Azalea Time

I’m taking a week or two off from my blog.
See you on the other side! Enjoy this beautiful spring weather!

Being Present Where You Are

The Tree Peony outside my studio door.

“Where and what your body is living is not where and what your attention is living.”
Nancy Colier, The Power of Off

The woman dressed in black shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt strode ahead of me on the trail to the creek. The magical bird song that I’d been listening to before I caught up to her was gone. In its place was an insistent business like voice asking the person on the other end of the line which stock he or she would recommend to take the place of the loser they had just sold. There was laughter, a few swear words. On and on it went. I noticed a flash of white leap through the brush to her left. A White Tailed Deer, as disturbed as I was by the unnatural sounds, moved out of the way quickly in order to find the peacefulness she’d been experiencing before the interruption.

I had encountered this woman once before on my morning walks at Ivy Creek Natural Area and began wondering if I should change my early morning jaunts to later in the day. But I loved to be there early in the morning before groups of other people arrived and my thoughts were taken up with human busyness. I enjoyed being alone in the forest and fields, fully present to what I was seeing and hearing in this world I mistakenly thought was untouched by technology.

I’m naive that way. When I’m in the woods I expect to be hear wood peckers drumming away on surrounding trees digging for their breakfast. Or watch a doe and her spotted fawn taking in the early morning sun as they graze the grass in the meadow. If I was very lucky, I might see a beaver swimming across the creek, its mouth filled with newly sprouted twigs and leaves. My attention would be as present as my body. The stress I would experience later in the day was no where in sight and my breathing was slow and deep. Being in the natural world has always been my salvation, keeping me sane in what often seems like an insane world.

I know there is no other path ahead that will lead me away from the intruder, so I turn back and look for a way around her. I find another path that ultimately takes me in a different direction. I won’t be heading for the creek which was my destination, but who knows what wonderful sights and sounds will fill my need for this short but sweet inclusion in a world not as taken with itself as the world surrounding this two hundred acre preserve.

When I start the morning here in the woods I know my day will be easier to navigate through than it would be if I had picked up my cell phone as I ate my breakfast. Without the phone spewing messages and emails some are expecting me to answer immediately, I will taste the freshness of blueberries, freshly picked strawberries, the tang of plain yogurt, and the sweetness of honey I drizzle on top. If I choose to turn the phone on all of that will be lost.

I think of that woman walking through the forest, talking on her cellphone, hearing only her own voice, seeing only dollar signs while missing the bright red cardinal flowers blooming along the trail. It seems to me that if she had made that call later, after her walk, her day might have a different ending. We all need to take time away from our busyness and immerse ourselves in places where we can be present and mindful of the world around us.

I’ve too often make the mistake of taking my cell phone outdoors when I sit on my patio. I might miss the hummingbird flitting through the garden if I’m engaged with emails. What do you miss when you let your cell phone take over the present moment?

Outsmarting My Smart Phone, Part I

My first cell phone was too big to put in a pocket or a purse. It was larger than a Princess desk phone, and all the rage before wireless made its debut. We bought it because everyone had one. It seemed like the cool thing to do. It sat between the front seats in the car that Bill drove. We only made calls with it when we were going to be late for an appointment or in the event of an emergency … both of which rarely ever happened. It was more a pain in the butt than anything else. It was a while before I got a flip phone that I could hide away in my purse.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. Firstly, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone that much anymore. I rarely give out my phone number and I often don’t carry it with me. I simply don’t like being interrupted when I’m shopping, eating a meal, reading a book, taking a walk, or anything else for that matter. When I’m out of town I do take it with me, just so I can be reached if there is a problem at home or with my kids. I think the use of cell phones in public is way overboard. I worry about the all the little ones who know how to use these gadgets as they are learning to walk. Then there are the teens and tweens like my grandkids who spend way too much texting, playing games, and not watching where they are going. It’s quite frequent around here to watch UVA students crossing the street without looking either way to see if cars are coming, because they are checking their email. And there are lots of adults whose cell phone manners are particularly atrocious. Have you ever had dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and he or she pulls out a cell phone to check emails, even before she reads the menu, or asks you how you are?

Over the last few years and the last one especially I’ve gotten more hooked on this canned entertainment than I’ve ever wanted to be. I believed those who told me that I had to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to sell my book, and connect with my readers. If I didn’t have friends on the internet what did I have? Nothing, I was told. So I opened accounts on both of of those time wasters and took up checking my emails way too often, as if checking it eleven times an hour would guarantee that I’d just won a prize for my fantastic writing.

Then the last election happened and because I was so caught up in the anxiety and fear that many of us experienced, I was constantly on Facebook checking out the latest Breaking News that brought me into a dark period of depression. Being a news junkie, the cell phone did not ease my growing addiction to having to know everything that was going on all around me. I no longer needed a television set to tune into. I started carrying the phone with me everywhere, as if knowing what the president-elect was doing right this very moment would cause a major world war, or stop the world from spinning without my knowing it. I even checked it while I was eating breakfast and lunch. Something I said I’d never, ever do. If I had an appointment, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone as I walked out the door.

There were the hate posts from both sides chewing out those who were upset about the election and how to get over it. Even those I agreed with most of time got nasty to those whom they said weren’t doing enough to resist. Making phone calls, writing postcards, marching, and signing petitions was all the rage. If you didn’t do enough of any one of those things you were bashed by those who spent all of their available time doing them. I absolutely believe in resisting, but when those on my side start picking on those who can’t do it all, I really begin to question exactly what is going on here. Fortunately most of that activity is over at least for the time being.

Then one morning I woke up, feeling especially down. I realized how much complaining I was doing because I never had time to finish anything I started. As the weather warmed, I wanted to spend more time outside pruning last summer’s garden left-overs and listening to the birds chatter around me. But I didn’t have time. I wanted more time to read, write in my journal, and prepare delicious food. I spent a lot of time over a lot of days, trying to figure out how to change my lack of time. What I discovered that nothing was really holding me back from doing what I wanted to do. I was simply addicted to the cell phone, the internet and all that it represents.

I’ve started making choices about how to spend my time, rather than being run by robots and having my brain get hooked on something out in the atmosphere that I can’t even see. When ever I get the urge to check my email or see what’s happening on Facebook, I ask myself why I need to do that now. Sometimes I still go down the rabbit hole but other times I hold off and enjoy the sunshine and the newly blooming flowers that are growing around me.

I’ll be writing more about this over the next few weeks. I’ll share ways to have more time for yourself and be more mindful. In the meantime, have a glorious week. And before you check your cell phone, ask yourself why you need to do that right this minute!

Writing While Sick With The Flu

Woodland Phlox blooming in my garden now.

Last week I said I’d be away and wouldn’t be posting a blog today. I’m supposed to be in a quiet location about an hour from here at a five day insight dialogue meditation retreat. Unfortunately I came down with the flu the day before I was supposed to leave and have been in bed ever since. I don’t do flu shots, but this dance with this nasty bug has me wondering if I should get one next fall when they are once again offered.

Except for a nasty cold after the first of the year, a UTI several weeks ago on a Saturday that took me to the ER, I’ve had a healthy winter. The hospital has a new system where you if you need to go to the ER you log in on line before you leave your home. They will tell you when to be there. I called at 3 PM and was told to be there at 5:30.  I expected immediate treatment, but sat in the waiting room until 9:30, filled with folks, young and old with the flu and the very nasty Norovirus.   I know that is where both Bill and I picked up this bug that has had both of us in bed for days.

While Bill is feeling much better and has slipped out for groceries, he still finds a need to take care of himself and not overdo. I was told of someone who had this bug for 3 weeks, because he went back out into the world too early and got sick again. I was told I’d be welcome at the retreat even a few days late, but though I am feeling somewhat better, I’ll take no chances and just stay put for the next few days. The retreat is over on Wednesday. No way am I going to make it.

For me it’s been five days of misery, yet despite my fight with a fever, a constant barking cough, a burning sore throat, and extreme dizziness, my head has been filled to the brim with writing ideas.  On Saturday, I decided to put two nonfiction books aside that I’ve been reading. The first was, Dreamland: The true Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones, which is hard enough to read when you’re feeling well. I’m not at all sure that I will ever finish it. It’s just too damned depressing. The second one that I truly love and will absolutely finish is, The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World, by Nancy Collier. Who needs nonfiction when you can’t stand up straight, walk across a room without weaving back and forth like a drunk, and can’t breathe?

Both of those books are about addiction and though I don’t and never will take opiates, being addicted to the internet and the iPhone is something I admit to and resonate with.  You’ll hear more about this in future posts. I find America’s addiction to all things technical an alarming addiction and a difficult one to break.

After putting those two books aside, I picked up Christina Baker Kline’s, new novel, A Piece Of The World. I loved her book, Orphan Train, and heard her talk at the Virginia Festival of the Book just a few short weeks ago. Her use of language, descriptive passages, and narrative based on hours of research into Andrew Wyeth’s relationship with Christina Olson, the woman in his most admired painting, Christina’s World is phenomenal. I’ve only just begun this book and my eyes get tired easily, so I read for short stretches. But her beautiful words tumble through my mind as I cat nap between putting the book down and picking it up again.

Yesterday, feeling better than I have in a few days, but still a bit fuzzy headed, I picked up, Natasha Trethewey’s book of poems, Native Guard. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007. I heard her talk about her work and poetry at a journaling conference I attended last May. The child of a racially mixed marriage, her poems “confront the racial legacy of her native Deep South.” Like Kline’s words, Trethewey’s verse is beautifully written, phenomenally descriptive of both place and emotion, leaving no doubt as to where you are and exactly what is happening.

With those two books tucked under the covers with me, I became inspired. It was the first time in a long while that I felt that I absolutely had to write something right then and there,  as often happens when I read the words of exquisite writers, like these to women.

And realizing that April is National Poetry Month, I got it in my head to write a poem a day for the rest of the month. I missed April Fool’s day, because I was so sick, but maybe I can write two poems another day to make up for missing the first day of this new month. I immediately wrote the following poem.

Abed With The Flu

Four days in my sick bed
I sleep and read the time away
Sun wakes  falls asleep again
The half-moon lends light to the dark
Fever comes and goes
First I’m cold then sweaty
The world stumbles along
Outside my door

My cough sounding dog-like
Brings flem to the surface
Encouraging my own song
Like these words
Stories I will tell again another day

 

Have you ever had the urge to write when you were sick or otherwise engaged?

The Best Story Ever!

For years I have claimed Watership Down, a novel by Richard Adams, to be my absolutely most favorite book in the world. Since then I’ve read many other fantastic books, including best sellers and others I would give my eye teeth to have written myself. So I decided to reread this old favorite to see if it still held up as one of the best. I first read it in the seventies, and fell head over heels for what many call an allegory. But it is also a great adventure story, and a great example of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s quest. In this case the heroes are rabbits fleeing the destruction of their habitat, seeking a place where they could live freely without interference from man’s destructive nature. It a was timely read, as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enacted one year after the book was published and habitat destruction was becoming a huge topic of discussion.

A month ago I ordered the latest reprint with a new introduction by the author, and dove into this amazing tale that is as timely today as it was back when it was first published. As we struggle with the new politics of our time, and the masses of human beings seeking a place of solace away from their war torn homelands, and the very possible demise of the Endangered Species Act, it is right on target again as an important read that has eased some of my anxiety and is helping me to maintain a more positive attitude in a world filled with gloom, the fear of our political situation, and the possible rise of a world we cannot imagine. While dystopian reads like Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Orwell’s, 1984, are selling like mad, Watership Down, is a calming salve in our acidic world.

Richard Adams ingeniously began crafting this story during a long car trip to entertain his daughters, when they asked him to tell them a story that they had never heard before. He continued putting the story together afterwards as he drove his daughters to school, improvising characters like Hazel and Fiver, the two main heroes, with personalities similar to those of friends and acquaintances. As he studied the habits of wild rabbits, he invented the Lapine language to take the place of words that do not exist in the any human language, like the word silflay, which means to go above ground to feed.

If you are looking for a story to get lost in this is one to choose, filled with love, compassion, bravery, and courage along with the chills and thrills of an epic journey.

I will be away next week and will return the following week with a new post.

P.S. After getting this post ready to be published, I read a brief article in the latest issue of Audubon Magazine, about the Endangered Species Act.  The writer, Brian Palmer, noted that the Act would be challenging to repeal with About 90 percent of Americans in support of it. However, the powers that be will most likely whittle away the funds literally starving the ESA. This is something to watch.