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what success looks like

to me

with enthusiasm,

J

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small mercies

It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.

Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:

“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”

Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:

“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”

— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.

And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.

Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!

And now, about that weather…

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art creativity death dogs French literature nature storms wisdom

Day 72: ignite the finite (homage to Diderot)

Our lives are finite. We can only stand so much. Honey Girl’s actions during today’s thunderstorm prove it.

First, she was hiding in the bathroom because the lightning and thunder scare her. During a lull in the storm, I opened the door and she came out. A little. Then the thunder boomed and she went back in to the smallest place in the house: a tiny bathroom under the stairs. Her world is as small as she can make it. We can’t help it that sounds scare us, but being of a philosophical mind, we can find interest in the concept of being “finite.” And happily, it doesn’t have to scare us.

“Our lives are finite” feels grim; a death sentence. But if you examine the actual word and concept, it feels different. It feels a lot like peace.

finite, adjective and noun (from Latin finitus, pa pple of finire FINISH verb)

a. adjective. 1. Having bounds, ends, or limits; not infinite or infinitesimal.

b. Having an existence subject to limitations and conditions.

2. Fixed, determined, definite.

[Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 962. Three other definitions follow, in math, grammar, and music.]

What I love about this definition is the concept of: “Not infinite or infinitesimal.” In other words, we do exist, we have the ability to act, we are not insignificant. Instead of despairing about our lives’ limitations, why not turn it around? Why not think of our bodies and minds as conduits through which we can make things happen. It’s the real potential at hand. Ignite the finite!

(For my part, I’ve already launched one long-term collaborative project with a distant friend today and I’ve got dozens of masks to sew, so my time feel’s short. I like it that way.)

As Denis Diderot once said, « J’aime mieux une belle chimère qui fait tenter de grandes choses qu’une réalité stérile, une prétendue sagesse qui jette et retient l’homme rare dans une stupide inertie. »

–Lettre à Falconet, in Esprit de Diderot : choix de citations, p. 61.

« I prefer beautiful fantasies that inspire men of genius to grandiose actions, rather than a sterile reality, supposedly the seat of wisdom, which enslaves their spirits to inertia.”

***

 

Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi

Face masks made on May 29 2020

 

*with thanks to Laurent Loty’s beautiful book (with Éric Vanzieleghem), Esprit de Diderot: choix de citations (Paris: Hermann, 2013) and the bookmarks commemorating events at Université Paris Diderot, in honor of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), editor of the Encyclopédie and many other works of Enlightenment genius.

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dogs English literature health wisdom work

day 63, we’re back, slowly but happily

Hi again,

It worked. A day of rest has restored both Honey Girl and me to our usual selves, maybe not so bouncy as we used to be, but we are both happy to be here.  (Those squeaky toys don’t squeak themselves!)

Sometimes slowing down, or even stopping entirely, is what we need to keep going.  Doesn’t make sense? Just look around—there are many models of movement other than the fast lane / 1,000 Mbps bandwidth / hyperlinked way of living we prioritize nowadays…. Or at least we used to do, in pre-COVID-19 times…

Take sloths, for example. As Lucy Cooke points out in Life in the Sloth Lane, “Sloths don’t hop from tree to tree in a blaze of glory—they gently test the next branch to see if it’s sound before they proceed.” Cooke thinks sloths have much to teach us, writing: “We humans—busy pedal apes who are determined to move faster than nature intended—sometimes need a little help remembering how to slow down and appreciate what we have, rather than racing after what we desire.”*

Not a fan of sloths?  What about tugboats?  I stood and watched this tugboat in Elliott Bay for a few minutes this morning and was amazed at how fast it was moving, though it appeared to be standing still.  Seems like there’s a lesson there… if we took the time to think it.

Fyi: yesterday’s face mask production (once the migraine pain lifted, it was such a pleasure to get back to work!)  Face masks made on May 20 2020

* Lucy Cooke, Life in the Sloth Lane, (New York: Workman Publishing, 2018), p. 69, p. 1.

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creativity dogs nature T'ai chi

day 42: T’ai chi to the rescue, again

Watching my moods darken over the past week or so, and feeling my shoulders tense and back ache from the constant face mask production, it suddenly (duh) hit me: I had stopped exercising and doing T’ai chi for a few days, and was re-entering my old way of being, focused entirely on work work work, and worries about what other people think or do. Ugh.

So I started again, and yesterday was day two of my once-habitual 90-minute workout (a series of core stretches followed by the Form, now practiced on the deck in my backyard, surrounded by hummingbirds and a friendly big dog who keeps bringing squeaky toys for me to throw, while I stand on one leg and smile).

what a difference!  Now, I hate all that cheerful blather about exercise as much as you do, so I’ll not belabor the point. I’ll just mention one tip from a favorite book: “it is imperative we keep our attention on the feet, legs, and pelvis, and use the force of gravity to source and manipulate our movement.”  (Ralston, Principles of Effortless Power, p. 15).

That’s what doing T’ai chi does for me: lowers the center of gravity, tightens the core, and pushes away non-essential thoughts… what remains is only love, and lots of it.

Here’s wishing you a day of effortless power too!

And here is yesterday’s face mask production, fyi:

Face masks made on April 29 2020

 

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dogs work

day 38, more of the same, except warmer

WSEA library April 26 2020

Nothing new here today, except a warm sun overhead. I still miss the library. I’m still deep in mask-making. Still grateful to be alive. And for Honey Girl.

Yesterday’s mask production, fyi:

Face masks petite size made on April 25 2020

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art creativity design dogs nature sustainability

day 33: the infectious spirit of creativity from the UK to the PNW

Hi there,

Today’s walk took me to a specific destination: I set out to capture on film the chicken who lives in our neighborhood. My husband and son had scoffed at the notion that a chicken lives among us out here in tony West Seattle, so I wanted to prove I was right. When I got to the chicken coop on Admiral Way SW, however, there was no fowl in sight. Luckily, a man came running out of the house just then, and sprinted across the quiet street to the bus stop. I shouted over, asking if there were any special noise I could make to draw out the chicken for a photo shoot, and he came sprinting back, stood at the top of the garden stairs, and called in the sweetest, loving voice, “Here girl!” It worked, and I got my chick-pic.

Thanks, Bob!

The desire to see that chicken was hatched (so to speak) by the chance discovery last weekend of “Prospect Cottage” and the story of how a quirky filmmaker, artist and activist, Derek Jarman, brought the humble house and gardens into exuberant life. (It’s a nice article–focused on the famous garden–by New York Times reporter Mary Katharine Tramontana). It turns out that Jarman (1942-1994) was prominent in avant-garde London circles from the 1970s to 1990s, before he became sick with AIDS. When he got sick, he bought Prospect Cottage and moved out there, to a remote spot near Dungeness, where he tended and brought the cottage gardens into gorgeous flowery glory, all the while working as an AIDS activist. The story of how he raised money to keep the cottage and gardens alive is what attracts most attention.

Prospect-Cottage-1024x0-c-default

But what I loved the most about reading the article–and learning about Jarman himself–is how creativity can live and grow like a garden. As one friend wrote, “creativity made him happy and kept him sane. His enthusiasm and lust for life was infectious. He was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, always saying, ‘You have to go to work every day as if it were a party.'”

Now, I don’t know if our neighbor Bob, the chicken fancier, shares that world-view, but one look at his contented brood proves that he is doing something right.

More power to the Bobs and Dereks of the world!

Other news from the neighborhood: on a walk past Hiawatha Park yesterday, I saw a third addition to the mysterious street art espied awhile back, the black poster reading, “Trust the Flux.” Now it is covered with a piece of brown paper resembling a face mask, which reads, “GET BEHIND BRAVE AND KIND.”

Hiawatha street art third installation

And speaking of face masks, here is yesterday’s production which features several new styles including French fabrics with vocab words and pics, dogs, and other marvels.

 

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creativity dogs

day 31: startling thoughts

Man Coughing simple line style icon. Medical concept illustration

During this COVID-19 quarantine, we’re all enjoying hearing more birdsong, as the noisy workaday world has quieted down. But along with that lovely chorus, certain sounds have begun making us jumpy. That reminded me of how babies flail around; are we adults still prone to such panic when we feel unmoored and unsafe? Paradoxically, as our lives are quieter, we’re becoming more anxious… about certain sensations.

It’s called the Startle Reflex. As the Wikipedia article on the “Startle response” tells us, “In animals, including humans, the startle response is a largely unconscious defensive response to sudden or threatening stimuli, such as sudden noise or sharp movement, and is associated with negative affect. … it serves to protect vulnerable parts, such as the back of the neck (whole-body startle) and the eyes (eyeblink) and facilitates escape from sudden stimuli.”

Just as our dogs startle when we (almost) step on their tails, the startle reflex “is found across the lifespan of many species.”

But the most intriguing thought is this: “A variety of responses may occur because of individual’s emotional state, body posture, preparation for execution of a motor task, or other activities. The startle response is implicated in the formation of specific phobias.”

I find the sound of a cough or a sneeze, even heard from across the street, is now becoming alarming. I wonder if that will continue? If so, we may have a new pandemic to worry about: misophonia (the fear of certain sounds).

Hoo boy, I need to go for a walk.  A solitary walk in empty streets!!! with a mask in my pocket just in case I encounter another humanoid. Strange times we’re living in…

Anyway, here’s a pic of yesterday’s mask production, fyi.

Masks made on April 18 2020

 

 

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American literature art creativity dogs loss quilts social media T'ai chi wisdom

daily message, if not daily joy .. today we need Roethke

closeup sign of the times coronavirus WE ARE OK

Hi out there,

Here in Seattle (Ground Zero USA), it feels like months have already gone by since we’ve gone into health-scare hibernation. It is a strange time. We’re in here, poring over the awful statistics and fascinatingly grim reportage from the New York Times, (Yikes! latest headline is: “New Yorkers Told to Stay Indoors and Shutter Most Businesses”), our stomachs flip in anxious sympathy, our backs stiffen and shoulders tighten as we wonder and worry. Meanwhile just outside our windows, we’ve had-all week!–glorious spring weather, fragrant breezes through the pink and white flowering trees, and a gazillion birds chirping, zooming by, and squabbling in the trees around our yard. (Advice: Get and install a hummingbird feeder! Super fun.)

hummingbird March 2020

Apart from my husband and son, I have not been in close contact with any human since Monday. (Today’s Friday.) Ooof!  It feels much longer than five days. Luckily, I have three things that guarantee well-being and you can have too: 1) a passion for some manual art or activity, 2) a nearby dog to love (it doesn’t have to be your own dog), and 3) lots of books and stuff to read. With those three things, you can do OK in times high and low.

My manual art passion is sewing (see HGBG website; quilts are it!). My dog is Honey Girl, who helps in every way she can to make me happy, which is apparently what dogs love and live to do (if the adorable books of W. Bruce Cameron can be believed).  See Honey Girl here, in a quiet moment with her squeaky pig.

HG and squeaky pig March 20 2020

The books are for my head: that annoying voice of critique and complaint that talks too much unless given something else to do. You know what I mean. I work on my head, regularly, as if it were a pony, a plant, or a high-powered engine that harms itself if left to its own devices.  (I now practice Qigong and T’ai chi at home too; they care of the body-mind.) Many, many writers are close at hand, to remind me how to live and why it’s worth the bother. (I read a paragraph or two from the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, on a daily basis and I enjoy others such as Jane Austen, W. Bruce Cameron, and Lori Gottlieb, just for fun and relaxation.)

My conclusion? It is time to act, to share the wealth.  People are reading more on-line these days. Maybe my bookish discoveries could be distilled into small bits on this blog, where people like you will read them, and maybe you’ll pass on the good thoughts through the internet, and we as a species will benefit.  Maybe we’ll remember why it is worth the bother to go on living. We might even learn something important. Is it beyond hope that we might evolve for the better? Must gun sales soar? (One friend writes that people are buying guns to protect their toilet paper stash, haha; virus humor.) Maybe we’ll become more thoughtful, introspective, and grateful for the present-day and careful with each other and our living planet. However, we’ll be poorer in pocket, though… and there’s a whole lot of misery going around.

I can’t do much, apart from offering quilts and good thoughts. But at least I can do that. So from now on, I vow to post a good thought from one of my books every day for the duration of this virus crisis, here on this blog. If you like it, pass it on.

Today, I think we need Roethke, “I wake to sleep”:

 

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.

 

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.

 

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

 

Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me, so take the lively air,

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

 

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.

 

Theodore Roethke (American, 1908-1963). I never had the honor of meeting him, but he looks like such a nice person.  Love this photo. Looks like your favorite teacher, doesn’t he?

LoTheodore Roethke

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Holiday greetings to one and all!

I send cheerful wishes through the rain and fog of a dark Seattle afternoon. It’s 2:56pm; soon it will be pitch black. Gloomy ? not us. Why not? Easy. Q: What could be better than a nice big dog on a rainy day in a small house, to give you  a cozy feeling ?  Here’s Honey Girl with a clue.

Honey girl and Xmas tree Dec 2019.jpg

A: nothing.  Except maybe a nice big dog on a rainy day in a small house with an espresso machine. 🙂  Let’s crank up La Cimbali for an afternoon pick-me-up…

 

And what could be better than one Frankenstein wall-hanging? Two Frankenstein quilt/wall-hangings!  No. 2 and no. 3 are now for sale: grab one while you can, on the HGBG etsy store!

 

And put your feet up when you can. Take it easy on yourself this year.

Happy holidays to all!