Saturday, December 9, 2017

Poem: On exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

Two aging acrophobes
We terrorized ourselves
For 3 hours and 22 miles
11 of them a one-way
Dirt road with switchbacks
And hairpin curves
Muddy ruts
And deadly drop-offs

My friend kept me
Clear and calm
Her voice
The voice of reason
Of caring
I quickly realized
She was talking us
Both into sanity

The views were astounding
We lived those mountains
For those moments
Alpine meadows
A clear rushing stream
Aspens turning from sage green
To New Cambodge
The evergreens shrinking
In stature
In the increasing altitude
A harem of elk
Near the 12000-ft visitor center
The peaks across from us
Miles away but knowable

The terror less
On our descent
Two lanes paved
Stone guard rails
Only a few dicey places

If I’d known
What was waiting
Up Old Falls River Road
I wouldn’t have gone
But I didn’t
And once on the one-way
No way back only forward like life
So worth living

Jill Kelly, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Trump as an oddly ideal American

In the olden days, feminists had a saying that the personal is the political. I think we're seeing how true this is in these dark and terrible days of violence and cruel behavior by leaders and citizens alike.

We have a president whose politics seem entirely personal. They don't come out of any reasoned understanding of the world, any education of thoughtfulness or reflection. They appear to be just what he feels like doing and saying. But in many ways, that's what our culture promotes. Our right to do and say whatever we want. We see that in spending money we don't have, using resources we can't replace, ignoring the hard work of taking care of the less fortuante. We see it in the defense of hate speech, the defense of sexual assault and endless war. It may well be the impetus for mass murder.

I'm coming to see Trump as the epitome of our consumer culture. Buy, consume, use, discard without any consideration for those around you, including all the non-humans. He is an odd kind of ideal that we have been moving towards since we began to worship at the altar of advertising, at the altar of the new and shiny.

Although independence = me first has long been with us, in the 1980s, our culture moved distinctly in the direction of Me First. It's my right to make as much money as I can. That's just capitalism. It isn't that any of this was new. It just became a more overt ideology. Grab what you can get. Other people just need to look out for themselves.

I watched through that decade as college education shifted from preparing good citizens to preparing graduates to get rich. Where clever and devious were valued and thoughtful reflection was considered unnecessary and even stupid. Where the humanities emptied out and the business departments grew fat in alignment with the "real world."

Thoughtful education is a civilizing thing: it turns us into a civilization, not a throng. We're lacking that now and paying the price.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Poem: When you have to put your t-t in the wringer

I go every two years now
That I’m moving on in age
It’s a nice place
Friendly, coffee while you wait
A heated gownto put on 
when you’ve stripped to the waist
In the tiny cubicle
And locked up the valuables
you can take off
A better array of magazines
Than at my dentist’s
Though we all still gravitate
To the mindlessness of People

For despite the calm and cheer
It’s still a nervous place
Where fates change.

I wait enough time
To read all the cartoons
And “Shouts and Whispers”
In an old New Yorker
While the herald of bad news
Wears blue scrubs,
Calls women into
A tiny cubicle
To speak privately
Paper in hand

The others go on leafing
Their magazines.

I don’t.

I can imagine the conversation
In that tight windowless closet

My turn at last
I chat with Pam the technician
Ask about her job
We talk about my weight loss
Freedom from sugar
As she moves my valuables
Around on the imaging machine

Of course I want her to find it
If it’s there
But I don’t what it To be there
Don’t want to speak
To the herald in blue scrubs.

Pam checks her machine
One more time
You’re free to go, she says
You’ll get a letter confirming
The dread
I’ve tried not to feel falls away
Relief rushing in
And I say a prayer for the others
Not so fortunate
As I go back to my life.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Revisiting the idea of 29 daily gifts

I've been reading Jen Sincero's great book, You Are a Badass, and she speaks in it of a book that was popular some years back called 29 Gifts. A woman diagnosed with MS was advised to give something away each day for 29 days as a way to take action towards her own healing. By the time she was halfway through, the woman's health and outlook on life, after this devastating diagnosis, had vastly improved.

I remembered doing this when the book came out and how both fun and challenging it was. So I've decided to do it again, this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is about 29 days. (Another friend is going to do it for Lent.)

The easy version is to give away something every day and not to worry about much variety in the gifts. The medium version is to give away as many different things as possible. The most challenging version is to give away 29 different things.

If you decide to take this on, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a phone call to an older or sick friend you've been thinking of
  • Give away money
  • Give away food
  • Give your undivided attention
  • Pay for someone's latte or parking
  • Give away something someone admires that you own
  • Pick up trash
  • Let somebody else have the next parking space in a crowded lot or street
  • Send someone flowers
  • Send a greeting card to someone who would never expect it
  • Smile more
  • Open doors
  • Tip really big

Let me know what happens. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why doesn't Sisyphus just walk away?

In the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned for his sins to carry an enormous boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down, and then do it over again for all eternity. Futility of effort is a terrible punishment, and I've been wondering, as minds tend to do, why Sisyphus doesn't just walk away. He isn't imprisoned, he isn't chained. Instead, he accepts his fate.

This isn't so different from many of us. We bang our heads against the same wall over and over, knowing nothing changes that way, and accept both our fate and our impotence. The wall can be a job that isn't working, a relationship that isn't working, our addiction to a substance or an activity, or in the larger context, the circumstances and conditions of our lives and those around us all the way to the political and social scene.

There is, I believe, a great wave of impotence and Sisyphean futility engulfing us in these days of huge shift. The old order is clinging to the reins and it's cruel and violent. The new order has yet to show itself, and we all feel stuck, rolling the same old boulders up the hill only to watch them roll down again.

Maybe it's time to stop and walk in a new direction--perhaps around the hill or down the other side.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the amazing John O'Donohue


Give yourself time to make a prayer that will become the prayer of your soul. Listen to the voices of longing in your soul. Listen to your hungers. Give attention to the unexpected that lives around the rim of your life. Listen to your memory and to the inrush of your future, to the voices of those near you and those you have lost. Out of all of that attention to your soul, make a prayer that is big enough for your wild soul, yet tender enough for your shy and awkward vulnerability; that has enough healing to gain the ointment of divine forgiveness for your wounds; enough truth and vigour to challenge your blindness and complacency; enough graciousness and vision to mirror your immortal beauty. Write a prayer that is worthy of the destiny to which you have been called. 

John O'Donohue 
 Excerpt from ETERNAL ECHOES

Friday, November 10, 2017

Renegotiating our commitments

It's important to me to be a person of my word. I want others to be able to count on me, and it's even more important to me to be able to count on myself because as an addict, it's been my pattern to break my word with myself a lot. At the same time, I want to and need to be able to change my mind.

I recently felt stuck in two obligations I'd committed to. I'd agreed to X and Y without really thinking through all the implications. With X, I didn't realize the problems until I arrived and things became difficult. I had no way to predict that but I know enough to always have a Plan B and that time I didn't. With Y, I had advanced warning that things weren't going to work out well, but I felt just as stuck until my life coach reminded that I can always negotiate a commitment. I may disappoint someone or have to pay a penalty but I don't have to be stuck. I just have to figure out what I really want and ask for it. So I figured out, asked for what I needed, and was able to negotiate to get it.

I'm learning more and more that I shouldn't say yes to something until I've figured out what I really want. And then if things change, I don't need to stay stuck.

How do you choose your commitments?