Guest Post from Tom Atkins Poem: Murder is Slow — Quarry House

Murder is Slow A black man dies on a city street, the policeman’s knee on his neck, breath, life taken from him. There are riots. Of course there are. A people ignored too long will erupt sooner or later. A people not heard too long with erupt sooner or later. This is a truth we […]

Poem: Murder is Slow — Quarry House

Of Squirrels and Hope

So fellow travelers, a key turning point in my adult life came when a meditation teacher gave me permission to stop “shoulding” on myself.  Or as Master Yoda might put it “do or do not, that is all.”

The fact is, current reality* leaves me little time and even less energy for writing. The amount of screen time I am obligated to engage in to meet my assigned responsibilities for on-line education leaves me with little to no motivation for spending  additional time on line. The bright side of that is many long neglected sections of my garden are looking quite hopeful for the growing season ( whenever Spring decides to show up for good.)

Still, writing a blog does come with a sense of responsibility and, while I have no financial or commercial pressure to maintain any set number of followers, likes or comments, I often feel a “should be posting” if for no reason than simple gratitude to you, my readers.

So, while I sort out the responsibilities of the last few weeks of on-line school, I am glad my friend and fellow writer Jennifer Bowman gave me permission to share her recent piece. As she so often does, Jen has found words which give cogent elucidation to so much of what I have been feeling these past 60 plus days.

Enjoy:
https://jenniferkbowman.wordpress.com/2020/05/04/anti-depressant-squirrels-of-the-2020-pandemic/

Editorial note: My reference above to the “*new reality ” stems from my refusing to empower the current global situation with the title “new norm;” there is nothing normal about any of it. But that is the substance of another post. ‘Til then

Walk gently on the path my friends. Be kind to yourselves and others

Mother’s Day 2020

So fellow travelers, pandemics, physical distancing and unseasonal weather are only one aspect of our current reality.  To honor all that Mother’s Day means to me – this Haiku

 Snow falls cold winds blow
Yet spring flowers bravely bloom
Hope and Love stand strong

Blessings of peace and joy to all mothers here and in heaven.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Editorial note: Guest Post from a fellow writer and friend who nailed it on the head. Thanks Andy!

A friend of mine sent me a link to a Facebook post that everyone should read. I’ve provided a screenshot of it here so you can read her words of wisdom. Now, I get it. The motivation behind this phrase is painfully obvious: “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you […]

I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Now What ?

So fellow travelers, while I have considered this space as a kind of creative “thinking out loud,” there has always been an underlying hope that my writing has served some purpose beyond my own musings.

If an uplifting haiku, an eye catching photo or a bit of humor brings joy or even insight to some of my readers, I feel I have done my part in making a difference by helping others along on their journey. 
Adjusting to the massive changes brought about by the COVID19 pandemic has proven to be more demanding than any of us thought it would be. For me just the switch to online education created an overload of new information to master. There has been little time for myself to relax, let alone write; I had even stopped journaling.

Thankfully, two practices I have maintained are daily meditations and evening gratitudes. That and frequent walks with our dog have kept me sane in a very crazy time, a time which, in the words of therapist Barbara Young, “…is a much longer marathon than we could ever have imagined (becoming) a reality.”  I found her words in an article my friend and fellow writer Kate Rantilla shared. As I read it, I realized why I have felt so pressured: I am, as she describes, trying way too hard to “do isolation well.”

Her insights have helped me make sense of my emotions and allowed me to reorganize my intentions with less self-judgment. So, although I rarely share outside sources here, it felt like the best way, at the moment for me to make a bit of difference for you, my fellow travelers. 

Barbara Young’s article “What do we do now? can be found here: “https://tinyurl.com/sx2ke7n

Walk gently on the path my friends another time-
for now save lives, stay home and be well.

Rewriting History

So fellow travelers- strange dark and troubled waters we find ourselves navigating these days.

First, I pray you and those you love are safe and well. The time is coming when every one of us will know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who has been touched by this viral wave sweeping across our home planet. I see it as an unprecedented transformational experience. While humanity has survived numerous pandemics ( and will survive this one as well ) it has never been so intricately and immediately connected as we are right now. This wave hit fast, hard and will leave an impact we will feel long after the last case has been diagnosed. Hold tight fellow travelers, this journey has taken quite the sudden plot twist.  

someone shares my dark sense of humor

Normally I am pretty disciplined in my interactions on social media. Right now, with our schools transitioned to remote instruction, honestly I am so busy adjusting to new online platforms I don’t have time to keep up with my social media feed. It is however the best way for me to keep in touch with friends and family in this time of “stay home” protocols.

No surprise emotions are running pretty high everywhere, so I started getting drawn into responding a bit more to comments by adding my own perspective. (If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know me and my signature #spreadhopenotfear .) One response** on a friend’s post showing appreciation for NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership drew a surprisingly negative reaction from someone I respected. The gist of it was that the knowledge I shared in my comment (which contained facts backing up my comment) was not as valid because I am a teaching assistant not a teacher,  not a content expert in history and implied my support was driven by blindly accepting “sound bite” media.

OUCH- While being online many more hours a day than I am used to does create some eye-strain, the only blindness I’m experiencing is the blindside of being slapped down for being a lower ranked educator.  I may “just” be a TA ( teaching assistant ) however I do have a college degree in both media AND education. I may not be a content expert in every class I am assigned to but I am intelligent, well read and always seeking to learn more. I use my research skills to sort through information; I rely on science, facts and first hand accounts (aka “primary sources”) not hyperbolic media hype (left or right leaning.) I can spot a #fakenews story easier than dog hair (which is pretty much everywhere in my life) and I know how to read body language to discern when people are lying ( No, I am not a covert CIA agent- but I know people are- …kidding ….maybe.)

The

bottom

line

I have I OFTEN disagreed with Gov. Cuomo on his approach to issues in the past. That was then, this is now. And the bottom line is what we are dealing with NOW is an unprecedented global crisis. The opinion that the rapid spread in NY is due to poor leadership does not equate with well documented facts about what is happening almost everywhere around the world. Regardless of decades of warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) almost no country or leader was prepared.The few exceptions have been a handful of countries with fewer personal freedoms and stronger government controls which instituted universal mandatory confinement within a relatively short time of the outbreak in their country- something that will not fly in America, land of the free and don’t tread on me (observe the push back from simple “stay home” protocols right here at home.)

 Why was everyone so unprepared?
 (trigger warning for my friends who deal with anxiety and/or trauma PTSD. This is a very sobering section, proceed slowly or head right down to the Looking Ahead piece)
Medical experts explain that COVID19 is different, even from other viruses in the same category.  It is stealthy ( most contagious before symptoms present) its efficient (reproduces rapidly right after exposure) its sinister (takes close to two weeks to run its course – thereby prolonging the transmission rate). We do not (yet) have a vaccine or an effective treatment (there isn’t a”tamiflu” equivalent “-yet) 

Most countries and leaders looked back at recent viral outbreaks SARS, MERS Ebola and expected to have a lot more time to “get head” of the infection rate. Experts in Washington State where the first case in the US was diagnosed alerted the CDC, looking for directives in how to proceed. Suffice to say (and this is well documented) there was no sense of urgency from the CDC or federal government, regardless of the rapidly rising infection rate and death toll China was starting to report. Fortunately, Washington state and local leadership paid more attention to what farsighted countries were doing and instituted precautionary closures of vulnerable locations in Seattle early on and when the outbreak spread, so did the precautionary measures. Unfortunately it was not until Italy’s crisis became world news that other countries, including the US, realized the potential severity of this pandemic. And as of the time of this post (March 27, 2020) there are regions in the US where the outbreak is just beginning to bloom, that continue to disregard the warning signs of growing numbers. They have not taken to heart the clear implications of taking a “wait and see” approach. Many of those regions are rural areas highly vulnerable to having smaller medical facilities quickly overwhelmed with tragic results.

Looking ahead

Looking Ahead #lookforthehelpers- Since my ethereal snow goose experience about three weeks ago I have struggled to write about this experience of living through a pandemic. I see now the hidden gift in that stinging slap down, because it pushed me to find truth in my emotions and here I am pounding out the words which were buried in those feelings.

And there is more to come. If nothing else, I have broken through the anger (which too often feels like a forbidden emotion- a habitual pattern from childhood) and found a way to voice my truth without undue rancor. I have neither the time nor the desire to fuel the critical, angry attitude which poisons social media. I want, I NEED to focus my energy on supporting my students, my friends and family, my creative tribe. My greatest hope is for humanity to come out of this shadow into a better world, one of global cooperation, compassion and connection.  Historically, that has not been the after effect of epidemics and pandemics.

Maybe it’s time we rewrote history.

Walk gently on the path my friends, safe distance apart and may you live to find adventure when this shadow has passed.

**Post edit note: I would like to make it clear the comment I referred to was NOT made by anyone I work with. My colleagues in our district have always treated me as an equal and respected my contributions. I appreciate them deeply for that.

Snow Quest

So fellow travelers, February turned into a long, dark month. 

Winter made a roaring comeback complete with winds howling in delight at our delusions of a “mild winter.” Even leap year’s extra day in this shortest of months seemed an added mockery. Displays of forced spring bulbs in my local grocery stores felt like false promises in the face of so much loss around me. 

So many, too many, grieving friends.


One friend lost his only child, a beautiful young woman just a few years older than our own older daughter. One rushed to be with another friend facing her final hours shortly after receiving a fatal diagnosis. One was blind sided by a sudden job loss. Several friends said goodbye to cherished four legged companions.

And there is our neighbors’ house, which stands shrouded in mournful tarps, scorched black by a terrible fire in late January. Thankfully the young couple, their children and both dogs all escaped without harm but they just found out the house has been declared a total loss. They have lost most of their  possessions and they had to make the heartbreaking decision to give up their dogs for adoption because they no longer have a home. Broken windows and doors have been boarded up to prevent vandalism, still, we keep a watchful eye on the property. Kid and dog toys lay scattered in the yard, the baby’s swing hangs empty, daily reminders of a life so fiercely and suddenly disrupted.

Sometimes there are no words to ease the intense grief of sudden loss. So for five weeks, while I navigated the ice dam of emotions. silence reigned my creative space. Until yesterday, when a message sent me 35 miles west on a quest to find something marvelous.

Those specs in the sky are hundreds, maybe thousands,  of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) arriving at a wetland north of Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Delilah and I arrived just in time to catch this wave of migrating visitors seeking a resting place for the night. Although I only had my phone to capture photos and a short video*, a good pair of binoculars (which are always in my car) verified these were indeed Snow (not Canada) geese. The vast flock, gracefully swirling back and around, sent waves of calls across the shallow water. Wild music punctuated, by the dissonant squawking of resident gulls displeased at being ousted from the mudflats each time a band of geese would come to rest. As the sun slipped closer to the horizon, the marsh began to glow with a magical amber light and the white wings of the snow geese took on a soft rosy tint.

It was a wondrous, miraculous moment and as light faded, I drove home finally having found words to speak, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

 Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*(short video can be found at this link : https://youtu.be/1fhBgofT9OM )

Living in a Snow Globe

So fellow travelers, the Big News in our corner of the Upstate neighborhood is that our city is BEHIND in the annual Golden Snowball Race.

For those who don’t reside in the snowbelt of Upstate NY ( which I think the majority of my readers can gratefully say they do not) the Golden Snowball is an award given to the Upstate NY city with the highest snow total by the end of the season. The contenders are Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Binghamton. Buffalo always starts out strong (the epic storm in 2014 for example) but Syracuse holds the record for most wins thanks to the “slow but steady” accumulation which runs right through March. Lake Erie packs a punch, but Lake Ontario’s back breaking consistency (everyone in the Greater Syracuse area knows not to put those snow shovels away until after Mother’s Day) plows us towards a win year after year. Hence the reason my neighbors and I are always grateful when another city runs ahead of us or wins. Congrats to Buffalo on that 118.8″ total for 2018-19 which beat the Syracuse total by a full 3.8 inches! and hey Go Rochester currently leading the race at 61.4″ so far !

What? there is other Big News I “should” be attending to? Not today, thank you. Sundays are my sacred space days when the choices I make are intended to lower my blood pressure by raising the joy quotient in my life. Call me an escapist but this is how I keep my sanity.

So I honestly felt a warm burst of gratitude as I stood in my back yard this morning, listening to the quiet bubbling of the pond “percolators” delivering life sustaining oxygen to the fish below the frozen surface. “Breathe… breathe… breathe…” they murmured, as tiny flakes of snow began to drift down from the sky.






White icy kisses
Softly tumble from the sky
Swirling all around

Life inside a snowglobe… and hey the season has a long way to go. Every sparkling flake counts.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Intention

So fellow travelers, January 1st rang in more than a new year, it’s brought us across the threshold of a whole new decade.

Bypassing references to the previous decade of 20’s ( in which the high point is clearly the creation of Mickey Mouse) for me the main significance of this new decade is it also marks the beginning of the holy grail known as

~ R * E * T * I * R *E * M * E * N * T ~

It will be a few more months (or 140 days, not that I am really keeping track) until I can declare myself free to adventure at will and I have many objectives to accomplish before then. This year, I approached my annual planning process from a different perspective by writing intentions rather than making resolutions.

The difference runs deeper than mere semantics. To me an intention feels more internally driven. When we say “That’s exactly what I intended to happen!” we are referencing something we consciously chose. Intentions give our choices an internally sourced purpose. For example by saying I intend to nourish my body with healthy meals I am creating a more mindful way of making choices about what to eat. It also removes some of the judgement and sense of failure when I might fall short of the mark. When I say “I will eat healthy meals,” as soon as I have french fries and a bacon cheeseburger I have now failed to do what I said I would do, even though I did not say I will “always” eat healthy meals.

“Potayto, potahto, tomayto, tomahto” Ok, I hear you. Perhaps a seemingly insignificant change of wording, but it’s been my experience the shift in how words feel makes a meaningful difference in how consistent and persistent my follow through will be. Breaking our own word is the ultimate betrayal to ourselves and we are not likely to persist in pursuing a broken promise. But if I did something other than what I intended to do, that simply becomes an error I can strive to correct with a different choice next time. The potential for fulfilling my intention still feels possible and I do not waste any energy “shoulding” on myself. “I could’ve, would’ve or should’ve” is a cycle stuck in blame and judgement; “I can, I will and I shall” moves me forward beyond a misstep.

One important intention I set for myself is to write everyday, not all of which will end up as blog posts, but an element of that intention is to post here as close to once weekly as possible, even if it is a simple photo and haiku. So thank you for following along, I believe the path ahead looks quite promising.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Insights for a New Decade

So fellow travelers, this has been a busier than usual holiday season for which I am grateful to have had a full two weeks off from work.

In between road trips to visit family, I have managed to rearrange several rooms in our house. My efforts have allowed me to resurrect my pilates machine, reclaim art studio space with good daylight and establish a new meditation and yoga space.

I’ve been honoring this last gift by spending time every morning reflecting on the passing year and clearing out any burdens I choose not to carry forward as I set intentions for the new year.
(This photo is the spot in my parents townhouse where my Mom meditates and says her ancestral prayers each day.)

Entering this shiny new decade free from past hurts, resentments, guilt or regrets is a gift we can only give to ourselves. I have been trying to write about this (in between packing up Christmas, moving furniture and clearing out clutter) but it came out sounding too diadactic.

Then friend and fellow blogger Lisa Dingle put up a blog post which embodied what I was trying to say- only absolutely on point with her signature Light touch and good humor. You can find her post here https://justponderin.com/2020/01/03/on-my-cup-and-the-new-year/

Synchronicity struck as I read Lisa’s post right after writing my own intentions for this new decade on the first blank pages of my 2020 journal. Intentions which revolve around making choices which will fill my own cup with less judgement and more tolerance and compassion, as much for myself as for others because we cannot give what we do not hold for ourselves. So I raise a cup in a toast of united commitment to “doing the work.” Here’s to the spillage bringing more hope and joy into our weary world.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.