Monday, March 28, 2016

365 True Things: 365/Farewell

My role model
I'm feeling a little wistful as I shut this project down. It's been a long and interesting run. Interesting not so much in terms of anything in particular I learned about myself, but more in terms of the physical act of writing something every day, hoping to make it readable, coherent, and somehow informative (or, yes, interesting). But also, sure, interesting in terms of what caught (or catches) my attention. I expect I could have delved more deeply into myself—but perhaps that's what will come next, and not in the public view. I could use a little soul-searching.

What do I mean by that?

Jim Harrison said, "At any point as an artist—like the universe itself—if you’re not expanding, you’re contracting." My goal as I carry on is to keep expanding, exploring, leaping, trusting, risking, trying, while always seeking my center. I'd also like to keep expanding into—and through—my fears and discomforts, my missteps and challenges. A little bit, every day.

I will keep on writing, but I'll move it to a more personal, more exploratory plane.

So thank you, my friends who have shared this journey with me. I appreciate your company more than you know!

I'll no doubt show up here now and again, and I will definitely continue with my book reports, so please don't forget about me.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

365 True Things: 364/Cats IV

Lest our current cats feel left out of the roll call, I will devote this post to them: Luna and Ravi. We've had them since August 16 of last year, at which time I expect they were about four or five months old. (I have arbitrarily given them my brother's birthday, March 15.) A Facebook friend's upstairs neighbors needed to find new homes for them, and she posted a plea. I responded. Two days later, they found themselves inside our house—in a box. Surrounded by a dog.

Or perhaps it's more accurate to say, the dog found himself surrounded by little cat-devils, his Zen-like existence forever changed.

They have been working it out ever since. With maturity has come détente—mostly.

They still get up on the kitchen counters, but more or less respond to snapped fingers. They pretty much have stopped feasting on any bread that inadvertently gets left out. They still insist on lunch. They like it best when we keep the deck door open and they can come and go as they please. The little white cat, Luna, doesn't like being outside too long in the morning, and will yell and yell and yell to be let back in if the door somehow gets closed. Both of them come when they're called (good kitties!). Ravi is a love sponge—very, very affectionate. Luna has a habit of sucking on a hind-foot toe and kneading, kneading (she was clearly plucked from her momma too soon).

When we got them, they were introduced to us as Sol and Luna: yellow sun, white moon, god and goddess. Luna was perfect; Sol I didn't care for. So I searched the internet for other names of Sun gods, and stumbled on Ravi. That suited both him and me.

Ravi is long in every way: long tail, long whiskers, long body. They said he was the runt of the litter, and she was the biggest kitten, but they've swapped places. She is petite, right down to her tiny teeth.

Ravi likes to bring us uprooted plants as offerings. Plus, there was one finch and one baby gopher. Luna mostly hangs out on my spare office chair. She also likes to burrow under blankets. She is very good about using the cardboard scratchers, but he (bad Ravi!) insists on clawing the (already destroyed) bedroom couch, and I worry every time he gets close to my nice upstairs easy chair. When I'm being diligent, they don't get to come into my office suite when I'm not around. But when I'm not diligent, and I leave for a while, guess where they come running from to greet me? Yeah, the office suite. I should be more diligent.

I love cat energy. I love their independence and fearlessness. I love their indolence. I love how they stretch out looooooong and relaaaaaaxed and give themselves over to the universe. I love their feistiness. I love that they're getting older and have begun to figure out that we don't run completely on their schedule (breakfast at 5:30? I don't think so). I love to hug them—just hold them for a good minute and exchange vibes and breaths.

Here are a whole bunch of photos of them, from their arrival until just a few days ago (but not in any order, aside from the first and the most recent).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

365 True Things: 363/Pens (and Pencils)

I know I am not alone in having a serious addiction to writing instruments. I keep pens (and pencils) in retired coffee mugs, all over the house: two in the kitchen (one is for fat pens: markers and suchlike, plus scissors), one here on my computer desk, one in the "bill-paying room," and three in my writing studio (pens, fat pens, and colored pens).

I also have a couple, few boxes of colored pencils: one of them I have had for fifty years—I bought it in Japan when we lived there. It has a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the front, and inside are thirty-five pencils of various lengths. One is missing; the shortest is orange.

So did I really need to buy more pens and pencils today?

Why, yes. Yes I did.

As I wrap up this daily blog challenge, I'm considering what—if anything—to do next. As I explained at the outset, having a daily practice benefits me: it gives me a focus for the day; it helps me practice some skills; it encourages me to notice what's going on around me a little better; and it makes me happy.

And what I've hit on for the next maybe-month, maybe-two, maybe-(whoknows)-twelve, is to draw and write on an index card every day: something about my day. Cartoons, or just words, or doodles maybe. Yes, doodles! (Milo approves.)

I am inspired in this partly by the book Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry; and by a book she recommends, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice by Ivan Brunetti; and by my howler buddies, Sherilyn and Kim, who are also experimenting with a cartooning-plus-writing practice. (Just the other day, in fact, Sherilyn wrote about Syllabus. See?)

And so today, I had to buy some index cards. And while I was at Office Depot, well, sure: I had to scan the pen selection. And oy! There was so much! So many colors, so many line weights, so many tip styles. I feel pretty happy to have made it out of there with only two packs of pens: one of ten colors, porous points, 0.3 mm thickness (yes! I love very fine lines), by Staedtler (I also love German writing instruments); the other of fourteen colors, gel pens, 0.7 mm, PaperMate. I also bought a collection of drafting pencils, ranging from 6B to 4H in hardness.

Do I draw? No.

Not yet.

And I am definitely the sort to put the cart before the horse: Not be-do-have, but have-do-be. That is, I have the tools to be all sorts of things, but if I don't bother to do, then I'm left just having the tools, which sit around and gather dust.

That said, this will be a practice, a discipline. Just as this blog has been.

There have definitely been some days during the past 363 when I sat down to write and didn't have a clue what I'd say. I cast about. I searched through photos. I considered my life. And eventually something would present itself. And I'd write.

I anticipate something similar with this index-card challenge. With, perhaps, a bit more discomfort at the start, because
. . . I don't draw. But I can practice my way into drawing. Right? (And it will be perfectly okay to have some days when all I do is put words on my card. In multiple colors, no doubt.)

I also intend to make a box into which all these cheerfully decorated index cards will vanish.

That's one thing that will make this 365 (if such it becomes) different from the previous five. The previous five, I've published. I've had followers—not many, granted, but a few diehard friends, supporters, good souls. This next one I will not publish. It will simply be my discipline, my practice. Fifteen or thirty minutes of focus, contemplation, and appreciation. That's it.

It sounds good. I'm ready.

Friday, March 25, 2016

365 True Things: 362/Photography

The other day I wrote about a Facebook challenge I was participating in. As a rule, I don't respond to challenges. (And I try not to respond to people's stupid comments about all manner of things. Everybody's an expert—not.) But I liked the idea of this one, which was simply to splash some beauty onto FB, in the midst of all the snarkiness and opinionating and wretched news, etc.

Today was the final day, and although on the previous six days I focused on earthly beauty—in addition to water: landscapes, flowers, birds, water, and the colors of the rainbow—today I turned to human beauty: especially our awesome creativity. Because humans are wonderfully creative and inventive, and we yearn to connect and share. Our generosity is one of the things I love about our species. We're not all bad (or perhaps misguided is a better word), not by a long shot.

So here are my seven photos for today, a few of my favorite things that other people have made for me and you and all of us.

Central Park, NYC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Frognerparken, Oslo
Green Gulch Zen Center, Marin County
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh
Jalisco harp
Bergen, Norway

Thursday, March 24, 2016

365 True Things: 361/Golf

I had dinner this evening with my good friend Grant, at the Pebble Beach Lodge. Pebble is famous for its golf courses. Indeed, the eighteenth hole, so said Grant, was right outside the window as we dined.

I have never played golf, or been tempted to. My father was a golfer, though. He had a weekly greens date with professor friends from UCLA. They walked; they never used a cart. It was their exercise. My father also practiced putting with a silly brown machine, and he whacked a practice ball in the backyard, perfecting his swing.

Every year here in Monterey (or, strictly speaking, at Pebble) the AT&T—formerly, Bing Crosby—Pro-Am arrives in the early spring, and people go in droves to . . . watch. people. play. golf. I do not understand the fascination. Especially when I'm sitting in backed-up traffic as a result.

That said, I did enjoy looking out over the beautifully kept fairways, greens, sand traps, and bordering woods this evening, and watching the odd late-afternoon foursome finish up their eighteen holes. I can almost see the appeal (of playing, not watching). One has to cultivate serious focus: it's a zen sport. And it's a full-body sport. And it is nice to be surrounded by green.

Grant and I and a couple of friends have talked about going to the Peter Hay nine-hole course in Pebble Beach, just for a lark. For me, it would have to be a lark: I have no idea how to swing a golf club. But in the right company? It could be fun. Or at least funny. Maybe one of these days we'll do it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

365 True Things: 360/Volunteering

I wrote a few months ago about volunteering. I think volunteering is a wonderful service to the community, plus it helps us stay involved in the community and with a whole array of people we wouldn't otherwise come in contact with.

Today I attended an orientation at the local Red Cross office, to learn about volunteering with that worthy organization. There are various opportunities—which I would gladly tell you about, but that would involve going online, and the Red Cross website appears to be down. So: no exhaustive treatise today!

Suffice to say, I signed up (potentially) for disaster relief, international services, and assisting members of the armed services. I did not sign up for blood drives or teaching first aid and CPR. I'd rather work with people in need directly.

I have a couple of friends who were deployed to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and said the time spent helping out was tremendous. One of those friends was almost deployed to the Texas flooding this weekend, but he couldn't commit to two weeks. Now that I'm "retired" (or whatever I am), I can commit to going away for good chunks of time. Maybe I'll get to learn how to drive a forklift! Or at least get to give people some good hugs.

Next step: an interview with the volunteer coordinator, and then with the local head(s) of whatever division(s) I sign on with. Apparently there are some online courses I need to take. And so forth.

But I filled out some paperwork, so now I am on the road to becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

365 True Things: 359/Justice

We went to see the 1988 film The Thin Blue Line (dir. Errol Morris) this afternoon, part of an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute class on Morris. I saw this movie—a documentary—many years ago, probably when it was first released, and remember being dismayed at the injustice it portrayed. It was symptomatic of the times, in part (the 1970s, with its culture wars), and the place (Texas), but also: I'm afraid it was and still is symptomatic of our flawed "justice" system.

Which I'd now like to learn more about. I've Googled, and come up with a few books: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, by journalist Matt Taibbi; The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, by legal scholar William J. Struntz; and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by legal scholar Michelle Alexander. There are three places to start learning more about this troubling aspect of our society.

I have been called for jury duty a few times; served once. The case had to do with drunk driving and an illegal immigrant (from Brazil) who fled the scene. I was amazed at all the assumptions my fellow jurors made, about what was "reasonable" behavior (especially for a foreigner). I tend to be pretty flexible in my expectations of people, and I felt surrounded in that jury room by walls of brick. I ended up going along with my fellow hard-asses and voting guilty. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" has a short play for some people, and a pretty long one for folks like me . . . I still sometimes regret I didn't have the backbone (or the speaking agility) to argue against the more vocal jurors. Then again: maybe he was guilty. This was not the first jury trial the defendant had had, but the reasons for the previous cases were suppressed. It was hard for me to forget that, as we, the jury, deliberated. The whole thing just seemed awfully shady.

The last time I was called for jury duty, I wore my WAG MORE, BARK LESS t-shirt. I like to think that's what got me excused. And now, I work with the Sheriff's Office, which I think gives me an automatic out.

I don't mind civic duty, by any means. But I'm just not convinced that our justice system works. Not that I have any idea what would, or could, work . . .

Monday, March 21, 2016

365 True Things: 358/Photography

On Facebook a friend of mine, writer BK Loren (that would be "friend" as in FB friend, since I don't really know her—but I will be taking a class with her in July, so after July I hope to be calling her a friend without quotes), has been posting seven photos a day for seven days, in a challenge that she describes thus: "post-some-pretty-pictures-you-took-because-the-news-is-frickin-ugly-right-now."

The original challenge went like this: "7 days and 7 photos you took of something beautiful in nature." I prefer the urgency of her reinterpretation. Because yeah, the news is frickin ugly—and has been, in my estimation for the last seven years, for one set of reasons (the Republicans in Congress), and before that for a few decades, for all sorts of additional reasons (including both the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress, plus a president or two and a war or two, not to mention an economic meltdown). Right now, though, I am horrified that Donald Trump is so thoroughly embraced: he is not a statesman; he is a foul-mouthed, hateful, narcissistic blowhard. Then again, all of the Republican candidates strike me as awful, and perhaps Trump is better than Cruz. But still. Every election I shake with despair at what comes out of the Republicans' mouths, and this year is the worst in my lifetime. Though granted, I don't remember the Barry Goldwater campaign.

Be that as it may, I was so inspired by BK's photos, and her call to reduce the ugliness on FB, that I decided to start my own little "post-some-pretty-pictures" challenge. The first day, it was flowers. The second day, the colors of the rainbow (doesn't get much happier than that). Today was our beautiful earth (landscape photos). Tomorrow I'm going to post seven of the following photos that feature water.

I must say, it calms me down just to do these searches and FB posts. The world will be all right, no matter what happens in November, because yes: we live in an amazingly beautiful and basically good world.

(At least, I sincerely hope we'll be all right)

Flooded Mississippi River, Davenport, IA
Anini Beach, Kauai, HI
River Leith, Edinburgh
Del Monte Beach, Monterey, CA
St. Croix River, MN
Mono Lake, CA
Mo'omomi Preserve, TNC, Molokai, HI
Niagara Falls, NY
Rotorua, North Island, NZ