Mail Art

What is it?

So much of the time, we feel helpless in the face of what is so big…like a declaration of war or climate change or personal events in our lives. We can feel dwarfed and ineffectual.

Lately, I am asking myself a few questions:

  1. What’s going on? i.e. What’s the problem? or What’s bothering me?
  2. Is there anything that I can do about it?

An elderly friend was given notice to vacate the rental that he has occupied for over twenty-five years. He started putting the word out to his friends, acquaintances and clients. In this small community, there aren’t that many housing options for seniors. The two senior housing apartments have two-year waiting lists. He had a friend post for him on Craigslist. He also called me to be on the lookout for a room or apartment for him. As spring approaches, housing becomes even more limited with the arrival of tourists.

So to answer the first question, I could easily see the situation. My friend needed to find housing. I asked myself if there was anything that I could do. There were a few things. He is computer-illiterate. I told him that I would post his rental need on a local hub online. I also inquired at the local Community Center to see if they had any ideas or leads. I reported back to my friend what I found. Whether or not those things bear fruit is irrelevant. I could be satisfied that I did something to help a friend in need.

On a larger scale, we are faced with being witnesses to war (probably throughout human history). For me, this brings up a lot of feelings–everything from sadness, to anger, to frustration, to feeling inadequate in the face of it all. Then, I try to sit quietly with it, allowing the feelings to be fully felt. And I do what is called Focusing as drafted by Eugene Gendlin, Ph.D. in the 1950’s. I try to find a word or a few words that distill what I’m really feeling. I try to deeply describe it and go beneath the layers of my initial reactions. When I feel somewhat satisfied with what the word or words are, then I sit with them quietly.

Checking in with myself in this way, I ask if there is anything that I can do to lift myself up and feel like I have something to contribute.

That’s when I remembered Mail Art, also called Correspondence Art. Mail Art is flooding the post office with handmade or painted art in the shape and size of a postcard. The origins of mail art can be traced “back to the Dadaists and Italian Futurists in the early twentieth century. However, the New York artist, Ray Johnson, is considered to be the founder of contemporary mail art. In the 1950s, he began sending out small-scale collages he called “moticos,” some of which included simple instructions for the recipient.” (Wikipedia)

My most recent mail art below was intended to bear witness to the war in the Ukraine. As this little postcard travels to its destination through the system, others who handle it see it along the way.

photo of woman and sunflower

There was one other time when I did this. It was following “911.” When that feeling of helplessness swamped me, I bought several postcards, wrote little poems on them and sent them anonymously to family and friends. This act/action helped me and I hoped that the the recipients felt comforted like receiving the benefits of a prayer.

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I’m curious to hear how you respond to challenging things in our world. Do you have a go-to resource to guide your process in instances where you feel helpless?

Things Change, People Die

We know this…Most of us can name things and people that we’ve lost over the course of our lives. I certainly can. However, it really came home to me (again) yesterday when I was continuing with sorting and discarding “stuff.” There is a normal accumulation of things that we do as humans. In fact Stephanie Vogt in her book, A Year to Clear, says that clearing our stuff is a lifelong process. We can count on accumulating and releasing things ad infinitum. However, I believe that I would feel better if I had that sense of spaciousness that she offers in her book. I’d like to look out over the landscape of my little cottage and feel more order, beauty and space now or at least a year from now.

Yesterday, I pulled a couple of boxes of old check registers from the closet shelf. I googled how long do I need to keep check registers. One answer was one year followed by other answers that said at least ten years or perhaps five years. So I decided on seven years. I would hold onto these for seven years. One bit of logic from the google exploration was that they take up so little space so it would be fine to hold onto them forever. My thinking is that it would be one less thing for my family to have to deal with when my time comes.

I started with registers from 2009. The Bank of America branch that I was with in 2009, had dissolved, closed and left us without a B of A locally. So I transferred my account to another local bank. The registers were bound by circular wires. I removed them from the wires and shredded the papers. As I did so, I read who the checks were paid to…I decided to list the people and the shops, cafes or businesses that no longer existed. I came up with at least forty (40) businesses and/or people who were no longer here. The businesses had closed and the people had either died or moved away. It sort of shocked me to realize this. I frequented many of the businesses more than once in 2009. And these people who passed or moved, there were varying degrees of connection to them.

So you adjust, adapt to these losses or changes or find a way to get the need that was once met by them in another way. And sometimes, you just miss them. A sort of nostalgia surrounds them. Like New Sammy’s restaurant in Talent, Oregon near Ashland. Before I had ever been there, I had heard that it was truly a gourmet restaurant with the highest standards. And that the chef was a woman with a Ph.D. who turned to a career in cooking par excellence. That her husband was a wine connoisseur,  a sommelier, who matched the perfect wine with any dessert and entrée. And to have the fullest experience, it was wise to allow his recommended pairings.

I put off going there because I didn’t have anyone to go with, the waiting list was three months out, it was expensive. Then, one day, I was in Ashland and happened to run into this handsome young man that I had met casually in Mount Shasta where we both lived. In the course of our casual conversation, he told me that he was going to New Sammy’s for lunch! I said “I’ve always wanted to go there.” He invited me to meet him there in half-an-hour. I was a believer in serendipities and spontaneity so I met him there. I had what I would say was the best dining experience of my entire life! I agreed to the full meal experience with a most delicious risotto that sat in a broth that I spooned into my mouth until the plate was almost dry. I don’t remember the wine that her husband paired with this dish, but I do remember the satisfaction, the complementary quality of the wine to the risotto.

Then came the dessert, a heavenly chocolate soufflé also paired with a dessert wine. The complete pleasure that I felt at the end of this meal, comfortable and happy cannot be described in words. Gastronomical delights is the phrase that suddenly popped into my mind.

Gabriel, the young man that I was with…the conversation flowed and there was an ease about the whole experience. He was a regular customer there, so he knew the routine and I felt guided by his expertise. Gabriel had stomach ulcers…and he delighted in fine dining which, at times could exacerbate his condition. Being a gourmand, an appreciator of fine dining, this was a bind for him. Yet he allowed himself this pleasure on occasion. I noticed, in my 2009 check register, a couple of checks made out to him. I could only imagine that it was connected to me repaying him for our shared meal. Did we go together a second time? I can’t quite remember. I know that I went by myself one more time. And I vowed I would go again.

However, since then, the sommelier husband has died and recently, the chef closed their restaurant. I knew that cooking was a love of her life as was her husband.
All of this by looking through check registers. Gabriel has died also. A few years ago, I stopped by a friend’s house to say a brief “Hello” and make a delivery…I often shared cake or pies that I baked with friends. Gabriel was sitting on the front porch talking with this friend. I didn’t want to interrupt, made a brief apologetic hello in his direction and left. Gabriel died a few days later–he crashed his car into a tree late one night.

All of this and more stashed in my memory as I shredded some old check registers. There are so many stories that we carry within us. It’s surprising what is invoked by the act of clearing some clutter. It’s no wonder that we put it off. Stephanie Vogt says that is one reason why clearing clutter is so hard…there are the attachments we have ascribed to things. They conjure up so much. I’m taking it slow.

What are you clearing, releasing, saying farewell to? How’s it going for you?

Pablo Neruda–Is He Ageless?

Discovering Pablo Neruda in every new generation is an adventure in interpretation and application. Sometimes wise words seem specific to a time and place, dated. Then, other times, they seem to be so present that we think they were written for us just yesterday–addressing our current circumstances. We might think that the specific quote or poem must belong to us–our generation, our culture, our humanity as we are today–it is so right on.

I’ve noticed that the most read-across-the-globe of all of my many blogs, the ones featuring anything that mentions Pablo Neruda get the most hits. Why is that I wonder? Is it because he was a man in exile from his native country and others can relate to him? Is it that they too know what it is to love one’s country and to be banished from it? Is it that his words strike a chord of truth and depth that humans share in common. (Poetry can do that.) Is it the emotional impact that is innate to poetry that twangs that emotion within us?

This little poem written by Pablo in his Book of Questions…what feeling does it raise in you? For me, when I pause to sit with a poem, reread it several times, that’s when it reveals a deeper meaning to me.

If the butterfly transmogrifies
does it turn into a flying fish?

Then it wasn’t true
that God lived on the moon?

What color is the scent
of the blue weeping of violets?

How many weeks are in a day
and how many years in a month?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions

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We can only wonder what prompted Pablo Neruda to write this poem. We can take any one of Pablo’s questions and receive them like a Buddhist koan (a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment…Wikipedia).

What is your interpretation of these, Pablo’s questions, within this poem? What was his intent as the poet? Is he pondering the inadequacy of logical reasoning in this human existence? Is he tongue-in-cheek, teasing the reader to think outside the box of logic? Is he tickling the mind to go beyond what we perceive as the truth of anything?

And then, why not? Why doesn’t a butterfly become a flying fish? Anything is possible in the realm of imagination. Where can you go if you expand your thinking and become more inclusive of that which seems preposterous? Then, where can you go if you expand your mind to be inclusive of another culture, race or creed, another perspective, a greater universe?

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I’ve had days, like yesterday, that felt like a year in a day. My daughter and her husband have been fighting covid. A family member had a stroke and ended up in ICU. My Aunt Marie, my mother’s youngest and last living sister, died. And I found out about it on Facebook!

How can we translate the nonsensicalness and inconveniences of life into something that makes it less personal and more palatable…or at least not suffer so much over what is inevitable?

Pablo, for every question you ask, I have at least fifty more to toss at your feet…wherever you have landed. Have you, Pablo, turned into a mushroom or are you a planet that we haven’t discovered yet out there in the vast and unknown universe?

“…The Courage to Start All Over Again”

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been tackling a lifetime of family photos. There are picture puddles all over my living room floor and stacks on and around my dining room table. There are albums that I’ve started and others that are yet to be decided upon. This is truly an intense immersion and not for the faint of heart. It invokes time travel and then grounding back into present time.

These photos commemorate a thirty-year marriage that finally ended in a divorce. They take me through all the stages of my two daughters’ growth–the birthdays, holidays, graduations, sports, scouts, family gatherings, siblings, the feasts I prepared…and then, the remembrance of the dearly beloved departures. These moments in time preserved in photos. And when I see them, I remember the stories that surrounded them. The mother-in-law who held tightly onto her son, my husband and her jealousy that seeped into our relationship. The father-in-law who always had to assert his macho superiority. The ex-husband who danced between his anger and sentimentality. The adorable daughters discovering themselves and the world. My dear siblings, there were nine of us, and our highly dysfunctional parents. And photos of me, young, pretty, naïve , trying to find my way through the chaos of the past and the then present.

There are times that I’m judgmental of myself–were there things that I could have done differently? Were there choices I could have made that would have improved the quality of my life and those closest to me? Yes, there are some regrets. But didn’t I do the best that I could with what I knew? I see how I can fall headfirst into that Pandora’s box of photos and spiral down with that undertow of regret. And then, don’t forget the generational trauma that has been added to the mix. Truly, there’s always that which is bigger than the small picture frame through which I’m viewing my life. There’s always a vaster landscape. I’m not alone on this wild journey. We all have our boxes and albums of family photos, and today there are the digital ones.

It seems like human frailty, vulnerability, happenstance and more are part of the whole. They are right beside courage, victory, endurance, determination, love. In life we co-exist with everything both inside of us and outside of us. There’s so much we don’t know about the soul’s journey. So much.

Recently, I listened to an interview with a young woman who had lots of struggles in her early life. She had been full of self-blame and there was early trauma involved. It touched me when I heard her say that she had cultivated a way of sending a beam of love to those hurting places within herself. Beaming love to those memories, losses and old trauma. I think that’s a good practice.

With all of that said and all that goes unsaid, I turn to the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” And I want to add, bring reverence to your whole experience, make it sacred.

Wherein Lies the Value?

Are there questions that you would like to have asked your parents while they were alive? For me, there are many. However, the questions of the moment would be directed to my mother. I would ask her about the double-strand of pearls that I wore on my wedding day. These pearls were “the something borrowed” from my mother.

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I wore white on my wedding day from toe-to-head. White patent-leather shoes, a white satin prom dress with a lace overlay purchased from Lerner’s on Market Street in San Francisco.  My mom ordered a short white veil with an imitation drop pearl crown from the Montgomery Ward’s catalog.  The crown dipped low onto my forehead.  The white fingerless gloves came to my elbows and, for the finishing touch, I borrowed my mother’s double strand of real pearls.  It was to be a low-budget wedding for two recent high school graduates. 

The wedding day itself went well.  Arriving at the reception, the only thing that was missing was the bride and groom for the top of the cake.  I remember a young man riding up on his motorcycle to the Presidio NCO Club beside the ocean where our reception was being held.  He pulled the plasticized couple from his backpack and unceremoniously placed it on the three-tiered wedding cake.

Perfection, like the double strand of pearls, like the creamy-skinned bride, like the perfect midsummer day by the ocean.  The sort of day that poet’s write about evaporated rather quickly into a too-young bride and groom who didn’t know themselves well-enough to forge a lasting relationship with one another.  Yearning for that perfect partnership didn’t make it a reality. 

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Recently, sifting through old photos, I came across a picture of that long-ago wedding day.  I noted the pearls, the same ones which my mother had given to me a few months before.

“Go into the bathroom,” she said.  “In the second drawer of the vanity there is a beige box.  Get it for me,” she directed from her wheelchair.

I returned with the rectangular beige box.  My mother opened it and handed me the double strand of pearls.  “I want you to have these,” she said.

I teared up as I tried on the necklace. 

I confided to my mother “When I was married, I asked Tom for pearls on more than one occasion.  He seemed not to hear my request.  He bought me a strand of pink and white ceramic beads from a craft show.  The tag read Parrot Pearls.  I guess he thought he was being clever.”

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My mother died in 2011. I wore the pearls for three weeks to honor her memory.

Last year, on a whim, I stopped into a local jewelry shop. My mother had collected a lot of costume jewelry. I was curious if any of it had monetary value. At the same time, I inquired about the value of the pearls.

“They are” the jeweler said, “impostors, a good imitation…not real pearls.”

I must have registered shocked surprise as the jeweler remarked “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Inside of the beige box was the label, Richelieu. It turns out that Richelieu Inc., was a “faux (fake) pearl manufacturer based in New York City, formed in 1933. Richelieu pearls were popular as an affordable alternative for consumers who were looking for inexpensive yet attractive faux pearls.” (Wikipedia)

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So much about my family history had been based in lies and betrayals. Was this just one more lie?

The questions I would ask my mother if I had the opportunity to would be:
Did dad buy the pearls as a gift for you? If so, were you with him when he purchased the pearls? What was the occasion? Did he tell you that they were real? or Did you buy them for yourself?  Did you think the pearls were real? These are some of the things that my inquiring mind wants to know. And I realize that I won’t ever have answers to my questions. Being a writer, I could conjecture a bigger story around these pearls. But I won’t.

Finally, though, a question to myself…Does it matter? Although the pearls aren’t real, the sentiment was–a mother wanting to give something of value to her daughter.


Asking the “Right” Questions

Sometimes, when we inquire into ourselves we ask better questions than at other times. Sometimes, we look to someone outside of ourselves to ask the questions of us. Looking back at a journal writing from 2001 (so long ago already), there were six questions asked of me. I don’t remember the circumstances of the inquiry, but I find them to be interesting enough to share here on my blog. I invite you to use them in your own inquiry if that interests you. I apologize for not being able to give credit to the source.
I wrote my answers to these questions in 2001. I wonder how my answers might be different today.

1. What concept, metaphor or principle is at the center of your life and how does it motivate you?

I do believe, even in times of confusion and uncertainty, that there is a reason(s) beyond what I can see for this earthly existence. Beyond my illusions. Someday, perhaps, we’ll know that this wasn’t for nothing. And, that there are higher ways of being while having our human experience.

2. What do you desire from life. What are you seeking to accomplish, create, assist and support?

I desire inner peace and harmony–a wholeness of the being I am. I seek to bring the wholeness of being into creative projects which foster my own development and the evolution of others–supporting and assisting them, through creativity, to integration and self-empowerment. I seek to actively express my personal glory thereby giving others the same permission to be radiant.

3. What circumstances would provide you with optimum conditions for satisfying your needs and fulfilling your expectations?

An organized base would be a good start. A directed focus. A mentor or guide. An intuitive connection with a higher self. Remembering who I really am. Loving, fearlessly and fully. What circumstances? Sort of an inner state of self-acceptance and trust that I’m being guided and that things are going exactly as they should. Risk-taking while trusting I’m cared for. Small dares to myself. Ultimate feeling of safety at deep levels.

4. What values and virtues do you admire and strive to engender in yourself and others?

Honesty with self and others. Connection to higher motives and my own wholeness. Respect given and received. Compassion given and received. Self-trust. Health of body, spirit and mind. Respect for the earth. Honoring my own presence and life experience.

5. What are the fundamental activities and behaviors that express your deepest intentions?

Conscious self-care: eating healthy, exercise daily, time in nature, studying, self-development, patience with myself, striving to grow, understand and fully accept myself.

6. What do you feel is the particular talent and perspective that you give to any relationship or endeavor?

A strong desire to learn, healthy curiosity and inclusiveness.

2001 Journal Writing

Today, I had a Zoom conversation with three other women. These women are seniors, spanning twenty years in age. It was interesting to me to realize that they continue to ask similar questions of themselves as they strive to make sense of life and their particular reason for being or raison d’être as is sometimes heard in French. The most senior woman, in her nineties, said that she believes that our singular life matters to the universal wholeness while two others seemed to be questioning that since everything is temporary or transient, what is their value over the span of time as we know it?

I offered why can’t it be both? While we are here for this length of days, our energy is affecting the whole. We might be remembered for a few generations if we have children and grandchildren…but then, we are like the stardust distributed across the vast universe. We concluded that we do matter. That felt like a good way to leave the conversation.

People don’t often have opportunities to have these deeper conversations, do they? We are caught up with getting through a day and handling our to do list and whatever presents. However, to realize that we matter and that one gesture of kindness at the grocery store today has made a big difference to the person who you offered to let go ahead of you in line. The homeless man at the post office who held the door open for me and thought that he had to explain that now he has to receive his mail through general delivery. The friend who invited me for a walk and this gesture that makes both of us feel less lonely in the world. I do matter. You do matter. We do matter.

Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

What are your life Aha’s? Part One

I’ve had several that I recognized as such. The first one was when I was very young. It’s only in retrospect that I named it as an “aha moment.” I was five-years old, in kindergarten. For some reason, the kindergarten classroom wasn’t placed very strategically. We had to walk across a bustling, chaotic and dangerous schoolyard to get to our classroom. There were boisterous boys bouncing balls, squealing girls scrambling and tagging, nuns towering and trying to maintain a semblance of order. To get to that classroom in the far corner of the schoolyard, a little person as I was, I had to brace myself in preparation for running the gauntlet. I took a deep breath and began my journey. Halfway through, I had a sudden awareness that there was a ways to go yet and I froze between the classroom and the place that I had started.

I didn’t panic, but I stood there for a good long moment to catch my breath and observe the length of yard I had left to traverse. After a few breaths, I suddenly felt that I was strongly in my body. It was as if I had roots, strong roots that went up my sturdy legs. I felt this deepened sense of connection to the earth below the asphalt of the schoolyard. I was one with something greater. My young mind couldn’t explain what I was feeling, only that the feeling was strong and deep. I was connected to something deeper and greater and that felt powerful! Feeling low to the ground, I continued across the schoolyard without instance.

Throughout my life, recalling this one moment in time, I have held on to the belief that I am part of a whole. That wholeness claims me daily. When I feel like I’m out there, a leaf in the wind, I can call back the sense of what it felt like to be so grounded. When I face challenges that send me reeling. I can remember that felt sense in my body that gave me stability, strength and courage to lean into the challenge.

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What about you? Can you recall an instance in your life where you felt a connection to something greater? How does this serve you today?

List-making

I am an inveterate list-maker. There are times that I have scraps and notes floating around the house. This can be disorienting and annoying. A daily list consolidates the people I need to call, the business I need to tend, the gift I need to pack and mail, the cards I have to purchase, the storage locker I need to visit, the art I am currently working on, the classes I’m enrolled in and the groceries I need to buy. There’s always more. A daily list helps me to navigate through the day. A compelling guide that, if I follow it, I’m assured that by the end of the day, I’ll feel accomplished!
Ta dum!

Last week, I took an hour to create a list, a consolidation of other lists and notes that had been piling up on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t only for groceries, but other reminders, desires and necessities–like setting a date with the mechanic to add Freon to the car before the weather gets too hot. The list was designed with noted priorities and was quite detailed–a mini work-of-art in and of itself. My first stop that day was Grocery Outlet in a neighboring town. I drove the ten miles. It was a blustery, wet and cold spring day reminding me that winter wasn’t finished with us yet. I parked the car, wrapped my wool jacket tightly around me as I stepped from the car. My trusty list was in my left hand. As I shut the car door, a very strong and mischievous wind kicked up and snatched the list from me! I watched with my mouth slightly open as the wind carried that brilliant list across the wide street, through another very large parking lot, up and down, over and around. Like a kite in the wind, it flailed, never landing as my neck craned to follow it. The rain and the wind combined would make that list a soggy piece of paper with smeared ink before very long. I thought of getting in the car, driving across the wide street into the neighboring parking lot which is also a truck stop. However, I lost track of where the list was off to–parts unknown.

I felt helpless and like I’d been played with by a conspiring universe. Ha, you thought you had a day mapped out. You thought you had a strategy…a way to approach your shopping and what it was you were going to do next. And now, in a gust of wind, it’s lost. The perfect plan. The perfect unfolding. The accomplishment. The pat on the back at the end of the day for following your list like a religion, unerring. There I was, in the wet and cold and staring into the hinterlands–my list gone, as if it were a recently lost lover. I went into the grocery store and tried to remember what was on the list as best as I could. I mourned the loss of my perfect list as I went up and down the aisles.

Somehow, I got through the day and I remembered, how the best laid plans can go awry. I was also reminded that I do have my own inner north star and what needs to get done asserts itself regardless of a written list. I continue to make a list, but I don’t need be so rigid about following it to the letter.

Within any list, there are prayers woven in for myself, my family, my friends, neighbors and community. And for the world which has a very roundabout way of showing that PEACE is a priority. Is there a list that can take us there? I wonder.

Harriet Martineau

Being that March is Women’s History Month, I leafed through my book The Underside of History by Elise Boulding. I did one of those exercises where you open the book to any page and whatever catches your eye first, you go with it. My finger landed on a photo of Harriet Martineau. I had never heard of her before which isn’t surprising as most of women’s history did not land in our history books.

According to Wikipedia, Harriet was born on June 12, 1802 and died on June 27, 1876. Wikipedia states that she “was an English social theorist often seen as the first female sociologist. She wrote from a sociological, holistic, religious and feminine” perspective. She earned enough money to support herself and, as you can imagine, that was rare for a woman writer (or any profession occupied by a woman) in those times.

Martineau advised “a focus on all [society’s] aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions.” She thoroughly reviewed the status of women as being under men. The novelist, Margaret Oliphant, called her “a born lecturer and politician… less distinctively affected by her sex than perhaps any other, male or female, of her generation.” The young Princess Victoria appreciated Harriet’s work and invited her to her coronation in 1838.

In the years 1834-1836, Martineau traveled to the United States to study the political economy and the moral structure of the young nation.  She took a strong stand with the Abolitionists against slavery. While in the United States, she observed the stance on education for girls and women. She wrote about her findings in a few books, two of which are:  Society in America (1837) and Retrospect of western Travel (1838).

“The publication of Harriet Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy (in nine volumes) found public success…By 1834, the monthly sales . . . had reached 10,000 in a decade in which a sale of 2,000 or 3,000 copies of a work of fiction was considered highly successful.”

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I’ve wondered about this before and it bears repeating now–if women had grown up learning about the amazing women who preceded us, we might have developed a better esteem of ourselves. When students are taught that it was mostly men who made history worth telling, then women recede into the back pages of history, playing a subservient less distinct role as influencers of humanity unfolding. Boys grow up thinking that they have more value and girls less impact on positive evolutionary changes.

If I had known about, say Harriet Martineau, I might have understood that as a writer, there are many possibilities for me. I might have grown up knowing that I wasn’t limited, by virtue of my gender, to what I could accomplish in the world. The spirit of adventure, curiosity and daring that Harriet lived might have opened other doors for me. I might have realized that I could oppose the conventions of what a woman could do as Harriet did. Noting that Harriet is only one of many women who slipped through history unannounced, I can only wonder what other astonishing women once lived.

She didn’t seem to doubt that the world was her oyster. Standing outside the constraints of her culture, gender and times, Harriet showed great courage in spite of ridicule for being a single woman, having a contrary opinion and some physical infirmities. She affirmed her right to be and to become. There was a period of five years where she retreated from society to heal a very large and painful ovarian cyst. When she recovered, she returned to pursue her public life with vigor.

An excerpt from Harriet Martineau’s writing:

“The intellect of women is confined by an unjustifiable restriction of… education… As women have none of the objects in life for which an enlarged education is considered requisite, the education is not given… The choice is to either be ‘ill-educated, passive, and subservient, or well-educated, vigorous, and free only upon sufferance.”