“You should never hesitate to trade your cow for a handful of magic beans.” ~ Tom Robbins

An Evening in Berkley by Vagelisf (deviantart)

                                      

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullen Bryant

Autumn Mirror by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

It’s been a week of perfect autumn weather: brilliant skies, mild temperatures, and vivid colors everywhere. I love days like these as they tend to fill me with a sense of calm, a rare and delightful treat for my psyche.

Fall used to herald boots-and-sweaters season for me, but not so much any more as I no longer need to get dressed for work, the one aspect of a full-time job that I can sincerely say that I miss terribly (probably the only aspect)

I’m back home full-time now. I stop in on my mother after taking Brett to school each day. She is slowly retaking her house, which is to be expected, and she spends more time sitting than lying down, a sure sign that she feels better. The next big step is driving, which she says that she is ready to do; I know that she is eager to be out of the house on her own, but I don’t think that she’s considering what might happen if she has to slam on her brakes. Just saying.

“Our world—don’t you just feel we’re becoming more fragmented? I used to think that when I got older, the world would make so much more sense. But you know what? The older I get, the more confusing it is to me. The more complicated it is. Harder. You’d think we’d be getting better at it. But there’s just more and more chaos. The pieces—they’re everywhere. And nobody knows what to do about it.” ~ Rachel Cohn, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

This Fall (Part II) by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

Corey and I are working on the house (in the house?). For several weeks he has been shampooing the remaining living and dining room carpet (as in the carpet yet to be ripped up, revealing the hardwood floors that need to be refinished). I’m not sure how cleaning the carpets could turn into a month-long endeavor, but somehow my charming spouse has managed to do just that. I’ve made him vow to have all of the furniture back in place by the end of the weekend as I cannot begin a holiday week with everything in such disarray.

In the meantime, I need to switch t-shirts for sweaters, and summer night shirts for winter pj’s,  and sandals for boots, which (of course) involves several other steps and lots of shifting as our home has 1950’s closets, i.e., not even close to walk-in. And when I came back from my mother’s house, I pitched a pile of hanging clothes on one of the dining room chairs that is currently sitting in the middle of the living room, and I have yet to sort through that morass as just walking through the obstacle course that is my house is too daunting.

In other words, our house is completely wrecked, and it’s making me very stressed and a wee bit testy. While I was at mom’s, I got in the habit of keeping everything very clean and tidy, which is easier in her house as she is not in the midst of a major home remodeling project that had to be abandoned when Corey lost his lucrative tugboating job—over two years ago. So I have become accustomed to neat and tidy, and the return to chaos is more than a bit unnerving.

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”  ~ Lemony Snicket

Yellow by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

Of course, the complaints about chaos are completely gratuitous as I would not recognize my life if it were not constantly imbued with chaos, disorder, and entropy.

But speaking of Corey and jobs, he is still waiting for his contact at Company X to get back to him. I know that we’ve heard this story before, but this time, there actually seems to be a hint of truth to it. Company X did buy a new boat and land a new contract, so we’ve moved beyond the this may happen stage into the we’re definitely interested in having you on one of our boats stage.

The best aspect—the one that makes this situation so much better than the Vane Brothers wait-and-see situation—is that Corey went from the introduction phase to the two-hour interview phase in a matter of weeks.

No hope-pinning, but hopeful waiting, at least.

“Time folds you in its arms and gives you one last kiss, and then it flattens you out and folds you up and tucks you away until it’s time for you to become someone else’s past time, and then time folds again.” ~ Margaret Atwood

A Moment in Time 2 by Zsolt Zsigmond of realitydream

                  

So here we are: Brett’s first semester of college will be ending in a month. Eamonn is thinking about joining the Peace Corps (I know. Surprised the hell out of me too). Alexis is still not working and does not appear to be ready to return to work anytime soon, something I try not to ponder too much as my mother is doing enough fretting over the situation for the both of us.

I am approaching December without fulfilling the one goal that I set for myself for 2010, and I am totally unsurprised by that. I am trying to get back into my habit of writing daily and hope to have my own computer back in working order before 2011. Of course, having said that, Corey’s computer is now dying, and we are unsure as to what it needs to be healed. Could be something as simple as a graphics card, or could be something more . . .

We are hoping to have Corey’s truck fixed as soon as Ford gets back to us with the Windstar recall package (don’t remember if I mentioned this or not, but the Windstar was found to be hazardous because of an axle problem, so Ford had to buy it back from us). Meanwhile, they are paying for a rental and we are pricing rebuilt transmissions.

And so it goes. More waiting and hoping and hoping and waiting. Meanwhile, the world spins madly on; the seasons creep into each other relentlessly, and time morphs from second to second, seemingly dragging its heels one moment only to metamorphose in the next instant into a nimble-footed fellow, fleeing from invisible fire.

The only constants remain my unflinching capacity for seeing only the bad in myself, the deep love of my dysfunctional family, the continued delight I receive from my dogs, and my surprising ability to still be moved to tears by nature’s breathtaking beauty.

More later. Peace.

Music by Chris Mills, “Such a Beautiful Thing”

“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

                   

I was fortunate enough to come across a posting on tumblr that featured selected passages from an exemplary essay by Rebecca Solnit. The subject? Hope.

I am  not reprinting the entire essay here; rather, I have chosen passages from each of the essay’s five sections, passages that I felt were particularly well written, but more importantly, passages that really struck a chord within me. The link to the original article is included at the end.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

From “Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage,” by Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Victories of the New Peace Movement

In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways.

Not Left But Forward

This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that.

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.

“Dum spiro, spero” (Latin, ‘While I breathe, I hope’)

“Snow at Montmartre,” by Hippolyte-Camille Delpy (1869, oil on canvas)

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~ Confucius

Well, the clock is ticking down (not that clocks tick any more), and the end of 2009 is upon us. I have so many things going on in my head, so many thoughts about this past year that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin, so I thought that I would begin with the following quote by Frederick Buechner as it seems so appropriate:

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

I imagine that many of you out there are thinking about this past year and the new year that is only hours away. For our family, 2009 has been a year of extremes. The things that have happened have all been intense and for the most part, not positive. I lost a favorite uncle and an aunt who had been like a grandmother to me. Corey spent another year without being able to find a job, but not for lack of trying. Eamonn graduated from high school and seemed to become even more distant emotionally. Brett had a very rough year in the beginning, but it has seemed to get better for him. Alexis, too, has had a hard year, and I’m not sure exactly what changes she needs to make so that she can find some happiness.

"Rooftops Under Snow," Gustave Caillebotte (1878, oil on canvas)

Our financial situation is no better, and after Corey’s unemployment ran out in September, things got much worse. We are still renegotiating the mortgage, and don’t know when to expect any word, especially since they have lost the paperwork twice. I am on my third appeal to the Social Security administration regarding my disability.

My other mother-in-law, Yvonne, seems to be getting much worse with her Parkinson’s disease, and my other father-in-law was admitted to ICU two days ago with pneumonia. My mother took a tumble down the stairs right before Christmas, but she seems to be doing better. Watching those you love age before your eyes is more painful that I ever could have anticipated.

Friends have fallen by the wayside. I don’t hear much from Jammi, and Rebecca has a new man in her life, so I haven’t heard from her in ages. Mari is still living in Massachusetts, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again. My friend Sarah has been going through terrible times with her own family. I don’t remember the last time I actually spoke with Kathleen.

Tillie had a couple of seizures, a new development. Alfie escaped from the yard and was picked up by Animal Control. As a result, he had to spend the night in doggie jail, but we were glad that he was safe. Shakes developed some kind of skin rash that makes him chew at himself all of the time, but otherwise, he is still fat and happy.

Corey’s truck died this past summer, and we know that it needs a new transmission. The Trooper died on the side of a mountain on the way to Ohio in July. We still don’t have the gas turned back on, and our credit rating is completely in the toilet.

“And if you ask me whether I regret starting out
my voice rises like flocks of finches at dawn
and blows across the deep blue sky.” ~ from St. Nadie In Winter by Terrance Keenan

"Morning Light," Walter Elmer Schofield (1922, oil on canvas)

Of course, it hasn’t all been bad. Corey’s parents really came through for us this past year. They supplied us with a Ford Windstar van and paid for repairs. They have sent us money for gas and supplied us with food from Angel Food Ministries. Corey’s brothers rescued us when the Trooper broke down in Maryland, drove six hours one-way to get us, and then drove us back to Lima with the Trooper in tow. Their generosity has been overwhelming and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal year.

Kindness has come from unexpected places, as well. Sarah’s church donated some gift cards and a bit of cash, which came at a moment when we really needed it. My mother helped out as much as she was able.

Alexis did manage to find a job after being out of work for quite a while. Eamonn did manage to graduate even after missing way too many days of school and was accepted to the local community college. Brett did survive his junior of high school even though his mental state was precarious. Corey and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. In other words, we all had our personal victories, some smaller than others, others more significant.

But probably one of the best sources of support has been from the readers of my blog, who write me constantly, support me, and help me to keep things in perspective.

So it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, far from it. Sometimes, it takes putting things down on paper (screens) to be able to weigh the past more accurately, assess issues more clearly.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” ~ T. S. Eliot

So that leaves 2010. Wow. It’s weird just typing that number. I remember in 1999 being completely overwhelmed at the thought of a new century, a new millenium. I never thought that the end of the world was going to come or even that my computer was going to explode. But 2000 seemed like such a milestone.

"Winter Twilight Along Central Park," Paul Cornoyer (1900, oil on canvas)

I rang in that new year on a friend’s boat, docked in the harbor of downtown Norfolk. There was a whole group of us who were celebrating together, and I had a great time because I parked my car in the garage, left it, and slept on the boat. We watched the fireworks, which were more amazing than any I had ever seen, and I went to sleep wondering what 2000 would bring.

Well, 2000 brought me Corey at a time when I was looking for no one. It brought me a change in jobs, also something for which I was not looking but should have been seeking. It was a year of many, many changes, and the past decade has brought more changes than I can possibly list.

Honestly, though, I have a good feeling about 2010. I’m not sure why, and if you pressed me, I couldn’t substantiate it with anything more than a feeling in my gut. I mean, our luck has been so bad for so long that we must be due for a change. If Karma works in the way in which it is supposed to, then our family should be about to move into a new, more peaceful, less tumultuous period. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

I feel re-energized about my writing. Eamonn is about to begin college. Brett is entering the second half of his senior year. Alexis, well, I don’t know what changes are in store for her, but I hope that they are good. And Corey? Well, his new job was supposed to start at the beginning of the new year, but his last conversation with the man from Van Brothers was a bit more vague, as in sometime in February. But we’re not giving up hope.

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” ~ Oscar Wilde Hope.

"Garden Under Snow," Paul Gauguin (1879, oil on canvas)

Hope—that small word that carries within it so much weight. Hope helps to bring the soldier through the battle. Hope wends its way through the heart looking for love. Hope is the wisp of smoke that eludes the individual keeping watch over a loved one who is gravely ill. Hope is the reflection of the stars in the night sky when everything seems without light. Hope is the sound of the wind and the rain, the birds and the ocean, affirming that life does indeed go on beyond the realm of our lives. Hope is the northern star that guides us when the path is unclear, and the anchor for our ships when we feel adrift at sea.

It would be so easy to give up, to say no more. It would be a relief not to fight against the machinations of the bureaucracies that threaten to overpower us. It would be less taxing to just sit back and say whatever, do your worst. And I admit that there have been times when these options have floated through my mind. But I do not succumb. I have a good man who loves me, cherishes me, respects me. I have three tremendously talented, intelligent children who are just beginning to find their way in the world. I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. And I have the love and support of family and friends who never let me forget just how much they care.

Whatever 2010 decides to throw my way, I will face it, whether or not I am ready, whether or not I feel able, whether or not I feel beaten down. I have no choice because hope does not abandon the individual, rather, the individual who abandons hope gives in to hope’s fouler relative—despair. And my friends, I refuse to give in to despair.

May you stay safe on this New Year’s Eve. Remember to be smart out there because not everyone else will be. My very best to you and yours for a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.

More later. Peace.

From “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

. . . Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

“Same Old Lang Syne,” by the late, greatly underrated Dan Fogelberg . . .