Monday, April 28, 2008

In Cars

"The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond." -Edward McDonagh in Time.

Each morning I play the word game as I eat my breakfast. This morning, the above was the quote that accompanied the game. I found it pertinent.

I'm working, working, working and haven't had the time or energy to blog. I'll be back when things slow down...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Living My Scooter Dreams

Sometimes I simply can't believe how lucky I am. I got to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway on the most beautiful Spring day on my scooter and got paid to do so!

I have one case located far, far away from all my other cases. I was going to put off trying to contact it until I was done with the rest of my cases but today was so lovely that I decided I had to ride today. Last year, I drove the parkway for the first time and knew it would be wonderful for scooting. It was better than my expectations! First, the speed limit is 40 mph on the Trace, which is the speed I prefer going on my scooter. Then, there's little traffic; sometimes I would go miles without seeing another soul. Lastly, it's all wooded and hilly with nice bridges over valleys with wildlife and flowers. Today was gorgeous with a deep blue sky and all the myriad shades of green in the trees and butterflies everywhere. So nice.

I drove to the address of my case and of course no one was home so I waited a little while and reversed my trip. I admit that I got really cold coming home and was shivering by the time I got here but it was worth the chattering teeth and tingly fingers.

Over the course of the next week or ten days, I'll be scooting into 3 or 4 counties. I hope the weather holds. 84 miles to the gallon, tremendous fun, and a conversation starter. And I get paid to work while riding it! Life is good...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Smiling from the Heart

I think the place to start is with my own biases, prejudices and insensitivities. I'm going to start with the label I gave to Hammy and me years ago: High-brow white trash. I named us that because we were the only people in our neighborhood who would ever listen to NPR or read classic literature or Utne Reader but we were also the only household to have a junk car parked in the yard for years. I still think it's a very funny label but it's also really offensive on a number of levels. White trash is just hurtful. I've tried to find a better term that describes us but nothing works that doesn't totally denigrate people who are like a bunch of my cousins. I imagine that if my cousins understood what high-brow means they'd find it funny. Maybe. It's not worth the risk of offending anyone to find out.

I'm the worst for judging others. Like many people, I'm most comfortable with strangers when I can fit them in a category, neatly labeled, so I know how to act around them. Of course, the problem is that I assume most of what I use to label them. But then I get really pissed off when people do the same with me. I'm thinking of all these instances in which I've labeled people and judged them and fit them into the boxes I thought they belonged in. I made them "THEM": The other. But...hello! We're all in this together. That whole Quaker thing about speaking to "that of God" in everyone I meet...

This finally came together for me in the smiles of two people. See, I always (well, usually) smile at everyone I meet but often I would find that the smile I gave some people, on the bus, say, or people who were obviously down on their luck, might seem like kind of a do-gooder kind of smile; you know, like "bless your heart". I didn't want to go around smiling like Glenda the Good Witch whenever I'd smile at a homeless person. I certainly don't want people to smile at me like they feel sorry for me and I can't imagine that anybody else would either. But then I met this lovely woman named Pat at a work function. Pat has one of those smiles that makes one feel like she is so happy to see you-even if you've never met her before in your life! The genuine warmth of her smile reminds me of Hector Black, the kind, loving, gentle Quaker man who also smiles from his heart. I realized that I don't have to know or assume anything about anyone in order to make them feel welcome in my life.

I've got to start working so I'll write more next chance I get. Sorry if there are editing errors!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I Didn't Know Summer could be a Verb

"When I finished my masters..."
"My parents owned 250 acres..."
"...I discovered that those people don't have any appreciation for nature..."
"When I want to China..." (Europe, Australia, Alaska, Thailand, fill-in-the-blank)

More and more I'm seeing how privilege affects world-view. The above are types of comments I hear frequently at my Friends Meeting: They are paraphrases of statements I heard this week while at a meeting with a bunch of long time attenders of my Meeting. One man talked about working on a farm in summers while he was in college. It was hard work, physical and uncomfortable. He enjoyed it and I'm sure it taught him a lot and made him a "better" person but it was a summer job; one of many summer jobs I'm sure he could have chosen from among. It was an option for him because he was born to a life which was blessed with possibility.

Another woman, whom I love and respect and who I've always known to be gentle and loving and supportive to me and my children (and who is also a member of a minority group which is often discriminated against in our society) is one of the biggest snobs I've known in a long time. She grew up with privilege and sees under-educated working class and poor people in a very, very negative light. I'm pretty sure she is completely oblivious when she talks about "them" but she says it just like that: "THEM" as if all the people who live in the neighborhood around the Meetinghouse (excluding those who have chosen to live simply so they won't have to pay war taxes), people like my cousins who work in factories, people who's experience of public schools were only of failure and who dropped out and barely survive in our society are all the same. She talks about them as if they are all less than. It makes me very, very sad.

I come from a working class background. I barely made it out of public high school and have no higher education. I am very well self-educated. I am extremely articulate and verbal. I work for a university doing a respectable and interesting job. I work for an hourly wage. My husband and I are scrambling to figure out how we're going to pay to have our leaking roof reshingled. We would have liked to send our youngest two children to a small private school next year but couldn't afford the $8000 (total) tuition plus a car payment. We're planning a trip to Ireland within the next year but we are going to borrow against Hammy's 401k to pay for it. But we do have a 401k. And good health insurance. But I have never made more than about $13,000 a year and have never held a salaried position. But, I have stuck with this same job for 6 years and have almost doubled my hourly wage (I'm almost making enough money that I could support myself and my kids in something other than abject poverty should the need ever rise).

I feel like a woman in-between. I feel like I should be acting as an emissary between the two worlds. But how do I say to my dear friend that she is a snob? How do I broach the idea that we live like insiders, treating those not inside with some amount of disdain? How do I suggest to all these people whom I love and esteem that they are so mired in the comfort and privilege which they've always known and taken for granted that they seem to show little true compassion for the lives of individual people who come from less privileged backgrounds. And individual is the key word. Yes, we all work to end poverty, to improve the schools, to eliminate discrimination. Great! But how often do any of us sit down and have an actual conversation-between-equals with someone who is of a lower socio-economic situation? How often do we see a poor person as peer?

I feel a tremendous amount of agitation, fear and sorrow over this. Who am I to point a finger? I'm usually so harsh and judgmental about things. People get so defensive. If I suggest that the comfort in which one grows up makes one unable to show compassion that just sounds ridiculously judgemental. How can I lead people to see that we all live inside of boxes-socially constructed boxes-and the more comfort and privilege one grew up in, the thicker the walls of those boxes and the more one assumes that all boxes should be, or are, similar. "My box has wallpaper and a two story deck. And my grandparents own a small summer box upstate that my family summers at." Your box only has mirrors, no windows. The boxes of poor people sometimes only has windows and rarely ever mirrors. How do I communicate this without pushing people away? How may I punch holes in walls to make windows without making people really resentful? Nobody wants to feel guilty and this seems ripe for creating the resentment born of implied guilt.

I'm just kind of thinking "out loud" here. I don't have any answers, only this vague agitation. I open the floor to discussion, suggestions, action...hope.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Traveling at the Speed of Thought

I'll be on a plane on en route to Lisle, Illinois 24 hours from now. I'm heading up there for my next work project training. I'll be gone until late Tuesday and will hit the ground running: My supplies should arrive on Wednesday and I have an interview scheduled for my current project Wednesday at 10:00.

I'm adrift right now. My mind is off somewhere ahead of me, racing. My thoughts and urges are decidedly unspiritual and completely unfocused. I'm ungrounded and uncentered. When I try to pray, within the 2 or 3 seconds of thinking that I want to pray and actually beginning to do so, my mind has jumped to something, whatever, else. I know that God IS and waiting for me, ready to welcome me back with grace. But this feeling of being unmoored is disconcerting, to say the least. And frustrating. Every time I "do" this, I feel like my spiritual life, awareness, growth, is three steps forward, two steps back. Not that anyone's measuring or anything. I feel I lose something when this happens. I know it's just part of who I am, part of my process to accept and learn to live with this aspect of my nature, but it's still hard.

I'm reading fiction right now, rereading Mary Doria Russell's second novel "Children of God". It's compelling and spiritual about loss and faith and the will of God. My mind is able to suspend it's convoluted revolutions when I'm reading something that engages my imagination.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spiceland: My Dream

*Yeah, new colors--bold, bright, basic--same old me. I felt like making a change to colors of action.*

I dreamed last night that I was talking with an older person at my meeting (not a real person, he was made up in the dream) and telling him that I had a desire to create a safe community space in which teens could hang out. In the dream, I had all the plans and details but no funding. The man left and then came and found me later to tell me that he had been living in Watertown and running a skating rink for years and was preparing to retire. He said that he had planned on selling the business but wanted to give it to me to help me realize my dream because he believed in it.

I don't want to run a skating rink but I do have a goal and I think this dream was telling me that I have to "put it out" into the world for it to be realized.

I want to build an intentional community in the city on reclaimed land that is as low-impact as is possible to create and to name it SPICEland after the Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. There are many ways to create a community like this, many models, many financial structures. I know how I would want to do it, but I would work with others to find what would work best for this particular community.

Here's what I dream:

I want it to be on a busy bus line so people wouldn't have to own cars (or the community could "share" a few vehicles via a simple cooperative or rental arrangement). I want Spiceland to be socio-economically diverse with residents paying a quarter of their income for housing, whatever their income is. Spiceland will be age diverse with playgrounds for children, appropriate interactive space for teens, several large gathering spaces for everyone and housing appropriate for elders with health issues. (I envision assisted living buildings for elders and young adults to share dorm-like apartments that have communal kitchen facilities. Perhaps the young adults would live rent-free in exchange for their assistance to the elders with cooking, cleaning and other needs). It will be mixed use with shops fronting the main traffic street and apartments above (and a coffees shop, natch). I'd like a grocery store to be one of the shops which would serve the community as well as the larger neighborhood (as this will be an urban neighborhood, it probably does not currently have a grocery store). The living quarters for individuals will be normal condo or apartment-type units but will be smaller and in closer proximity than people are used to, with buildings sharing walls to conserve energy whenever possible. But Spiceland will have one or more large buildings for community space which would have a large kitchen, game room, laundry facilities (with lots of clothes lines outdoors), common mail area, library, office space for those who work from home, and other shared-use spaces (a music room/recording studio would be nice). The community would have lots of shared outdoors space like a large garden, playgrounds and paths for walking.

Because we will be building this from the ground up, we can make it as energy efficient as possible. Geo-thermal heating/cooling. Solar and passive solar. Green roofs. Maybe wind-turbines (although that may not be practical in this area on a limited amount of land). Plan into the interior design low energy lighting. Water reclamation. Point-of-use water heating. We'd use sustainable and recycled resources for interior and exterior design as much as possible.

And here's the biggie: Construct the buildings out of used shipping containers! Shipping containers are used only a few times before they're discarded. In large port areas there are, literally, hundreds of thousands which are no longer being used. These things are built to withstand oceanic crossings in any weather so are durable. They're also incredibly versatile. Imagine 40' long steel Legos and what you could build with them and you've got an idea of what might be done with these boxes.

But, of course, money is the thing. What I need is a patron. By putting this out into the blog-o-sphere, I'm hoping Al Gore happens to be trolling around one day soon and comes across this. He lives just a few miles from the land I've got my eye on and certainly believes in sustainable living. So, Al: Please, think about helping to facilitate an Earth-friendly community in the heart of Nashville!

When I've talked with people about this, most of the time the reaction is that it sounds great but "not in the city!". Most people dream of community like this in the country. My argument against building something like this in the country: First you're destroying good land; second, most people will work in the city and will have to commute; third, most activities and services folks want are in the city and they will drive back and forth for those things; and last, when urban land is reclaimed, you take something used and discarded and make it positive and beneficial (think of a vacant city lot which is full of trash and weeds and imagine instead a lovely neighborhood).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

This Is the Day

This is the day
This is the day
That the Lord has made
That the Lord has made
We will rejoice
We will rejoice
And be glad in it
And be glad in it
This is the day
that the Lord has made
We will rejoice
and be glad in it
This is the day
This is the day
That the Lord has made.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Kathe Kollwitz

About a year ago I wrote about Zed, Carmac and me visiting one of our senator's offices and sharing with the gathered people a story about Zed doing an social studies assignment in which he had to learn about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. In the worksheet there was a question about what kind of memorial he would create. He wrote that he would make a statue of a crying mother. When I told the story, the people in the room with us listened silently but when Zed went to leave, they lauded him.

Hammy brought me a new Prestel book called "50 Women Artists You Should Know" a couple of days ago. In it I discovered an artist who's work exemplifies what Zed described. Her younger son, Peter, was killed at 18 in World War I and she became a pacifist. Her work is full of love, grief and sorrow. The statue to the left is called "Pieta" and depicts a mother holding her dead son. The ones on the right is of grieving parents and adorn the burial place of her son. Her work is powerful, full of a mother's love. Her work does not shy away from the torment a mother must feel at the loss of her child nor the realities of human suffering in any form or from any cause.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Prophets R Us

The word "prophet" has been messing with me for a while; I couldn't wrap my mind around what it meant. I've taken several spiritual gifts assessments and read about what the gifts are or mean but I just couldn't understand prophet.

I'm reading Neil Douglas-Klotz' book Blessings of the Cosmos: Wisdom of the Heart From the Aramaic Words of Jesus. In each chapter, the author begins with a passage from the Bible spoken by Jesus then writes it in Aramaic and then translates it into English including all the nuances and layers of meanings that are found in Aramaic.

This is from the Beatitudes in Luke (KJV):
"Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets."

Like, what does prophets mean there?

Here's how Douglas-Klotz says it can be translated:

"So feel life's sharp point, the jab of circumstance
at this one moment in time's harsh spotlight.
Whatever is extremely bad, take the extreme part
and use it to feel abundant, to make an inner leap,
to be transported by the free energy it provides.
These are your wages on the level of divine vibration,
the world in which light, sound, and name
mingle in the heart of the Holy One
before it gave birth to everything we see.
This fee, your reward, is in payment for
the job of living your true image and purpose,
the only work worth doing.
The prophets before you,
those who also listened to the
voice always coming from within,
received the same fee from their ancestors,
who often confused their own
confused reflection of the divine knowing
with what they think they see in you."

Douglas-Klotz goes on to give textual notes which include this:
"The word for prophet in Aramaic (nabiya) does not mean one who foretells the future, but rather a person who listens to the divine voice within and acts upon it."

Cool, huh? Now it makes sense to me. I'm a prophet and I didn't even know it. Quakerism is a religion made up of mystics and prophets. How very Old Testament sounding.

And, as a note on the above text...I really love the idea of taking whatever is extremely bad and using the energy to make a leap to abundance. Free energy which transport you so you can live your true image and purpose. Waay cool.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mary Magdalene

While searching for depictions of Mary Magdalene for this post, I came across this beautiful painting of Mary and Jesus. I don't know who the artist is because it was not credited, but it's from the website by the
I've been interested in Mary Magdalene for a long time but you know, there's not a lot of facts out there about her. The Bible is not a good source. She's mentioned more in the Gnostic Gospels particularly, of course, in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene but also in The Gospel of Thomas, Pistis Sophia and The Gospel of the Egyptians (the latter of which I have not read).
I bought myself a small icon pendent of St. Mary Magdalene for my birthday along with one of Jesus. I've been thinking on them quite a lot. If you've read the Gnostic Gospels, you learn that Mary claimed to have been given certain spiritual knowledge by Jesus and, when she tried to share it with the other disciples, they started dissing on her, asking why Jesus would have told things to her-a woman!-he didn't tell them. Basically, they discounted her because she was a woman.
The more I think about this story, the more I know that the reason she, of all the people in Jesus' circle, was chosen is because-not in spite of-she was a woman. When a person is outside of what is the cultural norm, that person often has fewer "boxes" to break out of (boxes/illusion/assumptions/egotraps). Mary was a woman in a culture in which to be a women was to be less than to be a man. The male disciples came from several different backgrounds, some wealthier, some working class, some not-so-nice, but they all had the "benefit" of being men; they were insiders by nature of their gender. Mary was obviously intelligent, compassionate, curious, a good listener and a quick student and she had the gender perspective of being outside the norm so she could hear Jesus' lessons and truths with fresh ears ("those who have ears, let them hear"). She was open, literally, to his teachings.
Something I was listening to a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about Logos=Word and Sophia=Wisdom. I was thinking about how Jesus was the Word made incarnate, the Breath of Life. I am a word person; I always score incredibly high on tests of verbal ability. I know, though, that words, logic, are only half of it. Wisdom, intuitive right knowing, is the other half. I'm finding it interesting to think about Jesus and Mary balancing the two things. That whole male/female logic/intuition thing. In the Gospel of Philip, it is written, "As for the Wisdom...she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of the [...] Mary Magdalene".
I've got Joni Mitchell's song, "Passion Play (When All the Slaves Are Free)" in my head today:
Magdalene is trembling
Like a washing on a line
Trembling and gleaming
Never before was a man so kind
Never so redeeming
Enter the multitudes
In Exxon blue
In radiation rose
Now you tell me
Who you gonna get to do the dirty work
When all the slaves are free?
(Who're you gonna get)
I am up a sycamore
Looking through the leaves
A sinner of some position
Who in the world can this heart healer be
This magical physician
Enter the multitudes
In Exxon blue
In radiation rose
Now you tell me
Who you gonna get to do the dirty work
When all the slaves are free?
(Who're you gonna get)
Enter the multitudes
The walking wounded
They come to this diver of the heart
Of the multitudes
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
Oh, climb down, climb down he says to me
From the middle of unrest
They think is light is squandered
But he sees a stray in the wilderness
And I see how far I've wandered
Enter the multitudes
In Exxon blue
In radiation rose
Now you tell me
Who you gonna get to do the dirty work
When all the slaves are free?
(Who're you gonna get)
Enter the multitudes
The walking wounded
They come to this diver of the heart
Of the multitudes
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
Oh, all around the marketplace
The buzzing of the flies
The buzzing and the stinging
Divinely barren
And wickedly wise
The killer nails are ringing
Enter the multitudes
In Exxon blue
In radiation rose
Now you tell me
Who you gonna get to do the dirty work
When all the slaves are free?
(Who're you gonna get)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Car Free In Tennessee: One Year

Yep. One full year of walking, busing and scooting. My kids are still hating it but, usually, at the least, I don't mind and frequently, I enjoy not owning a car.

My favorite teacher in high school was Mr. Linnemann. He taught English. People either 'got' him and loved him or they didn't and thought he was weird. It was like being in a small and very elite club to get him and appreciate him and contribute to his toe-jam collection. Besides the facts that he never married, always wore an awful green leisure suit, had a fairly long grey beard, carried a "purse" (actually a camera bad, but you know how teenagers can be) and literally barked at people when they were disrespectful toward him, the main reason for his being a town "character" was due to him not owning a car. Mr. Linnemann rode an old bike or walked everywhere. He always said that one does not own a car, one is owned by a car and would cite examples of how much one has to work in order to continue paying for the "privilege" of car-ownership. Of course, he said this year-after-year to young people who had just been initiated into one of the only consistent rites-of-passage available to teens in our culture-that of getting our driver's licenses-so I don't think many of us paid much attention to him at the time, but now his wisdom (and humor) come back to me.

A wonderful story about Mr. Linnemann: One of his pet peeves (he had many) was drivers pulling up over the cross-walks at intersections. One day, rather than walking around a car that's driver had done so, Mr. Linnemann opened the rear door of the car, climbed in and through the car and exited on the other side, leaving both doors standing open. My children were thrilled to hear that story and we always dare one another to enact that assertion of walker's rights when downtown and confronted by an SUV driven by an oblivious and selfish autocentric (a pun I'm sure Mr. Linnemann would have enjoyed).

Anyway, I've gone a year without a car. I've learned to navigate the Nashville MTA system and to write letters to create change in various aspects to benefit riders. I've walked a bajillion miles in every kind of weather and gotten to know my neighborhood and my city better. I've met lots of kind people whom I wouldn't have otherwise done. I've saved barrels of money and fossil fuels and emissions. I've bought a really cool scooter which is the best educational tool I could have come up with for encouraging people to think about gas mileage while they're getting around town. I've improved my life while "sacrificing" to make the world a better place. I really do not want to go back to car-ownership any time soon.

Hey! Why don't you join me?!