Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Twisted fibers

Today I’ve been twisting fuzzy pieces of colored string together to make a fiber necklace. I twist and twist and, when I put them down, they untwist even though I’ve tied the ends. They simply unroll. So I talked with Lisa about spinning. She said that you have to spin the fiber one way but twist it a different way when you put several strands together. It’s not as easy as it might sound.

I figured out which way the individual strings were twisted and I put them all the same way. Then I twisted the strings together in the opposite direction. I did this for two sets. But, when I tried to put them together, somehow, I got one strand turned around and as I tried to entwine them, one would unravel while the other one got tighter. Now, mind you, I didn’t discover this until I had already taped and wired the ends together and tried to put on some decorative bits. Then I realized that the pieces simply didn’t cohere.

Twisting fibers together is like twisting life’s events to make a good day. We put a different spin on different things to make the day come out the way we want it to be. Sometimes the fibers come unraveled at the end of the day, and everything we’ve done seems for nothing. Sometimes the pieces just fit right.

As we learn more and more about how to fit the parts of our lives together, we find that the fibers stay put better. First you twist one strand to the right, and then you twist the other strand to the left – the balance holds it together. What a concept!! Now if I could just figure out which direction the strands are going, I’d be in good shape. Something in the friction, maybe, keeps them together.

Again, it’s the balance, the fitting together of parts so that they don’t slide apart. It’s what we do with our days and our lives. We try to find the pattern and make the various parts of the pattern fit together and stay together. Some unravel and come apart, and some don’t. We have good days and bad days. (Brilliant observance, huh?) But, it’s the friction or lack of friction that holds the pieces together or makes them slide apart. We have to reflect on the day and the days and fit the pieces together so that they make a whole. Sometimes we need more pieces than other times. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the pattern.

I wonder how this corresponds to chaos theory or wave/particle theory. Scientists, therapists, and all sorts of people are tying their ideas to some form of one or both of these theories. Mental health practitioners talk about neurons in the brain firing in seemingly unrelated patterns – chaos, but when enough of them fire at once some sort of pattern emerges. These patterns often conform to things in nature like ferns, leaves, and morph into waves. Then, they talk about the waves of thoughts and the waves of neuron firings that form complex thought and how any one single neuron firing can change the way a thought pattern goes.

I guess as we grow older these wave patterns are more likely to be disturbed as we lose some of our neuron power. And, mental illnesses can make the chaos theory fit better than the wave theory. Training different neurons to take over previous thought patterns or develop new ones is a key to making changes in one’s life, one’s thinking and one’s happiness. I wonder if the transition from this life to whatever comes next is a realignment of our neurons into a different pattern.

My writing is sort of like chaos theory. I start with just putting words on paper – whatever is in my mind at the time. Gradually, as I write, some pattern, some logic, some reasoning becomes evident, and a theme is possible. That’s when the editing begins. Hummm. Perhaps that’s what I forget in trying to twist the pieces of the day into some sane pattern. I forget the editing; I forget to look at things from a different angle. I forget to snip and paste and reformat things to make them fit better – to make better sense of what’s happened. That’s not changing the past but changing how one interprets the past in light of the bigger picture.

An artist can see both details and overall picture, and we need to do that when we reflect on our days or weeks or lives. We need to put the details into perspective with the larger framework of our lives. Therapy, 12-step work, and meditation all help do this.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stupid People

Perhaps I should stop reading blogs for a while. I continue to be amazed at the stupidity of people in positions of power. Our US politicians who utter notorious things while the microphones are still on or make statements that cause us to questions their ability to reason are just the tip of the iceberg.

People in Nottingham, England, are fussing about which way the graves face in the public cemetery. A bishop in Africa claims to “control” 70% of the world’s Anglicans. The Pope disses Islam’s founder by quoting an obscure secular text. And, GWB just keeps puttering along, leaving gaseous waste behind. People are clear-cutting older forests in order to keep their land from being protected environment for woodpeckers...ruining views for which people have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and causing untold environmental damage from rainwater run-off.

Someone once told me that the percentage of crazy people in the world had not increased; only the total number of people had increased. So, we see more crazies than before. But, that doesn’t mean that we should elect them to office or give them space in our newspapers. Of course, given freedom of speech, which I uphold dearly, they do have a right to speak or write their opinions. And, they can exercise their property rights. And, they can be called stupid. All without repercussion from the law.

I don’t tolerate stupidity very well. In the face of increasing stupidity, I leave my pacifist leanings behind to rely on my family’s favorite epithet: “I could just slap them cross-eyed.” Whatever was God thinking when he withheld reason from some of the population? And, who do they think made them God?

And, now our voting machines are computerized for the sake of quick counting and supposed accuracy. Only, these machines can be infected with a virus program that steals votes from one candidate and gives them to another – in a random enough way to prevent detection. Then, the virus erases itself and no one knows the difference. Never mind chads and stuffed ballot boxes and dead people voting. All we have to do is shift votes that are cast by valid voters.

I’m thinking of standing on a street corner with my sign, but I don’t know what it would say. I’d have to change it every hour to get through my list of gripes about stupid people, those nearby and those far away. However, researchers say that stress shortens one’s life, and I like living even with the kooks around. And, perhaps they would say that I am one.

I’ll keep voting, writing letters, making my opinions known and talking to those in power and hope that I am speaking truth to power – not stupidity to stupidity.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

how many years?

Life/God has a sense of humor. As we grow older and our connections with our pasts grow dimmer, we reach out to renew these bonds whenever we can. Our sense of identity seems to be tied up in other people – at least our memories are tied to other people.

I remember my first semester of college which began in January 1963. I moved from a permissive home environment to a very restricted dormitory experience with a roommate who had transferred from a girls’ school in New Orleans. She had red hair and went to sleep every night listening to a classical piece. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten it; I thought it would be etched into my memory because classical music was not something I’d experience much before that. We were very different, and I avoided my dorm room.

I took chemistry, English, and I’m not sure what else. We walked to classes, of course; the campus was small. The dean of students drove her 1938 Chrysler around the campus and gave us rides when it was raining. And, it was always raining.

I don’t even remember how I met her, my friend – tall, blonde, cowboy boots and a reversible blue plaid Pendleton cape with a hood. She walked with purpose, and I think I wanted some of that purpose because I was just a bit intimidated by my dorm mates who seemed very sophisticated. And, she lived in a dorm of snobs – the elite of the social clubs lived there almost as if it were a sorority house. Although she'd been a debutante, she wasn't.

We seemed inseparable. Walks downtown in the afternoons when we could leave campus. Sitting in the Goose, trying to play ping-pong upstairs. The cape became a symbol of our friendship. The only way you could tell who was under the cape was the height. I was short.

Rain, being lost, wondering what life was about, not meeting the expectations of our families. The renegades. We rode bicycles out to Propst Park and learned how to spin a top at the local donut shop.

Somewhere along there, I began to meet and date the boys from the Air Force base just 10 miles from town. The school didn’t like this much. They wanted us to date boys from Mississippi State University – the agricultural school that was 23 miles away. Buncha hicks and snobs, if you ask me. One date was all I could stand, and I don’t even remember his name.

Once I met this tall, lanky fellow who laughed a lot, and I told her she had to meet him. I think that’s about the time I began drinking more heavily; so I don’t remember much from then until the Dean of Students came looking for me when she was missing. And, I knew, they had eloped! Horror of horrors! This just wasn’t done. Bad news at the girls’ school.

Now it’s 42 years later. Tonight we reconnected by phone. What joy! She teased me as she always had, and I just poked the fun back at her. She and her husband have apparently had a good life; they still laughed a lot tonight, big laughs, full of love and transporting me over the years. They have children and grandchildren. I’ve had a good life, too, as filled with joys and sorrows as theirs. I suspect it would be easier to tell us apart now; if only we had that cape, we could pretend once again.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sickness sparks creativity

Okay, it’s been sick days since I found out how sick I was and three weeks that I’ve known something was a bit wrong, several months of knowing something wasn’t quite right. So, I’m taking all this stuff for respiratory infection, ear infection, sinus infection, that whole breathing apparatus. With the antibiotics, steriods, inhalers, sprays, and pills, I am still drawing air into and pushing it out of my lungs, but that hurts sometimes. I just want you to know that I don’t feel good and I’m tired of not feeling good, and I want to get out and do things. Even going to the grocery store would be good. A ride in the boat would be great and on the jet ski would be magnificent. There it sits, all ready for me. Where am I? Inside the house looking at the gorgeous water and the means to travel upon it without the energy to even get down to it – all 35 feet away.

However, I’ve been painting today with acrylics on paper. What began as a quilt/bedspread design has morphed into a combination of design and memory painting. Lisa took a picture of a moose at twilight and the overexposed and moving shot turned out beautifully colored shades of green, aqua, blue and a touch of brown where the moose was – but he was insignificant. I turned the picture sideways and began putting on a multi-colored medium pale wash in turquoise and blue shades.

Looked good. So, I thought I’d add pieces that could be quilted or appliqu├ęd, wavy strips of cobalt and cerulean and teal and dark green. Well, I was doing fine until some of my darker colors began to look like the humpback whales we saw two weeks ago. So I added a little white frothy stuff around them – two blobs of dark that began to look more like something in water instead of moose in trees.

Continuing to shift from quilt pattern with sharp lines to painting with softer color changes, I created a picture that is nothing like my concept when I began. It even has darker rocks that remind me of the shoreline along the fjords, and some fireweed and a pretty yellow triangle tree...all very subtly done, you understand.

But, it’s not a quilt pattern, and it’s too stark to be a really pleasant painting. So, I don’t know exactly what I’ve created. I do know that making such a quilt (and I dreamed it for the king size bed) would be a undertaking that would terminated by my moved to a nursing home or a cemetery. Of course, it would be gorgeous, and I’d love to try it, but what about my other dream projects.

Seems like the trip has sparked creative dreams. First the quilt came. Then, I dreamed a fiber necklace using the dyed porcupine quills, and I’ve almost figured out how to make what I saw in my dream. Next came the little purses with quills and beading and some crystals just to make them snappy. And, today’s nap-time dream was a mandala that depicted my strengths and major life events – sort of like the totem pole I dreamed on the ship after we’d been in Sitka.

Some of these things I dream, I have no idea how to create. With some of them, I know the techniques, but I’m not good at them. With others, the patterns and makings are just too complicated and take to long to hold my interest. And, some of them may come to fruition. I think I may go around taking more blurry pictures just to see what ideas they spark in my dreams.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Can't we?

We seem to have more heroes now than in the last few years – not just heroes in our own communities, but heroes in foreign countries, heroes in our nation. A novelist, who is also a dentist, in Egypt has developed a large following, and he is promoting peace and understanding. A Native Alaskan woman closes her shop during the busy tourist season to take someone to the doctor. The local churches collect enough food to feed the hungry from a food pantry and soup kitchen.

These sentences have a comforting feeling of continuance. Whatever the state of the world, medical care, good writing, and food will continue. But, I wonder if this sense of heroes and continuing life would be the same if the house next door to us had been bombed in a recent foray by people who thought they were different from us. What would my perception be if the KKK had burned a cross in my front yard or torched my church (which they probably wouldn’t do because most of them are members there)?

How secure would I feel about having so many windows to let in the sunshine if tanks rumbled along my road? The possessions I have would be immaterial in comparison with life. I would be concentrating on getting enough food to feed us, on purifying the water so we could drink, on locking doors and being afraid of visitors.

Being thankful for our safety and well-being is always in order, but sometimes we need to be reminded that others do not have the comfortable lives that we do. And, we can work towards their well-being one person at a time, one good deed at time, one letter written to those in power, one donation to feed the hungry. One by one, we can win. Or at least, I think we can. Can’t we?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Understanding through Discussion

D and I have been friends for more than 30 years. She is opinionated, passionate, vocal, involved, and analytical. I am opinionated (but on the other hand), painfully passionate, sometimes vocal, occasionally involved, and intuitive. Needless to say, our friendship has been interesting – sometimes up, sometimes paused, but always faithful. We’ve been geographically apart except for occasional visits and telephone conversations for many years, but the anxiety that rises from our discussions is strong. She makes me think. I’m not sure what I do for her, but she’s said these discussions are difficult.

Still, we discuss. Still, we present our ideas in our words and our experiences. Still, we misunderstand. Still, we ask for clarification. Still we wrestle with issues that concern our lives, the nation, the world.

We are both liberals, both gay, both Episcopalians, and so on. We love good books although we differ in what we call a good book. We generally agree on the most important aspects of life – love (essential), faithfulness (expected), peace (one person at a time, one country at a time, one life at a time), hope (necessary for life), food (love it), health (struggling), exercise (not), and a host of other things. She is like the sister I never had, and I deeply honor, love and respect her.

However, our not being able to explain our thoughts/feelings in words that really make sense to the other is sometimes frustrating, but always rewarding. I don’t understand how we can agree on so many things and still need so much clarification about what we write to one another. Sometimes I have to read her sentences several times before I even grasp what she’s talking about. And, I wonder, did I really say that – but she quotes from my emails – yes, I really said that. Well, what did I mean when I said that? Was it a reflective comment based on much thought or was it an idle simile that seemed appropriate at the time?

If D and I can agree on basics and more than basics but still have difficulty making our views known to one another, how much more difficult it must be for those on opposing sides of any issue to explain themselves to the others. Perhaps they don’t even agree on the words their side is using even if they agree on the principles.

What I do know is that such discussions are essential, and they must be honest, open and frank. The people involved must respect one another and trust each other to some degree. In diversity seminars, we focus on similarities in order to get people to work together and live together in peace. Sometimes, we should focus on the differences that cannot be resolved in hopes that understanding and tolerance will occur.

Let us not kill one another over the meaning of the Love of God.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

All Children of God

The bishops – liberal and conservative – met this week. They reached the same conclusion that we lay people reached earlier: unity is less important than principles. Although their statement reflected concern for each other; they found no way out of the conflict within the bounds of the Episcopal Church.

Dialogue is great; each side understands how much the others values mean and what they mean. Dialogue does not mean agreement nor resolution. Neither does time, which they recommend. Time does not heal all wounds. Time does not constrain people to agree. Although time does give us a pause to reflect.

George Dance, in writing about the 9/11 disaster, quoted psychologist Rollo May, in his book The Courage to Create: "Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight." Dance continued, “It is lamentable that we did not allow that pause to move us toward a new response. We experienced terror, but we also experienced an outpouring of good will from the entire world. The pause gave us a chance to choose which stimulus would determine our one response. We could choose to respond to the good will, or to the terror. Even in our response to terror, we could choose to reverence the good will extended to us, or to indulge our fearful impulse.”

I fear that both sides of this difference in the Episcopal Church have reacted with our “fearful response”, but both have continued to do the work of God in the world. That work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick and dying – that work – the work of loving our neighbors. Or at least, loving most of them. I doubt that any church has withdrawn its funds from AIDS care, but they have said that homosexuals are second class Christians – sinners who must change their way of life. Our fears will trump our good will eventually because the liberal and conservative bellows are both working to fan those flames of fear.

I’m for including everyone in God’s promises; I even believe that everyone will eventually be included in “heaven”, whatever that is. It’s not my problem to decide who will and who will not be included. My problem is how to love those who are not so loveable and to comfort those who are sick in body, mind or soul. In Psalm 130, the poet writes, “if you, O Lord, were to count sins, who could stand?” The face of God is face of each person on earth. Each has goodness and each has sin.

I do choose with whom I associate, but I pray each day for forgiveness for judging those that I leave out of my circle. It is easier to practice my beliefs and my ministry when I am surrounded by those like me. Oh yeah, I need challenging sometimes; I need the times of trial; and I pray that God will deliver me from evil.

When the church has divided itself into sections that agree with one another, when all the dialogue is said about this topic, when we settle into a new prayer book and hymnal, we will all be children of God just like we are now. We will have sinned; we will have done good. We will have favored some and alienated others. We will be humans seeking to become more like the God we know.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Images as comfort

The images of blue ice, waterfalls, black mountainsides, bear chasing bear, whale flukes, faraway peaks covered in snow, friendly people, tall green trees, a pack of wolves lounging beside the fjord – they all run together, and I no longer remember where each scene was placed in that distant land of Alaska. Twelve wonderful days of sights unlike any except my few glimpses of the Rockies have made me blurringly tired.

The Episcopal Church is still sparring within itself and with others in the Anglican Communion. The war in Iraq seems no nearer resolution than before. Disasters are happening all over the globe. Individuals are still dying from diseases that may one day have cures.

But, for twelve days, I was blissfully unaware of any of this. I found moments of solitude in the midst of awesome beauty and gave thanks for the respite. For twelve days I focused on the good, the beauty, the wonder of a different world than the Southern USA. I ignored the racism and elitism and – what’s the word for economic bias?- and other such human heresies.

The sense of renewal is great. Once I recover from the exhaustion of so much greatness in such few days, I know that I will feel energized and ready to step forth into the world. For now, I am letting the images, the feelings and the hopes swirl inside me mixing into a giant cup of cocoa that will help me to bring warmth and love and hope to a hurting world.

One day in a bead shop in Fairbanks, I met Ann, a Native Alaskan woman, as well as her sister, her mother and her grandmother. We chatted about porcupine needles and how to use them in beading; I helped pick beads up from the floor where they spilled, we compared different stringing materials. Then Ann looked at the clock and said she had to go pick someone up. Before she left, she came to me and hugged me. Suddenly, I felt as if I had been anointed with precious oil and been blessed by God. For a few silent seconds, we were one. Then she was gone and I was paying for my quills and beads. Later that day at the gift shop near the pipeline, I told this story to the woman working there without mentioning a name. She said, “Oh yes, Ann is our “official” unofficial social service. She helps everyone; she is a healer.” I still get chills and warmth when I think of that hug and blessing.

Some days later in Skagway, I met a man who had been reared on a farm in Ketchikan and had raised his family in the Yukon. That day, he had brought his entire family, including grown grandchildren, to Skagway to shop and enjoy the sunshine. He was trying to get the Yukon old timers to write down or record their memories of what it was like. He said, “The world is changing, and they need to put down what they know.” He was building a website to highlight that history of the Yukon. I petted his Shitzu and we hugged on that street corner.

Meeting God in nature and in people is important in our lives. Making memories to carry us through the hard times is important. At night when my legs hurt, I replay the bead store story and the Yukon story – forgetting the pain for a few minutes and letting the connection with two people so far away help me make it through the night.