years ago today was the day when the United States of America had to grow up.  I'm not sure that these ten years have proved that we've done such a good job of that, but here we are, and we have two choices:  give up and give in, or go forward. 

FDR was right; the thing we have most to fear is fear.  Fear and anger have caused us to spend trillions of dollars in an effort to feel safe, and, yes, to get revenge--to act in ways that we may regret in an effort to even a score.  These emotions have caused us to squander not only our financial future, our cultural heritage, and our wise judgement, but  fear now convinces our businesses, banks and individuals to hold tightly to their cash in fear that even harder times are ahead. 

Just as we say goodbye to our loved ones who have gone before us, it is time to praise, thank and say a fond farewell to those who gave their lives on 9/11.  Instead of the fear and anger generated by this sad, sad day we must replace those emotions with solid good sense and a positive attitude.  Basic economics tells us that demand is the engine that powers an economy and gets it moving.   I don't know how we will be able to generate enough energy and enthusiasm to begin new businesses and invest in markets that will make it a necessary for business to hire and train new workers, but we must.  It won't be the first time we've done something impossible. 

History is full of hard times and tragic events. Pearl Harbor was a tragic event much like the World Trade Center disaster, and it followed a more severe depression that we've had of late.  Yet we sold war bonds and paid for WWII and the rebuilding of Europe and carried ourselves into a healthy post war period.  Consider too, those who lived in Dresden, Germany must have felt much like New Yorkers, only more so, after our bombs almost totally destroyed that city in WWII.  Now, however, Germany has become one of the more solid economies in Europe.

Mike Littwin, columnist for the "Denver Post", wrote today, "I go to see an outdoor movie at Brayant Park, across from the famous New York Public Library on 42nd Street.  The movie is "Dirty Harry." and the picnicking crowd of maybe a couple of thousand chant together, 'You've to to ask yourself one question:  Do I feel lucky?  Well, do ya, punk?'

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli," you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.

An excerpt from "The Word" by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin, 1992

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Sandpiper

I watch him as he skims along,
Uttering his sweet and mournful cry.
He starts not at my fitful song,
Or flash of fluttering drapery.
He has no thought of any wrong;
He scans me with a fearless eye:
Staunch friends are we, well tried and strong,
The little sandpiper and I.
Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night
When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
I do not fear for thee, though wroth
The tempest rushes through the sky:
For are we not God's children both,
Thou, little sandpiper, and I?
                   (Poet Unknown)
 Standing archly on his tall, thin legs, lifting them one by one as he stiffly walks through the water and mud of the shoreline, the sandpiper addresses us with the shrill sceeep, screep of his song.  Long of body, often brown and gray with a proud spotted belly, his long legs and pointed beak allow him to find his meals virtually untouched in the watery world he calls home. 
It is said that when one is sad and walks along a beach the sandpiper’s song will bring you joy. 
It is said that he or she is a proud little bird, and others whisper that he sees below the surface of the water and plays with the waves as though in search of more than food.  
Although I lived in the Eastern United States for only a short period of my life, I sense the tides and the waves breaking on the normality of my life.  I sense an affinity with the magic of the ocean; in my dreams I often walk along a shoreline, seaching below the water’s surface for the hidden frankness and honesty of our natural world.  Why are we so blind?  What are we searching for?  Does the sandpiper sense a need for further knowledge, or is he content to wade in the shallows?
Yes, I am drawn to the sandpiper.  I love his ability to stand above the muck of the shoreline and still be able to adequately feed himself and live his chosen life.  I admire his fearless contemplation of breaking waves crashing onto his world.  I covet his dispassionate appraisal of life and his sense of purpose as he lifts his long legs and stubbornly moves them forward, ever forward.  Little sandpiper and I.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Let me share something with you:  I am an inclusionist: Whenever someone agrees with me and then says “but”, I always wish the conjunction was “and”.  I wrote a piece about diplomacy-- employing the hope that all nations could, at some point, sit around a table, and when one voiced an opinion, the other would say, “Yes, I see your point, AND let me add…” 
Rachel Reman told a story about her grandfather:  he told her that in the beginning, through some accident, light became shattered through all living things, and it is our job in our lifetime to try and piece together as much of that light as we can.  It is a fable, a myth, and when I shared it, a friend wrote me suggesting 'BUT that scattering of light was no accident.' EinsteinsBicycle
This adds another element to the original story:  What caused, or who caused the scattering of light, or was it just a 'big bang'? Is there any reality in this story, or is it simply a harmless myth told to a child.
 It is so difficult for me to live in two worlds: a world of  the spirit and a world of science.   I tend to like my faith reinforced by fact; I am more comfortable if I can combine my religiosity and my reason.  I would like to say that the light shattered for a reason, AND perhaps it was an intended natural accident. 
 Taking that as a clue, I have dabbled in quantum physics, and been fascinated with the idea of light being dual in nature:  it can be seen as a ray or beam, and it can decide to change itself into particles.  A miracle in science!   There are other unexplained scientific miracles, and through these studies some of our scientists have become believers in an Original Force or a God. It may be that we just don't understand enough to know what is really happening, but perhaps the 'AND' is appropriate here; it is the nature of light itself to shatter, or not--as it wishes.  Maybe light is God...AND, as we said, maybe we just don't understand what light really is. 
We have great arguments in the US about this – both religionists and scientists lean toward being exclusionists and tend to  constantly say “but” to the other side, not willing to see that there are many facets to this prism.    For many years I have searched how one could bring these two worlds together, and the use of the conjunction 'AND' seems to be the only answer.   I am not a genius and I have to rely on others to tell me what science is all about, but I am trying to open my heart and mind--to put Einstein’s E=MC2 together with what the mystics and my religious beliefs tell me.   Here are some religious quotes about light:  
In John 8:12 Jesus proclaims-seemingly out of the blue-"I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

 Ahura Mazda, in the Zorastrian religion, represented light, truth, and goodness, all of which that faith believes are necessary for one to show love.

 The Quran calls the Prophet a lamp of Divine radiance. “So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.” (7:157) It is this Light( Nur) of Mohammad that enables the Sufi to arrive at the Reality of God.
Qumran Gnostics, sectarians in Palestine, divided humanity into two camps: The “Sons of Light,” who were good and blessed by God–referring to the sectarians themselves, and the “Sons of Darkness,” who were evil and accursed – referring to everyone else (Jews and gentiles alike). They believed that in the End of Days these two camps would battle each other, as described in detail in the scroll now known as “The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.”  This is a somewhat scary vision in the year 2011!
In most of these visions light has been interpreted as ‘the way we see things’ and the sons of Darkness are those who don’t see the light. Instead of a ‘me vs. them’ philosophy, suppose the light being referred to is seen as energy.  Energy is in all things, and although it travels from one thing to another, there is a limited amount in the universe.  Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.
 Simply stated, light is nature's way of transferring energy through space--light is energy.  Through light we can take the sun’s energy and heat our homes with it.  Energy depends on mass and mass on energy.  What is energy?  This is the unknowable.  All we know about energy is that it is the ability of an object to do work.  One kind of energy can be transferred into another type:  steam from water can be transferred through a turbine into electricity.  I am beginning to conceive of my body, filled with energy (light) that can choose how to use this energy.  Since energy cannot be destroyed at death this energy becomes part of the total energy of the universe until it is used again.
   To summarize the mental path I am personally exploring: our words are probably all saying the same thing: light (love, goodness) is part of us and of all living things.  We use it and share our light (energy) with the world and, and as Rachel's grandfather said,  to collect as much of this energy and light into one place as we can. 
 We are somewhat like amachine, created to use energy for some purpose.  What purpose?   This is a personal pathway.  Our problem comes when we conclude that only ‘my people’ have the light, and the Other lives in Darkness.   AND is such a little word, but dreadfully important.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thru Thick and Thin


My friend, Dwight, just emailed a quote from Henry David Thoreau that had something to tell me:

The seeds of the summer are getting dry & falling from a thousand nodding heads. If I did not know you through thick & thin how should I know you at all

I might have passed this by unnoticed yesterday, but, today, it teases my mind. This is the nature of Higher Laws; we see things when we are meant to see them. Friendship is that very human interaction which we applaud but don’t often look at closely. How well can I know you, if I don’t know you in good times and hard times? How well can I know you if I do not welcome your faults as well as your talents? How well do I know you if I am content to pass you by with a Cherrio, have a good day? How well will I know you if I stand at my window watching trouble visit you, my neighbor, and do nothing?

Today was a good day for me and my friends in our little knitting group at Golden Pond Retirement Village in Golden, Colorado. We have been meeting long enough now, that even our silences are rich with thought. I know that my friends here cherish this time each Friday; we chat and share and use the knitting as our excuse to be together.

There are usually about six of us around the table, and the more we express what we are thinking, the closer we feel. Most are a bit older than I, and only one is still with her husband. I have to tell you, these are wise older women; wise enough to know that they do not want to live with their children, thank you, but thoughtful enough to realize that the step they took to sell their homes, dispose of most of their belongings and move to Golden Pond was probably the most profound change they had ever undergone.

One said, “You give up your car, your privacy, your home—almost everything!” And, the question is, what can make the day seem bright when all that is gone? “Our children have a right to their own lives, and they want me to be happy, and…and what?” Before we left we had acknowledged the fact that late in life friends are a more important part of our lives than ever before. P said, “I’ve lost two friends since I moved here 18 months ago,” and it was clear that the thought saddened her. V, the chipper one from New Mexico added, “Yes, I moved here to be with my son’s family, and look what happened—he was transferred to California. I can’t afford to make another major move.”

Rather than feeling abandoned, V now has the friends she is making at a very late time in her life.

I remember a poem I learned as a child: “Hold fast to friends, we lightly say, but as they pass along the way, fill up the gap with newer friends, til time the adjective amends.”

Yes, for my friends at Golden Pond friendship is a very important commodity—through thick and thin.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Defeat Better Than Victory

Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham should probably be on the reading list of every English 101 class, in every university in the English speaking world. Why?  Because it is the story of a young man’s universal search for self, and is probably one of the best written fictional works of the twentieth century.

 Although it takes place over 100 years ago, it is humanly insightful today as it was when written.  Philip’s search: his embarrassments, his feelings of inferiority, his unrelenting and incomprehensible  passion for another are all as real today as then.  For our part, it helps us see what we can become in the eyes of others:

 In Bondage, Philip, age 19 and full of the steam of youthful energy, returns home from Germany to the Parish where his aunt and uncle still live:

 Philip realized that they had done with life, these two quiet little people:  they belonged to a past generation, and they were waiting there patiently, rather stupidly, for death; and he, in his vigour and his youth, thirsting for excitement and adventure, was appalled at the waste.  They had done nothing, and when they went it would be just as if they had never been.  He felt a great pity for Aunt Louisa, and he loved her suddenly because she loved him.

To ‘have done’ with life…what a shame, what a waste, what a trap that can easily ensnare us.  How do we get to such a deplorable place?  It is not the physical act of aging alone that can trap us.  It is more that we build a cage of limited expectations.  We wake, we eat, we breathe, and in a kind of somnambulistic state we follow our dusty routine and habitual activities and then we sleep again, only to repeat the process. Day after day we ‘wait stupidly for death.’    

But where does the trap begin?  And is this simple act of two people living their aging life truly a trap?  In the conclusion of Bondage Philip considers marriage and realizes that it will mean limiting the scope of his travels and experiences.  He writes:

What did he care for Spain and its cities, Cordova, Toledo, Leon; what to him were the pagodas of Burmah and the lagoons of South Sea Islands?  America was here and now.  It seemed to him that all his life he had followed the ideas that other people, by their words or their writings, had instilled into him, and never the desires of his own heart.  Always his course had been swayed by what he thought he should do and never by what he wanted with his whole soul to do.

 He put all that aside now with a gesture of impatience.  He had lived always in the future, with the present always, always had slipped through his fingers.  His ideals?  He thought of his desire to make a design, intricate and beautiful, out of the myriad, meaningless facts of his life:  had he not seen also that the simplest pattern, that in which a man was born, worked, married, had children and died was likewise the most perfect?  It might be that to surrender to happiness was to accept defeat but it was a defeat better than many victories.

The Tao would advise us to look carefully at the rock that we find in our path—it may be made of pure gold.  If we are living our dream and not the dream of some one else, "America is here and now."

Friday, August 5, 2011

Give Me a Woman Who Has Lived

If we'd moved her,
she'd still have 'em,

the ad for Acme
Moving says, with a photo

of Venus de Milo.
But who, intact,

would Venus be?
Some standard-issue

ingénue. Give me
a woman who's lived

a little, who's wrapped
her arms around the ages

and come up lacking: that's
the stone that can move me.

"Truth in Advertising" by Andrea Cohen

Monday, July 25, 2011

This Thing Called Genius

I sometimes think that I may go forth

And walk hard and earnestly, and live a more

Substantial life
And get a glorious experience;

Be much abroad in heat and cold,
Day and night; live more, expend more atmospheres,

Be weary often, etc. etc.

But then, swiftly the thought comes to me,

Go not so far out of your way for a truer life;
Keep strictly onward in that path alone

Which your genius points out.

Do the things which lie nearest you,
But which are difficult to do.

Live a purer, more thoughtful
And laborious life,
More true to your friends and neighbors,
More noble and magnanimous

And that will be better than a wild walk.
To live in relations of truth and sincerity with men is

To dwell In a frontier territory.
-- Henry David Thoreau, from his Journal
Word origins is an interest of mine, developed from six years of Latin, I guess, and it came to me that our use of the word ‘genius’ also shows our lack of support for the idea that every person has some inherent ability. 

"…the path which your genius points out."  Thoreau used the word ‘genius’ in a different way than we commonly do. 
Henry thought of genius as it was defined in the original Latin:  of the genes: (genero, ingenium), a natural or inborn ability, our character, it  is our basic nature.  Today we have added a modifier to  the base word, genius, and call it ‘extraordinary ability’, or unusual character or inventiveness.  History has reduced the availability of genius to a lucky few—the Leonardo di Vincis of our times. 

Sitting in the doctor's office yesterday, an article in "National Geographic" caught my eye:  "Crash Test Genius" described the Lexus crash test dummy that can display 119 points of information.  Wow! Lexus CT might do OK in today's classrooms!  If you can parrot back the information given and expected of you on a standardized test, you pass muster.   The better the parroting, the better the 'genius' rating.  But we are not crash test dummies, and as Einstein said, why bother memorizing information that you can look up anywhere.

 True genius is found within each one of us: like Phillip, the clubfooted hero of Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.   Trained in the English church schools of the 19th century, yet sensing that what he was learning had no relevance for his inborn ability or character, Philip breaks from the rigid world of a semi-rural English parish life and gradually finds his "genius".    The Razor's Edge by Maugham investigates a similar intellectual trip.  

   The way is open; it leads to truth and sincerity, or so says Henry Thoreau. It is not for the few, this genius, but for everyone.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will Someone Steal My Bone?

 I don’t know how many of you have ever had a panic attack, but they’re no fun.  About a year ago, I had one that sent me to the emergency room, and  that episode taught me that one’s nerves can age along with one’s gall bladder, liver, heart, aching back and kidneys.  I’ve always been a worrier, but this sojourn taught me to watch out for those moments when I let something rattle my cage: to recognize worries for what they are, and learn to deal with them in an intelligent manner.

Without some kind of filtering system aging can be frightening and frustating;  it's an eyeopener the first time you can't get up easily from a kneeling position, or to see work pile up and not have the energy to finish it, or to not remember someone’s name, or to have difficulty trying to get a meal for company on the table all hot at the same time…oh yes, sometimes wherever I look, if I look hard enough, I can find that demon- worry, worry, worry. Will I be able to drive 2 years from now?  Will I begin to have more pain, or aching than I can stand?  Will my loved ones develop serious illnesses; and then there is death, and that is another issue all by itself.   

Recently Travelers showed a commercial about a dog who worried about someone taking his bone, and this simple little thing opened my mind to how often I have fretted and worried about someone taking my bone—my good life—away from me.  How often these worries have cluttered up and otherwise wonderful life.  The song that accompanied the commercial was so compelling I searched until I found out the composer, musician and lyrics for the song.  The singer is Ray LaMontague and I encourage you to go to Utube and listen.  It has become my newest theme song.

Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin' my soul since the day I was born
Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone

…and it goes on.  But for me, these words have become my mantra.  If I tire out before the garden is completely weed-free, I shrug my shoulders, sing, “Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble.  Worry, worry, worry, worry, worry,” and go inside and knit.

If I feel all those aches and pains of age as I’m trying to go to sleep, I sing my mantra song, take an aspirin and distract myself till I fall asleep.  If someone I love has a problem, I worry, sing my mantra song, say a prayer and realize that 9 times out of 10 everything will turn out OK.  If it doesn’t, my anxiety does nothing to help.

I wish I had had this helpful little ditty years ago.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have worried my way through my adult years as much as I did.  Somehow singing my Worry Song is like saying, “ OK, look at this situation the way it is.  That’s life!”  It has helped me accept life as it is. Worry, worry, worry never solved a problem, or saved a soul, or cured an illness. 

What a wonderful life I’ve had!  I only wish I’d realized it sooner. - Colette (French author of Gigi)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Power is the Poser

"I went to the store the other day to buy a bolt for our front door, for as I told the storekeeper, the Governor was coming here. "Aye," said he. "and the Legislature too." "Then I will take two bolts," said I." HD Thoreau Journal, Vol XII.

"Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." HD Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government."

"God lives between every man and the object of his desire." Rumi.

Power is the poser that captivates man. As individuals we are prone to reject the thought that we cannot have control of our lives. Some of us are more control freaks than others, and the passion that leads men to seek political power is a drug that deludes us into thinking that no one can do what we are doing, and that we have the exclusive answer to all things.  As a part of the research I was doing for this post, I ran across a blog with the title, "Give me liberty or give me lead." Unforgivable egotism.

It might be wise to keep reminding ourselves that if we take our hand out of the bucket of water, no one will notice that it is gone, nor, as a drop of water in that bucket, can we speak for the entire bucket.  How little humility there is in us!    I agree with Thoreau that most governments, allowed to have reign over their subjects, are a danger to their citizens, and it seems possible that given the opportunity, some citizens, allowed to have absolute power, would be just as destructive.    If you want to worry, Google "government power" with images and click on some of the blogs those images represent. 

Greed and fanaticism is not only in the Middle East, but is also in America. To this end we each must make it known what kind of government will command our respect. Loud and Clear! 

Rumi said that the reed and the grass must cooperate in order to weave themselves together to make a mat.  I wonder if most Americans have any idea of what we have, compared to so many other countries, and I'm afraid we have been too apathetic to realize that every generation must protect that which makes us different.    The one thing that can keep us from allowing a Theocracy or Oligarchy of the wealthy from completely smothering us is our Constitution and Bill of Rights. 

I'm not sure that it isn't too late to fight the war we have almost lost to the top one percent of our citizens, or to those who do not understand freedom of religion.  Like Coleman Barks, translator of The Essential Rumi, I believe that "the exclusivity of most of the organized religions does insult the soul."  It also insults the soul to accept the fact that we are daily gaining more poor and homeless while the penthouses continue to be built.  This is not the day to cynically complain and do nothing. It is past time for that. It is time now to learn to weave.  Compromise is the only way to achieve anything in a Democratic Republic.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The daisy follows soft the sun


The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
"Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?"
"Because, sir, love is sweet!"

We are the flower, Thou the sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline,
We nearer steal to Thee, —
Enamoured of the parting west,
The peace, the flight, the amethyst,

Night's possibility

                   __Emily Dickinson

I read this just today on one of my favorite internet sites, Writers' Almanac, and had to share.  Once again, Emily does not disappoint us with flowery words or useless trivia.  It is right to the point:  Night's Possibilities.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Thoughts From a Recent Google

"From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other. But when books are opened you discover you have wings."
--Helen Hayes

One of the things I love to do on Google, is Google!  Googling is the perfect weapon for me—I think it is because it is a lot like my mind:  unfocused, full of trivia, short on attention span, and I love the access it gives to all kinds of unforeseen  information. 

At any rate, I was trying to remember the play my husband and I saw in a trip to New York City shortly after our marriage. I still remember the excitement of sitting in the audience to see Helen Hayes, called The First Lady of American Theater, in the play, “ Time Remembered”.  Hayes won the Tony for her performance and the play itself won a Tony as best play of 1958.  The underlying theme of “Time Remembered” was of a young man who could not release the past in order to live a fulfilling life.  

Knowing my mental proclivities, this immediately set up several mental constructs:
 What does it do to a life if the problems of the past interfere with the richness of our time on earth?  What does it do to a life if a person does not go beyond the past to find his or her wings?  How can one find the will, yes the will to live a productive life regardless of tragedy or pain?   

 Hayes is only an example of those who have found their wings. Her career spanned 70 years, and she was one of very few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, 2 Oscars and a Tony Award.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, was the namesake for the Annual Helen Hayes Awards, and had not one, but two theaters named for her.

  Outside the theater she also contributed and worked toward the Helen Hayes Hospital which originally specialized in children with Tuberculosis but has been expanded to cover rehabilitation for most chronic diseases, and she gave freely of her time and wealth to many causes that we don’t have time to mention here.

 Hayes lived to be 93 years old and at the same time all of the above was happening, she grew up as a devout Catholic child of an Irish Potato Famine background, who was denounced and denied sacraments of the church because of her marriage to Charles MacArthur, a divorced Protestant.  She was hospitalized many times due to serious asthma aggrivated by stage dust, lost a daughter at age 19 with polio, lost her husband many years too early, and was only five feet tall. 

She could have easily retired into herself and no one would have blamed her, considering that her life, indeed, was not perfect.  She could have been like the young man in “Time Remembered”,  but somehow she went beyond the pain that life offers each of us.     “Men are born to succeed, not fail,” and “If you rest, you rust,”  she is quoted as saying.

Hayes is not alone in her success.  There are many, not as famous, or even as successful as she, who, regardless of infirmity, illness or tragedy, have willed to open the book of life:  Stephen Hawking,  Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and so many others who have found their voice beyond the physical or emotional pain that life can present.  To read the biographies of almost any one alive is an exercise showing that almost any life has serious pain.  It is just part of life. 

Most of us will never reach the pinnacle of success that Hayes and many others have reached; our successes are often much smaller,  but to be able, at one’s advanced years, to look back and feel the satisfaction of a life lived with some feeling of success  and happiness “in spite of” obstacles, is reward enough.       



Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Elusive Thing Called Happiness, Chapter I

The worst is behind me
—I tell myself—I'm already old.
The worst is yet to come,
I'm still alive.
But if you must know,
I was happy.
Sometimes a whole day, sometimes a whole hour.
sometimes only a few minutes.
That's enough.
-Jaroslav Seifert

She came up to me, put her hand gently on my wrist and said, "I just love this yarn.  It makes me so happy and is such beautiful colors."  It was just a touch, but it was enough to make me smile. M is a friend of mine in our knitting group at the local retirement village.  I judge her to be in her late 80s or early 90's.  Her hearing is not good, her hair is thin and gray, she falls easily and sleeps poorly,  but she is the most beautiful, and one of the happiest persons I know. 

Knowing M makes the poem by Jaroslav Seifert hard for me to enjoy.  "The worst is behind me," and the worst is yet to come"; my first response was to bristle, feeling that I was going to read a 'poor little me' poem.  Not so; for, in my eyes, Seifert redeems himself a trifle by saying, "But I was happy."  The 'was' is what is unnerving, and frightening.  When one reaches old age, do we silently throw away our dancing slippers and fold ourselves into our laprobe?  Was happy?   What I see with Millie is a woman who has lost a beloved husband, has become unable to care for herself and her home and who gets an occasional visit from her son at this place which is now her home away from home.

She WAS happy?  What has she got to be happy about now?  Not much, we could say.  But, unlike those who chase happiness in life, only to realize that happiness is a side bar item, M knows that, and she is wise enough to know that joy is in the day, in the wind, in the outlook.  Life's joy is not found all alone on a shelf in a box. Chase it if you will--you will not find it in any singularly impressive place.  Nor do we have to utter that dreadful word WAS:  happiness can be in every day's most common events. 

M rewards us with her words of happiness:  "I'm so enjoying that wonderful, three volume biography of Teddy Roosevelt," she tells us.  "Yes, I fell and skidded all the way down the hall on my face and shoulder.  But I was OK--I knew I hadn't broken any bones!", I want to make a little shrug to wear at night when I read in bed, and I want it to be an elegant color and very simple in style, because that's me.  I'm not very fancy, " " I'm so delighted!  My friend is taking me to the mall and I just know I'll find all sorts of nice things that I would like to buy."  "Oh, don't fret about the young.  Give them a chance."  "Yes, I'm on the library committee here.  Isn't that nice?"  When we see M enter the room, we automatically smile--we know that we will be better for having that hour with her wisdom and calming spirit.  Happiness is not a WAS for M. 

Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health -- Julia Childs

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fire in Our Hearts

 There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.
                                                                                                -Van Gogh

One of the most destructive boundaries that can face us is that which faced Van Gogh.  Toward the end of his short life, his mental condition interfered so drastically in his life’s force that he was unable to paint.  The fire in his heart simply died because he could find no outlet for it.  The above picture was painted by Van Gogh in 1890, shortly before he ended his life.  It was titled, “At Eternity’s Gate.”

 When something, age perhaps, interferes with that which gives life meaning, the need to find an outlet for our personal fire becomes paramount..  Michael de Montaigne said,  “Be vigorously involved in all that brings us pleasure in life…and let death catch up with us as it may,”  but without that involvement, life can simply lose its flavor, and we can lose our enthusiasm--our reason to exist.  The word ‘enthusiasm’ comes from the Greek, ‘en theos’ or ‘in God.’ Without en theos--the spirit of life, the joy is lost.

As we age, we go through developmental changes caused by physical or emotional blocks, or our own misconception of how we should act and what we are able to do with this older body.  We may give up golf because we can no longer play as well as we did, we may give up reading because the print is too small–there are so many changes that can cause us to mentally and physically close down. 

Whatever the boundary, we have to find a way to light a fire.  We have to find the joy, that ‘en theos’ that makes us want to get up in the morning.   What if that fire no longer draws our friends to our house, because they see no smoke in the chimney?  Ah, how sad it is to quit life because of not feeling as confident of our worth.  One of the secrets that we may not  have learned earlier in our lives, is to work for ourselves, do those things which we like and which are fun for us.  Too much of our lives are spent trying to please others.  I’m sure there are other olders, like me, who have focused on doing and creating for personal pleasure.  I never wrote, or had time to write when I was younger.  The feistiness of age has helped me say to myself,  “Do it!  Let others think what they will.”  Writing is a very selfish thing for me – and it is something I never thought of doing when I was younger.
  “… use the talent you possess:  the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” –Henry Van Dyke, (1852-1933). 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Writers Should Read Emily

            Emily Dickinson could say more in a few words than most writers can in a  chapter. There are writers whose prose is lyrical and ripe with meaning, but few can equal Emily in the short, perfect description. Her legacy is a must-read for any one professing to be called 'writer'. I found this recently on  Writer's Almanac and had to share it. It is a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a literary critic, written in April 1862. 
             She wrote, "You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself, that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know, but do not tell; and the noise in the pool at noon excels my piano. I have a brother and sister; my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind. They are religious, except me."
            A lifestyle summed up in less than a wordy paragraph. Her writing is a fine sauce that has simmered all day and is now reduced to its essence: no frills, no pretense.  Oh to be able to express oneself so tidily.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


 “Mending Wall” is a poem by Robert Frost in which his neighbor tells him that “good fences make good neighbors.”  Frost and I both question that, but there is something to be said for knowing one’s boundaries.  It keeps us from stepping on sensitive toes and helps us focus on priorities.  On the other hand, particularly as one ages, there are times when fence-jumping, or stile-stepping are called for, and even ‘fence-sitting’ can be recommended.   
Stile:  A Structure which provides one a passage through or over a fence or boundary.

  Of all the obstacles that life puts in out path, age is a major challenge,  there is no doubt about that.  Growing old presents us with many fences to hurdle, and even considering the difficulties involved, I take the stand that the secret of healthy aging is to discern which fences have stiles and which do not.

 It is very true that I cannot do what I did 20 years ago.  I cannot compete is long-distance races, all day marathons, late-night parties or the cleaning binges I used to do when I had neglected my housework for more pleasant duties for far too long.  I forget people’s names and there is a creakiness there that surely wasn’t there at 21!

 I remember when, at about 65, I first discovered the pain of getting up from a kneeling position in my garden.  “Oh, oh!”, my body said,  “Time to slow down, old girl.”  The question is, how much slowness should I accept, and how can I continue to make my garden presentable?  Or can I?

Some oldies can deal with graduating infirmities, and others cannot.  The man who has golfed 2-3 days a week and is physically unable to do this any longer, can sell his clubs and retreat to a sedentary, unsatisfying life, or he can also go to the gym and keep what muscles he has left from atrophying.  It’s a choice. 

The lady who no longer exudes beauty and sex can try desperately to get her lips as sensual as ever, botox the wrinkles, and tuck the jowls, but she is not fooling herself or anyone else.  The boundary of age has presented itself, and there are healthy ways to meet it, and there are some that are not so healthy.  It is a choice.

The geriatric pros will tell us that being able to ‘accept’ one’s limitations is a determinant of what they call ‘successful aging.”  (Whatever that is.)  However, one can ‘accept’ it by sitting in a chair and feeling sorry that ‘the good days are all gone’, or one can try to use today to its best advantage. 

I don’t like the term ‘adapting’.  I prefer the thought that as we age, we can find ways to go with the flow…while I can’t spend an entire day digging and hoeing and planting in my garden, I need not have a rivalry with my youth—I can still plant beautiful things in the pots and containers on my patio.  When I can’t keep up with the latest fads—I’ll let my children explain them to me.  I do not have to pretend to be something I am not.  I can be what I am:  old lady with a point of view that allows her to sometimes go over the fence of age even if she has to use a stile!

However, I can be as feisty as I want, but, unless there are others to help us over the stiles of aging, we are in a fine pickle.  My friends in our knitting group at the retirement center were discussing the wonderful people that worked there and helped them so much.  “Bob is just great when he takes us out to lunch on Mondays,” said one.  “He always knows just how much help each one of us needs to getting around, and yet he gives us just the right boost without making us feel self-conscious about our lameness.” 

That said so much: to fit in, to be a part of things, to do those things which gives life its verve, and yet to know that there are those who know how to help maintain a place for the aging within life’s framework.  Human society has not yet come to the place where it can accept a “Logan’s Run” type of world in which, at the sight of an implanted red light, the over-thirty must suddenly disappear for they are no longer wanted or needed. 

The more I research this subject of “what to do about growing old”, I discover that, as in most of life, it isn’t something one can do successfully on one’s own, but it must begin there; it must begin with the individual finding ways to overcome the boundaries and infirmities of age, emotionally and physically.   It is different for each of us, and yet there are common frustrations and successes that we can pattern from.   Later we can look at what society needs to offer its aging population; a population, which each of us will possibly join at some time or other.