Winter

hedge fence in winter Winter

I walked with my camera this afternoon, on this winter day. During the summer, the outdoor gardens of the botanical garden fill with people on a Sunday afternoon. Today, as I strolled through the children’s gardens, no one was there. I saw only one other set of footprints.

The snow simplifies the landscape. Muted colors contrast with the brilliant white. A hush lays heavy, the snow absorbs the sound. My footfalls crunch beneath me. Winter has a poetry all its own.

Winter Solitude

by Matsuo Bashosnowy spider web climber

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

 

green lawn chair in snowWinter Trees

by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Winter Evening log lean-to with copper pan

by George Trakl

When snow falls against the window,
Long sounds the evening bell…
For so many has the table
Been prepared, the house set in order.

From their wandering, many
Come on dark paths to this gateway.
The tree of grace is flowering in gold
Out of the cool sap of the earth.

In stillness, wanderer, step in:
Grief has worn the threshold into stone.
But see: in pure light, glowing
There on the table: bread and wine.

little library in winterWoods In Winter

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When winter winds are piercing chill,
And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
That overbrows the lonely vale.

O’er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
And gladden these deep solitudes.

Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.

Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
Pour out the river’s gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater’s iron rings,
And voices fill the woodland side.

Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
And the song ceased not with the day!

But still wild music is abroad,
Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.

Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
I listen, and it cheers me long.

ram sculpture in winter

death

Deathdeath of the day

We don’t speak of death. We have few conversations around what to expect at the end of life, but we do have many misconceptions of what it is to be elderly. Most of us don’t prepare for retirement until it looms close. We don’t talk to our children about death because it is not a subject filled with toys, balloons and cake in our culture.

This morning I spoke with a friend about aging parents. I told her about how my mother in the last months of her life aged decades. Nothing prepared me for the weekend my aunt Mary and I sat with my mother as she was dying. My mother took secrets with her to her grave– that I found out while removing her things from the house the week after she died. That weekend my mother fought for her life even as she was dying. She was frightened and confused and disoriented because of her physical condition. In moments she was lucid and venomously angry with me for fixing the oxygen tube she kept pushing away. She spoke once and said she did not want to die. She was restless and slept and didn’t recognize me. When she died on that November evening, my aunt had stepped out of the room. I would like to say that something profound happened, but my mother just died. There was nothing momentous or dramatic about her death. The lack of great meaning made a huge impact on me. I had witnessed her struggle all weekend and easier than breathing, she had died.

I Haven’t Seen Much Death

Over the progression of my life, I haven’t seen much death. Goldfish, a few guinea pigs, the thirteenth puppy in a litter of puppies my dog had when I was growing up all died. And my grandparents. But I did not see them die. I saw them after they had died. I went to their funerals.

When my guinea pig died in my hands of a seizure, I was about 14 or 15. And it bothered me for weeks. I didn’t know why the guinea pig had had a seizure. The pain of the animal’s passing distressed me. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I was kind of used to goldfish dying. They seemed somehow fragile.

When the thirteenth puppy in the litter died, I cried and cried. I did not know why that puppy had had to die. My dog had been able to care for all the other pups. It bothered me greatly.

Ghosts

My great grandfather was the person who taught me to read. I grew up on his tales of when he was a young man and had been quite an adventurer. He and my great grandmother moved out of their house and into a nursing home when I was in fifth or sixth grade. He died when I was in tenth grade, months after the guinea pig and the puppy dying. My mother, grandmother and I were out of town when he passed. I dreamt that night of him before I had known he had died. He had said good-bye to me in the dream and I had been confused. When I found out he was dead, I was speechless.

My great grandmother announced she was dying on a regular basis after that. And whatever relatives were within range would come to her side. I was in college when she finally did die. She said good-bye to me on the way out as well and her passing was not much of a surprise.

silence in the trees

Great Silence

When my mom died she was somewhat young. Not an age you think of someone as being ready to die. I had no dreams of her saying good-bye. I sat and said good-bye to her, she didn’t respond. There was just silence, as she was no longer there.

We don’t discuss the impact of other people’s deaths on us. We expect people to respond in very prescribed ways. Kubler-Ross wrote about the stages of grief so people look for a smooth progression through these stages, but it is like find stone markers on an overgrown path and you may loop around a bit.

The week after my mother’s death time warped. Moving through a fog, I had no context for the new reality of my mother not being alive on the planet. I don’t remember crying. My mother didn’t want a funeral. She wanted to be cremated; her ashes sprinkled where her husband’s ashes were; and she wanted no memorial service—we had a wake and only one of her brothers attended.

Lake Michigan at Pierce Stocking Overlook

Life, Death, Time and the Universe

There are few children’s books about death. We don’t hold classes or discussions to prepare for death. We hardly have any education to prepare for living our lives, let alone finishing our lives.

Every day fills with errands and work and trifles and beautiful moments and lucky finds and so much more. We are such small creatures in a vast universe and our lives are miracles. This is humbling. And expansive. And death is part of life and time sweetens or sours things depending on your point of view and if you can find the balance.

New Year’s Day And the Hero’s Decision

New Year’s Day and the Hero’s Decision. No other day of the year exemplifies the hero’s decision the way that New Year’s Day does. People come to the new year full of hope, wishful thinking, determination and the desire to change their circumstance. Many want to lose weight. Others want to find themselves in a relationship. More want have more money, read more books, create more works of art, build more bridges, dig more fence post holes, sew more stitches, save more time, rescue more kittens, throw out less trash, recycle more, compost more, change their oil more regularly, rotate the cans on the shelf, finally clear the clutter…

New Year’s Day As a New Beginning

Every story starts with a beginning. New Year’s Day draws a line. The old year, and all of its mistakes and glories, is over. Today, everything starts fresh.

Each of us is the hero of our own story. Sometimes these stories are inspiring:

Malala Yousafzai who is a young Pakistani woman who was shot in the face. She is an activist for the education of women and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

Daryl Davis who is a blues musician who befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan. He is a black man and his message of friendship has caused approximately 200 Klansmen to give up their robes.

Ron Finley who is a self-styled gangsta gardener in South Central Los Angeles creating food in a food desert.

Joanne Rowling who as a single mom living on benefits wrote the Harry Potter series.

Geoff Lawton a permaculturist who has brought green growth to the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan.

While these stories make the news and may inspire us, our everyday existence defines our personal stories. These may not be dramatic, but they are ours and only we know what effort they require. We bring home a paycheck and make certain the bills are paid. Conquering the laundry mountain at the end of the bed is no small thing. We finally learn how to make a decent gluten free loaf of bread. We read for an hour or exercise for 30 minutes every day. All of these achievements start with a thought and a decision. And each New Year’s Day can start a new chapter or a whole new story.

Every Moment A Decision

Heroes make decisions. And each of us is making decisions at every moment whether they are conscious decisions or unconscious decisions. It is very easy to bump along, go to the job that pays the bills, flick through the channels on the television every night, eat the pre-packaged food advertised as convenient, win social approval, read the best sellers, and go about life like floating down a river in an inner tube. It can be pleasant. And this is fine if you are happy and your purpose is to live life in this manner. Actually, there is much to be grateful for in this expression of life. And your life is your story.

However, if you are living your life as described in the previous paragraph and it is not a conscious decision or you have no real purpose of your own, it is quite easy to have your life given over to someone else’s aim. You can be manipulated for all sorts of tomfoolery, skullduggery, and fiendishness.

In addition, life may be lived like a leaf on the wind. If the wind blows gentle and the sun shines warm, it’s a beautiful day. Perhaps someone paid you a compliment or payday arrived. But what about when the wind blows chill, like -15 degrees Fahrenheit? Or it is raining? What about when you are fired from the bump along job? And the roof is leaking? And you burned your grilled cheese after spilling coffee on your white shirt? Do you feel lost?

Our Own Hero

At moments of failure, we learn who we are. We have to fail to be able to dig deep within ourselves and find meaning—how badly we want something, how much an aspect of living is important to us, who is important to us, how we will express ourselves, and what the story of our lives will be. The only way to be aware/awake is to ask questions:

  • Who am I? How am I unique?
  • What will be my epitaph? What will I be remembered for?
  • How do I want to contribute to the world?
  • How will I express myself?
  • Who is important to me?
  • What will I fight for?
  • What do I love?
  • How can I express love?
  • What is my “why”?

 

We, as heroes, make the decisions that start our journeys. What journey will you be on in 2018? How will you make the year your best ever?

Beyond Capitalism

Beyond Capitalism

Recently, Ursula LeGuin asked speculative fiction writers to write about possible systems beyond capitalism for the world to move to. I am currently reading a book titled “Zen and the Art of Making a Living” by Laurence G. Boldt.

Boldt writes in the first chapter:

“About the time the Industrial Revolution was really getting into gear, political revolutions were everywhere replacing kings with parliaments, presidents, and promises. The key promise was that the common man would soon be king. He would possess for his own the kingly prerogatives of power, leisure, and security—power over his station in life, the liberty of leisure, and the security of property.”

Boldt goes on to discuss that capitalism was intended to provide us all, via the free market, with labor saving devices that would ensure our leisure. Capitalism was how through the exchange of goods we would all benefit and become kings of our own castles—whether they were mansions or a trailer. The dream was to obtain power, leisure and security.

What other virtues did we lose track of?

While we were focusing on power, leisure and security, what other virtues and conditions did we lose track of? If we explode the myth of our modern existence, what has the work of most people resulted in? Do we have lives of leisure?

I remember seeing videos of what the future would look like, as predicted by people in the 1950s. The work week was supposed to be shorter. Household chores were to be done with “push button” ease. Everyone was to live in cleanliness, safety and comfort. Leisure.

While the vision of life in the future from the 1950s was a specific kind of rosy view, our reality is not comfortable for most. Recently, a United Nations official investigating poverty in the US in Alabama was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world. Read More.

Further, while things recently have grown more extreme as income inequality has grown, in the US the free market has not been benefiting everyone. More and more families are in poverty. A few years ago a report was issued in the US that stated 1 in 3 American adults were in collection for non-payment of debt. Read More.

Capitalism is Not Serving Us

Capitalism is not serving the majority of us. For instance, most Americans are working longer hours with fewer days off. Further, we have little power in a world where the very rich can influence elections that make them richer. Worldwide, this coveted western existence with our twin obsessions of owning things and consuming, has lead to the degradation of the environment and a pan-global culture lacking in meaning.

With things as they are, what if we step off the treadmill? What if the goal is no longer “more”? Ever more and more “Gross National Product”. Or more clothes, money, electronics, etc.

Further, what have we forgotten about? The environment. Or perhaps our inner lives. Our humanity. Creativity. The ability to have the freedom to direct our lives. The ability to see our own identity beyond what we do for a living. Duty. Wisdom. Peace. Connection to our communities, to our families, and to other people.

Imagine

What if in a future economic system value was placed on not pulling resources from the earth, but rather recycling? What if there was value in not making money but rather being wise? Or clever enough to find creative ways to do with less? What if there was value in work that nurtured the soul?

Before you scoff at these suggestions, remember that you live inside of our societal myths and we are firmly embedded in the “rightness” of our current economic system. Perhaps, in 200 years if humanity survives climate change and the current great extinction, our notions of owning, having and consuming will shift. Maybe, in that time period, this age will be looked on as Golden Age because people will live in a time of scarcity. Or maybe, they will live with more balance and look back at this time periods as a period of obscene over-consumption and stupid degradation of our habitat. Maybe there will be a shift in thought. What future systems can you envision?

Gratitude and Cookies

Gratitude and Cookies! I have been reading “You Are A Badass At Making Money” by Jen Sincere. This book is about mastering your mindset to bring more abundance into your life through a combination of opening to possibility, defining what you are looking for, seeing the value in what is around you, working hard and identifying when good things come your way. Just reading this book has made me more mindful and lent me some optimism.

Gratitude and Cookies

Gratitude and Cookies

Jen Sincero in her book titled “You Are A Badass At Making Money” tells a story of several children who receive cookies. A couple children greedily gobble down the cookies and run off. One of the kids whines about how their cookie isn’t as big as another child’s cookie. Another thinks how many cookies they receive is unfair. Another child criticizes the flavor of cookie because they prefer oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip. Some children happily munch on their cookies, haphazardly say thank-you and just as happily walk away.

And then there is the kid who is truly grateful for the cookie they get to eat. They thank the neighborhood mom who made the cookies and tell her how good the cookies were. They show genuine deep appreciation for the cookies. Maybe this kid even helps wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

I’ll bet that last grateful kid also enjoyed their cookies more.

The Great Big Universe

Sincero in her book says that the universe is like the neighborhood mom handing out the cookies. The grateful kids who enjoy the cookies , the ones who happily munch on their cookies without a fuss are the ones who the mom likes to bake for. However, the mindful, grateful kid who tells that mom how wonderful her cookies were? And helps clean up the kitchen. That’s the one the baker really wants to make cookies for. That’s the kid who will be invited in to stir the batter and lick the bowl and have as many cookies as they want.

I read this and my first thought was of Eddie Haskell from “Leave It To Beaver”, except Eddie Haskell was never genuinely grateful. He was just a suck up. This story of the cookies and gratitude stuck with me. I thought about it off and on for the last two days.

Sincero talks about gratitude being a way to get in touch with faith, to raise one’s frequency to match that of the “Universal Intelligence”, and more. A quote from the book on page 159 reads,

“There is no lack of things to be grateful for if you remember to pay attention.”

Ok, Let Me Take a Look Around

While having read all of this, I still began to have a less than spectacular Monday. I took a minute, took a deep breath and thought about what in my situation I had to be grateful for. A bit of really oppressive black Monday, cloudy day thoughts lifted. A co-worker did an amazing job of presenting the work our team has been doing and he spoke well for us in a meeting, I sent him a thank-you. And it made me feel pretty good.

I paid close attention to the music I was listening to and this added to my good mood.

Arriving home after rehashing some negative past stuff about my career change with my music teacher, I sat at the kitchen table. I took a deep breath and thought of as many things as I could that I am thankful for. I expressed my gratitude for things I would be bummed if they weren’t in my life. Actually, I tweeted them out. I felt silly, but also my mood elevated. So, I tweeted more and I realized there were a great many things that I am genuinely glad are in my life. And a good number of these are pretty damn mundane. Flush toilets, electric kettles and antibiotics spring to mind!

Conclusion?

I am definitely going to keep reading Ms. Sincero’s book. And I recommend this book to other people even if you don’t want to make money like a badass.

 

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed, photo of Naheed

We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed

Cooking, cleaning, laundry and making a little music have eaten my weekend. I am exhausted from fighting off a winter sickness and cleaning my basement. Forgive me for not presenting a researched and original written piece this day. Instead I would like to present a poem, “We Sinful Women”,  from one of the “badass” feminist poets: Kishwar Naheed.  Naheed is an Urdu poet from Pakistan. She is the founder of the Hawwa Foundation that supports women who do not have an independent source of income. A copy of this poem in English and its original can be found in We Sinful Women: Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry by Rukhsana Ahmad.

We Sinful Women

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women

while those who sell the harvests of our bodies

become exalted

become distinguished

become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women

who come out raising the banner of truth

up against barricades of lies on the highways

who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold

who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.

Now, even if the night gives chase

these eyes shall not be put out.

For the wall which has been razed

don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women

who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies

who don’t bow our heads

who don’t fold our hands together.

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie, This Machine Kills Fascists

This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. Steve Earl once said of Guthrie, “I don’t think of Woody Guthrie as a political writer. He was a writer who lived in very political times.”

This Land Is Your Land

“This Land is Your Land” was Guthrie’s answer to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”. He was so tired of hearing “God Bless America” constantly played on the radio, he wrote “This Land is Your Land”. I remember listening to a recording of this song when I was in elementary school. The song spoke of ribbons of highway, sparkling sands, and waving wheat fields. A land that was for you and me.

But Guthrie’s songs reflected what he saw around him. He signed the manuscript for “This Land is Your Land” with the comment, “All you can write is what you see, Woody G., N.Y., N.Y., N.Y.” The song originally included the following in the fourth and sixth verses:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing”.
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

These verses were often omitted in subsequent recordings, sometimes by Guthrie.

Protest and Peace Songs

While in California during the Dust Bowl era, Guthrie was among the Okies who flooded into California. The Californians did not want these immigrants. Employed by a leftwing radio host, Guthrie identified himself as an “outsider”. He spoke and sang of the travails of immigrants with such songs as “I Ain’t Got No Home”, “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”, “Tom Joad” and “Hard Travelin’”. All of these songs gave voice to those who had been disenfranchised.

When Guthrie moved to New York, he met Lead Belly, Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Will Geer, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Josh White, Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, Sis Cunningham, and others. This group became his close friends and musical collaborators, forming The Almanac Singers. They wrote songs for social causes such as union organizing, anti-Fascism, peace, and generally fighting for the things they believed in. They wrote songs of political protest and activism.

During World War II, Guthrie served in the merchant marines. At first he tried to argue he could serve better by staying in the US and singing to inspire people. Friends persuaded him to join the merchant marines where he composed and sang songs to bolster moral. He composed hundreds of anti-Hitler, pro-war, and historic ballads to rally the troops, such as “All You Fascists Bound To Lose”, “Talking Merchant Marine,” and “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”

Guthrie influenced the musicians of the American Folk Revival– people such as Bob Dylan, the Weavers, and Pete Seeger. His son Arlo Guthrie wrote and sang “Alice’s Restaurant” which protested the war in Vietnam.

Songs For Our Time

I am tired of songs about dysfunctional love, random sex and the cache of trivialities most rock and pop songs litter our air waves with. I remember the first time I heard Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. And “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution”. They weren’t spun fluff. They felt solid and spoke from the heart. We are living in political times. I think we need songs that reflect the world around us. And we need a singer like Woody Guthrie who can see the world, sing about it in a real way, and give us our songs of peace and protest.

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions happy new year

2017, Metaphors, Expectations, Fictions.

I have been thinking about these thought forms we live by. The planet has rotated on its axises and spun around our yellow sun, landing once more in this spot. An arbitrary place in its orbit that we have designated the start of… something… a new year.

This is a mutually agreed upon idea–like money. It holds meaning because we give it meaning. I could decide I like some day in spring better to be the start of a new year, but if I shouted “Happy New Year” from the mountain tops on that day, people would look at me like I was crazy. Just as if I took out my markers and made “money”, it wouldn’t pass for currency and might get me locked up.

We humans are social beasts. Not a very revolutionary statement. We as a collective, and more and more this collective is global, create these “notions”, “expectations”, and useful fictions that a huge proportion of us just go along with. And they continue.

Some of these useful fictions as collective agreements are useful– like money and the calendar. Others are not.

Let’s consider some of the metaphors, expectations, and fictions…

More is Better

First, the idea more is better. This idea is so embedded as a metaphor in the English language our brains are wired to think more is better. But is more better?

Can our planet handle more people? People wanting more and more stuff, eating more and more, and needing more and more water?

The Free Market Will Solve Everything

Secondly, how about the idea that free market capitalism is the magic solution to improve any situation?

Politicians and some economists frequently trot out free market capitalism as the way to improve everything from public education to healthcare to janitorial services in public institutions. As if competition along narrowly designated criteria always makes things better. While I think free market capitalism can improve some situations, I am not so certain I want healthcare or education decisions made without regulations.

I offer as an example the time when a local university switched its security personnel from being employed by the university and given a fair wage to outsourcing to a private company. All the computers in the library were stolen. Within a few weeks. I could elaborate on this one more, but I want to move on.

Party!

Further, what about the expectation that New Year’s Eve should be celebrated as a wild drunken party? Beyond far too many people who normally don’t drink much getting behind the wheel of their cars all on one night, maybe this expectation hurts folks in small ways? Like the poisonous cocktail of expectations that surrounds St. Valentine’s Day.

I can count on my hands the number of times I have gone out on New Year’s Eve for a party. Here are a few of those memories: 1. with a friend in college who proceeded to get uproariously drunk and puked everywhere; 2. with a former partner who took me to a party to “celebrate” the year 2000 coming in at his nutty friend’s house who wanted to have my preschool aged son sleep in a room with all of his guns; and 3. with a different partner at a botanical garden in Cape Town (lovely night, too bad the guy is an ass and this memory has turned to shit).

I sat last night and thought this one through. Being home and rejecting the expectation I “should” be out at a party was a much better way to spend the evening. A mini revolution. I am tired of the fictions.

Good People

Lastly, how about the notion “good people will have good things come to them”? When tragedy happens to good people, everyone is shocked. Why? We can certainly have empathy, but bad stuff happens and being a good person is no shield.

Conversely, when someone has horrible stuff happen to them we think somehow they deserved it. Why? Sometimes, stuff just happens.

Also wrapped into our notions of what makes a “good” person are weird things like attractiveness, race, religion, education, and economic class. Too often poor people are considered “low life” and hence deserving of horrible maladies. Why? Also, being a Christian does not automatically make someone better. Again, perhaps actions should determine if the title of “good person” should be bestowed. Nothing else.

Further, it’s great if we are good people, but this has nothing to do with what we might get. As I said at the start of this post, we are social animals. We are all interconnected. Each of us “needs” and each of us has skills we contribute to the whole of humanity. We get according to what we have to offer, what we do, what skills we have, etc. Turning up to a job interview and insisting you be hired because you are a good person won’t cut it. Showing up on a date and expecting the other person to fall in love because you are a good person won’t happen. Groundhog Day kind of springs to mind.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am offering these thoughts as examples. There are many more possible examples that I could have used to illustrate our personal and societal thought forms. I am offering these because for me this is the year to cut through the collective notions getting in the way. So…

Do you want a better job? Develop your skills.

Do you want your novel published? Write. Get critiqued. Keep writing. Saying you are an author, but showing no written work? This won’t cut it.

Are we going to oppose a potentially fascist regime? Take apart the propaganda. Lay bare the fictions. Be critical. Create a plan. Find doable today actions.

Do you want to get in shape? Take apart your actions– are you working hard enough? Are you sweating? What’s your heart rate?

Let’s make 2017 the year of clarity. A year we examine our collective fictions, the expectations upon us, and our personal stories we tell ourselves.

 

In my cells, water of the lakes

bowman_20140622_0147

In my cells, water of the lakes

In my bones, the minerals of the soil

My heart beats like a butterfly’s wings

Yesterday my daughter and I drove to Elderly instruments in Lansing, Michigan. We listened to Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies, The California Feetwarmers, Dervish, and Blind Boy Jerome Paxton while we drove winding back roads to get there. The trees were green. Everything was lush. We saw a coyote.

I grew up predominantly on the western side of Michigan along Lake Michigan. As a high schooler, I walked the ecological progression from dune to scrub to pines to hard woods. When I walk in Michigan now there is an underlying expectation of what the plants and the landscape should look like. It is present in me. It is the most spiritual aspect of me.

bowman_20140622_0143

I remember when I first moved to Woody Creek, Colorado, seeing the shadows of clouds moving across the mountains startled me. The wide open views shocked me. The landscape was arid, sometimes rocky, sometimes the soil was red. The plants were different. I loved watching the animals from the bedroom windows that faced over a large field. I remember seeing coyotes, fox, deer, and even a mountain lion. The elk were majestic. I loved seeing the elk. They moved with such grace and elegance for an animal as tall as my car. I loved to see the vapor of an elk breathing in and out in the cold. And the edge of ice and frost over the grasses on a cold morning.

DSC_0037

It is so easy to forget what is everyday in the background. The explosion of green that happens in two weeks in Michigan sometime near the end of April or beginning of May. It is easy to forget from year to year the blooming of the orange ditch lilies that grow everywhere in Michigan so when you see them again it is like a surprise. It is so easy to forget the ash trees that died because of the ash borers because we still have the maples and box elders. It is easy to believe that the great lakes will never change, the Michigan snows will always come, the monarchs will return, the apples will grow, etc.

bowman_20140619_0092

When I take a moment to stop. Just stop. Sit in the screen house under the shade of the ever growing maple trees, under the climbing grape leaves, under the clouds… when I am still for a minute, it reminds I am not separate from the landscape. I love to go camping and just sit in the mornings with a cup of tea and watch the area around me. I love to see the deer walking through the ferns. I love to hear the birds. The sight of a heron overhead catches my breath because it is so primal. My heartbeat is reflected in the flutter of a butterfly on the dunes. I am at peace at the edge of Lake Michigan.

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How will climate change shift our sense of self? What will we trust if we cannot trust the air we breathe? Or the water we drink? What will happen to our sense of self, an underlying sense of ourselves that we are increasingly out of touch with?

In the midst

Einstein-chaos

In The Midst

It has been awhile since I wrote anything on this blog. I have been “in the midst”. I have been working to learn how to code in Java, C#, and PHP. And using some SQL, Linux and Git along the way. And learning about servers and protocols and networking and… I feel very much a novice with an ocean of information to learn. Each topic has an eight hundred page book and several hours of tutorials. At every turn sub-topics arise and spawn a dozen other topics with as much information to learn. Learning computer science and programming often means chaining subjects in an ever widening pool and then swimming back to the original subject. The more I know, the more I realize I know very little. Sometimes it feels invigorating and sometimes not so much. Sometimes it is overwhelming.

In the Past

My former career was “special education teacher”. I like working with children very much. Teaching children to read is challenging and satisfying. I always cheer the underdogs because an inspired and motivated underdog will work harder and they know they have to get beyond the obstacles. When things come easy to people, they don’t learn the important lessons of working hard, failing is ok, and you always have a bit more in reserve. I went from a profession I worked in for twenty years, and was good at, to once again learning from the ground up. It is hard to let go of the past. Accepting past accomplishments mean little in the new endeavor stings. Holding a beginner’s framework of mind is a balancing act.  Persevering requires strategies.

While, I have written in the past about my decision to change careers. I don’t think I have talked about what it is like to be in the midst of changing careers.

Everyone is SO Smart

I work with many incredibly intelligent people. Their problem solving abilities frequently leave me in awe. Watching how they problem solve, I try to learn from them as much as I can. I have to stay on my toes. Sometimes this is exhausting. I often feel five years old trying to keep up with my teenage brothers. Typically, I am exhausted when I get home.

I optimize my time and work on learning every day for hours. Often feeling I have a lot of ground to cover, I scrounge for and find enough time. I spend about 20-30 hours per week, outside of work, working on learning new skills. I have reached the point where the things I want to learn and to code cannot always be done in an afternoon. Sometimes this desire to learn and swallow the ocean leaves me a tad burnt out. At those times, I have to recognize this when it creeps up and take some time to do other stuff,– go outside, play music, or actually make contact with other people.

Someone In Your Corner

Having at least one person in your corner who believes in you is crucial. There are always folks who will say you cannot do something. Or who act in such a way they let you know they don’t expect you to succeed. Or they pigeonhole you and they are certain their judgment is a correct fit. Staying tough of mind and focused on your goals against this when things are already challenging is tough. That one person who believes you can do stuff? They are… amazing. Beyond value. If there is one thing you can do for another person, it is this. Thank-you Colum.

Problem Solving

When I am working on a coding problem, it often takes my breath away at first. There is a brief moment at the onset of taking on the challenge where I have to make the decision to commit to solving it. Two years ago, it didn’t feel risky. This decision had no emotions tied to it. Then I went through enough cycles of coding/problem solving that the dimensions of this as a challenge began to form.

Coding, tracking a bug, or figuring out why some piece of networking isn’t working frequently starts out routine. Go through everything, look for obvious mistakes. Read the stack trace. Look at the error. Code in some outputs. Then systematically start changing things and see what impact these changes have. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.

And that is when things begin to get tough.

So you dig in and start googling. StackOverflow. All those people out there who have written questions about similar issues and the kind folks who responded are where you look for help. Along the way you swallow teaspoons of the ocean of computer science information. Sometimes, you swallow huge gulps that leave you gasping. You keep working through the problem and cheer when you get a different error message.

Woohoo– it doesn’t work but it did something!

You continue. Inevitably, you get to a point where throwing the laptop out the window is poking around in your mind as a viable choice. I once went for a walk at this frustrated point and yelled at the birds on my walk to keep problem solving. Over time you learn to not stop because you will get through this and there is this unbelievably awesome feeling when you solve the issue and get things to work.

What It All Feels Like

Sometimes, I am left absolutely giddy when I figure a problem out or code something and it works. I am often in a state of wonderment about just how cool some of the things I am learning are. I am also a bit blown away by how much I have learned since May 2014 when I started down this path.

So there are moments that are not feel good moments– like when I have to ask for help on something and wish I just knew how to do it. Or when a co-worker says something that hurts about my skill level and I wish I knew more. Or when I want to spend time and take on a new tutorial, but I am just too tired. And sometimes I get real self-conscious. At these times I don’t want to embarrass myself– I’d rather figure things out on my own.

Working on my own is so nobody can see that I am scrambling to figure things out.

And when I realize that I cannot do things on my own yet because I am still learning? All of these are just a different type of problem I have to solve. Sometimes the solution is remembering all the really cool folk who have taught me stuff– like Dan who taught me about MVC, David who I first worked out GIT with, Rachel and James who have both been patient with my popping up over the cubicle to ask questions, Gabby who pair programmed with me, Drew who helped me get through the first JSP training project, LeeAnn who has helped me understand how to test things, Jason who taught me Linux commands, and Colum who has taught me so much I cannot even approach listing everything.

Another choice is to remember I get to decide how I will respond to things– fold or keep learning. Sometimes the solution is to remember tomorrow is another day.

I have learnt I have to accept there is no way to know everything within computer science. It is just too large of a subject. It means there is always going to be something new to learn. I will never master the totality of it. There is no way. And that is very cool.

Aspects of Programming Beyond Code

There are so many aspects to programming– political, creative, and humanitarian. When I first started, I didn’t see all these aspects. Now they are among the things that keep me learning. There is an entire community of hackers/programmers/developers all over the world. Many want to keep the internet free. Thousands want intellectual freedom. Many write code in their spare time and post it to be used for free on places like GitHub. Linux is an open source operating system. The political ramifications of this are staggering. People like Linus Torvalds, Edward Snowden and Cory Doctorow are among my heroes.

Programs Can be Written to do Anything One Can Think of

I didn’t really consider this when I started down this path. Math is a love of mine and I began the career change because it involved analytical thinking. However, I have an arts background and have done creative writing for many years. The creative aspect of coding gives me incentive to keep learning. My skill level at this time is not where I can create some of the programs I am envisioning. Combining my design, art and communication abilities with coding skills is my ambition.

I have ideas for simulation games– games to illustrate ecological/permaculture principles, to show the impact of rising populations interacting with a food distribution system that isn’t designed to feed everyone, to reframe math concepts, etc. Ideas for programs to help people to learn, to help schools to track progress and write individual education plans, to help people with autism to expand their activities, etc are also collected in a moleskin notebook where I write ideas to possibly pursue.

A handful of years ago I learned about an academic in Newcastle, UK named Sugata Mitra. He did work putting computer kiosks in slums in India. People said the kiosks would be destroyed, but that wasn’t what happened. People taught themselves how to use the browsers and began using the computers for all sorts of things.

He also recruited 200 British grandmothers and had them teach children across the globe English via skype. The results were impressive. A few years ago I applied to two different Phd programs in information sciences with an emphasis on social change because I believed then, I as do now, that the UN Millennium Development Goals around literacy could be addressed using a combination of online education and cellular phone applications. Computers and the internet offer some unique opportunities to solve issues by making information available. This very much excites me.

Being in the midst of a career change is… humbling, exhilarating, difficult, terrifying, exhausting, and so much more. I am proud of how much I have learned to date. Not letting this go to my head, I can see I have much more to learn. I am excited about learning more– even knowing there are going to obstacles as well as accomplishments. This has continued to be a risky endeavor for many reasons, not the least of which is financial. I have learned a good deal about many things including myself, how to problem solve, how to persevere, and about programming.