Pride, Despair, and Things That Are Wonderful

I keep thinking about something I saw recently: that pride and despair are two ends of the same spectrum and thus equally correctable. I realized I had thought that pride was something to overcome but despair something to endure: pride could be checked, but despair was unavoidable.

The idea that they are two sides of the same coin makes some sense. And if despair consists of the same stuff as pride, then I can counter it the same way: by seeing it as an overinvestment in a single set of changing circumstances . . . and reinvesting.

A zen quote I saw yesterday helped: something like, “To eliminate suffering, eliminate its cause.” Sounds simple and obvious, right? But when I really thought about it — when I applied it to the brutal “natural order,” which has plagued me for some time — I found something profound in it.

A few days ago, I watched a spider on my deck — or rather, above the deck, beginning a web. I marveled at how much silk can come out of such a small body, and how the spider could make such an amazing thing by instinct. A lot of the process looked random, like when the spider hung from a thread and waited for a breeze to blow it to attach a string to something. I wondered if it might run out of thread, and what would happen if it did. I watched for a while and then went inside.

The next morning, the web was complete: perfect and huge, glistening with rainbow colors in sunlight.

By that evening, the spider was gone but its web remained, squirming with insects caught and unable to die or break free. A beautiful terror. I tried rescuing a couple of them, but the web was too sticky. What a waste, I thought. What horrible suffering, for nothing, repeated in countless webs all over the world. My old despair welled up.

When later I saw the quote about suffering, I applied it to that situation. If I were God, tasked with eliminating suffering, how would I remove its cause in this case? The obvious response is to eliminate the spider, but then insects would get out of control and cause suffering to other creatures or cause their own resource depletion (and thus greater suffering as they starve en masse). It’s classic interdependence.

Were the insects even suffering, for that matter, or just having a bad day until they died? Did they achieve surrender and release as they eventually came to rest, tired of struggling?

Spiders and insects are one thing, but what about human suffering? Say we eliminate our predators and killers, many of whom act out of mental illness or instinct. That’s even harder to think about, because we’re us. But we are out of control, causing suffering to other creatures and depleting our resources.

I have a friend who lives outdoors. He fought with the cold this winter as though it were an enemy. But then one day he realized it was just cold. It had nothing against him. He stopped fighting it, and he was fine.

If you don’t take something personally, is it really suffering? Is pain necessarily suffering? I don’t think so. You just have to be okay with letting go of anything, including your life. It seems like that’s when you live most fully.

I’ve also been applying all this to my employment situation. I’ve been working six or seven days a week for three months, with three months to go before Ireland and no guarantee (though good indications) that I’ll gather enough funds to afford the year-long master’s program I’m slated to attend there. The old weariness is coming on — the feeling of merely trudging through life. Ireland seems so far away (though I carry it within me). Will it even be the same? My dreams for the future keep changing shape. Why don’t I cut away some of the work, if it’s so draining — keep from counterproductively running myself into the ground?

Well, I could scale back. It’s good to consider putting a stop to a devitalizing activity or association, to weigh the options. But it turns out I am doing what I want. This is just a spot of drudgery on my way to where I’m going, and I’ll be glad for it. I am glad for it. If I were to work less, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’d be exactly where I was before I decided to go to Ireland last year: stagnated and dim. I’d be permanently stuck in a temporary situation, which is a kind of hell.

There’s an end to this. I know it. I’ve seen it. Sometimes I get tired of the often-false promises of hope, and I forget how good this life can be . . . but when things are bad, they always do get better. Even at the very worst — say, if you’re in the grip of torture — at least eventually death or someone releases you. My employment situation is very far from the very worst — in fact, it’s quite good, because I get to spend time with my grandma through some of her last days, I have time to write things like this, and for my other job I make joyful mementos for people at special occasions. In the bigger picture, I’m doing all this for something. For someone. Somehow.

After so much intense introspection, I want to close on a lighter note: a special installment of “Things That Are Wonderful.”

Things that are wonderful: the singular peace encapsulated by sports playing on TV in the background while one’s grandma rests, sparrows, kittens, cats, cottage cheese, free food, living in a treehouse, sunlight on greenery, wind, hope, hot tea, caffeine, whiskey, four-legged (or six-legged, or eight-legged, or hundred-legged) roommates, being marked by an animal, dreams, life mysteries, music, good work, water, rivers, oceans, breathing easy, white things floating in the air, spider webs, tattoos, physical photos of loved ones, good relationships, possibilities, good food, rainbows, conservationists, clear progress toward goals, financial independence, fun clothes, hair colors, plants, trees, tying up loose ends, anticipation, Love . . .

There Are Different Kinds of Tired

Sometimes I hesitate to write posts that are about less-than-happy topics, because I’d rather uplift people than bring them down, but I’m inspired by “The Healing Power of Sadness” by Juansen Dizon (Lonely Blue Boy), to which I can relate from past experience and new nigglings of old emotion. None of us always feel happy. Yes, it’s good to feel better if we can, but not feeling good is all part of this massive experience. To suppress the latter is to make a lie of the former.

At the times in recent years when I’ve stared at the aftermath of exploded dreams or in the face of horrors, I have felt so weary. Soul-tired. Sapped in a way that I cannot replenish with sleep or movement or hope. And I wonder why I’m doing all this: toiling toward Ireland, living in and on other people’s property, struggling to make sense of senseless things. Well, what on Earth am I supposed to do? There’s nothing else, no other calling of my heart to action.

For now.

So I wake up to the alarm again, and I fill out survey after mindless survey, enter one sweepstakes after another, do another day of work, day after day — all, I hope, toward some better place that the so-called gurus say is already within me. Fuck them. What’s in me —

And my grandma distracts me because she needs to pee and has vehement opinions to share about her little world. Haha! So it goes.

Feline Dreams

In a dream last night, I saw a yellow kitty-cat — no, a lion cub! — among tall hills of trash in a dump. A fat man with a gun was aiming to shoot the cub, so I ran and swept it into my arms, prepared to block bullets with my body if need be.

The guy shouted, “You can’t protect it from me!”

I did, though. I got away to a semi-enclosed library in a depression between dusty hills scattered with scraggly plants.

I wondered uneasily where Mama Lion was, and whether I would die to her teeth and claws if she discovered me with her baby.

Then there she was. She seemed to understand, though: she came close and rubbed against me. Just as I was about to turn the cub over to her, the man with the gun reappeared.

Wondering how I could possibly protect a full-grown lion with my small frame, I attempted to gather Mama Lion into my arms, too. Easy: she turned into a plank of rough, light-colored wood the size of a very large shingle.

I held the cub between the plank and my chest, which further protected the cub and thus rescued the mother as well.

This time, I escaped the gunman for good.

By now, day was becoming night. The shingle morphed into a lion again and jumped out of my arms, now a black panther! We were still in a somewhat populated area, so I hoped any human children would be safe with these large predators on the loose. . . .

The cub was still yellow. I guessed it would darken with maturity.

I saw a road of ridged concrete slabs with a low wall curving down away from the left edge of a beach. A solitary man walked ahead, exuding peace. That was probably the safest way to go. I started down it.

The panther, though, veered through tall grasses over a dune and onto the beach proper, which was deserted and flat. I turned and pushed through a faint trail as well, breaking a large spider web, proud to find that I was okay with that. My draw to the panther superseded my fear of having an upset spider on me.

The panther padded into moonlight that shone across a small expanse from where the last wave had receded. Almost as though I could hear a voice narrating, I understood that the cat was establishing her domain, asserting and ascertaining that she was a land-thing and the water-things would stay in the water.

She came back to the dry sand and lowered herself to it, looking outward, absorbing. I thought she would make an amazing picture, black against the hazy moonlight on the water, but — oh, right — I had left my camera at home, or wherever I was staying. I patted the empty pockets of my loose, light-colored shorts. Well, not every time is a time for a picture.

The way the moonlight shone through some trees at the far side of the beach made the water and haze look like a small glowing girl-woman with long, black hair and a pale blue shift. Oh, wait — here’s my camera! And wait — was the girl me — my reflection? . . . I held up the camera.

The reflection didn’t have a camera. She continued smiling peacefully.

Was she connected to the panther somehow? Was she the panther’s reflection? Or mine somehow, albeit camera-less? Or was she an ocean spirit?

These are the things I wondered as I woke into this morning.


Glowing in the Dim

I have an hour and a half left of my shift at Grandma’s. She’s resting quietly on the couch. It’s the first day in a while that I’ve had a moment of time in which I’m engaged enough to write and have the time to do it.

A light wind blows tall sunswept grass. Sometimes I stop to watch it. It soothes me, speaks to me. It talks about the passing of time and things eternal: always rising, falling, or fallen, creating movement, leaving breathless peace in its wake, and coming back no matter what.

The wind is like my love: the deepest love from my deepest depths. Sometimes this love blazes out from me and sometimes it’s quiet, but it’s always there, if only in potential. It comes back no matter what.

If wings are flight, and flight comes from happy thoughts, then my wings are attached to my heart like a cheesy image of a heart with wings. Or — less cheesy, maybe? — like the Golden Snitch in Quidditch.

When I’m done at Grandma’s for today, I’ll head down to the city for a burlesque show. My friend Funny Rob schmoozed a front-row table. I’m blasé about getting dressed up and whatnot, but Rob needs a distraction, having inexplicably lost a Canadian job offer that was so in the bag that he moved out of his place and shipped all his stuff to Prince Edward Island. Now he’s jobless and homeless.

Anyway, it’ll be good to get out and do something.

Tomorrow, my day off, I’m going to a metal wedding. Again, there’s the getting dressed up and what-all, but it’ll be worth it — good to see all those guys, and I haven’t been to a metal wedding before.

I got the motivation to put the fuchsia in my hair that I’d been holding onto for the right moment since I bought it on Earth Day. (My hair, previously blue, had faded.) Fuchsia feels very good — any new color would’ve, really. This pixie glows again, albeit from the shadows.

Thirteen Reasons Why I’m Happy

This post draws inspiration from the “Thirteen Reasons Why Challenge”. It reminds me of the “things that are wonderful” posts that I used to do on Facebook (an idea that I got, in turn, from another friend back then).

As with terrymcnude in her original “13 Reasons” post, I’m not feeling particularly happy at the moment, though I’m not unhappy, either. Just blah, which is my default mode since I had to leave Ireland last September.

  1. I know what it feels like to love with all my heart. This paraphrases a quote I saw from a woman in her 90s in a photographic book of older women and their stories. (I think it was called Wise Women or something like that.) That woman stood out to me the most. Her quote was: “I still remember what it feels like to love with all my heart.” The photographer captured her in the moment she spoke those words, her eyes closed, her worn face uplifted and glowing with rapturous light. I know exactly how she felt. (That, as they say, is another story and shall be told another time.)
  2. I have good food, good drink, and a good bed. In my travels, I have gone enough times without such things that I truly appreciate them every time I snuggle down with a full stomach and a buzz, and every time I wake up in my own cozy room to the sound of rain or wind, or to sunlight or moonlight streaming in.
  3. I have direction. I have been spiritually gutted — had the spiritual shit kicked out of me so many times that I’ve been a zombie — but I’ve kept going because I have something to keep going toward. Right now it’s Ireland. And beyond Ireland . . . or within it . . . ? We shall see. I also have direction toward a way of living: one that is sustainable while granting me opportunity to offer the gifts I have to give.
  4. I am loved. Few of the connections in my life right now are easy or perfect, but they’re good and true. (Anyway, if they were too easy, they would be boring.)
  5. I have relative freedom. I have a vehicle to use and can roam at will in reasonable safety.
  6. I enjoy my own company. Some people fear time alone, but I recharge and thrive in it.
  7. I am in the presence of nature. At any moment, I can open the door or window and see and hear trees. I can breathe fresh air and hear the rustling of critters. Indoors, I can pet the dog, an old Doberman with uncut, silky ears. And I type this in the presence of my spider plant, Spider-Planty, who perches to my right, on the windowsill. (He has perked up considerably here.)
  8. My needs are met, free of charge. I’m still not quite sure how it happened, and I’m not sure it will continue until I leave for Ireland in four and a half months (in part because I might move of my own initiative), but for now, by some miracle, I pay nothing for food, lodging, or gas, in one of the most expensive areas to live in the U.S.
  9. I have plenty of work (which allows me to save up for the coming year of Irish schooling and living expenses): a full-time job, a part-time job, and paid tasks I can do during the full-time job. And it’s all relatively easy work.
  10. I have fun, creative clothes. Almost all of them came free from clothing swaps, as gifts, or from thrift stores. A few of them were personally hand-knitted by or crocheted for me, so they have that extra bit of magic.
  11. I have minimal stuff. I have gone through it all so many times, discarding and distributing all but the most vital things, that what’s left is good for travel and/or easy to store. It no longer weighs me down; in fact, it brings me joy, grants me freedom, and is thus light. The strands that tie me to this place or that place, one person or another, are stretchy and glittering, treasures in themselves: bonds of love.
  12. There is such a thing as cats.
  13. There are sequences of events like the one that led me to this blog post. As I started to write, I had the grim, serious, stretched-too-thin look I often get of late. But just now, when I looked up at the mirror that rests on the table where I type, I caught myself smiling faintly, chin resting peacefully in palm, my face reflecting a hint of the glow shared by the ninety-year-old woman who remembered what love feels like.

Between Bombs and Bath Day

I hit a rough patch a couple days ago. It started on the way home from work, with my carpool friend grimly but energetically recounting the world’s ills. Underlying that diatribe, I was dreading the next day: Grandma’s Bath Day.

My main job is caregiving for my grandma, who has dementia. For her, Bath Day is torture. No one really knows why, but anything resembling even so much as a foot soak makes her screech as though she’s being stabbed with hot pokers. Even if it’s all in her head, she’s clearly suffering. This week, it was my turn to assist when the bath lady came. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through it, because it had been horrendous the three previous times (despite being called off once: the dread on Grandma’s part and thus mine was that intense).

Back to my friend, railing on about Trump and bombs and whatnot. My tolerance reached its breaking point: “That all gives me so much despair, I want to die.”

“Oh, yeah,” he cheerfully agreed. Then he kept on.

I withstood it until I was this close to jumping out of the car. Then I interrupted: “I SAID THIS IS GIVING ME DESPAIR! Please stop! I don’t want to be like an ostrich with its head in the sand, but I can’t stand it! I have to limit how much I think about all that, or I just want to die.

“Point taken.” He fell silent.

I stared out the window and let my soul fly out of it, into the trees, to merge with the play of sunlight on green leaves. I guess that’s escape. Then again, isn’t beauty part of reality, just as much as innocents dying in Syria?

It’s hard to write this, but I think it’s good.

After a few moments of the trees and sunlight, I spoke again. “I’ve struggled with suffering so much, and I still don’t know what to do with it. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but at one point I was thinking about how even walking on the grass is causing suffering to all the critters — the insects and things in it — that I’m stepping on, and I felt like it would be better if I didn’t exist at all. So I stopped to meditate on that, and I realized that if I believe in love the way I do — and I do — then the very essence of Love is with all those critters like a million times more than I can be. And I, too, am meant to be happy, to enjoy my life and not worry about every step I take. I can only do as much as I can.”

My friend understood.

Once I was safely in the golden white sanctuary of my room, I sat on the step with my favorite local organic beer (Eel River Acai), my feet on warm old concrete. I gazed at greenery, felt the breeze, and scrolled through social media for funny cat posts. I felt better, not thinking much at all.

Then I thought about how everything that dies returns to the embrace of the Earth. In that way, the Earth loves everyone the same, even the horrible people — even me, killing things with every step. All the horrible things pass — are neutralized and then transformed into grass and vines and dandelions growing out of sidewalks cracked by impact.

A couple bits of seed fluff floated by. Then one danced in through the doorway beside me, as though it were a faerie there to tell me it’s all right. Everything can somehow be all right even if it’s not.

So even though I couldn’t stand it, I could, and did.

Then I took up an invite to go to town, to my favorite bar (at the local not-for-profit market), and got drunk in that beautiful place with its beautiful people. And I felt better yet. Sometimes that’s the best I can do.

When the next morning came, I drove to Grandma’s, again caked in dread. When the call came from the bath lady, I told her, “I just can’t do it. I’d rather Grandma never have a bath again and die from being filthy than have to go through that.” The bath lady, an absolute saint, completely understood, as did the equally saintly hospice nurse, as did my equally saintly aunts. I don’t have to do bath days anymore.

In a way, I wish I had the wherewithal to “do my part.” But maybe I am doing my part. As Brett Dennen sang, “Sometimes all that you can do is say no.”

The Day After

Okay, so after last night’s flurry of feverish activity that resulted in my first blog post in years, I’m starting to identify inklings of what I want to do with this thing. I want to maintain a practice of candidly sharing my thoughts while I work six days a week and just want to go home and veg at the end of the day. I feel like I might be losing some of my ability to connect with people . . . although that loss might be a result of my new direction that’s forming. In any major life change, people are bound to fall away — or be moved away from — to make room for new ones on their way in.

You know, there’s a gem already: it could be that my problems with myself of late are not so much that I’ve become more judgmental or hypocritical (as one friend has suggested — although that might temporarily be part of it) as it is that I’m in transition. For example, I’m moving toward being more vegetarian again (for ethical reasons), but I’m not strict about it. So what might look like inconsistency from the outside is actually evidence of transformation. I am neither the old thing nor the new. I know in general how I want to live but not how to get there.

For another aspect of this page . . . sure, I would like my novel (U & I: A Wizard’s Quest) to reach people who will benefit from it, but I have the usual creative person’s hesitation when it comes to marketing and promotion. I fantasize about having “people” to do that for me, but then, I usually don’t like to be advertised to, so I want to keep all that in check and wait until people express interest before I talk about what I have to sell. I’m trying to find the best balance: ways to reach readers who really want to know about works like mine without blaring at people who don’t. Anyway . . . the book is set in a magical, somewhat fictional world and is based on some of my world travels. It’s highly allegorical and introspective, whimsical and humorous. I intend to use various quotes from it in the header for this page.

In the same vein, I would like to direct traffic to my GoFundMe campaign for getting back to Ireland for a Writing master’s program at the end of August. Ireland is the only dream I have left — at least the only one I can do anything about. It’s the main reason I’m working six days a week. More on that later, I’m sure.

Finally, for now at least, I would like to practice letting thoughts flow out of me without too much editing or wondering if they’re of value to anyone else. Perhaps everything that ever needs to be said has already been said, but no one has ever said it quite in my way or from my perspective. Even if none of this does any good for anyone else — though I hope it does — it will do some good for me. Helping 1 person, even if it’s just me, is better than helping 0 people.