My mentor and friend Bernie has been told by doctors that he has a year left to live. Thanks to Bernie, I’m now aware that I—like him—have a choice here. Each new day now, actually, I have this choice: will I choose Bitterness, Sweetness, or Bittersweetness as my companion today? Luckily, thanks to Bernie, I don’t have to face this choice alone anymore.
Bernie has been playing, studying play, learning about play, and writing about play since the 1960s (as an adult, that is—I’m sure kid-Bernie did more than his fair share of playing, he probably drove his folks nuts). It didn’t occur to me until just last week that I should search his ginormous and playful database of deep fun (Deepfun.com) for the word “bitterness.” But then I did. So I did. And I was stunned by what I learned. Which is this…
I learned that playing, studying play, talking about play, thinking about play, and writing about play and deep fun and all the ways in which they manifest themselves around the world is a damn fine way to spend your life. There is a Sweetness in Bernie’s life that shows up in my imagination as a small, slightly goofy, and often mischievous creature sitting just above his right, and sometimes left, shoulder. Sweetness is an angel and a devil combined, the dappled color of a turning fall leaf, and he whispers “Let’s play!” and “Oooo, let’s try that!” and “Come on, let’s go there!” into Bernie’s ear every day. How Bernie spends his time here—the playing and the studying and the talking and wondering and the writing—all these things do a remarkable job of keeping Bitterness from stepping into his life uninvited. All those decades of writing—writing practically every day, WOW—and it’s almost as if Bitterness was listening for places to enter, waiting for just the right moment, but very few Bitterness-warranting moments appeared. So he contentedly sat on his swing, swinging.
You see, in my imagination, Bitterness sits swinging on an old tire swing dangling down from a tree branch, watching Sweetness and Bernie race around the world, and Deepfun.com, like children playing tag at twilight. Bitterness is smiling, watching, patient, and waiting. Bitterness isn’t sinister: more like the introvert kid content and enjoying the solitary swing and happy to have the more rambunctious others just slightly farther away but still in plain view. Bitterness doesn’t need to step in much at all, because clearly Sweetness and Bernie have got this. Because Bernie listens to Sweetness most days, Bitterness knows that Bernie is ok. Bernie invites Sweetness in to play most days, or vice versa. So much so, that they’ve even started to look a little bit like each other. And some days now, I notice, it’s Bernie who is the dappled angel-devil creature sitting on Sweetness’ shoulder, not the other way around. (Bernie also married Rocky, who comes from strong Sweetness-embracing stock. Lucky, lucky Bernie.)
As I wade through his six decades of writing, I notice that Bitterness moved visibly onto the Deepfun.com playground just six times. Go and look and see. And wow. Each time Bitterness stepped in, it was to visibly demonstrate how to invite Bitterness in and how to play with Bitterness. Bitterness, I learned, wants to play too. He’s just different. He’s not Sweetness. Not so easy to play with. Here’s a summary of what I learned. To get the full demonstration, search for “bitterness” yourself on Deepfun.com:
- October 13, 2003. In a post called “The Dancing Referee,” Bernie links to a video where we get to watch a man bring grace and exuberance to the difficult role/job/profession of sports (soccer, in this case) referee. Bernie notices “The officials are there, not to have fun, but to keep the way clear so that fun can be had by others. They allow the players to leave aside concerns about fairness and safety, so that they can focus everything, everything on the game. But refereeing is often a difficult role, one that leads to argument and bitterness, insult and injury. To find a space for joy in all this, to transform yourself from an official to a performer, requires courage and commitment and deep enjoyment. It kind of makes you think that anyone, regardless of role or position or function or job, can find fun, if fun is what that person is ready to find.” He ends by reflecting on a sport that doesn’t require referees (Ultimate Frisbee asks players to be their own referees) and on one that does, saying “To understand fun, we must find ways to celebrate both.” Celebrate both even though I’m not a fan of both? Hmmm. Deep fun, indeed.
- May 13, 2008. In a short post called “Pangea Day,” Bernie shares a link to a movie in which people reimagined a border wall into a volleyball net. Hmm. So Bitterness and fun belong together? Even in the presence of the worst humanity has to offer? Hmmm.
- June 28, 2008. In a post called “Sneaky Fun,” Bernie shares a link to a site designed primarily for people feeling bitter at work. People who work at computers, that is. The site transforms the Internet (a virtual place where people sneak away from tedious real-world work to explore and play) and makes the Internet look like a boring Word document on your monitor, so that you can sneak in a bit of fun under your bosses’ noses. Helping the Bitter at work be a bit naughty? I love it.
- April 25, 2011. In a piece called “Backstory,” Bernie talks about getting overwhelmed by the world and its cruelty and messes. “I want to rant and rail, to make sounds of fury, to bite the bullet of bitterness and spit it in the face of stupidity, in the hands of brutality, in the eyes of cruelty and stuff.” Damn. Wish I’d written that. And he follows that with writing down his own purpose so he can more fully look at it—simultaneously giving the world something better to read about themselves: “I write these posts to help make things a little more fun. That’s exactly, precisely what I’m here for. Fun for me, for you, for anybody who isn’t finding enough light to delight in their days… For me, play is a political act. This is what I truly believe. Playing, celebrating everything with everybody, anybody. It’s as revolutionary as a protest song, as government changing as a rally. For me, fun is healing, is health made manifest. Body health, social health, mental health, soul health.” As he writes, I think to myself “Play is an act of revolution, and clearly I’m all in.” And suddenly the whole world, and Bernie, and I are so beautiful that it makes me cry. Dammit Bernie. When did Sweetness jump onto my shoulder?
- October 20, 2015. In a post called “Elder Fun,” Bernie plays with a distant friend recovering from a stroke, demonstrating how to let go of old patterns of fun to embrace new patterns and deeper fun as we age. Fun and Bitter. Bitter and Fun. Hmmm.
- May 8, 2017. At this point, Bernie and Sweetness are living with the reality that he has less than a year to live in this beautiful, beautiful world of ours. And so am I. After reading his essay, “Play a little, talk a little, play a little, talk a little, play, play, play, talk a lot, play a little more,” (Damn, dude, your headlines just keep getting better) in the comments following the post, a friend describes the piece as “Bittersweet.” After so many years of watching Bernie and Sweetness play together, Bitterness himself, it seems, has been transformed. Finally confident that he will be invited to play, he steps onto Bernie’s own page now, feeling mostly lucky and just a tad regretful, saying “Thank you, friends, you’ve changed me. I’d like to join you in the fun. But please, call me by my true name: Bittersweet.”
And so we welcome Bittersweet into our play—a rag-tag group we are, fond of fools and filled with accidental genius—playing tag and giggling again, as glorious and warm and present now as Twilight herself.
P.S. Speaking of swings and playgrounds, Bernie has gotten a lovely company to donate some really cool swings to his local park, but they need $4,500 for the installation. If you have a little extra money, consider donating it to this most playful of causes. Go here for more details: http://www.deepfun.com/gift-family-community/.
Aka, 55 books to read to slow yourself down and reimagine yourself as part of the creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new/old resistance. The story of creating the list follows the list. I’m refusing to organize or categorize this list. The point is to explore, find something important to you, leave the Internet, and go find some books to read!
- Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl.
- The Slave Ship. Marcus Rediker.
- The Half has Never Been Told. Edward E. Baptist.
- The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Advice for the Politically Disenfranchised. James Tracy, Editor
- A Fighting Chance. Elizabeth Warren.
- Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Tom Friedman.
- Poetry as Insurgent Art. Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
- Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. Sunil Yapa.
- Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. Danielle Evans.
- Teaching the Cat to Sit. Michelle Theall.
- We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. Alice Walker.
- Overcoming Speechlessness. Alice Walker.
- Silent Spring. Rachel Carson.
- Ishmael. Daniel Quinn.
- A Chinamen’s Chance. Eric Liu.
- The Other One. Hasanthika Sirisena.
- Culture Jam. Kalle Lasn.
- Power. Linda Hogan.
- Mean Spirit. Linda Hogan.
- Solar Storms. Linda Hogan.
- Republic of Outsiders. Alissa Quart.
- The Twentieth Day of January. Ted Allbeury.
- Deceit and Other Possibilities. Vanessa Hua.
- Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Charles M. Blow.
- Unbought and Unbossed. Shirley Chisholm.
- The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. Lucille Clifton.
- Popular Songs: The Political Poems of 1890-1820. Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Joseph Cambell.
- Women, Race, & Class. Angela Davis.
- Don’t Bite the Hook. Pema Chondron .
- When Pain is the Doorway. Pema Chondron.
- When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Pema Chondron.
- The Left Hand of Darkness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Four Ways to Forgiveness. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Tehanu. Ursula K. Le Guin.
- Sun Dogs. Lee Maracle.
- Daughters. Lee Maracle.
- Ravensong. Lee Maracle.
- Perma Red. Debra Magpie Earling.
- Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks with Barbara Smith.
- Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought. Beverly Guy-Sheftall.
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. Melissa Harris-Perry.
- Divine Rebels: Saints, Mystics, Change Agents – And You. Caroline Myss.
- Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Audre Lorde.
- Wretched of the Earth. Franz Fanon.
- Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Sebastian Junger.
- Indian Killer. Sherman Alexie. (to start)
- Demand the Impossible. Bill Ayers.
- Rules for Radicals. Saul Alinsky.
- Ten Days in a Mad-House. Nellie Bly.
- India’s Struggle For Independence. Bipin Chandra.
- Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). M. K. Gandhi.
- Emotional Agility. Susan David.
- Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto. Jessa Crispin.
This week I asked my 500ish online friends for recommendations for books to read. These are people I trust, not strangers. A diverse group, although as a middle aged white woman I know I will always be pushing to do better–no friends with disabilities responded, for example.
I need to get off the Internet more often right now, so that I don’t continue to get sucked into the complete partisan hell circus my country is unleashing every single day at us now. I want to more fully join the new creative, fun, difficult, and beautiful new resistance. Be a better accomplice and friend. I will still be online sometimes. Yet, as a creator I need big infusions of slowing down, resting, listening, wandering, and inspiration to be myself and to do my work well. Outrage helps my work too, but not all outrage all the time. That’s just not me. I’ve aged out of being able to sustain rage. When I don’t demand these other things, I become a reactor, not a creator. I become unrecognizable to myself. I end up sharing “news” that is actually lies. (Yep, I did that just yesterday. Thank God for smart friends who check when in my outrage I forget to!) I don’t think that being just another reactor and tantrum thrower is what we need right now (although I really needed to be that for a while this week). I think we need to remember who we really are. And by “we” I mean me and most of the people I know.
I asked specifically for creative, inspiring, resistance books. Both fiction and non-fiction. This is what I heard back in 3 days! Wow. I forgot what a deeply curious and gloriously book nerdy group of humans my friends are. Yay! The numbers in the list just represent the order in which I received the recommendations from various parts of my online world. I am not categorizing them–the point is to explore the list and find something new and important to you. Personally, since I want to read all these books, I will be reading them out of order in whatever order I can borrow the books from others, check them out of our library, afford to purchase them (some came very highly recommended), and find them personally inspiring. I own the Viktor Frankl book and all the Ursula K. Le Guin books if you live nearby and want to borrow them. Also, if you’re a friend and you notice that we’ve missed a creative resistance book that you love (in our few days of collective online brainstorming), please share it with me and I’ll add it to my reading list.
If you don’t have time to read 53+ resistance books this year, then follow me on FB or Twitter. I will be reading and sharing excerpts from these books online in 2017 and beyond. Trying to recommend specific books for specific friends. And hopefully, one day soon, I’ll find myself writing a book of creative resistance too. But this is not that year for me. This is a year of listening even more closely to my/our ancestors. To all of the people and groups who have already been doing this for a long time. Some for a very long time.
Note: I occasionally update this list with new books as trusted people and authors recommend them to me.
Flash poetry (created and shared online in <10 minutes) inspired by an amazingly prolific and resilient researcher friend. I turned a research abstract into a poem on the fly for him. That’s me apparently: nerdy poems on the fly, no waiting. Isn’t life beautiful?
Loving to Pieces, Autopoiesis
from reduction mind-sets
with holist approaches
squeezing self-organizing systems
loving to pieces, autopoiesis
misty-eyed chaotic systems
tickling multi-agent systems
running across the field
lighting up aspects and helpers
in understanding emergence
falling down laughing with stories
research and measures
to greet agent organization
at your own dawn
We would like to announce the arrival of our new baby, aka, our new book, Year 1 Poet.
She was born in paperback form at 2 p.m. on November 30, 2014, weighing 100 pages.
She is a little genre-bender already. She tells the true story of a writer getting lost and becoming a poet. She also contains 32 poems and 15 beautiful accompanying illustrations. Near the end, she also contains tips for writers becoming poets (tips I had to create for myself to undo my training as a writer) and tips by emerging artists for other emerging artists from both me and her three illustrators (aka, her aunties and uncle).
Starting tomorrow, she will be available at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, my favorite bookstore in Seattle. She’s also available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. She’ll be available on Whidbey Island soon too.
We intended to get this announcement out weeks ago, when she first arrived in the world, but we were swamped with new-book-parent things. She keeps us up at night, planning for and imagining her future. She keeps us scurrying here and there, learning how to create e-book and audio book forms, how to best share her with the world, and meeting local book sellers.
Here’s me—exhausted, unkempt, and glowing—holding her for the first time. Notice that her professional-photographer father was so excited that he forgot entirely about proper lighting. Oh well, if book parenthood is about anything at all, it’s about humility, about not being able to do it all, and about falling more deeply in love with yourselves: eye bags, unwashed hair, and all.
Her auntie Tabitha made a whole bunch of birth announcements for us in the form of postcards, e-postcards, flyers, and bookmarks. Thanks Tabitha! Distant friends, you’ll see them on social media for the next month. Forgive our oversharing. We really love her and we think everything she does is adorable and world-changing. Nearby friends, you may encounter her birth announcements on community boards, in coffee shops, and in bookstores.
In lieu of cards and gifts, please purchase a copy for yourself or friends, write a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads (her baby books), and/or tell those you love about her so they can find her for themselves. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do this without you.
I’m excited to announce that the hard copy of A Travel Guide for Transitions is now available on Amazon. Woo hoo!
The book has 45 full-color illustrations accompanying the stories and quotes from our journey…
Here is their proud father…
We also just made four promotional postcards for the book featuring mini-me and mini-Bas from the book. If you live in the Seattle, USA or Zandvoort, The Netherlands areas, and would like some of these awesome postcards to share with others, give us a shout and we’ll get them to you. We crazy self-publishing types need all the help we can get!
Bas did a really brave thing this week.
And given that he is so beautifully Dutch–reserved and humble and whatever the opposite of self-centered is—he would never toot his own horn about this. But I’m an American, dammit. My friend deserves a bit of frickin’ horn tooting.
For years, Bas researched, wrote, spoke, and breathed project management. He worked as a PM. I’m certain that he got things done more efficiently and better and faster and all those other things PMs care about. And his blog, the Project Shrink, was very popular in PM-land. He had those thousands and thousands of followers that most other bloggers secretly long for.
But he grew weary of his expertise. Tired of the PM box he’d built for himself.
Over the past few years, Bas has been moving in new directions: trying on different hats.
His Project Shrink blog eventually became Shrinkonia, the name of his own created-via-imagination country, as he embraced more of his true, PM-box-smashing self.
He’s been Project Ethnographer. Story Home Builder. Geographer-at-Large. Story Wrangler. And Writer that Draws.
And all the while, he’s been studying and talking about what he himself is doing: from the struggle to answer the question “what do you do?” to letting go and savoring transitions, from storytelling to map making, from identity crises to recovering your sense of direction.
Growing ever more playful, lately he’s also been Wile E Coyote. Metaphor Man. Faux Travolta. And The Guru. And my personal two favorites—At Dawn We Ride guy and fellow wandering Chicken Pirate—both of whom feel most like the fun, smart, brave spirit that I spend time with and know best.
His shadow side shows up too. Often in Darwin, his snarky blog who calls him a Hippie and Sherlock and Sparky, lest he get so far out into woo-woo land that he can’t ever catch the boat back to Normalsville.
I don’t think anyone has told him yet that that ship has sailed.
Personally, I keep waiting for the day The Dude shows up, a version of Bas from one of his favorite movies.
But I digress.
Everything that Bas has been doing the past few years is brave. However, what happened this week is bravery of the highest degree.
Bas removed all of the PM books and PM talks from his Web site.
Those last links to his former professional self.
By his own hand.
In Lori Land, bravery doesn’t get much more impressive than this.
This is believing that your world will reward you, eventually, for being the real you.
This is believing in your quirky self and quirky ship mates, even in the face of your fears.
And despite the fact that what you’re doing is so very different from what the rest of the world seems to be doing. And what the old you did.
Believing even in the face of your own loud and snarky shadow-side voice. Walking away from the boxes of the corporate world, the boxes that you yourself helped build and that you yourself must tear down. Walking away from dreary work that you know people will pay you for toward creative play/work that far fewer people may recognize as valuable, at least at first.
This is walking your walk.
Dancing your dance.
Disco-ing your duck.
When people learn what I do for a living, and that my creative partner lives on a different continent, many ask me how Bas and I met and how we ended up working together.
I usually tell the long story, as is my way, that involves him writing about my blog, new-blogger-me being so thrilled that I offered to do his laundry for him, and how we started talking regularly via our blogs until we decided to work together on our first book.
I now see the shorter story.
I knew the moment I met Bas that he was doing exactly what I was trying to do: creating worlds in which who we really are—the whole quirky, smart, oddball us—is terrific. And documenting the journey as we go in case our experience proves useful to others.
Together, it seems, we’re finding those worlds. First Shrinkonia, then Lori Land, and now Oddball Empire: a whole real world of quirky, brave souls that were here all along, patiently waiting for us to trust ourselves completely, do what we’re called to do, and join the fun.
My advice now for anyone trying to find Oddball Empire is simple…
Find the person who hears your crazy story for getting there, jumps on the tricycle next to yours, tilts his/her paper hat into the wind, and shouts “At Dawn We Ride!” Stick together.
Everything else you can invent as you go.