All posts by LSquared

How One Could Think, “He’s God’s Man,”Is Not Beyond Me

A person can don a used world view by slowly exchanging his or her contemporary world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or, not so great. I took on a life redux in my post-divorce time of guilt. In the early ‘80’s I hefted on the big overcoat of salvation at age 30, desiring to be a perfect Christian wife in my second marriage, hoping to redeem my life mistakes, which were many.  T.S. Eliot wrote in Choruses from the Rock of those who “By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good…” I met people with tight biblical cosmology and they appeared happy.

Changing my perspective to a Christian view had different features. There was community and connection, new friends, meaningful work, outreach to needy people, drama and music and 1,100 acres of redwoods in which to live for a monthly tithe. 

There was a dark side to donning salvation.  A khaki, tailored thing with epaulets from another era.  One thing about this religion I didn’t know then, was that I was enlisting to be a soldier. I’d heard the tune, “Onward Christian soldiers” but thought that was a vague metaphor of long-gone days. The mission Bible church, where I was inducted, became an outpost of militant purity.  We were, according to our pulpit, more like the true church than the average. And, I am at heart, a peacenik, so I overlooked much of the language of domination for too long. Now it shouts on the public stage.

Back in 1980, my personal hope was simply to be made whole. I was sensible of my wounded self and my fractured life.  I couldn’t afford a therapist. Like generations of penitents, I wept on my knees over my fallen nature — cringing in the light of God. My zero self-worth was easy to establish, as the firstborn of an abusive alcoholic father who grew up on a mission station in South Africa and of an unexpectedly pregnant mother who, even though she sang in the Methodist choir at 17, had no qualms about asking a doctor to remove me from her uterus.

In the teaching and in the company of others who had “repented” of being part of the human potential movement, I came to believe that I was “new in Christ”, so I stood on my feet and evangelized.  I got a system and worked it. 

Here’s how the view goes. God is in charge of the affairs of men, although not their conscience or free will.  And men are in charge of their women. A church with a woman pastor needed a “covering,” meaning a male.  My female pastor refused one.  The saved believe while their fellow humans are seen across a chasm. Eternally damned.  This connection to “the Holy Spirit” became a model of becoming deeply disconnected with myself.  My fellow church people and I often fearfully didn’t ask questions, suppressed anger and slowly began wounding our consciences as power was more often exerted in physical abuse along with the unending humiliation of emotional “corrections.” I am deeply sorry for my actions and inactions then.

Everyone served the men, even the woman pastor, since God was referred to as “he.” Children were lowest on the pecking order and were inordinately disciplined at times.  This was America in the late 20th Century, not Puritan days, even though it was an anomaly in the general population. I learned later that there were many cults in that decade – varieties of religious extremism. Note that many folks were instead flocking to easier conversions, with televangelists and super pastors and promises of prosperity.  Modern American religion has less problem with serving both Mammon and God than does traditional Christianity.

Changing my view took time because one doesn’t throw a lobster into boiling water; one heats it slowly. That’s part of the recipe for delusion. It wasn’t a prayer to Jesus, but the practice that harmed. Living as a “disciple” in a fundamentalist church was a slow erosion of my self-referencing and conscience that went unaddressed. And once you’re immersed, well, you’re deluded. Taking on an identity that you soon fear will be ripped from you: By a word from a “godly” leader you may be kicked out and shunned by your fellows.

Roger McNamee wrote in a technology article in Time Magazine (Vol. 193, No. 3 2019) of the Facebook woes, “the business model depends on advertising, which in turn depends on manipulating the attention of users so they see more ads.  One of the best ways to manipulate attention is to appeal to outrage and fear, emotions that increase engagement.  [ital. mine]

One evening in the mid 80’s, I drove down from the Santa Cruz mountains to Los Gatos Christian Church to hear Jerry Falwell speak.  He was teaching the white grass roots, filling a wealthy church with expensively dressed visitors. He encouraged believers to get active in politics – for the sake of their values.  Indirectly, for God. He appealed to moral outrage and patriotism. At one point he mentioned the need for more women in Washington D.C. and a well-heeled lady behind me said audibly to her friend, “How come it’s always the women who have to clean up the mess?” We chuckled, but it was a moot point. 

The next day after the talk, one of the teaching pastors at West Heights informed me that I was now a fundamentalist.  “A what?” I asked.  He explained that’s what Falwell’s movement was about, and that I qualified because I believed the basic truths of the Bible.  I knew the nickname was not a compliment, as they never are when applied to groups, even though the he meant it as one.  But then, fundamentalists take insults as a badge of honor.  I learned quickly that “the world” would not accept me because I belonged to Jesus, which enhanced the model of us-and-them, the saved and damned. Which is how contemporary conservatives view the country.  They say “our” America like they bought it and no one else has permission to pursue happiness.

Now, 20 years removed from that religious cult, transformed by hard work and the love of family and friends into a fairly normal human adult, I can understand today’s religious conservatives being up in arms. It makes sense why a surprising number of Americans supported a demagogue at the polls.  Knowing how well the Moral Majority did their grassroots homework, it doesn’t seem like a big stretch.  Like a televangelist, Trump’s a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.  Now the megachurches provide him one big base for this emotion-based persuasion. What do these hundreds of thousands of American believers want? Protect our investments and take us back to [imagined] days of moral purity.  Don’t let the liberals make our government huge or expensive and don’t let them infect our children with their ungodly ideas.

I am reviewing those difficult two decades of my life to say that I understand now how otherwise rational people can fall in with a demagogue. And how accessible it is to engage in the primal practice of shunning the “unacceptable” and grooming the powerful to please.  I get how we can feel threatened by liberal people, who believe they are the sane, safe ones, or by conservative people, who believe they are doing good and are scared of liberal views. 

Reader, please accept that today I do not judge or take issues with any person who names their source of life Jesus, nor discourage anyone from gathering to pray for peace and wisdom, whatever the faith. It’s your choice. 

However, my church experience, almost 40 years ago, became a communal study in delusion which I think mirrors a condition in our country that may be occurring large scale.  Fundamentalism is an adjective for the more specific word, extremism.  As in taking the Bible literally. Leaders’ power exerted in matters that are none of their business. When evangelicals stand up for a moral [note, not a civil] agenda in public, they call any negative reaction persecution – not disagreement.  If liberals disagree, their voice is dishonored or disregarded because liberals don’t conform to the biblical agenda.  But, has moral outrage become the purveyance of both sides? Sometimes lately it sounds like that.

Jesus promised persecution.  So, in the cult, we got bolder and felt honored that our popularity ratings dropped to all-time lows.  Even the POTUS views Democratic opposition as a kind of hate, as persecution of his innocent, positive self. Disagreement isn’t hate, but that isn’t clear in the public “conversations” which are fueled by outrage and fear. [Very little said about actual policy.]  Trump has positioned himself as a protector of an entrenched segment of America who listen raptly. If you’re one of the base called “uneducated American” you can just believe Trump until his schemes don’t work out for you. What if he doesn’t keep his promise to the little guy?  It’ll be, so what? I know, he promised every breath to you…which means words.

Some contemporary churches, particularly the mega churches, many of which are based on the prosperity teachings of Norman Vincent Peale (see POTUS prayer consort at inauguration), offered a comfortable salvation – belonging to the club — without worrisome issues like sin.  The main benefit, besides the music, hi-tech emotional experience and company, is belonging to the right team. The great team. [see red hats] I remember when the church felt to me like an asylum from all we fear – addiction, violence, etc.

Today I am pointing out this protracted lack of civil discourse and an aggravated unwillingness to listen and learn from one another. On both sides, a form of moral indignation and fear.  What concerns me about the war of the liberal and conservative extremes, is that I suspect a partial, if not complete blindness, to more critical issues.  What work should be done that may need us to step out of our social/political polarization?  What common understandings can we work for in our legislative bodies that would benefit all?  

At this writing, during the infamous Shutdown, I know that the needs of many people are not being met in areas assisted by the Federal government, as well as our local issue in California with the expensive need to manage overgrown forests in the wake of devastating wildfires. Etc. etc.

Here’s the obvious problem with dualism.  If there’s a “correct” side then the other is damned. And both the left and the right seem convinced that they are correct.  In the struggle for the moral/social/public advantage, only a few are addressing critical issues.  For example, the rapidly widening wealth gap. This is equality business that I think ought to be attended to for the well-being of all. It might also ease the climate change factor. When I reflect on the agenda and squabbles of leadership back in the fundamentalist cult it was, underneath the finer points of scripture, mostly about control and money.  I suspect the contemporary conservative stance is mainly about protecting monied interests in the name of taking the moral high ground. That is hypocrisy.


How dare the Dems deny a wall? Is it King Cyrus having another temper tantrum, the way he’s done business all his life? Or, I wonder, is the wall a red herring? Trump’s campaign revisited in his Tweeted video clip today was pure propaganda.  From here on out, it’s going to be only America first. “Every decision on taxes…. will be made to benefit American workers and their families.  I will never let you down.  We will bring back…we will bring back…we will bring back…we will not fail.  [My inauguration] marks the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

How, in the past two years, has he made “the people” rulers? He has incited mob violence, but that isn’t rule of law.  Besides the video clip’s stirring call to nationalism, watch it with visual literacy.  His claim of greatness is back grounded by military might, repeatedly through the frames. Look at the expansive scale of everything.  Let’s consider, too, how much the media corporations profit by this push and pull drama.  

A Tweet this morning from a white Trump supporter said Californians are all haters.  That by virtue of being in California, we hate Trump because we love immigrants more than our own countrymen.  There are obviously multiple definitions of “our country,” emerging. Or is our definition being irrevocably changed? Is the partisan war today loudest on the outside edges – do we only hear the voices of the angry white supremist or his more-educated superior conservative counterpart – and in opposition, only hear the shouting of liberal human rights activists, calling for more gender and racial equality? When I think partisan, I wonder was there ever a political party that steadfastly stood for universal human rights? I don’t remember…

The contemporary surge of liberalism mostly represents to me evolving human rights issues, better thinking and action for social and economic equality, understanding differences, establishing justice for peoples who have been disenfranchised, humiliated or murdered for their sexual preference or their skin color, or both.  I remember how we fundamentalists automatically judged those people sinners.

But even under reasonable presidents, have we noticed and dealt with the multi-billion-dollar corporations and banks, the federal contracts, dark money, the Wall Street gamers, gerrymanderers, lobbyists pumping billions into politicians – have we already let them steal the prospects of a livelihood for the next generation?  Have we noticed the escalating number of homeless people with heartbreaking addictions? The rise of child poverty numbers in a wealthy country and the underfunding of their schools?

Recently, one of my liberal women friends in a book club was shocked that I was reading David Brooks’ The Social Animal.  “He’s a conservative! she gasped.  It also happens that Mr. Brooks is a good writer and has articulated some complex ideas.  Was I really to worry that I would be tainted? This cultural war is not healthy pluralism.

I am in awe of civil rights leaders, and watchdogs who show up now at the Congressional table and speak up.  I dread them losing their voice or vote and even more I’m shaken by this: What if the stakes of this 40-year cultural/social war are reframing, or possibly dismantling, what our constitutional forbearers designed as government for the people, of the people and by the people? The entire game of politics and economics, even modern-day religion has changed during the digital age.  How do we know where this is going, even if a Democrat is the next president? Is government being re-defined as the relationship with the governed is strained or simply manipulated more and more?

I’m trying to apprehend how to live my civic life as a We thing, which is the gist of pluralism.  Our present institutions are mostly structured top down and American life is viewed as a power struggle within the factory model. Or a big triangle on the American dollar.  This does not need to engender demagogues and followers, but in the digital age, the way public “discourse” is proceeding, it has.

We face some tough problems that are being exacerbated by our positions of in-it-for-me – government continuing to operate in the clutches of big business, for example; or in it for “my team,” aka the politically correct agenda.  I’m interested in the view of work from the book, The Power of Positive Deviance, demonstrating that, while we know much about how to prevent the suffering and inequality in our nation (and world), we aren’t taking a We stance to do anything about it. The current POTUS thrives on division as he lines the pockets of his cronies and global pals.

In countries where people were easily coached to take a we stance, amazing problem solving arose within the groups.  Even in classrooms, teachers today facilitate growth in thinking and learning with students when they adopt a we stance, discarding the factory model of education.

Fundamentalist doctrine infers that a nation gets the leadership it deserves, that a healthy nation is upright, traditional, and thus, godly.  This is defined outwardly:  Does the president hold a prayer meeting?  Does his family go to church? Is he against abortion? That’s all it takes to be accepted by the conservative.

This was the way it was when I lived in delusion. The only explanation for my fellow countrymen and women who lived a different set of values –or who didn’t care about Christianity — was that they were blindly, without their overcoats, doomed. In clearer psychological terms, they were unacceptable.  Think of Trump’s small vocabulary: bad people, terrible people…very bad…

Here are some racial/gender/social issues to tackle if conservatives really feel the need to clean up society.  My list would include: educating and disarming good old boys in pickup trucks who are gun-toting racists who openly disrespect women.  It would be challenging religious fundamentalists – well-situated, white, and respectable in appearance who see themselves superior to those who are poor, different or who disagree.  I’m white and realize I’ve only been abused by white working-class men, by white people who sold me drugs, and by white religious fundamentalists.  My daughter was beaten up once by skin heads, a white supremist gang. In more recent years, the children shot in schools were shot by white boys. The children of color who were killed in their own neighborhoods were shot by white policemen.  What is with this white superiority?  How does race and income equal supremacy?

My hope and belief is that there are religious people who keep sight of our humanity while they worship, and who believe that all people are basically good. They see that some people make bad choices, get into trouble or addictions and, should get help if they choose to change.  They don’t quote chapter and verse from their Bibles and seem to tend to be more observant of the way things are. Self-righteous, rigid conservatives living in the evangelical bubble, staying safe from all the bad people, is a problem.  Their primary fault: their worst problem is that they usually cannot, or will not, call out a leader in error. The blinders are on.  Don’t touch God’s anointed.  I was a bystander, then a victim, then a perpetrator of religious bullying. 

 When I look back on the day I was expelled from the cult, it was the moment I became sick and tired of living in fear.  So, I’m not willing now to revert to a life of fear and silence. Even if things today are scary. During my fundamentalist stint, my fear of wrongdoing made me behave the way a germ-o-phobic handles being around other humans.  I feared the porn shops, the drug dealers near my kids’ school, and the rise of crime in my city. Which didn’t change anything. Honestly, back then I would have thought any man running for the position of POTUS who appeared godly would be a likely choice to deliver us from societal ills. We’re programmed by Hollywood, besides primal belief, that you are naturally better if you are rich.  The current POTUS claims he is going to fix the poor among us, even though his practices and politics may, in the final analysis, exacerbate poverty. Note, technically he’s only going to assist the white poor who have jobs.  

By the 90’s my view of home, community, work, state and nation had shifted to a deo-centric world, as a result of “being discipled” in a community that modeled itself on “the true church.”  My life became more and more about compliance.  I became rigid. In retrospect, I was using the childhood coping mechanisms for surviving an abusive, alcoholic father. Everyone at the cult, especially under new leadership, tried to maintain.  We tried to keep on the good side of the “anointed” leader, with little or no say.  It reminds me of Trump’s first set of staff.

Now, I notice and hear rigidity.  Could there be three, or more sides to our story? What if? I question the value of long term entrenchment in an uncivil war because, like it or not, we are all in this together.

Falwell’s Moral Majority disbanded in 1990, but the cult did not.  It lost members and was torn with divisions. I realized that much of the infighting was basically about money.  There were two tracts of valuable land in shared contracts. I wish it had been about mercy and justice, but it wasn’t.

A person can don a used world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or not so great. I am working on a new view, a view of us, a We-View, as in we the people, and as in my fellow humans. I hope that history will show me some groups who survived nicely without the conquistador or monarch approach. Without slavery and cruel dominion.  Without a tantrum-throwing patriarch in the White House.  Self-aggrandizing lies. The Stock Market going up means that we don’t have rising poverty in our nation? Really?  The power of positive thinking is a business tool for the entitled and is the 45th president’s religion.

 I am led to wonder what political discourse would be like if we stopped trying to fix each other, or if we stopped standing across a chasm shouting with moral outrage? We may have a crisis in Washington that becomes a meltdown of government beyond a shutdown.  This isn’t a prediction of the end, just not great hope for a change for the better from this point.

The left and right see two different messes.  Two lenses. The conservatives see Trump as the Messiah [yes, Cyrus was called Messiah in his day] to clean up the Washington mess. Trump says he’s draining the swamp.  What will the gators do? Would it be possible for some thinkers and leaders to abandon party platforms – the glamour of power – and dig in to do something for the good of all?  That would be a we-thing. I think there are some people trying to in D.C.

I am encouraged by several incoming Congressional and state leaders, fresh thinkers…fearless people. Could local as well as big governments, schools, factories and businesses begin to learn to take a we approach?  Would a nation of united people, united by respect rather fear, solve many more pressing problems than if we continue in our present polarization? The following quote spoke to my sense I am backing into passive, woo-woo position.  Yes, I admit my innate, trained “white moderate” posture comes easily. And I am not fearless. I aim to not let my fears paralyze me.

One passage of King’s response seems especially apropos to this moment. In it, he confessed that he had become “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Too often, he said, they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”  -Op Ed. Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

I think my search for a “new” view must sound ridiculous, childish.  Kids often just want parents to get along and be nice. We want people fighting wars to just stop. Or it might sound like I’m saying everybody move back to the middle, like the Centrists, which I’m not. I am not asking everyone to sit down and be quiet as in parental order. Change is messy. My inkling – as inarticulate as I am about it — is closer to something I could work for, better than hiding in my house, hoping without evidence for better news, while a greed-committed political world continues to abuse a heat-stricken planet, and another generation grows up who are vulnerable.  Trying to be perfect, to do it all right.  They may be likely targets for demagogues, as many conservative and uneducated voters were in 2018. 

I long for a positive peace. I will speak up for that. A person can don a new world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good.

So, if you love Jesus, that’s fine.  I am advocating we think more about how to build our lives around things that matter, and truth and beauty matter. I want to continue to change my view in order to get something done for the good of others.  Currently we’re not promoting e pluribus unum, one out of the many, because the many aren’t having helpful conversations. Who has much of a voice today unless making headlines or Tweet storms?  But I conclude:  This nation will never be homogenous again.  Well, not ever without ethnic cleansing…

There really isn’t any going back – bringing back, as the POTUS says – the real America – unless you want to risk that attempt at greatness being enforced, as in, swallow the propaganda and lies [and forget to remember Hitler]. This is another area to pay attention.  I suspect that the current deepening of division of the American people makes us more vulnerable to the rise of a totalitarian leadership that none thinks could never happen here. 

*******************

Background note:

When Trump was elected, an article in The Guardian by Martyn Percy, a Church of England priest and the dean of Christ Church college, Oxford explained: 

“…Trump’s political rhetoric can be traced back further, to the specious singularity of his religious roots. Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor of New York’s Marble Collegiate church, was Trump Sr’s pastor and presided at the wedding of Trump and Ivana in 1977. Peale’s bestselling 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking, manifestly shaped the world of the Trumps. The book also launched the motivational thinkers’ industry, and its practitioners are businessmen just like Trump. Marketed on confidence, pragmatism, expectations of exponential growth and realising your dream, ambition or vision, it also shaped numerous Christian evangelical and fundamentalist ministries.”

Percy also wrote, “Graham, in signaling that Trump was a kind of Cyrus, was simply saying that evangelicals and fundamentalists could now rid themselves of a once dominant, centralising liberal hegemony, and reclaim their religious freedoms. They could do this even by voting for someone who manifestly doesn’t share their evangelical faith.”


Inspiring.

While renewing the domain on WordPress the other day, I stopped to think about the name we chose when L1 and L2 began co-blogging.

Inspiringteacherstowrite. That sounds to me (still) like a pretty big task for one little blog. I even feel guilty of hubris, like who thinks they can move overworked teachers to do anything? I will say in LSquared’s favor that, in our roles as teacher coaches and in professional development for the writing project (SJAWP), we have moved some to enjoy teaching writing more and have given them a taste of writing for writing’s sake.

Why did we hope to inspire others? To inspirit, to cause to breathe life in…I love the first entry in the online dictionary:

1.fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

When you see the way that writing contributes to your own thinking and self-awareness, that’s reason. And when writing in a group causes you to know and understand a colleague and become deep friends, that’s reason. When a friend is completely ripped up by an injustice, then you can write alongside after you’ve heard her story, raw, fresh and out loud. Writing has meant so much more though than filling another with desire to do something creative, to do a bit of their own writing.

Like reading, writing is about meaning making. Making sense of difficult subjects like writing instruction. Difficult things like finding one’s voice. Making sense of the way education is managed in a locale and then teaching in a way that reflects my values and beliefs about what’s best for students. Without writing I never would have known the wise and true things others have discovered and established in practice along these lines.

With writing and reading we don’t have to stumble along in the dark on our own. Well, mostly not and not for long, if we are curious enough to learn.

The real task at hand is not inspiring others, whether they be teachers or students. Inspiring myself to write, to just start somewhere and renew the daily habit of getting some lines down, is really why I’m here today. Sitting in Crema. Which removes me from the bazillion distractions at home and which has the patina of happy memories of actually writing and talking about writing.

And now, I have to shift to a googledoc to brainstorm a short PD session for K-5 teachers on informational writing, to be given, alas, on the day the teachers return from winter break. How will I inspire them?

Giving UP

Not writing.  Anne Lamott says, “Stop not writing.”

So, with my morning window whittled down to a half hour before I am in the dentist’s chair to complete a root canal (my second in a month) I am going to write.  

I’m looking for the tunnel to get back into my wealth inequality project I began to envision last year at the Ralston Writers’ Retreat. It excited me because it included cartooning and research with writing.

I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Given that truth, I have been watching my reactions to the ever widening wealth gap in my local view and what glimpses of the national scene I find the guts and attention to view.  And I have been informed that many people who come to America to thrive here in Silicon Valley do not donate to local poverty issues:  They send money to international organizations who provide relief for war torn refugees and victims of famine and large scale catastrophes.  

It makes the scale of poverty for those in America look, well, like a first world problem.  However, the increasing number of malnourished children and the decreasing ways OUT of financial disability in our country are on a rapid rise.  

And I have challenged myself to read what conservatives who write for social policy say try to understand the views of both poles of current political thought.  

One thing I observe is true is that the rising American inequality contains every  urgent social issue and it is affecting every community, school district, health, and civic engagement.

I tried one piece, a large sheet “info comic” on how the wide, wide wealth gap affects the health of a child.  

The Escalating Rift Between Worth and Want

Crema

Between bites of fluffy crust spinach-packed Quiche and laughs with L1, I have finally opened the blog and posted a title.  Crema.

This is the coffee-house where several years ago I came to meet up with a small group of women who wanted to write.  I was so excited I showed up a day early, and sat outside at a table with my tea, a YA book and my journal, feeling the slightly familiar tug of rejection as I realized no one was coming.

L1 laughed when I texted and she explained the writing group would meet the next day.  So I showed up that afternoon too. And the two of us, L1 and L2 decided to blog on the theme of “inspiring teachers to write.”  That was a huge noble-sounding idea, of which I will not evaluate the efficacy.

There have been times when we wrote for long stretches and shared a bit; times when we talked extensively and got a bit of writing down; and times when we wrestled with the clock and collaborated on how a weekend of professional development would fit into the session hours.  We even spent some coffee-house time working on an outline for a book proposal on how to best teach writing for EL students.  One time I got the idea for a comic page called “Your Brain on Writing.” Sometimes we ranted, sometimes we asked hard questions, and sometimes we told stories from our lives. Once, we collaborated on L1’s handwritten story in Spanish and I drew illustrations with my watercolor markers.

Good times.  That’s why I like the feel of this place.  And seeing L1 writing in her notebook now, working on a model piece for coaching a unit of study, I am truly content.  In spite of the shock that she had an unexpected baby and that her career maybe was going to send her to NYC, I still have a writing partner.

What is it?  I find there are people I share an internet easily with in terms of thoughts and attitudes.  L1 is one of those.  So I can write whatever I want or need to get down and expect to be understood and accepted on some level.  A trusted listener, a trusted reader is a treasure for a wanna be writer.

The concept of a coffee shop has always pleased me.  Chairs, tables, wi-fi, caffeinated drinks and pastries.  People visiting and people focused on their screens or journals.  Sometime ago, after a trip to New Orleans I wrote an ode to coffee shops.

Today’s ode is to the think space shared by putting a meeting at Crema on our calendars.  I like the sound of the espresso machine scalding the milk, the smell of roasted beans and the pleasant chatter of people around the comfy room. But what I like the most is that we can talk about writing and the writing project and our lives seamlessly.

My third of a century career in education was largely aimed at the question, “How do we teach writing?” And now that I’m retired, I’m still interested in the education angle, but more so, how do I develp as a writer, now that I’m not working time and a half?

Why write?

I must write it all out, at any cost. 
Writing is thinking. 
It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.   
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Suddenly

img_5378At 1:30 a.m. the chimes in the flowering cherry were clanging and the swaying branches from the Australian tea bush tripped the motion sensor on the garage floodlight.  I slid out from under my layers of blankets and pulled up one cell shade.  The yard was back lit from the moon and partly clouds.  Close up, in the window sash a black widow was out, hanging upside down waiting for prey.  I peered up at her and tapped the window a couple times, but she didn’t move. The whole night scene was waiting, for something.

I watched the Italian Cypress by the Redwood first.  Not tipping side to side.  But the cherry and the bushes in the yard were stirring.  The wind chime clanged regularly, so I sighed.  “Have to go out and let down the patio umbrella.”  It was eerie warm and cool and still and stirring at the same time.  “Not raining yet,” I muttered to myself, “but I smell rain.” I let the shade down.

At 2:30 a.m. I awoke again to the same restlessness in the yard and my mind.  I sat up awhile, folding my legs and straightening my spine to meditate.  “What am I doing up at this hour?” I wondered.  I usually sleep solid through the night.  I slid down under the covers and drifted back into sleep.

When I awoke at 3:30 I began to feel scratchy-eyed.  I lay thinking, turning, and gauging how I would feel in the busy second grade class where I volunteer.  “I’ll be sleepy and grouchy and it will be craaazzzy time because it’s the day before vacation.”  Musing did not help.  When the alarm went off, I practically slammed the snooze button.  Cycling through that a couple times, I forfeited my yoga time and finally got up. Dragging.

Still no rain.  Still feeling off center.  I made tea and began to wonder if I was coming down with something. Contagious.  Thoughts about how maybe I should text my teacher friend and say I wasn’t going to make it.

I brought Mom her pills and coffee and pushed myself out the door, a bit late.  I carried an umbrella for the first time in months, noting the sidewalk grubby with dead leaves and dog poo. I checked in at the office, then walked into Ms. J’s classroom.

Seeing the balloons covered in paste paper she was handing out, I exclaimed, “Paper mache!!” and jumped in, helping  her get the first draft balloons out to the students, passing out more newspaper, and offering spray bottle and assistance to kids who added layers of newspaper and glue. Moving from table to table to offer more strips of clean newspaper and advice.

A wave of excitement.  I am in my milieu when there are art projects going.  I smiled and chattered with gratitude, navigating the mess and the excitement and the evolving balloon shapes.  Ms. J. had cool Christmas music on and some of us danced at the sink.  I consulted on finishing details stood on chairs to hang up masterpieces, and cleaned tables with kids. We worked and talked and laughed. The cloud burst in me.

After scrubbing glue-laden plastic bins and cleaning tables, while Ms. J’s students settled in with their book bins for independent reading, I headed for my favorite coffee shop.  Parked at a table with Numi tea, I watched the physical rain start shining up the sidewalks.  The rain I’ve waited for since last month.

 

 

Why I have not written on this blog since August.

Or, why haven’t I written on this blog since August?

While I was doing the Eat, Rest, Love thing in Provence in early August, I discovered it was tediously slow to upload photos to WordPress, so a post took forever.  Not a good way to share travel experiences.  After I left Aix, access to the internet was only when we drove into the village of Cuge le Pins and sat in the tech room of the library.  Dans la cabine, il n’y avait pas d’électricité.

The other part of this not-writing was that, when I came home from France, I had already developed a different relationship with time.  One part of that was no longer feeling driven to do the entire do list every day.  There were a few more retirement parties to attend and catch up on driving Mom to doctor’s appointments.  And writing project things to do and my yard was desperate for its gardener.

Then I got in prepping mode to paint my laundry room which was morphed into an art studio, thanks to the summer work of an excellent handyman.  Preparing one-hundred year old wainscot, bead board, that is not only thick with layers of alkyd and newer latex paints, but also has had the spaces where the boards joined “sealed” with a layer of silicone, was major work.  Many would have simply had a handyman tear the old wainscot out and install some new bead board, but it wouldn’t have been the same.  I was in “restore” mode. I wanted the original quaintness of the room. When I began using chemical warfare on the silicone, which was gummy and disgusting with nicotine and dirt, (besides being an annoying thing previous owner had done), then, with the scraping, my brain maps for painting kicked in and I got obsessive.  I wanted to take off all the paint, an entire century’s worth down to the wood.  Fast forward to two friends coming in and head nodding appreciatively for the project, but negatively wagging no no to the stripping, not at all impressed with the patch of 9 boards I had stripped.  I returned to get ‘er done mode, prepping the old paint for primer.  In painting mode I didn’t care what time it was, but we were getting on into late September.

And for a scenic turn out, Mom and I took an 8-day road trip to Ashland, which time spent at my sister’s “hobby farm” further reinforced the Eat, Rest, Love theme of retirement.  I came home to the feeling of being retired as a kind of floating…

Finally I got the painting done and a refinish-er redid the fir flooring that had been under plywood and bad vinyl for years.

 

And then my studio sat.  I showed my project to admiring neighbors and friends. I made my atelier but I was not moved to make art.

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It is November, almost Thanksgiving. Where did the time go?  I have led Saturday classes, volunteered in second grade, taken my mom to doctor visits as her back pain has practically immobilized her, and yet all I’ve done in the art space is prep some posters for a Saturday Seminar.

So now it has become a thing.

I’m studying the pattern, just like that brickwork, those marvelous old stone cobbles from Le Castello.  On one hand I see that my days fill so easily and that I have not mandated any protected time for sketching or playing with paints, even though I have daily schedules for yoga, meditation, volunteering, mom care, etc.  What sort of inspiration am I waiting for, exactly? I’m going to give myself the gift of scheduling a daily appointment in the studio.

Writing and art are complementary for me like stones and mortar.  They mean stepping into a creative space and doing something — but with this mental attachment I’ve created — putting so much significance on doing creative work — like, I retired so that I would have time to draw and paint, which are the truest expressions of who I am.  Well, I have cast myself into doubt.  Frozen myself with the idea that somehow now I must do something significant. Uh oh, a recipe for delusion.

And some days the truth seems to be that I retired at this time to be able to take care of my almost 90 year old mother who needs more assistance now.  Or maybe it is that time thing and I was unprepared for how it would feel when my parachute came out and my full tilt work life slowed on the runway.

Other days, I’m mulling and hoping to be preparing for what I want to do.  Noticing.  Thinking about the project I launched a year ago to do info comics, in order to place poor, minority people in the same frame with the obscenely wealthy, insulated people — to show the effects on health, education, civic engagements, etc. that the ever widening wealth gap in our nation is causing.  It was so engaging when I did one last year.  I don’t know.  Who’s my audience? What’s up now? Would it be just more yammering about problems?

I’ve been spending a couple days up at my daughter’s home in the Russian River resort area and doing nothing more noteworthy than making a magnificent soup from scratch for her coming home from work yesterday.  Being.  Yes and resting.  And, this afternoon, magically, I took out my laptop, perched on her couch and began blogging.  She’s home now making things fragrant from the kitchen.

Those cobblestones are like the brain maps in my head, and like the patterns of living built up over 70 years.  I appreciate their order and movement the same way I am very grateful for my health and life.  But, expecting this art thing to pop up out of nowhere has been truly naive.  As I writing teacher I always see the good stuff grow.  It is tessalations from lives.  It never is tabla rasa, then boop, some art.

This post has the feel-good of soul confession.  I have to start somewhere.  I just hate that starting means not really knowing where it’ll go.  Not as clear as booking a flight to France. Dang, it’s going to be like Anne Lamott always says, “Get to the desk (drawing table), butt in chair, write (sketch) badly…”

Tessalations.  Connect and begin wherever I am. I will meet myself at 3 pm in the studio, most days, from now on.

 

 

Cezanne’s Atelier

Here are a few highlights of the studio Cezanne had built atop a hill in Aix-en-Provence.  I walked up that hill in the heat.  The garden outside the studio vibrated with a chorus of cicadas:

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Cezanne’s studio is upstairs in a room that is like a 50 m cube, with the main feature, the windows.

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The objects he liked to paint were parked on tables and shelves and the gray wash paint made everything else fall back.

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The simple elegance of his tools and space:

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There was a video about his painting running in the shed outside and that was about it.  A bottle of water and sitting a few minutes before I hiked back into Aix Centre.

This Morning

I was sleeping in, after the late night partiers laughed until after midnight.  More noises from the square sounded like chairs being put away, shuffling.  I got up for a peek.

Ah, the farmers’ market!

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Not only will I get my petite dejeuner, but I will shop for something to cook for supper.

Of course pain au chocolate would be petite dejeuner, but I could not stop taking pictures to go over to a bakery or cafe’.

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I bought some lavendar soaps, a bunch of basil, a shallot, 6 shrimp, 3 peaches, a fresh chevre, a wonderful paste made of black fig and walnut, and a baguette. My eyes devoured everything.

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I exused myself when I leaned in for a photo and a woman had her camera aimed.  “I’d rather do art than eat, wouldn’t you?” She laughed and said yes.  She snapped her photo and moved on with her husband in the wake, commenting, “Then you and I would make a pair because I like to eat.”

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So I went upstairs to my apartment and made a small brunch and a cup of green tea.

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Time Transitions

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The first leg of the flight was 11 hours from SFO to Frankfurt.  If it had been just 11 hours sitting in an airplane that would be something, but we were flying east so it was getting later and later. I left on Thursday afternoon and arrived on Friday afternoon.  In Lyon it is 3:20 in the afternoon at the moment, but it is only 6:20 in the morning in San Jose.

So, after the calming parts of the flight, the serving of snacks, drinks and then dinner, the movie offerings bore me and I’ve tired of listening to The Alice Network, which is a good historical fiction book, I pull the navy cotton blanket around me and the teensy pillow and decide I should sleep.  Earplugs helped with the constant swooping air against the plane body mixed with the engine percussion.  I have even wearied of  watching the two hour sunset, tomato red at the horizon and splayed out across the huge patch of the horizon.  Not like our little in-town sunsets.  As the plane is flinging us east at over 600 mph, or some such speed, the sun keeps going down for a long time.

I shut the window shade and settle in.  In intervals which become shorter and shorter, I settle into rest, then shift to one hip and curl up a knee, then the other, then sit facing ahead and try another position, longing to recreate horizontal. But I can only approximate it.  This sleep, shift, wake, drop back into half-sleep seems to go on forever.  The hours pass and I never truly sleep.  So it goes for most of us on the flight until the cabin lights are turned on and breakfast comes down the aisles on carts.

I notice that my seat mate, a young woman who travels a great deal, has her phone charging on the screen as she watches a movie.  I regret that my charger is in the bag I put overhead.  But then I think, “I’ll have an hour layover in Frankfurt and I can charge it then.”

Landing in Frankfurt was part of my plan to avoid the delays at Parisian aeroportes.  As we deplaned, I looked on my text for boarding and it said Gate A21 but the marquis in the airport read A60.  I’d heard part of an announcement at the end of our flight about checking with the airport because some gates had been changed.  So I headed down the wide hallway, walking and walking, and turning down another hallway, walking more, for what seemed like a full mile.  Then there was a sign for A1-60 pointing down an escalator.  I followed a number of people into a room with automatic passport check lanes on the right and manual, meaning wait for a person at a booth to look at passports.  I pushed my passport into the auto read and a big x came up with the image of an attendant.  I tried again and a woman behind me simply pushed past me and inserted her passport.  I had to excuse me, excuse me back through the swarm of people and get in line for a person to check my passport.  This seemed unnecessary because I just got off a plane and a continuing flight shouldn’t need this, but a rather testy young agent assured me and another dissenter asking if we were in the right place, that we did indeed need our passports checked.

Then I headed back up the long hall I had walked down, now really pushing it, because it was boarding time.  I kept up with a young woman in cowgirl boots who was striding along with a big backpack. When I got back to the literal other end of the airport, I scanned my ticket and when into the little hall with a line of folks.  Our boarding path suddenly turned left down stairs (huh?  a stair they roll out to the plane?) and then into another little hall, through double doors and out to a curb where a bus waited.  “What?? I didn’t sign up for a bus to Lyon.”  A man looked at my ticket and waved me to the bus.

We squeezed in and the driver took the load of us through twisty turns and tunnels in the bowels of the Frankfurt airport.  Then his route went out into the taxi area and we dodged other busses and various transports driving.  It was hot and the AC was barely cooling the over crowded bus.  Finally we drove out to an area with Lufthansa planes parked and pulled up next to a small one being serviced.  The driver gave an announcement in 3 languages asking us to be patient.  I am beyond patient.  I’m going into full jet lag stun.  We duly watch the mechanic with the machinery finish whatever he was doing on the jet engine.

And we wait for the paperwork to be complete.  And then we board, but after taxiing the plane out onto the runway, another apology announcement explains that due to such and such about air traffic we won’t be allowed to start the engines for at least half an hour.  My hour layover spent traipsing up and down the Frankfurt airport and I’m on a small plane that has no outlets.  My phone is running out of juice and so am I.

We take off finally and this plane lurches and twists its way into the flight course, nothing like the big jet we’d spent 11 hours on.  At the Lyon airport, which is set out in a field, I claim my suitcase and add the carry-on on top of the handle and head out the door.  There are, I realize, various young persons in fatigues moving slowly out the door, each a couple yards distant from the other, maybe 8 of them, each cradling a machine gun, in their arms.  It is surreal.  I try to take it as support.

Lugging my two roller cases atop each other out toward the train, I ask a man walking by me on the road if I am headed in the right direction for the Rhone Express.  He says something affirmative in French, then offers to take my suitcases.  I am sleep starved and the sun is blazing, so it feels like a rescue as he navigates them down escalators to the train platform. “Merci!  merci!”

When I get off the train at Part-Dieux Station and cross to get a taxi, the driver does not know of my location, and consults with another cab driver about the address, then nods that he will take me to Octavio Mey.  I’d seen it on a map when I was going to take an Uber, but now my phone was at 3% and I was saving it to call my host.  The cab rushed through streams of traffic and I began to wonder if he did indeed know where he was going, but then he pulled over, took out my suitcases and I paid the Euros.

I was on the phone when my host came downstairs out of my apartment.

This was the moment, during his cheerful explanation of the keys and the apartment and a pitch for all the touristy things to do, that I realized I didn’t bring an adapter for French electrical outlets. I nodded and thanked my host and hurried him out.  With the last 2% on my phone I googled and found FNAC and hand wrote directions down for an 18 minute walk in the morning down river.  Without my phone for a day, I had no idea what time it was.

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The late afternoon in Lyon was blazing hot and I had to have the big double windows facing west shuttered. There seemed nothing to do except recharge, so I fell asleep with the fan blowing on me. I awoke and walked outside awhile to get some salad, then slept more.  All night I’d sleep a few hours and then awake to the people in the cafe’s below the window laughing, talking, drinking.  Which they did until about 5 a.m.

Later I realized I could keep the time by looking a the Gare St. Paul out the window.

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At dawn I listened to the scraping of metal chairs as the bakery was setting up and the smell of fresh bread baking wafted up into my apartment.

Finally, after pain au chocolate and a good long walk down river and back, then another one, with thunder and rain, because the first adapter I got wasn’t the right one, my jet lag left me.