Friday, December 28, 2018

How do you make decisions?

I spent a week with a good friend recently who is a nomad. She has no fixed abode, visiting, traveling, and housesitting instead. She travels lightly in the world and is therefore open to opportunities when they come her way. In a group conversation, she shared with us how she makes decisions and I thought it was a genius idea.

Here are her criteria:
  • She feels authentic enthusiasm for the idea (a hell yes!)
  • She knows it is financially viable.
  • All the logistics around it flow easily (no big obstacles).
  • It is of service to her or to others.
  • It supports her awakening.
I love these criteria and even more, I love this idea of having criteria, of making decision-making easier and clearer. Even if I used only the last one as a guide, what a difference that would make.

What would be your criteria?

Friday, December 21, 2018

The tyranny of should

One of the readings for my Deep Vocation class is a chapter from a 1950 seminal text by Jungian analyst Karen Horney titled "The Tyranny of the Should." Horney could have written this just for me. It's about the neurosis of perfectionism, of continually striving to be something we aren't or aren't enough of (kinder, slimmer, more fit, more generous, more patient--you name it).

It's not the desire for improvement that is the problem, says Horney. It's ignoring whether what we want is even feasible. Often times the demands we place on ourselves (or others) are too rigid and too difficult. What's more, they don't take into account conditions that must be met beforehand (support, environment, stress, etc.). The demands may not be unrealistic in themselves, she says, but they can show a complete disregard for those conditions needed to fulfill on the demands: for example, trying to be patient and kind with everyone when we're exhausted.

Two other ideas of hers intrigue me. First, we can easily distinguish between shoulds and genuine desires because shoulds "always produce a feeling of strain," which just gets worse the harder we try to change our behaviors. Second, self-hate lurks behind most shoulds that we impose on ourselves and a need to control lurks behnd most shoulds that we impose on others.

As a One on the Enneagram, perfectionism can be my middle name. I'm looking at these ideas now when shoulds pop up. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Working with the active imagination process

Among the many things that Carl Jung is remembered for, the process of active imagination may be one of the most interesting and helpful. Jung believed in the power of dreams to guide us and he taught himself to relax into a meditative state and then dialog with the characters who showed up in his dreams. In some of his writings he talked about this council of advisors who assisted him in making decisions.

After my dream about the Gypsy Woman, I began practicing active imagination. I'd sit quietly for a few minutes, watching my breathing. Then I'd picture her the way I'd seen her in my dream or in the last imagination session. And ask her questions or let he speak to me. Here's a poem I wrote after one of our first sessions.

The inner Gypsy woman
Holds out a ring of keys.
Her empty hand outstretched
To beckon me
Was not enough
To pull me
From my father’s grasp
His love for me, his pride in me
A gift and a velvet chain
Tying me to the past.
Ah, but the ring of keys.
It was as if a cool hand
Touched my brow, my heart, my body
And I believed her
When she said
He does not have the answers

Friday, December 7, 2018

Exploring the feminine from a new perspective

I have long struggled against the concept of feminine, buying into the prevailing attitudes that equate it with girly, pink, submissive, weak, indecisive, manipulative, a whole host of things I don't want much at all to do with. But studying mythology and archetypes has given me some very different perspectives.

  • The ability to move with the creative impulse without trying to force it is an aspect of the feminine.
  • Trusting the mystery of manifestation is one of the deep teachings of the feminine journey. 
  • Finding out about being instead of doing is the sacred task of the feminine.
  • Woman is nurtured and healed by grounding herself in the ordinary (warmth, security, human relationships).
  • The major task of the feminine is to protect human life and the sacredness of nature.
  • Embracing the feminine requires a conscious sacrifice of mindless attachment to ego power, financial gain, and hypnotic passive living. 
All of these things resonate with me and are giving me a whole universe of new ideas to consider. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Revisiting my values

The fourth module of the course I'm taking on finding or reaffirming our calling has focused on values. I've done values exercises before but never with this particular focus: am I manifesting my values in my life in a way that fulfill's my life purpose, my birth?

We had a long list of values and were asked to circle all that applied to us, then copy that list of circled items into groupings of our own design. My groups were mind values, heart values, and spirit vales. But I was left with a large number of others, including hard work, perserverance, discipline, productivity, persistence, etc., that didn't fit in any of the groups.

It was then that I realized that these values weren't native to me, but rather had been imposed by family, culture, schooling. Then I realized that they weren't values at all but rather tools that I could pick up and put down. This new understanding was so helpful for me.

What values or beliefs do you have that could be reclassified as tools, useful but they don't have to run the show?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Welcoming the Gypsy Woman into my life

I've been reading Maureen Murdock's fascinating book, The Heroine's Journey, her take on the vast differences for modern women in the trajectory of their lives. She speaks for all of us who rejected our mothers' stay-at-home lives and moved out into the man's world to be successful. She describes in a lot of detail how we have benefited and all that we have lost, both for ourselves and for the world in rejecting the feminine take on life.

As a Jungian, Murdock leans heavily on mythical archetypes and dreams, and one night during a workshop, I went to sleep asking for a big dream, an obvious dream. Here's what I got:

A tall beautiful woman in middle age is sitting in my father's office. She wears a lot of silver jewelry and a long purple dress. She is clearly a gypsy. I ask my father what she wants and he says she is waiting for a reply. To what, I ask. She wants a job and we don't have one for her, he says. I do, I think, and I smile at her and hold out my hand to shake hers. Instead, she clasps my hand at the finers curling them back on my own. I feel an instant bond.

I wrote the dream down the next morning first thing. Then got dressed and went for a walk in the residential neighborhood of the retreat center that was hosting the workshop. As I was nearing my return to the center, I saw a piece of paper on the sidewalk and picked it up to throw away. When I turned the paper over, I laughed out loud. A nudge from my guides for sure.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A vote for non-'splaining

When I was a kid back in the Dark Ages, we watched a hilarious TV show called I Love Lucy. Lucy's Cuban husband was always on her case when she screwed up and would say, "Lucy, you've got some 'splaining to do." 

But I've become really conscious lately of how little 'splaining is really needed, how seldom we need to justify our actions or decisions. I've been noticing, both in casual conversation and in more transactional situations (shopping, working with clients), that many of us explain way more than we need to, me included. I'm not sure if we are insecure in our decisions or unsure what the other will think of us.

Here are some examples.

Q: Would you like something to eat?
'Splaining answer:  No, I don't eat between meals because I know that's not good for my digestion. I've lost seven pounds this week and I feel so much better. You ought to try it.
Non-'splaining answer: No thanks. 

Q: I have an extra ticket for the concert. $130. Would you like to go with me?
'Splaining answer: No, I refuse to pay that kind of money for an event. I can buy a dozen CDs for that. Can you believe what tickets cost these days. It's a scandal.
Non-'splaining answer: No thanks, but I appreciate you asking.

What I'm discovering is that these explanations almost always contain a criticism, blatant or veiled, and they negate the value of the invitation or offer. At the very least, they are a complaint (I'm too busy, I don't have the money) and this adds to the negative energy in the world, while a simple thank you is an affirmative acknowledgement of the offer.

Where does too much 'splaining show up in your life?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My latest novel and a different look at sexual assault

My fifth novel, 6 Guys, 1 Girl, 1 Night, has just come out. The title reveals the precipitating event: a group of fraternity brothers meet a girl at a tavern, take her to an apartment, and each have sex with her. However, they have her consent and they don't think any more about it. Then, 27 years later, the child born of that night comes looking for his dad and justice for his mother, whom he has never met.

This isn't a date rape story. It's a story about another kind of sexual assault, for she gets pregnant that night. None of the men thought about birth control. They figured that was her problem. And of course it turned out that it was. And decades later it becomes their problem. Jason is angry and wants to hold these men accountable for his life.

The novel is based in part on a true story. A man who was in my life for a while told me that he and his frat brothers had been the 6 guys in 1 night. To his credit, he was ashamed of the experience and didn't try to justify it at all. That story has stayed in my memory and although I could have made that night the center of the story, it isn't. My interest was in exploring the men's reactions all that time later and what that might say about men in our culture. Who will and who won't take responsibility?

6 Guys, 1 Girl, 1 Night is available from amazon and kindle ( and smashwords ( If you read, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

In a New York minute

One of my favorite Don Henley songs is the New York Minute, whose refrain goes "In a New York minute, everything can change." We live our lives as if it's all available, only vaguely and occasionally aware that nothing is certain and everything can change.

I met Rebecca in 1991 when I was teaching a class on African women's literature for the Pennsylvania Humanities commission's adult program. She was a student in that class and an astute reader. She was getting a PhD in education administration and worked as a high school principal. When I left Pennsylvania, we started an old-fashioned correspondence by mail, sending cards and letters to each other every couple of months. From time to time, I'd also receive a package: a calendar, a newspaper clipping, a book. I'd send her art I was working on or readings I found interesting. It has been a wonderful friendship of intellectual intimacy.

I hadn't heard from Rebecca since April but there were occasionally long silences. Then last week, I heard from a mutual friend on FB that Rebecca had been in an accident and had been in several hospitals and then a rehabilitation facility. To make a long story short, she fell while walking her dog (slipped on some grass), injured her shoulder, made it home to the front walk and passed out from pain onto the concrete steps leading up to her home. She broke her nose but worst of all, she broke her neck. She 's now a tri-plegic with use only of her right arm below the elbow. 

She is in good spirits and her mind is clear. For that I am so grateful because I know she will find a way to be in herself that works for her. I have been sitting with my sadness for her and my admiration at the same time. And holding to the preciousness of life in whatever form it takes. I'm going to go listen to that song.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Completing a 10-year-old drainer

Drainers are those tasks we put off doing, even though every time we think of them our energy goes down. For over 10 years, I've wanted my living room ceiling painted. It got painted last in 2002. I remember it well as it was painted the Sunday that my dad died. A friend of a friend with painting experience had agreed to come that day and paint the kitchen and the living room for a price I could afford. So I gave him the keys, went on to the hospital and did the last vigil. Then I went to a friend's house to crash, as I had been up most of the night for several days.

Six years later, I had the walls repainted because the stark white he'd used didn't please me and it had grown dirty with the inevitable city air. But I didn't have anyone willing to paint the ceiling again for something I could afford. So for 10 years, I've wanted to have it done in the same color as the walls, a soft gold white. But the quotes I got for ceiling painting were way beyond me. This fall I determined to get it done, even if I had to do it myself. Turned out I didn't.

My nephew, who is 6'5" was able to do the ceiling with ease and no ladder. He was delighted to have the money for it and I was thrilled to have the ceiling match the walls and be off my list after a decade. Hurray!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An interesting look at my past and maybe yours

I recently watched a good BBC mini-series called White Heat (available on Brit Box, a Prime network). It stars Clare Foy, who is playing Elizabeth II in the Crown series. It's a bit like the Big Chill. Old friends come together after the death of one of the gang. But the series is really about the past, not the present. It starts in 1965 when the seven young people come together as flat mates in London. Lots of it reminded me of my own past: abortion issues, Vietnam, the miserable politics of the late 70s and 80s that planted all the seeds of destruction we see today.

The first episode was particularly interesting to me because I am in a big inquiry about vocation and calling and one of the premises of the course I'm taking is that we are often following someone else's map for our lives, not our own. In three different scenes in that first episode, the parents of these kids, suriviors of the Depression and WWII, all try to impress their map of life onto their children, regardless of the children's own intuitive needs and desires.

It has helped me in my thinking about my own life and how it reflects the experiences of my parents both before I was born and as I was growing up.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Is real leadership possible in an infantilized culture?

It's no secret that we live in a youth-oriented culture. We don't value or respect the real goals of education: intellectual development, critical thinking, lifelong learning. We don't ask kids to do much that's hard anymore, we see college as job training, and most institutions of higher learning tolerate huge amounts of sexual misconduct and substance abuse. We condone bad behavior in our leaders that should have stopped when these guys were 15. Sadly, the same kind of kids who broke into Watergate are now running the big companies and the Congress. The back row of white male glee at the Kavanaugh hearings struck me as both sickening and tragic.

I don't have any answers for this conundrum. We have turned our pursuit of happiness into an obesity of greed and an obesity of power, things that traditionally have been seen as negative qualities, as sins. Now they run the show and enough people recognize their own immature selves in the power-holders to keep electing them.

Not every older male I know is a boy. I know some wonderful men. But I know more boys who are 50 and 60 and 70. All you have to do is go on dating sites and read what they like to do. Boys' things: cars, sports, TV, video games, killing animals.

Now a boy has joined the Supreme Court. I don't know of the other males on the SC are boys too, but Kavanaugh certainly is. You only have to watch the hearings to see that this isn't a man. I feel a lot of sadness about this. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rethinking the map I follow

One of Hollis's more intriguing ideas to me (see last post) is this one of map. Each of us is on a path, a journey; this is a familiar metaphor. But he takes it a step further and asks, "Are we spending time on our path with our own map or someone else's?" Are we using the culture's map of financial success and power? Are we following the map of our parents, especially if it's a map that they wanted to follow and were unable to? (Jung says that the biggest burden for any child is to live the unlived life of father or mother.)

Hollis's book is about being guided by our soul, the deepest, truest part of us, which, he says, wants something wonderful and expansive for us: the contribution that we have come here to offer to the world. And to do that, "the soul wants us to have the best map." Our culture doesn't support this in any overt way. I find that our culture needs us to stay asleep (aka shop, consume, ignore). This is nothing new, nothing special about us now in 2018. It's gone on forever. But I want to be one of the awake ones and I know somehow that my soul has been pushing me in that direction for a long time. Now I'm more available to listen. 

So what is that map? For Hollis, it's a simple question. Is this next choice, whatever it may be, going to enlarge my life and my experience or is it going to diminish me? This is a very interesting filter for just about any decision.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Interesting ideas from James Hollis

I've been reading What Matters Most, a fascinating (although not always easy) book by Jungian analyst James Hollis for a course I'm about to take on deep vocation. Here are some of his ideas that I'm pondering. They might resonate with you as well.

  • Anyone with a modicum of consciousness is traumatized by the current world. 
  • Generally we seek comfort over enlargement, reassurance over risk, and seldom venture out beyond the predictable. 
  • Each day we are summoned to steer between fear and lethargy and to find our narrow passage onward. 
  • We all have to grow up, become wholly responsible for our lives, relinquish the search for the good parent in others, and stop whining. (I love this last bi

What matters most according to Hollis: "Having a more interesting life, a life that disturbs complacency, a life that pulls us out of the comfortable and thereby demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned or that feels comfortable."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The no-TV challenge

I've been deep in thought lately and shifting some things. It seemed a good time to challenge my friend Pam to a week of no TV. While neither of us is what we would call a big TV watcher (no daytime shows or commercial TV), we both get sucked into series on amazon prime or netflix. And an hour can turn into three very quickly. I've been justifying my longer and longer watching with the fact that I do needlepoint while I watch, something productive. But I'm still on my butt for all those hours and receiving rather than generating.

We both went into the experince with some trepidation (aka withdrawal). I hate imposed restrictions (tell me I can't eat or drink after 7 for a lab test the next morning and I'm dying of thirst at 7:10). But it was more that we were unused to thinking for ourselves in the evening. So the first two nights were uncomfortable. But then it became the new normal: deciding what I was going to do. Read? Write in my journal? Tidy up something?

In my list-making fashion I started one on things I'd been meaning to do when I had time. Well, now I had time--another two to three hours in the day. Most of the activities I chose were quiet ones and I kept it spacious. But I found it peaceful and satisfying. I'm now on Day 13 (my friend went back to watching on Day 7). It isn't a struggle now but seems more of a choice, which is what I was looking for. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Ode to a Fifth Cat

Warm nights Josie
likes the screen door
propped open
She never ventures far
unknown trauma
in her young life
keeps her close
and the other three
of my companions
come and go too
when the nights are warm

Last night I left PBS Mystery
for a cool drink
from the dark kitchen
and as I crossed
the dining room
I saw a dark shape with tail
move under the table
and out the porch door
Thought it was
my tabby Sam
but he lifted sleepy eyes
from the Trader Joe's box
on the carpet

I moved then to the kitchen door
and she stood there
on hind legs
Her masked face clear
in the streetlight
I asked her politely
to move on
and after a moment
she trundled down the stairs

They eat kibble with their fingers
Raccoons do
And while I don't begrudge her
an easy meal
from an open door
on a warm night
we'll be keeping
the screen door closed now

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rethinking what I live from

As I rethink my use of time in this transition from work-focus to the next stage, I'm beginning to rethink what I live from. In 7 Habits, Covey talks about the dependency pitfalls of various centers of life.What he says makes sense to me. If we live "from" our family, our marriage, our work, then when something happens to those things (someone dies, kids grow up and leave, we get laid off), our center crumbles and we are lost. But if we center our life on the principles that most resonate with us, they never leave us.

So one of life's important tasks is to consider the principles or values that most resonate with each of us. Maybe it's kindness or generosity, maybe it's faith or compassion, maybe it's truthfulness or integrity. A quick web search will show you a list a mile long. But most of us know deep down what our values are. They resonate with us when we act from them and our conscience pings us when we don't. So the shift is not so much in identifying them but in putting them at the center of our decision-making, what I call the filter.

Part of retirement from me is moving away from a work-centered life. In our culture, it's so easy to create that. It gives us identity, it gives us structure, and for many years, both as a professor and as an editor, it gave me meaning. But that's not so true any more, so I'm feeling called to reorient to values: generosity, kindness, peace of mind for myself and others.

What values are at the center of your life?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A great quote from Joan Chittester

Joan Chittester is a radical nun in her 80s. I love this quote from her book, The Gift of Years.

"Holiness is made of dailiness, of living life as it comes to me, not as I insist it to be."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

7 Habits of Highly Effective People 25 years later

Like many people, I read Stephen Covey's seminal book when it came out. I was in the middle of changing careers from college professor to freelance editor and some of his ideas were very helpful to me. A few weeks ago, I saw that amazon was giving away the 25th anniversary edition for free on Kindle so I got a copy.

In rereading it, I can see that I first read this as a success manual for working and that I interpreted "highly effective" to mean "highly successful." I don't know if using his ideas made me more successful or not (although I've had a good career as an editor) but I found his ideas thoughtful and helpful.

But now I'm rereading it for another purpose and I'm seeing that "highly effective" has a much different meaning for me now 25 years later. I'm not looking to be successful anymore except at living so being highly effective really speaks to me and I'm able to see all the references in his book that are about relationships and living a principle-centered life. I'm glad to have this resource for my inquiry.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Circling retirement

I'm getting serious about retirement. I've figured out the finances and how much work I'd need to continue to do to cushion my already pretty simple life and it seems quite doable. So I'm thinking about the kind of life that I want to create in this next phase of things when my relationship with time will change.

I've watched my friends and acquaintances enough to know what I don't want: a gazillion volunteer projects that become the new work schedule, the trip after exotic trip of the chronic traveler, and least of all, hours and hours of daytime TV. I know that I want more time to paint, that I have many more books to write, that I want to do good in my community in some way. At the same time, I want to get even more comfortable with a spacious schedule and learn to be in the unfolding of time rather than in the managing and controlling of time.

I'm looking forward to this inquiry as I look for a path and not a prescription. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Asking new questions

Much of our verbal interaction relies on familiar and safe questions, the classic being "How are you?" This is such a familiar question to all of us that we don't even really answer it anymore. Not with any considered thought anyway. We say "Fine" or "Good." We ask ourselves and others equally familiar questions. What do I want to eat? Waht should I wear? What am I going to do next? I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with these questions. They're often appropriate and helpful. But learning to ask ourselves different questions, new questions can lead to a different quality of life. Here are some new questions I'm asking myself.

Do I need to rest now? As an addict to productivity and a to-do list, this question has become vital to my well-being. Instead of racing on to the next project, I ask myself if I need a break. Do I need to go out and walk around the block? Do I need to spend some time with my cats? Do I need to go out to the porch swing and read a chapter in whatever book I'm reading?

Will saying nothing be a better choice? By nature, I'm a fixer and an idea generator so if you've got a problem, I've got a suggestion. But I'm learning to listen without responding. I can have those great ideas and not share them. If you ask me for one, I can give it to you, but much of the time, I know we all just want to be heard, not fixed.

What would be most satisfying to do next? As a food addict, I am always on the outlook for ways to be satisfied that don't involve eating. I'm slowly learning to monitor satisfaction through activities and interactions with others. I'm creating a repertoire of things that work for me and a key to this is to make that a priority.

Will this choice increase my peace of mind? I've written about this before but asking myself this repeatedly during the day is so helpful, from accepting an invitation or a work project to getting something out of the refrigerator. Peace of mind is my filter.

What new questions could you ask?

Monday, August 6, 2018

Another inquiry about self-talk: conversations

I seem to be on a roll with inquiring about my self-talk (assumptions, complaints). And I think this is very important work. As one of my teachers reiterates, we don't live in the world. We live in the conversations we have about the world. And we can manage and choose those conversations.

So what kind of conversations do I want to have with myself and others? Conversations about possibility, not about problems. Conversations that encourage me to think wider, kinder, more generous thoughts about myself and others. Conversations that encourage me to take risks in my painting and writing, regardless of what others will think of the product. Conversations that keep my own needs in perspective with the needs of others. Conversations that stay away from complaining and blaming.

There's a wonderful freedom in knowing that this is all up to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Exploring the end of complaint

We've been having a heat wave here in Portland and while I'm so grateful to have invested in two portable air conditioners for bedroom and studio, I'm used to using my whole apartment for cooking, eating, entertaining, hanging out. Instead of the usual peace and quiet, I am living with my biggest fans. Instead of the lovely views out my window, I have all shades and curtains drawn. But I've really noticed that all my complaints about this, spoken to myself as well as to others, has not had any impact on the temperature outside. Shocker!

In this case, complaining is a completely worthless effort. It does not make me feel better to do it, and it doesn't change anything. It just keeps me unhappy. And no wonder. Every time I complain, I hear it. And it wears me down. It's the same thing with my complaining about our current president. It has no impact on his behavior whatsoever.

So I've been exploring what it would be like to just give up complaining. I think this would be useful for me. It doesn't preclude change, by any means. But instead of saying what's not working, I can ask for what I want in those situations where change is possible and accept those where it is not (Serenity Prayer).

What's your relationship with complaints?

Friday, July 27, 2018

A poem that moved me

Sometimes I wondered if
I had any faith.
I sat down and thought about it.
And when I had had enough
of that I got up
and went on my way.
And that--the getting up
and going--was faith.

Mary Jean Irion, Yes, World

Monday, July 23, 2018

Examining our assumptions

I've been thinking a lot these past weeks about assumptions and how poorly most of them serve us. We treat many of them as facts ("I could never do X") when they're not necessarily true; we treat them as beliefs ("People always X") when thinking that doesn't promote peace or happiness in our life; we treat them as real when all they are are thoughts. And just like that clever saying, "Don't believe everything you think," most of us are better served by examining our assumptions for what they are rather than assuming our assumptions are valid, the ultimate vicious circle.

What I'm most interested in is making assumptions that promote possibility and peace of mind. From "I have to choose between X and Y," I want to be assuming "I'm sure there's a way to work out both X and Y and I'd like to find it." From "They done me wrong" to "I'm happier if I don't live in resentment." Because our culture is so focused on bad news and what goes wrong, it's revolutionary to shift our attention to what's possible, to live in wonder and curiosity instead of cynicism and resignation.

A wise man I know suggested that the best way to judge an assumption's value is if it elevates your mood, if you feel happier and calmer assuming whatever it is. I like that idea.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Finding an old memory and how I had used it

In my first novel, the Color of Longing, one of the main characters lives in an odd roof-top shed/apartment in San Francisco. Only a few scenes take place there but it adds to the color and romance of the story. I knew I hadn't made the idea up completely, that somewhere I'd seen such a place but I couldn't remember where and I couldn't remember if it was from direct experience living in San Francisco many years ago.

This past week, I rewatched Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City, about a group of quirky characters in San Francisco in the early 1970s, not long after I lived there. I'd seen the then controversial TV series from the early 1990s when it first came out. It was controversial because it's about gays and free spirits and transgendered folks and it's lovely and so time-bound (the language, the jokes, the clothing all so 70s). It was a delight to see it again.

But here's why I'm telling this story. There, in the fourth episode of the series, was the roof-top shed apartment that I put into my novel. I didn't remember being impressed by it when I first saw the series (there are only two scenes of it and it's the home of the villain of the piece) but something in me stored that image away so I could use it later. It is delightful to know where it came from and a wondeful experience of the mystery of creating.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wanting to have less stuff

Whenever I travel, I love having so little stuff. A few simple choices in clothing with mmy decisions based on being warm enough or cool enough or if it is still clean. This last trip I took two pairs of trainers, one a bit dressier and one a bit sturdier. I had a warm jacket and a rain jacket. I had my iPad mini and a paper journal. I had four tops, two pair of pants, socks and underwear. I took nothing dressy. We didn't have those kinds of plans and I could wear a black T-shirt if need be. That was pretty much it. I love the simplicity of living like that.

When I come home from a trip, all my stuff feels overwhelming. A closet full of choices (quite a few of which I never choose), lots of books, art supplies, plenty of food and things to cook with. It's so much more than I need, and I feel really tempted to throw out a lot of it. In the dark hours of jet lag, I did just that. Well, maybe not a lot of it but at least some.

I forced myself to get rid of all the clothes in the closet I had never worn, all the shoes I wasn't sure I liked, the extra, extra set of towels and sheets, some pots and pans that have been in the back of the cupboards for a decade or more. It still isn't as sparse as I'd like but I feel more comfortable with it. Now if I can just not fill it up again. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

The DNA of landscape

Although my last name is Kelly, I'm not very Irish. My grandfather's father was Irish, most likely from Antrim County in Northern Ireland. His mother though had a Scandinavian last name (Rapp) although many Irish and English families trace their ancestry through the Vikings. Most likely she came from an English or Swedish family. So my father is most likely 1/4 Irish (his mother was German and English) and me then I'm even less (my mother came from English families all the way back to the Middle Ages).

I didn't grow up Irish either. In fact, I don't remember my grandfather ever talking about being anything other than American although my father seemed proud of the Irish line. We didn't grow up Catholic or in an Irish community as occurs in Boston or Chicago or even Kansas City. But my sisters have Irish first names (Shannon and Kerry) and we all like that.

I didn't know how I would feel about going to Ireland or even why it was on my wish list. I knew from photos that it was a pretty and green place, and I'd long been interested in the Celts as I'd studied them during my years as a professor of French.

Well, I loved it. I felt at home there, especially in the landscape. I do not know if landscape resides in our DNA but it really felt familiar. The green hills, the sheep, the wild coast. The sky with its clouds and colors. All of it familiar. I relaxed there, I breathed deeply there. I walked in the countryside and in the town streets and felt at east. This experience has me wondering many things about where we come from and the land that we belong to.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Making jet lag work for me

On our trip over to Ireland, we did all the jet lag prevention things we'd been told. We slept a little on the plane, drank water, rested, ate lightly. When we arrived (11 am), we stayed up and kept moving. We went from the airport to the train station and took a 4-hour train trip to our destination. We settled into the airbnb apartment we were renting and went for a long walk and got some dinner. We played cards and stayed up until our real bedtime in the new zone. And while we were tired the next day or so, we were on the new schedule without any real difficulty.

Not so with coming back. It was an equally long day and an equally long flight. I slept a little twice on the longest leg into Portland and then stayed up when I got home and went to bed at my regular time. But I only slept about four hours, and at 2 am, I was wide awake and wired. And while the nights did get incrementally longer (2:30 am, 3 am, etc.) as time went on, it took most of a week to get back on schedule.

At first, I was really annoyed when I couldn't get back to sleep. I knew I'd get dreadfully sleepy in the midafternoon and be wide awake in the deep dark night, but then I just relaxed into it and started getting all kinds of things done. I started a new novel, cleaned most of my drawers and closets, got laundry done, my checkbook reconciled. I made the most of the time. It's amazing what you can do in those hours.

I'm back to regular sleep now and having to give up the afternoon nap habit, but I was glad I could make jet lag work for me. My place hasn't been so tidy in a long time.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An experience with medical care in Ireland

My travelling companion on the Ireland trip had an eye problem that grew worse as the days went by, and a week into our trip on a Sunday afternoon, we looked for an urgent care center or whatever the Irish equivalent was. We found something listed on line but couldn't figure out how to call it, so we just went there. We were very glad to have a rental car and one with GPS because we knew nothing about the town except how to get to the supermarket.

It was a little house and we entered into what was clearly a waiting room and we could see an exam room to the left. A big man came out and asked if we had an appointment and we explained we didn't, that we were travelling and her eye needed attention. He tried to explain the set up to us, that we had to have an appointment through a clinic in a city 60 miles away, but finally he just called that clinic and my friend talked to a nurse and explained what was going on and that seemed enough to get an appt. The appt turned out to be right away (there was no one else in the building) and a young man came out a few minutes later from the exam room. He was 30-something, dressed in jeans and a fleece jacket and trainers. He'd have been right at home here in Portland.

He examined her eye and talked to her about her symptoms and told her she needed antibiotics and to get it looked at when she got home. My friend is a retired nurse and that was what she had suspected. He took down some information from her passport and asked for 65 Euros (about $77), which we paid in cash, and sent us off to a pharmacy right by the supermarket. The whole thing had taken about 25 minutes.

Given our knowledge of the complications and expenses of the American medical system, we were astonished. The prescriptions (ointment and pills) cost her $27. No hassles, no forms, just help. Amazing.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The kindness of the Irish

In May, I took a long-awaited trip to Ireland. Spending time in the Irish countryside had been on my wish list for decades, and I finally arranged the time to go with one of my very best friends for 10 days. We travelled by train and rental car to three different places on the Atlantic Coast. 

Everywhere we went, people were exceptionally kind and friendly. On our first train ride out of Dublin, a young woman saw us trying to figure out which car we had seats for and she asked to see our tickets, took charge of our luggage, got us in the right car and the right seats, and put our luggage in the overhead racks. She did all this with a cheerful curiosity about where we were from and where we going. 

We met this kind of friendliness everywhere, in small towns and cities alike. People chatted with us, answered our questions, helped us out when we looked lost or concerned. The manager of the fish and chips place where we ate one night gave us directions to a supermarket and spent 10 minutes talking to us about where the fish came from (their own boat, caught two hours before we ate it) and wanted to know about our travels. This was in a little working class town where we saw no other tourists. 

It is hard not to compare this to the guarded indifference of most Americans totally absorbed in their phone screens. It made me come home determined to be kinder to all I meet and proud to have Irish blood. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Another April poem

In a culture
of false urgency
it’s revolutionary
to feel the breeze
against your arm
to hear the love song
of a robin
to notice the delicate perfume
of a passing lilac

In a culture
of competition for
it’s extraordinary
to offer tenderness
in a chance encounter
to offer connection
to a lonely stranger

In a culture
of isolated desires
it’s astonishing
to pause
although it’s what
we all long for
and what we too often
hold back

Jill Kelly,  April 28, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The crippling power of yeah-buts

I recently taught a day-long workshop in Springfield, IL, for a women's recovery retreat. I always go well prepared with an outline but at the same time I'm willing to go with the flow of ideas as they occur to me. My topic was creating a life that supports our recovery with an emphasis on meaningfulness and spaciousness.

I presented a lot of ideas, got some good questions, but when I asked people to make a list of what was in their way of having what they wanted, a lot of yeah-buts came up, all those obstacles that we believe in and cling to.  It was interesting to watch the energy drop in the room, to see the frowns on the faces of so many of these women. So I asked them go a little deeper, to look at which obstacles were factual (I have a disabled child) and which were not (my partner won't like it, I'm not smart enough). I asked them which ones led to possibility and which ones led to more stuckness.

It was amazing to feel the energy shift again and we moved on to talk about commitments: choosing one change, one shift, one goal towards something each really wanted and dedicating a few minutes (just a very few) to that commitment each day.

What yeah-buts are holding you back? What one commitment would bring you closer to the life you want?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

One of my April poems

Five tiny geese
tugboated by their parents
the lake surface
smooth and easy
They scramble up the bank
in the fuzzy newness
and my heart goes tender
for the small and fragile
of the world 

Jill Kelly, April 23, 2018

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Being approached by an art scammer

Last week I got an email from a stranger asking to buy two pieces of my art. Would I please email him photos of a few that were available so he could choose? Of course, I said. He picked two and asked the price. $175 each, I said, and he said fine. He'd send me a check and then have them picked up.

I was a tiny bit suspicious but only because his emails were poorly written and that seemed both unfair and unkind of me, so I set the suspicions aside. We texted back and forth about the check, which he was sending with tracking. It wasn't a personal check and that was fine too. All that seemed good.

Then the check arrived. The return address on the postal form was Dow Chemical, which seemed odd. And instead of the $350 we'd agreed on, it was made out for $1,450.60. I was fooled for about 5 minutes. Had he decided to generously pay me a lot more? Then I noticed that the check, from City Bank, had no watermark and that the word "Offical" was misspelled.

I knew about such scams, of course, but had never heard of them with art work. My credit union was amazed by how shoddy the fake check was (it would never have scanned through their machine). They took it, my email correspondence with "Michael Freeman," and his phone number to pass along to their fraud department.

Curiously, I wasn't angry about this, just very sad. Sad that I had wasted a fair amount of time communicating with this guy and even sadder that he wasn't really interested in my art.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

a recent poem of mine

Saw Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
in the parking lot at Trader’s Joe
The Madonna sat on a big stone
at the edge of the lot
a shawl over her hair and her child
The Father stood holding a cardboard sign
“Anything helps”
I’d left home without my wallet
hurrying to an appointment
in my privileged life
so I blessed them and drove on

Saw God pushing a cart of cans
past my driveway
He hadn’t bathed in forever
and a cigarette dangled from his lips
The look he gave me was hard to bear
the hurt and hate in equal measure
I went back to my car
for a gift of socks
but he’d moved on

Saw the Devil on TV
with his comb-over and tiny hands
but I was mistaken
He was all too human
greed and lust incarnate
and I turned away
with pity and contempt
awash in me

Heard the Holy Spirit
singing its heart out
from a tree in first leaf
no bigger than a minute
but so full of hope and joy
at being alive
that I took heart again
and carried a lighter load

Jill Kelly, 2018