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Category Archives: Musings

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve as the church would have it, is today. This evening there will be visits from assorted ghosts and goblins as well as the occasional ninja fighter and superhero.

All Hallow’s Eve was the Christian church’s answer to Samhain, a pagan festival of equal parts ancestor veneration and rituals designed to protect one from monsters and the Fae. Our tradition of dressing up in costumes and giving out candy to visitors arises from Samhain. The church moved the date around quite a bit, and tried the handy substitution of saints for faeries and pukahs, but didn’t manage to get rid of the festival in any meaningful way.

Samhain is a fire festival. At the end of the year, when the harvest was being brought in, hearth fires were allowed to die out, mostly of necessity. There simply wasn’t time to both get in the harvest AND keep the fires going.

Of course, once the bounty was gathered from the fields, a celebration was

in order, including a big fire and conversations with dead ancestors to catch them up on the year’s events. Apparently the veil between worlds is very thin on Samhain, allowing for dead relatives to visit. Hence, a communal feast was held. There was a lot of mead and ale involved, which may offer a partial explanation for the visitations. At the end of the night, each family took a brand from the communal bonfire and relit the fire in their home hearth.

Of course, ancestral spirits weren’t the only ones to take advantage of the thinning of the veil. Costumes were worn to trick monsters, who might want to kidnap the unwary, into thinking that one was just another monster, and would therefore not be much of a prize if brought back to the underworld.

Whatever else Samhain (pronounced sow-win) might have been, it was a time of gratitude. People were grateful for the gifts of food, warmth, and safety that the successful end of a harvest represented. It was a reminder that though everything has an ending, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Endings make way for new beginnings.

And if you can do that in costume, and get candy for it, all the better.


Priorities

…slowly running out of time.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve become gradually more aware that I am slowly running out of time.

Don’t worry, I’m not terminally ill or suicidal. But I am a realist. When I was twenty, I believed that I had “world enough, and time,” as the poet once said. But as I leave the middle of my fifth decade, I realize that though death is (hopefully) not imminent, neither is it getting any farther away. So I tend to think about life a bit differently, and my priorities are being adjusted accordingly.

I’ve started thinking more about a thing’s importance than its urgency. Watching TV has dropped way down on my “to do” list, while writing has leapt into the top five. Online games are reserved for times when I’m waiting in line and not currently reading an e-book. Reading, always high on my list of preferred activities, takes precedence over gaming and other forms of entertainment.

Attending signings and writer’s conferences has replaced sunbathing, though I do enjoy an hour or two in the pool with my GBs. My husband and family have always been at the top of my list, but time, distance and conflicting schedules sometimes make finding the time difficult. So, I’m trying to adjust my attitude. My mantra these days is, “this too shall pass — so catch hold and enjoy it before it’s gone.” Even writing plays second fiddle to watching my favorite bits of starshine grow, and that is as it should be. My priorities have been rearranged, and I am trying to keep my attitude in line with those changes.

I’m learning to be kinder to myself. I’d still love to see my books on the bestseller list, but I am working toward acknowledging that having eleven books out in the world is a worthy accomplishment in and of itself. I’m learning to celebrate successes, even — and perhaps especially — when they are smaller than I wanted them to be. Aiming high is good. But squashing the nastier tirades of the inner critic is a necessary process if one is to move forward with grace.

And then I’m going to light a lamp.

As far as I know, I’ve plenty of years on my ticket yet. But it is important to me that I refuse to “go gentle into that good night.” Don’t know about you, but I plan on raging until it is full dark. And then I’m going to light a lamp. There is too much joy and beauty in this world to do anything else.


What is Art?

Not my mother’s work, but it illustrates my point.

My mother is an artist. Her medium is cloth and her tools are pins and scissors, needles and thread and heart.

My husband works in metal. Wheels and wrenches, wires, pliers, manuals and heart.

One of our daughters uses paint and canvas, brushes, pastels, oils and heart.

Our other daughter is a writer. She uses words, images, plot lines and character and heart. Both have turned parenting into an art-form. Here, their medium is patience, persistence, guidance, discipline… and heart.

I have seen teachers create learning with papier-mâché and paint. Nurses who create health with medicine and education. Policemen, fireman and grocers who work in the medium of service and human kindness to create community.

In all of these people and vocations, creativity begins in the heart and the results personify beauty.

…humanity’s truest interpretation of itself is created when its members choose love…

Forget about the museum and the gallery – humanity’s truest interpretation of itself is created when its members choose love and joy and peace to create connection. Paintings, sculptures, music, books and all the other things we typically classify as “art” are simply varying expressions of our view of the world already created by community. Sometimes these expressions are beautiful. Sometimes they are ugly, but always they are a commentary on who we are.  Those who create relationship with kindness and compassion are no less artists than those who paint or sing or dance.

Never mind the medium in which it is created, true art is only a reflection of the truth that lies within us. What truth are you displaying in your art, and how do you create it?


Enough

Sunday mornings should be peaceful. Calm. Quiet. This past Sunday was the opposite, and as I watch the news reports rolling in, I want to weep and shout my anger in equal measure.

You already know what happened. Two gunmen in two different places walked into public areas and opened fire, murdering as many people as they could before being apprehended by police.

By most standards, the police moved swiftly. In El Paso and in Dayton, they cut short what would undoubtedly have been a much larger massacre without their intervention. The work they did was, relatively speaking, successful.

But this isn’t about the police.

One of the gunmen posted a blatantly racist screed on social media. The media is blaming his violence on a racist viewpoint. The other shooter’s violence is being attributed to possible mental illness. In both cases, the weapon of choice was at least semi-automatic, allowing more bullets and faster firing than a standard rifle or handgun. Such guns are not meant for hunting, or even target practice, though they can admittedly be used for both. Their main function is far uglier. They are human killers, plain and simple.

Regardless of the cause, these types of shootings are on the rise. From California to Florida, we are seeing mass shootings on an unprecedented scale. People are dying in terrorist incidents perpetrated by our own against our own.

Never in civilian history have so many died so pointlessly, and yet nothing is being done to prevent future incidents like those that occurred in Texas and Ohio this past weekend.

Calls for universal background checks, red flag laws and bans on certain weapons rise into the stratosphere after every one of these massacres. This time is no different, and as usual, none of them have been put into effect. The most recent gun legislation bills (HR8 and HR1112) passed the House in February, but both are stalled in the Senate and unlikely to pass. The bills extend the requirement for background checks and the time allowed to complete those checks.

How many must die before we demand action?

And while the Senate stalls, hemming and hawing with the NRA whispering in their ear and plying their pocketbooks, our people die. Our mothers, fathers, siblings, and spouses, die. Our children die.

What will it take before we demand action?


The Evil Worm

Category : Musings

Worry is an evil thing.

I don’t say this because worrying will cost you sleep, give you an ulcer, break up your marriage, ruin your health and cause you mental anguish and, eventually, illness. All that is true, but that’s not why I say that worry is evil.

Worry is evil because it does all of this…and it’s useless.

Jesus wisely pointed out that worry adds nothing good to your life. It fixes nothing, builds nothing, attempts nothing, succeeds nowhere except in immobilizing the worrier. Like a great noxious mud puddle, it simply sits, a festering, seething moil, between us and our goals. It is the thing that holds our horrifically fascinated gaze so that we can no longer see our blessings.

I’m not talking about looking carefully at real possibilities and taking reasonable precautions. I am speaking of fretting, or even obsessing, over things that “might” happen; allowing the very dregs of our imagination to paint worst case scenarios in our tired minds until we become physically ill. Or even just a little nauseous.

Because even a little worry has the potential to grow into an all-consuming monster…if you let it in and feed it.

So don’t feed it. Instead, make a good plan and move forward, because “worry is rust on the blade.” (Henry Ward Hughes) And nobody wants that. If you’re having a hard time letting go of it, take Bobby McFerrin‘s advice.

Meanwhile, relax. Follow your plan, and let go of the things you can’t fix, change or eliminate by worrying. (Which is basically everything, BTW.)

Now, where did I put that margarita mix?


Fault Lines

I have a tendency to wonder about things. In general, this is a helpful habit for a writer.

Full disclosure, this isn’t me. It could be, but it isn’t.

For example,  I wonder if corporate America is really scheming to take over our educational system in order to increase profits. (Probably.) I wonder if I’m good at my job. (Possibly, hopefully.) I wonder if the person who just cut me off in traffic needs a complete attitude adjustment or just a rigorous course in the reasonable operation of a motor vehicle.  (Maybe both.) Cue half a dozen possible plot lines.

Anyway.

While I’m wondering about these things I write, and take classes on writing, and teach and grandmother and wife and friend and complain to my husband about the aforementioned bad driver. Fortunately for all concerned I usually do these things one at a time because, the usual expectations of my gender aside, I am a one focus type of gal.

I can’t help it. With the exception of a few special situations, I have the attention span of a Chihuahua. I am, in fact, so easily distracted that I have been known to stop mid-sentence and

In general, I don’t mind this issue. It’s part of who I am and I’ve kind of learned to live with it. I do understand that it can be extremely irritating to those around me. My husband, in particular, has experienced a colossal increase to his patience gland due to having to live with me.

My point is, I know this about myself. I understand, accept and try to take steps to decrease the effect of my attention deficit on others. But, as a person who wonders, I got to thinking about my disorder and realized that everyone, and I do mean everyone, has issues. I’m not talking about actual, diagnosed illnesses. That is a whole different kettle of popcorn. I mean just regular, everyday faults.  We all know someone who is chronically tardy, or forgetful or impatient.  Everyone has flaws.  But do we all recognize that we are part of “everyone?”

One of my biggest pet peeves is the statement, “that’s just how I am.” The implication being that a person knows they have this fault, but they aren’t willing to at least try and improve. Instead they expect all those around them to simply learn to live with it. Not cool, oh faulty one. Not at all cool.

Not that we need to get all Judgy Jean on each other. We need to be compassionate and forgiving of each other’s foibles. But we also need to work to become kinder, better, more responsible versions of ourselves. Tell you what…I’ll try if you will. Who knows, if even twenty percent of us did that…

Oh look, a kitten in a basket!


True Patriotism

Today is July 4th. Independence Day for the United States of America.

For most of us, that means hot dogs and fireworks. Maybe a family trip to the lake, or a nearby park. Plus plenty of red, white and blue bunting, balloons, and other decorative paraphernalia, in various places. All this meant to celebrate the birthday of one of the most powerful, and in my view, best countries in the world.

Not everyone would agree with that last bit. Some say we’ve lost our footing, our moral imperative. Some would say we never had one in the first place, and there may be some truth to that. Lately, I’ve seen our government do some things that made me cringe. Things I never would have envisioned happening in America. And it made me want to rage, and wail, and weep.

But I still love my country.

I love that we are supposed to be a nation of equals. I know the ideal isn’t always – or even usually – realized. But it is there, and if we hold it up long enough, support it vigorously enough, maybe we can make it the norm instead of the exception.

I love that America takes a hodge-podge of cultures, ethnicities, customs and viewpoints, and not only allows them all, but gives them a place in the greater social experiment. Whether we recognize it or not, our American culture exists, a tapestry woven together with threads of every imaginable shade and texture. Traditions and faiths from all over the Earth have a home and make a contribution here. And that is beautiful.

I love that the majority of our people tend toward generosity more than toward stinginess. Check out any crowdfunding page created by those in genuine need, and time after time, you’ll see that need filled, and more than filled. Often by those who are struggling themselves.

All these things have flip sides. There are those who routinely work the system to get over on those they consider “less” than themselves. Some of our people have an unhealthy addiction to racism, sexism, faith-ism and a host of other ugly isms that tear down and destroy rather than lifting us up. Far too often, the greedy and ruthless among us succeed financially while the kinder and more compassionate bear the burden of assisting those in need. And the blame-game is far too popular here.

There is the challenge. Love your country without allowing yourself to be blind to her faults. And then work to repair those faults as much and as well as you can. It isn’t easy.

But that is the work of a true patriot.


My Top Ten

Occasionally, in my electronic travels, I come across a list. Some are smart, others are funny, some are just plain weird. My favorites are the “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned” type. So, I got to thinking, if I were going to come up with a list, what would be on it?

  1. Things that are planned generally go better than things that aren’t. The same cannot be said for things obsessed over.
  2. In the heat of the moment, when anger presses hardest against your teeth, is when your lips should be closed the tightest.
  3. Never fight the spirit of generosity. The rewards of giving may be uncertain but regret caused by resistance is virtually guaranteed.
  4. Thoughts engender words, and words give birth to actions. Control what you think, and you’ll have less cause to regret your offspring.
  5. Pursuing your passion is not selfish. Done right, it allows you to offer your best self to the world.
  6. It costs much less to be kind than it does to be mean. Never doubt it.
  7. Choosing to forgive releases you even more than it does the offender.
  8. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but an ounce of communication is probably not enough.
  9. “Knowing all the facts,” is a mythological concept.
  10. Seeing through another’s eyes is one of the hardest tasks you can set yourself. It is also one of the most necessary for an honorable life.

So – these are ten of mine. What has life been teaching you lately?


What The World Expects

What do I have to offer the World?

What have I got to say?

Is it important?

Does that matter?

Some days I don’t know the answer to any of those questions and yet, I keep talking. Because isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? Isn’t that what’s expected?

Expectation is a strange and ugly beast. Most of the fights and nearly all of the heartache in this world can be boiled down to unmet expectations.  It’s easy to forget that the world owes us nothing, and if it did, it would never acknowledge the debt.

So many of us have difficulty with the painful lesson that the world does not love us. Neither does it hate us. It simply lacks the capacity to care. We say, The World, or The Universe, in proper noun capitalization, as if either were an entity with a mind and a heart that is conscious of us. It isn’t.

A dithering head at either end with a voracious belly in between

Even society, made up of billions of minds, isn’t a conscious being. It is a hive without a mind. In fact, it’s rather like an amoral version of Dr. Dolittle’s pushmepullyou; a dithering head at either end with a voracious belly in between. Try to ride it and it’s likely to devour you, two tidy bites at a time.

It isn’t surprising that we often expect the World to care for us. All the time we are growing up we are told repeatedly what we “have a right to expect” from the World. Then we get a zapped at some point in our young adulthood with the discovery that the World had no knowledge of these expectations and further, has no plans to meet them. If our expectations or even needs are to be met, we’re probably going to have to do it ourselves.

The disappointment can be crushing.

The only way to avoid that blow is to realize that the World can do nothing for us, and it isn’t going to try. But we can, and should, do what we can for each other.

Our best shot at a good life is to put aside the childish notion that the World is obligated to give to us, and realize the beautiful truth that we are instead, created to give back. Not to the amorphous, anonymous World, but to our neighbor, our friend, the stranger we meet and find we can help.

If enough of us do that, the World will become our friend, even if it doesn’t mean to.


Lighting the Lamp

Category : Musings

Light the lamp.

Lately (as in, for the last several years) I’ve become gradually aware that I am slowly running out of time.

Don’t worry, I’m not terminally ill or suicidal. But I am a realist.

When I was twenty, I believed that I had “world enough, and time,” as the poet once said. But as I close in on the middle of my sixth decade, I realize that though death is (hopefully) not imminent, neither is it getting any farther away. So I tend to think about life a bit differently, and my priorities are being adjusted accordingly.

I’ve started thinking more about a thing’s importance than its urgency. Watching TV has dropped way down on my “to do” list, while writing has leapt into the top five. I’ve pretty much eliminated computer and online games in favor of reading. I’ve added a number of non-fiction titles to my TBR list, most of them dealing with publishing in some manner. I’ve dropped my attendance at conferences quite a bit, but plan to pick that up again next year.

Spending time with my husband and family was always in the top five, but even there, I’ve done some rearranging, moving it higher on the list. And playing with the GBs? Even writing plays second fiddle to those little bits of starshine.

As far as I know, I’ve plenty of years on my ticket yet. This is simply my way of not riding “gentle into that good night.” Don’t know about you, but I plan on raging until it is full dark.

And then I’m going to light a lamp. There is too much joy and beauty in this world to do anything else.

How about you? Are your priorities lined up the way you want them? What is at the top?


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