Every Time He Shakes His Tail

I was in my late 30s, finishing my Master of Arts thesis, when I finally understood writing as a process.

Admittedly, it sounds silly but in 1986, the “how-to” of writing was threatening an academic tradition once thought unassailable, at least in the English department at a small university in the Rocky Mountains.

It was the invincibility of that tradition that drew me to academia and it would usher me out. We would both find out of what we were made. Different stuff.

For the first time in my life I was consumed by my work, in complete awe of writing. It was alive, no longer an academic exercise in research. And for that matter, neither was I.

My thesis advisor, Jeanne, was having none of “my new process” and rejected the initial draft of my thesis after reading the first two pages. No matter what I said, she would not read more.

Jeanne was a friend, ever patient with my enthusiasm, but her life was the academic tradition. She railed against the canon of “white male fact” and was integral in establishing a women’s studies program but she knew her parameters.

So, stalemate.

In response, I drank my way to sobriety and an eventual decision. It seemed I was fine with not graduating. Writing was what mattered and that has never changed.

But no story ends without a twist or two, if we are true in the telling. We cannot be part of a tradition and simply pull away without consequence for others or ourselves.

So it was that my hands were in dishwater when the telephone call came.

“It’s Jeanne,” my then partner said, stretching her arm toward me, cordless white phone in hand.

“No.”

“She just wants to talk to you.”

I shook my head and looked down at my hands in the dishwater, a master’s graduation ring on my fourth finger, left-hand, gold in suds. My mom had it sent to me. She was coming for graduation. I would not cheat her out of this degree ceremony as I had for my bachelor’s.

Other than my partner, few outside my academic life knew about the thesis stalemate or a tangential twist, my formal charge of sexism and breach of protocol against a tenured professor.

It began with a question, as these things often do. The graduate level course was American literature, 1930s-40s, and I asked why there were no women writers included. The professor told me there were no major women writers. His words reverberated throughout the department.

His breach of protocol was reading the student evaluations before submitting his final grades. The professor all but grabbed them out of the office secretary’s hand, saying he knew “they would be good.”

I was the only graduate student to challenge him in class and in my written evaluation of his course. Accordingly, I was the only one to receive a B, everyone else an A. It is the only B on my graduate school transcript.

Confident in his tenure, the professor never denied any of the charges and a committee of his peers ruled against me, which proved to be the catalyst for a department showdown.

A number of professors threatened to bring my complaint before the entire department for a vote:  to overturn my grade (copies of my coursework were made available); to end the exclusion of women writers from all courses;  to censure the professor for breaching University protocol regarding student evaluations.

The vote never happened.

The head of the department removed that course from the professor’s teaching roster. He never taught in his area of emphasis again. The student evaluation procedure was completely revamped and finally, there was a review of department courses, something many members had been fighting for, including Jeanne.

My grade remained a B.

“You can appeal this decision, of course,” the department chair told me. Very carefully, he explained the process.

I nodded, hoping my tears would not spill over. Some part of me knew my grade was no longer the point, although it had been the initial pain.

“What you need to remember is that whenever he shakes his tail, this issue will make itself known for years to come.”

And it did for the rest of the professor’s life or so I am told.

Jeanne was not among the professors who outwardly supported me but for all of us there is more than one bridge too far in life. At least that has been true for me.

Of course, those were not my thoughts as I stood at the sink with my hands immersed in what was left of the soapsuds. Mostly, I thought about the many differences between my mother and me, specifically that 1986 MA class ring.

I took the phone call from Jeanne.

I did not really “defend” my thesis but ours was a lively discussion regarding writing and women. Some 25 years later, a thesis committee member told me there was some concern about my not defending the thesis.

KMHuberImage; oneness; St. Mark's Refuge FL

Jeanne knew I would travel a road not hers but she sent me with love (and a degree) nonetheless. As firmly, she stood in her truth, too, a world of the Venerable Bede, tawny port, and women finding their own way.

In the year of Jeanne’s death, she asked me to teach a session of her graduate-level women’s studies course, the one that gave me the idea for my thesis. It remains one of the greatest honors of my life.

The last time I sat with Jeanne was in the dark hours of a Wyoming winter morning, selecting the music for her funeral, her singing “this little light of mine.” She thought it a good choice.

Me, too.

I have now lived longer than the lifespan that was Jeanne’s. I cannot imagine her in the time of Trump. She thought the 80s impossible, “the me generation.”

Not surprisingly, that last year of graduate school was on my mind as I listened to Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony. Like so many other women I knew how it would end but I also kept hearing, “every time he shakes his tail.”

That, I know to be true.

The Peace in Thinking Bigger

Who is not looking to live with peace of mind, to rest in the reality of every day, to frustrate the frenzy in favor of calm. No one wants to ride the roller coaster forever. It’s exhausting.

My way is Zen, which provides perspective but not escape. I don’t get to detach from the chaos–create an echo chamber–mine is to sit in the middle of life, to “think bigger” as Pema Chödrön says.

It is more than sitting in meditation or feeling the prana of yoga. Those are powerful, pristine moments, truly a touch of peace, but like Heraclitus’ river, each experience is its own. No do overs.

Yet in the experience is the yen to return.

Some days I sit on its banks, having finally found my way around a horseshoe bend or oxbow but it is to the river I return, always at peace, a place to think bigger.

Where I accept that all of life is an experience. I trust it. And each time I drink in these waters, I am slowed, as if in the sip I experience life to no exclusion.

Every time I go off on another meander, yet another promising tangent, the river does not slow for me but trusts my return. Of course, the river is endless but my experiences are limited to one life.

I begin at the river, mind and body balanced, but soon one is ignored in favor of the other, leaving me vulnerable and impatient, probably defensive, which is what I bring to the world.

If I am not feeling equanimity, I’m not giving it. No amount of positive thinking/action will make it so. If I promise what I am not certain, offer words people want but I doubt, the river will wash out those bridges.

I am back where I began. My mind pulls up similar events and while memory is not 100% reliable, I am reminded I do not step in the same river twice–not ever–no matter how similar the results.

I add to my experience bank as I sit at river’s side, purposefully not moving, to still the body’s sensations, even the ever-present numbness/tingling in my hands. They who never quite wake appreciate the stillness of meeting the dawn as an act of breath.

It is a recent revelation for me, having my body still my mind rather than the other way around. It is not that I didn’t know, it is that I did not do. My mind is more cooperative because it doesn’t have to fight for its turn. No more meandering…well…less trying to step in the same river twice.

We are living impermanence on a grand scale, and it is not always what we would choose, but the river is not selective in its offering. How we accept experience defines us. Do we meet the dawn or run the meander only to return where we began?

 The main question is, are we living in a way

that adds further aggression and self-centeredness

to the mix, or are we adding some much-needed sanity?

Pema Chödrön, Taking the Leap:

Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fear, page 2

Are we thinking bigger?

 

Are We Americans?

I write about change, which I do not find easy nor do most. We resist before we act, hoping not to have to change our lives. It always means some kind of loss but the longer we avert our eyes, the greater the effect.

Many other sentient beings are dying off (or being killed outright), unable to adapt to our immense presence. We are creating our own date stamp. That’s the global effect.

In America, it is our constitutional republic under siege. We are quite fond of that term, as if we understood its layers of complexity, its nature, by attaching to a label.

Currently, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. One of the characters remarks that America is the only country that is in constant search of its identity. Who or what is America?

It is an ongoing question, and that’s a good thing. A constitutional republic is vibrant as long as its citizens are vigilant. We cannot look away, although we have.

If you have read any Hamilton, Madison, or The Federalist Papers you know whereof I speak. Lots of questions about this new republic and for what it might stand. And there are years of writing, beyond the 18thcentury, about what a remarkable experiment we are.

History reveals some really cool stuff about being American. It’s some of my favorite writing. We can be and have been something good, not exceptional but good. It’s just that we have averted our eyes, and without vigilance, freedom dies.

In less than 250 years this great experiment in democracy is in shreds. Without one country, indivisible, there is no republic. We need to take a knee in defiance to the one who would rule us all, if for no other reason than to defy decree in democracy.

There are no saviors on the horizon. That is fantasy. We can no longer merely man the lighthouses. We are the saviors we seek, such as we are. It gives us pause but we know it is ours to do.

There have been and still are remarkable human beings whose lights are brilliant and whose hearts are so compassionate that all of humanity benefits. These beings have always walked this earth and that they still do is a tribute to the human spirit.

We have many in America, right now, but they are not faces we readily recognize. Too often, we avert our eyes still. Old habits, ours, are dying very hard. We are at our tipping point.

There is “nothing more exhilarating than saving yourself by the simple act of waking” (Junot Díaz). Fine words but what to do? We do know. Awareness is basic to human nature.

It’s not difficult to discern the right thing to do. It means do no harm, and in response, our hearts open in ways that amaze us. And before our eyes the world is different because we are. It’s the little stuff, every day, that changes the world. It always has.

We want swift change, with a certain outcome, but that is the wand the illusionist waves, diverting our attention from what we are, a constitutional republic, a unique experiment with layers of checks and balances. The web we weave is catching he who practices to deceive.

No trick lasts for any illusionist, demagogue, or oligarch. That is the story of human history. Life bends back around, like a boomerang, in ways beyond hope. Every. Single. Time.

We cannot be caught wanting. The simple act of waking, being aware, means taking a stand, accepting that it comes at a cost. We take ourselves out of our wants and act for the need of all. Every. Single. Day.

That’s the compassionate response and its ripple effects form the future. Our way of life as a constitutional republic is revolutionary and always has been. That is America. Are we Americans?

 

 

One Storm at a Time

These past two weeks have been a bit of a hurricane for me, a storm within a storm but today’s post focuses on Hurricane Irma.  She took her time crossing Florida and many parts of the state are devastated and without power.

At times Tallahassee was in Irma’s path but she turned northeast, not before disrupting the city–enough to be under curfew for a couple of days.

Floridians know the hurricane season is far from over.

It may seem quite odd that I turn to the trees during storms but I do. Today’s post, I Talk to Trees, is about just that, specifically the small woods outside my window.

I offer a swinging bench to sit for a bit to read the full post on Aim for Even.

Wherever you are, be safe. There’s only one of you, only one. ❤

 

 

No Ground Beneath My Feet

I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.

When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.

This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.

I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”

We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.

I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.

Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.

There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.

It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.

Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.

And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.

It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.

I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.

Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.

Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.

As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.

I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.

Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.

Sitting Silence

In times of loss, I have always gone silent. To me, silence has always been a response but it is only in these later years that I learned to sit silence as a response to loss.  watching 0314

Certainly, silence has been my only response on this blog for well over three months. Almost daily, I posted on Aim for Even. There was the interruption from hurricane Hermine, and there was the first of two hip replacement surgeries.

The surgery went extraordinarily well but the patient lost a way of life, totally unexpected. Loss is often evident to everyone around us before we meet it face-to-face.

And so it was for me with feline EmmaRose. She appeared frequently on this blog, and while she lives still, she lives elsewhere.

My hospital stay revealed that I was no longer able to care for EmmaRose even beyond my recovery from hip replacement surgery. More and more, autoimmune disease dictates what is possible for me. In this case, accompanying anemia keeps my energy level quite low.

This partnership of autoimmune disease and anemia has been affecting my life for some time—quite seriously—yet I chose not to hear what my rheumatologist was telling me. Neither did I sit silence for counsel. Rather, I ignored or reinterpreted every medical pronouncement, an old behavior of mine. Emma meditating 0313

Only in losing EmmaRose did I sit silence. I knew the right thing to do and did it but the right thing is always so hard to do.

Is that because I ignored my intuition, my “gut,” until I could no longer deny it? Or is it because doing the right thing always asks something of me that I don’t want to do.

Good questions, and I will ask them all my life. The answers are time sensitive but the questions are eternal. They allow me to see me as I am; always, it is revealing.  

I sit silence, all eyes and ears.

And if I am fortunate, a bit of magic shows itself. I have never doubted the presence of magic. It stays hidden in plain sight, its last protection. As fast as this world whirrs, magic is missed.

So often, we chase what we will never catch. Where is the magic in that? As a believer, I tell you that once you have walked through a magic portal, you will never forget the experience.

Some years ago, I discovered an animal sanctuary, deep in the Florida forest. It is not a rescue or a Humane Society but a farm for medically needy animals to live out their lives in a family setting.

If it sounds idyllic, it isn’t, and to me, that’s what makes it perfect. Not too long ago, I was an administrative volunteer for this sanctuary because its mission is like no other. There are no paid staff and there are two veterinarians on site. And yes, it exists entirely on donations.

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Magic always wends its way.

So, EmmaRose, now medically needy herself, returned to where she once lived. Daily, a little girl sings to “her best kitty ever,” as a family helps EmmaRose adjust, again, to life on the farm. At the very least, the scent is familiar as is the love.

And I cry but my tears are more for the joy of the years we knew than for the years we will not know. Love always overflows loss.

No matter how dark the moment, there is always a sliver of light. If I sit silence, the world cracks open just a bit.

I no longer focus on the future, what I may or may not experience. The only life I know is the current moment. It has my complete attention. Even without death, some lives leave us. We never know when we must let go, when we must change.

Sitting silence is immersing myself in the experience of being alive, raw and unfiltered, whether it’s the loss of health or doing the right thing for EmmaRose.

I know that each loss reveals its worth in its own time. And then there is the magic. If I sit silence, I will not miss it. I will not go whirring by.  

Aiming for Even…With Wheels

Musing CatEvery post that appears on this blog bears little resemblance to its initial version. In life, there are best laid plans and then there is what happens.

However, this post is different than any previous, not in substance but in laying out a plan, making a commitment. That’s a bit risky for one who lives life from the eye of a storm more often than not.

My roundabout way is beginning to resemble clickbait so here’s my plan: I created another blog, aimforeven.com, featuring short posts–daily doses I call them–on living life with equanimity. It is a sister blog to this one.

I have given this much thought over the past two years but explaining this commitment remains difficult. And Zen Buddhism isn’t much on explaining. But this I know. Aim for Even rests so comfortably in my heart and so anxiously in my head.

There is nothing for it except to begin, as if there were another way.

Aimforeven.com is a number of moments–365–strung together as a series of blog posts in a cumulative year of days, if not consecutive. I’m working with the reality I have and aiming for even.

My view is from within the eye of a health storm that has waxed and waned for the last 384 days, more or less. Waves of impermanence do not count the days coming or going.

For that matter, days are not what they used to be for me, either, but I have not lost track. If anything, I’m more aware of each day’s presence, even if I don’t always get the order correct.

With each wave comes an awareness not yet imagined. It is mine for the viewing, if I will only look.

To sit within the eye of the storm is to witness the surge sweeping away life options while leaving possibilities never considered or usually rejected.

The current storm is swirling around advanced, late-stage osteoarthritis in both my hips. It is early days in this storm but so far autoimmune disease seems subdued, spinal cord weakness waxes and wanes.

It is the storm clouds of degenerative disc disease that thunder, threatening then throwing lightning surges up and down my legs. Within, rage ultimately gives way to stillness.

Meditative Morning 1114

It is such an effort to begin again. And I’m tired, really tired.

Within every storm is a sliver of light, and this storm is no different, if I will only look through the life lens. Perhaps it is my fatigue that reveals the world anew this time. I’m never sure what does; I just know it always happens.

Regardless, it takes a while to get used to viewing the forever changed. And there is always some sort of surprise awaiting me.

This time, it is “wheels” to access more of the world around me. Regular errands and daily tasks are easier. I may not have more energy but I am not so tired, either.

Wheels 0716

This storm is far from over but I take in the view of what other options await me.

In the past, my mind set sail for Aim for Even only to travel off course or simply shipwreck in one convergence after another of my personal, perfect storm.

What is in one’s mind is not always within the life lens of experience. It has taken me a while to explore the view I have rather than search for the one I want.

Now, aimforeven.com is within my scope, equanimity in daily doses, a steady course through any storm. After all, no storm is without an eye with a view.

No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. An evenness of mind opens not to expectation but to experience. Equanimity knows no enemies.

That is the course for a year of days on aimforeven.com.

Certainly, the posts are a way for me to reconnect with my online life. Just as my “wheels” allow me access to the world surrounding me, blogging connects me to the immediacy of the virtual world. I have missed both.

Join me on aimforeven.com for a year of equanimity. Stop by KM Huber’s blog for longer observations, the usual fare perhaps a bit more regularly. Each blog site features a sidebar link. After all, they sail within sight of one another.
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