Monday, November 28, 2011

The Guest House - Rumi

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Midnight thoughts, and good news

It's after midnight and I'm in bed. I can't stop reading the news lately.

The police violence associated with the OWS movement really bothers me deep in my heart.

It matters not that they are liberal or conservative or otherwise. It matters that they are people. Americans. Who have freedom of speech and assembly, and who should not be arrested for standing on a sidewalk. Or beaten for sitting on the grass.

For the photos are around on the internet, documenting people sleeping in tents for Black Friday or for concert tickets, or even when Apple came out with the iPhone the first time around.

I just can't get my mind around it.

I read a while back, "In the Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson. A semi-biographical novel from the American Ambassador Dodd's perspective on the eve of WW2. I wonder what the correlations are between our time and theirs.

I wonder why we would not stand up for our fellow citizens, whether they shared our beliefs or not. I wonder how we can stand by and let things happen.

But then we have been doing this a long time. Everyone is separate in their own separate homes. Walled off with fences and curtains and security systems. Insular in our perfect families and perfect lives. Saving ourselves above all else.

When will we learn that giving is receiving? That our neighbors are ourselves? That things are not happiness. People are happiness. Life is happiness.

Security. Building up a bank account, and walls around us. When it could all go down in an instant. Just a misstep in time, place, of luck and life is forever changed. The only true sense of security is a false one.

Anyway. I just hope you can take this Thanksgiving and holiday season to look with love on everyone. To stand up for the little ones. To stand up for inequality. To stand up for your rights as Americans (or citizens of the world). For your children. And grandchildren.

My time for loafing with family and pondering the messes in the world will soon be limited. As I have good news: I was offered a job with the Virginia Beach Veterans Hospital, covering maternity leave, starting January 1st through March 31. I'll be avoiding the winters, and keeping myself busy. I welcome vistors any time. So drop me a line and drop in.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving Thanks

Historically I've not felt much affinity for the holiday of Thanksgiving. I think it's because I had misplaced emotions about its meaning. I took the celebration of a massive dinner with a dry turkey centerpiece literally, and couldn't see beyond the festive stuffing and resultant uncomfortable sensation at being too filled up.

But, I think I was mistaken.

This year, I'm home for Thanksgiving for the first time since 2000, which was the only time in the last fifteen years that I've been home for Thanksgiving. We're headed to Minneapolis, and I'm looking forward to the mix of relatives from both sides of my family. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I feel like embracing the idea of gratitude.

So many good things... I'd like to make a list, but it would be too long. Mostly, I'm happy to be alive, to have wonderful family and friends, to have had so many opportunities, and for the goodness in the world and hope for the future.

Life is beautiful. Living is amazing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smearing sunsets, living life

(Hiding in the trees of Colorado)

I've taken up running again, at the little community center down the street. It's free for North Liberty residents and I relish my time there, where my feet carry me in circles, untwisting the thoughts in my mind, bringing clarity to my life situation. The days smear together, one sunset to the next. Only when the Sunday New York Times headlines are delivered to my inbox am I certain of the day of the week.

I've been quietly existing since returning from Colorado: time with nieces, a craft show with Molly, and cleaning the garage with my mom. When you've been overseas, there's an interruption in normal family time. In reality, the American life is a disruptive to family time. So this time here with family is especially important.

The job hunt is like molasses right now, sticky and slow and not much moving... I have a couple leads on temporary positions that would work well while I wait for something more permanent to come along.

In life, I've been contemplating the oddities of our existence. I know I shouldn't really waste time on this- I should really just live my life and enjoy myself, but sometimes late at night, when it is dark and quiet and I'm alone, it all seems very strange.

So I am happy for this time with my family in the quiet of Iowa. There is something about a small town with a big sky that brings mental peace. Driving down highway 965, the pleasure of no traffic hits me daily, and I think how I love Iowa and how surprising it is. Then I remember I loved the tiny village where I lived in Germany. I loved the regular people in the Army. I loved a lot of things I wouldn't have guessed: anatomy, physics... Oatie. And I've not loved a lot of things that I would have guessed. So, I guess you just have to go along through life, feeling your way, paying attention, trusting your gut instinct, and being true to yourself.

(Living out loud with Molly's girls)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thinking about "otherness"

I've been participating in a month-long discussion on race through Experimonth, which has run month-long experiments since 2009 on a variety of subjects/actions.

Discussing race is about discussing otherness. I've had a long history of friends and boyfriends who do not mirror my appearance or accent or home country, and I sometimes wonder why. I don't think it was particularly a conscious choice. As a child in Minnesota, my preferred neighbor friends were Korean and Vietnamese neighbor girls, even though there were several white neighbor girls also. After my dad died and I returned to Alexandria, I became "other" overnight, though it was not obvious from the outside to those who first met me. I am always careful to explain that my life was not a giant walk in the park and I understand being an outsider. But then I also understand that I have many inclusionary qualities. So I have the understanding of both sides of the world.

In a TED talk on otherness by Thandie Newton that I recently viewed, she discusses her otherness and how it affected her, and urges us to create a world of oneness with each other. She also points out that race is not about biology or genetics, which was something I didn't know:
In this discussion of otherness, I think of the current uprisings across the world calling for change. Too long have we considered those who are different, whether better or worse off, our own neighbors or not, to be "the other," quietly walling ourselves off in our safe separate worlds. I think the movements which are going on are less about Wall Street and more about awakening. Awakening to question the separation in the world by race, and wealth, and location. In truth we are all one and interconnected. It is time to start rebuilding our connections to the earth, to our fellow beings, to the "other" inside and outside ourselves. We are all one in the same, united in our otherness, united in our time on this earth.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Denver is not that ugly

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

Denver does not have the reputation of being a beautiful city, but I found visual pleasure in the downtown architecture and neighborhoods. Denver is the 21st largest metro area in the USA; Portland, OR is the 23rd largest, both hovering around 2.5 million people. It feels like a small town, but from high above, it looks large and sprawling. It's a manageable size.

Public transport is ok, but I think would be hard to depend on for daily use unless you had several extra hours a day to waste. Short distances take a long time, and it is relatively expensive in comparison with other large metropolitan areas. I did not notice any cyclists in Denver, as compared to Boulder, so it seems they could improve in that area as well.

Ink! Coffee was ok, not great.
I took public bus to my friend Gretchen's house (who has 4 month old twin daughters and another daughter who will be 4 this weekend). They live in a quiet residential neighborhood just a short distance from downtown in a bungalow which could be transported into any Portland neighborhood.
On the right is the Denver Art Museum which was closed when I stopped by (a Monday).
Outside the Denver Public Library. Inside was filled with residents. It always makes me happy to see people hanging out with books.

Exterior of library. Very cool. Inside was also cool, but in a more sterile way. I always think libraries should have a cozy, stay-a-while feel, which this did not have, but it was still nice.
Denver Art Museum

There were a lot of bums in Denver. It's pretty cold there, so hopefully they have shelters for winter.
Cute construction workers outside the art museum.

I love grey skies, and if I ever move back to the Northwest, this would be one of the top reasons-- for the drizzly weather and blankets of grey.

Excellent cappuccino at Boxcar Roasters.
Boulder Teahouse.
Poetry bookstore on Broadway in college hill area.
Excessive amounts of tasty food at the Sherpa's Restaurant, which was staffed by Nepalese.

So, I'm enjoying Colorado. It's been a contemplative trip- lots of free time to rest and wander and think, intermixed with visits to old friends and memories past. I'm not sure where I will end up in the next few months but what I have now is pretty good.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I finally found excellent coffee and superb company in a coffee shop suitable for a coffee snob like myself, Boxcar Coffee Roasters. I perched at the bar, eavesdropping and writing and reading the New Yorker in caffeine-induced splendor for at least two hours.
The Farmer's Market continues through November 19th. I am impressed at the hardy nature of Boulder residents.
During Farmer's Market days, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission. It's small, but offers just enough to beg contemplation without mental overexertion.
My favorite store in town is the Boulder Army Surplus Store. On my second visit (I couldn't help myself), I discovered second-hand German goods, and someone who almost had my name.
Even though this is a very artistic sign, the goods inside the Pearl Street store did not delight my senses. Pearl Street is the main shopping pedestrian drag, and it's rather overrun with shops like this and overpriced restaurants, but I still found it enjoyable, especially with street musicians wafting through the air.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Feeling Gratefully Unemployed (in Boulder)

Walking through Boulder today, I felt like a regular person. I looked like a regular person. If I saw me, I would think I had a job. I feel like I'm pretending to be a regular person. But then I start to wonder, what is a regular person anyway? I realize I'm finally starting to enjoy the freedom unemployment brings. Just walking alone with my thoughts and smiling at strangers. This is living life.

"The meaning of life is to make life meaningful." - A.C. Grayling

Wandering through Boulder's Central Park toward downtown from our retro motor inn, leaves squishing through slushy snow, I could barely open my eyes in the blinding sun. Yet I was bundled in layers with freezing ears. Winter's icy brightness. Our motel is cozied into the mountain, and its name apt: Foot of the Mountain. It feels like we're buried in, especially with heavy snow clumped all over the land.

Boulder has a reputation of high maintenance, silver-spoon hippies. The last time I was here was twenty years ago when I was fifteen and fresh out of North Dakota. It seemed like a wonderland that time and I wished I could go to college here. This time it feels more commercial and more like a regular American town. I suspect Boulder's changed, but likely I've changed more.

Boulder's predictable in many ways: the residents' appearance (dreads, earrings, messy hair), consumer possibilities (outdoor stores, orthopedic shoes, energy field readings). And not so much in other ways: boring repetitive building styles, quiet back streets, exceptionally friendly residents.

I wandered into coffee shops, searching for the perfect cup. (I'm still hunting.) Stopped into the end of the Occupy Boulder meeting and met quiet, articulate, non-violent people of all ages. On the way home, I saw art through a massive windowed building and walked up to discover it was the public library, where they also hold movie screenings, GED classes, and more. It's apparent where the values lie in this community, and I feel an affinity for its residents.

In the library, I met a poet who'd lived in San Francisco and Kalispell. She gave me her number and, feeling drawn to this kindred spirit, I promised to call her for coffee later in the week. Flushed out of the library into the brisk cold, I scurried home to our little pine-walled room, but not before a few residents arriving home could say hello to me.

Traveling and unemployment have a way of reminding me what is important: taking time to breathe in life as it is offered to me.