Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

Breathing the Sky

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My attempt to write a poem about breathing the sky was an epic fail.

I was trying to show the connection between the sky and the wind and our own breath.  Because we use different words to name them, we see them as separate entities existing in different places. But what is the sky? It is the atmosphere as we experience it visually, extending far above us. What are wind and storms? They are the atmosphere as we feel and hear it in motion. What are we breathing?  The atmosphere. Day and night we are unconsciously breathing this same ocean of air from the moment of birth until death.

The first two lines of my poem were:

We breathe the sky
twenty times a minute

My writers’ group was sure this was inaccurate. “We don’t breathe nearly that fast.”  I had found the information with a quick Google search.  It seemed to me that this fact was simple to measure and extensive research wasn’t necessary.  On the other hand, I  wasn’t willing to justify my information with, “Well, I googled it.”  I  expect sound evidence for any fact and “I googled it” wouldn’t  convince me to accept the credibility of someone else’s fact.   The scientist in me expects verifiable facts and evidence. So, the next morning when I woke up I set my timer for one minute and counted my breath. The result was sixteen breaths in one minute. I stand by my number. Twenty breaths per minute seem like a reasonable average while going about one’s day.

Then there was the ending:

warm breezes
blow my skirt
caressed by the sky

A group of men automatically assumed this was a skirt blown upwards. On second reading I understand how that might be assumed. The words “rustled my skirt” might have created a more accurate image. What I was attempting to convey was that moment on a hot summer day when a breeze gently waves the skirt around your legs. I wanted to convey how it made me think of being caressed by the atmosphere. That same atmosphere that is indistinguishable from the blue sky.

I see more work is necessary for composing words to deliver my thoughts on the page.

Criticism Doesn’t Construct

Friday, May 13, 2016

Not Constructive

 

Anyone who wants to write, especially on the internet, is supposed to have a thick skin. Criticism, and dealing with it, is  something everyone accepts as a fact of life. Unfortunately,  I don’t have that thick skin. Not only I am afraid of criticism but I’m also afraid of being afraid of criticism.

Sometimes Google provides the most appropriate answers to the strangest question. One night I typed “Why does criticism destroy me?” into the machine. The very first result was Proverbs 13:18 from the Bible:

If you ignore criticism your will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept correction, you will be honored.

Wow! What a way to powerfully inhibit creativity and social change. Here I found a new perspective.  I was raised on the Bible and,  for sure,  I don’t want to  to end up in poverty and disgrace.  But then, which criticism do you live by to prevent this disintegration into poverty and disgrace?    I was seven years old when  I was hit with a leather strap for talking in school.  Then in  high school, I was told I would never be successful in life because I was “too quiet”.  There’s no way to win this game. I know, I’ve  spent fifty years trying.

The second Google result in my experiment was a quote on the website  of psychologist  Dr. Bill Crawford.

Constructive Criticism = An Oxymoron
Criticism can be effective when there is something that must be destroyed or dissolved, but it is capable only of harm when there is something to be built. -Adapted from Carl Jung

I’m inclined to agree with Carl Jung.  Do you notice how you feel when someone says, “Can I offer you  feedback about that?”   You can feel the enthusiasm for your project sink  even though nothing critical has  yet been said.

My take home message from the wisdom of Google  is:

Constructive criticism isn’t real.

I won’t end up in poverty and disgrace.

Fear monster vanquished….. at least for the next few minutes.

Addendum – May 21, 2016

Here is a great video that talks about dealing with criticism:

 

 

Celebrations of Spring

Friday, April 1, 2016

Spring Table

Cultures all over the world celebrate the coming of spring.  Spring is marked on the calendar by the spring equinox, or by the local season for the beginning of planting. In the Christian traditions across Europe and North America spring is celebrated as Easter. Muslims in many countries celebrate Nowruz.  Jews celebrate the festival of trees called  Tu b’shevat. Hindus celebrate Holi, the most colourful festival by far. Google images gives us a great feel for each festival.

Celebrating spring is a valuable event in a northern climate like ours, where we may have  six months or more of snow.  The Easter holiday that we celebrate in North America has evolved from various traditions across the centuries. It origins predate Christianity that has now claimed it as its own. The Persian  festival of Nowruz is an ancient spring festival that originated over 3,000 years ago,  before the existence of either  Muhammad or Jesus.  Traditionally the holiday is celebrated for two weeks with time off  from work and school.  Two weeks might be too long for modern North American sensibilities, but wouldn’t it be great to have a week of spring break for the whole country?  It could be holiday for people of every ethnic background and every religion that share our common climate.

Spring equinox is a little early for us to be celebrating in Canada. Parts of the country may still have snow banks.  It’s not a suitable time for picnics or planting. For Edmontonians “May long weekend” is the first real day of spring. It’s official name is Victoria Day but I don’t know anyone who still calls it that. May long weekend is when people plant their tomatoes hoping that all freezing temperatures are over. Parkas can safely be retired into storage and camping gear is dusted off.

Instead of a three day weekend I suggest  a whole week of spring break  to celebrate  warm weather.  After six months of snow and staying indoors we need this. What fun could be created by combining the traditions of all our varied cultures!  We could  have a week filled with family dinners, chocolates, Easter egg hunts, picnics in the park, gardening, tree planting and also water fights and coloured powder parties. A week of multicultural parties and outdoor activities to celebrate the end of winter. We’ve been a country long enough now –  it’s time to create new,  unique Canadian traditions.

This Glorious Life

Friday, February 26, 2016

Do you not know
that you will die?

Would you waste your precious life
on meagre insults,
anger and hate?

This glorious life
that breathes

a thousand times an hour

Would you discard it
like garbage
dumped in the parking lot?

 

 

 

Time Moves On

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Snow scene from  2012

The tree branch was cut away last year- this view is gone forever.

There is nothing like an abandoned blog to show how fast time goes by. It feels, to me, even lonelier  than an abandoned building.  So many years, so much  empty silence.

I remember when I was a teenager. A friend of my elderly father had died. The man’s wife was sitting in our kitchen.  With the tears streaming she said: You just work and work and work and then it’s all over.

Since that day, my worst fear has been, that I might find myself at the end of my life with  such profound regret.  I want to always give my best to life and make sure I feel alive and present every day.

We’ve all heard the exhortations to “Live in the moment.” My response used to be – “That’s nice if you’re in a beautiful garden, but what if your moment sucks?” What I understand now, is that our present moment is our point of power.

We understand this clearly if we are standing in the street with a truck speeding toward us. It is just as true is less dramatic circumstances. In every moment we are choosing what to think and what to do. In every moment we are not only acting but also  creating our own meaning about what is happening.  Even in the most simple tasks such as washing dishes there are choices available.  When our day is the same as many days before, we may forget there are other choices  but that doesn’t mean they cease to exist.

Whether there is a truck coming toward me or someone is yelling at me, the present moment is where I make the  choice. It may be an action or  only a thought. It may be the same as what I did yesterday or it may be different. Through it all the world turns and the sun shines.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Mental Map

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No one wants world hunger; no one wants global warming, no one wants the extinction of species. How is it that as a society we create conditions that we as individuals don’t want? Human beings are, perhaps, in the unique position of relating through the world through the filter of our beliefs. We make decisions based on our mental map. Frances Moore Lappé argues that what will change conditions in the world is changes to our mental map. We need to change our mental map from one that is scarcity based and anti-life to one that is life affirming. The premise that there is not enough of what we need in the world leads to beliefs that take us into a spiral of powerlessness. Speaking here, in Oregon on October 2, 2008, she discusses how we can reframe our beliefs on environmental issues in ways that open us to new solutions.

Everything we know is based on past experience, either ours or someone else’s. It is only in giving up what we know, and being willing to experiment with what we don’t know, that we are likely to find new directions. As Frances Moore Lappé says, “It is not possible to know what’s possible.”

For more information see www.smallplanet.org

How to Be a Woman

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On May 9, 2008 Steve Pavlina wrote a blog entry entitled, “How to Be a Man.” He issued the challenge for someone to write “How to Be a Woman”. This is my response to that challenge.

I am not going to tell anyone how to be a woman because I believe that we have inside us all the courage, strength and wisdom to decide for ourselves “How to Be a Woman.” I will share a few ideas I want other women to know.

I want women to know that we are whole and complete, strong and free just the way we are. We are first and foremost human beings with the body type we call female. I am the same person whether I am writing a philosophy paper, washing aviation gas out of my eye, or sitting on the bed crying because my milk won’t stop dripping. Whatever we think, feel or do is naturally female because we live in our female body.

I want women to know that our history is important. Not because we want to focus on injustice, not because it determines who we are or who we can be but because it has influenced the society and culture that shapes who we think we should be. For centuries we have been considered weaker, inferior, unable to control our lives and even immoral  because of our body type. Without an understanding of our history we have a tendency to blame ourselves for what we have been taught by others. Without understanding our history we may accept many limitations as the truth about who we are.

I want women to know that by accepting the stereotypes and labels of what is masculine and what is feminine we limit our individual creativity and potential. If male and female were inherently different in personality and ability, there would be no need for peer pressure to control gender. There would be no need to insist that women and men dress differently. There would be no need to teach girls to be feminine or to teach men to “honor the masculinity of other males.”

Consider this. The average height of males in the United States is 5’9.2″.  The average height of females is 5’3.8″.  But average is not the same as healthy or normal. There are perfectly healthy males who are 5’3″ tall and there are perfectly healthy females who are 6′ tall. There are women with coarse and difficult hair that looks “prettiest” cut short and men with long, soft, delicate hair that no amount of money can buy. Not average, but perfectly normal. Intellectual and psychological traits exist on the same kind of continuum.  We are all more unique as individuals than we are an average of our gender. It is destructive and limiting to an individual when we expect them to adhere to the average.

We have created the labels of masculine and feminine and interpret the world according to the way our beliefs say the genders are “supposed to be”.  When a three -year- old little girl is mixing bottles of perfume in the bath we say, “Oh look, she’s being such a girl.”  When a three- year -old little boy is mixing perfumes in the bath we say, “Oh look, he’s doing chemistry.” 

Even science tries to tell us that Girls Love Pink.  Not considering the fact that in the early 1900’s blue was for girls because blue was more delicate and dainty.

I want women to know that we can trust our bodies. I want women to know that breast- feeding is healthy, not obscene.  Our bodies know how to grow a baby, how to push it out into the world and how to nourish it.  When people discuss the differences between men and women, they like to talk about beliefs and feelings and abilities but not the real difference, our bodies, our biology.  Our bodies are different than men’s bodies. Sometimes that affects our experience and sometimes it doesn’t.

I want women to know that we can choose to have children or choose to not have children. Biologically, we are the ones who carry the next generation but we are not obligated to reproduce. There is no population shortage in the human race. Our lives are whole and complete whether we have babies or not.

I want women to know that before having children they need to consider whether they are willing to commit to raising those children alone. So many of us became single parents while thinking, “I never thought it could happen to me.”  Children need care whether you feel like it or not, whether you have money or not, whether you have found your life purpose or not. Read very carefully what Steve Pavlina says in his point #2 on “How to Be a Man.” There is a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  If you have children, create that village for yourself.

I want women to know that we make mistakes and we need not carry guilt for those mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves as well as others. We can learn from our mistakes. We can change our mind and do things differently. And we can change our mind again. That is growth.

I want women to know that we have the wisdom to discern when independence is needed and when cooperation is needed. If a woman is lifting weights at the gym we don’t say, “Here I can help you, it will be easier together,” but we know that many of life’s challenges are more easily overcome by working together.

I want women to know that we can trust our feelings. Our feelings show us where we are weak and where we are strong. They show us what we want to change and which direction we want to grow in. They show us who we are and what we love. The poet e.e. cummings (a man) said, “Almost anyone can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think, or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

I want women to know that it is normal to “be too much.” We are bombarded with advice for “Women Who Love Too Much” or “Women Who Think Too Much.”  We talk too much. We are too quiet. We are attached to our children too much; we pursue our careers too much or we love our shoes too much.  There will always be someone with an opinion that tells us to be different or smaller than we are.

I want women to know that we are stronger than we have been told we are. Our foremothers nurtured the human race through war, famine, disease, violence and abuse. Because of them we are still here today. We have that same strength.

I want women to know that when we take responsibility for our choices we have fewer regrets. We can weigh the costs and benefits and choose the best course of action. We can decide how much we will participate in social norms and how much we will defy them. We can forgive ourselves when we change our mind. We can learn and we can grow. We can try again. Do what you want. Do what you love, whether it’s feminine or masculine or whether no other human being has done it before. Whether our choices make our lives harder or easier, we know that we have done the best we could….and that is enough.

As a Little Child

Sunday, February 17, 2008

One day as I was doing some random surfing I came upon this blog entry by Hope:

Earlier this week, my seven year old was telling me why she sometimes has trouble falling asleep at night: “Sometimes I lay in my bed and just think about how amazing it is to be alive.”

How many adults have ever cited that as a reason for not sleeping?  Wouldn’t it be great if we were still that entranced with life as grownups?  I think most of us can remember a time around the age of six or seven when we were entranced by life.

A few weeks ago Dave Pollard wrote about the contrast between child and grownup:

When I was a child, I was wild.   Not in the sense of being unmanageable — I was quite attentive back then.  Wild in the sense of uncivilized, raw, open, unrepressed, natural.  I am told I was constantly taking my clothes off, not to show off but because I found them confining, unnatural, and saw nothing embarrassing about nudity.

I was fearless (I did a photoshoot as a baby, hamming it up for the camera, that appeared on the front page of the local newspaper), I was imaginative (too much so for my neighbourhood friends, who couldn’t follow the games I invented), affectionate (my favourite game as soon as I could walk was ‘kissing tag’, since most of the kids my age in the neighbourhood were girls).  Back then I struggled with communication (I didn’t learn to write reasonably well until my late teens, read little until then, and was nervous about singing (I was a pretty good boy soprano) and talking in crowds.

And then all the trappings of civilization came rushing in — the cruel games children play, the preference for cute, athletic, clever, well-coordinated friends (I got pretty gangly-looking as I aged, my voice broke so my singing teacher lost interest in me, and I was terribly coordinated — I couldn’t swim or dance and my penmanship was illegible. I began to acquire a lot of the fears, doubts and prejudices of the groups I desperately wanted to belong to, which were only made worse as my advances were rebuffed).  I became a loner, and not even a ‘smart’ one.

This is what we do to our children when we teach them to grow up!

As a young child I was already afraid and quiet.  Still, I had the expectation, somehow, that life was supposed to be wonderful.  I was sure that what I was experiencing was an aberration and that someday I would be free.

I live in Canada where our experiences of rain are usually chilly.  One hot summer day, when I was five or six years old, we had an incredible downpour and the farm pasture was covered in huge puddles.  As I ran through them with bare feet, one after another, they felt warm as bathwater.  Running barefoot through luscious puddles, with the bright sun shining – this was how life was supposed to be!

As we get older even the simple joy of bare feet is “civilized” out of us.  I was constantly warned of the dangers of walking to the mailbox or (gasp) to the corner store without shoes.  Responsible adults warned me that driving with bare feet was illegal.  [now, just think about this – how could it be less safe to drive with your feet directly touching the pedals, than trying to manoeuvre them with winter galoshes on?] And, for the record, it is not illegal anywhere in North America to drive without shoes.

I want to be like Hope’s seven year old again, lying in bed thinking about how amazing it is to be alive.  If success is measured by joy, we need to be careful about what advice we take to heart.  We need to keep our wildness, our courage, our imagination, our affection, our sense of wonder and our creativity. If we’ve given them up, we need to take them back.

It was a mind no less than that of Einstein who said, “Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”