06 October 2012

The Gift of a Movie

         Here’s why I love movies.  I just finished watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and realized that, while watching it with the windows open, the traffic going by, people clicking in and out of the gate that opens onto the sidewalk, and conversation happening between those walking on the sidewalk, I hadn’t heard any of it.  Or rather – I had heard the sounds of life happening outside my window but they hadn’t penetrated as usual.
         Films transport.  The good ones take us over while we are watching them.   Films – even fictional films – show us another reality – not the one we experience usually - that we enter and live in – even if only for a couple of hours while we watch them.  Films show us ways to BE that we haven’t considered.
         Movies carry us along with them.  They provide character and plot that we haven’t lived, but might – if we dare take a step outside of ourselves.  Not recreating ourselves as if we were the character in a film, but perhaps locating some aspect of self, some buried desire or characteristic, that the character in that film awakens in us.
         It’s not that we might be someone else – someone from a movie – but that we might become fully who we are.  A movie can reach out to us and teach us who we might be if we will notice how we are affected by even the smallest image.
         Watching Evelyn/Judi Dench walk alone along the streets of Jaipur, surrounded by its natives, who appear so different from her – watching her observe her surroundings and respond to them stirs up in me the excitement I often experience when I am in a crowd of strangers.  I feel myself swept along – almost as if I’m outside of the milieu while yet inside of it – noticing how this person moves, the generous laugh of another, the sunlight on the face of a third.  And to watch Evelyn move through her scene reminds me that I don’t seek out such scenes often enough.
         When Norman/Bill Nighy finally explodes at his wife, Jean/Penelope Wilton, about who she has become and how little he receives from her, I experience again the pride and energy of having expressed myself honestly – balls-to-the-wall style – to others.  A chord strikes in me also at the opportunities I’ve let slip by for sharing my truth.
         I love movies for – and often in spite of – the ways they manipulate me; the sounds or the produced or source music combine with the camera angle, the choice of sharp or soft focus, the composition of the shot all combine to elicit an emotion.  In life we get to choose what we attend to – and can, and do, make these (often unconscious) choices to avoid a feeling. 
When I’m captured by a movie moment, or swept along in the movement of the film, someone else’s choices draw the emotion to the surface.  Yet, in involvement in a well-composed film I don’t feel resentful of any of this.  Instead – after viewing such a film I feel only thankful – that everyone involved in it did what they did.  I feel grateful – as if I’ve received a gift – and one, that unlike cake, is something you can both have and take in – at the same time.

14 September 2012


Riverfront View from Louisville
Bob Blakely
          I don't have Internet access at home.  While the primary reasons for this have to do with money; I think that there are also larger, more 'karmic' if you will, reasons for having made this choice.  Today I'm reminded of those larger reasons.
          As I write this I'm sitting outside my favorite coffee shop - Sunergos (means:  We Work Together) on Preston St. close to where I used to live.  This morning I came, not only for the delicious coffee but to take care of some work for my supported employment job.  After taking care of answering work emails and so forth I was glancing around - mostly to stretch my neck and back - and noticed, on a man's computer screen, the wonderful picture above.  It's a picture - for those of you unfamiliar with Louisville - of the Indiana side of the Ohio River.  The 'giant clock across the water' - to quote a Tim Krekel song - is a landmark here, visible from many places downtown and on the riverfront.  At one time Colgate had threatened to take the clock down and the protest surprised everyone.
           I was intrigued by the picture, particularly that it is sepia-toned, and obviously taken in winter, so I asked the man where he'd found it - so I could download and use it on MY desktop.  He told me he'd taken the picture himself.  We talked briefly about what I liked in the picture, and he showed me another photo he'd taken.  And then he offered to send me the picture via email.  What a lovely thing to do.
          A while later I decided to move outside - since we're enjoying unseasonably cool and clear days lately.  I'm sitting here piddling around at my computer when the same man comes out to tell me he'd sent the picture.  He further told me that I'd inspired him to do something he's been considering - to quit one of his part-time jobs and return to photography as a vocation and paying enterprise.  The man explained a bit of his thinking - I didn't ask him to - and we spoke casually about getting older and how we often need to make changes in our lives.  Sometimes, we agreed, those changes are a move toward something we've been wanting to do or try but hadn't yet given ourselves permission for.
          This is one of those larger reasons why I'm not supposed to have Internet at home.  Yes, it would be much more convenient to get online any time, making no effort even to put on clothes, much less to get in the car (since there are NO coffee shops in my neck of the woods).  Yes, I could probably afford to pay that bill now - with my second job.  But there's something of isolation in doing that.
          I'm reminded of an episode of Northern Exposure, in which Maggie buys a washer & dryer for her cabin so she can do laundry when she wants, in comfort and privacy.  But very soon Maggie finds that she misses the people she used to see at the laundramat, that she feels out of touch with her community, and, actually, just plain lonely.
           What would I have missed if I'd been at home this morning - besides the good coffee (which, even with buying Sunergos' beans I can never seem to duplicate)?  While I'm not so bold as to think that I alone might be responsible for Bob Blakely's potentially new creative challenge - how much of a difference does it make that I came to the coffee shop this morning?
           Maybe I just need to accept that inspirations are random and serendipitous.  And maybe I just need to keep coming back (as they say in twelve steps) and see what evolves.
          Keep on truckin'.

08 September 2012

Another New Occupation

     My friend Meridian has been on my case [though gently] ever since we met, about my lack of gratitude.  What she means by that is that I don't have the habit, nor, often, the inclination to view a lot of what life and the powers-that-be in the world has presented to me in a positive light.
     She's right in a lot of respects.  While I am daily and deeply grateful for much of what I've been given:  my beautiful and bold daughter Sarah, my dear friends (of whom Meridian is, luckily, one among many), the formal educational experiences I've had, being a Southern woman - I haven't been as filled with gratitude about a lot in my life.
     Now, I'm aware certainly that some of what I don't feel thankful for:  growing up in a dysfunctional and alcoholic home, being married to another drunk, a mother who taught fear more than anything else, and so on - those have been the very situations and people from which I've learned the most.  Those times and places and people have forced me to grow and to grow up, to locate my voice and speak and write from its truth, to understand how to truly respond from my core knowing.  
     Yet I still, too often and too habitually, wish that things had been different, that I'd chosen differently.  I still long to see the world the way others - those with more 'normal' pasts - see it, and wish I could choose from a place inside me that feels more secure - more deserving of the good things the world seems to offer.  
     No - I don't have an attitude of gratitude in general.
     Well, my friend will be pleased to know that recently, since I began a new job, I've felt the pin-pricks of gratefulness.  Not so much for those things I've already mentioned, but gratitude that the universe hasn't presented me with even harsher lessons - the lessons taught through experiencing a physical or mental disability, lessons learned when one is homeless, lessons learned when growing up in severe poverty or growing up far away from family.  
     Nearly every day when working at this job - in which I assist and support persons with disabilities to prepare for and find a real job in which they can grow and develop and eventually become more independent and capable - nearly every day I think, "There, but for the grace of God, would I be."
     Now its not at all that I feel or see or think myself above or in any way better than the clients I work with.  On the contrary - their courage and their persistence, their capacity to overcome, their faith that we can and will help them, their ability to take the small (and sometimes not-so-small) steps that will help us help them - all of these things often make me view myself as JUST SO DAMN LUCKY.  
     The incredible good fortune I had to be born to people who, while they weren't very well equipped to raise children, at least made sure we had a home and food and clothing and lunch money!  How lucky I was to have family to step in when things went wrong or crises happened.  How amazing that I never went to bed hungry, that I did not inherit any life-altering physical problems.
     Gratitude for all of this, and more, keeps tapping me on the shoulder.  
     And when it does I often think myself rather whiny and even demanding to wish my life had been other than it has been.  I have so MUCH - so much love, so many opportunities, so wonderful a home, sufficient food, and leisure, not to mention health and a mind that works well.  
     How can I not be filled with gratitude when I see the truth of what I have, when I encounter in others a reality that - had my life begun or been different - might just as easily have been mine?
     So - I owe it to Meridian - and myself - and particularly I owe it to all of those folks out there who are existing in situations that might have been my situation - I owe it to all of us to say "thanks" when the gods and goddesses of gratitude press for my attention.  

04 September 2012

A New Occupation

The lessons built-in to this experience of moving household surprise me; it’s as if they’re hiding inside the packed boxes, or beneath them, released each time I move one.  If I open it to see if what-I’m-looking-for lurks just inside.
       The lessons are I believe the spirit of this move; perhaps pointing the way to what my soul seeks from the choice – to move – to move here.
       Here is where people are poor, live poor and, too often - poorly.  When you’ve got nothin’; as the song says.  Not everyone, of course IS in poverty.  A famous and – even better - respected architect, my next door neighbors with their rain barrels, ‘community’ garden and dinners from their large backyard garden, the owners of my favorite coffee shop, and surely others of their mind live up here.
It’s real up here, alongside the canal that moves ships into the Ohio.  People yell when they’re mad, and fight out loud, laugh heartily and with a hard edge; here on the northern edge of the city and state there are no barriers to reality.  Compared to nearly everywhere else I’ve lived there’s little work at beautification up here.  Except for the random homemade art that one comes upon unexpectedly.  Against a canvas of often boarded up houses that stand like sad reminders of a time when Portland was prosperous, more than a neighborhood on Louisville’s northwest border, it’s own city; art – made sometimes of junk or found objects and brightly painted, boxes or giant spiders.
The practical reasons for the move – economic, and otherwise perhaps too typically Aquarian; I’ve been accused of hard-headedness and provoking trouble by moving here.  Maybe I do look for trouble – actually, no maybe about it.  But that, I’ve had to find acceptance for, is part of who I am; I like challenge and edgy activities.  Sitting on my bed each night surrounded by slowly decreasing walls of boxes I hear noises outside my walls:  arguments and sirens and buses, sounds I was brought up to fear.  Yet they come to my ears as life – messily and noisily happening, right now.
One therapist I saw only twice several years ago asked me why I was intent on making life harder, “the idea is to make it easier” he said.  I was embracing a brief affair with analysis then, and was amazed at his rush to judgment.  But he was correct – I make my life more difficult than it necessarily needs to be, just to see if I can make it.  That way I’m in charge.  Maybe I’m here because of that.  But only in part I think.
And there it is again – the search for reasons, for why, the desire to learn the lessons right now instead of simply sitting on my bed, or on the front porch (ahhhh, front porch sitting – even in the hurricane generated rain) and allowing what is of, and in, the moment to present itself.  The [what feels like] urgent necessity for understanding – hell, for KNOWING something I am, perhaps, not ready to know rises up from my toes and sits beside me – again.

Occupation of a new space is the only occupation I need to have in this moment.  Tranformative learning – indeed!

24 August 2012

Dear Facebook - what the . . .

So here's what I don't get, FaceBook - among many things - who told you we WANTED or NEEDED to display the entirety of our lives on your site?  Whose bright idea was this Timeline thing anyway?  Somebody who works for you and doesn't have enough to do but worry about the precipitous drop in your stock prices?  Or is there a twenty-something you just hired who believes the way to make a name in the company is by completely revamping the client format - so that s/he can then occupy all their time responding to confused clients who have no clue how to upload a new profile picture?

And speaking of that - I just spent - wasted is more accurate - 30 minutes trying to do just that.  All I want to do is replace the current profile pic with a new one - that's sitting on my desktop waiting for a home on my FB page.  Here's the picture - maybe YOU can get it to post!

For fuck's sake FB making it harder to do simple things is definitely NOT going to endear you to us.  At least not those of us who weren't born during the era when our laboring mothers were texting everyone about the length of her contractions!

This is something I've never understood about living in an online world - why, when something works just fine - like a program or a web site - does somebody employed by that company feel the need to tinker with or change it?  Didn't you all ever hear the aphorism about "if it ain't broke . . . "  The only thing I can figure is that it's job security for someone.  I mean, come on - learn from the lessons of "new" Coke (of course that was before the time of all the youngsters at FB).

Then too, maybe what I think isn't even the point.  Maybe you all at FB, and other social networking sites, probably never think of people my age as users.  Certainly we are not your target market.  I'm aware of that.  But guess what FB people - we DO use your site and others like it to communicate and stay in touch with people.

And really all we want is to be able to do that without having to spend half our online time figuring out how to do something as simple as change a picture.  We just want to get on the site and see what's up with our friends and family and let them know the same about us.

How about trying something radical Facebook, and just leave something that works alone, as long as it DOES work.  Think Lays Potato Chips - think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  You get the idea, right?  Those companies added new products, but left their big sellers alone.  And everybody's happy!

So, dear Facebook, the best I can tell you is not to mess with success.  I know, I know - you're worried that maybe you won't end up all being zillionaires before 35 after all - poor babies.  You're worried that maybe somebody even younger may come up with a way to stay connected online that will make FB seem irrelevant.  Guess what?  So what if they do?  That's how it goes.  But in the end, people will use what works for them if it does work and doesn't make them crazy in the doing.  Think Microsoft - either way you want to consider it.

Thanks for listening.

19 August 2012

To Be Continued

"So, is there sex, or better yet - love, in your life?"  

The question came from my friend Meridian during a long phone conversation yesterday.  We'd been catching up after a few months of only FB contacts.  I'd just finished telling her about the new job I recently began, and the new apartment I'll be moving to soon, how excited I feel about each, and how relieved I am to finally be in a state of receiving sufficient and reliable income - when she asked that question.

MJ & Meridian - Berkeley, CA - 2009
My answer - negative, as it has been for too long now - brought forth a typically Meridian-thoughtful response.  "Possibly becoming more settled financially and in a place that feels right to you will open up space for sex, with love, to enter."

My friend has a point - in that I have been expending quantities of energy searching for the job that would meet my needs, and even more in locating the place that feels right for me to move to (and all that moving involves).  It is entirely possible that, once all of that energy is no longer needed for those tasks there will be space/energy into which an intimate relationship can enter.

I'd like to believe that this is how it works.  I'd like to believe that the universe does hold potentially all of the things and people and situations we desire - and holds them loosely like so many gumballs in the dispenser, just waiting for us to turn the crank and release them into our sweaty hands.  I'd like to be the sort of person who trusts that good things - or at least the things we desire - are infinitely available to us if we will simply open to them.  Meridian believes that, and she's been telling me for the six years we've been friends that it's this belief that has gotten her the car, the living situation, the friends, and the love relationship she currently has.

I tend more toward a belief in fate.  I live and operate from a belief that we get what we get, and that there's very little we can do to alter what we get - for we are fated to live the life we have.  I'd have been right at home in early Greek or Roman society - in which the gods were considered all powerful and in complete and absolute charge of everything.  Of course, if what we get is harmful or dangerous or in some significant ways "bad" for us - we can reject it.  I've done that certainly.  But that doesn't mean, according to my lights, that something "good" WILL come along after.

And, believe it or not, this way of seeing the possibilities constitutes a real improvement over how I used to view the world.  For over fifty years I believed in control - that I could MAKE things happen or not, that if I just worked hard enough and strove strongly enough I would get what I wanted - regardless of the realities inherent in others or in the situation!  How much energy and time I spent trying to turn chicken shit into chicken salad!  

Life, and heart attack, and heart break, motherhood, and a lot of therapy have all taught me that, no, I'm totally NOT in charge of any of it.  And that learning has all come within the last decade.  

So - although I don't believe that the universe will shower me with all good things as Meridian does, at least I no longer believe I need to strive to make things happen.  Nowadays I focus on simply doing what I can to care for and about myself, on allowing others to support and help me as they are able, and on trusting my bodily and emotional responses to who and what shows up in my life each day.  

Maybe the energy freed up by no longer working to find the 'right' job (for the one I just began feels SO right!),  and the energy that will be available when I get settled into the new apartment - maybe all that available energy around and in me WILL draw in someone for me to love, to express sexually with.  Or maybe that energy will transform into a form of creating that is new and vibrant for me.  How wonderful it would be if BOTH happened!  

Whatever happens with this available energy, however it manifests inside of and around me, there will be a gift in it that will surprise and challenge me.  And I'll be sharing that gift in some way with whoever is open to it.  Stay tuned.

29 July 2012

The Lessons Never Stop - Do They

I guess I've lived alone too long.  It seems I've forgotten how to live with the strong emotions of another person without seeing those emotions as something to do with me.

Maybe I never did know how to do that.  Maybe I never really learned, as many children growing up in alcoholic homes do not, that it was ok to have boundaries, that other people's emotions aren't my problem.

I thought I'd overcome this, that I'd learned - rather late in life it's true - how to draw the line between someone else's emotional outburst and my own feelings.  And I think I have learned that - to some extent.  Yet, when it comes to anger, it seems, I've got some learning still to do.

I'm currently, temporarily, sharing living quarters with a friend.  It's the first time I've shared living space in a long time - five years any way.  And in those years living alone I've had the luxury of escaping from emotional eruptions when and how I chose.  And escape seemed, all that time, to be the best thing for me.  Maybe that wasn't so good.

For the last twenty-four hours my friend has simply exploded with frustration and anger over a situation  - what it is doesn't matter really - that is causing inconvenience and a certain amount of extra effort for him.  It has nothing, zero, nada, bupkus to do with me.  I didn't cause the situation, exacerbate it, or add to its difficulty.  And he is not aiming his anger at me, nor is he in any way looking to me for solutions or a place to lay blame.

Yet - yet - yet I keep expecting that to happen, and find my mind searching for ways I can assuage his anger, ways I can help him "feel better."  SHADES OF CHILDHOOD!!

I know all the reasons for this, all of the experiences from childhood, not to forget a seventeen year marriage to a mean alcoholic, taught me to work diligently and without pause in doing MY JOB to fix things that made others mad.  In truth, my childhood experiences convinced me that my very survival depended on the - admittedly 'childish' - strategies I developed for deflecting or even managing the anger of others.

The most important thing though is that I HAVE learned the core reason for my automatic reactions to anger.  I jump without pause into these ways of thinking because I'm scared!  Anger - particularly anger over something that makes no sense - to me at least - feels threatening to me.  And when I'm threatened I feel afraid, as we all do.

I thought I'd learned to tolerate this sense of fear over the years.  But, I'm wondering now if all I really learned was to escape from the fear by escaping from the angry person.

So now I'm confronting, once again, the reality that the lessons of life never really end.  I'm smack in the center of learning that there's more learning - even at the far end of middle age.  And I'm learning that - though my initial reactions to my friend's anger were just the same as my earlier reactions - I have made some progress.  I did feel afraid - afraid that the anger would be turned toward me.  True also, I did mentally conduct a frantic search for ways to 'fix' things for him - and thus, for me.

But on the positive side of the scale - I did NOT take action based on my thoughts and fears.  Hooray for me.  Instead I'm writing about it, attempting to transmute what's going on in me that holds me back, to transform it all into something creative.  And I'm sharing it with you - whoever you are out there reading this.

Maybe some would think that this isn't much - writing it out, sharing it out.  Maybe they'd be right - for them.  But for me it's a motion toward loving myself, toward gaining, in tiny increments, a sense of peace with who I am - fears and all.  And I say - Namaste to that.