Where We Live

The past is a well deep, full-bodied and well-aged hope. Just a single sip, sweet and cool, can quench the thirst of an arid and errant present. It’s tempting to drink away the life I have in favor of one already done. After all, I know how it all turns out but that’s not why I visit.

The past is a draft deep enough to launch hope full-sail, an acceptance of what is done is done and cannot be changed– at the helm am I, confident in the knowledge that it cannot. If there is value in the past, and I think there is, it is to immerse myself in the thought of then–remembering who I was–without judgment and with the benefit of who I am now.

After all, I am only visiting the past, not staying. I have no intention of repeating it. In acceptance, I study what happened, turn it inside out, peel back every layer of the why and how. How else to learn from being alive? Experience primes the pump.

There are times I am tempted to stay, like these days in a world growing dark with fear but my well would soon run dry without me living in the day to day. To drink of the past is sobering, no matter how refreshing its waters, but it’s not where I live.

Acceptance exposes all lies, opening my eyes to life as it is, especially when it isn’t the life I would have. Acceptance frees fear and without it, I can do a lot, even as one person. Living without fear is to live with equanimity, it knows no bounds, but that takes courage. Finding it may be the hope of the present.

The world seems drunk on fear. Increasingly, it is a globe of nation-states (large and small), each devoted to its own brand of isolationism, every day another hill to die on. It is as if the world has lost its past with its walls for the white, the straight, the binary. Everyone else, excluded.

Nationalism has never served our species other than to take us back to the cave, guard our fires fiercely, and stay drunk on stories inflated with glory that cannot stand the light of day. Without acceptance of who we have been, the past is a well too deep. To sip of hope is not for the faint of heart.

Sexuality and the color of skin are the story of humanity, a well of experience that never goes dry because it is never revisited for its failure because of what might be found: another way to live. Not one way for everyone but for everyone a way. Accepting who we are as we are.

Until now, there was enough time and space to accommodate world wars, nuclear bombs, and xenophobia but our lust for more has eliminated resource after resource. Rain forests have been generous for millennia but we have not been grateful.

We are at the end of thousands of years of history, on the precipice of deciding who will sip from precious waters and breathe air not yet too thin. There is no cave left in which to hide.

It’s tough, beginning at the end, having squandered all we once had and tougher still accepting what we have done but we are not without hope, and we can live without fear if we live without walls and with boundaries. I wonder how many generations will have the opportunity to try.

Endings are beginnings. There is a true fondness for that idea among us. It has a clean slate feel to it, but slate scraping will not take us to the core of who we are, a deeply flawed species. Best to begin as we are, ragged and rough, without lofty ideals, alive in our pain, but with succor from where all beginnings flow, our past.

I have spent time in caves sitting round false fires–too many years those– nothing I can do but accept every moment of them and not return. There is no life in firelight, its glow becomes all, only with the rising sun does light blind, like truth.*

Our planet can do very well without us but for now, it is where we live. May we be generous.

*My recent post, “Fascism, a False Twilight,” explores Albert Camus’ idea of light blinding like truth. The post seems a prequel to this one. 

The Cable Guy Meets Old

It might not have happened if the recycle dumpster had not been overflowing is what I initially told myself. But that day with the cable guy had nothing to do with the dumpster. No proverbial straw stuff. No stacking of excuses.

There are thunderheads darkening the patch of sky over my apartment complex. Everywhere and with just about everyone there is talk of moving, wanting to leave but where to go?

At 67 that’s a completely different decision than it was at 57, when I came to this wooded area of loblolly pine, live oak draped in Spanish moss, the fragrant magnolia among lilacs and dewberries. For my neighbors in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, moving is wishful thinking if they are honest and if not, well, magical then. We moved here to stay.

Two years ago, on-site management changed in this 55+ community of four apartment buildings. It’s affordable housing, allowing the corporation a tax credit, so HUD housing but not section 8. There are more differences than you would think and how it matters to some.

This is a first-time manager job for the director and her leasing agent. It’s been tough on them. They are in the prime of their personal and business lives but the residents are not business as usual. They want more than that.

The only way to know old is to be it. This is not a warning just a fact. There is no way to plan for it, which is true of any time in life, really. The fortunate get to know old, the last act, in which awareness abounds and that can be a harsh light.

Change never ages for life is impermanent, always requiring more of us, it seems, but change does not come empty handed. It offers us a different life lens, leaving the adjustment to us. These thunderheads dissipate in their own time.

Many residents have lived here since the complex opened some 15 years ago when the Internet was not quite the lifeline it is now. For many the Internet is an unwanted complexity making their flip phones obsolete. Now, it’s invaded their TV as well–management dropped the package it offered for $45 a month.

The director made the announcement without offering any information about choices residents might have, including programming or who to contact at the cable company. With unwitting transparency, the managers posted a public notice, admitting they didn’t know anything.

Then, residents were informed the cable company needed access to each apartment, whether or not residents wanted the service. New cable was strung for each apartment. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal but many of these apartments are ceiling to floor furniture, wall-to-wall.

My neighbor’s furniture is oak bookcases, bedroom dresser and chest of drawers with full mirror, two rolldown desks, and a magnificent painting of an eastern European forest in winter, stark, the length and breadth of the wall. These six and nine hundred square foot apartments hold what is left of a lifetime. That is not without its weight.

At the only meet, greet, and subscribe meeting with the cable company, residents were assured that if they signed up that day, they could avoid a $70-dollar technician fee. Maybe it was true or was a good intention gone awry, but the previous cable installation had not gone well (it was all but impossible to tell which cable belonged to each apartment), and a technician was required. It was that or no TV.

I am not a cable subscriber so it’s not my circus but it is my neighbors’. Still, I had my moment with the cable guy (I could tell that story here and almost did) but like the dumpster, it’s not the issue. Both the cable guy and I have had better moments. This time I was correct but the next time, it’ll be the cable guy. It’s not about correctness. It’s how we make each other feel, and it wasn’t good.

He started to mansplain, and I stopped him in his tracks. He was surprised, and I was not gracious. He tried to laugh when I described the furniture but I could see he was beginning to understand that people here did not move “every 2 to 3 years” as he had begun to explain. The sign outside our complex reads that we all “live happily ever after.” We don’t, of course, but we are no longer in search of that, either.

Two days later, I saw the cable guy outside my window, exhausted, sweat running down both sides of his face. His counterpart was in my apartment with a walkie-talkie, trying to figure out which cable to label. In frustration, they guessed. I am not a subscriber but by the time I leave, who knows what the technology will be.

Certain springs, owls come to mate and then leave, occasionally red-tailed hawks spend spring, too, but year-round there are the cardinals, resplendent red males and brown velvet females who let them pretend.

This year, more kits became rabbits, it seems, or they just feel better about staying around. The fireflies are fewer (I have to watch for them) as are the swallowtail butterflies but they still come. All this I watch from the window of my six hundred square foot, one-bedroom apartment.

There are many reasons to move but mine offers a window with a view and there are so few places left that do.

 

One with the Wood

Morning mantra…I don’t remember the day it started, years ago certainly, but its why is another matter. I wanted a way to define being in the moment for if I could confine it, then I could experience it. Ha!

I lost the control and kept the mantra, which doesn’t hold back: mine is to meet each moment with compassion, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity, which is not to say I do. I’m not setting goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just waking to some days is easier than others. To meet what happens after that and look to the heart and not only the face is never easy. Feelings may not be facts but they are powerful for at their core is pure energy.

Mindfulness–awareness like no other–helps me open that daily door, which is sometimes to a forest, rare and rich. Every day is a stroll, indoors or out, but a forest floor with sun shadows is stuff for my memory banks.

It is summertime in the Florida panhandle (although the calendar considers it spring), the humidity almost as high as the 90°+ temperatures, some of my best days for my body.

My walking stick is wood, a live branch now fallen, stripped of bark and varnished clear, its knots remembered. I have added black rubber tips to its top and bottom, one to ground and one to grip, for ease of grasp.

My left side is weaker, so much so my left hand cannot hold the stick with any certainty but my right hand, used to leading, finds the walking stick a useful prop. Sometimes, balance looks lopsided.

I waddle and wobble, a slow stagger sometimes, but an evenness of mind and body down a forest path on a late spring morning just after sunrise is–to me–all that and lots of birdsong.

This greenway is 50 acres of forest and meadow with 12 miles of dusty sand trail but to me it is boundless, yet forests have their limits these days and are now carefully tended not to exceed. What is done is done.

I walk until I tire, reaching a picnic table made of concrete, its bench table tops painted brown for natural reasons I suppose. Still, I am grateful for such tables, as well benches, for there are days I stop briefly at each one but today, it is the second picnic table where I will stay.

Not far along, I know, but in the forest, distance ceases to matter, like time. It’s forgotten. To neither, the forest bends. Rather, it gives its all.

Regular readers of this blog may recognize the above picture of a magnificent live oak split down the middle by lightning some six or seven years ago, not even nanoseconds in its life. See how its heart has sprouted so many new lives.

In the distance, in stark contrast, stands another oak, a sentinel stripped of its bark, possibly by lightning but by life, nonetheless. At the tip of one of its limbs, I notice movement, the shape of a turkey vulture when its head switches to profile, but mostly it is one with the wood.

In awe, I watch as all else disappears.

Not even the heart of the magnificent tree, with all its new lives distracts from being one with the wood. No sound nor single thought or emotion, only nothing consumes mind and body. I am neither on the ground or in the air, only nowhere.

In some moment I return to being a human alive with the energy that animates everything rather than being one with it. Such moments never repeat, not in the same way or same place, and in some moment I became comfortable with that, just meeting the moment I am in, grateful for a day as a human being.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” (Gordon Hempton, Ecologist).

Staying in the Game

There is no one oasis where we all gather, no single body of experience from which we drink. Never was, not really, but when life relied more on print than bandwidth, our oasis seemed not a mirage but a canon of stuff.

Since Gutenberg, we shared life in print; the twentieth century added broadcasting, both audio and visual. The Internet is all that and so much more–24/7 access to change. We’re offered what we want before we even think of it.

Thirty years ago, I would have said, “That’s not for me. I refuse to participate.” I can see me waving a Waterman fountain pen for emphasis. I believed in the canon of the writing process, another would-be oasis.

I was wrong, not only about me but so much more.

I bought into the Internet from the get-go, especially all the devices. As a writer, the word processor was my best friend and early on I was fascinated by systems development and still am.

Today, I’m a gamer, beyond the scrabble-like Words With Friends, which I play daily but not yet Xbox. The gaming world is another gateway into the diversity of imagination; I play for story, solving a mystery or revisiting Greek/Norse myths. Also, a bit of archaeology.

These are genre games, essentially, in which I play the protagonist in a story written by someone else. I become a player. Often, it’s not hard to figure out “whodunit” or how the story ends but the path is not always obvious and unless I focus, I lose my way.

Sometimes, I think could write a better game but that’s not the point. It’s not my story, I’m just a participant. I take myself out of me and become a detective, working through clues. That’s why I’m there.

I discovered these games as a way to make something more of my time when I am too ill to write but find myself straying from the medium of film or audiobook, needing to engage with life as character, until I can enter my own writing again.

Gaming is looking through another lens in the process.

I am completely immersed in the way of another writer (and developer). The game will not proceed unless I work within their rules and complete the tasks to clear the story path. More hands-on than reading or writing but be it film, audiobook, or game, the adventure returns me to my own writing eventually.

William Stafford wrote: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

It’s finding ways to stay in the game. Would I have been a gamer if I was not a writer? Writing has been with me for most of my life, not always for publication but I am an author, too. Writing has always clarified my thinking and for the last 30 years, a constant companion.

Now, because the physical act of writing is as demanding, if not more so, than the mental act, I have to find other ways. Gaming opens that door for me. To be in someone else’s story, having to solve puzzles and find tools to reveal clues, is to look through another writing lens in a most intimate way.

Gaming plays a real part in my writing process, and that always makes me smile. It is the structure that stays with me. The really fine games can be played at different levels so for me, one game is good for months. It reminds me of my own revision process. 😉

While I play, my own stories “percolate,” as I rearrange scenes in my novel or concepts for blog posts. Mostly, there is energy in resting one part of the process while still working. It keeps me in the game.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

 

Live With It

If there is no solution, then it’s not a problem. It’s a regrettable situation. It’s a boundary condition. It’s something you’ll need to live with. Seth Godin

Live with it? For how long? It feels empty when I have debunked a problem as a boundary condition.

Mine is a love-hate relationship with boundaries. My boundaries are sacrosanct and everybody else’s, not so much. That’s the history of humanity, battles about boundaries, most of which were never problems but  regrettable situations.

I have a framed poster of the Little Big Horn Battlefield hanging in the entryway of my apartment. It’s hard to miss. Those who have noticed might wonder why but no one says anything.

It’s a view of a lone, white granite, military marker shadowed in golden grasses. Distant mountains purple under the haze of an azure sky. A Montana native, many times I walked the ground where a yellow-haired white man made a stand.

In my years as a middle manager for the state of Florida, I preferred the grasses of the Little Big Horn poster to the parking lot view from my corner office window. It is hard to see the horizon in Tallahassee, land of longleaf pine and live oak but it took me years to see the forest.

I believed everything was “figure-out-able.” What was not working would–no matter what–a solution was available, if I just looked long enough. And search I did but not always with distinction, regrettably. Years later, boundary conditions are not so hard to recognize.

It’s always a choice, live mindfully or stir the pot. One is so much easier on the heart–and head–the choice is ever obvious if not easy. Equanimity helps. No, seriously, it does.

Staying curious opens me to the world as it is, such as it is, knowing I won’t figure it out, and that’s okay. Nothing stays forever, boundary conditions or the real problems of the world, for which there are too few solutions. It’s just easier to get pulled into boundary conditions, the minutia of existence. That is figure-out-able.

KMHuberImage; writingI really need just one boundary condition: compassion, delivered firm and kind. I cannot think of one situation existing outside that boundary. It is a response for all occasions and sometimes, silence is the best wall of all.

My life is less the Little Big Horn battle than it was 30 years ago, and I have a Virginia Woolf poster that would fit its frame nicely. She, the woman of the transcendent sentence in a room of her own.

I can live with that.

All Right Will Never Be the Same

My primary care physician and I are having our usual conversation when she says, “If you didn’t do what you are doing, you would not be living on your own. Others would be caring for you.”

“Thank you” is all I manage to reply. There are so many facets to what she said. Later, I tell a friend who responds, “that’s so powerful.” It is indeed.

My mind’s memory reels spin, searching for July 2015, days before the surgery to decompress my spinal cord and prevent quadriplegia–this time. I’m told to stay at home and “whatever I do, don’t fall.” So, I don’t.

My stagger resembles a drunken Frankenstein’s monster and more than once, my scrambled eggs end up on the floor, as signals short-circuit. My limbs are less and less.

I meditate a lot and dream, vividly.

I am in a surgery where all the instruments, table, and equipment are white light in a brown paneled room. Dressed in a hospital gown I sit on the surgery table, legs dangling over the side. I’m not alone.

 Maurya sits next to me, also dressed in a hospital gown, legs dangling over the side. We talk about the surgery, as if she were still alive but she is not so our conversation is the sense of speech.

 “But I will make it through, right?” I remember repeating the question as she leaves, taking some of the answer with her but not all. I will go through stuff, maybe a lot, and I will be all right, but all right will never be the same.

And it hasn’t been, knowing there is no recovering only progressing, and no one, even in dreams, knows what that may mean for spinal cord and autoimmune disease.

I “do” not waste days wondering or analyzing dreams. I immerse myself in the life I have, and the more present I am the larger my world. My days are never long enough for all I want to do.

Mindfulness is not a placebo; it is awareness, raw and unfiltered. Finding the worthwhile in the seemingly worthless, like Leonard Cohen’s cracks that let in the light, imperfect in an impermanent life, one experience after another. It’s in the unexpected that I find out who I am.

This latest round of medical visits began with my driving to Georgia with a tampon up my nose. Who knew that was a thing? This is my kind of unexpected–almost expected, now.

Every three months, I see my rheumatologist and this last Tuesday, just as I was getting ready to leave, my nose began to bleed. These nosebleeds are now chronic, a side effect of Sjogren’s syndrome.

Immediately, I pinch the bridge of my nose, deciding whether I need a light(L), regular(R), or super(S). I don’t want to change tampons while I am on the road so I settle for an R. I close the red door of my apartment, turn the key in its lock, and walk to my car.

My drive takes me through Buffy St. Marie’s “Tall Trees in Georgia,” long leaf pines, sprawling live oaks, and in spring, wildflowers in the median. In winter, a steel green blanket.

By the time I reach the Macintosh Clinic, my nosebleed has stopped. The two-story, red brick building with white pillars once had another life and usually I stop to admire its architecture but on this day I’m grateful not to walk into the clinic with a tampon up my nose, although I was perfectly fine driving through 8:00 a.m. traffic.

When I tell the nurse about the nosebleed she asks, “When you were at the light, did you turn and look at people like this?” And her brown ponytail swirls from side to side as she gives me her best tampon-up-the-nose look. “I would! I’d find a cop and look straight at him!”

It is only recently I have come to know that tampons up the nose are an actual thing, medically. And on this day, I discover that my rheumatologist (and later) my primary care physician believe staring is the preferred behavior when wearing.

I tell my 90-year-old neighbor, Grace, and she, too, wants to know if I turned and looked at people. I get it, I really get it. I’m almost looking forward to the next time, for there will be one when I least expect it.

And all will be all right and all right will never be the same.

The Undertow of Thought

When I started meditating, nothingness was my goal. I wanted to sit in the peace of living, determined to eliminate my every thought for at least one hour every morning. Upside down and inside out thinking, of course, and utterly impossible.

Big thoughts announce themselves by snatching up space as if it only exists for them. They don’t stay long, for they require too much attention. It’s the undertow of thought, subtle and inviting, that is a constant thief. *

And what it steals in meditation, it steals in life. I miss my life when I wander with the thief, creating scenarios for existence elsewhere. In other words, nowhere.

Meditation does not jail the thief for like the undertow, it will not be defeated by brute stubbornness. Awareness is sufficient. It does not take more than that, which is not to say that mindfulness is not without effort. It’s just that it’s worth it. It’s the real deal, not a scenario.

Authenticity does not abide thieves selling snake oil, the positive thinking of nary a cloud in the sky no matter the storm raging. Mindfulness delivers life as it is and stays the would-be thieves of rose-colored glasses.

There is nothing quite like that first clear-eyed view of acceptance. Nothing. Equanimity seems not the stretch it once was. Regard for the undertow reveals more of life not less.

And nowhere in my life has that been truer than in adjusting to the various levels of chronic illness. Disease is a robber only if viewed through a lens of loss. There is no shortage of lenses in life; there is one for every moment.

It’s a matter of looking at what I have rather than what I don’t. It is how I stand in my truth, my power.

This does not happen without a bit of mental wandering with the undertow but there is a magnet to mindfulness, a groove of practice. The less that I am physically, the more I am mentally. Less function equals mindfulness magnified, more prowess with the would-be thief.

Mine is the life that many fear is inevitable in aging. Nothing is inevitable. It’s about choices. I haven’t always lived mindfully. It only matters that I do now, swimming with rather than against the undertow.

An hour’s meditation alerts me to my body’s strongest signals, setting the agenda for the day. A body in stillness is my way of stripping the drama from pain and listening to its signal, going to its core. So often, I would rather steal away but going nowhere is always a disappointment.

Both physically and mentally, I have places to be–the kitchen, the shopping, and the writing, which is increasingly tedious. My fingers cannot seem to select the correct key the first time but readily (and constantly) my hand palm finds the space bar or even caps lock.

No matter the type of voice recognition software, my word structure exasperates, especially if I consider the poetic or commit the greater sin of passive voice. There is constant correction on my screen of words trying to become sentences.

Some days, I persist just because I can but my mind tires of the stop-and-go writing and finally forgets what it was trying to say. My hands stay asleep, tingling.

I’ve had to recognize and actually appreciate that it takes me two to three times longer to write an initial draft, some days more than that. It’s a lot of additional hours.

Clear-eyed acceptance is not an easy lens but it offers options. Real ones. Should I struggle with the undertow, I am only out to sea, aimless. Best to be in the life I have, as it is, exhausted and frustrated, but not so far from equanimity.