A Moveable Life

Written in 2009   

When my daughter left home for college, she asked me to promise not to move anywhere for at least a year so she could come “home” if needed.  I was willing to make this commitment, knowing that at the end of it, I would be ready for the move I had been dreaming of for several years.  I wanted to live and work in Africa.

With her departure, the minutia of parenting evaporated. I no longer kept to a meal schedule, or did laundry every other day, or needed to monitor her comings and goings.  This was both a liberation and a great loss.  I cherished having her around, with her friends dropping by, listening to and/or spectating the dramas of teenage life and loves.  No one could excoriate an errant boyfriend with more vitality than her friends, a loyal group of talented, funny young women. Our home was a haven for that energy.

dusty trail
Traveling in Darfur 2009

I filled the empty space with work that fed my passion. For four years, I’d been riveted by the escalating chaos in Sudan. As the genocide in Darfur shifted into gear, I sought ways to replace my outrage with meaningful action.  I could not tolerate the unanswered brutality, kept pinching myself that, in spite of all the “never agains”, a full-blown premeditated mass slaughter was happening on my ‘watch.’  To be a conscious adult in such a time meant having to do whatever it took to make the killing stop.  I grieve that it does not, but I don’t give up.

The reason that many people don’t change their lives when “hole in the fence” presents is that takes a concerted work to jettison the accumulated trappings of adult life. We’d managed to buy a house. I finally had a collection of decent furnishing that didn’t previously belong to someone else. I’ve saved my daughter’s artwork and baby clothes, the sports gear, the miscellaneous tools and home-care devices, the photos, books, CDs , the files of tax returns and once-important documents, and all that weird stuff you save to  cleverly craft into some artistic statement … one day. In the end, it’s mostly baggage that sucks you in place like uber-gravity.

Fairness and justice seemed to have lost ground on our watch in our global village, and we still don’t have a clear line on what the hell we’re doing here. When the irrationality of it begins to weigh you down, get yourself promptly into something you consider important. You can transform the world one life at a time – and that’s really the best most of us can hope for.

What do you carry forward?

Turn off the TV.  Its purpose is to distribute anxiety.  Make your own news.

Never lose  the capacity for outrage, but learn how to channel it productively.

What do you need?

To linger

To laugh

To give – mentoring, resources, service, the wisdom of experience – at any age.

It takes a lot of persistance to make a ripple of change, and you might not live long enough to enjoy the eventual wave. But life is short and you’ve gotta get to it.

The Value of Cussedness

Day 25 as a non-smoker.  After many previous attempts, I’d decided to try a different approach (hypnosis) on a day (May 1) that encouraged easy calculation of how far I’d made it.

I truly have no desire for a cigarette, but pings of anxiety are not receding quite as fast.  I’m leaving behind this habit at a time when I feel I’ve  ‘lost my place’ in the world, or maybe it’s that I’m not entirely sure how to reinvest my considerable energy after four years of Oakland Women’s Center. I’ve been living solo all month as Dave does his migrant cameraman gigs in DC. May weather mostly bleak and overcast from the nippy dawn to 4pm-ish,  when an outbreak of sun may occur for a hour or two, then low grey clouds reclaim the sky.

Reading paradise
Inside the book tower at the Prague Main Library

It’s a compelling process to leave behind a habit as demanding as smoking,  I’d had to fill the ‘void’ with something useful and satisfying.   Gardening and mosaic art – both of which soothe me. Friends are inviting me over to spring clean their yards, an activity I find splendidly entertaining.

I read all the time – pretty much anything that draw my interest. To me, libraries are sacred places.

Slowly I’m returning to writing.  Working two major projects: a nonfiction book almost finished; and the VOG (the muse dazzles me with the one) just beginning.

Meanwhile, I drifted for five twilight-zonish hours in the DMV to replace a license plate that was stolen or jolted off the car.  Florescent glare; cubicles in circle-the-wagons array; clots of numbers streamed in an automated voice over a loudspeaker, flashed on large screens shared with assorted news, propaganda, and the weather; people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and afflictions shuffling to windows, the State raking in fees; everybody  resigned to waiting.  I was intrigued by one fine proposal from a fellow queue-stander on how to eliminate the choke points.

Overall, a week of hideous self-doubt that I’ve beaten back out of cheer cussedness. Giving up is not an attractive option.

Deep dig

RavenDisengaging, even for a short time from the steady rush of life, bewilders and disorients me.  The days feel long because I am reluctant to fill them.  I have to leave the house as early as possible because solitude is not the friend it used to be. I go to cafes for morning coffee in the company of strangers.

I have spent a LOT of time in my work and private life willingly taking care of others, but now I resist the impulse to engage.

This ‘deep dig’ into my life purpose is now less a voyage of discovery than a retrenchment – a consolidation of what I know.

Day 11 of being a non-smoker. Feeling good but still parrying pings of craving. It’s helpful that the smell of a cigarette is repellant. The habit was my useless response to restlessness or anxiety, but I haven’t found all the tools and rituals to address them in new ways.

Internet-acquired wisdom: it takes anywhere from 21 to 66 days to fully abandon a habit.  No quick fixes, just day-to-day next steps.  Walking helps.

One thing always gives me comfort: tending to plants.  I’ve maxed out use of my building’s balcony with potted palms, an infant banana tree, cacti, flowers (carnations, cornflowers, poppies) and herbs. Nearly everything is blooming. It’s riotously beautiful.  I’m helping two friends with their gardens, both spaces offering interesting challenges with sun, shade, and overgrowth.  Love to do weeding and pruning – the nearly mindless ‘slash and burn” part that requires a few muscle groups that don’t get enough workout.

Major life transitions are exhilarating, depressing, and hella scary.

Untethered

Strange to wake up in nearly complete disconnect from people, habits, my usual work.  I had forgotten what it’s like to feel rested. I’m lonely but, to a large extent, cannot bear the company of others. The reset process is terrifying that way. Becoming untethered, bumping about to find the new and right tie-downs to anchor a rebooted vision.

I had high hopes that 2018 would be less ass-whoopin’ than 2017.  It has, so far, just extended the ‘proving ground’ of my life.

The recent months of turbulence of my daughter’s life – the loss her beloved dog, a move to a new home – certainly roiled my soul.  My husband spent a month seriously ill with pneumonia and a month recovering. Concurrently, the loss of Oakland Women’s Center.  Four years of work – good and productive efforts – could not survive what the brilliant singer Jessica La Rel referred to in an intro to her song All We Could Do (I paraphrase here):  a scary unwillingness of people to step up to work that needs doing and is bigger than just them.

No pressure.  No diamonds.

Scarlet-Ibis2
Scarlet Ibis, symbol of transformation

One thing I’m sure of:  a Women’s Center has the most enthusiastic uptake where women have no reliable backstop or support: military conflict zones, slums, and refugee camps.  Parts of most major cities are ‘war zones’ for the disenfranchised, but city governments tend to lack incentive to rally/deliver support for the community-restoring power of women.  Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi has made good headway over the past five years, but could be so much stronger with reliable funding.

I believe that women generally are unaware of – or incredibly soft-spoken about – their egregiously compromised ‘position’ in the world.  Witness enduring pay inequity, inferior health care delivery – especially mental health services, and pervasive violence against females of all ages – to name just of few of the fixable injustices of millennia–old, swallowed-whole patriarchal values.

I have enduring faith in the efficacy of the Women’s Center Model to help build restorative power bases for women.

I need more and stronger allies to help refine and expand and fund Women’s Centers.

RSVP.

Mayday Storytime

I used to write to help me understand my life experiences – especially when I traveled. Creating journals and stories satisfied my need to ‘process.’

I return to that now as a practice I have sorely missed. I expect to dedicate myself to restoring and extending my skills.

First up:  The Story of Susan Becoming a Non-smoker.

My father took up smoking at the age of 19 when he was sent off in 1944 to the Battle of Leyte, the largest naval battle in the history of the world. He never gave up the habit, even when he suffered emphysema. Smoking killed him.

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I was there to see him off, breathing tubes and all.

His habit influenced all of us in the family.  4 out of my 6 living siblings smokes, including me – ending three days ago.  I’d started and stopped many times over the last 20 years or so. Generally, I did my best to be a closet smoker, ashamed that I could not to put down the nasty habit when so many others had abandoned it.  Some of my associates must have sniffed it. But, since I was not overt, it all seemed to go unmentioned – except by my daughter and my husband, who both have had their stints as smokers.

I learned an important distinction: smoking is a habit, not an addiction. Addicts go through physical withdrawal; smokers get cranky. The subconscious has successfully overridden the front brain’s protests that smoking is self-inflicted harm on a human body, which already has enough environmental pollutants to contend with.

Most significant for me, smoking repudiates optimism. I have seen and experienced enough unjust shit, seen and heard enough egregious behavior to justify utter and complete pessimism.

However, I don’t have as much time left as I’ve already lived.  Being gloomy and cynical isn’t fun. I’d rather pump up optimism, and enjoy the goodness it draws from people.

Chop Chop.

Ironically, when I slow down, I see details more clearly. The habit of speeding through the days and years no longer appeals.

Day Three as a non-smoker has presented only a few moments that needed ‘management’. My daughter reassured:  “You’ve got this.”  Yes, yes I do.