To keep it well.

“… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well …”

It is among the closing lines from Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol.”  It may be one of the best remembered and most cherished sentences in the book.

“To keep Christmas well,” I suspect, implies different things to each of us.  But in the language of the day when this book was written, it meant to observe, or to honor, or to celebrate something.  To actively remember. more “To keep it well.”

Shifting boxes. shifting ideas.

There were more than 8,000 of them.  More than 8,000 books in nearly 500 cartons.  A total of about 11,000 pounds.  And over the course of 6 days or so, I shifted them all.

As an independent author, I warehouse all my own books at my home.  Up until last week, they were primarily on pallets under an attached covered carport.  But after some slight renovations and reinforcements to an old existing storage shed at the back of my property, I was able to shift all my “warehoused” books (all eight titles of them) into the shed, and away from the covered carport (now happily functioning as a new patio space).

And yet, as an independent woman, it never seems to occur to me when I start these projects that I’m no longer in my twenties or even my thirties – when I could lift half my own body weight without a twinge.  So it took days longer than I had anticipated to accomplish my goal – plus the eventual assistance of a very generous neighbor who pitched in at the end to help me heft the last few boxes into place onto the highest levels.

Besides providing a great deal of personal satisfaction for having done this, I found the project to be a rather profound experience in applied philosophy.

Books – all books, everyone’s books – are human experience and thoughts; they’re observations and ideas put into words and images on paper, bound by glue and opinion, folded together with expression, stitched into place with threads of cotton and perspective.  And I began to suspect that it was easier to shift all 11,000 pounds of these boxes and books of ideas and opinions, than it is to shift even one opinion or belief in one other person’s mind.

Scientists have done studies showing how our beliefs involve many parts of the mind as well as the body (not simply one part of the brain as was once thought).  They have learned that our beliefs are “fluid” – capable of changing and growing and maturing.  Beliefs are known to be highly experiential, based in childhood, and influenced by what we’re told as well as what we witness.

Our beliefs can affect every part of our being, from physical to emotional, from our outward behavior to our individual cells.  Our beliefs not only influence how we think and act, but they can affect our health and resilience; they help us love and let us break our hearts; they see beauty where others may not, and shape our dreams as we sleep.  Our beliefs and opinions influence how we make decisions and how we taste our food, how we decorate our homes and how we raise our children.

I personally felt rather reassured when I learned that apparently our opinions or beliefs cannot be bought for any amount of money, or diminished by threat of pain.  And yet, we hold the power to revoke or change any one of our own beliefs or opinions at will, at any given moment.  And we may form a new belief just as promptly, with just the beat of a heart.

I suspect that in our current global reality, we have never had so many opportunities for forming opinions and beliefs and ideas than we do right now.  But after physically shifting over ten thousand pounds of ideas by myself during this past week, I suspect that sharing the load, lifting together, aligning with another’s generosity of spirit, is a perfectly brilliant way for achieving the same goal and reaching even greater heights.  Perhaps this can be so even if the opinions belong to someone else … perhaps even when they exist as almost half a thousand boxes, all holding another’s way of thinking and believing and feeling.

A tradition of women.

There is a decades-old tradition among the people of the Hawaiian Islands – among the women specifically, and those of Polynesian descent in particular – to take to their boats and pay tribute to their ancestors in a challenging and meaningful annual event.  They race in outrigger canoes between the shores of two islands across wildly open ocean waters.  And when they do so, they honor their mothers and grandmothers and all the women who have gone before them, and become an example for all those to come.

They use only their own human strength:  The power of their arms and backs, their wrists and hands and legs, their will and mindsets, the unseen sinew and muscle of spirit and determination.

It is done in the tradition of the great accomplishments of the original people who discovered these islands and first called them home.  It was a feat that many modern day cultures have difficulty crediting or even imagining.  They crossed thousands of miles of open seas and crushing weather in paddle-driven single-hull canoes, finding land not by sight but by reading the skies and winds and the reflections and shapes of the ocean waves themselves.

Fashioned after a race once restricted to men, the women’s boats are traditionally built outriggers, carrying no more than six women in each, each woman with a single paddle.  The distance is more than 40 miles.  And the grueling conditions and pace cannot be sustained or completed by themselves alone.  And so, along the way, they pass the responsibility on to a next-generation of paddlers.  

Two at a time, crew members surrender themselves into the sea, and new team members climb aboard out of the water to assume their places – to continue and finish the race.  The retiring paddlers are picked up by the same waiting escort boats that have dropped off their relief crew; it is a relay filled with grace and elegance and, more especially, tradition.

The women paddlers are of all ages, all backgrounds, all sizes and ethnicities and lifestyles, all beliefs, all talents.  And yet they all share this spirit, this acknowledgement, this understanding:  that their own feet might not be the ones to touch the winning shore; the destination may be reached by their sisters, not themselves.  And yet, the victory will belong to them all.  Because it is a victory of accomplishment, of tradition, of honoring and remembrance.  It is a victory of a people, not of individuals.

I find it rather compelling that it was the women of this culture who fought for and won the right to create and participate in this particular race – which is competed by women only.  And I believe in the wider sisterhood of humanity.  And I believe women represent a tradition of self-sacrifice for the greater good, and possess a generational outlook that is unique.  Women have always carried the fire and buried the dead, led the young and stayed with the left-behind.  Women have also paddled the boats, and made first footprints on fresh sand.  But I suspect it is most important that they have lowered themselves into the sea, and passed the paddles forward to their sisters with encouragement when their own energy and time was spent.

We are entering into a season of both old traditions and new opportunities right now.  Perhaps we can view such traditions as solid foundations, well-built boats.  Perhaps we can re-envision the symbolism of it all, revisit the integrity of it, and reinvent ourselves accordingly – without losing hold of the idea of the original goal, the original journey.  Like taking up traditional boat paddles to compete in new races and celebrate fresh victories.

After all, the settlers of Hawaii could not see the islands themselves when they set out – they had only the idea of them, and the faith that they or their descendants would arrive and be safe and become better versions of themselves.  And, in that tradition, I suspect it may be up to the women of our world to pick up more paddles, to get into more boats, and to just example the heck out of it.

 

The curiosity of a rose.

She was clearly not where she was meant to be.  And I had the feeling she was as surprised by it all as I was at seeing her there.  

The flouncy little single rose blossom had poked her head completely through to the back side of a tall solid wooden fence, while the rest of her was out of sight, leaning against the front side of the fence as intended, as planted.  

It seemed that at some time in her youth (for nothing larger than a bud could have made it through that small crack in the fence) her curiosity must have won out over her family ties.  And so she thrust her tiny head through to the other side of the fence.  She peeked into the unknown.  She opened herself up to the unfamiliar side of the sun.  And once she was there, she bloomed into her full beauty, apparently quite happy and in good health.

Quincy the dog and I were walking past the fence that separates two neighboring yards a few blocks from my house.  We were approaching from the western (back) side of the fence.  And there she was:  a perfectly formed pale pink rose in full bloom, nodding at us in the slight breeze.  And then we saw the rose bed itself, which was obviously planted on the eastern side of the fence.

The fact that the lovely blossom appeared so isolated, so out-of-place, so singular and friendly, stopped me for a closer look.  She nodded again in greeting.  And she made my very soul smile in return.  (I suspect a flower waving at you is uniquely qualified to break through even the most pensive or solemn frame of mind.)

Q and I soon continued on our walk, but the message and meaning of the diffident single rose stayed with me, and had its way with my heart and mind for quite a long time.

Like most of us, I suspect I have been trading my own curiosity for trepidation lately; afraid to venture away from my side of the fence, fearful of looking onto the other side (or the others’ side).  Perhaps I’ve suspected that the cracks in the fences that define my life – that define me – are to be avoided rather than taken as a visionary opportunity of possibilities.

And yet, this small rose took that chance.  She reached out and through and looked around and waved at strangers.  And in her instinctive way, she bloomed quite perfectly.  She kept her roots, yet found new sun.  And she thrived. 

I suspect it’s the reassurance of the familiar that keeps us on our particular side of the fences in our lives.  I suspect it is our own fears that cause us to create such fences and barriers and separations in the first place.  But perhaps we might consider the curiosity of the rose, the rose who took that chance – that opportunity – that possibility – that vision – of the other side of the fence. 

There is a quotation from Douglas Adams (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) that says this:  “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I was intended to be.”

None of us may have ever intended to go through such global uncertainty, with all its fear and anxiety, its unknowing and unwanted, with cracks in our familiar surroundings and holes punched in places where we believed ourselves to be safe and content.  But I suspect we will end up where we are intended to be.  And I suspect we will be curiously beautiful when we get there.

Celebrating the bruises.

I have a friend who is wonderfully strange and tender, beautiful and wise.  My friend’s name is Mar.  

Not long ago, Mar shared on social media a photo of bare legs.  More to the point, they were bare legs covered in bruises.  They were Mar’s own legs, battered and bruised from moving into a new home.  And they reminded my friend of the good old roller derby days when bruises and bumps were a daily occurrence and much more massive than those showing in that particular picture.  

But Mar was thankful for these latest bruises because of the memories they brought back, particularly the remembrance of being out there, participating in the sport, taking the hits for the team – how it was about throwing oneself into the game, body and soul.  And then Mar went on to explain how the bruising was a personal joy all through the healing process as well – because it was visible proof of survival, and the colors of renewal.  What began in blacks and purples and the hugeness of good sore bruises, evolved and lightened as they got smaller and less noticeable, less sensitive, less intense, and they became the literal visibility and physicality of healing.

I was quite smitten with Mar’s observations, especially when applied to life in its broader sense.  Because I suspect that, instinctively, we try to avoid bruises – the hits and smacks and jabs and injuries that life can throw at us – even though they are, in the end, inevitable.  

And when they do happen to us, I suspect we try to hide them. We certainly don’t often stop to celebrate them as perhaps we should – as proof that we are participating fully in life, that we are engaging it wholeheartedly, without reserve, with courage and anticipation, playing our part unhesitatingly, giving our best.  

Perhaps we simply forget to accept the fact that we may come out of the game a bit worn out and torn up and ragged, with scrapes and cuts and bumps and scars, and with amazingly colorful bruises.  

We are wonderfully resilient after all, you and I.  From kicked shins to punched hearts.  So I suspect that we should be prouder of our bruises.  Perhaps we should find more joy in those color flags that represent our proof of life – our proof of striving, of survival – the brilliant full-color stripes of healing, while the injuries themselves are allowed to fade into memory.

But I suspect there are bruises in life that are more meaningful than others, more significant, more intentional:  like when we put ourselves out there for matters of principle rather than points to score; when we take one for the team and the team is one human being; when we stand firm and absorb the punch that protects any other living being, or another species, or another form or way of life – because it is simply the right thing to do and because we can.

I suspect those are the bruises we should all celebrate most of all – whether they show up on our own selves or on the beings of others.  

Writer Albert Camus believed that we should:  “Live to the point of tears.”  Perhaps he was right.  Perhaps he meant that if we don’t, our tears might be shed in very dark, very lonely places.  

But I suspect that we could at least consider living to the point of bruises.  And to celebrate the bruising … the living, the hurting, the courage, the surviving, the healing and the grace of it all.

A library of found books.

A copy of one of the books I’ve authored was returned to me from a big chain bookstore today, and I felt quite sad about it.  Not because it was returned, but because the person who was meant to read it didn’t get the chance to do so.  It wasn’t found in time.

Big chain bookstores need to do that, of course; they need to shift their inventory quickly.  And they do best selling hot-topic, everybody-is-reading-this, kinds of books.  And it’s lovely to have such bookstores nearby and thriving.

But there are certain books that must be “found,” I think.  They are the ones that need to sit for a bit longer on the shelf.  And then one day, they just catch your eye, and they have titles that intrigue your imagination, and a few opening lines and words that resonate with you personally – your heart, your soul, your state of mind.  And they invite you to stop and lean against the shelves for a minute longer and read just a bit more and lose track of time and place. more “A library of found books.”

New stories to be told.

I hadn’t had a bath in two days.  And the last meal I could remember eating was a handful of chocolate chips (no cookies, just the chocolate chips straight out of the bag).  And I texted to two friends and I called my publisher.

I’ve finished it.  I’ve written “The End” on the bottom of the last page.  I’ve finished writing my latest book.

My publisher will be the one to decide, of course – whether it is a book worth publishing and whether it is, indeed, finished.  But right now, in my own mind, the story has been told and it is ready for the telling to others.

After a book manuscript is finished by a writer, it is a long way and time until it is a “book.”  But for the author, this is a terribly significant and mixed-emotion time – not unlike the semi-sweet chocolate that was my last meal.  It is semi-sweet to be done with the creating and crafting and discipline of writing; and it’s semi-sweet saying goodbye to the characters, to the place of reality where you’ve lived for the past weeks and months and sometimes years; and it’s a semi-sweet feeling of putting down your pen and purpose – your reason for being – even if it is only for awhile.

Perhaps this has been particularly evident to me, particularly relevant, right now – to feel as if I’ve had a place to go and people to be with, and to have a sense of meaningfulness in my life during this actual real time of isolation and confinement.  

And I suspect there may be a burst of art and writing and music, of philosophy and creative science and imaginative thinking, that will be coming out on a global basis, after we have all gotten through this time of self-imposed introspection and, for some of us, a sort of desperation to find purpose in our lives.

But I also suspect that some of this scurry and push in creativity may be simply for our personal need to create an “alternate reality” for ourselves, an alternate place to be and hangout, an alternate us – like children and their imaginary friends or playing dress-up; like theater and the theater of the mind we get from reading; like playing games and make-believe and wearing clown noses.

I also suspect that it is our ability to conceive of and then get lost in such alternate realities that is our human saving grace.  That it is there that we can find the seeds of peace and patience, empathy and humor, and we can grow them, and we can take them out into the world and share them like blossoms and fruits – or even made up into homemade breads and fresh-baked pies.

The natural world has been doing its best to keep us at least occupied, if not actually entertained, during this time – admittedly, it’s been a sort of trial-and-error effort (like a jack-in-the-box meant to be a distraction which actually scares the bejeebers out of the children).  But there have also been sky dances of stars and double rainbows, a cleansing of the earth’s atmosphere and waters, a renewal of forests and the wild things that live there.  And babies are still being born and weddings are still being celebrated and love songs are being sung across the world to strangers.

So I hope all the new stories are on their way as well, and the art and music and dance and the original insights of science and thought.  I am looking forward to adding my own small voice to it, too – my own new story getting ready for the telling.  

I’ll bring more chocolate.

Hatching stones.

The soft grey-brown little dove was watching us.  But she wasn’t moving.  

Quincy the dog and I stood at a respectful distance from the sweet little bird as she rested, perhaps nesting, on the ground.  It was an ill-chosen place for a nest, I thought – on the corner of a driveway, only slightly under a protective bush; deeply shaded, but terribly open, vulnerable.

I know that some doves do nest on the ground.  And their nests can be a hasty affair – just scraps and bits of twigs and grass and pine straw thrown together without much thought or structural soundness.  I also know that doves often simply sit and rest on the ground – so I looked carefully, and I saw the nesting materials clearly evident around her body.  And the fact that she stayed, even as Q and I slowly approached, made me quite convinced that this was, indeed, her nesting place, her home, her stage for introducing her future fledglings into the world.  Not well chosen, indeed.  But it was hers and she was obviously committed to it. more “Hatching stones.”

If I’m wearing pants, this must be Tuesday.

It happens when you stand up fast, and the blood rushes down into your legs and feet, and your blood pressure drops, and you get kind of giddy and things go upside down for a minute, and your ears hiss, and you feel rather stupid.  And sometimes you have to sit back down again for it to all settle into place.  

It’s called “head rush,” but it seems to me that even that nomenclature is rather upside down – since everything is rushing away from your head, not toward it.  But that’s what it’s called, and I would suspect that most of us have experienced it at one time or another in our lives. more “If I’m wearing pants, this must be Tuesday.”