We Are Actually Not Okay

(Warning: preachy, imperfect, judgmental and angry blog post coming. Read at your own discretion).

I was seven miles into the backcountry with my friend, and we came upon a perfect site, along a lake devoid of people. We continued on, to see if we could find another site tucked back deeper, and still within the warmth of the setting sun. Three young-thirty-something men were in a great spot, packing their gear, and said “we’re about to leave, if you want to camp here tonight”. So we dropped our packs, went swimming in the pristine mountain lake, and came back to camp. Then we got closer, and found that the campfire was a bit warm (we were in a burn ban zone and there were some pretty big logs in there) and next to the fire ring they had left the contents of what seemed to have been a bad burrito. There was more and more waste, including human, within 15 feet of the campsite, the more we looked. K scooped it all up (she’s a saint), and went back about 200 feet to bury it 8 inches deep, as all waste should be out there if it’s not packed out. We talked about them a lot that night. What’s the instinct? What’s the motivation to leave behind that which no longer serves you, but without regard for the next who comes? When your choice comes out of convenience for you and not for the other? That you choose to let someone else pick up your literal garbage because you think it’s too gross to deal with on your own. Or that you choose to be an optimist and think, eh, some little chipmunk will eat this (it’s bad for them, ok, don’t feed the chipmunks bad burritos), or, it’s natural, it’ll decompose!

I prefer to be an optimist. I prefer to think that it will all work out. But this year, man, I just don’t know. This is our fire map today. Accelerated and amplified by climate change. Climate change created and amplified by a societal structure that values profit over people, profit over wholeness, profit over future. A choice for us, without regard for those who come next.

I so appreciate the check-ins from my friends spread all over the world. To see how we are faring, to send a virtual hug, to acknowledge that this unprecedented fire season must be just awful. It’s just awful. This morning, when I had gone back to bed because my allergies and this smoke are just too much, I had a dream about a happy bear, a whale, clear waters, and my family. Then I awoke and watered my gardens as quickly as possible wearing a N-95 mask. Because I’m desperately trying not to lose the tomatoes and the sunflowers and all that was good about being home during Covid.

That’s all. It’s tough. It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s a lot of loss on top of what has been a year of loss. My parents are driving cross country to see their kids and their very young grandkids for the first time this year, and they can’t get here yet, because they’re camping to avoid people. To avoid Covid. They are just a few days away, but can’t get here because the air quality is getting so bad as far east as Yellowstone that they can’t sleep in a tent. They will get here. They’re hanging low in good air quality and the rains will come and this will get under control, as it always does. And then, like a bad burrito we left behind at a campsite, we’ll forget we were here at all and go on with our lives.

Or maybe, just maybe, we will act not only on our own behalf, but for the other. Build community. And vote for what we want our future to be.

Before There Was a To-Do List

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77. I’m watching the birds on the blooming cherry tree just outside of my window. The one I didn’t know bloomed, because I’m always in DC at this time of year. The yellow finch, the stellar jay, and the little ones that hang impossibly upside down, like gymnasts, monkeys, tucking their whole heads into the fragrant flowers. The humming birds with the fastest heartbeat. Some days I awake and just want to play in the garden, watch the birds on the blooming cherry tree outside of my windows, and create. Create for the sake of a full day, a full heart, a full set of tools, a full life.

Words

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76. Powerful words. Shared for you from the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. This was shared with me from a wise woman in my life, and I can’t add another word:

“As you move through these changing times… be easy on yourself and be easy on one another. You are at the beginning of something new. You are learning a new way of being. You will find that you are working less in the yang modes that you are used to.

You will stop working so hard at getting from point A to point B the way you have in the past, but instead, will spend more time experiencing yourself in the whole, and your place in it.

Instead of traveling to a goal out there, you will voyage deeper into yourself. Your mother’s grandmother knew how to do this. Your ancestors from long ago knew how to do this. They knew the power of this principle… and because you carry their DNA in your body, this wisdom and this way of being is within you.

Call on it. Call it up. Invite your ancestors in. As the yang based habits and the decaying institutions on our planet begin to crumble, look up. A breeze is stirring. Feel the sun on your wings.”

Today I

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75. Today I saw my neighbor, who last weekend had been taken to the hospital in a 2am emergency ambulance pick-up. He was covered with a mask and gloves, but out and about. Today I went for a run and crossed the street fifteen times. I breathed in the cherry blossoms, the hyacinth and something mysteriously fragrant that I used to assume was from a company cleaning million dollar houses up and down the row. But now I think it’s just a flower that I have never seen in the spring, as I am always in DC. Today I took a webinar from the Small Business Administration that I probably should have reached out to two, five and ten years ago. Today I applied for two grants dedicated to supporting artists who have lost 100% of our income for the foreseeable future. I took a Peloton cardio class, and then a dance class because it really breaks up the day to breathe, sweat and laugh at my lack of rhythm. Today I made bagels with what I have, because I can’t find bread flour anywhere. Today we did the dishes for the millionth time. Today, I printed a document for my neighbor because he doesn’t have a printer. I passed along the grant opportunities onto my other neighbors. Today I worked on a project to support my people. Today was a good day.

Authenticity

4874. I’m listening to a pre-fab Spotify playlist right now. Something that is not the news and not too distracting, because I’m feeling inspired and distraction derails my inspiration. So I randomly picked “low key covers” to play in the background. I was looking for the ignorable din of the coffeeshop I worked in just weeks ago. Holy. I found myself called out of my rhythm time after time (yup that was covered and is in my head….Cindy Lauper, we love you). Called out of my rhythm to skip a song that feels empty and radiates effort. Hear me though. I am not anti-cover. We, as a world society, have created so much, and using that and building upon that is the very foundation of art. But. It is palatable to hear (or see, or read) what an artist thinks that they should produce. We all have something unique to say. But can we express what is uniquely ours? That is the challenge to our own spirit.

P.S. This is an image of Jean and Laura in their engagement session. Jean rented a very rare plane for our shoot, which we used inside and out, recreating times gone by. A cover of another day, another era. But with heart, I hope.

 

In the spring

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73. In the spring of 2020, the citizens of the world came back.

Women had hair again. Of all colors. We ate breakfast. We made bread again, so much so that the stores ran out of flour. In the spring of 2020, we learned our neighbors names. We remembered that we love to paint. We fixed that light that’s been broken forever. We discovered that the jam in our refrigerator was bad. We walked. We waved to each other from a distance. In the spring of 2020 we got on the phone and wrote a letter and we genuinely cared to hear the response. In the spring of 2020 the Venice canals were able to breathe, and we thought that was amazing enough to let our friends know. In the spring of 2020 we began to think. About what we need and how we impact.

In the Spring of 2020, the ocean continued to crash onto the shore, uncaring that no one heard her, but keeping the metronome for us all.

 

Today I Am Grateful For

IMG_550273.  Today I’m grateful for the 31 family members of mine on an email chain, sending photos of their daily lives under this “new normal” quarantine. For my small home filled with sunshine and plants. For my partner, who made me and his Dad chicken soup, then hired his sometimes-gardener, whom he met in a Home Depot parking lot a few years ago, to pick weeds and make more than minimum wage, when there is no other income to be had. Today I am grateful for my courageous fellow business owners – who are navigating this uncertainty and financial mayhem with grace, creativity, flexibility, and most of all camaraderie. Today I’m grateful for the internet and those who use it to it’s best, to give us bagel recipes, guitar lessons, classes meant for in-person, shops meant for entering and perusing, schools meant for a building with hallways, and for connectivity. Today I’m grateful for the health care workers, the bus drivers, the cleaners of airplanes, the mail carriers. I’m grateful for the sunshine which came early to Seattle, because the Earth, despite what we continually do to her, must have used her intuition to know that we couldn’t handle another two months of rain and this too. Today I am grateful for our political leadership, although this is hard and complicated and full of things I am not grateful for, but instead resentful of. Today I am grateful that I can feel the people around me in this world, despite being so far apart , by 6 feet or 6,000 miles, experiencing with me the simultaneous fear and silver lining in all of this. Oh. And hmmm. Today I am so, so grateful to the hummingbird whom I’ve never seen, who just fluttered and hovered at the red rose bush now beginning to bloom just outside my window, at the very moment that I was about to finish this. We may be socially distanced, but today I feel closer to many than I have in a long time.

 

 

When We Didn’t Know it Was Coming.

IMG_255672. This is Lake Mead, in Nevada. I had picked up my friend in California, and we were venturing back to DC the long way around, through as many mountains as we could climb. Having just left the megatropolis of Los Angeles, we were happy to just be on the road, still reeling from the big city pulse, expecting nothing but highway and sprawl for the next hundred miles. But just around the bend, the sky opened up with the most unexpected beauty. I slammed on the brakes, flew into the trunk for my camera, and captured this incredible scene … knowing full well I had only a few minutes until it was just another sky, just another lake, just another rocky beach. But for those few minutes at golden hour, the sky and water lived in a golden rhythm with my very spirit. I’m sitting here this morning, hunkered down in my house for an indeterminate amount of days, work and opportunity cancelled like dominos, feeling stress and uncertainty over what it means to be a self-employed creative in the days of a pandemic that is bringing our worlds to a grinding halt. I’m sitting here thinking of the makers, creators, cooks, servers, bus drivers, homeless. The teachers, the nurses, the cashiers and the builders. How we are all in this in the very same, vulnerable way, manifested differently. We didn’t know it was coming. But it was just around the corner. And at some point we will be beyond this, back to the hum of work and the known. So for now, as I hear my neighbors outside offering to go to the store for the other, as I listen to birds chirp where there used to be the sound of cars. As I sit in the quiet unknown of our near futures, I’m going to look for the golden hour in this time. What can we create, how can we find sky and water and a reflection of spirit to feed us, right now? What will we do with this, when we didn’t know it was coming?

Goodness

003471. Goodness.

It’s not what we do for others, it’s the relationship that we have with others. The goodness in my life, the richness of the everyday, happens when I’m in communication. A result of years of listening, speaking, and understanding. Knowing what will feed the other when the other needs to be fed, but there are no words. At the moment, sitting in the fleeing Seattle sun, in my newly painted plant living room, I feel the goodness from friends sisters in New York and Vermont, as we exchange texts. Goodness spreads through quickly typed words, dictated questions from our innocent god children: “why does Lady Gaga come in many forms?” “Why does snow look like fog when it’s falling?” “What is a food hub”? The levity spread by these innocent beings on a day that is also laden with grief and sadness….may we be here for it all. Be in the mix of good and hard and light and dark, simultaneously, and forever. Buoyed by this foundation of history.

Care for the Other

2369. I stood out of view but close enough to hear. A town meeting in my rural community in the highlands of Guatemala, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The meeting was about me, a debate over whether I could use water from the well, a valuable right handed down from generation to generation. I was an outsider, the first in the community, so the question had not been broached before. Dona Vicenta stood up and proclaimed no. No outsiders could use a right that was inherited. I would have to figure something else out, or leave. Another community member stood up and countered: “Listen. If we were in the United States and in need, Dona Stacey would welcome us into her home. She would give us food, water, a bed to sleep on.”

A few days ago, 120 miles from home after our 1600 mile road trip, my partner and I stopped to view the setting sun over the Columbia River. We marveled at the beauty of nature, wondered about the endless flocks of Canadian geese honking their way through the valley, and laughed at what good gas mileage we were getting. Driving away from that view, the warmth of the setting sun still on our skin, the car began to lurch and slow. Riding on the shoulder of the highway, coasting in neutral we glanced at the gas gauge, reading 1/4 tank full, and realized all at once that it had gotten stuck. Sputtering to a halt, we called AAA, to find we had both let our memberships lapse. We donned our headlamps, put on our running shoes, and began to jog the 2 miles down the highway to the nearest gas station. Dark now, hundreds of cars zoomed past our bouncing lights. A large truck carrying two other cars pulled over in front of us, offering us a ride. Igor was his name. A barely 20 year old immigrant from Ukraine, with about 10% english fluency. He drove us to get gas, telling us he had arrived into the US 2.5 months ago, and had already driven 30,000 miles, delivering cars. As we got out at the gas station, he said “I’ll wait and take you back”. We returned, he gave us cookies and water from his stash, and returned us to our car. Sacrificing his own time and priorities, Igor gave us safety, comfort, ease, and a memory of goodness.

How do we care for each other? Do we just care for our precious few? Or for the perfect stranger? I have no answers, but in my life, I’ve often found that it is those with the least who give the most.