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death dogs English literature loss retirement wisdom

can one be sad “better”?

Hi, Feeling a bit sad this morning, about the inevitability of decline. Three reasons why : 1)First there are the enormous vet bills that have been pouring in for our beloved Honey Girl who, at 13, is a less mobile, less aware dog whose ahem, unhygienic habits are starting to make my life exhausting as well as breaking the bank. 2) Then there’s husband about to turn 70. 3) Finally, there is all that mail I suddenly started receiving about Medicare. Wow, we must all three of us be getting old!

So this morning I turned to audiobooks for help, and I’m now listening to Helen Russell, How to Be Sad. It’s pretty good. (Despite the annoying subtitle: Everything I’ve Learned About Getting Happier by Being Sad, Better. Why can’t they just let the sadness be?)

I’m still sad.

Sad is ok, just kind of quiet…

Hope you are ok too.

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bittersweet thoughts on the Ides of March

“Bittersweet” (or douce-amère, sweetbitter in French) sums up the memories that are seeping into thought this morning. Ambivalent and a little sad, a little happy.

What triggered it was the following email: “I last wrote to you on 3/10/20, two years ago, to cancel the writing workshop, Write YOUR Story.” The rest of the letter explains hopes for recommencing the workshop but still…

Two years have disappeared, two years of isolation, anxiety, and collective worry. Two years is a lot when you are only 8 years old. It’s been two years while those kids whose story, which never even got a title and remains unfinished, have been growing up. [BTW: The spring 2020 group story was a reverse fairy tale, modeled on “Hans in Luck,” by the Brothers Grimm. Our protagonist: a 12-year-old girl who loves gardening. In keeping with the original genre, our heroine is given, and loses, money and treasures one after another. At the ending, she’d be left with nothing, or at least no material profit. I was so curious to know how they’d spin that, the nothingness.]

It is bittersweet, the memory of covid-19 and all who have died, who were sick, who remain devastated by memory or physical disability, that plague. Equally fragile are those who got better but who remain terrified by the memory of having a plague.

Yet look at the sweet hopefulness in the children’s faces seen here. If ever we needed a reason to keep going, it’s in these faces.

Look at those adorable girls who joined the class in 2015, seen above. They are teenagers now, adults. Yet I bet they’ll remember the warm feeling of fun we all shared, how fun it was to write and illustrate Nabiki and Ruby: An Outer Space Fairy Tale.

That creative energy has to be good for the planet!

May your activities this week, as we head into the notorious IDES OF MARCH, be creative and good for the planet too. Despite the horrors that have transpired on March 15 in years past, history does not need to repeat itself. We can do better. We must!

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forever young, for Greg (and thanks, Bob Dylan)

I just learned that a friend of mine died. I will miss his brightness–he was electric! Greg was a man of witty conversation, warm bear hugs, and passionately-held beliefs that fueled–along with many excellent wines and wonderful food–heated debates over dinner tables in Michigan, Indiana, and in France. Because Greg was not only a voracious reader and bon vivant, he was also a traveler, fluent in French like his wife Catherine, my friend and colleague of many years at Notre Dame. I remember when they met, how in love they were, how beautiful it was to witness and to enjoy being with them. Greg even came to our monthly Café français with students, on occasion! What a guy.

So this morning I’ve been moving around with a heavy heart. Luckily I had the good sense to turn on the radio to KEXP, and wouldn’t you know it, DJ John Richards just played the perfect song for Greg (for us, really): “Forever Young,” by Bob Dylan. Listen to the music here (with heart-breaking photos of Dylan over the years), and here, for a purer version of the music.

So rest now, friend Greg and go where you are, assured you will live on in our sad hearts, and we’ll think of you over dinner tonight, and pause to give thanks for knowing you. And may Catherine come visit us soon. And we’ll drink toasts to Greg, and tell stories, and laugh through our tears, and we too will stay forever young…

Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the light surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

1973, Ram’s Horn Music.

Lyrics from: https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/forever-young/

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the bad taste of tradition

Happy holiday, reader. Not my favorite day, I’ll admit. This year has produced a perfect metaphor: my uneatable homemade gingerbread men. It’s a tradition. My mom made them for us kids, and I do it too. This year, after a fruitless search for a nice gingerbread mix, like I usually use, I pulled out Mom’s old Joy of Cooking. I was feeling good about continuing the tradition with the authentic, original recipe.

They’re terrible! Really awful! Disgustingly dry. I’ve never had such a tasteless cookie: thick, dry, and with a strong taste of flour. (Even the frosting doesn’t help.)

So if you are not having a super-duper fun Christmas today, just know you’re not alone.

Moral of the story: traditions can cook up some really awful results!

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health wisdom

day 62: the inevitable Slump

Hello dear readers,

Sorry for the late post, but things are not going so well today. We’re limping along—Honey Girl with a sore paw and me with a migraine—and hoping to feel better later on.  There are few things so sad as a limping pet ☹

Sometimes that’s all we can do, isn’t it, just limp along.  Sometimes it happens, it’s inevitable: you hit a Slump. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “And when you’re in a Slump, / you’re not in for much fun. / Unslumping yourself / is not easily done.”*

Oh well. Maybe admitting the Slump is the first step toward leaving it?  Here’s hoping so (and hoping her limp is a just passing phase… )

Til tomorrow…

Fyi: yesterday’s face mask production:

face masks made on May 19 2020

*Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!  (New York: Random House, 1990).

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dogs happiness health wisdom

Cheer up! let negative ions help

Hello on a cloudy day, one of many out we’ve now had here in my new home, Seattle.

Cloudy day with Space Needle Oct 9 2018.jpg

I knew that this cloudy, rainy weather was coming. I remember having cold wet feet all day long in high school, after riding my bike there in the morning darkness. But it’s different to be here now. I want to love living here as much as I did when it was sunny and warm in July, August, and September!  Being a bit older and wiser, I’m also aware of the dangers of depression and SAD.

So I recently read Heather McAuliffe‘s helpful book, Beating Seattle’s Grey, and I recommend it to everyone, no matter what cloudy sky you live under. Among the best tips I took away from from it are: 1) water is not the enemy, darkness is the culprit; 2) bright light is good for the mood; 3) decorate with color; 4) go out and get some bright light at lunchtime if possible; and 5) there are actually “rain shadows” in Seattle, created by the small mountain ranges upon which this city sits, and which allow some neighborhoods (Yay, North Admiral is one!) to be less rainy than others.  6) But the most intriguing scientific fact that I read, and which underlies McAuliffe’s advice about getting and using good rain gear, lies in the concept of negative ions. Negative ions are especially numerous in places where air meets water, as in waterfalls and mountain streams, but any body of moving water will do, I imagine. (The Saint Joseph River, back in South Bend, was always a nice place to walk also, even if the effects were less exuberant.)

As Bruce A. Mason notes in an article called “How Negative Ions Produce Positive Vibes”: “It’s time we get back to basics, people! The healing properties of negative ions have been recognized for thousands of years. Different cultures and societies have embraced the power of negative ions for centuries. The ancient Greeks recommended seaside health spas to cure skin diseases, and in the 1800s the English developed seaside resorts to treat the depressed and unwell. So if you’re able to seize the day and find a way to recharge in nature this season, run don’t walk and just do it!”

Ever since I read McAuliffe’s description of all the good done by negative ions, I’ve made it a point to walk along Alki Beach as often as possible when I’m out with Honey Girl. Although the skies are cloudy, the seas are choppy, and the air is brisk, it is still a beautiful experience. Honey Girl likes it too, as you can see from pics of today’s morning walk. (She’s not thrilled about rain and being wet, however.) I hope to make this a daily practice, even in the pouring rain (and possibly without the dog). Just think how many negative ions would be in the air on a day like that!

 

 

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Chinese literature conflict creativity death French literature humor loss meditation memory T'ai chi wisdom Zen philosophy

Ripping off the Bandaid, or must moving become existential turmoil? Remember the worry-wort centipede!

b96028bcbc4bdb7ad68f18c15fb5d620 centipede

Now that it is only four weeks til D-day, I have felt touches of that sickness known as nostalgia. It starts with a slight taste of nausea that spreads to the temples with dread and then cloaks the whole body in heavy, dank sadness. I know it well, having lost my mom just three years ago and my dad in 2008.

I hate nostalgia! I hate thinking about the past, wallowing in sorrow for babies grown, marriages sealed, friendships ended. I hate thinking all the time. The Mind, it was revealed to me during the past 18 months since I discovered meditation and T’ai chi, is not necessarily a friend. It does not naturally have any compassion for you. It can attack you, remind you of weakness, and torture you all day long if you let it. Moving your household is an activity that gives Mind free rein, because when you must spend several hours a day poring through cupboards, drawers, and shelves, choosing and tossing vestiges of the past, Mind creeps in easily and emotional turmoil may ensue, believe me.

The conflicting emotions whipped up by the storm yesterday have subsided to mental nagging today. As Peter Ralston points out, “We have a tendency to get caught up in things that don’t serve being ‘in’ or being responsive to the present moment and condition—we become enmeshed in figuring out, being anxious, upset, angry, fearful, reactive and so on.”

His solution is a brilliant series of mind experiments and exercises designed to unify the physical core and the Mind. It does work if you remain calm. Being calm for me requires preparation: doing T’ai chi daily, concentrating on even breathing, and holding a correct spinal alignment at all times. As Ralston writes, “Instead of trying to make those things disappear, we can simply let them be, not feed them energy and attention, and let them float in the base we now call being calm” (Principles of Essential Power, 6). But when you suddenly rediscover a handknit baby blanket, a cute old photo of your kid (whose present self isn’t quite so cute or unproblematic), or even a yellowed bank statement, emotions are prone to fill the idle Mind.

Better to channel that emotional richness into creativity, as Bob Klein, Twyla Tharp and so many other sages have advised. Therein lies our life’s purpose. Creativity for me is writing (a little) and especially sewing. Sewing is a bond to the past and a disciplined way to beautify the present and make people happier, if only for a few minutes now and then. My intentions are kindly, the results are heart-warming, and that is enough for me.

But our world does not promote such simplicity, and it never has, as long as humans live in community and compare our fate to that of others. Faced with our own mortality and limitations, we humans can easily become off-balanced and fall into existential turmoil. French literature testifies to this fact all the time: just think of Victor Hugo’s poem, “The Slope of Reverie,” Jean-Paul Sartre’s works Being and Nothingness or Nausea, and Beckett’s entire absurdly depressing oeuvre.

Why is that? Because most people in the West are dominated by a tyrant named Mind or conscious logical socially-conditioned thought patterns. Mind tries (and often succeeds) to convince us that only Mind can keep us together.  Only worrying holds us upright, gets us out of bed and off to work. Only other people’s opinions of us count. If we stop worrying and trying to measure up to external standards, we will fall apart and turn into mush. That is a powerful lie. But each must realize it in his own time.

Remember the tragic fate of the worry-wort centipede!

The centipede was happy, quite,

Until a toad in fun

Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?”

This worked his mind to such a pitch,

He lay distracted in a ditch,

Considering how to run.

 

–reproduced in Watts, The Way of Zen, p. 27

 

image reproduced courtesy of Kaneki and a Centipede Plush ||| Tokyo Ghoul Fan Art by verticalforklift on Tumblr