Taking a Risk

“Risk nothing and you risk everything.”

Erica Jong

I came upon this piece of writing from a Creative Writing class that I took a few years ago. It posed the question, “What are you risking?”
“What would life be like if you risked doing those things you have put off doing, but deeply desire to experience?”

With the advent of Covid 19, so much has changed. These days, we risk by going into a market to buy our groceries. This was written in 2009 when my parents were in a care home together.

The word “risk” has been at the forefront of my mind of late. I watch my parents at their present stage of life–ages 89 and 92. What’s done is done for them with little chance of autonomous change. The next risk they will take is their leap into the hereafter. I’m here now and I’ve felt overly cautious, limited and stuck for awhile. I feel a dissatisfaction which ranges from vague to imperative. I’m not sure what the risk is that I need to take. I do know that it’s time for a shift. Is it a stronger commitment to writing and getting published? Perhaps–why not devote one year to that effort and see where it goes?

I think that if I began taking risks, I might feel more self-fulfilled. Happier, less frustrated. Risk involves a certain daring. I’m a Leo, a fire sign, and this has been somewhat dormant in me. It’d be nice to allow the part of me that loves center stage, fun, playfulness to express herself. I’d travel some and try myself out in new situations. I’d speak my mind more. Be ridiculous at times. Ask the questions that I’m curious about of my diminishing parents. Not hold back affection.

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As life goes, I didn’t publish a book or devote a year to writing. My parents continued to decline over the next two years and they required a lot of attention from the family. They died six months apart. Their departure was followed by a period of grief. I documented their final years. I rarely ever stop writing. Most of the time, writing is within my comfort zone. Except that I did initiate writing this blog about three years ago and that has felt risky at times. I took a big risk when I interviewed a man, over a period of three months, about the male perspective in relation to women. Formerly, he had been an abusive male. I also signed up for a theater group and wrote several scripts which they performed. That was definitely outside of my comfort zone. In 2014, I started drawing and painting. This was something I never believed I could do! So I guess I could call that a risk. Since then, I’ve had two art exhibits and yes, I risked and leapt on both occasions. With the first one, I was so nervous that I got laryngitis and couldn’t speak to the visitors to the exhibit (yet, I showed up!).

Today, I have redefined what risk means to me personally and how it applies to what I desire. If my desire is to be a whole person and live from that wholeness, then what is the risk involved to live this way? I think it involves confronting fears and stuck places as they arise. I also think it’s about recognizing that I have taken many risks over the course of my life and I only recognize them as such in retrospect. Should I chart them on a piece of paper to remind myself, to honor that I don’t always hide under a rock? Covid time hasn’t supported some of the things I’d like to explore.

Recently, I was listening to an interview on Sounds True with author, James Hollis. He was ninety years old at the time of this interview and he passed away shortly thereafter. The thing he said that struck me was that each stage of life has its task. That’s up to you and me to figure out–what is the task for me at this stage and within the circumstances of my life? And once you have named it, take the risk and pursue it. I think that’s good advice.

In Covid time and at the stage of life you are in, what does taking a risk look like to you?

Leaving the Past Behind

Do we ever really do this–leave the past behind?
If the past is what formed us, then it likely lives on inside of us. We can never really leave it behind. However, we can have integration and a certain resolution with it. Befriend it perhaps.

Happy New Year…

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne?”

Robert Burns

What is your relationship to the past?

Getting quiet is a way of integration and healing, I find.

I am a writer…I journaled for over forty years. As I leaf through those journals today, I’m returned to a time and place and a “self” who isn’t here in present time. I visit my younger self at various stages of my life through my journals. Is that what I want to spend the remaining years of my life doing? Revisiting what has been a mostly challenging past? Have I learned anything from it? Is this returning to and writing about it in present time going to enhance my life today? Does anyone else really want to read about my once-upon-a-time life?

Can I make something new out of this sow’s ear of the past? I hope so!

Realizing that I have less life ahead of me than behind me, what do I want this next round of life to be about? What do I want to bring to it? What do I hope to gain from it? What do I have to offer to others? These are some of the questions I’m asking these days.

There is a phrase, ‘taking stock.’ Basically, to me that means…generally looking at how I got to where I am today–taking an overview, if you like. Then, the next step is to get firmly grounded in the present time and place and age that I am. And from this steadfast position, I can effectively decide and choose what is serving my evolution and forward movement.

We are cyclical or seasonal beings if you like. When we are in touch with the rhythms and cycles of the earth, we can also be in touch on a deeper level with our own. For they are ever turning, ever changing, in motion. There is an optimism when connecting to nature in this way–in connecting with our own rhythmic response to nature’s cycles. Noting this, there is always an opportunity to deepen and evolve.

The new year marks a time of new beginnings. I don’t make resolutions anymore. I do align with new practices. I’m appreciating the cycles of the moon these days. The new moon is tomorrow. It’s a time for initiating something new or at least being open to a new idea and taking a step in that direction. Who doesn’t like the idea of making a fresh start?

I’m hoping for you, my readers the kind of year that heals your wounds and gently opens your heart to the wonder of being yourself on the earth at this moment in time. And the recognition that everyone else desires this healing and opening too. Blessed be.

Those Difficult Topics

Poets, writers, thinkers, philosophers, you and I, if we keep a journal or a log, we sometimes document not only our personal journey, but significant events in human history. We note how we are affected by them. We note how the world is affected by them. We bring light to things that many people have trouble discussing. For when do you talk about such occurrences? At the dinner table when everyone is trying to enjoy a meal? In an evening conversation before bed? At the club where you work out? At lunchbreak? There are things that we continually sweep under the rug. There are difficult topics about which we might have an opinion, but don’t have a clue as to what to do.

This piece was written in 2011 following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

1) At my age,
I do not want to
keep house
for a man
to see to his care and feeding
I’ve completed the season of breeding
done with the years of childrearing
It seems that the men on match.com
have the same old requirements
of a woman…

and she is no longer me!

2) The violence of birth
an entry point
we are all players here
what capsule did I take
that made me forget
my origin?
Are these words a tunnel
I follow towards that illusive speck of light?
When I reach the end, I might…
dissolve in a fizz or spark.
Some say a star is flung into the night
“Find your place in the order of things”
says one of the true gods
or is chaos our real plight
and are we destined to try to carve
sense out of nonsense?
or not?
Can I then practice being myself
stop seeking truth long enough to see it
dazzling everywhere?
Can I be satisfied with this?

3) Cleaning the cat’s litter box,
I wonder if nuclear fallout
understands that it must hug
the shores of Japan?!?
I might think I live in a bubble
but then how do I explain this stray germ
that’s taken over my sinuses?
What’s so important today
that I must speak it?
Sometimes words are inadequate
constructed of mere letters
then grouped into sentences,
thoughts, extracted from…air?
The mind is always grasping
for something else
to grapple with.
What does this little woman
with the sinus cold
have to say
that hasn’t been said
a million times over?
As the jet streaks the sky
with a contrail tail
the memory of kids
screaming skyward
shouting with all their might
“don’t crash.”
Did they foresee then
this fragile ecosystem?
A man hiking in the mountains
above Chernobyl
commented on how
“pure” the air
looked from up there
after the explosion.
Mountain climbers breathe deeply
what invisible warfare was  he
unwittingly subjected to?
Are we subjected to?

How Wise Are You?

Is wisdom reserved for the elders? Can anyone, at any age have wisdom worth sharing?

How does one measure wisdom anyway?

I define wisdom as learning from experience and applying it to how you live your life.

One dictionary definition is “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

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Do we learn from our experiences? Are we able to coalesce all that we have learned into a body of wisdom from which we make future decisions? That would be ideal. Then, I surmise, we would be able to learn from history. Even though something hasn’t been part of our personal experience, every historical event is held in the collective memory. Somehow, deep within, we know that we don’t want to repeat what lead to World War II, for instance. We’ve seen enough films and read enough books about the atrocities, haven’t we? Some of us have had relatives or acquaintances who’ve lived through those years. We might have heard their stories.

Yet, one can only wonder how far we’ve come when we see egocentric leadership who fans fervor in his/her followers. When division and dissension are made to look appealing, necessary or as the only way to make change–any wisdom seems to go out the window.

So, we don’t really have wisdom then. We’re wishy-washy, easily lead and already traumatized. We’ve lost touch with a grounded sense of truth that comes from honoring oneself and the other with compassion and creativity at its basis. By a grounded sense of truth, I mean the ability to sit quietly, go inside and ask the questions that lead you to deep (perhaps universal) truth. Compassion because it really is true that until “you walk a mile in my shoes,” you won’t know what my life has been. And creativity because creativity says “let’s do this differently…let’s collaborate…let’s figure this out together.”

Wisdom, that elusive exotic bird, the prize of a lived life or occasionally recognized in the naivete of youth. We should be praying for this. For leaders who have this quality. For leaders who love life and all of its inhabitants. For those who love the earth, our home in the universe. And we need to cultivate it in ourselves. Daily.

One way is to get out in nature as often as you can. And sit there. Sit there until you feel a deeper and truer rhythm.

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Do you claim your learned lessons? Have you freed yourself from the pretense that you don’t know what you do know? As a woman, there have been times when I let myself be smaller and didn’t own the wisdom I have. Perhaps I didn’t want to make someone else, usually a man in my life, feel inferior. That, I now know, serves nothing and no one. We don’t have to pretend to be less wise than we are. I don’t have to be less wise than I am. You don’t have to be less wise than you are.

Enjoy your day!

Technology is Phasing Me Out

I wrote this post a few years ago although I didn’t publish it at the time. Today, I find the message to be as relevant as ever…

My DVD player went kaput the other night. I swear I heard it sigh twice before it succumbed. Unfortunately, it had swallowed a Netflix DVD, Secretariat. I was forced to resort first to tweezers and when that didn’t work, I used a can opener to pry it open.

The next day, I went up to Wal Mart and reviewed their inventory of DVD players. I chose a Sony DVD player with Blu-ray Disc capacity. An upgrade, I thought, pleased with my choice. I even brought the two-year warranty plan. I got home that night, too tired to set it up.

A friend told me “it’s easy.”

So the next evening, I decided to get it up and running before bed. I unplugged all the cords from the old DVD player. I read the instruction manual from front to back.

I realized that the HDMI cable wasn’t included in the deal. I also noticed that some of the hook-ups looked different than what was on the older model. There weren’t the same jacks and outlets and inlets and all of that. I don’t have Cable TV and wondered if that was a requirement. I plugged in the DVD player after I made one connection…but it wasn’t actually connected to the TV. I decided it could wait until the next day.

I went down to the local Radio Shack with both of the manuals–for the Sony Blu-Ray Disc DVD Player and for my SANYO LCD TV. I was told that these two pieces of equipment were incompatible and furthermore, they no longer made the same type of connectors as are on my less-than-five-year-old TV. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to find a DVD player that would be compatible with my LCD TV. What a disappointment!


“It’s old,” he said plainly.

“Not that old,” I replied.

I was told that I could bring my old DVD player to the transfer station and that there is no charge.

He said “Sometimes, they charge to dispose of them as there are lethal components.

I said “I can only hope that they find a way to recycle some of these parts. Otherwise, what a toxic heap we’re making.”

I thought, built-in obsolescence.

Where is all of this technology, the technology with the lethal components going to end up? In a heap and choking our environment? What the heck is going on?

Maybe I’ll return the DVD player. Maybe I won’t get a TV. Maybe (before Covid) I’ll just invite some friends over and chat around a cozy fire. I could start a knitting circle where we sit and share our stories. I might make ice-cream the old-fashioned way. Take up weaving, spinning wool. TV, after all, can make us anti-social and lazy.

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All of that said, with the advent of the virus in 2020, we’ve become more dependent on technology to stay connected. The good and the not-so-good of things.

I genuflect

I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom.  When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers.  Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes.  They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.

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I genuflect
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
with grace.

I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.

To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.

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Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home.  Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age.  And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated.  Where does any one society place its value?  This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.

Grandmothers

Recently, in an online Zoom class, the discussion went to “What’s a good story you’d like to share about your relationship with one of your grandfathers?”

I came up with zilch! Good stories about either one of my grandfathers’ relationship to me were non-existent. This wasn’t the first time where I felt a longing for a grandfather (remember Heidi and her grandfather in the Swiss Alps). My Irish grandfather on my father’s side was an alcoholic for most of his life. I have a sad image of him slumped in an old upholstered chair staring out the window from the second story of his house in Bernal Heights. I remember someone saying that he had only six teeth left, his hair was white and sparse and he had nothing to say to a little girl. The other Grandfather, the Italian one, would slip out of the house rather quickly when my parents arrived with their nine children in tow. He had a beautiful garden out back in the open fields of Mountain View and I only remember being allowed to go out there a few times. He wore a beat up hat and overalls. I understand that he was an accountant and wore a suit during the work week.

However, I do have memories of my grandmothers. The Irish/German Grandmother on my father’s side was diabetic. She tucked boxes of chocolate in drawers, cabinets, under beds. One week she would come to visit and her legs would be swollen with fluids; the next week, she twirled her skirt and ta-da, skinny legs. She once gave me a pink and purple feather duster. I guess she knew that I was one of the little serfs in my parent’s house. That’s how I thought of us at times, like a feudal system. We, the children, the serfs, had to do the work to keep the kingdom thriving. I have other memories of her, Lou short for Louise.

My Italian Grandmother Anna was born in Palermo and she was brought to America with her brother and parents when she was six months old…Ellis Island. She is the one I witnessed into her old age…she lived to be ninety-one years old. As a girl, I didn’t feel either favored or disfavored by her. When she pronounced my given name of CHRISTINE, it sounded stern to my ears. I was usually Chrissie. She was an authoritarian figure, the matriarch. I got the impression that my grandfather was the submissive one. She was groomed by her mother to be an opera singer. She did sing in some of the churches in San Francisco. The family had moved from the east coast to the west coast. Those stories are sketchy.

One year, I bought a cassette recorder. Two of my brothers and I thought it would be a good idea to interview Grandma especially in regards to our Italian lineage. She was in her late eighties at the time. I have those tapes to this day and have made copies for family members. When we showed up on her doorstep, her greeting would sound so weak…”I have nothing to say really. I live the life of a recluse.” By the end of the conversation, her voice had regained the old strength and she was once again the final authority on everything, the matriarch that we remembered.

My grandparents, I can only guess at what life stories, traumas and dreams they did not disclose that affect me and the future generations in this lineage?

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So do you have stories of your relationship with your grandparents? How do you preserve them or pass them on?

The Feminine in Him

By now, most of us have heard that a man has a feminine side and a woman has a masculine side. How accessible each of those are to any one of us is questionable. Any given society’s dictates are strong to be true to your gender. For a man to show his feminine side is often perceived as a weakness. For a woman to show her masculine side…well, she’s been called a bitch or other not-so-nice names. Assertive women and gentle men…hmmm, we’ve got a lot to learn about what it is to be a whole human being.

My ex-husband of thirty years bore the burden of having to be a macho man! He couldn’t admit to fear. He couldn’t show sorrow or grief. The only permissible emotion for him, under this label of macho, was anger! And he did that one really well to the detriment of others and ultimately to himself. During our marriage, when it was needed, I opened the door for him to grieve a loss. He wouldn’t go there. He was a firefighter and a tough guy. That said, I remember the considerate young man that he was before he became so attached to that machismo as a way of defining himself. He passed away in late 2019. In the last five years of his life, after he had his first stroke, suddenly tears were at the surface. He couldn’t control them and gave up apologizing for them. I witnessed in him the struggle as he began to express his more feminine side. His apologies to his children and me, for one. It had been a hard and unyielding wall that kept the machismo, inherited from his lineage, in place. Finally, crumbling.

It is known that the hormone, testosterone, decreases in men as they age. I’ve noticed some men, upwards of sixty, becoming softer, sensitive and compassionate. It could be that they no longer feel that they need to prove themselves. If they are able to retire, perhaps they no longer need to be so competitive. It could be the wisdom of aging. It could be the decreased hormone levels and/or all of the above. It’s a change for the good because why not have access of all who we are? Why not discover our depths of feeling out of which can grow new possibilities for oneself and humankind?

A New World
by Christine O’Brien
Soft as a mother
of cushiony comforts
–men fear that perceived weakness
within themselves.
A man so strong
as to pretend fearlessness:
so rigid as not to crack.
Topple him within yourself
and cry.
Show me a man
who can encounter a woman
in her softest center
and not try to convince her
of anything.
Show me a woman
who can welcome a man
and not become him.
Where they meet,
at that softest center
honorably,
they can grow a new world.

Being the Age that You Are

…and in the times that you live.  Right now, this feels very challenging.  With a pandemic, wildfires  around the earth, worldwide protests arising from ongoing social injustices, political instability, economic crashes, and more!  Who wouldn’t want to escape into the past or a perceived as better future?

How often do I retreat into the past or project into the future in my thoughts?  Often, I’m sure.  I remember thinking that “things would be better when I conquered some aspect of my personality…in the future” or how much more pleasant it is to linger over a rare soft spot in the past.  I do think that sometimes, it is good to recall a moment when I felt powerful in the past, or exceptionally healthy or positive and to draw on that feeling to bring it forward into a challenging time today.  However, idling there isn’t helpful.  And while it’s fine to imagine a better future, now is where the action happens to begin to shift energy.

On my last birthday…I rediscovered magic.  I woke on my birthday feeling unsettled and grumpy.  I felt like cancelling the gathering with three friends.  I had a flexible plan for them to come over around 5:00 p.m., depending on the heat.  We would sit outside, bring our own food and drink, sit socially distant and share carrot cake.  Contemplating cancelling, I thought about the last birthday, a big one, when I was sick.  I thought about how I deserved a party, a celebration of me.  I remembered when I was a girl and had given myself a few birthday parties…because no one else would.  Suddenly, I had the energy to create a special setting for myself and my friends in the backyard.  And the day unfolded from there into a lovely shared experience.

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“Let me stand in my age with all its waters flowing round me.
If they sometimes subdue, they must finally upbear me,  for I
seek the universal and that must be the best.”
Margaret Fuller

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I didn’t know who Margaret Fuller was.  Do you?  It’s amazing to me how many women of some notoriety in their times have slipped through the cracks of “his…story.”

Margaret Fuller was an American journalist, editor, critic, translator, and women’s rights activist (1810 to 1850).  In a brief forty years, she accomplished quite a bit!  She left behind a lot of her writings including a book entitled Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  I encourage you to google her and read a brief bio of her life.  She was a deep thinker of her times.  Anyone who has gone before (our ancestors) sets the stage for the next ones to enter.

She Who Knows

SheWhoKnows.

There is the tale that is told so well by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her world-renowned book,  Women Who Run with the Wolves.  When I first encountered this book, I was in an independent bookstore, The East West Bookshop, down the Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I opened the book randomly and read a passage that was relevant to an experience that I recently had.  The hardbound book wasn’t in my budget.  I replaced it on the display table and walked away.  Then, after browsing for awhile, I was drawn back to the book.  Again, I randomly opened it and voila, another passage that claimed me.  I bought the book.  Every weekend, I’d read a chapter and integrate what I was discovering.  This book felt like a woman’s bible to me.  The mythology and tales that were woven in with a Jungian interpretation touched me deeply.  These tales, passed down from generation to generation, transported me into my own psyche in a way that had never happened before.

La Que Sabe, She Who Knows, was one of those stories.  The story goes…

“In the Southwest the archetype of the old woman can also be apprehended as old La Que Sabe, The One Who Knows. I first came to understand La Que Sabe when I lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico, under the heart of Lobo Peak. An old witch from Ranchos told me that La Que Sabe knew everything about women, that La Que Sabe had created women from a wrinkle on the sole of her divine foot: This is why women are knowing creatures; they are made, in essence, of the skin of the sole, which feels everything. This idea that the skin of the foot is sentient had the ring of a truth, for an acculturated Kiché tribeswoman once told me that she’d worn her first pair of shoes when she was twenty years old and was still not used to walking con los ojos vendados, with blindfolds on her feet.”
(excerpt from Clarissa Pinkola Estes)

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When I created this mixed media painting, I had no idea who or what was going to emerge.  But then, she did.  This painting is not about perfection of features…it became about expression of a deep feeling…the woman who has searched inside and encountered her own depths in search of her place in the world.  She does not feign timidity.  Pretense doesn’t work for her.  She decorates herself.  She is radiant and is comfortable with being in her own power.  She is not apologetic for being this powerful.

She has lived her life and learned from it.  She is present with you and deep seeing into human foibles and their underlying strengths.  She understands that wisdom is there for each one of us.  And, she holds patient compassion for herself and others as we sense into our own deep knowing.