The Thieves of Joy, The Bringers of Jollity

There is an endless list of the thieves of joy; hate, fear, bigotry, jealousy, anger, violence, deception, sadness, grief. The thieves are all around us, and it seems their ranks grow every day.  They come for others more than they come for me, but still they came, and at some point, stole my joy.

I can remember joy. The memories are like the moments spent looking at a diorama in a museum.  They look like the real thing, but they fall short of evoking the same feelings.  I enjoy looking at them, but I know seeing the real thing is what I really need and can be life changing.

When you search for images of joy, you find people jumping and cheering, but my joy has always looked a little different.

Dipping hot feet in a cold stream.

Watching sunlight shine through the underside of leaves, making them glow with life.

Seeing the perfect silver arc as a fish bends from side to side.

The cup of tea that is just the right temperature.

The hand raised in defiance and for justice.

The loaf of bread that comes out just right, the alchemy of grain, water, yeast and heat.

The smile and laughter of loved ones when they feel at peace.

The perfect, sleep-inducing combination of sun on my skin, water in my ears, and the breeze in my hair.

My life has not been entirely devoid of these things the last few years, but I have not felt much of the joy in them. It has felt like the thieves created a glass wall that let me see all these things, but not feel them.

Then everything broke…personally, as a nation, professionally.

So now, I’m being selfish. I’m keeping much more of my time and energy for myself. I’m being here for my family. I’m retreating to the woods and the rivers. I’m raising the occasional fist in defiance. I’m trying to be ok with not being productive every minute of every day.

The thieves lurk, and to be clear, I know how privileged I am to ignore them and not spend every minute of every day fighting them, but I’m starting to feel the tiniest moments of joy again. Two days ago I was out walking with my brother-in-law and my Dad. They were walking ahead, and I was meandering along behind them, just breathing slowly, seeing a thousand greens, smelling evergreens, hearing the birds and cascades. The Japanese concept of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku [森林浴]) makes sense to me. As we walked, I caught tiny glimpses of joy, not just the images I remember, but the actual feeling. Like anything broken, it takes time and effort to heal.  If the thieves have stolen your joy, I hope you are able to find a moment, to breath in the forest, or freshly baked bread, or revel in a pair of smiling eyes, and start to get your joy back.

20180710_133942

In renovation, you need adapters.

In two weeks time, I crawl in Chinchin, and move away from the place I’ve called home for the last 14 years. I’ll admit to mixed feelings. San Francisco has managed to hold onto a few lovely corners, is still pretty on a sunny day, and it full of houses and people that make me smile. I have met amazing people here, and will miss them. This city is done for me though. I’ve been ready to leave for awhile, and with my family already gone, I’m anxious to get a move on.

Poor Chinchin, she’s not a city girl. Someone thought she was abandoned, so she got towed. Her windshield was cracked in the process ($400 to replace, to which the city has failed to respond to my claim), and it cost me $1000 to get her out of jail. She’s as anxious to go as I am, or maybe I’m anthropomorphising my car. Either way, time to get her in running order, get my bags packed, and get out of Dodge.

I started by having my neighborhood mechanic give her a once over. The only big work he’s doing is replacing the tie rod ends. As long as I’ve had her, Chinchin’s steering has been pretty sloppy. Hopefully this will tighten things up a bit, so I can keep her in a lane when it is windy.

My friend Ms. Danger has decided to come along for the ride north. I’m 99% sure she doesn’t know what she has gotten herself into, but I’m sure we’ll have fun regardless. The trip is timed so that we can catch the Eclipse in Oregon. That is, if traffic isn’t horrid. I decided Prairie City, OR was the place I wanted to aim for to catch the totality.  I went to book a camping spot, and all that was left were spots in a farmer’s field with no amenities other than space, for $175/night. I can’t begrudge a guy trying to make a buck, but, no thanks. About an hour and a half south, in Burns, OR, I found “one of the last few spots” at a place that has hot springs and is only $25/night. Hopefully an early morning drive will get us to Prairie City in time for the eclipse, without too much traffic.

When I was calling around, and reading articles about the Eclipse, there were lots of warnings about showing up with food, water, etc., because tiny towns can’t promise to be fully prepared. Space is certainly at a premium in Chinchin, so I decided getting the fresh water system in order was a good idea. No need to take up space in the storage areas with bottles of water, when we have a tank that can hold a few gallons. I crawled in the back and inspected the system. GAG. Pipes that were supposed to be clear, looked opaque black. Pipes are easy enough to replace, but when I started following what pipe went where, I realized Chinchin didn’t come with the “city/shore” fresh water hookup option. All she has is a gravity fill spout into the fresh water tank. This also means her faucet isn’t designed to connect to city water. It is a simple diaphragm pump, and the PSI of a city water connection would just cause leaks and breakage.

gagplumbing

Harrumph. One easy fix would have been to switch out the faucet for one designed to be a manual pump AND handle the pressure of city water, but I could only find one type available (the exact same one they were offering in 1976). The reviews for it were bad, and every site sold repair kits. I would also still have to install a city water connection. I decided there had to be better options.

Also, I love solving problems and designing systems, so off to the drawing board-google search-avalanche of shipping boxes I went. What I have come up with will allow for city water and/or a foot operated pump to pull water from the fresh water tank. I won’t list out all the parts here, because I’m not sure it will work yet. I’m hoping all the parts will arrive and I can put it together this weekend. If it works, I’ll put up another post with a full description and parts list. As you can see below, there will be lots of adapters.

plumbingdrawing

I was also hoping to get the electrical revamped, and the “hammock” bunks installed before we take off, but both of those seems highly unlikely at this point. C’est la vie!

The red earth.

When it is wet, it is sticky and strong, holding you fast if you make the mistake of wandering in. When it is dry, it is as hard as the iron that gives it the coppery red color, and resistant to the pick and plow. It glows in the sun like the tresses of a red-head, and is just as bewitching. It is home. It is not home.

I spent almost all of the first three decades of my life living in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I developed an intimate acquaintance with the tent caterpillars, the blue gill, the glowing green flora, and the red clay. Their minerals, their colors, the oxygen that passed through them, built the cells of my body and the images in my mind. To deny I have a cellular connection to this place, would be to deny my very self. Yet, genetically and genealogically, I do not belong. I am the offspring of colonizers. Half of me is first generation. My father’s side was too poor to do anything other than to stay put in England where they belonged. One quarter of me is 4th generation, arriving from Switzerland in the early part of the last century. A not uncommon story of arriving with a few clothes, a few coins, and a bible in hand. That final quarter though, well, that one has been here for a few centuries. Good guys becoming bad guys in the process of trying to escape other bad guys.

You may be asking what brought this up. A trip home of course. Home, in this case, being TN. In May I spent a few days traveling between Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. As is typical of the South, it was 90 degrees some days, and no more than 55 others. Lovely and warm one minute, green rumbling tornado skies the next. Sadly, I didn’t do much visiting, but as I was driving between these places, I gave myself permission to make some stops along the way. I spent time at Fort Loudon, the Sequoyah Birthplace, the Tellus museum, and finally the Etowah Mounds. Though it was a glorious relief to go and do exactly as I pleased for a couple of hours, it has left me with this strange sensation, hovering somewhere between conflict and resolution.

How can I feel entirely of a land, while knowing that land is not mine to be of?

When we were kids, we had a VHS tape of The Color Purple. I watched the tape many times, and as I wandered around the countryside on this trip a quote from the movie came to mind.

When I come back to Appalachia it feels the way the character Nettie describes feeling when she sees Africa for the first time in The Color Purple. “On my first sight of Africa coast, something struck in me, in my soul Celie, like a large bell, and I just vibrated.

I walked through the plaza of the Etowah mounds, my hands hovering at the tops of the grasses there, and I was simultaneously of this place, it’s colors, sounds, and smells vibrating in my soul, and the downfall of this place, of the people who called it home for millennia.

I cannot resolve this in my head. I am a part of this land, and it is a part of me, but I would never have been here if my people hadn’t stolen it from others, and brutalized them in the process.

Maybe resolution isn’t possible. Maybe I will never feel like I wholly belong any place. Maybe this is why I wander.

I just know, when I leave TN, I always feel as if I’m leaving behind a part of myself.

A quick note on the Etowah mounds. Two things really struck me when I was there. The first was just how clearly this culture is tied to those in Mexico. Same aesthetic in art and ritual objects. Same pyramidal forms. Same village layout. Remarkable. The second was how utterly exposed one must have felt crossing the plaza, under the watchful eyes of those on the mounds.

 

20170505_130913

Seeing the devil.

What begins to happen when you see the devil in that seat is strange. People will mock, but you know he’s the devil. You know from the way a small lock of hair falls out of place. You know from the acidic bile he spreads across the earth. You know from the quiet, white death in his eyes. You have seen it before. On top of that, you know your history.

The switch flips, and though the circumference of empathy in your mind matches that of the earth, the circumference of empathy in your heart becomes very small. The focus of it only large enough to fit around two small humans, humans not of your body, but most certainly of your flesh.

Your mind says to fight, so you do. You stand your ground. The letters, the calls, the streets. Attempts at reasonable arguments. Trying to win hearts and minds. You’re fighting for all, not just your own. Your mind grasps for some thread of optimism.

Your heart no longer cares about optimism. It turns instantaneously and completely to flight. Leave, run, don’t let anything get in the way. Get them to safety. Panicked, cyclical thinking about how, where, calculating resources, steps to prepare. Can’t sleep, need to sleep. The nighttime is worse. You regret every moment you didn’t save, every moment you weren’t getting stronger. You gain a deeply flexible morality. You know you can do anything to save them. It is worse when you see them, but you never want to let them out of your sight, out of your arms.

You invoke God, the gods, science, poetry, anything to just make it all stop.

In the waking hours you straddle a line. On one side you are fighting, struggling to keep your empathy wide and looking for ways to banish the devil. On the other side, you sit very still, staying vigilant and attempting to calculate how to recognize the moment to run.

Two Dear Friends I Cannot Agree With

This week, two dear friends said things to me that I feel I need to respond to. Not directly to them, but to the world at large.

Both of them expressed concerns to me about the Women’s Marches that were happening today. I have no doubt that the Marches that occurred today will be written down in the history books as both epic in their proportions, and a pivotal moment in understanding.

The two concerns expressed by my friends amounted to this:

  1. A frustration with the people that seemed to be extreme in their views, and proclaimed to know that the future was doubtless very dire.
  2. That having these marches and demonstrations the day of and the day after the inauguration shows lack of respect for the office of the President and the process of the peaceful transfer of power.

Admittedly, both conversations caused me deep frustration.

I am known to both these friends to be a woman of strong convictions and a deep sense of fairness. They both know I have a history of activism in many forms, from philanthropy to civil disobedience. I believe both think me a patriot, thoughtful, caring, and responsible. Yet, in both cases, I felt as if I was being told that I think incorrectly or support thoughtless causes.

I want to describe my friends to you, but I don’t want you to use my descriptions to vilify them in your head, merely as a reference for how different perspective can lead to different conclusions. They are both thoughtful, caring, responsible, etc. They have both gone through challenges in their lives. I’m sure one of them would take a bullet for me. The other one would at least take a long fall for me. Both of them have supported me when no one else would, and on the whole have allowed me to be my whole self in my interactions with them.

My friends have some similarities. They are both men. They are both white. They are both middle class. They are both property owners. They both have some level of a post secondary education. They are both straight and cis gendered. One regularly puts his life on the line serving in the military. The other works in the technology industry.

Before moving on to the next part, I have reread, in their entirety, both the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States.

 

Disagreement Number One:

A frustration with the people that seemed to be extreme in their views, and proclaimed to know that the future was doubtless very dire.

From even a very young age, I was fierce, loving, protective, sought the justice that lies in the truth, and was outspoken. I believed it when we sang “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I believed it when I was taught, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I am 42. Through some very hard lessons, I have learned you need to believe someone when they say they are going to do something. I have learned not everyone is in a privileged enough position to fight for their rights, or even be able to care for themselves or their families. I have learned when anything is done through fear, hate, greed, or ego, the results will not be good. I have learned that when you don’t raise your voice, almost no one will advocate for you. I have learned that humans, by their very nature, are bound to repeat history. I have learned that tyranny fills the void left by hate, greed, and fear. I have learned we are all fallible, and mostly short-sighted.

I have spent my entire adult life, in one form or another, fighting for social and environmental justice. I have done this with great pride, joy, and gratitude that I live in a country in which I have the agency to do so, in a country where I have the freedom to take this responsibility. I have taken this on knowing that a just society will always be more productive and fruitful than an unjust one. I have taken this on knowing that our natural resources are not infinite, and cannot withstand unchecked growth or greed.

So, when I am faced with a new Administration that says they will not protect all of my fellow citizens equally from injustice, an Administration who has threatened to open up the national and public lands to those who will see them as a field to be harvested, and an administration who says they will begin to dilute the laws that protect us from tyranny, I take a lesson from history and believe them. History has taught us how tyranny prevails, and everything I see before me tells me that is the path that has been chosen for the next four years.

Lest you think I think any of the previous Administrations were fantastic, I haven’t. Both the previous Administrations and we as a people, have yet to escape, fear, hate, greed, ego, or the tyranny that comes along with them. The depths of injustice and inequitable privilege are heart rending.

To the charge of people can’t know the future is going to be dire, I think if you don’t think tyranny has arrived, if you don’t fear for your fellow Americans, if you don’t think much more harm than good will come out of this administration, you haven’t studied your history close enough.

 

Disagreement Number Two:

That having these marches and demonstrations the day of and the day after the inauguration shows a lack of respect for the office of the President and the process of the peaceful transfer of power.

I want to start by saying that every person who took to the streets to peacefully demonstrate over the last two days, was legally doing so, was well within their constitutional rights, and well within their rights as laid out by the Declaration of Independence.

When you define patriot you find: a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.; a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.

What was happening on the streets the last two days was Patriotism. Americans were exercising their rights, and attempting to protect the individual rights of all Americans. It is in no way disrespectful to do so, even at this time, perhaps especially at this time.

It is both true and a blessing that in our 240 year history, we as a people, have managed to have remarkably peaceful transfers of administrations. For that I am ever thankful. I don’t condone violence. I don’t think it moves us forward. I am thankful that it seems that there was almost zero violence among the millions of people worldwide that marched for social and environmental justice over the last two days.

As to the respect of the office of President, up to this point I have had tremendous respect for the office, even when I was vehemently opposed to the policies or personal values of the person holding the office. Whoever holds this office will live with the concern that they, and the members of their family, live under the threat of physical violence for the rest of their lives. The President will always know the worst of the worst of the atrocities humans visit upon other humans. Most importantly, the President has the almost unimaginable weight of the responsibility of attempting not to destroy life as we know it.

That doesn’t mean I have to have respect for the person holding the office, and often haven’t, regardless of party affiliation.

I’m sure you’ve seen this quote already, but I want you to read it again. It is from 2005.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

It wouldn’t matter who said that, the person is describing sexual assault.

It is however, a quote from our current President. It is one sample of many that demonstrates he has little to no respect for the rights of other human beings, the rights of the American people. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he does not care for the rights accorded by the Constitution, but instead cares only for how he and his allies can profit from his current position of power. I can never, ever respect this man as a President. I do not see him as a Patriot. I do not believe he is capable of respecting the responsibilities or duties of the office he now holds. I suspect most of the people that have been peacefully demonstrating for the last few days feel the same. It is in fact the respect for the office of President that drives them into the streets, so that they may exercise their rights and remind our President that he is, in fact, beholden to the American people, ALL the American people, to uphold and fight for our rights, not to serve the profits of himself and others.

 

To both my friends, I love you both deeply, but as an American, a Patriot, a student of history, I cannot agree with you. I will fight for your rights. I will fight against tyranny, hate, greed, fear, and ego. I will do all of it with a deep, unending love of my fellow humans, and the world in which we live. I will be fallible, imperfect, and human, but I will fight, any time I like, for what I think is right, and support others that are doing so.

I was just looking for the earplugs

I went to dinner tonight with one of my best friends, Mr. Urbane. We haven’t spent much time together over the summer, so we were catching up. He explained he’s been having trouble sleeping. I asked if there was perhaps something making noise, or if the street lights were waking him up. Honestly, I suspect it is his busy mind and contrary body waking him up at night, but I care, so I always want to help.  When he was dropping me off at home, I asked if he had an eye mask and earplugs to experiment with reducing disruptions at night.

“No.”

“You want some?”

“Are they handy?”

“Yup.”

I ran in the house, and quickly grabbed the box I knew had travel supplies in it. Sitting on top was a cardboard box that proceeded to leap out of my hands, and spray the contents across the floor. It was…wait for it…a box of cassette tapes. Chinchin has a cassette player, so I’ve been saving them for the next trip.

For those of you who are too young to know, it used to be a common and significant thing to make someone a mixed tape. It was, in today’s parlance, making a playlist, except it was arduous work because you had to collect the various tapes, CD’s, vinyl albums, etc., and painstakingly go through adding all your songs in order on the tape, trying to get the timing between songs right. On top of that, if you really cared, you had to make a cover for the tape.

20160925_215917

One of these treasured mixed tapes tumbled out of the box tonight. A little nugget of my history. This was a copy of a tape I made for someone else. Someone I was saying goodbye to, and I made myself a copy with the romantic idea that we might be listening to the same songs as we parted ways, most likely forever.

By someone, I mean a man. I’m not sure how to describe our situation, other than, it shouldn’t have been a situation in the first place, but we sure had a heck of a lot of fun together.

As only one can in their 20s, we had electric, forbidden fun. Days of dancing around each other all day at work, nights of too many cocktails. He and I knew it was never going to last, so we had the freedom to be open, be fun, and be so perfectly imperfect with each other that we could actually enjoy and get to know one another.

Then it was time to go. I was leaving the state for an adventure, and he was returning to his forever life. I needed to find a way to let him know how much fun I’d had, and say thank you. So I did what 22 year olds do, or at least did then. I made a mixed tape. This was the late 90s so it is a mix of things we loved and were familiar with; part Lilith Fair, part funk, and part classic country, with a tiny touch of post grunge.

Twenty years later this tape fell out of a box at my feet. All the songs are still familiar, and I wonder what happened to him. I wonder why him in the first place. He was funny, tall, self-deprecating, was the adventurous black sheep in a conservative family, and never once foisted some version of an ego trip on me. He didn’t need me. He just enjoyed me, and I just enjoyed him. He was unexpected, and did unexpected things.

I’ve replicated the playlist for your listening enjoyment here. There are only three things that are different.

* The first song contained the full KBLY intro before Little Green Bag, which was from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

* The version of Devil is Disguise I put on the tape was Trisha Yearwood, I’m not sure why. The Elvis version is infinitely better.

* After Sullen Girl on the tape, there is a song about saying goodbye by Don Williams, called Rainy Nights and Memories. At the time, I certainly didn’t feel like I could express too much remorse over saying goodbye, so I let this song do it for me. I didn’t even go see him when he asked me to the last night we were in the same town.

Present day me would never put Dave Matthews in a play list, but this song was just right for the situation.

A note on the cover: I called it Songs from the O Horizon because I was an environmental studies nerd. The O Horizon is the layer of soil that is mostly undecomposed organic matter. Full of unrealized potential. The sides were “Ridden Hard” and “And Put Away Wet” because one night he told me that’s what I looked like after a very long week. He was very real. It has a tiger because, surprisingly, he had a motorcycle with tiger print on it.

I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane as much as I have.

Being you

It has been a bumpy week. Last week was one of those weeks in which hard things weren’t happening to me, but to people around me that I love, and I didn’t feel like I could do much to help. The ways in which I could offer help seemed very limited, and it made me think about where I am in my life, and what is important.

The most important thing is clearly love. Period.

I’m not talking about romance, sex, or even familial love. It is the deep love of all things you know and see. Compassion for other beings and systems in nature. It is the love that drives us to serve. It is the root of kindness, generosity, and gratitude.

I’m trying to foster that love and let it drive my actions. I can’t always access it though. Fear, anger, or even impatience build a stone wall around it. Lately, I’ve felt like it was more absent than usual. When it isn’t available, I don’t have it to feed others.

We are, after all, supposed to feed love to others. It feels like the whole point of being here.

Last week, when I was very angry, I wasn’t feeding others love. That’s bad. Like, you just looked up and noticed a tornado was two houses away bad.

In thinking about how to avoid the anger, I started thinking about what I have to offer others, and how to put myself in situations where I can be my best self, and foster the love I have to give.

Knowing I have some blindspots when it comes to introspection and analysis, I began to ask folks “What am I good at?”, some were coworkers, some friends. Here is what they came up with.

  • Lots of people trust you.
  • Empathy
  • You help people see things in themselves.
  • You see things in people.
  • Leading people
  • Huggin’
  • Motivating people
  • Organizing my backpack
  • Making people feel wonderful and loved
  • Hugs
  • Empathy
  • Spokesperson for a brand
  • Tons o’ passion
  • Community outreach
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Equality
  • Butt stuff
  • Humanitarian rights
  • Tech news
  • Human resources
  • Intuition
  • People skills
  • Everything
  • You know a lot about a lot of different things/topics in this world
  • Planning and organizing
  • Giving a damn
  • Luvin’

I really believe if you can find the intersection of things you love and things you are good at, you can live in love, and avoid some of the anger, fear, and impatience. I’m going to keep working to get there. No, I didn’t ask for clarification on what “butt stuff” was, but it gave me a good laugh.

pants