Saturday, December 14, 2013

little bench in progress

Today before the snow got too thick I drove over to the hardware/lumber store near by.  The man in the basement section of the store is a woodworker.  I asked him for a 1x2 that was about 28 inches long, and he found a scrap for me.  You can see it behind the bench assembly on the table.  

I'm still working on putting the pieces of the bench together, but I asked him about a device that would enable me to drill a hole at a precise angle, say about 85 degrees instead of 90, in this case.  I'm pretty sure the stability of this little bench will be enhanced by having the legs angle out slightly instead of forming a perfect rectangle.

So he loaned me the tool you see in the back ground.  He wasn't sure what it was called, but when I explained what I was trying to do, he knew right away what I was talking about.  I promised I'd get the tool back to him in a week--which will be a stretch given that this is finals week and I'm supposed to write and grade tests this week.  We'll see.

Below you can see some of my sketches for this project.

When I was making furniture in the past I worked with found wood.  My designs were dictated by the dimensions of the lumber I'd collected.  I was pretty fast & loose with the way I put things together.  During my time away from woodworking I've looked at a lot of pictures (some of which you can see here).  I've read about design, thought about the golden ratio (about 1.61:1), or about 2:1 rectangles, which other designers have preferred.  I think I'm ready to embark on a slightly different approach to woodworking.  I'm drawing and planning more.

The dimensions of the width to the height of my bench are closer to the golden ratio.  I'm using an old piece of wood for the main portion of the bench.  The gentleman at the hardware store identified it as old growth douglas fir.  By looking at the grain, he said it was probably from a tree that was 100-150 years old.  The cross brace is newer douglas fir, and the grain is pretty different (more curved, with lines farther apart).  The color is significantly lighter.  

close-up of the older wood--you can see how straight the grain is
I'm planning to finish this bench with either a walnut oil/beeswax blend I put together some time ago, or maybe just going with pure oil of some sort.  I've read some about how certain japanese woodworkers leave their wood unfinished.  I have pieces that I've left unfinished and liked them, but others got ugly stains.  I'm not sure if different varieties of wood age differently when left unfinished.  I like letting wood age, darken, get banged up, and generally show signs of age (kind of like an old person with gray hair & wrinkles can look so beautiful).  

Even with a project this small and simple, there are so many design decisions.  I just love analyzing something to death (some have identified this as an annoying trait of mine).  In this case it's just a delight to decide on the most beautiful angle for the legs, the ideal finish, the positioning of the cross-brace.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

at the bottom of fear

Is it possible to make a break from the world of 40 hour weeks, benefits, monthly rent in excess of $1000, and 45 minute commutes?

I have a tenure-track position at a community college.  I think that tenure track is a term that indicates I could get tenure.  I don't have it yet, but I think I'm close.

I work with really nice people, and I'm reasonably good at what I do.

It's hard to make a break from this when I don't have a solid sense of what it is I'd rather be doing.

Fear comes up when I think of quitting.  Fear of what?  I decided to examine my fears more closely.  What it is that I'm truly afraid of?

1.  Loneliness (finding myself isolated as I become more unconventional)
2.  Poverty (not the elegant, monk-like poverty, but the stressful kind)
3.  Failure, and subsequent judgement by those who think I'm crazy to want to do this.

In thinking of how best to face fears #1 and 2, I imagined what the opposite of such fear would feel like.

It feels like surrendering into the arms of the earth, of mankind, and trusting that I would be cared for by people around me, and by the earth, and its bounty.

(As I write these words, I hear voices pouncing:  how irrational, delusional, and irresponsible!)

I imagine that the perfect experiment is to set forth into the world with very little.  The image is walking with a backpack on.  A relatively small backpack.

In "Without a Map", Meredith Hall describes a point in her life in which she is walking alone in Turkey (I'm pretty sure it was Turkey) with basically nothing but the clothes on her back.  She is lost, disconnected, and stripped bare of protection and comfort.

I related to Meredith's memoir for a number of reasons, and her description of that moment seemed to describe a fear that has subconsciously haunted me.  Isolated by judgement, and owning nothing.  Reliant on the goodness of those around not to harm her.

At the same time, it seems like the ultimate freedom.  You have nothing, and you survive.  After that, how could you ever be afraid again?

Isn't finding that fearlessness the ultimate reward?  If I can find that at the bottom, there is nothing to fear, then perhaps there is nothing to hold me back from setting out into the world to find what is there.

Monday, September 30, 2013

meaning and healing

a weekday evening--getting set up to grade some papers

5-6 years ago, in conversation:

"What is the meaning of life?"

"To figure out what the meaning of life is."

Recently, in reflection:

"What is the purpose of our lives?"

"To heal our wounds."

Which is validated by this quotation:

"...healing the soul and healing the world.  Ultimately there is no separation between them."

from "Integrity, Ecology, and Community:  The Motion of Love" by Jennie M. Ratcliffe

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

1.  School's back in session.  Caught back in the turning week of the weeks that follow one another.

2.  I created a blog with pictures of things that inspire me.  Here.  I named it analysis and synthesis, inspired by a Fourier Analysis class where we take functions apart and put them back together.  Well, this is not math related, but the idea was to try to find what it is that inspires me in the pictures.

3.  I've been reading.  Just now:  Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.  Before:  The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Erlich.  Before that:  The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, by Wendy Welch.

4.  We watched Tokyo Story, right before my parents visited.  Weird timing.

5.  I'm using my sharpened chisels on scraps of to make a practice table leg joint.

6.  The more sketches I make of furniture and joinery, the more inspired I am to make simple crates and peg boards for the wall.   When I saw this picture (source), my heart became happy.  So simple!  So lovely!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Timber Framing

At the end of June I took a class at Heartwood School for the Homebuilding Crafts, in Massachusetts.  It was a fabulous week.  Timber framing is a really elegant way of working with wood, and this school focuses on only working with hand tools.  Our class was a group of 26 people from various backgrounds, ages, and locations from across the country.  I highly recommend the experience.

My first tenon!  Love that hand forged Barr chisel.  Note the antique boring machine (for making mortises) behind me.

I'm working on a mortise here--sideways is not recommended but my partner was working on another joint on the end so I did this anyway.
Putting up the timber frame on Heartwood School's deck

Assembling the timberframe--one of the corner posts is mine :)

Working with green pine (wood that has not been kiln dried) smelled so good!  I'll never smell fresh pine again without being transported to Heartwood's shade dappled driveway where we worked outdoors all day.

Except for the last day, when our teachers had to pull out power tools to finish on time, there was just the sound of friendly conversations, hand saws, chisels, and mallets.

We built two small structures which had been ordered by clients.  The beauty of timber framing is that you can put the structure together first, to check that everything fits.  Then you can pull the pegs out, take the pieces apart, and load them onto a truck to be assembled at the client's property.

Working with a quality, well sharpened chisel was a revelation.  I can't wait to get my smaller chisels sharpened so I can make furniture sized mortises and tenons.

Friday, June 14, 2013

journey into the unknown

Writers do not write to impart knowledge to others; rather, they write to inform themselves.

--Judith Guest, from the foreword to Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a wood-carver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory.

You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads.

The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend.

--Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

As I read these words, I realize that writing is most interesting to me when it is an investigation, a search, an attempt to explain something or to find the truth.

It is truly amazing that in the process of laying down words on a page, gradually you find yourself making progress, you get somewhere you couldn't get by simply thinking, which tends to go in circles, wrapping around points of frustration or trailing off into dead end side tracks.

In each moment, write the truth you are sensing. Each moment recorded is a step. The best you can do is follow your nose. You are almost blind, but not quite.

learning about simplicity

I've always been a fan of orderly and simple environments.  I feel at peace when dishes are washed, clothes are folded, bills are paid, and the table top is clear.  

I'm discovering another type of simplicity.  If, in an effort to arrive at an orderly environment, my actions are hurried and unhappy, there is a lack of simplicity within me as I attempt to gain simplicity around me.  

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh recently has helped me to understand what slowing down means.  The book has been returned to the library, and I don't remember the title, just that the cover is battered and worn.   There is a chapter in the book where he suggests assigning a day every week to not speaking, and to doing things very slowly.  He describes what this day might be like:  bathing with care, boiling water, brewing tea, then drinking it slowly.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” 

Rushing toward the future--that describes me in a nutshell!  In a way, I often live about 3 steps ahead of my body, which can't walk fast enough to keep up with where I wish I was.  

Finding simplicity in my life might mean inhabiting the present moment as fully as possible.  "Slow down" and "Live in the present" sound like cliches--I've heard them so often and thought they'd be something I'd have time for at some point, preferably once I achieve my ideal life.

In the moment when my mind is four steps ahead of my hands, I tremblingly inhale, exhale, and look down at the still life (still, very still) before me.  It is beautiful, in this moment, and I have permission to enjoy this moment, to see its beauty.  

Making supper tonight--I want to wash some greens.  I take down the big bowl to put in the sink, but a dirty dish is sitting there.  This is the moment where I choose.

I set the big bowl aside.   I'm eager to wash the greens, but I can take this moment to wash the dirty dish carefully, and enjoy seeing it become clean, and setting it to dry.  I'm not rushing to end this moment--I'm inhabiting it.

The moment before the one I am striving toward is a moment also.  I can miss it, or resent it for getting in the way.  Or I can experience it as fully as possible.  And the only way to do that is to not wish I was some place else.  

To actually enjoy this moment?  I feel a burden lifting, as if I was being granted permission to be here now, instead of rushing to somewhere up ahead.  A great gift--it feels like a vacation, because the present moment is so much simpler than racing through the obstacles toward the goal up ahead.  Maybe the only true beauty I can find, the only true simplicity, is simplicity of the present moment.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

ups and downs and a parable that gets me through

We've been through a lot of changes in plans lately.  One plan disappears, another appears, disappears, the other plan reappears.  A dizzying, mental whip-lash-inducing series of changes in the imagined landscape.

This story struck me when I first read it (not in the same form, but the idea is the same).  It really helps to ground me and get me through excitement, disappointment, and anxiety in waiting for answers.

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?" 
Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a disaster?" 
Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?" 
A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. 
Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.  
The Lost Horse,
Chinese Folktale. 
As told by Ellen J. Langer, in" The Power of Mindful Learning," Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, page 99-100. (1997).
Truly, life is a mystery, and we can just open our eyes and watch how the mystery unfolds.  Maybe we can detach from labeling each event as good or bad, and just see what happens.   Whether an event is good or bad is something that changes with time, anyway.  It's a grand experiment.

Saturday, May 04, 2013


The word simplicity has always given me a euphoria.  By nature I feel overwhelmed a lot.  I can't keep up, and my life is already pretty simple.

The idea of simplifying further energizes me.

If we decide to live in a tiny house, perhaps 200 square feet or so, would our lives be simpler or more complicated?

I've never agreed with people who get rid of too much, and then don't have pots and pans to cook in.  I believe in keeping the tools of a handmade life.

But I wonder how much electricity I need.  I've recently become aware of EMF's and how they aren't very good for the electromagnetic currents in our bodies.

We like to listen to music, and who can live without the internet these days?  A fridge seems tough to live without.  That and a few (LED) lights.  Well we do still use a toaster although it uses a lot of electricity.

Do we need running water?  Yes, I think so.  Washing dishes should be enjoyable.  Heated water is also a good idea.  Constantly heating water on a stove top feels like a waste of time.

That said, there is a part of me that would like to live in a chop wood and carry water type of simplicity.  Candle light, fire light, pump and carry water, heat on a stove, take a bath in a basin that can then hang on the wall.  No wiring, no plumbing.

I would like to try this for a while as an experiment.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

It's quite hard to envision transitioning to a life in a more rural place.  We live in a nice small town that is nestled between town after town.  (There are so many towns here that it is possible to live for 10 years in an area and not know the names of towns 15 minutes from you.)

I started looking at land for sale.  You really can't get much of an idea by reading a realtor's brief description and examining a few photos.  It's overwhelming to consider buying land that is 4-5 hours away.  The wise choice would be to rent in an area before buying, of course.  It just annoys me to enter into a rental contract and spend more money on rent from our savings.

In order to move, we'd cut off income.  We'd have to a) find a place to rent, b) look for land for sale, and still be thinking about c) what is our long term plan for income?

Image from
The long term plan for income would be dependent on the area we'd move to, because I'd like to do something connected to the local economy and local resources.  

However, it does seem unwise to purchase land before knowing what exactly we'd like to be doing.  So perhaps what we want to do should drive the decision about where to relocate.

I have started thinking about timber framing.   A school called Fox Maple in Maine teaches a week long workshop.  And a company called Econest in Oregon that specializes in timber frame houses with clay/straw walls.   Their houses and philosophy are Asian-inspired and the pictures are breathtaking.  They offer workshops too.

Finally, a type of building that truly agrees with me down to my bones.  I look through the many pictures I've saved in my inspiration folder, and suddenly I see that timber frames are all through it.  

And I hear that timber framing is like making furniture--and I think that maybe after I build a house for us, I could apply the same skills to putting furniture together.  Without nails or screws, with handtools.  In an ancient traditional way, built to last for a century or more.

I must chase down guides into this new life.  If anyone has suggestions about courses they'd recommend or other resources, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, March 11, 2013

what do I want?

What is it that I'm looking for in that other life?  Am I just chronically dissatisfied?  Or do I have a good reason to want something different?  I need to put into words what it is that I want so I know what I am and am not looking for.

1.  To experience life on the land.   To grow food from the soil.  To build structures, possibly with stones, wood, or earth from the property itself.  To wash clothes and dishes in water collected from rain.   A composting toilet is also part of this.

2.  To be surrounded by quiet and privacy.  To not hear and smell neighbors.  To not see much of them.  To be able to do my thing without people observing and commenting.

Clarification.  Living in an apartment is a kind of hell for a highly sensitive person.  Living in a separate house next to others might be ok, although for me the typical suburban experience is still much too close to other people.  You still hear marital disputes, smell cigars and laundry softener and pool chlorine, hear lawn mowers and weed whackers.

I enjoy living in within walking distance of a store, post office, bank, or library.  I like to be able to walk in a neighborhood.  Some country roads are just not walkable at all.  And on the east coast, Lyme disease makes blazing trails through woods or meadows a little risky.  So do I want to live in town or in the country?  I guess I would like to live walking or biking distance from town, but surrounded by quiet.

3.  To not have a conventional job.  To live on land and in a house that is paid off, and to grow a lot of our produce, so that our expenses are minimized and we don't need to earn as much.  That would free us up to do what we are naturally drawn to do.

We are currently tracking our expenses, and if you take out rent we are already living on very little.  I do have a concern that moving to the country could mean spending a lot on gas if we are driving a lot to do things.  Hopefully we'd make infrequent trips for shopping and library.  And not commute to a job, unless absolutely necessary.

There was a time we were earned our money with jobs walking distance from our apartment.  There was something beautiful about that.

I have an idea of a small roadside store where we can sell surplus vegetables, furniture, and art.  That plus selling at a farmer's market could work for us.

To spend a lot of the day in solitude.  I'm learning that being alone is so relaxing.  I think it's my preferred work mode.


So I think those may be my big three.  My big motivators for what I want.  See, living mortgage free in a way precludes living in a town because houses cost a lot more in town.  So that's been another reason I've thought we'd live in the country, too.  Plus wanting to garden and to be free to build somewhat non-traditionally.  There are still restrictions in the country, but apparently a little more freedom.

Not having a conventional job--I still want to interact with society.  I want to be a part of a local economy, but on different terms.

I don't know exactly what I want to do.  I feel like I need time to feel my way in life.  I want the freedom to explore.  Needing money is pressure and it means less freedom.  Needing to pay rent is not freedom.  I want to be rent-free and low income and free to explore.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

washing clothes

Not long ago we did our once a month trip to the laundromat.  One or more of the machines we used was heavily loaded with fabric softener or fragrance loaded detergent.  As a result, we were sneezing as we folded clean clothes.

While getting a lot of clothes clean in one afternoon is appealing, there is a part of me that thinks of bedbugs when I am there.  I don't like sharing machines with other people.  It turns out that bedbugs aren't as much of a danger as fragrances.  The dryer kills bedbugs, but not softener.

Sunday I placed my two favorite linen shirts in a basin with warm water and (unscented) detergent.  I let them soak all afternoon and in the evening I hand-rubbed and rinsed them, then hung them on plastic hangers.  I smoothed them so they'd dry with fewer wrinkles.

By morning my shirts were dry and I hung them in the closet again.

If I wash my clothes once or twice a week by hand, they will last longer.  I will need fewer clothes and be able to wear my favorites more frequently.

I'm not sure why this delights me so.  It just feels so freeing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I have a dilemma in my obsessive quest towards simple living.

Sewing Machine vs. Needle & Thread

Vacuum Cleaner vs. Elegant Broom

Typewriter vs. Pen or Pencil

Dishwasher vs. Dishpan

I'd prefer to have a handmade broom with grass bristles than a vacuum.  The broom could hang shaker style from a pegboard on a wall.

We broke down and got a vacuum cleaner last year when we were batting bed bugs.  In retrospect, I don't think it did much for us in that battle.  The exterminators did.  But...we have the vacuum now, and I do love how it sucks up cat hair from around chair legs and behind the couch.  I'll admit to really preferring vacuuming to sweeping, although it alarms the cats.  I'm not sure if it's faster but it's more thorough.

The sewing machine.  After moving so many times I'm exasperated with moving all these heavy things.  I use it once a month or less.  Right now I'm meaning to hem some jeans and alter some used shirts that are a little too big for my husband.  The last thing I can remember sewing were curtains that are now in use even though I never finished them.  Frayed edges are fine!

The bobbin winder no longer will wind, so I load a bobbin by hand now, the slow way.  I just think of how minimal a needle & thread is and there is a part of me that thinks it wouldn't be so bad to sew things up by hand.

I've designed a shirt in my head and would like to create it, but I think I could sew it by hand.  I read some tips about how to make hand-sewn seams stronger by backstitching every 5 stitches or so.

Same with the typewriter.  Sure, it's an antique east german typewriter that I picked up for a few dollars at a rummage sale.  But it needs a new ribbon which I have yet to order, and I've used the typewriter maybe 5 times total in the 2 years I've had it.  It's heavy.  I love the idea of owning a non-electric typewriter.  But I can just use a pen or pencil, right?

We don't own a washing machine.  Last year when we were renting a house, we contemplating buying one.  Fortunately we stuck with the habit of taking everything to the laundromat once a month.  As annoying as it was (and still is), I don't know many people who get their entire month's laundry done in 2 hours per month.

When the house flooded, we would have really had to struggle to save a washing machine.  We have learned that having less helped us adapt to changing circumstances.

In a short film we saw recently, a woman washes her clothes by hand and hangs them on a clothes line.  Then she takes a break to push her daughter on a swing.  I'm wondering if I have hand washing in my future.  I know it takes less of a toll on clothing.  Just a set of large basins hanging on the wall.  A washstand out doors.

I know I can do this if I don't have a real job.  Then I'll have the time to wash things by hand (right?).  Or does this all go out the window once you have kids?

I can dream.  I trade in the sewing machine, the typewriter, the vacuum cleaner.  In my tiny handmade wooden cottage, a needle in a pincushion adorns a shelf.  Pens and pencils sit in a cup next to a pencil sharpener.  A broom hangs on the wall next to the basins.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

reflecting back

I've considered starting a new blog or getting back into blogging in a new location, but in checking my stats I see that there are some visitors coming here.  While my posting has been extremely scant for the past few years, I would like to keep anyone who was interested in what I was writing in the past.

Perhaps part of the reason I have been strangely quiet has been the very difficult events of the past few years.  What has happened wasn't really something I felt like bragging about.

But in an attempt to continue to search for the good life, I feel that writing and sharing my journey may be helpful.  Discoveries tend to surface when I sit down to write.

Some years ago I left my job in order to...well, I thought I would become a carpenter.  I wanted to build  beautiful cozy houses from natural materials.  Hobbit houses made from mud with grass roofs, or timberframe houses with straw bale--or even just regular houses, as long as they were simple, passive solar, made with natural materials.

Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley's cob home...image from this article
I was drawn to homes that are similar to old traditional homes, with a cozy feeling missing in modern dwellings.  I looked at thousands of pictures and saved hundreds onto my computer without a good way of recalling where the pictures were from.  I'm trying to be more mindful of documenting my sources now, especially when posting.

I worked for some months with a local carpenter, assisting him on projects such as building a semi-circular deck, and replacing windows.

After a while, I rented a small space where I made furniture from discarded wood.  My creations were rustic, but I began to discover a style.  I gradually sold off my Ikea furniture and replaced it with my own.  Some pieces were discarded tables and chairs that I repaired.  I created tables and benches and crates that function as bookshelves.  I discovered a preference for a natural finish made from a blend of walnut oil and beeswax.

I also discovered that making furniture to be taken apart and put back together was very handy, so I mostly used screws for my creations (even though nails suit my old fashioned aesthetic more closely).  This came in very handy when we ended up moving at least 6 times in the past 4 years.

During this time away from my job, I met and married a man.  He is an artist, and his opinions and preferences have helped me to refine my choices.  He influenced me to use more natural materials and to use reclaimed wood when possible.

I shared with him my dream of moving to the country.  We came up with the idea of making a yurt because then we could have a portable home we could set up anywhere.  We completed the skeleton of the yurt using purchased lumber as well as bamboo harvested in a local park.

We visited two intentional communities and looked into the option of living on land that was not ours, in a loose community of others who also built their own homes, grew their own food, and used composting toilets.  Ultimately we decided that the two we'd visited were not the right fit for us.

We travelled and searched in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia for places that might be right for us, but nothing felt right.  We live in New Jersey, and there isn't much land in New Jersey where prices and codes are flexible for what we are interested in doing.

Ultimately, after a year of searching and false starts, we returned to New Jersey where I was re-hired to the teaching job I'd left 4 years earlier.  It felt like a betrayal of myself to return to what I'd left with high hopes of something truer.  At the same time the job has provided stability and additional savings, and the dream is still alive.

We've been through some hard times, and yet I think I've learned a lot.  Nothing is ever lost.  Last year, I had my first real garden in the back yard of a house we rented.

Later last year, Hurricane Sandy flooded that house with almost a foot of water.  The good news is that we read the forecast of an 8 foot storm surge, so we moved all the books upstairs, emptied the lower cabinets in the kitchen, and after putting the table legs in buckets, put the couch on top of the table.  We saved a lot of our things.

Our yurt, which we'd been storing out in the gazebo, had already gotten sadly mildewed (there was no better place to store it, and it was already moldy from its previous home in an apartment basement).  Then Sandy's waters soaked it again, and we agreed that it was time to let go of this yurt structure we'd been moving with us for 2 years.  It had started to feel like an albatross.  The mold, mildew, and finally the polluted waters of the New York Harbor officially made it a bad vibes feeling object.

It was with relief that we dumped it on the side of the road along with a lot of other junk.

Because we moved from a house to a small one bedroom apartment, we ended up getting rid of a lot more stuff.  Then we discovered that the apartment complex no longer had basement storage, and we got rid of even more.  The storm had the effect of helping us to considerably lighten our load, although unfortunately a lot of that lightening happened after the move.

One more moment before I wind this up.

A couple of days after Hurricane Sandy:  We'd been evacuated to a friend's house.  She hadn't made a spare key for us yet, so we were waiting on the front steps for her one evening.  I remember sitting there and talking.  We both felt that this storm had swept us out of our house and it was helping to set things in motion.  It was time for a change.  The struggle with our landlords was not yet resolved and yet we knew we wanted out of that house, and we didn't want to sign another year long lease, so that we'd have the freedom to leave when the time was right.

That is what we did.  We don't like living in apartments, but we're doing ok, and we're working for a better future when the time is right.  I still want the house in the country (with a wood stove so we'll never be without heat for 9 days like we were last November).  But I am also studying the skills of contentment, because learning to be happy with what we've got right now is an essential skill for happiness in any context.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I enjoy writing, but for some time it's felt like what I had to say or what was on my mind couldn't be said here.

It seems incredibly risky to write thoughts and share opinions on things.  We don't always agree.  So in an effort to not alienate others, I keep my thoughts to myself.  But not saying what I think--I end up feeling alone anyway.

Recently, I attended a Quaker meeting for the second time.  A woman said she was reading "Far From the Tree", a book about children who are different in some way.  (I just looked and the book is written by Andrew Solomon.  I'm familiar with his book, "The NoonDay Demon", about depression--written from both personal experience and scientific perspective.)

I haven't read the book, but when this woman spoke about it, tears came to my eyes.  I was moved because she said that a theme of the book is how loving those who are different, and accepting them. This teaches us about loving anyone who is different.

A quote I read recently comes to mind:  “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” 
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

These words are challenging to me.  They teach me that in order to love my life, I must accept it as it is.  In order to love people in my life, I must let them be who they are.  (It would be silly not to let people be who they were--am I capable of re-creating them in a different form?)

In order to love myself, I must accept myself as I am now.  (Now re-creating myself in a different form is definitely something I've dreamed of, almost every day.)

In cases where it would seem clear that a person needs to change, even in that case, there is no opportunity for positive change without beginning at acceptance.  

In a situation where shame over my shortcomings is so great that  must deny them--I cannot begin the work of looking at myself honestly and choosing a different way of life.  

The context in which healing and transformation can begin is a circle of acceptance.  A person who has made what we may call mistakes is less in need of shame and more in need of open-eyed truth surrounding him.  If we cannot openly speak our truth, how can we progress to growth and healing?

Surrounding a wounded person with judgement and hostility will most likely result in their folding inward into silence and shame.  They will go away, if not physically then emotionally.   They will hide from their truth.

We recently watched the documentary film "Stevie" (2002).  It's a moving account of a boy who was emotionally rejected by his mother.  I suspect she rejected him because she became pregnant with him by a man who was not her husband, a man who she later discovered was married to someone else.

In this film she reveals that she has never told Stevie who his real father was.  She marries another man, and has a second child afterwards.  It seems that she tries to make her mistake disappear, and to start over, but there's Stevie.  

His story is heartbreaking.  It's the perfect example of what happens when a child is not accepted.  The story confirms my theory that what parents do to their children is what they are doing to themselves.  This woman couldn't accept herself and her mistake.  In rejecting herself, she rejected her child as well.

I challenge myself to tender acceptance of myself, with all my embarrassing mistakes and quirks.  I challenge myself to tender acceptance of those around me.