There is Still Beauty

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This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.

There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.

…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

The Line in the Sand

If you voted for Trump

You voted for the KKK
You voted for suppression of women’s rights
You voted for the suppression of LGBT’s rights
You voted for a man who doesn’t pay taxes
You voted for a man who has never served his country
You voted for a man who abuses and insults women
You voted for a man who doesn’t pay his debts
You voted for a man who condones torture

And you know all this.

And whatever fears and frustrations and anger you have inside of you that convinced you that all of the above was not enough to disqualify him from the office of President of the United States says, unequivocally, that you are morally bankrupt.

Know this about yourself.

I live by principles that delineate a line in the sand I will not cross:

I accept personal responsibility for my behavior and my decisions. I don’t blame others and I don’t blame circumstances.
I cultivate compassion for others because there but for the grace of God go I.
I cultivate my own education because I believe an educated mind is one of the duties of being a responsible member of society.
I cultivate the personal courage to face my fears so I can learn and grow from them.

No amount of personal anger, fear or frustration will let me abandon these principles. Because if they go, I go.

What is your line in the sand?

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What’s Missing? Self-responsibility

I was raised by self-made, middle-class parents who taught me to value education, to read widely, to understand history, to travel (so I would be exposed to other cultures) and to give back.

I now understand that I was fortunate enough to have parents who taught me to develop the courage to grow with changing times. I was brought up not to fear change, but to educate myself to move with it.

As much as I can make out, the conservative mindset rests on fear. I recently read a statement that said the conservative agenda today is no longer a political viewpoint, but a rejection of modern society. Rejecting modern society is futile, however, because change is inevitable. Life, by its very nature, is growth and growth, by its very nature, is change.

The truth is that there is only one sure solution to feeling somewhat comfortable in ever-changing change. It is not to dig your heels in and become sullen and accusatory. The anger so many conservatives exhibit is a curtain that hides the fear of feeling inadequate and left behind. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And so the answer to fearing, and therefore rejecting, the future is to create your own future. And that demands becoming responsible for your own life, which is to say, your choices.

So what are the building blocks of self-responsibility?

Educate yourself so you can be competitive, read broadly so you can be articulate, understand history so you don’t make the same mistakes, travel so you develop tolerance, and give back so you develop empathy.

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Mary Oliver Reminds Us in These Harsh Times

I thought it might be time for something beautiful.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver

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Manners, People. Manners

Yesterday, Richie and I were in Rockport, Massachusetts, a picturesque little town on Cape Ann. There, we got into conversation with a resident. He talked about his work (owning and managing apartments) and how much he missed his wife of fifty-eight years who had recently died. We were three humans, connecting. Then I looked up and saw in his window, a sign: “Proud to be a member of the basket of deplorables.” Oh dear, I thought, a trump supporter. {Still!} We carried on talking in our friendly way and Richie mentioned that we were here for the Gran Prix Cyclocross race. I could feel the man pull back, in much the same way I had when I read his sign. Oh dear, his body language said, one of them. (The Gran Prix is not liked by residents because it tears up the park—although the race hires landscapers to repair it afterwards.) But we continued talking, continued connecting, because we are well-mannered people.

Currently, within the United States manners have been, by some, derided as “political correctness.” They’re not. They are an essential survival tool for a society. When manners go, society goes. Good manners towards another human indicates respect. No, you needn’t agree with their positions on things, but your display of good manners confers to them the respect due to another member of your society and by doing so—and this is key—you also establish to them, your own sense of self respect.

Invariably, rude people are insecure people. As President Obama recently observed about a certain someone who most decidedly lacks good manners, “he pumps himself up by pushing others down.” When we feel threatened—insecure—our instinct is to hit back to force our threatener to feel worse than we do. Ergo, we are not at the bottom anymore!

Manners prevent us from lashing out destructively while we (ideally) work out within ourselves that which is making us feel insecure. The process of working it out is self-responsibility. Accepting self-responsibility is growth. Growth feeds self-respect.

Courage: grace manners under pressure.

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No More Misogynist Feminists

The title of this blog post is thanks to Madonna, who tweeted out same recently.

It took me a long time, I am embarrassed to say, to understand Madonna. I thought her in-your-face sexuality was a cave-in, a return to the subjection of women by sexualizing them. When, of course in fact, she was taking charge of it. Her “Boy Toy” belt buckle particularly rankled me. But just like the LGBTQ community co-opted “queer” to become a statement of power and ownership, Madonna co-opted and empowered her own sexuality by taking ownership of it.

Now Madonna has, in a succinct sentence, captured what I feel about women who aren’t voting for Hillary because they find her “untrustworthy.” Oh for God’s sake. Hillary has devoted her life to public service, her every move is scrutinized. I find it trust-inducing that the only thing her detractors can find to detract is missing emails that have not resulted in anything detrimental happening to our country–unlike the propaganda of WMD that led to the Iraq war, or the deliberate dishonesty that led to the housing bubble meltdown. . . Oh, the Clinton Foundation? The donation detractors point to was signed off by nine separate government agencies, not Hillary.

Ladies, tell me what it is about having a woman in the highest office in the country—a women who is more prepared to do the job than anyone in recent memory—that you just can’t abide. Perhaps it will be the illuminating of women’s rights—just like President Obama’s terms have illuminated the rights of Blacks—that you find disturbing. Equal pay for equal work, the right to decide what to do with one’s own reproductive system, the exposure of the casual, insidious sexism all women live with—these will naturally rise to the surface when a woman is President.

If you say you “distrust” Hillary, please form a thorough, coherent, fact-filled argument as to why. Vague intimations about her “corruption” or “untrustworthiness” are not facts. And when you’ve gotten your argument down and you think it’s a solid one then do a little more thinking and determine why this makes her uniquely unqualified to lead. Unlike, say, the generations of men in government, whose lives, when the rug has been lifted, have been rife with mistakes, corruption, and cronyism. I believe Hillary’s life of service is more committed, honest, and authentic than her peers. I believe she is more intelligent and prepared than anyone else has been for the job. If all you can muster against her is “untrustworthy” then your attitude is misogyny, plain and simple.

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The Call of the Wild Rice

Let’s go gather some wild rice. After all, it grows on the fresh water tidal inlet very near where I live. What? You’d rather go to Costco? Naw, we can’t go to Costco, not while there’s abundant wild rice just begging to be harvested. Do I know how to do it? Of course I know. How do I know? Well….I read about it and really, there’s nothing to it. You get in canoe, one person paddles around in the rice, the other person whacks at it with a stick and before long, wild rice is piling up in your canoe. Then what? You take it out. Obviously. There’s nothing to do after that?

Well. Probably. But I’ll find that out when we’ve gotten all the wild rice.

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Me, ricing

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My sister, paddling.

Not much rice is in the canoe. We decide the birds are eating it all. (There are a lot of red-winged blackbirds. Hundreds. They are on the rice stalks. This mollifies my sister somewhat since it tells her that this stuff we are attempting to harvest is, in fact, edible and not another one of my sketchy ideas.)

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Our harvest.

Obviously, the canoe did not get filled up with wild rice.I research what happens next. My sister goes to her house to take an allergy pill. Turns out she is allergic to nature. I dry the rice, as per YouTube instructions.

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I dry and parch the rice.

I parch the rice, ditto.

 

Next the rice needs to be hulled. YouTube says Native Americans stomped on it with soft deerskin thingies on their feet. That seems difficult.

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I squish it with my hands. Ouch. I don’t have soft deerskin mittens.

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I rub it with a rock I picked up on the Maine seashore. That seems to sort of work. But not really.

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Maine seashore rock.

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With hull.

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Without hull.

I hull the frickin’ things one grain at a time. I invite my sister over. She declines.

 

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The almost finished harvest.

I have taken “Gather Wild Rice” off my bucket list.