Freedom: A Loaded Word

You know what? I used to think I was free. I used to think more and more people where I live were becoming freer. I used to think the world was becoming a better place.

Lost

I can remember feeling especially happy to live in a place where people were free to worship or not worship any faith tradition, where people were free to love whoever they wanted to love, where people could have families or not, where people could live wherever they found beauty, where judges strove to put their personal beliefs aside and be neutral, and where people could have respectful debates over policies. Heck, people could even go to the grocery store and expect the worst thing that would happen would be a long line at checkout.

Interestingly, this was posted by someone with different views from me, but I think it’s true for all of our viewpoints.

I felt like “progress” toward equality for all was being made, right during my lifetime. The water fountain labeled “Coloreds Only” was gone from the Alachua County courthouse, in my lifetime. As a woman, I could play any sport I wanted and attend any school I wanted, in my lifetime (I gave up on being a veterinarian because women were not allowed in vet schools). My gay friends got married – legally – in my lifetime. Buildings were made accessible to people who could not climb stairs, in my lifetime. I could live 20 years next to a black family and nothing out-of-the-ordinary occur, in my lifetime. I could live around people who had come to my area from all over the world and it was fine. People could choose whatever identity they cared to present themselves as, even if I got confused…all in my lifetime…and it made me happy.

I could trust that people in politics felt it was their duty to tell the truth and apologized when they made mistakes. I could trust that law enforcement officers respected all citizens and did their best to keep all of us safe. People who joined the military were assigned duties they could be proud of and were respected for what they did.

I was once a Girl Scout.

I didn’t live in fear of my neighbors because I voted for a different Presidential candidate and don’t worship the one they prefer. I didn’t feel in danger because I’m a pacifist, because I don’t like organized religion, and I think no other human is any better or worse than me.

Fuck that. It’s all over. I was so happy when 1984 came and went and Big Brother hadn’t showed up. Oh, Suna. He was just a little late. Lies are now truth. Freedom is a word only for a small subset of the population. Rights are just for old white males. Women are back to being nothing but property for males to use as they please, then are punished for the consequences of what men do to them. Again.

When I’m wrong, I can be really, really wrong. I was wrong all along, too. None of those illusions of mine were real. I gotta go back to reading about how all culture is an illusion that’s just out there to help us feel like life has meaning. I have no clue right now, other than life is suffering. Thanks, Buddha.

Sculpture! Birds! Nature Surprises! Beauty?

Today I got to have all the funs, to celebrate an actual day off, and have some emotional recharge. And of course I had to do some deep thinking. I’m on a roll with wonder and wondering.

Nature Surprise

You may remember that Lee forgot to pack any shirts for the trip. The t- shirts he got were fine. But. He got one long-sleeved shirt at Kohl’s when we stopped at one on the way, and it turned out to be weird and too big. So, he declared we would go to Tractor Supply and get more Lee-esque shirts. Why? It got chilly overnight!

Fern time. Sensitive.

Imagine my happiness when I saw that next to the store was a beautiful wooded area with a stream running through it. It was sort of like what I imagine in my mind when I think of a southern American woods. There were oaks, sweet gums, ash, and holly trees, with ferns and palmettos underneath. There were jack-in-the-pulpits and lizard’s tail. Vines included muscadine grape, poison ivy, and Virginia Creeper. I was in heaven. Plus I got to buy a windbreaker.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were actually in our way to our favorite spot, Brookgreen Gardens. It’s always great, but we lucked out this time. For one, the butterfly exhibit at the zoo has recently re-opened. We got to see some butterflies we’d never seen before. And the flowers weren’t bad, either.

A malachite butterfly.

While waiting in line, I met a fellow horse owner and traded photos, of course. But dang, look at these beauties! I don’t know what they are, though.

Of course, I had to get bird photos, too. I didn’t take many of the captive birds, but the ducks were so pretty I had to. At least I got some pretty wild birds, too.

I’ve saved the best for last. Just yesterday, a new exhibit opened. It’s sculpture by two married people, Babette Bloch and Marc Mellon.

I got the book, too.

Mellon has had his work at Texas A&M (to impress the locals) at the Bush Presidential Library. He also designed an official medal for President Obama. His main work has been statues of female athletes. He makes them look strong as well as beautiful. He also did a horse. I liked that.

My heart melted when I started looking at Bloch’s work. She started out in bronze, but then moved on to making art with laser-cut steel. It’s lots of flowers. As you know, I am fond of flowers.

Large herons, outdoors

I had two favorites. One is a phoenix. The base of the sculpture is based on Bloch’s face!

My second favorite was a wall with dozens of flowers in bowls with color behind them. Each bowl was someone’s family heirloom. It moved me to tears to see the old things become new art.

All her work was interesting and different from anything I ever saw. The burnished parts were mesmerizing. Here’s some more of her work. Lee just loved the dog, of course.

To top it all off, I went back in at the end of our visit, and I got to tell Bloch how much her work and the stories behind it moved me. That felt great. My heart is full. What a great day.

My Deep Thiughts

Being at Brookgreen and enjoying the art made me wonder something. Do humans always seek beauty? Have they always done so? Are there things that just naturally please humans?

Are sunsets thought beautiful in all cultures? If so, why?

I seem to remember that symmetry is often found beautiful, like in people’s faces. And there’s that golden ratio that’s supposedly pleasing.

Any thoughts? I’m going to do some research. I guess I shouldn’t take time off from work and chores. I start wondering.

Oceanside Philosophical Musings

Confession Time: I have trouble consuming information by listening. I am, as my late friend Ted used to say, a Reader. My spouse, on the other hand, is a listener. He listens to many, many podcasts. On our drive over to the beach, he played podcasts, because that’s how he’s been learning these days.

It’s always good to think about philosophy under a moody seaside sky.

He listens to a lot of news, science, and astronomy podcasts, but he also listens to philosophy podcasts. I was happy to learn that he listens to some that aren’t The Daily Stoic, because while that one’s good and it IS his chosen way of life, it is so full of commercials for Ryan Holliday’s various enterprises that it’s hard to find the actual philosophy content. Hint for podcasters: have more content than commercials.

He has good shirts, too.

One he listens to is Philosophize This!, by Stephen West. Folx, if you ever want to learn about philosophy and also be entertained, head on over to this podcase. West is not only a great thinker, but he can make a pile of rocks interesting (ya know, Sisyphus). I was glad to hit this podcast in the rotation. Then I got very, very glad.

We happened to stumble across a series of podcasts on the American philosopher Ernest Becker. I, having studied philosophy right after Becker passed away, had not heard of him. My estranged son was a philosophy major, but he concentrated on European Communists, so I didn’t proofread any papers about Becker. Zizek? Yes. Anyhow, these podcasts introduced me to someone whose ideas and ways of looking at life were so similar to my own, that they really helped me put into words ideas that just float around in my head when I’m gazing at birds and plants and such.

Episode 162: The Creation of Meaning The Denial of Death

Episode 163: The Creation of Meaning – Escape from Evil

What rang true the most for me was how Becker maintained that religion, culture, and other systems of “meaning” that people come up with are all illusions that we use to deal with the fact that we basically just live our lives and then die. He says people are terrified of death and want a way to live on. Religion and culture are among the things people come up with to cope with our mortality and enjoy life.

BOTH religion AND culture serve as an elaborate mechanism, purposefully constructed to help people quell this otherwise CONSTANT state of terror that comes along with the fact that we are a type of creature, that carries with it a conscious awareness of its death…

S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 163

I listened along to both episodes thinking how much Becker’s ideas reminded me of the way I have always viewed life, based on the absurdist thought of my philosophical guide, Albert Camus. Yeah, I’m a closet existentialist, but I manage to live a fine life, anyway. And good ole Ernest Becker finally put into words how I have always looked at the way humans are driven to find meaning in coincidence and purpose in random happenings.

Sunset over Myrtle Beach from last night.

Naturally, I ordered me some Ernest Becker books (including The Denial of Death) as soon as I got to the condo place. I am just so excited that the random event of playing a recent podcast introduced me to someone who explains why if I weren’t me, I’d have said that a deity brought me this philosophy just when I needed it. I’ll chalk it up to synchronicity, instead.

Philosophical musings brought to you from way up in the sky

Anyhow, you can go read the transcript (yay, there’s a transcript for us readers) or listen to the podcasts, but I wanted to give you a taste of why I found West’s way of introducing ideas so entertaining. Here, he’s talking about how us humans crave to know “the meaning of life”:

…why…do you even CARE…about creating a system of meaning in the first place? 

Why do you care? Where does that desire even come from? Why…is OUR internal experience…not like OTHER animals…where, they don’t SEEM to sit around…and agonize over whether or not their life has meaning…A squirrel doesn’t sit around and agonize…over what kind of squirrel they want to be this week? You see a Koala at the zoo…do you really think that Koala…wants to be the Sir Isaac Newton of Koalas one day? No. It doesn’t CARE. Human beings… SEEM to CARE…there seems to be a piece of whatever this Homo Sapien thing is…that CARES that their actions in this life counted at LEAST for something. But why?

S. West, Philosophize This! Episode 162

See, even written out, this is fun stuff. So, if you, too, want to have fun with philosophy or learn how I look at life, check these podcasts out. On the other hand, if you’re one of my Unitarian Universalist friends (I was one of these until it hit me that even the most inclusive of organized religions had too many rules and regulations for me), you might enjoy his current set of podcasts, which are on Ralph Waldo Emerson, a UU philosophy hero.

Reminder: Enjoy the Moment

When I see tragedies happening around the world that are caused by some frightening person’s lust for power or sense of entitlement (I want it, so I’ll take it), I have no illusions that the same thing can’t happen here or anywhere else. People let it happen.

Tonight’s moon that I missed because I was in the hot tub. Glad I was sent a photo!

They are starting to talk about the other “n” work, the one Pres. Bush had trouble pronouncing. I’ve always thought that’s how I’d die. I’m ready for it. I’ve made me peace, eliminated most of the negativity around me, and am fine disappearing.

I’d miss my buddy for the past decade, though.

I don’t want to lose Gaia or all the young folks with things to contribute to the betterment of humanity. Of course, I also struggle to keep to my illusion that better things are possible, no matter how we try.

This one gives me hope, the cheeky adolescent that he is.

I know folks who have evacuated due to fires northwest of here. But their prize horses are safe. That’s good. Two other friends who’ve dealt with fires and flooding are recovering. That’s resilient. Some people I care about have recently lost loved ones, quite young. Their families show such grace and humor, as do those I know struggling with “long COVID,” which is so unfair. There are glimmers of goodness and hope, even amid despair and destruction. Our job is to see it and cling to it. It may be all we get.

What I affirm that I can do is try to be kind, try to help others, and enjoy every single day I have on this planet. I’m soaking up the beauty and peace as hard as I can, and I’m savoring any good moments that pop up, like my ring.

My dragonfly ring popped up! After three years, it still feels good on my hand, dry skin and all.

Sigh. Lots going on today, I guess. I’m beginning to sound more and more like a convert to Stoicism, even though I still claim to be an existentialist in my less woo woo moments.

My Ten Commandments

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days. It started when I read a list of important things for living a good life that someone posted. It included things like not airing your dirty laundry (makes for a dull blog, but probably a good idea), not putting down your spouse in public, and my favorite, which is to remember you can’t control what others do, only how you react to it.

Today’s sunrise featured frost and banks of fog. I’ll miss sunrises when it’s back to being dark when I get up.

The one that got me thinking the most, however, was the one that said (I’m paraphrasing):

Even if you aren’t a Christian, follow the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.

Facebook Friend

I thought that, well, as a matter of fact, there are some commandments that I seem to find more important than many American Christians. The same goes with the teachings of their prophet, Jesus, but I’ll stick with commandments and the Golden Rule.

An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.

You are probably aware that the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated is found in most spiritual paths. I’ve put a version of the Wiccan version up there on the image. I like that one, too – do what you want to do as long as you aren’t harming others. I sure watch a lot of people who will firmly assert their adherence to Christian beliefs who have no trouble at all wishing others ill, calling them and their elected officials horrible names, and attacking their morals. Then they squeal if anyone dares call them on it or say a negative word about their leaders.

Take a deep breath and enjoy some shepherd’s purse.

I am going to assume that they are members of one of the Christian sects out there for whom the rules are just suggestions. You know, the ones who get elected to office on their Christian values then vow to eliminate liberals and moderate Republicans from their county (true story and it’s making me grumpy).

What about Those Commandments?

So, what about them? I always thought most of the “guidelines” Moses passed on were pretty darned good. Others don’t apply literally, but may in spirit. And I think it’s fair to expect people who insist on following any of them try to follow them all.

There are many versions. Here’s one from @mockingbirdstudios via Twenty20

No other gods before them

Whew. I sure see a lot of folks out there who worship power and money more than the god they profess to worship. If I have a deity, their god is wrapped up in it, since I’m a big fan of Mother Nature, or the life force around us that guides us. That’s as woo-woo as I will get here. So yeah, the Great Spirit in its many guises is number one with me.

No graven images

Yeah, right. That is the most optional one for many Christians, though there are sects who take it extra seriously. Since I can’t carve a picture of spirit, I do this, for sure. I admit to lots of images of various deities, but those are just metaphorical representations, I hereby declare. (So, you’re okay, Brighid and Buddha.)

No taking the name in vain

This one gets broken over and over and over by most people in the US, though there are some who are quite careful, gosh darn it. Much of it’s just habit and talking the way we were raised to talk. I’m always saying, “Oh my god,” but for some reason don’t say “goddamned this and that.” In any case, I fail at this one even as a nature worshipper, because I sometimes curse the weather. I should know better, too, because as I’m often told, we need rain around here!

I will try to better about taking the name of Gaia in vain! After all, you gave us all life and a fine planet to hang out on. That was a good idea, Moses.

The Sabbath

Visiting one’s house of worship regularly is something lots of people do, and I used to do it myself. It’s nice to be around people who have similar beliefs and to hear a good message. Organized religion and I have just never gotten along (not just Christianity…all of them), so I don’t do that anymore. I do take time, often, to spend quiet time in nature, where I learn lessons from the trees and birds and give thanks for everything around me. That counts for me.

Besides, many folks who diligently head to a house of worship weekly think nothing of hate speech, cruelty to others, and breaking the other commandments. It’s their choice, though.

Parental honor

Societies around the world revere ancestors and honor parents. Anyone who has a hand in raising a child and does so with good intentions is worth honoring. I’m grateful to my long-departed parents for doing their best to raise me. That said, blind obedience and devotion don’t work for me. If your parents treated you badly or hurt you, you have every right to distance yourself from them. And I say that as a parent whose child has left me. That hurts deeply, but they have every right to do what they think is best.

So, I guess this one is not one of my favorites. Hmm, I’m halfway through the list of commandments and none of these are things I think about a lot. Now let’s get to the good ones.

No killing

They might as well delete this one off the list. Christians around the world flagrantly disregard this one and can come up with oh so many reasons to make exceptions. This is the one that I absolutely agree with. I’m not killing people, even people I don’t like, disagree with, or think want to hurt me.

I get yelled at often for this. Won’t I defend myself or my property? (Yep, without killing people.) And yes, if the County Judge sends out the minions and rounds up all the people who don’t share his political beliefs, I’d rather die than harm a neighbor. I couldn’t live with myself if I harmed another human on purpose.

Please note that I do not, and never will, want to force my morals on others. Nor do I disrespect people who choose a way of life where killing others is a possibility. That’s part of the society I live in, and I accept it. I know I’m in the minority, and it’s okay.

No adultery

At one time in my life, I struggled with this, since I could love more than one person at the same time and really felt like this rule was more about keeping inheritance straight down the patrilineal line than about who one loves. And when bound by legal or personal commitments, I refrained from it. So, I’ve followed the letter of this law, even though it’s grounded in a system I dislike.

I think people should have agreements on this stuff and do what works for them in their private lives, though. It’s not my business nor the business of any deity. It’s legal. That said, I am not looking for hookups at this time. (I can just see all these sad potential suitors out there…not really.)

If I go to hell for this, I hope it’s a hot tub.

I feel compelled to point out how many people Christians admire and follow have no qualms about the whole adultery thing. I wonder if power makes people exempt.

No stealing

I’m all for this one. What’s yours is yours. Some organized religions ought to think about this. Some Christians ought to think about their personal ethics and whether they preclude stealing from others in less blatant ways than just grabbing stuff out of their houses.

False Witness?

I loathe it when people out and out lie about others. It’s a big peeve of mine. Sure, everyone’s version of the truth differs, and sometimes hearing things from two different points of view might make you think one person is lying when they each think they are telling the truth. I get that.

I’m baffled, though, about how people who repeatedly make false statements, accuse others falsely, and even contradict themselves over and over can be respected and revered. That always seems to be the case with totalitarian leaders, for example, or wannabe totalitarian leaders. This worries me a lot.

One of the things that is important to me, ethically, is to not lie to others and to not point fingers, so I do my best to keep opinions to myself outside my trusted circle. Everyone needs a trusted circle, so they won’t explode from keeping things in!

Coveting

I can remember repeatedly asking my Sunday School teachers what the heck coveting means and what it had to do with Frenchie Purvis next door (the neighbor’s wife). I did eventually figure out that it has something to do with not being jealous of people who have things you don’t. I am so grateful for what I DO have that I’m fine not having what other people have…except maybe grandchildren. I think I covet grandchildren. I sure would like a little baby to dote on all of my own. But I will just knit blankets for others and once the whole pandemic thing lets me, hug and snuggle with the babies of friends and neighbors.

Moses was right about this. Other people’s lives always seem better than our own, because we don’t know all about them. I’m glad for the good things other people have and get to enjoy. I’ll enjoy my own things.

Was this worth it?

After going through this exercise, I have concluded that the Hebrew rules are okay, but not really the ones I am going to base my life on. That seems to be the conclusion most people come to, even ones who are members of groups supposedly required to follow them.

Peace, love, nature, freedom, and unicorns to all of you.

It IS good to think about where your ethics and morals come from and to do a check on whether you’re being consistent, falling down on some, or holding others to standards you can’t keep up with. I hope by reading this you thought a little bit about your own rules for life and how they’re holding up.

I send love to ALL of you, including those who may not agree with me or may think differently from how I do in some areas. Variety is good. I just would hope that most of us treat each other well.

Ducking and Covering

I was a child during the Cold War. I was petrified of atomic bombs. We had duck and cover drills in school, as if hiding under a desk would do us any good. I had nightmares about bomb shelters for decades. I don’t want to go to sleep tonight. Baby Suna might take over and return those dreams.

I never thought the threats would resurface. I thought our leaders were more interested in money than power. Maybe the current situation is about money after all.

Curl me up in a ball.

No one should have to live like this. Our brothers and sisters in the Baltics and Russia should not have to live in fear of their neighbors. They should not have to feel the need to fight their neighbors. I’m so disappointed in humans. Again.

In my mind I’m 6, not nearly 64 and covered in wrinkles.

I feel sick for the everyday people of the world who have lies fed to them to rile them into hatred. That’s here where I live, too. It’s so disheartening.

Sure, like I said earlier today, many of us are having good lives right now. It can go in a flash, though. I’ll leave you with a Bible verse, for the first time ever.

And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.

Daniel 8:24, New King James Version

Applies to more than one would-be emperor, I think. Dark times. And we are unable to affect them. Powerless. Resigned. Curled up in a ball like the dogs.

Back to the Serenity Prayer for this pagan hermit. And I’m not gonna duck and cover. I’m not interested in living in one of those apocalyptic times.

(PS I do know more about nuclear warfare and such than I did at age 6 and think that other methods of genocide are now preferred.)

Book Report: Phosphorescence

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My husband, Lee, heard some people talking about this book on one of his podcasts, so he ordered it for me as a Christmas present. He said it just sounded like something I’d enjoy, and he was right! I’m so glad to have come across Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When Your World Goes Dark, by Julia Baird (2021). I found myself underlining numerous passages and recommending the book to others after just a couple of chapters.

Julia Baird, an Australian journalist who has had her share of darkness thanks to three bouts with cancer, shares with us the things she has done and the beliefs she holds close that have enabled her to hold joy in her life. They may be things I already knew, but I sure enjoyed the way she put them. I guess there’s a bit of confirmation bias in my enjoyment of this book, because the things that make her happy seem to be, in many cases, the same ones I turn to over and over again.

I’ll have to take her word for it that swimming long distances in the ocean before sunrise makes one happy, so I’m substituting working with horses for that one. I love the idea, though, that we all have an inner glow, sometimes literally, and that there’s a phosphorescence in us all.

The book’s a memoir, so we learn a lot about Baird as we read it, as well as about some of the pretty amazing folks she’s gotten to know in her journalism career. But most important is learning how hard she has worked to find the sources of joy in her life and seeing how gracious she is with sharing her innermost thoughts, including her spirituality.

Now, we all know I’m not fond of institutions, particularly religious institutions, and even of institutions that I have been saddled with by virtue of being born the person I am (political systems, business shit, etc.). I don’t think Baird is very fond of them either, especially patriarchal ones, but I ended up loving her religious chapters toward the end, because she lovingly reminded me that there is a version of Christianity that truly is about love, peace, and caring for the weak and powerless. And she talks about how her beliefs fit in with other religious paths, so I didn’t feel like she was out to convert, only to explain.

That was at the end of the book. The beginning, where Baird talks about how being around trees and other plants heightens our happiness and how being around water makes things even better…that’s the part I underlined a lot. Baird also explains why silence is also important (and by that she means absence of human sounds–nature sounds are good). That is making me laugh since I’ve been listening to a guy drilling a hole in my fire pit all day.

I honestly don’t want to tell you all the ways Baird talks about how we can keep ourselves positive in dark times, to encourage you to read this for yourself, but one thing that was important helped me understand my impulse to write out my thoughts, my feelings, and my mundane experiences in a blog. Women’s stories have been hidden by history, or saved in subtle ways like quilts and embroidery. When letter writing became possible, women wrote and wrote, but how much was saved?

Our history and our stories are important too, even if we don’t rule a country or run a company. Each of us humans has a story, and it is good to share them with others. Sure, all we used to have was verbal storytelling, but now that we have access to other ways to share, Baird encourages us all to do so. So I’m going to share my wild and imperfect life right here, and I hope you, too, find a way to bring joy in your life by noticing the small things and sharing them.

Grateful for So Much

It was a really hard day in f so one ways. My friend’s memorial service wasn’t one of those uplifting ones that celebrated someone, but more of a sermon. I really hope it comforted her family and friends.

This comforts me

To console myself after we were dismissed by the preacher, I went and ate some toast and fried chicken at Dairy Queen. Then I checked on the progress at Anita’s house in Cameron. I’m grateful she’s coming here. And her house looks great with its new insulation, plumbing, and air conditioning. It’s like a new house.

Ooh, Anita has a French door!

I had a few minutes, so I got a cheerful red velvet shirt to wear over my funeral dress. at least the Bling Box cheered me up, since friends were there and we had fun joking around. And Jennifer, who happened to be there, helped me pick perky earrings.

Outfit not as cute as I’d hoped.

Next, I headed over to the Master Naturalist holiday party, which the incoming President and VP did a fine job with. I feel good about organization going forward.

Such a nice event.

We gave the 2020 class their prizes, and that’s when I realized my festive red top, when combined with the dress I was wearing, made me look as if I were about to give birth. Hmm. Not my best look.

Carolyn looked good, though.

I drank wine to help me deal with the previous event, and did my best to enjoy seeing all our chapter members after so long. Our county has low COVID rates right now. I hope it keeps up.

Two good things made me more grateful. First, more than one person came by and told me I’d done a good job as President for the past two years. I was really grateful. It was a hard job and I was often overwhelmed with things. But, I got them through a slump after the previous leader died, and I handled the COVID changes. Whew.

We honored our intrepid 2020 class.

The other thing I’m grateful for is that Catherine, who comments here often, told me she had a gift for me that was really from a blog reader who follows my stuff. Apparently, I’m inheriting this item from someone who passed away, and when the dreaded saw it, she insisted it was for me.

It was the biggest Dallas Cowboys flag I ever saw! Now I need to hang it up. What a kind gift! I was really touched and grateful to receive this well-loved flag. Thanks, blog reader! I’ll get a picture of it flying up soon.

Since I didn’t get a picture of the flag, here’s our chilly sunset.

So sure, even with floods, deaths, illnesses among my friends, and all that, there is still stuff to be grateful for. By the way, I’m also an honorary grandmother, as baby Ruby arrived yesterday. Life goes on.

Book Report: My Name is Lucy Barton

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve been knitting a lot in my spare time, but I need a break sometimes. Good thing I brought a bunch of books with me to Colorado. At least three of them are books by Elizabeth Strout, who wrote the Olive Kitteridge books I enjoyed so much. The first one I read is My Name is Lucy Barton (2016), which is apparently going to become a major Broadway play.

my  name is lucy barton cover

The book looks much more substantial than it actually is. That’s because it starts out with eight pages of praise for the book and ends with a book club guide and an excerpt from another book. Why did they need to pad it out so much? And my suspicion is immediately aroused when they spend so much paper on telling you how great the book is, rather than letting you figure that out for yourself by actually reading the darned thing. And check out the cover, which tells you how much the NY Times, the Boston Globe, and the Pulitzer Prize committee love the book and the author.

Now, I did enjoy this book very much. The writing is as spare and open as the other books I’ve ready by Strout. And the story, which revolves around a writer reminiscing about a long visit from her estranged mother, while she was hospitalized with mysterious complications from surgery. You get hints of an abusive past and damaged family members, but a lot is left to your imagination, because as Lucy points out she really can’t know what anyone else thinks, felt, or experienced. I loved that part.

And I really like some of the other themes that Strout repeats throughout the book. One is that people really seem driven to find ways to make themselves feel superior to others, even those at the bottom of the social hierarchy (which is where Lucy comes from – an entire family who lived in an unheated garage for many years). Lucy spelled it out this way:

I have said it before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to put someone else down.

page 95

If you know me at all, you know that this is one of my big areas of concern, too. I like the way she talks about it at an interpersonal level rather than a cultural level. Lucy appears to remember every single person who ever looked at her as an equal or treated her kindly, having experienced so little of it as a child.

The other theme that gets repeated often (and by the way, Lucy is very explicit in her repetition, as in the above quote, where she reminds us that she’s repeating herself) is our inability to know what other people are thinking or feeling. Heck, she often points out that she is not sure what she remembers or what happened. This is so true, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will take this lesson to heart. I mean, I have had conversations with people from my past where our memories don’t even sound like memories of the same events, they come out so different. Lucy knows that, explicitly.

And because Lucy doesn’t really know what’s going on with other people, her readers don’t get a lot of information about any of the other characters in the book, like her mother, husband at the time she was hospitalized, neighbors, and siblings. You just find out how they affected Lucy. That’s an interesting perspective to me, and I liked it more than I thought I would.

Strout does an excellent job of showing how Lucy Barton is like a stranger in the society she lives in, often just with subtle word choices. And Luvy often shares that she has huge popular culture gaps, due to never experiencing things like television shows, movies, and the world outside her Illinois farm community (which she also portrays well – those cornfields and views resonated with my time in east-central Illinois).

But, sometimes I get to wondering how Lucy did all the things she did with such limited life experiences. Of course, she was smart, read a lot, and, as her truly weird mother would say, she just went and did things. She knew she had to get out of her abusive home environment, and she did. But how did she deal with college roommates, traveling, and things like that? How did she go from not understanding shopping to spending so much time in Bloomingdales? How did she manage to raise her daughters?

A final thought I wanted to share is that I admired how Lucy owned being “ruthless” as a friend of hers termed it. Sometimes she had to do things, even if she knew it would hurt others. I see that in myself a lot, especially when it comes to people in my family. Lucy knew that having to leave her husband was right for her, but perhaps not right for her daughters. This paragraph hit very close to home for me, and I see both my child self and my own children here:

Do I understand that hurt my children feel? I think I do, though they might claim otherwise. But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longing so hard you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.

p. 190

I had to suspend my logical mind’s questioning during My Name is Lucy Barton, but that was okay. And if you think of the book as more of a Zen Koan or a spiritual guidebook than a novel, you will come away with a lot of insight to think about later.

Life, Death, and the Little Things

First, thanks to all of you who sent me kind words yesterday as I talked about how my friend Terry’s passing made me feel. She was one of the people I talked about in my post Welcoming Death and Treasuring Lives, which I also published in our Friends of La Leche League newsletter, Continuum, in the most recent edition (that issue is just for subscribers, but back issues are available at the link, if you want to see what the newsletter is like).

Terry!

I know Terry’s legacy will live on, through her art, books she wrote and illustrated, the students she helped educate, and the many memories all of her friends have of her, like when her surrogate, Flat Terry, went all around the world visiting friends and giving them paper hugs. She was so creative, so very human, and a great friend. Was she perfect? No. Who is? We are all glad to have known her. I’m honestly not up to writing a long tribute, because I’m just so sad. But, here’s a nice tribute my friend Nancy Sherwood wrote.

Stephanie was one FUN woman.

Sadly, my online friend Stephanie Jordan, who was the other person I talked about living her life to the fullest, passed away yesterday. I’m just so impressed with how well she continued to enjoy every day, no matter how sick she got, and how wonderfully she prepared her children for life after she was gone. I’m so glad they got a lot of time to spend together and make memories. Again, rather than summarize her journey, I’ll let you read what Nancy S. said in her blog. I’m glad she was able to keep herself together and share these memories!

While people were commenting on my post from yesterday, another friend let me know of an LLL Leader’s passing, a woman named Beth O’Donnell. I didn’t know Beth (though I may have met her at one of those conferences where I met so many women), but when I read her lovely obituary, I realized how much in common I had with her and what great contributions she’d made to the world. She was a teacher of the Our Whole Lives curriculum that my children studied at our Unitarian Universalist church, so I know Beth helped babies, mothers, children and future children. Wow. But it was also just nice to read about her interests and travels. It’s like I got to know her a little.

I feel privileged that one of my volunteer “jobs” is to maintain the web pages for We Remember, which honors La Leche League Leaders (and others who have contributed to that organization) who have passed away. Their names are also inscribed in a book, which is taken to ceremonies – this year there will be a virtual ceremony at an online conference. I read every one of the obituaries that are shared, and I’m really happy how many of them include little tidbits that make the person I’m paying tribute to come alive again in my mind. I’m really grateful to the family members who pause in their grief to share the lives of the people they loved, so others can carry their memories as well.

I’m not sure why, but reading about these wonderful volunteers always inspires me. Go ahead, take a look! You can even post a memorial to someone who mentored you, share news of an LLL Leader’s passing, or make a contribution to Friends of LLL’s work in their name (you will see that I’ve done it a few times lately).

One of the first entries in this blog had a photo of Dr. Thoms!

And speaking of people who volunteer their time…yesterday, I also found out that one of our Master Naturalist mentors, an amazing human being named Alston Thoms had passed away in June, and we hadn’t heard about it (I did touch on this yesterday, but I want to say more). If you read his memorial page, you’ll see what a real treasure the world lost when his life ended. I learned so much about the Native Americans who lived in this part of Texas from him, and I always hungered to learn more. His teachings will live on through the work of his graduate students and the many Master Naturalists he generously taught through the years.

Here’s what I said about him in my blog from early in my Master Naturalist career:

We also had a very interesting speaker, Prof. Alston Thoms, an anthropologist from Texas A&M. He is an expert on Native American history, and focused the talk for us on what people ate in past centuries in this area. It was lots of roots and berries, cooked in earth ovens (which he does yearly for his grad students). The most “duh” moment came when he asked what the most common food source would have been. It took a while to realize that of course, it was the white-tailed deer. It’s been in the area as long as humans have, and always on the list for what’s for dinner!

I could listen to this guy all day long.

Proud of Me, May 14, 2018

So, please. If someone you care about is no longer with us, share your memories. They can mean a lot, even to people who didn’t know them, and the little things, their quirks, their stories, their adventures…they can mean more than you know to someone else.

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