It’s October 2018. Status update from earth. We’re tired. We’re working hard. Many of us are in pain: hurting, scared, and angry on a regular basis now. I could say most of us but I can only see and speak on behalf of my own community on that. Here, most of us are chronically exhausted by the weight of the human world and trying to figure out what to do about that before it kills us.
Here it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that we humans aren’t learning anymore. Or that we’re regressing somehow. Not just them (whoever your them is), but us too. US! Honestly, I think both of those positions are bullshit. Especially when they show up within me. Not that I’m the kind of person that calls “Bullshit!” loudly or in public. Oh wait, I am now. Look at that.
What I see from here is that many of us are asking our wee selves to learn at an un-human pace now, and we’re expecting other wee selves and our own wee selves to never make mistakes while learning at an un-human pace. This position is untenable. It will break your body, your mind, your spirit—and quickly if you try to do this alone. Here we often try to hold the weight of the rapidly changing human world on too-small shoulders. This makes the individual brain feel like a chaotic ball of goo and exhaustion some days. And working with this goo and exhaustion, many of my people, including me, have sort of forgotten how to hold the weight of the world as a community, as a culture, as a region. And we’ve sort of forgotten that making mistakes is part of how we learn. Not just us, but them too. Whoever your them is. And we’ve sort of forgotten how to partner with other earthlings, like trees, flowers, deer, birds, rivers, and many of our human neighbors too.
Have you noticed? Even here, exhausted and with a goo brain, I bet you have.
What are you doing about this now? I’m curious. Until I hear back from you, FYI, here’s what I’m doing. I’ve begun to completely surround myself with people who never forgot: the women who live in the woods and share and speak with native plants, the women who hold hands with women around the world to pray for orcas here in the Salish sea, the mystics who say everything is needed, the artists who turn pain into beauty, young children, those who never fully let go of feeling indigenous to earth (at great cost), the trees here, the animals, and the sea. And my Facebook friends and family. And, for good measure, I spend a day a week now with people from all walks of life who are 90+ years old. Even my people get wise after age 90 and when forced by memory loss and physical ailments to lean on the whole world again. 😉 But I digress…
My point is, we are still learning. The following piece documents me learning. If you fear my wonderings or my thoughts or my pain in this piece, don’t worry. They’ve likely changed by now. You have nothing to fear from me no matter who you are—not if you’re a learner, which I believe everyone is…
So here’s me. Learning.
This is what I’m noodling on today: fierce kindness, consequences, who pays the highest price? and where in the world are we right now?
Yes, I’m a woman. I think about a lot of stuff at the same time. While writing this I’m also doing laundry and making a mental grocery list and I just ran to pick up lunch for Daniel’s workshop guests. So I think you can handle this juggling of four things. I’ll repeat them here so I have signposts to return to when I wander too far off my own path…
- Fierce kindness.
- Who pays the highest price?
- Where in the world are we now?
These words are floating within me like stars in a dark sky now.
They’re wider than thoughts.
More curious than beliefs.
Far more interesting to me than truths or political sides.
So we play together, these words and I, here. Right now. Join us!
Oh, fierce kindness. I’ve learned fierce kindness from all my closest, truest, and bravest friends here in my 40s. Definitely from friends of color—African American women, Asian American women, First Nations women, and elder women the world over. Oh, and parents. A lot of fierce kindness within parents the world over, though many seem too tired to see how amazing they are. And now and then, we’ve learned about fierce kindness together, my brave husband and I, too. Thanks honey. The two pileated woodpeckers out my window right now seem to know a thing or two about fierce kindness as well. They’re looking at me and nodding along at the moment. Thank you, all…
There’s a lot of fear in my country right now. Bubbling, boiling-over anger and fear and rage.
In the community that raised me back in the 1970s and 80s in South Dakota, my people valued kindness above all else. No matter your beliefs. No matter your politics. No matter your time on earth. Our kind hearts, our kind actions, our kind words—they will save us all, my people said.
Were my people right? I wonder because here we are. We’re two years into the Trump administration and witnessing a president celebrate and endorse violence against so many people, daily, and openly, proudly mocking and hurting so many people here and around the world, that it feels like hell here on a daily basis now. We’re two years into apparent daily proof that blind rage, blame, anger, racism, misogyny, gaslighting, narcissism, blatant lying, and cruel, vicious fear-mongering run amok wins my people’s hearts. It most certainly seems to win elections in the U.S. Who are we? My people, who are we? Are we this? Are we him?
We’re two years into watching the men in charge at the highest levels of government make fun of people with disabilities, mock military parents who’ve lost their children in service, and mimic and laugh at women daily, including those brave enough to talk about sexual assault in the public sphere. Men attempting to legislate out of existence whole groups of people, the latest group being the transgender community, and trying to legislate away climate change by banning certain words being spoken. Yeah, your puny papers are going to stop mother earth. Good luck with that! Men who smile and fluidly blame and shift focus onto others as tiny children are torn from their parents at our borders and quietly “adopted” into families here—by their orders. Men who actually giggle with glee and pat each other on the back as they imagine a US with no public lands, fewer public parks, no Medicare, no Social Security, no safety nets for the sick, the injured, the wounded, the very young, the very old—nobody. Promoting private prisons that profit the more people are locked up. At the same time as they try to quietly decimate clean air standards, roll back clean water standards, ignore scientists who’ve devoted lifetimes to understanding these things, which can only make us all even sicker. As we face no access to healthcare. Or as they try to cripple the public education system. Or… I could go on here. I won’t. You get it.
Who are we? Who are we, my people?
In the face of all of this, do we cling to our fear and isolate ourselves like our worst ancestors did or do we cling to our kindness and step toward our neighbors and their truths?
My people cling to kindness.
Here in the flotsam and jetsam wreckage of our shattered illusions and our shattered country, even now, my humans cling to kindness the way survivors cling to floating bits of wood after a shipwreck.
The word that rankled me recently in the face of what’s happening right now was civility.
“Civility first!” some of my people cry. Into the faces of people who feel like they are drowning.
Sigh. Now is not the time to shut ourselves up. Now is the time to free ourselves!
Every time I hear those words “civility first,” raw and vivid images pop into my head. An image of families and children being loaded into trains and shipped to concentration camps. In Germany. And here in the US. Here in Washington state where I live. And images of entire nations of people—First Nations people—being marched off the lands they love(d). Not that many generations ago. Not that many days ago. What were my people doing as all that happened? Smiling? Waving? Holding “civility first” signs up to people being treated like cattle, people losing everything they care about, and/or facing brutal extermination? Or looking away? Or, my mind pops to images of African Americans all over this country, still, being killed by the police regularly (the best-armed representatives of our remarkably racist system that teaches all of us to fear dark skin whether we’re conscious of that fact or not). So many Americans have been killed for doing “terrible” things like walking, chewing gum, playing, or driving while black.
Will kindness save us here? Now?
Will kindness save our neighbors?
Will it save the children down in concentration camp tents at our borders today?
Save the women all over this country sitting across tables from scared men who are being reminded daily that there are few consequences for sexual assault and almost no consequences for coming after women’s health and well-being?
Will kindness save our neighbors who are jailed, or killed, for nothing more than sitting in a Starbucks or being locked out of their own homes with brown or black skin?
Save the children hiding in classrooms from another shooter holding a semi-automatic weapon?
One of the things my people failed to teach me when I was young is that I am well served by you, too. Hello rage. Rage, you’ve helped me learn that there are more types of kindness than I was taught about as a child. I bow to the best of the good intentions of my ancestors by never completely abandoning kindness. AND, I move with, and occasionally past, their failures, by learning from those who long ago had to move beyond the simplest kind of kindness just to survive.
I’ve learned about fierce kindness. What is fierce kindness?
When I think about fierce kindness, I first think about parents of kids playing outside. Parents, recall the words that escape your lips as you watch a very small child—yours or anybody’s—racing innocently, blindly, and head-first toward a road that’s busy with car traffic or toward a train track with a train rapidly coming your way. What did you say and do first?
“STOP RIGHT NOW!!!”
This, screeched at such a high and frightening pitch that neighbors three counties over heard you.
Remember that whole-body understanding of what’s about to happen and that whole-being caring about the immediate well-being of another? That noise pulled up from within you?
That’s fierce kindness.
THAT’s a kindness for these dark times.
That’s what is making and holding protest signs and hats and marching in the streets and demanding better for humanity as a whole. That’s happening around the world these days. And that’s what’s voting in mass in November.
Fierce kindness is part of us, too, and it’s nothing to fear.
So, friends, I ask you to understand where I’m coming from the next time you chant “Civility first!” at me and others marching in the streets now.
I want you to remember that I watch daily as families’ healthcare options across my country dwindle to almost none at all. Watch people plan to dismantle Medicare and Social Security—our money that we’ve paid into our entire careers, knowing they would be safety nets for us when we need them. I watch as my friends risk their lives (not just hurt feelings) for walking down the street just for being who they are. I watch those babies and children without their parents held in those tents at our borders, and I refuse to look away. If I can see that my country is being led by willfully blind children dressed in business suits and they’re heading straight into oncoming traffic? What else would you have me do? So I ask your forgiveness in this moment. You’ll need to excuse us if we scream.
There are people in the world who have to look away. And I get that. Not that many years ago Alzheimer’s disease was so drowning our family that I didn’t have one extra moment for other people’s pain.
But I’m not one of those people anymore. I don’t have to look away most days.
Because I hold fierce kindness within me always and I lean on the fierce kindness of many, many others. The world cannot shake this kindness out of me. It is me. I am fierce. And I am kind. Often, I’m both.
My kindness may show up loudly now, and some days even angrily, and in different ways than you and I both are used to kindness showing up, but my fierce kindness and I show up where we’re most needed now, and she and I are here to stay.
I still make mistakes, because I am still learning. I still allow fear to creep in and my mind to worry and this still causes me to leap to crazy conclusions some days. Some days the pain within me causes me to lash out at the world. Every damn time I think I’ve evolved past this, I receive a new lesson in how easy it is for me to lash out and hurt a friend when I allow myself to get too low and worried as an individual. Humbling, those days are. Needed, those days are. Reminders that I’m not evolving past being human but I am evolving into being more fully human and more fully present and at home on earth. That reminds me, I need to send an “I’m so sorry I was a total ass to you last month.” card to my neighbor, Kim. And speaking of being fully human, I’d like to talk about…
Adulthood has little to do with age.
Adulthood has little to do with age. Now there’s something I wish I’d been taught in school.
To be an adult is to fully recognize that there are results—there are consequences—for each action we take in the world and even for the feelings and thoughts that we and our communities have. To notice and care about the impact we have on the world we love.
To be an elder, I suspect, is to fully realize that the consequences of all beings on earth (not just humans) ripple out into the world, and perhaps backward to ancestors and forward to future generations in time. Most of us live with a myriad of consequences with each breath and step we take in the world, because we are connected to literally everything here and our bodies are sensitive enough to know that even if we were never taught this by our families and cultures. Did I say most of us referring to all humans? The nerve of me. Yes, I did here. Because unlike the people my country elected recently, most people I know are good to their word. Most people I’ve met who claim to be adults actually are adults most days. They do their jobs and raise their children and they seek to learn and they do what they can to improve their communities. Most deeply care about their impact on the people and on the land and the animals and even the plants here. I’m so glad I can see that.
It can be hard to imagine (although it’s easier these days) that there are still people who go through their whole lives—who get to age 25, and then age 40, and then age 75+—without learning that there are consequences for their actions. People who are so disconnected from their neighbors, and their families, and the earth that they can’t even hear, let alone deal with, the pain felt by others. They literally can’t feel the pain they inflict on others. That’s why our country feels like a horror movie. It’s these people getting most of the air time. Trees and animals know better than to tune into the horror show around the clock. We’re learning that now, too.
Here in the US right now, it feels like most of those remaining wildly disconnected people are very wealthy white men and their fan boys who have decided to listen mostly only to other white men who completely agree with them. I’d include white women here too, God knows we’ve played our quiet parts well enough across the generations—and maybe we still belong here, too—but I’m part of a community of white women around the globe, and I’ve spent the past 15 years witnessing a vast and growing number of white women in countries around the world flat out stop doing what so many white men are still trying to do, and at great cost to themselves. That is, we’ve stopped trying to get back to a nostalgic past that was less painful for some of us but more painful for everyone and everything else on earth–as if going backward would fix things. As if going backward as a whole is even possible for humanity. Nope, most white women are DONE with that shit. Women are too busy and far too practical to keep trying, generation after generation, what clearly doesn’t work for anyone anymore. Goodbye colonization and white supremacy and domination and concrete wall building. And good, damn, riddance.
We mess this up, of course. Wow, do we mess this up. We are bound to, because we’re still learning.
Unfortunately, my kindness-centered people recently managed to elect a whole damn lot of wildly disconnected wealthy white men into public office. And the face-twisting, vein-popping, foot-stomping rage that they feel as they face the real consequences of their actions, some for the first time, so late in life—while still blaming others the whole damn way—is just flat-out bizarre to watch. And sad. And scary. How could men in power—men in their 30s, their 50s, and even their 70s—men holding all the old cards of power for two years now, throw so many toddler-like temper-tantrums? Every day now, we see another new temper tantrum…
How dare these women insist that sexual assault be taken seriously as a barrier to the highest public offices?!
How dare these people at our borders demand any human rights or insist on seeing their children again?!
How dare these African Americans or Muslim Americans or members of the LGBTQ community or [fill in the blank] demand to feel safe as they walk down the streets, and at work, and in public places?! Demand the same rights as we’ve always had and take for granted?!
Who do these people think they are to demand that all people have access to clean water and breathe-able air and access to healthcare like so much of the rest of the human world has long since figured how to do?!
How dare scientists devoting generations to studying the climate, or public health, or the animal kingdom, be upset that we refuse to listen to them?!
How dare students and parents and teachers demand that our schools, teachers, and libraries be well funded and not be violent, bullet-ridden war zones?!
How dare these gray-haired old people carry protest signs and march and insist that we stop bombing other countries and selling weapons around the world as if that doesn’t destroy our own future?!
How dare First Nations people demand not to be belittled, exoticized, and caricatured anymore?! Demand that treaties be honored?! Demand that water and land and animals be respected and protected like the givers of life and co-creators of this world that they truly are?!
Consequences, gentlemen. Consequences. Welcome to adulthood. We can face the people we hurt and talk to them and listen and learn and grow together, or we can find ourselves behaving like frightened, confused toddlers on the global stage. Toddlers driving steamrollers to flatten anyone who gets in their way. When you’re done stomping your feet and throwing temper tantrums and fearing wave after wave after wave of humans who want better for humanity and simply have a different opinion from you, please come, step forward, and join us. Right here, on the ground.
The world has changed. It has changed in a way some people have failed to notice. You see, here on earth now, noticing the far-reaching consequences of our actions is no longer a step anyone gets to skip and still claim to be an adult. Not the uber-rich. Not white people. Not men. Not government officials. Not CEOs. And not even those so desperate to become them, or to control things, that they’ll accept any cost—even deeply damaging costs to their own families and communities. Which, shoot, feels like a lot of us to me.
I say this as a 48-year-old white woman who was willing to stomp her feet and walk away from mere difference of opinion just 3 years ago. I know of what I speak not because I blame you, but because I am willing to really look at what I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I am now. Just a few short years ago that was me—stomping my feet, throwing blame around like it was party confetti, and walking away from those who simply didn’t think the way I think.
Part of me got to be a middle-school pre-teen right on up into middle age. Part of me still is, actually. Likely always will be. She’s got a good heart, pre-teen me. Prone to over-dramatize a bit and wallow in her angst longer than feels proper, which I kind of like about her now. I just don’t let teenage-me run the show most days. Not the days when she’s naïve enough to allow her own fear to control her and use it to run away from her neighbors or to think that running down her neighbors makes anyone happier in the long run.
You are my neighbor. And I am yours. This is reality. Welcome to adulthood, Lori. So. What are we going to do about this together?
In the past few years, I’ve made, maintained, and deepened friendships with seven Trump supporters: three old men (around 90 years old), one middle aged man and one middle aged woman, and two very active, senior (mid 60s) women. All are white. Five are middle class and two call themselves blue collar. I had no idea about the fears, horrors, and isolation that they face. No idea about the graphic horror-show world that Fox News feeds people daily. People raised to trust the news. Raised to trust their own fears. Raised to be patriotic and to support the president: no matter what. Expected by people like me to evolve at break-neck speed and without any context or back stories or empathy. I try to bring some of my world into theirs. I try to see some of their world in my own. I’m still a good neighbor, because that’s who I am. I bring people food and look after their pets while they’re sick or away, for example. I just don’t shy away from fierce kindness or from consequences anymore. I speak and listen, fiercely as I have to. (Although I’m opting for just regular old kindness with the lonely old man dying of prostate cancer. With him, just plain old simple kindness feels like enough. He may be too old to change, as my dad likes to say. How fortunate I am that I’m not.)
Who Pays the Highest Price?
Adult-me has been thinking about these words a lot lately, too.
Adult-me thinks that those who pay the highest price for speaking up should NOT be the ones who have to speak up first, often, and alone. Adult-me thinks that we should speak up together, and on behalf of one another, as often as we possibly can. Not over one another. Not taking up more space than everyone else in the room does. Often “speaking up” is just a simple, well-placed sentence or two—one that makes others feel less alone and feel seen, respected, and in some cases, maybe helping neighbors feel safe enough to speak their truths in this place, too. For example, sentences like “Why are you directing your comments to me? I am the student here. See the four black people sitting on the panel at the front of the room? They are the experts on the subject here. Why not ask them?” or “How about we listen fully to what she has been through and actually hear what she has to say before we dismiss her and tell her how dead wrong she must be despite her experience?”
I’ve actually been thinking about this one for about 18 years. Because I’m white, and middle class, I didn’t have to think about this until I was ~30. Had I been willing and able to avoid looking at other people’s truths, in this body, I probably could have avoided thinking about this well into my 50s, at least. But that’s not the way this body works. She’s connected to everything. So I know that many people of color in my country, so many people who I love, had to start thinking about this kind of thing around age 5 or 6. Can you imagine having to grapple with this at just 5 years old?!! Lord, I could barely tie my shoes and was too shy to even move, let alone speak, in large groups back then. I’ve also learned that many people who grow up in extreme poverty, regardless of color, are forced to think about this far earlier than I had to, too. So many people don’t have the choice to look away. So, if you want to talk to an expert on this subject, that isn’t me. I’m still learning. And literally every word I say here is just that. This is just me. Learning…
So, here’s what I’m thinking about fierce kindness + consequences + who should step forward and say something right now to the adults who believe they are adults but who are shocked and angry that there are consequences for their actions, causing them to resemble tantrum-throwing children on the global stage…
If YOU are not the person who will pay the highest price for speaking up, then YOU should speak up now. In person, on line, and at the ballot box. Anywhere your voice will be heard. This simple act is fully living your kindness as an adult. Demanding better for your neighbors and their families, not just yourself and your family and your own interests IS kindness here in adulthood. Listening to your real neighbors, about their real lived experiences and truths—not just to yourself and those in the world who agree with you—this is what being an adult is all about today. Stretching the boundaries of our selves to include more and more people and places, more of life herself, as our neighbors, is the work of this time, I think.
And this doesn’t stop at the individual level, although in my country it often starts there because so many of us were conditioned to think of ourselves as individuals first… If your FAMILY/COMMUNITY/ORGANIZATION/SOCIAL GROUP/CITY/REGION isn’t the group that will pay the highest price for speaking up, then YOU should speak up. All of you. Every single time you can.
- If you’ve built a family/community/organization/social club/city/region that is deeply trusted by most or all of those you serve—one that is open and honest about things, including mistakes, and willing to learn and grow openly with your neighbors—then YOU have power that other groups of humans don’t. Speak up. Speak up to honor how lucky you are. Speak up knowing that you will make mistakes together, because you are learning together. There are so many families and organizations and groups that don’t have the power to speak their truths together and to host open conversations that include neighbors. Tap into your privileges, whatever they are, and use them for the common good.
- If you are white, and you hear another white person make disparaging remarks about people of color or making plans that will hurt people of color, yes, speaking up will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be. But you’re unlikely to be killed for your words. People of color receive death threats, derisive laughter, and actual physical violence and are sometimes killed just for speaking their mind on this subject. Just for their words. They are passed over for housing and for jobs for no other reason than the color of their skin or the sound of their names. I read just yesterday about an African American woman in Vermont who was voted into office and then had to give up her post because of the constant threats to her and her family—actual emotional damage, break ins to their home while they were home, death threats, and so on—by white supremacists in her community. She quit in part because her husband was also having serious medical problems, and she didn’t want the abuse by white supremacists to exacerbate the medical trouble. Who are we, my people? When I watch what women of color face every day in my country, I am outraged. And inspired. And I am filled with courage I had no idea I had. Because I feel my connection to her, I am filled with her courage too, not just my own. And DAMN does she have courage. I mean, DAMN.
- If you are a man, and you hear another man make disparaging remarks about women or preferring men over women when making hiring choices or regularly talking over women or not allowing women to have opinions or outright bragging about abuse, assault, or worse… yes, speaking up will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be. But you’re unlikely to be killed or raped or fired for your words. Far too many women receive death threats, rape threats, and derisive laughter, lose their livelihoods, and are subjected to physical violence, rape, and death for speaking up on these subjects. Step outside your comfort zone for your neighbors—aka, 50% of the world’s population. Allow yourself to feel your deep connections to us. You will be filled with our interconnectedness with the world and our courage and strength too, not just your own. And DAMN do women have a lot of courage, strength, and interconnectedness with the world. Even the trees have our backs now.
Where in the world are we right now?
Well, that wandered away from me a bit.
And that was me, just playing with words. That was adult-me and teenage-me wondering, wandering, creating ideas, letting go of ideas, and learning. It’s not pretty or perfect or concise, and some people will make assumptions about me because they think I mean them harm with some of these words, intentions, and imperfections that showed up here in this one moment.
But this is just me learning. I mean no harm. Some of you won’t believe me no matter what I say. Here in my 40s, my own family made me strong enough to live with that. I will disappoint some of you no matter what I say, and I can live with that. I can thrive with that. We all can. Thank you family.
Now, this is elder me. Slowing down. Breathing deeply. Walking outside for a bit. Filling with gratitude. And taking the time to make sense of the chaos…
It often doesn’t feel like it yet, today, but the world herself is helping move us as a whole in the direction humanity needs to move. My people tend to over-focus on the human world, which is where most anxiety, depression, confusion, and injustice lives. But there’s a whole living, breathing planet of co-creators right here ready to connect when we are. In fact, one day soon, there will come a day when we humans will do these four things fluidly and naturally with and for each other:
- We will recognize fierce kindness when we see it, know it when we feel it, and we will be thankful for it as the true gift it is in the moments that we receive it, not just months or years later, or on our deathbeds, in hindsight. Fierce kindness doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy, like regular kindness, and it also doesn’t feel abusive, like intentional cruelty, either. It is a revealing of how we truly feel, in one particular moment in time. A deeper trusting in ourselves and others. That’s all it is. The flickers are now nodding along in agreement just outside my window. There will come a time when we humans will practice receiving and giving fierce kindness so much that we’ll learn to trust our own bodies to know the difference between fierce kindness, which is often deeply needed, and cruelty and abuse, which aren’t. That time is now.
- We will be so connected to each other and to the earth herself that we will feel the consequences of all our actions, and our ancestors’ actions, and we will be thankful for those consequences because they mean we are alive, learning, growing, connected, and changing together here on the home planet we share. Here where I live among the chatty trees of the Pacific Northwest, a lot of white women in my life are experiencing serious vertigo this fall. Medical science calls it a virus. I don’t disagree: I’m not that arrogant anymore. And, it’s more than that. We are realigning our bodies with the earth and fully recognizing our voices and gifts as earth’s inhabitants. We are allowing ourselves to be realigned by the earth for the benefit of all beings. For many of us, the time for this step is now. The alignment, especially when faced alone, is jarring. We bow to all of those who’ve already been living these truths for generations and those who never stopped living this. We bow from the earth, from beneath the trees, and on our knees.
- We will speak up with and for each other, not over each other, as a matter of practice, and we won’t expect those who have the most to lose in a situation (especially life, limb, family, and livelihood) to be the ones who do all of the speaking up and all of the risking (and accompanying growing and changing). When teenagers are being maligned in our presence, we will speak up for teens. When women are being attacked, we will speak up for women. When refugees are being abused, we will speak up for refugees. When members of the trans community are being terrorized, we’ll speak up. In spaces where straight white men are being maligned and they have the least power in the space, we will speak up for these men, too. When the truly terrified and powerless Trump supporters are being maligned—and we know them in person and their backstories and their horror stories, too—what, my friends, will we do? As we can, we will speak up, on their behalf, as friends, too. Not because it’s deserved. The world is far too complex for me ever to be certain WHO exactly deserves WHAT exactly. No, here we do so because we are remarkably connected to each other, strong, and grateful for this life, and because that’s what truly powerful beings of this world already do.
- We will show up for each other, and lean on each other, and on the earth herself, to remember where we are and notice who is with us in the chaos of the human world today.
What’s left to say?
I am here now. With you.
It’s time for these changes. It’s time for committing or for recommitting to these ways of being and actions. Time for building them into our routines and habits and family lives and work lives and stories and schooling. And yep, our governments too. We the people have work to do.
Especially if the world feels chaotic, angry, and hopeless to you, right now is the time.
Because the world is overflowing with energy, love, gratitude, kindness, people who speak up with and for each other, trees who are friends, rivers who are gurus, animals who are guides, teens coming together to serve as adults when their adults completely drop the ball, and elders who are all in, heart and body and soul, on providing hard-won wisdom and comedy relief and help to those less fortunate than them. Even here. Even now.
There is so much of our planet that my people have been flat-out missing for generations.
The jays out my window are nodding in agreement. Although an eagle just passed overhead too, so maybe the jays were just ducking. 😉
This whole place, and this earth, want us to notice them.
We are ready to notice. Ready to move here as learners and as co-creators and as co-conspirators with the earth herself. Ready to feel fully welcome and at home on earth together.
That’s where we are right now.
And we’re not alone anymore, have you noticed? Suddenly the planet is teaming with noticers, with learners, and with deep listeners.
But what am I saying? Of course you’ve noticed. Only learners and noticers and deep listeners walk this far together and alone.
What I most want to say is this.
Thank you for your remarkable presence here in this remarkable place.
It’s been a more-difficult-than-normal few weeks in the US for many women. Brutal for some. Just about every woman I know has been re-living their sexual assault, remembering their close calls, and/or listening to and comforting friends again who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted in the past and whose trauma runs longer and deeper and wider than herself. So many stories I’ve heard that needed to get out—it shakes me to the core. Of women who have spent their lives arming themselves daily to simply walk down the street. Women who move their own furniture around—in their own homes—attempting to feel safe again. I know women who cannot sleep in their own homes unless a certain number of doors and windows are checked and locked each night, others who cannot sleep in certain kinds of beds or on certain kinds of bedding because they feel unsafe, others who can only sleep in one position because anything else leaves them too vulnerable, and still others who can only sleep if they are the one closest to the bedroom door so that they can quickly escape as needed. Many of these women are 20-, 30-, or 40+ years away from the day the assault or rape happened. And each night they are not far away from it at all. Yet each new day they step into the world to make it a better place for anyone they can.
Wow. Wow. Women are so fucking bad ass as individuals, and as a whole, in the coming years—wow—I’m really glad that I’m not going to be the one still trying to get in our way. We aren’t what you think we are. We are climate change herself. Social justice herself. Change herself.
And then yesterday, after hearing another of these painful stories, I logged into Twitter for a few minutes, because I’m disinclined to look away from our collective pain anymore and I wanted a wider perspective. Not that everybody should do this now, this is just what I did. At some point this year I finally learned to believe my own body when she says that our own pain is almost entirely entwined within each other’s pain and that I can trust myself to step forward to understand our pain as fluidly as I step forward to connect to our joy. That my gallbladder might be hurting this year because so many women in my world are deeply hurting and also aware that we are healing trauma well beyond our own bodies now. I stepped into Twitter because I wanted to hear from an even wider swath of my community—from Muslim and indigenous women and black artists and also writer friends in other states and countries. People who I respect, admire, and love—some close up, as personal confidants, and some from afar whose voices I want to hear and learn with. And one of the first things I found on Twitter was the voice of a pastor who I’ve never heard before—who is also black (fortunately, unlike many other white folks in my country, I am not colorblind). He is also a man and an American. I heard him speak his truth. In a way that I respect and aspire to do myself: loud and proud and fully in-touch with my own community. He said that white women should not be trying to appropriate kneeling at a football game right now to demonstrate their disgust with what is happening in our country with Brett and company. That black men kneeling during the national anthem beside football fields to protest police killing black people with little consequence and rarely, if ever, anything remotely approaching justice—that action should not be co-opted by the #MeToo movement. Appropriation, thy face is white America. I heard that. My family heard that. My ancestors hear it now, too, since they are alive in me.
I happen to agree with him, not that that matters here. I also happen to think that kneeling is the LAST thing I and most of the women in my life want to do this particular week. We want to rage. We want to fight. We want to organize. We want to demand that the WHOLE community help bear this pain of ours instead of only a few of us. Some of us want to burn the patriarchy and white supremacy to the ground and dance together in the gray ashes of a long-dead system that a few people keep trying to bring back to life decades after the corpse turned cold. If you think that means we don’t love men or want men by our sides, that’s your fear talking. Personally, this week, I want to drop the remaining old guard patriarchy to its knees and let IT worry about where to best position its bed, and which sheet set and duvet cover (!) won’t invite rape, and let it count the number of steps from the bed to the door so that IT won’t be assaulted again. Fucking patriarchy. But I digress (thank you rage). My opinion on this particular issue is beside the point here. My point is that instead of responding directly to this eloquent pastor, and trying to match pain for pain and blow for blow during a time when I feel like I’m drowning in the physical and emotional pain of my community, I decided just to listen him instead. Because he isn’t Brett. He isn’t Donald. I’m not in danger from him, and he actually has a perspective that I want to hear. So I decided just to believe that his pain and rage and suffering is every bit as real as mine. That he carries generational trauma that I will never fully understand. That he may be sensitive like I am. He may be infuriated by certain words and people, too. May lash out and say things in anger now and then. Like I do. He may also breathe deeply, think and feel on something for a long time, consult his community, and then know exactly what he wants to say, exactly where, exactly when, and to whom. As it turns out, he was speaking to me. He was letting me see into him. How cool is that? Thank you.
Whoops, this is getting long and I didn’t intend this to be long. Damn. I do have one point here to make. Just one.
My point is about this one human—me. This one human, who happens to be white, happens to identify as a woman, happens to be American, happens to be middle aged, happens to be on the straight end of the spectrum, happens to be short and forgetful of names but never of feelings or places and who is a writer and a poet and a tree-listener by nature. Happens to be an Alzheimer’s care partner for her mom. Happens to be dealing with chronic gallbladder pain this year and thanks to her own pain is now more actively and consciously learning how to heal whole-family trauma and multigenerational trauma via the trees and plants around her, and with women healers across several cultures and countries (because that’s how these healers roll), and who is moving slower than ever at the moment with her own in-pain-daily body…
This ONE person happens to now choose to walk toward the fire, most days, instead of hiding from it. Some days she plays with wild abandon like she did when she was younger. All days? All days now she chooses to listen until she hears the pain or the joy and can feel the connection point—then she speaks. And most people actually listen to her or at least slow down to wonder at this unexpected curiosity.
Some days words fly from this body of mine of their own accord—not all the pain within me belongs to me (I can finally see) and the egos of all my ancestors, including my past selves, no longer aspire to hold the pain of others hostage within this (or any) small frame. My people were wrong about this walling-in-and-walling-off-pain crap. This human is finding her power and her voice beside everyone else now. She sees growth for growth, and it’s rarely pretty in the traditional sense. Wonderful eventually, but often not pretty at all along the way. She’s no longer hurt by words not intended for her—and she can tell the difference between what is intended for her and not intended for her in any given moment. And unlike Brett and company, she doesn’t overreact in situations where overreacting isn’t necessary. Ok, every once in a while she does, but she, at least, is learning. I can read a room now, any size room, and feel the mood of a space. And I know the difference between feeling defensive (and on your own learning edge, right where you need to be most days) and being in actual danger. This human slows the frack down without apology now—in defiance of human fear. She defies her culture of busy-worshipers and ladder climbers and consumers and power grabbers and fear mongers, and her family of work-obsessed, always-preparing-for-winters’ worsters while forgetting to celebrate lifers, and her own too-worried-about-her-individual-productivity self. I defy my colonizer ancestors, including my former selves. I do the work to make it safe enough for love and pain to be in the room. Everybody’s love and pain. Any room I’m in. Even when its online. Even when its inconvenient.
There’s no such thing as inconvenient for people who show up in this world to learn. We, the learners, have all the time in the world. Weapons? Walls? Traditional cabals and dickheads of power? All will fall to time. Women are recognizing that we have it in us to be time herself. And to call upon time and our ancestors and future generations and even the weather to help us. Time’s up, dickheads.
This human is stronger than before. More vulnerable than ever. More connected to life than ever. More humble. Asking for more perspectives than she was taught (and then taught herself) is correct or wise or safe. Seeking to remember what it feels like to be fully welcome and indigenous to this place we love. Learning from those present and those absent. This human steps toward pain, into it, through it, and then back into it as often as is needed—together—whenever she can.
And the weird part is, I’m more in love with life now than I ever have been. Even living with physical pain and family pain and cultural pain on a daily basis. Even as rage and anger become our norm. Even here where not listening to each other, never reading books, assuming the worst of those we’ve never met, and lying for the financial profit of it are acceptable and necessary compromises for so many. Even here where screens have replaced faces and humans are regularly asked to check “I am not a robot.” boxes, and they think nothing of it because they didn’t have time to think about such things again today. Which political party is at fault for our screen obsession and lack of time for thinking, exactly? Am I the only one who thinks this them-or-us political bullshit is a ridiculous position to center our entire lives on?
This human is somehow falling more deeply in love with a remarkably beautiful world and her own deeply fracked-up country.
Why is that?
Why did I find this person, in this place, and at this time? Why did they find me?
If these are your questions, sit with them for a while. Longer than you think you have time for. You are time, or you soon will be.
Thank you for being patient with me. Most people still come to essays for answers and insight. I don’t offer answers or insights. That’s on you.
Artists, I’ve learned, don’t traffic in whys and answers and certainties most days. I center on community some days, friendship other days, family on other days, my work some days, and on the universe herself at least a little bit each day. My currency is wonder, the same as the universe. I speak tree and dog and cat and deer and rabbit. I’m working on speaking whale at the moment, the orca dialect in particular. Wonder cannot be stolen or destroyed from the outside. I’m starting to suspect it can’t be destroyed at all, which is why my fear is ebbing now even as humanity’s fear swells.
Wonder on that for a while if you’d like. The entire world can come crashing down and artists will still create art. Humans are amazing. Given nothing more than dirt and shelled out buildings and shattered dreams, artists still make art. Farmers and cooks and plants still aspire to create food for us. Parents still parent their children, even when their children are stolen from them and placed in tent cities at my country’s southern borders. It’s going to take a whole lot more than this to shake us. We can see. We can speak. We can help. And we can lead from anywhere.
We are being called to make room for the pain of others within ourselves. The pain of a hell of a lot of others and a hell of a lot of generations whose pain is still alive within these bodies. By we here, I mean my community and I, and possibly, you and yours.
Many of us here are still learning to make room for the pain of our selves, let alone others, so we mess this up regularly and we try to do better and keep learning. By us here, I mean me. I am lucky, because I, like many white people, am allowed to mess up regularly at certain things, and at any age, without fear of death. Many people of color aren’t allowed that. Many women aren’t. Many women pay for crossing old or imagined lines with their lives regardless of their color. And many people aren’t allowed to mess up regularly for other reasons: by family, cultural, religious, or corporate customs too. Wow are we humans complicated, interconnected, and, um, totally screwed until we’re all free to move and speak in the world without fear. Like the trees are. Pro tip: when the humans are driving you bat-shit crazy, listen to the trees nearest you.
This is simple, too. We are being called to make room for the pain of all others within our selves. That’s all. We’re being asked to recognize and remember our own internal spaciousness: the spaciousness that we were born with and some of us got to hold onto for quite a while as children. Did you ever cry over a dead bird, bury a dead rodent, or mourn the loss of a bug’s life as a kid? I did. My childhood friend Amy and I created a tiny animal cemetery in the woods near her house to honor those lost lives. Nobody taught us to do that. It’s in our DNA to be that caring, that loving, that fully present. Today, Daniel and I still mourn the loss of neighbor birds and bugs and rabbits and deer. That’s our story, too. That spaciousness, that sensitivity, that is humanity too, and it is still alive and well in the world. Spaciousness doesn’t need to be feared as it grows and expands. I can mourn for just about anyone now. That voice spoke inside me after I listened to Brett’s initially calm but quickly descending into self-centered, whining, and then just flat-out weird for an adult testimony. Can you imagine reaching his age and still thinking that lying under oath is what you have to do for you and your community thrive? Can you imagine being considered for the supreme court of the land while ranting about conspiracies and evil democrats? Yuck. And I don’t defend him. That’s not my job. But there is a tiny part of me that can mourn for him, like I mourned the loss of a big june bug when I was 6 years old, even as I mourn for all the humans who have it much, much worse than him even when they tell the truth. And I mourn for the price women across the US will likely be paying now for years to come.
Many of us have been taught that we don’t have it within us to do this. Many of us still believe that we have to choose anger over mourning, or civility over anger, or peace over chaos, or love above hate, or reason above emotion, no matter the circumstance. People in my community were taught that we can’t hold both and all within us. That we must choose one of the above. For women in my community the only acceptable choices, ever, were mourning, civility, peace, and/or love. Part of me has always known that we can stretch ourselves wide enough to hold multiple perspectives and emotions within us, and still be us. I knew this at 15 and 25 and 35 and 45 and here at 48 I have fully lived that truth.
I believe we do have that spaciousness within us. And by we, here in this moment, I mean you and me. Just you and me.
I used to think that we had it in us to give up on the world. To give up on each other. To give up on ourselves. That I had it in me to throw blame at other people from a distance as a daily practice and to never listen more closely to people remarkably cruel and unlike me. Oh, and to cut people out and wall people off and to never look back, like many of my ancestors did and many people I know still do.
But I don’t now. I can’t give up on you and me anymore.
The world—that big, beautiful, round blue-green ball floating in space—she lives within us now. The whole universe—that rich, dark, wide open and empty space dotted by countless shining stars and planets and unknown objects (who’s that hiding behind Pluto these days?)—she floats within us too. Oceans, rivers, forests, cities, fields, music, poetry, and wild horses running across open plains, they live within us too. We are SAF (spacious as fuck) communities well on our way to becoming SAFE (spacious as fuck earthlings). You and me, at least, we are on the way.
The world, the universe, life herself: they never give up on us. And now, finally, here, at age 48, here with you, neither do I.
On any given day I might be listening or speaking or crying or laughing or walking away from someone for a while or inviting that someone back in or asking for forgiveness or thanking someone for their work in the world or voting or marching or creating an essay or finding a poem or baking a pie and cleaning the litter boxes.
But I never give up on us—on you and me. Not anymore. No matter where we go or how far apart we get. Because I can see that we are always connected by pain and by joy and by far more than that.
Thank you for being here.
I had a gallbladder attack—a tall, dark gallstone and I passed a wild night in the emergency room—last November. I’ve been slowly healing with an unhappy gallbladder ever since. Now here in July, just two weeks ago, facing unexpected stress, I found myself with gallbladder inflammation pain again. The pain has come and gone for two weeks now. Not an attack again. Not severe. But dull, aching, persistent, and annoying as hell. Nevertheless, the pain persists. So back to the doctor I went. Another doctor in my doctor’s practice who had free time this week. I quickly found myself frustrated by another western medicine doctor saying “just cut it out, just get over it.”
Thank you for your expert advice. And this gift…
When did I become the person who dares to question the expert?
When did I become someone who shows up having a wider range of ideas and options and cultural wisdom to draw from than this person in this small office I once bowed to without question, calling that “health”?
She referred me to a gastroenterologist, and I will happily go, assuming the insurance company agrees to pay for the CT scan and the additional expert. I’ll find that out later this week. I told her I’d be trying acupuncture, vegetables, and herbs to reduce inflammation and for pain management. She asked if I’d let her know how these things worked for me, so she could share it with others. Oh western medicine, there’s hope for us yet…
When did we become people who feel they are past wanting to just cut things out and get past things–possibly missing the deeper lessons and repeating the same mistakes?
I don’t want to get over this pain quickly.
Huh. Wow. I don’t want to get over this pain quickly.
Here, now, I welcome this pain into this body I’ve called home for 48 years. We want to learn from our experience here. This means feeling what we feel. Listening to what we feel, including pain. What is she here to tell me, this pain?
So, I sat down to write today, still healing, still in a little pain, learning—finally—to get up and move every hour, to build yoga into my day, and to drink tea and water every hour too. Asking my global community about gallbladder pain and inflammation. I sat wondering what to do when the wisdom within me/my community disagrees with the doctor in the white coat who listened for 5 minutes, then passed the judgement “just cut it out, just get over it.” I recognized that voice as my own voice, too. How often do I think those words in response to others? Or act on them?
As I sat down at my desk, I opened a new book, a gift from a friend. The page the book fell open to first contained the poem The Cure, by Albert Huffstickler. What? No. How in the? Wow.
This—this—is why I write. I write so that somebody else might open a book when they’re in pain and find exactly the thing they need, at just the right moment, for them. Like so many, many authors have done for me across my days. I write so that someone else will draw in their breath with wonder and delight, as they are reminded of the deep magic at play in our world, and within humanity, even here, even now…
by Albert Huffstickler
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to “get over” a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.
Thank you, Albert Huffstickler, for restoring my faith in old white dudes today. And for restoring my faith in myself. That’s all I have time to write today. My gallbladder, the dog, and I are going for a walk in the woods. If you want to learn more about why I write, search for the name “Albert Huffstickler” on the internet and listen to him read one of his poems and/or talk about his life. I have no doubt that his life will say to you what mine also wants to say.
Poetry reveals our hidden roots and connections. Isn’t that cool? Look what I just found. This brings me so much joy…
The Light of the House
by Louise Imogen Guiney (published in Happy Ending: The Collected Lyrics of Louise Imogen Guiney, 1909)
Beyond the cheat of Time, here where you died, you live;
You pace the garden walk, secure and sensitive;
You linger on the stair: Love’s lonely pulses leap!
The harpsichord is shaken, the dogs look up from sleep.
Here, after all the years, you keep the heirdom still;
The youth and joy in you achieve their olden will,
Unbidden, undeterred, with waking sense adored;
And still the house is happy that hath so dear a lord.
To every inmate heart, confirmed in cheer you brought,
Your name is as a spell midway of speech and thought,
And to a wonted guest (not awestruck heretofore),
The sunshine that was you floods all the open door.
The Sun at Your House
by Lori Kane (published in Unshaken Wonder: Becoming Playful Elders Together, 2018)
Warm sun pools and shines more brightly
in your home. Why is that?
Worn, beckoning rugs and life-soft chairs
a sentinel portrait at the door
rich green and red dirt-colored artifacts
nestled within white walls of recent pain.
Witness the dancing dust across sunbeams upstairs,
the bird in the kitchen
your crazy dogs at play in the yard.
Most fairies here are somber, yet there is heart
in all those faces and those fucking
cool guitars, Jesus,
and the tools, and the found things,
and the workshop, and the garage, and
in the art, art everywhere: things far too content to be clutter
far more useful than things designed only for use.
The love here isn’t just palpable. It knocks you down.
It feels like a missing tooth and bloody face
shining out from pure bliss: a sweet, well-caught ball
by a kid at the fence.
Windows and doors shift widely open for the souls here.
The one still walking the dogs, still finding community
creating art here in person and the one
moving only in sunlight now
guiding your strong gentle hands
then shifting to starlight to stroke your cheek
in the too-dark night.
That’s the thing about the sun at your house.
She’s still with you in grief and at 4:00 A.M.
That’s the thing about your art. It’s still with me
here in grief and at 4:00 A.M
as I whisper, “Thank you” to stars in the darkness—
uncertain, still, about who it is, I mean…
Which who is it
that I’m thanking?
I’m heartbroken (nauseous actually) about all the lives lost in Gaza again this week and our role in it. Thank you to my Jewish American and Palestinian friends for keeping this sorrow and pain in my line of site. Thanks to you, I’m doubling down on reminding/re-teaching myself and my culture about the deep power of empaths. I’ve been relying on my new book this spring to do that for me. Over-relying on it, actually. I forgot for a moment that I have a non-book voice too. 🙂 So here are a brief (for Lori) few words about empaths…
There are human beings and groups all over the world who are sensitive enough to feel and help release the trapped pain within ourselves and others long before that pain becomes physical violence. I’ve seen it, lived it, done it. Some of us call ourselves empaths.
The power of tapping into our collective imagination. What if our cultures actually really believed in empaths? What would it be like if we deeply believed in the power of life, of voice (the voice of a whole place, not just human voices), connection, and the fully human ability to feel each other’s feelings and ease each other’s pain–over our belief in machines and weapons, numbness, silencing, looking the other way, or feeling powerless or helpless? I noticed recently that the friends I draw to me now have several things in common despite their vast differences in ages, regions/countries, cultures, skin tones, income levels, religions, gender identities, or species, for example. Members of my community have experienced the world-changing powers of leaning on the voice of a whole place and changing our own beliefs. They have lived–so they tend to believe in–as my friend Mary Ellen calls it, the “sacred imagination.” When you believe in the power of our collective imagination, because you live that power most days, then most days you can step toward painful feelings, not away from them. And most days you can help ease the pain of others/yourself (often with simple silence and presence, which is damn hard to do online and remarkably simple to do in person). And most members of my community now are empaths. Some know it. Others suspect it or at least don’t dismiss it outright. It’s so cool. When I was young, my culture didn’t think to teach me what an empath is–or even that they exist–let alone that I was one. And somehow I found my people anyway. I find us every day now. Actually, usually now, you find me. Huh. Wow.
My culture at large appears to think that we empaths are just imaginary characters found in science fiction books and movies. Appears to believe that humans are only powerful when augmented by weapons, walls, and superior tech, data, or numbers. What have those beliefs gotten us? It’s not progress. Not when we yet again sent numb, vacant-eyed, automaton-type humans to smile and clap and celebrate while nearby neighbors were mourning and children and young adults (8 months old to 22 years old, as near as I can tell) were dying in the streets. Science fiction writers were seeing and describing this same BS a century ago.
What is progress? How about human beings who can feel the presence of dis-ease and feel the presence of health across a community? People who can take action to increase the presence of health outside, within, and around failing healthcare systems? People who silently or quietly encounter and greet the violence within themselves and others and who can temper it without raising their voices most days? I want my leaders, my humans actually, healthy, which to me means people who are inclined to weep, not smile and clap, when nearby humans are dying. Healthy humans are deeply connected to other humans and to all of life. They don’t have vacant, distant eyes that refuse to even acknowledge other’s pain. I’m not saying that Gaza–or any violent human situation, long term or not–is easy. But we humans are so much better than what most of us witnessed on our screens this week, so it feels like it’s time again to more fully and visibly name HOW we are better. So we can remember together and not lose hope.
Question. How are you better than what you witnessed in your leaders and on your screens this week? Something to think about–no need to answer out loud unless you want to. I’ll start…
I’m an empath. I cry other people’s tears, get other people’s goosebumps, and regularly receive other people’s joy. I have been doubled over in pain by the bubbling-over caged pain within a stranger’s chest–without them noticing or speaking a word to me about it. I can help hold, understand, and vent/ease/lessen the pain of those close to me (physically close or emotionally close). And with the help of just one close-to-me other (just someone to listen), I can even help vent/ease/lessen the caged pain of total strangers. Also, as an empath I deeply need my community, because I’m sensitive enough that I can become quickly overwhelmed on my own. With my whole community’s help, I no longer have to hide to recover to the same extent. I can recover as I move in the world now, most days. Be healed by the world and be healing. Spreading empathy has become a breeze here, at least for me, because I can see my ever-widening community spreading empathy like a field of dandelions spreads her seeds.
As an empath, I am unable to celebrate while nearby others are awash in grief and I am unable to continue on with my own well-laid plans when others are calling/crying/lashing out in overwhelming frustration, loss, or sorrow. I may be a pain in the ass sometimes (ok, often), but I am better than a gun, better than a bomb, better than a tank, and better than a wall between us at dissipating violence, because I can do so without increasing violence somewhere else in the world. They can’t. And as an empath I am a better representative of the true power of humanity than those center stage who claimed to represent the U.S. this week in Jerusalem. My eyes may often be full of tears, but they are never vacant or cold. I don’t overlook entire swaths of neighbors–I can’t. Not anymore. And thanks to my community, I’m now wholly unable to look away during moments I could actually make a difference. Thanks to my community, I know I’m not alone in my pain and that none of us are. I know where I and my loved ones are most needed, I more often know how I’m needed, I can usually feel whose voice in a space needs to be heard next (and when mine doesn’t need to be), and within my own community, my strengths are often recognized and celebrated. With empaths in all directions around us, this isn’t science fiction. This is reality. This is my reality.
So, nice try fears, but I’m not an optimist, a wearer of rose colored glasses, or a snowflake. I’m a sensitive, powerful being who feels remarkably grateful and lucky every day of her life now, even during horrible, heart-shattering days. I can see more because of who I really am, not less (as I’ve been told). I’m always aware now of our deep connections, shared emotions, caged pain, and hidden powers. I can even feel the pain and joy of ancestors some days now, including younger versions of myself. My community and I can find and expand tiny grains of health into entire gardens where others see only or mostly dis-ease. That’s what it is to be an empath within a global community of awakening empaths. It is a strange experience to feel fully at home and needed on earth—and almost never powerless anymore—by simply paying closer attention and tapping into the voice of a whole place.
We’ve had one hell of a fall and winter here.
We helped Mom move into a memory care home where she’ll have the round-the-clock, large community support she now needs. We’ve been moving with our own grief and helping each other, and Mom and Dad, with theirs and with creating different, slightly more independent from each other lives than Mom and Dad have lived for the past 50 years.
And then we lost Daniel’s younger brother Jim unexpectedly, and the whole world shattered around us. The day we learned of his death, I remembered something that I once learned as a kid: when someone we love dearly–someone who we think we can’t possibly live without–dies, the sky herself shatters to make space for all our grief. So we’ve also been sitting with our own grief at the loss of Jim and helping each other, and Daniel and Jim’s parents too, with all of us wandering about like alien toddlers with uncertain feet on this newly shattered world and creating different, more conscious-of-our-own-fragility-and-connectedness lives for ourselves again. And then our oldest cat got sick and we were so sad and exhausted that for a moment it felt like this one little thing might almost break us. And then I got sick, and landed in the hospital, actually physically broken for a bit, and we had to change ourselves and our lives and our habits yet again. And then, my writing, creating, and playfulness guru and friend, Bernie, passed away after waging the world’s most beautiful, generous, and playful final battle with cancer.
So, for many months this fall and winter, we went dark. By that I mean that we moved within, like an apple tree does during the years in the larger cycle that she finds herself covered with tent caterpillars. In what felt like an instant when we learned that Jim had passed away, we just didn’t give a rat’s ass about most of our former responsibilities. Or our projects. Or our online presence. Or our former thoughts and worries. And for a long while, even our former selves. Instead, we were all in on the present moment together and with those closest to us. For 5 months.
And it was horrible, what we were going through. Truly horrible. It totally fucking sucked. And yet, somehow, suddenly, in the moments between our sad moments, we also feel glorious. Truly glorious. Because when you’re that low and broken, you can see so much of what you’ve been missing from other perspectives. For example, kindness can come to us from literally anywhere–if we can let it in. I’d forgotten that. We can imagine any person, any action, any words, any thing–into a kindness, given our community, our playful elders, and time. So we don’t have to worry about our monsters anymore. Not this year anyway. This year, we’re noticing and creating and finding kindness everywhere we go.
We’re being reborn right now, together, and we can see it. We can name it and know it and own it as who we are. We are becoming more of our true selves right now. Does that sound odd? I don’t quite have the words for it. We’re more us now. After all the unexpected pain and even the expected pain–right here–both within and after all the darkness, we are SO bad ass all of a sudden. Because we are receiving one the most amazing gifts that loss and grief offer from our perspective: rebirth. We’re offered a chance to start over as beings who literally–in the blink of an eye–dropped almost everything that we used to be. That makes us (and by us, I mean residents of earth) more remarkable than our old stories allowed us to believe. And as we remake ourselves now, together we’re hanging on to what matters most and we’re letting all the old bullshit go. We’re just letting it all go.
We are remarkably lucky. We now find ourselves surrounded by a vast, fierce, and kind community that stretches around the world and includes ancestors and rivers and trees and sky and stars. We’re grateful to everything at the moment. Everything. We’re grateful to friends who forgive us for disappearing for long stretches of time. To those who cover classes that we can’t teach because we can’t stop sobbing. To those who bring us food and hug us and clean up when we just can’t–regardless of our politics or theirs. To those who share their ideas and stories and who send us love and prayers from afar. And to those remarkable beings–like sisters–who somehow manage to make us laugh out loud at literally the worst moments of our lives. What unbelievable and remarkable magic is that?! It boggles the mind. And now we’re even grateful to those filled with so much of their own pain that they cannot bear ours at the moment. People who can’t, at the moment, stand our presence, our voices, and our lived experience. Even they hold a fierce kind of kindness and lessons for us to learn now that we have the space within our selves to see them. And now we know that residents of earth, in a single instant, can drop almost everything they once were in a moment of pure love or extreme tragedy. We are magic.
So here we are. We still look like us and live these lives. I still have 20 pounds to lose and Daniel is still trying to get to the gym more. But those who know us best, and anyone willing to listen, also know that we are standing here with different, more prone-to-tears eyes. Different, more prone-to-empathy hearts. Different, more prone-to-listen-a-long-time ears. We listen, now, until we feel empathy, and then we speak. So we’re a little less quick to judge. More prone to forgive. More prone to be deeply curious and ask questions from simple curiosity. More prone to speak up, too, and say what we believe needs to be said. We’re far better at saying “Fuck it. You be you, think what you think, say what you say, and we’ll just love you anyway.” Because together we can love almost anyone now. We don’t need you to be loveable to love you anymore. We can love–period–so we love. That’s magic. Or grace. Call it what you will. Experiencing it feels like the important part.
What a glorious place this is. The universe. The planet. Her inhabitants. The beauty. The laughter. The unfairness. The struggle. The pain. The loss and grief. All of it. Wow.
So, FYI, this is how I get to the point as a person, an essayist, an author, and a poet. Find the wow, visibly, together, then look for the point. And the point here, I think, is to find a global community of people who deeply want to experience and talk about befriending wonder and unleashing playfulness. We’re almost to the point, can you feel it yet?
The one other thing I did last year is this: I wrote a new book. I wrote a book that I love and that many others now love too. It’s about the unshaken wonder that lives at our core and how we get back to it across our lives, at any age. And about what it takes to remember and become our playful elder selves, at any age: a playful elder being the people (and trees and dogs and places and other things) in whose presence unshaken wonder often arrives and playfulness is usually unleashed in all directions around them.
As great as the book feels to us here, the reality is that I suck at book promotion. I totally suck at it. That’s not self-denigration. I don’t mind sucking at it. That’s just fact. Brief sound bites and short book blurbs and little trailers and tweeting tiny things and creating brief “hooks” to entice people’s interest and juggling 12,000 book promoters and groups? And doing all of that in the “I just want to relax” time after spending 18 months creating a book? Bleh.
Ah! But this new me is different. New me decided to get help this time: a ton of help. My book promotions guru/helpmate/friend, Sarah, for one. She’s the one who told me to share my book trailer with you via a blog post, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment, not that you can really tell yet. I do 96% of everything she suggests I do, because she’s really good at this. And she has me doing what feels like about 8,000 other things too, almost all of which are new to me and hard and scary, and tight deadline driven, and as the tasks piled up in March, I started to get stressed out. I actually got sick again. So much for letting go of old bullshit. And. Then I did something that I’ve never thought to do about stress before. I laughed. I got up from the computer, I walked outside to hang out with some of my closest tree friends, I put my feet up, and I laughed out loud. I laughed at the utter silliness of me. What was I thinking?! This? Just this? All this book promotion stuff is not a problem. This is just learning. All that I’m doing right now is learning. I can do that. I’m actually really good at that now.
My laughter feeds the trees here. And my family. And my friends. And my community. Have you noticed who and what your laughter feeds? Probably you have, I’m a slow learner. This was news to me.
Now that I’m laughing again, it’s so NOT stressful around here right now that we just created a second mini-book, as a free gift, for those who buy the new book. Sarah’s suggestion + my content + Daniel’s formatting and tech skills + an ability to feel the love of so many = a gorgeous new 32-page mini book conceived, created, and finished in under a week. Holy shit wow. So I’m here to tell you that this month two new books, not one, are about to be born. I’d like to introduce you to the first one now. This 60-second trailer captures the feeling of our new book, Unshaken Wonder: Becoming Playful Elders Together. She’ll show up in eBook form April 17 and in paperback form by May 1st.
When you go get her in digital eBook form or print form this spring, then you’ll receive a link to sign up to our Silly Dog Studios newsletter and to receive a gorgeous (thank you Daniel), useful (thank you Researcher me), fun (thank you poet me) 32-page mini-book for free (thank you Sarah). The link to it lives on the Dedication page of Unshaken Wonder. The mini-book, called On Befriending Wonder and Unleashing Playfulness: Twelve Choices to Consider, offers, not surprisingly, twelve choices that we’ve learned to make by spending almost all of our time with playful elders (not taking ourselves too seriously), and within community (keeping our own fears in proper perspective), and by noticing, listening to, and participating in self-organizing groups we’re drawn to (groups whose members are surprised and delighted by what they become and do together). The eBook is already available for presale–11 days early! (Thank you BookBaby.)
Thank you for showing up, listening, and caring about all of that. I’m now off to go learn how to say all of that and more in a frickin’ 100-character tweet. 😉
I walked alone in the
Because I felt the pull of
I knelt beside the
To better see the
And then to my
A warm light touched
And the whole place began to
Or maybe I just
I couldn’t believe my
And dropped down to my
I reached out to
I heard this from a friend in Seattle this week: “I write with a question. After much dithering, hemming and hawing, I have found the key to my book… I would greatly appreciate your counsel on how to navigate the process of getting it published. Finding an agent, self-publishing, Amazon? This is a world about which I know nothing.” Here was my answer to her:
What an amazing place to be: right at the beginning of something new and exciting, feeling clueless, and wide open to learning! Lovely, lucky you. Take some deep breaths, find someone to celebrate, or commiserate, your current state with, and enjoy this moment. I’ll be self-publishing my eighth book this spring, and I’m still far from feeling like an expert. I think I know a few helpful things to share…
The question that you’re asking is a big one. My own short answer is this: center on who and what you love. If you love the process and the people, then you’ll be satisfied (and some days, thrilled) regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen. So part of your goal should be asking yourself these questions as you go: Do I love the process? Am I learning to say goodbye to and let go of what I don’t love? Am I making choices based at least in part on what I most love to do and who I most love to be with? How you choose to publish should reflect who you are: what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, who you like to work with, who your community naturally is, how you and your community members/natural work mates like to work, and also, yes, at least here in the U.S. in 2018, how much money you can spend up front. I’m a present-moment person, so those are my questions. If you’re a future-leaning person, then maybe ask: Where do you see yourself and your book in 2 to 5 years? Who do you imagine will be your coworkers along the way to get there? Who will you read the book to? Where will you be? How much of a hand do you want to have in major decisions and in book promotion, distribution, and sales along the way? If you’re a learn-from-the-past person, then maybe questions like these are better questions: Who has created books or left a legacy that I respect and admire? What did they do and not do? I suggest that you talk to 4 or 5 people who have published books in the past 2 to 10 years (or longer, depending on you and your subject) related to your subject and genre so you can get a broader picture of why people choose to publish the way they do and get a clearer picture of what it takes to publish (the easier part) and to live an authoring life (the impossibly hard part if you’re not an author at heart).
If you want a really long answer, then here are some thoughts from my experience. There are hybrid approaches now, but these are your three basic choices:
- Big publishing houses. In 2009-2010, I spent about a year and a half thinking about publishing via traditional routes. That is, find an agent, shop a manuscript around, find a big publisher, work with that publisher to produce and promote the book, become J.K. Rowling, and then say whatever you want to say on Twitter without fear because the whole world has your back. In big publisher world, as a first-time author you need an agent to even be heard, unless you’re exceptionally famous or infamous. You also need a significant author platform already in place (this is all the ways you’re already listened to by the masses—such as your own blog, speaking gigs you already do, podcasts, classes you teach, programs you host, media coverage you’ve received, etc.) for your manuscript to even be considered, no matter how good it is. As the most forward-thinking and cutting edge big publishing house editor told me “In this space, we don’t start revolutions. We document revolutions that already happened, because we need to make that kind of money [big money] to survive.” So kind, he was, to say that to me, saving me years of wasted time and trouble! There are thick books of agents and publishing houses published every year to be up to date—you can ask at any bookstore for them, and start there. However, attending a few writer’s conferences is perhaps the simplest way to find an agent. You could try Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association’s (PNWA’s) next writers conference. Most big writer’s conferences set up pitch sessions that you can sign up for and then you get to pitch your book idea or manuscript to a few agents. After about 18 months of exploring this world, I decided that route wasn’t for me. I somehow knew back then that I wanted to be a full-time author: writing book after book after book regardless of what else I was doing. From my perspective back then, the big publisher world felt like choosing to spend my working life on the biggest, slowest (not to mention kind of elitist and wasteful) cruise ship on earth (where authors were deck scrubbers while others drove the ship, made the big decisions, and doled out the wages). I learned that what I enjoy is more like kayaking or sailing with a few friends—a place where everyone gets to be in charge sometimes and people adore and trust each other from the get go for their complementary skill sets. Other authors love the big publisher world. And I get it–I hate doing all the leg work for book promotions. Still, it just wasn’t for me. For one reason, even after you get an agent (which could take years, depending on how much time you have to devote to that), and then get your manuscript accepted by a big publisher (which could also take years), it can then still take an additional 1 to 3 years for the book itself to be published and reach store shelves—and this last part is on the publisher’s schedule, not yours.
- Small publishing houses. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of small publishers in the US. You can find them by asking your book nerdiest writer and reader friends (and their friends), by searching Google, and also at writer’s conferences. I suggest doing all three if you have the time. I recommend trying to find someone at a local (or emotionally local to you) small publishing house willing to talk to you about their process. Often editors from small publishing houses attend writer’s conferences where you can sign up to pitch a book idea or manuscript directly to them. You don’t necessarily need an agent with a small publisher, although you’ll most likely want an attorney to help review contracts and think about legal ramifications of some choices if you aren’t inclined to research legal questions yourself and don’t have a background in negotiations and/or mistrusting others. Artists, who tend to love and trust for a living, can be wise to partner with one kind person who mistrusts for a living. Not everyone who publishes a book is an artist, of course–you might also do fine on your own. I haven’t yet worked with a small publishing house yet, but I can now imagine doing so in the future. Likely because I’m old enough now that I have a few friends who run small publishing houses. People who run small publishing houses tend to be well, cool, from my perspective. People I enjoy spending time with. People whose passions and skills complement and stretch my own. Working with a small publisher is a far more intimate arrangement. Some small publishing houses publish just 3 to 12 books a year, so if you’re among the chosen, you are all in it to win it for your book–rising or sinking together.
- Self-publishing. This is the wild west of book publishing, and it’s where my own expertise lives. It’s still not simple, but it’s considerably simpler to self-publish in 2018 than it was 7 years ago when I started. Systems that tend toward getting simpler (not easier) with time are where I like to live, I’ve learned–likely because most of the human world is getting more complex right now. There are still emerging and new ways to work in the self-publishing space, and you can try different things with every book you publish (if that sounds like fun, this might be for you). In this space, you are the publisher/big decision maker and often the project manager while others—such as distributors, printers, editors, cover artists, indexers, etc.—essentially work for you. Getting a book to a published state can be much faster here. I self-published my first book in 2012, and I will be publishing my eighth book in March 2018. I chose to self-publish the first seven for many reasons: because a) I wanted to learn the process from end to end, b) I had the mindset (coming out of Microsoft and my doctoral program back then) of experimenting and learning at every stage as a fun thing and also confidence in my own skill set (as a dev editor I’d helped others get their books published via Microsoft Press), c) I wanted to publish some of the books quickly—for particular purposes or for particular people, in the same year I’d written them, d) I had community members with skill sets that complemented my own, e) an ability to ask for help and hire/barter skills and services with friends and friends of friends, and f) I was willing to manage the book as a project and try my hand at promotions/marketing/sales. I was lucky (and naturally inclined) to have people around me willing to learn along with me. For example, people who were editors, illustrators, publications, and manuscript to book and eBook conversion experimentors who were willing to learn along with me and work with me. I also got legal advice, as needed, from a group of attorneys that worked at the same coworking space where I worked–another place we traded services instead of paying for them. We used Amazon’s CreateSpace (book) and Kindle Direst Publishing (KDP) (eBook) for the first seven books because they were the easiest for us (back then) and we had so many other things to learn that we needed easy. They were essentially the printer and online distributor and I myself (with my spouse and closest friends) made the big decisions. We were the publisher.
Another upside to this approach is that it is a relatively inexpensive up front route. I needed that. I’d quit my day job to finish the last year of my doc program and I decided to try to write full time before pursuing another day job. Self-publishing is relatively inexpensive in that, for example, for some books I leaned on my closest friends or my spouse to do publications, formatting, and manuscript to PDF and MOBI file conversions to hand off files to Amazon (bartering their expertise on my projects for my expertise on their projects = free labor for everyone!). I’ve always paid for quality editing, but I’ve bartered my own skills and services for everything else at some point: for example, some of my cover art and promotional materials like postcards and bookmarks. The way CreateSpace and KDP (and many others) work, you pay nothing to them up front. Instead, they take a percentage of every book that’s sold, and the physical books are print-on-demand, which is invisible to anyone who purchases books online (well, except for big publishing company and other traditional purists and book makers who will notice the subtle-to-invisible quality differences). I’ve published several books for under $1,000 this way—paying only for editing and sometimes cover art up front. So this is a great way to start if you don’t have much money and want to experiment. The down side is that you are on the hook for ALL your own marketing and book promotion. Don’t quit your day job to try self publishing, unless you’re already famous somehow. We lost money on my first 3 books as we figured things out. We broke even on books 4 and 5. We made a little money on book 6 the first year. A little more on book 7. We have big plans for book 8! Another upside is that we can promote and sell these books forever (if that sounds like an upside to you, you might be a self publisher). All our books are residual income for us now. Tiny amounts trickle in each month, and more money shows up whenever we do book readings, teach workshops, give interviews, do online training, and so on (basically, whenever we show up in person we see bumps in book sales). With a traditional big publisher, to the best of my limited knowledge, your book might be promoted in a big way for just the first year (or a few years if you’re lucky). If it’s not selling well, they’ll pull it at some point.
Things have evolved quite a bit in the self-publishing world since 2012. Personally, I find working with small organizations more fun and interesting, so I’ve been looking at For my eighth book, here in 2018, I’m using BookBaby. They can handle cover art, publications/formatting, editing, conversion to ebooks, and getting it out onto all the major online booksellers and into the hands of the publishing house that makes it possible for bookstores to order and stock your book (Ingram). (Basically, all the things I’ve learned I don’t love doing or managing myself.) You can pick and choose services too: for example, I used my own editor, not theirs, since as a former editor I have dozens of editor friends–from proof readers to copy editors to dev editors. And BookBaby can connect you with book marketing/promotions consultants that charge by the hour to give you advice about how to focus your efforts and best market and promote your book. (I would have killed for that back in 2011 and 2012 and 2013–back when I was trying dozens of things and failing at almost all of them.) I’ll let you know how it goes with them. See, even after eight books, there’s still much to learn and experiment with here in self-publishing land! There are other end-to-end self-publishing services companies like BookBaby out there now, too. There’s a more local one in Portland that someone suggested to me recently: Luminare, I believe their name was. I may check them out for the next book. BookBaby is based in New Jersey.
I love self-publishing because as the publisher I automatically own all the content and can do whatever I want with it, when ever I want. There are no complicated negotiations that require an agent and few (typically) that require an attorney. BookBaby’s staff work with me: I don’t work for them. For my latest book, which is twice as long (120,000 words) as any other book I’ve written, I paid ~$1,300 for editing (which is low, thanks to my connections and friendships) and I expect to pay ~$1,500 to BookBaby for covers, publication/formatting/proofing, and getting the book to the dozen or so distributors. I now work with my husband from our own work/home studio space, Silly Dog Studios. We promote our books via an email mailing list, social media, friends, prereaders (who get a free book for providing reviews online, even bad reviews–I’m not Trump), local booksellers, in-person book readings at places that make the most sense for each particular book, as part of workshops and classes we teach here at Silly Dog Studios, and at the two big Whidbey Island farmer’s markets April-October. I’m looking into Indiebound right now to move future marketing to a space I more naturally fit than giant Amazon (who is too big to care, for example, that another Lori Kane writing 5-page terrible erotica “books” shows up in searches for me–the people may empathize, but the organization can’t, it’s just too big to make changes for one author). We also have many artist, writer, neighbor, and other small business owner friends who naturally promote books for us, too. Here in very small business land, we all promote each other’s work. That’s how we survive. More importantly, that’s how we like it and how we thrive. (I’m far better at promoting group work/community-level work and other’s work than my own individual work, which actually works just fine here in self-publishing land–I don’t have to change who I am in ways that feel unnatural to me. Daniel and I also plan to make the individual chapters of book 8 available on my website, so I can also sell individual chapters to people who don’t want the whole big book, too. My latest book is creative non-fiction and the chapters stand alone well. It’s a busy world. My audience may want just two of the 9 chapters–that’s perfectly fine with me. We’re planning to host workshops here that use the book’s content as the base. We make all our books available for sale to those who come to workshops and events here. FYI, [person-specific suggestion for my friend who asked the question] are terrific places for book readings and book sales about [your subject]! Just remember to bring cash/change, since many people there don’t want to swipe their credit card into a device on somebody else’s smart phone to buy a book!
In my professional opinion, the process to have a great-selling book, become a well-known author, or to make a full-time living as an author takes between 8 and 20 years of dedicated hard work and learning to ask for and accept community help at every turn, regardless of which publishing route you take. If you’re not an author at heart, you will fail regardless of which approach you try because your heart won’t be in it. If you are an author at heart, you will succeed regardless of which approach you try because you won’t give up no matter how many failures and rejections you encounter and you will draw people to you who will support you in your efforts and you’ll support them in theirs. You have to grow through the process of publishing and becoming an author and that growth takes time—it can’t be rushed by mere humans. I know a few exceptions who got there faster than 8 years, but those exceptions work their BUTTS off night and day, almost round the clock, 365-days per year to make that “exception” happen. As a secondary caregiver for one parent with Alzheimer’s disease and a primary care partner for the other parent (who is exhausted from 15 years of caregiving), not to mention as someone who needs a well-rounded life outside of constant book promotion to create great books in the first place, I haven’t had that kind of time to become exceptional quickly. 😉 Today, that’s fine with me. Exceptional isn’t a thing I aspire to anymore. Here in Lori Land, exceptional is a thing we all naturally are when we slow down long enough to notice.
An up side to self-publishing is that you can get a published book in your hands much faster than the big and small publisher routes. The down side is that if you’re not interested in doing ongoing community building, personal growth, marketing/promotions, and even sales some days, then you can end up with a finished book that almost nobody knows about or cares about outside of your own family (I have several of those). The biggest up side to self-publishing is that you are clearly the primary decision maker. As such, you naturally focus on what you love about the process, you learn to readily ask for help (or you get nowhere fast), in regularly asking for help in your community, you fluidly pull people to you who you need to work with next (and they need you), and you end up naturally spending quite a lot of time with people you love and respect. So if you keep at it through all the failures and second-guessing yourself and kicking yourself for trying things that you knew in your gut wouldn’t work for you, then you will one day find yourself surprised–as you type the words to your friend–that you now have a custom-made-by-you, for you, totally unique to you and kick ass author platform (aka, author’s life, aka, the life you truly want).
Loving the process and loving all (ok, almost all) of the people you work with doesn’t just makes all of your books (even the money losers) meaningful and worthwhile endeavors. It also lands you where you truly want to be, doing what you really want to be doing, wearing what you really want to be wearing, and creating the work that you are on this earth to create. Surrounded by people doing the same. Most days. Huh, wow–I think that’s where I already am.
Thank you for the big question. I hope something in there helps!
I want you to celebrate yourself.
Shake off your dust.
Find fierce stones that speak to you
hold them, gentle now, then
drop them into rivers
wrinkle your wide-eyed face to focus
as they sink
oblivious to the current.
Muck arrives through always-clear
water and we receive her nourishment: learning again
what we’re here to attend.
Listen until you can hear
your own cells singing, the blue bird said to me today.
Then, sing. Sing! Here, like this…
Dust burns wild here. The smoke
makes us wretch, too. Still
I offer my tears and somehow hosts
of forgotten children and ancestors
heal right along with me.
Our tears aren’t pulled from us by
some too-strong past, group, or being.
We offer them. We offer them gladly, most days.
So, I speak just to you now—
one offeror to another.
You are being called, right here.
Listen again to one blue bird on a gray day.
Attend her. Attend the voice that comes to your window.
Could you have been wrong about her? Is she really the bully
you imagined her to be yesterday?
All she seems to ask me now is this:
Step into the world.
Get closer. Listen. Celebrate yourself.
Celebrate until all the birds
arrange themselves comfortably
on nearby branches to hear you,
joining the celebration and singing the song
that you learned from them…
Shake off your dust.
Let’s celebrate ourselves together here.
We have some news. I’ve been away from my computer for a week—up with mom and dad—thanks for being patient with me. A week ago Thursday, Mom moved into Harbor Care, the memory care building in their retirement community. Dad still lives in the cottages, just one block away, and visits daily. I’ve been visiting late mornings or early afternoons, every other day since it’s a 40-minute drive there for me. Yesterday she and I did a spa day together and had lunch. Family eats for free at Harbor Care!
At first, they asked us to stay away for a few days, so that she could bond with her new friends and caregivers and adjust to her new routine: hardest 4 days of my life. My heart felt like a stone within my chest and I cried if the wind blew the wrong way. I’ve since learned that dad snuck in about 10 times to check on her from a distance. 😉 However, before you get too sad about Mom’s move, listen to what happened this week. From day 1, Mom clearly adored her new digs. She’s been noticeably improving by the day this week. She is talking again (her new friends are chatty and often talk nonsense mixed in with clarity, and we think it’s making her comfortable again with at least trying to speak and not minding nonsense so much). She is laughing and smiling more. She’s even back to recognizing herself in the mirror and using it to adjust her hair instead of thinking that it’s a window with friends on the other side. This was the last thing any of us expected—because it’s always the horror stories that you hear about—so it’s almost unbelievable. But our truth is this: surrounded by friends, even here with late stage Alzheimer’s, mom is thriving at the moment.
Despite her disease, Mom is young and relatively physically fit. Where she lives now is beautiful: they have gardens to stroll through and look out into when the weather is cold, two big activities rooms, 3 rooms that families can use to have private meals or big family celebrations, plus a big TV room with a huge stone fireplace that’s always on now that it’s cold. Because of her disease and her own amazing nature, she only sees the beauty in the place—she misses most of the sadness-inducing things that we see, such as railings along all the walls, nurses stations, and a few very old people in rooms who can barely move anymore. There are 40 residents and what I’d guess is about 25 people there caring for them round the clock (~5 caregivers, 2 nurses, 3 fun activities people, maybe 3 laundry and cleaning staff, 3 front desk staff, many aides/orderlies, a hairdresser in the hair salon who was already mom’s friend, a nutritionist, and the kitchen staff). The place is bright and decorated to look like home (big windows, cool wardrobes, decorated shadow boxes with their names on them at their doorways, and some rooms even have white picket fences and brightly painted mailboxes outside of them). Everyone loves mom. She is almost always happy and the older ladies think that she and I are beautiful and tell us that repeatedly: so good for the ego! The staff tells me every day that her laugh is infectious.
Mom has a new posse of friends: about 5 of the women are younger and relatively fit, like mom, and all of them are far more verbal/talkative than mom is. Two of them took her under their wing immediately. So, every morning they come get her, go for walks around the big circle that the building was built in, go to exercise time together, go to coffee/tea/hot chocolate together, eat meals together, go to arts and crafts and readings and other activities together, and to the singalongs. The big TV room with big fireplace is just across the hall from mom’s room. After supper, they all gather there and watch movies, usually musicals, and they sing together. She is rarely in her own beautifully decorated room that we spent so much time to make welcoming! And we couldn’t be happier about that.
Mom still recognizes us and loves to see us. I just did a spa day with her yesterday: we did lotion hands, lotion feet, and green clay masks on our faces, which made her laugh out loud for half an hour. Dad pops in to visit some mornings and give things/tips/advice to the staff, and he has supper with her most evenings and sometimes stays to watch old movies with them. So, while it still hurts us to not have her with us all the time, we’re still being healed by her. She’s still being our rock and our leader. We are SO DAMN LUCKY. Even with late stage Alzheimer’s disease, she’s amazing. A decade and a half in, she still says “I love you” with a twinkle in her eye, like always. Words fail.
The staff recommends to us that we not take her out for 3 to 4 weeks, to allow her to really fully get that this is her home and to adjust to their remarkable routine, so we’re just visiting her there at the moment. But she’s doing so well that I plan to still take her out for tea/coffee and walk with her over to the assisted living building now and then to visit friends. And we hope to bring her down to our house for visits for these next two holidays. If she continues to improve or stay the same, she’ll definitely be able to do our house for Thanksgiving and Christmas again this year. This is shocking to us, as she’d really gone downhill fast across the past 6 months: more angry and confused than happy, thinking we were abandoning her when we sat at the table to play cards, talking to the people behind the mirror, etc. She knew what we didn’t know: that she needed a larger, round-the-clock community of peers/friends/activities/support. She is magic. We are the daughters/spouse/siblings/friends of a magical being. She is clearly where she needs to be now: she’s among peers again and supported by cool women caregivers and nurses–round the clock–and she’s totally loving it! Every person is different, so maybe a place like Harbor Care isn’t right for everyone, but it’s clearly right for her.
I hope you’ll come visit as often as you can (and as soon as you can, since this disease does progress inevitably). And if you can’t, but you want to send her something, here’s what’s appropriate as a gift for mom now: upbeat cards, photos (especially photos from her youth and from key moments in life such as your favorite trip together or the birth of your kid or the best party you ever had together), paper wall decorations such as holiday decorations (no nails in the walls here), fun stickers that she and I can stick on her mirror or elsewhere, costume jewelry bracelets (she loves to show her bracelets to her friends and family), or a stuffed animal (she likes dogs, cats, and sea creatures). Another fantastic gift would be a gift for her caregivers—like a bouquet of flowers for the caregiver office or a gift card to Starbucks or Whidbey Coffee. These folks do life-saving, amazing work. They help her get dressed in the morning, help her bathe and get ready for the day, help her make her bed and find her glasses, do her laundry, make sure she takes her vitamins and medicines, smile and hug her and say “Hi Linda!” whenever they see her all day, help her find her way to activities and social gatherings, help her get ready for bed, and they even sit with her until she falls asleep right now. They’re warm and kind, professional angels. A gift to them IS a gift to Mom now. They are family, now, too, and we’re so very lucky to have them in our lives. Gifts can be sent to dad or to us, and we will deliver them on your behalf.
Thank you for your unwavering love and support of our family.
We love you too.
– Linda and Jim, Lori and Daniel, Jen and Cam and Jocelyn, and Eva, Batman, Joe, and Bella